Come To Think of It
I. ON ESSAYS
II. ON WHAT WE WOULD DO WITH TWO MILLION (IF WE HAD IT)
III. ON BOYS
IV. ON LITERARY PARALLELS
V. ON A CENSORSHIP FOR LITERATURE
VI. ON DETECTIVE STORY WRITERS
VII. ON THE NEW POETRY
VIII. ON THE CLASSICS
IX. ON PSYCHO-ANALYSIS
X. ON EGOISTS AND EGOISTS
XI. ON MR. EPSTEIN
XII. ON ‘WHO KILLED JOHN KEATS?’
XIII. ON Ingeland
XIV. ON LONELINESS
XV. ON THE IMPORTANCE OF WHY WE DO (OR DON’T)
XVI. ON THE OPEN CONSPIRACY
XVII. ON THE CLOSED CONSPIRACY
XVIII. ON CURRENT CLAPTRAP
XIX. ON EVIL EUPHEMISMS
XX. ON ENCYCLOPAEDIAS
XXI. ON PREACHING
XXII. ON THE TIMID THINKERS
XXIII. ON THE MYTHOLOGY OF SCIENTISTS
XXIV. ON CHANGE
XXV. ON TWILIGHT SLEEP
XXVI. ON VULGARITY
XXVII. ON A HUMILIATING HERESY
XXVIII. ON ORIGINAL SIN
XXIX. ON THE NEW RELIGION COMING
XXX. ON THE GREAT GOD NAMSE
XXXI. ON THE INNOCENCE OF MACAULAY
XXXII. ON JANE AUSTEN IN THE GENERAL ELECTION
XXXIII. ON DICTATORSHIPS
XXXIV. ON ABOLISHING SUNDAY
XXXV. ON PROHIBITION
XXXVI. ON AMERICA
XXXVII. ON BIGNESS AND AMERICA
XXXVIII. ON THE AMERICAN REVOLT AGAINST AMERICANISM
XXXIX. ON ABRAHAM LINCOLN
XL. ON MYSELF ON ABRAHAM LINCOLN
XLI. ON FOCH
XLII. ON DICKENS AND AFTER
XLIII. ON THE KING
MOST of the essays printed here are republished by the kind permission of the Illustrated London News; and Mr. J. P. de Fonseka, who was kind enough to select and arrange them for me, reminds me of the coincidence that I began writing the ‘Note-Book’ in that paper exactly twenty-five years ago. I may thus be said to celebrate a sort of Silver Wedding of my association with that long- suffering periodical. A silver wedding is supposed to be commemorated by gifts of silver; but I fear these gifts are of no such precious quality, nor indeed are all gifts in that metal notably of good omen. The silver bullet that killed Dundee, according to the tradition that he was a wizard dealing with the devil, cannot be regarded as a festive form of wedding present; nor would the international agent or financier, widening his moral outlook beyond narrow national limitations, be gratified with the symbolic gift of thirty pieces of silver. To go about among the new nobility, thrusting silver spoons into their mouths, that they might hastily assume the air of having been born with them, might seem to have a hint of satire; and even to tell a modern author that he is an ornament of the Silver Age of Letters might leave him a little cold, if he imagined that he constituted a Golden Age in himself. And it is the more awkward, because these notes necessarily deal with these very subjects; I have taken a pot-shot at the Spiritualist, though not with a silver bullet, and had a dig at the plutocrat, though not with a silver spoon. I have ventured to criticize internationalism and the cosmopolitan financier, and even to write a little about writers, and men who are more worth writing about. Unfortunately my bullet is a very leaden bullet, and my wedding present to the paper or the reader is not thirty pieces of silver, but only these fifty pieces of lead.
Viewed in one aspect, however, the long association is certainly an occasion for congratulation as well as gratitude. If I have no pretence to the eloquence that was symbolized by a tongue of silver, it proves at least that the proof-readers and other readers of the Illustrated London News are equipped with nerves of steel. That the editor and the clientele of that paper have borne up under my writing for them every week, for twenty-five years, proves that the power of endurance and the unshaken patience of our race are less affected than some suppose by a new and nervous irritability. Who can say that our people have lost the resignation, the grim good humour, the stoical stubbornness that stiffened the squares at Waterloo, or preserved the unwearied discipline of Arctic and African exploration, when the sons of the bulldog breed are still capable of reading my opinions and remarks on literature steadily for a quarter of a century? I cannot be wrong in paying a tribute to the iron indifference with which they have stood up to so many of the leaden bullets; and indeed the military metaphor is, for a particular reason, not altogether inappropriate to the last stage of the story, even in its images of lead and iron. I am conscious that my articles have grown in a sense more militant and in a sense more simple; so simple that they may well appear self-evident to some of the more subtle. This is because there has indeed been a battle joined, between two long battle-lines, in which I am only a private soldier, and in which the orders or reports have to be delivered in a popular tongue. I am no longer an individual in an age of intellectual individualism — an individual whose perverse personal fancy insisted that grass is green or that God is different from the devil. Several books, with the brilliant help of Mr. E. V. Lucas, have been made of such fancies of mine. But now the public has divided itself much more clearly on these issues, turning them into general issues, and requiring a person in my position to take up a general defence. Journalism of the higher sort, in the days of my youth, was concerned, if anything, with Art; Journalism in these days is concerned, above everything, with Religion. I cheerfully admit that in one sense, in both cases, journalism is only concerned with journalism. But journalists in later days have discovered that the public is, or can be, tremendously interested in fundamental questions of faith and morals; almost as much interested as in horse-racing and murders. The old journalism lived in an atmosphere of art for art’s sake; analogous to the ordinary journalistic instinct for news for news’ sake. Just as the newspaper reporter could record that Hampstead Hairdresser Shoots Great-Aunt, without implying any ethical approval of the act (even if he never knew the aunt, as the story goes), just as he could announce Russian Trombone Player Jumps from Eiffel Tower, and reverently rejoice as a reporter, even though he duly wept as a Christian and a man — so also he could report, without reference to his own opinions on the matter, the striking fact of an author who did not believe in God, or the yet more startling fact of an author who did. It was enough that the public found such authors amusing, apart from whether it found them convincing; and this attitude was originally adopted alike towards Oscar Wilde and towards Bernard Shaw. But there began to be serious trouble, and a considerable cooling of approval, when it was gradually discovered that Mr. Bernard Shaw does really believe in Socialism or that I do really believe in Christianity.
Thus in the more open and general public dispute we have both of us had to fall back on a some what different style, more simple and serious, and possibly more didactic and heavy. Mr. Shaw writes in educational form his Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism; having apparently despaired in his search for an Intelligent Man. And I have been driven desperately to something almost resembling a rational arrangement of ideas in the little book called The Outline of Sanity; though not (the reader will be relieved to hear) in the little book that now lies before him. Here everything is haphazard; but it is in a sense the hazard of war, since so many of these ragged fragments are fragments of larger controversies. Here everything is scrappy; but they are the scraps of a scrap. And the reason is, as I have said, that here and on higher planes, and for myself and more important people, the battle is joined; and it is not a fine preliminary flourish, but a fight to a finish. It was enough for our youth to show that our ideas were suggestive it is the task of our senility and second childhood to show that they are conclusive. But this is no more than a note of apology in the matter; and in such a place, and on so slight an occasion, the most conclusive thing I can do is to conclude.
G. K. CHESTERTON
COME TO THINK OF IT
I. On Essays
THERE are dark and morbid moods in which I am tempted to feel that Evil re-entered the world in the form of Essays. The Essay is like the Serpent, smooth and graceful and easy of movement, also wavering or wandering. Besides, I suppose that the very word Essay had the original meaning of ‘trying it on’. The serpent was in every sense of the word tentative. The tempter is always feeling his way, and finding out how much other people will stand. That misleading air of irresponsibility about the Essay is very disarming through appearing to be disarmed. But the serpent can strike without claws, as it can run without legs. It is the emblem of all those arts which are elusive, evasive, impressionistic, and shading away from tint to tint. I suppose that the Essay, so far as England at least is concerned, was almost invented by Francis Bacon. I can well believe it. I always thought he was the villain of English history.
It may be well to explain that I do not really regard all Essayists as wicked men. I have myself been an essayist; or tried to be an essayist; or pretended to be an essayist. Nor do I in the least dislike essays. I take perhaps my greatest literary pleasure in reading them; after such really serious necessities of the intellect as detective stories and tracts written by madmen. There is no better reading in the world than some contemporary essays, like those of Mr. E. V. Lucas or Mr. Robert Lynd. And though, unlike Mr. Lucas and Mr. Lynd, I am quite incapable of writing a really good essay, the motive of my dark suggestion is not a diabolic jealousy or envy. It is merely a natural taste for exaggeration, when dealing with a point too subtle to permit of exactitude. If I may myself imitate the timid and tentative tone of the true essayist, I will confine myself to saying that there is something in what I say. There is really an element in modern letters which is at once indefinite and dangerous.
What I mean is this. The distinction between certain old forms and certain relatively recent forms of literature is that the old were limited by a logical purpose. The Drama and the Sonnet were of the old kind; the Essay and the Novel are of the new. If a sonnet breaks out of the sonnet form, it ceases to be a sonnet. It may become a wild and inspiring specimen of free verse; but you do not have to call it a sonnet because you have nothing else to call it. But in the case of the new sort of novel, you do very often have to call it a novel because you have nothing else to call it. It is sometimes called a novel when it is hardly even a narrative. There is nothing to test or define it, except that it is not spaced like an epic poem, and often has even less of a story. The same applies to the apparently attractive leisure and liberty of the essay. By its very nature it does not exactly explain what it is trying to do, and thus escapes a decisive judgment about whether it has really done it. But in the case of the essay there is a practical peril; precisely because it deals so often with theoretical matters. It is always dealing with theoretical matters without the responsibility of being theoretical, or of propounding a theory.
For instance, there is any amount of sense and nonsense talked both for and against what is called medievalism. There is also any amount of sense and nonsense talked for and against what is called modernism. I have occasionally tried to talk a little of the sense, with the result that I have been generally credited with all the nonsense. But if a man wanted one real and rational test, which really does distinguish the medieval from the modern mood, it might be stated thus. The medieval man thought in terms of the Thesis, where the modern man thinks in terms of the Essay. It would be unfair, perhaps, to say that the modern man only essays to think — or, in other words, makes a desperate attempt to think. But it would be true to say that the modern man often only essays, or attempts, to come to a conclusion. Whereas the medieval man hardly thought it worth while to think at all, unless he could come to a conclusion. That is why he took a definite thing called a Thesis, and proposed to prove it. That is why Martin Luther, a very medieval man in most ways, nailed up on the door the theses he proposed to prove. Many people suppose that he was doing something revolutionary, and even modernist, in doing this. In fact, he was doing exactly what all the other medieval students and doctors had done ever since the twilight of the Dark Ages. If the really modern Modernist attempted to do it, he would probably find that he had never arranged his thoughts in the forms of theses at all. Well, it is quite an error to suppose, so far as I am concerned, that it is any question of restoring the rigid apparatus of the medieval system. But I do think that the Essay has wandered too far away from the Thesis.
There is a sort of irrational and indefensible quality in many of the most brilliant phrases of the most beautiful essays. There is no essayist I enjoy more than Stevenson; there is probably no man now alive who admires Stevenson more than I. But if we take some favourite and frequently quoted sentence, such as, ‘To travel hopefully is better than to arrive,’ we shall see that it gives a loophole for every sort of sophistry and unreason. If it could be stated as a thesis, it could not be defended as a thought. A man would not travel hopefully at all, if he thought that the goal would be disappointing as compared with the travels. It is tenable that travel is the more enjoyable; but in that case it cannot be called hopeful. For the traveller is here presumed to hope for the end of travel, not merely for its continuance.
Now, of course, I do not mean that pleasant paradoxes of this sort have not a place in literature; and because of them the essay has a place in literature. There is room for the merely idle and wandering essayist, as for the merely idle and wandering traveller. The trouble is that the essayists have become the only ethical philosophers. The wandering thinkers have become the wandering preachers, and our only substitute for preaching friars. And whether our system is to be materialist or moralist, or sceptical or transcendental, we need more of a system than that. After a certain amount of wandering the mind wants either to get there or to go home. It is one thing to travel hopefully, and say half in jest that it is better than to arrive. It is another thing to travel hopelessly, because you know you will never arrive.
I was struck by the same tendency in re-reading some of the best essays ever written, which were especially enjoyed by Stevenson — the essays of Hazlitt. ‘You can live like a gentleman on Hazlitt’s ideas,’ as Mr. Augustine Birrell truly remarked; but even in these we see the beginning of this inconsistent and irresponsible temper. For instance, Hazlitt was a Radical and constantly railed at Tories for not trusting men or mobs. I think it was he who lectured Walter Scott for so small a matter as making the medieval mob in Ivanhoe jeer ungenerously at the retreat of the Templars. Anyhow, from any number of passages, one would infer that Hazlitt offered himself as a friend of the people. But he offered himself most furiously as an enemy of the Public. When he began to write about the Public he described exactly the same many-headed monster of ignorance and cowardice and cruelty which the worst Tories called the Mob. Now, if Hazlitt had been obliged to set forth his thoughts on Democracy in the theses of a medieval schoolman, he would have had to think much more clearly and make up his mind much more decisively. I will leave the last word with the essayist; and admit that I am not sure whether he would have written such good essays.
II. On What We Would Do with Two Million (If We Had It)
MOST of us, I suppose, have played the parlour game of wondering what we should do with our money, on the fantastic supposition that we ever had any. On the surface, some of the answers to the question are simple enough. Philanthropists would give it to the deserving poor; Christians would give it to the undeserving poor. For the first thought of the Christians, if they really were Christians, would be that they themselves were examples of the undeserving rich. Pagans, if they really were pagans, would presumably enjoy it and have a jolly time; though in fact this is hardly ever done. It is obvious that the answer to the question is not really so simple as that. Something happens to people when they become rich; and what happens generally is that they worry on a large scale instead of worrying on a small one. They haggle with a hundred people, instead of haggling with two or three people. Then there are all sorts of other curious effects of illusion — and distortion. If you and I were suddenly left a legacy of two million a year from nowhere in particular, it is by no means certain what we should do first. It appears, by analogy, that we should begin by saying that we had gained every penny of our money by industry, sobriety, business methods, and abstention from alcohol. It appears that we should then go on to purchase something obviously worthless and idiotic, such as a peerage, or a priceless trinket or curiosity, in which we took no intelligent interest whatever. That is, at least, the way in which most millionaires do actually go on. We cannot imagine why they should waste their money in this way; but then you and I are still poor, virtuous, and intelligent. But, whatever be the solution of this riddle, it is worth while to note that there are ways of getting rid of wealth that have never been tried and might possibly be useful. One of them might be described (since it is now necessary to make any such suggestion in capital letters and call it a Slogan) as Pensioning Off the Pests.
Returning for a moment to the dreadful subject of the deserving poor, it might be thought obvious that the millionaire ought to give his money, or more probably leave his money, to particular people whom he knows to be making a good fight for their family and their honour. As a matter of fact, of course, the millionaire never does do even this. The millionaire leaves his money to other millionaires. God alone knows why. But the natural course would be to leave it to poorer people who would make a good use of it. But this view, though natural, is superficial. People of that kind would generally be happy enough, if their lives were not poisoned by people of another kind. My ideal millionaire, who would of course have hundreds of highly-paid spies investigating the domestic life of his neighbours, would soon discover an almost universal social truth. In almost every family or circle of friends there is somebody so selfish or so silly or so exacting as to devour the days and destroy the vitality of better people. It is generally a case of egoism; often a case of hysteria. But it is generally a rather subtle case; and the bonds that bind the egoist to the altruists are delicate and difficult to break. It is often an economic question; the problem of perpetually discussing the affairs and patching up the monetary difficulties of impossible people.
Now a really delicate and imaginative philanthropist would thread his way through life, selecting and settling such cases with munificent endowments which would satisfy even such persons. He would provide the Pest with a magnificent mansion, with a beautiful estate, situated at a considerable distance from the family. To Aunt Susan he would toss a luxuriant island in the Canaries. For Cousin James he would provide a romantic castle on a sublime but almost inaccessible slope of the Apennines. To the lady whom the world has always misunderstood, in spite of her prolonged explanations, he would give a huge sum of money on condition of her remaining in a charming villa in the neighbourhood of Cape Horn. To the gentleman with a series of financial projects, which he offers to his special friends as special favours, he would give a real gold-mine and have done with it, on the understanding that the gentleman should really devote himself to mining. A few of these fortunate disappearances, a few of these happy gaps in the family circle, would probably enable scores of sensible and kind-hearted people to enjoy their own lives and get on with their own jobs. For there are not many of these maniacs. What is astonishing is the power and range of their raging selfishness. Two or three really intelligent millionaires between them could dispose of the lot. Only there are not two or three intelligent millionaires. If they were intelligent, they would have something better to do than to become millionaires.
Among the minor advantages I would claim for my modest scheme is the fact that it would be a humane alternative to Murder; which seems otherwise likely to be on the increase. It always amuses me to read the modern attacks upon Marriage, and observe how exactly the same arguments could be used, and probably soon will be used, as apologies for Murder. If it is true that we may sometimes solve a social problem by breaking a vow, it is equally true that we might often solve it by cutting a throat. If the immediate relaxation of an individual strain justifies everything, then Aunt Susan is indeed in danger, and the life of Cousin James trembles in the balance. For it is not true that the claims of these people on other people are necessarily compulsory or legal or even economic. They are often psychological bonds that could really be only loosened by death. They arise quite as much from the unselfishness of the one party as from the selfishness of the other. They would be solved if a third party, a benevolent and altruistic assassin, stepped in and swiftly, let us hope painlessly, eliminated the difficulty.
Now we already hear on all sides the first whispers of an apology for taking life. In America, where things are seldom said in a whisper, the apology is not even apologetic. English people are naturally more good-natured; and it is highly characteristic of them that they propose to murder only out of good nature. The cases in which it is already defended here are cases of putting people out of their pain or ending incurable maladies. I think the doctrine very dangerous myself, but I am not discussing that particular doctrine here. Anybody must surely admit that it is naked murder if done upon the opinion of the murderer; and I am very doubtful about it, even from a humanitarian standpoint, if done with the consent of the murdered. Many a person sea-sick in the Channel has verified the famous description: that he is first afraid he will die and then afraid he won’t. A lady I knew, when asked by the steward if he could do anything for her, replied, ‘Nothing, except throw me overboard.’ But she lived afterwards to a happy and serene old age; and 1 think she was glad he had not carried out her instructions, or acted on the principles of the new scientific morality.
In short, if we are to have all this new moral pathology, it must be met with a new philanthropy, or it will be met with an unpleasantly new philosophy: a new moral philosophy, or, rather, immoral philosophy. If we are to insist, as do all the realistic novelists and rationalistic moralists, on a wild and exaggerated casuistry of hard cases, we must be prepared for men sooner or later settling those hard cases, as they have so often done in history, with poison and with poignards. For under the smooth legal surface of our society there are already moving very lawless things. We are always near the breaking- point when we care only for what is legal and nothing for what is lawful. Unless we have a moral principle about such delicate matters as marriage and murder, the whole world will become a welter of exceptions with no rules. There will be so many hard cases that everything will go soft. I do not insist on my suggestion of a benevolent millionaire paying off those people who seem naturally designed to be murdered. But I do insist that they will be murdered, sooner or later, if we accept in every department the principle of the easiest way out.
III. On Boys
ONE of the old sayings repeated eternally by everybody, and rather especially by those who pride themselves on novelty and originality, is the statement that old people tend to be conservative, and that it is only the young who can really believe in change. And yet this saying seems to me to be rather less than a half-truth; so much less as to be very nearly two-thirds of a lie.
My own experience is this: that I was really much more conservative when I was a boy; though I admit that I was too conservative to be even conscious of how conservative I was. I mean that I was conservative in this sense — that I did not really believe that the fashion of this world could pass away. I had certain ideals of reforming it; and to a great extent I have the same ideals still. In so far as they have changed, it is not in the direction of being any more content with the corruption and oppression of the world. I was once what I called a Socialist; I am now what I call a Distributist. But the ideal of simplicity and small property is rather more unlike the existing condition than the ideal of Communism. It would change the world more, to turn it into what I want, than to turn it into what Mr. Philip Snowden wants. There is less difference than many suppose between the ideal Socialist system, in which the big businesses are run by the State, and the present Capitalist system, in which the State is run by the big businesses. They are much nearer to each other than either is to my own ideal; of breaking up the big businesses into a multitude of small businesses. That would be really a change; but I am still ready for that change; and I see no reason to doubt that, when I am tottering on crutches at the age of ninety, I shall still be ready for that change. What I was not ready for, in my youth, was something quite real and entirely different. I did not know that the world itself changes, long before we can change it.
Take a commonplace example for convenience. I sympathized then and I sympathize still with various claims of Labour which arose especially in connexion with the Coal Mines and with the Railways. I do not think I have weakened in this; if anything, I think I was more doubtful and groping when I was young. But there was one thing that I never really doubted when I was young. And that was that Coal would continue to support England and enrich the capitalists of England. I thought of this unique wealth as one of the conditions of the case, which might be attacked in various ways, moderate, greedy, revolutionary, and so on. But I vaguely assumed that the coal would be there, as I assumed that the sea would be there. Yet these things also can change; and even the sea is not quite so significantly and satisfactorily there, since the alteration of the relations of ships and aeroplanes. I was accustomed to the two sides of the old argument about whether coal-owners were too rich; I never really looked forward to the new argument that coal-owners are too poor. I was accustomed to the talk of heaping up riches or dividing riches or justly distributing riches; but I had forgotten the old scriptural figure, that the riches themselves take to themselves wings and fly. In a word, I could not imagine change — the real fundamental changes of this earthly life — because I was too conservative, being a boy.
In the same way I knew all about the grumbling of railway-passengers against railway-porters, and in the same way about the grumbling of railway-porters against railway-directors. I sympathized more with the latter than with the former; and I do still. But when I was a boy, which was just before the motor car burst upon the world, I never dreamed of doubting that the railway-train dominated the whole future of the world. It was the latest great locomotive that man had invented. And that conservative spirit of childhood always makes the child think of the latest as the last. To talk, as some people are now talking, of whether railways will become obsolete, or whether steam can be superseded, of whether railway stock will always be as safe as it was — all this would have been to me a prophecy as unintelligible as some of those Old Testament visions that seem a medley of wheels and wings and clouds. Railways had been firmly established before I was born; I never dreamed of doubting that they would remain exactly the same after I died. They seemed to me simply the iron framework of England, and almost of existence; as if the embankments were built before the everlasting hills or the trains of Bradshaw followed their appointed circuit like the stars. If there is any old gentleman still alive who remembers the time when there were no railways, he probably feels quite differently; he feels as I feel about motoring. I do not feel in this cosmic and conservative way about motoring; but I think it probable that the young who are younger than motoring really do. If you talk to them of a future without motoring, of a coming time when petrol will be scarcer than coal and men will walk about on their feet for want of wheels to carry them, it will seem like an unthinkable nightmare of negation. It will seem what the amputation of all legs would seem to a population of pedestrians. But they also will learn in due course what they cannot conceive now, just as I have learnt in due course what I could not have conceived then that it is the world that alters even more than we who alter it.
Of course it is a comparatively slow alteration which to some muddle-headed evolutionists seems to make it more consoling, but in fact makes it much more dangerous. It may or may not be true that petrol will replace coal or cars replace railways. But nobody supposes that Waterloo Station fell in a heap of ruins when the first taxicab went across Waterloo Bridge, or that bats and owls nested in Clapham Junction when the first petrol pump was set up on the road to Clapham Common. The point is not whether the changes are as rapid and revolutionary as the young are supposed generally to expect. The point is that they are not the changes they were expecting. Above all, the point is that they are changes in the very material they propose to treat; not changes in the manner of treating it. It is not a question of a younger generation wishing to carve the Phrygian cap or the Tree of Liberty on a stone that has been marked out for decoration with the Crown or the Cross. It is a question of the stone crumbling away before it can be carved with any thing, because they have forgotten the air they breathe, and the sky and the weather of the world.
We are always being told nowadays to allow for the natural impulses and instincts of youth. Let us be careful to allow for this most profound instinct of youth: its innocent conservatism. Let us always remember that to the very young the world they see really seems to be eternal; and that, however much they may talk a current cant about novelty and mutability, they do not really expect the externals of their world to be profoundly altered by time. Notice, for instance, what is the very phrase used in defence of any novelty. Observe what is really said in praise of the Electric Toothpick or the Petrol Pea-shooter. We are always assured that the discovery ‘has come to stay’. We, who have lived long enough to understand the real value of life, know perfectly well that nothing of that sort has ever come to stay. It may do all sorts of other things; but there is one thing that it cannot do; and that is to stay. We shall show no irritation, please God, on being repeatedly introduced to the Hat of the Future and the Umbrella of the New Age and the Goloshes of the Good Time Coming. But the only thing we really have learnt from life is that the good time will be going as well as coming, and that, in the book of fashions, the Hat of the Future will be recorded as the Hat of the Past. It is now the custom to condemn youth as too frivolous. But youth is always too serious; and just now it is too serious about frivolity. The conservatism of youth is a good thing; and it is not even necessary to conserve it.
IV. On Literary Parallels
I HAVE a deep and hearty hatred of literary parallels; especially when they have a suggestion of literary plagiarisms. I object to the parallels on many grounds; but, among others, on the ground that they are never parallel. Or, if we may (with all respectful allowance for Mr. Einstein) put the matter as a mathematical paradox, we might say that the two lines of thought are indeed parallel because they never manage to meet. In almost all the cases I come across, the resemblance between one passage and another, suggested by the ingenious critic, is really not a resemblance at all, let alone an artificial or unusual or suspicious resemblance. There is no reason why two independent poets should not think of the same image or idea quite independently. Only when the critic produces it, it is not the same idea at all. The critic insists that one poet is ‘indebted’ to the other; and nobody need deny that, in a loose and general sense, it is natural for any poet to be in debt. But his general obligation to the culture of the past is not like his particular obligation to the landlady, or possibly to the publican. It is as likely as not that his idea was original even if it is really identical; and it is even more likely, when it is examined, that it will not be identical but quite individual. Everybody mentions Villon to prove the platitude that a poet can be a thief; but I protest when they prove his literary thieving by quoting ‘Where are the snows of yesteryear?’ and then giving a list of all the poets who had previously mentioned snow.
To prove that even a good poet, as well as a good critic, can admit (or at least tolerate) this error, I will venture to remonstrate with Mr. Edmund Blunden, who can write good poetry as well as read it, upon a reading of his of the case of Keats and Horace. Mr. Blunden does not, indeed, fully endorse the alleged parallel; but he does not definitely dispute it; so that I, as very much minor poet, am goaded into doing it for him. For, indeed, the example strikes me as very illuminating, touching the hasty and misleading character of these assimilations. The suggestion is that in at least two phrases of the Ode to a Nightingale Keats echoes the Odes of Horace; which would be no very great crime; but is in fact, as it seems to me, a crime that was never committed. There is something about the mood of the critics who find comparisons, something eager and hasty and superficially satisfied, which prevents them, when considering two sayings of two poets, from really considering what the poets say. In this case the critic observes, ‘ “Hungry generations” appears to be a powerful and majestic translation of his (Horace’s) tempus edax, “devouring time “.‘ Now it does not seem to me to be anything of the kind. Even if Keats had happened to use the expression ‘devouring time’, I should not have thought it necessary to suppose that he had ever even heard of the phrase tempus edax. It seems to me that any body, at any time, a poet as good as Mr. Blunden or a poet as minor as myself, might use the phrase ‘devouring time’. We might talk about devouring time as we might talk about barking dogs; because dogs do bark and time does devour. But, over and above this preliminary objection to parallels, there is a very particular objection to this parallel; that it is not, as I have said, a parallel at all. Keats did not mean that the hungry generations were hungry as time is hungry; that they ate towers and temples and ground crowns and sceptres in their teeth till they were crushed to dust. He meant the hunger as a human attribute; the hunger which, whether mystical or material, is in a sense the chief attribute of humanity. The point was that so many generations had rushed and trampled past, all eager for their own passing needs, and left the nightingale still singing as it had sung in the beginning. I do not see any real parallel between this and the idea of the dead destructiveness of time. And I would bet my boots, or my books, or whatever may be the more appropriate wager, that Keats never thought of any such parallel at all; and certainly had no need to look up an old Latin poet for the idea.
Curiously enough, the case is very much the same with the second example given in the same criticism. I have forgotten most of the little Latin poetry I knew; but I shall not easily forget that beautiful strain of music in the Descende Coelo, which is rendered here
‘Hearest thou? Or does a lovely hallucination
Beguile me? I think I hear thee and
Go straying through the haunted groves.’
But it seems to me quite arbitrary and fanciful to say that Keats was thinking of this because he wrote the two lines
‘Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
Fled is that music:— Do I wake or sleep?’
What is the good of being a poet, if you are not allowed to ask, all by yourself, whether you have had a vision or a waking dream? What are poets for, except to go about asking everybody whether they wake or sleep? I should imagine that this sort of dreamy doubt could be paralleled in scores and hundreds of poems; it is the obvious poetical comment on any deep or mystifying experience. What is the poor poet to do, if he is not even permitted to say that some wonderful thing was like a dream, without being convicted of having sneaked it out of an old school-book, of the works of Quintus Horatius Flaccus? It seems to me that, before we look for a poet’s reasons in somebody’s else poem, we might naturally ask whether there are already any reasons in his own poem. Surely anybody must feel that the Ode to a Nightingale, by its own life and logic, was bound to end with that suggestion of a man waking from a trance, bemused and bewildered. I do not doubt that Horace had experienced much the same sensations after straying through the haunted groves of Italy as Keats had experienced in the woods about Burford. Poets do very often have these queer fits; and there is, of course, some similarity between them; which is why they can be described by the same name of poetry. But beyond the broad brotherhood of the poets, I cannot see any particular coincidence in these two cases. Nor, indeed, do I think the two emotions described here are exactly identical; though they are certainly less wide apart than the impersonal crumbling of time and the crowd of hungry human beings. But to draw a fine distinction between the two would undoubtedly be a delicate verbal exercise; and I do not propose to attempt it here. I am dealing here entirely in terms of common sense; and it seems to me common sense to leave original poets alone with their original ideas, and not strain logic and language to cracking in order to prove that they are not original. When I say I do not like poetical parallels, I do not mean that I dislike poetical comparisons. Some critical profit might be gained by comparing Keats and Horace, and noting the differences between their two ways of dealing with superficially similar ideas. But to see the similarities, without seeing the differences, seems to me a dangerous game.
It is especially dangerous, because behind that covert of coincidence there crouches that monster, the Baconian. By the Baconian I do not merely mean a man who thinks Bacon wrote Shakespeare, as some quite intelligent men have thought. I mean the sort of man who goes mad on Bacon and uses the mad arguments that many Baconians have used. I mean the man who searches Bacon’s Essays for some mention of the sun in connexion with the moon; and then searches Shakespeare’s Plays, triumphantly producing an allusion to the moon in actual conjunction with the sun. I mean the man who will not let Shakespeare call roses red or lilies white, without pouncing on the fact that somebody else had made the same botanical discovery. I mean the man who is proud of the quantity of his parallel quotations, and apparently indifferent to their quality. In short, I object not only to the loss of proportion but of that general sense of probability which is so considerable a part of sanity. We have to consider not only what is improbable, but what is probable; and especially the coincidences that are overwhelmingly probable. And when I see these things neglected by a good writer in a good review, I venture to raise a mild protest.
V. On a Censorship for Literature
T HE recurring discussion about a Censorship for Literature or the Arts is a good example of the extreme difficulty in these days of discussing anything. Nobody seems to know where to begin. Nobody seems able to distinguish between one thing and another. For instance, to take a minor point, it is one thing to believe in A Censor and quite another thing to believe in The Censor. If I had to have my books censored, I would much rather they were censored by the Spanish Inquisition than by the British Home Office. The Spanish Inquisition was not an institution that I specially admire, but it did act on some intelligent principles; I know what the principles were and I agree with a great many of them. As to the principles of Sir William Joynson-Hicks, my difficulty is threefold. Not only do I not agree with them, but I do not know what they are. Not only do I not know what they are, but I am sure that he does not know what they are.
To begin with, supposing that the Censorship deals only with sexual decorum (which is generally far from being the case), there are at least three totally distinct things that are now generally discussed under that head. First, there is the preaching or propagating of some theory about sex considered anti-social or anarchical. Second, there is a certain sort of descriptive writing likely to excite appetites that may be anti-social or anarchical. Third, there is the use of certain terms, often merely old-fashioned, for things which later convention covers in some other way. I can understand a man wanting none of these things censored. I can understand him wanting all of these things censored. I can understand him wanting some censored and not others. But, anyhow, they have nothing to do with each other. No two of them need be found together in the same sentence or the same book. A man could preach sexual anarchy in language as cold as that of an astronomical treatise, and about as seductive as a page of Bradshaw. A man could describe sensual things with an unscrupulous appeal to the senses, without preaching any theory at all and without using any coarse words at all. Lastly, a man might use all the coarse words in Rabelais and make the theme rather repulsive than attractive. He might use all the coarse words in the Bible and be every bit as moral as the Bible, or even as Puritan as the grimmest expositor of the Bible.
One would think that the very first thing that anybody discussing the question would realize would be the distinction between these three tests. But, if we read a column in a newspaper, or a page in a popular book, professing to deal with the problem, we generally find them all mixed up together, whether the writer is denouncing the mixture or defending the mixture. The truth is that in this matter most people’s moral ideas are now already mixed. To take the first section in order to suppress false doctrine, we must have a definition of true doctrine. And very few people now know exactly what doctrine is true, even if they feel a great many current ones are false. For the second, it is, after all, a moral doctrine which declares that mere appeals to mere appetites are wrong. It is a moral doctrine most decent people vaguely feel, but now a little too vaguely to be applied vigilantly. But, of these first two divisions, I may be allowed to add that they do emphatically involve immortal and unalterable truth. The fact that a chaotic and ill-educated time cannot clearly grasp that truth does not alter the fact that it always will be the truth.
