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Title: Joyous Gard
Author: Benson, Arthur Christopher, 1862-1925
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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_It is a harder thing than it ought to be to write openly and frankly
of things private and sacred. "Secretum meum mihi!"--"My secret is my
own!"--cried St. Francis in a harrowed moment. But I believe that the
instinct to guard and hoard the inner life is one that ought to be
resisted. Secrecy seems to me now a very uncivilised kind of virtue,
after all! We have all of us, or most of us, a quiet current of
intimate thought, which flows on, gently and resistlessly, in the
background of our lives, the volume and spring of which we cannot
alter or diminish, because it rises far away at some unseen source,
like a stream which flows through grassy pastures, and is fed by rain
which falls on unknown hills from the clouds of heaven. This inner
thought is hardly affected by the busy incidents of life--our work,
our engagements, our public intercourse; but because it represents the
self which we are always alone with, it makes up the greater part of
our life, and is much more our real and true life than the life which
we lead in public. It contains the things which we feel and hope,
rather than what we say; and the fact that we do not speak our inner
thoughts is what more than anything else keeps us apart from each

In this book I have said, or tried to say, just what I thought, and as
I thought it; and since it is a book which recommends a studied
quietness and a cheerful serenity of life, I have put my feelings to a
vigorous test, by writing it, not when I was at ease and in leisure,
but in the very thickest and fullest of my work. I thought that if the
kind of quiet that I recommended had any force or weight at all, it
should be the sort of quiet which I still could realise and value in a
life full of engagements and duties and business, and that if it could
be developed on a background of that kind, it might have a worth which
it could not have if it were gently conceived in peaceful days and
untroubled hours.

So it has all been written in spaces of hard-driven work, when the day
never seemed long enough for all I had to do, between interruptions
and interviews and teaching and meetings. But the sight and scent that
I shall always connect with it, is that of a great lilac-bush which
stands just outside my study window, and which day by day in this
bright and chilly spring has held up its purple clusters, overtopping
the dense, rich, pale foliage, against a blue and cloudless sky; and
when the wind has been in the North, as it has often been, has filled
my room with the scent of breaking buds. How often, as I wrote, have I
cast a sidelong look at the lilac-bush! How often has it appeared to
beckon me away from my papers to a freer and more fragrant air
outside! But it seemed to me that I was perhaps obeying the call of
the lilac best--though how far away from its freshness and
sweetness!--if I tried to make my own busy life, which I do not
pretend not to enjoy, break into such flower as it could, and give out
what the old books call its 'spicery,' such as it is.

Because the bloom, the colour, the scent, are all there, if I could
but express them. That is the truth! I do not claim to make them, to
cause them, to create them, any more than the lilac could engender the
scent of roses or of violets. Nor do I profess to do faithfully all
that I say in my book that it is well to do. That is the worst, and
yet perhaps it is the best, of books, that one presents in them one's
hopes, dreams, desires, visions; more than one's dull and mean
performances. 'Als ich kann!' That is the best one can do and say.

It is our own fault, and not the fault of our visions, that we cannot
always say what we think in talk, even to our best friends. We begin
to do so, perhaps, and we see a shadow gather. Either the friend does
not understand, or he does not care, or he thinks it all unreal and
affected; and then there falls on us a foolish shyness, and we become
not what we are, but what we think the friend would like to think us;
and so he 'gets to know' as he calls it, not what is really there, but
what he chooses should be there.

But with pen in hand, and the blessed white paper before one, there is
no need to be anything in the world but what one is. Our dignity must
look after itself, and the dignity that we claim is worth nothing,
especially if it is falsely claimed. But even the meanest flower that
blows may claim to blossom as it can, and as indeed it must. In the
democracy of flowers, even the dandelion has a right to a place, if it
can find one, and to a vote, if it can get one; and even if it cannot,
the wind is kind to it, and floats its arrowy down far afield, by wood
and meadow, and into the unclaimed waste at last._


CHAPTER                                           PAGE

I. JOYOUS GARD, PRELUDE                             1

II. IDEAS                                           7

III. POETRY                                        10

IV. POETRY AND LIFE                                15

V. ART                                             22

VI. ART AND MORALITY                               35

VII. INTERPRETATION                                46

VIII. EDUCATION                                    54

IX. KNOWLEDGE                                      59

X. GROWTH                                          69

XI. EMOTION                                        77

XII. MEMORY                                        86

XIII. RETROSPECT                                   98

XIV. HUMOUR                                       107

XV. VISIONS                                       119

XVI. THOUGHT                                      126

XVII. ACCESSIBILITY                               136

XVIII. SYMPATHY                                   148

XIX. SCIENCE                                      157

XX. WORK                                          166

XXI. HOPE                                         173

XXII. EXPERIENCE                                  184

XXIII. FAITH                                      193

XXIV. PROGRESS                                    204

XXV. THE SENSE OF BEAUTY                          212

XXVI. THE PRINCIPLE OF BEAUTY                     220

XXVII. LIFE                                       228




The Castle of _Joyous Gard_ in the _Morte D'Arthur_ was Sir Lancelot's
own castle, that he had won with his own hands. It was full of
victual, and all manner of mirth and disport. It was hither that the
wounded knight rode as fast as his horse might run, to tell Sir
Lancelot of the misuse and capture of Sir Palamedes; and hence
Lancelot often issued forth, to rescue those that were oppressed, and
to do knightly deeds.

It was true that Lancelot afterwards named it _Dolorous Gard_, but
that was because he had used it unworthily, and was cast out from it;
but it recovered its old name again when they conveyed his body
thither, after he had purged his fault by death. It was on the
morning of the day when they set out, that the Bishop who had been
with him when he died, and had given him all the rites that a
Christian man ought to have, was displeased when they woke him out of
his sleep, because, as he said, he was so merry and well at ease. And
when they inquired the reason of his mirth, the Bishop said, "Here was
Lancelot with me, with more angels than ever I saw men upon one day."
So it was well with that great knight at the last!

I have called this book of mine by the name of _Joyous Gard_, because
it speaks of a stronghold that we can win with our own hands, where we
can abide in great content, so long as we are not careful to linger
there in sloth and idleness, but are ready to ride abroad at the call
for help. The only time in his life when Lancelot was deaf to that
call, was when he shut himself up in the castle to enjoy the love that
was his single sin. And it was that sin that cost him so dear, and
lost the Castle its old and beautiful name. But when the angels made
glad over the sinner who repented, as it is their constant use to do,
and when it was only remembered of Lancelot that he had been a
peerless knight, the name came back to the Castle; and that name is
doubtless hidden now under some name of commoner use, whatever and
wherever it may be.

In the _Pilgrim's Progress_ we read how willing Mr. Interpreter was,
in the House that was full of so many devices and surprises, to
explain to the pilgrims the meaning of all the fantastic emblems and
comfortable sights that he showed them. And I do not think it spoils a
parable, but rather improves it, that it should have its secret
meaning made plain.

The Castle of _Joyous Gard_ then, which each of us can use, if we
desire it, is the fortress of beauty and joy. We cannot walk into it
by right, but must win it; and in a world like this, where there is
much that is anxious and troublesome, we ought, if we can, to gain
such a place, and provide it with all that we need, where we may have
our seasons of rest and refreshment. It must not be idle and selfish
joyance that we take there; it must be the interlude to toil and fight
and painful deeds, and we must be ready to sally out in a moment when
it is demanded of us. Now, if the winning of such a fortress of
thought is hard, it is also dangerous when won, because it tempts us
to immure ourselves in peace, and only observe from afar the plain of
life, which lies all about the Castle, gazing down through the high
windows; to shut out the wind and the rain, as well as the cries and
prayers of those who have been hurt and dismayed by wrongful usage. If
we do that, the day will come when we shall be besieged in our Castle,
and ride away vanquished and disgraced, to do what we have neglected
and forgotten.

But it is not only right, it is natural and wise, that we should have
a stronghold in our minds, where we should frequent courteous and
gentle and knightly company--the company of all who have loved beauty
wisely and purely, such as poets and artists. Because we make a very
great mistake if we allow the common course and use of the world to
engulph us wholly. We must not be too dainty for the work of the
world, but we may thankfully believe that it is only a mortal
discipline, and that our true life is elsewhere, hid with God. If we
grow to believe that life and its cares and business are all, we lose
the freshness of life, just as we lose the strength of life if we
reject its toil. But if we go at times to our _Joyous Gard_, we can
bring back into common life something of the grace and seemliness and
courtesy of the place. For the end of life is that we should do humble
and common things in a fine and courteous manner, and mix with simple
affairs, not condescendingly or disdainfully, but with all the
eagerness and modesty of the true knight.

This little book then is an account, as far as I can give it, of what
we may do to help ourselves in the matter, by feeding and nurturing
the finer and sweeter thought, which, like all delicate things, often
perishes from indifference and inattention. Those of us who are
sensitive and imaginative and faint-hearted often miss our chance of
better things by not forming plans and designs for our peace. We
lament that we are hurried and pressed and occupied, and we cry,

    _"Yet, oh, the place could I but find!"_

But that is because we expect to be conducted thither, without the
trouble of the journey! Yet we can, like the wise King of Troy, build
the walls of our castle to music, if we will, and see to the fit
providing of the place; it only needs that we should set about it in
earnest; and as I have often gratefully found that a single word of
another can fall into the mind like a seed, and quicken to life while
one sleeps, breaking unexpectedly into bloom, I will here say what
comes into my mind to say, and point out the towers that I think I
discern rising above the tangled forest, and glimmering tall and
shapely and secure at the end of many an open avenue.



There are certain great ideas which, if we have any intelligence and
thoughtfulness at all, we cannot help coming across the track of, just
as when we walk far into the deep country, in the time of the
blossoming of flowers, we step for a moment into a waft of fragrance,
cast upon the air from orchard or thicket or scented field of bloom.

These ideas are very various in quality; some of them deliciously
haunting and transporting, some grave and solemn, some painfully sad
and strong. Some of them seem to hint at unseen beauty and joy, some
have to do with problems of conduct and duty, some with the relation
in which we wish to stand or are forced to stand with other human
beings; some are questionings born of grief and pain, what the
meaning of sorrow is, whether pain has a further intention, whether
the spirit survives the life which is all that we can remember of
existence; but the strange thing about all these ideas is that we find
them suddenly in the mind and soul; we do not seem to invent them,
though we cannot trace them; and even if we find them in books that we
read or words that we hear, they do not seem wholly new to us; we
recognise them as things that we have dimly felt and perceived, and
the reason why they often have so mysterious an effect upon us is that
they seem to take us outside of ourselves, further back than we can
recollect, beyond the faint horizon, into something as wide and great
as the illimitable sea or the depths of sunset sky.

Some of these ideas have to do with the constitution of society, the
combined and artificial peace in which human beings live, and then
they are political ideas; or they deal with such things as numbers,
curves, classes of animals and plants, the soil of the earth, the
changes of the seasons, the laws of weight and mass, and then they are
scientific ideas; some have to do with right and wrong conduct,
actions and qualities, and then they are religious or ethical ideas.
But there is a class of thoughts which belong precisely to none of
these things, but which are concerned with the perception of beauty,
in forms and colours, musical sounds, human faces and limbs, words
majestic or sweet; and this sense of beauty may go further, and may be
discerned in qualities, regarded not from the point of view of their
rightness and justice, but according as they are fine and noble,
evoking our admiration and our desire; and these are poetical ideas.

It is not of course possible exactly to classify ideas, because there
is a great overlapping of them and a wide interchange. The thought of
the slow progress of man from something rude and beastlike, the
statement of the astronomer about the swarms of worlds swimming in
space, may awaken the sense of poetry which is in its essence the
sense of wonder. I shall not attempt in these few pages to limit and
define the sense of poetry. I shall merely attempt to describe the
kind of effect it has or may have in life, what our relation is or may
be to it, what claim it may be said to have upon us, whether we can
practise it, and whether we ought to do so.



I was reading the other day a volume of lectures delivered by Mr.
Mackail at Oxford, as Professor of Poetry there. Mr. Mackail began by
being a poet himself; he married the daughter of a great and poetical
artist, Sir Edward Burne-Jones; he has written the _Life of William
Morris_, which I think is one of the best biographies in the language,
in its fine proportion, its seriousness, its vividness; and indeed all
his writing has the true poetical quality. I hope he even contrives to
communicate it to his departmental work in the Board of Education!

He says in the preface to his lectures, "Poetry is the controller of
sullen care and frantic passion; it is the companion in youth of
desire and love; it is the power which in later years dispels the ills
of life--labour, penury, pain, disease, sorrow, death itself; it is
the inspiration, from youth to age, and in all times and lands, of the
noblest human motives and ardours, of glory, of generous shame, of
freedom and the unconquerable mind."

In these fine sentences it will be seen that Mr. Mackail makes a very
high and majestic claim indeed for poetry: no less than the claim of
art, chivalry, patriotism, love, and religion all rolled into one! If
that claim could be substantiated, no one in the world could be
excused for not putting everything else aside and pursuing poetry,
because it would seem to be both the cure for all the ills of life,
and the inspirer of all high-hearted effort. It would be indeed the
one thing needful!

But what I do not think Mr. Mackail makes quite clear is whether he
means by poetry the expression in verse of all these great ideas, or
whether he means a spirit much larger and mightier than what is
commonly called poetry; which indeed only appears in verse at a single
glowing point, as the electric spark leaps bright and hot between the
coils of dark and cold wire.

I think it is a little confusing that he does not state more
definitely what he means by poetry. Let us take another interesting
and suggestive definition. It was Coleridge who said, "The opposite of
poetry is not prose but science; the opposite of prose is not poetry
but verse." That seems to me an even more fertile statement. It means
that poetry is a certain sort of emotion, which may be gentle or
vehement, but can be found both in verse and prose; and that its
opposite is the unemotional classification of phenomena, the accurate
statement of material laws; and that poetry is by no means the
rhythmical and metrical expression of emotion, but emotion itself,
whether it be expressed or not.

I do not wholly demur to Mr. Mackail's statement, if it may be held to
mean that poetry is the expression of a sort of rapturous emotion,
evoked by beauty, whether that beauty is seen in the forms and colours
of earth, its gardens, fields, woods, hills, seas, its sky-spaces and
sunset glories; or in the beauty of human faces and movements; or in
noble endurance or generous action. For that is the one essential
quality of poetry, that the thing or thought, whatever it is, should
strike the mind as beautiful, and arouse in it that strange and
wistful longing which beautiful things arouse. It is hard to define
that longing, but it is essentially a desire, a claim to draw near to
something desirable, to possess it, to be thrilled by it, to continue
in it; the same emotion which made the apostle say at the sight of his
Lord transfigured in glory, "Master, it is good for us to be here!"

Indeed we know very well what beauty is, or rather we have all within
us a standard by which we can instinctively test the beauty of a sight
or a sound; but it is not that we all agree about the beauty of
different things. Some see a great deal more than others, and some
eyes and ears are delighted and pleased by what to more trained and
fastidious senses seems coarse and shocking and vulgar. But that makes
little difference; the point is that we have within us an apprehension
of a quality which gives us a peculiar kind of delight; and even if it
does not give us that delight when we are dull or anxious or
miserable, we still know that the quality is there. I remember how
when I had a long and dreary illness, with much mental depression, one
of my greatest tortures was to be for ever seeing the beauty in
things, but not to be able to enjoy it. The part of the brain that
enjoyed was sick and uneasy; but I was never in any doubt that beauty
was there, and had power to please the soul, if only the physical
machinery were not out of gear, so that the pain of transmission
overcame the sense of delight.

Poetry is then in its essence the discerning of beauty; and that
beauty is not only the beauty of things heard and seen, but may dwell
very deep in the mind and soul, and be stirred by visions which seem
to have no connection with outside things at all.



Now I will try to say how poetry enters into life for most of us; and
this is not an easy thing to express, because one can only look into
the treasure of one's own experience, wander through the corridors and
halls of memory, and see the faded tapestries, the pictures, and,
above all, the portraits which hang upon the walls. I suppose that
there are many people into whose spirits poetry only enters in the
form of love, when they suddenly see a face that they have beheld
perhaps often before, and have vaguely liked, and realise that it has
suddenly put on some new and delicate charm, some curve of cheek or
floating tress; or there is something in the glance that was surely
never there before, some consciousness of a secret that may be shared,
some signal of half-alarmed interest, something that shows that the
two lives, the two hearts, have some joyful significance for each
other; and then there grows up that marvellous mood which men call
love, which loses itself in hopes of meeting, in fears of coldness, in
desperate desires to please, to impress; and there arise too all sorts
of tremulous affectations, which seem so petty, so absurd, and even so
irritating, to the spectators of the awakening passion; desires to
punish for the pleasure of forgiving, to withdraw for the joy of being
recalled; a wild elated drama in which the whole world recedes into
the background, and all life is merged for the lover in the
half-sweet, half-fearful consciousness of one other soul,

    Whose lightest whisper moves him more
    Than all the rangéd reasons of the world.

And in this mood it is curious to note how inadequate common speech
and ordinary language appear, to meet the needs of expression. Even
young people with no literary turn, no gift of style, find their
memory supplying for them all sorts of broken echoes and rhetorical
phrases, picked out of half-forgotten romances; speech must be
_soigneux_ now, must be dignified, to meet so uplifting an experience.
How oddly like a book the young lover talks, using so naturally the
loud inflated phrases that seem so divorced from common-sense and
experience! How common it is to see in law-reports, in cases which
deal with broken engagements of marriage, to find in the excited
letters which are read and quoted an irresistible tendency to drop
into doggerel verse! It all seems to the sane reader such a grotesque
kind of intoxication. Yet it is as natural as the airs and graces of
the singing canary, the unfurling of the peacock's fan, the held
breath and hampered strut of the turkey--a tendency to assume a
greatness and a nobility that one does not possess, to seem
impressive, tremendous, desirable. Ordinary talk will not do; it must
rhyme, it must march, it must glitter, it must be stuck full of gems;
accomplishments must be paraded, powers must be hinted at. The victor
must advance to triumph with blown trumpets and beaten drums; and in
solitude there must follow the reaction of despair, the fear that one
has disgraced oneself, seemed clumsy and dull, done ignobly. Every
sensitive emotion is awake; and even the most serene and modest
natures, in the grip of passion, can become suspicious and
self-absorbed, because the passion which consumes them is so fierce
that it shrivels all social restraints, and leaves the soul naked, and
bent upon the most uncontrolled self-emphasis.

But apart from this urgent passion, there are many quieter ways in
which the same spirit, the same emotion, which is nothing but a sense
of self-significance, comes into the soul. Some are so inspired by
music, the combinations of melodies, the intricate conspiracy of
chords and ordered vibrations, when the orchestra is at work, the
great droning horns with their hollow reluctant voices sustaining the
shiver and ripple of the strings; or by sweeter, simpler cadences
played at evening, when the garden scents wafted out of the fragrant
dusk, the shaded lamps, the listening figures, all weave themselves
together into a mysterious tapestry of the sense, till we wonder what
strange and beautiful scene is being enacted, and wherever we turn,
catch hints and echoes of some bewildering and gracious secret, just
not revealed!

Some find it in pictures and statues, the mellow liquid pageant of
some old master-hand, a stretch of windspent moor, with its leaning
grasses and rifted crags, a dark water among glimmering trees at
twilight, a rich plain running to the foot of haze-hung mountains, the
sharp-cut billows of a racing sea; or a statue with its shapely limbs
and its veiled smile, or of the suspended strength of some struggling
Titan: all these hold the same inexplicable appeal to the senses,
indicating the efforts of spirits who have seen, and loved, and
admired, and hoped, and desired, striving to leave some record of the
joy that thrilled and haunted, and almost tortured them; and to many
people the emotion comes most directly through the words and songs of
poetry, that tell of joys lived through, and sorrows endured, of hopes
that could not be satisfied, of desires that could not know
fulfilment; pictures, painted in words, of scenes such as we ourselves
have moved through in old moods of delight, scenes from which the
marvellous alchemy of memory has abstracted all the base and dark
elements, leaving only the pure gold of remembered happiness--the wide
upland with the far-off plain, the garden flooded with sun, the
grasses crisped with frost, the snow-laden trees, the flaming autumn
woods, the sombre forest at shut of day, when the dusk creeps
stealthily along the glimmering aisles, the stream passing clear among
large-leaved water-plants and spires of bloom; and the mood goes
deeper still, for it echoes the marching music of the heart, its
glowing hopes, its longing for strength and purity and peace, its
delight in the nearness of other hearts, its wisdom, its nobility.

But the end and aim of all these various influences is the same; their
power lies in the fact that they quicken in the spirit the sense of
the energy, the delight, the greatness of life, the share that we can
claim in them, the largeness of our own individual hope and destiny;
and that is the real work of all the thoughts that may be roughly
called poetical; that they reveal to us something permanent and strong
and beautiful, something which has an irrepressible energy, and which
outlines itself clearly upon the dark background of days, a spirit
with which we can join hands and hold deep communication, which we
instinctively feel is the greatest reality of the world. In such
moments we perceive that the times when we descend into the meaner
and duller and drearier businesses of life are interludes in our real
being, into which we have to descend, not because of the actual worth
of the baser tasks, but that we may practise the courage and the hope
we ought to bring away from the heavenly vision. The more that men
have this thirst for beauty, for serene energy, for fulness of life,
the higher they are in the scale, and the less will they quarrel with
the obscurity and humility of their lives, because they are
confidently waiting for a purer, higher, more untroubled life, to
which we are all on our way, whether we realise it or no!



It is not uncommon for me to receive letters from young aspirants,
containing poems, and asking me for an opinion on their merits. Such a
letter generally says that the writer feels it hardly worth while to
go on writing poetry unless he or she is assured that the poems are
worth something. In such cases I reply that the answer lies there!
Unless it seems worth while, unless indeed poetry is the outcome of an
irrepressible desire to express something, it is certainly not worth
while writing. On the other hand, if the desire is there, it is just
as well worth practising as any other form of artistic expression. A
man who liked sketching in water-colours would not be restrained from
doing so by the fear that he might not become an Academician, a person
who liked picking out tunes on a piano need not desist because there
is no prospect of his earning money by playing in public!

Poetry is of all forms of literary expression the least likely to
bring a man credit or cash. Most intelligent people with a little gift
of writing have a fair prospect of getting prose articles published.
But no one wants third-rate poetry; editors fight shy of it, and
volumes of it are unsaleable.

I have myself written so much poetry, have published so many volumes
of verse, that I can speak sympathetically on the subject. I worked
very hard indeed at poetry for seven or eight years, wrote little
else, and the published volumes form only a small part of my output,
which exists in many manuscript volumes. I achieved no particular
success. My little books were fairly well received, and I sold a few
hundred copies; I have even had a few pieces inserted in anthologies.
But though I have wholly deserted the practice of poetry, and though I
can by no means claim to be reckoned a poet, I do not in the least
regret the years I gave to it. In the first place it was an intense
pleasure to write. The cadences, the metres, the language, the
rhymes, all gave me a rapturous delight. It trained minute
observation--my poems were mostly nature-poems--and helped me to
disentangle the salient points and beauties of landscapes, hills,
trees, flowers, and even insects. Then too it is a very real training
in the use of words; it teaches one what words are musical, sonorous,
effective; while the necessity of having to fit words to metre
increases one's stock of words and one's power of applying them. When
I came back to writing prose, I found that I had a far larger and more
flexible vocabulary than I had previously possessed; and though the
language of poetry is by no means the same as that of prose--it is a
pity that the two kinds of diction are so different in English,
because it is not always so in other languages--yet it made the
writing of ornamental and elaborate prose an easier matter; it gave
one too a sense of form; a poem must have a certain balance and
proportion; so that when one who has written verse comes to write
prose, a subject falls easily into divisions, and takes upon itself a
certain order of course and climax.

But these are only consequences and resulting advantages. The main
reason for writing poetry is and must be the delight of doing it, the
rapture of perceiving a beautiful subject, and the pleasure of
expressing it as finely and delicately as one can. I have given it up
because, as William Morris once said of himself, "to make poetry just
for the sake of making it is a crime for a man of my age and

    One's feelings lose poetic flow
    Soon after twenty-seven or so!

One begins to think of experience in a different sort of way, not as a
series of glowing points and pictures, which outline themselves
radiantly upon a duller background, but as a rich full thing, like a
great tapestry, all of which is important, if it is not all beautiful.
It is not that the marvel and wonder of life is less; but it is more
equable, more intricate, more mysterious. It does not rise at times,
like a sea, into great crested breakers, but it comes marching in
evenly, roller after roller, as far as the eye can reach.

And then too poetry becomes cramped and confined for all that one
desires to say. One lived life, as a young man, rather for the sake
of the emotions which occasionally transfigured it, with a priestly
sense of its occasional splendour; there was not time to be leisurely,
humorous, gently interested. But as we grow older, we perceive that
poetical emotion is but one of many forces, and our sympathy grows and
extends itself in more directions. One had but little patience in the
old days for quiet, prosaic, unemotional people; but now it becomes
clear that a great many persons live life on very simple and direct
lines; one wants to understand their point of view better, one is
conscious of the merits of plainer stuff; and so the taste broadens
and deepens, and becomes like a brimming river rather than a leaping
crystal fount. Life receives a hundred affluents, and is tinged with
many new substances; and one begins to see that if poetry is the
finest and sweetest interpretation of life, it is not always the
completest or even the largest.

