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´╗┐Title: Heretics
Author: Chesterton, G. K. (Gilbert Keith), 1874-1936
Language: English
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HERETICS


by

Gilbert K. Chesterton



"To My Father"



Source

Heretics was copyrighted in 1905 by the John Lane Company. This
electronic text is derived from the twelth (1919) edition published by
the John Lane Company of New York City and printed by the Plimpton
Press of Norwood, Massachusetts.  The text carefully follows that of
the published edition (including British spelling).


The Author

Gilbert Keith Chesterton was born in London, England on the 29th of
May, 1874.  Though he considered himself a mere "rollicking
journalist," he was actually a prolific and gifted writer in virtually
every area of literature.  A man of strong opinions and enormously
talented at defending them, his exuberant personality nevertheless
allowed him to maintain warm friendships with people--such as George
Bernard Shaw and H. G. Wells--with whom he vehemently disagreed.

Chesterton had no difficulty standing up for what he believed. He was
one of the few journalists to oppose the Boer War. His 1922 "Eugenics
and Other Evils" attacked what was at that time the most progressive of
all ideas, the idea that the human race could and should breed a
superior version of itself. In the Nazi experience, history
demonstrated the wisdom of his once "reactionary" views.

His poetry runs the gamut from the comic 1908 "On Running After One's
Hat" to dark and serious ballads.  During the dark days of 1940, when
Britain stood virtually alone against the armed might of Nazi Germany,
these lines from his 1911 Ballad of the White Horse were often quoted:

    I tell you naught for your comfort,
    Yea, naught for your desire,
    Save that the sky grows darker yet
    And the sea rises higher.

Though not written for a scholarly audience, his biographies of authors
and historical figures like Charles Dickens and St. Francis of Assisi
often contain brilliant insights into their subjects. His Father Brown
mystery stories, written between 1911 and 1936, are still being read
and adapted for television.

His politics fitted with his deep distrust of concentrated wealth and
power of any sort.  Along with his friend Hilaire Belloc and in books
like the 1910 "What's Wrong with the World" he advocated a view called
"Distributionism" that was best summed up by his expression that every
man ought to be allowed to own "three acres and a cow." Though not know
as a political thinker, his political influence has circled the world.
Some see in him the father of the "small is beautiful" movement and a
newspaper article by him is credited with provoking Gandhi to seek a
"genuine" nationalism for India rather than one that imitated the
British.

Heretics belongs to yet another area of literature at which Chesterton
excelled.  A fun-loving and gregarious man, he was nevertheless
troubled in his adolescence by thoughts of suicide.  In Christianity he
found the answers to the dilemmas and paradoxes he saw in life. Other
books in that same series include his 1908 Orthodoxy (written in
response to attacks on this book) and his 1925 The Everlasting Man.
Orthodoxy is also available as electronic text.

Chesterton died on the 14th of June, 1936 in Beaconsfield,
Buckinghamshire, England.  During his life he published 69 books and at
least another ten based on his writings have been published after his
death.  Many of those books are still in print. Ignatius Press is
systematically publishing his collected writings.



Table of Contents

   1. Introductory Remarks on the Importance of Othodoxy
   2. On the Negative Spirit
   3. On Mr. Rudyard Kipling and Making the World Small
   4. Mr. Bernard Shaw
   5. Mr. H. G. Wells and the Giants
   6. Christmas and the Esthetes
   7. Omar and the Sacred Vine
   8. The Mildness of the Yellow Press
   9. The Moods of Mr. George Moore
  10. On Sandals and Simplicity
  11. Science and the Savages
  12. Paganism and Mr. Lowes Dickinson
  13. Celts and Celtophiles
  14. On Certain Modern Writers and the Institution of the Family
  15. On Smart Novelists and the Smart Set
  16. On Mr. McCabe and a Divine Frivolity
  17. On the Wit of Whistler
  18. The Fallacy of the Young Nation
  19. Slum Novelists and the Slums
  20. Concluding Remarks on the Importance of Orthodoxy



I. Introductory Remarks on the Importance of Orthodoxy

Nothing more strangely indicates an enormous and silent evil of modern
society than the extraordinary use which is made nowadays of the word
"orthodox."  In former days the heretic was proud of not being a
heretic.  It was the kingdoms of the world and the police and the
judges who were heretics. He was orthodox.  He had no pride in having
rebelled against them; they had rebelled against him.  The armies with
their cruel security, the kings with their cold faces, the decorous
processes of State, the reasonable processes of law--all these like
sheep had gone astray. The man was proud of being orthodox, was proud
of being right. If he stood alone in a howling wilderness he was more
than a man; he was a church.  He was the centre of the universe; it was
round him that the stars swung.  All the tortures torn out of forgotten
hells could not make him admit that he was heretical. But a few modern
phrases have made him boast of it.  He says, with a conscious laugh, "I
suppose I am very heretical," and looks round for applause.  The word
"heresy" not only means no longer being wrong; it practically means
being clear-headed and courageous. The word "orthodoxy" not only no
longer means being right; it practically means being wrong.  All this
can mean one thing, and one thing only.  It means that people care less
for whether they are philosophically right.  For obviously a man ought
to confess himself crazy before he confesses himself heretical. The
Bohemian, with a red tie, ought to pique himself on his orthodoxy. The
dynamiter, laying a bomb, ought to feel that, whatever else he is, at
least he is orthodox.

It is foolish, generally speaking, for a philosopher to set fire to
another philosopher in Smithfield Market because they do not agree in
their theory of the universe.  That was done very frequently in the
last decadence of the Middle Ages, and it failed altogether in its
object.  But there is one thing that is infinitely more absurd and
unpractical than burning a man for his philosophy. This is the habit of
saying that his philosophy does not matter, and this is done
universally in the twentieth century, in the decadence of the great
revolutionary period. General theories are everywhere contemned; the
doctrine of the Rights of Man is dismissed with the doctrine of the
Fall of Man. Atheism itself is too theological for us to-day.
Revolution itself is too much of a system; liberty itself is too much
of a restraint. We will have no generalizations.  Mr. Bernard Shaw has
put the view in a perfect epigram:  "The golden rule is that there is
no golden rule." We are more and more to discuss details in art,
politics, literature. A man's opinion on tramcars matters; his opinion
on Botticelli matters; his opinion on all things does not matter.  He
may turn over and explore a million objects, but he must not find that
strange object, the universe; for if he does he will have a religion,
and be lost. Everything matters--except everything.

Examples are scarcely needed of this total levity on the subject of
cosmic philosophy.  Examples are scarcely needed to show that, whatever
else we think of as affecting practical affairs, we do not think it
matters whether a man is a pessimist or an optimist, a Cartesian or a
Hegelian, a materialist or a spiritualist. Let me, however, take a
random instance.  At any innocent tea-table we may easily hear a man
say, "Life is not worth living." We regard it as we regard the
statement that it is a fine day; nobody thinks that it can possibly
have any serious effect on the man or on the world.  And yet if that
utterance were really believed, the world would stand on its head.
Murderers would be given medals for saving men from life; firemen would
be denounced for keeping men from death; poisons would be used as
medicines; doctors would be called in when people were well; the Royal
Humane Society would be rooted out like a horde of assassins. Yet we
never speculate as to whether the conversational pessimist will
strengthen or disorganize society; for we are convinced that theories
do not matter.

This was certainly not the idea of those who introduced our freedom.
When the old Liberals removed the gags from all the heresies, their
idea was that religious and philosophical discoveries might thus be
made. Their view was that cosmic truth was so important that every one
ought to bear independent testimony.  The modern idea is that cosmic
truth is so unimportant that it cannot matter what any one says. The
former freed inquiry as men loose a noble hound; the latter frees
inquiry as men fling back into the sea a fish unfit for eating. Never
has there been so little discussion about the nature of men as now,
when, for the first time, any one can discuss it.  The old restriction
meant that only the orthodox were allowed to discuss religion. Modern
liberty means that nobody is allowed to discuss it. Good taste, the
last and vilest of human superstitions, has succeeded in silencing us
where all the rest have failed. Sixty years ago it was bad taste to be
an avowed atheist. Then came the Bradlaughites, the last religious men,
the last men who cared about God; but they could not alter it.  It is
still bad taste to be an avowed atheist.  But their agony has achieved
just his--that now it is equally bad taste to be an avowed Christian.
Emancipation has only locked the saint in the same tower of silence as
the heresiarch.  Then we talk about Lord Anglesey and the weather, and
call it the complete liberty of all the creeds.

But there are some people, nevertheless--and I am one of them--who
think that the most practical and important thing about a man is still
his view of the universe.  We think that for a landlady considering a
lodger, it is important to know his income, but still more important to
know his philosophy.  We think that for a general about to fight an
enemy, it is important to know the enemy's numbers, but still more
important to know the enemy's philosophy. We think the question is not
whether the theory of the cosmos affects matters, but whether in the
long run, anything else affects them. In the fifteenth century men
cross-examined and tormented a man because he preached some immoral
attitude; in the nineteenth century we feted and flattered Oscar Wilde
because he preached such an attitude, and then broke his heart in penal
servitude because he carried it out. It may be a question which of the
two methods was the more cruel; there can be no kind of question which
was the more ludicrous. The age of the Inquisition has not at least the
disgrace of having produced a society which made an idol of the very
same man for preaching the very same things which it made him a convict
for practising.

Now, in our time, philosophy or religion, our theory, that is, about
ultimate things, has been driven out, more or less simultaneously, from
two fields which it used to occupy.  General ideals used to dominate
literature.  They have been driven out by the cry of "art for art's
sake."  General ideals used to dominate politics. They have been driven
out by the cry of "efficiency," which may roughly be translated as
"politics for politics' sake." Persistently for the last twenty years
the ideals of order or liberty have dwindled in our books; the
ambitions of wit and eloquence have dwindled in our parliaments.
Literature has purposely become less political; politics have purposely
become less literary. General theories of the relation of things have
thus been extruded from both; and we are in a position to ask, "What
have we gained or lost by this extrusion?  Is literature better, is
politics better, for having discarded the moralist and the philosopher?"

When everything about a people is for the time growing weak and
ineffective, it begins to talk about efficiency.  So it is that when a
man's body is a wreck he begins, for the first time, to talk about
health. Vigorous organisms talk not about their processes, but about
their aims. There cannot be any better proof of the physical efficiency
of a man than that he talks cheerfully of a journey to the end of the
world. And there cannot be any better proof of the practical efficiency
of a nation than that it talks constantly of a journey to the end of
the world, a journey to the Judgment Day and the New Jerusalem. There
can be no stronger sign of a coarse material health than the tendency
to run after high and wild ideals; it is in the first exuberance of
infancy that we cry for the moon. None of the strong men in the strong
ages would have understood what you meant by working for efficiency.
Hildebrand would have said that he was working not for efficiency, but
for the Catholic Church. Danton would have said that he was working not
for efficiency, but for liberty, equality, and fraternity.  Even if the
ideal of such men were simply the ideal of kicking a man downstairs,
they thought of the end like men, not of the process like paralytics.
They did not say, "Efficiently elevating my right leg, using, you will
notice, the muscles of the thigh and calf, which are in excellent
order, I--" Their feeling was quite different. They were so filled with
the beautiful vision of the man lying flat at the foot of the staircase
that in that ecstasy the rest followed in a flash.  In practice, the
habit of generalizing and idealizing did not by any means mean worldly
weakness. The time of big theories was the time of big results.  In the
era of sentiment and fine words, at the end of the eighteenth century,
men were really robust and effective.  The sentimentalists conquered
Napoleon. The cynics could not catch De Wet.  A hundred years ago our
affairs for good or evil were wielded triumphantly by rhetoricians. Now
our affairs are hopelessly muddled by strong, silent men. And just as
this repudiation of big words and big visions has brought forth a race
of small men in politics, so it has brought forth a race of small men
in the arts.  Our modern politicians claim the colossal license of
Caesar and the Superman, claim that they are too practical to be pure
and too patriotic to be moral; but the upshot of it all is that a
mediocrity is Chancellor of the Exchequer. Our new artistic
philosophers call for the same moral license, for a freedom to wreck
heaven and earth with their energy; but the upshot of it all is that a
mediocrity is Poet Laureate. I do not say that there are no stronger
men than these; but will any one say that there are any men stronger
than those men of old who were dominated by their philosophy and
steeped in their religion? Whether bondage be better than freedom may
be discussed. But that their bondage came to more than our freedom it
will be difficult for any one to deny.

The theory of the unmorality of art has established itself firmly in
the strictly artistic classes.  They are free to produce anything they
like.  They are free to write a "Paradise Lost" in which Satan shall
conquer God.  They are free to write a "Divine Comedy" in which heaven
shall be under the floor of hell. And what have they done?  Have they
produced in their universality anything grander or more beautiful than
the things uttered by the fierce Ghibbeline Catholic, by the rigid
Puritan schoolmaster? We know that they have produced only a few
roundels. Milton does not merely beat them at his piety, he beats them
at their own irreverence.  In all their little books of verse you will
not find a finer defiance of God than Satan's. Nor will you find the
grandeur of paganism felt as that fiery Christian felt it who described
Faranata lifting his head as in disdain of hell. And the reason is very
obvious.  Blasphemy is an artistic effect, because blasphemy depends
upon a philosophical conviction. Blasphemy depends upon belief and is
fading with it. If any one doubts this, let him sit down seriously and
try to think blasphemous thoughts about Thor.  I think his family will
find him at the end of the day in a state of some exhaustion.

Neither in the world of politics nor that of literature, then, has the
rejection of general theories proved a success. It may be that there
have been many moonstruck and misleading ideals that have from time to
time perplexed mankind.  But assuredly there has been no ideal in
practice so moonstruck and misleading as the ideal of practicality.
Nothing has lost so many opportunities as the opportunism of Lord
Rosebery.  He is, indeed, a standing symbol of this epoch--the man who
is theoretically a practical man, and practically more unpractical than
any theorist.  Nothing in this universe is so unwise as that kind of
worship of worldly wisdom. A man who is perpetually thinking of whether
this race or that race is strong, of whether this cause or that cause
is promising, is the man who will never believe in anything long enough
to make it succeed. The opportunist politician is like a man who should
abandon billiards because he was beaten at billiards, and abandon golf
because he was beaten at golf.  There is nothing which is so weak for
working purposes as this enormous importance attached to immediate
victory. There is nothing that fails like success.

And having discovered that opportunism does fail, I have been induced
to look at it more largely, and in consequence to see that it must
fail. I perceive that it is far more practical to begin at the
beginning and discuss theories.  I see that the men who killed each
other about the orthodoxy of the Homoousion were far more sensible than
the people who are quarrelling about the Education Act. For the
Christian dogmatists were trying to establish a reign of holiness, and
trying to get defined, first of all, what was really holy. But our
modern educationists are trying to bring about a religious liberty
without attempting to settle what is religion or what is liberty.  If
the old priests forced a statement on mankind, at least they previously
took some trouble to make it lucid. It has been left for the modern
mobs of Anglicans and Nonconformists to persecute for a doctrine
without even stating it.

For these reasons, and for many more, I for one have come to believe in
going back to fundamentals.  Such is the general idea of this book.  I
wish to deal with my most distinguished contemporaries, not personally
or in a merely literary manner, but in relation to the real body of
doctrine which they teach. I am not concerned with Mr. Rudyard Kipling
as a vivid artist or a vigorous personality; I am concerned with him as
a Heretic--that is to say, a man whose view of things has the hardihood
to differ from mine.  I am not concerned with Mr. Bernard Shaw as one
of the most brilliant and one of the most honest men alive; I am
concerned with him as a Heretic--that is to say, a man whose philosophy
is quite solid, quite coherent, and quite wrong. I revert to the
doctrinal methods of the thirteenth century, inspired by the general
hope of getting something done.

Suppose that a great commotion arises in the street about something,
let us say a lamp-post, which many influential persons desire to pull
down.  A grey-clad monk, who is the spirit of the Middle Ages, is
approached upon the matter, and begins to say, in the arid manner of
the Schoolmen, "Let us first of all consider, my brethren, the value of
Light.  If Light be in itself good--" At this point he is somewhat
excusably knocked down.  All the people make a rush for the lamp-post,
the lamp-post is down in ten minutes, and they go about congratulating
each other on their unmediaeval practicality. But as things go on they
do not work out so easily.  Some people have pulled the lamp-post down
because they wanted the electric light; some because they wanted old
iron; some because they wanted darkness, because their deeds were evil.
Some thought it not enough of a lamp-post, some too much; some acted
because they wanted to smash municipal machinery; some because they
wanted to smash something. And there is war in the night, no man
knowing whom he strikes. So, gradually and inevitably, to-day,
to-morrow, or the next day, there comes back the conviction that the
monk was right after all, and that all depends on what is the
philosophy of Light. Only what we might have discussed under the
gas-lamp, we now must discuss in the dark.



II.  On the negative spirit

Much has been said, and said truly, of the monkish morbidity, of the
hysteria which as often gone with the visions of hermits or nuns. But
let us never forget that this visionary religion is, in one sense,
necessarily more wholesome than our modern and reasonable morality. It
is more wholesome for this reason, that it can contemplate the idea of
success or triumph in the hopeless fight towards the ethical ideal, in
what Stevenson called, with his usual startling felicity, "the lost
fight of virtue."  A modern morality, on the other hand, can only point
with absolute conviction to the horrors that follow breaches of law;
its only certainty is a certainty of ill. It can only point to
imperfection.  It has no perfection to point to. But the monk
meditating upon Christ or Buddha has in his mind an image of perfect
health, a thing of clear colours and clean air. He may contemplate this
ideal wholeness and happiness far more than he ought; he may
contemplate it to the neglect of exclusion of essential THINGS he may
contemplate it until he has become a dreamer or a driveller; but still
it is wholeness and happiness that he is contemplating. He may even go
mad; but he is going mad for the love of sanity. But the modern student
of ethics, even if he remains sane, remains sane from an insane dread
of insanity.

The anchorite rolling on the stones in a frenzy of submission is a
healthier person fundamentally than many a sober man in a silk hat who
is walking down Cheapside.  For many such are good only through a
withering knowledge of evil. I am not at this moment claiming for the
devotee anything more than this primary advantage, that though he may
be making himself personally weak and miserable, he is still fixing his
thoughts largely on gigantic strength and happiness, on a strength that
has no limits, and a happiness that has no end. Doubtless there are
other objections which can be urged without unreason against the
influence of gods and visions in morality, whether in the cell or
street.  But this advantage the mystic morality must always have--it is
always jollier.  A young man may keep himself from vice by continually
thinking of disease. He may keep himself from it also by continually
thinking of the Virgin Mary.  There may be question about which method
is the more reasonable, or even about which is the more efficient. But
surely there can be no question about which is the more wholesome.

I remember a pamphlet by that able and sincere secularist, Mr. G. W.
Foote, which contained a phrase sharply symbolizing and dividing these
two methods.  The pamphlet was called BEER AND BIBLE, those two very
noble things, all the nobler for a conjunction which Mr. Foote, in his
stern old Puritan way, seemed to think sardonic, but which I confess to
thinking appropriate and charming. I have not the work by me, but I
remember that Mr. Foote dismissed very contemptuously any attempts to
deal with the problem of strong drink by religious offices or
intercessions, and said that a picture of a drunkard's liver would be
more efficacious in the matter of temperance than any prayer or praise.
In that picturesque expression, it seems to me, is perfectly embodied
the incurable morbidity of modern ethics. In that temple the lights are
low, the crowds kneel, the solemn anthems are uplifted.  But that upon
the altar to which all men kneel is no longer the perfect flesh, the
body and substance of the perfect man; it is still flesh, but it is
diseased. It is the drunkard's liver of the New Testament that is
marred for us, which which we take in remembrance of him.

Now, it is this great gap in modern ethics, the absence of vivid
pictures of purity and spiritual triumph, which lies at the back of the
real objection felt by so many sane men to the realistic literature of
the nineteenth century.  If any ordinary man ever said that he was
horrified by the subjects discussed in Ibsen or Maupassant, or by the
plain language in which they are spoken of, that ordinary man was
lying.  The average conversation of average men throughout the whole of
modern civilization in every class or trade is such as Zola would never
dream of printing. Nor is the habit of writing thus of these things a
new habit. On the contrary, it is the Victorian prudery and silence
which is new still, though it is already dying.  The tradition of
calling a spade a spade starts very early in our literature and comes
down very late.  But the truth is that the ordinary honest man,
whatever vague account he may have given of his feelings, was not
either disgusted or even annoyed at the candour of the moderns. What
disgusted him, and very justly, was not the presence of a clear
realism, but the absence of a clear idealism. Strong and genuine
religious sentiment has never had any objection to realism; on the
contrary, religion was the realistic thing, the brutal thing, the thing
that called names.  This is the great difference between some recent
developments of Nonconformity and the great Puritanism of the
seventeenth century.  It was the whole point of the Puritans that they
cared nothing for decency. Modern Nonconformist newspapers distinguish
themselves by suppressing precisely those nouns and adjectives which
the founders of Nonconformity distinguished themselves by flinging at
kings and queens. But if it was a chief claim of religion that it spoke
plainly about evil, it was the chief claim of all that it spoke plainly
about good. The thing which is resented, and, as I think, rightly
resented, in that great modern literature of which Ibsen is typical, is
that while the eye that can perceive what are the wrong things
increases in an uncanny and devouring clarity, the eye which sees what
things are right is growing mistier and mistier every moment, till it
goes almost blind with doubt.  If we compare, let us say, the morality
of the DIVINE COMEDY with the morality of Ibsen's GHOSTS, we shall see
all that modern ethics have really done. No one, I imagine, will accuse
the author of the INFERNO of an Early Victorian prudishness or a
Podsnapian optimism. But Dante describes three moral
instruments--Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell, the vision of perfection, the
vision of improvement, and the vision of failure.  Ibsen has only
one--Hell. It is often said, and with perfect truth, that no one could
read a play like GHOSTS and remain indifferent to the necessity of an
ethical self-command. That is quite true, and the same is to be said of
the most monstrous and material descriptions of the eternal fire. It is
quite certain the realists like Zola do in one sense promote
morality--they promote it in the sense in which the hangman promotes
it, in the sense in which the devil promotes it. But they only affect
that small minority which will accept any virtue of courage.  Most
healthy people dismiss these moral dangers as they dismiss the
possibility of bombs or microbes. Modern realists are indeed
Terrorists, like the dynamiters; and they fail just as much in their
effort to create a thrill. Both realists and dynamiters are
well-meaning people engaged in the task, so obviously ultimately
hopeless, of using science to promote morality.

I do not wish the reader to confuse me for a moment with those vague
persons who imagine that Ibsen is what they call a pessimist. There are
plenty of wholesome people in Ibsen, plenty of good people, plenty of
happy people, plenty of examples of men acting wisely and things ending
well.  That is not my meaning. My meaning is that Ibsen has throughout,
and does not disguise, a certain vagueness and a changing attitude as
well as a doubting attitude towards what is really wisdom and virtue in
this life--a vagueness which contrasts very remarkably with the
decisiveness with which he pounces on something which he perceives to
be a root of evil, some convention, some deception, some ignorance. We
know that the hero of GHOSTS is mad, and we know why he is mad. We do
also know that Dr. Stockman is sane; but we do not know why he is sane.
Ibsen does not profess to know how virtue and happiness are brought
about, in the sense that he professes to know how our modern sexual
tragedies are brought about. Falsehood works ruin in THE PILLARS OF
SOCIETY, but truth works equal ruin in THE WILD DUCK.  There are no
cardinal virtues of Ibsenism. There is no ideal man of Ibsen.  All this
is not only admitted, but vaunted in the most valuable and thoughtful
of all the eulogies upon Ibsen, Mr. Bernard Shaw's QUINTESSENCE OF
IBSENISM. Mr. Shaw sums up Ibsen's teaching in the phrase, "The golden
rule is that there is no golden rule."  In his eyes this absence of an
enduring and positive ideal, this absence of a permanent key to virtue,
is the one great Ibsen merit. I am not discussing now with any fullness
whether this is so or not. All I venture to point out, with an
increased firmness, is that this omission, good or bad, does leave us
face to face with the problem of a human consciousness filled with very
definite images of evil, and with no definite image of good. To us
light must be henceforward the dark thing--the thing of which we cannot
speak.  To us, as to Milton's devils in Pandemonium, it is darkness
that is visible.  The human race, according to religion, fell once, and
in falling gained knowledge of good and of evil. Now we have fallen a
second time, and only the knowledge of evil remains to us.

A great silent collapse, an enormous unspoken disappointment, has in
our time fallen on our Northern civilization.  All previous ages have
sweated and been crucified in an attempt to realize what is really the
right life, what was really the good man. A definite part of the modern
world has come beyond question to the conclusion that there is no
answer to these questions, that the most that we can do is to set up a
few notice-boards at places of obvious danger, to warn men, for
instance, against drinking themselves to death, or ignoring the mere
existence of their neighbours.  Ibsen is the first to return from the
baffled hunt to bring us the tidings of great failure.

Every one of the popular modern phrases and ideals is a dodge in order
to shirk the problem of what is good. We are fond of talking about
"liberty"; that, as we talk of it, is a dodge to avoid discussing what
is good.  We are fond of talking about "progress"; that is a dodge to
avoid discussing what is good. We are fond of talking about
"education"; that is a dodge to avoid discussing what is good.  The
modern man says, "Let us leave all these arbitrary standards and
embrace liberty." This is, logically rendered, "Let us not decide what
is good, but let it be considered good not to decide it."  He says,
"Away with your old moral formulae; I am for progress." This, logically
stated, means, "Let us not settle what is good; but let us settle
whether we are getting more of it." He says, "Neither in religion nor
morality, my friend, lie the hopes of the race, but in education."
This, clearly expressed, means, "We cannot decide what is good, but let
us give it to our children."

Mr. H.G. Wells, that exceedingly clear-sighted man, has pointed out in
a recent work that this has happened in connection with economic
questions. The old economists, he says, made generalizations, and they
were (in Mr. Wells's view) mostly wrong.  But the new economists, he
says, seem to have lost the power of making any generalizations at all.
And they cover this incapacity with a general claim to be, in specific
cases, regarded as "experts", a claim "proper enough in a hairdresser
or a fashionable physician, but indecent in a philosopher or a man of
science." But in spite of the refreshing rationality with which Mr.
Wells has indicated this, it must also be said that he himself has
fallen into the same enormous modern error.  In the opening pages of
that excellent book MANKIND IN THE MAKING, he dismisses the ideals of
art, religion, abstract morality, and the rest, and says that he is
going to consider men in their chief function, the function of
parenthood. He is going to discuss life as a "tissue of births."  He is
not going to ask what will produce satisfactory saints or satisfactory
heroes, but what will produce satisfactory fathers and mothers.  The
whole is set forward so sensibly that it is a few moments at least
before the reader realises that it is another example of unconscious
shirking.  What is the good of begetting a man until we have settled
what is the good of being a man? You are merely handing on to him a
problem you dare not settle yourself. It is as if a man were asked,
"What is the use of a hammer?" and answered, "To make hammers"; and
when asked, "And of those hammers, what is the use?" answered, "To make
hammers again". Just as such a man would be perpetually putting off the
question of the ultimate use of carpentry, so Mr. Wells and all the
rest of us are by these phrases successfully putting off the question
of the ultimate value of the human life.

The case of the general talk of "progress" is, indeed, an extreme one.
As enunciated today, "progress" is simply a comparative of which we
have not settled the superlative. We meet every ideal of religion,
patriotism, beauty, or brute pleasure with the alternative ideal of
progress--that is to say, we meet every proposal of getting something
that we know about, with an alternative proposal of getting a great
deal more of nobody knows what.  Progress, properly understood, has,
indeed, a most dignified and legitimate meaning.  But as used in
opposition to precise moral ideals, it is ludicrous.  So far from it
being the truth that the ideal of progress is to be set against that of
ethical or religious finality, the reverse is the truth. Nobody has any
business to use the word "progress" unless he has a definite creed and
a cast-iron code of morals. Nobody can be progressive without being
doctrinal; I might almost say that nobody can be progressive without
being infallible--at any rate, without believing in some infallibility.
For progress by its very name indicates a direction; and the moment we
are in the least doubtful about the direction, we become in the same
degree doubtful about the progress. Never perhaps since the beginning
of the world has there been an age that had less right to use the word
"progress" than we. In the Catholic twelfth century, in the philosophic
eighteenth century, the direction may have been a good or a bad one,
men may have differed more or less about how far they went, and in what
direction, but about the direction they did in the main agree, and
consequently they had the genuine sensation of progress. But it is
precisely about the direction that we disagree. Whether the future
excellence lies in more law or less law, in more liberty or less
liberty; whether property will be finally concentrated or finally cut
up; whether sexual passion will reach its sanest in an almost virgin
intellectualism or in a full animal freedom; whether we should love
everybody with Tolstoy, or spare nobody with Nietzsche;--these are the
things about which we are actually fighting most.  It is not merely
true that the age which has settled least what is progress is this
"progressive" age. It is, moreover, true that the people who have
settled least what is progress are the most "progressive" people in it.
The ordinary mass, the men who have never troubled about progress,
might be trusted perhaps to progress.  The particular individuals who
talk about progress would certainly fly to the four winds of heaven
when the pistol-shot started the race. I do not, therefore, say that
the word "progress" is unmeaning; I say it is unmeaning without the
previous definition of a moral doctrine, and that it can only be
applied to groups of persons who hold that doctrine in common.
Progress is not an illegitimate word, but it is logically evident that
it is illegitimate for us. It is a sacred word, a word which could only
rightly be used by rigid believers and in the ages of faith.



III.  On Mr. Rudyard Kipling and Making the World Small

There is no such thing on earth as an uninteresting subject; the only
thing that can exist is an uninterested person. Nothing is more keenly
required than a defence of bores. When Byron divided humanity into the
bores and bored, he omitted to notice that the higher qualities exist
entirely in the bores, the lower qualities in the bored, among whom he
counted himself. The bore, by his starry enthusiasm, his solemn
happiness, may, in some sense, have proved himself poetical.  The bored
has certainly proved himself prosaic.

We might, no doubt, find it a nuisance to count all the blades of grass
or all the leaves of the trees; but this would not be because of our
boldness or gaiety, but because of our lack of boldness and gaiety. The
bore would go onward, bold and gay, and find the blades of grass as
splendid as the swords of an army.  The bore is stronger and more
joyous than we are; he is a demigod--nay, he is a god. For it is the
gods who do not tire of the iteration of things; to them the nightfall
is always new, and the last rose as red as the first.

The sense that everything is poetical is a thing solid and absolute; it
is not a mere matter of phraseology or persuasion.  It is not merely
true, it is ascertainable.  Men may be challenged to deny it; men may
be challenged to mention anything that is not a matter of poetry. I
remember a long time ago a sensible sub-editor coming up to me with a
book in his hand, called "Mr. Smith," or "The Smith Family," or some
such thing.  He said, "Well, you won't get any of your damned mysticism
out of this," or words to that effect.  I am happy to say that I
undeceived him; but the victory was too obvious and easy. In most cases
the name is unpoetical, although the fact is poetical. In the case of
Smith, the name is so poetical that it must be an arduous and heroic
matter for the man to live up to it. The name of Smith is the name of
the one trade that even kings respected, it could claim half the glory
of that arma virumque which all epics acclaimed.  The spirit of the
smithy is so close to the spirit of song that it has mixed in a million
poems, and every blacksmith is a harmonious blacksmith.

Even the village children feel that in some dim way the smith is
poetic, as the grocer and the cobbler are not poetic, when they feast
on the dancing sparks and deafening blows in the cavern of that
creative violence.  The brute repose of Nature, the passionate cunning
of man, the strongest of earthly metals, the wierdest of earthly
elements, the unconquerable iron subdued by its only conqueror, the
wheel and the ploughshare, the sword and the steam-hammer, the arraying
of armies and the whole legend of arms, all these things are written,
briefly indeed, but quite legibly, on the visiting-card of Mr. Smith.
Yet our novelists call their hero "Aylmer Valence," which means
nothing, or "Vernon Raymond," which means nothing, when it is in their
power to give him this sacred name of Smith--this name made of iron and
flame. It would be very natural if a certain hauteur, a certain
carriage of the head, a certain curl of the lip, distinguished every
one whose name is Smith.  Perhaps it does; I trust so. Whoever else are
parvenus, the Smiths are not parvenus. From the darkest dawn of history
this clan has gone forth to battle; its trophies are on every hand; its
name is everywhere; it is older than the nations, and its sign is the
Hammer of Thor. But as I also remarked, it is not quite the usual case.
It is common enough that common things should be poetical; it is not so
common that common names should be poetical. In most cases it is the
name that is the obstacle. A great many people talk as if this claim of
ours, that all things are poetical, were a mere literary ingenuity, a
play on words. Precisely the contrary is true.  It is the idea that
some things are not poetical which is literary, which is a mere product
of words. The word "signal-box" is unpoetical.  But the thing
signal-box is not unpoetical; it is a place where men, in an agony of
vigilance, light blood-red and sea-green fires to keep other men from
death. That is the plain, genuine description of what it is; the prose
only comes in with what it is called.  The word "pillar-box" is
unpoetical. But the thing pillar-box is not unpoetical; it is the place
to which friends and lovers commit their messages, conscious that when
they have done so they are sacred, and not to be touched, not only by
others, but even (religious touch!) by themselves. That red turret is
one of the last of the temples.  Posting a letter and getting married
are among the few things left that are entirely romantic; for to be
entirely romantic a thing must be irrevocable. We think a pillar-box
prosaic, because there is no rhyme to it. We think a pillar-box
unpoetical, because we have never seen it in a poem.  But the bold fact
is entirely on the side of poetry. A signal-box is only called a
signal-box; it is a house of life and death. A pillar-box is only
called a pillar-box; it is a sanctuary of human words.  If you think
the name of "Smith" prosaic, it is not because you are practical and
sensible; it is because you are too much affected with literary
refinements.  The name shouts poetry at you. If you think of it
otherwise, it is because you are steeped and sodden with verbal
reminiscences, because you remember everything in Punch or Comic Cuts
about Mr. Smith being drunk or Mr. Smith being henpecked.  All these
things were given to you poetical. It is only by a long and elaborate
process of literary effort that you have made them prosaic.