There is a right relation of the sexes; there is a right rule about it; and there is a wrong appeal calculated to encourage a wrong relation. But of the third thing it is not so. It is worth remarking that this third section, of the mere use of words, is the only one of which the modern talk is true. Of this it is true to say that it is only a question of convention, of custom, of different periods of history, of different stages of progress. It was not as gross of Shakespeare to use a certain word in a playhouse as it would have been gross of Dickens to use it in a drawing-room. But it would be just as wrong for Shakespeare to neglect his wife as for Dickens to neglect his wife. I am not here raising the delicate controversy about whether either of these authors did neglect his wife. The point is that if they did they were wrong; and I will wager that they knew they were wrong; for they were traditional Christian men. The notion that, because language can change, therefore life and love can change, is one of the many muddles of a thoroughly muddled mind. We might as well say that because Shakespeare had trunkhose and Dickens bad trousers, it is but natural that the next great English author should have three legs.
So long as the modern world plays with the preposterous idea that everything changes with the fashion, it is useless for it to attempt to control the changes in anything so fanciful as fiction. People will pursue the moment that is just passing; but they will not be persecuted for the moment that has just passed. You may send a man to prison for five years for writing a silly book, if you can say to him, ‘If you were in prison for five hundred years, it would still be a silly book.’ But you cannot say to a man, ‘If you had waited fifteen years, this sort of book might have been fashionable; but, as it is, I send you to prison in the interval for being in advance of your age.’ That sort of persecution will never have any effect; for it combines injustice with indifference. It is at once an undeserved condemnation and an undeserved compliment. The fanatics of the past are sometimes blamed because they played the tyrant while appealing to eternal truth. But it is far more intolerable to play the tyrant while not appealing to eternal truth. It is most intolerable of all to play the tyrant while appealing only to temporary fiction. Nobody can be expected to stand the Inquisitor who says, ‘I am burning you alive for what you said to-day, and what I shall probably think to-morrow.’ And that is the tone of nearly all the tentative repressions and remonstrances of our time.
The plain truth is that modern society must have a morality before it can have a censor of morals. I should say that it must have a religion before it can have a morality. But that is another question which I should not discuss fully here. Anyhow, the trouble is that people are making a fuss about unreal romances when they ought to be making a fuss about real life. It is a case of taking care of the facts and the fictions will take care of themselves. If we cleanse the community, the community will cleanse its poetry and its prose. But it is absurd to expect that people who do not respect their own promises, made at their own weddings, will be horrified because every novel does not end in a Victorian manner with wedding-bells. It is ridiculous to expect that people will be stung to fury by the behaviour of Joan in Green Pyjamas or Peter in Cocktail-Time, when they have managed to get reconciled to it in their own daughters or sons-in-law. I do not mean, of course, that all our family life is like that. Nor is all our fiction like that. But many who demand a Censorship are really demanding that we should tolerate in life what we will not tolerate in literature.
VI. On Detective Story Writers
T HE very first words of the story of Trent’s Last Case ought to tell any intelligent and traditional person that the whole mind of the writer moves on a higher level than the ordinary murder story. Without making any parade of being more than a story-teller, he is a story-teller understanding style and distinction and the deeper philosophy that is never a fad or an ism; and, above all, understanding that weight and movement of words, in which style and distinction and philosophy and experience are one. For the very first words of this detective story, written to be read in a railway train, are, ‘Between what matters and what seems to matter, how should the world we know judge wisely?’ I hope I may be excused if I find an interesting illustration of this very question in the public advertisements, and even the literary tributes at the back of the book. For among those who have expressed their enthusiastic thanks to Mr. Bentley for writing a real detective story that was also a real book, are some of the very finest specialists in the department of the crime novel, and also some of the first minds in the domain of general thought and culture. On the one hand, they include real experts in the scientific and exact treatment of such police problems, like Mr. R. Austin Freeman and Mr. Freeman Wills Crofts. On the other hand, they include men brilliant and distinguished in totally different fields of serious speculation and controversy, like Father Ronald Knox, and Mr. G. D. H. Cole. Last, but the very reverse of least, they include those writers, rather especially lady writers, who, without any special show of specialism, have written quite perfectly constructed crime stories that are also entertaining comedies; notably Mrs. Agatha Christie and Miss Dorothy Sayers.
In addition to these authorities it would be easy, to my personal knowledge, to quote dozens of famous writers and thinkers, dons and doctors and diplomatists and poets of the most classical turn, who have put this book along with The Wallet of Kai Lung or The Diary of a Nobody in the small and secret shelf of the Best Books. To mention only at random two of my friends, who will not resent the revelation: Mr. Hilaire Belloc, who never reads detective stories, admires this one; and Mr. Maurice Baring, who reads all the detective stories that can be had for love or money, admires this one most of all. All this being so, I cannot but be interested in one small detail of the ceremonial embassy of thanks to Mr. Bentley; I mean the fact that the first name that gets announced of all that mission and printed on top of all such names, is the name of Mr. Edgar Wallace; and that Mr. Edgar Wallace alone is thought worthy to have his proclamation printed in large letters on the occasion. Evidently, it is his compliment alone that really counts ‘Between what matters and what seems to matter, how should the world we know judge wisely?
God forbid that I or anybody else should speak, ungratefully or ungraciously of Mr. Edgar Wallace. I have enjoyed hundreds of his stories and hope to enjoy hundreds more; and it seems quite likely that I shall continue to have the chance of such enjoyment. To despise such stories is of all things the most despicable. It is like despising pantomimes or public-houses or comic songs or common enjoyments of every kind that bind us into the brotherhood of man. And when we are dealing with popular literature of this sound and lively sort it is very ungracious to complain of the amazing multiplicity of the output which a man like Mr. Wallace manages to achieve. It is like complaining that a really good alehouse provides too much ale; which would seem not only a blasphemy but almost a contradiction in terms. It is like complaining that a really good popular singer can sing too many different songs; a complaint that is entirely a compliment. It is unreasonable to abuse Mr. Wallace for having entertained and excited us too much. It is ungenerous to resent generosity. It may well be a pleasure to have given pleasure to so many; and it ought to be a pleasure for them to acknowledge it.
But when all this is acknowledged, there remains a rational proportion in these things; and the selection of Mr. Edgar Wallace, out of all the other authorities, as if he were the one person who really matters, is not rational. There is no possible reason for it, except a vulgar reason connected with mere size or noise or notoriety or mass-production. The satire called Reunion All Round is a thing that matters and will continue to matter; it may matter to our descendants a hundred years hence as the satire called Gulliver’s Travels matters to us. It is amusing and it is meant to amuse; but it is not only meant to kill time, but to kill trash and falsehood. I am glad to note that Miss Dorothy Sayers, who is one of those who do write murder stories as if they could write something else, tests her admiration of Mr. Bentley’s book in this fashion, and says: ‘It is the one detective story of the present century which I am certain will go down to posterity as a classic. It is a masterpiece.’ A masterpiece is a thing that matters; and a man cannot produce, and probably does not pretend to produce, masterpieces or things that matter, to be sold by the million or poured out in a perpetual stream. Thus a man like Father Ronald Knox, the author of Reunion All Round, in giving the laurel to a literary work, is dealing with something on his own level, and may be storing up something to be remembered; as we remember the decent pride of Pope in the compliment of his contemporaries:
‘And Congreve loved and Swift endured my lays.’
It is the same, of course, with the tributes or contributions of other serious writers to sensational romance. The general movement called Guild Socialism may matter very much a hundred years hence; at any rate, it matters now; and a man who has expounded it with the economic clarity and close ness of Mr. Cole certainly matters now. The solid, detailed, scientific argument of Dr. Thorndyke, in the romances of Mr. Austin Freeman, matters now; and may quite probably continue to matter. In that sense, pelting the world with a prodigious number of quite readable sensational romances does not matter; and most probably is not meant to matter. As a matter of fact, there is one section of Mr. Edgar Wallace’s work, some of his sketches about South Africa, that really is of a more solid and intrinsically valuable type. Perhaps he was a better writer before he was a best-seller, like Sir Hall Caine; perhaps he described real Kaffirs better than unreal Chinamen, just as Sir Hall Caine was so much better when he was confined to the Isle of Man, and not let loose on the Universe of Man.
But, in truth, there is another distinction to be made. Even at their best, Mr. Edgar Wallace’s stories are generally not detective stories, but adventure stories. The two are too much confused under the loose title of shockers or sensational novels; and the writers are often confused themselves about which of the two they are writing. But the sort of story that can be turned out in such numbers is normally the story of varied adventure; as it was turned out by Dumas, or, for that matter, by Henty. It is not so very difficult to plan out, two or three times a week, a sort of obstacle race of man-traps and ambushes, so that a hero shall be in perpetual peril. Thank the Lord it is so easy to write and so easy to read; it is no disgrace to be classed with Dumas and thanked for fertility like his. But to make one man-trap that shall be inspected by experts through the length of a book, and never found to be a man-trap at all, that is work for a different sort of man; and even Trent called it his Last Case and has refused to try again.
IT is fashionable now to slate poets for being poetical. The most crushing ease against them is when they can be convicted of being musical. Mr. Walter de la Mare is caught tripping on the light fantastic toe to a tune that was alleged to be brazenly melodious and pleasing; and Mr. Humbert Wolfe is arrested in the very act of uttering harmonies in the old, vulgar fashion of Milton and Keats. Crimes of this sort our critics seem more and more bent on bringing to light; but the code of law which they administer is still in the making and appears some times to be a little vague. It is not easy for the outsider to understand why words that might be inspiring and imaginative if only they were cacophonous and clumsy can become less intelligent or suggestive merely by being sonorous or sweet. But there seems really to be an idea, in some of the critics, that the poet should avoid pleasing the ear, quite apart from his primary duty to please the mind. It seems to be akin to the idea of the Imagists, those singular idolaters, and to suggest that the worshipper must have the image but not the hymn of praise — the sound of sackbut, dulcimer, and all kinds of music before the image that the King has set up. In plain words, imaginative poetry must not appeal to the sense of sound. The futurist poet is like the Early Victorian child. He must be seen and not heard.
I have, indeed, heard of one modern critic who went even further. He is reported as having said:
‘True poetry should be invisible and inaudible.’ Presumably it will appeal to the sense of smell. In one sense, doubtless, we may recognize considerable truth in all this, as a description of contemporary conditions. Most of us have read rich passages of modern poetry in which the melody was quite inaudible and the vision was quite invisible. To us, unfortunately, it was also true that the poetry was quite invisible. But that is a matter of personal impression, and we cannot argue with the critic about it with any logical profit. It may be that for him the real melody of the real melodists is inaudible; and that is why he cannot appreciate people like Mr. Walter de la Mare. But it is no good for the writer and the critic to engage in a slanging match to prove which of them is deaf; which can only, at best, prove that neither of them is dumb. The only course, as in every quarrel, is to go back to first principles.
I do not know how the thing might be settled if it were left as a mere dispute about tastes. I do not know if the poets would give the lie to the critics and hotly deny that they had ever been guilty of making agreeable noises. I know not if Mr. de la Mare will furiously deny that he has an ear; or Mr. Wolfe seek, by emitting hideous sounds, to claim a stainless reputation for discord. Personally, as a mere matter of taste, I prefer them as they are. But the only possible way of debating these things in public is to ask for fundamental or first principles. If there are such principles, it is best to debate on the basis of them. If there are no such principles, it is best not to debate at all. In that case, indeed, we cannot debate at all. We can only go on making noises — if we are common and vulgar persons, tolerable or pleasing noises; if we are fastidious and futuristic persons, ugly or even unbearable noises.
The arts and crafts of man, from the beginning, have been arts and crafts of combination. They did unite the shelter of the roof and the dignity of the tower. They did unite the style of the orator with the decisions of the Forum. And they did unite the meaning of the words with the music of the tune. Now just as the whole of human culture has been combination, so the whole of the new notion of culture is separation. It really would, if it were logical, break up all these old combinations, not only in literature or even in music, but in architecture, rhetoric, and all the rest. These theorists have a much larger task than they imagine, if they are to put their own theory into practice; but that is to suppose that the theorists know what their own theory is. Thus they would really have to build a solitary tower, all alone by itself in a field, solely in order to be well proportioned and pure in outline, and serving no other purpose at all. Meanwhile, the poor progressives would have to live somewhere and huddle under some roof or other, unless they had abolished roofs by that time. Perhaps the poor devils would be driven into some hideous steel house with electric fittings — which is a more horrid fate than the harshest traditionalist could wish to bring upon them. Perhaps they will only have to live in huge fiats, like coral insects in a coral reef, only not so beautiful.
But anyhow, the point is that, on this theory, their practical dwelling-place must not be beautiful. It is as obvious and inevitable as that their solitary tower must not be useful. It is part of the implied principle that it must not be a belfry or a beacon, even if it is in the same degree a beautiful belfry or a beautiful beacon. Art must be separated from architecture, or, if the version be more correct, architecture must be separated from building.
Now, I cannot for the life of me see why architecture should be separated from building; and in the same way I cannot see why sense should be separated from sound. I am quite willing to admit that they are two things; but I say they are two things that not only complete each other, but express and exhibit each other; two things that have the power to bring each other out and emphasize each other’s existence. When I see a beautiful belfry, I know that it is possible to have the beauty without the belfry, and the belfry without the beauty. But I am also quite certain that the fact of its being a belfry makes it more beautiful, and the fact of its being beautiful makes it more of a belfry.
So, with the great lines of poetry, it would, of course, be possible to have equally melodious sounds that were mere gibberish; and it would, of course, be possible to express the same thought in words that were mere doggerel. But, though it is in this sense a combination, it is emphatically not in any sense an artificial or accidental combination. The verse sounds all the better for meaning something, and the words mean all the more for sounding well. As I have said, the two things bring each other out, as certain condiments are said to bring out certain flavours. And until that psychological fact is realized the separatist school will not have faced the real fact in the tradition. Milton’s ‘Like Teneriffe or Atlas unremoved’ actually would not sound so well if Teneriffe were only the name of a house in Golder’s Green, or Atlas were spelt with a small ‘a’. And it certainly would not mean so much if it did not sound so well. In short, the union of sound and sense is a Marriage; and this is the age of Divorce. It cannot understand that divine paradox whereby two things become one and yet remain two; or the notion of their increasing each other’s effect by something that is much more subtle than simple addition. The world has become a sort of wild divorce court, not only for individuals, but also for ideas. And even those whose beliefs or unbeliefs make them indifferent to the idea that those whom God hath joined become one flesh may be willing to consider the thesis that the thoughts which man has joined can become one fact.
For a second aspect of the new poetry, the debate about new forms in art interests me, because my reaction to it is not that of the ordinary reactionary. The first fact I feel is that all this faith in novelty is the very reverse of novel. It is also the very reverse of original. It has now been a convention for more than a century and a half; and it was originally borrowed from the stale and vulgar world of party politics. It is from the old wrangles of Rads and Reformers and True Blue Tories that modern art has borrowed this queer notion of incessant Progress and each generation crowing over the last. When I read all this confident exposition about new methods that must now supersede old methods; of how Yeats and Swinburne must yield to Mr. Eliot and Mr. Pound, just as Tennyson and Browning had to yield to Yeats and Swinburne, I heave a sigh that is full of old and tender memories. I do not feel as if I were reading some revolutionary proclamation of new anarchic hopes or ideals; I feel as if I were reading Macaulay’s Essays. I read Macaulay when I was a boy and believed him, because I was a boy. I might almost say because he was a boy. For the best and heartiest thing about Macaulay was that he lived and died a boy; full of conviction, ignorant of life; cocksure and confident of the future. And in Macaulay’s Essays will be found all that theory of the succession of things more and more ‘advanced’ which the artistic schools still repeat, still scornfully hurl against each other, and still meekly inherit from each other. Progress, said Macaulay, never stops. ‘What was its goal yesterday will be its starting-point to-morrow.’ I believed that simple theory when I was a boy. But I am rather surprised, by this time, that the boys have not found a new one.
Anyhow, I have now come to believe in a totally different theory about novelty, and even the necessity of novelty. What puzzles me about current culture is that it ignores the very truths which it exaggerates. It is always talking our heads off about Psychology, and then it entirely leaves out the most elementary and familiar facts of psychology, such as the fact of fatigue. It is always raving about Relativity, and then ignores the obvious fact that fatigue is relative. If a man is made to walk twenty miles between two stone walls engraved on each side with endless repetitions of the Elgin Marbles, it is not unlikely that by the end of his walk he will be a little weary of that classical style of ornament. But that is because the man is tired; not because the style is tiresome. The matter might be immediately tested by starting a fresh and enthusiastic man from the other end; a man in the mood of the early Renaissance, eager for the Greek spirit but still ill-acquainted with it. In this sense and for this reason, it is necessary to have novelty; but the novelty is not necessarily improvement. It does not necessarily give the man for whom the old things are stale any right to scorn the man for whom the old things are fresh. And there always are men for whom the old things are fresh. Such men, so far from being behind the times, are altogether above the times. They are too individual and original to be affected by the trivial changes of time. A man who really wants to write a sonnet, as Shakespeare wanted to write a sonnet, is still as spontaneous as a man who wants to sing a song. There are sonnets by Mr. Baring or Mr. Belloc that are exactly of that sort; and, so far from being staler than others, they are fresher than others, because their Renaissance joy in the classical has not gone stale. But that does not mean that everybody must go on writing sonnets, and nothing but sonnets, for ever; for everybody would not want to; and enforced repetitions would really be stale. In other words, it is sometimes hygienic to have a change, even when it is not an improvement. We may leave an old field fallow — not because it will never bear crops again, but because it will; not because it is barren, but because it is not. We may turn away for a time from a good thing — not because it is not good, but because we have, for a purely relative reason, really had too much of a good thing. That is the real reason of the continual stir and change in styles and methods; and it is (within reason) a complete justification of it. Boys will be boys; but they will not necessarily be better men.
There are at least two things to be said for this theory of change, as an alternative to the rather antiquated theory of progress. First, it does at any rate correspond to the real facts of artistic and literary history, repeated again and again. We do not see in the past a perpetual line of increasing liberation or enlargement of artistic experiment. What we see in the past is the much more human business of men first doing something badly; then doing it well; then doing it too well — or, at least, too easily and too often. Then they commonly begin to do something else; but the thing is much more often an old thing than a new thing. What we really see is the perpetual revival of what are called new things, because they are neglected things. So Raphael and the Renaissance went back to what was older than medievalism; so the Pre-Raphaelites went back to what was older than Raphael. So many modern artists have gone back to Egyptian art because it was older than Greek art. So many of them have gone back to savage art because it was supposed to be primitive and unspoilt. They have a right to seek stimulation, though stimulants should be taken in moderation. But their renewal is relative. The other point in its favour is that it gets rid of a certain element called pride or impudence; which is an east wind blowing out of dry deserts and never did good to man or beast.
For a third aspect of the new poetry, it is contended that the poet must seek to isolate an image, and even a word. He must, to use the military phrase, cut all connexions and leave it in the air. To begin with, this interests me in the most superficial sense, because what strikes me about poets is that they were all hopelessly traditional, even when they tried to be revolutionary. Nobody could be more entirely in the air, to all appearance, than Shelley. Nothing could be more entirely in the air than his little pet, the Skylark. And no mind could be more filled with the conviction that it was completely in revolt against all tradition, and especially against all religion. And yet it would be quite an amusing exercise to take Shelley’s poem about the skylark, line by line and verse by verse, and show how entirely dependent it is upon traditional ideas, and even rather specially upon religious ideas. Here, perhaps, it would be rather too long an exercise to work my way through that rather long poem. But it is really true that it could be analysed, point by point, in that traditional sense. The song of the radiant young Atheist would probably turn out in the end to be a most orthodox theological tract. He begins by saying, ‘Hail to thee, blithe spirit.’ What does he mean by talking about spirits, if he is not in any sense a spiritualist? What would be the meaning of the remark, if he were really a materialist? He would never have had even the idea of a spirit but for the religious tradition represented in the idea of the Holy Spirit. He then says, ‘Bird thou never wert,’ which is obviously a lie. But it is a lie symbolizing a truth, and what he really means by it may be stated thus ‘I refuse to believe that a bird is only a bird, or that there is nothing more in such things than the material facts that we know about them.’ That thought is the beginning of all theology.
Shelley’s next surrender to superstition is absolutely abject and appalling. He says, ‘From heaven, or near it’ — a remark which must make all modern and rational persons with one concerted movement cover their faces in shame. In plain words, he not only talks as if there were something divine in the mere empty space above our planet. He actually talks as if there were a paradise of saints and angels some where located, like a coloured cloud, in that space, so that a skylark could be said to be more or less near to it. The lapse is so distressing that I will not linger upon the minor barbarism of medieval physiology, by which the emotions of the bird are represented as coming from its ‘heart’, as if that organ were a centre of consciousness. I was going to say that I ‘had not the heart’ to dwell any longer on the depressing orthodoxy of Shelley, whereby I should myself have fallen into the physical image that is so superstitious and medieval. It is so very difficult to write any intelligible English without being superstitious and medieval.
Needless to say, the criticism could not only be continued through the whole poem, but it becomes conspicuously clear and true in the most poetical parts of the poem. Certainly the finest passages, and per haps the most frequently quoted passages, are those that really celebrate what is not only a Christian dogma, but one now often abandoned as an antiquated and benighted dogma. Those great movements of verse do not really correspond to the Rise of the Skylark, but rather to the Fall of Man. I dare say Shelley would have been very much surprised if he had been told that he was subscribing to the doctrine of the Fall of Man. But he certainly was; and that was why his words at that moment really become weighty and human. ‘We look before and after and pine for what is not’ has the sound of a great tolling bell. Nobody needs to be told that some spiritual tragedy has already happened to the race of him who cries aloud:
‘But if we could scorn
Hate and pride and fear;
If we were things born
Not to shed a tear—’
or to the poet who can compare such a tragedy with the more trivial bliss of a little feathered creature in the empty air.
I have already remarked that in the past all the poetry that professed to be particularly revolutionary was in fact particularly traditional. In this and in many things most of the revolutions of the past were pretty much alike; and there are some of us who rather doubt whether the revolutions of the future will be particularly different. But even if we ignore this tradition of traditionalism, and suppose that the futurists have really something novel in the way of a novelty, the logical difficulty of their position still remains. We may, for the sake of argument, treat this change as if there had been no other changes. We may isolate the Imagist as he would isolate the image. We may treat the art as if it had no history, just as the artist tells a story as if it had no beginning. But the fact still remains that, since he has to use the words of some language, he has got the words from somewhere and learned them from somebody. And the words are in fact winged or weighted with the thoughts and associations of a thousand years. If they were not, he would not use them; he might just as well say ‘Grunk’, or ‘Quoggle’.
VIII. On the Classics
IN a moment of fine frenzy a young man has stood up and declared that ‘the study of Latin and Greek is not of much use in the battle of life’, and gone on to demand that the young should be instructed chiefly in the science of Health — that is, in the facts and the functions of the body. The young man in question will be gratified to know that I, for one, consistently neglected to do any work at the school in which I was supposed to be learning Latin and Greek, though I am not sure that the mere fact of idleness and ignorance can be said to have armed and drilled me for the battle of life. But, when I consider such armour or armament, some faint memories come to me from the learning that I neglected. There flits across my mind the phrase aes triplex, and I remember how Stevenson used it for a title to his essay defending a cheerful contempt for medical fussing; and how he cited the example of Dr. Johnson, who dreaded death and yet disdained any vigilance against disease; and whose ‘heart, bound with triple brass, did not recoil before the prospect of twenty-seven individual cups of tea’. It is, doubtless, terrible to think that Stevenson took his Stoical image of triple brass from a Latin poet; and still more terrible to think that Johnson would have approved of Stevenson for quoting the Latin poets. But though Stevenson and Johnson were superficially about as different as any two men could be in everything except in this weak ness for traditional scholarship, I do not think that either of them can be said to have come off so badly in fighting the battle of life.
The trouble about always trying to preserve the health of the body is that it is so difficult to do it with out destroying the health of the mind. Health is the most unhealthy of topics. Those who support such hygienic culture always profess to be very practical, and compare their own healthy materialism with the visionary futilities of everybody connected with the classics from Julius Caesar to Johnson. But, in fact, it is in practice that their practical ideal breaks down. There is no difficulty about talking and writing in general terms of the facts of nature, or what are commonly called the God-given functions of man. It is when people really begin to teach these things, as if they were algebra or geography, that they discover a surprising number of difficulties — not to say diseases. Upon this point of practical application I will only mention one example out of the statement referred to above. The young man in question frankly admits that he would dislike having to read a list of hideous malformations or foul diseases to an infant school or a row of staring babies. He says that this might, doubtless, be inadvisable, and lead to morbid fears and fancies. Anyhow, he disapproves of such physiology in the nursery; every man has a sane spot somewhere. But he goes on to say that big boys, presumably towards the end of their school career, should have learnt to balance and appreciate such knowledge; and it is such knowledge which they ought above all things to know.
Now it seems to me that the argument is very much the other way. The period when many boys, we might almost say most boys, are capable of morbidly misusing a medical knowledge is exactly the period at which he proposes to give it to them. I imagine it would do, in comparison, precious little harm to a child of five. If you talk to a child about an aortic aneurism, he will not be frightened; he will only be bored. If you talk to a boy of fifteen or sixteen about it, and give only a few fragmentary hints of what it is like, he will very probably come to the rapid conclusion that he has got one. All that is necessary is to have odd sensations round the heart: and digestion, or indigestion, will do that at any time of life, but rather specially at the time when digestion is tried by unripe apples or cob-nuts before lunch. Youth is a period when the wildest external careless ness often runs parallel to the most gloomy and concentrated internal cares. An enormous number of normal youths are quite abnormal for a time. Their imagination is working inwards, and on nothing more commonly than on imaginary maladies. To throw a medical encyclopaedia at the head of a young man in this condition is simply to provide him with a handbook of One Thousand Ways of Going Mad. A doctor once told me that even among medical students there is a perceptible proportion of this medical mania; and they have all the correcting elements of a special vocation, of a scientific atmosphere, and of more complete and therefore more balanced knowledge. Ordinary people receiving an ordinary smattering of such knowledge are very likely indeed to find that little knowledge a dangerous thing.
But the essential truth is that those who talk to us about facts have not faced the chief fact of all and, indeed, the fact is also a paradox. Facts as facts do not always create a spirit of reality, because reality is a spirit. Facts by themselves can often feed the flame of madness, because sanity is a spirit. Consider the huge accumulations of detail piled up by men who have some crazy hobby of believing that Herodotus wrote Homer or that the Great Pyramid was a prophecy of the Great War. Consider the concrete circumstances and connected narratives that can often be given at vast lengths and in laborious detail by men who suffer from a delusion of being persecuted, or being disinherited, or being the rightful King of England. These men are maddened by material facts; they are lunatics not by their fancies but by having learned too many facts. What they lack is proportion: a thing as invisible as beauty, as inscrutable as God. And when we thus realize the real problem of morbidity and medicine we may begin to catch a far-off glimpse of something distant, but not quite so dispensable as we had supposed; and find ourselves once more faintly conscious of the presence of the case for Classical Education, so useless in the battle of life.
What culture does, or ought to do, is to give a health of the mind that is parallel to the health of the body. It is ultimately a matter of intellectual instincts that are almost like bodily instincts. A sane man knows when something would drive him mad, just as a man standing up knows at what angle he would fall down. He does not have to calculate the angle with a mathematical instrument, or fall flat on his nose forty times in a series of scientific experiments. The body, like the mind, knows its own equilibrium. But it knows it better than the mind; because the problem is simpler, and the physical instincts are less paralysed by false teaching. Now the true teaching, which strengthens and steadies the mind so that it knows and rejects madness at sight, has, in fact, come down to us very largely from the culture of those great languages in which were written the works of the last Stoics and the first Saints, the Greek Testament and the Roman Law.
To be of the company of such men, to have the mind filled with such words, to remember the tone of their orators or the gesture of their statues, is to feel a steadying power upon the spirit and a love of large spaces and large ideas, rather than of little lunacies and secrecies. It is something that understands at once modesty and dignity; something that is never servility and never pride. It is the power in the mind that can keep order among the virtues, often almost as dangerous as the vices. No catalogue of facts will give it; yet we can hear it instantly in the sound of some random Roman verse. That is why the great men I have named, so different in their natures, felt that the classics did count somehow in the battle of life. When Johnson says, ‘The shepherd in Virgil became acquainted with love, and found him a native of the rocks,’ we know that his rage against Chesterfield will never go beyond a grand restraint; when Stevenson says, ‘We have heard perhaps too much of lesser matters. Here is the door, here is the open air. Itur in antiquam silvam,’ we know that for such a mind lunacies will always be lesser matters and sanity be like the open air.
IX. On Psycho-analysis
I DO not know anything about Dr. Freud, except that it is the fashion to call him the father of psycho-analysis. I do not know anything about psycho-analysis, except that it demands a great deal more than the Confessional was always abused for demanding. It is most probable that psycho analysis can do good; it is pretty certain that psycho-analysts can do harm. But all this has nothing to do with the wonderful portrait of Dr. Sigismund Freud exhibited by a devout follower in his admiring study of the prophet.
The devout follower writes: ‘The great desk is a veritable Olympus of pagan gods, statuettes from the Nile cast in green metal while the gods were still living among men, bronzes from Asia, masks and totems from the Kamerun.’
If he were a common fellow like you or I, he would be content that his totems should come from the Cameroons. But wonderful scientific progress can be made by substituting a K for a C, in reproducing a language that has neither one nor the other. These are Scholarship, and there are two more of them. Anyhow, the great man sits at his great desk; you will observe that even the desk has to be great. Any how, he sits there, for reasons best known to himself, surrounded by images of all the gods in whom he does not believe; though I rather fancy that one image is missing.
The portrait then continues: ‘The handsome little figures illustrate the master’s work in primitive religions and myths. He sits among them, lonely and aloof as they. This man among his gods has become one of them . . . a symbol.’
Passing over the dry and dusty old questions that an antiquated rationalist might advance, as to how they can be his gods if he only studies them as myths, or why they should be so lonely when they are all together, we may agree that the appeal to symbolism is somewhat deeper. The writer then startles us with a very serious question, which has just occurred to him.
‘Is Freud a forecast of the man of the future? Is he one of the race of Martians who will inherit the earth? He has purged his creed of all ideals and theories of life, be they social or religious. He is the scientist, filling his niche in life and demanding a similar perfection and limitation of function from all others. He is the mind-made Czar, stiff and arbitrary and categoric . . . victor and victim . . . the Robot of the intelligence.’
It might be suggested that, if he is a scientist, he will hardly join so confidently in the positive prediction that a race of Martians will inherit the earth. It might also be suggested that, if he is a Robot, it seems less simple and self-evident that he is a mind-made Czar; since a Robot is not a master but a servant, and is not in that sense mind-made, but machine made. But when the vision of this curiously complicated or confused animal is accompanied with the plain, practical, downright question : ‘Is Freud a forecast of the man of the future?’ I can only answer feebly: ‘I trust not. I imagine not.’
Now why do people write all this sort of nonsense in newspapers? The people who write it are almost certainly not so silly as they sound. If you meet them in Fleet Street and stand them a drink, they are quite sensible. What is the connecting thread of association, or intellectual instinct, that makes them feel that this is the sort of thing that represents the mood of the day, and must be written in the daily Press?
There are many ways of putting the rather difficult answer to that rather delicate question. One way of putting it is to say that a religious war is raging under the surface; which would be much better if it were raging on the surface. The journalist feels in a vague way that the mere name of Freud is, as he says, a symbol; that it stands for the materialistic side in that quarrel; and therefore any one sympathizing with that side will rejoice in this curious appeal to the mysticism of materialism. Therefore he talks about a man purging himself of ideals; though any man talking like that must certain1y be purging himself of a sense of humour. Therefore he entertains the weird idea that it is a compliment to a man to call him a Robot.
Thus, again, he is drugged and mesmerized into using throughout the article such sentences as this: ‘Freud’s negation of Free Will is as thorough as that of some old tragic Greek poet.’ Well, to begin with, there may be two words even about the Greek poet. I do not profess to know much about the historic problems of Hellenism. I do not even know very much about the Greek tragedies. But the psycho- analysts know nothing at all about the Greek tragedies. I gather this from the astounding fact that they talk about the Oedipus Complex, obviously without knowing who Oedipus was. Nobody familiar with the Greek play would ever have used that Greek parallel. It was the whole point of Oedipus that he did not have the Oedipus Complex. It was the whole point of him that he only knew certain things too late which our bright and breezy psycho-analysts would introduce us to much too early. Next, in so far as the old tragedy was a struggle between Fate and Free Will, it represented the defeat of Free Will and not the denial of Free Will. The struggle of man against the gods might be a hopeless struggle, but it was a struggle. It is the whole point of modern Determinism that there can be no struggle at all. In fact, the Pagans, like the Christians, had a notion of the distinction between the divine will and the human will; only that their view of the divine will was darker and more doubtful; and because they were Pagans they were tempted to be pessimists. Then, again, the whole business of Fate in the old tragedy is not so simple as it looks; one of the best Greek scholars I know said that a Greek tragedy often consisted of a lot of people doing the wildest and wickedest things in a frenzy of free will and personal perversity; and then the Chorus saying in a hollow voice, ‘It is Fate. It is Fate.’ He said he did not believe it was Greek fatalism, but only Greek irony.
But, however that may be, there is a final thing to add in answer to such Pagan parallels. In so far as there really was a tinge of irresponsibility and fatalism in the religion of the Greeks, it probably had a great deal to do with its ultimate failure before the religion of the Romans. For the Greeks were the obvious leaders of the march of mankind, and especially of the Mediterranean civilization; and to some extent it is true that what went wrong with them was their moral self-control and self-respect; so that the lordship of light and order, and the making of modern Europe, passed to the little Latin village on the Tiber. I know that the Greek tragedies were very great; so great that I doubt whether they were so fatalistic as shallow fatalists suggest. But perhaps the greatest of Greek tragedies was the tragedy of the Greeks.