If we examine the lives of poets, we too often see how their
inspiration flagged and failed. Milton indeed wrote his noblest verse
in middle-age, after a life immersed in affairs. Wordsworth went on
writing to the end, but all his best poetry was written in about five
early years. Tennyson went on to a patriarchal age, but there is
little of his later work that bears comparison with what he wrote
before he was forty. Browning produced volume after volume, but, with
the exception of an occasional fine lyric, his later work is hardly
more than an illustration of his faults of writing. Coleridge deserted
poetry very early; Byron, Shelley, Keats, all died comparatively

The Letters of Keats give perhaps a more vivid and actual view of the
mind and soul of a poet than any other existing document. One sees
there, naïvely and nobly expressed, the very essence of the poetical
nature, the very soil out of which poetry flowers. It is wonderful,
because it is so wholly sane, simple, and unaffected. It is usual to
say that the Letters give one a picture of rather a second-rate and
suburban young man, with vulgar friends and _banal_ associations, with
one prodigious and matchless faculty. But it is that very background
that constitutes the supreme force of the appeal. Keats accepted his
circumstances, his friends, his duties with a singular modesty. He was
not for ever complaining that he was unappreciated and underestimated.
His commonplaceness, when it appears, is not a defect of quality, but
an eager human interest in the personalities among whom his lot was
cast. But every now and then there swells up a poignant sense of
passion and beauty, a sacred, haunting, devouring fire of inspiration,
which leaps high and clear upon the homely altar.

Thus he writes: "This morning poetry has conquered--I have relapsed
into those abstractions which are my only life--I feel escaped from a
new, strange, and threatening sorrow.... There is an awful warmth
about my heart, like a load of immortality." Or again: "I feel more
and more every day, as my imagination strengthens, that I do not live
in this world alone, but in a thousand worlds." And again: "I have
loved the principle of beauty in all things."

One sees in these passages that there not only is a difference of
force and passion, but an added quality of some kind in the mind of a
poet, a combination of fine perception and emotion, which
instantaneously and instinctively translates itself into words.

For it must never be forgotten how essential a part of the poet is the
knack of words. I do not doubt that there are hundreds of people who
are haunted and penetrated by a lively sense of beauty, whose emotions
are fiery and sweet, but who have not just the intellectual store of
words, which must drip like honey from an overflowing jar. It is a
gift as definite as that of the sculptor or the musician, an exuberant
fertility and swiftness of brain, that does not slowly and painfully
fit a word into its place, but which breathes thought direct into

The most subtle account of this that I know is given in a passage in
Shelley's _Defence of Poetry_. He says: "A man cannot say 'I will
compose poetry'--the greatest poet even cannot say it; for the mind in
creation is like a fading coal, which some invisible influence, like
an inconstant wind, awakes to transitory brightness. The power arises
from within, like the colour of a flower which fades and changes as it
is developed, and the conscious portions of our nature are unprophetic
either of its approach or its departure. When composition begins,
inspiration is already on the decline."

That I believe is as true as it is beautiful. The best poetry is
written in a sudden rapture, and probably needs but little
reconsideration or retouching. One knows for instance how the _Ode to
the Nightingale_ was scribbled by Keats on a spring morning, in an
orchard at Hampstead, and so little regarded that it was rescued by a
friend from the volume into which he had crammed the slips of
manuscript. Of course poets vary greatly in their method; but one may
be sure of this, that no poem which was not a great poem in its first
transcript, ever becomes a great poem by subsequent handling. There
are poets indeed like Rossetti and FitzGerald who made a worse poem
out of a better by scrupulous correction; and the first drafts of
great poems are generally the finest poems of all. A poem has
sometimes been improved by excision, notably in the case of Tennyson,
whose abandoned stanzas, printed in his Life, show how strong his
instinct was for what was best and purest. A great poet, for instance,
never, like a lesser poet, keeps an unsatisfactory stanza for the sake
of a good line. Tennyson, in a fine homely image, said that a poem
must have a certain curve of its own, like the curve of the rind of a
pared apple thrown on the floor. It must have a perfect evolution and
progress, and this can sometimes be best arrived at by the omission
of stanzas in which the inconstant or flagging mind turned aside from
its design.

But it is certain that if the poet gets so much into the habit of
writing poetry, that even when he has no sense of inspiration he must
still write to satisfy a craving, the result will be worthless, as it
too often was in the case of Wordsworth. Because such poems become
literary instead of poetical; and literary poetry has no

If we take a book like Rossetti's _House of Life_, we shall find that
certain sonnets stand out with a peculiar freshness and brightness, as
in the golden sunlight of an autumn morning; while many of the sonnets
give us the sense of slow and gorgeous evolution, as if contrived by
some poetical machine. I was interested to find, in studying the
_House of Life_ carefully, that all the finest poems are early work;
and when I came to look at the manuscripts, I was rather horrified to
see what an immense amount of alternatives had been produced. There
would be, for instance, no less than eight or nine of those great
slowly moving words, like 'incommunicable' or 'importunate' written
down, not so much to express an inevitable idea as to fill an
inevitable space; and thus the poems seem to lose their pungency by
the slow absorption of painfully sought agglutinations of syllables,
with a stately music of their own, of course, but garnered rather than
engendered. Rossetti's great dictum about the prime necessity for
poetry being 'fundamental brainwork' led him here into error. The
brainwork must be fundamental and instinctive; it must all have been
done before the poem is conceived; and very often a poet acquires his
power through sacrificing elaborate compositions which have taught him
certainty of touch, but are not in themselves great poetry. Subsequent
brainwork often merely clouds the effect, and it was that on which
Rossetti spent himself in vain.

The view which Keats took of his own _Endymion_ is a far larger and
bolder one. "I will write independently," he said. "I have written
independently _without judgment_. I may write independently and _with
judgment_ hereafter. The genius of poetry must work out its own
salvation in a man. It cannot be matured by law and precept, but by
sensation and watchfulness in itself."

Of course, fine craftsmanship is an absolute necessity; but it is
craftsmanship which is not only acquired by practice, but which is
actually there from the first, just as Mozart, as a child of eight,
could play passages which would tax the skill of the most accomplished
virtuoso. It was not learnt by practice, that swift correspondence of
eye and hand, any more than the little swallow learns to fly; it knows
it all already, and is merely finding out what it knows.

And therefore there is no doubt that a man cannot become a poet by
taking thought. He can perhaps compose impressive verse, but that is
all. Poetry is, as Plato says, a divine sort of experience, some
strange blending of inherited characteristics, perhaps the fierce
emotion of some dumb ancestress combining with the verbal skill of
some unpoetical forefather. The receipt is unknown, not necessarily

Of course if one has poetry in one's soul, it is a tremendous
temptation to desire its expression, because the human race, with its
poignant desire for transfiguring visions, strews the path of the
great poet with bays, and remembers him as it remembers no other human
beings. What would one not give to interpret life thus, to flash the
loveliness of perception into desirous minds, to set love and hope
and yearning to music, to inspire anxious hearts with the sense that
there is something immensely large, tender, and significant behind it
all! That is what we need to be assured of--our own significance, our
own share in the inheritance of joy; and a poet can teach us to wait,
to expect, to arise, to adore, when the circumstances of our lives are
wrapped in mist and soaked with dripping rain. Perhaps that is the
greatest thing which poetry does for us, to reassure us, to enlighten
us, to send us singing on our way, to bid us trust in God even though
He is concealed behind calamity and disaster, behind grief and
heaviness, misinterpreted to us by philosophers and priests, and
horribly belied by the wrongful dealings of men.



There is a perpetual debate going on--one of those moulting
shuttlecocks that serve to make one's battledore give out a merry
sound--about the relation of art to morals, and whether the artist or
the poet ought to attempt to _teach_ anything. It makes a good kind of
debate, because it is conducted in large terms, to which the
disputants attach private meanings. The answer is a very simple one.
It is that art and morality are only beauty realised in different
regions; and as to whether the artist ought to attempt to teach
anything, that may be summarily answered by the simple dictum that no
artist ought ever to attempt to teach anything, with which must be
combined the fact that no one who is serious about anything can
possibly help teaching, whether he wishes or no!

High art and high morality are closely akin, because they are both but
an eager following of the law of beauty; but the artist follows it in
visible and tangible things, and the moralist follows it in the
conduct and relations of life. Artists and moralists must be for ever
condemned to misunderstand each other, because the votary of any art
cannot help feeling that it is the one thing worth doing in the world;
and the artist whose soul is set upon fine hues and forms thinks that
conduct must take care of itself, and that it is a tiresome business
to analyse and formulate it; while the moralist who loves the beauty
of virtue passionately, will think of the artist as a child who plays
with his toys, and lets the real emotions of life go streaming past.

This is a subject upon which it is as well to hear the Greeks, because
the Greeks were of all people who ever lived the most absorbingly
interested in the problems of life, and judged everything by a
standard of beauty. The Jews, of course, at least in their early
history, had the same fiery interest in questions of conduct; but it
would be as absurd to deny to Plato an interest in morals as to
withhold the title of artist from Isaiah and the author of the Book
of Job!

Plato, as is well known, took a somewhat whimsical view of the work of
the poet. He said that he must exclude the poets from his ideal State,
because they were the prophets of unreality. But he was thinking of a
kind of man very different from the men whom we call poets. He thought
of the poet as a man who served a patron, and tried to gloze over his
patron's tyranny and baseness, under false terms of glory and majesty;
or else he thought of dramatists, and considered them to be men who
for the sake of credit and money played skilfully upon the sentimental
emotions of ordinary people; and he fought shy of the writers who used
tragic passions for the amusement of a theatre. Aristotle disagreed
with Plato about this, and held that poetry was not exactly moral
teaching, but that it disposed the mind to consider moral problems as
interesting. He said that in looking on at a play, a spectator
suffered, so to speak, by deputy, but all the same learned directly,
if unconsciously, the beauty of virtue. When we come to our own
Elizabethans, there is no evidence that in their plays and poetry they
thought about morals at all. No one has any idea whether Shakespeare
had any religion, or what it was; and he above all great writers that
ever lived seems to have taken an absolutely impersonal view of the
sins and affections of men and women. No one is scouted or censured or
condemned in Shakespeare; one sees and feels the point of view of his
villains and rogues; one feels with them that they somehow could
hardly have done otherwise than they did; and to effect that is
perhaps the crown of art.

But nowadays the poet, with whom one may include some few novelists,
is really a very independent person. I am not now speaking of those
who write basely and crudely, to please a popular taste. They have
their reward; and after all they are little more than mountebanks, the
end of whose show is to gather up pence in the ring.

But the poet in verse is listened to by few people, unless he is very
great indeed; and even so his reward is apt to be intangible and
scanty; while to be deliberately a lesser poet is perhaps the most
unworldly thing that a man can do, because he thus courts derision;
indeed, if there is a bad sign of the world's temper just now, it is
that men will listen to politicians, scientists, men of commerce, and
journalists, because these can arouse a sensation, or even confer
material benefits; but men will not listen to poets, because they have
so little use for the small and joyful thoughts that make up some of
the best pleasures of life.

It is quite true, as I have said, that no artist ought ever
deliberately to try to teach people, because that is not his business,
and one can only be a good artist by minding one's business, which is
to produce beautiful things; and the moment one begins to try to
produce improving things, one goes off the line. But in England there
has been of late a remarkable fusion of morality and art. Ruskin and
Browning are clear enough proof that it is possible to be passionately
interested in moral problems in an artistic way; while at the same
time it is true, as I have said, that if any man cares eagerly for
beauty, and does his best to present it, he cannot help teaching all
those who are searching for beauty, and only require to be shown the

The work of all real teachers is to make great and arduous things seem
simple and desirable and beautiful. A teacher is not a person who
provides short-cuts to knowledge, or who only drills a character out
of slovenly intellectual faults. The essence of all real teaching is a
sort of inspiration. Take the case of a great teacher, like Arnold or
Jowett; Arnold lit in his pupils' minds a kind of fire, which was
moral rather than intellectual; Jowett had a power of putting a
suggestive brilliancy into dull words and stale phrases, showing that
they were but the crystallised formulas of ideas, which men had found
wonderful or beautiful. The secret of such teaching is quite
incommunicable, but it is a very high sort of art. There are many men
who feel the inspiration of knowledge very deeply, and follow it
passionately, who yet cannot in the least communicate the glow to
others. But just as the great artist can paint a homely scene, such as
we have seen a hundred times, and throw into it something mysterious,
which reaches out hands of desire far beyond the visible horizon, so
can a great teacher show that ideas are living things all bound up
with the high emotions of men.

And thus the true poet, whether he writes verses or novels, is the
greatest of teachers, not because he trains and drills the mind, but
because he makes the thing he speaks of appear so beautiful and
desirable that we are willing to undergo the training and drilling
that are necessary to be made free of the secret. He brings out, as
Plato beautifully said, "the beauty which meets the spirit like a
breeze, and imperceptibly draws the soul, even in childhood, into
harmony with the beauty of reason." The work of the poet then is "to
elicit the simplest principles of life, to clear away complexity, by
giving a glowing and flashing motive to live nobly and generously, to
renew the unspoiled growth of the world, to reveal the secret hope
silently hidden in the heart of man."

_Renovabitur ut aquila juventus tua_--thy youth shall be renewed as an
eagle--that is what we all desire! Indeed it would seem at first sight
that, to gain happiness, the best way would be, if one could, to
prolong the untroubled zest of childhood, when everything was
interesting and exciting, full of novelty and delight. Some few people
by their vitality can retain that freshness of spirit all their life
long. I remember how a friend of R. L. Stevenson told me, that
Stevenson, when alone in London, desperately ill, and on the eve of a
solitary voyage, came to see him; he himself was going to start on a
journey the following day, and had to visit the lumber-room to get out
his trunks; Stevenson begged to be allowed to accompany him, and,
sitting on a broken chair, evolved out of the drifted accumulations of
the place a wonderful romance. But that sort of eager freshness we
most of us find to be impossible as we grow older; and we are
confronted with the problem of how to keep care and dreariness away,
how to avoid becoming mere trudging wayfarers, dully obsessed by all
we have to do and bear. Can we not find some medicine to revive the
fading emotion, to renew the same sort of delight in new thoughts and
problems which we found in childhood in all unfamiliar things, to
battle with the dreariness, the daily use, the staleness of life?

The answer is that it is possible, but only possible if we take the
same pains about it that we take to provide ourselves with comforts,
to save money, to guard ourselves from poverty. Emotional poverty is
what we most of us have to dread, and we must make investments if we
wish for revenues. We are many of us hampered, as I have said, by the
dreariness and dulness of the education we receive. But even that is
no excuse for sinking into melancholy bankruptcy, and going about the
world full of the earnest capacity for woe, disheartened and

A great teacher has the extraordinary power, not only of evoking the
finest capacities from the finest minds, but of actually giving to
second-rate minds a belief that knowledge is interesting and worth
attention. What we have to do, if we have missed coming under the
influence of a great teacher, is resolutely to put ourselves in touch
with great minds. We shall not burst into flame at once perhaps, and
the process may seem but the rubbing of one dry stick against another;
one cannot prescribe a path, because we must advance upon the slender
line of our own interests; but we can surely find some one writer who
revives us and inspires us; and if we persevere, we find the path
slowly broadening into a road, while the landscape takes shape and
design around us. The one thing fortunately of which there is enough
and to spare in the world is good advice, and if we find ourselves
helpless, we can consult some one who seems to have a view of finer
things, whose delight is fresh and eager, whose handling of life
seems gracious and generous. It is as possible to do this, as to
consult a doctor if we find ourselves out of health; and here we stiff
and solitary Anglo-Saxons are often to blame, because we cannot bring
ourselves to speak freely of these things, to be importunate, to ask
for help; it seems to us at once impertinent and undignified; but it
is this sort of dreary consideration, which is nothing but distorted
vanity, and this still drearier dignity, which withholds from us so
much that is beautiful.

The one thing then that I wish to urge is that we should take up the
pursuit in an entirely practical way; as Emerson said, with a splendid
mixture of common sense and idealism, "hitch our waggon to a star." It
is easy enough to lose ourselves in a vague sentimentalism, and to
believe that only our cramped conditions have hindered us from
developing into something very wonderful. It is easy too to drift into
helpless materialism, and to believe that dulness is the natural lot
of man. But the realm of thought is a very free citizenship, and a
hundred doors will open to us if we only knock at them. Moreover, that
realm is not like an over-populated country; it is infinitely large,
and virgin soil; and we have only to stake out our claim; and then, if
we persevere, we shall find that our _Joyous Gard_ is really rising
into the air about us--where else should we build our castles?--with
all the glory of tower and gable, of curtain-wall and battlement,
terrace and pleasaunce, hall and corridor; our own self-built
paradise; and then perhaps the knight, riding lonely from the sunset
woods, will turn in to keep us company, and the wandering minstrel
will bring his harp; and we may even receive other visitors, like the
three that stood beside the tent of Abraham in the evening, in the
plain of Mamre, of whom no one asked the name or lineage, because the
answer was too great for mortal ears to hear.



Is the secret of life then a sort of literary rapture, a princely
thing, only possible through costly outlay and jealously selected
hours, like a concert of stringed instruments, whose players are
unknown, bursting on the ear across the terraces and foliaged walls of
some enchanted garden? By no means! That is the shadow of the artistic
nature, that the rare occasions of life, where sound and scent and
weather and sweet companionship conspire together, are so exquisite,
so adorable, that the votary of such mystical raptures begins to plan
and scheme and hunger for these occasions, and lives in discontent
because they arrive so seldom.

No art, no literature, are worth anything at all unless they send one
back to life with a renewed desire to taste it and to live it.
Sometimes as I sit on a sunny day writing in my chair beside the
window, a picture of the box-hedge, the tall sycamores, the
stone-tiled roof of the chapel, with the blue sky behind, globes
itself in the lense of my spectacles, so entrancingly beautiful, that
it is almost a disappointment to look out on the real scene. We like
to see things mirrored thus and framed, we strangely made creatures of
life; why, I know not, except that our finite little natures love to
select and isolate experiences from the mass, and contemplate them so.
But we must learn to avoid this, and to realise that if a particle of
life, thus ordered and restricted, is beautiful, the thing itself is
more beautiful still. But we must not depend helplessly upon the
interpretations, the skilled reflections, of finer minds than our own.
If we learn from a wise interpreter or poet the quality and worth of a
fraction of life, it is that we may gain from him the power to do the
same for ourselves elsewhere; we must learn to walk alone, not crave,
like a helpless child, to be for ever led and carried in kindly arms.
The danger of culture, as it is unpleasantly called, is that we get to
love things because poets have loved them, and as they loved them;
and there we must not stay; because we thus grow to fear and mistrust
the strong flavours and sounds of life, the joys of toil and
adventure, the desire of begetting, giving life, drawing a soul from
the unknown; we come to linger in a half-lit place, where things reach
us faintly mellowed, as in a vision, through enfolding trees and at
the ends of enchanted glades. This book of mine lays no claim to be a
pageant of all life's joys; it leaves many things untouched and
untold; but it is a plea for this; that those who have to endure the
common lot of life, who cannot go where they would, whose leisure is
but a fraction of the day, before the morning's toil and after the
task is done, whose temptation it is to put everything else away
except food and sleep and work and anxiety, not liking life so but
finding it so;--it is a plea that such as these should learn how
experience, even under cramped conditions, may be finely and
beautifully interpreted, and made rich by renewed intention. Because
the secret lies hid in this, that we must observe life intently,
grapple with it eagerly; and if we have a hundred lives before us, we
can never conquer life till we have learned to ride above it, not
welter helplessly below it. And the cramped and restricted life is all
the grander for this, that it gives us a nobler chance of conquest
than the free, liberal, wealthy, unrestrained life.

In the _Romaunt of the Rose_ a little square garden is described, with
its beds of flowers, its orchard-trees. The beauty of the place lies
partly in its smallness, but more still in its running waters, its
shadowy wells, wherein, as the writer says quaintly enough, are "_no
frogs_," and the conduit-pipes that make a "noise full-liking." And
again in that beautiful poem of Tennyson's, one of his earliest, with
the dew of the morning upon it, he describes _The Poet's Mind_ as a

      In the middle leaps a fountain
        Like sheet lightning,
        Ever brightening
      With a low melodious thunder;
    All day and all night it is ever drawn
      From the brain of the purple mountain
      Which stands in the distance yonder: ...
    And the mountain draws it from Heaven above,
    And it sings a song of undying love.

That is a power which we all have, in some degree, to draw into our
souls, or to set running through them, the streams of Heaven--for
like water they will run in the dullest and darkest place if only they
be led thither; and the lower the place, the stronger the stream! I am
careful not to prescribe the source too narrowly, for it must be to
our own liking, and to our own need. And so I will not say "love this
and that picture, read this and that poet!" because it is just thus,
by following direction too slavishly, that we lose our own particular
inspiration. Indeed I care very little about fineness of taste,
fastidious critical rejections, scoffs and sneers at particular
fashions and details. One knows the epicure of life, the man who
withdraws himself more and more from the throng, cannot bear to find
himself in dull company, reads fewer and fewer books, can hardly eat
and drink unless all is exactly what he approves; till it becomes
almost wearisome to be with him, because it is such anxious and
scheming work to lay out everything to please him, and because he will
never take his chance of anything, nor bestir himself to make anything
out of a situation which has the least commonness or dulness in it. Of
course only with the command of wealth is such life possible; but the
more delicate such a man grows, the larger and finer his maxims
become, and the more he casts away from his philosophy the need of
practising anything. One must think, such men say, clearly and finely,
one must disapprove freely, one must live only with those whom one can
admire and love; till they become at last like one of those sad
ascetics, who spent their time on the top of pillars, and for ever
drew up stones from below to make the pillar higher yet.

One is at liberty to mistrust whatever makes one isolated and
superior; not of course that one's life need be spent in a sort of
diffuse sociability; but one must practise an ease that is never
embarrassed, a frankness that is never fastidious, a simplicity that
is never abashed; and behind it all must spring the living waters,
with the clearness of the sky and the cleanness of the hill about
them, running still swiftly and purely in our narrow garden-ground,
and meeting the kindred streams that flow softly in many other glad
and desirous hearts.

In the beautiful old English poem, _The Pearl_, where the dreamer
seems to be instructed by his dead daughter Marjory in the heavenly
wisdom, she tells him that "all the souls of the blest are equal in
happiness--that they are all kings and queens."[1] That is a heavenly
kind of kingship, when there are none to be ruled or chidden, none to
labour and serve; but it means the fine frankness and serenity of mind
which comes of kingship, the perfect ease and dignity which springs
from not having to think of dignity or pre-eminence at all.

Long ago I remember how I was sent for to talk with Queen Victoria in
her age, and how much I dreaded being led up to her by a majestic
lord-in-waiting; she sate there, a little quiet lady, so plainly
dressed, so simple, with her hands crossed on her lap, her sanguine
complexion, her silvery hair, yet so crowned with dim history and
tradition, so great as to be beyond all pomp or ceremony, yet wearing
the awe and majesty of race and fame as she wore her plain dress. She
gave me a little nod and smile, and began at once to talk in the sweet
clear voice that was like the voice of a child. Then came my
astonishment. She knew, it seemed, all about me and my doings, and
the doings of my relations and friends--not as if she had wished to be
prepared to surprise me; but because her motherly heart had wanted to
know, and had been unable to forget. The essence of that charm, which
flooded all one's mind with love and loyalty, was not that she was
great, but that she was entirely simple and kind; because she loved,
not her great part in life, but life itself.

That kingship and queenship is surely not out of the reach of any of
us; it depends upon two things: one, that we keep our minds and souls
fresh with the love of life, which is the very dew of heaven; and the
other that we claim not rights but duties, our share in life, not a
control over it; if all that we claim is not to rule others, but to be
interested in them, if we will not be shut out from love and care,
then the sovereignty is in sight, and the nearer it comes the less
shall we recognise it; for the only dignity worth the name is that
which we do not know to be there.


[Footnote 1: See Professor W. P. Ker's _English Literature, Mediæval_,
p. 194.]



It is clear that the progress of the individual and the world alike
depends upon the quickening of ideas. All civilisation, all law, all
order, all controlled and purposeful life, will be seen to depend on
these ideas and emotions. The growing conception of the right of every
individual to live in some degree of comfort and security is nothing
but the taking shape of these ideas and emotions; for the end of all
civilisation is to ensure that there shall be freedom for all from
debasing and degrading conditions, and that is perhaps as far as we
have hitherto advanced; but the further end in sight is to set all men
and women free to some extent from hopeless drudgery, to give them
leisure, to provide them with tastes and interests; and further still,
to contrive, if possible, that human beings shall not be born into
the world of tainted parentage, and thus to stamp out the tyranny of
disease and imbecility and criminal instinct. More and more does it
become clear that all the off-scourings and failures of civilisation
are the outcome of diseased brains and nerves, and that self-control
and vigour are the results of nature rather than nurture. All this is
now steadily in sight. The aim is personal freedom, the freedom which
shall end where another's freedom begins; but we recognise now that it
is no use legislating for social and political freedom, if we allow
the morally deficient to beget offspring for whom moral freedom is an
impossibility. And perhaps the best hope of the race lies in firmly
facing this problem.