Now, the first and fairest thing to say about Rudyard Kipling is that
he has borne a brilliant part in thus recovering the lost provinces of
poetry.  He has not been frightened by that brutal materialistic air
which clings only to words; he has pierced through to the romantic,
imaginative matter of the things themselves. He has perceived the
significance and philosophy of steam and of slang. Steam may be, if you
like, a dirty by-product of science. Slang may be, if you like, a dirty
by-product of language. But at least he has been among the few who saw
the divine parentage of these things, and knew that where there is
smoke there is fire--that is, that wherever there is the foulest of
things, there also is the purest. Above all, he has had something to
say, a definite view of things to utter, and that always means that a
man is fearless and faces everything. For the moment we have a view of
the universe, we possess it.

Now, the message of Rudyard Kipling, that upon which he has really
concentrated, is the only thing worth worrying about in him or in any
other man.  He has often written bad poetry, like Wordsworth.  He has
often said silly things, like Plato. He has often given way to mere
political hysteria, like Gladstone. But no one can reasonably doubt
that he means steadily and sincerely to say something, and the only
serious question is, What is that which he has tried to say?  Perhaps
the best way of stating this fairly will be to begin with that element
which has been most insisted by himself and by his opponents--I mean
his interest in militarism. But when we are seeking for the real merits
of a man it is unwise to go to his enemies, and much more foolish to go
to himself.

Now, Mr. Kipling is certainly wrong in his worship of militarism, but
his opponents are, generally speaking, quite as wrong as he. The evil
of militarism is not that it shows certain men to be fierce and haughty
and excessively warlike.  The evil of militarism is that it shows most
men to be tame and timid and excessively peaceable. The professional
soldier gains more and more power as the general courage of a community
declines.  Thus the Pretorian guard became more and more important in
Rome as Rome became more and more luxurious and feeble.  The military
man gains the civil power in proportion as the civilian loses the
military virtues. And as it was in ancient Rome so it is in
contemporary Europe. There never was a time when nations were more
militarist. There never was a time when men were less brave.  All ages
and all epics have sung of arms and the man; but we have effected
simultaneously the deterioration of the man and the fantastic
perfection of the arms. Militarism demonstrated the decadence of Rome,
and it demonstrates the decadence of Prussia.

And unconsciously Mr. Kipling has proved this, and proved it admirably.
For in so far as his work is earnestly understood the military trade
does not by any means emerge as the most important or attractive. He
has not written so well about soldiers as he has about railway men or
bridge builders, or even journalists. The fact is that what attracts
Mr. Kipling to militarism is not the idea of courage, but the idea of
discipline. There was far more courage to the square mile in the Middle
Ages, when no king had a standing army, but every man had a bow or
sword. But the fascination of the standing army upon Mr. Kipling is not
courage, which scarcely interests him, but discipline, which is, when
all is said and done, his primary theme.  The modern army is not a
miracle of courage; it has not enough opportunities, owing to the
cowardice of everybody else.  But it is really a miracle of
organization, and that is the truly Kiplingite ideal. Kipling's subject
is not that valour which properly belongs to war, but that
interdependence and efficiency which belongs quite as much to
engineers, or sailors, or mules, or railway engines. And thus it is
that when he writes of engineers, or sailors, or mules, or
steam-engines, he writes at his best.  The real poetry, the "true
romance" which Mr. Kipling has taught, is the romance of the division
of labour and the discipline of all the trades. He sings the arts of
peace much more accurately than the arts of war. And his main
contention is vital and valuable.  Every thing is military in the sense
that everything depends upon obedience.  There is no perfectly
epicurean corner; there is no perfectly irresponsible place. Everywhere
men have made the way for us with sweat and submission. We may fling
ourselves into a hammock in a fit of divine carelessness. But we are
glad that the net-maker did not make the hammock in a fit of divine
carelessness.  We may jump upon a child's rocking-horse for a joke. But
we are glad that the carpenter did not leave the legs of it unglued for
a joke.  So far from having merely preached that a soldier cleaning his
side-arm is to be adored because he is military, Kipling at his best
and clearest has preached that the baker baking loaves and the tailor
cutting coats is as military as anybody.

Being devoted to this multitudinous vision of duty, Mr. Kipling is
naturally a cosmopolitan.  He happens to find his examples in the
British Empire, but almost any other empire would do as well, or,
indeed, any other highly civilized country. That which he admires in
the British army he would find even more apparent in the German army;
that which he desires in the British police he would find flourishing,
in the French police. The ideal of discipline is not the whole of life,
but it is spread over the whole of the world.  And the worship of it
tends to confirm in Mr. Kipling a certain note of worldly wisdom, of
the experience of the wanderer, which is one of the genuine charms of
his best work.

The great gap in his mind is what may be roughly called the lack of
patriotism--that is to say, he lacks altogether the faculty of
attaching himself to any cause or community finally and tragically; for
all finality must be tragic.  He admires England, but he does not love
her; for we admire things with reasons, but love them without reasons.
He admires England because she is strong, not because she is English.
There is no harshness in saying this, for, to do him justice, he avows
it with his usual picturesque candour.  In a very interesting poem, he
says that--

  "If England was what England seems"

--that is, weak and inefficient; if England were not what (as he
believes) she is--that is, powerful and practical--

  "How quick we'd chuck 'er! But she ain't!"

He admits, that is, that his devotion is the result of a criticism, and
this is quite enough to put it in another category altogether from the
patriotism of the Boers, whom he hounded down in South Africa. In
speaking of the really patriotic peoples, such as the Irish, he has
some difficulty in keeping a shrill irritation out of his language. The
frame of mind which he really describes with beauty and nobility is the
frame of mind of the cosmopolitan man who has seen men and cities.

  "For to admire and for to see,
   For to be'old this world so wide."

He is a perfect master of that light melancholy with which a man looks
back on having been the citizen of many communities, of that light
melancholy with which a man looks back on having been the lover of many
women.  He is the philanderer of the nations. But a man may have learnt
much about women in flirtations, and still be ignorant of first love; a
man may have known as many lands as Ulysses, and still be ignorant of
patriotism.

Mr. Rudyard Kipling has asked in a celebrated epigram what they can
know of England who know England only.  It is a far deeper and sharper
question to ask, "What can they know of England who know only the
world?" for the world does not include England any more than it
includes the Church.  The moment we care for anything deeply, the
world--that is, all the other miscellaneous interests--becomes our
enemy. Christians showed it when they talked of keeping one's self
"unspotted from the world;" but lovers talk of it just as much when
they talk of the "world well lost."  Astronomically speaking, I
understand that England is situated on the world; similarly, I suppose
that the Church was a part of the world, and even the lovers
inhabitants of that orb.  But they all felt a certain truth--the truth
that the moment you love anything the world becomes your foe. Thus Mr.
Kipling does certainly know the world; he is a man of the world, with
all the narrowness that belongs to those imprisoned in that planet. He
knows England as an intelligent English gentleman knows Venice. He has
been to England a great many times; he has stopped there for long
visits.  But he does not belong to it, or to any place; and the proof
of it is this, that he thinks of England as a place. The moment we are
rooted in a place, the place vanishes. We live like a tree with the
whole strength of the universe.

The globe-trotter lives in a smaller world than the peasant. He is
always breathing, an air of locality.  London is a place, to be
compared to Chicago; Chicago is a place, to be compared to Timbuctoo.
But Timbuctoo is not a place, since there, at least, live men who
regard it as the universe, and breathe, not an air of locality, but the
winds of the world.  The man in the saloon steamer has seen all the
races of men, and he is thinking of the things that divide men--diet,
dress, decorum, rings in the nose as in Africa, or in the ears as in
Europe, blue paint among the ancients, or red paint among the modern
Britons.  The man in the cabbage field has seen nothing at all; but he
is thinking of the things that unite men--hunger and babies, and the
beauty of women, and the promise or menace of the sky.  Mr. Kipling,
with all his merits, is the globe-trotter; he has not the patience to
become part of anything. So great and genuine a man is not to be
accused of a merely cynical cosmopolitanism; still, his cosmopolitanism
is his weakness. That weakness is splendidly expressed in one of his
finest poems, "The Sestina of the Tramp Royal," in which a man declares
that he can endure anything in the way of hunger or horror, but not
permanent presence in one place.  In this there is certainly danger.
The more dead and dry and dusty a thing is the more it travels about;
dust is like this and the thistle-down and the High Commissioner in
South Africa.  Fertile things are somewhat heavier, like the heavy
fruit trees on the pregnant mud of the Nile.  In the heated idleness of
youth we were all rather inclined to quarrel with the implication of
that proverb which says that a rolling stone gathers no moss.  We were
inclined to ask, "Who wants to gather moss, except silly old ladies?"
But for all that we begin to perceive that the proverb is right. The
rolling stone rolls echoing from rock to rock; but the rolling stone is
dead.  The moss is silent because the moss is alive.

The truth is that exploration and enlargement make the world smaller.
The telegraph and the steamboat make the world smaller. The telescope
makes the world smaller; it is only the microscope that makes it
larger.  Before long the world will be cloven with a war between the
telescopists and the microscopists. The first study large things and
live in a small world; the second study small things and live in a
large world.  It is inspiriting without doubt to whizz in a motor-car
round the earth, to feel Arabia as a whirl of sand or China as a flash
of rice-fields. But Arabia is not a whirl of sand and China is not a
flash of rice-fields. They are ancient civilizations with strange
virtues buried like treasures. If we wish to understand them it must
not be as tourists or inquirers, it must be with the loyalty of
children and the great patience of poets. To conquer these places is to
lose them.  The man standing in his own kitchen-garden, with fairyland
opening at the gate, is the man with large ideas.  His mind creates
distance; the motor-car stupidly destroys it.  Moderns think of the
earth as a globe, as something one can easily get round, the spirit of
a schoolmistress. This is shown in the odd mistake perpetually made
about Cecil Rhodes. His enemies say that he may have had large ideas,
but he was a bad man. His friends say that he may have been a bad man,
but he certainly had large ideas.  The truth is that he was not a man
essentially bad, he was a man of much geniality and many good
intentions, but a man with singularly small views.  There is nothing
large about painting the map red; it is an innocent game for children.
It is just as easy to think in continents as to think in cobble-stones.
The difficulty comes in when we seek to know the substance of either of
them. Rhodes' prophecies about the Boer resistance are an admirable
comment on how the "large ideas" prosper when it is not a question of
thinking in continents but of understanding a few two-legged men. And
under all this vast illusion of the cosmopolitan planet, with its
empires and its Reuter's agency, the real life of man goes on concerned
with this tree or that temple, with this harvest or that drinking-song,
totally uncomprehended, totally untouched. And it watches from its
splendid parochialism, possibly with a smile of amusement, motor-car
civilization going its triumphant way, outstripping time, consuming
space, seeing all and seeing nothing, roaring on at last to the capture
of the solar system, only to find the sun cockney and the stars
suburban.



IV.  Mr. Bernard Shaw

In the glad old days, before the rise of modern morbidities, when
genial old Ibsen filled the world with wholesome joy, and the kindly
tales of the forgotten Emile Zola kept our firesides merry and pure, it
used to be thought a disadvantage to be misunderstood. It may be
doubted whether it is always or even generally a disadvantage. The man
who is misunderstood has always this advantage over his enemies, that
they do not know his weak point or his plan of campaign. They go out
against a bird with nets and against a fish with arrows. There are
several modern examples of this situation.  Mr. Chamberlain, for
instance, is a very good one.  He constantly eludes or vanquishes his
opponents because his real powers and deficiencies are quite different
to those with which he is credited, both by friends and foes. His
friends depict him as a strenuous man of action; his opponents depict
him as a coarse man of business; when, as a fact, he is neither one nor
the other, but an admirable romantic orator and romantic actor. He has
one power which is the soul of melodrama--the power of pretending, even
when backed by a huge majority, that he has his back to the wall. For
all mobs are so far chivalrous that their heroes must make some show of
misfortune--that sort of hypocrisy is the homage that strength pays to
weakness.  He talks foolishly and yet very finely about his own city
that has never deserted him. He wears a flaming and fantastic flower,
like a decadent minor poet. As for his bluffness and toughness and
appeals to common sense, all that is, of course, simply the first trick
of rhetoric. He fronts his audiences with the venerable affectation of
Mark Antony--

  "I am no orator, as Brutus is;
   But as you know me all, a plain blunt man."

It is the whole difference between the aim of the orator and the aim of
any other artist, such as the poet or the sculptor. The aim of the
sculptor is to convince us that he is a sculptor; the aim of the
orator, is to convince us that he is not an orator. Once let Mr.
Chamberlain be mistaken for a practical man, and his game is won.  He
has only to compose a theme on empire, and people will say that these
plain men say great things on great occasions. He has only to drift in
the large loose notions common to all artists of the second rank, and
people will say that business men have the biggest ideals after all.
All his schemes have ended in smoke; he has touched nothing that he did
not confuse. About his figure there is a Celtic pathos; like the Gaels
in Matthew Arnold's quotation, "he went forth to battle, but he always
fell." He is a mountain of proposals, a mountain of failures; but still
a mountain.  And a mountain is always romantic.

There is another man in the modern world who might be called the
antithesis of Mr. Chamberlain in every point, who is also a standing
monument of the advantage of being misunderstood. Mr. Bernard Shaw is
always represented by those who disagree with him, and, I fear, also
(if such exist) by those who agree with him, as a capering humorist, a
dazzling acrobat, a quick-change artist. It is said that he cannot be
taken seriously, that he will defend anything or attack anything, that
he will do anything to startle and amuse. All this is not only untrue,
but it is, glaringly, the opposite of the truth; it is as wild as to
say that Dickens had not the boisterous masculinity of Jane Austen.
The whole force and triumph of Mr. Bernard Shaw lie in the fact that he
is a thoroughly consistent man. So far from his power consisting in
jumping through hoops or standing on his head, his power consists in
holding his own fortress night and day. He puts the Shaw test rapidly
and rigorously to everything that happens in heaven or earth.  His
standard never varies. The thing which weak-minded revolutionists and
weak-minded Conservatives really hate (and fear) in him, is exactly
this, that his scales, such as they are, are held even, and that his
law, such as it is, is justly enforced.  You may attack his principles,
as I do; but I do not know of any instance in which you can attack
their application. If he dislikes lawlessness, he dislikes the
lawlessness of Socialists as much as that of Individualists.  If he
dislikes the fever of patriotism, he dislikes it in Boers and Irishmen
as well as in Englishmen. If he dislikes the vows and bonds of
marriage, he dislikes still more the fiercer bonds and wilder vows that
are made by lawless love. If he laughs at the authority of priests, he
laughs louder at the pomposity of men of science.  If he condemns the
irresponsibility of faith, he condemns with a sane consistency the
equal irresponsibility of art. He has pleased all the bohemians by
saying that women are equal to men; but he has infuriated them by
suggesting that men are equal to women. He is almost mechanically just;
he has something of the terrible quality of a machine.  The man who is
really wild and whirling, the man who is really fantastic and
incalculable, is not Mr. Shaw, but the average Cabinet Minister.  It is
Sir Michael Hicks-Beach who jumps through hoops.  It is Sir Henry
Fowler who stands on his head. The solid and respectable statesman of
that type does really leap from position to position; he is really
ready to defend anything or nothing; he is really not to be taken
seriously. I know perfectly well what Mr. Bernard Shaw will be saying
thirty years hence; he will be saying what he has always said. If
thirty years hence I meet Mr. Shaw, a reverent being with a silver
beard sweeping the earth, and say to him, "One can never, of course,
make a verbal attack upon a lady," the patriarch will lift his aged
hand and fell me to the earth. We know, I say, what Mr. Shaw will be,
saying thirty years hence. But is there any one so darkly read in stars
and oracles that he will dare to predict what Mr. Asquith will be
saying thirty years hence?

The truth is, that it is quite an error to suppose that absence of
definite convictions gives the mind freedom and agility. A man who
believes something is ready and witty, because he has all his weapons
about him.  He can apply his test in an instant. The man engaged in
conflict with a man like Mr. Bernard Shaw may fancy he has ten faces;
similarly a man engaged against a brilliant duellist may fancy that the
sword of his foe has turned to ten swords in his hand.  But this is not
really because the man is playing with ten swords, it is because he is
aiming very straight with one. Moreover, a man with a definite belief
always appears bizarre, because he does not change with the world; he
has climbed into a fixed star, and the earth whizzes below him like a
zoetrope. Millions of mild black-coated men call themselves sane and
sensible merely because they always catch the fashionable insanity,
because they are hurried into madness after madness by the maelstrom of
the world.

People accuse Mr. Shaw and many much sillier persons of "proving that
black is white."  But they never ask whether the current
colour-language is always correct.  Ordinary sensible phraseology
sometimes calls black white, it certainly calls yellow white and green
white and reddish-brown white. We call wine "white wine" which is as
yellow as a Blue-coat boy's legs. We call grapes "white grapes" which
are manifestly pale green. We give to the European, whose complexion is
a sort of pink drab, the horrible title of a "white man"--a picture
more blood-curdling than any spectre in Poe.

Now, it is undoubtedly true that if a man asked a waiter in a
restaurant for a bottle of yellow wine and some greenish-yellow grapes,
the waiter would think him mad.  It is undoubtedly true that if a
Government official, reporting on the Europeans in Burmah, said, "There
are only two thousand pinkish men here" he would be accused of cracking
jokes, and kicked out of his post.  But it is equally obvious that both
men would have come to grief through telling the strict truth. That too
truthful man in the restaurant; that too truthful man in Burmah, is Mr.
Bernard Shaw.  He appears eccentric and grotesque because he will not
accept the general belief that white is yellow. He has based all his
brilliancy and solidity upon the hackneyed, but yet forgotten, fact
that truth is stranger than fiction. Truth, of course, must of
necessity be stranger than fiction, for we have made fiction to suit
ourselves.

So much then a reasonable appreciation will find in Mr. Shaw to be
bracing and excellent.  He claims to see things as they are; and some
things, at any rate, he does see as they are, which the whole of our
civilization does not see at all. But in Mr. Shaw's realism there is
something lacking, and that thing which is lacking is serious.

Mr. Shaw's old and recognized philosophy was that powerfully presented
in "The Quintessence of Ibsenism."  It was, in brief, that conservative
ideals were bad, not because They were conservative, but because they
were ideals.  Every ideal prevented men from judging justly the
particular case; every moral generalization oppressed the individual;
the golden rule was there was no golden rule. And the objection to this
is simply that it pretends to free men, but really restrains them from
doing the only thing that men want to do. What is the good of telling a
community that it has every liberty except the liberty to make laws?
The liberty to make laws is what constitutes a free people.  And what
is the good of telling a man (or a philosopher) that he has every
liberty except the liberty to make generalizations.  Making
generalizations is what makes him a man. In short, when Mr. Shaw
forbids men to have strict moral ideals, he is acting like one who
should forbid them to have children. The saying that "the golden rule
is that there is no golden rule," can, indeed, be simply answered by
being turned round. That there is no golden rule is itself a golden
rule, or rather it is much worse than a golden rule.  It is an iron
rule; a fetter on the first movement of a man.

But the sensation connected with Mr. Shaw in recent years has been his
sudden development of the religion of the Superman. He who had to all
appearance mocked at the faiths in the forgotten past discovered a new
god in the unimaginable future.  He who had laid all the blame on
ideals set up the most impossible of all ideals, the ideal of a new
creature.  But the truth, nevertheless, is that any one who knows Mr.
Shaw's mind adequately, and admires it properly, must have guessed all
this long ago.

For the truth is that Mr. Shaw has never seen things as they really
are. If he had he would have fallen on his knees before them. He has
always had a secret ideal that has withered all the things of this
world.  He has all the time been silently comparing humanity with
something that was not human, with a monster from Mars, with the Wise
Man of the Stoics, with the Economic Man of the Fabians, with Julius
Caesar, with Siegfried, with the Superman.  Now, to have this inner and
merciless standard may be a very good thing, or a very bad one, it may
be excellent or unfortunate, but it is not seeing things as they are.
It is not seeing things as they are to think first of a Briareus with a
hundred hands, and then call every man a cripple for only having two.
It is not seeing things as they are to start with a vision of Argus
with his hundred eyes, and then jeer at every man with two eyes as if
he had only one. And it is not seeing things as they are to imagine a
demigod of infinite mental clarity, who may or may not appear in the
latter days of the earth, and then to see all men as idiots.  And this
is what Mr. Shaw has always in some degree done.  When we really see
men as they are, we do not criticise, but worship; and very rightly.
For a monster with mysterious eyes and miraculous thumbs, with strange
dreams in his skull, and a queer tenderness for this place or that
baby, is truly a wonderful and unnerving matter. It is only the quite
arbitrary and priggish habit of comparison with something else which
makes it possible to be at our ease in front of him. A sentiment of
superiority keeps us cool and practical; the mere facts would make, our
knees knock under as with religious fear.  It is the fact that every
instant of conscious life is an unimaginable prodigy. It is the fact
that every face in the street has the incredible unexpectedness of a
fairy-tale. The thing which prevents a man from realizing this is not
any clear-sightedness or experience, it is simply a habit of pedantic
and fastidious comparisons between one thing and another.  Mr. Shaw, on
the practical side perhaps the most humane man alive, is in this sense
inhumane. He has even been infected to some extent with the primary
intellectual weakness of his new master, Nietzsche, the strange notion
that the greater and stronger a man was the more he would despise other
things.  The greater and stronger a man is the more he would be
inclined to prostrate himself before a periwinkle. That Mr. Shaw keeps
a lifted head and a contemptuous face before the colossal panorama of
empires and civilizations, this does not in itself convince one that he
sees things as they are. I should be most effectively convinced that he
did if I found him staring with religious astonishment at his own feet.
"What are those two beautiful and industrious beings," I can imagine
him murmuring to himself, "whom I see everywhere, serving me I know not
why? What fairy godmother bade them come trotting out of elfland when I
was born?  What god of the borderland, what barbaric god of legs, must
I propitiate with fire and wine, lest they run away with me?"

The truth is, that all genuine appreciation rests on a certain mystery
of humility and almost of darkness.  The man who said, "Blessed is he
that expecteth nothing, for he shall not be disappointed," put the
eulogy quite inadequately and even falsely.  The truth "Blessed is he
that expecteth nothing, for he shall be gloriously surprised." The man
who expects nothing sees redder roses than common men can see, and
greener grass, and a more startling sun.  Blessed is he that expecteth
nothing, for he shall possess the cities and the mountains; blessed is
the meek, for he shall inherit the earth.  Until we realize that things
might not be we cannot realize that things are. Until we see the
background of darkness we cannot admire the light as a single and
created thing.  As soon as we have seen that darkness, all light is
lightening, sudden, blinding, and divine. Until we picture nonentity we
underrate the victory of God, and can realize none of the trophies of
His ancient war. It is one of the million wild jests of truth that we
know nothing until we know nothing.

Now this is, I say deliberately, the only defect in the greatness of
Mr. Shaw, the only answer to his claim to be a great man, that he is
not easily pleased.  He is an almost solitary exception to the general
and essential maxim, that little things please great minds. And from
this absence of that most uproarious of all things, humility, comes
incidentally the peculiar insistence on the Superman. After belabouring
a great many people for a great many years for being unprogressive, Mr.
Shaw has discovered, with characteristic sense, that it is very
doubtful whether any existing human being with two legs can be
progressive at all.  Having come to doubt whether humanity can be
combined with progress, most people, easily pleased, would have elected
to abandon progress and remain with humanity. Mr. Shaw, not being
easily pleased, decides to throw over humanity with all its limitations
and go in for progress for its own sake. If man, as we know him, is
incapable of the philosophy of progress, Mr. Shaw asks, not for a new
kind of philosophy, but for a new kind of man.  It is rather as if a
nurse had tried a rather bitter food for some years on a baby, and on
discovering that it was not suitable, should not throw away the food
and ask for a new food, but throw the baby out of window, and ask for a
new baby. Mr. Shaw cannot understand that the thing which is valuable
and lovable in our eyes is man--the old beer-drinking, creed-making,
fighting, failing, sensual, respectable man. And the things that have
been founded on this creature immortally remain; the things that have
been founded on the fancy of the Superman have died with the dying
civilizations which alone have given them birth. When Christ at a
symbolic moment was establishing His great society, He chose for its
comer-stone neither the brilliant Paul nor the mystic John, but a
shuffler, a snob a coward--in a word, a man. And upon this rock He has
built His Church, and the gates of Hell have not prevailed against it.
All the empires and the kingdoms have failed, because of this inherent
and continual weakness, that they were founded by strong men and upon
strong men. But this one thing, the historic Christian Church, was
founded on a weak man, and for that reason it is indestructible. For no
chain is stronger than its weakest link.



V. Mr. H. G. Wells and the Giants

We ought to see far enough into a hypocrite to see even his sincerity.
We ought to be interested in that darkest and most real part of a man
in which dwell not the vices that he does not display, but the virtues
that he cannot.  And the more we approach the problems of human history
with this keen and piercing charity, the smaller and smaller space we
shall allow to pure hypocrisy of any kind. The hypocrites shall not
deceive us into thinking them saints; but neither shall they deceive us
into thinking them hypocrites. And an increasing number of cases will
crowd into our field of inquiry, cases in which there is really no
question of hypocrisy at all, cases in which people were so ingenuous
that they seemed absurd, and so absurd that they seemed disingenuous.

There is one striking instance of an unfair charge of hypocrisy. It is
always urged against the religious in the past, as a point of
inconsistency and duplicity, that they combined a profession of almost
crawling humility with a keen struggle for earthly success and
considerable triumph in attaining it.  It is felt as a piece of humbug,
that a man should be very punctilious in calling himself a miserable
sinner, and also very punctilious in calling himself King of France.
But the truth is that there is no more conscious inconsistency between
the humility of a Christian and the rapacity of a Christian than there
is between the humility of a lover and the rapacity of a lover. The
truth is that there are no things for which men will make such
herculean efforts as the things of which they know they are unworthy.
There never was a man in love who did not declare that, if he strained
every nerve to breaking, he was going to have his desire. And there
never was a man in love who did not declare also that he ought not to
have it.  The whole secret of the practical success of Christendom lies
in the Christian humility, however imperfectly fulfilled. For with the
removal of all question of merit or payment, the soul is suddenly
released for incredible voyages.  If we ask a sane man how much he
merits, his mind shrinks instinctively and instantaneously. It is
doubtful whether he merits six feet of earth. But if you ask him what
he can conquer--he can conquer the stars. Thus comes the thing called
Romance, a purely Christian product. A man cannot deserve adventures;
he cannot earn dragons and hippogriffs. The mediaeval Europe which
asserted humility gained Romance; the civilization which gained Romance
has gained the habitable globe. How different the Pagan and Stoical
feeling was from this has been admirably expressed in a famous
quotation.  Addison makes the great Stoic say--

  "'Tis not in mortals to command success;
   But we'll do more, Sempronius, we'll deserve it."

But the spirit of Romance and Christendom, the spirit which is in every
lover, the spirit which has bestridden the earth with European
adventure, is quite opposite.  'Tis not in mortals to deserve success.
But we'll do more, Sempronius; we'll obtain it.

And this gay humility, this holding of ourselves lightly and yet ready
for an infinity of unmerited triumphs, this secret is so simple that
every one has supposed that it must be something quite sinister and
mysterious. Humility is so practical a virtue that men think it must be
a vice. Humility is so successful that it is mistaken for pride. It is
mistaken for it all the more easily because it generally goes with a
certain simple love of splendour which amounts to vanity. Humility will
always, by preference, go clad in scarlet and gold; pride is that which
refuses to let gold and scarlet impress it or please it too much.  In a
word, the failure of this virtue actually lies in its success; it is
too successful as an investment to be believed in as a virtue.
Humility is not merely too good for this world; it is too practical for
this world; I had almost said it is too worldly for this world.

The instance most quoted in our day is the thing called the humility of
the man of science; and certainly it is a good instance as well as a
modern one.  Men find it extremely difficult to believe that a man who
is obviously uprooting mountains and dividing seas, tearing down
temples and stretching out hands to the stars, is really a quiet old
gentleman who only asks to be allowed to indulge his harmless old hobby
and follow his harmless old nose. When a man splits a grain of sand and
the universe is turned upside down in consequence, it is difficult to
realize that to the man who did it, the splitting of the grain is the
great affair, and the capsizing of the cosmos quite a small one.  It is
hard to enter into the feelings of a man who regards a new heaven and a
new earth in the light of a by-product. But undoubtedly it was to this
almost eerie innocence of the intellect that the great men of the great
scientific period, which now appears to be closing, owed their enormous
power and triumph. If they had brought the heavens down like a house of
cards their plea was not even that they had done it on principle; their
quite unanswerable plea was that they had done it by accident. Whenever
there was in them the least touch of pride in what they had done, there
was a good ground for attacking them; but so long as they were wholly
humble, they were wholly victorious. There were possible answers to
Huxley; there was no answer possible to Darwin.  He was convincing
because of his unconsciousness; one might almost say because of his
dulness.  This childlike and prosaic mind is beginning to wane in the
world of science. Men of science are beginning to see themselves, as
the fine phrase is, in the part; they are beginning to be proud of
their humility. They are beginning to be aesthetic, like the rest of
the world, beginning to spell truth with a capital T, beginning to talk
of the creeds they imagine themselves to have destroyed, of the
discoveries that their forbears made.  Like the modern English, they
are beginning to be soft about their own hardness. They are becoming
conscious of their own strength--that is, they are growing weaker.  But
one purely modern man has emerged in the strictly modern decades who
does carry into our world the clear personal simplicity of the old
world of science.  One man of genius we have who is an artist, but who
was a man of science, and who seems to be marked above all things with
this great scientific humility. I mean Mr. H. G. Wells.  And in his
case, as in the others above spoken of, there must be a great
preliminary difficulty in convincing the ordinary person that such a
virtue is predicable of such a man. Mr. Wells began his literary work
with violent visions--visions of the last pangs of this planet; can it
be that a man who begins with violent visions is humble?  He went on to
wilder and wilder stories about carving beasts into men and shooting
angels like birds. Is the man who shoots angels and carves beasts into
men humble? Since then he has done something bolder than either of
these blasphemies; he has prophesied the political future of all men;
prophesied it with aggressive authority and a ringing decision of
detail. Is the prophet of the future of all men humble?  It will indeed
be difficult, in the present condition of current thought about such
things as pride and humility, to answer the query of how a man can be
humble who does such big things and such bold things. For the only
answer is the answer which I gave at the beginning of this essay.  It
is the humble man who does the big things. It is the humble man who
does the bold things.  It is the humble man who has the sensational
sights vouchsafed to him, and this for three obvious reasons:  first,
that he strains his eyes more than any other men to see them; second,
that he is more overwhelmed and uplifted with them when they come;
third, that he records them more exactly and sincerely and with less
adulteration from his more commonplace and more conceited everyday
self. Adventures are to those to whom they are most unexpected--that
is, most romantic.  Adventures are to the shy:  in this sense
adventures are to the unadventurous.

Now, this arresting, mental humility in Mr. H. G. Wells may be, like a
great many other things that are vital and vivid, difficult to
illustrate by examples, but if I were asked for an example of it, I
should have no difficulty about which example to begin with. The most
interesting thing about Mr. H. G. Wells is that he is the only one of
his many brilliant contemporaries who has not stopped growing.  One can
lie awake at night and hear him grow. Of this growth the most evident
manifestation is indeed a gradual change of opinions; but it is no mere
change of opinions. It is not a perpetual leaping from one position to
another like that of Mr. George Moore.  It is a quite continuous
advance along a quite solid road in a quite definable direction.  But
the chief proof that it is not a piece of fickleness and vanity is the
fact that it has been upon the whole in advance from more startling
opinions to more humdrum opinions.  It has been even in some sense an
advance from unconventional opinions to conventional opinions. This
fact fixes Mr. Wells's honesty and proves him to be no poseur. Mr.
Wells once held that the upper classes and the lower classes would be
so much differentiated in the future that one class would eat the
other.  Certainly no paradoxical charlatan who had once found arguments
for so startling a view would ever have deserted it except for
something yet more startling.  Mr. Wells has deserted it in favour of
the blameless belief that both classes will be ultimately subordinated
or assimilated to a sort of scientific middle class, a class of
engineers.  He has abandoned the sensational theory with the same
honourable gravity and simplicity with which he adopted it. Then he
thought it was true; now he thinks it is not true. He has come to the
most dreadful conclusion a literary man can come to, the conclusion
that the ordinary view is the right one. It is only the last and
wildest kind of courage that can stand on a tower before ten thousand
people and tell them that twice two is four.