Even in this one story of the father of psycho analysis I could find a dozen examples of this slipshod popular ‘science’. Freud is represented as saying that the human race will get through (whatever that may mean) ‘because development is an inevitable law of creation’. It is at least equally apparent that decay is an inevitable law of creation. Old Huxley would have hacked this sort of thing to pieces with a hatchet. There is doubtless a place for Freud’s scalpel as well as Huxley’s hatchet; but it would be a pity if science, by performing the most brilliant operations on the brain, should end by removing the brain altogether.
X. On Egoists and Egoists
MOST journalists abound in jokes on the subject of misprints — the fearful misprints that make nonsense and the far, far more fearful misprints that make sense. For only those which are reasonable can really be ruinous. There are, of course, those which are merely errors, due at the worst to carelessness and at the best, possibly, to malicious humour. The real peril appears when we have to do, not with carelessness and humour, but with carefulness and a lack of humour. The awful moment is when the intelligent interpreter decides that the sentence, as it stands, is nonsense, and proceeds to make it make sense. I was myself once felled to earth under such a blow. I wrote for a magazine story a sentence descriptive of the hero, which ran, ‘He talked a great deal about himself because he was not an egoist.’ I found it rendered on the printed page in the amended and blameless form, ‘He talked a great deal about himself because he was an egoist.’
To the obscure scribbler in the background, who merely writes the story, there is a difference. But I do not suppose it made much difference to the reader of the story, if there ever was a reader of the story. Anyhow, at some stage of the long, mechanical modern process of copying and printing and proof-reading, and so on, there must have been, I presume, a grave and careful character who thought it was obviously a mistake to say that a man talking of himself was not an egoist. He therefore made the reasonable and natural correction and said he was an egoist. As this is, by the whole depth of hell, the most hideous and infernal thing that a human being can be, it makes some little difference to the story considered as a story. But it was evidently supposed to improve the sense considered as the sense. Now, extraordinary as it may seem, I myself am under the impression that my original sentence was quite sensible. It is my experience that the egoist, or, at least, the really evil and poisonous sort of egoist, is not remarkable for talking a great deal about himself; or, indeed, for talking a great deal at all. The worst examples of the egoistic type are silent and watchful, and wait until they can say something which (as they think, and as others may possibly think) nobody could have said but themselves. But even when they do talk at large, it is not in the ordinary sense about themselves. They are much more likely to talk about a large number of different things, to show how wise and widely cultivated they are. Above all, the true egoist can generally be detected by this diabolic mark: that he is not only willing to talk on any subject, but on any side of any subject. He has no creed, no cause, no conception of truth which he thinks more important than himself. He is willing to talk like a Turk to show that he has travelled in Turkey; he is willing to talk like a Buddhist to show that he has studied Buddhism. But he will not forget himself in fighting for the Turks; he will not sacrifice himself to Buddhism like a Christian sacrificing himself to Christianity. In all his varied travels he has discovered all wonders except one most wonderful thing — something bigger than himself.
Now, simple and sincere men, however much they may seem to be talking about themselves, are almost always using their own experiences to illustrate some thing bigger and better. Such men were Johnson and Macaulay; such men in our own time are Mr. Belloc or Mr. Bernard Shaw. And the test of them is that, however pugnacious or paradoxical they may seem, we cannot imagine them seriously summing up on the side opposite to their own. We cannot imagine Johnson really labouring to convince his friends that the Whigs were right; or Macaulay really labouring to convince them that the Whigs were wrong. We cannot imagine Mr. Belloc using his own experiences to discredit Catholicism or Mr. Bernard Shaw using his to discredit Socialism. They are quite capable of enjoying the experiences, and enjoying the fun or glory of narrating the experiences; but there is always something beyond the experiences. Now, to the egoist the whole pleasure is in the experiences, because they are egoistic experiences. But, in all subtle and deep-seated cases, the more he enjoys them as egoistic experiences, the less he is likely merely to narrate them in an egoistic way. He cares far too much about the impressions he is creating; he does not want to be remembered, as the dogmatist is, as a man who talked at the top of his voice, or a man who talked all the time. That sort of error can only be made by a person who still retains a great deal of unconsciousness. And it is the point of the true egoist that he retains nothing but self-consciousness. We say in rebuke to the rude and shouting dogmatist, ‘You forget yourself.’ The rebuke is the supreme compliment.
It is recognized that egoism is akin to hysteria, and is none the less hysterical because it is calm or dignified or apparently restrained. It lies very near that mystery of unreason and untruth which the old mystics perhaps simplified too much in their stories of diabolism, but which the modern psychologists will never fully understand till they take that old mysticism into account. In popular language, there is in such a man something of a madman, of a quiet and unobtrusive madman. And, as is so often said of the madman, he can be very cunning. He will try strangely circuitous ways of emphasizing his ego; not generally the obvious and hearty way of talking about himself. He is just as likely to draw attention to himself by not talking as by talking. He is liable to utter refusals, generally without giving reasons; because the refusal is more of an event if the reason is a mystery. The other type, the talker and debater, would be sure to give the reason for the refusal; for, to the combative, controversial man, the reason is more important than the refusal. All this must have been noticed by many people long before I noticed it; and all this I took for granted, as intelligible and rather interesting, in the phrase I used in the story; that the man ‘talked about himself because he was not an egoist’. But it would be rather awkward to have to explain all this to a printer or a proof-reader, in order to persuade him to print what was written down to be printed. Even in this place, it takes some little time to explain; and I prefer such simple truths in a shorter form, even if there are some who cannot see a simple truth without calling it a paradox.
XI On Mr. Epstein
T HE capacity of Mr. Epstein for carving an Aunt Sally, which shall immediately serve as a sort of cockshy for controversialists, whether it bears the name of Night or Rima, or anything else, is not in itself any reflection on his genius. There have been great works of art which were provocative, especially when they were prophetic. Nevertheless, there are problems in the position of those who regard Mr. Epstein as a prophet; especially if the prophecy consists in claiming to set up to-day something that may possibly be admired in a thousand years. The truth is that nobody has, in this matter, faced the fundamental problem; which is not so much the nature of Mr. Epstein’s sculpture as the nature of any sculpture. Sculpture is normally a public and monumental art; and the real question raised is whether any art can be public or ornamental. Granted that any artist may have a conviction that he is right, or even granted that any artist must be right in thinking he is right, the question still remains: why should he stick it up in stone to be stared at by all the people who are certain to think he is wrong? The truth is that the whole conception of a public monument comes down to us from times when men did not feel this immense distance between the craftsman and the crowd. If they had, they would never have set the craftsman to work solely for the crowd. In that case there would never have been any such trifles as the Parthenon or the Cathedral of Seville, let alone the more important products of the modern artists of the moment.
Even those who think that the Night of Mr. Epstein is all right would probably concede that the Night of Michelangelo is also, in its way, all right. It is quite true that Michelangelo knew it was all right, and would have maintained it against any rivals who should have said it was all wrong. It is quite true that the ordinary populace passing the monuments of the Medici did not appreciate its rightness so rightly as he. But it is not true (and this is where the modern row begins) that even the populace regarded Michelangelo’s figure, with its bowed head and somnolent profile, as a sort of monster or merely a joke. If they thought about it, they thought it was all right, only they did not understand how right. There was not present that sharp, angry, popular feeling that it was all wrong; and that, as I say, is the beginning of a problem that is not solved satisfactorily either by the Futurists or the Philistines. In other words, there was for some reason or other a community of feeling between the sculptor and the spectator, which may, in a very exact significance, be called common sense. Art involves not only sense but sensibility; but the sense was the same if the sensibility was different. That is how we know that something has really happened, in modern art and appreciation, which is not disposed of either by calling the artist a madman or by calling the public a mob. Which ever of the two we think right, there is something wrong. Either the artist has really become an anarchist, and is in merely restless and unbalanced rebellion against the traditions of civilization; or else public opinion has in some way halted or fallen behind the normal intellectual leadership which it used to follow. That is the problem of public art; and it does not seem to be understood either by the artist or the public.
The next truth that is, I think, too little realized is this. All art is religious art; and all public art should really be of the religion of the people. This will seem to many a paradox at once sweeping and narrow. But it is true; and it is the truth that was missed both by the aesthetes and the moralists in the old debate on whether ‘art is unmoral’. All art is not necessarily moral, in the sense of practical. But all art is religious, because religion includes both practice and theory, both morality and art. Religion is the sense of ultimate reality, of whatever meaning a man finds in his own existence or the existence of any thing else. It may be, and sometimes is, an evil religion; it may be even what superficial critics would call an irreligious religion. But whatever is his conception of the cosmos and the consciousness, that will be in his art, even when his practical private morality is not particularly noticeable in it. I do not say that by staring at the Great Pyramid I can discover whether the builder of the Pyramids was in the habit of paying his debts or quarrelling with his wife. But I do say that by looking at the Great Pyramid I know that the man who built it had a particular sort of religion, and a different religion from my own. I do not say that the pattern of a wall-paper will necessarily teach a moral lesson by examples, or be a woven tracery of the Ten Commandments. But I know a wall-paper pattern of Christendom from a pattern made by Moslems or Hindus or Chinamen all right.
Now, this thing which is deeper even than morality, which we may, if we like, call philosophy, is always present in a work of art; and rather specially in a powerful work of art. And if the philosophy of the public monument is different from the philosophy of the public, the public is perfectly right in saying so. The men in the street are not stupid or blind or benighted when they throw things at the alien image. On the contrary, they are subtle and penetrating and perceptive. They are art critics of the fine shades of the fine arts. They are certainly much better art critics than those who swallow anything that is alien because it is artistic, and believe that anything is artistic because it is advanced. Plain men do detect something deeper even than morals, which is metaphysics; and know the metaphysics are hostile to their own. In a sense it is true that every image is an idol; that is, about every statue there lingers something of the faint pagan tradition of sacrifice and divine honours. The people feel that, if there is to be popular art, it ought to express popular religion. The people are right; though the artist might some times retort that they have now no religion to be expressed.
Being myself a man in the street, and a mere casual figure in the crowd, I can testify to my own reactions in a case like that of the Night of Mr. Epstein. I can see that it has fine lines in it; that the broad sweep of the hand like a great flapper, as if flattening out the prostrate and already featureless sleeper, is deliberately and not clumsily flat. But when I look up at the face of the goddess, my instinctive and instantaneous comment is: ‘This man thinks that Night, that watches over a sleeping world, is a Chinese opium hag. And there are people who do think that Night, and natural cosmic laws of the kind, are of the same spiritual quality as that of a Chinese opium hag. But Night is not a Chinese opium hag. Michelangelo knew it was not; and I know it is not; and anybody who has seen the nightfall in a village of the Downs knows it is not.’ I should say that this was because Michelangelo and I had the same religion, and that even the villages were founded by men in the same tradition. But anyhow, that is the real root of the quarrel; and very few of those who are quarrelling ever get down to it. It is not because the disputed work of art is a meaningless monstrosity. On the contrary, it is because it has a meaning, and has it all the more if it is a masterpiece. It is not because the men in the street are blind and ignorant and cannot see the meaning. On the contrary, it is because they do see the meaning and know it is not what they mean.
Now, in this matter of Mr. Epstein’s sculpture, in connexion with which I appear in the unpopular character of a peacemaker, I may receive some criticisms questioning the principle I imply. Between the large stones the spectators throw at the sculptor, and the larger and more monstrous stone the sculptor has thrown at them, some stray chips or pebbles may naturally hit any peacemaker so imprudent as to stand inquiring what each or either of the stone-throwers imagine they are aiming at. But since such stones are flying in the stone-yard of the sculptors, I will transfer the topic and myself to quieter regions, and finish the discussion in the library. In other words, I will apply the principle to literature, about which I know more, and about which there is exactly the same argument, supported by exactly the same arguments. If we take a recent literary controversy, like that over the poetical school of the Sitwells, we find that the current controversial case is in the same sense true and in the same sense false. In none of these cases am I merely contemptuous of the innovators; or, rather, I do not refer to the innovators who can really be treated with contempt. I know there is something in the Sitwell method; I know it does sometimes really give forth the glamour of childhood, and make the imagination feel, for an immortal instant, that red clouds or green hills are like things good to eat. But I can absorb Miss Sitwell’s poetry much better than Miss Sitwell’s defence of her poetry. When it comes to theorizing in the matter, she generally falls back on what I may call the Theory of the Prophet’s Sepulchre. Needless to say, there is a slight fallacy in the argument that, because many of the prophets were stoned, anybody who is stoned is a prophet. Montrose was a hero and was hanged, but hanging does not make a hero; and not everybody who has been in jail is either Bunyan or Cervantes. But I am not now concerned with this old and obvious answer, but with the answer concerned with historical fact and especially historical proportion. For a history may be crammed with facts and still be wholly false, if it is false in proportion. Now, Miss Sitwell was never tired of saying in the time of this controversy, that the original genius of Keats was assailed with the same uncomprehending criticism; and many critics of her school say that the new style of Swinburne staggered a world only used to the style of Tennyson. Now this historical parallel is not historical. And if we think it is, we shall miss something momentous and significant in our own particular phase of history.
To begin with, the old quarrels were quarrels of quite a different sort. The motives of the attack on Keats were almost entirely political and social. The motives of the attack on Swinburne were almost entirely moral and religious. But it is not true, of either of these great poets, that they seemed utterly unreadable or unintelligible to those who had formed their tastes on the older poets. Gifford was a low Tory hack, who hated and feared the little group of Radicals associated with Leigh Hunt and Shelley, and who regarded the very appearance of an apothecary’s apprentice as a new poet in this group as a menacing sign of Jacobinism. He therefore wrote a slating review of Keats’s poems in the Quarterly, as anybody could easily write a slating review of any poems anywhere. But it is not true to say that even Gifford felt that an abyss had opened between him and a new race of intellectual beings; that he could not even recognize their verse as verse or their English as English. If I have ever read any of Gifford’s own poetry, I am glad to say that I have forgotten it, but I know the sort of poetry that he admired and inherited. It was that very unheroic thing then called the heroic couplet. That is, it was the dreary decasyllabic couplet, the dregs and rinsings of Pope. But it is not true that a man, passing from a theme treated by Pope to a classical theme treated by Keats, thought he had got into a howling wilderness of lunatics or chattering monkeys. He simply thought that the style was a little better or worse, as the case might be, as being looser or less dignified, or richer or more free. Or, to take the other example, a Victorian accustomed to the Tennysonian tone and imagery, in lines like:
‘The sun came dazzling through the leaves
And flamed upon the brazen greaves
Of bold Sir Lancelot,’
did undoubtedly feel, either with pain or pleasure, a different sort of tone and imagery in the new and musical verse of Swinburne:
‘Ringed round with a flame of fair faces
And splendid with swords.’
He might feel that a new noise of purely beautiful singing had come into the English language; and he would be right. He might feel that there was some thing vulgar in the exaggerated alliteration and a certain swagger of smoothness; and he would also be right. But he would not find the second form utterly formless. The Tennysonian would not feel, in turning from Tennyson and his flaming sun to Swinburne and his flame of fair faces, anything like what the Swinburnian would feel in turning from the Swinburnian lines to lines, let us say, like these
‘The kings and queens on the nursery wall
Are chain-armoured fish in the moat and all.’
The Victorian might think the flame of Swinburne too flamboyant, or even foolishly flamboyant. But he would know what Swinburne meant by saying that a face was a flame. And it is very doubtful if he would know what Miss Sitwell meant by saying that a queen was a fish, or that a fish was elaborately equipped with chain-armour. Still less would he necessarily understand why something on a wall was like something totally different in a moat. Some, gifted with a childish perversity (though I say it who shouldn’t) may fancy they can track the elvish connexion of ideas. But there has been a break, and the problem is different. There is not only a new sort of work, but a new sort of novelty.
I think there is an explanation. I think the subtle are seeking simplicity, because the simple have been soaked and choked with subtlety, or at least with complexity. The people, who are the right guardians of normal ideas, have been bullied and bludgeoned by bad materialistic education till they are simply stunned and stupefied. Meanwhile, the clever and complex people are trying to return to direct ideas, but can only do it in an indirect way; they long for straight lines, but cannot go for them straight.
XII On ‘Who Killed John Keats?’
IN connexion with the celebrated attack on Keats in the Quarterly, there has arisen the suggestion that the article in question was not written by Gifford, but by Croker. I do not profess to know the details on which the dispute must rest; I merely followed an old literary tradition, which may be only a literary legend. It is possible that the theory, or discovery, about Croker is correct, and, so far as that goes, it would be an even stronger support for the argument in which I used it. For, whether or no it is fair to call Gifford a Tory hack, I fancy it is fair to say that Croker was more of a Tory hack than Gifford. Croker was often a purely political swashbuckler, with less of the poetic or classic tradition about him than the other. Indeed, the Croker theory, whatever else it is, is of the nature of a last knock to a reputation already rather knocked about. John Wilson Croker was certainly either a very bad man or a very badly used man. Macaulay called him a disgrace to literature and politics, and added the more violent expression that he hated him more than cold boiled veal. Thackeray depicted him, by common report, under the name of Mr. Wenham, the repulsive toady of the profligate nobleman in Vanity Fair. Disraeli depicted him under another name, which I forget for the moment, but with the same repulsive character. And now, it would seem, according to this view, that he appeared in another capacity more famous and equally infamous. He was the Man Who Killed Keats. I use the term in the ordinary loose sense, for I am well aware that this also is a literary legend. It is one that had the support of the scornful words of Byron and the admiring words of Shelley; as the responsibility of Gifford, unless I am mistaken, had the support of the spirited words of Hazlitt. But Keats was killed by consumption and not by Croker; he was not ‘snuffed out by an article’, and it is a very poor compliment to Keats to suppose that he was.
Without pronouncing for the moment, therefore, about the authorship of the article, upon which I am quite open to conviction when I shall have studied the facts, I should like to say a word in a more general way about what I may call the world of Gifford and Croker. What I say about it may be taken as justifying my dislike or as merely explaining my bias. It is quite true that I have a dislike of, or a bias against, that particular group of Tories in the early nineteenth century. But I should not like my prejudice, if it is a prejudice, to be misunderstood. When I call them Tory hacks, I do not mean to say in my haste that they were hacks because they happened to be Tories. It was because they belonged to one curious transitional type which did not really deserve the older and nobler name. As it happens, although the only party label that has been hung somewhat loosely upon me is that of a Radical, I have always had a very warm sympathy with Tories. Those who know anything of my tastes will believe without difficulty that I prefer the Cavaliers to the Puritans. But I prefer the Puritans to their later representatives, the cynical Whig aristocrats of the Revolution. The Puritans killed the King for the glory of God; the Whigs merely betrayed and deserted the King for their own glory, or more often for their own gain. So far as that quarrel is concerned, I am a pure Tory — or, rather, a pure Jacobite. But then, as Macaulay quite truly pointed out, the Tories of the early eighteenth century were really Radicals. None was more Radical, in some ways, than Dr. Johnson. He made the very profound remark that he had never known the Whig political theory when it was not mixed up in some way with cruelty to the poor. But Johnson, and his Irish friend Goldsmith, were really something more than Tories; they were disappointed Jacobites. By the beginning of the nineteenth century that older and more generous Royalism had almost entirely died away. Bolingbroke, in his old age, had tried to revive it; but there was nothing to be done in a world with Burke on one side and only Bute on the other. The Whigs were established; they were an aristocracy; but many of them were quite genuine in their theory of liberty. It was very hard for the old Tories in Hanoverian times to be quite genuine in their theory of loyalty. And meanwhile a new thing had come into existence — a thing that was not Toryism at all, but a sort of commercial Conservatism. It came to its fullness in the time of the younger Pitt; it relied not on the country and the yeomen, or even the squires, but on the city and the bankers, not to mention the stockjobbers. Its champions were men like Croker and Gifford; and I would make all allowance for the fact that, in Macaulay’s phrase, I hate it more than cold boiled veal.
I think the root of the real objection is this. The English Tories of this transition did not stand for any cause that can be loved for its own sake. All over Europe there was raging a great religious war, between real religions. The quarrel between the vision of the Republic, the inspiration of the French Revolution, on the one hand, and the local loyalties to the old anointed monarchies and religious customs on the other, was a conflict in which a man might fling himself with a flaming sincerity and simplicity on either side. It was, if you will, a quarrel between the Prophet and the Priest. It is a quarrel that is now, I am glad to say, largely reconciled; but at the time it was as genuine as that between a good Crusader and a high-minded Saracen.
A thing like that is a quarrel, but it is not a misunderstanding. The combatants understand each other; they fight each other because they understand each other. When the knights of the Crescent and the Cross crossed swords, it was not merely a case of cross purposes. When the Royalist and Republican came in conflict, it was a contradiction and not merely a collision. It belonged to what some call the world of medieval ideas; and I prefer to call the world of ideas. But the insular Toryism of the school of Pitt and Peel belongs merely to the world of modern interests, and especially of mercantile interests. The servants of that system could not throw themselves heartily into glorifying our ancient Christian past, for it would lead them back to the very last things they wanted to find — as they could see well enough, when they beheld a distinct prospect of Melrose Abbey through the Gothic gateway of Abbotsford.
It was all very well for an Irishman like Burke to throw in a word for the old chivalry of Europe; but most of his party dared not really commit themselves to recognizing the chivalry of Ireland, or even the chivalry of Spain. The Spaniards were their allies but not their friends; the Irish by this time were definitely their foes. Indeed, it is by that test that we can best judge the change that had come over Toryism. It happened in that tragic hour when the Tories lost for ever the old Cavalier sympathy with Ireland. In the early eighteenth century the greatest minds in English tradition sympathized with Irish tragedy. It was so with the great mind of Swift. It was so with the great mind of Johnson. It was not so with the very small minds of the period of Pitt and his Union — the men who denounced Ireland for its rebellion, but detested it for its loyalty.
These men were, it seems to me, cramped by something chilly and even craven in their whole political position. They were not generously on the side of either the old world or the new. They were, in the only too exact phrase, on the side of the Powers that be. The Jacobite and the Jacobin, at opposite extremes, were yet both on the side of the Powers that ought to be. The one looked back to divine right and the other forward to democratic right. But they both appealed to abstract justice: to the King who should enjoy his own again or the People that should rule itself. But the men I mean were sophists defending injustice, merely because it was strong enough to be unjust. In calling them hacks I do not mean that they had the excuse of poverty or ignorance. I mean they were servants of a master, not lieges of a king; flunkeys whose livery had long ceased to be a uniform.
XIII. On Ingeland
THE study called England which the Dean of St. Paul’s wrote not long ago has impressed me with the curious patchwork of truth and falsehood that is usually produced by his remarkable intelligence. There are few writers in whom the contrast between the two is so abrupt; few writers who in that sense put down their meaning so definitely in black and white In the matter of truth and error, he at least does not produce a mere arrangement in grey and white; he produces something as striking as a chess-board. There is no interval between the things he understands excellently and the things he refuses to understand at all. If we compare, for instance, the passage about the quality in early English literature with the passage a little later about the history of Irish politics, we should think that one was written by a philosopher and the other by a lunatic.
He writes indeed in a spirit of patriotism which amounts to a sort of cultivated prejudice; but it is a prejudice with which I sympathize. Some of the things that he says in praise of England are true without any reference to prejudice at all. Nothing could be better, for instance, than the passage in which he points out that the English are quite exceptionally free from vindictiveness. Perhaps he does not quite adequately distinguish between a readiness to forgive and a readiness to forget. But it is perfectly true that the English have given magnificent examples of both, and that they do really shine, among the nations of Christendom, with the truly Christian flame of charity. He is right again in saying that the English are not cruel; though that is not the same as saying that they have not tolerated cruelties. The truth is that the English have tolerated cruelties out of sheer good-nature. They have allowed abominable things to be done to their enemies and their subjects. But they have allowed them, not so much because they thought too badly of their enemies and their subjects as because they thought too well of their rulers and their representatives. The weakness of Dean Inge’s exposition is that he is always missing the point in cases of that kind, through a disposition to take a true compliment and treat it too much as a compliment and too little as a truth. Thus, he admits himself that the genuine kindliness of the English is a little difficult to reconcile with the ruthlessness of a penal code that survived into a comparatively humanitarian period. But he does not see that what he thinks is the contradiction is also the explanation. It is bound up with that optimism which is the temptation of the amiable, and with a consequent disposition to avoid terrible topics and turn a deaf ear to terrible tales.
But it is also bound up with another matter, which the Dean also succeeds in mentioning without fully understanding. He recognizes, as do all intelligent observers, that the English have a way of refusing to be influenced by logic; or, as some of us might say, of refusing to listen to reason. He says truly enough that England as a nation missed the meaning of most of the modern intellectual movements in Europe; and indeed, to judge by his description of them, the Dean seems to have missed the meaning of them himself. But, anyhow, he is quite right in saying that abstract theories and speculations have seldom taken any particular hold of the English. But he does not see that this again is the explanation of the anomaly of abuses like the penal code, and of the merciless laws of a merciful people. The English did not revolt earlier against the principle of certain ancient abuses, because they had no revolutionary principle to which to revolt. The softening of the old savagery in punishment has been almost entirely due to Rousseau and the French Revolution. But Rousseau did not change the world by being a sentimentalist; he only changed it by being a theorist. Kindly people in all times and places still feel compassion for evils; but it is only a new theory that can insist that they are not necessary evils.
There is another passage in which, in somewhat the same way, he manages to miss the point. He propounds the problem that the English who affect most people, even foreign people, as being simple and natural enough, considered as individuals, have yet been accused persistently, age after age, of being ‘perfidious’ in international politics. But though he propounds the problem he does not make any attempt to solve the problem. He seems quite content to say, like the very vulgarest sort of Jingo, that the legend of the perfidy of Englishmen must be a part of the malignity of foreigners. He falls in this connexion into one of two errors, to which a man of his reading and experience should be superior. He says that our foreign policy changes too frequently to be a conspiracy; though surely that alone might have created the idea that it was a breach of contract. But, as a fact, he is wrong. He is always praising aristocracy, or government by gentlemen, and he misses here one of the real arguments for it. England has, in fact, had a remarkably consistent foreign policy as compared with the revolutionary changes of the Continent. And this continuity was largely due to the old tradition of government by one traditional class. But it has extended itself throughout the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth. That is why Radicals grumbled at the policy of Gladstone in Egypt. And that is why Tories cheered aloud the policy of Snowden at the Hague.
But I believe the real cause of the charge of perfidy is something more creditable and more comprehensible. It arises from the very fact which the Dean has already noted and I have already admitted; the fact that the English are moved less by good reasons and more by good emotions. But emotions, whether good or bad, do not always last. What puzzles the foreigner about English public opinion is that it often seems to have changed entirely in a few years, without any apparent reason at all. It has changed as the mood of a man changes; and the Englishman is a very moody man. That is where he differs, as in so many essential things, from the American. Now, when the English are accused, as they have been age after age, of tiring of a war or an alliance, it is not through treachery and most certainly not through cowardice. It is simply through being bored; or, in other words, through having had a temperamental change, without any particular rules or theories to measure or correct it. I do not say that in many cases they may not have been right, and the obstinacy of more logical nations wrong. But that, I am convinced, is the real explanation of the charge of unreliability brought against our policy, in so far as it was ever a popular policy. It goes along with all the rest, and is therefore both a weakness and a strength.
I am so warmly at one with the Dean of St. Paul’s in pure sympathy with my own very sympathetic people, that I do not feel inclined to dwell on the one or two occasions when his really rabid and ridiculous prejudices appear. There is nothing to be said about his extraordinary reference to Ireland, except that it is perfectly obvious that he never read a line of Irish history in his life. But I know very well that his hatred of Ireland is not really even a hatred of Ireland. It is a hatred of something else, associated with Ireland, and something that I have no intention of bringing up here for discussion.
XIV. On Loneliness
ONE of the finer manifestations of an indefatigable patriotism has taken the form of an appeal to the nation on the subject of Loneliness. This complains that the individual is isolated in England, in a sense unknown in most other countries, and demands that something should be done at once to link up all these lonely individuals in a chain of sociability. My first feeling, I confess, was an overwhelming desire to do a bolt, like an escaping criminal, before the gigantic drag-nets of this scheme for universal camaraderie had begun to sweep the country-side. My second thoughts and feelings were more just and sympathetic; but there remained in them a reflection that often does mingle with my reflections on contemporary hustle and publicity. It all seems to me very much behind the times.
I should have entirely agreed with the suggestion if he had made it thirty years ago. Nor is it I that have changed, but the world that has changed. But the world has changed so much, in the very direction that is desired, that I should not have imagined there was anything more to desire. It is now rather difficult in England to take a lonely walk, or to find a lonely road, or, for people living in a large circle of acquaintances, to spend a lonely evening. It is perfectly true that, not very long ago, the exaggeration in England was all the other way. English Society was largely paralysed by the combination of a gentility that was the dregs of aristocracy, and a Pharisaism that was the dregs of Puritanism. Even then the Puritanism could hardly be called Protestantism, in the sense of any personal or positive religion. It was simply the sour taste in the mouth left by the medicine, or poison, of seventeenth-century Calvinism. But it remained in the mouth, and even in the expression of the mouth. That mouth was well known to waiters, cabmen, porters, and all sorts of people, especially foreign people, and the mouth did undoubtedly express many things pride and vainglory and blindness and hardness of heart but especially hardness of hearing, and a resolution not to open it in anything resembling human conversation with other human beings But thirty years ago this stupid self sufficiency was not being blamed as the cause of loneliness. Thirty years ago it was being praised as the cause of Empire; as the strong Anglo-Saxon self-respect and self-reliance which had won the glorious battle for the Suez Canal, and explained our complete and marvellous success in Ireland. And when I suggested, in those days, that this was all nonsense, when I said that nobody can rule another race merely by shutting his own mouth and eyes and ears and heart to everything, I was derided in the sensational Press of those days as a Little Englander and a sentimental anarchist. Nevertheless, I thought then, and I think I was right in thinking then, that England suffered from the lack of that natural flow of intelligent talk and pleasant public manners that can be seen in the cities of the Continent. A café was a place where even strangers could talk; and a club was a place where even friends could not talk.
I remember throwing out a fanciful suggestion, partly for fun, but partly for the sake of symbolism, which might well form a part of the great Campaign Against Solitude. I suggested that it would be a good thing for those isolated Victorian households if they had a Human Library for circulating human beings instead of books. I suggested that Mudie’s Omnibus would call once a week, depositing two or three strangers at the door; who would be duly returned when they had been adequately studied. There was a list of rules, dealing with what should happen if somebody kept Miss Brown out too long, or returned Mr. Robinson in a damaged condition. I thought that the Human Circulating Library was a good notion in those days; and I still think it was a good notion — for those days. I think that an intermittent stream of strangers through the old Victorian home would have been a good thing — for the old Victorian home. But the difficulty nowadays is not even to keep the old Victorian home. It is to keep any sort of home at all. It is to get people to see how normal and necessary and enduring, in spite of all its Victorian abuses, is the idea of the family institution and possession. Large numbers of the new generation never go about except in nameless and nomadic crowds, and profess their readiness to live anyhow and for ever in huge homeless hostels and communal camps. In the middle of all this the advocate of the Campaign Against Solitude suddenly wakes up and cries aloud that he is in a wilderness. The jazz and the saxophones answer him, but he remains in his Victorian dream, following his Anti- Victorian vision. He may be in a wilderness, but it is certainly a howling wilderness. At any rate, it must be hard for him to believe that he is in a hermitage.
All this seems to me like a man coming to life in the middle of the Great War, and declaring that he can endure no longer the Quakerish dullness of the long peace of Queen Victoria. It is like a man appearing suddenly in the streets of Bolshevist Moscow, and shouting aloud that he is going to put an end to the superstitious autocracy by blowing up the Czar. His remarks are forcible and perhaps even justifiable in themselves; but they do not seem to be fitted with any exactitude into the circumstances around him. If English people really are still frightened of society and frozen into solitude, I am entirely on the side of the gentleman who wishes to make them more sociable. But I have a suspicion that what they are really likely to lose just now is not sociability, but solitude. And I am firmly and fanatically against their losing solitude. I am furiously and savagely opposed to being robbed of my own solitude. And it seems to me that the general trend of social life at present is rather to be a great deal too social, and to forget the real social uses of solitude.
That is the advantage, if I may say so, of having for a philosophy a religion instead of a fashion. Those whose faith is only fashion always make the world much worse than it is. They always make men more solitary when they are too solitary. They always make men more sociable when they are too sociable. But I do not worship either solitude or sociability, and I am in a position of intellectual independence for the purpose of judging when either tendency goes too far. Puritanism made a man too individual, and had its horrible outcome in Individualism. Paganism makes a man too collective, and its extreme outcome is in Communism. But I am neither a Puritan nor a Pagan, and I have lived just long enough to see the whole of England practically transformed from Puritanism to Paganism. It is not surprising if the cure for the first is not exactly the same as the cure for the second. But there could not be a better example of the balance of a permanent philosophy than the present merely temporary need to insist on the case for solitude.
What is the matter with the world to-day is that it is too much with us; too much with everybody. It will not leave a man long enough by himself for him to discover that he is himself. Therefore, we have a perpetual pouring of gifts from the State to the individual, but less and less given back by the individual to the State. This is hard on all humanity; but it is especially hard on the English. They are a nation of humorists, in the old sense; which is the very opposite of a nation of Society wits. Their wits have worked best upon poetry and leisurely fiction, which grow best in lives of quiet and detachment. And I do seriously think that Englishmen ought to make some fight for that right of ancient sanctuary, before it is broken down by the mere American herd-instinct. I have never been a Jingo, or uttered political boasts about the Splendid Isolation of England, but I would do a good deal to preserve the Splendid Isolation of the Englishman.
