The Happy Hypocrite by Max Beerbohm is the story of Lord George Hell who everyone agreed was one of the most wicked men who ever lived. His drinking, gambling and corrupt living made him a source of constant grief to his family and an embarrassment to all who knew him.
One evening at the theatre in London he saw on the stage a beautiful young actress, Miss Jenny Mere, and fell in love with her. That very evening he declared his love and asked her to be his bride. She was flattered by his proposal but told him she could never marry him.
Heartbroken by her refusal, Lord George cried, “My wealth, my rank, my love, my total devotion, I lay them at your feet. I will wait for you a year, a decade, if you but bid me hope!” Jenny was deeply touched but said, “My love must be freely given, and I could give it only to a man with the honest and open face of a saint.”
Confused, Lord George spent the night wandering the streets, heartbroken. In the morning he stumbled upon a mask maker’s shop. He bought a saint’s face mask, custom made to bear the mark of true love and it was applied to his face with care. With the disguise, Lord George won the heart of his beloved and they were married.
Lord George made a total moral conversion. He returned all of his ill-gotten wealth to those whom he had cheated, donated all of his excess wealth to those in need and was kind and helpful to everyone. He and Jenny bought a woodman’s cottage and there lived a quiet and happy life together.
Then one day a strange woman of the streets who knew his secret came to their home. She had seen him enter and leave the mask maker’s shop. There in the presence of Jenny she ripped the mask from his face. As she did, she stepped back in disbelief. Lord George’s face no longer bore the ugly lines of his former self, reflecting his sinful and selfish ways. His countenance had taken on the features of the mask, reflecting goodness, purity and love.
Lord George fell at Jenny’s feet and begged her to forgive him for deceiving her. “I don’t understand,” she said, “Why did you cover your face with a mask? You are far more handsome than the mask.” It was true. The hard cruel lines were gone. Lord George with changed thoughts and deeds had changed his life—and his face!
Paul was talking about such changes, changes you and I can make in our lives, when he wrote, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely . . . think on these things.” Rev. Nichols is Minister Emeritus of First Christian Church, Temple, where he was senior minister for 23 years. He writes a religious column for several newspapers.