Mr. H. G. Wells exists at present in a gay and exhilarating progress of
conservativism.  He is finding out more and more that conventions,
though silent, are alive.  As good an example as any of this humility
and sanity of his may be found in his change of view on the subject of
science and marriage.  He once held, I believe, the opinion which some
singular sociologists still hold, that human creatures could
successfully be paired and bred after the manner of dogs or horses.  He
no longer holds that view. Not only does he no longer hold that view,
but he has written about it in "Mankind in the Making" with such
smashing sense and humour, that I find it difficult to believe that
anybody else can hold it either. It is true that his chief objection to
the proposal is that it is physically impossible, which seems to me a
very slight objection, and almost negligible compared with the others.
The one objection to scientific marriage which is worthy of final
attention is simply that such a thing could only be imposed on
unthinkable slaves and cowards.  I do not know whether the scientific
marriage-mongers are right (as they say) or wrong (as Mr. Wells says)
in saying that medical supervision would produce strong and healthy
men. I am only certain that if it did, the first act of the strong and
healthy men would be to smash the medical supervision.

The mistake of all that medical talk lies in the very fact that it
connects the idea of health with the idea of care.  What has health to
do with care?  Health has to do with carelessness.  In special and
abnormal cases it is necessary to have care.  When we are peculiarly
unhealthy it may be necessary to be careful in order to be healthy. But
even then we are only trying to be healthy in order to be careless. If
we are doctors we are speaking to exceptionally sick men, and they
ought to be told to be careful.  But when we are sociologists we are
addressing the normal man, we are addressing humanity. And humanity
ought to be told to be recklessness itself. For all the fundamental
functions of a healthy man ought emphatically to be performed with
pleasure and for pleasure; they emphatically ought not to be performed
with precaution or for precaution. A man ought to eat because he has a
good appetite to satisfy, and emphatically not because he has a body to
sustain.  A man ought to take exercise not because he is too fat, but
because he loves foils or horses or high mountains, and loves them for
their own sake. And a man ought to marry because he has fallen in love,
and emphatically not because the world requires to be populated. The
food will really renovate his tissues as long as he is not thinking
about his tissues.  The exercise will really get him into training so
long as he is thinking about something else.  And the marriage will
really stand some chance of producing a generous-blooded generation if
it had its origin in its own natural and generous excitement. It is the
first law of health that our necessities should not be accepted as
necessities; they should be accepted as luxuries. Let us, then, be
careful about the small things, such as a scratch or a slight illness,
or anything that can be managed with care. But in the name of all
sanity, let us be careless about the important things, such as
marriage, or the fountain of our very life will fail.

Mr. Wells, however, is not quite clear enough of the narrower
scientific outlook to see that there are some things which actually
ought not to be scientific.  He is still slightly affected with the
great scientific fallacy; I mean the habit of beginning not with the
human soul, which is the first thing a man learns about, but with some
such thing as protoplasm, which is about the last. The one defect in
his splendid mental equipment is that he does not sufficiently allow
for the stuff or material of men. In his new Utopia he says, for
instance, that a chief point of the Utopia will be a disbelief in
original sin.  If he had begun with the human soul--that is, if he had
begun on himself--he would have found original sin almost the first
thing to be believed in. He would have found, to put the matter
shortly, that a permanent possibility of selfishness arises from the
mere fact of having a self, and not from any accidents of education or
ill-treatment. And the weakness of all Utopias is this, that they take
the greatest difficulty of man and assume it to be overcome, and then
give an elaborate account of the overcoming of the smaller ones. They
first assume that no man will want more than his share, and then are
very ingenious in explaining whether his share will be delivered by
motor-car or balloon.  And an even stronger example of Mr. Wells's
indifference to the human psychology can be found in his
cosmopolitanism, the abolition in his Utopia of all patriotic
boundaries.  He says in his innocent way that Utopia must be a
world-state, or else people might make war on it. It does not seem to
occur to him that, for a good many of us, if it were a world-state we
should still make war on it to the end of the world. For if we admit
that there must be varieties in art or opinion what sense is there in
thinking there will not be varieties in government? The fact is very
simple.  Unless you are going deliberately to prevent a thing being
good, you cannot prevent it being worth fighting for. It is impossible
to prevent a possible conflict of civilizations, because it is
impossible to prevent a possible conflict between ideals. If there were
no longer our modern strife between nations, there would only be a
strife between Utopias.  For the highest thing does not tend to union
only; the highest thing, tends also to differentiation. You can often
get men to fight for the union; but you can never prevent them from
fighting also for the differentiation. This variety in the highest
thing is the meaning of the fierce patriotism, the fierce nationalism
of the great European civilization. It is also, incidentally, the
meaning of the doctrine of the Trinity.

But I think the main mistake of Mr. Wells's philosophy is a somewhat
deeper one, one that he expresses in a very entertaining manner in the
introductory part of the new Utopia.  His philosophy in some sense
amounts to a denial of the possibility of philosophy itself. At least,
he maintains that there are no secure and reliable ideas upon which we
can rest with a final mental satisfaction. It will be both clearer,
however, and more amusing to quote Mr. Wells himself.

He says, "Nothing endures, nothing is precise and certain (except the
mind of a pedant)....  Being indeed!--there is no being, but a
universal becoming of individualities, and Plato turned his back on
truth when he turned towards his museum of specific ideals." Mr. Wells
says, again, "There is no abiding thing in what we know. We change from
weaker to stronger lights, and each more powerful light pierces our
hitherto opaque foundations and reveals fresh and different opacities
below."  Now, when Mr. Wells says things like this, I speak with all
respect when I say that he does not observe an evident mental
distinction. It cannot be true that there is nothing abiding in what we
know. For if that were so we should not know it all and should not call
it knowledge.  Our mental state may be very different from that of
somebody else some thousands of years back; but it cannot be entirely
different, or else we should not be conscious of a difference. Mr.
Wells must surely realize the first and simplest of the paradoxes that
sit by the springs of truth.  He must surely see that the fact of two
things being different implies that they are similar. The hare and the
tortoise may differ in the quality of swiftness, but they must agree in
the quality of motion.  The swiftest hare cannot be swifter than an
isosceles triangle or the idea of pinkness. When we say the hare moves
faster, we say that the tortoise moves. And when we say of a thing that
it moves, we say, without need of other words, that there are things
that do not move. And even in the act of saying that things change, we
say that there is something unchangeable.

But certainly the best example of Mr. Wells's fallacy can be found in
the example which he himself chooses.  It is quite true that we see a
dim light which, compared with a darker thing, is light, but which,
compared with a stronger light, is darkness. But the quality of light
remains the same thing, or else we should not call it a stronger light
or recognize it as such. If the character of light were not fixed in
the mind, we should be quite as likely to call a denser shadow a
stronger light, or vice versa If the character of light became even for
an instant unfixed, if it became even by a hair's-breadth doubtful, if,
for example, there crept into our idea of light some vague idea of
blueness, then in that flash we have become doubtful whether the new
light has more light or less.  In brief, the progress may be as varying
as a cloud, but the direction must be as rigid as a French road. North
and South are relative in the sense that I am North of Bournemouth and
South of Spitzbergen.  But if there be any doubt of the position of the
North Pole, there is in equal degree a doubt of whether I am South of
Spitzbergen at all.  The absolute idea of light may be practically
unattainable.  We may not be able to procure pure light. We may not be
able to get to the North Pole.  But because the North Pole is
unattainable, it does not follow that it is indefinable. And it is only
because the North Pole is not indefinable that we can make a
satisfactory map of Brighton and Worthing.

In other words, Plato turned his face to truth but his back on Mr. H.
G. Wells, when he turned to his museum of specified ideals. It is
precisely here that Plato shows his sense.  It is not true that
everything changes; the things that change are all the manifest and
material things.  There is something that does not change; and that is
precisely the abstract quality, the invisible idea. Mr. Wells says
truly enough, that a thing which we have seen in one connection as dark
we may see in another connection as light. But the thing common to both
incidents is the mere idea of light--which we have not seen at all.
Mr. Wells might grow taller and taller for unending aeons till his head
was higher than the loneliest star. I can imagine his writing a good
novel about it.  In that case he would see the trees first as tall
things and then as short things; he would see the clouds first as high
and then as low. But there would remain with him through the ages in
that starry loneliness the idea of tallness; he would have in the awful
spaces for companion and comfort the definite conception that he was
growing taller and not (for instance) growing fatter.

And now it comes to my mind that Mr. H. G. Wells actually has written a
very delightful romance about men growing as tall as trees; and that
here, again, he seems to me to have been a victim of this vague
relativism.  "The Food of the Gods" is, like Mr. Bernard Shaw's play,
in essence a study of the Superman idea.  And it lies, I think, even
through the veil of a half-pantomimic allegory, open to the same
intellectual attack.  We cannot be expected to have any regard for a
great creature if he does not in any manner conform to our standards.
For unless he passes our standard of greatness we cannot even call him
great.  Nietszche summed up all that is interesting in the Superman
idea when he said, "Man is a thing which has to be surpassed."  But the
very word "surpass" implies the existence of a standard common to us
and the thing surpassing us. If the Superman is more manly than men
are, of course they will ultimately deify him, even if they happen to
kill him first. But if he is simply more supermanly, they may be quite
indifferent to him as they would be to another seemingly aimless
monstrosity. He must submit to our test even in order to overawe us.
Mere force or size even is a standard; but that alone will never make
men think a man their superior.  Giants, as in the wise old
fairy-tales, are vermin.  Supermen, if not good men, are vermin.

"The Food of the Gods" is the tale of "Jack the Giant-Killer" told from
the point of view of the giant.  This has not, I think, been done
before in literature; but I have little doubt that the psychological
substance of it existed in fact.  I have little doubt that the giant
whom Jack killed did regard himself as the Superman. It is likely
enough that he considered Jack a narrow and parochial person who wished
to frustrate a great forward movement of the life-force. If (as not
unfrequently was the case) he happened to have two heads, he would
point out the elementary maxim which declares them to be better than
one.  He would enlarge on the subtle modernity of such an equipment,
enabling a giant to look at a subject from two points of view, or to
correct himself with promptitude. But Jack was the champion of the
enduring human standards, of the principle of one man one head and one
man one conscience, of the single head and the single heart and the
single eye. Jack was quite unimpressed by the question of whether the
giant was a particularly gigantic giant.  All he wished to know was
whether he was a good giant--that is, a giant who was any good to us.
What were the giant's religious views; what his views on politics and
the duties of the citizen?  Was he fond of children--or fond of them
only in a dark and sinister sense?  To use a fine phrase for emotional
sanity, was his heart in the right place? Jack had sometimes to cut him
up with a sword in order to find out. The old and correct story of Jack
the Giant-Killer is simply the whole story of man; if it were
understood we should need no Bibles or histories. But the modern world
in particular does not seem to understand it at all. The modern world,
like Mr. Wells is on the side of the giants; the safest place, and
therefore the meanest and the most prosaic. The modern world, when it
praises its little Caesars, talks of being strong and brave:  but it
does not seem to see the eternal paradox involved in the conjunction of
these ideas. The strong cannot be brave.  Only the weak can be brave;
and yet again, in practice, only those who can be brave can be trusted,
in time of doubt, to be strong.  The only way in which a giant could
really keep himself in training against the inevitable Jack would be by
continually fighting other giants ten times as big as himself. That is
by ceasing to be a giant and becoming a Jack. Thus that sympathy with
the small or the defeated as such, with which we Liberals and
Nationalists have been often reproached, is not a useless
sentimentalism at all, as Mr. Wells and his friends fancy.  It is the
first law of practical courage. To be in the weakest camp is to be in
the strongest school. Nor can I imagine anything that would do humanity
more good than the advent of a race of Supermen, for them to fight like
dragons. If the Superman is better than we, of course we need not fight
him; but in that case, why not call him the Saint?  But if he is merely
stronger (whether physically, mentally, or morally stronger, I do not
care a farthing), then he ought to have to reckon with us at least for
all the strength we have.  It we are weaker than he, that is no reason
why we should be weaker than ourselves. If we are not tall enough to
touch the giant's knees, that is no reason why we should become shorter
by falling on our own. But that is at bottom the meaning of all modern
hero-worship and celebration of the Strong Man, the Caesar the
Superman. That he may be something more than man, we must be something
less.

Doubtless there is an older and better hero-worship than this. But the
old hero was a being who, like Achilles, was more human than humanity
itself.  Nietzsche's Superman is cold and friendless. Achilles is so
foolishly fond of his friend that he slaughters armies in the agony of
his bereavement.  Mr. Shaw's sad Caesar says in his desolate pride, "He
who has never hoped can never despair." The Man-God of old answers from
his awful hill, "Was ever sorrow like unto my sorrow?"  A great man is
not a man so strong that he feels less than other men; he is a man so
strong that he feels more. And when Nietszche says, "A new commandment
I give to you, 'be hard,'" he is really saying, "A new commandment I
give to you, 'be dead.'" Sensibility is the definition of life.

I recur for a last word to Jack the Giant-Killer. I have dwelt on this
matter of Mr. Wells and the giants, not because it is specially
prominent in his mind; I know that the Superman does not bulk so large
in his cosmos as in that of Mr. Bernard Shaw. I have dwelt on it for
the opposite reason; because this heresy of immoral hero-worship has
taken, I think, a slighter hold of him, and may perhaps still be
prevented from perverting one of the best thinkers of the day.  In the
course of "The New Utopia" Mr. Wells makes more than one admiring
allusion to Mr. W. E. Henley. That clever and unhappy man lived in
admiration of a vague violence, and was always going back to rude old
tales and rude old ballads, to strong and primitive literatures, to
find the praise of strength and the justification of tyranny.  But he
could not find it. It is not there.  The primitive literature is shown
in the tale of Jack the Giant-Killer. The strong old literature is all
in praise of the weak. The rude old tales are as tender to minorities
as any modern political idealist.  The rude old ballads are as
sentimentally concerned for the under-dog as the Aborigines Protection
Society. When men were tough and raw, when they lived amid hard knocks
and hard laws, when they knew what fighting really was, they had only
two kinds of songs.  The first was a rejoicing that the weak had
conquered the strong, the second a lamentation that the strong had, for
once in a way, conquered the weak.  For this defiance of the statu quo,
this constant effort to alter the existing balance, this premature
challenge to the powerful, is the whole nature and inmost secret of the
psychological adventure which is called man. It is his strength to
disdain strength.  The forlorn hope is not only a real hope, it is the
only real hope of mankind. In the coarsest ballads of the greenwood men
are admired most when they defy, not only the king, but what is more to
the point, the hero. The moment Robin Hood becomes a sort of Superman,
that moment the chivalrous chronicler shows us Robin thrashed by a poor
tinker whom he thought to thrust aside.  And the chivalrous chronicler
makes Robin Hood receive the thrashing in a glow of admiration. This
magnanimity is not a product of modern humanitarianism; it is not a
product of anything to do with peace. This magnanimity is merely one of
the lost arts of war. The Henleyites call for a sturdy and fighting
England, and they go back to the fierce old stories of the sturdy and
fighting English. And the thing that they find written across that
fierce old literature everywhere, is "the policy of Majuba."



VI.  Christmas and the Aesthetes

The world is round, so round that the schools of optimism and pessimism
have been arguing from the beginning whether it is the right way up.
The difficulty does not arise so much from the mere fact that good and
evil are mingled in roughly equal proportions; it arises chiefly from
the fact that men always differ about what parts are good and what
evil. Hence the difficulty which besets "undenominational religions."
They profess to include what is beautiful in all creeds, but they
appear to many to have collected all that is dull in them. All the
colours mixed together in purity ought to make a perfect white. Mixed
together on any human paint-box, they make a thing like mud, and a
thing very like many new religions.  Such a blend is often something
much worse than any one creed taken separately, even the creed of the
Thugs. The error arises from the difficulty of detecting what is really
the good part and what is really the bad part of any given religion.
And this pathos falls rather heavily on those persons who have the
misfortune to think of some religion or other, that the parts commonly
counted good are bad, and the parts commonly counted bad are good.

It is tragic to admire and honestly admire a human group, but to admire
it in a photographic negative.  It is difficult to congratulate all
their whites on being black and all their blacks on their whiteness.
This will often happen to us in connection with human religions. Take
two institutions which bear witness to the religious energy of the
nineteenth century.  Take the Salvation Army and the philosophy of
Auguste Comte.

The usual verdict of educated people on the Salvation Army is expressed
in some such words as these:  "I have no doubt they do a great deal of
good, but they do it in a vulgar and profane style; their aims are
excellent, but their methods are wrong." To me, unfortunately, the
precise reverse of this appears to be the truth.  I do not know whether
the aims of the Salvation Army are excellent, but I am quite sure their
methods are admirable. Their methods are the methods of all intense and
hearty religions; they are popular like all religion, military like all
religion, public and sensational like all religion.  They are not
reverent any more than Roman Catholics are reverent, for reverence in
the sad and delicate meaning of the term reverence is a thing only
possible to infidels. That beautiful twilight you will find in
Euripides, in Renan, in Matthew Arnold; but in men who believe you will
not find it--you will find only laughter and war.  A man cannot pay
that kind of reverence to truth solid as marble; they can only be
reverent towards a beautiful lie.  And the Salvation Army, though their
voice has broken out in a mean environment and an ugly shape, are
really the old voice of glad and angry faith, hot as the riots of
Dionysus, wild as the gargoyles of Catholicism, not to be mistaken for
a philosophy. Professor Huxley, in one of his clever phrases, called
the Salvation Army "corybantic Christianity."  Huxley was the last and
noblest of those Stoics who have never understood the Cross.  If he had
understood Christianity he would have known that there never has been,
and never can be, any Christianity that is not corybantic.

And there is this difference between the matter of aims and the matter
of methods, that to judge of the aims of a thing like the Salvation
Army is very difficult, to judge of their ritual and atmosphere very
easy.  No one, perhaps, but a sociologist can see whether General
Booth's housing scheme is right. But any healthy person can see that
banging brass cymbals together must be right.  A page of statistics, a
plan of model dwellings, anything which is rational, is always
difficult for the lay mind. But the thing which is irrational any one
can understand. That is why religion came so early into the world and
spread so far, while science came so late into the world and has not
spread at all. History unanimously attests the fact that it is only
mysticism which stands the smallest chance of being understanded of the
people. Common sense has to be kept as an esoteric secret in the dark
temple of culture.  And so while the philanthropy of the Salvationists
and its genuineness may be a reasonable matter for the discussion of
the doctors, there can be no doubt about the genuineness of their brass
bands, for a brass band is purely spiritual, and seeks only to quicken
the internal life.  The object of philanthropy is to do good; the
object of religion is to be good, if only for a moment, amid a crash of
brass.

And the same antithesis exists about another modern religion--I mean
the religion of Comte, generally known as Positivism, or the worship of
humanity.  Such men as Mr. Frederic Harrison, that brilliant and
chivalrous philosopher, who still, by his mere personality, speaks for
the creed, would tell us that he offers us the philosophy of Comte, but
not all Comte's fantastic proposals for pontiffs and ceremonials, the
new calendar, the new holidays and saints' days. He does not mean that
we should dress ourselves up as priests of humanity or let off
fireworks because it is Milton's birthday. To the solid English Comtist
all this appears, he confesses, to be a little absurd.  To me it
appears the only sensible part of Comtism. As a philosophy it is
unsatisfactory.  It is evidently impossible to worship humanity, just
as it is impossible to worship the Savile Club; both are excellent
institutions to which we may happen to belong. But we perceive clearly
that the Savile Club did not make the stars and does not fill the
universe.  And it is surely unreasonable to attack the doctrine of the
Trinity as a piece of bewildering mysticism, and then to ask men to
worship a being who is ninety million persons in one God, neither
confounding the persons nor dividing the substance.

But if the wisdom of Comte was insufficient, the folly of Comte was
wisdom.  In an age of dusty modernity, when beauty was thought of as
something barbaric and ugliness as something sensible, he alone saw
that men must always have the sacredness of mummery. He saw that while
the brutes have all the useful things, the things that are truly human
are the useless ones.  He saw the falsehood of that almost universal
notion of to-day, the notion that rites and forms are something
artificial, additional, and corrupt. Ritual is really much older than
thought; it is much simpler and much wilder than thought.  A feeling
touching the nature of things does not only make men feel that there
are certain proper things to say; it makes them feel that there are
certain proper things to do. The more agreeable of these consist of
dancing, building temples, and shouting very loud; the less agreeable,
of wearing green carnations and burning other philosophers alive. But
everywhere the religious dance came before the religious hymn, and man
was a ritualist before he could speak.  If Comtism had spread the world
would have been converted, not by the Comtist philosophy, but by the
Comtist calendar.  By discouraging what they conceive to be the
weakness of their master, the English Positivists have broken the
strength of their religion.  A man who has faith must be prepared not
only to be a martyr, but to be a fool. It is absurd to say that a man
is ready to toil and die for his convictions when he is not even ready
to wear a wreath round his head for them. I myself, to take a corpus
vile, am very certain that I would not read the works of Comte through
for any consideration whatever. But I can easily imagine myself with
the greatest enthusiasm lighting a bonfire on Darwin Day.

That splendid effort failed, and nothing in the style of it has
succeeded. There has been no rationalist festival, no rationalist
ecstasy. Men are still in black for the death of God.  When
Christianity was heavily bombarded in the last century upon no point
was it more persistently and brilliantly attacked than upon that of its
alleged enmity to human joy. Shelley and Swinburne and all their armies
have passed again and again over the ground, but they have not altered
it.  They have not set up a single new trophy or ensign for the world's
merriment to rally to. They have not given a name or a new occasion of
gaiety. Mr. Swinburne does not hang up his stocking on the eve of the
birthday of Victor Hugo.  Mr. William Archer does not sing carols
descriptive of the infancy of Ibsen outside people's doors in the snow.
In the round of our rational and mournful year one festival remains out
of all those ancient gaieties that once covered the whole earth.
Christmas remains to remind us of those ages, whether Pagan or
Christian, when the many acted poetry instead of the few writing it. In
all the winter in our woods there is no tree in glow but the holly.

The strange truth about the matter is told in the very word "holiday."
A bank holiday means presumably a day which bankers regard as holy. A
half-holiday means, I suppose, a day on which a schoolboy is only
partially holy.  It is hard to see at first sight why so human a thing
as leisure and larkiness should always have a religious origin.
Rationally there appears no reason why we should not sing and give each
other presents in honour of anything--the birth of Michael Angelo or
the opening of Euston Station.  But it does not work. As a fact, men
only become greedily and gloriously material about something
spiritualistic.  Take away the Nicene Creed and similar things, and you
do some strange wrong to the sellers of sausages. Take away the strange
beauty of the saints, and what has remained to us is the far stranger
ugliness of Wandsworth. Take away the supernatural, and what remains is
the unnatural.

And now I have to touch upon a very sad matter.  There are in the
modern world an admirable class of persons who really make protest on
behalf of that antiqua pulchritudo of which Augustine spoke, who do
long for the old feasts and formalities of the childhood of the world.
William Morris and his followers showed how much brighter were the dark
ages than the age of Manchester.  Mr. W. B. Yeats frames his steps in
prehistoric dances, but no man knows and joins his voice to forgotten
choruses that no one but he can hear.  Mr. George Moore collects every
fragment of Irish paganism that the forgetfulness of the Catholic
Church has left or possibly her wisdom preserved. There are innumerable
persons with eye-glasses and green garments who pray for the return of
the maypole or the Olympian games. But there is about these people a
haunting and alarming something which suggests that it is just possible
that they do not keep Christmas. It is painful to regard human nature
in such a light, but it seems somehow possible that Mr. George Moore
does not wave his spoon and shout when the pudding is set alight. It is
even possible that Mr. W. B. Yeats never pulls crackers. If so, where
is the sense of all their dreams of festive traditions? Here is a solid
and ancient festive tradition still plying a roaring trade in the
streets, and they think it vulgar. if this is so, let them be very
certain of this, that they are the kind of people who in the time of
the maypole would have thought the maypole vulgar; who in the time of
the Canterbury pilgrimage would have thought the Canterbury pilgrimage
vulgar; who in the time of the Olympian games would have thought the
Olympian games vulgar. Nor can there be any reasonable doubt that they
were vulgar. Let no man deceive himself; if by vulgarity we mean
coarseness of speech, rowdiness of behaviour, gossip, horseplay, and
some heavy drinking, vulgarity there always was wherever there was joy,
wherever there was faith in the gods.  Wherever you have belief you
will have hilarity, wherever you have hilarity you will have some
dangers.  And as creed and mythology produce this gross and vigorous
life, so in its turn this gross and vigorous life will always produce
creed and mythology. If we ever get the English back on to the English
land they will become again a religious people, if all goes well, a
superstitious people. The absence from modern life of both the higher
and lower forms of faith is largely due to a divorce from nature and
the trees and clouds. If we have no more turnip ghosts it is chiefly
from the lack of turnips.



VII.  Omar and the Sacred Vine

A new morality has burst upon us with some violence in connection with
the problem of strong drink; and enthusiasts in the matter range from
the man who is violently thrown out at 12.30, to the lady who smashes
American bars with an axe.  In these discussions it is almost always
felt that one very wise and moderate position is to say that wine or
such stuff should only be drunk as a medicine. With this I should
venture to disagree with a peculiar ferocity. The one genuinely
dangerous and immoral way of drinking wine is to drink it as a
medicine.  And for this reason, If a man drinks wine in order to obtain
pleasure, he is trying to obtain something exceptional, something he
does not expect every hour of the day, something which, unless he is a
little insane, he will not try to get every hour of the day.  But if a
man drinks wine in order to obtain health, he is trying to get
something natural; something, that is, that he ought not to be without;
something that he may find it difficult to reconcile himself to being
without.  The man may not be seduced who has seen the ecstasy of being
ecstatic; it is more dazzling to catch a glimpse of the ecstasy of
being ordinary. If there were a magic ointment, and we took it to a
strong man, and said, "This will enable you to jump off the Monument,"
doubtless he would jump off the Monument, but he would not jump off the
Monument all day long to the delight of the City. But if we took it to
a blind man, saying, "This will enable you to see," he would be under a
heavier temptation.  It would be hard for him not to rub it on his eyes
whenever he heard the hoof of a noble horse or the birds singing at
daybreak.  It is easy to deny one's self festivity; it is difficult to
deny one's self normality. Hence comes the fact which every doctor
knows, that it is often perilous to give alcohol to the sick even when
they need it. I need hardly say that I do not mean that I think the
giving of alcohol to the sick for stimulus is necessarily
unjustifiable. But I do mean that giving it to the healthy for fun is
the proper use of it, and a great deal more consistent with health.

The sound rule in the matter would appear to be like many other sound
rules--a paradox.  Drink because you are happy, but never because you
are miserable.  Never drink when you are wretched without it, or you
will be like the grey-faced gin-drinker in the slum; but drink when you
would be happy without it, and you will be like the laughing peasant of
Italy.  Never drink because you need it, for this is rational drinking,
and the way to death and hell. But drink because you do not need it,
for this is irrational drinking, and the ancient health of the world.

For more than thirty years the shadow and glory of a great Eastern
figure has lain upon our English literature. Fitzgerald's translation
of Omar Khayyam concentrated into an immortal poignancy all the dark
and drifting hedonism of our time. Of the literary splendour of that
work it would be merely banal to speak; in few other of the books of
men has there been anything so combining the gay pugnacity of an
epigram with the vague sadness of a song. But of its philosophical,
ethical, and religious influence which has been almost as great as its
brilliancy, I should like to say a word, and that word, I confess, one
of uncompromising hostility. There are a great many things which might
be said against the spirit of the Rubaiyat, and against its prodigious
influence. But one matter of indictment towers ominously above the
rest--a genuine disgrace to it, a genuine calamity to us.  This is the
terrible blow that this great poem has struck against sociability and
the joy of life.  Some one called Omar "the sad, glad old Persian." Sad
he is; glad he is not, in any sense of the word whatever. He has been a
worse foe to gladness than the Puritans.

A pensive and graceful Oriental lies under the rose-tree with his
wine-pot and his scroll of poems.  It may seem strange that any one's
thoughts should, at the moment of regarding him, fly back to the dark
bedside where the doctor doles out brandy. It may seem stranger still
that they should go back to the grey wastrel shaking with gin in
Houndsditch. But a great philosophical unity links the three in an evil
bond. Omar Khayyam's wine-bibbing is bad, not because it is
wine-bibbing. It is bad, and very bad, because it is medical
wine-bibbing. It is the drinking of a man who drinks because he is not
happy. His is the wine that shuts out the universe, not the wine that
reveals it. It is not poetical drinking, which is joyous and
instinctive; it is rational drinking, which is as prosaic as an
investment, as unsavoury as a dose of camomile.  Whole heavens above
it, from the point of view of sentiment, though not of style, rises the
splendour of some old English drinking-song--

  "Then pass the bowl, my comrades all,
   And let the zider vlow."

For this song was caught up by happy men to express the worth of truly
worthy things, of brotherhood and garrulity, and the brief and kindly
leisure of the poor.  Of course, the great part of the more stolid
reproaches directed against the Omarite morality are as false and
babyish as such reproaches usually are.  One critic, whose work I have
read, had the incredible foolishness to call Omar an atheist and a
materialist.  It is almost impossible for an Oriental to be either; the
East understands metaphysics too well for that. Of course, the real
objection which a philosophical Christian would bring against the
religion of Omar, is not that he gives no place to God, it is that he
gives too much place to God. His is that terrible theism which can
imagine nothing else but deity, and which denies altogether the
outlines of human personality and human will.

  "The ball no question makes of Ayes or Noes,
   But Here or There as strikes the Player goes;
   And He that tossed you down into the field,
   He knows about it all--he knows--he knows."

A Christian thinker such as Augustine or Dante would object to this
because it ignores free-will, which is the valour and dignity of the
soul. The quarrel of the highest Christianity with this scepticism is
not in the least that the scepticism denies the existence of God; it is
that it denies the existence of man.

In this cult of the pessimistic pleasure-seeker the Rubaiyat stands
first in our time; but it does not stand alone. Many of the most
brilliant intellects of our time have urged us to the same
self-conscious snatching at a rare delight. Walter Pater said that we
were all under sentence of death, and the only course was to enjoy
exquisite moments simply for those moments' sake.  The same lesson was
taught by the very powerful and very desolate philosophy of Oscar
Wilde. It is the carpe diem religion; but the carpe diem religion is
not the religion of happy people, but of very unhappy people. Great joy
does, not gather the rosebuds while it may; its eyes are fixed on the
immortal rose which Dante saw. Great joy has in it the sense of
immortality; the very splendour of youth is the sense that it has all
space to stretch its legs in. In all great comic literature, in
"Tristram Shandy" or "Pickwick", there is this sense of space and
incorruptibility; we feel the characters are deathless people in an
endless tale.

It is true enough, of course, that a pungent happiness comes chiefly in
certain passing moments; but it is not true that we should think of
them as passing, or enjoy them simply "for those moments' sake." To do
this is to rationalize the happiness, and therefore to destroy it.
Happiness is a mystery like religion, and should never be rationalized.
Suppose a man experiences a really splendid moment of pleasure. I do
not mean something connected with a bit of enamel, I mean something
with a violent happiness in it--an almost painful happiness. A man may
have, for instance, a moment of ecstasy in first love, or a moment of
victory in battle.  The lover enjoys the moment, but precisely not for
the moment's sake.  He enjoys it for the woman's sake, or his own sake.
The warrior enjoys the moment, but not for the sake of the moment; he
enjoys it for the sake of the flag. The cause which the flag stands for
may be foolish and fleeting; the love may be calf-love, and last a
week.  But the patriot thinks of the flag as eternal; the lover thinks
of his love as something that cannot end.  These moments are filled
with eternity; these moments are joyful because they do not seem
momentary. Once look at them as moments after Pater's manner, and they
become as cold as Pater and his style.  Man cannot love mortal things.
He can only love immortal things for an instant.

Pater's mistake is revealed in his most famous phrase. He asks us to
burn with a hard, gem-like flame.  Flames are never hard and never
gem-like--they cannot be handled or arranged. So human emotions are
never hard and never gem-like; they are always dangerous, like flames,
to touch or even to examine. There is only one way in which our
passions can become hard and gem-like, and that is by becoming as cold
as gems. No blow then has ever been struck at the natural loves and
laughter of men so sterilizing as this carpe diem of the aesthetes. For
any kind of pleasure a totally different spirit is required; a certain
shyness, a certain indeterminate hope, a certain boyish expectation.
Purity and simplicity are essential to passions--yes even to evil
passions.  Even vice demands a sort of virginity.