XV. On the Importance of Why We Do (or Don’t)
ON the whole, I am rather less interested in what people do than in why they do it. Of course, there are extremes which are exceptions. I daresay that if somebody suddenly smashed my hat over my eyes, as I walked down the street, I might feel a momentary and confused resentment against the act and even the actor, in spite of the fact that he might have acted from either friendly or unfriendly motives. He might be a proof-reader of, say, The Illustrated London News, maddened by years of boredom in having to read through my articles in that paper, and resolved to be revenged at last. But he also might be a social sympathizer who, knowing that a steel and concrete Temple of Progress, in the American manner, had been built in that street that morning, was resolved to spare me the shock of beholding it, and had with that object intervened, abruptly indeed, but with no little presence of mind. Yet even here the principle holds, for it would be much more worth while to have a quiet talk afterwards with either of those two interesting lunatics than to continue in the mere bewildered irritation arising from the thing having happened at all. Moreover, though the abstract attitude will be called unpractical, the motive does make all the difference to practicality, in the sense of probability. The man who hits me because I am approaching a Temple of Progress will not hit me when I am not approaching a Temple of Progress. And, normally speaking, I am happy to say, I am not. But nothing will turn aside the pursuing vengeance of the proof-reader, who will hit me wherever and whenever he can — and quite right too.
In short, the principle is much more reasonable than it sounds; and any number of examples could be given of it. I might be selfishly vexed to find I had been poisoned with prussic acid; and this apart from the mere detached detective interest of whether it was done by an enthusiastic Darwinian, sworn to kill every Anti-Darwinian, or merely by an enthusiastic Christian Scientist, sworn to prove that poisons do not kill. But if I retained my logical faculty while writhing in my last agonies, I should still contend that there was a difference between the fanatical poisoner and the faith-healer; and I should probably add (with my dying breath) that the faith-healer is much the more dangerous of the two. For the Darwinian would only murder the small intelligent minority which has sufficient intellectual independence not to be frightened of the name of Darwin; whereas the healer might murder everybody, with every intention of healing everybody. In short, the real reason of things is every bit as important as the things themselves; and that is what ought to be meant by being a rationalist. Unfortunately, a man who is in this real sense a rationalist is generally denounced for being a mystic.
For instance, there is an ever-increasing quarrel about the license or limits of what is called Sex Literature. Mr. James Douglas made a very vigorous and (as I think) a very just protest against various poisonous passions being poured out to all and sundry. He then proceeded to consider what should be done about it. He drew up a scheme for a sort of unofficial literary licensing committee. It was by no means a bad scheme; I for one might, after due consideration, be disposed to support it; and anyhow I am not here disposed to criticize it. But I am disposed to criticize some of the philosophical remarks with which Mr. Douglas seems to think he is supporting it, when he is in fact undermining it. I am true to my perverse test; I want to know from Mr. Douglas, not what is his practical scheme, but what is his theoretical reason for it. He has himself, as I have noted, fought an admirable fight for normal morality and the resistance to moral disease. But he is not quite theoretical enough to get a grip on the thing itself; and he defends it better than he defines it. For when he comes to the general ethical problem, he surrenders the ground suddenly to the enemy. He says that the practical problem of fixing decorum in a special society is very difficult, which is very true. But he adds that morality (apparently in the real sense of right and wrong) changes continually from age to age, which is the very devil.
Now, that is where the whole mistake and the whole mischief begin. If Mr. Douglas tells some decadent or other that morality changes from age to age, the decadent will reply, as indeed he does reply, ‘Yes, and I have the morality of the new age; you have the morality of the age that is passing; I am in advance of the times, you are behind the times. I am the Superman who is expected about the end of the twentieth century, you are a dusty old Victorian and ought to have died in the nineteenth.’ Mr. Douglas may think that the decadent is more likely to decay than he is; and that he is as lively and likely to survive as the other. But if everything is perpetually changing, it is impossible to prove it, or to test how fast it is changing or how far it has changed. The truth is that Mr. Douglas, who has denounced all such decadents far more furiously and flamboyantly than I have, has yet fallen back before them exactly where he ought to stand firm. It is not true that the idea of right and wrong changes. The particular concentration on a certain sort of right changes; the relative toleration of a certain sort of wrong changes. Men in medieval times tolerated more ruthless punishments; men in modern times tolerate more reckless and irresponsible financial speculation and control. But a medieval man did not think mercy a bad thing. A modern man does not think dishonesty a good thing. The proportions differ in practice; the ethical expression differs in emphasis; but virtue is virtue and vice is vice, in all ages and for all people, except a very few lunatics.
As it is about cruelty or commercial rapacity, so it is about the basic ideas of modesty and fidelity and sexual self-control. One age does differ from another in manner of expression, and may differ for the better or the worse; but precisely what does not really differ is fundamental morality. One age does differ from another about whether certain plain words that are used in the Bible shall be used in the drawing-room. But using fashionable words in the drawing-room is not morality. One age does differ from another about whether skirts are reasonably long or short; but fashionable skirts are not morality. The motive is morality, even when the motive happens to concern these trivial things. To insult our fellow-creatures with coarse words to which they are unaccustomed may be an immoral act; it may sometimes, under certain conditions, be a highly moral act. It entirely depends on why it is done. Now, so far as this fundamental and final morality is concerned, it leaves the modern problem still to be settled; but it provides some sort of firm basis on which it can be settled. We may even say that it ends where the controversy begins; but it does make it possible for the controversy to begin — and (what is not unimportant) for it to end. It is impossible for any controversy to end, it is impossible for any to begin, in a chaos of incalculable change. But, anyhow, there is a permanent ethic, and without it nobody will effect even a temporary reform.
XVI. On the Open Conspiracy
MR. H. G. WELLS believes that the world now wants a world peace; and apparently wants it more than anything else. The world has always wanted a world peace; and often wanted it very much; only (and this is the point) it certainly did not then, and it possibly may not now, want it more than any thing else. And it is to that distinction that Mr. Wells, as it seems to me, pays too little attention. Europe felt that need for unity so strongly that it four or five times attempted it and two or three times practically achieved it. And the queer thing is that when, for once in a way, it was achieved, Mr. Wells does not think much of the achievement. It was largely achieved in the material sphere by Pagan Rome; and Mr. Wells detests Pagan Rome. It was largely achieved in the moral sphere by Christian Rome; and Mr. Wells abominates Christi Rome. Its establishment was attempted by Charlemagne; and I do not think he thinks much of Charlemagne. Its establishment was re-attempted by Napoleon; and I know he foams with rage at the very name of Napoleon. He thus finds himself in a somewhat difficult relation to the whole Outline of History; perpetually affirming that a certain thing must be done and perpetually abusing everybody who ever tried to do it. St. Augustine said in jest, ‘Confound the people who said beforehand what I wanted to say.’ Mr. Wells seems to find it necessary to say seriously, ‘Confound the people who did beforehand what I want to do.’ Of course their work was unfinished as his is untried. But it is by eliminating theirs that he reaches his own alternative idea. He suggests that there is a third way of bringing about international unification; and it is this which he calls the Open Conspiracy.
I cannot say that this entirely convinces me as a thing likely to convince mankind. It seems to me that if we cannot get a general rule accepted, like that of the Rome of Augustus, we must get a general moral philosophy accepted, like that of the Rome of Gregory. That is, we must either submit to one common culture or we must agree on one common creed; that is the nearest we can ever get to making an authority that can really arbitrate and have its arbitration accepted. Even then we cannot make conflict impossible. But we can make controversy possible. We can make it rational to argue and debate, by agreeing on the first principles we debate on, and accepting a certain standard of values. Otherwise conflict will always be possible, because controversy is impossible. Suppose there is a Prussian who thinks that nothing matters except Prussia, and a Bolshevist who thinks that nothing matters except Bolshevism. It is utterly futile to ask that they should argue and not fight. What have they got to argue about? What have they got to argue with? Where is the argument supposed to begin and how is it supposed to end? The Junker can be told that his arrogance is bad internationalism; but he does not care what happens to internationalism. The Communist can be told that his internationalism would destroy patriotism; but he wants to destroy patriotism. There can be no sort of agreement, there can be no sort of argument, there can certainly be no sort of acceptable arbitration, between people whose fundamental values are different. I take the harsh and narrow sort of patriotism that was called Prussianism and the harsh and narrow form of Collectivism that is called Bolshevism, because they happen to be the two best modern examples of entirely separatist and self-existent new philosophies. It is perhaps worth noting that they are the two philosophies, belonging to the two great communities, which were never inside the system either of Pagan or of Christian Rome.
Anyhow, Mr. Wells faces fairly enough the fact that he wants something done which several people have tried to do; and that he cannot abide their way of doing it. He therefore has to sketch out some suggestion at least of his own way of doing it. And it is this which makes the book exceedingly interesting and not very convincing. He is certainly in no sense a rigid or rabid Socialist, after the fashion of a Bolshevist. He makes it clear that he has no belief in the crude Communist simplification; that he believes, as he expresses it, that the Russian Revolution was but a blundering side-issue and an accident on the flank of true progress.
I think it is true that Bolshevism is much weaker for having won. Utopia always wins best in what is, in another than the Wellsian sense, a War in the Air. When the heavenly kingdom becomes an earthly paradise, it sometimes tends to be a hell upon earth. But it sometimes tends to be what is even worse, or at least weaker: a very earthy imitation of the earth. So long as revolution is a failure, we all feel that it holds the promise of success. It is when it is a success that it is so often a failure. In any case, Mr. Wells leaves it on one side for a failure; if only because he does not like any of these definite solutions, old or new. He dislikes the Romans became they had a military grasp, and the Popes because they had a moral grasp, and even the Marxians because, like the Calvinists, they had at least a sort of logical grasp. It is his instinct that any sort of grasp is too grasping. It is associated in his mind with what I should call tyranny and he would probably miscall authority. And as he will not establish a universal order by grasping, he wishes to do it by groping. By a process which he frankly admits to be casual, sporadic, patchy, and even partly unconscious, there is to grow up a general tendency towards establishing a world control. But it seems to me that a good many other things might happen, if there is nothing to control the movement towards control. Ideas can be perverted only too easily even when they are strict ideas; I cannot see how we preserve them from perversion merely by making them loose ideas. A thing like the Catholic system is a system; that is, one idea balances and corrects another. A man like Mohammed or Marx, or in his own way Calvin, finds that system too complex, and simplifies everything to a single idea; but it is a definite idea. He naturally builds a rather unbalanced system with his one definite idea. But I cannot see why there should be a better chance for a man trying to build up a balanced system with one indefinite idea. And universality is not only an indefinite idea. Universality is also a narrow idea. It is all on one note; it is not the true harmony; which is the right proportion of the universal and the particular. ‘God is not infinity,’ said Coventry Patmore profoundly; ‘He is the synthesis of infinity and boundary.’
There are two other difficulties I feel in this glorification of world government. One is the very simple fact that the real difficulty of representative government is how to make it represent, even in the smallest of small nationalities, even in the nearest parish council. Why we should talk as if we should have more influence over rulers governing the whole earth from Geneva or Chicago I have never been able to see. Mr. Wells can spread himself in describing how ‘world controls’ would control us. He seems relatively vague about how we should control them. The other objection is less simple and would need a more atmospheric description; but it is even more real. Mr. Wells is driven to perpetual disparagement of patriotism and militant memories, and yet his appeal is always to the historic pride of man. Now nearly all normal men have in fact received their civilization through their citizenship; and to lose their past would be to lose their link with mankind. An Englishman who is not English is not European; a Frenchman who is not fully French is not fully human. Nations have not always been seals or stoppers closing up the ancient wine of the world; they have been the vessels that received it. And, as with many ancient vessels, each of them is a work of art.
XVII. On the Closed Conspiracy
IN a comparison of Socialism with the scheme of society going by the name of Distributism, an authoritative writer on such topics has very kindly remarked that, while Mr. Wells is working for an Open Conspiracy, there is much that is interesting in my experiment of a Closed Conspiracy. Indeed, Distributism is rather too open to be a conspiracy at all. It is comparatively easy to organize on behalf of mere organization. It is much harder to drill independent individuals to fight in defence of independence. Nothing can be less conspiratorial than a voice crying in the wilderness. And even when the wilderness begins to be dotted with hermits, they still retain some of the faults and eccentricities of hermits. Even when, in the course of history, the hermits are brigaded into brotherhoods of monks, something of the solitude and mysticism of the eremitical life lingers in the background. I am well aware of all these difficulties in any movement that springs from the liberty of the lonely human soul. Monks, though they call themselves the slaves of slaves, are never the slaves of masters. And a peasantry is never like a tenantry, or, for that matter, a trade union, individually bound to sacrifice liberty to loyalty. Wherever we have a peasantry, we shall have some pretty queer and crazy peasants. Wherever we have a Distributive State, we shall have some tolerably troublesome Distributists.
Nevertheless, the writer is correct in her use of the expression ‘closed’, in the sense that I do definitely, as a general principle, believe in Enclosures. I could not sum up my own political philosophy more compactly and completely than by saying that I do believe in Enclosures. Needless to say, I mean it in the old peasant sense of a man enclosing his own land; not in the more aristocratic and advanced sense of a man enclosing everybody else’s land. I believe, in the old Scriptural sense, that there is indeed a supreme supernatural and natural curse clinging to the man who removes his neighbour’s landmark. Of course, as the writer in question hints, this belief in Enclosure, or lines of division between this and that, rests on a more general theory of truth and falsehood than any particular principles about land or landmarks. There is in all that universal philosophy of Mr. H. G. Wells an assumption which he has never really tried to prove, and which I think it would be much easier to disprove. In all that Open Conspiracy there is the notion that the opening of all doors and windows is always an advantage; which is no more self-evidently true of a human civilization than it is of a house or a hospital. It is often highly desirable to let cool air into a room. But it is not always desirable to cool the room; it is not even always true that opening the window does cool the room. The men of the Mediterranean keep their rooms cool by shutting the windows and not by opening them. By this means they preserve the cold, refreshing air of the morning through the long, intolerant and intolerable heat of day. They turn their rooms into tanks of morning air, through hours when opening a window would be loosening the blast of a furnace. These things also are an allegory, and would explain many things that moderns do not understand about simplicity and the preservation of childhood. But, apart from any particular parable, it is obviously not common sense to say that good results from the mere mixing of anything with anything, the mere pouring in of any wind through any window, the mere pouring of any fluid into any flood.
Anyhow, some of us do disbelieve in that sort of unity. We do not think a picture will be a better picture because all the colours run, however freely and largely they run into each other. We do not believe that a dinner will always be a better dinner because all the liquors and liqueurs are successively poured into the soup; or that our taste and enjoyment will really be widened by mixing the coffee with the claret or the vermouth with the port. We believe in certain Enclosures, called ‘courses’, or appropriate selections from the carte des vins, being actually interposed to prevent all these separate pleasures from flowing into each other. We do not believe that every tennis-court should be flooded to turn it into a swimming-bath, and people be forced to play tennis only in the water (that the two sports may be unified and made one); we should not hesitate to erect artificial Enclosures, in the form of walls and partitions, around baths, bath-rooms, swimming-pools, and similar things, lest this one delight should end in a universal Deluge. We should not shrink even from marking out, on the grass or the ground, the severe and restricting limits of the tennis-court, discouraging enthusiasts from playing tennis all over the billiard-room and the progressive whist-party, lest one good custom should corrupt the world, as the first Lord Tennyson observed. In short, we have a curious notion, firmly fixed in our heads, that Enclosures do play a highly practical and profitable part in the real life of this world; and that the mere destruction of them is not the destruction of mere negative taboos, but the destruction of positive creations, positive achievements, positive arts and pleasures of life. And in the same way we think that a mere philosophy of unification, of mixing sex with sex or nation with nation or style with style, is altogether a paltry, sterile, and provincial simplification; no more truly intellectual than the act of a baby in mixing all the paints in a paint-box or stirring five or six things together with a spoon.
That is the principle behind the philosophy of Enclosures; and there is no space here to develop in detail the sociological application of it, that some of us call Distributism. Mr. H. G. Wells’s general philosophy, in such things, seems to be a mere desire for largeness, under the impression that it is enlargement. He has only got to get stuck firmly in the middle of a large crowd in order to learn that largeness may be the very opposite of enlargement. There is one thing that a man does in a reasonable degree want to have large — or, at any rate, to have larger. And that is elbow-room, which our pedantic political ancestors were in the habit of calling Freedom. I doubt whether the modern American advice to everybody to elbow his way has really resulted in more elbow-room. I do believe that many rude and simple social types were better in this respect, though I do not necessarily mean that they were better in every respect. And I believe that upon this alone could be founded that just and normal though now almost forgotten thing, the real defence of Private Property, which has no more to do with profiteering than with privateering. It is the essential principle that a man does not even own his own elbows unless he owns a room large enough for them, that he does not own his own legs unless he has liberty to stretch them; or own his own feet unless he owns the soil on which they stand.
XVIII. On Current Claptrap
IT is not often that we find the one book that ought to be written, written by the one man who ought to write it. The Abbé Dimnet is a distinguished French authority who has made a very lucid and most timely pronouncement on the Art of Thinking, for want of which the whole modern world was going mad. He suggests, with very sympathetic insight, that there is something not only accidental but needless about the vast amount of the dull claptrap that makes up current culture. It is not really because thinking is not a normal human function; but because so many have never been encouraged to discover how normal and human it is. Almost any man, he argues, may have a flash in which he feels ‘ “I am in a rut, I know, but if I would make the least effort, move only one line, say: henceforth I will talk no more nonsense, in an instant I could be outside the herd of the unthinking.” . . . A trifle, a mere nothing, the buzz of a fly or the bang of a door may be enough to disturb this mood and bring back commonplace thoughts in full force; but it is no less true that, during a few moments, we have been separated from a higher mental life only by a vision which we realized was within reach and by an effort which did not seem to be an exertion. All this amounts to saying that we have a natural belief in the existence of an Art of Thinking. Some men possess it; others not; but those who do not possess it must blame themselves’.
There lies on the table before me, side by side with this luminous and temperate statement of the French thinker, an invitation to join a movement for Peace and Progress Throughout the World, which a number of men more distinguished than myself seem to have already joined. And I cannot help feeling a faint curiosity, in reading the terms of such appeals, about whether these distinguished men and their friends ever have sat down suddenly and said, ‘I am in a rut, I know, but if I would make the least effort ...’ For it seems to me that what is the matter with the modern world, distinguished men and all, is that they have allowed their minds to be completely cluttered up with a lumber of language, some of it the legacy of old blunders, some of it suited to old conditions which no longer exist. There are any number of phrases which everybody speaks and nobody hears. There are any number of phrases which when they were used the first time may have meant something, and which are now used for the millionth time because they mean nothing. I will take one example out of a thousand, an example which happens to occur in the idealistic document of which I have spoken. I mean the expression about being ready to welcome ‘men of every race and creed’.
Now the modern tragedy of man is that he does not stop and start when he has used those words, and gaze at them with a wild surmise, and cry distractedly, ‘My God! what am I saying?’ For he really does not know what he is saying. He is classing together two things as if they were obviously in the same class, when they have obviously never been in the same category. This does not mean that a man may not feel fraternity or charity for men of every race and creed, as he may for men with every sort of heaven and hat, or with every type of truthfulness and trousers, or with every variety of saintly self- sacrifice and taste in tobacco. But the things have nothing particular to do with each other; there is no sort of reason why they should go together; and the phrase is based on the assumption that they must always go together. Race and creed are linked in the language, like pots and pans, or sticks and straws, or boots and shoes, or any other recognized grouping of things of the same type. But they are no more things of the same type than adenoids and algebra.
When we talk of somebody’s creed, we mean certain convictions which must have some relation to our own convictions: either in confirming them, or contradicting them, or agreeing or disagreeing with them in various degrees. We may not burn ourselves up with missionary zeal to convert a Mormon or a worshipper of Mumbo-Jumbo; but we do regard it as conceivable that he might be converted. And we do most probably think we know of something that would be an improvement on Mormonism or Mumbo-Jumbo. Anyhow, we know he holds his creed with his mind; and he might possibly change his mind. We do not expect the Ethiopian to change his skin. We do not expect the Chinaman to cease to be a Mongolian when he ceases to be a Confucian. It is as if we were to talk about having no prejudice of colour; and then to class a Red Indian with a Red Republican. It is as if we were to extend the same loving welcome to the Yellow Peril and the Yellow Press. It is simply a confusion; but it is one of a million confusions that are now making confusion worse confounded. I only take it as a small working model, because without a working model the modern mind cannot see how things work.
The welcome we offer to men of any belief must be in its nature different from that we offer to men of any blood. If only for the simple reason that, if a man may believe anything, he may believe in the badness of all blood except his own blood. You may associate with him and his race, simply considered as a race. But if it is a Chosen Race, he may not associate with you. His thoughts, whatever they are, must determine everything about his relations with you; whereas the colour of his skin may be in most relations quite irrelevant. I rather fancy that ‘colour’ and ‘creed’ have come to be associated by mere alliteration and have no more rational relation than whiskers and wisdom. If a Chinaman and I discuss Proportional Representation (which God forbid!) it is in the hope that one or other will at least be intellectually influenced; but not in the hope that I shall turn yellow or he will turn pink.
Now, if any one will pick up a paper or a page of modern writing, and look at it carefully, he will find it is a pastiche or mosaic of meaningless combinations of that sort. As a preliminary exercise, before the more subtle exercises of the French philosopher’s manual, I recommend this experiment. The catch words are generally, indeed, used more or less unconsciously, in the service of some false philosophy. In this case it is the base and servile creed that creeds are as inevitable and incurable as black faces or Eskimo skulls. It is the theory that we must all reconcile ourselves to thinking differently, because no thinking is any good and it is better not to think at all. It is out of that unmanly despair that such unthinking expressions arise; the thoughtless phrase out of the thoughtless philosophy. But there is, after all, nothing but a contradiction in terms in a thoughtless philosophy; and especially in a philosophy directed against thought. Fortunately, we can all think, whether we are red, black, or yellow; and that is the only true beginning of Peace and Progress throughout the World.
XIX. On Evil Euphemisms
SOMEBODY has sent me a book on Companionate Marriage; so called because the people involved are not married and will very rapidly cease to be companions. I have no intention of discussing here that somewhat crude colonial project. I will merely say that it is here accompanied with sub-titles and other statements about the rising generation and the revolt of youth. And it seems to me exceedingly funny that, just when the rising generation boasts of not being sentimental, when it talks of being very scientific and sociological — at that very moment everybody seems to have forgotten altogether what was the social use of marriage and to be thinking wholly and solely of the sentimental. The practical purposes mentioned as the first two reasons for marriage, in the Anglican marriage ser vice, seem to have gone completely out of sight for some people, who talk as if there were nothing but a rather wild version of the third, which may relatively be called romantic. And this, if you please, is supposed to be an emancipation from Victorian sentiment and romance.
But I only mention this matter as one of many, and one which illustrates a still more curious contradiction in this modern claim. We are perpetually being told that this rising generation is very frank and free, and that its whole social ideal is frankness and freedom. Now I am not at all afraid of frankness. What I am afraid of is fickleness. And there is a truth in the old proverbial connexion between what is fickle and what is false. There is in the very titles and terminology of all this sort of thing a pervading element of falsehood. Everything is to be called something that it is not; as in the characteristic example of Companionate Marriage. Every thing is to be recommended to the public by some sort of synonym which is really a pseudonym. It is a talent that goes with the time of electioneering and advertisement and newspaper headlines; but what ever else such a time may be, it certainly is not specially a time of truth.
In short, these friends of frankness depend almost entirely on Euphemism. They introduce their horrible heresies under new and carefully complimentary names; as the Furies were called the Eumenides. The names are always flattery; the names are also nonsense. The name of Birth- Control, for instance, is sheer nonsense. Everybody has always exercised birth-control; even when they were so paradoxical as to permit the process to end in a birth. Everybody has always known about birth-control, even if it took the wild and unthinkable form of self-control. The question at issue concerns different forms of birth-prevention; and I am not going to debate it here. But if I did debate it, I would call it by its name. The same is true of an older piece of sentiment indulged in by the frank and free: the expression ‘Free Love’. That also is a Euphemism; that is, it is a refusal of people to say what they mean. In that sense, it is impossible to prevent love being free, but the moral problem challenged concerns not the passions, but the will. There are a great many other examples of this sort of polite fiction; these respectable disguises adopted by those who are always railing against respectability. In the immediate future there will probably be more still. There really seems no necessary limit to the process; and however far the anarchy of ethics may go, it may always be accompanied with this curious and pompous ceremonial. The sensitive youth of the future will never be called upon to accept Forgery as Forgery. It will be easy enough to call it Homoeography or Script-Assimilation or something else that would suggest, to the simple or the superficial, that nothing was involved but a sort of socializing or unification of individual handwriting. We should not, like the more honest Mr. Fagin, teach little boys to pick pockets; for Mr. Fagin becomes far less honest when he becomes Professor Faginski, the great sociologist, of the University of Jena. But we should call it by some name implying the transference of something; I cannot at the moment remember the Greek either for pocket or pocket-handkerchief. As for the social justification of murder, that has already begun; and earnest thinkers had better begin at once to think about a nice inoffensive name for it. The case for murder, on modern relative and evolutionary ethics, is quite overwhelming. There is hardly one of us who does not, in looking round his or her social circle, recognize some chatty person or energetic social character whose disappearance, without undue fuss or farewell, would be a bright event for us all, Nor is it true that such a person is dangerous only because he wields unjust legal or social powers. The problem is often purely psychological, and not in the least legal; and no legal emancipations would solve it. Nothing would solve it but the introduction of that new form of liberty which we may agree to call, perhaps, the practice of Social Subtraction. Or, if we like, we can model the new name on the other names I have mentioned. We may call it Life-Control or Free Death; or anything else that has as little to do with the point of it as Companionate Marriage has to do with either marriage or companionship.
Anyhow, I respectfully refuse to be impressed by the claim to candour and realism put forward just now for men, women, and movements. It seems to me obvious that this is not really the age of audacity but merely of advertisement; which may rather be described as caution kicking up a fuss. Much of the mistake arises from the double sense of the word publicity. For publicity also is a thoroughly typical euphemism or evasive term. Publicity does not mean revealing public life in the interests of public spirit. It means merely flattering private enterprises in the interests of private persons. It means paying compliments in public; but not offering criticisms in public. We should all be very much surprised if we walked out of our front-door one morning and saw a hoarding on one side of the road saying, ‘Use Miggle’s Milk; It Is All Cream’, and a hoarding on the other side of the road inscribed, ‘Don’t Use Miggle’s Milk; It’s Nearly All Water’. The modern world would be much upset if I were allowed to set up a flaming sky-sign proclaiming my precise opinion of the Colonial Port Wine praised in the flaming sign opposite. All this advertisement may have some thing to do with the freedom of trade; but it has nothing to do with the freedom of truth. Publicity must be praise and praise must to some extent be euphemism. It must put the matter in a milder and more inoffensive form than it might be put, however much that mildness may seem to shout through megaphones or flare in headlines. And just as this sort of loud evasion is used in favour of bad wine and bad milk, so it is used in favour of bad morals. When somebody wishes to wage a social war against what all normal people have regarded as a social decency, the very first thing he does is to find some artificial term that shall sound relatively decent. He has no more of the real courage that would pit vice against virtue than the ordinary advertiser has the courage to advertise ale as arsenic. His intelligence, such as it is, is entirely a commercial intelligence and to that extent entirely conventional. He is a shop-keeper who dresses the shop-window; he is certainly the very reverse of a rebel or a rioter who breaks the shop-window. If only for this reason, I remain cold and decline the due reverence to Cornpanionate Marriage and the book which speaks so reverentially about the Revolt of Youth. For this sort of revolt strikes me as nothing except revolting; and certainly not particularly realistic. With the passions which are natural to youth we all sympathize; with the pain that often arises from loyalty and duty we all sympathize still more; but nobody need sympathize with publicity experts picking pleasant expressions for unpleasant things; and I for one prefer the coarse language of our fathers.
XX. On Encyclopaedias
ON turning my attention to the subject of Encyclopaedias, and generally to projects for providing general information, I am struck by certain rather neglected problems in the nature of information itself. There is considerable activity at present in the scattering of a certain sort of information. Any magazine or newspaper is likely to contain a sort of examination paper, trustingly accompanied by a crib. Sometimes the paper is so printed and arranged that the answers actually come before the questions. But all that is a matter of what is called ‘make-up’ and can safely be trusted to the hard headed, practical, successful men who have made-up the paper. Sometimes they seem to have made up the answers as well as the questions. But we all know the general character of the questions. On any such page of any such paper we may encounter the challenge: ‘At what date did a dentist suffer death for his theological opinions?’ or, ‘What deadly poison is a by-product of crushed strawberries?’ or, ‘What is the income of Mr. Henry Ford reckoned in ancient Greek drachmae?’ But pressing and practical as these questions are, for any one living an active modern life, there are difficulties connected with the correct answering of many of them: difficulties not always appreciated either by those who ask or these who answer.
Two general impressions from a study of such encyclopaedic knowledge strike me at the moment. One is that there are many more things that are mere matters of opinion, and much fewer things that are mere matters of fact, than many of these people suppose. Another is that even the best information is very seldom the latest information It is a commonplace that encyclopaedias tend too rapidly to get out of date It is said that a very valuable encyclopaedia was pressed upon the public some years ago, and it was only at the last moment that somebody mildly remonstrated against an article on French history, from which it would appear that Napoleon the Third is still on the throne of France. But that was when the matter was in the hands of a really brisk and bustling business man. And things managed by hustlers are always behind the times. Things are better than that now, being largely in the hands of educated people who can afford the time for a proper comprehension of the times. But even in the very latest and lightest forms of ephemeral journalism there is some tendency for this fossilization to take place; and even to take place rather rapidly. I do not say that in all cases the delay can be avoided. I do not say that in all cases the hustlers can be blamed. Sometimes the latest news would be too late. Sometimes it would be too libellous. But, knowing what I know, or what we all know, about the realities of England to-day, I cannot but think that most of the latest news describes the England of twenty years ago. Perhaps this is defensible and makes for stability and social continuity; but it does not exactly make for people knowing where they are.
I have just opened a magazine on a page full of these questions, and I am struck by the fact that I should myself give very different answers. It is even possible in some cases that the paper would not print my answers. But I am not now provoking controversy; I am merely pointing out that many things are controversial that are supposed to be non-controversial. And I am pointing out that in almost every case the change recorded is not really the last, but rather the last but one. On the page before me one question concerns the pawnbroker’s sign; another the date of the Eiffel Tower; the third the meaning of the Parliamentary term ‘Whip’. Now, modest as is my stock of knowledge, I knew that the three balls were originally the blazonry of the Lombard merchant princes. But I should not think it the chief point of the position that what had been the coat of arms of great lords had come down to be a dingy shop-sign for dirty moneylenders. I should reverse the argument, and point out that it is even more interesting to know that the dirty moneylenders are now once more being given titles and coats of arms. I should not merely point out that the Lombard princes had lost their escutcheon to people as humble as the pawn brokers; I should point out that the pawnbrokers may now again become as proud as the princes. That is the latest news; that is the real modern information; that is what is interesting about the present practical state of affairs. The other fact is interesting enough in its way; but it is merely ancient history, and even ancient heraldry. Or, again, it is reasonably interesting to know that the Eiffel Tower was put up at the time of the Paris Exhibition. But it is even more interesting to know that the Eiffel Tower was put up just before the time of the Panama Scandal; and that Eiffel himself got into very hot water, while many of his colleagues or co-workers fled the country or became bywords for fraud. For that story is a part of the really vital and important story of the modern war against political corruption; a struggle that has already had its sequel in Rome and may yet have its sequel in Paris. I do not know whether a reaction in Paris would knock down the Eiffel Tower; though I am sure I hope so. But I do know that there may be a culmination as sensational in the life of the country as the fall of the Eiffel Tower would be in the landscape. But this sort of thing, which might be called the inner history of the Eiffel Tower, is not generally the sort of history provided in this popular information. I do not say it can be, or ought to be; but I do say that it makes a difference to popular education that it is not.
And so it is with the third example, out of our own politics. The public is duly informed that a Whip is so called from the practice of whipping-in, as applied to the mobilizing of all available party votes, and the discipline that drives them into the right Lobby. But though this is still true, and still perhaps rather unfortunately true, it is by no means the most modern truth or the most modern misfortune. The Whip nowadays is not primarily the man who merely looks after the telling of votes passing into the right Lobby. The Whip nowadays is primarily the man who looks after the Party Fund, and conducts a number of highly dubious negotiations about it in the matter of titles and political concessions. This is the latest use of the office; this is the most recent meaning of the word. But because it is really recent it is not a part of what is called Information. Because it is the latest news it is not in the latest editions. Thus there arises, in connexion with this new popular game of ‘How Much Do You Know?’ a query not about how much the public knows but about how much the questioner knows. There is also, of course, the question of how much the questioner may think it tactful to tell of what he knows.
In the case of encyclopaedias, and similar works of reference, it is perfectly natural that the writers should avoid all that seems controversial or paradoxical, or can be regarded as a matter of opinion, to say nothing of whim. But, at the best, it is very difficult to mention even common facts apart from controversial feelings. Many things which most of the readers, and even the writers, of such a book would honestly suppose to be self-evident, are very disputable indeed to those who happen to be the disputants. The truth is that there did underlie the latter half of the nineteenth century, at least in this country, a vague common agreement in philosophy. But it is by no means true to-day that all philosophers agree with that agreement. Nor was it true before the nineteenth century, any more than after the century. It may be well to remember the real history of the word Encyclopaedia; and in the dawn of what destructive revolution it appeared in the world. The Encyclopaedists were no more impartial than the Bolshevists. They were a band of fighters determined to uproot and renew. And though the making of a dictionary sounds to us a mild occupation, Dr. Johnson was by no means a mild person, and sometimes almost made it a slang dictionary, when he had a chance of slinging abuse at the Whigs.