But, as I say, we have hardly entered upon this stage. We have to deal
with things as they are, with many natures tainted by moral
feebleness, by obliquity of vision, by lack of proportion. The hope at
present lies in the endeavour to find some source of inspiration, in a
determination not to let men and women grow up with fine emotions
atrophied; and here the whole system of education is at fault. It is
all on the lines of an intellectual gymnastic; little or nothing is
done to cultivate imagination, to feed the sense of beauty, to arouse
interest, to awaken the sleeping sense of delight. There is no doubt
that all these emotions are dormant in many people. One has only to
reflect on the influence of association, to know how children who grow
up in a home atmosphere which is fragrant with beautiful influences,
generally carry on those tastes and habits into later life. But our
education tends neither to make men and women efficient for the simple
duties of life, nor to-arouse the gentler energies of the spirit. "You
must remember you are translating poetry," said a conscientious master
to a boy who was construing Virgil. "It's not poetry when I translate
it!" said the boy. I look back at my own schooldays, and remember the
bare, stately class-rooms, the dry wind of intellect, the dull murmur
of work, neither enjoyed nor understood; and I reflect how small a
part any fanciful or beautiful or leisurely interpretation ever played
in our mental exercises; the first and last condition of any fine sort
of labour--that it should be enjoyed--was put resolutely out of sight,
not so much as an impossible adjunct, as a thing positively
enervating and contemptible. Yet if one subtracts the idea of
enjoyment from labour, there is no beauty-loving spirit which does not
instantly and rightly rebel. There must be labour, of course,
effective, vigorous, brisk labour, overcoming difficulties, mastering
uncongenial details; but the end should be enjoyment; and it should be
made clear that the greater the mastery, the richer the enjoyment; and
that if one cannot enjoy a thing without mastering it, neither can one
ever really master it without enjoying it.

What we need, in education, is some sense of far horizons and
beautiful prospects, some consciousness of the largeness and mystery
and wonder of life. To take a simple instance, in my own education. I
read the great books of Greece and Rome; but I knew hardly anything of
the atmosphere, the social life, the human activity out of which they
proceeded. One did not think of the literature of the Greeks as of a
fountain of eager beauty springing impulsively and instinctively out
of the most ardent, gracious, sensitive life that any nation has ever
lived. One knew little of the stern, businesslike, orderly, grasping
Roman temperament, in which poetry flowered so rarely, and the arts
not at all, until the national fibre began to weaken and grow
dissolute. One studied history in those days, as if one was mastering
statute-books, blue-books, gazettes, office-files; one never grasped
the clash of individualities, or the real interests and tastes of the
nations that fought and made laws and treaties. It was all a dealing
with records and monuments, just the things that happened to survive
decay--as though one's study of primitive man were to begin and end
with sharpened flints!

What we have now to do, in this next generation, is not to leave
education a dry conspectus of facts and processes, but to try rather
that children should learn something of the temper and texture of the
world at certain vivid points of its history; and above all perceive
something of the nature of the world as it now is, its countries, its
nationalities, its hopes, its problems. That is the aim, that we
should realise what kind of a thing life is, how bright and yet how
narrow a flame, how bounded by darkness and mystery, and yet how vivid
and active within its little space of sun.



"Knowledge is power," says the old adage; and yet so meaningless now,
in many respects, do the words sound, that it is hard even to
recapture the mental outlook from which it emanated. I imagine that it
dates from a time when knowledge meant an imagined acquaintance with
magical secrets, short cuts to wealth, health, influence, fame. Even
now the application of science to the practical needs of man has some
semblance of power about it; the telephone, wireless telegraphy, steam
engines, anæsthetics--these are powerful things. But no man is
profited by his discoveries; he cannot keep them to himself, and use
them for his own private ends. The most he can do is to make a large
fortune out of them. And as to other kinds of knowledge, erudition,
learning, how do they profit the possessor? "No one knows anything
nowadays," said an eminent man to me the other day; "it is not worth
while! The most learned man is the man who knows best where to find
things." There still appears, in works of fiction, with pathetic
persistence, a belief that learning still lingers at Oxford and
Cambridge; those marvellous Dons, who appear in the pages of novels,
men who read folios all the morning and drink port all the evening,
where are they in reality? Not at Cambridge, certainly. I would travel
many miles, I would travel to Oxford, if I thought I could find such
an adorable figure. But the Don is now a brisk and efficient man of
business, a paterfamilias with provision to make for his family. He
has no time for folios and no inclination for port. Examination papers
in the morning, and a glass of lemonade at dinner, are the notes of
his leisure days. The belief in uncommercial knowledge has indeed died
out of England. Eton, as Mr. Birrell said, can hardly be described as
a place of education; and to what extent can Oxford and Cambridge be
described as places of literary research? A learned man is apt to be
considered a bore, and the highest compliment that can be paid him is
that one would not suspect him of being learned.

There is, indeed, a land in which knowledge is respected, and that is
America. If we do not take care, the high culture will desert our
shores, like Astræa's flying hem, and take her way Westward, with the
course of Empire.

A friend of mine once told me that he struggled up a church-tower in
Florence, a great lean, pale brick minaret, designed, I suppose, to be
laminated with marble, but cheerfully abandoned to bareness; he came
out on to one of those high balustraded balconies, which in mediæval
pictures seem to have been always crowded with fantastically dressed
persons, and are now only visited by tourists. The silvery city lay
outspread beneath him, with the rapid mud-stained river passing to the
plain, the hill-side crowded with villas embowered in green gardens,
and the sad-coloured hills behind. While he was gazing, two other
tourists, young Americans, came quietly out on to the balcony, a
brother and sister, he thought. They looked out for a time in silence,
leaning on the parapet; and then the brother said softly, "How much
we should enjoy all this, if we were not so ignorant!" Like all
Americans, they wanted to know! It was not enough for them to see the
high houses, the fantastic towers, the great blind blocks of mediæval
palaces, thrust so grimly out above the house-tops. It all meant life
and history, strife and sorrow, it all needed interpreting and
transfiguring and re-peopling; without that it was dumb and silent,
vague and bewildering. One does not know whether to admire or to sigh!
Ought one not to be able to take beauty as it comes? What if one does
not want to know these things, as Shelley said to his lean and
embarrassed tutor at Oxford? If knowledge makes the scene glow and
live, enriches it, illuminates it, it is well. And perhaps in England
we learn to live so incuriously and naturally among historical things
that we forget the existence of tradition, and draw it in with the air
we breathe, just realising it as a pleasant background and not caring
to investigate it or master it. It is hard to say what we lose by
ignorance, is hard to say what we should gain by knowledge. Perhaps to
want to know would be a sign of intellectual and emotional activity;
but it could not be done as a matter of duty--only as a matter of

The poet Clough once said, "It makes a great difference to me that
Magna Charta was signed at Runnymede, but it does not make much
difference to me to know that it was signed." The fact that it was so
signed affects our liberties, the knowledge only affects us, if it
inspires us to fresh desire of liberty, whatever liberty may be. It is
even more important to be interested in life than to be interested in
past lives. It was Scott, I think, who asked indignantly,

    Lives there the man with soul so dead,
    Who never to himself hath said
    This is my own, my native land?

I do not know how it may be in Scotland! Dr. Johnson once said rudely
that the finest prospect a Scotchman ever saw was the high road that
might take him to England; but I should think that if Scott's is a
fair test of deadness of soul, there must be a good many people in
England who are as dead as door-nails! The Englishman is not very
imaginative; and a farmer who was accustomed to kneel down like
Antæus, and kiss the soil of his orchard, would be thought an

Shall we then draw a cynical conclusion from all this, and say that
knowledge is a useless burden; or if we think so, why do we think it?
I have very little doubt in my own mind that why so many young men
despise and even deride knowledge is because knowledge has been
presented to them in so arid a form, so little connected with anything
that concerns them in the remotest degree. We ought, I think, to wind
our way slowly back into the past from the present; we ought to start
with modern problems and modern ideas, and show people how they came
into being; we ought to learn about the world, as it is, first, and
climb the hill slowly. But what we do is to take the history of the
past, Athens and Rome and Judæa, three glowing and shining realms, I
readily admit; but we leave the gaps all unbridged, so that it seems
remote, abstruse, and incomprehensible that men should ever have lived
and thought so.

Then we deluge children with the old languages, not teaching them to
read, but to construe, and cramming the little memories with hideous
grammatical forms. So the whole process of education becomes a dreary
wrestling with the uninteresting and the unattainable; and when we
have broken the neck of infantile curiosity with these uncouth
burdens, we wonder that life becomes a place where the only aim is to
get a good appointment, and play as many games as possible.

Yet learning need not be so cumbrously carried after all! I was
reading a few days ago a little book by Professor Ker, on mediæval
English, and reading it with a species of rapture. It all came so
freshly and pungently out of a full mind, penetrated with zest and
enjoyment. One followed the little rill of literary craftsmanship so
easily out of the plain to its high source among the hills, till I
wondered why on earth I had not been told some of these delightful
things long ago, that I might have seen how our great literature took
shape. Such scraps of knowledge as I possess fell into shape, and I
saw the whole as in a map outspread.

And then I realised that knowledge, if it was only rightly directed,
could be a beautiful and attractive thing, not a mere fuss about
nothing, dull facts reluctantly acquired, readily forgotten.

All children begin by wanting to know, but they are often told not to
be tiresome, which generally means that the elder person has no answer
to give, and does not like to appear ignorant. And then the time comes
for Latin Grammar, and Cicero de Senectute, and Cæsar's Commentaries,
and the bewildered stripling privately resolves to have no more than
he can help to do with these antique horrors. The marvellous thing
seems to him to be that men of flesh and blood could have found it
worth their while to compose such things.

Erudition, great is thy sin! It is not that one wants to deprive the
savant of his knowledge; one only wants a little common-sense and
imaginative sympathy. How can a little boy guess that some of the most
beautiful stories in the world lie hid among a mass of wriggling
consonants, or what a garden lurks behind the iron gate, with [Greek:
blôskô] and [Greek: moloumai] to guard the threshold?

I am not going here to discuss the old curriculum. "Let 'em 'ave it!"
as the parent said to the schoolmaster, under the impression that it
was some instrument of flagellation--as indeed it is, I look round my
book-lined shelves, and reflect how much of interest and pleasure
those parallel rows have meant to me, and how I struggled into the use
of them outside of and not because of my so-called education; and how
much they might mean to others if they had not been so conscientiously
bumped into paths of peace.

"Nothing," said Pater, speaking of art in one of his finest passages,
"nothing which has ever engaged the great and eager affections of men
and women can ever wholly lose its charm." Not to the initiated,
perhaps! But I sometimes wonder if anything which has been taught with
dictionary and grammar, with parsing and construing, with detention
and imposition, can ever wholly regain its charm. I am afraid that we
must make a clean sweep of the old processes, if we have any intention
of interesting our youth in the beauty of human ideas and their
expression. But while we do not care about beauty and interest in
life, while we conscientiously believe, in spite of a cataract of
helpless facts, in the virtues of the old grammar-grind, so long shall
we remain an uncivilised nation. Civilisation does not consist in
commercial prosperity, or even in a fine service of express trains.
It resides in quick apprehension, lively interest, eager sympathy ...
at least I suspect so.

"Like a crane or a swallow, so did I chatter!" said the rueful
prophet. I do not write as a pessimist, hardly as a critic; still less
as a censor; to waste time in deriding others' theories of life is a
very poor substitute for enjoying it! I think we do very fairly well
as we are; only do not let us indulge in the cant in which educators
so freely indulge, the claim that we are interested in ideas
intellectual or artistic, and that we are trying to educate our youth
in these things. We do produce some intellectual athletes, and we
knock a few hardy minds more or less into shape; but meanwhile a great
river of opportunities, curiosity, intelligence, taste, interest,
pleasure, goes idly weltering, through mud-flats and lean promontories
and bare islands to the sea. It is the loss, the waste, the folly, of
it that I deplore.



As the years go on, what one begins to perceive about so many
people--though one tries hard to believe it is not so--is that somehow
or other the mind does not grow, the view does not alter; life ceases
to be a pilgrimage, and becomes a journey, such as a horse takes in a
farm-cart. He is pulling something, he has got to pull it, he does not
care much what it is--turnips, hay, manure! If he thinks at all, he
thinks of the stable and the manger. The middle-aged do not try
experiments, they lose all sense of adventure. They make the usual
kind of fortification for themselves, pile up a shelter out of
prejudices and stony opinions. It is out of the wind and rain, and the
prospect is safely excluded. The landscape is so familiar that the
entrenched spirit does not even think about it, or care what lies
behind the hill or across the river.

Now of course I do not mean that people can or should play fast and
loose with life, throw up a task or a position the moment they are
bored with it, be at the mercy of moods. I am speaking here solely of
the possible adventures of mind and soul; it is good, wholesome,
invigorating, to be tied to a work in life, to have to discharge it
whether one likes it or no, through indolence and disinclination,
through depression and restlessness. But we ought not to be immured
among conventions and received opinions. We ought to ask ourselves why
we believe what we take for granted, and even if we do really believe
it at all. We ought not to condemn people who do not move along the
same lines of thought; we ought to change our minds a good deal, not
out of mere levity, but because of experience. We ought not to think
too much of the importance of what we are doing, and still less of the
importance of what we have done; we ought to find a common ground on
which to meet distasteful people; we ought to labour hard against
self-pity as well as against self-applause; we ought to feel that if
we have missed chances, it is out of our own heedlessness and
stupidity. Self-applause is a more subtle thing even than self-pity,
because, if one rejects the sense of credit, one is apt to
congratulate oneself on being the kind of person who does reject it,
whereas we ought to avoid it as instinctively as we avoid a bad smell.
Above all, we ought to believe that we can do something to change
ourselves, if we only try; that we can anchor our conscience to a
responsibility or a personality, can perceive that the society of
certain people, the reading of certain books, does affect us, make our
mind grow and germinate, give us a sense of something fine and
significant in life. The thing is to say, as the prim governess says
in Shirley, "You acknowledge the inestimable worth of principle?"--it
is possible to get and to hold a clear view, as opposed to a muddled
view, of life and its issues; and the blessing is that one can do this
in any circle, under any circumstances, in the midst of any kind of
work. That is the wonderful thing about thought, that it is like a
captive balloon which is anchored in one's garden. It is possible to
climb into it and to cast adrift; but so many people, as I have said,
seem to end by pulling the balloon in, letting out the gas, and
packing the whole away in a shed. Of course the power of doing all
this varies very much in different temperaments; but I am sure that
there are many people who, looking back at their youth, are conscious
that they had something stirring and throbbing within them which they
have somehow lost; some vision, some hope, some faint and radiant
ideal. Why do they lose it, why do they settle down on the lees of
life, why do they snuggle down among comfortable opinions? Mostly, I
am sure, out of a kind of indolence. There are a good many people who
say to themselves, "After all, what really matters is a solid defined
position in the world; I must make that for myself, and meanwhile I
must not indulge myself in any fancies; it will be time to do that
when I have earned my pension and settled my children in life." And
then when the time arrives, the frail and unsubstantial things are all
dead and cannot be recovered; for happiness cannot be achieved along
these cautious and heavy lines.

And so I say that we must deliberately aim at something different
from the first. We must not block up the further views and wider
prospects; we must keep the horizon open. What I here suggest has
nothing whatever that is unpractical about it; it is only a deeper
foresight, a more prudent wisdom. We must say to ourselves that
whatever happens, the soul shall not be atrophied; and we should be as
anxious about it, if we find that it is losing its zest and freedom,
as we should be if we found that the body were losing its appetite!

It is no metaphor then, but sober earnest, when I say that when we
take our place in the working world, we ought to lay the foundations
of that other larger stronghold of the soul, _Joyous Gard_. All that
matters is that we should choose a fair site for it in free air and
beside still waters; and that we should plan it for ourselves, set out
gardens and plantations, with as large a scheme as we can make for it,
expecting the grace and greenery that shall be, and the increase which
God gives. It may be that we shall have to build it slowly, and we may
have to change the design many times; but it will be all built out of
our own mind and hope, as the nautilus evolves its shell.

I am not speaking of a scheme of self-improvement, of culture followed
that it may react on our profession or bring us in touch with useful
people, of mental discipline, of correct information. The _Gard_ is
not to be a factory or an hotel; it must be frankly built _for our
delight_. It is delight that we must follow, everything that brims the
channel of life, stimulates, freshens, enlivens, tantalises, attracts.
It must at all costs be beautiful. It must embrace that part of
religion that glows for us, the thing which we find beautiful in other
souls, the art, the poetry, the tradition, the love of nature, the
craft, the interests we hanker after. It need not contain all these
things, because we can often do better by checking diffuseness, and by
resolute self-limitation. It is not by believing in particular books,
pictures, tunes, tastes, that we can do it. That ends often as a mere
prison to the thought; it is rather by meeting the larger spirit that
lies behind life, recognising the impulse which meets us in a thousand
forms, which forces us not to be content with narrow and petty things,
but emerges as the energy, whatever it is, that pushes through the
crust of life, as the flower pushes through the mould. Our dulness,
our acquiescence in monotonous ways, arise from our not realising how
infinitely important that force is, how much it has done for man, how
barren life is without it. Here in England many of us have a dark
suspicion of all that is joyful, inherited perhaps from our Puritan
ancestry, a fear of yielding ourselves to its influence, a terror of
being grimly repaid for indulgence, an old superstitious dread of
somehow incurring the wrath of God, if we aim at happiness at all. We
must know, many of us, that strange shadow which falls upon us when we
say, "I feel so happy to-day that some evil must be going to befal
me!" It is true that afflictions must come, but they are not to spoil
our joy; they are rather to refine it and strengthen it. And those who
have yielded themselves to joy are often best equipped to get the best
out of sorrow.

We must aim then at fulness of life; not at husbanding our resources
with meagre economy, but at spending generously and fearlessly,
grasping experience firmly, nurturing zest and hope. The frame of mind
we must be beware of, which is but a stingy vanity, is that which
makes us say, "I am sure I should not like that person, that book,
that place!" It is that closing-in of our own possibilities that we
must avoid.

There is a verse in the Book of Proverbs that often comes into my
mind; it is spoken of a reprobate, whose delights indeed are not those
that the soul should pursue; but the temper in which he is made to
cling to the pleasure which he mistakes for joy, is the temper, I am
sure, in which one should approach life. He cries, "_They have
stricken me, and I was not sick; they have beaten me, and I felt it
not. When shall I awake? I will seek it yet again._"



We are a curious nation, we English! Stendhal says that our two most
patent vices are bashfulness and cant. That is to say, we are afraid
to say what we think, and when we have gained the courage to speak, we
say more than we think. We are really an emotional nation at heart,
easily moved and liking to be moved; we are largely swayed by feeling,
and much stirred by anything that is picturesque. But we are strangely
ashamed of anything that seems like sentiment; and so far from being
bluff and unaffected about it, we are full of the affectation, the
pretence of not being swayed by our emotions. We have developed a
curious idea of what men and women ought to be; and one of our
pretences is that men should affect not to understand sentiment, and
to leave, as we rudely say, "all that sort of thing to the women." Yet
we are much at the mercy of clap-trap and mawkish phrases, and we like
rhetoric partly because we are too shy to practise it. The result of
it is that we believe ourselves to be a frank, outspoken, good-natured
race; but we produce an unpleasant effect of stiffness, angularity,
discourtesy, and self-centredness upon more genial nations. We defend
our bluffness by believing that we hold emotion to be too rare and
sacred a quality to be talked about, though I always have a suspicion
that if a man says that a subject is too sacred to discuss, he
probably also finds it too sacred to think about very much either; yet
if one can get a sensible Englishman to talk frankly and unaffectedly
about his feelings, it is often surprising to find how delicate they

One of our chief faults is our love of property, and the consequence
of that is our admiration for what we call "businesslike" qualities.
It is really from the struggle between the instinct of possession and
the emotional instinct that our bashfulness arises; we are afraid of
giving ourselves away, and of being taken advantage of; we value
position and status and respectability very high; we like to know who
a man is, what he stands for, what his influence amounts to, what he
is worth; and all this is very injurious to our simplicity, because we
estimate people so much not by their real merits but by their
accumulated influence. I do not believe that we shall ever rise to
true greatness as a nation until we learn not to take property so
seriously. It is true that we prosper in the world at present, we keep
order, we make money, we spread a bourgeois sort of civilisation, but
it is not a particularly fine or fruitful civilisation, because it
deals so exclusively with material things. I do not wish to decry the
race, because it has force, toughness, and fine working qualities; but
we do not know what to do with our prosperity when we have got it; we
can make very little use of leisure; and our idea of success is to
have a well-appointed house, expensive amusements, and to distribute a
dull and costly hospitality, which ministers more to our own
satisfaction than to the pleasure of the recipients.

There really can be few countries where men are so contented to be
dull! There is little speculation or animation or intelligence or
interest among us, and people who desire such an atmosphere are held
to be fanciful, eccentric, and artistic. It was not always so with our
race. In Elizabethan times we had all the inventiveness, the love of
adventure, the pride of dominance that we have now; but there was then
a great interest in things of the mind as well, a lively taste for
ideas, a love of beautiful things and thoughts. The Puritan uprising
knocked all that on the head, but Puritanism was at least preoccupied
with moral ideas, and developed an excitement about sin which was at
all events a sign of intellectual ferment. And then we did indeed
decline into a comfortable sort of security, into a stale classical
tradition, with pompous and sonorous writing on the one hand, and with
neatness, literary finish, and wit rather than humour on the other.
That was a dull, stolid, dignified time; and it was focussed into a
great figure of high genius, filled with the combative common-sense
which Englishmen admire, the figure of Dr. Johnson. His influence, his
temperament, portrayed in his matchless biography, did indeed dominate
literary England to its hurt; because the essence of Johnson was his
freshness, and in his hands the great rolling Palladian sentences
contrived to bite and penetrate; but his imitators did not see that
freshness was the one requisite; and so for a generation the pompous
rotund tradition flooded English prose; but for all that, England was
saved in literature from mere stateliness by the sudden fierce
interest in life and its problems which burst out like a spring in
eighteenth-century fiction; and so we come to the Victorian era, when
we were partially submerged by prosperity, scientific invention,
commerce, colonisation. But the great figures of the century arose and
had their say--Carlyle, Tennyson, Browning, Ruskin, William Morris; it
was there all the time, that spirit of fierce hope and discontent and
emotion, that deep longing to penetrate the issues and the
significance of life.

It may be that the immense activity of science somewhat damped our
interest in beauty; but that is probably a temporary thing. The
influence exerted by the early scientists was in the direction of
facile promises to solve all mysteries, to analyse everything into
elements, to classify, to track out natural laws; and it was believed
that the methods and processes of life would be divested of their
secrecy and their irresponsibility; but the effect of further
investigation is to reveal that life is infinitely more complex than
was supposed, and that the end is as dim as ever; though science did
for a while make havoc of the stereotyped imaginative systems of faith
and belief, so that men supposed that beauty was but an accidental
emphasis of law, and that the love of it could be traced to very
material preferences.

The artist was for a time dismayed, at being confronted by the chemist
who held that he had explained emotion because he had analysed the
substance of tears; and for a time the scientific spirit drove the
spirit of art into cliques and coteries, so that artists were hidden,
like the Lord's prophets, by fifties in caves, and fed upon bread and

What mostly I would believe now injures and overshadows art, is that
artists are affected by the false standard of prosperous life, are not
content to work in poverty and simplicity, but are anxious, as all
ambitious natures who love applause must be, to share in the spoils
of the Philistines. There are, I know, craftsmen who care nothing at
all for these things, but work in silence and even in obscurity at
what seems to them engrossing and beautiful; but they are rare; and
when there is so much experience and pleasure and comfort abroad, and
when security and deference so much depend upon wealth, the artist
desires wealth, more for the sake of experience and pleasure than for
the sake of accumulation.

But the spirit which one desires to see spring up is the Athenian
spirit, which finds its satisfaction in ideas and thoughts and
beautiful emotions, in mental exploration and artistic expression; and
is so absorbed, so intent upon these things that it can afford to let
prosperity flow past like a muddy stream. Unfortunately, however, the
English spirit is solitary rather than social, and the artistic spirit
is jealous rather than inclusive; and so it comes about that instead
of artists and men of ideas consorting together and living a free and
simple life, they tend to dwell in lonely fortresses and paradises,
costly to create, costly to maintain. The English spirit is against
communities. If it were not so, how easy it would be for people to
live in groups and circles, with common interests and tastes, to
encourage each other to believe in beautiful things, and to practise
ardent thoughts and generous dreams. But this cannot be done
artificially, and the only people who ever try to do it are artists,
who do occasionally congregate in a place, and make no secret to each
other of what they are pursuing. I have sometimes touched the fringe
of a community like that, and have been charmed by the sense of a more
eager happiness, a more unaffected intercourse of spirits than I have
found elsewhere. But the world intervenes! domestic ties, pecuniary
interests, civic claims disintegrate the group. It is sad to think how
possible such intercourse is in youth, and in youth only, as one sees
it displayed in that fine and moving book _Trilby_, which does
contrive to reflect the joy of the buoyant companionship of art. But
the flush dies down, the insouciance departs, and with it the ardent
generosity of life. Some day perhaps, when life has become simpler and
wealth more equalised, when work is more distributed, when there is
less production of unnecessary things, these groups will form
themselves, and the frank, eager, vivid spirit of youth will last on
into middle-age, and even into age itself. I do not think that this is
wholly a dream; but we must first get rid of much of the pompous
nonsense about money and position, which now spoils so many lives; and
if we could be more genuinely interested in the beauty and complex
charm and joy of life, we should think less and less of material
things, be content with shelter, warmth, and food, and grudge the time
we waste in providing things for which we have no real use, simply in
order that, like the rich fool, we may congratulate ourselves on
having much goods laid up for many years, when the end was hard at



Memory is for many people the only form of poetry which they indulge.
If a soul turns to the future for consolation in a sad or wearied or
disappointed present, it is in religion that hope and strength are
sometimes found; but if it is a retrospective nature--and the poetical
nature is generally retrospective, because poetry is concerned with
the beauty of actual experience and actual things, rather than with
the possible and the unknown--then it finds its medicine for the
dreariness of life in memory. Of course there are many simple and
healthy natures which do not concern themselves with visions at
all--the little businesses, the daily pleasures, are quietly and even
eagerly enjoyed. But the poetical nature is the nature that is not
easily contented, because it tends to idealisation, to the thought
that the present might easily be so much happier, brighter, more
beautiful, than it is.