Omar's (or Fitzgerald's) effect upon the other world we may let go, his
hand upon this world has been heavy and paralyzing. The Puritans, as I
have said, are far jollier than he. The new ascetics who follow Thoreau
or Tolstoy are much livelier company; for, though the surrender of
strong drink and such luxuries may strike us as an idle negation, it
may leave a man with innumerable natural pleasures, and, above all,
with man's natural power of happiness. Thoreau could enjoy the sunrise
without a cup of coffee.  If Tolstoy cannot admire marriage, at least
he is healthy enough to admire mud. Nature can be enjoyed without even
the most natural luxuries. A good bush needs no wine.  But neither
nature nor wine nor anything else can be enjoyed if we have the wrong
attitude towards happiness, and Omar (or Fitzgerald) did have the wrong
attitude towards happiness. He and those he has influenced do not see
that if we are to be truly gay, we must believe that there is some
eternal gaiety in the nature of things. We cannot enjoy thoroughly even
a pas-de-quatre at a subscription dance unless we believe that the
stars are dancing to the same tune.  No one can be really hilarious but
the serious man.  "Wine," says the Scripture, "maketh glad the heart of
man," but only of the man who has a heart. The thing called high
spirits is possible only to the spiritual. Ultimately a man cannot
rejoice in anything except the nature of things. Ultimately a man can
enjoy nothing except religion.  Once in the world's history men did
believe that the stars were dancing to the tune of their temples, and
they danced as men have never danced since. With this old pagan
eudaemonism the sage of the Rubaiyat has quite as little to do as he
has with any Christian variety. He is no more a Bacchanal than he is a
saint.  Dionysus and his church was grounded on a serious joie-de-vivre
like that of Walt Whitman. Dionysus made wine, not a medicine, but a
sacrament. Jesus Christ also made wine, not a medicine, but a
sacrament. But Omar makes it, not a sacrament, but a medicine.  He
feasts because life is not joyful; he revels because he is not glad.
"Drink," he says, "for you know not whence you come nor why. Drink, for
you know not when you go nor where.  Drink, because the stars are cruel
and the world as idle as a humming-top. Drink, because there is nothing
worth trusting, nothing worth fighting for. Drink, because all things
are lapsed in a base equality and an evil peace."  So he stands
offering us the cup in his hand. And at the high altar of Christianity
stands another figure, in whose hand also is the cup of the vine.
"Drink" he says "for the whole world is as red as this wine, with the
crimson of the love and wrath of God.  Drink, for the trumpets are
blowing for battle and this is the stirrup-cup. Drink, for this my
blood of the new testament that is shed for you.  Drink, for I know of
whence you come and why. Drink, for I know of when you go and where."



VIII.  The Mildness of the Yellow Press

There is a great deal of protest made from one quarter or another
nowadays against the influence of that new journalism which is
associated with the names of Sir Alfred Harmsworth and Mr. Pearson. But
almost everybody who attacks it attacks on the ground that it is very
sensational, very violent and vulgar and startling. I am speaking in no
affected contrariety, but in the simplicity of a genuine personal
impression, when I say that this journalism offends as being not
sensational or violent enough.  The real vice is not that it is
startling, but that it is quite insupportably tame. The whole object is
to keep carefully along a certain level of the expected and the
commonplace; it may be low, but it must take care also to be flat.
Never by any chance in it is there any of that real plebeian pungency
which can be heard from the ordinary cabman in the ordinary street.  We
have heard of a certain standard of decorum which demands that things
should be funny without being vulgar, but the standard of this decorum
demands that if things are vulgar they shall be vulgar without being
funny.  This journalism does not merely fail to exaggerate life--it
positively underrates it; and it has to do so because it is intended
for the faint and languid recreation of men whom the fierceness of
modern life has fatigued. This press is not the yellow press at all; it
is the drab press. Sir Alfred Harmsworth must not address to the tired
clerk any observation more witty than the tired clerk might be able to
address to Sir Alfred Harmsworth.  It must not expose anybody (anybody
who is powerful, that is), it must not offend anybody, it must not even
please anybody, too much.  A general vague idea that in spite of all
this, our yellow press is sensational, arises from such external
accidents as large type or lurid headlines. It is quite true that these
editors print everything they possibly can in large capital letters.
But they do this, not because it is startling, but because it is
soothing.  To people wholly weary or partly drunk in a dimly lighted
train, it is a simplification and a comfort to have things presented in
this vast and obvious manner. The editors use this gigantic alphabet in
dealing with their readers, for exactly the same reason that parents
and governesses use a similar gigantic alphabet in teaching children to
spell. The nursery authorities do not use an A as big as a horseshoe in
order to make the child jump; on the contrary, they use it to put the
child at his ease, to make things smoother and more evident. Of the
same character is the dim and quiet dame school which Sir Alfred
Harmsworth and Mr. Pearson keep.  All their sentiments are
spelling-book sentiments--that is to say, they are sentiments with
which the pupil is already respectfully familiar. All their wildest
posters are leaves torn from a copy-book.

Of real sensational journalism, as it exists in France, in Ireland, and
in America, we have no trace in this country. When a journalist in
Ireland wishes to create a thrill, he creates a thrill worth talking
about.  He denounces a leading Irish member for corruption, or he
charges the whole police system with a wicked and definite conspiracy.
When a French journalist desires a frisson there is a frisson; he
discovers, let us say, that the President of the Republic has murdered
three wives. Our yellow journalists invent quite as unscrupulously as
this; their moral condition is, as regards careful veracity, about the
same. But it is their mental calibre which happens to be such that they
can only invent calm and even reassuring things. The fictitious version
of the massacre of the envoys of Pekin was mendacious, but it was not
interesting, except to those who had private reasons for terror or
sorrow.  It was not connected with any bold and suggestive view of the
Chinese situation. It revealed only a vague idea that nothing could be
impressive except a great deal of blood.  Real sensationalism, of which
I happen to be very fond, may be either moral or immoral. But even when
it is most immoral, it requires moral courage. For it is one of the
most dangerous things on earth genuinely to surprise anybody.  If you
make any sentient creature jump, you render it by no means improbable
that it will jump on you. But the leaders of this movement have no
moral courage or immoral courage; their whole method consists in
saying, with large and elaborate emphasis, the things which everybody
else says casually, and without remembering what they have said.  When
they brace themselves up to attack anything, they never reach the point
of attacking anything which is large and real, and would resound with
the shock.  They do not attack the army as men do in France, or the
judges as men do in Ireland, or the democracy itself as men did in
England a hundred years ago. They attack something like the War
Office--something, that is, which everybody attacks and nobody bothers
to defend, something which is an old joke in fourth-rate comic papers.
just as a man shows he has a weak voice by straining it to shout, so
they show the hopelessly unsensational nature of their minds when they
really try to be sensational. With the whole world full of big and
dubious institutions, with the whole wickedness of civilization staring
them in the face, their idea of being bold and bright is to attack the
War Office. They might as well start a campaign against the weather, or
form a secret society in order to make jokes about mothers-in-law. Nor
is it only from the point of view of particular amateurs of the
sensational such as myself, that it is permissible to say, in the words
of Cowper's Alexander Selkirk, that "their tameness is shocking to me."
The whole modern world is pining for a genuinely sensational
journalism. This has been discovered by that very able and honest
journalist, Mr. Blatchford, who started his campaign against
Christianity, warned on all sides, I believe, that it would ruin his
paper, but who continued from an honourable sense of intellectual
responsibility. He discovered, however, that while he had undoubtedly
shocked his readers, he had also greatly advanced his newspaper. It was
bought--first, by all the people who agreed with him and wanted to read
it; and secondly, by all the people who disagreed with him, and wanted
to write him letters.  Those letters were voluminous (I helped, I am
glad to say, to swell their volume), and they were generally inserted
with a generous fulness.  Thus was accidentally discovered (like the
steam-engine) the great journalistic maxim--that if an editor can only
make people angry enough, they will write half his newspaper for him
for nothing.

Some hold that such papers as these are scarcely the proper objects of
so serious a consideration; but that can scarcely be maintained from a
political or ethical point of view. In this problem of the mildness and
tameness of the Harmsworth mind there is mirrored the outlines of a
much larger problem which is akin to it.

The Harmsworthian journalist begins with a worship of success and
violence, and ends in sheer timidity and mediocrity. But he is not
alone in this, nor does he come by this fate merely because he happens
personally to be stupid.  Every man, however brave, who begins by
worshipping violence, must end in mere timidity. Every man, however
wise, who begins by worshipping success, must end in mere mediocrity.
This strange and paradoxical fate is involved, not in the individual,
but in the philosophy, in the point of view. It is not the folly of the
man which brings about this necessary fall; it is his wisdom.  The
worship of success is the only one out of all possible worships of
which this is true, that its followers are foredoomed to become slaves
and cowards. A man may be a hero for the sake of Mrs. Gallup's ciphers
or for the sake of human sacrifice, but not for the sake of success.
For obviously a man may choose to fail because he loves Mrs. Gallup or
human sacrifice; but he cannot choose to fail because he loves success.
When the test of triumph is men's test of everything, they never endure
long enough to triumph at all. As long as matters are really hopeful,
hope is a mere flattery or platitude; it is only when everything is
hopeless that hope begins to be a strength at all.  Like all the
Christian virtues, it is as unreasonable as it is indispensable.

It was through this fatal paradox in the nature of things that all
these modern adventurers come at last to a sort of tedium and
acquiescence. They desired strength; and to them to desire strength was
to admire strength; to admire strength was simply to admire the statu
quo. They thought that he who wished to be strong ought to respect the
strong. They did not realize the obvious verity that he who wishes to
be strong must despise the strong.  They sought to be everything, to
have the whole force of the cosmos behind them, to have an energy that
would drive the stars.  But they did not realize the two great
facts--first, that in the attempt to be everything the first and most
difficult step is to be something; second, that the moment a man is
something, he is essentially defying everything. The lower animals, say
the men of science, fought their way up with a blind selfishness.  If
this be so, the only real moral of it is that our unselfishness, if it
is to triumph, must be equally blind. The mammoth did not put his head
on one side and wonder whether mammoths were a little out of date.
Mammoths were at least as much up to date as that individual mammoth
could make them. The great elk did not say, "Cloven hoofs are very much
worn now." He polished his own weapons for his own use.  But in the
reasoning animal there has arisen a more horrible danger, that he may
fail through perceiving his own failure.  When modern sociologists talk
of the necessity of accommodating one's self to the trend of the time,
they forget that the trend of the time at its best consists entirely of
people who will not accommodate themselves to anything. At its worst it
consists of many millions of frightened creatures all accommodating
themselves to a trend that is not there. And that is becoming more and
more the situation of modern England. Every man speaks of public
opinion, and means by public opinion, public opinion minus his opinion.
Every man makes his contribution negative under the erroneous
impression that the next man's contribution is positive.  Every man
surrenders his fancy to a general tone which is itself a surrender. And
over all the heartless and fatuous unity spreads this new and wearisome
and platitudinous press, incapable of invention, incapable of audacity,
capable only of a servility all the more contemptible because it is not
even a servility to the strong. But all who begin with force and
conquest will end in this.

The chief characteristic of the "New journalism" is simply that it is
bad journalism.  It is beyond all comparison the most shapeless,
careless, and colourless work done in our day.

I read yesterday a sentence which should be written in letters of gold
and adamant; it is the very motto of the new philosophy of Empire. I
found it (as the reader has already eagerly guessed) in Pearson's
Magazine, while I was communing (soul to soul) with Mr. C. Arthur
Pearson, whose first and suppressed name I am afraid is Chilperic. It
occurred in an article on the American Presidential Election. This is
the sentence, and every one should read it carefully, and roll it on
the tongue, till all the honey be tasted.

"A little sound common sense often goes further with an audience of
American working-men than much high-flown argument.  A speaker who, as
he brought forward his points, hammered nails into a board, won
hundreds of votes for his side at the last Presidential Election."

I do not wish to soil this perfect thing with comment; the words of
Mercury are harsh after the songs of Apollo. But just think for a
moment of the mind, the strange inscrutable mind, of the man who wrote
that, of the editor who approved it, of the people who are probably
impressed by it, of the incredible American working-man, of whom, for
all I know, it may be true. Think what their notion of "common sense"
must be!  It is delightful to realize that you and I are now able to
win thousands of votes should we ever be engaged in a Presidential
Election, by doing something of this kind.  For I suppose the nails and
the board are not essential to the exhibition of "common sense;" there
may be variations. We may read--

"A little common sense impresses American working-men more than
high-flown argument.  A speaker who, as he made his points, pulled
buttons off his waistcoat, won thousands of votes for his side." Or,
"Sound common sense tells better in America than high-flown argument.
Thus Senator Budge, who threw his false teeth in the air every time he
made an epigram, won the solid approval of American working-men." Or
again, "The sound common sense of a gentleman from Earlswood, who stuck
straws in his hair during the progress of his speech, assured the
victory of Mr. Roosevelt."

There are many other elements in this article on which I should love to
linger.  But the matter which I wish to point out is that in that
sentence is perfectly revealed the whole truth of what our
Chamberlainites, hustlers, bustlers, Empire-builders, and strong,
silent men, really mean by "commonsense."  They mean knocking, with
deafening noise and dramatic effect, meaningless bits of iron into a
useless bit of wood.  A man goes on to an American platform and behaves
like a mountebank fool with a board and a hammer; well, I do not blame
him; I might even admire him. He may be a dashing and quite decent
strategist.  He may be a fine romantic actor, like Burke flinging the
dagger on the floor. He may even (for all I know) be a sublime mystic,
profoundly impressed with the ancient meaning of the divine trade of
the Carpenter, and offering to the people a parable in the form of a
ceremony. All I wish to indicate is the abyss of mental confusion in
which such wild ritualism can be called "sound common sense." And it is
in that abyss of mental confusion, and in that alone, that the new
Imperialism lives and moves and has its being. The whole glory and
greatness of Mr. Chamberlain consists in this: that if a man hits the
right nail on the head nobody cares where he hits it to or what it
does.  They care about the noise of the hammer, not about the silent
drip of the nail.  Before and throughout the African war, Mr.
Chamberlain was always knocking in nails, with ringing decisiveness.
But when we ask, "But what have these nails held together? Where is
your carpentry?  Where are your contented Outlanders? Where is your
free South Africa?  Where is your British prestige? What have your
nails done?" then what answer is there? We must go back (with an
affectionate sigh) to our Pearson for the answer to the question of
what the nails have done: "The speaker who hammered nails into a board
won thousands of votes."

Now the whole of this passage is admirably characteristic of the new
journalism which Mr. Pearson represents, the new journalism which has
just purchased the Standard.  To take one instance out of hundreds, the
incomparable man with the board and nails is described in the Pearson's
article as calling out (as he smote the symbolic nail), "Lie number
one. Nailed to the Mast!  Nailed to the Mast!"  In the whole office
there was apparently no compositor or office-boy to point out that we
speak of lies being nailed to the counter, and not to the mast. Nobody
in the office knew that Pearson's Magazine was falling into a stale
Irish bull, which must be as old as St. Patrick. This is the real and
essential tragedy of the sale of the Standard. It is not merely that
journalism is victorious over literature. It is that bad journalism is
victorious over good journalism.

It is not that one article which we consider costly and beautiful is
being ousted by another kind of article which we consider common or
unclean. It is that of the same article a worse quality is preferred to
a better. If you like popular journalism (as I do), you will know that
Pearson's Magazine is poor and weak popular journalism.  You will know
it as certainly as you know bad butter.  You will know as certainly
that it is poor popular journalism as you know that the Strand, in the
great days of Sherlock Holmes, was good popular journalism. Mr. Pearson
has been a monument of this enormous banality. About everything he says
and does there is something infinitely weak-minded. He clamours for
home trades and employs foreign ones to print his paper.  When this
glaring fact is pointed out, he does not say that the thing was an
oversight, like a sane man. He cuts it off with scissors, like a child
of three.  His very cunning is infantile.  And like a child of three,
he does not cut it quite off. In all human records I doubt if there is
such an example of a profound simplicity in deception.  This is the
sort of intelligence which now sits in the seat of the sane and
honourable old Tory journalism. If it were really the triumph of the
tropical exuberance of the Yankee press, it would be vulgar, but still
tropical.  But it is not. We are delivered over to the bramble, and
from the meanest of the shrubs comes the fire upon the cedars of
Lebanon.

The only question now is how much longer the fiction will endure that
journalists of this order represent public opinion. It may be doubted
whether any honest and serious Tariff Reformer would for a moment
maintain that there was any majority for Tariff Reform in the country
comparable to the ludicrous preponderance which money has given it
among the great dailies. The only inference is that for purposes of
real public opinion the press is now a mere plutocratic oligarchy.
Doubtless the public buys the wares of these men, for one reason or
another. But there is no more reason to suppose that the public admires
their politics than that the public admires the delicate philosophy of
Mr. Crosse or the darker and sterner creed of Mr. Blackwell. If these
men are merely tradesmen, there is nothing to say except that there are
plenty like them in the Battersea Park Road, and many much better.  But
if they make any sort of attempt to be politicians, we can only point
out to them that they are not as yet even good journalists.



IX.  The Moods of Mr. George Moore

Mr. George Moore began his literary career by writing his personal
confessions; nor is there any harm in this if he had not continued them
for the remainder of his life.  He is a man of genuinely forcible mind
and of great command over a kind of rhetorical and fugitive conviction
which excites and pleases. He is in a perpetual state of temporary
honesty.  He has admired all the most admirable modern eccentrics until
they could stand it no longer.  Everything he writes, it is to be fully
admitted, has a genuine mental power.  His account of his reason for
leaving the Roman Catholic Church is possibly the most admirable
tribute to that communion which has been written of late years. For the
fact of the matter is, that the weakness which has rendered barren the
many brilliancies of Mr. Moore is actually that weakness which the
Roman Catholic Church is at its best in combating. Mr. Moore hates
Catholicism because it breaks up the house of looking-glasses in which
he lives.  Mr. Moore does not dislike so much being asked to believe in
the spiritual existence of miracles or sacraments, but he does
fundamentally dislike being asked to believe in the actual existence of
other people. Like his master Pater and all the aesthetes, his real
quarrel with life is that it is not a dream that can be moulded by the
dreamer. It is not the dogma of the reality of the other world that
troubles him, but the dogma of the reality of this world.

The truth is that the tradition of Christianity (which is still the
only coherent ethic of Europe) rests on two or three paradoxes or
mysteries which can easily be impugned in argument and as easily
justified in life. One of them, for instance, is the paradox of hope or
faith--that the more hopeless is the situation the more hopeful must be
the man. Stevenson understood this, and consequently Mr. Moore cannot
understand Stevenson.  Another is the paradox of charity or chivalry
that the weaker a thing is the more it should be respected, that the
more indefensible a thing is the more it should appeal to us for a
certain kind of defence.  Thackeray understood this, and therefore Mr.
Moore does not understand Thackeray.  Now, one of these very practical
and working mysteries in the Christian tradition, and one which the
Roman Catholic Church, as I say, has done her best work in singling
out, is the conception of the sinfulness of pride. Pride is a weakness
in the character; it dries up laughter, it dries up wonder, it dries up
chivalry and energy. The Christian tradition understands this;
therefore Mr. Moore does not understand the Christian tradition.

For the truth is much stranger even than it appears in the formal
doctrine of the sin of pride.  It is not only true that humility is a
much wiser and more vigorous thing than pride. It is also true that
vanity is a much wiser and more vigorous thing than pride.  Vanity is
social--it is almost a kind of comradeship; pride is solitary and
uncivilized.  Vanity is active; it desires the applause of infinite
multitudes; pride is passive, desiring only the applause of one person,
which it already has. Vanity is humorous, and can enjoy the joke even
of itself; pride is dull, and cannot even smile.  And the whole of this
difference is the difference between Stevenson and Mr. George Moore,
who, as he informs us, has "brushed Stevenson aside."  I do not know
where he has been brushed to, but wherever it is I fancy he is having a
good time, because he had the wisdom to be vain, and not proud.
Stevenson had a windy vanity; Mr. Moore has a dusty egoism. Hence
Stevenson could amuse himself as well as us with his vanity; while the
richest effects of Mr. Moore's absurdity are hidden from his eyes.

If we compare this solemn folly with the happy folly with which
Stevenson belauds his own books and berates his own critics, we shall
not find it difficult to guess why it is that Stevenson at least found
a final philosophy of some sort to live by, while Mr. Moore is always
walking the world looking for a new one. Stevenson had found that the
secret of life lies in laughter and humility. Self is the gorgon.
Vanity sees it in the mirror of other men and lives. Pride studies it
for itself and is turned to stone.

It is necessary to dwell on this defect in Mr. Moore, because it is
really the weakness of work which is not without its strength. Mr.
Moore's egoism is not merely a moral weakness, it is a very constant
and influential aesthetic weakness as well. We should really be much
more interested in Mr. Moore if he were not quite so interested in
himself.  We feel as if we were being shown through a gallery of really
fine pictures, into each of which, by some useless and discordant
convention, the artist had represented the same figure in the same
attitude.  "The Grand Canal with a distant view of Mr. Moore," "Effect
of Mr. Moore through a Scotch Mist," "Mr. Moore by Firelight," "Ruins
of Mr. Moore by Moonlight," and so on, seems to be the endless series.
He would no doubt reply that in such a book as this he intended to
reveal himself. But the answer is that in such a book as this he does
not succeed. One of the thousand objections to the sin of pride lies
precisely in this, that self-consciousness of necessity destroys
self-revelation. A man who thinks a great deal about himself will try
to be many-sided, attempt a theatrical excellence at all points, will
try to be an encyclopaedia of culture, and his own real personality
will be lost in that false universalism. Thinking about himself will
lead to trying to be the universe; trying to be the universe will lead
to ceasing to be anything. If, on the other hand, a man is sensible
enough to think only about the universe; he will think about it in his
own individual way. He will keep virgin the secret of God; he will see
the grass as no other man can see it, and look at a sun that no man has
ever known. This fact is very practically brought out in Mr. Moore's
"Confessions." In reading them we do not feel the presence of a
clean-cut personality like that of Thackeray and Matthew Arnold. We
only read a number of quite clever and largely conflicting opinions
which might be uttered by any clever person, but which we are called
upon to admire specifically, because they are uttered by Mr. Moore. He
is the only thread that connects Catholicism and Protestantism, realism
and mysticism--he or rather his name.  He is profoundly absorbed even
in views he no longer holds, and he expects us to be. And he intrudes
the capital "I" even where it need not be intruded--even where it
weakens the force of a plain statement. Where another man would say,
"It is a fine day," Mr. Moore says, "Seen through my temperament, the
day appeared fine." Where another man would say "Milton has obviously a
fine style," Mr. Moore would say, "As a stylist Milton had always
impressed me." The Nemesis of this self-centred spirit is that of being
totally ineffectual.  Mr. Moore has started many interesting crusades,
but he has abandoned them before his disciples could begin. Even when
he is on the side of the truth he is as fickle as the children of
falsehood.  Even when he has found reality he cannot find rest. One
Irish quality he has which no Irishman was ever without--pugnacity; and
that is certainly a great virtue, especially in the present age. But he
has not the tenacity of conviction which goes with the fighting spirit
in a man like Bernard Shaw.  His weakness of introspection and
selfishness in all their glory cannot prevent him fighting; but they
will always prevent him winning.



X. On Sandals and Simplicity

The great misfortune of the modern English is not at all that they are
more boastful than other people (they are not); it is that they are
boastful about those particular things which nobody can boast of
without losing them.  A Frenchman can be proud of being bold and
logical, and still remain bold and logical. A German can be proud of
being reflective and orderly, and still remain reflective and orderly.
But an Englishman cannot be proud of being simple and direct, and still
remain simple and direct. In the matter of these strange virtues, to
know them is to kill them. A man may be conscious of being heroic or
conscious of being divine, but he cannot (in spite of all the
Anglo-Saxon poets) be conscious of being unconscious.

Now, I do not think that it can be honestly denied that some portion of
this impossibility attaches to a class very different in their own
opinion, at least, to the school of Anglo-Saxonism. I mean that school
of the simple life, commonly associated with Tolstoy. If a perpetual
talk about one's own robustness leads to being less robust, it is even
more true that a perpetual talking about one's own simplicity leads to
being less simple. One great complaint, I think, must stand against the
modern upholders of the simple life--the simple life in all its varied
forms, from vegetarianism to the honourable consistency of the
Doukhobors. This complaint against them stands, that they would make us
simple in the unimportant things, but complex in the important things.
They would make us simple in the things that do not matter--that is, in
diet, in costume, in etiquette, in economic system. But they would make
us complex in the things that do matter--in philosophy, in loyalty, in
spiritual acceptance, and spiritual rejection. It does not so very much
matter whether a man eats a grilled tomato or a plain tomato; it does
very much matter whether he eats a plain tomato with a grilled mind.
The only kind of simplicity worth preserving is the simplicity of the
heart, the simplicity which accepts and enjoys. There may be a
reasonable doubt as to what system preserves this; there can surely be
no doubt that a system of simplicity destroys it. There is more
simplicity in the man who eats caviar on impulse than in the man who
eats grape-nuts on principle. The chief error of these people is to be
found in the very phrase to which they are most attached--"plain living
and high thinking." These people do not stand in need of, will not be
improved by, plain living and high thinking.  They stand in need of the
contrary. They would be improved by high living and plain thinking. A
little high living (I say, having a full sense of responsibility, a
little high living) would teach them the force and meaning of the human
festivities, of the banquet that has gone on from the beginning of the
world.  It would teach them the historic fact that the artificial is,
if anything, older than the natural. It would teach them that the
loving-cup is as old as any hunger. It would teach them that ritualism
is older than any religion. And a little plain thinking would teach
them how harsh and fanciful are the mass of their own ethics, how very
civilized and very complicated must be the brain of the Tolstoyan who
really believes it to be evil to love one's country and wicked to
strike a blow.

A man approaches, wearing sandals and simple raiment, a raw tomato held
firmly in his right hand, and says, "The affections of family and
country alike are hindrances to the fuller development of human love;"
but the plain thinker will only answer him, with a wonder not untinged
with admiration, "What a great deal of trouble you must have taken in
order to feel like that." High living will reject the tomato.  Plain
thinking will equally decisively reject the idea of the invariable
sinfulness of war. High living will convince us that nothing is more
materialistic than to despise a pleasure as purely material.  And plain
thinking will convince us that nothing is more materialistic than to
reserve our horror chiefly for material wounds.

The only simplicity that matters is the simplicity of the heart. If
that be gone, it can be brought back by no turnips or cellular
clothing; but only by tears and terror and the fires that are not
quenched. If that remain, it matters very little if a few Early
Victorian armchairs remain along with it.  Let us put a complex entree
into a simple old gentleman; let us not put a simple entree into a
complex old gentleman.  So long as human society will leave my
spiritual inside alone, I will allow it, with a comparative submission,
to work its wild will with my physical interior.  I will submit to
cigars. I will meekly embrace a bottle of Burgundy.  I will humble
myself to a hansom cab.  If only by this means I may preserve to myself
the virginity of the spirit, which enjoys with astonishment and fear. I
do not say that these are the only methods of preserving it. I incline
to the belief that there are others.  But I will have nothing to do
with simplicity which lacks the fear, the astonishment, and the joy
alike.  I will have nothing to do with the devilish vision of a child
who is too simple to like toys.

The child is, indeed, in these, and many other matters, the best guide.
And in nothing is the child so righteously childlike, in nothing does
he exhibit more accurately the sounder order of simplicity, than in the
fact that he sees everything with a simple pleasure, even the complex
things.  The false type of naturalness harps always on the distinction
between the natural and the artificial. The higher kind of naturalness
ignores that distinction. To the child the tree and the lamp-post are
as natural and as artificial as each other; or rather, neither of them
are natural but both supernatural.  For both are splendid and
unexplained. The flower with which God crowns the one, and the flame
with which Sam the lamplighter crowns the other, are equally of the
gold of fairy-tales. In the middle of the wildest fields the most
rustic child is, ten to one, playing at steam-engines. And the only
spiritual or philosophical objection to steam-engines is not that men
pay for them or work at them, or make them very ugly, or even that men
are killed by them; but merely that men do not play at them. The evil
is that the childish poetry of clockwork does not remain. The wrong is
not that engines are too much admired, but that they are not admired
enough.  The sin is not that engines are mechanical, but that men are
mechanical.

In this matter, then, as in all the other matters treated in this book,
our main conclusion is that it is a fundamental point of view, a
philosophy or religion which is needed, and not any change in habit or
social routine.  The things we need most for immediate practical
purposes are all abstractions.  We need a right view of the human lot,
a right view of the human society; and if we were living eagerly and
angrily in the enthusiasm of those things, we should, ipso facto, be
living simply in the genuine and spiritual sense. Desire and danger
make every one simple.  And to those who talk to us with interfering
eloquence about Jaeger and the pores of the skin, and about Plasmon and
the coats of the stomach, at them shall only be hurled the words that
are hurled at fops and gluttons, "Take no thought what ye shall eat or
what ye shall drink, or wherewithal ye shall be clothed.  For after all
these things do the Gentiles seek. But seek first the kingdom of God
and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you."
Those amazing words are not only extraordinarily good, practical
politics; they are also superlatively good hygiene.  The one supreme
way of making all those processes go right, the processes of health,
and strength, and grace, and beauty, the one and only way of making
certain of their accuracy, is to think about something else. If a man
is bent on climbing into the seventh heaven, he may be quite easy about
the pores of his skin.  If he harnesses his waggon to a star, the
process will have a most satisfactory effect upon the coats of his
stomach.  For the thing called "taking thought," the thing for which
the best modern word is "rationalizing," is in its nature, inapplicable
to all plain and urgent things. Men take thought and ponder
rationalistically, touching remote things--things that only
theoretically matter, such as the transit of Venus. But only at their
peril can men rationalize about so practical a matter as health.



XI Science and the Savages

A permanent disadvantage of the study of folk-lore and kindred subjects
is that the man of science can hardly be in the nature of things very
frequently a man of the world.  He is a student of nature; he is
scarcely ever a student of human nature. And even where this difficulty
is overcome, and he is in some sense a student of human nature, this is
only a very faint beginning of the painful progress towards being
human.  For the study of primitive race and religion stands apart in
one important respect from all, or nearly all, the ordinary scientific
studies. A man can understand astronomy only by being an astronomer; he
can understand entomology only by being an entomologist (or, perhaps,
an insect); but he can understand a great deal of anthropology merely
by being a man.  He is himself the animal which he studies. Hence
arises the fact which strikes the eye everywhere in the records of
ethnology and folk-lore--the fact that the same frigid and detached
spirit which leads to success in the study of astronomy or botany leads
to disaster in the study of mythology or human origins. It is necessary
to cease to be a man in order to do justice to a microbe; it is not
necessary to cease to be a man in order to do justice to men.  That
same suppression of sympathies, that same waving away of intuitions or
guess-work which make a man preternaturally clever in dealing with the
stomach of a spider, will make him preternaturally stupid in dealing
with the heart of man. He is making himself inhuman in order to
understand humanity. An ignorance of the other world is boasted by many
men of science; but in this matter their defect arises, not from
ignorance of the other world, but from ignorance of this world.  For
the secrets about which anthropologists concern themselves can be best
learnt, not from books or voyages, but from the ordinary commerce of
man with man. The secret of why some savage tribe worships monkeys or
the moon is not to be found even by travelling among those savages and
taking down their answers in a note-book, although the cleverest man
may pursue this course.  The answer to the riddle is in England; it is
in London; nay, it is in his own heart.  When a man has discovered why
men in Bond Street wear black hats he will at the same moment have
discovered why men in Timbuctoo wear red feathers. The mystery in the
heart of some savage war-dance should not be studied in books of
scientific travel; it should be studied at a subscription ball.  If a
man desires to find out the origins of religions, let him not go to the
Sandwich Islands; let him go to church. If a man wishes to know the
origin of human society, to know what society, philosophically
speaking, really is, let him not go into the British Museum; let him go
into society.

This total misunderstanding of the real nature of ceremonial gives rise
to the most awkward and dehumanized versions of the conduct of men in
rude lands or ages.  The man of science, not realizing that ceremonial
is essentially a thing which is done without a reason, has to find a
reason for every sort of ceremonial, and, as might be supposed, the
reason is generally a very absurd one--absurd because it originates not
in the simple mind of the barbarian, but in the sophisticated mind of
the professor.  The teamed man will say, for instance, "The natives of
Mumbojumbo Land believe that the dead man can eat and will require food
upon his journey to the other world.  This is attested by the fact that
they place food in the grave, and that any family not complying with
this rite is the object of the anger of the priests and the tribe." To
any one acquainted with humanity this way of talking is topsy-turvy. It
is like saying, "The English in the twentieth century believed that a
dead man could smell.  This is attested by the fact that they always
covered his grave with lilies, violets, or other flowers. Some priestly
and tribal terrors were evidently attached to the neglect of this
action, as we have records of several old ladies who were very much
disturbed in mind because their wreaths had not arrived in time for the
funeral."  It may be of course that savages put food with a dead man
because they think that a dead man can eat, or weapons with a dead man
because they think that a dead man can fight. But personally I do not
believe that they think anything of the kind. I believe they put food
or weapons on the dead for the same reason that we put flowers, because
it is an exceedingly natural and obvious thing to do.  We do not
understand, it is true, the emotion which makes us think it obvious and
natural; but that is because, like all the important emotions of human
existence it is essentially irrational.  We do not understand the
savage for the same reason that the savage does not understand himself.
And the savage does not understand himself for the same reason that we
do not understand ourselves either.