XXI. On Preaching
NO journalist will complain of the journalistic necessity of occasionally changing a title, or, especially, abbreviating a title. If I choose to head an article, An Inquiry into the Conditions of Mycenaean Civilization in the Heroic Epoch, with Special Reference to the Economic and Domestic Functions of Women Before and After the Conjectural Date of the Argive Expedition against Troy — if, I say, I choose to give my article some snappy little title like that, I really have no right to complain if (when I send it to the Chicago Daily Scoop) they alter the title to How Helen Did the Housekeeping. And even in milder cases the transformation is often unavoidable; especially if some thing intended for the serious book public has to be transferred to the more impetuous newspaper-reading public. But, however harmless the change may be, it is sometimes of a certain intellectual interest. For example, I myself was asked some time ago to write a sort of ethical essay on the theme If I Had Only One Sermon to Preach. When, in the course of events, it came to appear in a daily paper, it appeared under the title, If I Were a Preacher. I do not in the least complain of that; it was obviously a mere matter of space and simplification. All the same, there is a difference. ‘If I Had Only One Sermon to Preach’ presents the pleasing spectacle of myself gagged and rendered speechless for the greater part of my life. It consoles humanity with the prospect of my never talking at all for twenty or thirty years on end; it almost approaches to the ideal or Utopian condition of my being deaf and dumb. But it supposes that the gag is taken out of my mouth once and once only, and I am allowed a short space in which to offer the reflections of a taciturn lifetime. Taking the matter in this sense, I dealt directly with the most deadly moral danger in my experience of mankind: the danger of egoism and spiritual pride. If I had only one moment in which to shout one warning, I should shout that one, and thereafter for ever hold my peace.
But ‘If I Were a Preacher’ is quite a different idea. That presents, not the reassuring image of myself safely gagged and throttled until the inevitable hour shall come, but the menacing and unwelcome image of myself let loose to talk in a pulpit as long as I like, and to preach as a professional occupation. It offers, not the brief and salutary irritation of hearing me deliver one sermon, but the long vista of despair implied in my delivering an indefinite number of sermons. Above all, my own attitude would necessarily be entirely different in the two cases. Instead of concentrating what I really had to say in one address upon one text, I should have to proceed, like any other professional preacher, to search the Scriptures for more and more texts, and my mind for more and more sermons. And, though a great deal of nonsense has been talked about the unfair authority of the preacher (which is really much less illogical than the unfair anonymity of the pressman), it is true that in one sense the preacher has an advantage, or at least his congregation a disadvantage. While it might well be a beautiful sight to see the congregation gradually thinning away as my sermon proceeded from Fourthly to Fifthly, it is, as a matter of fact, unusual for people to rise in the front pews, with ostentatious yawns and in large numbers, and to walk out of the church to express their lack of enthusiasm for the sermon. Perhaps the best form of protest was that of the man who took off his boots and put them outside the pew, to indicate that he had had enough and was now retiring to rest. But humorists of that heroic type are very rare. The congregation is commonly kept in its place, by reverence or by convention; and in that sense everybody has to listen to the sermon. But nobody has to read this article unless he wants to; and I should not imagine that anybody ever did.
The distinction between being a preacher and having one sermon to preach is, however, of some practical interest in raising a point about preaching. I mean merely about the technical or professional aspect of preaching; which would naturally be considered by the man who was for some reason doomed to be a preacher. If I had originally written my article to fit that title, it would have been quite a different business. Preaching, in that sense, is no business of mine; but listening, or trying to listen, is the business of nearly everybody. And there really is something to be said about the probable or prefer able preliminaries of being a preacher; and even here, in another place and another connexion, it may possibly be worth while to say it. Anyhow, I propose to say it; principally because it would seem to be the exact opposite of what everybody is now saying. For the preacher, like everybody else, is receiving practical advice: and, as with everybody else, it is always exactly the wrong advice. He is told, of course, to eschew ‘creed and dogma’; which will soon, I imagine, be stereotyped and turned into one word, ‘creedanddogma’ so regularly and mechanically is it repeated. I could never discover what the journalists who use this form imagine that creeds and dogmas are. I could never understand what a prominent and successful journalist meant when he said that prayer had no sort of relation with any creed or dogma. He added that any agnostic could pray: one felt he was just about to add that any atheist could pray. What all this is supposed to mean, I have no idea. To any atheist, to any rational rationalist, it would be at once obvious that prayer does depend on two or three quite definite dogmas. First, it implies that there is an invisible being, who can hear our prayer without ordinary material communication; which is a dogma. Second, it implies that the being is benevolent and not hostile; which is also a dogma. Third, it implies that he is not limited by the logic of causation, but can act with reference to our action; which is a great thundering dogma. But I merely give this as a passing example of the first fallacy in the advice to preachers. The preacher is told to cast aside all systems and speak out of his own heart, or (in favour able cases) out of his own head. It does not seem to occur to these critics that they are making the priest or preacher much more important than he was before. They are demanding from him a genius and originality which cannot be expected from all the individual members of any profession. The poor ordinary parson is not allowed to teach what he has learnt, a certain system of religious thought. But he is expected, all by himself, to be a sort of compound of Savonarola and Swedenborg and M. Coué. All men are not born mesmerists or prose poets or persons of magnetic personality. But all men can expound a rational scheme of religion and morals, if there is one to expound.
The truth is that creed and dogma are the only things that make preaching tolerable. A system of thought can be explained by any reasonably thinking man; but it does not follow that the thinking man is a thinker. The case is very much the same as that of the medical authority of the general practitioner. We do not expect every ordinary G.P. to be a person like Pasteur or Lister or some great medical discoverer. But we do expect him to know the system he has been taught; the creed and dogma of his profession. To tell the priest to throw away theology and impress us with his personality, is exactly like telling the doctor to throw away physiology and merely hypnotize us with his glittering eye. People are very fond of making unjust complaints about preachers, as they are of making equally unjust com plaints about doctors. But they have not yet got so far as complaining of doctors because they know their business, and because they regard it as a science. And the preacher, even the very worst preacher, would be infinitely more empty and dreary than he is if he had never regarded theology as a science. What makes his preaching tolerable, at its worst, is that he is, after all, in some sense giving us the thoughts of great men like St. Paul or St. Augustine, or even Calvin, and not merely the thoughts of a small man unassisted by any tradition of greatness. I do not know what advice will be given to the preacher by most of the distinguished persons who will probably advise him. But a melancholy familiarity with most current thought, or thoughtlessness, leads me to advise him to listen to it, and then do the opposite.
XXII. On the Timid Thinkers
I SHOULD like to write a book under the general title of The Timid Thinkers. By this term I refer to those who are commonly called The Bold Thinkers. For what strikes me most about the sceptics, who are praised as daring and audacious, is that they dare not carry out any of their own acts of audacity. It is their peculiar feature that they are always starting something that is intended to be very striking, and then being willing to wound and yet afraid to strike. I do not mean that they are base enough to be merely afraid of our law; quite as often they are really afraid of their own lawlessness. But they are afraid; in the sense that they hardly ever venture to complete their own argument. Some of these men I admire, some I find rather tiresome, which is about as near as I get to really resenting them. But I think that what I say of them is true. They are emphatically not men who carry a destructive idea through to its logical consequences; they are men who throw it out like a firework, but do not really wait for it to work its full destruction like a bomb. It is typical that some types of thinkers are called suggestive thinkers. But it is easy enough to suggest something, and leave it to be found unworkable by other people; as it is easy for a little boy to ring a bell and run away. The little boy ringing the bell is doubtless in one sense a rebel defying authority. But he is not quite on a level with the paladins or heroes who blew the horn hung outside the giant’s castle; because they remained to thrash things out in a thoughtful manner with the giant.
Now there are a number of nihilistic phrases wandering about in the air to-day, but those phrases are never really developed into philosophies. If they were, those particular phrases would probably be found to develop into patently absurd philosophies. A man in the time of the Schopenhauer fashion would say, over the tea-cups, that life is not worth living, and he would go on to say something equally significant; as that Pingle’s rondeau in the Yellow Book was an immortal thing of jade and emerald; or that Jubb of the New English Art Club had erased the mistake called Michelangelo. But he would not go on to say, as a serious thesis, that prussic acid should be served out at tea-time instead of tea; or that hospitals should be blown up on the charge that they sometimes save people’s lives. In short, he would talk like a pessimist, but he would not think like a pessimist; above all, he would not complete his pessimistic thinking. Pessimism of that sort is now rather old-fashioned, but it was not full or final even when it was fashionable. And exactly the same suggestive or fragmentary character belongs to the other things that have been fashionable since. A man says to-day, over the cocktails, that he is a Boishevist and believes with Marx that men must be what their economic and material origins make them. He goes on to remark casually something suitable to the same social atmosphere; as that the music of the future must consist entirely of factory-hooters and gas-explosions, or that Mossky’s bust of Lady Smith is supreme in its lack of likeness and its collision of five geometric planes. But he will not go on to apply seriously his own line of logic; as that Lenin is no more to be admired than Stolypin, since both only did what they were materially fated to do. Men throw out these thoughts — if at that stage they can be called thoughts — but they do not think them out; and they soon grow tired of any thinking.
A great thinker spends half his life in explaining his theory and the other half in explaining it away. As a matter of fact, most of the advanced have thus retired; or those who strode forward stopped or stepped back. Even Mr. Bernard Shaw, who seems to grow more right every day, began so very wrong that he could not himself avoid putting himself right. He once denounced all general ideals for the testing of particular actions, and said that the only golden rule is that there is no golden rule. In theory he was purely opportunist; that is, in theory he was against all theories. But even in some of his earliest quarrels, such as that on Vivisection, he was not really opportunist at all. He was obviously acting on the general principle that the ideal of Mercy must overrule all opportunism. The good old golden rule was back in all its glory; and even frogs and guinea-pigs must profit by the universal commandment to do as we would be done by. Shaw has never carried through any Shavian philosophy; he has expanded, but at the expense of his theory not being extended. As for Wells, he has had so many theories that he would need to borrow the three hundred years of Methuselah from Shaw, in order to fulfil any of them. But, any how, he has not fulfilled any of them. Mr. Britling did not see it through: that is exactly what the Wellsian heroes do not do.
It is the same with nearly all the great men of the sceptical school. People talk of the pessimism of Thomas Hardy as ruthless; and in its artistic method it was ruthless, often at the expense of reason and probability. But if he changed spiritually, it was always towards feeling less of the ruthlessness and more of the ruth. I should be very much surprised to learn that Hardy, especially in later life, was really a pessimist at all. His theory, as a theory, is not very clear or complete; but I am sure he did not become more clear or more complete, in the sense of more convinced of a dogma of despair. Consciously or unconsciously, the tendency is almost always the other way. Hardy recoiled from the Hardy philosophy, just as Shaw recoiled from the Shaw philosophy, and most of the anarchs and atheists recoil from the anarchist and atheist philosophy. Much of their later ingenuity is employed in trying to mend with their wisdom what they have broken with their wit. It is so easy to say something to start with that sounds splendidly sensible, and so difficult afterwards to reconcile it with common sense. A man like Mr. Arnold Bennett will say that nobody should be praised or blamed, because temperamental tendencies are so inevitable. But a man like Mr. Arnold Bennett has no more intention than I have of really walking, in broad daylight, through the real world, without ever blaming or praising anybody. All this that calls itself Modern Thought is a series of false starts and belated stop pages. It starts by believing in nothing, and it ends by getting nowhere. But the point is that, even if it ever gets anywhere, it no longer even tries to get where it originally wanted to go.
The explanation, as I have said, is simple enough. Anybody can throw out a suggestion, in the sense of throwing away a suggestion. The brilliant books of Mr. H. G. Wells almost entirely consist of suggestions that he has thrown away. But it is very different if the idea comes back like a boomerang to the hand, and we do not always find it easy to handle. The negative writers of the nineteenth-century tradition were always creating a sensation by offering to abolish something, or (like Bakunin) to abolish everything. But that sort of generalization is only a sensation; it is not really a system. It is a facile triumph to reveal the great truth that all men are really quadrupeds. The difficulty is, as life goes on and love and friendship become more subtle or many-sided, to live a complete human existence while still going about on all fours. It is great fun to thrill the mob by saying it consists entirely of suicidal maniacs; the difficulty is what to do next, except commit suicide. What generally happens is that great men gradually grow sane; and, having begun ‘with the enjoyment of being extraordinary, end with the more mystical beatitude of becoming ordinary. They begin each with his own wild and generally inhuman philosophy; but by the end they have, in a sense somewhat different from that of the old phrase, joined the religion of all sensible men.
XXIII. On the Mythology of Scientists
W HAT I venture to criticize in certain men, whom some call scientists and I call materialists, is their perpetual use of Mythology. One half of what they say is so true as to be trite; the other half of what they say is so untrue as to be transparent. But they cover both their platitudes and their pretences by an elaborate parade of legendary and allegorical images. I read this in some remarks on Darwinism by one of the last surviving Darwinians: ‘Among the individuals of every species there goes on, as Malthus had realized, a competition or struggle for the means of life, and Nature selects the individuals which vary in the most successful direction.’ Now when men of the old religions said that God chose a people or raised up a prophet, at least they meant something; and they meant what they said. They meant that a being with a mind and a will used them in an act of selection. But who is Nature, and how does she, or he, or it, manage to select anything or anybody? All that the writer actually has to say is that some individuals do emerge when other individuals are extinguished. it hardly needed either Darwin or Darwinians to tell us that. But Nature selecting those that vary in the most successful direction means nothing whatever, except that the successful succeed. But this tautological truism is wrapped up in clouds of mythology, by the introduction of a mythical being whom even the writer regards as a myth. The reader is to be impressed and deluded by the vision of a vast stone goddess sitting on a mountain throne, and pointing at a particular frog or rabbit and saying, in tones of thunder, that this alone is to survive. All we know is that it does survive (for the moment), and then we pride ourselves on being able to repeat the mere fact that it does survive in half a hundred variegated and flowery expressions: as that it has survival value; or that it is naturally selected for survival; or that it survives because it is the fittest for survival; or that Nature’s great law of the survival of the fittest sternly commands it to survive. The critics of religion used to say that its mysteries were mummeries; but these things are in the special and real sense mummeries. They are things offered to a credulous congregation by priests who know them to be mummeries. It is impossible to prove that the priests know that there is no god in the shrine, or no truth in the oracle. But we know that the materialist knows that there is no such thing as a large fastidious lady, called Nature, who points a finger at a frog.
The particular case in which this mythological metaphor was used is of course another matter. It is, indeed, a matter which has involved at various times a great deal of this element of materialist mythology. To see what truth was really in it we should have to go back to the old Darwinian debate; which I have not the least intention of doing here. But I may observe, in passing, that this notion of Nature selecting things is specially incompatible with all that can really be said for their own case; and that the very name of natural selection is a most unnatural name for it. For it is their whole case that everything happened, in the ordinary human sense, by accident. We should rather call it coincidence; and some of us call it quite incredible coincidence. But, anyhow, the whole case for it is that one quadruped happened to have a longer neck, and happened to live at a moment when it was necessary to reach a taller tree or shrub. If these happenings happen to happen about a hundred times in succession, in exactly the same way, you can by that process turn some sort of sheep or goat into a giraffe. Whether this is probable or not is another question. But the whole Darwinian argument is that it is not a case of Nature selecting, any more than of God selecting, or any one else selecting, but a case of things falling out in that fashion. We are quite ready to discuss trees and giraffes in their place, without perpetual references to God. Could the materialists not so far control their rhetorical and romantic sentimentalism as to do it without perpetual reference to Nature? Shall we make a bargain: that we will for the moment leave out our theology, if they will leave out their mythology?
But the mythological habit is not entirely and exclusively confined to men of science, or even to materialists. This sort of mythology is rather generally scattered over the modern world. The popular form of the mythological is the metaphorical. Certain figures of speech are fixed in the modern mind, exactly as the fables of the gods and nymphs were fixed in the mind of pagan antiquity. It is astonishing to note how often, when we address a man with anything resembling an idea, he answers with some recognized metaphor, supposed to be appropriate to the case. If you say to him, ‘I myself prefer the principle of the Guild to the principle of the Trust,’ he will not answer you by talking about principles. He can be counted on to say, ‘You can’t put the clock back,’ with all the regularity of a ticking clock. This is a very extreme example of the mental break down that goes with a relapse into metaphor. For the man is actually understating his own case out of sheer love of metaphor. It may be that you can not put time back, but you can put the clock back. He would be in a stronger position if he talked about the abstraction called time; but an all-devouring appetite for figurative language forces him to talk about clocks. Of course, the real question raised has nothing to do with either clocks or time. It is the question of whether certain abstract principles, which may or may not have been observed in the past, ought to be observed in the future. But the point is here that even the man who means that we cannot reconstruct the past can hardly ever reconstruct his own sentence in any other form except this figurative form. Without his myth, or his metaphor, he is lost.
Another mass of metaphors is drawn from the phenomena of morning, or the fact that the sun rises; or, rather (I grovel in apology to the man of science), appears to rise. It is a perfectly natural metaphor for poets; or, indeed, for all men, in that aspect in which all men are mystics. That there is a mystery in these natural things, which the imagination understands more subtly than the reason, is true enough. Nor have I any contempt even for mythology considered as mythology. But when we want to know what somebody wants to do, when we ask a free-thinker what he thinks, and why he thinks it, it is a little tiresome to be told that he is waiting for the Dawn, or engaged at the moment in singing Songs Before Sunrise. One is tempted to retort that Dawn is not always an entirely cheerful thing, even for those who have exercised their free thought upon the conventional traditions of their own society. There is such a thing as being shot at Dawn.
I do not mean for a moment, of course, that we should do without myths and metaphors altogether. I am constantly using them myself, and shall continue to do so. But I think we ought all to be on our guard against depending on them as a substitute for reason. Perhaps it would be well to have a Fast Day, on which we undertook to abstain from every thing but abstract terms. Let us all agree that every Friday we will do without metaphors as without meat. I am sure it would be good for the intellectual digestion.
XXIV. On Change
A PROFESSOR, filled with the spirit, has delivered an oracle on the subject of The Future. I do not know what he was a professor of, but I suppose he was a Professor of Prophecy. Anyhow, he belonged to that band of enthusiasts for evolution who seem to know much more about the future than they do about the past or even the present. For he was quite as scornful of the present as of the past. We are still, he said, only half-baked savages. Anyhow, some of us are still rather half-baked philosophers; and no philosopher of this school has ever yet answered the question that must have been put again and again, and which I, for one, have often put. If everything changes, including the mind of man, how can we tell whether any change is an improvement or no?
To take a simple and even crude example. One evolutionist, like Mr. Bernard Shaw, will say he has evolved a higher morality by refusing to eat the flesh of animals; but he does so because he has retained the old ideal of pity. Another evolutionist might just as well say that he had evolved a larger morality in being free to eat the flesh of human beings; though even in talking of being free he would still appeal to the old ideal of liberty. But he could easily talk, in quite a modern manner, about the ancient horror of cannibalism being a mere prejudice, a tribal taboo, an irrational limitation of human experience. The professor’s own phrase will be found charmingly apt. He complains that we are still half-baked savages. He may well look forward to the happy day when we shall be completely baked savages.
Now, nobody can possibly say which of these two evolutionary changes is the better, unless he keeps some standard that cannot be changed. He cannot tell whether he ought to evolve into the higher morality or into the larger morality, unless he has some principle of pity or of liberty that does not evolve at all. The professor gave, among his rather random examples, the suggestion that we must be changing for the better because women were burned three hundred years ago. Suppose I tell him that women will be vivisected three hundred years hence. I have as much right to tell him that as he has to tell me anything else; I also can roll myself in the prophet’s mantle; I also can mount the tripod and deliver the oracle. In other words, I know as much about the future as he does, or as anybody else does; which is nothing at all. But suppose it were true, as it is most certainly tenable, that some of the vivisectionists do eventually propose to extend vivisection from beasts to men; just as I have pictured the intellectuals of the New Cannibalism extending their diet from beasts to men. It will be just as easy to use a scientific jargon in defence of that vivisection as of any other vivisection. It will be just as easy to argue, as men in all ages have argued, that a minority must suffer for the sake of a community, or that such sacrifice is a sort of martyrdom for mankind. What I want to know is, how is the evolutionist to tell whether this is a forward step or a retrograde step, if his ethics are always changing with his evolution? The Vivisectionists will say then, as they say now, that true progress demands a painful but necessary investigation. The Anti-Vivisectionists will say then, as they say now, that true progress is found in increased sensibility to suffering and renunciation of force. But how is the unhappy doubter to decide which of these two versions of true progress is really true? He can only do it if he has the test of some truth that remains true. But it is the very essence of this extreme evolutionary notion of thought that no truth can really remain true. The mind is fluid and changing, as the body is fluid and changing. On this principle we may be able to say of the future that it will be a change. But we cannot say it will be an improvement; for that implies that there will always be something in common between us and our descendants; something that we are all trying to improve. Why should that something not change like everything? Is that outside the laws of evolution? Is that a special creation? Is that a miracle? Is that common standard of conscience a thing of divine origin? Dreadful thought!
I need not say much here of the actual prophecies of the professor. They sound very like a skit or burlesque on the romances of Jules Verne or the earlier romances of H. G. Wells. Only they contain absurdities that nobody would put into a romance, or even into a burlesque. The professor was, of course, bursting with hope and progressive optimism. He thinks that everything is going very well indeed, and the world improving with wonderful rapidity. As an example of this, he says that men are losing their eyes, teeth, hair, and sense of hearing with a rapidity that raises the happiest anticipations in a humane lover of his kind. He explained that when we have got rid of all these rude and extinct organs, we should have mechanical scientific substitutes. In the simple language of our fathers, we shall have false hair, false teeth, false eyes, false ears, and everything else suitable to our false philosophy. He did not explain how soon it will be possible to manufacture that minor part of the machinery which has hitherto escaped so many inquiring mechanics; I mean the little thing that actually sees, hears, smells, speaks, and thinks. For, strange and exasperating as it seems, without that one little thing (which nobody can find anywhere) it will generally be found that telescopes cannot see by themselves, telephones can not hear by themselves, books cannot write themselves or read themselves; and a man cannot even talk entirely without thinking. Though he sometimes comes pretty near it.
XXV. On Twilight Sleep
IT has been blandly and placidly proposed by some publicists that persons accused of a crime should be subjected to some hypnotic influence, which some psychologists imagine to induce a condition they call Twilight Sleep; in which remarkable state it is said that a man will go on talking and can only tell the truth. I trust it is unnecessary for me to say what I think of the morality of all that sort of thing. Of its practical social effect, if it could ever have any practical social existence, I have very little doubt. What would happen, of course, would be simply this. In meek obedience to what Science had discovered, we should hang six or seven people on the unanswerable evidence of what they said in their Twilight Sleep. And then Science would make another discovery, establishing the principle of Twilight Dream-Distortions; pointing out that certain forms of error are specially likely to occur in Twilight Sleep; and speaking haughtily and distantly about their credulous forebears who, through ignorance of Distortion Phenomena, had imagined that Twilight Sleep was reliable. Meanwhile, the people we had hanged by the latest light of science (indeed in every sense a twilight of science) would continue to be dead. That is how Science really assists Law. It is quite true that there have been many martyrs of science; but they have not always been scientists.
Of its more general and atmospheric morality, as a matter of social tone, I can only say that, if things of that sort were ever established in England, it would be the end of a rather exceptional and very fine and honourable English tradition. Our English law has had plenty of faults, which we rather tend to forget when we are content to hear the law being praised by lawyers. But it is really true that it carried almost to a quixotic point the notion of protecting the prisoner against unfair tricks or traps. Possibly it was as much sporting as chivalrous; possibly it was more chivalrous than just. But I should be sorry to see so generous a national tradition entirely swept away, even by more logical police theories from Europe, let alone a lot of half-baked quack science from America. Law is not the most magnanimous thing in the world, in any part of the world. But it would seem, at first sight, as if even law had a better sense of honour than science. Only, as I have said, this sort of science is not science. It is simply charlatanism and boosting; the work of people who take advantage at once of the popular reverence for science and the popular ignorance of it. Charlatans arc now less criticized or cross-examined than they ever were in the world before. In the darkest days they were at least examined to see whether they were witches; but now men have not only grown sceptical about the witch, but about the witch-finder. They have not only grown to doubt the quack, but the doctor who denounces the quack. Everything has become a matter of opinion, or, rather, a matter of taste; and larger and larger crowds of people simply have a taste in quacks. They move about in a mesmerized and mechanical condition, talking and thinking merely on the authority of somebody who is not an authority. In short, they are in a condition that might very properly be described as Twilight Sleep; which, if not a state in which they tell the truth about everything, is at least a state in which they can believe anything to be true.
If anybody thinks I exaggerate the superstition of these somnambulists, or the decay of clearer and cooler ideas of justice, let me point out that the same thing is happening in conditions more crudely superstitious. We are asked to entrust legal decisions not only to mesmerists, but to mediums. We are once more being told to go to ghosts and wraiths for a legal opinion; or to put sheeted phantoms and gibbering spectres in the witness-box. It was quite seriously and warmly urged that some seance, with all the activities of its trumpets and tambourines, should be summoned like a judge and jury to give its verdict on the identity of the Ilkley murderer. I have an open mind about mediums and spirits when we are investigating or detecting them. But I do draw the line at their investigating and detecting us. I do not know that the spirits exist; I do not know whether they are reliable if they do exist; I do not know that they are not delusions; I do not know that they are not devils from hell. And yet I am asked, by people who know practically as little as I do, to turn them loose like chartered libertines to blast the honour or break the lives of men. In plain words, we may soon find ourselves hunting another human being, not with blood-hounds, but with hell-hounds.
That is what I call the Twilight; and something singularly suited to the title of Twilight Sleep. It is a breakdown at once of the idea of reason and of the idea of authority; it is a breakdown of reason because it is a breakdown of authority. Some men say that Science says this or that; when they only mean scientists, and do not know or care which scientists. Other men say that Spirits say this or that; when they do not know or care which spirits, or whether they are evil spirits. The notion that there might be a standard or tribunal of truth, which could distinguish great scientists from small, or evil spirits from good, seems to have completely vanished from a very large number of minds; and, compared with such a void of anarchy, even the old dry pedantry of the lawyers remains as some sort of link with logic and good government. Sooner than be tried by psychologists, or tried by psychic phenomena, I would even take the desperate course of going to law in an ordinary court of justice. I cannot boast that I am, in the select and special sense, known to the police. But at least, in the public and general sense, they are known to me; and, while I have no illusions about them, I have roughly adequate information about them: I know there are some things they will not do and some things they cannot legally do.
But crude and crazy psychiatrists from new Colleges of Eugenics are not in the least known to me; and vague and visionary influences from beyond the grave are not in the least known to me; and I have no information about them at all. If people around me are going to trust blindly to these things, I can only conjecture that there is creeping on them a blindness like that of barbarism. And there comes back across my mind once more their own metaphor of the Sleep of Twilight; and I remember what men used to say about the Twilight of the Gods, and wonder whether this is the Twilight of the Man.
However, I do not really take quite so depressing a view, even of these depressing developments and proposals. For I recognize that, in reality, all this sort of thing marks rather the end of a delusion than its beginning. The curse of the whole situation is expressed with terrible exactitude in the one phrase that Science has become a name to conjure with. Having worked its own wonders, which are really on the material plane comparable to miracles, it has gained a sort of glamour which is made to cover any number of trivial or disreputable conjuring tricks. There were Pretenders in the days when men believed in Princes. There were hedge-priests in the days when men believed in priesthood. Just as adventurers then claimed the sanctity of priests and kings, so to-day the only sanctity so regarded is that of the man of science; and any number of thieves will steal it from him. But as men grow more used to the science, they may grow more sensible about the superstition.
MOST of us must have wondered if we could find a real definition of Vulgarity. For it is generally difficult to destroy, or even to defy, a thing that we cannot define. I suspect, to begin with, that we should discover, in the case of this word, a difficulty that exists with regard to a great many modern words. They were invented after the age of doctrine and definition. They are at best artistic and atmospheric. They have come to stand for strong impressions which are real enough, but to stand for them merely as symbols, sometimes poetical, sometimes arbitrary and accidental. And I rather fancy that, in the case of Vulgarity and other verbal symbols, we should find that the inquiry ended in an odd way. When we had really managed to put into other words the thing we meant by this particular word, we should probably find that it was a very incorrect word for it.
Thus Vulgarity, as a vice which we can nil feel rather vividly (I should imagine) in the affairs and fashions around us, is not really connected with the ancient vulgus; not even with the profanum vulgus. The mob has its own vices, but it is not necessarily vulgar. The mass of mankind has its own weaknesses, but we do not necessarily feel those weaknesses as vulgarizing. The particular thing we mean, or at any rate the thing I mean, when I use this word, is something much more subtle and certainly much more poisonous. But I really do not know any other word for it. I could easily give examples of it from the Press, but this would be a rather cheap and unfair way of filling the pages in this book. So, with a full sense of the rashness of the experiment, I will make an attempt to state the real nature of the thing I call Vulgarity; and I wish I knew a worse name for it.
What I mean by Vulgarity is this. When six men stand up and we suddenly see that one of them is a dwarf, we are startled to find him so stunted. We only realize that he is stunted because he is standing up; because he is stretching himself to his full height. Similarly, when the mind of man stretches itself, in order to show off, and is still stunted, that is the revelation that I mean. It is by the showing off that we see how little there is to show. When some body tries to impress us, either with his wit or assurance, or knowledge of the world, or power, or grace, or even poetry and ideality, and in the very act of doing so shows he has low ideas of all these things — that is Vulgarity. In other words, a thing is only vulgar when its best is base.
That is why many things commonly called vulgar do not seem to me vulgar at all. The red-nosed comedian, the man who sits on his hat, the joke about the drunken man, these are not the sort of thing of which I am thinking; indeed, they are the very reverse. For the man who sits on his hat is not standing up. The drunkard is not stretching him self; he is (as he will explain) enjoying relaxation. The red-nosed comedian is not pretending to be at his best. These things may have dangers or weaknesses of their own, but they do not indicate that a man is base even at his best. The man who sits on his hat on the stage may be perfectly dignified when he sits on his chair at home, or takes off his hat in church. The red-nosed comedian, when he has hung up his red nose along with his little hat, may be in private life a blend of Bayard and Socrates. We can appeal from Philip drunk to Philip sober. But we can appeal no further, if we find that even Philip sober is a boor and a brute. If he is base at his best, and baser in his attempt to impress us with his best, then we have a certain sensation for which I know no other name. It appears when the man does pretend to be Bayard, and can only manage to be Barnum. It appears when the man does go to church and take off his hat, and seems to care more about the hat than the church. It appears, in short, when there is something about him that seems to debase and flatten everything he touches; and most of all when he touches worthy and exalted things. Thus there is the man who wishes first to prove that he is a gentleman, and only proves two things; first, that he is vulgar enough to prefer being a gentleman to being a man; and second, that he has a hideously stunted and half witted notion even of being a gentleman. There is the man who wishes to show that he has lived in the best society; and shows even in showing it that he does not know the best society from the worst.
There are any number of lesser and often more excusable examples, but this is the touch that makes the difference. There is the man who is always being tactful without tact. There is the man who jokes loudly and laughs heartily, and so proves that he has no sense of humour. There is the man who talks a great deal about understanding women, and with every word helps us with a ghastly clarity to understand him. There is the man who tells stories of the wonderful affability and friendliness of very rich men he has known, and thereby reveals his secret religion — that rich men are gods and that he is a fortunate favourite of the gods. All these men have the mark that I call for convenience vulgar; the mark that they give us their own moral and spiritual measure by stretching themselves to their full stature. If they had been a little lax and casual and humble, we might never have found them out. If they had not been so clever, we might never have known that they were fools. If they had not been so gentlemanly, we should not have seen that they were cads.
XXVII. On a Humiliating Heresy
MANY modern people like to be regarded as slaves. I mean the most dismal and degraded sort of slaves; moral and spiritual slaves. Popular preachers and fashionable novelists can safely repeat that men are only what their destiny makes them; and that there is no choice or challenge in the lot of man. Dean Inge declares, with a sort of gloomy glee, that some absurd American statistics or experiments show that heredity is an incurable disease and that education is no cure for it. Mr. Arnold Bennett has said that many of his friends drink too much; but that it cannot be helped, because they cannot help it. I am not Puritanic about drink; I have drunk all sorts of things; and in my youth, often more than was good for me. But in any conceivable condition, drunk or sober, I should be furious at the suggestion that I could not help it. I should have wanted to punch the head of the consoling fatalist who told me so. Yet nobody seems to punch the heads of consoling fatalists. This, which seems to me the most elementary form of self-respect, seems to be the one thing about which even the sensitive are insensible. These modern persons are very sensitive about some things. They would be furious if somebody said they were not gentlemen; though there is really no more historical reason for pretending that every man is a gentleman than that every man is a marquis, or a man-at-arms. They are frightfully indignant if we say they are not Christians; though they hold them selves free to deny or doubt every conceivable idea of Christianity, even the historical existence of Christ. In the current cant of journalism and politics they would almost prosecute us for slander if we said they were not Democrats; though any number of them actually prefer aristocracy or autocracy; and the real Democrats in English society are rather a select few. We might almost say that the true believers in democracy are themselves an aristocracy. About all these words men can be morbidly excitable and touchy. They must not be called pagans or plebeians or plain men or reactionaries or oligarchs. But they may be called slaves; they may be called monkeys; and, above all, they may be called machines. One would imagine that the really intolerable insult to human dignity would be to say that human life is not determined by human will. But so long as we do not say they are heathen, we may say they are not human. We may say that they develop as blindly as a plant or turn as automatically as a wheel.
There are all sorts of ways in which this humiliating heresy expresses itself. One is the perpetual itch to describe all crime as lunacy. Now, quite apart from virtue, I would much rather be thought a criminal than a criminal lunatic. As a point not of virtue but of vanity, I should be less insulted by the title of a murderer than by the title of a homicidal maniac. The murderer might be said, not unfairly, to have lost the first fragrance of his innocence, and all that keeps the child near to the cherubim. But the maniac has lost more than innocence; he has lost essence; the complete personality that makes him a man. Yet everybody is talking as if it would be quite natural, and even nice, to be excused for immorality on the ground of idiocy. The principle is applied, with every flourish of liberality and charity, to personalities whom one would imagine quite proud of being personal. It is applied not only to the trivial and transient villains of real life, but to the far more solid and convincing villains of romance.
