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So also in America the year 1914 saw the maximum of demoralization in social life. Periodical literature, often pandering to vice under the guise of teaching morality, reflected the eroticism that in most American cities and in many country towns accompanied the effort to enjoy the sensations of sin while ostensibly. lingering inside the pink palings of virtue. All this near-vice and flirtation with immorality was but the echo of what was going on in Europe, where the tide of degeneracy had reached its flood. In London, in Paris, in St. Petersburg, and-I speak without venomespecially in Berlin, the wearied seekers after pleasure, fatigued with the pursuit of Aphrodite, were resorting to exotic pleasures that rivalled those of the pagan civilizations. Not only had the demi-mondaine been made the pattern of fashion, not only did social intercourse savor largely of sexual intrigue, but the ennui of society showed itself in a fever of gambling at cards that rivalled the days of Charles James Fox, and worst of all the spread of the drug habit bid fair to undermine what moral stamina still remained.
All the world was dancing-if dancing it could be called-to the barbaric clash of cymbals and the crash of crockery, and the convolutions of the "tango lizard" to whom the young and temporarily innocent were shamelessly abandoned, would have brought a blush of shame to the bronzed cheek of any self-respecting nautch-girl or voodoo dancer. The search for some
thing new resulted in the taking up of all kinds of strange and occult "religions." In New York "The Great Oom" and others of like ilk were pursued by foolish women much as the children of Hamlen town followed after the Pied Piper, some to their lasting degradation; and, as Leslie says, the smart ladies of London crowded the parlors of the clairvoyants and fortune-tellers, and covered themselves with charms and amulets.
The New York hotels were jammed from four o'clock on with turkey and fox trotters, where the tired business man could secure partners without formality, and presumably respectable wives and mothers contested the supremacy of the floor with painted ladies from the shabby sections adjacent to Times Square. Introductions were superfluous. The "thé dansant" of the Broadway hotel was in fact as great a menace to domestic virtue as the "Haymarket" and "Turkish Village" of other days, or the "Ladies' Parlor" of the East Side saloon. At the swagger restaurants and private balls the seminudity of the dancers vied with the suggestiveness of the music, and the pantomime of the dance was accentuated by the breaking of glass and the pounding of tom-toms, assisted by whistles, catcalls, and yells from the orchestra. Any Congo chieftain who inadvertently wandered in would have felt entirely at home. And at the very climax of this crescendo of degeneracy came the distant rumble of
war. The fox-trotters paused in their gyrations, the card-players glanced up apprehensively from the green tables, the fille de joie set down with a pale face the glass she had half raised to her red lips.
I do not mean to suggest that vice has been rampant among the men and women I know along upper Fifth Avenue. It hasn't. For the most part they are rich and dull-meticulously respectable. But the license of Broadway and the Tenderloin has been reflected in the entertainment provided for the young and in the extravagance of their elders. We have gorged ourselves with luxury, for we have lacked intellectual and spiritual aspirations. It is trite but nevertheless true that materialism had eaten into our natures, attacking and destroying the sturdier qualities inherited from our fathers. Often, the more respectable people were the most lavish and self-indulgent, for the reason that they had no real vices upon which to spend their money. The eating of elaborate dinners, like the smoking of cigars in the case of many of us men, became the chief end of existence. From the first of January to the end of March, without intermission, adult men and women went night after night, from one house to another, to a succession of costly entertainments where they sat, ate, and talked about little but their amusements from eight o'clock until eleven or twelve. To prepare themselves for the physical strain of these gastronom
ical events the women, at any rate, lay in bed until ten or eleven o'clock in the morning, and occupied themselves with trivialities, light literature, motoring, and card-playing throughout the day. Had any one suggested that they were leading lives closely akin to barbarism they would have been politely amused.
The most obvious reform that the war has occasioned -and it was to be expected that where the conditions were the worst there the cure would be most pronounced-is the annihilation of class distinction and the reverence for wealth. It has come so swiftly and so easily, the transition is so complete and effectual, that it seems as if all the snobbery that went before must have been a sort of game which we played for the amusement of a few old ladies with our tongues in our cheeks. Wealth has ceased-except when engaging seats at after-theatre cabarets-to have any social significance. In a word, the great God Mammon has fallen flat, face downward in the dead ashes of his own altar.
The old-fashioned fiction of a select circle Society with a capital "S"-the old Four Hundred-already shattered before the war, has now been blown to atoms -to the universal satisfaction. The conventional dinner with its overloaded table and many guests is no longer "smart" or even correct. Heretofore a few bedizened dowagers have been struggling heroically against the rising tide of common sense to keep
aloft the standard of exclusiveness. Reinforced by the moral effect of some scattering alliances with the genuine European nobility, they have in the past been able to maintain a fictitious social hierarchy. There was a time when some people felt aggrieved if they were not invited to Mrs. Astor's annual ball. To-day nobody is aggrieved at not being invited to anything, partly, to be sure, because they know that there isn't anything to be invited to. They have also suddenly realized that there really isn't anybody in New York or elsewhere who is entitled or qualified to pass on the social status of anybody else in America, where of all places in the world only what a man is, not what he has, should count.
But the old régime has died hard. A scant halfdozen bearded female grenadiers still refuse to surrender, even to the covert laughter of their grandchildren. They are the last surviving members of Society. But they will not survive the war. After it is over, there will never be any Society of that sort again. What social life the débutante of 1918 gets will be in the companionship of service. The dancing-men will dance no more. The "pet cats" and "parlor snakes" will all have slunk and wriggled out of sight. The aristocratic families will be those whose men and women have done most for their country, not those whose ancestors "rose from rags to riches." There will be a new order of nobility, and