The obvious truth is that the moment any matter has passed through the
human mind it is finally and for ever spoilt for all purposes of
science.  It has become a thing incurably mysterious and infinite; this
mortal has put on immortality.  Even what we call our material desires
are spiritual, because they are human. Science can analyse a pork-chop,
and say how much of it is phosphorus and how much is protein; but
science cannot analyse any man's wish for a pork-chop, and say how much
of it is hunger, how much custom, how much nervous fancy, how much a
haunting love of the beautiful.  The man's desire for the pork-chop
remains literally as mystical and ethereal as his desire for heaven.
All attempts, therefore, at a science of any human things, at a science
of history, a science of folk-lore, a science of sociology, are by
their nature not merely hopeless, but crazy. You can no more be certain
in economic history that a man's desire for money was merely a desire
for money than you can be certain in hagiology that a saint's desire
for God was merely a desire for God. And this kind of vagueness in the
primary phenomena of the study is an absolutely final blow to anything
in the nature of a science. Men can construct a science with very few
instruments, or with very plain instruments; but no one on earth could
construct a science with unreliable instruments.  A man might work out
the whole of mathematics with a handful of pebbles, but not with a
handful of clay which was always falling apart into new fragments, and
falling together into new combinations. A man might measure heaven and
earth with a reed, but not with a growing reed.

As one of the enormous follies of folk-lore, let us take the case of
the transmigration of stories, and the alleged unity of their source.
Story after story the scientific mythologists have cut out of its place
in history, and pinned side by side with similar stories in their
museum of fables.  The process is industrious, it is fascinating, and
the whole of it rests on one of the plainest fallacies in the world.
That a story has been told all over the place at some time or other,
not only does not prove that it never really happened; it does not even
faintly indicate or make slightly more probable that it never happened.
That a large number of fishermen have falsely asserted that they have
caught a pike two feet long, does not in the least affect the question
of whether any one ever really did so.  That numberless journalists
announce a Franco-German war merely for money is no evidence one way or
the other upon the dark question of whether such a war ever occurred.
Doubtless in a few hundred years the innumerable Franco-German wars
that did not happen will have cleared the scientific mind of any belief
in the legendary war of '70 which did. But that will be because if
folk-lore students remain at all, their nature win be unchanged; and
their services to folk-lore will be still as they are at present,
greater than they know. For in truth these men do something far more
godlike than studying legends; they create them.

There are two kinds of stories which the scientists say cannot be true,
because everybody tells them.  The first class consists of the stories
which are told everywhere, because they are somewhat odd or clever;
there is nothing in the world to prevent their having happened to
somebody as an adventure any more than there is anything to prevent
their having occurred, as they certainly did occur, to somebody as an
idea. But they are not likely to have happened to many people. The
second class of their "myths" consist of the stories that are told
everywhere for the simple reason that they happen everywhere. Of the
first class, for instance, we might take such an example as the story
of William Tell, now generally ranked among legends upon the sole
ground that it is found in the tales of other peoples. Now, it is
obvious that this was told everywhere because whether true or
fictitious it is what is called "a good story;" it is odd, exciting,
and it has a climax.  But to suggest that some such eccentric incident
can never have happened in the whole history of archery, or that it did
not happen to any particular person of whom it is told, is stark
impudence.  The idea of shooting at a mark attached to some valuable or
beloved person is an idea doubtless that might easily have occurred to
any inventive poet. But it is also an idea that might easily occur to
any boastful archer. It might be one of the fantastic caprices of some
story-teller. It might equally well be one of the fantastic caprices of
some tyrant. It might occur first in real life and afterwards occur in
legends. Or it might just as well occur first in legends and afterwards
occur in real life.  If no apple has ever been shot off a boy's head
from the beginning of the world, it may be done tomorrow morning, and
by somebody who has never heard of William Tell.

This type of tale, indeed, may be pretty fairly paralleled with the
ordinary anecdote terminating in a repartee or an Irish bull. Such a
retort as the famous "je ne vois pas la necessite" we have all seen
attributed to Talleyrand, to Voltaire, to Henri Quatre, to an anonymous
judge, and so on.  But this variety does not in any way make it more
likely that the thing was never said at all. It is highly likely that
it was really said by somebody unknown. It is highly likely that it was
really said by Talleyrand. In any case, it is not any more difficult to
believe that the mot might have occurred to a man in conversation than
to a man writing memoirs. It might have occurred to any of the men I
have mentioned. But there is this point of distinction about it, that
it is not likely to have occurred to all of them.  And this is where
the first class of so-called myth differs from the second to which I
have previously referred.  For there is a second class of incident
found to be common to the stories of five or six heroes, say to Sigurd,
to Hercules, to Rustem, to the Cid, and so on. And the peculiarity of
this myth is that not only is it highly reasonable to imagine that it
really happened to one hero, but it is highly reasonable to imagine
that it really happened to all of them. Such a story, for instance, is
that of a great man having his strength swayed or thwarted by the
mysterious weakness of a woman. The anecdotal story, the story of
William Tell, is as I have said, popular, because it is peculiar.  But
this kind of story, the story of Samson and Delilah of Arthur and
Guinevere, is obviously popular because it is not peculiar.  It is
popular as good, quiet fiction is popular, because it tells the truth
about people. If the ruin of Samson by a woman, and the ruin of
Hercules by a woman, have a common legendary origin, it is gratifying
to know that we can also explain, as a fable, the ruin of Nelson by a
woman and the ruin of Parnell by a woman.  And, indeed, I have no doubt
whatever that, some centuries hence, the students of folk-lore will
refuse altogether to believe that Elizabeth Barrett eloped with Robert
Browning, and will prove their point up to the hilt by the
unquestionable fact that the whole fiction of the period was full of
such elopements from end to end.

Possibly the most pathetic of all the delusions of the modern students
of primitive belief is the notion they have about the thing they call
anthropomorphism.  They believe that primitive men attributed phenomena
to a god in human form in order to explain them, because his mind in
its sullen limitation could not reach any further than his own clownish
existence.  The thunder was called the voice of a man, the lightning
the eyes of a man, because by this explanation they were made more
reasonable and comfortable. The final cure for all this kind of
philosophy is to walk down a lane at night.  Any one who does so will
discover very quickly that men pictured something semi-human at the
back of all things, not because such a thought was natural, but because
it was supernatural; not because it made things more comprehensible,
but because it made them a hundred times more incomprehensible and
mysterious. For a man walking down a lane at night can see the
conspicuous fact that as long as nature keeps to her own course, she
has no power with us at all.  As long as a tree is a tree, it is a
top-heavy monster with a hundred arms, a thousand tongues, and only one
leg. But so long as a tree is a tree, it does not frighten us at all.
It begins to be something alien, to be something strange, only when it
looks like ourselves.  When a tree really looks like a man our knees
knock under us.  And when the whole universe looks like a man we fall
on our faces.



XII Paganism and Mr. Lowes Dickinson

Of the New Paganism (or neo-Paganism), as it was preached flamboyantly
by Mr. Swinburne or delicately by Walter Pater, there is no necessity
to take any very grave account, except as a thing which left behind it
incomparable exercises in the English language.  The New Paganism is no
longer new, and it never at any time bore the smallest resemblance to
Paganism. The ideas about the ancient civilization which it has left
loose in the public mind are certainly extraordinary enough. The term
"pagan" is continually used in fiction and light literature as meaning
a man without any religion, whereas a pagan was generally a man with
about half a dozen.  The pagans, according to this notion, were
continually crowning themselves with flowers and dancing about in an
irresponsible state, whereas, if there were two things that the best
pagan civilization did honestly believe in, they were a rather too
rigid dignity and a much too rigid responsibility. Pagans are depicted
as above all things inebriate and lawless, whereas they were above all
things reasonable and respectable. They are praised as disobedient when
they had only one great virtue--civic obedience.  They are envied and
admired as shamelessly happy when they had only one great sin--despair.

Mr. Lowes Dickinson, the most pregnant and provocative of recent
writers on this and similar subjects, is far too solid a man to have
fallen into this old error of the mere anarchy of Paganism. In order to
make hay of that Hellenic enthusiasm which has as its ideal mere
appetite and egotism, it is not necessary to know much philosophy, but
merely to know a little Greek. Mr. Lowes Dickinson knows a great deal
of philosophy, and also a great deal of Greek, and his error, if error
he has, is not that of the crude hedonist.  But the contrast which he
offers between Christianity and Paganism in the matter of moral
ideals--a contrast which he states very ably in a paper called "How
long halt ye?" which appeared in the Independent Review--does, I think,
contain an error of a deeper kind.  According to him, the ideal of
Paganism was not, indeed, a mere frenzy of lust and liberty and
caprice, but was an ideal of full and satisfied humanity. According to
him, the ideal of Christianity was the ideal of asceticism. When I say
that I think this idea wholly wrong as a matter of philosophy and
history, I am not talking for the moment about any ideal Christianity
of my own, or even of any primitive Christianity undefiled by after
events.  I am not, like so many modern Christian idealists, basing my
case upon certain things which Christ said. Neither am I, like so many
other Christian idealists, basing my case upon certain things that
Christ forgot to say. I take historic Christianity with all its sins
upon its head; I take it, as I would take Jacobinism, or Mormonism, or
any other mixed or unpleasing human product, and I say that the meaning
of its action was not to be found in asceticism.  I say that its point
of departure from Paganism was not asceticism.  I say that its point of
difference with the modern world was not asceticism. I say that St.
Simeon Stylites had not his main inspiration in asceticism. I say that
the main Christian impulse cannot be described as asceticism, even in
the ascetics.

Let me set about making the matter clear.  There is one broad fact
about the relations of Christianity and Paganism which is so simple
that many will smile at it, but which is so important that all moderns
forget it.  The primary fact about Christianity and Paganism is that
one came after the other.  Mr. Lowes Dickinson speaks of them as if
they were parallel ideals--even speaks as if Paganism were the newer of
the two, and the more fitted for a new age. He suggests that the Pagan
ideal will be the ultimate good of man; but if that is so, we must at
least ask with more curiosity than he allows for, why it was that man
actually found his ultimate good on earth under the stars, and threw it
away again. It is this extraordinary enigma to which I propose to
attempt an answer.

There is only one thing in the modern world that has been face to face
with Paganism; there is only one thing in the modern world which in
that sense knows anything about Paganism: and that is Christianity.
That fact is really the weak point in the whole of that hedonistic
neo-Paganism of which I have spoken. All that genuinely remains of the
ancient hymns or the ancient dances of Europe, all that has honestly
come to us from the festivals of Phoebus or Pan, is to be found in the
festivals of the Christian Church. If any one wants to hold the end of
a chain which really goes back to the heathen mysteries, he had better
take hold of a festoon of flowers at Easter or a string of sausages at
Christmas. Everything else in the modern world is of Christian origin,
even everything that seems most anti-Christian. The French Revolution
is of Christian origin.  The newspaper is of Christian origin. The
anarchists are of Christian origin.  Physical science is of Christian
origin.  The attack on Christianity is of Christian origin. There is
one thing, and one thing only, in existence at the present day which
can in any sense accurately be said to be of pagan origin, and that is
Christianity.

The real difference between Paganism and Christianity is perfectly
summed up in the difference between the pagan, or natural, virtues, and
those three virtues of Christianity which the Church of Rome calls
virtues of grace.  The pagan, or rational, virtues are such things as
justice and temperance, and Christianity has adopted them. The three
mystical virtues which Christianity has not adopted, but invented, are
faith, hope, and charity.  Now much easy and foolish Christian rhetoric
could easily be poured out upon those three words, but I desire to
confine myself to the two facts which are evident about them.  The
first evident fact (in marked contrast to the delusion of the dancing
pagan)--the first evident fact, I say, is that the pagan virtues, such
as justice and temperance, are the sad virtues, and that the mystical
virtues of faith, hope, and charity are the gay and exuberant virtues.
And the second evident fact, which is even more evident, is the fact
that the pagan virtues are the reasonable virtues, and that the
Christian virtues of faith, hope, and charity are in their essence as
unreasonable as they can be.

As the word "unreasonable" is open to misunderstanding, the matter may
be more accurately put by saying that each one of these Christian or
mystical virtues involves a paradox in its own nature, and that this is
not true of any of the typically pagan or rationalist virtues. Justice
consists in finding out a certain thing due to a certain man and giving
it to him.  Temperance consists in finding out the proper limit of a
particular indulgence and adhering to that.  But charity means
pardoning what is unpardonable, or it is no virtue at all. Hope means
hoping when things are hopeless, or it is no virtue at all. And faith
means believing the incredible, or it is no virtue at all.

It is somewhat amusing, indeed, to notice the difference between the
fate of these three paradoxes in the fashion of the modern mind.
Charity is a fashionable virtue in our time; it is lit up by the
gigantic firelight of Dickens.  Hope is a fashionable virtue to-day;
our attention has been arrested for it by the sudden and silver trumpet
of Stevenson.  But faith is unfashionable, and it is customary on every
side to cast against it the fact that it is a paradox. Everybody
mockingly repeats the famous childish definition that faith is "the
power of believing that which we know to be untrue." Yet it is not one
atom more paradoxical than hope or charity. Charity is the power of
defending that which we know to be indefensible. Hope is the power of
being cheerful in circumstances which we know to be desperate.  It is
true that there is a state of hope which belongs to bright prospects
and the morning; but that is not the virtue of hope. The virtue of hope
exists only in earthquake and, eclipse. It is true that there is a
thing crudely called charity, which means charity to the deserving
poor; but charity to the deserving is not charity at all, but justice.
It is the undeserving who require it, and the ideal either does not
exist at all, or exists wholly for them. For practical purposes it is
at the hopeless moment that we require the hopeful man, and the virtue
either does not exist at all, or begins to exist at that moment.
Exactly at the instant when hope ceases to be reasonable it begins to
be useful. Now the old pagan world went perfectly straightforward until
it discovered that going straightforward is an enormous mistake. It was
nobly and beautifully reasonable, and discovered in its death-pang this
lasting and valuable truth, a heritage for the ages, that
reasonableness will not do.  The pagan age was truly an Eden or golden
age, in this essential sense, that it is not to be recovered. And it is
not to be recovered in this sense again that, while we are certainly
jollier than the pagans, and much more right than the pagans, there is
not one of us who can, by the utmost stretch of energy, be so sensible
as the pagans. That naked innocence of the intellect cannot be
recovered by any man after Christianity; and for this excellent reason,
that every man after Christianity knows it to be misleading. Let me
take an example, the first that occurs to the mind, of this impossible
plainness in the pagan point of view.  The greatest tribute to
Christianity in the modern world is Tennyson's "Ulysses." The poet
reads into the story of Ulysses the conception of an incurable desire
to wander.  But the real Ulysses does not desire to wander at all. He
desires to get home.  He displays his heroic and unconquerable
qualities in resisting the misfortunes which baulk him; but that is
all. There is no love of adventure for its own sake; that is a
Christian product.  There is no love of Penelope for her own sake; that
is a Christian product.  Everything in that old world would appear to
have been clean and obvious.  A good man was a good man; a bad man was
a bad man.  For this reason they had no charity; for charity is a
reverent agnosticism towards the complexity of the soul. For this
reason they had no such thing as the art of fiction, the novel; for the
novel is a creation of the mystical idea of charity. For them a
pleasant landscape was pleasant, and an unpleasant landscape
unpleasant.  Hence they had no idea of romance; for romance consists in
thinking a thing more delightful because it is dangerous; it is a
Christian idea.  In a word, we cannot reconstruct or even imagine the
beautiful and astonishing pagan world. It was a world in which common
sense was really common.

My general meaning touching the three virtues of which I have spoken
will now, I hope, be sufficiently clear. They are all three
paradoxical, they are all three practical, and they are all three
paradoxical because they are practical. it is the stress of ultimate
need, and a terrible knowledge of things as they are, which led men to
set up these riddles, and to die for them. Whatever may be the meaning
of the contradiction, it is the fact that the only kind of hope that is
of any use in a battle is a hope that denies arithmetic.  Whatever may
be the meaning of the contradiction, it is the fact that the only kind
of charity which any weak spirit wants, or which any generous spirit
feels, is the charity which forgives the sins that are like scarlet.
Whatever may be the meaning of faith, it must always mean a certainty
about something we cannot prove.  Thus, for instance, we believe by
faith in the existence of other people.

But there is another Christian virtue, a virtue far more obviously and
historically connected with Christianity, which will illustrate even
better the connection between paradox and practical necessity. This
virtue cannot be questioned in its capacity as a historical symbol;
certainly Mr. Lowes Dickinson will not question it. It has been the
boast of hundreds of the champions of Christianity. It has been the
taunt of hundreds of the opponents of Christianity. It is, in essence,
the basis of Mr. Lowes Dickinson's whole distinction between
Christianity and Paganism.  I mean, of course, the virtue of humility.
I admit, of course, most readily, that a great deal of false Eastern
humility (that is, of strictly ascetic humility) mixed itself with the
main stream of European Christianity. We must not forget that when we
speak of Christianity we are speaking of a whole continent for about a
thousand years.  But of this virtue even more than of the other three,
I would maintain the general proposition adopted above.  Civilization
discovered Christian humility for the same urgent reason that it
discovered faith and charity--that is, because Christian civilization
had to discover it or die.

The great psychological discovery of Paganism, which turned it into
Christianity, can be expressed with some accuracy in one phrase. The
pagan set out, with admirable sense, to enjoy himself. By the end of
his civilization he had discovered that a man cannot enjoy himself and
continue to enjoy anything else. Mr. Lowes Dickinson has pointed out in
words too excellent to need any further elucidation, the absurd
shallowness of those who imagine that the pagan enjoyed himself only in
a materialistic sense. Of course, he enjoyed himself, not only
intellectually even, he enjoyed himself morally, he enjoyed himself
spiritually. But it was himself that he was enjoying; on the face of
it, a very natural thing to do.  Now, the psychological discovery is
merely this, that whereas it had been supposed that the fullest
possible enjoyment is to be found by extending our ego to infinity, the
truth is that the fullest possible enjoyment is to be found by reducing
our ego to zero.

Humility is the thing which is for ever renewing the earth and the
stars. It is humility, and not duty, which preserves the stars from
wrong, from the unpardonable wrong of casual resignation; it is through
humility that the most ancient heavens for us are fresh and strong. The
curse that came before history has laid on us all a tendency to be
weary of wonders.  If we saw the sun for the first time it would be the
most fearful and beautiful of meteors. Now that we see it for the
hundredth time we call it, in the hideous and blasphemous phrase of
Wordsworth, "the light of common day." We are inclined to increase our
claims.  We are inclined to demand six suns, to demand a blue sun, to
demand a green sun. Humility is perpetually putting us back in the
primal darkness. There all light is lightning, startling and
instantaneous. Until we understand that original dark, in which we have
neither sight nor expectation, we can give no hearty and childlike
praise to the splendid sensationalism of things.  The terms "pessimism"
and "optimism," like most modern terms, are unmeaning. But if they can
be used in any vague sense as meaning something, we may say that in
this great fact pessimism is the very basis of optimism.  The man who
destroys himself creates the universe. To the humble man, and to the
humble man alone, the sun is really a sun; to the humble man, and to
the humble man alone, the sea is really a sea. When he looks at all the
faces in the street, he does not only realize that men are alive, he
realizes with a dramatic pleasure that they are not dead.

I have not spoken of another aspect of the discovery of humility as a
psychological necessity, because it is more commonly insisted on, and
is in itself more obvious.  But it is equally clear that humility is a
permanent necessity as a condition of effort and self-examination. It
is one of the deadly fallacies of Jingo politics that a nation is
stronger for despising other nations.  As a matter of fact, the
strongest nations are those, like Prussia or Japan, which began from
very mean beginnings, but have not been too proud to sit at the feet of
the foreigner and learn everything from him.  Almost every obvious and
direct victory has been the victory of the plagiarist. This is, indeed,
only a very paltry by-product of humility, but it is a product of
humility, and, therefore, it is successful. Prussia had no Christian
humility in its internal arrangements; hence its internal arrangements
were miserable.  But it had enough Christian humility slavishly to copy
France (even down to Frederick the Great's poetry), and that which it
had the humility to copy it had ultimately the honour to conquer.  The
case of the Japanese is even more obvious; their only Christian and
their only beautiful quality is that they have humbled themselves to be
exalted. All this aspect of humility, however, as connected with the
matter of effort and striving for a standard set above us, I dismiss as
having been sufficiently pointed out by almost all idealistic writers.

It may be worth while, however, to point out the interesting disparity
in the matter of humility between the modern notion of the strong man
and the actual records of strong men.  Carlyle objected to the
statement that no man could be a hero to his valet. Every sympathy can
be extended towards him in the matter if he merely or mainly meant that
the phrase was a disparagement of hero-worship. Hero-worship is
certainly a generous and human impulse; the hero may be faulty, but the
worship can hardly be.  It may be that no man would be a hero to his
valet.  But any man would be a valet to his hero. But in truth both the
proverb itself and Carlyle's stricture upon it ignore the most
essential matter at issue.  The ultimate psychological truth is not
that no man is a hero to his valet. The ultimate psychological truth,
the foundation of Christianity, is that no man is a hero to himself.
Cromwell, according to Carlyle, was a strong man.  According to
Cromwell, he was a weak one.

The weak point in the whole of Carlyle's case for aristocracy lies,
indeed, in his most celebrated phrase. Carlyle said that men were
mostly fools.  Christianity, with a surer and more reverent realism,
says that they are all fools. This doctrine is sometimes called the
doctrine of original sin. It may also be described as the doctrine of
the equality of men. But the essential point of it is merely this, that
whatever primary and far-reaching moral dangers affect any man, affect
all men. All men can be criminals, if tempted; all men can be heroes,
if inspired. And this doctrine does away altogether with Carlyle's
pathetic belief (or any one else's pathetic belief) in "the wise few."
There are no wise few.  Every aristocracy that has ever existed has
behaved, in all essential points, exactly like a small mob. Every
oligarchy is merely a knot of men in the street--that is to say, it is
very jolly, but not infallible.  And no oligarchies in the world's
history have ever come off so badly in practical affairs as the very
proud oligarchies--the oligarchy of Poland, the oligarchy of Venice.
And the armies that have most swiftly and suddenly broken their enemies
in pieces have been the religious armies--the Moslem Armies, for
instance, or the Puritan Armies.  And a religious army may, by its
nature, be defined as an army in which every man is taught not to exalt
but to abase himself.  Many modern Englishmen talk of themselves as the
sturdy descendants of their sturdy Puritan fathers. As a fact, they
would run away from a cow.  If you asked one of their Puritan fathers,
if you asked Bunyan, for instance, whether he was sturdy, he would have
answered, with tears, that he was as weak as water.  And because of
this he would have borne tortures. And this virtue of humility, while
being practical enough to win battles, will always be paradoxical
enough to puzzle pedants. It is at one with the virtue of charity in
this respect. Every generous person will admit that the one kind of sin
which charity should cover is the sin which is inexcusable.  And every
generous person will equally agree that the one kind of pride which is
wholly damnable is the pride of the man who has something to be proud
of. The pride which, proportionally speaking, does not hurt the
character, is the pride in things which reflect no credit on the person
at all. Thus it does a man no harm to be proud of his country, and
comparatively little harm to be proud of his remote ancestors. It does
him more harm to be proud of having made money, because in that he has
a little more reason for pride. It does him more harm still to be proud
of what is nobler than money--intellect.  And it does him most harm of
all to value himself for the most valuable thing on earth--goodness.
The man who is proud of what is really creditable to him is the
Pharisee, the man whom Christ Himself could not forbear to strike.

My objection to Mr. Lowes Dickinson and the reassertors of the pagan
ideal is, then, this.  I accuse them of ignoring definite human
discoveries in the moral world, discoveries as definite, though not as
material, as the discovery of the circulation of the blood. We cannot
go back to an ideal of reason and sanity. For mankind has discovered
that reason does not lead to sanity. We cannot go back to an ideal of
pride and enjoyment.  For mankind has discovered that pride does not
lead to enjoyment.  I do not know by what extraordinary mental accident
modern writers so constantly connect the idea of progress with the idea
of independent thinking. Progress is obviously the antithesis of
independent thinking. For under independent or individualistic
thinking, every man starts at the beginning, and goes, in all
probability, just as far as his father before him.  But if there really
be anything of the nature of progress, it must mean, above all things,
the careful study and assumption of the whole of the past.  I accuse
Mr. Lowes Dickinson and his school of reaction in the only real sense.
If he likes, let him ignore these great historic mysteries--the mystery
of charity, the mystery of chivalry, the mystery of faith. If he likes,
let him ignore the plough or the printing-press. But if we do revive
and pursue the pagan ideal of a simple and rational self-completion we
shall end--where Paganism ended. I do not mean that we shall end in
destruction.  I mean that we shall end in Christianity.



XIII.  Celts and Celtophiles

Science in the modern world has many uses; its chief use, however, is
to provide long words to cover the errors of the rich. The word
"kleptomania" is a vulgar example of what I mean. It is on a par with
that strange theory, always advanced when a wealthy or prominent person
is in the dock, that exposure is more of a punishment for the rich than
for the poor.  Of course, the very reverse is the truth. Exposure is
more of a punishment for the poor than for the rich. The richer a man
is the easier it is for him to be a tramp. The richer a man is the
easier it is for him to be popular and generally respected in the
Cannibal Islands.  But the poorer a man is the more likely it is that
he will have to use his past life whenever he wants to get a bed for
the night.  Honour is a luxury for aristocrats, but it is a necessity
for hall-porters. This is a secondary matter, but it is an example of
the general proposition I offer--the proposition that an enormous
amount of modern ingenuity is expended on finding defences for the
indefensible conduct of the powerful. As I have said above, these
defences generally exhibit themselves most emphatically in the form of
appeals to physical science. And of all the forms in which science, or
pseudo-science, has come to the rescue of the rich and stupid, there is
none so singular as the singular invention of the theory of races.

When a wealthy nation like the English discovers the perfectly patent
fact that it is making a ludicrous mess of the government of a poorer
nation like the Irish, it pauses for a moment in consternation, and
then begins to talk about Celts and Teutons.  As far as I can
understand the theory, the Irish are Celts and the English are Teutons.
Of course, the Irish are not Celts any more than the English are
Teutons. I have not followed the ethnological discussion with much
energy, but the last scientific conclusion which I read inclined on the
whole to the summary that the English were mainly Celtic and the Irish
mainly Teutonic.  But no man alive, with even the glimmering of a real
scientific sense, would ever dream of applying the terms "Celtic" or
"Teutonic" to either of them in any positive or useful sense.

That sort of thing must be left to people who talk about the
Anglo-Saxon race, and extend the expression to America. How much of the
blood of the Angles and Saxons (whoever they were) there remains in our
mixed British, Roman, German, Dane, Norman, and Picard stock is a
matter only interesting to wild antiquaries. And how much of that
diluted blood can possibly remain in that roaring whirlpool of America
into which a cataract of Swedes, Jews, Germans, Irishmen, and Italians
is perpetually pouring, is a matter only interesting to lunatics.  It
would have been wiser for the English governing class to have called
upon some other god. All other gods, however weak and warring, at least
boast of being constant.  But science boasts of being in a flux for
ever; boasts of being unstable as water.

And England and the English governing class never did call on this
absurd deity of race until it seemed, for an instant, that they had no
other god to call on.  All the most genuine Englishmen in history would
have yawned or laughed in your face if you had begun to talk about
Anglo-Saxons. If you had attempted to substitute the ideal of race for
the ideal of nationality, I really do not like to think what they would
have said.  I certainly should not like to have been the officer of
Nelson who suddenly discovered his French blood on the eve of
Trafalgar.  I should not like to have been the Norfolk or Suffolk
gentleman who had to expound to Admiral Blake by what demonstrable ties
of genealogy he was irrevocably bound to the Dutch.  The truth of the
whole matter is very simple. Nationality exists, and has nothing in the
world to do with race. Nationality is a thing like a church or a secret
society; it is a product of the human soul and will; it is a spiritual
product. And there are men in the modern world who would think anything
and do anything rather than admit that anything could be a spiritual
product.

A nation, however, as it confronts the modern world, is a purely
spiritual product.  Sometimes it has been born in independence, like
Scotland.  Sometimes it has been born in dependence, in subjugation,
like Ireland.  Sometimes it is a large thing cohering out of many
smaller things, like Italy.  Sometimes it is a small thing breaking
away from larger things, like Poland. But in each and every case its
quality is purely spiritual, or, if you will, purely psychological.  It
is a moment when five men become a sixth man.  Every one knows it who
has ever founded a club.  It is a moment when five places become one
place. Every one must know it who has ever had to repel an invasion.
Mr. Timothy Healy, the most serious intellect in the present House of
Commons, summed up nationality to perfection when he simply called it
something for which people will die, As he excellently said in reply to
Lord Hugh Cecil, "No one, not even the noble lord, would die for the
meridian of Greenwich." And that is the great tribute to its purely
psychological character. It is idle to ask why Greenwich should not
cohere in this spiritual manner while Athens or Sparta did.  It is like
asking why a man falls in love with one woman and not with another.

Now, of this great spiritual coherence, independent of external
circumstances, or of race, or of any obvious physical thing, Ireland is
the most remarkable example.  Rome conquered nations, but Ireland has
conquered races.  The Norman has gone there and become Irish, the
Scotchman has gone there and become Irish, the Spaniard has gone there
and become Irish, even the bitter soldier of Cromwell has gone there
and become Irish.  Ireland, which did not exist even politically, has
been stronger than all the races that existed scientifically. The
purest Germanic blood, the purest Norman blood, the purest blood of the
passionate Scotch patriot, has not been so attractive as a nation
without a flag.  Ireland, unrecognized and oppressed, has easily
absorbed races, as such trifles are easily absorbed. She has easily
disposed of physical science, as such superstitions are easily disposed
of.  Nationality in its weakness has been stronger than ethnology in
its strength.  Five triumphant races have been absorbed, have been
defeated by a defeated nationality.

This being the true and strange glory of Ireland, it is impossible to
hear without impatience of the attempt so constantly made among her
modern sympathizers to talk about Celts and Celticism. Who were the
Celts?  I defy anybody to say.  Who are the Irish? I defy any one to be
indifferent, or to pretend not to know. Mr. W. B. Yeats, the great
Irish genius who has appeared in our time, shows his own admirable
penetration in discarding altogether the argument from a Celtic race.
But he does not wholly escape, and his followers hardly ever escape,
the general objection to the Celtic argument. The tendency of that
argument is to represent the Irish or the Celts as a strange and
separate race, as a tribe of eccentrics in the modern world immersed in
dim legends and fruitless dreams. Its tendency is to exhibit the Irish
as odd, because they see the fairies.  Its trend is to make the Irish
seem weird and wild because they sing old songs and join in strange
dances. But this is quite an error; indeed, it is the opposite of the
truth. It is the English who are odd because they do not see the
fairies. It is the inhabitants of Kensington who are weird and wild
because they do not sing old songs and join in strange dances. In all
this the Irish are not in the least strange and separate, are not in
the least Celtic, as the word is commonly and popularly used. In all
this the Irish are simply an ordinary sensible nation, living the life
of any other ordinary and sensible nation which has not been either
sodden with smoke or oppressed by money-lenders, or otherwise corrupted
with wealth and science. There is nothing Celtic about having legends.
It is merely human. The Germans, who are (I suppose) Teutonic, have
hundreds of legends, wherever it happens that the Germans are human.
There is nothing Celtic about loving poetry; the English loved poetry
more, perhaps, than any other people before they came under the shadow
of the chimney-pot and the shadow of the chimney-pot hat.  It is not
Ireland which is mad and mystic; it is Manchester which is mad and
mystic, which is incredible, which is a wild exception among human
things. Ireland has no need to play the silly game of the science of
races; Ireland has no need to pretend to be a tribe of visionaries
apart. In the matter of visions, Ireland is more than a nation, it is a
model nation.



XIV On Certain Modern Writers and the Institution of the Family

The family may fairly be considered, one would think, an ultimate human
institution.  Every one would admit that it has been the main cell and
central unit of almost all societies hitherto, except, indeed, such
societies as that of Lacedaemon, which went in for "efficiency," and
has, therefore, perished, and left not a trace behind.  Christianity,
even enormous as was its revolution, did not alter this ancient and
savage sanctity; it merely reversed it. It did not deny the trinity of
father, mother, and child. It merely read it backwards, making it run
child, mother, father. This it called, not the family, but the Holy
Family, for many things are made holy by being turned upside down. But
some sages of our own decadence have made a serious attack on the
family.  They have impugned it, as I think wrongly; and its defenders
have defended it, and defended it wrongly. The common defence of the
family is that, amid the stress and fickleness of life, it is peaceful,
pleasant, and at one. But there is another defence of the family which
is possible, and to me evident; this defence is that the family is not
peaceful and not pleasant and not at one.

It is not fashionable to say much nowadays of the advantages of the
small community.  We are told that we must go in for large empires and
large ideas.  There is one advantage, however, in the small state, the
city, or the village, which only the wilfully blind can overlook. The
man who lives in a small community lives in a much larger world. He
knows much more of the fierce varieties and uncompromising divergences
of men.  The reason is obvious.  In a large community we can choose our
companions.  In a small community our companions are chosen for us.
Thus in all extensive and highly civilized societies groups come into
existence founded upon what is called sympathy, and shut out the real
world more sharply than the gates of a monastery. There is nothing
really narrow about the clan; the thing which is really narrow is the
clique.  The men of the clan live together because they all wear the
same tartan or are all descended from the same sacred cow; but in their
souls, by the divine luck of things, there will always be more colours
than in any tartan. But the men of the clique live together because
they have the same kind of soul, and their narrowness is a narrowness
of spiritual coherence and contentment, like that which exists in hell.
A big society exists in order to form cliques.  A big society is a
society for the promotion of narrowness.  It is a machinery for the
purpose of guarding the solitary and sensitive individual from all
experience of the bitter and bracing human compromises. It is, in the
most literal sense of the words, a society for the prevention of
Christian knowledge.