A distinguished doctor has written a book about the madmen of Shakespeare. By which he did not mean those few fantastic and manifest madmen, whom we might almost call professional madmen, who merely witnessed to the late Elizabethan craze for lurid and horrible grotesques. Ford or Webster, or some of their fellows, would hardly have hesitated to have a ballet or chorus of maniacs, like a chorus of fairies or fashionable beauties. But the medical gentleman seems to have said that any number of the serious characters were mad. Macbeth was mad; Hamlet was mad; Ophelia was congenitally mad; and so on. If Hamlet was really mad, there does not seem much point in his pretending to be mad. If Ophelia was always mad, there does not seem much point in her going mad. But anyhow, I think a saner criticism will always maintain that Hamlet was sane. He must be sane even in order to be sad; for when we get into a world of complete unreality, even tragedy is unreal. No lunatic ever had so good a sense of humour as Hamlet. A homicidal maniac does not say, ‘Your wisdom would show itself more richer to signify that to his doctor’; he is a little too sensitive on the subject of doctors. The whole point of Hamlet is that he is really saner than anybody else in the play; though I admit that being sane is not identical with what some call being sensible. Being outside the world, he sees all round it; where everybody else sees his own side of the world, his own worldly ambition, or hatred or love. But, after all, Hamlet pretended to be mad in order to deceive fools. We cannot complain if he has succeeded.
But, whatever we may say about Hamlet, we must not say this about Macbeth. Hamlet was only a mild sort of murderer; a more or less accidental and parenthetical murderer; an amateur. But Macbeth was a good, solid, serious, self-respecting murderer; and we must not have any nonsense about him. For the play of Macbeth is, in the supreme and special sense, the Christian Tragedy; to be set against the Pagan Tragedy of Oedipus. It is the whole point about Oedipus that he does not know what he is doing. And it is the whole point about Macbeth that he does know what he is doing. It is not a tragedy of Fate but a tragedy of Freewill. He is tempted of a devil, but he is not driven by a destiny. If the actor pronounces the words properly, the whole audience ought to feel that the story may yet have an entirely new ending, when Macbeth says suddenly, ‘We will proceed no further in this business.’ The incredible confusion of modern thought is always suggesting that any indication that men have been influenced is an indication that they have been forced. All men are always being influenced; for every incident is an influence. The question is, which incident shall we allow to be most influential. Macbeth was influenced; but he consented to be influenced. He was not, like a blind tragic pagan, obeying something he thought he ought to obey. He does not worship the Three Witches like the Three Fates. He is a good enlightened Christian, and sins against the light.
The fancy for reading fatalism into this play, where it is most absent, is probably due to the fallacy of a series; or three things in a row. It misleads Macbeth’s critics just as it misleads Macbeth. Almost all our pseudo-science proceeds on the principle of saying that one thing follows on another thing, and then dogmatizing about the third thing that is to follow. The whole argument about the Superman, for instance, as developed by Nietzsche and other sophists, depends entirely on this trick of the incomplete triad. First the scientist or sophist asserts that when there was a monkey, there was bound to be a man. Then he simply prophesies that something will follow the man, as the man followed the monkey. This is exactly the trick used by the Witches in Macbeth. They give him first a fact he knows already, that he is Thane of Glamis; then one fact really confirmed in the future, that he is Thane of Cawdor; and then something that is not a fact at all, and need never be a fact at all, unless he chooses to make it one out of his own murderous fancy. This false series, seeming to point at something, though the first term is trivial and the last untrue, does certainly mislead many with a fallacious sense of fate. It has been used by materialists in many ways to destroy the sense of moral liberty; and it has murdered many things besides Duncan.
XXVIII. On Original Sin
ONCE upon a time when Mr. H. G. Wells was setting forth on his varied and splendid voyage from Utopia to Utopia, he announced as a sort of watchword or war-cry that the new world would have nothing to do with the idea of Original Sin. He did not specially speak, and, indeed, there was no reason for him to speak, about his other beliefs or unbeliefs. He had not then compared the Trinity to a dance; but neither had he called adoring multitudes to the shrine of the Invisible King. But, standing at the end of the great scientific nineteenth century, he thought it time to announce that the one doctrine he did not believe in was Original Sin. Standing at the beginning of the still more scientific twentieth century, Mr. Aldous Huxley calmly announces that the one doctrine he does believe in is Original Sin. He may be a sceptic or a heretic about many things, but on that point he is quite orthodox. He may not hold many theological dogmas, but about this dogma he is quite dogmatic. There is one fragment of the ancient creed which he not only clings to, but declares to be necessary to all clear minds of the new generation. And that is the very fragment which Mr. Wells threw away thirty years ago, as something that would never be needed any more. The stone that the builder of Utopia rejected . . .
It is not a mere verbal coincidence that original thinkers believe in Original Sin. For really original thinkers like to think about origins. That should be obvious even to the negative thinkers of the nineteenth-century tradition, who for two or three generations claimed all originality, all novelty, all revolutionary change of thought for a book called The Origin of Species. But it is even more true of moral discovery than of material discovery; and it is even more true of the twentieth-century reaction than of the nineteenth-century revolution. Men who wish to get down to fundamentals perceive that there is a fundamental problem of evil. Men content to be more superficial are also content with a superficial fuss and bustle of improvement. The man in the mere routine of modern life is content to say that a modern gallows is a relatively humane instrument or that a modern cat-o’-nine tails is milder than an ancient Roman flagellum. But the original thinker will ask why any scourge or gibbet was ever needed, or ever even alleged to be needed? And that brings the original thinker back to original sin. For that is not affected as a universal thing by whether we approve or disapprove of the particular things. Whether we call it infamous tyranny or inevitable restraint, there is some sort of sin either in the scourger or the scourged.
Nevertheless, I often feel that the original thinker is not quite original enough. I mean that he does not get quite so near to the truth as the old tradition could take him. I say it without arrogance, for many of us owe the truth as much to tradition as to originality. But I am often struck by the fact that original thinkers originate trains of thought, but do not finish them. It is the great trouble with the advanced that they will not advance any further. Now, Mr. Aldous Huxley sees very clearly that medieval religion was more realistic than modern idealism and optimism. He says that the latest scientific view is more like the old Catholic view than was the intervening illusion of the Romantic Movement. But he adds that the scientific view of man necessitates a sort of original sin, if it be only the residuum of his animal ancestry.
Now, that is exactly where I should like him to advance a step further; and he does not. For sin, whatever else it is, is not merely the dregs of a bestial existence. It is something more subtle and spiritual, and is in some way connected with the very supremacy of the human spirit. Mr. Huxley must know well enough that this is so with the most execrable sins, such as often figure in his own admirable satires. It is not merely a matter of letting the ape and tiger die, for apes are not Pharisees, nor are tigers prigs. The elephant does not turn up his long nose at everything with any superior intention; and the totally unjust charge of hypocrisy might well be resented by any really sensitive and thin-skinned crocodile. The giraffe might be called a highbrow, but he is not really supercilious about his powers of Uplift. Man has scattered his own vices as well as virtues very arbitrarily among the animals, and there may be no more reason to accuse the peacock of pride than to accuse the pelican of charity.
The worst things in man are only possible to man. At least we must confine their existence to men, unless we are prepared to admit the existence of demons. There is thus another truth in the original conception of original sin, since even in sinning man originated something. His body may have come from animals, and his soul may be torn in pieces by all sorts of doctrinal disputes and quarrels among men. But, roughly speaking, it is quite clear that he did manufacture out of the old mud or blood of material origins, with whatever mixture of more mysterious elements, a special and a mortal poison. That poison is his own recipe; it is not merely decaying animal matter. That poison is most poisonous where there are fine scientific intellects or artistic imaginations to mix it. It is just as likely to be at its best — that is, at its worst — at the end of a civilization as at the beginning. Of this sort are all the hideous corruptions of culture; the pride, the perversions, the intellectual cruelties, the horrors of emotional exhaustion. You cannot explain that monstrous fruit by saying that our ancestors were arboreal; save, indeed, as an allegory of the Tree of Knowledge. The poison can take the form of every sort of culture — as, for instance, bacteria-culture. But the poison itself has always been there. Indeed it is as old as any memory of man. Wherefore, we have to posit of it that it also was of the human source and fountain head, that it was in the beginning, or, as the old theology affirms, original.
I suggest, therefore, with great respect, that it is not even now a case of having to admit that the old religion had come very near to the truths of the most modern science. It is rather a case of the most modern science having come very near to the truths of the old religion — but not quite near enough.
XXIX. On the New Religion Coming
THAT rather pleasant and even exciting cry that has been occasionally raised in recent years has been raised once again, the announcement of the New Religion. My criticism of that otherwise admirable diversion has always been, roughly speaking, a complaint that the New Religion was announced as appearing and never appeared. Even those who advertise in the magazines ‘an entirely new type of detective’ do produce some sort of detective, even if he is a detective who is rather easy to detect. Even those who say that the next issue will contain a passionate romance, involving an entirely bold and original situation between Man and Woman, do at least introduce into their disappointing anecdote some sort of objects, which might be mistaken for a woman and a man. Even cross-word puzzles are followed by complete solution, filling up all the spaces somehow; and even in a prize competition there is an answer, whether or no there is a prize. Nobody writes a mystery story about a corpse in the stoke-hole, and then simply leaves it in the stoke-hole in the last chapter, without any comment, however casual. Nobody who loses a millionaire on the first page of a sensational novel can escape the responsibility of finding him somehow or somewhere, before the last page, dead or alive. But in the case of the New Religion, there simply was no New Religion, alive or dead. There were simply a number of suggestions about how interesting it would be if there ever were a New Religion, just as it would be extremely interesting if there were a corpse in our own domestic stoke-hole; just as it would be thrilling to find a millionaire alive, or possibly even more delightful to find him dead. But we do not, in fact, in our daily walks through the world, find corpses in stoke-holes; we do not find dead millionaires, and we do not find New Religions. When we do, we do not indulge in long disquisitions about how interesting it would be if we did. When we do, we utter a loud cry, or otherwise draw attention to a definite and rather dramatic fact.
Now, the only reason given, in the case I mention, for saying that there would be a New Religion was the assertion (true or false) that the world was tired of the old religions. Even if this were true, it would be a very illogical basis for any such prophecy. I have no right to announce to the scientific world that I have discovered an entirely new animal, with a wholly extraordinary and unprecedented arrangement of horns and hooves, and then have no explanation to give, except that I am tired of eating beef and mutton. I have no right to send a telegram to the Astronomer Royal declaring that I have found a new star, and then afterwards explain to that distinguished and irritated official, with an air of fatalistic languor, that everybody is thoroughly sick of the poetry written about Mars and Venus and Jupiter, and all the pagan names of the planets. Those pagan gods and goddesses arc undoubtedly ancient; they are undoubtedly in one sense out of date; they are undoubtedly a little too trite and familiar in the literature of men who have long ceased to believe in them as real deities. But simply disbelieving in them does not of itself materialize a new and enormous comet, or precipitate even a falling star.
So it is in the social and moral and philosophical world. A good many of us are sometimes a little tired of journalism, especially of the journalists. There is really very good reason for saying that the Press in its present conditions is in danger of becoming an anomalous and anonymous bore. But I cannot go about telling people that I am bringing out a new kind of newspaper, or that I have invented a new way of conveying news, merely because I do not think that the old way with news is very new. A great many of us think that education, in its modern compulsory form, has got very much into a rut and is likely to become as narrow as any other routine. But I do not call that The New Education; I do not say that I am an educationist; God forbid! But on the subject of religion it would seem that anybody is allowed to announce anything. Anybody may draw any number of blank cheques on the bank of the future. Anybody may run up any number of bills for posterity to discharge when we are all dead, and cannot be charged with anything — even with r rash prediction. So far as I can understand, the only thing that anybody knows about the New Religion is that nobody will be a priest and everybody will be a prophet.
I do not for a moment suggest that the New Religion might not exist- The world has made a fool of itself in all sorts of ways from the beginning of time, but its rich stores of foolery are by no means exhausted yet. I can easily imagine a real, vivid, veritable New Religion, which is more than the prophet of the New Religion can do. I could make up a whole list of New Religions, at a guinea apiece, which would be quite as probable and presentable as any number of old religions such as have existed and may yet exist again. There is nothing, for instance, to prevent people from worshipping the infinitesimal instead of the infinite, and subdividing the atom in the search for the indivisible dot of divinity. It would be as sensible to search for God with microscopes as to search for God with telescopes. And that was what a number of the cosmic agnostics really did in the nineteenth century. I can imagine a religion founded entirely on the psychology of contrast, so that children would be kept in coal-cellars that they might appreciate occasional sun beams. I can imagine a religion founded on the inversion of day and night, and the idea that our dreams are real and our waking life is a dream. I can understand a man holding that everything except himself is a dream. It will be truly remarked that all these New Religions are stark staring mad. They are; but they are something. They are ideas of some sort; they are statements with some meaning; they are things that could be affirmed or denied. But the New Religion in the weekly paper is Nothing; and I object to being told to bow down to Nothing, or to be bullied by Nothing, or to be made a slave of Nothing, because it is supposed to be New.
XXX. On the Great God Namse
AT last I have found the essentials of the true Faith of the Future; the creed which all thoughtful men can accept; the creed that suits itself to the best thought of the age; the religion that is purely spiritual, as Dr. Barnes would say, being purely in the spirit of the times; the religion that appeals to something deeper than creed and dogma; the religion for the plain man, for the practical man, and especially for the business man; the vital appreciation of values in which we can all agree; the formula that will unite all the Churches, reconcile all the conflicting parties in the Church of England, and finally unite, after two hundred years of civil war, the nine hundred and ninety-nine True Religions of Scotland. Need I say that I allude to that vivid religion, the worship of Namse, the God of Wealth?
A worship so modern, so rational, so much in touch with the whole spirit of the time, cannot be long in extending its full and formal establishment from Tibet to Tooting. I say its full and formal establishment, because it is obvious that the deeper, quieter, more truly spiritual influence of the god has long been prevalent in Tooting and elsewhere. But, though we have most of us seen a good many manifestations of the general affection felt for Namse, the God of Wealth, I have never seen any manifestation of him half so attractive or so jolly as his appearance in a coloured photograph reproduced from Tibet. The ordinary dingy, sulky millionaire is afraid to wear crowns and crests like the ancient tyrants; he knows in his wicked heart that he has not really got the sort of popular authority that belonged to the old princes and priests. He therefore ‘dresses with great simplicity’; and has paragraphs in all the papers to say so. There is none of that nonsense about dear old Namse. Whatever criticisms the fastidious might make on his appearance, nobody can say that he dresses with great simplicity. His face, or mask, rather suggests that of Mr. Hoover in a rage; and in this also there may be something symbolical. But would that we could hope to see the President of the United States coming out of the White House at Washington in any costume so conspicuous and so charming! Men seem to have lost the radiant expansiveness which makes such a parade possible. Anyhow, the God of Wealth is not ashamed of his wealth. There is only one snag in the situation, and possibly in the religion. The figure which follows in the procession immediately after the God of Wealth is described as the God of Hell.
These extraordinary ceremonial figures and formalities come from a celebration called the Old Dance at the Tibetan Monastery of Chord in Kansu, the photographs being taken by Dr. J. F. Rock. There has always been a great deal of talk about the religious mysteries in the interior of Tibet; but in the days of my mystical youth they were generally represented as being of a more ethereal and less entertaining character. In the days when Theosophy was at its widest moment of influence, we were often told that truth could only be found in the monasteries of Tibet. But we certainly were not told that the truth found there would be a grinning glorification of the power of Money, or a dance of a horned devil to typify the instant menace of death and hell. The monks of the real Tibet seemed to be rather more realistic than the Mahatmas of the imaginary Tibet. I, for one, would much rather take part in that pageant of pantomime masks, where everything is painted in bright colours, and is popular, and at any rate means something, than sit waiting in an esoteric salon for a message from a Mahatma, who had nothing to say except, ‘You have been all things; you shall achieve at last the right to be nothing.’ The jolly fellows in Choni, at any rate, say what they mean; and when they worship the God of Wealth they say so. They do not serve God and Mammon, but serve Mammon as God; and at least get something out of it in the way of glitter and colour and painting the town red and gold. They do not have to endure the worship of wealth, and then have to endure refinement as well.
How much more melancholy is the condition of those, in modernized and rationalized Western communities, who have to go about conducting secretly the cult of the Great God Namse! How much more uncomfortable it is to call on Namse morning, noon, and night, and yet never be allowed to call him by his name! How miserable is our condition in industrial Europe and America, who dare not call on Namse as Namse, but have to call him National Welfare, or International Peace, or the British Empire or the New Republic, or Progress, or Humanity, or some ghastly thing! Instead of the simple and heartfelt cry for More Money, which might come sincerely from so many of our hearts, there must be a mystification and a secret language, and the giving to the god of every other title except his own golden name. Yet even this particular Asiatic name might perhaps be useful to persons in this delicate position. The mask must be transparent in Tibet, but it might still serve to mask the mystery in Tooting. It might still be used as a polite political evasion, except to those who had profited by the information of Dr. Rock. Suppose a Member of Parliament asks as a supplementary question, ‘Can the right hon. gentle man tell the House why he bestowed a peerage on Mr. Bunk, formerly known as the Vanishing Book maker?’ It would be healthy, but all too heroic, if the Cabinet Minister rose and said simply, ‘I did it for Money.’ But nobody could complain of unparliamentary language if he rose and said with great gravity, ‘I did it for Namse.’ It would never do, if, when the orator asks the rhetorical question, ‘What is it that drives our best and boldest Empire-builders forth to establish order in the ends of the earth, what is the mysterious impulse and vision which draws out of them all their deep indomitable powers for the expansion of England?’ . . . It would never do if the whole audience answered with one approving shout, ‘Money!’ But no harm would be done if the audience were allowed to murmur and intone, as a sort of liturgical chorus, ‘Namse’. It would always be possible to exhort the young to devote their lives earnestly and laboriously to Namse, where it would sound a little crude, perhaps, to tell them to devote themselves entirely to raking in the shekels or getting hold of the dibs. Considering the strange way in which Christian traditions still linger about even in this enlightened age, it might often be safer to say that our reason and conscience required us to worship Namse, rather than that they required us to worship Mammon.
XXXI. On the Innocence of Macaulay
IN the middle of an Italian popular ceremony, or pageant of the sort some call ‘medieval’, with tools and emblems of trades like those of the old guilds, I suddenly remembered my boyhood: and a particular passage in Macaulay’s Essays. Macaulay’s Essays are now almost as distant as the Middle Ages; indeed, in some ways more dead than the Middle Ages. But they do exactly sum up and clarify the modern mood which was a reaction from the Middle Ages; and we are just sufficiently removed from it to compare the two. If Macaulay would not have understood what we mean by ‘the co-operative movement’ or ‘the unit of the trade-union’, it is because we have already grown so much more medieval than he was. There was also, of course, something that was shiny and shallow about his style, which was the very reverse of medieval. Nevertheless, Macaulay also had his medieval virtues; he knew what he meant; he had the faith of a child in the rights of reason; and his chief fault was living within his own Victorian limitations, which was also the weakness of many medieval writers, when they too confidently adorned their profound general principles with illustrations from the habits of the salamander or the moral lesson to be learnt from the unicorn.
What is interesting about each generation of men is the things they never thought of. Mandeville and his age never thought of physical science built on detailed data like our own. Macaulay and his age never thought of a creed being the creative soul of a society, giving it an art and culture. Hence they never understood things that were and are still to be found in Italy or Spain, which are still called medieval things, though they are in many ways increasing with modern developments. I know no better way of explaining what they are, and how they affect all our modern thought of religious unity or religious toleration, than by taking a single passage in Macaulay’s famous essay commonly called Gladstone on Church and State. Everybody knows that the great Gladstone, being then a young Tory and High Churchman, had written a book arguing that the State must have a State religion, because it must have a moral relation to other things. To this Macaulay replied with a remarkable retort, which exactly marks out the limits of his social life and its difference from the other. He answers triumphantly by saying that we might as well demand that a stage coach company, or some sort of omnibus company, should have an official religion. An omnibus company, he said, also has moral duties. It is bound to take care of the lives and the limbs of its passengers; bound to treat its employees properly; bound to keep its word in business, and so on. Therefore, he adds with a hearty laugh, we should have an omnibus company calling itself a religious body. He is quite sure that this is a complete reductio ad absurdum; he is quite sure that all the men of his age are laughing with him. And so they were; it is their laughter that exactly marks their limitation — the limit of their power of social imagination and construction.
I suppose it would have surprised even Macaulay, and still more his readers, to be told that, if a medieval State had an omnibus company, the omnibus company probably would have an official religion. It would probably have a patron saint: an advocate in heaven supposed to be protecting that particular omnibus company and no other. It would quite certainly have religious services invoking blessings on that particular omnibus company and pledging it to those social duties. It would have processions in the street on its feast day, carrying omnibuses garlanded with flowers, with the image of the patron saint of omnibuses carried above torches or lighted candles and perhaps an illuminated blazon of the company motto, whatever it might be — presumably Quod Ab Omnibus. They still do that sort of thing in Italy and Spain; and that is what people mean by calling those countries medieval. In that older sort of society, Continental or medieval, all sorts of other secular bodies besides the State do have a religious side and a religious function. The Church is only established in the State in the same sense in which it is established in the workshop or the market or the factory or the family. They all have separate images, separate legends, separate services and dedications. This seemed utterly fantastic to the men of the nineteenth century, in the social situation of Macaulay. And he thought he had destroyed a proposal merely by showing that it might lead to so preposterous a state of things. Well, there was doubtless much to be said for Macaulay and his mercantile phase of history, but there is one paradox about it which it might be well to note.
For instance, let us consider amicably such a problem of festive forms. This practice does, in Italy and elsewhere, really do a great deal to brighten human life, to enlarge it, and especially to vary it. Having myself grown up, in my boyhood, under the shadow of Macaulay, I reacted early against the contentment with which his age accepted daily life as prosaic. I used to amuse myself with what seemed like impossible fancies of a poetry attaching to the common objects of daily life; about the pillar-box as a red goblin or the green omnibus as a fairy-ship. But what could only be the fairy-tale of Notting Hill could be any day the reality of Rome. In Rome there easily could be, and quite possibly is, a patron saint of postmen, who would be capable on occasion of thinking the red paint on a post as symbolic as the red robe of a cardinal. What could only be dreamed of in the north is really done in the south. Nor is there the smallest difficulty about applying the poetry to modern and mechanical things. In London also, in my youth, we had begun to put poetry into such things — or at least to put such things into poetry. But it never got very much beyond putting them into little books of poems. In some thin, expensive volume, published by Mr. John Lane or Mr. Elkin Mathews (probably at the poet’s expense), could be found phrases that compared the electric lamps to the beauty of lightning, or the underground railway to the caverns of the under world. But the Italians would as soon stick a statue of St. Michael before a standard lamp as on a stone pedestal. They would think no more of putting up a medallion of the Virgin in the Underground Railway than in the Catacombs. There are, I think, advantages; but there are conditions. And one of the conditions is that people cannot do this unless there really is a single-rooted popular religion, common to the whole community. Your omnibus company will have to do without its garlands and its graven images where the public is divided into different religious sects.
In Macaulay’s day it was divided into a hundred sects, and therefore its public art was the worst that the world has ever seen. The few statues it did put up, of politicians and philanthropists, with whiskers and trousers complete, are still the eyesores of our streets. Its dress was the ugliest, its school of manners the dullest, its general moral tone the heaviest and most sullen, of all the periods of the past. There was any amount of variety in religious speculation of a sort; but there was less variety in social behaviour than there had ever been before or since. The truth is that men had got so far from each other in spiritual isolation that they could not join even in a joke. They did not feel sufficiently in spiritual agreement, even about omnibuses, to give them a patron saint; their feeling was not really ab omnibus. The problem of religious unity and religious liberty is not an easy one. But it is not irrelevant to remember that fact — that, when men were most divided in doctrine, they all wore the same top-hats, trousers, and mutton-chop whiskers; and that, where men are united in doctrine, they can turn out wearing different clothes: wearing the colours or liveries of all their various trades and occupations, with twenty quaint ceremonies peculiar to each. Religious unity can look like a carnival and religious liberty can look like a funeral. But beyond that men are free to choose, not necessarily by looks.
XXXII. On Jane Austen in the General Election
THERE was a remark about Jane Austen in connexion with the General Election. We have most of us seen a good many remarks about Jane Austen in connexion with the Flapper or the New Woman or the Modern View of Marriage, or some of those funny things. And those happy few of us who happen to have read Jane Austen have generally come to the conclusion that those who refer to her have not read her. Feminists are, as their name implies, opposed to anything feminine. But some times they disparaged the earlier forms of the feminine, even when they showed qualities commonly called masculine. They talk of Sense and Sensibility without knowing that the moral is on the side of Sense. They talk about fainting. I do not remember any woman fainting in any novel of Jane Austen. There may be an exception that I have forgotten; there is indeed a lady who falls with a great whack off the Cobb at Lyme Regis. But few ladies would do that as a mere affected pose of sentiment. But rarely does a lady dash herself from Shakespeare’s Cliff or the Monument solely to assume a graceful attitude below. Jane Austen herself was certainly not of the fainting sort. Nor were her favourite heroines, like Emma Woodhouse or Elizabeth Bennett. The real case against Jane Austen (if anybody is so base and thankless as to want to make a case against her) is not that she is sentimental, but that she is rather cynical. Allowing for the different conventions of subject-matter in the two periods, she was rather like Miss Rose Macaulay. But Miss Rose Macaulay finds herself in a world where fainting-fits would be a very mild form of excitement. There is something very amusing about this appeal to a comparison between the novels of the two periods. The heroine of many a modern novel writhes and reels her way through the story, chews and flings away fifty half-smoked cigarettes, is perpetually stifling a scream or else not stifling it, howling for solitude or howling for society, goading every mood to the verge of madness, seeing red mists before her eyes, seeing green flames dance in her brain, dashing to the druggist and then collapsing on the doorstep of the psycho-analyst; and all the time congratulating herself on her rational superiority to the weak sensibility of Jane Austen.
I do not say the new woman is like the new neurotic heroine; any more than I think the older woman was like the artificial fainting heroine. But if the critics have a right to argue from the old novels, we have a right to argue from the new. And what I say is true of the novels of some new novelists; and what they say is not true of the novels of Jane Austen. But, as I have said, we are already familiar with this sort of journalistic comment on Jane Austen’s novels. It was always sufficiently shallow and trivial, being based on a vague association, connected with ladies who wore drooping ringlets and were therefore supposed to droop. But the particular example that I observed was more unique and interesting, because it has a special point of application to-day. A writer in a leading daily paper, in the course of a highly optimistic account of the new attitude of woman to men, as it would appear in the General Election, made the remark that a modern girl would see through the insincerity of Mr. Wickham, in Pride and Prejudice, in five minutes.
Now this is a highly interesting instance of the sort of injustice done to Jane Austen. The crowd (I fear, the considerable crowd) of those who read that newspaper and do not read that author will certainly go away with the idea that Mr. Wickham was some sort of florid and vulgar impostor — like Mr. Mantalini. But Jane Austen was a much more shrewd and solid psychologist than that. She did not make Elizabeth Bennett to be a person easily deceived, and she did not make her deceiver a vulgar impostor. Mr. Wickham was one of those very formidable people who tell lies by telling the truth. He did not merely swagger or sentimentalize or strike attitudes; he simply told the girl, as if reluctantly, that he had been promised a living in the Church by old Mr. Darcy, and that young Mr. Darcy had not carried out the scheme. This was true as far as it went; anybody might have believed it; most people would have believed it, if it were told with modesty and restraint. Mr. Wickham could be trusted to tell it with modesty and restraint. What Mr. Wickham could not be trusted to do was to tell the rest of the story; which made it a very different story. He did not think it necessary to mention that he had misbehaved himself in so flagrant a fashion that no responsible squire could possibly make him a parson; so that the squire had compensated him and he had become an officer in a fashionable regiment instead. Now that is a very quiet, commonplace, everyday sort of incident, and the sort of incident that does really occur. It is a perfectly sound and realistic example of the way in which quite sensible people can be deceived by quite unreliable people. And the novelist knew her business much too well to make the unreliable person obviously unreliable. That sort of quiet and plausible liar does exist; I certainly see no reason to think he has ceased to exist. I think Jane Austen was right in supposing that Elizabeth Bennett might have believed him. I think Jane Austen herself might have believed him. And I am quite certain that the Modern Girl might believe him any day.
But the rather queer application of all this to the case of the General Election is not without a moral, after all. The optimistic journalist, who gloried in the infallible intuition of the Flappers’ Vote, chose a very unlucky example for his own purpose when he chose the ingenious Mr. Wickham. For Mr. Wickham was, or is, exactly the sort of man who does make a success of political elections. Sometimes he is just a little too successful to succeed. Sometimes he is actually found out, by some accident, doing very dexterous things in the art of finance; and he disappears suddenly, but even then silently. But in the main he is made for Parliamentary life. And he owes his success to two qualities, both exhibited in the novel in which he figures. First, the talent for telling a lie by telling half of the truth. And second, the art of telling a lie not loudly and offensively, but with an appearance of gentlemanly and graceful regret. It was a very fortunate day for professional politicians when some reactionaries began to accuse them of being demagogues. The truth is that they seldom dare to be demagogues; and their greatest success is when they talk with delicacy and reserve like diplomatists. A dictator has to be a demagogue; a man like Mussolini cannot be ashamed to shout. He cannot afford to be a mere gentleman. His whole power depends on convincing the populace that he knows what he wants, and wants it badly. But a politician will be much wiser if he disguises himself as a gentleman. His power consists very largely in getting people to take things lightly. It is in getting them to be content with his sketchy and superficial version of the real state of things. Nothing tends more happily to this result than the shining qualities of Mr. Wickham; good manners and good nature and a light touch. All sorts of answers are given by Ministers to questions asked in Parliament, which could only be delivered in this way. If such palpable nonsense were thundered by an orator, or shouted by a demagogue, or in any way made striking and decisive, even the House of Commons would rise in riot or roar with laughter. Nonsense so nonsensical as that can only be uttered in the tones of a sensible man.
So vividly do I see Mr. Wickham as a politician that I feel inclined to rewrite the whole of Pride and Prejudice to suit the politics of to-day. It would be amusing to send the Bennett girls rushing round to canvass: Elizabeth with amusement, and Jane with dignified reluctance. As for Lydia, she would be a great success in modern politics. But her husband would be the greatest success of all; and he might become a Cabinet Minister while poor old Darcy was sulking in the provinces, a decent, truthful, honourable Diehard, cursing the taxes and swearing the country was going to the dogs — and especially to the puppies.
XXXIII. On Dictatorships
I DO not object to men denouncing the Dictator ships that are everywhere springing up in Europe, as in the last instance in Serbia. But I do object to men declining even to inquire what it is they denounce.
Everybody knows that the movement for a Dictatorship began among the Italians, though hardly anybody knows why. It began where so many other things have begun — in the centre of what is sometimes called the Latin civilization. Out of that Columbus came to discover America. Out of that Napoleon came to rediscover Europe. For, though all sorts of sense and nonsense have been talked for and against Napoleon, the main thing about him was this: that, just after the age when nations had grown most exclusively national, he realized that there really is or could be one nation as large as the Roman Empire. Perhaps the most profound of his many epigrams was the statement that all European wars are civil wars. But there is another side to the truth, and Napoleon was mistaken in not allowing enough for the nationalism of Spain and of England. And this fair and balanced view of the case is very relevant to the real question about Mussolini and the new Dictators.
I think that the fair way of putting it would be something like this. It has repeatedly happened in Europe, when abuses of a stale system began to accumulate, that the men of the north and the men of the south have dealt with the subject differently. The names I give them are not exact, but they cause less confusion than talking about Teutons and Latins, let alone the hundred perils of talking about Protestants and Catholics. The more enlightened of the northerners, especially their kings and aristocracies, have generally been quite aware of the decadence and danger. But they have believed, rightly or wrongly, in delay and deliberation, and an attempt to graft the new things on to the old. Whether they were wise or no, things grew worse, and they went on thinking about how things might be made better. And then, before they had finished their wiser deliberations, if they were wiser, something happened. There came promptly and perhaps prematurely, but certainly with stunning effect, the blow of the Latins. We may say that Latins are too impatient to wait. We may also say that Latins are too intelligent to wobble. But anyhow, that is what happened in the French Revolution and that is what has happened in the Fascist Revolution.
At the end of the eighteenth century every rational person knew that a great many old things would have to be mended or ended. The despots knew it better than most people. Frederick of Prussia, Joseph of Austria, Catherine the Tsaritsa of the Russians, came afterwards to stand in some ways for the reaction; but they were all originally in favour of the reform. The aristocracy, which in England took the place of a despot, knew it equally well. The wisest Whigs compromised with the American democracy and began to talk about reforming the English representation. But, when all was said and done, it was mostly compromise when it was not mostly talk. I use the expression ‘when all was said and done’, but not very much was done, compared with what was said. And then, while this was going on, with whatever proportions of progress and procrastination, the news came like a thunderclap: the Man of the South had struck. The men from Marseilles had dragged their guns to Paris, roaring their imperishable song; the Bastille had fallen, and the mightiest of Christian monarchies was suddenly no more. That is how the thing happened. You may say that the northern moderates, left to themselves, would have done better. You may say that the northern moderates, left to themselves, would have done nothing. But anyhow, they were not left to themselves, because the hot and logical race, the men of the Mediterranean, would endure nonsense no more.
That is exactly what has happened again, before our very eyes, and still we could not see it. Parliament has in practice become a mass of nonsense, just as Versailles, with its dead etiquette and heraldry, had become a mass of nonsense. It may be that it might have been purged and saved; it may be that Parliamentarism may be purged and saved. What I complain of is that Parliamentarians are not making the smallest attempt to purge or save it. They are content to brag of all the liberties we have lost, and of all the votes that we never want to use, and of all the utterly unpopular laws passed in the interests of the people. They never talk about the abuses that have really rotted away the reputation of representative government; the capitalist backing even of collectivist professions; the secret fund that is no longer a secret. Meanwhile, all over Europe we hear the same story: that Parliamentarism is simply government by professional politicians, and that the professional politicians are profoundly corrupt. We cannot meet a universal criticism like that by jeering at Mussolini as if he were a bloodthirsty organ-grinder, or by laughing over anything that happens in Serbia, as if it happened in Ruritania.