    An eager soul that looks beyond
    And shivers in the midst of bliss,
    That cries, "I should not need despond,
    If this were otherwise, and this!"

And so the soul that has seen much and enjoyed much and endured much,
and whose whole life has been not spoiled, of course, but a little
shadowed by the thought that the elements of happiness have never been
quite as pure as it would have wished, turns back in thought to the
old scenes of love and companionship, and evokes from the dark, as
from the pages of some volume of photographs and records, the pictures
of the past, retouching them, it is true, and adapting them, by deftly
removing all the broken lights and intrusive anxieties, not into what
they actually were, but into what they might have been. Carlyle laid
his finger upon the truth of this power, when he said that the reason
why the pictures of the past were always so golden in tone, so
delicate in outline, was because the quality of fear was taken from
them. It is the fear of what may be and what must be that overshadows
present happiness; and if fear is taken from us we are happy. The
strange thing is that we cannot learn not to be afraid, even though
all the darkest and saddest of our experiences have left us unscathed;
and if we could but find a reason for the mingling of fear with our
lives, we should have gone far towards solving the riddle of the

This indulgence of memory is not necessarily a weakening or an
enervating thing, so long as it does not come to us too early, or
disengage us from needful activities. It is often not accompanied by
any shadow of loss or bitterness. I remember once sitting with my
beloved old nurse, when she was near her ninetieth year, in her little
room, in which was gathered much of the old nursery furniture, the
tiny chairs of the children, the store-cupboard with the farmyard
pictures on the panel, the stuffed pet-birds--all the homely wrack of
life; and we had been recalling many of the old childish incidents
with laughter and smiles. When I rose to go, she sate still for a
minute, and her eyes filled with quiet tears, "Ah, those were happy
days!" she said. But there was no repining about it, no sense that it
was better to forget old joys--rather a quiet pleasure that so much
that was beautiful and tender was laid away in memory, and could
neither be altered nor taken away. And one does not find in old
people, whose memory of the past is clear, while their recollection of
the present grows dim, any sense of pathos, but rather of pride and
eagerness about recalling the minutest details of the vanished days.
To feel the pathos of the past, as Tennyson expressed it in that
wonderful and moving lyric, _Tears, idle tears_, is much more
characteristic of youth. There is rather in serene old age a sense of
pleasant triumph at having safely weathered the storms of fate, and
left the tragedies of life behind. The aged would not as a rule live
life over again, if they could. They are not disappointed in life.
They have had, on the whole, what they hoped and desired. As Goethe
said, in that deep and large maxim, "Of that which a man desires in
his youth, he shall have enough in his age." That is one of the most
singular things in life--at least this is my experience--how the
things which one really desired, not the things which one ought to
have desired, are showered upon one. I have been amazed and even
stupefied sometimes to consider how my own little petty, foolish,
whimsical desires have been faithfully and literally granted me. We
most of us do really translate into fact what we desire, and as a rule
we only fail to get the things which we have not desired enough. It is
true indeed that we often find that what we desired was not worth
getting; and we ought to be more afraid of our desires, not because we
shall not get them, but because we shall almost certainly have them
fulfilled. For myself I can only think with shame how closely my
present conditions do resemble my young desires, in all their petty
range, their trivial particularity. I suppose I have unconsciously
pursued them, chosen them, grasped at them; and the shame of it is
that if I had desired better things, I should assuredly have been
given them. I see, or seem to see, the same thing in the lives of many
that I know. What a man sows he shall reap! That is taken generally to
mean that if he sows pleasure, he shall reap disaster; but it has a
much truer and more terrible meaning than that--namely, that if a man
sows the seed of small, trivial, foolish joys, the grain that he
reaps is small, trivial, and foolish too. God is indeed in many ways
an indulgent Father, like the Father in the parable of the Prodigal
Son; and the best rebuke that He gives, if we have the wisdom to see
it, is that He so often does hand us, with a smile, the very thing we
have desired. And thus it is well to pray that He should put into our
minds good desires, and that we should use our wills to keep ourselves
from dwelling too much upon small and pitiful desires, for the fear is
that they will be abundantly gratified.

And thus when the time comes for recollection, it is a very wonderful
thing to look back over life, and see how eagerly gracious God has
been to us. He knows very well that we cannot learn the paltry value
of the things we desire, if they are withheld from us, but only if
they are granted to us; and thus we have no reason to doubt His
fatherly intention, because He does so much dispose life to please us.
And we need not take it for granted that He will lead us by harsh and
provocative discipline, though when He grants our desire, He sometimes
sends leanness withal into our soul. Yet one of the things that
strikes one most forcibly, as one grows older and learns something of
the secrets of other lives, is how lightly and serenely men and women
do often bear what might seem to be intolerable calamities. How
universal an experience it is to find that when the expected calamity
does come, it is an easier affair than we thought it, so that we say
under the blow, "Is that really all?" In that wonderful book, the
Diary of Sir Walter Scott, when his bankruptcy fell upon him, and all
the schemes and designs that he had been carrying out, with the joyful
zest of a child--his toy-castle, his feudal circle, his wide
estate--were suddenly suspended, he wrote with an almost amused
surprise that he found how little he really cared, and that the people
who spoke tenderly and sympathetically to him, as though he must be
reeling under the catastrophe, would themselves be amazed to find that
he found himself as cheerful and undaunted as ever. Life is apt, for
all vivid people, to be a species of high-hearted game: it is such fun
to play it as eagerly as one can, and to persuade oneself that one
really cares about the applause, the money, the fine house, the
comforts, the deference, the convenience of it all. And yet, if there
is anything noble in a man or woman, when the game is suddenly
interrupted and the toys swept aside, they find that there is
something exciting and stimulating in having to do without, in
adapting themselves with zest to the new conditions. It was a good
game enough, but the new game is better! The failure is to take it all
heavily and seriously, to be solemn about it; for then failure is
disconcerting indeed. But if one is interested in experience, but yet
has the vitality to see how detached one really is from material
things, how little they really affect us, then the change is almost
grateful. It is the spirit of the game, the activity, the energy, that
delights us, not the particular toy. And so the looking back on life
ought never to be a mournful thing; it ought to be light-hearted,
high-spirited, amusing. The spirit survives, and there is yet much
experience ahead of us. We waste our sense of pathos very strangely
over inanimate things. We get to feel about the things that surround
us, our houses, our very chairs and tables, as if they were somehow
things that were actually attached to us. We feel, when the old house
that has belonged to our family passes into other hands, as though
the rooms resented the intruders; as though our sofas and cabinets
could not be at ease in other hands, as if they would almost prefer
shabby and dusty inaction in our own lumber-room, to cheerful use in
some other circle. This is a delusion of which we must make haste to
get rid. It is the weakest sort of sentiment, and yet it is treasured
by many natures as if it were something refined and noble. To yield to
it, is to fetter our life with self-imposed and fantastic chains.
There is no sort of reason why we should not love to live among
familiar things; but to break our hearts over the loss of them is a
real debasing of ourselves. We must learn to use the things of life
very lightly and detachedly; and to entrench ourselves in trivial
associations is simply to court dreariness and to fall into a stupor
of the spirit.

And thus even our old memories must be treated with the same lightness
and unaffectedness. We must do all we can to forget grief and
disaster. We must not consecrate a shrine to sorrow and make the
votive altar, as Dido did, into a _causa doloris_, an excuse for
lamentation. We must not think it an honourable and chivalrous and
noble thing to spend our time in broken-hearted solemnity in the
vaults of perished joys. Or if we do it, we must frankly confess it to
be a weakness and a languor of spirit, not believe it to be a thing
which others ought to admire and respect. It was one of the base
sentimentalities of the last century, a real sign of the decadence of
life, that people felt it to be a fine thing to cherish grief, and to
live resolutely with sighs and tears. The helpless widow of
nineteenth-century fiction, shrouded in crape, and bursting into tears
at the smallest sign of gaiety, was a wholly unlovely, affected,
dramatic affair. And one of the surest signs of our present vitality
is that this attitude has become not only unusual, but frankly absurd
and unfashionable. There is an intense and gallant pathos about a
nature broken by sorrow, making desperate attempts to be cheerful and
active, and not to cast a shadow of grief upon others. There is no
pathos at all in the sight of a person bent on emphasising his or her
grief, on using it to make others uncomfortable, on extracting a
recognition of its loyalty and fidelity and emotional fervour.

Of course there are some memories and experiences that must grave a
deep and terrible mark upon the heart, the shock of which has been so
severe, that the current of life must necessarily be altered by them.
But even then it is better as far as possible to forget them and to
put them away from us--at all events, not to indulge them or dwell in
them. To yield is simply to delay the pilgrimage, to fall exhausted in
some unhappy arbour by the road. The road has to be travelled, every
inch of it, and it is better to struggle on in feebleness than to
collapse in despair.

Mrs. Charles Kingsley, in her widowhood, once said to a friend,
"Whenever I find myself thinking too much about Charles, I simply
force myself to read the most exciting novel I can. He is there, he is
waiting for me; and hearts were made to love with, not to break."

And as the years go on, even the most terrible memories grow to have
the grace and beauty which nature lavishes on all the relics of
extinct forces and spent agonies. They become like the old grey broken
castle, with the grasses on its ledges, and the crows nesting in its
parapets, rising blind and dumb on its green mound, with the hamlet
at its feet; or like the craggy islet, severed by the raging sea from
the towering headland, where the samphire sprouts in the rift, and the
sea-birds roost, at whose foot the surges lap, and over whose head the
landward wind blows swiftly all the day.



But one must not forget that after all memory has another side, too
often a rueful side, and that it often seems to turn sour and
poisonous in the sharp decline of fading life; and this ought not to
be. I would like to describe a little experience of my own which came
to me as a surprise, but showed me clearly enough what memory can be
and what it rightly is, if it is to feed the spirit at all.

Not very long ago I visited Lincoln, where my father was Canon and
Chancellor from 1872 to 1877. I had only been there once since then,
and that was twenty-four years ago. When we lived there I was a small
Eton boy, so that it was always holiday time there, and a place which
recalls nothing but school holidays has perhaps an unfair advantage.
Moreover it was a period quite unaccompanied, in our family life, by
any sort of trouble, illness, or calamity. The Chancery of Lincoln is
connected in my mind with no tragic or even sorrowful event whatever,
and suggests no painful reminiscence. How many people, I wonder, can
say that of any home that has sheltered them for so long?

Of course Lincoln itself, quite apart from any memories or
associations, is a place to kindle much emotion. It was a fine sunny
day there, and the colour of the whole place was amazing--the rich
warm hue of the stone of which the Minster is built, which takes on a
fine ochre-brown tinge where it is weathered, gives it a look of
homely comfort, apart from the matchless dignity of clustered transept
and soaring towers. Then the glowing and mellow brick of Lincoln, its
scarlet roof tiles--what could be more satisfying for instance than
the dash of vivid red in the tiling of the old Palace as you see it on
the slope among its gardens from the opposite upland?--its
smoke-blackened façades, the abundance, all over the hill, of old
embowered gardens, full of trees and thickets and greenery, its grassy
spaces, its creeper-clad houses; the whole effect is one of
extraordinary richness of hue, of age vividly exuberant, splendidly

I wandered transported about Cathedral and close, and became aware
then of how strangely unadventurous in the matter of exploration one
had always been as a boy. It was true that we children had scampered
with my father's master-key from end to end of the Cathedral--wet
mornings used constantly to be spent there--so that I know every
staircase, gallery, clerestory, parapet, triforium, and roof-vault of
the building--but I found in the close itself many houses, alleys,
little streets, which I had actually never seen, or even suspected
their existence.

It was all full of little ghosts, and a tiny vignette shaped itself in
memory at every corner, of some passing figure--a good-natured Canon,
a youthful friend, Levite or Nethinim, or some deadly enemy, the son
perhaps of some old-established denizen of the close, with whom for
some unknown reason the Chancery schoolroom proclaimed an inflexible

But when I came to see the old house itself--so little changed, so
distinctly recollected--then I was indeed amazed at the torrent of
little happy fragrant memories which seemed to pour from every doorway
and window--the games, the meals, the plays, the literary projects,
the readings, the telling of stories, the endless, pointless,
enchanting wanderings with some breathless object in view, forgotten
or transformed before it was ever attained or executed, of which
children alone hold the secret.

Best of all do I recollect long summer afternoons spent in the great
secluded high-walled garden at the back, with its orchard, its mound
covered with thickets, and the old tower of the city wall, which made
a noble fortress in games of prowess or adventure. I can see the
figure of my father in his cassock, holding a little book, walking up
and down among the gooseberry-beds half the morning, as he developed
one of his unwritten sermons for the Minster on the following day.

I do not remember that very affectionate relations existed between us
children; it was a society, based on good-humoured tolerance and a
certain democratic respect for liberty, that nursery group; it had its
cliques, its sections, its political emphasis, its diplomacies; but it
was cordial rather than emotional, and bound together by common
interests rather than by mutual devotion.

This, for instance, was one of the ludicrous incidents which came back
to me. There was an odd little mediæval room on the ground-floor,
given up as a sort of study, in the school sense, to my elder brother
and myself. My younger brother, aged almost eight, to show his power,
I suppose, or to protest against some probably quite real grievance or
tangible indignity, came there secretly one morning in our absence,
took a shovelful of red-hot coals from the fire, laid them on the
hearth-rug, and departed. The conflagration was discovered in time,
the author of the crime detected, and even the most tolerant of
supporters of nursery anarchy could find nothing to criticise or
condemn in the punishment justly meted out to the offender.

But here was the extraordinary part of it all. I am myself somewhat
afraid of emotional retrospect, which seems to me as a rule to have a
peculiarly pungent and unbearable smart about it. I do not as a rule
like revisiting places which I have loved and where I have been happy;
it is simply incurring quite unnecessary pain, and quite fruitless
pain, deliberately to unearth buried memories of happiness.

Now at Lincoln the other day I found, to my wonder and relief, that
there was not the least touch of regret, no sense of sorrow or loss in
the air. I did not want it all back again, nor would I have lived
through it again, even if I could have done so. The thought of
returning to it seemed puerile; it was charming, delightful, all full
of golden prospects and sunny mornings, but an experience which had
yielded up its sweetness as a summer cloud yields its cooling rain,
and passes over. Yet it was all a perfectly true, real, and actual
part of my life, something of which I could never lose hold and for
which I could always be frankly grateful. Life has been by no means a
scene of untroubled happiness since then; but there came to me that
day, walking along the fragrant garden-paths, very clearly and
distinctly, the knowledge that one would not wish one's life to have
been untroubled! Halcyon calm, heedless innocence, childish joy, was
not after all the point--pretty things enough, but only as a change
and a relief, or perhaps rather as a prelude to more serious business!
I was, as a boy, afraid of life, hated its noise and scent, suspected
it of cruelty and coarseness, wanted to keep it at arm's length. I
feel very differently about life now; it's a boisterous business
enough, but does not molest one unduly; and a very little courage goes
a long way in dealing with it!

True, on looking back, the evolution was dim and obscure; there seemed
many blind alleys and passages, many unnecessary winds and turns in
the road; but for all that the trend was clear enough, at all events,
to show that there was some great and not unkindly conspiracy about me
and my concerns, involving every one else's concerns as well, some
good-humoured mystery, with a dash of shadow and sorrow across it
perhaps, which would be soon cleared up; some secret withheld as from
a child, the very withholder of which seems to struggle with
good-tempered laughter, partly at one's dulness in not being able to
guess, partly at the pleasure in store.

I think it is our impatience, our claim to have everything
questionable made instantly and perfectly plain to us, which does the
mischief--that, and the imagination which never can forecast any
relief or surcease of pain, and pays no heed whatever to the
astounding brevity, the unutterable rapidity of human life.

So, as I walked in the old garden, I simply rejoiced that I had a
share in the place which could not be gainsaid; and that, even if the
high towers themselves, with their melodious bells, should crumble
into dust, I still had my dear memory of it all: the old life, the old
voices, looks, embraces, came back in little glimpses; yet it was far
away, long past, and I did not wish it back; the present seemed a
perfectly natural and beautiful sequence, and that past life an old
sweet chapter of some happy book, which needs no rewriting.

So I looked back in joy and tenderness--and even with a sort of
compassion; the child whom I saw sauntering along the grass paths of
the garden, shaking the globed rain out of the poppy's head, gathering
the waxen apples from the orchard grass, he was myself in very
truth--there was no doubting that; I hardly felt different. But I had
gained something which he had not got, some opening of eye and heart;
and he had yet to bear, to experience, to pass through, the days which
I had done with, and which, in spite of their much sweetness, had yet
a bitterness, as of a healing drug, underneath them, and which I did
not wish to taste again. No, I desired no renewal of old things, only
the power of interpreting the things that were new, and through which
even now one was passing swiftly and carelessly, as the boy ran among
the fruit-trees of the garden; but it was not the golden fragrant husk
of happiness that one wanted, but the seed hidden within
it--experience was made sweet just that one might be tempted to live!
Yet the end of it all was not the pleasure or the joy that came and
passed, the gaiety, even the innocence of childhood, but something
stern and strong, which hardly showed at all at first, but at last
seemed like the slow work of the graver of gems brushing away the
glittering crystalline dust from the intaglio.



The Castle of _Joyous Gard_ was always full of laughter; not the wild
giggling, I think, of reckless people, which the writer of Proverbs
said was like the crackling of thorns under a pot; that is a wearisome
and even an ugly thing, because it does not mean that people are
honestly amused, but have some basely exciting thing in their minds.
Laughter must be light-hearted, not light-minded. Still less was it
the dismal tittering of ill-natured people over mean gossip, which is
another of the ugly sounds of life. No, I think it was rather the
laughter of cheerful people, glad to be amused, who hardly knew that
they were laughing; that is a wholesome exercise enough. It was the
laughter of men and women, with heavy enough business behind them and
before them, but yet able in leisurely hours to find life full of
merriment--the voice of joy and health! And I am sure too that it was
not the guarded condescending laughter of saints who do not want to be
out of sympathy with their neighbours, and laugh as precisely and
punctually as they might respond to a liturgy, if they discover that
they are meant to be amused!

Humour is one of the characteristics of _Joyous Gard_, not humour
resolutely cultivated, but the humour which comes from a sane and
healthy sense of proportion; and is a sign of light-heartedness rather
than a thing aimed at; a thing which flows naturally into the easy
spaces of life, because it finds the oddities of life, the
peculiarities of people, the incongruities of thought and speech, both
charming and delightful.

It is a great misfortune that so many people think it a mark of
saintliness to be easily shocked, whereas the greatest saints of all
are the people who are never shocked; they may be distressed, they may
wish things different; but to be shocked is often nothing but a mark
of vanity, a self-conscious desire that others should know how high
one's standard, how sensitive one's conscience is. I do not of course
mean that one is bound to join in laughter, however coarse a jest may
be; but the best-bred and finest-tempered people steer past such
moments with a delicate tact; contrive to show that an ugly jest is
not so much a thing to be disapproved of and rebuked, as a sign that
the jester is not recognising the rights of his company, and
outstepping the laws of civility and decency.

It is a very difficult thing to say what humour is, and probably it is
a thing that is not worth trying to define. It resides in the
incongruity of speech and behaviour with the surrounding

I remember once seeing two tramps disputing by the roadside, with the
gravity which is given to human beings by being slightly overcome with
drink. I suppose that one ought not to be amused by the effects of
drunkenness, but after all one does not wish people to be drunk that
one may be amused. The two tramps in question were ragged and
infinitely disreputable. Just as I came up, the more tattered of the
two flung his hat on the ground, with a lofty gesture like that of a
king abdicating, and said, "I'll go no further with you!" The other
said, "Why do you say that? Why will you go no further with me?" The
first replied, "No, I'll go no further with you!" The other said, "I
must know why you will go no further with me--you must tell me that!"
The first replied, with great dignity, "Well, I will tell you that! It
lowers my self-respect to be seen with a man like you!"

That is the sort of incongruity I mean. The tragic solemnity of a man
who might have changed clothes with the nearest scarecrow without a
perceptible difference, and whose life was evidently not ordered by
any excessive self-respect, falling back on the dignity of human
nature in order to be rid of a companion as disreputable as himself,
is what makes the scene so grotesque, and yet in a sense so
impressive, because it shows a lurking standard of conduct which no
pitiableness of degradation could obliterate. I think that is a good
illustration of what I mean by humour, because in the presence of such
a scene it is possible to have three perfectly distinct emotions. One
may be sorry with all one's heart that men should fall to such
conditions, and feel that it is a stigma on our social machinery that
it should be so. Those two melancholy figures were a sad blot upon
the wholesome countryside! Yet one may also discern a hope in the mere
possibility of framing an ideal under such discouraging circumstances,
which will be, I have no sort of doubt, a seed of good in the upward
progress of the poor soul which grasped it; because indeed I have no
doubt that the miserable creature _is_ on an upward path, and that
even if there is no prospect for him in this life of anything but a
dismal stumbling down into disease and want, yet I do not in the least
believe that that is the end of his horizon or his pilgrimage; and
thirdly, one may be genuinely and not in the least evilly amused at
the contrast between the disreputable squalor of the scene and the
lofty claim advanced. The three emotions are not at all inconsistent.
The pessimistic moralist might say that it was all very shocking, the
optimistic moralist might say that it was hopeful, the unreflective
humourist might simply be transported by the absurdity; yet not to be
amused at such a scene would appear to me to be both dull and
priggish. It seems to me to be a false solemnity to be shocked at any
lapses from perfection; a man might as well be shocked at the
existence of a poisonous snake or a ravening tiger. One must "see life
steadily and see it whole," and though we may and must hope that we
shall struggle upwards out of the mess, we may still be amused at the
dolorous figures we cut in the mire.

I was once in the company of a grave, decorous, and well-dressed
person who fell helplessly into a stream off a stepping-stone. I had
no wish that he should fall, and I was perfectly conscious of intense
sympathy with his discomfort; but I found the scene quite
inexpressibly diverting, and I still simmer with laughter at the
recollection of the disappearance of the trim figure, and his furious
emergence, like an oozy water-god, from the pool. It is not in the
least an ill-natured laughter. I did not desire the catastrophe, and I
would have prevented it if I could; but it was dreadfully funny for
all that; and if a similar thing had happened to myself, I should not
resent the enjoyment of the scene by a spectator, so long as I was
helped and sympathised with, and the merriment decently repressed
before me.

I think that what is called practical joking, which aims at
deliberately producing such situations, is a wholly detestable thing.
But it is one thing to sacrifice another person's comfort to one's
laughter, and quite another to be amused at what a fire-insurance
policy calls the act of God.

And I am very sure of this, that the sane, healthy, well-balanced
nature must have a fund of wholesome laughter in him, and that so far
from trying to repress a sense of humour, as an unkind, unworthy,
inhuman thing, there is no capacity of human nature which makes life
so frank and pleasant a business. There are no companions so
delightful as the people for whom one treasures up jests and
reminiscences, because one is sure that they will respond to them and
enjoy them; and indeed I have found that the power of being
irresponsibly amused has come to my aid in the middle of really tragic
and awful circumstances, and has relieved the strain more than
anything else could have done.

I do not say that humour is a thing to be endlessly indulged and
sought after; but to be genuinely amused is a sign of courage and
amiability, and a sign too that a man is not self-conscious and
self-absorbed. It ought not to be a settled pre-occupation. Nothing
is more wearisome than the habitual jester, because that signifies
that a man is careless and unobservant of the moods of others. But it
is a thing which should be generously and freely mingled with life;
and the more sides that a man can see to any situation, the more rich
and full his nature is sure to be.

After all, our power of taking a light-hearted view of life is
proportional to our interest in it, our belief in it, our hopes of it.
Of course, if we conclude from our little piece of remembered
experience, that life is a woeful thing, we shall be apt to do as the
old poets thought the nightingale did, to lean our breast against a
thorn, that we may suffer the pain which we propose to utter in liquid
notes. But that seems to me a false sentiment and an artificial mode
of life, to luxuriate in sorrow; even that is better than being
crushed by it; but we may be sure that if we wilfully allow ourselves
to be one-sided, it is a delaying of our progress. All experience
comes to us that we may not be one-sided; and if we learn to weep with
those that weep, we must remember that it is no less our business to
rejoice with those that rejoice. We are helped beyond measure by
those who can tell us and convince us, as poets can, that there is
something beautiful in sorrow and loss and severed ties; by those who
show us the splendour of courage and patience and endurance; but the
true faith is to believe that the end is joy; and we therefore owe
perhaps the largest debt of all to those who encourage us to enjoy, to
laugh, to smile, to be amused.