We can see this change, for instance, in the modern transformation of
the thing called a club.  When London was smaller, and the parts of
London more self-contained and parochial, the club was what it still is
in villages, the opposite of what it is now in great cities. Then the
club was valued as a place where a man could be sociable. Now the club
is valued as a place where a man can be unsociable. The more the
enlargement and elaboration of our civilization goes on the more the
club ceases to be a place where a man can have a noisy argument, and
becomes more and more a place where a man can have what is somewhat
fantastically called a quiet chop. Its aim is to make a man
comfortable, and to make a man comfortable is to make him the opposite
of sociable.  Sociability, like all good things, is full of
discomforts, dangers, and renunciations. The club tends to produce the
most degraded of all combinations--the luxurious anchorite, the man who
combines the self-indulgence of Lucullus with the insane loneliness of
St. Simeon Stylites.

If we were to-morrow morning snowed up in the street in which we live,
we should step suddenly into a much larger and much wilder world than
we have ever known.  And it is the whole effort of the typically modern
person to escape from the street in which he lives. First he invents
modern hygiene and goes to Margate. Then he invents modern culture and
goes to Florence. Then he invents modern imperialism and goes to
Timbuctoo.  He goes to the fantastic borders of the earth.  He pretends
to shoot tigers. He almost rides on a camel.  And in all this he is
still essentially fleeing from the street in which he was born; and of
this flight he is always ready with his own explanation.  He says he is
fleeing from his street because it is dull; he is lying.  He is really
fleeing from his street because it is a great deal too exciting. It is
exciting because it is exacting; it is exacting because it is alive. He
can visit Venice because to him the Venetians are only Venetians; the
people in his own street are men.  He can stare at the Chinese because
for him the Chinese are a passive thing to be stared at; if he stares
at the old lady in the next garden, she becomes active. He is forced to
flee, in short, from the too stimulating society of his equals--of free
men, perverse, personal, deliberately different from himself.  The
street in Brixton is too glowing and overpowering. He has to soothe and
quiet himself among tigers and vultures, camels and crocodiles.  These
creatures are indeed very different from himself.  But they do not put
their shape or colour or custom into a decisive intellectual
competition with his own. They do not seek to destroy his principles
and assert their own; the stranger monsters of the suburban street do
seek to do this. The camel does not contort his features into a fine
sneer because Mr. Robinson has not got a hump; the cultured gentleman
at No. 5 does exhibit a sneer because Robinson has not got a dado. The
vulture will not roar with laughter because a man does not fly; but the
major at No. 9 will roar with laughter because a man does not smoke.
The complaint we commonly have to make of our neighbours is that they
will not, as we express it, mind their own business. We do not really
mean that they will not mind their own business. If our neighbours did
not mind their own business they would be asked abruptly for their
rent, and would rapidly cease to be our neighbours. What we really mean
when we say that they cannot mind their own business is something much
deeper.  We do not dislike them because they have so little force and
fire that they cannot be interested in themselves.  We dislike them
because they have so much force and fire that they can be interested in
us as well. What we dread about our neighbours, in short, is not the
narrowness of their horizon, but their superb tendency to broaden it.
And all aversions to ordinary humanity have this general character.
They are not aversions to its feebleness (as is pretended), but to its
energy. The misanthropes pretend that they despise humanity for its
weakness. As a matter of fact, they hate it for its strength.

Of course, this shrinking from the brutal vivacity and brutal variety
of common men is a perfectly reasonable and excusable thing as long as
it does not pretend to any point of superiority. It is when it calls
itself aristocracy or aestheticism or a superiority to the bourgeoisie
that its inherent weakness has in justice to be pointed out.
Fastidiousness is the most pardonable of vices; but it is the most
unpardonable of virtues.  Nietzsche, who represents most prominently
this pretentious claim of the fastidious, has a description
somewhere--a very powerful description in the purely literary sense--of
the disgust and disdain which consume him at the sight of the common
people with their common faces, their common voices, and their common
minds.  As I have said, this attitude is almost beautiful if we may
regard it as pathetic. Nietzsche's aristocracy has about it all the
sacredness that belongs to the weak.  When he makes us feel that he
cannot endure the innumerable faces, the incessant voices, the
overpowering omnipresence which belongs to the mob, he will have the
sympathy of anybody who has ever been sick on a steamer or tired in a
crowded omnibus. Every man has hated mankind when he was less than a
man. Every man has had humanity in his eyes like a blinding fog,
humanity in his nostrils like a suffocating smell.  But when Nietzsche
has the incredible lack of humour and lack of imagination to ask us to
believe that his aristocracy is an aristocracy of strong muscles or an
aristocracy of strong wills, it is necessary to point out the truth. It
is an aristocracy of weak nerves.

We make our friends; we make our enemies; but God makes our next-door
neighbour.  Hence he comes to us clad in all the careless terrors of
nature; he is as strange as the stars, as reckless and indifferent as
the rain.  He is Man, the most terrible of the beasts. That is why the
old religions and the old scriptural language showed so sharp a wisdom
when they spoke, not of one's duty towards humanity, but one's duty
towards one's neighbour.  The duty towards humanity may often take the
form of some choice which is personal or even pleasurable. That duty
may be a hobby; it may even be a dissipation. We may work in the East
End because we are peculiarly fitted to work in the East End, or
because we think we are; we may fight for the cause of international
peace because we are very fond of fighting. The most monstrous
martyrdom, the most repulsive experience, may be the result of choice
or a kind of taste.  We may be so made as to be particularly fond of
lunatics or specially interested in leprosy. We may love negroes
because they are black or German Socialists because they are pedantic.
But we have to love our neighbour because he is there--a much more
alarming reason for a much more serious operation. He is the sample of
humanity which is actually given us. Precisely because he may be
anybody he is everybody. He is a symbol because he is an accident.

Doubtless men flee from small environments into lands that are very
deadly.  But this is natural enough; for they are not fleeing from
death.  They are fleeing from life.  And this principle applies to ring
within ring of the social system of humanity. It is perfectly
reasonable that men should seek for some particular variety of the
human type, so long as they are seeking for that variety of the human
type, and not for mere human variety. It is quite proper that a British
diplomatist should seek the society of Japanese generals, if what he
wants is Japanese generals. But if what he wants is people different
from himself, he had much better stop at home and discuss religion with
the housemaid. It is quite reasonable that the village genius should
come up to conquer London if what he wants is to conquer London.  But
if he wants to conquer something fundamentally and symbolically hostile
and also very strong, he had much better remain where he is and have a
row with the rector. The man in the suburban street is quite right if
he goes to Ramsgate for the sake of Ramsgate--a difficult thing to
imagine. But if, as he expresses it, he goes to Ramsgate "for a
change," then he would have a much more romantic and even melodramatic
change if he jumped over the wall into his neighbours garden. The
consequences would be bracing in a sense far beyond the possibilities
of Ramsgate hygiene.

Now, exactly as this principle applies to the empire, to the nation
within the empire, to the city within the nation, to the street within
the city, so it applies to the home within the street. The institution
of the family is to be commended for precisely the same reasons that
the institution of the nation, or the institution of the city, are in
this matter to be commended. It is a good thing for a man to live in a
family for the same reason that it is a good thing for a man to be
besieged in a city. It is a good thing for a man to live in a family in
the same sense that it is a beautiful and delightful thing for a man to
be snowed up in a street. They all force him to realize that life is
not a thing from outside, but a thing from inside.  Above all, they all
insist upon the fact that life, if it be a truly stimulating and
fascinating life, is a thing which, of its nature, exists in spite of
ourselves. The modern writers who have suggested, in a more or less
open manner, that the family is a bad institution, have generally
confined themselves to suggesting, with much sharpness, bitterness, or
pathos, that perhaps the family is not always very congenial. Of course
the family is a good institution because it is uncongenial. It is
wholesome precisely because it contains so many divergencies and
varieties.  It is, as the sentimentalists say, like a little kingdom,
and, like most other little kingdoms, is generally in a state of
something resembling anarchy. It is exactly because our brother George
is not interested in our religious difficulties, but is interested in
the Trocadero Restaurant, that the family has some of the bracing
qualities of the commonwealth. It is precisely because our uncle Henry
does not approve of the theatrical ambitions of our sister Sarah that
the family is like humanity. The men and women who, for good reasons
and bad, revolt against the family, are, for good reasons and bad,
simply revolting against mankind. Aunt Elizabeth is unreasonable, like
mankind.  Papa is excitable, like mankind Our youngest brother is
mischievous, like mankind. Grandpapa is stupid, like the world; he is
old, like the world.

Those who wish, rightly or wrongly, to step out of all this, do
definitely wish to step into a narrower world.  They are dismayed and
terrified by the largeness and variety of the family. Sarah wishes to
find a world wholly consisting of private theatricals; George wishes to
think the Trocadero a cosmos.  I do not say, for a moment, that the
flight to this narrower life may not be the right thing for the
individual, any more than I say the same thing about flight into a
monastery.  But I do say that anything is bad and artificial which
tends to make these people succumb to the strange delusion that they
are stepping into a world which is actually larger and more varied than
their own. The best way that a man could test his readiness to
encounter the common variety of mankind would be to climb down a
chimney into any house at random, and get on as well as possible with
the people inside. And that is essentially what each one of us did on
the day that he was born.

This is, indeed, the sublime and special romance of the family.  It is
romantic because it is a toss-up. It is romantic because it is
everything that its enemies call it.  It is romantic because it is
arbitrary. It is romantic because it is there.  So long as you have
groups of men chosen rationally, you have some special or sectarian
atmosphere. It is when you have groups of men chosen irrationally that
you have men. The element of adventure begins to exist; for an
adventure is, by its nature, a thing that comes to us.  It is a thing
that chooses us, not a thing that we choose.  Falling in love has been
often regarded as the supreme adventure, the supreme romantic accident.
In so much as there is in it something outside ourselves, something of
a sort of merry fatalism, this is very true. Love does take us and
transfigure and torture us.  It does break our hearts with an
unbearable beauty, like the unbearable beauty of music. But in so far
as we have certainly something to do with the matter; in so far as we
are in some sense prepared to fall in love and in some sense jump into
it; in so far as we do to some extent choose and to some extent even
judge--in all this falling in love is not truly romantic, is not truly
adventurous at all.  In this degree the supreme adventure is not
falling in love.  The supreme adventure is being born. There we do walk
suddenly into a splendid and startling trap. There we do see something
of which we have not dreamed before. Our father and mother do lie in
wait for us and leap out on us, like brigands from a bush.  Our uncle
is a surprise.  Our aunt is, in the beautiful common expression, a bolt
from the blue. When we step into the family, by the act of being born,
we do step into a world which is incalculable, into a world which has
its own strange laws, into a world which could do without us, into a
world that we have not made.  In other words, when we step into the
family we step into a fairy-tale.

This colour as of a fantastic narrative ought to cling to the family
and to our relations with it throughout life. Romance is the deepest
thing in life; romance is deeper even than reality.  For even if
reality could be proved to be misleading, it still could not be proved
to be unimportant or unimpressive. Even if the facts are false, they
are still very strange. And this strangeness of life, this unexpected
and even perverse element of things as they fall out, remains incurably
interesting. The circumstances we can regulate may become tame or
pessimistic; but the "circumstances over which we have no control"
remain god-like to those who, like Mr. Micawber, can call on them and
renew their strength.  People wonder why the novel is the most popular
form of literature; people wonder why it is read more than books of
science or books of metaphysics.  The reason is very simple; it is
merely that the novel is more true than they are. Life may sometimes
legitimately appear as a book of science. Life may sometimes appear,
and with a much greater legitimacy, as a book of metaphysics.  But life
is always a novel.  Our existence may cease to be a song; it may cease
even to be a beautiful lament. Our existence may not be an intelligible
justice, or even a recognizable wrong.  But our existence is still a
story.  In the fiery alphabet of every sunset is written, "to be
continued in our next." If we have sufficient intellect, we can finish
a philosophical and exact deduction, and be certain that we are
finishing it right. With the adequate brain-power we could finish any
scientific discovery, and be certain that we were finishing it right.
But not with the most gigantic intellect could we finish the simplest
or silliest story, and be certain that we were finishing it right. That
is because a story has behind it, not merely intellect which is partly
mechanical, but will, which is in its essence divine. The narrative
writer can send his hero to the gallows if he likes in the last chapter
but one.  He can do it by the same divine caprice whereby he, the
author, can go to the gallows himself, and to hell afterwards if he
chooses.  And the same civilization, the chivalric European
civilization which asserted freewill in the thirteenth century,
produced the thing called "fiction" in the eighteenth. When Thomas
Aquinas asserted the spiritual liberty of man, he created all the bad
novels in the circulating libraries.

But in order that life should be a story or romance to us, it is
necessary that a great part of it, at any rate, should be settled for
us without our permission.  If we wish life to be a system, this may be
a nuisance; but if we wish it to be a drama, it is an essential.  It
may often happen, no doubt, that a drama may be written by somebody
else which we like very little. But we should like it still less if the
author came before the curtain every hour or so, and forced on us the
whole trouble of inventing the next act.  A man has control over many
things in his life; he has control over enough things to be the hero of
a novel. But if he had control over everything, there would be so much
hero that there would be no novel.  And the reason why the lives of the
rich are at bottom so tame and uneventful is simply that they can
choose the events.  They are dull because they are omnipotent. They
fail to feel adventures because they can make the adventures. The thing
which keeps life romantic and full of fiery possibilities is the
existence of these great plain limitations which force all of us to
meet the things we do not like or do not expect.  It is vain for the
supercilious moderns to talk of being in uncongenial surroundings. To
be in a romance is to be in uncongenial surroundings. To be born into
this earth is to be born into uncongenial surroundings, hence to be
born into a romance.  Of all these great limitations and frameworks
which fashion and create the poetry and variety of life, the family is
the most definite and important. Hence it is misunderstood by the
moderns, who imagine that romance would exist most perfectly in a
complete state of what they call liberty. They think that if a man
makes a gesture it would be a startling and romantic matter that the
sun should fall from the sky. But the startling and romantic thing
about the sun is that it does not fall from the sky.  They are seeking
under every shape and form a world where there are no limitations--that
is, a world where there are no outlines; that is, a world where there
are no shapes. There is nothing baser than that infinity.  They say
they wish to be, as strong as the universe, but they really wish the
whole universe as weak as themselves.



XV On Smart Novelists and the Smart Set

In one sense, at any rate, it is more valuable to read bad literature
than good literature.  Good literature may tell us the mind of one man;
but bad literature may tell us the mind of many men. A good novel tells
us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about
its author.  It does much more than that, it tells us the truth about
its readers; and, oddly enough, it tells us this all the more the more
cynical and immoral be the motive of its manufacture.  The more
dishonest a book is as a book the more honest it is as a public
document. A sincere novel exhibits the simplicity of one particular
man; an insincere novel exhibits the simplicity of mankind. The
pedantic decisions and definable readjustments of man may be found in
scrolls and statute books and scriptures; but men's basic assumptions
and everlasting energies are to be found in penny dreadfuls and
halfpenny novelettes.  Thus a man, like many men of real culture in our
day, might learn from good literature nothing except the power to
appreciate good literature. But from bad literature he might learn to
govern empires and look over the map of mankind.

There is one rather interesting example of this state of things in
which the weaker literature is really the stronger and the stronger the
weaker.  It is the case of what may be called, for the sake of an
approximate description, the literature of aristocracy; or, if you
prefer the description, the literature of snobbishness. Now if any one
wishes to find a really effective and comprehensible and permanent case
for aristocracy well and sincerely stated, let him read, not the modern
philosophical conservatives, not even Nietzsche, let him read the Bow
Bells Novelettes. Of the case of Nietzsche I am confessedly more
doubtful. Nietzsche and the Bow Bells Novelettes have both obviously
the same fundamental character; they both worship the tall man with
curling moustaches and herculean bodily power, and they both worship
him in a manner which is somewhat feminine and hysterical. Even here,
however, the Novelette easily maintains its philosophical superiority,
because it does attribute to the strong man those virtues which do
commonly belong to him, such virtues as laziness and kindliness and a
rather reckless benevolence, and a great dislike of hurting the weak.
Nietzsche, on the other hand, attributes to the strong man that scorn
against weakness which only exists among invalids.  It is not, however,
of the secondary merits of the great German philosopher, but of the
primary merits of the Bow Bells Novelettes, that it is my present
affair to speak. The picture of aristocracy in the popular sentimental
novelette seems to me very satisfactory as a permanent political and
philosophical guide. It may be inaccurate about details such as the
title by which a baronet is addressed or the width of a mountain chasm
which a baronet can conveniently leap, but it is not a bad description
of the general idea and intention of aristocracy as they exist in human
affairs. The essential dream of aristocracy is magnificence and valour;
and if the Family Herald Supplement sometimes distorts or exaggerates
these things, at least, it does not fall short in them. It never errs
by making the mountain chasm too narrow or the title of the baronet
insufficiently impressive.  But above this sane reliable old literature
of snobbishness there has arisen in our time another kind of literature
of snobbishness which, with its much higher pretensions, seems to me
worthy of very much less respect.  Incidentally (if that matters), it
is much better literature.  But it is immeasurably worse philosophy,
immeasurably worse ethics and politics, immeasurably worse vital
rendering of aristocracy and humanity as they really are. From such
books as those of which I wish now to speak we can discover what a
clever man can do with the idea of aristocracy. But from the Family
Herald Supplement literature we can learn what the idea of aristocracy
can do with a man who is not clever. And when we know that we know
English history.

This new aristocratic fiction must have caught the attention of
everybody who has read the best fiction for the last fifteen years. It
is that genuine or alleged literature of the Smart Set which represents
that set as distinguished, not only by smart dresses, but by smart
sayings.  To the bad baronet, to the good baronet, to the romantic and
misunderstood baronet who is supposed to be a bad baronet, but is a
good baronet, this school has added a conception undreamed of in the
former years--the conception of an amusing baronet. The aristocrat is
not merely to be taller than mortal men and stronger and handsomer, he
is also to be more witty. He is the long man with the short epigram.
Many eminent, and deservedly eminent, modern novelists must accept some
responsibility for having supported this worst form of snobbishness--an
intellectual snobbishness.  The talented author of "Dodo" is
responsible for having in some sense created the fashion as a fashion.
Mr. Hichens, in the "Green Carnation," reaffirmed the strange idea that
young noblemen talk well; though his case had some vague biographical
foundation, and in consequence an excuse.  Mrs. Craigie is considerably
guilty in the matter, although, or rather because, she has combined the
aristocratic note with a note of some moral and even religious
sincerity.  When you are saving a man's soul, even in a novel, it is
indecent to mention that he is a gentleman. Nor can blame in this
matter be altogether removed from a man of much greater ability, and a
man who has proved his possession of the highest of human instinct, the
romantic instinct--I mean Mr. Anthony Hope. In a galloping, impossible
melodrama like "The Prisoner of Zenda," the blood of kings fanned an
excellent fantastic thread or theme. But the blood of kings is not a
thing that can be taken seriously. And when, for example, Mr. Hope
devotes so much serious and sympathetic study to the man called
Tristram of Blent, a man who throughout burning boyhood thought of
nothing but a silly old estate, we feel even in Mr. Hope the hint of
this excessive concern about the oligarchic idea. It is hard for any
ordinary person to feel so much interest in a young man whose whole aim
is to own the house of Blent at the time when every other young man is
owning the stars.

Mr. Hope, however, is a very mild case, and in him there is not only an
element of romance, but also a fine element of irony which warns us
against taking all this elegance too seriously. Above all, he shows his
sense in not making his noblemen so incredibly equipped with impromptu
repartee.  This habit of insisting on the wit of the wealthier classes
is the last and most servile of all the servilities.  It is, as I have
said, immeasurably more contemptible than the snobbishness of the
novelette which describes the nobleman as smiling like an Apollo or
riding a mad elephant. These may be exaggerations of beauty and
courage, but beauty and courage are the unconscious ideals of
aristocrats, even of stupid aristocrats.

The nobleman of the novelette may not be sketched with any very close
or conscientious attention to the daily habits of noblemen.  But he is
something more important than a reality; he is a practical ideal. The
gentleman of fiction may not copy the gentleman of real life; but the
gentleman of real life is copying the gentleman of fiction. He may not
be particularly good-looking, but he would rather be good-looking than
anything else; he may not have ridden on a mad elephant, but he rides a
pony as far as possible with an air as if he had. And, upon the whole,
the upper class not only especially desire these qualities of beauty
and courage, but in some degree, at any rate, especially possess them.
Thus there is nothing really mean or sycophantic about the popular
literature which makes all its marquises seven feet high.  It is
snobbish, but it is not servile. Its exaggeration is based on an
exuberant and honest admiration; its honest admiration is based upon
something which is in some degree, at any rate, really there.  The
English lower classes do not fear the English upper classes in the
least; nobody could. They simply and freely and sentimentally worship
them. The strength of the aristocracy is not in the aristocracy at all;
it is in the slums.  It is not in the House of Lords; it is not in the
Civil Service; it is not in the Government offices; it is not even in
the huge and disproportionate monopoly of the English land. It is in a
certain spirit.  It is in the fact that when a navvy wishes to praise a
man, it comes readily to his tongue to say that he has behaved like a
gentleman.  From a democratic point of view he might as well say that
he had behaved like a viscount. The oligarchic character of the modern
English commonwealth does not rest, like many oligarchies, on the
cruelty of the rich to the poor. It does not even rest on the kindness
of the rich to the poor. It rests on the perennial and unfailing
kindness of the poor to the rich.

The snobbishness of bad literature, then, is not servile; but the
snobbishness of good literature is servile.  The old-fashioned
halfpenny romance where the duchesses sparkled with diamonds was not
servile; but the new romance where they sparkle with epigrams is
servile. For in thus attributing a special and startling degree of
intellect and conversational or controversial power to the upper
classes, we are attributing something which is not especially their
virtue or even especially their aim.  We are, in the words of Disraeli
(who, being a genius and not a gentleman, has perhaps primarily to
answer for the introduction of this method of flattering the gentry),
we are performing the essential function of flattery which is
flattering the people for the qualities they have not got. Praise may
be gigantic and insane without having any quality of flattery so long
as it is praise of something that is noticeably in existence.  A man
may say that a giraffe's head strikes the stars, or that a whale fills
the German Ocean, and still be only in a rather excited state about a
favourite animal. But when he begins to congratulate the giraffe on his
feathers, and the whale on the elegance of his legs, we find ourselves
confronted with that social element which we call flattery. The middle
and lower orders of London can sincerely, though not perhaps safely,
admire the health and grace of the English aristocracy. And this for
the very simple reason that the aristocrats are, upon the whole, more
healthy and graceful than the poor. But they cannot honestly admire the
wit of the aristocrats. And this for the simple reason that the
aristocrats are not more witty than the poor, but a very great deal
less so.  A man does not hear, as in the smart novels, these gems of
verbal felicity dropped between diplomatists at dinner.  Where he
really does hear them is between two omnibus conductors in a block in
Holborn.  The witty peer whose impromptus fill the books of Mrs.
Craigie or Miss Fowler, would, as a matter of fact, be torn to shreds
in the art of conversation by the first boot-black he had the
misfortune to fall foul of. The poor are merely sentimental, and very
excusably sentimental, if they praise the gentleman for having a ready
hand and ready money. But they are strictly slaves and sycophants if
they praise him for having a ready tongue.  For that they have far more
themselves.

The element of oligarchical sentiment in these novels, however, has, I
think, another and subtler aspect, an aspect more difficult to
understand and more worth understanding. The modern gentleman,
particularly the modern English gentleman, has become so central and
important in these books, and through them in the whole of our current
literature and our current mode of thought, that certain qualities of
his, whether original or recent, essential or accidental, have altered
the quality of our English comedy. In particular, that stoical ideal,
absurdly supposed to be the English ideal, has stiffened and chilled
us.  It is not the English ideal; but it is to some extent the
aristocratic ideal; or it may be only the ideal of aristocracy in its
autumn or decay. The gentleman is a Stoic because he is a sort of
savage, because he is filled with a great elemental fear that some
stranger will speak to him.  That is why a third-class carriage is a
community, while a first-class carriage is a place of wild hermits. But
this matter, which is difficult, I may be permitted to approach in a
more circuitous way.

The haunting element of ineffectualness which runs through so much of
the witty and epigrammatic fiction fashionable during the last eight or
ten years, which runs through such works of a real though varying
ingenuity as "Dodo," or "Concerning Isabel Carnaby," or even "Some
Emotions and a Moral," may be expressed in various ways, but to most of
us I think it will ultimately amount to the same thing. This new
frivolity is inadequate because there is in it no strong sense of an
unuttered joy.  The men and women who exchange the repartees may not
only be hating each other, but hating even themselves. Any one of them
might be bankrupt that day, or sentenced to be shot the next.  They are
joking, not because they are merry, but because they are not; out of
the emptiness of the heart the mouth speaketh. Even when they talk pure
nonsense it is a careful nonsense--a nonsense of which they are
economical, or, to use the perfect expression of Mr. W. S. Gilbert in
"Patience," it is such "precious nonsense." Even when they become
light-headed they do not become light-hearted. All those who have read
anything of the rationalism of the moderns know that their Reason is a
sad thing.  But even their unreason is sad.

The causes of this incapacity are also not very difficult to indicate.
The chief of all, of course, is that miserable fear of being
sentimental, which is the meanest of all the modern terrors--meaner
even than the terror which produces hygiene.  Everywhere the robust and
uproarious humour has come from the men who were capable not merely of
sentimentalism, but a very silly sentimentalism.  There has been no
humour so robust or uproarious as that of the sentimentalist Steele or
the sentimentalist Sterne or the sentimentalist Dickens. These
creatures who wept like women were the creatures who laughed like men.
It is true that the humour of Micawber is good literature and that the
pathos of little Nell is bad.  But the kind of man who had the courage
to write so badly in the one case is the kind of man who would have the
courage to write so well in the other. The same unconsciousness, the
same violent innocence, the same gigantesque scale of action which
brought the Napoleon of Comedy his Jena brought him also his Moscow.
And herein is especially shown the frigid and feeble limitations of our
modern wits. They make violent efforts, they make heroic and almost
pathetic efforts, but they cannot really write badly.  There are
moments when we almost think that they are achieving the effect, but
our hope shrivels to nothing the moment we compare their little
failures with the enormous imbecilities of Byron or Shakespeare.

For a hearty laugh it is necessary to have touched the heart. I do not
know why touching the heart should always be connected only with the
idea of touching it to compassion or a sense of distress. The heart can
be touched to joy and triumph; the heart can be touched to amusement.
But all our comedians are tragic comedians. These later fashionable
writers are so pessimistic in bone and marrow that they never seem able
to imagine the heart having any concern with mirth.  When they speak of
the heart, they always mean the pangs and disappointments of the
emotional life. When they say that a man's heart is in the right place,
they mean, apparently, that it is in his boots.  Our ethical societies
understand fellowship, but they do not understand good fellowship.
Similarly, our wits understand talk, but not what Dr. Johnson called a
good talk.  In order to have, like Dr. Johnson, a good talk, it is
emphatically necessary to be, like Dr. Johnson, a good man--to have
friendship and honour and an abysmal tenderness. Above all, it is
necessary to be openly and indecently humane, to confess with fulness
all the primary pities and fears of Adam. Johnson was a clear-headed
humorous man, and therefore he did not mind talking seriously about
religion.  Johnson was a brave man, one of the bravest that ever
walked, and therefore he did not mind avowing to any one his consuming
fear of death.

The idea that there is something English in the repression of one's
feelings is one of those ideas which no Englishman ever heard of until
England began to be governed exclusively by Scotchmen, Americans, and
Jews.  At the best, the idea is a generalization from the Duke of
Wellington--who was an Irishman.  At the worst, it is a part of that
silly Teutonism which knows as little about England as it does about
anthropology, but which is always talking about Vikings. As a matter of
fact, the Vikings did not repress their feelings in the least.  They
cried like babies and kissed each other like girls; in short, they
acted in that respect like Achilles and all strong heroes the children
of the gods.  And though the English nationality has probably not much
more to do with the Vikings than the French nationality or the Irish
nationality, the English have certainly been the children of the
Vikings in the matter of tears and kisses. It is not merely true that
all the most typically English men of letters, like Shakespeare and
Dickens, Richardson and Thackeray, were sentimentalists.  It is also
true that all the most typically English men of action were
sentimentalists, if possible, more sentimental. In the great
Elizabethan age, when the English nation was finally hammered out, in
the great eighteenth century when the British Empire was being built up
everywhere, where in all these times, where was this symbolic stoical
Englishman who dresses in drab and black and represses his feelings?
Were all the Elizabethan palladins and pirates like that?  Were any of
them like that? Was Grenville concealing his emotions when he broke
wine-glasses to pieces with his teeth and bit them till the blood
poured down? Was Essex restraining his excitement when he threw his hat
into the sea? Did Raleigh think it sensible to answer the Spanish guns
only, as Stevenson says, with a flourish of insulting trumpets? Did
Sydney ever miss an opportunity of making a theatrical remark in the
whole course of his life and death?  Were even the Puritans Stoics? The
English Puritans repressed a good deal, but even they were too English
to repress their feelings.  It was by a great miracle of genius
assuredly that Carlyle contrived to admire simultaneously two things so
irreconcilably opposed as silence and Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell was the
very reverse of a strong, silent man. Cromwell was always talking, when
he was not crying.  Nobody, I suppose, will accuse the author of "Grace
Abounding" of being ashamed of his feelings.  Milton, indeed, it might
be possible to represent as a Stoic; in some sense he was a Stoic, just
as he was a prig and a polygamist and several other unpleasant and
heathen things. But when we have passed that great and desolate name,
which may really be counted an exception, we find the tradition of
English emotionalism immediately resumed and unbrokenly continuous.
Whatever may have been the moral beauty of the passions of Etheridge
and Dorset, Sedley and Buckingham, they cannot be accused of the fault
of fastidiously concealing them. Charles the Second was very popular
with the English because, like all the jolly English kings, he
displayed his passions. William the Dutchman was very unpopular with
the English because, not being an Englishman, he did hide his emotions.
He was, in fact, precisely the ideal Englishman of our modern theory;
and precisely for that reason all the real Englishmen loathed him like
leprosy. With the rise of the great England of the eighteenth century,
we find this open and emotional tone still maintained in letters and
politics, in arts and in arms.  Perhaps the only quality which was
possessed in common by the great Fielding, and the great Richardson was
that neither of them hid their feelings. Swift, indeed, was hard and
logical, because Swift was Irish. And when we pass to the soldiers and
the rulers, the patriots and the empire-builders of the eighteenth
century, we find, as I have said, that they were, If possible, more
romantic than the romancers, more poetical than the poets.  Chatham,
who showed the world all his strength, showed the House of Commons all
his weakness. Wolfe walked about the room with a drawn sword calling
himself Caesar and Hannibal, and went to death with poetry in his
mouth. Clive was a man of the same type as Cromwell or Bunyan, or, for
the matter of that, Johnson--that is, he was a strong, sensible man
with a kind of running spring of hysteria and melancholy in him. Like
Johnson, he was all the more healthy because he was morbid. The tales
of all the admirals and adventurers of that England are full of
braggadocio, of sentimentality, of splendid affectation. But it is
scarcely necessary to multiply examples of the essentially romantic
Englishman when one example towers above them all. Mr. Rudyard Kipling
has said complacently of the English, "We do not fall on the neck and
kiss when we come together." It is true that this ancient and universal
custom has vanished with the modern weakening of England.  Sydney would
have thought nothing of kissing Spenser.  But I willingly concede that
Mr. Broderick would not be likely to kiss Mr. Arnold-Foster, if that be
any proof of the increased manliness and military greatness of England.
But the Englishman who does not show his feelings has not altogether
given up the power of seeing something English in the great sea-hero of
the Napoleonic war.  You cannot break the legend of Nelson. And across
the sunset of that glory is written in flaming letters for ever the
great English sentiment, "Kiss me, Hardy."

This ideal of self-repression, then, is, whatever else it is, not
English. It is, perhaps, somewhat Oriental, it is slightly Prussian,
but in the main it does not come, I think, from any racial or national
source. It is, as I have said, in some sense aristocratic; it comes not
from a people, but from a class.  Even aristocracy, I think, was not
quite so stoical in the days when it was really strong. But whether
this unemotional ideal be the genuine tradition of the gentleman, or
only one of the inventions of the modern gentleman (who may be called
the decayed gentleman), it certainly has something to do with the
unemotional quality in these society novels. From representing
aristocrats as people who suppressed their feelings, it has been an
easy step to representing aristocrats as people who had no feelings to
suppress.  Thus the modern oligarchist has made a virtue for the
oligarchy of the hardness as well as the brightness of the diamond.
Like a sonneteer addressing his lady in the seventeenth century, he
seems to use the word "cold" almost as a eulogium, and the word
"heartless" as a kind of compliment.  Of course, in people so incurably
kind-hearted and babyish as are the English gentry, it would be
impossible to create anything that can be called positive cruelty; so
in these books they exhibit a sort of negative cruelty. They cannot be
cruel in acts, but they can be so in words. All this means one thing,
and one thing only.  It means that the living and invigorating ideal of
England must be looked for in the masses; it must be looked for where
Dickens found it--Dickens among whose glories it was to be a humorist,
to be a sentimentalist, to be an optimist, to be a poor man, to be an
Englishman, but the greatest of whose glories was that he saw all
mankind in its amazing and tropical luxuriance, and did not even notice
the aristocracy; Dickens, the greatest of whose glories was that he
could not describe a gentleman.