It is, of course, exactly the same game that the Anti-Jacobins played against the Jacobins. It is the same policy that represented the French Revolution solely and entirely as a filthy mob of fields. It is the same silly spirit that would not describe Washington as General Washington, or that would describe Napoleon as General Bonaparte. In both cases, it is easier to treat a foreigner as funny, or an idealist as mad, than to understand what is really happening in the world we live in. In both cases, certain great institutions, in which the men of our blood once firmly believed, have been allowed to become muddles and mockeries. In the one case, it was the medieval idea of a King. In the other, it was the medieval idea of a Parliament. The real question, on which reasonable men may disagree, is whether a patient reform was possible, or a drastic reform was necessary. But to hear the average Liberal and Parliamentarian talk, you would think that nothing had ever heeded to be reformed since the Reform Bill. You think that the modern Parliament, which professes to be based on a popular theory, was really a popular thing. It is as if the Royalists had really expected a modern mob to feel exactly the same reverence for King Louis that a medieval mob would have felt for St. Louis. St. Louis was a good King and Washington was a good Republican; but (to use the degenerate speech of the descendants of the latter) when a thing has gone bad, it has got to make good.
XXXIV. On Abolishing Sunday
THE report that the Bolshevist Government had abolished Sunday might be read in several ways. Some of the Bolshevists were of the race which might be expected to substitute Saturday. Others have a marked intellectual affinity to the great religion which, oddly enough, selects Friday. The Moslem day of rest is Friday; and, when I was in Jerusalem, very quaint results sometimes followed from the three religious festivals coming on the three successive days. It was complained that the Jews took an unfair advantage of the fact that their Sabbath ceases at sunset; but, anyhow, it was highly significant of a universal human need that the three great cosmopolitan communions, which all disagreed about the choice of a sacred day, all agreed in having one. They had fought and persecuted and oppressed and exploited each other in all sorts of ways. But they all had the profound human instinct of a Truce of God, in which men should, if possible, leave off fighting, and even (if the thought be conceivable) leave off exploiting.
If the Bolshevists have really declared war on the intrinsic idea of a common Day of Rest, it is not perhaps the first point in which they have proved themselves much stupider than Jews, Turks, infidels and heretics. We all tend to talk naturally about antiquated pedantry. But the most pedantic sort of pedant is he who is too limited to be antiquated. He is cut off from antiquity and therefore from humanity; he will learn nothing from things, but only from theories; and, in the very act of claiming to teach by experiment, refuses to learn by experience. There could hardly be a stronger example of this sort of deaf and dull impatience than a merely destructive attitude towards Sabbaths and special days. The fact that men have always felt them necessary only makes this sort of prig more certain that they are unnecessary. Their universality, even in variety, ought to warn him that he is dealing with something deep and delicate — something at once subtle and stubborn. I do not say that he is bound to consider them right; but he is bound to consider them. And he never does consider them, because he finds it the line of least resistance to condemn them. It is almost enough for him that mankind has always desired something; he will instantly set to work to deliver mankind from anything that it has always desired. Sooner or later, we shall doubt less see a movement for freeing men from the old and barbarous custom of eating food. We have already, for that matter, seen something like a movement for delivering them from the fantastic habit of drinking drinks. We shall have revolutionists denouncing the degrading necessity of going to bed at night. Alter all, the prostrate posture might be considered servile or touched with the superstitions of the suppliant. The true active, alert, and self-respecting citizen may reasonably be expected to stand upright for twenty-four hours on end. The progressive philosopher may be required to walk in his sleep, and even to talk in his sleep; and, considering what he says and where he walks to, it seems likely enough. Anyhow, the same sort of dehumanized philosophy which destroys the recurrence of one day in seven may well disregard the recurrence of six hours in twenty-four. We may see a vast intellectual revolt against the Slavery of Sleep. I can vividly imagine the pamphlets and the posters; the elaborate statistics showing that, if people never stopped working, they would produce more than they do at present; the lucid diagrams setting forth the loss to labour by the fact that few men axe actually at work in their factor while they are asleep in their beds. These scientific demonstrations are always so close and cogent. I can almost see the rows of figures showing successively in the case of coal, cotton, butter, boot-laces, pork and pig-iron, that in every single example more work would be done if every body could only go on working. It is true that this sort of argument is generally of most ultimate use to Capitalism. But so is Bolshevism.
But these true friends of Capitalism, who still call themselves Communists, do not, of course, mean that nobody should have any leisure, any more than that nobody should have any sleep. The Communists would say that there should be shifts of labour, and frequent recurrences of leisure; but so would the capitalists. They would say that the labour should be organized for all, and the leisure given in turn to each individual; but so would the Capitalists. There is really not much difference in the general plan of the factory system presided over by the collectivism of Moscow and the individualism of Detroit. It is only fair to say that Mr. Ford has forgotten what anybody ever meant by Individualism, quite as completely as the Bolshevist leaders have forgotten what they themselves originally meant by Bolshevism. The holiday is given to the individual, but there is nothing individual about it. It is given by an impersonal power by a mechanical rotation, over which the individual himself has no power. It is not given to him on his birthday, or the day of his patron saint, or even on the day that he would personally prefer; God forbid!— or, rather (as the Bolshevists would say), Godlessness forbid!
But, even apart from the failure of the solitary holiday to be a personal holiday, there is a deeper objection to the disappearance of a social holiday. It lies deep in the mysteries of human nature, the one thing which the pedantic revolutionist is always too impatient to understand. He will study mathematics in a week and metaphysics in a fortnight; and as for economics, he has picked up the whole truth about them by looking at a little pamphlet in the lunch-hour. But he will not study Man; he dodges that science by simply dismissing all the elements he cannot understand as superstitions. Now one thing that is essential to man is rhythm; and not merely a rhythm in his own life, but to some extent in the living world around him. I will even remark, chiefly for the pleasure of annoying the scientific sociologist, that the most profound and practical truth of the matter is found in the statement that God made the world in six days and rested on the seventh day. In other words, there is a rhythm at the back of things, and in the beginning and nature of the universe; and there must be something of the same kind in the social and secular manifestations of the world. Men are not happy if things always look the same; it is recognized in practice in the common medical case for what is called ‘a change’. The mere fact that a man has not got to do any work himself on Tuesday is a very small part of the general sense of release or refreshment that existed in an institution like Sunday. I once ventured to use the expression (though I put it into the mouth of a bull- terrier), ‘the smell of Sunday morning’. And I am prepared to say that there is such a thing, though my own sense of smell is very deficient compared with a bull-terrier’s. There is something in the very light and air of a world in which most people are not working, or not working as much or in the same way as usual, which satisfied the subconscious craving for crisis and fulfilment. If men have nothing but an endless series of days which look alike, it would matter little whether they were days of leisure or labour. They would not give that particular sense of something achieved, or, at least, of something measured; of the image of God resting on the seventh day. it is a psychological fact that such monotony would take on a character as of mathematical insanity. It would be like the endless corridors of a nightmare. Men have always known this by instinct, Pagans as well as Christians. And when all humanity has agreed on the necessity for some thing, we may be perfectly certain that some sort of humanitarian will want to destroy it.
XXXV. On Prohibition
I AM inclined to think that stating the Prohibitionist arguments is one of the best ways of attacking Prohibition. With most of them I have been long familiar; with the familiarity which does, indeed, breed contempt. They fall under three or four general headings, some of them being material, not to say materialistic; others being moral, or rather concerned with the subject of morals. Others again are purely sentimental, in the sense of appealing to particular cases without any pretence that they make a general social case. Others are of the nature of personal recrimination and are concerned with quarrels purely local, not to say provincial. I do not profess to put them here in any strict logical order; and some of them are rather difficult to state logically, even so as to show that they are illogical. But I will take only a few of them as they come.
First, there are arguments for Prohibition that can no longer be used even by Prohibitionists. They have recoiled upon their original authors in the queerest and most grotesque fashion. When the great enactment was first enacted we were told that there would be an immense reduction of crime. Almost before the thing had got started, we were even told that there had been a great reduction of crime. There is a remarkable silence to-day about that side of the coercionist argument. At least there was a silence about it, until the first of American citizens, the President, himself of the Prohibitionist party (very much to his honour), broke the silence and the argument at one blow. Every one knows the astonishing words in which Mr. Hoover declared, not only that crime had grown to the craziest pro portions in his country, as compared with older countries like our own, but distinctly stated that it had so increased since Prohibition and apparently because of Prohibition. Any one who wishes to be more Prohibitionist than the Prohibitionist President can, if he likes, accuse Mr. Hoover of wantonly telling lies against the credit of his own country and the cause of his own party. But I shall be justified in saying, I think, that it would be impossible to find a more responsible, a more realistic, or a more reluctant witness.
Then, there is an argument which I have come across in Prohibitionist papers in England. It is very simple. It consists of accusing everybody of being brewers or whisky-distillers or wine-merchants, as the only possible explanation of their defending the use of things like wine. I am myself, no doubt, an enormously wealthy brewer in disguise; and I have little difficulty in supposing that my old antagonist Dean Inge (who has written some splendidly sensible things on this subject) is himself the proprietor of an illicit still, or possibly lives on the proceeds of wine-vaults under St. Paul’s. As the thoughtful argument is stated here, by one of the Prohibitionist thinkers:
‘What I should like to get hold of is the amount of money being contributed by the whisky men of England, the wine men of France, the beer men of Germany, to promote the breaking of our laws.’ I only pause upon this argument because it is an excellent example of the coercionists’ incapacity to argue. There is in existence a band of enthusiasts that used to be known as the Hatless Brigade, who consider it more hygienic and natural to walk about without hats. When all morality has gone as mad as it has in the age of Prohibition, it is quite easy to imagine that this fad might harden into a fanaticism. Fashionable charlatans in the scientific world might prove that some general scourge like tuberculosis could be cured by enforced hatlessness, like small pox by enforced vaccination. Cosmic moralists and makers of new religions might declare that the only church is the blue dome of heaven, and that we ought to remove our hats when standing under it. All sorts of arguments might be urged for the alleged improvement; and in the modern world of conscription and compulsory education it would be easily agreed that the improvement could only be made by force. But even in a mad world there are degrees of madness; and the crown of lunacy would still belong to a man who said that anybody who went on wearing a hat must be a hatter. We should not have to look far for somebody a good deal madder than a Mad Hatter.
The custom of drinking fermented liquor is an ancient, normal, and nearly universal custom of man kind, and rather especially of the most civilized part of mankind. Anybody who chooses to do without it is perfectly within his rights, as he is when he is a Jew and does without pork. But no Jew was ever such a fool as to say that ordinary Gentiles only continue to eat pork because they all have a commercial interest as pork-butchers. And this absurd argument is part of the larger argument which rests on the incapacity to understand the relations between a novelty and a normality: in deference to a rather doubtful Prohibitionist in the past, perhaps I should say a normalcy. This larger argument, if it can be called an argument, consists in the amazing delusion that all moral idealists must be Prohibitionists. In other words, it consists of the incredible idea that most men are really ashamed of drinking beer. It would be as sensible for the vegetarian to suppose that most men are ashamed of eating beef. A man in a minority may think he is right; he may even turn out to be right; but if he really supposes that the majority thinks it is wrong, then he is in a minority of one; he is mad.
Then there is the argument which many think the most plausible and which I think by far the most perilous, not to say poisonous. It may be called the employers’ argument; which is expressed politely in the form of output and a hundred per cent efficiency, and practically in the form of getting more work out of the worker. Our experience of the fate of Prohibitionist arguments would justify us in doubting the fact in any case, and suspecting that it would vanish under examination as completely as the argument from crime has admittedly vanished. But it is the sort of thing that I distrust quite as much when it is a fact as when it is a fable. What I distrust is the philosophy behind it; because it is the pagan philosophy of slavery. A pagan slave-owner said that slaves should be either working or sleeping. The modern pagans have extended their knowledge of hygiene, and often admit that other things are healthy besides sleep. Some of them will even admit that holidays are healthy; some of them even set up gymnasiums or encourage organized games — so long as they are allowed to organize them. But they have the same ethics as the old pagans; because the object of the slaves’ health is the slaves’ work. Just as the old slave had to sleep in order to work, the new slave may have to rest in order to work. But he must not do anything entirely for his own pleasure, for fun or the fulfilment of himself. And if you wish to test whether such employers are interested in model employment except as a working model, the test is easy. Ask what they think about a thing like a glass of beer; which in fact does the workman no harm, but which does the employer no good. You will find the answer decisive and enlightening.
XXXVI. On America
IT has always puzzled me to notice how little English people seem to know or care about the history of America. It is one of the most picturesque and personal of all the histories of the nations. The number of really interesting characters that figure in it is very large. The ideas and ideals for which they stood are very living. If there is a touch of wildness in it, combined curiously with modern conditions, that makes it all the more romantic, and is natural enough in the memories of a nation of pioneers. But the American people were not merely opening up a continent; they were also working out a conception. We, or for that matter they, are not yet absolutely certain how that conception will work out. But they started with a great ideal, like a law graven on stone tablets, and practical problems arose out of it as they arise out of a real creed or religion. Almost all the questions they had to settle were worth settling. For instance, there seems to me to be more vital interest about the Civil War in America than about the Civil War in England. It was more of a fight to a finish, and they were a very much finer sort of people who were finished. It is said that the English are fond of compromise; and, in spite of the killing of the King by a few fanatics, it is true to say that even on their battle-fields there was compromise, and even some elements that might be called compromising. The Stuarts were not quite such despotists as the legend makes them. The Puritans were certainly not such democrats as their own legend implies. The monarchy was not completely destroyed with the monarch. It was certainly not completely restored at the Restoration. There was a deep change in English history, but it did not entirely depend on the Civil War. In one sense it had begun nearly two generations before; in another sense it was not achieved till nearly two generations afterwards. It was, in fact, the change from a medieval monarchy to a modern plutocracy, and in that sense it is not completed yet. But, anyhow, it was not a mere fencing-match between Roundheads and Cavaliers; yet that is all that is remembered.
But the American Civil War was a real war between two civilizations. It will affect the whole history of the world. There were great and good men, on both sides, who knew it would affect the whole history of the world. Yet the great majority of Englishmen know nothing about it, or only know the things that are not true. They have a general idea that it was ‘all about niggers’; and they are taught by their newspapers to admire Abraham Lincoln as ignorantly and idiotically as they once used to abuse him. All this seems to me very strange; not only considering the importance of America, but considering how everybody is now making America so very important. America is allowed to have, if anything, far too much influence on the affairs of the rest of the world; yet those who submit to that influence, or praise that influence, or warmly welcome that influence, seem to take no interest in American affairs. They invite the American to settle our future, but they are bored with him when he is interested in his own past. It is especially so with those who say they are Anglo-Saxons, and presumably mean that they are Anglo-Americans. They believe that the first Americans went over in the Mayflower, which is untrue; and they believe that the best Americans come back again in the Olympic, which is also untrue. But between the Mayflower and the Olympic they seem to have amazingly little interest in what their beloved kinsmen were doing. I do not quite understand why America before the Civil War should be so much less interesting than America after the Great War. I need not say that I dismiss the possibility that enlightened modern people could be interested in a country because it is rich.
A book has recently been published on the sequel of the American Civil War, called The Tragic Era, writ ten by Mr. Claude Bowers, and published by Houghton Mifflin. It is concerned chiefly with an episode only known to Englishmen through the very fine and effective film called The Birth of a Nation. It is significant in some ways that what the film-producer called a national birth, the historian can only call a national tragedy. Many things that followed on wars have been rather more tragic than the wars. We know, in our own case, that it is sometimes possible to lose a war after we have won it. The American politicians lost something more valuable than a war; they lost a peace. They lost a possibility of reconciliation that would not only have doubled their strength, but would have given them a far better balance of ideas which would have vastly increased their ultimate influence on the world. Lincoln may have been right in thinking that he was bound to preserve the Union. But it was not the Union that was preserved. A union implies that two different things are united; and it should have been the Northern and Southern cultures that were united. As a fact, it was the Southern culture that was destroyed. And it was the Northern that ultimately imposed not a unity but merely a uniformity. But that was not Lincoln’s fault. He died before it happened; and it happened because he died.
Everybody knows, I imagine, that the first of the men who really destroyed the South was the Southern fanatic, John Wilkes Booth. He murdered the one man in the North who was capable of comprehending that there was a case for the South. But Northern fanatics finished the work of the Southern fanatic; many of them as mad as he and more wicked than he. Mr. Bowers gives a vivid account of the reign of terror that Stevens and Sumner and the rest let loose on the defeated rebels a pestilence of oppression from which the full promise of America has never recovered. But I have a particular reason at the moment for recommending to my countrymen some study of the book and the topic.
Every age has its special strength, and generally one in which some particular nation is specially strong. Every age has also its special weakness and deficiency, and a need which only another type could supply. This is rather specially the Age of America; but inevitably, and unfortunately, rather the America of the Northern merchants and industrialists. It is also the age of many genuine forms of philanthropy and humanitarian effort, such as modern America has very generously supported. But there is a virtue lacking in the age, for want of which it will certainly suffer and possibly fail. It might be expressed in many ways; but as short a way of stating it as any I know is to say that, at this moment, America and the whole world is crying out for the spirit of the Old South.
In other words, what is most lacking in modern psychology is the sentiment of Honour; the sentiment to which personal independence is vital and to which wealth is entirely incommensurate. I know very well that Honour had all sorts of fantasies and follies in the days of its excess. But that does not affect the danger of its deficiency, or rather its disappearance. The world will need, and need desperately, the particular spirit of the landowner who will not sell his land, of the shopkeeper who will not sell his shop, of the private man who will not be bullied or bribed into being part of a public combination; of what our fathers meant by the free man. And we need the Southern gentleman more than the English or French or Spanish gentleman. For the aristocrat of Old Dixie, with all his faults and inconsistencies, did understand what the gentle man of Old Europe generally did not. He did understand the Republican ideal, the notion of the Citizen as it was understood among the noblest of the pagans. That combination of ideal democracy with real chivalry was a particular blend for which the world was immeasurably the better; and for the loss of which it is immeasurably the worse. It may never be recovered; but it will certainly be missed.
XXXVII. On Bigness and America
IT is well known that I am an unreasonable reactionary, who refuses to face the great facts of the modern world. I have never been convinced that a giraffe is a better fireside playmate than a kitten. I cannot be got to see that a hippopotamus is certain to win a race against a greyhound. An invincible prejudice prevents me from admitting that whales served on toast are more appetizing than sardines. Nay, I cannot even persuade myself that the larger sort of sharks are, as drawing-room ornaments, necessarily improvements upon gold-fish. I cannot think that the gesture of pulling up a palm-tree is always easier or more graceful than that of picking a flower; or that it is always more enjoyable to die of thirst in the Sahara than to drink wine from a small vineyard or water from a village well. In short, I am lamentably lacking in that reverence for largeness, or for things on a Big Scale, which is apparently the religion of the age of Big Business. And, among other instances, I may venture to point out that this difference of opinion applies particularly to what was in the first instance, I suppose, the home and source of Big Business. There are a great many things which I really do admire about America; which I admire with much more sincerity than is common in those who merely flatter America. I admire America for being simple, for not being snobbish, for being still democratic in instincts, for having a respect for work and for treating the mere luxurious cynic as a lounge-lizard. But I do not admire America for being big. I do not envy America for being big. I do not even feel that it has practical and material advantages in being big. But it has a great many very big disadvantages from being big; and one of them emerged in the in tensely interesting issue of the last American Presidential Election.
There is no nation more active than the Americans, none more naturally intelligent, none more easy to move for the purpose of starting a campaign or spreading an idea. But it is obvious that the field of operations is too large even for the largest campaign. The idea cannot be spread, even spread very thin, over quite so vast a surface. It is therefore a fact, quite as familiar to enlightened Americans as to anybody else, that there are great masses of unenlightened Americans, whom none of the enlightened Americans can approach near enough to enlighten. There are superstitions that might have stagnated for centuries in impenetrable swamps; there are wild religions that might have sprung up and died in a desert; there are solid blocks of barbarous ignorance which were due not to stupidity but simply to segregation. There is no particular occasion for superiority or self-righteousness about this. If all Europe were one nation we should doubtless be saying the same about certain black belts among the Tartars or the Slavs. But though England has not yet the luck to be a small nationality, thank heaven it is not quite in that degree a great power. For, in this aspect, there is no such thing as great power. What is spread out before us is a great weakness. The system in extending its communications always decreases its efficiency; and there never was an empire upon this earth that did not go further and fare worse.
Anyhow, this queer fact of psychology and sociology has been illustrated amazingly in the outcry against Governor Smith. Such cries seem sometimes to be hardly human; and nothing like them has been heard in Europe since the rabble roared behind Titus Oates or the native Irish were driven to Hell or Connaught. But there is one peculiarity of the ignorance to which I would draw special attention, though it is probably not the one to which I am supposed chiefly to attend. I am a Catholic; but I know quite well that there are Anti-Catholics and Anti-Catholics. The extraordinary thing about these people is not that they know nothing about the Church, but that they know nothing about the world. It is not that they are ignorant of the old religion, but that they are ignorant of the modern situation, and of the things that are not only specially modern, but rather specially American. America is too large to understand its own largeness. It is not that thousands of them do not know what is meant by a Papal Bull. It is rather as if thousands of them did not know what is meant by a Ford Car.
For instance, one thing that seems to have been said over and over again is that Mr. Smith would ‘bring the Pope over’, and apparently keep him permanently in the White House at Washington; whether as a paying guest or a sort of private chaplain I cannot quite make out. Now, what interests me is this: that the very idea suggested is a simple and primitive and barbaric idea; the idea of somebody who is quite outside the modern civilized world. If we express a fear that Picasso may have too much influence on English art, we do not mean that some body will bring him over and put him into lodgings in Chelsea. When we say that Mr. Rockefeller might threaten the English interests in oil, we do not mean that Mr. Rockefeller must be living quietly near Clapham Junction, disguised as a clerk. The influence of Mussolini, the influence of Lenin, does not mean the danger of people carrying them about like luggage to different ports and custom-houses. For good or evil, and indeed very largely for evil, the international influences of the modern world do not depend on particular people going to particular places. The point is that nobody would suggest it but somebody ignorant of the modern world.
All genuine admirers of America, including all genuine Americans, will see in these symptoms a conflict of very high significance. The election was not a conflict between Democrats and Republicans, or between Drink and Prohibition, or even in the first place between Agriculture and Finance. It is, in the simplest sense of the very strongest phrase, a conflict between light and darkness; between things understood and things not understood; between people who take a certain view of the facts, and people who have never yet even heard of the facts; between principle and prejudice; between cosmos and chaos. I am well aware that Mr. Hoover him self and many high-minded Republicans altogether repudiate this bigotry and barbarism; but they cannot help the unfortunate fact that it is the strongest thing on their side. It may be that they would not use it; but it will have no such delicacy about using them. And, as a matter of calculating the actual practical proportions of things, this is the thing that defeated Mr. Smith; this is the thing he will have to defeat to avoid being defeated again. We should not think that a serious political issue about Protection for Hops was being adequately settled, if for large sections of the electorate it turned entirely on the proposition that Kentish men have tails. It is not a serious political issue about Prohibition or anything else, when for large sections of the electorate it turns on a general impression that American Catholics have horns. We should not think the problem of Imperialism adequately solved by the simple-minded few who once imagined that the Boers were black. Unfortunately in America there are people equally simple-minded, and not quite so few, who suppose that the Irish, when attached to their national religion, are all morally and spiritually black. That sort of problem has nothing to do with preference for any such race or religion; it is simply a question of whether the issue shall be decided by a delusion. A fanatical secret society of this sort existed in America before, and was called the ‘Know Nothing’ movement. The title was truer than it was meant to be. And the struggle is simply between those who know something, right or wrong, and the enormous natural strength of those who know nothing.
XXXVIII. On the American Revolt against Americanism
IT is curious to compare the American reaction against realism in literature with some of the recent English reactions against it. For the American and English journalists, as figures on the popular stage, here seem rather to have changed places. I am sorry to say it, but it is the English journalist who now often displays what were called the vices and vulgarities of the American journalists. It is the English journalist who tries to fight the new novels and notions with nothing but sob-stuff and sentimental sensations and a vague alternative of Uplift. And it is the American critic, at least in the case of Mr. Harvey Wickham, the author of two critical studies with wit on the covers and wisdom inside, who really fights such notions with better notions; who fights false ideas with true ideas; who fights sophistry with philosophy; who fights rationalism with reason.
I have criticized some aspects of America in my time, and even been rebuked for it here and in America. I need not say that I was generally rebuked for the dreadful things that I did not say. I cannot retract what I did not say; and it is not in the least my intention to retract what I did say. But I do feel that the fact of having said it lays on me an obligation of testifying to anything equally true on the other side. And I think that at this moment a great deal of the truth is on the other side — even on the other side of the Atlantic. I do think there is a considerable movement of American culture just now, from which we might really have something to learn; only that our commercial journalism is bent on learning the worst from American newspapers instead of the best from American books. The Gospel of the Go-getter is beginning to be boomed in England at precisely the moment when it is beginning to be criticized in America; and just when Babbitt the Bright Salesman is for the first time being made fun of there, he is for the first time being taken seriously here. It is entirely the business of the Americans themselves when they choose to begin to laugh at something; but it is perfectly deplorable that Englishmen should ever leave off laughing.
Thus, few of us who talk about Babbitt know that in America there are two Babbitts. They are the opposite of each other in every possible respect; even to the extent of one being real and the other mythical. The imaginary Babbitt is realistic. The real Babbitt is idealistic. He is Professor Irving Babbitt, the leader of a movement which he calls Humanism; an appeal to the culture that can be found in tradition, not unlike that once preached by Matthew Arnold. It is extraordinarily funny that he should have the same name as Mr. Sinclair Lewis’s unheroic hero; unless indeed Mr. Sinclair Lewis did it for fun. But I merely mention Professor Babbitt and Humanism here as one of many examples of the truth I mean — that America now contains a considerable amount of revolt against Americanism. There is a very strikingspirit in criticism, especially self-criticism. I am not sure that we are grappling with the present evils of England as well as some of these critics are now grappling with the special evils of America.
The attack on the literature called Impuritan is all the better because it is not merely made by a Puritan; indeed, it is in many places just the sort of attack that would have been made by the wiser sort of Pagan. It is amusing that many of our modern anarchists delight in calling themselves Pagans. They would by no means delight in the experience of being subject to Lycurgus or Cato the Censor. They would not even enjoy submitting to bear the load of dignity belonging to a Roman matron or a Roman senator or soldier. If they really experienced the awful weight of the old Pagan sense of the State, they would cry aloud for the liberty of being Christians. But there are many particular passages in which the American critic is a Christian rather than a Censor Morum. Nothing could be more penetrating, nothing could be more true, nothing (in short) could be more unlike our own maudlin rants about immoral fiction, than the passage in The Impuritans in which Mr. Harvey Wickham points out that Proust does not really understand the end of his own characters or the moral of his own story. Mr. Wickham goes direct to a deep reality when he says that in the last resort the exaggeration of sex becomes sexlessness. It becomes something that is much worse than mere anarchy, something that can truly be described as malice; a war, not against the restraints required by virtue, but against virtue itself. The old moral theology called it malice; and there will be no future for the modern psychology until it again studies the old moral theology. Sex is the bait and not the hook; but in that last extreme of evil the man likes the hook and not the bait.
Now, the trouble with nearly all modern discussions of these moral questions is not so much that they are immoral as that they are inconsistent. They lose themselves in a labyrinth of evil without having a map of the maze; and yet they go on saying that everything is good, even while they are actually exaggerating everything that is bad. The news papers are always asking novelists to act as moralists. For some reason I do not understand they always ask for articles about the religion or philosophy of novelists, and not of chemists or dentists or any other sort of specialists. As a rule, the good novelist makes a very bad moralist. But that is not what strikes me as peculiar in this case. What I think so odd is that he is generally a pessimist as a novelist and an optimist as a moralist. His stories are full of people doing unpardonable things, and his articles are empty of everything, except a vague suggestion that the unpardonable things had better be pardoned. But it never occurs to him to consider the nature of pardon, or the way in which pardon itself implies sin and spiritual responsibility. In the most worldly sort of fiction the world is made out worse and worse; certainly much worse than it is. If any unworldly person mildly attempted to defend the world, he would certainly be called a sentimentalist and an idealist. But if he were to venture to say that, if the world is really like that, it must be a pretty bad look-out for it, he would once again be reviled as a Puritan and a kill-joy. The Modern Thinker is to look at the world through jaundice-yellow spectacles when he is writing realistic fiction, and then to look at the world through rose-coloured spectacles when he is writing the Modern Morality or the New Religion. I would venture to suggest that we should smash both sorts of spectacles and look at the real spectacle of the world — but including the spiritual world.
XXXIX. On Abraham Lincoln
IT is recognized that Lincoln emerged from the lower grades of law and politics through an atmosphere in which the lowest tricks were regarded as only tricks of the trade. That queer, shabby figure, the ‘rail-splitter’, with his stove-pipe hat and clumsy cotton umbrella, did undoubtedly emerge among such tricksters as being by far the most truthful. But in the world where he began he could only have been called the least tricky. It is to his credit that he shed most of these habits with a natural shame, and for no other reason. But it is clear that, at some periods, it was not only his hat and umbrella that were shabby.
But there is another paradox about Abraham Lincoln, over and above those noticed by his recent realistic biographers, and one that has always seemed to me very noticeable. He really was a hero, but he seems exactly the wrong sort of hero for all his own hero-worshippers. We should be rather surprised if a very quiet and pacific colony of Quakers in a Pennsylvanian village had no other interest in life but the glorification of the great Napoleon, the exultant and detailed description of his battles, the lyrical salute of the cannonade of Austerlitz or the cavalry charges of Wagram. We should think it odd if a company of pagan epicureans, crowned with roses and flushed with wine, had no other thought in the world but a devotion to St. Simeon Stylites, for his austerity and asceticism in standing on a pillar in the desert. It would seem curious if the young Swinburne had been the only idol of the Nonconformist Conscience, or if the Prussian militarists had thought of nothing but the Christian Socialism of Tolstoy. And yet the sort of people who incessantly sing the praises of Abraham Lincoln have got hold of a man quite as incongruous to their own conception of a hero — if ever they could turn from imagining the hero to considering the man. The sort of people who are called Puritans perpetually glorify a man who seems to have been in his youth a rather crude sort of atheist, and was famous all his life for telling dirty and profane stories. The sort of people who are generally Prohibitionists invariably invoke the name of a man who said that habitual drunkards compared favourably with most other people of his acquaintance; and who would himself, in moments of relaxation, tip up a barrel of whisky and drink the liquor through the bung-hole. The sort of people who are perpetually talking about punctuality and propriety, and the prompt performance of duty or seizure of opportunity, are always commending to us the example of a man who never turned up at his own wedding, and who made a most horrible mess of his own domestic affairs. Yes, he was a hero all right; but his hero-worshippers would not think so.
But perhaps the most curious part of the contradiction is this. Americans of his own Yankee and Puritan following are always talking about Success. Worse still, they are always talking about men who are Bound To Succeed. It seems possible that the men Bound To Succeed were those afterwards shortened into Bounders. Certainly the portraits and descriptions of such beings richly suggest the briefer description. But Lincoln was not a Bounder. Lincoln was most certainly not a man Bound To Succeed. For the greater part of his life he looked much more like a man Bound To Fail. Indeed, for that matter, a great many of his cold and uncomprehending colleagues, right up to the very end of the Civil War, thought he really was a man bound to fail. The truth is that he was a very clear and even beautiful example of the operation of the opposite principle — that God has chosen the failures of the world to confound the successes; and the true moral of his life is that of the poets and the saints. He was one of a very rare and very valuable race, whose representatives appear from time to time in history. He was one of the Failures who happen to succeed.
What I mean is this: that, if ninety-nine out of a hundred of the people who specially praise Lincoln to-day had met him at almost any time of his life till within a few years of his death, they would have avoided him as they avoid the drunkard, the lunatic, the impecunious poet, the habitual criminal, and the man who is always borrowing money. This, of course, is even more true of General Grant than of President Lincoln; and it is a queer irony that the great Puritan and commercial power of the North should have been saved entirely by two such men. But, though Lincoln was never an habitual drunkard like Grant, he had about him in all his early days the same savour of unsuccess. The philanthropists and social reformers who now worship his name would have regarded him as belonging to the type which they think ‘unemployable’; a scallywag, a drifter and dreamer, a man who would come to no good. His casualness, his coarseness, his habit of taking up this and that and not making it pay, his changes of trade and dwelling place — all these would have sufficed to make him seem from the first fated to failure. But, whatever his weaknesses or even his vices, they would not have been so fatal to his chances as his own supreme virtue. The one great virtue of Abraham Lincoln would have seemed alone sufficient to cut him off from all hope of success in modern civilization.
For this great man had one secret vice far more unpopular among his followers than the habit of drinking. He had the habit of thinking. We might almost call it the habit of secret thinking, a dark consolation like that of secret drinking; for during his early days he must have practised it unappreciated, and it has been said that he worked out the propositions of Euclid as a relief after having been nagged by his wife. This habit of thinking was not the thoughtless thing commonly called free-thinking, though he may have picked up a little of that in his less enlightened days. It was real thinking, which means knowing exactly where to draw the line — a logic which is often mistaken for compromise.