And so we must not retire into our fortress simply for lonely visions,
sweet contemplation, gentle imagination; there are rooms in our castle
fit for that, the little book-lined cell, facing the sunset, the high
parlour, where the gay, brisk music comes tripping down from the
minstrels' gallery, the dim chapel for prayer, and the chamber called
_Peace_--where the pilgrim slept till break of day, "and then he awoke
and sang"; but there is also the well-lighted hall, with cheerful
company coming and going; where we must put our secluded, wistful,
sorrowful thought aside, and mingle briskly with the pleasant throng,
not steeling ourselves to mirth and movement, but simply glad and
grateful to be there.

It was while I was writing these pages that a friend told me that he
had recently met a man, a merchant, I think, who did me the honour to
discuss my writings at a party and to pronounce an opinion upon them.
He said that I wrote many things which I did not believe, and then
stood aside, and was amused in a humorous mood to see that other
people believed them. It would be absurd to be, or even to feel,
indignant at such a travesty of my purpose as this, and indeed I think
that one is never very indignant at misrepresentation unless one's
mind accuses itself of its being true or partially true.

It is indeed true that I have said things about which I have since
changed my mind, as indeed I hope I shall continue to change it, and
as swiftly as possible, if I see that the former opinions are not
justified. To be thus criticised is, I think, the perfectly natural
penalty of having tried to be serious without being also solemn; there
are many people, and many of them very worthy people, like our friend
the merchant, who cannot believe one is in earnest if one is not also
heavy-handed. Earnestness is mixed up in their minds with bawling and
sweating; and indeed it is quite true that most people who are willing
to bawl and sweat in public, feel earnestly about the subjects to
which they thus address themselves. But I do not see that earnestness
is in the least incompatible with lightness of touch and even with
humour, though I have sometimes been accused of displaying none.
Socrates was in earnest about his ideas, but the penalty he paid for
treating them lightly was that he was put to death for being so
sceptical. I should not at all like the idea of being put to death for
my ideas; but I am wholly in earnest about them, and have never
consciously said anything in which I did not believe.

But I will go one step further and say that I think that many earnest
men do great harm to the causes they advocate, because they treat
ideas so heavily, and divest them of their charm. One of the reasons
why virtue and goodness are not more attractive is because they get
into the hands of people without lightness or humour, and even without
courtesy; and thus the pursuit of virtue seems not only to the young,
but to many older people, to be a boring occupation, and to be
conducted in an atmosphere heavy with disapproval, with dreariness and
dulness and tiresomeness hemming the neophyte in, like fat bulls of
Bashan. It is because I should like to rescue goodness, which is the
best thing in the world, next to love, from these growing influences,
that I have written as I have done; but there is no lurking cynicism
in my books at all, and the worst thing I can accuse myself of is a
sense of humour, perhaps whimsical and childish, which seems to me to
make a pleasant and refreshing companion, as one passes on pilgrimage
in search of what I believe to be very high and heavenly things



I used as a child to pore over the Apocalypse, which I thought by far
the most beautiful and absorbing of all the books of the Bible; it
seemed full of rich and dim pictures, things which I could not
interpret and did not wish to interpret, the shining of clear gem-like
walls, lonely riders, amazing monsters, sealed books, all of which
took perfectly definite shape in the childish imagination. The
consequence is that I can no more criticise it than I could criticise
old tapestries or pictures familiar from infancy. They are there, just
so, and any difference of form is inconceivable.

In one point, however, the strange visions have come to hold for me an
increased grandeur; I used to think of much of it as a sort of
dramatic performance, self-consciously enacted for the benefit of the
spectator; but now I think of it as an awful and spontaneous energy of
spiritual life going on, of which the prophet was enabled to catch a
glimpse. Those 'voices crying day and night' 'the new song that was
sung before the throne,' the cry of "Come and see"--these were but
part of a vast and urgent business, which the prophet was allowed to
overhear. It is not a silent place, that highest heaven, of indolence
and placid peace, but a scene of fierce activity and the clamour of
mighty voices.

And it is the same too of another strange scene--the Transfiguration;
not an impressive spectacle arranged for the apostles, but a peep into
the awful background behind life. Let me use a simple parable: imagine
a man who had a friend whom he greatly admired and loved, and suppose
him to be talking with his friend, who suddenly excuses himself on the
plea of an engagement and goes out; and the other follows him, out of
curiosity, and sees him meet another man and talk intently with him,
not deferentially or humbly, but as a man talks with an equal. And
then drawing nearer he might suddenly see that the man his friend has
gone out to meet, and with whom he is talking so intently, is some
high minister of State, or even the King himself!

That is a simple comparison, to make clear what the apostles might
have felt. They had gone into the mountain expecting to hear their
Master speak quietly to them or betake himself to silent prayer; and
then they find him robed in light and holding converse with the
spirits of the air, telling his plans, so to speak, to two great
prophets of the ancient world.

If this had been but a pageant enacted for their benefit to dazzle and
bewilder them, it would have been a poor and self-conscious affair;
but it becomes a scene of portentous mystery, if one thinks of them as
being permitted to have a glimpse of the high, urgent, and terrifying
things that were going on all the time in the unseen background of the
Saviour's mind. The essence of the greatness of the scene is that it
was _overheard_. And thus I think that wonder and beauty, those two
mighty forces, take on a very different value for us when we can come
to realise that they are small hints given us, tiny glimpses conceded
to us, of some very great and mysterious thing that is pressingly and
speedily proceeding, every day and every hour, in the vast background
of life; and we ought to realise that it is not only human life as we
see it which is the active, busy, forceful thing; that the world with
all its noisy cities, its movements and its bustle, is not a burning
point hung in darkness and silence, but that it is just a little
fretful affair with infinitely larger, louder, fiercer, stronger
powers, working, moving, pressing onwards, thundering in the
background; and that the huge forces, laws, activities, behind the
world, are not perceived by us any more than we perceive the vast
motion of great winds, except in so far as we see the face of the
waters rippled by them, or the trees bowed all one way in their

It is very easy to be so taken up with the little absorbing
businesses, the froth and ripple of life, that we forget what great
and secret influences they must be that cause them; we must not forget
that we are only like children playing in the nursery of a palace,
while in the Council-room beneath us a debate may be going on which is
to affect the lives and happiness of thousands of households.

And therefore the more that we make up our little beliefs and ideas,
as a man folds up a little packet of food which he is to eat on a
journey, and think in so doing that we have got a satisfactory
explanation of all our aims and problems, the more utterly we are
failing to take in the significance of what is happening. We must
never allow ourselves to make up our minds, and to get our theories
comfortably settled, because then experience is at an end for us, and
we shall see no more than we expect to see. We ought rather to be
amazed and astonished, day by day, at all the wonderful and beautiful
things we encounter, the marvellous hints of loveliness which we see
in faces, woods, hills, gardens, all showing some tremendous force at
work, often thwarted, often spoiled, but still working, with an
infinity of tender patience, to make the world exquisite and fine.
There are ugly, coarse, disgusting things at work too--we cannot help
seeing that; but even many of them seem to be destroying, in
corruption and evil odour, something that ought not to be there, and
striving to be clean and pure again.

I often wonder whose was the mind that conceived the visions of the
Apocalypse; if we can trust tradition, it was a confined and exiled
Christian in a lonely island, whose spirit reached out beyond the
little crags and the beating seas of his prison, and in the seeming
silent heaven detected the gathering of monsters, the war of
relentless forces--and beyond it all the radiant energies of saints,
glad to be together and unanimous, in a place where light and beauty
at last could reign triumphant.

I know no literature more ineffably dreary than the parcelling out of
these wild and glorious visions, the attaching of them to this and
that petty human fulfilment. That is not the secret of the Apocalypse!
It is rather as a painter may draw a picture of two lovers sitting
together at evening in a latticed chamber, holding each other's hands,
gazing in each other's eyes. He is not thinking of particular persons
in an actual house; it is rather a hint of love making itself
manifest, recognising itself to be met with an answering rapture. And
what I think that the prophet meant was rather to show that we must
not be deceived by cares and anxieties and daily business; but that
behind the little simmering of the world was a tumult of vast forces,
voices crying and answering, thunder, fire, infinite music. It is all
a command to recognise unseen greatness, to take every least
experience we can, and crush from it all its savour; not to be afraid
of the great emotions of the world, love and sorrow and loss; but only
to be afraid of what is petty and sordid and mean. And then perhaps,
as in that other vision, we may ascend once into a mountain, and there
in weariness and drowsiness, dumbly bewildered by the night and the
cold and the discomforts of the unkindly air, life may be for a moment
transfigured into a radiant figure, still familiar though so
glorified; and we may see it for once touch hands and exchange words
with old and wise spirits; and all this not only to excite us and
bewilder us, but so that by the drawing of the veil aside, we may see
for a moment that there is some high and splendid secret, some
celestial business proceeding with solemn patience and strange
momentousness, a rite which if we cannot share, we may at least know
is there, and waiting for us, the moment that we are strong enough to
take our part!



A friend of mine had once a strange dream; he seemed to himself to be
walking in a day of high summer on a grassy moorland leading up to
some fantastically piled granite crags. He made his way slowly
thither; it was terribly hot there among the sun-warmed rocks, and he
found a little natural cave, among the great boulders, fringed with
fern. There he sate for a long time while the sun passed over, and a
little breeze came wandering up the moor. Opposite him as he sate was
the face of a great pile of rocks, and while his eye dwelt upon it it
suddenly began to wink and glisten with little moving points, dots so
minute that he could hardly distinguish them. Suddenly, as if at a
signal, the little points dropped from the rock, and the whole surface
seemed alive with gossamer threads, as if a silken, silvery curtain
had been let down; presently the little dots reached the grass and
began to crawl over it; and then he saw that each of them was attached
to one of the fine threads; and he thought that they were a colony of
minute spiders, living on the face of the rocks. He got up to see this
wonder close at hand, but the moment he moved, the whole curtain was
drawn up with incredible swiftness, as if the threads were highly
elastic; and when he reached the rock, it was as hard and solid as
before, nor could he discover any sign of the little creatures. "Ah,"
he said to himself in the dream, "that is the meaning of the _living_
rock!" and he became aware, he thought, that all rocks and stones on
the surface of the earth must be thus endowed with life, and that the
rocks were, so to speak, but the shell that contained these
innumerable little creatures, incredibly minute, living, silken
threads, with a small head, like boring worms, inhabiting burrows
which went far into the heart of the granite, and each with a strong
retractile power.

I told this dream to a geologist the other day, who laughed, "An
ingenious idea," he said, "and there may even be something in it! It
is not by any means certain that stones do not have a certain obscure
life of their own; I have sometimes thought that their marvellous
cohesion may be a sign of life, and that if life were withdrawn, a
mountain might in a moment become a heap of sliding sand."

My friend said that the dream made such an impression upon him that
for a time he found it hard to believe that stones and rocks had not
this strange and secret life lurking in their recesses; and indeed it
has since stood to me as a symbol of life, haunting and penetrating
all the very hardest and driest things. It seems to me that just as
there are almost certainly more colours than our eyes can perceive,
and sounds either too acute or too deliberate for our ears to hear, so
the domain of life may be much further extended in the earth, the air,
the waters, than we can tangibly detect.

It seems too to show me that it is our business to try ceaselessly to
discover the secret life of thought in the world; not to conclude that
there is no vitality in thought unless we can ourselves at once
perceive it. This is particularly the case with books. Sometimes, in
our College Library, I take down an old folio from the shelves, and
as I turn the crackling, stained, irregular pages--it may be a volume
of controversial divinity or outworn philosophy--it seems impossible
to imagine that it can ever have been woven out of the live brain of
man, or that any one can ever have been found to follow those old,
vehement, insecure arguments, starting from unproved data, and leading
to erroneous and fanciful conclusions. The whole thing seems so faded,
so dreary, so remote from reality, that one cannot even dimly imagine
the frame of mind which originated it, and still less the mood which
fed upon such things.

Yet I very much doubt if the aims, ideas, hopes of man, have altered
very much since the time of the earliest records. When one comes to
realise that geologists reckon a period of thirty million years at
least, while the Triassic rocks, that is the lowest stratum that shows
signs of life, were being laid down; and that all recorded history is
but an infinitesimal drop in the ocean of unrecorded time, one sees at
least that the force behind the world, by whatever name we call it, is
a force that cannot by any means be hurried, but that it works with a
leisureliness which we with our brief and hasty span of life cannot
really in any sense conceive. Still it seems to have a plan! Those
strange horned, humped, armoured beasts of prehistoric rocks are all
bewilderingly like ourselves so far as physical construction goes;
they had heart, brain, eyes, lungs, legs, a similarly planned
skeleton; it seems as if the creative spirit was working by a
well-conceived pattern, was trying to make a very definite kind of
thing; there is not by any means an infinite variety, when one
considers the sort of creatures that even a man could devise and
invent, if he tried.

There is the same sort of continuity and unity in thought The
preoccupations of man are the same in all ages--to provide for his
material needs, and to speculate what can possibly happen to his
spirit, when the body, broken by accident or disease or decay, can no
longer contain his soul. The best thought of man has always been
centred on trying to devise some sort of future hope which could
encourage him to live eagerly, to endure patiently, to act rightly. As
science opens her vast volume before us, we naturally become more and
more impatient of the hasty guesses of man, in religion and
philosophy, to define what we cannot yet know; but we ought to be very
tender of the old passionate beliefs, the intense desire to credit
noble and lofty spirits, such as Buddha and Mahomet, with some source
of divinely given knowledge. Yet of course there is an inevitable
sadness when we find the old certainties dissolving in mist; and we
must be very careful to substitute for them, if they slip from our
grasp, some sort of principle which will give us freshness and
courage. To me, I confess, the tiny certainties of science are far
more inspiring than the most ardent reveries of imaginative men. The
knowledge that there is in the world an inflexible order, and that we
shall see what we shall see, and not what we would like to believe, is
infinitely refreshing and sustaining. I feel that I am journeying
onwards into what is unknown to me, but into something which is
inevitably there, and not to be altered by my own hopes and fancies.
It is like taking a voyage, the pleasure of which is that the sights
in store are unexpected and novel; for a voyage would be a very poor
thing if we knew exactly what lay ahead, and poorer still if we could
determine beforehand what we meant to see, and could only behold the
pictures of our own imaginations. That is the charm and the use of
experience, that it is not at all what we expect or hope. It is in
some ways sadder and darker; but it is in most ways far more rich and
wonderful and radiant than we had dreamed.

What I grow impatient of are the censures of rigid people, who desire
to limit the hopes and possibilities of others by the little foot-rule
which they have made for themselves. That is a very petty and even a
very wicked thing to do, that old persecuting instinct which says, "I
will make it as unpleasant for you as I can, if you will not consent
at all events to pretend to believe what I think it right to believe."
A man of science does not want to persecute a child who says
petulantly that he will not believe the law of gravity. He merely
smiles and goes on his way. The law of gravity can look after itself!
Persecution is as often as not an attempt to reassure oneself about
one's own beliefs; it is not a sign of an untroubled faith.

We must not allow ourselves to be shaken by any attempt to dictate to
us what we should believe. We need not always protest against it,
unless we feel it a duty to do so; we may simply regard another's
certainties as things which are not and cannot be proved. Argument on
such subjects is merely a waste of time; but at the same time we ought
to recognise the vitality which lies behind such tenacious beliefs,
and be glad that it is there, even if we think it to be mistaken.

And this brings me back to my first point, which is that it is good
for us to try to realise the hidden life of the world, and to rejoice
in it even though it has no truth for us. We must never disbelieve in
life, even though in sickness and sorrow and age it may seem to ebb
from us; and we must try at all costs to recognise it, to sympathise
with it, to put ourselves in touch with it, even though it takes forms
unintelligible and even repugnant to ourselves.

Let me try to translate this into very practical matters. We many of
us find ourselves in a fixed relation to a certain circle of people.
We cannot break with them or abandon them. Perhaps our livelihood
depends upon them, or theirs upon us. Yet we may find them harsh,
unsympathetic, unkind, objectionable. What are we to do? Many people
let the whole tangle go, and just creep along, doing what they do not
like, feeling unappreciated and misunderstood, just hoping to avoid
active collisions and unpleasant scenes. That is a very spiritless
business! What we ought to do is to find points of contact, even at
the cost of some repression of our own views and aims. And we ought
too to nourish a fine life of our own, to look into the lives of other
people, which can be done perhaps best in large books, fine
biographies, great works of imagination and fiction. We must not
drowse and brood in our own sombre corner, when life is flowing free
and full outside, as in some flashing river. However little chance we
may seem to have of _doing_ anything, we can at least determine to
_be_ something; not to let our life be filled, like some base vessel,
with the offscourings and rinsings of other spirits, but to remember
that the water of life is given freely to all who come. That is the
worst of our dull view of the great Gospel of Christ. We think--I do
not say this profanely but seriously--of that water of life as a
series of propositions like the Athanasian Creed!

Christ meant something very different by the water of life. He meant
that the soul that was athirst could receive a draught of a spring of
cool refreshment and living joy. He did not mean a set of doctrines;
doctrines are to life what parchments and title-deeds are to an estate
with woods and waters, fields and gardens, houses and cottages, and
live people moving to and fro. It is of no use to possess the
title-deed if one does not visit one's estate. Doctrines are an
attempt to state, in bare and precise language, ideas and thoughts
dear and fresh to the heart. It is in qualities, hopes, and affections
that we live; and if our eyes are opened, we can see, as my friend
dreamed he saw, the surface of the hard rock full of moving points,
and shimmering with threads of swift life, when the sun has fallen
from the height, and the wind comes cool across the moor from the open
gates of the evening.



I was greatly interested the other day by seeing a photograph, in his
old age, of Henry Phillpotts, the redoubtable Bishop of Exeter, who
lost more money in lawsuits with clergymen than any Bishop, I suppose,
who ever lived. He sate, the old man, in his clumsily fitting gaiters,
bowed or crouched in an arm-chair, reading a letter. His face was
turned to the spectator; with his stiff, upstanding hair, his
out-thrust lip, his corrugated brow, and the deep pouched lines
beneath his eyes, he looked like a terrible old lion, who could no
longer spring, but who had not forgotten how to roar. His face was
full of displeasure and anger. I remembered that a clergyman once told
me how he had been sitting next the Bishop at a dinner of parsons, and
a young curate, sitting on the other side of the Bishop, affronted
him by believing him to be deaf, and by speaking very loudly and
distinctly to him. The Bishop at last turned to him, with a furious
visage, and said, "I would have you to understand, sir, that I am not
deaf!" This disconcerted the young man so much that he could neither
speak nor eat. The old Bishop turned to my friend, and said, in a
heavy tone, "I'm not fit for society!" Indeed he was not, if he could
unchain so fierce a beast on such slight provocation.

And there are many other stories of the bitter things he said, and how
his displeasure could brood like a cloud over a whole company. He was
a gallant old figure, it is true, very energetic, very able,
determined to do what he thought right, and infinitely courageous. I
mused over the portrait, thought how lifelike and picturesque it was,
and how utterly unlike one's idea of an aged Christian or a chief
shepherd. In his beautiful villa by the sea, with its hanging woods
and gardens, ruling with diligence, he seemed to me more like a
stoical Roman Emperor, or a tempestuous Sadducee, the spirit of the
world incarnate. One wondered what it could have been that had drawn
him to Christ, or what part he would have taken if he had been on the
Sanhedrin that judged Him!

It seems to me that one of the first characteristics which one ought
to do one's best to cast out of one's life is that of formidableness.
Yet to tell a man that he is formidable is not an accusation that is
often resented. He may indulgently deprecate it, but it seems to most
people a sort of testimonial to their force and weight and influence,
a penalty that they have to pay for being effective, a matter of
prestige and honour. Of course, an old, famous, dignified man who has
played a great part on the stage of life must necessarily be
approached by the young with a certain awe. But there is no charm in
the world more beautiful than the charm which can permeate dignity,
give confidence, awake affection, dissipate dread. But if a man of
that sort indulges his moods, says what he thinks bluntly and
fiercely, has no mercy on feebleness or ignorance, he can be a very
dreadful personage indeed!

Accessibility is one of the first of Christian virtues; but it is not
always easy to practise, because a man of force and ability, who is
modest and shy, forgets as life goes on how much more his influence is
felt. He himself does not feel at all different from what he was when
he was young, when he was snubbed and silenced and set down in
argument. Perhaps he feels that the world is a kinder and an easier
place, as he grows into deference and esteem, but it is the surest
sign of a noble and beautiful character if the greater he becomes the
more simple and tender he also becomes.

I was greatly interested the other day in attending a meeting at
which, among other speakers, two well-known men spoke. The first was a
man of great renown and prestige, and he made a very beautiful, lofty,
and tender discourse; but, from some shyness or gravity of nature, he
never smiled nor looked at his audience; and thus, fine though his
speech was, he never got into touch with us at all. The second speech
was far more obvious and commonplace, but the speaker, on beginning,
cast a friendly look round and smiled on the audience; and he did the
same all the time, so that one had at once a friendly sense of contact
and geniality, and I felt that every word was addressed to me
personally. That is what it is to be accessible!

One of the best ways in which we can keep the spirit of poetry--by
which I mean the higher, sweeter, purer influences of thought--alive
in one's heart, is by accessibility--by determining to speak freely of
what one admires and loves, what moves and touches one, what keeps
one's mind upon the inner and finer life. It is not always possible or
indeed convenient for younger people to do this, for reasons which are
not wholly bad reasons. Young people ought not to be too eager to take
the lead in talk, nor ought they to be too openly impatient of the
more sedate and prosaic discourse of their elders; and then, too,
there is a time for all things; one cannot keep the mind always on the
strain; and the best and most beautiful things are apt to come in
glimpses and hints, and are not always arrived at by discussion and

There is a story of a great artist full of sympathy and kindness, to
whom in a single day three several people came to confide sad troubles
and trials. The artist told the story to his wife in the evening. He
said that he was afraid that the third of the visitors thought him
strangely indifferent and even unkind. "The fact was," he said, "that
my capacity for sympathy was really exhausted. I had suffered so much
from the first two recitals that I could not be sorry any more. I
_said_ I was sorry, and I _was_ sorry far down in my mind, but I could
not _feel_ sorry. I had given all the sympathy I had, and it was no
use going again to the well when there was no more water." This shows
that one cannot command emotion, and that one must not force even
thoughts of beauty upon others. We must bide our time, we must adapt
ourselves, and we must not be instant in season and out of season. Yet
neither must we be wholly at the mercy of moods. In religion, the
theory of liturgical worship is an attempt to realise that we ought to
practise religious emotion with regularity. We do not always feel we
are miserable sinners when we say so, and we sometimes feel that we
are when we do not say it; but it is better to confess what we know to
be true, even if at that moment we do not feel it to be true.

We ought not then always, out of modesty, to abstain from talking
about the things for which we care. A foolish shyness will sometimes
keep two sympathetic people from ever talking freely together of their
real hopes and interests. We are terribly afraid in England of what we
call priggishness. It is on the whole a wholesome tendency, but it is
the result of a lack of flexibility of mind. What we ought to be
afraid of is not seriousness and earnestness, but of solemnity and
pomposity. We ought to be ready to vary our mood swiftly, and even to
see the humorous side of sacred and beautiful things. The
oppressiveness of people who hold a great many things sacred, and
cannot bear that they should be jested about, is very great. There is
nothing that takes all naturalness out of intercourse more quickly
than the habit which some people have of begging that a subject may
not be pursued "because it is one on which I feel very deeply." That
is the essence of priggishness, to feel that our reasons are better,
our motives purer, than the reasons of other people, and that we have
the privilege of setting a standard. Conscious superiority is the note
of the prig; and we have the right to dread it.

But the Gospel again is full of precepts in favour of frankness,
outspokenness, letting light shine out, speaking sincerely; only it
must not be done provokingly, condescendingly, solemnly. It is well
for every one to have a friend or friends with whom he can talk quite
unaffectedly about what he cares for and values; and he ought to be
able to say to such a friend, "I cannot talk about these things now; I
am in a dusty, prosaic, grubby mood, and I want to make mud-pies"; the
point is to be natural, and yet to keep a watch upon nature; not to
force her into cramped postures, and yet not to indulge her in rude,
careless, and vulgar postures. It is a bad sign in friendship, if
intimacy seems to a man to give him the right to be rude, coarse,
boisterous, censorious, if he will. He may sometimes be betrayed into
each and all of these things, and be glad of a safety-valve for his
ill-humours, knowing that he will not be permanently misunderstood by
a sympathetic friend. But there must be a discipline in all these
things, and nature must often give way and be broken in; frankness
must not degenerate into boorishness, and liberty must not be the
power of interfering with the liberty of the friend. One must force
oneself to be courteous, interested, sweet-tempered, when one feels
just the contrary; one must keep in sight the principle, and if
violence must be done, it must not be done to the better nature. Least
of all must one deliberately take up the rôle of exercising influence.
That is a sad snare to many fine natures. One sees a weak, attractive
character, and it seems so tempting to train it up a stick, to fortify
it, to mould it. If one is a professed teacher, one has to try this
sometimes; but even then, the temptation to drive rather than lead
must be strenuously resisted.