XVI On Mr. McCabe and a Divine Frivolity

A critic once remonstrated with me saying, with an air of indignant
reasonableness, "If you must make jokes, at least you need not make
them on such serious subjects."  I replied with a natural simplicity
and wonder, "About what other subjects can one make jokes except
serious subjects?"  It is quite useless to talk about profane jesting.
All jesting is in its nature profane, in the sense that it must be the
sudden realization that something which thinks itself solemn is not so
very solemn after all. If a joke is not a joke about religion or
morals, it is a joke about police-magistrates or scientific professors
or undergraduates dressed up as Queen Victoria.  And people joke about
the police-magistrate more than they joke about the Pope, not because
the police-magistrate is a more frivolous subject, but, on the
contrary, because the police-magistrate is a more serious subject than
the Pope. The Bishop of Rome has no jurisdiction in this realm of
England; whereas the police-magistrate may bring his solemnity to bear
quite suddenly upon us.  Men make jokes about old scientific
professors, even more than they make them about bishops--not because
science is lighter than religion, but because science is always by its
nature more solemn and austere than religion.  It is not I; it is not
even a particular class of journalists or jesters who make jokes about
the matters which are of most awful import; it is the whole human race.
If there is one thing more than another which any one will admit who
has the smallest knowledge of the world, it is that men are always
speaking gravely and earnestly and with the utmost possible care about
the things that are not important, but always talking frivolously about
the things that are. Men talk for hours with the faces of a college of
cardinals about things like golf, or tobacco, or waistcoats, or party
politics. But all the most grave and dreadful things in the world are
the oldest jokes in the world--being married; being hanged.

One gentleman, however, Mr. McCabe, has in this matter made to me
something that almost amounts to a personal appeal; and as he happens
to be a man for whose sincerity and intellectual virtue I have a high
respect, I do not feel inclined to let it pass without some attempt to
satisfy my critic in the matter. Mr. McCabe devotes a considerable part
of the last essay in the collection called "Christianity and
Rationalism on Trial" to an objection, not to my thesis, but to my
method, and a very friendly and dignified appeal to me to alter it.  I
am much inclined to defend myself in this matter out of mere respect
for Mr. McCabe, and still more so out of mere respect for the truth
which is, I think, in danger by his error, not only in this question,
but in others. In order that there may be no injustice done in the
matter, I will quote Mr. McCabe himself.  "But before I follow Mr.
Chesterton in some detail I would make a general observation on his
method. He is as serious as I am in his ultimate purpose, and I respect
him for that.  He knows, as I do, that humanity stands at a solemn
parting of the ways.  Towards some unknown goal it presses through the
ages, impelled by an overmastering desire of happiness. To-day it
hesitates, lightheartedly enough, but every serious thinker knows how
momentous the decision may be.  It is, apparently, deserting the path
of religion and entering upon the path of secularism. Will it lose
itself in quagmires of sensuality down this new path, and pant and toil
through years of civic and industrial anarchy, only to learn it had
lost the road, and must return to religion? Or will it find that at
last it is leaving the mists and the quagmires behind it; that it is
ascending the slope of the hill so long dimly discerned ahead, and
making straight for the long-sought Utopia? This is the drama of our
time, and every man and every woman should understand it.

"Mr. Chesterton understands it.  Further, he gives us credit for
understanding it.  He has nothing of that paltry meanness or strange
density of so many of his colleagues, who put us down as aimless
iconoclasts or moral anarchists. He admits that we are waging a
thankless war for what we take to be Truth and Progress.  He is doing
the same. But why, in the name of all that is reasonable, should we,
when we are agreed on the momentousness of the issue either way,
forthwith desert serious methods of conducting the controversy? Why,
when the vital need of our time is to induce men and women to collect
their thoughts occasionally, and be men and women--nay, to remember
that they are really gods that hold the destinies of humanity on their
knees--why should we think that this kaleidoscopic play of phrases is
inopportune? The ballets of the Alhambra, and the fireworks of the
Crystal Palace, and Mr. Chesterton's Daily News articles, have their
place in life. But how a serious social student can think of curing the
thoughtlessness of our generation by strained paradoxes; of giving
people a sane grasp of social problems by literary sleight-of-hand; of
settling important questions by a reckless shower of rocket-metaphors
and inaccurate 'facts,' and the substitution of imagination for
judgment, I cannot see."

I quote this passage with a particular pleasure, because Mr. McCabe
certainly cannot put too strongly the degree to which I give him and
his school credit for their complete sincerity and responsibility of
philosophical attitude.  I am quite certain that they mean every word
they say.  I also mean every word I say.  But why is it that Mr. McCabe
has some sort of mysterious hesitation about admitting that I mean
every word I say; why is it that he is not quite as certain of my
mental responsibility as I am of his mental responsibility? If we
attempt to answer the question directly and well, we shall, I think,
have come to the root of the matter by the shortest cut.

Mr. McCabe thinks that I am not serious but only funny, because Mr.
McCabe thinks that funny is the opposite of serious. Funny is the
opposite of not funny, and of nothing else. The question of whether a
man expresses himself in a grotesque or laughable phraseology, or in a
stately and restrained phraseology, is not a question of motive or of
moral state, it is a question of instinctive language and
self-expression. Whether a man chooses to tell the truth in long
sentences or short jokes is a problem analogous to whether he chooses
to tell the truth in French or German. Whether a man preaches his
gospel grotesquely or gravely is merely like the question of whether he
preaches it in prose or verse. The question of whether Swift was funny
in his irony is quite another sort of question to the question of
whether Swift was serious in his pessimism. Surely even Mr. McCabe
would not maintain that the more funny "Gulliver" is in its method the
less it can be sincere in its object. The truth is, as I have said,
that in this sense the two qualities of fun and seriousness have
nothing whatever to do with each other, they are no more comparable
than black and triangular. Mr. Bernard Shaw is funny and sincere.  Mr.
George Robey is funny and not sincere.  Mr. McCabe is sincere and not
funny. The average Cabinet Minister is not sincere and not funny.

In short, Mr. McCabe is under the influence of a primary fallacy which
I have found very common in men of the clerical type. Numbers of
clergymen have from time to time reproached me for making jokes about
religion; and they have almost always invoked the authority of that
very sensible commandment which says, "Thou shalt not take the name of
the Lord thy God in vain." Of course, I pointed out that I was not in
any conceivable sense taking the name in vain.  To take a thing and
make a joke out of it is not to take it in vain.  It is, on the
contrary, to take it and use it for an uncommonly good object.  To use
a thing in vain means to use it without use.  But a joke may be
exceedingly useful; it may contain the whole earthly sense, not to
mention the whole heavenly sense, of a situation.  And those who find
in the Bible the commandment can find in the Bible any number of the
jokes. In the same book in which God's name is fenced from being taken
in vain, God himself overwhelms Job with a torrent of terrible
levities. The same book which says that God's name must not be taken
vainly, talks easily and carelessly about God laughing and God winking.
Evidently it is not here that we have to look for genuine examples of
what is meant by a vain use of the name.  And it is not very difficult
to see where we have really to look for it. The people (as I tactfully
pointed out to them) who really take the name of the Lord in vain are
the clergymen themselves.  The thing which is fundamentally and really
frivolous is not a careless joke. The thing which is fundamentally and
really frivolous is a careless solemnity.  If Mr. McCabe really wishes
to know what sort of guarantee of reality and solidity is afforded by
the mere act of what is called talking seriously, let him spend a happy
Sunday in going the round of the pulpits.  Or, better still, let him
drop in at the House of Commons or the House of Lords.  Even Mr. McCabe
would admit that these men are solemn--more solemn than I am. And even
Mr. McCabe, I think, would admit that these men are frivolous--more
frivolous than I am.  Why should Mr. McCabe be so eloquent about the
danger arising from fantastic and paradoxical writers? Why should he be
so ardent in desiring grave and verbose writers? There are not so very
many fantastic and paradoxical writers. But there are a gigantic number
of grave and verbose writers; and it is by the efforts of the grave and
verbose writers that everything that Mr. McCabe detests (and everything
that I detest, for that matter) is kept in existence and energy. How
can it have come about that a man as intelligent as Mr. McCabe can
think that paradox and jesting stop the way?  It is solemnity that is
stopping the way in every department of modern effort. It is his own
favourite "serious methods;" it is his own favourite "momentousness;"
it is his own favourite "judgment" which stops the way everywhere.
Every man who has ever headed a deputation to a minister knows this.
Every man who has ever written a letter to the Times knows it.  Every
rich man who wishes to stop the mouths of the poor talks about
"momentousness."  Every Cabinet minister who has not got an answer
suddenly develops a "judgment." Every sweater who uses vile methods
recommends "serious methods." I said a moment ago that sincerity had
nothing to do with solemnity, but I confess that I am not so certain
that I was right. In the modern world, at any rate, I am not so sure
that I was right. In the modern world solemnity is the direct enemy of
sincerity. In the modern world sincerity is almost always on one side,
and solemnity almost always on the other.  The only answer possible to
the fierce and glad attack of sincerity is the miserable answer of
solemnity. Let Mr. McCabe, or any one else who is much concerned that
we should be grave in order to be sincere, simply imagine the scene in
some government office in which Mr. Bernard Shaw should head a
Socialist deputation to Mr. Austen Chamberlain.  On which side would be
the solemnity? And on which the sincerity?

I am, indeed, delighted to discover that Mr. McCabe reckons Mr. Shaw
along with me in his system of condemnation of frivolity. He said once,
I believe, that he always wanted Mr. Shaw to label his paragraphs
serious or comic.  I do not know which paragraphs of Mr. Shaw are
paragraphs to be labelled serious; but surely there can be no doubt
that this paragraph of Mr. McCabe's is one to be labelled comic.  He
also says, in the article I am now discussing, that Mr. Shaw has the
reputation of deliberately saying everything which his hearers do not
expect him to say. I need not labour the inconclusiveness and weakness
of this, because it has already been dealt with in my remarks on Mr.
Bernard Shaw. Suffice it to say here that the only serious reason which
I can imagine inducing any one person to listen to any other is, that
the first person looks to the second person with an ardent faith and a
fixed attention, expecting him to say what he does not expect him to
say. It may be a paradox, but that is because paradoxes are true. It
may not be rational, but that is because rationalism is wrong. But
clearly it is quite true that whenever we go to hear a prophet or
teacher we may or may not expect wit, we may or may not expect
eloquence, but we do expect what we do not expect.  We may not expect
the true, we may not even expect the wise, but we do expect the
unexpected. If we do not expect the unexpected, why do we go there at
all? If we expect the expected, why do we not sit at home and expect it
by ourselves?  If Mr. McCabe means merely this about Mr. Shaw, that he
always has some unexpected application of his doctrine to give to those
who listen to him, what he says is quite true, and to say it is only to
say that Mr. Shaw is an original man. But if he means that Mr. Shaw has
ever professed or preached any doctrine but one, and that his own, then
what he says is not true. It is not my business to defend Mr. Shaw; as
has been seen already, I disagree with him altogether.  But I do not
mind, on his behalf offering in this matter a flat defiance to all his
ordinary opponents, such as Mr. McCabe.  I defy Mr. McCabe, or anybody
else, to mention one single instance in which Mr. Shaw has, for the
sake of wit or novelty, taken up any position which was not directly
deducible from the body of his doctrine as elsewhere expressed.  I have
been, I am happy to say, a tolerably close student of Mr. Shaw's
utterances, and I request Mr. McCabe, if he will not believe that I
mean anything else, to believe that I mean this challenge.

All this, however, is a parenthesis.  The thing with which I am here
immediately concerned is Mr. McCabe's appeal to me not to be so
frivolous. Let me return to the actual text of that appeal.  There are,
of course, a great many things that I might say about it in detail. But
I may start with saying that Mr. McCabe is in error in supposing that
the danger which I anticipate from the disappearance of religion is the
increase of sensuality.  On the contrary, I should be inclined to
anticipate a decrease in sensuality, because I anticipate a decrease in
life.  I do not think that under modern Western materialism we should
have anarchy.  I doubt whether we should have enough individual valour
and spirit even to have liberty. It is quite an old-fashioned fallacy
to suppose that our objection to scepticism is that it removes the
discipline from life. Our objection to scepticism is that it removes
the motive power. Materialism is not a thing which destroys mere
restraint. Materialism itself is the great restraint.  The McCabe
school advocates a political liberty, but it denies spiritual liberty.
That is, it abolishes the laws which could be broken, and substitutes
laws that cannot.  And that is the real slavery.

The truth is that the scientific civilization in which Mr. McCabe
believes has one rather particular defect; it is perpetually tending to
destroy that democracy or power of the ordinary man in which Mr. McCabe
also believes.  Science means specialism, and specialism means
oligarchy.  If you once establish the habit of trusting particular men
to produce particular results in physics or astronomy, you leave the
door open for the equally natural demand that you should trust
particular men to do particular things in government and the coercing
of men.  If, you feel it to be reasonable that one beetle should be the
only study of one man, and that one man the only student of that one
beetle, it is surely a very harmless consequence to go on to say that
politics should be the only study of one man, and that one man the only
student of politics. As I have pointed out elsewhere in this book, the
expert is more aristocratic than the aristocrat, because the aristocrat
is only the man who lives well, while the expert is the man who knows
better. But if we look at the progress of our scientific civilization
we see a gradual increase everywhere of the specialist over the popular
function. Once men sang together round a table in chorus; now one man
sings alone, for the absurd reason that he can sing better. If
scientific civilization goes on (which is most improbable) only one man
will laugh, because he can laugh better than the rest.

I do not know that I can express this more shortly than by taking as a
text the single sentence of Mr. McCabe, which runs as follows: "The
ballets of the Alhambra and the fireworks of the Crystal Palace and Mr.
Chesterton's Daily News articles have their places in life." I wish
that my articles had as noble a place as either of the other two things
mentioned.  But let us ask ourselves (in a spirit of love, as Mr.
Chadband would say), what are the ballets of the Alhambra? The ballets
of the Alhambra are institutions in which a particular selected row of
persons in pink go through an operation known as dancing.  Now, in all
commonwealths dominated by a religion--in the Christian commonwealths
of the Middle Ages and in many rude societies--this habit of dancing
was a common habit with everybody, and was not necessarily confined to
a professional class. A person could dance without being a dancer; a
person could dance without being a specialist; a person could dance
without being pink. And, in proportion as Mr. McCabe's scientific
civilization advances--that is, in proportion as religious civilization
(or real civilization) decays--the more and more "well trained," the
more and more pink, become the people who do dance, and the more and
more numerous become the people who don't. Mr. McCabe may recognize an
example of what I mean in the gradual discrediting in society of the
ancient European waltz or dance with partners, and the substitution of
that horrible and degrading oriental interlude which is known as
skirt-dancing. That is the whole essence of decadence, the effacement
of five people who do a thing for fun by one person who does it for
money. Now it follows, therefore, that when Mr. McCabe says that the
ballets of the Alhambra and my articles "have their place in life," it
ought to be pointed out to him that he is doing his best to create a
world in which dancing, properly speaking, will have no place in life
at all.  He is, indeed, trying to create a world in which there will be
no life for dancing to have a place in. The very fact that Mr. McCabe
thinks of dancing as a thing belonging to some hired women at the
Alhambra is an illustration of the same principle by which he is able
to think of religion as a thing belonging to some hired men in white
neckties. Both these things are things which should not be done for us,
but by us.  If Mr. McCabe were really religious he would be happy. If
he were really happy he would dance.

Briefly, we may put the matter in this way.  The main point of modern
life is not that the Alhambra ballet has its place in life. The main
point, the main enormous tragedy of modern life, is that Mr. McCabe has
not his place in the Alhambra ballet. The joy of changing and graceful
posture, the joy of suiting the swing of music to the swing of limbs,
the joy of whirling drapery, the joy of standing on one leg,--all these
should belong by rights to Mr. McCabe and to me; in short, to the
ordinary healthy citizen. Probably we should not consent to go through
these evolutions. But that is because we are miserable moderns and
rationalists. We do not merely love ourselves more than we love duty;
we actually love ourselves more than we love joy.

When, therefore, Mr. McCabe says that he gives the Alhambra dances (and
my articles) their place in life, I think we are justified in pointing
out that by the very nature of the case of his philosophy and of his
favourite civilization he gives them a very inadequate place. For (if I
may pursue the too flattering parallel) Mr. McCabe thinks of the
Alhambra and of my articles as two very odd and absurd things, which
some special people do (probably for money) in order to amuse him. But
if he had ever felt himself the ancient, sublime, elemental, human
instinct to dance, he would have discovered that dancing is not a
frivolous thing at all, but a very serious thing. He would have
discovered that it is the one grave and chaste and decent method of
expressing a certain class of emotions. And similarly, if he had ever
had, as Mr. Shaw and I have had, the impulse to what he calls paradox,
he would have discovered that paradox again is not a frivolous thing,
but a very serious thing. He would have found that paradox simply means
a certain defiant joy which belongs to belief.  I should regard any
civilization which was without a universal habit of uproarious dancing
as being, from the full human point of view, a defective civilization.
And I should regard any mind which had not got the habit in one form or
another of uproarious thinking as being, from the full human point of
view, a defective mind. It is vain for Mr. McCabe to say that a ballet
is a part of him. He should be part of a ballet, or else he is only
part of a man. It is in vain for him to say that he is "not quarrelling
with the importation of humour into the controversy." He ought himself
to be importing humour into every controversy; for unless a man is in
part a humorist, he is only in part a man. To sum up the whole matter
very simply, if Mr. McCabe asks me why I import frivolity into a
discussion of the nature of man, I answer, because frivolity is a part
of the nature of man.  If he asks me why I introduce what he calls
paradoxes into a philosophical problem, I answer, because all
philosophical problems tend to become paradoxical. If he objects to my
treating of life riotously, I reply that life is a riot.  And I say
that the Universe as I see it, at any rate, is very much more like the
fireworks at the Crystal Palace than it is like his own philosophy.
About the whole cosmos there is a tense and secret festivity--like
preparations for Guy Fawkes' day. Eternity is the eve of something.  I
never look up at the stars without feeling that they are the fires of a
schoolboy's rocket, fixed in their everlasting fall.



XVII On the Wit of Whistler

That capable and ingenious writer, Mr. Arthur Symons, has included in a
book of essays recently published, I believe, an apologia for "London
Nights," in which he says that morality should be wholly subordinated
to art in criticism, and he uses the somewhat singular argument that
art or the worship of beauty is the same in all ages, while morality
differs in every period and in every respect.  He appears to defy his
critics or his readers to mention any permanent feature or quality in
ethics. This is surely a very curious example of that extravagant bias
against morality which makes so many ultra-modern aesthetes as morbid
and fanatical as any Eastern hermit.  Unquestionably it is a very
common phrase of modern intellectualism to say that the morality of one
age can be entirely different to the morality of another. And like a
great many other phrases of modern intellectualism, it means literally
nothing at all.  If the two moralities are entirely different, why do
you call them both moralities? It is as if a man said, "Camels in
various places are totally diverse; some have six legs, some have none,
some have scales, some have feathers, some have horns, some have wings,
some are green, some are triangular. There is no point which they have
in common."  The ordinary man of sense would reply, "Then what makes
you call them all camels? What do you mean by a camel?  How do you know
a camel when you see one?" Of course, there is a permanent substance of
morality, as much as there is a permanent substance of art; to say that
is only to say that morality is morality, and that art is art.  An
ideal art critic would, no doubt, see the enduring beauty under every
school; equally an ideal moralist would see the enduring ethic under
every code. But practically some of the best Englishmen that ever lived
could see nothing but filth and idolatry in the starry piety of the
Brahmin. And it is equally true that practically the greatest group of
artists that the world has ever seen, the giants of the Renaissance,
could see nothing but barbarism in the ethereal energy of Gothic.

This bias against morality among the modern aesthetes is nothing very
much paraded.  And yet it is not really a bias against morality; it is
a bias against other people's morality.  It is generally founded on a
very definite moral preference for a certain sort of life, pagan,
plausible, humane.  The modern aesthete, wishing us to believe that he
values beauty more than conduct, reads Mallarme, and drinks absinthe in
a tavern.  But this is not only his favourite kind of beauty; it is
also his favourite kind of conduct. If he really wished us to believe
that he cared for beauty only, he ought to go to nothing but Wesleyan
school treats, and paint the sunlight in the hair of the Wesleyan
babies.  He ought to read nothing but very eloquent theological sermons
by old-fashioned Presbyterian divines.  Here the lack of all possible
moral sympathy would prove that his interest was purely verbal or
pictorial, as it is; in all the books he reads and writes he clings to
the skirts of his own morality and his own immorality.  The champion of
l'art pour l'art is always denouncing Ruskin for his moralizing. If he
were really a champion of l'art pour l'art, he would be always
insisting on Ruskin for his style.

The doctrine of the distinction between art and morality owes a great
part of its success to art and morality being hopelessly mixed up in
the persons and performances of its greatest exponents. Of this lucky
contradiction the very incarnation was Whistler. No man ever preached
the impersonality of art so well; no man ever preached the
impersonality of art so personally. For him pictures had nothing to do
with the problems of character; but for all his fiercest admirers his
character was, as a matter of fact far more interesting than his
pictures. He gloried in standing as an artist apart from right and
wrong. But he succeeded by talking from morning till night about his
rights and about his wrongs.  His talents were many, his virtues, it
must be confessed, not many, beyond that kindness to tried friends, on
which many of his biographers insist, but which surely is a quality of
all sane men, of pirates and pickpockets; beyond this, his outstanding
virtues limit themselves chiefly to two admirable ones--courage and an
abstract love of good work.  Yet I fancy he won at last more by those
two virtues than by all his talents. A man must be something of a
moralist if he is to preach, even if he is to preach unmorality.
Professor Walter Raleigh, in his "In Memoriam: James McNeill Whistler,"
insists, truly enough, on the strong streak of an eccentric honesty in
matters strictly pictorial, which ran through his complex and slightly
confused character. "He would destroy any of his works rather than
leave a careless or inexpressive touch within the limits of the frame.
He would begin again a hundred times over rather than attempt by
patching to make his work seem better than it was."

No one will blame Professor Raleigh, who had to read a sort of funeral
oration over Whistler at the opening of the Memorial Exhibition, if,
finding himself in that position, he confined himself mostly to the
merits and the stronger qualities of his subject. We should naturally
go to some other type of composition for a proper consideration of the
weaknesses of Whistler. But these must never be omitted from our view
of him. Indeed, the truth is that it was not so much a question of the
weaknesses of Whistler as of the intrinsic and primary weakness of
Whistler. He was one of those people who live up to their emotional
incomes, who are always taut and tingling with vanity.  Hence he had no
strength to spare; hence he had no kindness, no geniality; for
geniality is almost definable as strength to spare. He had no god-like
carelessness; he never forgot himself; his whole life was, to use his
own expression, an arrangement. He went in for "the art of living"--a
miserable trick. In a word, he was a great artist; but emphatically not
a great man. In this connection I must differ strongly with Professor
Raleigh upon what is, from a superficial literary point of view, one of
his most effective points.  He compares Whistler's laughter to the
laughter of another man who was a great man as well as a great artist.
"His attitude to the public was exactly the attitude taken up by Robert
Browning, who suffered as long a period of neglect and mistake, in
those lines of 'The Ring and the Book'--

 "'Well, British Public, ye who like me not,
   (God love you!) and will have your proper laugh
   At the dark question; laugh it!  I'd laugh first.'

"Mr. Whistler," adds Professor Raleigh, "always laughed first." The
truth is, I believe, that Whistler never laughed at all. There was no
laughter in his nature; because there was no thoughtlessness and
self-abandonment, no humility.  I cannot understand anybody reading
"The Gentle Art of Making Enemies" and thinking that there is any
laughter in the wit.  His wit is a torture to him. He twists himself
into arabesques of verbal felicity; he is full of a fierce carefulness;
he is inspired with the complete seriousness of sincere malice.  He
hurts himself to hurt his opponent. Browning did laugh, because
Browning did not care; Browning did not care, because Browning was a
great man.  And when Browning said in brackets to the simple, sensible
people who did not like his books, "God love you!" he was not sneering
in the least. He was laughing--that is to say, he meant exactly what he
said.

There are three distinct classes of great satirists who are also great
men--that is to say, three classes of men who can laugh at something
without losing their souls.  The satirist of the first type is the man
who, first of all enjoys himself, and then enjoys his enemies. In this
sense he loves his enemy, and by a kind of exaggeration of Christianity
he loves his enemy the more the more he becomes an enemy. He has a sort
of overwhelming and aggressive happiness in his assertion of anger; his
curse is as human as a benediction. Of this type of satire the great
example is Rabelais.  This is the first typical example of satire, the
satire which is voluble, which is violent, which is indecent, but which
is not malicious. The satire of Whistler was not this.  He was never in
any of his controversies simply happy; the proof of it is that he never
talked absolute nonsense.  There is a second type of mind which
produces satire with the quality of greatness.  That is embodied in the
satirist whose passions are released and let go by some intolerable
sense of wrong. He is maddened by the sense of men being maddened; his
tongue becomes an unruly member, and testifies against all mankind.
Such a man was Swift, in whom the saeva indignatio was a bitterness to
others, because it was a bitterness to himself.  Such a satirist
Whistler was not.  He did not laugh because he was happy, like
Rabelais. But neither did he laugh because he was unhappy, like Swift.

The third type of great satire is that in which he satirist is enabled
to rise superior to his victim in the only serious sense which
superiority can bear, in that of pitying the sinner and respecting the
man even while he satirises both.  Such an achievement can be found in
a thing like Pope's "Atticus" a poem in which the satirist feels that
he is satirising the weaknesses which belong specially to literary
genius.  Consequently he takes a pleasure in pointing out his enemy's
strength before he points out his weakness. That is, perhaps, the
highest and most honourable form of satire. That is not the satire of
Whistler.  He is not full of a great sorrow for the wrong done to human
nature; for him the wrong is altogether done to himself.

He was not a great personality, because he thought so much about
himself.  And the case is stronger even than that. He was sometimes not
even a great artist, because he thought so much about art.  Any man
with a vital knowledge of the human psychology ought to have the most
profound suspicion of anybody who claims to be an artist, and talks a
great deal about art. Art is a right and human thing, like walking or
saying one's prayers; but the moment it begins to be talked about very
solemnly, a man may be fairly certain that the thing has come into a
congestion and a kind of difficulty.

The artistic temperament is a disease that afflicts amateurs. It is a
disease which arises from men not having sufficient power of expression
to utter and get rid of the element of art in their being. It is
healthful to every sane man to utter the art within him; it is
essential to every sane man to get rid of the art within him at all
costs.  Artists of a large and wholesome vitality get rid of their art
easily, as they breathe easily, or perspire easily. But in artists of
less force, the thing becomes a pressure, and produces a definite pain,
which is called the artistic temperament. Thus, very great artists are
able to be ordinary men--men like Shakespeare or Browning.  There are
many real tragedies of the artistic temperament, tragedies of vanity or
violence or fear. But the great tragedy of the artistic temperament is
that it cannot produce any art.

Whistler could produce art; and in so far he was a great man. But he
could not forget art; and in so far he was only a man with the artistic
temperament.  There can be no stronger manifestation of the man who is
a really great artist than the fact that he can dismiss the subject of
art; that he can, upon due occasion, wish art at the bottom of the sea.
Similarly, we should always be much more inclined to trust a solicitor
who did not talk about conveyancing over the nuts and wine.  What we
really desire of any man conducting any business is that the full force
of an ordinary man should be put into that particular study.  We do not
desire that the full force of that study should be put into an ordinary
man. We do not in the least wish that our particular law-suit should
pour its energy into our barrister's games with his children, or rides
on his bicycle, or meditations on the morning star. But we do, as a
matter of fact, desire that his games with his children, and his rides
on his bicycle, and his meditations on the morning star should pour
something of their energy into our law-suit. We do desire that if he
has gained any especial lung development from the bicycle, or any
bright and pleasing metaphors from the morning star, that the should be
placed at our disposal in that particular forensic controversy. In a
word, we are very glad that he is an ordinary man, since that may help
him to be an exceptional lawyer.

Whistler never ceased to be an artist.  As Mr. Max Beerbohm pointed out
in one of his extraordinarily sensible and sincere critiques, Whistler
really regarded Whistler as his greatest work of art. The white lock,
the single eyeglass, the remarkable hat--these were much dearer to him
than any nocturnes or arrangements that he ever threw off.  He could
throw off the nocturnes; for some mysterious reason he could not throw
off the hat. He never threw off from himself that disproportionate
accumulation of aestheticism which is the burden of the amateur.

It need hardly be said that this is the real explanation of the thing
which has puzzled so many dilettante critics, the problem of the
extreme ordinariness of the behaviour of so many great geniuses in
history. Their behaviour was so ordinary that it was not recorded;
hence it was so ordinary that it seemed mysterious.  Hence people say
that Bacon wrote Shakespeare.  The modern artistic temperament cannot
understand how a man who could write such lyrics as Shakespeare wrote,
could be as keen as Shakespeare was on business transactions in a
little town in Warwickshire.  The explanation is simple enough; it is
that Shakespeare had a real lyrical impulse, wrote a real lyric, and so
got rid of the impulse and went about his business. Being an artist did
not prevent him from being an ordinary man, any more than being a
sleeper at night or being a diner at dinner prevented him from being an
ordinary man.

All very great teachers and leaders have had this habit of assuming
their point of view to be one which was human and casual, one which
would readily appeal to every passing man. If a man is genuinely
superior to his fellows the first thing that he believes in is the
equality of man.  We can see this, for instance, in that strange and
innocent rationality with which Christ addressed any motley crowd that
happened to stand about Him. "What man of you having a hundred sheep,
and losing one, would not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness,
and go after that which was lost?" Or, again, "What man of you if his
son ask for bread will he give him a stone, or if he ask for a fish
will he give him a serpent?" This plainness, this almost prosaic
camaraderie, is the note of all very great minds.

To very great minds the things on which men agree are so immeasurably
more important than the things on which they differ, that the latter,
for all practical purposes, disappear.  They have too much in them of
an ancient laughter even to endure to discuss the difference between
the hats of two men who were both born of a woman, or between the
subtly varied cultures of two men who have both to die. The first-rate
great man is equal with other men, like Shakespeare. The second-rate
great man is on his knees to other men, like Whitman. The third-rate
great man is superior to other men, like Whistler.



XVIII The Fallacy of the Young Nation

To say that a man is an idealist is merely to say that he is a man;
but, nevertheless, it might be possible to effect some valid
distinction between one kind of idealist and another. One possible
distinction, for instance, could be effected by saying that humanity is
divided into conscious idealists and unconscious idealists. In a
similar way, humanity is divided into conscious ritualists and
unconscious ritualists.  The curious thing is, in that example as in
others, that it is the conscious ritualism which is comparatively
simple, the unconscious ritual which is really heavy and complicated.
The ritual which is comparatively rude and straightforward is the
ritual which people call "ritualistic."  It consists of plain things
like bread and wine and fire, and men falling on their faces. But the
ritual which is really complex, and many coloured, and elaborate, and
needlessly formal, is the ritual which people enact without knowing it.
It consists not of plain things like wine and fire, but of really
peculiar, and local, and exceptional, and ingenious things--things like
door-mats, and door-knockers, and electric bells, and silk hats, and
white ties, and shiny cards, and confetti. The truth is that the modern
man scarcely ever gets back to very old and simple things except when
he is performing some religious mummery. The modern man can hardly get
away from ritual except by entering a ritualistic church.  In the case
of these old and mystical formalities we can at least say that the
ritual is not mere ritual; that the symbols employed are in most cases
symbols which belong to a primary human poetry.  The most ferocious
opponent of the Christian ceremonials must admit that if Catholicism
had not instituted the bread and wine, somebody else would most
probably have done so. Any one with a poetical instinct will admit that
to the ordinary human instinct bread symbolizes something which cannot
very easily be symbolized otherwise; that wine, to the ordinary human
instinct, symbolizes something which cannot very easily be symbolized
otherwise. But white ties in the evening are ritual, and nothing else
but ritual. No one would pretend that white ties in the evening are
primary and poetical.  Nobody would maintain that the ordinary human
instinct would in any age or country tend to symbolize the idea of
evening by a white necktie.  Rather, the ordinary human instinct would,
I imagine, tend to symbolize evening by cravats with some of the
colours of the sunset, not white neckties, but tawny or crimson
neckties--neckties of purple or olive, or some darkened gold.  Mr. J.
A. Kensit, for example, is under the impression that he is not a
ritualist. But the daily life of Mr. J. A. Kensit, like that of any
ordinary modern man, is, as a matter of fact, one continual and
compressed catalogue of mystical mummery and flummery.  To take one
instance out of an inevitable hundred:  I imagine that Mr. Kensit takes
off his hat to a lady; and what can be more solemn and absurd,
considered in the abstract, than, symbolizing the existence of the
other sex by taking off a portion of your clothing and waving it in the
air? This, I repeat, is not a natural and primitive symbol, like fire
or food. A man might just as well have to take off his waistcoat to a
lady; and if a man, by the social ritual of his civilization, had to
take off his waistcoat to a lady, every chivalrous and sensible man
would take off his waistcoat to a lady.  In short, Mr. Kensit, and
those who agree with him, may think, and quite sincerely think, that
men give too much incense and ceremonial to their adoration of the
other world. But nobody thinks that he can give too much incense and
ceremonial to the adoration of this world.  All men, then, are
ritualists, but are either conscious or unconscious ritualists.  The
conscious ritualists are generally satisfied with a few very simple and
elementary signs; the unconscious ritualists are not satisfied with
anything short of the whole of human life, being almost insanely
ritualistic. The first is called a ritualist because he invents and
remembers one rite; the other is called an anti-ritualist because he
obeys and forgets a thousand.  And a somewhat similar distinction to
this which I have drawn with some unavoidable length, between the
conscious ritualist and the unconscious ritualist, exists between the
conscious idealist and the unconscious idealist. It is idle to inveigh
against cynics and materialists--there are no cynics, there are no
materialists.  Every man is idealistic; only it so often happens that
he has the wrong ideal. Every man is incurably sentimental; but,
unfortunately, it is so often a false sentiment.  When we talk, for
instance, of some unscrupulous commercial figure, and say that he would
do anything for money, we use quite an inaccurate expression, and we
slander him very much. He would not do anything for money.  He would do
some things for money; he would sell his soul for money, for instance;
and, as Mirabeau humorously said, he would be quite wise "to take money
for muck." He would oppress humanity for money; but then it happens
that humanity and the soul are not things that he believes in; they are
not his ideals. But he has his own dim and delicate ideals; and he
would not violate these for money.  He would not drink out of the
soup-tureen, for money. He would not wear his coat-tails in front, for
money.  He would not spread a report that he had softening of the
brain, for money. In the actual practice of life we find, in the matter
of ideals, exactly what we have already found in the matter of ritual.
We find that while there is a perfectly genuine danger of fanaticism
from the men who have unworldly ideals, the permanent and urgent danger
of fanaticism is from the men who have worldly ideals.