The great glory of Lincoln is that, almost alone among politicians, he really knew what he thought about politics. He really thought slavery was bad, but he really thought the disruption of America was worse. It is perfectly possible for an intelligent person to disagree with him on either or both of these points. But he was an intelligent person when he stated them in that way, and put them in that order. In short, he had a native love of Truth; and, like every man with such a love, he had a natural hatred of mere Tendency. He had no use for progress, for evolution, for going with the stream, for letting the spirit of the age lead him onward. He knew exactly what he thought, not only about the perfection, but the proportion of truth; not only about the direction, but the distance. He was not always right; but he always tried to be reasonable, and that in exactly the sense which his special admirers have never understood from that day to this. He tried to be reasonable. It is not surprising that his life was a martyrdom, and that he died murdered.
XL. On Myself on Abraham Lincoln
AN American critic, apparently of the Baptist persuasion, has uttered a furious denunciation of me for my celebrated slander on Abraham Lincoln. And this is odd, as the poet said; because I was under the strong impression that I had written a eulogy on Abraham Lincoln. It so happens that I have a particular enthusiasm for Lincoln; and I endeavoured to state the real reasons for admiring him, and the real things in which he was admirable. But apparently all the things that I think admirable the Baptist critic thinks abominable, and vice versa. So deep are the moral divisions in this happy age of the union of all creeds and nations.
I will start with one simple and yet curious example. I said that Lincoln had the sort of mind that does not really bother about Progress or the spirit of the age. Whether or no this be a fact, I need hardly say that it was meant as a compliment. I meant that he thought for himself and had independent and indestructible convictions, unaltered by fashion and cant. But the American critic actually regards my remark as a mortal insult to his ideal Lincoln. He declares passionately that Lincoln was affected by Progress. He affirms, trembling with indignation, that Lincoln was controlled by the spirit of the age. Most extraordinary of all, he actually quotes in favour of Lincoln something that Lincoln said against himself: when he modestly observed that ‘he had not controlled events, but been controlled by them’. It is perfectly possible that Lincoln said this, in a humorous sod of humility and self-disparagement; but I do not see why, because he disparaged himself, his almost idolatrous adorer is bound to disparage him. Certainly I do not see why the critic should disparage him in so damaging a style as this. I am pretty sure that Lincoln would not have been controlled by events, or even by the spirit of the age, where ideas were concerned. I do not believe he would have admitted that Slavery was right, if the South had won the War and the slaves States had prospered ten times more than the free.
The next point that I should like to have cleared up is this. The critic is very much horrified at my suggesting that Lincoln was any more tolerant or liberal than the critic himself on the subject of strong drink. He owns that Lincoln once lifted a whisky barrel and took what he (the critic) delicately calls ‘a sip’. Unless I am much mistaken in Abe, he had rather too good a sense of humour to take a sip. But that is a trivial matter, and I will leave on one side all charges of intemperance against Abe; all the more readily because I never brought any. The case is very different touching charges of intemperance against Grant. And it is here that 1 wish to under stand clearly on what basis I am expected to argue. For the Baptist critic repeatedly reviles mc for daring to suggest such things about so historic a hero as the great Northern conqueror of the South. Am I to understand that the critic contradicts flatly all the accepted evidence that Grant, that great soldier, certainly did drink whisky rather well than wisely? Or am I to understand that, even if he did, historians are to hide it for ever, because he was a General and a President, and the country has gone Prohibitionist? I never said anything else against Grant except that he drank rather freely; because I willingly admit that there is not much else to be said. Nor do I consider it a very horrible charge against him. Nor did Abraham Lincoln. Does the critic deny the words of Lincoln himself, who went so far as to say that habitual drunkards compare well with other people in many or most important respects? If the critic is shocked at my words, he must be much more shocked at Lincoln’s. I shudder to think what he would say of some remarks of my friend Mr. Christopher Hollis, in a paragraph beginning ‘The fascinating question of when General Grant was drunk and when sober’, and proceeding to say that he was probably sober at Appomattox, but almost certainly drunk at Shiloh; that he afterwards, on reaching the Presidency, took some sort of teetotal pledge; and concluding with the words, ‘It is enough to add that he was a very good General and a very bad President.’
Such playfulness, however, is not for the Baptist critic, nor for me when I am criticizing him. I do not think drunkenness a commendable quality; but I do not think it the one specially and supremely damnable one. And that is where we come to the real difference between this American critic and myself. And that difference becomes clearer when we reach the third of his complaints against me. I stated my strong impression, from what I have read of the life of Lincoln, that he was emphatically not the type of the mere self-made man who sticks to one trade and succeeds; that there was a great deal in him of the erratic genius who either succeeds as a genius or fails at everything; that there was in him not a little of the unworldly weaknesses of the artist or the loafer, as shown in many such strange incidents as his absence from his own wedding. I do not claim to be an expert on the details of his biography, but some of these facts are universally known; some I found in a recent and responsible American Life of Lincoln; and the critic had better fight it out with the American biographer rather than with me.
But the point of the thing is this: that I thought it was a compliment to consider Lincoln unworldly; but the critic, in his heart, really thinks it a compliment to consider him worldly. That is where there is a real difference between his moral philosophy and mine. If the words ‘worldly’ and ‘unworldly’ do not convey the same meaning to him as to me, or if they seem far-fetched in relation to what I said, I will willingly substitute the words ‘success’ and ‘failure’. When I say that Lincoln was a man who easily might have been a failure, very nearly was a failure, and in some ways actually remains a failure, I mean it as in the case of poets or martyrs. But the critic cannot bear to think that his hero was not a success, and bound to be a success, and satisfied with being a success; as in the case of magnates and millionaires. He cannot bear to think that his hero was not a Go-getter, a Booster, a Best-Seller, a Bright Salesman, and a Man Born to Succeed. I can only say that it is not my impression of Lincoln that he was like that.
The important thing to realize here, much more important than his essay or mine, is that we really are becoming divided in moral ideals. I am sure that my critic is quite sincere in his hero-worship; just as I am quite sincere in mine. What is to me extraordinary beyond words is the implied system of tests which he applies to a hero. He wishes to show that Lincoln was more heroic than I had represented him; and the following seem to be the essential qualities that go to constitute a truly heroic figure. First, he must be a teetotaller; or, as I should say, he must be a Moslem rather than a Christian on the moral problem of wine. Second, he must take very seriously the business of getting on in this world, prospering in his profession and obtaining the solid rewards this world has to give. Third, he must worship Progress or the Spirit of the Age; which can only mean (so far as I can make any sense of it) that he must allow his own conscience and conviction to be twisted into any shapes that the pressure of the present state of polities and society may tend to produce. I do not think any of these things especially admirable; I do not think any of them even reason ably arguable; and I do not think any of them any more characteristic of Lincoln than of Lee or Bayard or Joan of Arc, or any hero or heroine in history.
XLI. On Foch
I AM always amused to notice that in this post-war society, when everybody is talking about internationalism, everybody seems to be more narrow and national than ever. It is gratifying to know that Foch appreciated the great military virtues of Haig; but it is not the most philosophical aspect of a historical character. It is interesting to know that Foch was a friend of Sir Henry Wilson; but for future historians it will be at least equally true to say that Sir Henry Wilson was a friend of Foch. It is doubtless impressive to be told by a professional politician that Foch could not have done more for us if he had been an English general; but perhaps it is as well to remember that he was not an English general, and that he will not be judged in future centuries entirely and exclusively by how he got on with the English. The truth is that there never was a man whose importance in history depended so much on a full understanding of the whole Continental problem as Ferdinand Foch. He was a good French man, and therefore respected those of the English who were good Englishmen. But a man can hardly measure the meaning of the story without being a good European.
I am one of those who think that a man will hardly be a good European unless he is a good Englishman or a good Frenchman, or in each several case full of his own national culture. There was a great deal about Foch that was intensely and peculiarly French. Nobody but a Frenchman would have launched that direct and yet dazzling epigram in the midst of the Battle of the Marne: ‘My right gives way; my left retreats; situation excellent; I attack.’ ‘Where that phrase was so typically French is that it has three separate meanings, and they are all true. A superficial person will take it as a fine piece of faronade, a romantic defiance and refusal to accept defeat. A more sagacious person will see that it is a piece of irony almost worthy of Voltaire, and that Foch sees the joke of the boast better than anybody. The most sagacious person of all will observe that it was also a piece of cold, hard, scientific fact. It really was true that the Germans pursuing the Allied retreat on one side, and checking the attempted envelopment on the other, created the strain and the weak point at which Foch suddenly struck. That is the French genius; to say things that only look witty and are also wise. That is the achievement of all French literature and philosophy: it is the supreme and splendid triumph of looking shallow, and being deep.
But there was also a quality in him that was more than French: a quality that was represented by his religion and his restraint and the way in which he stood apart from the politics of his country and of other countries. He was full of tradition; and the best part of tradition is unconscious. The final flower of tradition is instinct. He embodied better than anybody else the fact that is now forgotten, and without which the whole story is formless and senseless — the fact that it was a defensive war. It is always quite easy to forget the advantages gained by a defensive war. A defensive war is always the most defensible and the least easy to defend. The reason is obvious enough. If a man goes out to knock another man down and takes his watch, and if he succeeds, he will at least have the watch to show. But the other man, if he successfully defends himself, will have nothing to show; except perhaps a black eye or a broken umbrella. He will not have added to the watches in his own possession; he will only have the old slow and faulty timepiece that he always had, and everybody expected him to have.
Disappointment after a defensive war is quite inevitable, and quite irrational. But Foch represented an old morality which regarded it as the only kind of war that was really justifiable. This quiet and unadvertised man, who made no noise among the noisy controversies of post-war Europe, was nevertheless one of the fixed points, one of the calculable nuclei, of the oldest controversy in the world. He was to be counted on to stand for the ancient and normal morals of Christendom, which so many other great men have been driven either to misunderstand or to misrepresent. In the matter of the way of doing things, of the technique and science of his own profession, he was all in favour of dash and originality. But in the matter of what ought to be done, of what is the real reason for doing anything, of what we are all ultimately trying to do, he was as simple as a saint — and as sane. He might have said, like that other great Frenchman, also so daring and successful in modern applications of a science, ‘My scientific studies have left me with the faith of a Breton peasant; and I do not doubt that further studies would give me the faith of a Breton peasant’s wife.’
Something in our age prevents direct and simple genius of this sort appearing on its real scale. For about fifty or sixty years the names counted famous have been largely of those who argued about what should be done and why. The men called great — sometimes really great and sometimes only great as charlatans — were Carlyle and Nietzsche and Ibsen and Tolstoy and Hardy and Bernard Shaw. But in history as a whole the scale of greatness was some what different. Men who did great things, granted the obvious motives of piety and patriotism and glory and the service of the gods, filled the large spaces of the story: Alexander and Caesar and Godfrey and Napoleon. Both cults are open to corruption; but when the older cult returns, as it will, it will be known that a man died quietly some time ago who delivered Europe with a single blow.
XLII. On Dickens and After
A NEW piece of work on the inexhaustible subject of Charles Dickens is an attack which takes the form of a novel. This novel is certainly an exercise in fiction. It is simply a romance about Dickens; and the writer is none the less romancing because he chooses to turn Dickens into a romantic villain instead of a romantic hero. Whether there is much advantage in these arbitrary and inevitably irresponsible revivals of the old historical novel may be questioned. But it is certain that many novelists are now doing it about many more or less modern characters, and that almost any novelist might do it about almost any character; as this novelist with Charles Dickens. But why anybody should specially wish to put so much bitterness into the version of a Victorian personality, with a family still living to testify to the affection he really inspired, I cannot imagine. The important point to realize, however, is that there has now come into fashion a new sort of novel with a purpose, which seems to be a purely personal purpose, and a rather trivial and mischievous purpose. A novelist does not write a novel merely in order to unmask his own villain, and a historian hardly writes a history merely in order to belittle a great man. But the new hybrid form or type of writing is irresponsible and can do anything. Accordingly, I confess that the first thought that flashed across my mind in the matter was a memory of Leigh Hunt, alias Harold Skimpole. An excellent critical study by Mr. Brimley Johnson, along with other studies of the sort, has led to something like a public rehabilitation of Leigh Hunt. It has been pointed out that Skimpole was quite incapable of the acts of Leigh Hunt; for instance, incapable of defying tyrants out of the pure love of liberty and going to prison for his political courage. It has also been pointed out that Leigh Hunt was incapable of the acts of Skimpole, incapable of betraying a poor little gutter-boy to his pursuers for a tip of half a crown. It is quite true that Leigh Hunt was incapable of the actions of Skimpole. It is equally true that Skimpole was incapable of the actions of Skimpole. Even the character as drawn by Dickens had to be blackened and even blotted out by Dickens, before it could be used for these purposes in the Dickensian romance. Dickens had not originally described Skimpole as a plotter, or anything resembling a plotter. He set him plotting merely to assist the plot. Now the moral of that incident is that this compound of the caprice of fiction and the responsibility of biography is an impossible and even intolerable compound. Dickens at least was happier than the latest critic of Dickens. For Dickens realized that he had blundered.
Anyhow, it might be said in this sense that Leigh Hunt is avenged. Somebody has done to Dickens very much what Dickens did to Leigh Hunt. The process is very simple. It consists of describing a man with all the notorious weaknesses which he did have; arbitrarily adding to them all the deeper and darker weaknesses which he did not have; and then suggesting that this is going deeper than the surface. The picture of Dickens is about as just to Dickens as the picture of a creeping police informer is just to Leigh Hunt. But the process itself is easy enough. It simply consists in suggesting that certain superficial faults went much deeper than they did, or much deeper than anybody can know that they did. Every man has a hundred aspects; every man can be the model of a hundred portraits; every man may have on occasion the appearance of being a hundred men.
The artist avowedly deals with the aspect, with the portrait he is to paint — not the personality God is to judge. The critic or biographer must make some attempt at judgement; though it will be well if he also distinguishes between his judgement and the Day of Judgement. But by mixing up all these things we get possibilities of caricature that amount to mere anarchy. That is what I mean by saying that Dickens discovered his blunder, if only too late. He realized that he could not be at once the creator of Skimpole and the critic of Leigh Hunt. But the new caricature of Dickens is not simply a Dickens caricature; the character is again sacrificed to the plot and to the plotter.
There was nothing the matter with Dickens, except that while he was still a very young man, a vain and not very well educated young man, he became some thing unique and universal. He became, in a sense that was special, actual, and even awful, a public man. Few realize the sense in which this was true of Dickens, because it is a thing that happens to very few. We commonly talk, for convenience, of any politician or prominent man of affairs as a public man. But to be really a public man it is necessary incidentally to be a man. The politician or plutocrat may sometimes be called a public institution. He may sometimes be called a public nuisance. Sometimes he amounts to no more than a sort of popular rumour. But it was the complete humanity of Dickens that was public property; sometimes too public and yet, as the philosopher said, all too human. Even among the great Victorians this sort of intimate greatness was unachieved. Men knew the economics of Cobden or the foreign policy of Palmerston, but not the living men and their full view of life. But Dickens did, in the phrase too cheaply used, put his heart into his work. He lived in his characters and in the crowds that enjoyed his characters. There were a great many misfortunes arising from this vast and yet familiar public life; and one of them was that he made rather a mess of his private life. To the merits of such a muddle no man can do justice who has not actually known the persons, heard the voices, and seen the very gestures; and it does not seem to me a sufficient substitute that somebody who has not seen them should make them up. But I am pretty sure that that amazing popularity was the fountain of all the follies. Dickens suffered from a sort of premature Big Business, though the term is unworthy of him at his worst, since it was the business of making things and not of buying and selling them. But he did set himself far too much to be a sort of Universal Provider; to keep a huge factory of fiction roaring night and day; to ‘keep in touch’ with his public like a big business with its customers. From this came the sort of errors really to be imputed to him; such as his attempt to justify himself in print over the affair of the separation. He was thinking of his thousands of readers, but imaginatively and not merely meanly. He felt what a shock it would be at a thousand firesides to think that the great prophet of hearth and home had himself become a castaway. If he had thought more about one fireside, and less about a thousand, he would have been a happier man. But he was not a hollow man, or a false man, or a corrupt or cruel man; and anybody who suggests that he was is talking sensational nonsense. And there is just one thing to be added to our appreciation of his real strength and weakness. Nobody else has been thus intoxicated by such fame, simply because nobody else has achieved such fame.
There has never been a popular author since Dickens. There have been best-sellers who were read and despised, and famous authors who were respected and not read. But Dickens really was an author, in the sense of a creator. And Dickens really was famous, not like Mr. Osbert Sitwell, but like Napoleon. But, for all that, Dickens left no successor — not only of his genius, but even of his mood. Just as Walt Whitman left no successor — not only of his genius, but even of his mood. Dickens and Whitman may seem different enough, but they were one in a huge assumption that human beings must be enthusiastic for humanity. And we see their common assumption very vividly now, because it has gone. Anyhow, they left no heirs. It seems to me that this has been much more often true of original or significant works than is commonly supposed. All my generation talked, and many even of the rising generation are still talking, about progress in terms of prophecy. We were taught that somebody like Wycliffe was a Morning Star of the Reformation; and from that we slid into a habit of thinking of all the great as anticipators, all the poets as prophets, all the singers as morning stars singing together. But it seems to me that most of those morning stars were really evening stars. We were misled in this, as in most other things, by the misapplication of an old and mystical Christian idea as if it were a new and scientific social idea. All the nineteenth century was full of a noise of running feet; the feet beautiful upon the mountains; the feet of the Forerunner. If we had any patron saint, it was St. John the Baptist. But we served our patron saint as the Athenians served their unknown god; without knowing very much about him. And most people remain in that state of ignorant worship, and do not know much about the process which they call a progress.
Now, if we look at the very great works, let us say of English literature, we shall see that each of them has something of that air of beginning big things; but in fact the big thing ends where it began. Shakespeare has all the Renaissance gesture of flinging open golden gates upon a new world of sunrise and song. He is full, as was the whole sixteenth century, of those radiant vistas of wealth and treasure, which were sometimes worthy to be called, in an almost sublime sense, the dreams of avarice. He is full of all that glowing colour that belongs to the Venetian painting, as when with a touch he turns all the seas of the world to crimson. And when we compare all this breadth and glory with the stiff imitations of Seneca or the rude village plays of Quince and Bottom, we cannot but feel that Shakespeare is building a city, is making a world, is the beginning of something greater even than himself. But we have not had anything greater than himself. The Renaissance drama of blood and gold, of kings and usurpers, is not a beginning but an end; its gold and crimson are the colours of sunset and not of dawn. The same is true, in another fashion, of Milton. Milton, though he really came of a Catholic culture, deliberately took the side of all the new ideas, the new notions of the Puritans, and a good many new notions of his own, that would not have been at all approved by the Puritans. His Arian theology he probably regarded as a more enlightened theology. He believed in divorce and printing and all kinds of funny modern things. When a man in this attitude writes a sublime epic poem about the outlines of the new religion, we might naturally suppose he would found a school. We might expect it to be the beginning of a tradition of epic poems, of great, or at least reasonably good, epic poems. But it was not the first of a new school of epics. It was the last epic of the world.
We need not, therefore, be very much surprised if Dickens or Whitman did not succeed in doing what Shakespeare and Milton failed to do. But in all three cases there is a principle at work which I think has been somewhat neglected, and by many perhaps never discovered. The difficulty with art is that the artist is giving permanent expression to a passing mood. He may be, and generally is, also testifying to a truth that is permanently behind that mood. But he cannot make the mood itself as popular at one time as at another. He cannot be certain, at any given moment, of whether the mood is also the mode. Therefore, while the work may remain as a classic, it cannot remain, as does, for instance, a religion, continuing to produce its own types of saint or mystic generation after generation. That can only happen when the truths are crystallized into a creed, and are regarded by the people as truths and not as transitory moods. But such a thing as the sixteenth-century pageant of colour was really a transitory mood. It fascinated Shakespeare to watch men clad in gold on a purple dais, and under heraldic canopies, playing fantastic tricks before high heaven. But by the time we come to Milton the next generation has wearied of those golden tragedies; the king is dethroned in fact and not merely in theatricals; the purple dais has darkened to a black scaffold; and after that day there has been a fading of all the old blazonry and brilliancy of costume; and men have gone in grey and black for a century or so, as if they were in mourning for the death of the Last King.
But though, in the matter of dress, the world which turned grey with Puritanism has since turned black with Industrialism, in other ways these sterner moods were also moods that could pass. Milton did not, any more than Shakespeare, perpetuate what was heroic in his own point of view. We have thus once more the curious historical situation: that the Puritans have no sooner set about the beginning of Puritanism than they seem suddenly to come to the end of Puritanism. It seemed a naked new-born splendour for the chief enemies of Charles I. It was already a dead superstition for the chief enemies of Charles II. By that time men like Shaftesbury and Halifax no longer pretended to share the zeal of men like Cromwell and Vane. These things, that broke away from the old central tradition of culture, seemed in their first fancy to be rushing away to live their own life. But indeed it would be nearer the truth to say that they crawled away to die. The mighty things brought forth by the convulsion of the Renaissance and the Reformation are like huge cripples of wounded giants; they are works which break off abruptly and remain colossal and incomplete. The Elizabethan Drama broke off short. The Puritan Movement broke off short. The former is replaced, after an interval, by a foreign comedy with no trace of the native poetry. The latter exhibits what had once been a Puritan Parliament turning with astonishing rapidity into a Pagan oligarchy. And as this queer, abrupt breakdown happened to the Renaissance enthusiasm of the sixteenth century, and to the Puritan enthusiasm of the seventeenth century, so it happened more slowly but equally surely to Rousseau and the romantic popular spirit in the eighteenth century, and to its last great exponent in the nineteenth. Its last great exponent was Walt Whitman; and he also believed that he was opening the doors of democracy, when he was really shutting them.
Nobody understands the world to-day unless he understands that the whole ideal of democracy is now in the same direct danger that the ideal of monarchy was from the pen of Milton, or the ideal of aristocracy from the pen of Rousseau. Democracy is threatened to-day by the most diverse pens, but all notably of a new type; from the pen of Maurras in France to the pen of Mencken in America. I am perhaps among the few who realize it and also regret it. I do really believe that self-government is the most normal and the most noble sort of government, when you can get it, though it is possibly the most difficult to get. But then, I am one of those dusty and antiquated objects who have creeds and dogmas and definite beliefs with definite reasons for them. Such as my democracy is, if it was never quite so wild as the optimism of Whitman, it will remain undisturbed by the pessimism of Mencken. But this is not the way in which the free fancy of the present age floats along. The mere mood and fashion of democracy is rapidly passing; and he who wishes to preserve any idea of it must lock it up in the casket of a creed.
XLIII. On The King
A NATIONAL thanksgiving for the recovery of the King illustrates in a double fashion what we may call the whole theory of thanks. First, because of the concentration of so vast a concourse of sympathizers upon the issue of a single story, the warm respect felt for the sufferer by all who knew him, even by reputation, and the true sense in which he stood for all his subjects as a symbol of responsibility and honour. And second, because of the quite unusual intensity of the drama and nearness of the peril; as if a veritable human voice had answered announcing survival, when we had already heard, loosened and rushing, the noise of the arrow of death. There must have been very few human beings to whom that arrow had passed quite so near; even when it was not the world that was watching or a great empire that breathed again. And these two aspects of thanksgiving stand for truths as profound as the tragedy and the escape which they illustrate. Nothing more clearly illustrates how natural is natural religion, and how unnatural is mere negation, than the lifting of the heart at the end of such a vigil. It is the fashion to talk of man entangled in creeds and rituals, as in the chains of the mind. But in fact the sceptic is hampered by invisible chains, in his most human movements, more than the lowest slave of superstition. The man who cannot lift his eyes to the sky, or bend his knee to the earth, is crippled and caught in a network of negations. It was Rossetti, I think, who said that the worst moment of the atheist was when he felt thankful and had nobody to thank. All that is symbolized, at their best, by a king and a kingdom, the whole circle of order and harmony of living, should in their nature produce this great harvest of gratitude. But men are so made that something of drama and perils is commonly needed to awaken this wise amazement; and we require something of crisis to realize creation. We must see the sun and moon and all the seasons given back to a man, as though he were raised from the dead. In more vulgar language, men need thrills to produce thanks, and have to be surprised into surprise. It is the whole aim of religion, of imagination, of poetry and the arts, to awaken that sense of some thing saved from nothing. But no poem can do it as does a true story on this level of significance and solemnity; when a drama that no man has written is acted on the stage of mankind.
It is no ritual phrase to say that the King comes forth from the very gates of death as the symbol of national unity, in a nation divided upon many other things. In more senses than one he comes out into the broad daylight; into a world where monarchy grows stronger rather than weaker, for many and often unfathomable reasons, all of them illustrated in the personal story and the popular response to it. Without going deeper into such matters, we may say that men in many ages have felt, in some instinctive fashion, that the fullness of humanity was better expressed in a man than in a mob; especially if it were a mob of nobles. In England this has been profoundly modified by aristocratic traditions, both of liberty and licence; and there was a time when the life of the monarchy, like the life of this monarch, hung by a hair. In the institutional, as in the individual case, that moment seems to have passed. In the reaction of personal affection, which in this case is very personal, there is probably an under current of impersonal forces now making everywhere for more personal government. In whatever form the next generation may attempt the reunion of loyalty and liberty, there will probably be less than ever of the mere oligarchical jealousy of the popularity of the popular prince.
There is one unique and unforeseen fashion in which King George the Fifth has come to stand in the new conditions for something new. It is due partly to his own personality and partly to the strange and rather indescribable state of mind that has marked England after the War. It was always said, in recent times, that the British Sovereign is the social leader rather than the political leader. It was especially insisted on by cautious constitutional writers, of the liberal school, as a guarantee against despotism and a reconciliation between royalty and democracy. It was said of the Sovereign during the last four reigns at least; and during those four reigns it was true in a special sense, yet not exactly in the sense in which it is true now. The very language we use, about the history of fashions, manners and even morals, records it as having already been largely true. ‘When we wish to describe a certain interesting interlude, that marked the end of the eighteenth century, a period of modern but rather rococo dress, a period of florid and sometimes rather bulbous architecture, a period in which hats and houses and military uniforms exhibited many things which are still formal in a phase of being fantastic, we do not call that quaint period (beloved of Mr. Max Beerbohm) by the name of any of its natural leaders even among the dandies. We do not call it the age of Byron or even the age of Brummell. We call it the Regency. And we are right, because the royal prince who ruled in it did really represent it. He was a social leader apart from being a political leader; indeed, before he was in a position to be fully a political leader. Other ordinary phrases illustrate the same thing; including a phrase that is now thrown backwards and forwards in controversy more than any other. Everybody is attacking or defending things that are Victorian. And when we talk of things Victorian we do really think of Victoria, and not merely of what happened in the reign of Victoria. She was in that sense a social leader even when she refused to be social, or to go into society. We still think of the old Queen as a real representative of certain notions; just as we thought of the Regent in old Regent Street, or before the Brighton Pavilion. Indeed, it has often struck me as ironic that the very people who denounce the Victorian Age as suppressing women have to refer to it by the name of a woman. And even those who call the Victorian women weak and simpering and drooping would hardly say the same of Victoria.
It is needless to note what is obvious enough — that the next reign carried on the tradition of the purely social leader. It is true that in Edward the Seventh what was social verged on being political; because he was a sort of highly successful amateur in what may be called the social side of politics: diplomacy. It is well known that, just as it was said of some Kings that one was his own Prime Minister or another his own Foreign Secretary, King Edward was in many foreign capitals his own Ambassador. But in the main the nineteenth century distinction continued to mean what it had always meant. King Edward himself encouraged the general atmospheric suggestion that social leadership was primarily some thing pleasant, while political leadership might be very unpleasant; and that in that sense even the social side of diplomacy should have an element of frivolity. But there was a new situation slowly creeping up in the modern world, which nobody in the nineteenth century understood or expected; and which has made this social function a rather different thing; not so much in itself as in its relation to the society.
What nobody expected was this: that political things could become less serious than social things. Or, in other words, that the real battle of the age could be transferred from the senate to the salon. The previous monarchs I have mentioned, who have given their names to the sort of social fashion they encouraged, lived side by side with serious political forces that were not merely fashions, and needed no encouragement. Waterloo and Peterloo and Catholic Emancipation were real turning-points of history. The Regent was the ruler of the Regency; and in that sense the uncrowned King of England; but Daniel O’Connell was the uncrowned King of Ireland. Fox and Burke and Brougham stood for the most serious tendencies of their time. Cobbett stood for all that might have happened, either in revolution or reaction. Peel stood for all that did happen, both in conversation and progress. So it was, of course, with the Age of Victoria, when Parliamentary politics were taken more seriously than ever before or since. What the world looked at was the duel of Gladstone and Disraeli; and in one sense it was really a duel to the death. Matters of mere social form and habit were counted secondary to serious controversies. People joked about the collars of Gladstone or the curls of Disraeli; but they were serious about their politics. The tradition lingered on under Edward the Seventh, and then there came slowly into existence the new and curious condition. People find it rather difficult to be serious about politics.
On the other hand, all those who are serious at all are serious about society. That is the situation which gives a new meaning to the social leadership of the King. In the party conflict he is as constitutional and impartial as his father was, and as all the modern monarchs of his house were supposed to be. But the party conflict itself has become less important. He is not living, like his forebears, in a time when something like the French Revolution or the First Reform Bill, or some political change, is supremely important. On the other hand, the social change is immeasurably important. The old question of the Rights of Man was thrashed out in Parliaments and political meetings. The new questions, like those about the Rights of Woman, are really being thrashed out in drawing-rooms and dinner-parties, not to say cabarets and night-clubs. Changes in feminine costume, changes in domestic ceremony, have become symbolic. The men arguing about Reform or Repeal did not think it particularly symbolic that Mr. Brummell had a new pair of trousers, or the Regent had patronized a new sort of hat. They did not think that the future of Woman, whom they were in the habit of describing as Lovely Wooman, would be determined by whether she wore a crinoline or an Empire skirt. But anybody who feels the atmosphere of our own age knows that all sorts of moral or immoral meanings are read into the shingling of hair or the shortening of skirts. And even those who feel these things to be incongruously frivolous have a queer feeling inside them that these frivolous things are not quite so frivolous as a great deal of serious politics.
King George the Fifth stands for something solid, clear, and consistent in social things, in a way in which the old Constitutional custom did not allow our Princes to stand for something in purely political things. And, as I have said, the sharp change is here: that most people are thinking about social change more than about political change. In the things that matter most at the moment, King George has most definitely had a policy: a policy of despising fantastic luxury and indiscriminate innovation; of preserving the old social sanity which used to be counted specially English. It has been his fate to live at exactly the moment in history when the ruin or restoration of this particular normal and national habit will certainly be accomplished. It has probably made a vast difference that the first family in the nation has been so firmly fixed on that foundation. It has made it impossible for moderation and modesty and common sense in custom and costume to die out in the lower middle classes as things entirely dowdy and discredited. A mere aristocracy is always ready for the newest thing. The aristocracy, whatever its other virtues or vices, has been quite ready to go the pace and to set the pace. Monarchy has taken on again something of its ancient leadership in matters that were once counted light and trivial, but which have become, in this strange season and in the eyes of all the wise, very weighty.
It must be nearly two hundred years since the great Bolingbroke wrote as a testament his challenge to all the tendencies of his time; his defiance of the aristocracy and his regret for the passing of the Kings. “The Parliament is the Parliament of a class; the King is the King of the whole people.” Whatever we think of that great thesis, we may agree that what he said about the Parliament is at least true about the Smart Set. In many very vital ways, the King has been able to represent all that society that is outside Society. He had had to be the protector of something at once huge and hidden; to represent the normal when the abnormal is more in evidence; to defend a mob of inarticulate decencies that cannot defend themselves. Tradition is of the populace; it never has been and it never will be really handed down through the ages except from the poor to the poor. In that sense the rich are always the revolutionists. It is so even in the trivial matters already mentioned, of etiquette and attire, for fashion is an eternal revolution. All aristocracies fling themselves into one fancy dress after another; while there are peasant costumes, not only picturesque but elaborate and even gorgeous, that have remained unaltered from before the first records of man. Now that the revolution has come to be one not merely of dress but of manners, not merely of manners but of morals, we should expect to find, and we do find, that mere pride of wealth, or even of pedigree, does not save human beings from a raving hunger of change. It is not to the gentry, even the genuine gentry, it is not to the nobles, even those that are not yet ignoble, that we can look for protection of the patient and unrecorded virtues of mankind. But in the incalculable times before us, it is not impossible that there may return to the mystical institution of the Crown something of that immemorial legend which linked it with religion, and made one baron, alone of all the barony, mysteriously responsible to God for the people.
In these days there are other forms of false and accidental distinction, besides that of privilege or wealth. Newspapers must brighten their columns with tragedies, and comfort their readers with crime and madness. Literature, now especially and always in some degree, must be a sort of poetical police-news. It is well when the central institutions or individuals of a society represent all the neglected normality. The popularity of King George will stand at least as a sort of solid reminder of the proportions of things; will tell the world that we are not all divorced, that we are not all degenerates, that we are not all pestering the world with crazy philosophies and æsthetic perversions; that human life is a thing that can in sober reality be lived; and as the royal sage added, with a noble irony: ‘Life can be lived well even in a palace.’
That is why there is about the popular sympathy, and even the popular curiosity, in the case of King George’s illness, something that is not merely vulgar like the news of the Smart Set. Indeed, it is because it is popular that it is not vulgar. It is vulgar to be frightfully excited on hearing that the Duchess of Dulwich has a diamond tiara costing half-a-million when we ourselves could not afford a stone for a stud or a cuff-link; because it is idolatry, or the worship of a stone god alien to our own household gods. But it is not vulgar to sympathize with a Queen whose house is darkened by sickness; because for that high moment her household gods and ours are the same. It is vulgar to be thrilled with joy because a millionaire has built a gigantic yacht big enough to contain a swimming-bath; because we know in our hearts that he and we would both be healthier and happier if we were content to swim in the sea. But it is not vulgar to be touched by a man sitting and looking at the sea, when he hardly thought to look again upon the sun, even if the man is a King as well as a sailor. It is because the story of this perilous recovery has come to us so much in the common outlines of countless stories of the kind that for the first time in such cases the modern curiosity is not an intrusion. ‘The King is the King of the whole people.’
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