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Hosts and Guests by Max Beerbohm

Guests and hosts by max beerbohm

The writer differentiates between hosts and guests humorously and points out their merits and demerits in the essay, “Hosts and Guests”. He says that the ancient Romans did not make any difference between hosts and guests. For them, a host and a guest were the same things, but actually, they are different. The difference between the two is not only circumstantial and particular but also temperamental and general. In every human being, one of the two instincts is present the active or positive instinct to offer hospitality the negative or passive instinct to accept. Thus mankind can generally be divided into two classes – hosts and guests. Both have good as well as bad qualities.

The man also shares good or bad qualities with animal creatures. Some animals accept man’s hospitality but do not share their food with other animals. Dogs and cats never share their food with other dogs and cats. Animals, like human beings, have a deep sense of possessiveness. The man was not hospitable in the primitive days. He acquired the instinct to offer or accept hospitality during the long course of self-development. As he began to live in groups he grew more civilized and hospitable. The cavemen did not entertain others until the Stone Age, because of danger and suspicion. They feared that their guest might harm or murder them. The will to offer hospitality grew earlier than the will to accept it. Hospitality is not generally selfless – it is often mixed up with pride and egoism.

The writer relates many painful incidents of hospitality found in history. The Israelites were the finest people of the world, yet the cold-blooded treachery of Gael was condemned by all. The Greeks were cultured, but Odysseus killed the guests under his roof. Rome was at the height of its civilization in the fifteenth century, but Borgia’s concealed poison in their cellars. That is why the Romans were scared of dining with the Borgias.  

Similarly, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth assassinated their guest Duncan, the king of Scotland. Yet the Scott hospitality is proverbial. It was Scotland that first formalized hospitality. It was a code of honor that the guest must be honored and respected at all costs. Jacobi history abounds in heroic sacrifices made by hosts for their guests. It is conventional for the rich to give and for the poor to receive. Riches create hosts; and poverty guests. But neither all the guests are needy nor all the hosts rich. The rich and the poor both do great acts of hospitality. Boys are hosts by nature.

They become hosts only when they grow up. The writer, as a boy, living in London as a guest by nature. Although he entertained many friends, yet he was always afraid of having little money in his pocket. At restaurants, he tried to postpone the asking for the bill. He always feared that the bill was more than the amount in his pocket. Moreover, he preferred cheap food. He says that people pay by cheque more light-heartedly than in cash. He always liked to pay by cheque. The host as a guest is far worse than the guest as a host. A host becomes a guest against his will. Sometimes guests are not grateful to their hosts. Dante, for example, received much hospitality during his exile, but he repaid his hosts by writing that their dread was bitter.

Hospitality from History

Right from the dawn of history, man shares his good or bad instinct with creatures who have a deep sense of possessiveness. Though animals accept man’s hospitality, yet they don’t share their animals. Lions don’t invite other lions to their dens. Similarly, birds don’t share their nests with other birds. Lions and tigers can accept man’s hospitality, but they don’t share it among themselves. A dog will never share a bone with other dogs. Nor a cat will share a saucer of milk with other cats. As compared to other animals, monkeys have molded their nature, but even they are not hospitable.

Man, too, in ancient times did not share his food or possessions with his fellow beings. He has learned to be hospitable with the growth of civilization. The more he was civilized, the more hospitable he grew. The cavemen did not entertain other cavemen for fear of being killed by them. They were suspicious of one another. The ancient red-haired man did not accept the invitation to dine with anybody else. But the will to offer hospitality is prior to the will to accept it.

Guest ship

The writer says that “every virtue is a mean between two extremes and the virtue of hospitality stands between churlishness and mere ostentation.” Churlishness means meanness or low nature; while ostentation means to show or display one’s wealth to win praise.

A churl is a bad-tempered or ill-mannered person who hates others. He does not like to host others. He is just like a miser who can’t share his meal with anybody. The genuine example of a churl can be found in Corin’s master in Shakespeare’s play “As You Like It”. He never bothers to find the way to heaven by doing deeds of hospitality. An ostentatious person, on the other hand, displays his riches. He does not host others as an act of generosity or to please God, but to show his wealth to others or to win admiration. He feels pride in his hospitality and wants to display that he can host as many people as possible. Lucullus, the ancient Roman general, was an ostentatious host. He was known for his feats.

Lady Macbeth as a Host

History shows that hosts invited guests and killed them. Such dark blots could not be wiped out from the pages of history. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth stand extremely ignoble hosts. Both of them were Scottish. Scotch hospitality is still proverbial. It was Scotland that first formal hospitality. The Scotch code of honor of hospitality lays down that the guest must be respected and protected. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth were expected to protect Kind Duncan even at the cost of their own lives. But they themselves became the murderers of Kind Duncan. Both proved the worst example of a host ship. Their act of killing the king blackened the whole glittering side of Scotland.

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