I have always a very dark suspicion of people who talk of spheres of
influence, and who enjoy consciously affecting other lives. If this is
done professionally, as a joyful sort of exercise, it is deadly. The
only excuse for it is that one really cares for people and longs to be
of use; one cannot pump one's own tastes and character into others.
The only hope is that they should develop their own qualities. Other
people ought not to be 'problems' to us; they may be mysteries, but
that is quite another thing. To love people, if one can, is the only
way. To find out what is lovable in them and not to try to discover
what is malleable in them is the secret. A wise and witty lady, who
knows that she is tempted to try to direct other lives, told me that
one of her friends once remonstrated with her by saying that she ought
to leave something for God to do!

I know a very terrible and well-meaning person, who once spoke
severely to me for treating a matter with levity. I lost my temper,
and said, "You may make me ashamed of it, if you can, but you shall
not bully me into treating a matter seriously which I think is wholly
absurd." He said, "You do not enough consider the grave issues which
may be involved." I replied that to be for ever considering graver
issues seemed to me to make life stuffy and unwholesome. My censor
sighed and shook his head.

We cannot coerce any one into anything good. We may salve our own
conscience by trying to do so, we may even level an immediate
difficulty; but a free and generous desire to be different is the only
hope of vital change. The detestable Puritan fibre that exists in many
of us, which is the most utterly unchristian thing I know, tempts us
to feel that no discipline is worth anything unless it is dark and
gloomy; but that is the discipline of the law-court and the prison,
and has never remedied anything since the world began. Wickedness is
nearly always, perhaps always, a moral invalidism, and we shall see
some day that to punish men for crime by being cruel to them is like
condemning a man to the treadmill for having typhoid fever. I can only
say that the more I have known of human beings, and the older I grow,
the more lovable, gentle, sweet-tempered I have found them to be.

The life of Carlyle seems to me to be one of the most terrible and
convincing documents in the world in proof of what I have been saying.
The old man was so bent on battering and bumping people into
righteousness, so in love with spluttering and vituperating and
thundering all over the place, that he missed the truest and sweetest
ministry of love. He broke his wife's heart, and it is idle to pretend
he did not. Mrs. Carlyle was a sharp-edged woman too, and hurt her own
life by her bitter trenchancy. But there was enough true love and
loyalty and chivalry in the pair to furnish out a hundred marriages.
Yet one sees Carlyle stamping and cursing through life, and never
seeing what lay close to his hand. I admire his life not because it
was a triumph, but because it was such a colossal failure, and so
finely atoned for by the noble and great-minded repentance of a man
who recognised at last that it was of no use to begin by trying to be
ruler over ten cities, unless he was first faithful in a few things.



But there is one thing which we must constantly bear in mind, and
which all enthusiastic people must particularly recollect, namely,
that our delight and interest in life must be large, tolerant, and
sympathetic, and that we must not only admit but welcome an immense
variety of interest. We must above all things be just, and we must be
ready to be both interested and amused by people whom we do not like.
The point is that minds should be fresh and clear, rather than
stagnant and lustreless. Enthusiastic people, who feel very strongly
and eagerly the beauty of one particular kind of delight, are sadly
apt to wish to impose their own preferences upon other minds, and not
to believe in the worth of others' preferences. Thus the men who feel
very ardently the beauty of the Greek Classics are apt to insist that
all boys shall be brought up upon them; and the same thing happens in
other matters. We must not make a moral law out of our own tastes and
preferences, and we must be content that others should feel the appeal
of other sorts of beauty; that was the mistake which dogged the
radiant path of Ruskin from first to last, that he could not bear that
other people should have their own preferences, but considered that
any dissidence from his own standards was of the nature of sin. If we
insist on all agreeing with ourselves it is sterile enough; but if we
begin to call other people hard names, and suspecting or vituperating
their motives for disagreeing with us, we sin both against Love and
Light. It was that spirit which called forth from Christ the sternest
denunciation which ever fell from his lips. The Pharisees tried to
discredit His work by representing Him as in league with the powers of
evil; and this sin, which is the imputing of evil motives to actions
and beliefs that appear to be good, because our own beliefs are too
narrow to include them, is the sin which Christ said could find no

I had a personal instance of this the other day which illustrates so
clearly what I mean that I will quote it. I wrote a book called _The
Child of the Dawn_, the point of which was to represent, in an
allegory, my sincere belief that the after-life of man must be a life
of effort, and experience, and growth. A lady wrote me a very
discourteous letter to say that she believed the after-life to be one
of Rest, and that she held what she believed to be my view to be
unchristian and untrue. The notion that ardent, loving, eager spirits
should be required to spend eternity in a sort of lazy contentment,
forbidden to stir a finger for love and truth and right, is surely an
insupportable one! What would be the joy of heaven to a soul full of
energy and love, condemned to such luxurious apathy, forced to drowse
through the ages in epicurean ease? If heaven has any meaning at all,
it must satisfy our best and most active aspirations; and a paradise
of utter and eternal indolence would be purgatory or hell to all noble
natures. But this poor creature, tired no doubt by life and its
anxieties, overcome by dreariness and sorrow, was not only desirous of
solitary and profound repose, but determined to impose her own theory
upon all the world as well. I blame no one for desiring rest; but to
wish, as she made no secret that she wished, to crush and confound one
who thought and hoped otherwise, does seem to me a very mean and
wretched point of view. That, alas, is what many people mean when they
say that they _believe_ a thing, namely that they would be personally
annoyed if it turned out to be different from what they hoped.

I am sure that we ought rather to welcome with all our might any
evidence of strength and energy and joy, even if they seem to spring
from principles entirely opposite to our own. The more we know of men
and women, the more we ought to perceive that half the trouble in the
world comes from our calling the same principles by different names.
We are not called upon to give up our own principles, but we must
beware of trying to meddle with the principles of other people.

And therefore we must never be disturbed and still less annoyed by
other people finding fault with our tastes and principles, calling
them fantastic and sentimental, weak and affected, so long as they do
not seek to impose their own beliefs upon us. That they should do so
is of course a mistake; but we must recognise that it comes either
from the stupidity which is the result of a lack of sympathy, or else
from the nobler error of holding an opinion strongly and earnestly. We
must never be betrayed into making the same mistake; we may try to
persuade, and it is better done by example than by argument, but we
must never allow ourselves to scoff and deride, and still less to
abuse and vilify. We must rather do our best to understand the other
point of view, and to acquiesce in the possibility of its being held,
even if we cannot understand it. We must take for granted that every
one whose life shows evidence of energy, unselfishness, joyfulness,
ardour, peacefulness, is truly inspired by the spirit of good. We must
believe that they have a vision of beauty and delight, born of the
spirit. We must rejoice if they are making plain to other minds any
interpretation of life, any enrichment of motive, any protest against
things coarse and low and mean. We may wish--and we may try to
persuade them--that their hopes and aims were wider, more bountiful,
and more inclusive, but if we seek to exclude those hopes and aims,
however inconsistent they may be with our own, that moment the shadow
involves our own hopes, because our desire must be that the world may
somehow become happier, fuller, more joyful, even if it is not on the
lines which we ourselves approve.

I know so many good people who are anxious to increase happiness, but
only on their own conditions; they feel that they estimate exactly
what the quantity and quality of joy ought to be, and they treat the
joy which they do not themselves feel as an offence against truth. It
is from these beliefs, I have often thought, that much of the
unhappiness of family circles arises, the elders not realising how the
world moves on, how new ideas come to the front, how the old hopes
fade or are transmuted. They see their children liking different
thoughts, different occupations, new books, new pleasures; and instead
of trying to enter into these things, to believe in their innocence
and their naturalness, they try to crush and thwart them, with the
result that the boys and girls just hide their feelings and desires,
and if they are not shamed out of them, which sometimes happens, they
hold them secretly and half sullenly, and plan how to escape as soon
as they can from the tender and anxious constraint into a real world
of their own. And the saddest part of all is that the younger
generation learn no experience thus; but when they form a circle of
their own and the same expansion happens, they do as their parents
did, saying to themselves, "My parents lost my confidence by insisting
on what was not really important; but _my_ objections are reasonable
and justifiable, and my children must trust me to know what is right."

We must realise then that elasticity and sympathy are the first of
duties, and that if we embark upon the crusade of joy, we must do it
expecting to find many kinds of joy at work in the world, and some
which we cannot understand. We may of course mistrust destructive joy,
the joy of selfish pleasure, rough combativeness, foolish
wastefulness, ugly riot--all the joys that are evidently dogged by
sorrow and pain; but if we see any joy that leads to self-restraint
and energy and usefulness and activity, we must recognise it as

We may have then our private fancies, our happy pursuits, our sweet
delights; we may practise them, sure that the best proof of their
energy is that they obviously and plainly increase and multiply our
own happiness. But if we direct others at all, it must be as a
signpost, pointing to a parting of roads and making the choice clear,
and not as a policeman enforcing the majesty of our self-invented

Everything that helps us, invigorates us, comforts us, sustains us,
gives us life, is right for us; of that we need never be in any doubt,
provided always that our delight is not won at the expense of others;
and we must allow and encourage exactly the same liberty in others to
choose their own rest, their own pleasure, their own refreshment. What
would one think of a host, whose one object was to make his guests eat
and drink and do exactly what he himself enjoyed? And yet that is
precisely what many of the most conscientious people are doing all day
long, in other regions of the soul and mind.

The one thing which we have to fear, in all this, is of lapsing into
indolence and solitary enjoyment, guarding and hoarding our own
happiness. We must measure the effectiveness of our enjoyment by one
thing and one thing alone--our increase of affection and sympathy,
our interest in other minds and lives. If we only end by desiring to
be apart from it all, to gnaw the meat we have torn from life in a
secret cave of our devising, to gain serenity by indifference, then we
must put our desires aside; but if it sends us into the world with
hope and energy and interest and above all affection, then we need
have no anxiety; we may enter like the pilgrims into comfortable
houses of refreshment, where we can look with interest at pictures and
spiders and poultry and all the pleasant wonders of the place; we may
halt in wayside arbours to taste cordials and confections, and enjoy
from the breezy hill-top the pleasant vale of Beulah, with the
celestial mountains rising blue and still upon the far horizon.



I read the other day a very downright book, with a kind of dry
insolence about it, by a man who was concerned with stating what he
called the _mechanistic_ theory of the universe. The worlds, it
seemed, were like a sandy desert, with a wind that whirled the sands
about; and indeed I seemed, as I looked out on the world through the
writer's eyes, to see nothing but wind and sand! One of his points was
that every thought that passed through the mind was preceded by a
change in the particles of the brain; so that philosophy, and
religion, and life itself were nothing but a shifting of the sand by
the impalpable wind--matter and motion, that was all! Again and again
he said, in his dry way, that no theory was of any use that was not
supported by facts; and that though there was left a little corner of
thought, which was still unexplained, we should soon have some more
facts, and the last mystery would be hunted down.

But it seemed to me, as I read it, that the thoughts of man were just
as much facts as any other facts, and that when a man had a vision of
beauty, or when a hope came to him in a bitter sorrow, it was just as
real a thing as the little particle of the brain which stirred and
crept nearer to another particle. I do not say that all theories of
religion and philosophy are necessarily true, but they are real
enough; they have existed, they exist, they cannot die. Of course, in
making out a theory, we must not neglect one set of facts and depend
wholly on another set of facts; but I believe that the intense and
pathetic desire of humanity to know why they are here, why they feel
as they do, why they suffer and rejoice, what awaits them, are facts
just as significant as the blood that drips from the wound, or the
leaf that unfolds in the sun. The comforting and uplifting conclusion
which the writer came to was that we were just a set of animated
puppets, spun out of the drift of sand and dew by the thing that he
called force. But if that is so, why are we not all perfectly
complacent and contented, why do we love and grieve and wish to be
different? I do still believe that there is a spirit that mingles with
our hopes and dreams, something personal, beautiful, fatherly, pure,
something which is unwillingly tied to earth and would be free if it
could. The sense that we are ourselves wholly separate and distinct,
with experience behind us and experience before us, seems to me a fact
beside which all other facts pale into insignificance. And next in
strength to that seems the fact that we can recognise, and draw near
to, and be amazingly desirous of, as well as no less strangely hostile
to, other similar selves; that our thought can mingle with theirs,
pass into theirs, as theirs into ours, forging a bond which no
accident of matter can dissolve.

Does it really satisfy the lover, when he knows that his love is
answered, to realise that it is all the result of some preceding
molecular action of the brain? That does not seem to me so much a
truculent statement as a foolish statement, shirking, like a glib and
silly child, the most significant of data. And I think we shall do
well to say to our scientist, as courteously as Sir Lancelot said to
the officious knight, who proffered unnecessary service, that we have
no need for him at this time.

Now, I am not saying, in all this, that the investigation of science
is wrong or futile. It is exactly the reverse; the message of God is
hidden in all the minutest material things that lie about us; and it
is a very natural and even noble work to explore it; but it is wrong
if it leads us to draw any conclusions at present beyond what we can
reasonably and justly draw. It is the inference that what explains the
visible scheme of things can also explain the invisible. That is

Let me here quote a noble sentence, which has often given me
much-needed help, and served to remind me that thought is after all as
real a thing as matter, when I have been tempted to feel otherwise. It
was written by a very wise and tender philosopher, William James, who
was never betrayed by his own severe standard of truth and reality
into despising the common dreams and aspirations of simpler men. He

     "I find it preposterous to suppose that if there be a
     feeling of unseen reality, shared by numbers of the best
     men in their best moments, responded to by other men in
     their deep moments, good to live by, strength-giving--I find
     it preposterous, I say, to suppose that the goodness of that
     feeling for living purposes should be held to carry no
     objective significance, and especially preposterous if it
     combines harmoniously with an otherwise grounded philosophy
     of objective truth."

That is a very large and tolerant utterance, both in its suspension of
impatient certainties and in its beautiful sympathy with all ardent
visions that cannot clearly and convincingly find logical utterance.

What I am trying to say in this little book is not addressed to
professional philosophers or men of science, who are concerned with
intellectual investigation, but to those who have to live life as it
is, as the vast majority of men must always be. What I rather beg of
them is not to be alarmed and bewildered by the statements either of
scientific or religious dogmatists. No doubt we should like to know
everything, to have all our perplexities resolved; but we have reached
that point neither in religion nor in philosophy, nor even in science.
We must be content not to know. But because we do not know, we need
not therefore refuse to feel; there is no excuse for us to thrust the
whole tangle away and out of sight, and just to do as far as possible
what we like. We may admire and hope and love, and it is our business
to do all three. The thing that seems to me--and I am here only
stating a personal view--both possible and desirable, is to live as
far as we can by the law of beauty, not to submit to anything by which
our soul is shamed and insulted, not to be drawn into strife, not to
fall into miserable fault-finding, not to allow ourselves to be
fretted and fussed and agitated by the cares of life; but to say
clearly to ourselves, "that is a petty, base, mean thought, and I will
not entertain it; this is a generous and kind and gracious thought,
and I will welcome it and obey it."

One of the clearly discernible laws of life is that we can both check
and contract habits; and when we begin our day, we can begin it if we
will by prayer and aspiration and resolution, as much as we can begin
it with bath and toilet. We can say, "I will live resolutely to-day in
joy and good-humour and energy and kindliness." Those powers and
possibilities are all there; and even if we are overshadowed by
disappointment and anxiety and pain, we can say to ourselves that we
will behave as if it were not so; because there is undoubtedly a very
real and noble pleasure in putting off shadows and troubles, and not
letting them fall in showers on those about us. We need not be stoical
or affectedly bright; we often cannot give those who love us greater
joy than to tell them of our troubles and let them comfort us. And we
can be practical too in our outlook, because much of the grittiest
irritation of life is caused by indulging indolence when we ought not,
and being hurried when we might be leisurely. It is astonishing how a
little planning will help us in all this, and how soon a habit is set
up. We do not, it is true, know the limits of our power of choice. But
the illusion, if it be an illusion, that we have a power of choice, is
an infinitely more real fact to most of us than the molecular motion
of the brain particles.

And then too there is another fact, which is becoming more and more
clear, namely, what is called the power of suggestion. That if we can
put a thought into our mind, not into our reason, but into our inner
mind of instinct and force, whether it be a base thought or a noble
thought, it seems to soak unconsciously into the very stuff of the
mind, and keep reproducing itself even when we seem to have forgotten
all about it. And this is, I believe, one of the uses of prayer, that
we put a thought into the mind, which can abide with us, secretly it
may be, all the day; and that thus it is not a mere pious habit or
tradition to have a quiet period at the beginning of the day, in which
we can nurture some joyful and generous hope, but as real a source of
strength to the spirit as the morning meal is to the body. I have
myself found that it is well, if one can, to read a fragment of some
fine, generous, beautiful, or noble-minded book at such an hour.

There is in many people who work hard with their brains a curious and
unreal mood of sadness which hangs about the waking hour, which I have
thought to be a sort of hunger of the mind, craving to be fed; and
this is accompanied, at least in me, by a very swift, clear, and
hopeful apprehension, so that a beautiful thought comes to me as a
draught of water to a thirsty man. So I make haste, as often as may
be, just to drop such a thought at those times into the mind; it falls
to the depths, as one may see a bright coin go gleaming and shifting
down to the depths of a pool; or to use a homelier similitude, like
sugar that drops to the bottom of a cup, sweetening the draught.

These are little homely things; but it is through simple use and not
through large theory that one can best practise joy.



I came out of the low-arched door with a sense of relief and passed
into the sunshine; the meeting had broken up, and we went our ways. We
had sate there an hour or two in the old panelled room, a dozen
full-blooded friendly men discussing a small matter with wonderful
ingenuity and zest; and I had spoken neither least nor most mildly,
and had found it all pleasant enough. Then I mounted my bicycle and
rode out into the fragrant country alone, with all its nearer green
and further blue; there in that little belt of space, between the thin
air above and the dense-dark earth beneath, was the pageant of
conscious life enacting itself so visibly and eagerly. In the sunlit
sky the winds raced gaily enough, with the void silence of moveless
space above it; below my feet what depths of cold stone, with the
secret springs; below that perhaps a core of molten heat and
imprisoned fire!

What was it all about? What were we all doing there? What was the
significance of the little business that had been engaging our minds
and tongues? What part did it play in the mighty universe?

The thorn-tree thick with bloom, pouring out its homely spicy
smell--it was doing too, beautifully enough, what we had been doing
clumsily. It was living, intent on its own conscious life, the sap
hurrying, the scent flowing, the bud waxing. The yellow-hammer poising
and darting along the hedge, the sparrow twittering round the rick,
the cock picking and crowing, were all intent on life, proclaiming
that they were alive and busy. Something vivid, alert, impassioned was
going forward everywhere, something being effected, something
uttered--and yet the cause how utterly hidden from me and from every
living thing!

The memory of old poetry began to flicker in my mind like summer
lightning. In the orchard, crammed with bloom, two unseen children
were calling to each other; a sunburned, careless, graceful boy,
whose rough clothes could not conceal his shapely limbs and easy
movements, came driving some cows along the lane. He asked me the time
in Dorian speech. The shepherds piping together on the Sicilian
headland could not have made a fairer picture; and yet the boy and I
could hardly have had a thought in common!

All the poets that ever sang in the pleasant springtime can hardly
have felt the joyful onrush of the season more sweetly than I felt it
that day; and yet no philosopher or priest could have given me a hint
of what the mystery was, why so ceaselessly renewed; but it was clear
to me at least that the mind behind it was joyful enough, and wished
me to share its joy.

And then an hour later I was doing for no reason but that it was my
business the dullest of tasks--no less than revising a whole sheaf of
the driest of examination papers. Elaborate questions to elicit
knowledge of facts arid and meaningless, which it was worth no human
being's while to know, unless he could fill out the bare outlines with
some of the stuff of life. Hundreds of boys, I dare say, in crowded
schoolrooms all over the country were having those facts drummed into
them, with no aim in sight but the answering of the questions which I
was manipulating. That was a bewildering business, that we should
insist on that sort of drilling becoming a part of life. Was that a
relation it was well to establish? As the fine old, shrewd, indolent
Dr. Johnson said, he for his part, while he lived, never again desired
even to hear of the Punic War! And again he said, "You teach your
daughters the diameters of the planets, and wonder, when you have
done, why they do not desire your company."

Cannot we somehow learn to simplify life? Must we continue to think
that we can inspire children in rows? Is it not possible for us to be
a little less important and pompous and elaborate about it all, to aim
at more direct relations, to say more what we feel, to do more what
nature bids us do?

The heart sickens at the thought of how we keep to the grim highways
of life, and leave the pleasant spaces of wood and field unvisited!
And all because we want more than we need, and because we cannot be
content unless we can be envied and admired.

The cure for all this, it seems to me, is a resolute avoidance of
complications and intricacies, a determination to live life more on
our own terms, and to open our eyes to the simpler pleasures which lie
waiting in our way on every side.

I do not believe in the elaborate organisation of life; and yet I
think it is possible to live in the midst of it, and yet not to be
involved in it. I do not believe in fierce rebellion, but I do believe
in quiet transformation; and here comes in the faith that I have in
_Joyous Gard_. I believe that day by day we should clear a space to
live with minds that have felt, and hoped, and enjoyed. That is the
first duty of all; and then that we should live in touch with the
natural beauty of the earth, and let the sweetness of it enter into
our minds and hearts; for then we come out renewed, to find the beauty
and the fulness of life in the hearts and minds of those about us.
Life is complicated, not because its issues are not simple enough, but
because we are most of us so afraid of a phantom which we create--the
criticism of other human beings.

If one reads the old books of chivalry, there seems an endless waste
of combat and fighting among men who had the same cause at heart, and
who yet for the pettiest occasions of dispute must need try to inflict
death on each other, each doing his best to shatter out of the world
another human being who loved life as well. Two doughty knights, Sir
Lamorak and Sir Meliagraunce, must needs hew pieces off each other's
armour, break each other's bones, spill each other's blood, to prove
which of two ladies is the fairer; and when it is all over, nothing
whatever is proved about the ladies, nothing but which of the two
knights is the stronger! And yet we seem to be doing the same thing to
this day, except that we now try to wound the heart and mind, to make
a fellow-man afraid and suspicious, to take the light out of his day
and the energy out of his work. For the last few weeks a handful of
earnest clergymen have been endeavouring in a Church paper, with
floods of pious Billingsgate, to make me ridiculous about a technical
question of archæological interest, and all because my opinion differs
from their own! I thankfully confess that as I get older, I care not
at all for such foolish controversy, and the only qualms I have are
the qualms I feel at finding human beings so childish and so fretful.

Well, it is all very curious, and not without its delight too! What I
earnestly desire is that men and women should not thus waste precious
time and pleasant life, but go straight to reality, to hope. There are
a hundred paths that can be trodden; only let us be sure that we are
treading our own path, not feebly shifting from track to track, not
following too much the bidding of others, but knowing what interests
us, what draws us, what we love and desire; and above all keeping in
mind that it is our business to understand and admire and conciliate
each other, whether we do it in a panelled room, with pens and paper
on the table, and the committee in full cry; or out on the quiet road,
with one whom we trust entirely, where the horizon runs, field by
field and holt by holt, to meet the soft verge of encircling sky.



The other day I took up idly some magazine or other, one of those
great lemon-coloured, salmon-hued, slaty paper volumes which lie in
rows on the tables of my club. I will not stop now to enquire why
English taste demands covers which show every mean stain, every soiled
finger-print; but these volumes are always a reproach to me, because
they show me, alas! how many subjects, how many methods of presenting
subjects, are wholly uninteresting and unattractive to my trivial
mind. This time, however, my eye fell upon a poem full of light and
beauty, and of that subtle grace which seems so incomprehensible, so
uncreated--a lyric by Mr. Alfred Noyes. It was like a spell which
banished for an instant the weariness born of a long, hot, tedious
committee, the oppression which always falls on me at the sight and
sound of the cataract of human beings and vehicles, running so
fiercely in the paved channels of London. A beautiful poem, but how
immeasurably sad, an invocation to the memory and to the spirit of
Robert Browning, not speaking of him in an elegiac strain as of a
great poet who had lived his life to the full and struck his
clear-toned harp, solemnly, sweetly, and whimsically too, year after
year; but as of something great and noble wholly lost and separated
from the living world.

This was a little part of it:

    Singer of hope for all the world,
      Is it still morning where thou art,
    Or are the clouds that hide thee furled
      Around a dark and silent heart?

    The sacred chords thy hand could wake
      Are fallen on utter silence here,
    And hearts too little even to break
      Have made an idol of despair.

       *       *       *       *       *

    Come back to England, where thy May
      Returns, but not that rapturous light;
    God is not in His heaven to-day,
      And with thy country nought is right.

I think that almost magically beautiful! But is it true? I hope not
and I think not. The poet went on to say that Paradox had destroyed
the sanctity of Truth, and that Science had done nothing more than
strip the skeleton of the flesh and blood that vested it, and crown
the anatomy with glory. One cannot speak more severely, more gloomily,
of an age than to say that it is deceived by analysis and paradox, and
cares nothing for nobler and finer things. It seems to me to be a
sorrowful view of life that, to have very little faith or prospect
about it. It is true indeed that the paradox-maker is popular now; but
that is because men are interested in interpretations of life; and it
is true too that we are a little impatient now of fancy and
imagination, and want to get at facts, because we feel that fancy and
imagination, which are not built on facts, are very tricksy guides to
life. But the view seems to me both depressed and morbid which cannot
look beyond, and see that the world is passing on in its own great
unflinching, steady manner. It is like the view of a child who,
confronted with a pain, a disagreeable incident, a tedious day of
drudgery, wails that it can never be happy again.

The poem ends with a fine apostrophe to Browning as one "who stormed
through death, and laid hold of Eternity." Did he indeed do that? I
wish I felt it! He had, of course, an unconquerable optimism, which
argued promise from failure and perfection from incompleteness. But I
cannot take such hopes on the word of another, however gallant and
noble he may be. I do not want hopes which are only within the reach
of the vivid and high-hearted; the crippled, drudging slave cannot
rejoice because he sees his warrior-lord gay, heroic, and strong. I
must build my creed on my own hopes and possibilities, not on the
strength and cheerfulness of another.

And then my eye fell on a sentence opposite, out of an article on our
social problems; and this was what I read:

     "... the tears of a hunger-bitten philosophy, which is so
     appalled by the common doom of man--that he must eat his
     bread by the sweat of his brow--that it can talk, write, and
     think of nothing else."

I think there is more promise in that, rough and even rude as the
statement is, because it opens up a real hope for something that is
coming, and is not a mere lamentation over a star that is set.

"A hunger-bitten philosophy"--is it not rather that there is creeping
into the world an uneasy sense that we must, if we are to be happy,
_share_ our happiness? It is not that the philosopher is hungry, it is
that he cannot bear to think of all the other people who are condemned
to hunger; and why it occupies his tongue and his pen, is that it
clouds his serenity to know that others cannot now be serene. All this
unrest, this grasping at the comfort of life on the one hand, and the
patience, the justice, the tolerance, with which such claims are
viewed by many possessors on the other, is because there is a spirit
of sympathy growing up, which has not yet become self-sacrifice, but
is on its way to become so.

Then we must ask ourselves what our duty is. Not, I think, with all
our comforts about us, to chant loud odes about its being all right
with the world, but to see what we can do to make it all right, to
equalise, to share, to give.

The finest thing, of course, would be if those who are set in the
midst of comfort could come calmly out of it, and live simpler,
kinder, more direct lives; but apart from that, what can we do? Is it
our duty, in the face of all that, to surrender every species of
enjoyment and delight, to live meanly and anxiously because others
have to live so? I am not at all sure that it would not prove our
greatness if the thought of all the helpless pain and drudgery of the
world, the drift of falling tears, were so intolerable to us that we
simply could not endure the thought; but I think that would end in
quixotism and pessimism of the worst kind, if one would not eat or
drink, because men starve in Russia or India, if one would not sleep
because sufferers toss through the night in pain. That seems a morbid
and self-sought suffering.

No, I believe that we must share our joy as far as we can, and that it
is our duty rather to have joy to share, and to guard the quality of
it, make it pure and true. We do best if we can so refine our
happiness as to make it a thing which is not dependent upon wealth or
ease; and the more natural our life is, the more can we be of use by
the example which is not self-conscious but contagious, by showing
that joy does not depend upon excitement and stimulus, but upon vivid
using of the very stuff of life.

Where we fail, many of us, is in the elaborateness of our pleasures,
in the fact that we learn to be connoisseurs rather than viveurs, in
losing our taste for the ancient wholesome activities and delights.

I had caught an hour, that very day, to visit the Academy; it was a
doubtful pleasure, though if I could have had the great rooms to
myself it would have been a delightful thing enough; but to be crushed
and elbowed by such numbers of people who seemed intent not on looking
at anything, but on trying to see if they could recognise any of their
friends! It was a curious collection certainly! So many pictures of
old disgraceful men, whose faces seemed like the faces of toads or
magpies; dull, blinking, malign, or with the pert brightness of
acquisition. There were pictures too of human life so-called, silly,
romantic, insincerely posed; some fatuous allegorical things, like
ill-staged melodramas; but the strength of English art came out for
all that in the lovely landscapes, rich fields, summer streams,
far-off woodlands, beating seas; and I felt in looking at it all that
the pictures which moved one most were those which gave one a sudden
hunger for the joy and beauty of earth, not ill-imagined fantastic
places, but scenes that one has looked upon a hundred times with love
and contentment, the corn-field, the mill with its brimming leat, the
bathing-place among quiet pastures, the lake set deep in water-plants,
the old house in the twilight garden--all the things consecrated
throughout long ages by use and life and joy.

And then I strayed into the sculpture gallery; and I cannot describe
the thrill which half a dozen of the busts there gave me--faces into
which the wonder and the love and the pain of life seemed to have
passed, and which gave me a sudden sense of that strange desire to
claim a share in the past and present and future of the form and face
in which one suddenly saw so much to love. One seemed to feel hands
held out; hearts crying for understanding and affection, breath on
one's cheek, words in one's ears; and thus the whole gallery melted
into a great throng of signalling and beckoning presences, the air
dense with the voices of spirits calling to me, pressing upon me;
offering and claiming love, all bound upon one mysterious pilgrimage,
none able to linger or to stay, and yet willing to clasp one close by
the roadside, in wonder at the marvellous inscrutable power behind it
all, which at the same moment seemed to say, "Rest here, love, be
loved, enjoy," and at the same moment cried, "Go forward, experience,
endure, lament, come to an end."

There again opened before one the awful mystery of the beauty and the
grief of life, the double strain which we must somehow learn to
combine, the craving for continuance, side by side with the knowledge
of interruption and silence. If one is real, the other cannot be real!
And I for one have no doubt of which reality I hold to. Death and
silence may deceive us; life and joy cannot. There may be something
hidden beneath the seeming termination of mortal experience; indeed, I
fully believe that there is; but even if it were not so, nothing could
make love and joy unreal, or destroy the consciousness of what says
within us, "This Is I." Our one hope then is not to be deceived or
beguiled or bewildered by the complexity and intricacy of life; the
path of each of us lies clear and direct through the tangle.

And thus, as I have said, our task is not to be defrauded of our
interior peace. No power that we know can do more than dissolve and
transmute our mortal frame; it can melt into the earth, it can be
carried into the depths of the sea, but it cannot be annihilated; and
this is infinitely more true of our spirits; they may undergo a
thousand transformations and transmutations, but they must be
eternally there.

So let us claim our experience bravely and accept it firmly, never
daunted by it, never utterly despairing, leaping back into life and
happiness as swiftly as we can, never doubting that it is assured to
us. The time that we waste is that which is spent in anxious, trivial,
conventional things. We have to bear them in our burdens, many of us,
but do not let us be for ever examining them, weighing them in our
hands, wishing them away, whining over them; we must not let them
beguile us of the better part. If the despairing part of us cries out
that it is frightened, wearied, anxious, we must not heed it; we must
again and again assure ourselves that the peace is there, and that we
miss it by our own fault. Above all let us not make pitiable excuses
for ourselves. We must be like the woman in the parable who, when she
lost the coin, did not sit down to bewail her ill-luck, but swept the
house diligently until she found it. There is no such thing as loss in
the world; what we lose is merely withheld until we have earned the
right to find it again. We must not cultivate repentance, we must not
yield to remorse. The only thing worth having is a wholesome sorrow
for not having done better; but it is ignoble to remember, if our
remembrance has anything hopeless about it; and we do best utterly to
forget our failures and lapses, because of this we may be wholly sure,
that joys are restored to us, that strength returns, and that peace
beyond measure is waiting for us; and not only waiting for us, but as
near us as a closed door in the room in which we sit. We can rise up,
we can turn thither, we can enter if we will and when we will.



It is very strange to contemplate the steady plunge of good advice,
like a cataract of ice-cold water, into the brimming and dancing pool
of youth and life, the maxims of moralists and sages, the epigrams of
cynics, the sermons of priests, the good-humoured warnings of sensible
men, all crying out that nothing is really worth the winning, that
fame brings weariness and anxiety, that love is a fitful fever, that
wealth is a heavy burden, that ambition is a hectic dream; to all of
which ejaculations youth does not listen and cannot listen, but just
goes on its eager way, trying its own experiments, believing in the
delight of triumph and success, determined, at all events, to test all
for itself. All this confession of disillusionment and disappointment
is true, but only partially true. The struggle, the effort, the
perseverance, does bring fine things with it--things finer by far than
the shining crown and the loud trumpets that attend it.

The explanation of it seems to be that men require to be tempted to
effort, by the dream of fame and wealth and leisure and imagined
satisfaction. It is the experience that we need, though we do not know
it; and experience, by itself, seems such a tedious, dowdy, tattered
thing, like a flag burnt by sun, bedraggled by rain, torn by the
onset, that it cannot by itself prove attractive. Men are heavily
preoccupied with ends and aims, and the recognised values of the
objects of desire and hope are often false and distorted values. So
singularly constituted are we, that the hope of idleness is alluring,
and some people are early deceived into habits of idleness, because
they cannot know what it is that lies on the further side of work. Of
course the bodily life has to be supplied, but when a man has all that
he needs--let us say food and drink, a quiet shelter, a garden and a
row of trees, a grassy meadow with a flowing stream, a congenial task,
a household of his own--it seems not enough! Let us suppose all that
granted to a man: he must consider next what kind of life he has
gained; he has the cup in his hands; with what liquor is it to be
filled? That is the point at which the imagination of man seems to
fail; he cannot set himself to vigorous, wholesome life for its own
sake. He has to be ever looking past it and beyond it for something to
yield him an added joy.

Now, what we all have to do, if we can, is to regard life steadily and
generously, to see that life, experience, emotion, are the real gifts;
not things to be hurried through, thrust aside, disregarded, as a man
makes a hasty meal before some occasion that excites him. One must not
use life like the passover feast, to be eaten with loins girded and
staff in hand. It is there to be lived, and what we have to do is to
make the quality of it as fine as we can.

We must provide then, if we can, a certain setting for life, a
sufficiency of work and sustenance, and even leisure; and then we must
give that no further thought. How many men do I not know, whose
thought seems to be "when I have made enough money, when I have found
my place, when I have arranged the apparatus of life about me, then I
will live as I should wish to live." But the stream of desires
broadens and thickens, and the leisure hour never comes!

We must not thus deceive ourselves. What we have to do is to make
life, instantly and without delay, worthy to be lived. We must try to
enjoy all that we have to do, and take care that we do not do what we
do not enjoy, unless the hard task we set ourselves is sure to bring
us something that we really need. It is useless thus to elaborate the
cup of life, if we find when we have made it, that the wine which
should have filled it has long ago evaporated.

Can I say what I believe the wine of life to be? I believe that it is
a certain energy and richness of spirit, in which both mind and heart
find full expression. We ought to rise day by day with a certain zest,
a clear intention, a design to make the most out of every hour; not to
let the busy hours shoulder each other, tread on each other's heels,
but to force every action to give up its strength and sweetness. There
is work to be done, and there are empty hours to be filled as well.
It is happiest of all, for man and woman, if those hours can be
filled, not as a duty but as a pleasure, by pleasing those whom we
love and whose nearness is at once a delight. We ought to make time
for that most of all. And then there ought to be some occupation, not
enforced, to which we naturally wish to return. Exercise, gardening,
handicraft, writing, even if it be only leisurely letters, music,
reading--something to occupy the restless brain and hand; for there is
no doubt that both physically and mentally we are not fit to be

But most of all, there must be something to quicken, enliven, practise
the soul. We must not force this upon ourselves, or it will be
fruitless and dreary; but neither must we let it lapse out of mere
indolence. We must follow some law of beauty, in whatever way beauty
appeals to us and calls us. We must not think that appeal a selfish
thing, because it is upon that and that alone that our power of
increasing peace and hope and vital energy belongs.

I have a man in mind who has a simple taste for books. He has a
singularly pure and fine power of selecting and loving what is best
in books. There is no self-consciousness about him, no critical
contempt of the fancies of others; but his own love for what is
beautiful is so modest, so perfectly natural and unaffected, that it
is impossible to hear him speak of the things that he loves without a
desire rising up in one's mind to taste a pleasure which brings so
much happiness to the owner. I have often talked with him about books
that I had thought tiresome and dull; but he disentangles so deftly
the underlying idea of the book, the thought that one must be on the
look-out for the motive of the whole, that he has again and again sent
me back to a book which I had thrown aside, with an added interest and
perception. But the really notable thing is the effect on his own
immediate circle. I do not think his family are naturally people of
very high intelligence or ability. But his mind and heart seem to have
permeated theirs, so that I know no group of persons who seem to have
imbibed so simply, without strain or effort, a delight in what is good
and profound. There is no sort of dryness about the atmosphere. It is
not that they keep talk resolutely on their own subjects; it is merely
that their outlook is so fresh and quick that everything seems alive
and significant. One comes away from the house with a horizon
strangely extended, and a sense that the world is full of live ideas
and wonderful affairs.

I despair of describing an effect so subtle, so contagious. It is not
in the least that everything becomes intellectual; that would be a
rueful consequence; there is no parade of knowledge, but knowledge
itself becomes an exciting and entertaining thing, like a varied
landscape. The wonder is, when one is with these people, that one did
not see all the fine things that were staring one in the face all the
time, the clues, the connections, the links. The best of it is that it
is not a transient effect; it is rather like the implanting of a seed
of fire, which spreads and glows, and burns unaided.

It is this sacred fire of which we ought all to be in search. Fire is
surely the most wonderful symbol in the world! We sit in our quiet
rooms, feeling safe, serene, even chilly, yet everywhere about us,
peacefully confined in all our furniture and belongings, is a mass of
inflammability, stored with gases, which at a touch are capable of
leaping into flame. I remember once being in a house in which a pile
of wood in a cellar had caught fire; there was a short delay, while
the hose was got out, and before an aperture into the burning room
could be made. I went into a peaceful dining-room, which was just
above the fire, and it was strangely appalling to see little puffs of
smoke fly off from the kindled floor, while we tore the carpets up and
flew to take the pictures down, and to know the room was all crammed
with vehement cells, ready to burst into vapour at the fierce touch of
the consuming element.

I saw once a vast bonfire of wood kindled on a grassy hill-top; it was
curiously affecting to see the great trunks melt into flame, and the
red cataract pouring so softly, so unapproachably into the air. It is
so with the minds of men; the material is all there, compressed,
welded, inflammable; and if the fire can but leap into our spirits
from some other burning heart, we may be amazed at the prodigal force
and heat that can burst forth, the silent energy, the possibility of

I hold it to be of supreme value to each of us to try to introduce
this fire of the heart into our spirits. It is not like mortal fire,
a consuming, dangerous, truculent element. It is rather like the
furnace of the engine, which can convert water into steam--the
softest, feeblest, purest element into irresistible and irrepressible
force. The materials are all at hand in many a spirit that has never
felt the glowing contact; and it is our business first to see that the
elements are there, and then to receive with awe the fiery touch. It
must be restrained, controlled, guarded, that fierce conflagration;
but our joy cannot only consist of pure, clear, lambent, quiescent
elements. It must have a heart of flame.



We ought to learn to cultivate, train, regulate emotion, just as we
train other faculties. The world has hardly reached this point yet.
First man trains his body that he may be strong, when strength is
supreme. When almost the only argument is force, the man who is drawn
to play a fine part in the world must above everything be strong,
courageous, gallant, so that he may go to combat joyful and serene,
like a man inspired. Then when the world becomes civilised, when
weakness combines against strength, when men do not settle differences
of feeling by combat and war, but by peaceable devices like votes and
arbitrations, the intellect comes to the front, and strength of body
falls into the background as a pleasant enough thing, a matter of
amusement or health, and intellect becomes the dominant force. But we
shall advance beyond even that, and indeed we have begun to advance.
Buddhism and the Stoic philosophy were movements dictated more by
reason than by emotion, which recognised the elements of pain and
sorrow as inseparable from human life, and suggested to man that the
only way to conquer evils such as these was by turning the back upon
them, cultivating indifference to them, and repressing the desires
which issued in disappointment. Christianity was the first attempt of
the human spirit to achieve a nobler conquest still; it taught men to
abandon the idea of conquest altogether; the Christian was meant to
abjure ambition, not to resist oppression, not to meet violence by
violence, but to yield rather than to fight.

The metaphor of the Christian soldier is wholly alien to the spirit of
the Gospel, and the attempt to establish a combative ideal of
Christian life was one of the many concessions that Christianity in
the hands of its later exponents made to the instincts of men. The
conception of the Christian in the Gospel was that of a simple,
uncomplicated, uncalculating being, who was to be so absorbed in
caring for others that the sense of his own rights and desires and
aims was to fall wholly into the background. He is not represented as
meant to have any intellectual, political, or artistic pursuits at
all. He is to accept his place in the world as he finds it; he is to
have no use for money or comforts or accumulated resources. He is not
to scheme for dignity or influence, nor even much to regard earthly
ties. Sorrow, loss, pain, evil, are simply to be as shadows through
which he passes, and if they have any meaning at all for him, they are
to be opportunities for testing the strength of his emotions. But the
whole spirit of the Christian revelation is that no terms should be
made with the world at all. The world must treat the Christian as it
will, and there are to be no reprisals; neither is there the least
touch of opportunism about it. The Christian is not to do the best he
can, but the best; he is frankly to aim at perfection.

How then is this faith to be sustained? It is to be nourished by a
sense of direct and frank converse with a God and Father. The
Christian is never to have any doubt that the intention of the Father
towards him is absolutely, kind and good. He attempts no explanation
of the existence of sin and pain; he simply endures them; and he looks
forward with serene certainty to the continued existence of the soul.
There is no hint given of the conditions under which the soul is to
continue its further life, of its desires or occupations; the
intention obviously is that a Christian should live life freely and
fully; but love, and interest in human relations are to supersede all
other aims and desires.

It has been often said that if the world were to accept the teaching
of the Sermon on the Mount literally, the social fabric of the world
would be dissolved in a month. It is true; but it is not generally
added that it would be because there would be no need of the social
fabric. The reason why the social fabric would be dissolved is because
there would doubtless be a minority which would not accept these
principles, and would seize upon the things which the world agrees to
consider desirable. The Christian majority would become the slaves of
the unchristian minority, and would be at their mercy. Christianity,
in so far as it is a social system at all, is the purest kind of
socialism, a socialism not of compulsion but of disinterestedness. It
is easy, of course, to scoff at the possibility of so far
disintegrating the vast and complex organisation of society, as to
arrange life on the simpler lines; but the fact remains that the very
few people in the world's history, like St. Francis of Assisi, for
instance, who have ever dared to live literally in the Christian
manner, have had an immeasurable effect upon the hearts and
imaginations of the world. The truth is not that life cannot be so
lived, but that humanity dares not take the plunge; and that is what
Christ meant when He said that few would find the narrow way. The
really amazing thing is that such immense numbers of people have
accepted Christianity in the world, and profess themselves Christians
without the slightest doubt of their sincerity, who never regard the
Christian principles at all. The chief aim, it would seem, of the
Church, has been not to preserve the original revelation, but to
accommodate it to human instincts and desires. It seems to me to
resemble the very quaint and simple old Breton legend, which relates
how the Saviour sent the Apostles out to sell stale fish as fresh;
and when they returned unsuccessful, He was angry with them, and
said, "How shall I make you into fishers of men, if you cannot even
persuade simple people to buy stale fish for fresh?" That is a very
trenchant little allegory of ecclesiastical methods! And perhaps it is
even so that it has come to pass that Christianity is in a sense a
failure, or rather an unfulfilled hope, because it has made terms with
the world, has become pompous and respectable and mundane and
influential and combative, and has deliberately exalted civic duty
above love.

It seems to me that it is the business of all serious Christians
deliberately to face this fact; and equally it is not their business
to try to destroy the social organisation of what is miscalled
Christianity. That is as much a part of the world now as the Roman
Empire was a part of the world when Christ came; but we must not
mistake it for Christianity. Christianity is not a doctrine, or an
organisation, or a ceremonial, or a society, but an atmosphere and a
life. The essence of it is to train emotion, to believe and to
practise the belief that all human beings have in them something
interesting, lovable, beautiful, pathetic; and to make the
recognition of that fact, the establishment of simple and kind
relations with every single person with whom one is brought into
contact, the one engrossing aim of life. Thus the essence of
Christianity is in a sense artistic, because it depends upon freely
recognising the beauty both of the natural world and the human spirit.
There are enough hints of this in the Gospel, in the tender
observation of Christ, His love of flowers, birds, children, the fact
that He noted and reproduced in His stories the beauty of the homely
business of life, the processes of husbandry in field and vineyard,
the care of the sheepfold, the movement of the street, the games of
boys and girls, the little festivals of life, the wedding and the
party; all these things appear in His talk, and if more of it were
recorded, there would undoubtedly be more of such things. It is true
that as opposition and strife gathered about Him, there falls a darker
and sadder spirit upon the page, and the anxieties and ambitions of
His followers reflect themselves in the record of denunciations and
censures. But we must not be misled by this into thinking that the
message is thus obscured.

What then we have to do, if we would follow the pure Gospel, is to
lead quiet lives, refresh the spirit of joy within us by feeding our
eyes and minds with the beautiful sounds and sights of nature, the
birds' song, the opening faces of flowers, the spring woods, the
winter sunset; we must enter simply and freely into the life about us,
not seeking to take a lead, to impress our views, to emphasise our own
subjects; we must not get absorbed in toil or business, and still less
in plans and intrigues; we must not protest against these things, but
simply not care for them; we must not be burdensome to others in any
way; we must not be shocked or offended or disgusted, but tolerate,
forgive, welcome, share. We must treat life in an eager, light-hearted
way, not ruefully or drearily or solemnly. The old language in which
the Gospel comes to us, the formality of the antique phrasing, the
natural tendency to make it dignified and hieratic, disguise from us
how utterly natural and simple it all is. I do not think that
reverence and tradition and awe have done us any more grievous injury
than the fact that we have made the Saviour into a figure with whom
frank communication, eager, impulsive talk, would seem to be
impossible. One thinks of Him, from pictures and from books, as grave,
abstracted, chiding, precise, mournfully kind, solemnly considerate. I
believe it in my heart to have been wholly otherwise, and I think of
Him as one with whom any simple and affectionate person, man, woman,
or child, would have been entirely and instantly at ease. Like all
idealistic and poetical natures, he had little use, I think, for
laughter; those who are deeply interested in life and its issues care
more for the beauty than the humour of life. But one sees a flash of
humour here and there, as in the story of the unjust judge, and of the
children in the market-place; and that He was disconcerting or cast a
shadow upon natural talk and merriment I do not for an instant

And thus I think that the Christian has no right to be ashamed of
light-heartedness; indeed I believe that he ought to cultivate and
feed it in every possible way. He ought to be so unaffected, that he
can change without the least incongruity from laughter to tears,
sympathising with, entering into, developing the moods of those about
him. The moment that the Christian feels himself to be out of place
and affronted by scenes of common resort--the market, the bar, the
smoking-room--that moment his love of humanity fails him. He must be
charming, attractive, genial, everywhere; for the severance of
goodness and charm is a most wretched matter; if he affects his
company at all, it must be as innocent and beautiful girlhood affects
a circle, by its guilelessness, its sweetness, its appeal. I have
known Christians like this, wise, beloved, simple, gentle people,
whose presence did not bring constraint but rather a perfect ease, and
was an evocation of all that was best and finest in those near them. I
am not recommending a kind of silly mildness, interested only in
improving conversation, but rather a zest, a shrewdness, a bonhomie,
not finding natural interests common and unclean, but passionately
devoted to human nature--so impulsive, frail, unequal, irritable,
pleasure-loving, but yet with that generous, sweet, wholesome fibre
below, that seems to be evoked in crisis and trial from the most
apparently worthless human beings. The outcasts of society, the
sinful, the ill-regulated, would never have so congregated about our
Saviour if they had felt Him to be shocked or indignant at sin. What
they must rather have felt was that He understood them, loved them,
desired their love, and drew out all the true and fine and eager and
lovable part of them, because he knew it to be there, wished it to
emerge. "He was such a comfortable person!" as a simple man once said
to me of one of the best of Christians: "if you had gone wrong, he did
not find fault, but tried to see the way out; and if you were in pain
or trouble, he said very little; you only felt it was all right when
he was by."



We must always hopefully and gladly remember that the great movements,
doctrines, thoughts, which have affected the life of the world most
deeply, are those which are most truly based upon the best and truest
needs of humanity. We need never be afraid of a new theory or a new
doctrine, because such things are never imposed upon an unwilling
world, but owe their strength to the closeness with which they
interpret the aims and wants of human beings. Still more hopeful is
the knowledge which one gains from looking back at the history of the
world, that no selfish, cruel, sensual, or wicked interpretation of
life has ever established a vital hold upon men. The selfish and the
cruel elements of humanity have never been able to band themselves
together against the power of good for very long, for the simple
reason that those who are selfish and evil have a natural suspicion of
other selfish and evil people; and no combination of men can ever be
based upon anything but mutual trust and affection. And thus good has
always a power of combination, while evil is naturally solitary and

Take such an attempt as that of Nietzsche to establish a new theory of
life. His theory of the superman is simply this, that the future of
the world was in the hands of strong, combative, powerful, predatory
people. Those are the supermen, a natural aristocracy of force and
unscrupulousness and vigour. But such individuals carry with them the
seed of their own failure, because even if Nietzsche's view that the
weak and broken elements of humanity were doomed to perish, and ought
even to be helped to perish, were a true view, even if his supermen at
last survived, they must ultimately be matched one against another in
some monstrous and unflinching combat.

Nietzsche held that the Christian doctrine of renunciation was but a
translating into terms of a theory the discontent, the disappointment,
the failure of the weak and diseased element of humanity, the slavish
herd. He thought that Christianity was a glorification, a consecration
of man's weakness and not of his strength. But he misjudged it wholly.
It is based in reality upon the noble element in humanity, the power
of love and trust and unselfishness which rises superior to the ills
of life; and the force of Christianity lies in the fact that it
reveals to men the greatness of which they are capable, and the fact
that no squalor or wretchedness of circumstances can bind the thought
of man, if it is set upon what is high and pure. The man or woman who
sees the beauty of inner purity cannot ever be very deeply tainted by
corruption either of body or of soul.

Renunciation is not a wholly passive thing; it is not a mere suspicion
of all that is joyful, a dull abnegation of happiness. It is not that
self-sacrifice means a frame of mind too despondent to enjoy, so
fearful of every kind of pleasure that it has not the heart to take
part in it. It is rather a vigorous discrimination between pleasure
and joy, an austerity which is not deceived by selfish, obvious,
apparent pleasure, but sees what sort of pleasure is innocent,
natural, social, and what sort of pleasure is corroding, barren, and

In the Christianity of the Gospel there is very little trace of
asceticism. The delight in life is clearly indicated, and the only
sort of self-denial that is taught is the self-denial that ends in
simplicity of life, and in the joyful and courageous shouldering of
inevitable burdens. Self-denial was not to be practised in a
spiritless and timid way, but rather as a man accepts the fatigues and
dangers of an expedition, in a vigorous and adventurous mood. One does
not think of the men who go on some Arctic exploration, with all the
restrictions of diet that they have to practise, all the uncomfortable
rules of life they have to obey, as renouncing the joys of life; they
do so naturally, in order that they may follow a livelier inspiration.
It is clear from the accounts of primitive Christians that they
impressed their heathen neighbours not as timid, anxious, and
despondent people, but as men and women with some secret overflowing
sense of joy and energy, and with a curious radiance and brightness
about them which was not an affected pose, but the redundant happiness
of those who have some glad knowledge in heart and mind which they
cannot repress.

Let us suppose the case of a man gifted by nature with a great
vitality, with a keen perception of all that is beautiful in life, all
that is humorous, all that is delightful. Imagine him extremely
sensitive to nature, art, human charm, human pleasure, doing
everything with zest, interest, amusement, excitement. Imagine him,
too, deeply sensitive to affection, loving to be loved, grateful,
kindly, fond of children and animals, a fervent lover, a romantic
friend, alive to all fine human qualities. Suppose, too, that he is
ambitious, desirous of fame, liking to play an active part in life,
fond of work, wishing to sway opinion, eager that others should care
for the things for which he cares. Well, he must make a certain
choice, no doubt; he cannot gratify all these things; his ambition may
get in the way of his pleasure, his affections may interrupt his
ambitions. What is his renunciation to be? It obviously will not be an
abnegation of everything. He will not feel himself bound to crush all
enjoyment, to refuse to love and be loved, to enter tamely and
passively into life. He will inevitably choose what is dearest to his
heart, whatever that may be, and he will no doubt instinctively
eliminate from his life the joys which are most clouded by
dissatisfaction. If he sets affection aside for the sake of ambition,
and then finds that the thought of the love he has slighted or
disregarded wounds and pains him, he will retrace his steps; if he
sees that his ambitions leave him no time for his enjoyment of art or
nature, and finds his success embittered by the loss of those other
enjoyments, he will curb his ambition; but in all this he will not act
anxiously and wretchedly. He will be rather like a man who has two
simultaneous pleasures offered him, one of which must exclude the
other. He will not spoil both, but take what he desires most, and
think no more of what he rejects.

The more that such a man loves life, the less is he likely to be
deceived by the shows of life; the more wisely will he judge what part
of it is worth keeping, and the less will he be tempted by anything
which distracts him from life itself. It is fulness of life, after
all, that he is aiming at, and not vacuity; and thus renunciation
becomes not a feeble withdrawal from life, but a vigorous affirmation
of the worth of it.

But of course we cannot all expect to deal with life on this
high-handed scale. The question is what most of us, who feel ourselves
sadly limited, incomplete, fractious, discontented, fitful, unequal to
the claims upon us, should do. If we have no sense of eager adventure,
but are afraid of life, overshadowed by doubts and anxieties, with no
great spring of pleasure, no passionate emotions, no very definite
ambitions, what are we then to do?

Or perhaps our case is even worse than that; we are meanly desirous of
comfort, of untroubled ease, we have a secret love of low pleasures, a
desire to gain rather than to deserve admiration and respect, a
temptation to fortify ourselves against life by accumulating all sorts
of resources, with no particular wish to share anything, but aiming to
be left alone in a circle which we can bend to our will and make
useful to us; that is the hard case of many men and women; and even if
by glimpses we see that there is a finer and a freer life outside, we
may not be conscious of any real desire to issue from our stuffy

In either case our duty and our one hope is clear; that we have got
somehow, at all costs and hazards, to find our way into the light of
day. It is such as these, the anxious and the fearful on the one hand,
the gross and sensual on the other, who need most of all a _Joyous
Gard_ of their own. Because we are coming to the light, as Walt
Whitman so splendidly says:--"The Lord advances and yet advances ...
always the shadow in front, always the reach'd hand bringing up the

Our business, if we know that we are laggards, if we only dimly
suspect it, is not to fear the shadow, but to seize the outstretched
hands. We must grasp the smallest clue that leads out of the dark, the
resolute fight with some slovenly and ugly habit, the telling of our
mean troubles to some one whose energy we admire and whose disapproval
we dread; we must try the experiment, make the plunge; all at once we
realise that the foundations are laid, that the wall is beginning to
rise above the rubbish and the débris; we must build a home for the
new-found joy, even if as yet it only sings drowsily and faintly
within our hearts, like the awaking bird in the dewy thicket, when the
fingers of the dawn begin to raise the curtain of the night.



There is one difficulty which stands at the threshold of dealing with
the sense of beauty so as to give it due importance and preponderance,
and that is that it seems with many people to be so frail a thing, and
to visit the mind only as the last grace of a mood of perfect serenity
and well-being. Many people, and those not the least thoughtful and
intelligent, find by experience that it is almost the first thing to
disappear in moments of stress and pressure. Physical pain, grief,
pre-occupation, business, anxiety, all seem to have the power of
quenching it instantaneously, until one is apt to feel that it is a
thing of infinite delicacy and tenderness, and can only co-exist with
a tranquillity which it is hard in life to secure. The result of this
no doubt is that many active-minded and forcible people are ready to
think little of it, and just regard it as a mood that may accompany a
well-earned holiday, and even so to be sparingly indulged.

It is also undoubtedly true that in many robust and energetic people
the sense of what is beautiful is so far atrophied that it can only be
aroused by scenes and places of almost melodramatic picturesqueness,
by ancient buildings clustered on craggy eminences, great valleys with
the frozen horns of mountains, wind-ravaged and snow-streaked, peering
over forest edges, the thunder and splendour of great sea-breakers
plunging landward under rugged headlands and cliff-fronts. But all
this pursuit of sensational beauty is to mistake its quality; the
moment it is thus pursued it ceases to be the milk and honey of life,
and it becomes a kind of stimulant which excites rather than
tranquillises. I do not mean that one should of set purpose avoid the
sight of wonderful prospects and treasure-houses of art, or act as the
poet Gray did when he was travelling with Horace Walpole in the Alps,
when they drew up the blinds of their carriage to exclude the sight of
such prodigious and unmanning horrors!

Still I think that if one is on the right track, and if beauty has its
due place and value in life, there will be less and less impulse to go
far afield for it, in search of something to thrill the dull
perception and quicken it into life. I believe that people ought to be
content to live most of their lives in the same place, and to grow to
love familiar scenes. Familiarity with a scene ought not to result in
the obliteration of all consciousness of it: one ought rather to find
in use and affection an increased power of subtle interpretation, a
closer and finer understanding of the qualities which underlie the
very simplest of English landscapes. I live, myself, for most of the
year in a countryside that is often spoken of by its inhabitants as
dull, tame, and featureless; yet I cannot say with what daily renewal
of delight I wander in the pastoral Cambridge landscape, with its long
low lines of wold, its whitewalled, straw-thatched villages embowered
in orchards and elms, its slow willow-bound streams, its level
fenland, with the far-seen cloud-banks looming overhead: or again in
the high-ridged, well-wooded land of Sussex, where I often live, the
pure lines of the distant downs seen over the richly coloured
intervening weald grow daily more dear and intimate, and appeal more
and more closely to the deepest secrets of sweetness and delight. For
as we train ourselves to the perception of beauty, we become more and
more alive to a fine simplicity of effect; we find the lavish
accumulation of rich and magnificent glories bewildering and

And this is the same with other arts; we no longer crave to be dazzled
and flooded by passionate and exciting sensation, we care less and
less for studied mosaics of word and thought, and more and more for
clearness and form and economy and austerity. Restless exuberance
becomes unwelcome, complexity and intricacy weary us; we begin to
perceive the beauty of what Fitzgerald called the 'great still books.'
We do not desire a kaleidoscopic pageant of blending and colliding
emotions, but crave for something distinctly seen, entirely grasped,
perfectly developed. Because we are no longer in search of something
stimulating and exciting, something to make us glide and dart among
the surge and spray of life, but what we crave for is rather a calm
and reposeful absorption in a thought which can yield us all its
beauty, and assure us of the existence of a principle in which we can
rest and abide. As life goes on, we ought not to find relief from
tedium only in a swift interchange and multiplication of sensations;
we ought rather to attain a simple and sustained joyfulness which can
find nurture in homely and familiar things.

If again the sense of beauty is so frail a thing that it is at the
mercy of all intruding and jarring elements, it is also one of the
most patient and persistent of quiet forces. Like the darting fly
which we scare from us, it returns again and again to settle on the
spot which it has chosen. There are, it is true, troubled and anxious
hours when the beauty round us seems a cruel and intrusive thing,
mocking us with a peace which we cannot realise, and torturing us with
the reminder of the joy we have lost. There are days when the only way
to forget our misery is to absorb ourselves in some practical energy;
but that is because we have not learned to love beauty in the right
way. If we have only thought of it as a pleasant ingredient in our cup
of joy, as a thing which we can just use as we can use wine, to give
us an added flush of unreasonable content, then it will fail us when
we need it most. When a man is under the shadow of a bereavement, he
can test for himself how he has used love. If he finds that the loving
looks and words and caresses of those that are left to him are a mere
torture to him, then he has used love wrongly, just as a selfish and
agreeable delight; but if he finds strength and comfort in the
yearning sympathy of friend and beloved, reassurance in the strength
of the love that is left him, and confidence in the indestructibility
of affection, then he has used love wisely and purely, loving it for
itself, for its beauty and holiness, and not only for the warmth and
comfort it has brought him.

So, if we have loved beauty well, have seen in it a promise of
ultimate joy, a sign of a deliberate intention, a message from a power
that does not send sorrow and anxiety wantonly, cruelly and
indifferently, an assurance of something that waits to welcome and
bless us, then beauty is not a mere torturing menace, a heartless and
unkind parading of joy which we cannot feel, but a faithful pledge of
something secure and everlasting, which will return to us again and
again in ever fuller measure, even if the flow of it be sometimes

We ought then to train and practise our sense of beauty, not selfishly
and luxuriously, but so that when the dark hour comes it may help us
to realise that all is not lost, may alleviate our pain by giving us
the knowledge that the darkness is the interruption, but that the joy
is permanent and deep and certain.

Thus beauty, instead of being for us but as the melody swiftly played
when our hearts are high, a mere momentary ray, a happy accident that
befalls us, may become to us a deep and vital spring of love and hope,
of which we may say that it is there waiting for us, like the home
that awaits the traveller over the weary upland at the foot of the
far-looming hill. It may come to us as a perpetual sign that we are
not forgotten, and that the joy of which it makes mention survives all
interludes of strife and uneasiness. It is easy to slight and overlook
it, but if we do that, we are deluded by the passing storm into
believing that confusion and not peace is the end. As George Meredith
nobly wrote, during the tragic and fatal illness of his wife, "Here I
am in the very pits of tragic life.... Happily for me, I have learnt
to live much in the spirit, and see brightness on the other side of
life, otherwise this running of my poor doe with the inextricable
arrow in her flanks would pull me down too." The spirit, the
brightness of the other side, that is the secret which beauty can
communicate, and the message which she bears upon her radiant wings.



"I have loved," said Keats, "the _principle_ of beauty in all things."
It is that to which all I have said has been leading, as many roads
unite in one. We must try to use discrimination, not to be so
optimistic that we see beauty if it is not there, not to overwhelm
every fling that every craftsman has at beauty with gush and
panegyric; not to praise beauty in all companies, or to go off like a
ripe broom-pod, at a touch. When Walter Pater was confronted with
something which courtesy demanded that he should seem to admire, he
used to say in that soft voice of his, which lingered over emphatic
syllables, "Very costly, no doubt!"

But we must be generous to all beautiful intention, and quick to see
any faintest beckoning of the divine quality; and indeed I would not
have most people aim at too critical an attitude, for I believe it is
more important to enjoy than to appraise; still we must keep the
principle in sight, and not degenerate into mere collectors of
beautiful impressions. If we simply try to wallow in beauty, we are
using it sensually; while if on the other hand we aim at correctness
of taste, which is but the faculty of sincere concurrence with the
artistic standards of the day, we come to a sterile connoisseurship
which has no living inspiration about it. It is the temperate use of
beauty which we must aim at, and a certain candour of observation,
looking at all things, neither that we may condemn if we can, nor that
we may luxuriously abandon ourselves to sensation, but that we may
draw from contemplation something of the inner light of life.

I have not here said much about the arts--music, sculpture, painting,
architecture--because I do not want to recommend any specialisation in
beauty. I know, indeed, several high-minded people, diligent,
unoriginal, faithful, who have begun by recognising in a philosophical
way the worth and force of beauty, but who, having no direct instinct
for it, have bemused themselves by conventional and conscientious
study, into the belief that they are on the track of beauty in art,
when they have no real appreciation of it at all, no appetite for it,
but are only bent on perfecting temperament, and whose unconscious
motive has been but a fear of not being in sympathy with men whose
ardour they admire, but whose love of beauty they do not really share.
Such people tend to gravitate to early Italian painting, because of
its historical associations, and because it can be categorically
studied. They become what is called 'purists,' which means little more
than a learned submissiveness. In literature they are found to admire
Carlyle, Ruskin, and Browning, not because of their method of treating
thought, but because of the ethical maxims imbedded--as though one
were to love a conserve of plums for the sake of the stones!

One should love great writers and great artists not because of their
great thoughts--there are plenty of inferior writers who traffic in
great thoughts--but because great artists and writers are the people
who can irradiate with a heavenly sort of light common thoughts and
motives, so as to show the beauty which underlies them and the
splendour that breaks from them. It is possible to treat fine thoughts
in a heavy way so as to deprive them of all their rarity and
inspiration. The Gospel contains some of the most beautiful thoughts
in the world, beautiful because they are common thoughts which every
one recognises to be true, yet set in a certain light, just as the
sunset with its level, golden, remote glow has the power of
transfiguring a familiar scene with a glory of mystery and desire. But
one has but to turn over a volume of dull sermons, or the pages of a
dreary commentary, to find the thoughts of the Gospel transformed into
something that seems commonplace and uninspiring. The beauty of
ordinary things depends upon the angle at which you see them and the
light which falls upon them; and the work of the great artist and the
great writer is to show things at the right angle, and to shut off the
confusing muddled cross-lights which conceal the quality of the thing

The recognition of the principle of beauty lies in the assurance that
many things have beauty, if rightly viewed, and in the determination
to see things in the true light. Thus the soul that desires to see
beauty must begin by believing it to be there, must expect to see it,
must watch for it, must not be discouraged by those who do not see it,
and least of all give heed to those who would forbid one to discern it
except in definite and approved forms. The worst of æsthetic prophets
is that, like the Scribes, they make a fence about the law, and try to
convert the search for principle into the accumulation of detailed

Let us then never attempt to limit beauty to definite artistic lines;
that is the mistake of the superstitious formalist who limits divine
influences to certain sanctuaries and fixed ceremonials. The use of
the sanctuary and the ceremonial is only to concentrate at one fiery
point the wide current of impulsive ardour. The true lover of beauty
will await it everywhere, will see it in the town, with its rising
roofs and its bleached and blackened steeples, in the seaport with its
quaint crowded shipping, in the clustered hamlet with its
orchard-closes and high-roofed barns, in the remote country with its
wide fields and its converging lines, in the beating of the sea on
shingle-bank and promontory; and then if he sees it there, he will see
it concentrated and emphasised in pictures of these things, the
beauty of which lies so often in the sense of the loving apprehension
of the mystery of lights and hues; and then he will trace the same
subtle spirit in the forms and gestures and expressions of those among
whom he lives, and will go deeper yet and trace the same spirit in
conduct and behaviour, in the free and gallant handling of life, in
the suppression of mean personal desires, in doing dull and
disagreeable things with a fine end in view, in the noble affection of
the simplest people; until he becomes aware that it is a quality which
runs through everything he sees or hears or feels, and that the
eternal difference is whether one views things dully and stupidly,
regarding the moment hungrily and greedily, as a dog regards a
plateful of food, or whether one looks at it all as a process which
has some fine and distant end in view, and sees that all experience,
whether it be of things tangible and visible, or of things
intellectual and spiritual, is only precious because it carries one
forward, forms, moulds, and changes one with a hope of some high and
pure resurrection out of things base and hurried into things noble and

The need, the absolute need for all and each of us, is to find
something strong and great to rest and repose upon. Otherwise one
simply falls back on the fact that one exists and on the whole enjoys
existing, while one shuns the pain and darkness of ceasing to exist.
As life goes on, there comes such an impulse to say, "Life is
attractive and might be pleasant, but there is always something
shadowing it, spoiling it, gnawing at it, a worm in the bud, of which
one cannot be rid." And so one sinks into a despairing apathy.

What then is one born for? Just to live and forget, to be hurt and
healed, to be strong and grow weak? That as the spirit falls into
faintness, the body should curdle into worse than dust? To give each a
memory of things sharp and sweet, that no one else remembers, and then
to destroy that?

No, that is not the end! The end is rather to live fully and ardently,
to recognise the indestructibility of the spirit, to strip off from it
all that wounds and disables it, not by drearily toiling against
haunting faults, but by rising as often as we can into serene ardour
and deep hopefulness. That is the principle of beauty, to feel that
there is something transforming and ennobling us, which we can lay
hold of if we wish, and that every time we see the great spirit at
work and clasp it close to our feeble will, we soar a step higher and
see all things with a wider and a clearer vision.



But in all this, and indeed beyond all this, we must not dare to
forget one thing; that it is life with which we are confronted, and
that our business is to live it, and to live it in our own way; and
here we may thankfully rejoice that there is less and less tendency in
the world for people to dictate modes of life to us; the tyrant and
the despot are not only out of date--they are out of fashion, which is
a far more disabling thing! There is of course a type of person in the
world who loves to call himself robust and even virile--heaven help us
to break down that bestial ideal of manhood!--who is of the stuff that
all bullies have been made since the world began, a compound of
courage, stupidity, and complacency; to whom the word 'living' has no
meaning, unless it implies the disturbing and disquieting of other
people. We are gradually putting him in his right place, and the
kindlier future will have little need of him; because a sense is
gradually shaping itself in the world that life is best lived on
peaceful and orderly lines.

But if the robust _viveur_ is on the wrong tack, so long as he grabs
and uses, and neither gives nor is used, so too the more peaceable and
poetical nature makes a very similar mistake, if his whole heart is
bent upon receiving and enjoying; for he too is filching and conveying
away pleasure out of life, though he may do it more timidly and
unobtrusively. Such a man or woman is apt to make too much out of the
occasions and excitements of life, to over-value the æsthetic kind of
success, which is the delicate impressing of other people, claiming
their admiration and applause, and being ill-content if one is not
noticed and praised. Such an one is apt to overlook the common stuff
and use of life--the toil, the endurance, the discipline of it; to
flutter abroad only on sunshiny days, and to sit sullenly with folded
wing when the sky breaks into rain and chilly winds are blowing. The
man who lives thus, is in danger of over-valuing the raptures and
thrills of life, of being fitful and moody and fretful; what he has to
do is to spread serenity over his days, and above all to be ready to
combine, to minister, to sympathise, to serve. _Joyous Gard_ is a very
perilous place, if we grow too indolent to leave it; the essence of it
is refreshment and not continuance. There are two conditions attached
to the use of it; one is that we should have our own wholesome work in
the world, and the second that we should not grow too wholly absorbed
in labour.

No great moral leaders and inspirers of men have ever laid stress on
excessive labour. They have accepted work as one of the normal
conditions of life, but their whole effort has been to teach men to
look away from work, to find leisure to be happy and good. There is no
essential merit in work, apart from its necessity. Of course men may
find themselves in positions where it seems hard to avoid a fierce
absorption in work. It is said by legislators that the House of
Commons, for instance, is a place where one can neither work nor rest!
And I have heard busy men in high administrative office, deplore
rhetorically the fact that they have no time to read or think. It is
almost as unwholesome never to read or think as it is to be always
reading and thinking, because the light and the inspiration fade out
of life, and leave one a gaunt and wolfish lobbyist, who goes about
seeking whom he may indoctrinate. But I have little doubt that when
the world is organised on simpler lines, we shall look back to this
era, as an era when men's heads were turned by work, and when more
unnecessary things were made and done and said than has ever been the
case since the world began.

The essence of happy living is never to find life dull, never to feel
the ugly weariness which comes of overstrain; to be fresh, cheerful,
leisurely, sociable, unhurried, well-balanced. It seems to me that it
is impossible to be these things unless we have time to consider life
a little, to deliberate, to select, to abstain. We must not help
ourselves either to work or to joy as if we were helping ourselves to
potatoes! If life ought not to be perpetual drudgery, neither can it
be a perpetual feast. What I believe we ought to aim at is to put
interest and zest into the simplest acts, words, and relations of
life, to discern the quality of work and people alike. We must not
turn our whole minds and hearts to literature or art or work, or even
to religion; but we must go deeper, and look close at life itself,
which these interpret and out of which they flow. For indeed life is
nobler and richer than any one interpretation of it. Let us take for a
moment one of the great interpreters of life, Robert Browning, who was
so intensely interested above all things in personality. The charm of
his writing is that he contrives, by some fine instinct, to get behind
and within the people of whom he writes, sees with their eyes, hears
with their ears, though he speaks with his own lips. But one must
observe that the judgment of none of his characters is a final
judgment; the artist, the lover, the cynic, the charlatan, the sage,
the priest--they none of them provide a solution to life; they set out
on their quest, they make their guesses, they reveal their aims, but
they never penetrate the inner secret. It is all inference and hope;
Browning himself seems to believe in life, not because of the reasons
which his characters give for believing in it, but in spite of all
their reasons. Like little boats, the reasons seem to strand, one by
one, some sooner, some later, on the sands beneath the shallow sea;
and then the great serene large faith of the poet comes flooding in,
and bears them on their way.

It is somewhat thus that we must deal with life; it is no good making
up a philosophy which just keeps us gay when all is serene and
prosperous. Unpleasant, tedious, vexing, humiliating, painful,
shattering things befall us all by the way. That is the test of our
belief in life, if nothing daunts us, if nothing really mars our
serenity of mood.

And so what this little book of mine tries to recommend is that we
should bestir ourselves to design, plan, use, practise life; not drift
helplessly on its current, shouting for joy when all is bright,
helplessly bemoaning ourselves when all is dark; and that we should do
this by guarding ourselves from impulse and whim, by feeding our minds
and hearts on all the great words, high examples, patient endurances,
splendid acts, of those whom we recognise to have been the finer sort
of men. One of the greatest blessings of our time is that we can do
that so easily. In the dullest, most monotonous life we can stay
ourselves upon this heavenly manna, if we have the mind. We need not
feel alone or misunderstood or unappreciated, even if we are
surrounded by harsh, foolish, dry, discontented, mournful persons. The
world is fuller now than it ever was of brave and kindly people who
will help us if we ask for help. Of course if we choose to perish
without a struggle, we can do that. And my last word of advice to
people into whose hands this book may fall, who are suffering from a
sense of dim failure, timid bewilderment, with a vague desire in the
background to make something finer and stronger out of life, is to
turn to some one whom they can trust--not intending to depend
constantly and helplessly upon them--and to get set in the right road.

Of course, as I have said, care and sorrow, heaviness and
sadness--even disillusionment--must come; but the reason of that is
because we must not settle too close to the sweet and kindly earth,
but be ready to unfurl our wings for the passage over sea; and to what
new country of God, what unknown troops and societies of human
spirits, what gracious reality of dwelling-place, of which our beloved
fields and woods and streams are nothing but the gentle and sweet
symbols, our flight may bear us, I cannot tell; but that we are all in
the mind of God, and that we cannot wander beyond the reach of His
hand or the love of His heart, of this I am more sure than I am of
anything else in this world where familiarity and mystery are so
strangely entwined.

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Joyous Gard" ***

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