People who say that an ideal is a dangerous thing, that it deludes and
intoxicates, are perfectly right.  But the ideal which intoxicates most
is the least idealistic kind of ideal. The ideal which intoxicates
least is the very ideal ideal; that sobers us suddenly, as all heights
and precipices and great distances do. Granted that it is a great evil
to mistake a cloud for a cape; still, the cloud, which can be most
easily mistaken for a cape, is the cloud that is nearest the earth.
Similarly, we may grant that it may be dangerous to mistake an ideal
for something practical. But we shall still point out that, in this
respect, the most dangerous ideal of all is the ideal which looks a
little practical. It is difficult to attain a high ideal; consequently,
it is almost impossible to persuade ourselves that we have attained it.
But it is easy to attain a low ideal; consequently, it is easier still
to persuade ourselves that we have attained it when we have done
nothing of the kind.  To take a random example. It might be called a
high ambition to wish to be an archangel; the man who entertained such
an ideal would very possibly exhibit asceticism, or even frenzy, but
not, I think, delusion. He would not think he was an archangel, and go
about flapping his hands under the impression that they were wings. But
suppose that a sane man had a low ideal; suppose he wished to be a
gentleman.  Any one who knows the world knows that in nine weeks he
would have persuaded himself that he was a gentleman; and this being
manifestly not the case, the result will be very real and practical
dislocations and calamities in social life. It is not the wild ideals
which wreck the practical world; it is the tame ideals.

The matter may, perhaps, be illustrated by a parallel from our modern
politics.  When men tell us that the old Liberal politicians of the
type of Gladstone cared only for ideals, of course, they are talking
nonsense--they cared for a great many other things, including votes.
And when men tell us that modern politicians of the type of Mr.
Chamberlain or, in another way, Lord Rosebery, care only for votes or
for material interest, then again they are talking nonsense--these men
care for ideals like all other men. But the real distinction which may
be drawn is this, that to the older politician the ideal was an ideal,
and nothing else. To the new politician his dream is not only a good
dream, it is a reality. The old politician would have said, "It would
be a good thing if there were a Republican Federation dominating the
world." But the modern politician does not say, "It would be a good
thing if there were a British Imperialism dominating the world." He
says, "It is a good thing that there is a British Imperialism
dominating the world;" whereas clearly there is nothing of the kind.
The old Liberal would say "There ought to be a good Irish government in
Ireland."  But the ordinary modern Unionist does not say, "There ought
to be a good English government in Ireland."  He says, "There is a good
English government in Ireland;" which is absurd. In short, the modern
politicians seem to think that a man becomes practical merely by making
assertions entirely about practical things. Apparently, a delusion does
not matter as long as it is a materialistic delusion.  Instinctively
most of us feel that, as a practical matter, even the contrary is true.
I certainly would much rather share my apartments with a gentleman who
thought he was God than with a gentleman who thought he was a
grasshopper. To be continually haunted by practical images and
practical problems, to be constantly thinking of things as actual, as
urgent, as in process of completion--these things do not prove a man to
be practical; these things, indeed, are among the most ordinary signs
of a lunatic. That our modern statesmen are materialistic is nothing
against their being also morbid.  Seeing angels in a vision may make a
man a supernaturalist to excess.  But merely seeing snakes in delirium
tremens does not make him a naturalist.

And when we come actually to examine the main stock notions of our
modern practical politicians, we find that those main stock notions are
mainly delusions.  A great many instances might be given of the fact.
We might take, for example, the case of that strange class of notions
which underlie the word "union," and all the eulogies heaped upon it.
Of course, union is no more a good thing in itself than separation is a
good thing in itself.  To have a party in favour of union and a party
in favour of separation is as absurd as to have a party in favour of
going upstairs and a party in favour of going downstairs. The question
is not whether we go up or down stairs, but where we are going to, and
what we are going, for?  Union is strength; union is also weakness.  It
is a good thing to harness two horses to a cart; but it is not a good
thing to try and turn two hansom cabs into one four-wheeler. Turning
ten nations into one empire may happen to be as feasible as turning ten
shillings into one half-sovereign. Also it may happen to be as
preposterous as turning ten terriers into one mastiff. The question in
all cases is not a question of union or absence of union, but of
identity or absence of identity. Owing to certain historical and moral
causes, two nations may be so united as upon the whole to help each
other.  Thus England and Scotland pass their time in paying each other
compliments; but their energies and atmospheres run distinct and
parallel, and consequently do not clash.  Scotland continues to be
educated and Calvinistic; England continues to be uneducated and happy.
But owing to certain other Moral and certain other political causes,
two nations may be so united as only to hamper each other; their lines
do clash and do not run parallel.  Thus, for instance, England and
Ireland are so united that the Irish can sometimes rule England, but
can never rule Ireland. The educational systems, including the last
Education Act, are here, as in the case of Scotland, a very good test
of the matter. The overwhelming majority of Irishmen believe in a
strict Catholicism; the overwhelming majority of Englishmen believe in
a vague Protestantism. The Irish party in the Parliament of Union is
just large enough to prevent the English education being indefinitely
Protestant, and just small enough to prevent the Irish education being
definitely Catholic. Here we have a state of things which no man in his
senses would ever dream of wishing to continue if he had not been
bewitched by the sentimentalism of the mere word "union."

This example of union, however, is not the example which I propose to
take of the ingrained futility and deception underlying all the
assumptions of the modern practical politician. I wish to speak
especially of another and much more general delusion. It pervades the
minds and speeches of all the practical men of all parties; and it is a
childish blunder built upon a single false metaphor. I refer to the
universal modern talk about young nations and new nations; about
America being young, about New Zealand being new.  The whole thing is a
trick of words.  America is not young, New Zealand is not new. It is a
very discussable question whether they are not both much older than
England or Ireland.

Of course we may use the metaphor of youth about America or the
colonies, if we use it strictly as implying only a recent origin. But
if we use it (as we do use it) as implying vigour, or vivacity, or
crudity, or inexperience, or hope, or a long life before them or any of
the romantic attributes of youth, then it is surely as clear as
daylight that we are duped by a stale figure of speech. We can easily
see the matter clearly by applying it to any other institution parallel
to the institution of an independent nationality. If a club called "The
Milk and Soda League" (let us say) was set up yesterday, as I have no
doubt it was, then, of course, "The Milk and Soda League" is a young
club in the sense that it was set up yesterday, but in no other sense.
It may consist entirely of moribund old gentlemen.  It may be moribund
itself. We may call it a young club, in the light of the fact that it
was founded yesterday.  We may also call it a very old club in the
light of the fact that it will most probably go bankrupt to-morrow. All
this appears very obvious when we put it in this form. Any one who
adopted the young-community delusion with regard to a bank or a
butcher's shop would be sent to an asylum. But the whole modern
political notion that America and the colonies must be very vigorous
because they are very new, rests upon no better foundation.  That
America was founded long after England does not make it even in the
faintest degree more probable that America will not perish a long time
before England. That England existed before her colonies does not make
it any the less likely that she will exist after her colonies.  And
when we look at the actual history of the world, we find that great
European nations almost invariably have survived the vitality of their
colonies. When we look at the actual history of the world, we find,
that if there is a thing that is born old and dies young, it is a
colony. The Greek colonies went to pieces long before the Greek
civilization. The Spanish colonies have gone to pieces long before the
nation of Spain--nor does there seem to be any reason to doubt the
possibility or even the probability of the conclusion that the colonial
civilization, which owes its origin to England, will be much briefer
and much less vigorous than the civilization of England itself.  The
English nation will still be going the way of all European nations when
the Anglo-Saxon race has gone the way of all fads.  Now, of course, the
interesting question is, have we, in the case of America and the
colonies, any real evidence of a moral and intellectual youth as
opposed to the indisputable triviality of a merely chronological youth?
Consciously or unconsciously, we know that we have no such evidence,
and consciously or unconsciously, therefore, we proceed to make it up.
Of this pure and placid invention, a good example, for instance, can be
found in a recent poem of Mr. Rudyard Kipling's. Speaking of the
English people and the South African War Mr. Kipling says that "we
fawned on the younger nations for the men that could shoot and ride."
Some people considered this sentence insulting.  All that I am
concerned with at present is the evident fact that it is not true. The
colonies provided very useful volunteer troops, but they did not
provide the best troops, nor achieve the most successful exploits. The
best work in the war on the English side was done, as might have been
expected, by the best English regiments. The men who could shoot and
ride were not the enthusiastic corn merchants from Melbourne, any more
than they were the enthusiastic clerks from Cheapside.  The men who
could shoot and ride were the men who had been taught to shoot and ride
in the discipline of the standing army of a great European power.  Of
course, the colonials are as brave and athletic as any other average
white men. Of course, they acquitted themselves with reasonable credit.
All I have here to indicate is that, for the purposes of this theory of
the new nation, it is necessary to maintain that the colonial forces
were more useful or more heroic than the gunners at Colenso or the
Fighting Fifth.  And of this contention there is not, and never has
been, one stick or straw of evidence.

A similar attempt is made, and with even less success, to represent the
literature of the colonies as something fresh and vigorous and
important. The imperialist magazines are constantly springing upon us
some genius from Queensland or Canada, through whom we are expected to
smell the odours of the bush or the prairie.  As a matter of fact, any
one who is even slightly interested in literature as such (and I, for
one, confess that I am only slightly interested in literature as such),
will freely admit that the stories of these geniuses smell of nothing
but printer's ink, and that not of first-rate quality. By a great
effort of Imperial imagination the generous English people reads into
these works a force and a novelty. But the force and the novelty are
not in the new writers; the force and the novelty are in the ancient
heart of the English. Anybody who studies them impartially will know
that the first-rate writers of the colonies are not even particularly
novel in their note and atmosphere, are not only not producing a new
kind of good literature, but are not even in any particular sense
producing a new kind of bad literature.  The first-rate writers of the
new countries are really almost exactly like the second-rate writers of
the old countries.  Of course they do feel the mystery of the
wilderness, the mystery of the bush, for all simple and honest men feel
this in Melbourne, or Margate, or South St. Pancras. But when they
write most sincerely and most successfully, it is not with a background
of the mystery of the bush, but with a background, expressed or
assumed, of our own romantic cockney civilization. What really moves
their souls with a kindly terror is not the mystery of the wilderness,
but the Mystery of a Hansom Cab.

Of course there are some exceptions to this generalization. The one
really arresting exception is Olive Schreiner, and she is quite as
certainly an exception that proves the rule. Olive Schreiner is a
fierce, brilliant, and realistic novelist; but she is all this
precisely because she is not English at all. Her tribal kinship is with
the country of Teniers and Maarten Maartens--that is, with a country of
realists.  Her literary kinship is with the pessimistic fiction of the
continent; with the novelists whose very pity is cruel.  Olive
Schreiner is the one English colonial who is not conventional, for the
simple reason that South Africa is the one English colony which is not
English, and probably never will be. And, of course, there are
individual exceptions in a minor way. I remember in particular some
Australian tales by Mr. McIlwain which were really able and effective,
and which, for that reason, I suppose, are not presented to the public
with blasts of a trumpet. But my general contention if put before any
one with a love of letters, will not be disputed if it is understood.
It is not the truth that the colonial civilization as a whole is giving
us, or shows any signs of giving us, a literature which will startle
and renovate our own.  It may be a very good thing for us to have an
affectionate illusion in the matter; that is quite another affair. The
colonies may have given England a new emotion; I only say that they
have not given the world a new book.

Touching these English colonies, I do not wish to be misunderstood. I
do not say of them or of America that they have not a future, or that
they will not be great nations.  I merely deny the whole established
modern expression about them.  I deny that they are "destined" to a
future.  I deny that they are "destined" to be great nations. I deny
(of course) that any human thing is destined to be anything. All the
absurd physical metaphors, such as youth and age, living and dying,
are, when applied to nations, but pseudo-scientific attempts to conceal
from men the awful liberty of their lonely souls.

In the case of America, indeed, a warning to this effect is instant and
essential.  America, of course, like every other human thing, can in
spiritual sense live or die as much as it chooses. But at the present
moment the matter which America has very seriously to consider is not
how near it is to its birth and beginning, but how near it may be to
its end.  It is only a verbal question whether the American
civilization is young; it may become a very practical and urgent
question whether it is dying. When once we have cast aside, as we
inevitably have after a moment's thought, the fanciful physical
metaphor involved in the word "youth," what serious evidence have we
that America is a fresh force and not a stale one?  It has a great many
people, like China; it has a great deal of money, like defeated
Carthage or dying Venice. It is full of bustle and excitability, like
Athens after its ruin, and all the Greek cities in their decline.  It
is fond of new things; but the old are always fond of new things.
Young men read chronicles, but old men read newspapers.  It admires
strength and good looks; it admires a big and barbaric beauty in its
women, for instance; but so did Rome when the Goth was at the gates.
All these are things quite compatible with fundamental tedium and
decay. There are three main shapes or symbols in which a nation can
show itself essentially glad and great--by the heroic in government, by
the heroic in arms, and by the heroic in art.  Beyond government, which
is, as it were, the very shape and body of a nation, the most
significant thing about any citizen is his artistic attitude towards a
holiday and his moral attitude towards a fight--that is, his way of
accepting life and his way of accepting death.

Subjected to these eternal tests, America does not appear by any means
as particularly fresh or untouched.  She appears with all the weakness
and weariness of modern England or of any other Western power. In her
politics she has broken up exactly as England has broken up, into a
bewildering opportunism and insincerity.  In the matter of war and the
national attitude towards war, her resemblance to England is even more
manifest and melancholy.  It may be said with rough accuracy that there
are three stages in the life of a strong people. First, it is a small
power, and fights small powers.  Then it is a great power, and fights
great powers.  Then it is a great power, and fights small powers, but
pretends that they are great powers, in order to rekindle the ashes of
its ancient emotion and vanity. After that, the next step is to become
a small power itself. England exhibited this symptom of decadence very
badly in the war with the Transvaal; but America exhibited it worse in
the war with Spain. There was exhibited more sharply and absurdly than
anywhere else the ironic contrast between the very careless choice of a
strong line and the very careful choice of a weak enemy. America added
to all her other late Roman or Byzantine elements the element of the
Caracallan triumph, the triumph over nobody.

But when we come to the last test of nationality, the test of art and
letters, the case is almost terrible.  The English colonies have
produced no great artists; and that fact may prove that they are still
full of silent possibilities and reserve force. But America has
produced great artists.  And that fact most certainly proves that she
is full of a fine futility and the end of all things. Whatever the
American men of genius are, they are not young gods making a young
world.  Is the art of Whistler a brave, barbaric art, happy and
headlong?  Does Mr. Henry James infect us with the spirit of a
schoolboy?  No; the colonies have not spoken, and they are safe. Their
silence may be the silence of the unborn.  But out of America has come
a sweet and startling cry, as unmistakable as the cry of a dying man.



XIX Slum Novelists and the Slums

Odd ideas are entertained in our time about the real nature of the
doctrine of human fraternity.  The real doctrine is something which we
do not, with all our modern humanitarianism, very clearly understand,
much less very closely practise.  There is nothing, for instance,
particularly undemocratic about kicking your butler downstairs. It may
be wrong, but it is not unfraternal.  In a certain sense, the blow or
kick may be considered as a confession of equality: you are meeting
your butler body to body; you are almost according him the privilege of
the duel.  There is nothing, undemocratic, though there may be
something unreasonable, in expecting a great deal from the butler, and
being filled with a kind of frenzy of surprise when he falls short of
the divine stature.  The thing which is really undemocratic and
unfraternal is not to expect the butler to be more or less divine.  The
thing which is really undemocratic and unfraternal is to say, as so
many modern humanitarians say, "Of course one must make allowances for
those on a lower plane." All things considered indeed, it may be said,
without undue exaggeration, that the really undemocratic and
unfraternal thing is the common practice of not kicking the butler
downstairs.

It is only because such a vast section of the modern world is out of
sympathy with the serious democratic sentiment that this statement will
seem to many to be lacking in seriousness. Democracy is not
philanthropy; it is not even altruism or social reform. Democracy is
not founded on pity for the common man; democracy is founded on
reverence for the common man, or, if you will, even on fear of him.  It
does not champion man because man is so miserable, but because man is
so sublime.  It does not object so much to the ordinary man being a
slave as to his not being a king, for its dream is always the dream of
the first Roman republic, a nation of kings.

Next to a genuine republic, the most democratic thing in the world is a
hereditary despotism.  I mean a despotism in which there is absolutely
no trace whatever of any nonsense about intellect or special fitness
for the post. Rational despotism--that is, selective despotism--is
always a curse to mankind, because with that you have the ordinary man
misunderstood and misgoverned by some prig who has no brotherly respect
for him at all.  But irrational despotism is always democratic, because
it is the ordinary man enthroned. The worst form of slavery is that
which is called Caesarism, or the choice of some bold or brilliant man
as despot because he is suitable.  For that means that men choose a
representative, not because he represents them, but because he does
not. Men trust an ordinary man like George III or William IV. because
they are themselves ordinary men and understand him. Men trust an
ordinary man because they trust themselves. But men trust a great man
because they do not trust themselves. And hence the worship of great
men always appears in times of weakness and cowardice; we never hear of
great men until the time when all other men are small.

Hereditary despotism is, then, in essence and sentiment democratic
because it chooses from mankind at random. If it does not declare that
every man may rule, it declares the next most democratic thing; it
declares that any man may rule. Hereditary aristocracy is a far worse
and more dangerous thing, because the numbers and multiplicity of an
aristocracy make it sometimes possible for it to figure as an
aristocracy of intellect. Some of its members will presumably have
brains, and thus they, at any rate, will be an intellectual aristocracy
within the social one. They will rule the aristocracy by virtue of
their intellect, and they will rule the country by virtue of their
aristocracy. Thus a double falsity will be set up, and millions of the
images of God, who, fortunately for their wives and families, are
neither gentlemen nor clever men, will be represented by a man like Mr.
Balfour or Mr. Wyndham, because he is too gentlemanly to be called
merely clever, and just too clever to be called merely a gentleman. But
even an hereditary aristocracy may exhibit, by a sort of accident, from
time to time some of the basically democratic quality which belongs to
a hereditary despotism.  It is amusing to think how much conservative
ingenuity has been wasted in the defence of the House of Lords by men
who were desperately endeavouring to prove that the House of Lords
consisted of clever men.  There is one really good defence of the House
of Lords, though admirers of the peerage are strangely coy about using
it; and that is, that the House of Lords, in its full and proper
strength, consists of stupid men. It really would be a plausible
defence of that otherwise indefensible body to point out that the
clever men in the Commons, who owed their power to cleverness, ought in
the last resort to be checked by the average man in the Lords, who owed
their power to accident. Of course, there would be many answers to such
a contention, as, for instance, that the House of Lords is largely no
longer a House of Lords, but a House of tradesmen and financiers, or
that the bulk of the commonplace nobility do not vote, and so leave the
chamber to the prigs and the specialists and the mad old gentlemen with
hobbies.  But on some occasions the House of Lords, even under all
these disadvantages, is in some sense representative. When all the
peers flocked together to vote against Mr. Gladstone's second Home Rule
Bill, for instance, those who said that the peers represented the
English people, were perfectly right. All those dear old men who
happened to be born peers were at that moment, and upon that question,
the precise counterpart of all the dear old men who happened to be born
paupers or middle-class gentlemen. That mob of peers did really
represent the English people--that is to say, it was honest, ignorant,
vaguely excited, almost unanimous, and obviously wrong.  Of course,
rational democracy is better as an expression of the public will than
the haphazard hereditary method. While we are about having any kind of
democracy, let it be rational democracy.  But if we are to have any
kind of oligarchy, let it be irrational oligarchy.  Then at least we
shall be ruled by men.

But the thing which is really required for the proper working of
democracy is not merely the democratic system, or even the democratic
philosophy, but the democratic emotion.  The democratic emotion, like
most elementary and indispensable things, is a thing difficult to
describe at any time. But it is peculiarly difficult to describe it in
our enlightened age, for the simple reason that it is peculiarly
difficult to find it. It is a certain instinctive attitude which feels
the things in which all men agree to be unspeakably important, and all
the things in which they differ (such as mere brains) to be almost
unspeakably unimportant.  The nearest approach to it in our ordinary
life would be the promptitude with which we should consider mere
humanity in any circumstance of shock or death. We should say, after a
somewhat disturbing discovery, "There is a dead man under the sofa."
We should not be likely to say, "There is a dead man of considerable
personal refinement under the sofa." We should say, "A woman has fallen
into the water."  We should not say, "A highly educated woman has
fallen into the water."  Nobody would say, "There are the remains of a
clear thinker in your back garden." Nobody would say, "Unless you hurry
up and stop him, a man with a very fine ear for music will have jumped
off that cliff." But this emotion, which all of us have in connection
with such things as birth and death, is to some people native and
constant at all ordinary times and in all ordinary places.  It was
native to St. Francis of Assisi.  It was native to Walt Whitman. In
this strange and splendid degree it cannot be expected, perhaps, to
pervade a whole commonwealth or a whole civilization; but one
commonwealth may have it much more than another commonwealth, one
civilization much more than another civilization. No community,
perhaps, ever had it so much as the early Franciscans. No community,
perhaps, ever had it so little as ours.

Everything in our age has, when carefully examined, this fundamentally
undemocratic quality.  In religion and morals we should admit, in the
abstract, that the sins of the educated classes were as great as, or
perhaps greater than, the sins of the poor and ignorant. But in
practice the great difference between the mediaeval ethics and ours is
that ours concentrate attention on the sins which are the sins of the
ignorant, and practically deny that the sins which are the sins of the
educated are sins at all. We are always talking about the sin of
intemperate drinking, because it is quite obvious that the poor have it
more than the rich. But we are always denying that there is any such
thing as the sin of pride, because it would be quite obvious that the
rich have it more than the poor. We are always ready to make a saint or
prophet of the educated man who goes into cottages to give a little
kindly advice to the uneducated. But the medieval idea of a saint or
prophet was something quite different. The mediaeval saint or prophet
was an uneducated man who walked into grand houses to give a little
kindly advice to the educated. The old tyrants had enough insolence to
despoil the poor, but they had not enough insolence to preach to them.
It was the gentleman who oppressed the slums; but it was the slums that
admonished the gentleman.  And just as we are undemocratic in faith and
morals, so we are, by the very nature of our attitude in such matters,
undemocratic in the tone of our practical politics. It is a sufficient
proof that we are not an essentially democratic state that we are
always wondering what we shall do with the poor. If we were democrats,
we should be wondering what the poor will do with us. With us the
governing class is always saying to itself, "What laws shall we make?"
In a purely democratic state it would be always saying, "What laws can
we obey?"  A purely democratic state perhaps there has never been.  But
even the feudal ages were in practice thus far democratic, that every
feudal potentate knew that any laws which he made would in all
probability return upon himself. His feathers might be cut off for
breaking a sumptuary law. His head might be cut off for high treason.
But the modern laws are almost always laws made to affect the governed
class, but not the governing. We have public-house licensing laws, but
not sumptuary laws. That is to say, we have laws against the festivity
and hospitality of the poor, but no laws against the festivity and
hospitality of the rich. We have laws against blasphemy--that is,
against a kind of coarse and offensive speaking in which nobody but a
rough and obscure man would be likely to indulge.  But we have no laws
against heresy--that is, against the intellectual poisoning of the
whole people, in which only a prosperous and prominent man would be
likely to be successful.  The evil of aristocracy is not that it
necessarily leads to the infliction of bad things or the suffering of
sad ones; the evil of aristocracy is that it places everything in the
hands of a class of people who can always inflict what they can never
suffer. Whether what they inflict is, in their intention, good or bad,
they become equally frivolous.  The case against the governing class of
modern England is not in the least that it is selfish; if you like, you
may call the English oligarchs too fantastically unselfish. The case
against them simply is that when they legislate for all men, they
always omit themselves.

We are undemocratic, then, in our religion, as is proved by our efforts
to "raise" the poor.  We are undemocratic in our government, as is
proved by our innocent attempt to govern them well. But above all we
are undemocratic in our literature, as is proved by the torrent of
novels about the poor and serious studies of the poor which pour from
our publishers every month. And the more "modern" the book is the more
certain it is to be devoid of democratic sentiment.

A poor man is a man who has not got much money.  This may seem a simple
and unnecessary description, but in the face of a great mass of modern
fact and fiction, it seems very necessary indeed; most of our realists
and sociologists talk about a poor man as if he were an octopus or an
alligator.  There is no more need to study the psychology of poverty
than to study the psychology of bad temper, or the psychology of
vanity, or the psychology of animal spirits. A man ought to know
something of the emotions of an insulted man, not by being insulted,
but simply by being a man.  And he ought to know something of the
emotions of a poor man, not by being poor, but simply by being a man.
Therefore, in any writer who is describing poverty, my first objection
to him will be that he has studied his subject. A democrat would have
imagined it.

A great many hard things have been said about religious slumming and
political or social slumming, but surely the most despicable of all is
artistic slumming.  The religious teacher is at least supposed to be
interested in the costermonger because he is a man; the politician is
in some dim and perverted sense interested in the costermonger because
he is a citizen; it is only the wretched writer who is interested in
the costermonger merely because he is a costermonger.  Nevertheless, so
long as he is merely seeking impressions, or in other words copy, his
trade, though dull, is honest. But when he endeavours to represent that
he is describing the spiritual core of a costermonger, his dim vices
and his delicate virtues, then we must object that his claim is
preposterous; we must remind him that he is a journalist and nothing
else. He has far less psychological authority even than the foolish
missionary. For he is in the literal and derivative sense a journalist,
while the missionary is an eternalist.  The missionary at least
pretends to have a version of the man's lot for all time; the
journalist only pretends to have a version of it from day to day. The
missionary comes to tell the poor man that he is in the same condition
with all men.  The journalist comes to tell other people how different
the poor man is from everybody else.

If the modern novels about the slums, such as novels of Mr. Arthur
Morrison, or the exceedingly able novels of Mr. Somerset Maugham, are
intended to be sensational, I can only say that that is a noble and
reasonable object, and that they attain it.  A sensation, a shock to
the imagination, like the contact with cold water, is always a good and
exhilarating thing; and, undoubtedly, men will always seek this
sensation (among other forms) in the form of the study of the strange
antics of remote or alien peoples.  In the twelfth century men obtained
this sensation by reading about dog-headed men in Africa. In the
twentieth century they obtained it by reading about pig-headed Boers in
Africa.  The men of the twentieth century were certainly, it must be
admitted, somewhat the more credulous of the two. For it is not
recorded of the men in the twelfth century that they organized a
sanguinary crusade solely for the purpose of altering the singular
formation of the heads of the Africans.  But it may be, and it may even
legitimately be, that since all these monsters have faded from the
popular mythology, it is necessary to have in our fiction the image of
the horrible and hairy East-ender, merely to keep alive in us a fearful
and childlike wonder at external peculiarities. But the Middle Ages
(with a great deal more common sense than it would now be fashionable
to admit) regarded natural history at bottom rather as a kind of joke;
they regarded the soul as very important. Hence, while they had a
natural history of dog-headed men, they did not profess to have a
psychology of dog-headed men. They did not profess to mirror the mind
of a dog-headed man, to share his tenderest secrets, or mount with his
most celestial musings. They did not write novels about the semi-canine
creature, attributing to him all the oldest morbidities and all the
newest fads. It is permissible to present men as monsters if we wish to
make the reader jump; and to make anybody jump is always a Christian
act. But it is not permissible to present men as regarding themselves
as monsters, or as making themselves jump.  To summarize, our slum
fiction is quite defensible as aesthetic fiction; it is not defensible
as spiritual fact.

One enormous obstacle stands in the way of its actuality. The men who
write it, and the men who read it, are men of the middle classes or the
upper classes; at least, of those who are loosely termed the educated
classes.  Hence, the fact that it is the life as the refined man sees
it proves that it cannot be the life as the unrefined man lives it.
Rich men write stories about poor men, and describe them as speaking
with a coarse, or heavy, or husky enunciation. But if poor men wrote
novels about you or me they would describe us as speaking with some
absurd shrill and affected voice, such as we only hear from a duchess
in a three-act farce.  The slum novelist gains his whole effect by the
fact that some detail is strange to the reader; but that detail by the
nature of the case cannot be strange in itself. It cannot be strange to
the soul which he is professing to study. The slum novelist gains his
effects by describing the same grey mist as draping the dingy factory
and the dingy tavern.  But to the man he is supposed to be studying
there must be exactly the same difference between the factory and the
tavern that there is to a middle-class man between a late night at the
office and a supper at Pagani's. The slum novelist is content with
pointing out that to the eye of his particular class a pickaxe looks
dirty and a pewter pot looks dirty. But the man he is supposed to be
studying sees the difference between them exactly as a clerk sees the
difference between a ledger and an edition de luxe.  The chiaroscuro of
the life is inevitably lost; for to us the high lights and the shadows
are a light grey. But the high lights and the shadows are not a light
grey in that life any more than in any other.  The kind of man who
could really express the pleasures of the poor would be also the kind
of man who could share them.  In short, these books are not a record of
the psychology of poverty.  They are a record of the psychology of
wealth and culture when brought in contact with poverty. They are not a
description of the state of the slums.  They are only a very dark and
dreadful description of the state of the slummers. One might give
innumerable examples of the essentially unsympathetic and unpopular
quality of these realistic writers. But perhaps the simplest and most
obvious example with which we could conclude is the mere fact that
these writers are realistic. The poor have many other vices, but, at
least, they are never realistic. The poor are melodramatic and romantic
in grain; the poor all believe in high moral platitudes and copy-book
maxims; probably this is the ultimate meaning of the great saying,
"Blessed are the poor." Blessed are the poor, for they are always
making life, or trying to make life like an Adelphi play.  Some
innocent educationalists and philanthropists (for even philanthropists
can be innocent) have expressed a grave astonishment that the masses
prefer shilling shockers to scientific treatises and melodramas to
problem plays. The reason is very simple.  The realistic story is
certainly more artistic than the melodramatic story.  If what you
desire is deft handling, delicate proportions, a unit of artistic
atmosphere, the realistic story has a full advantage over the
melodrama. In everything that is light and bright and ornamental the
realistic story has a full advantage over the melodrama.  But, at
least, the melodrama has one indisputable advantage over the realistic
story. The melodrama is much more like life.  It is much more like man,
and especially the poor man.  It is very banal and very inartistic when
a poor woman at the Adelphi says, "Do you think I will sell my own
child?" But poor women in the Battersea High Road do say, "Do you think
I will sell my own child?"  They say it on every available occasion;
you can hear a sort of murmur or babble of it all the way down the
street.  It is very stale and weak dramatic art (if that is all) when
the workman confronts his master and says, "I'm a man." But a workman
does say "I'm a man" two or three times every day. In fact, it is
tedious, possibly, to hear poor men being melodramatic behind the
footlights; but that is because one can always hear them being
melodramatic in the street outside. In short, melodrama, if it is dull,
is dull because it is too accurate. Somewhat the same problem exists in
the case of stories about schoolboys. Mr. Kipling's "Stalky and Co."
is much more amusing (if you are talking about amusement) than the late
Dean Farrar's "Eric; or, Little by Little."  But "Eric" is immeasurably
more like real school-life. For real school-life, real boyhood, is full
of the things of which Eric is full--priggishness, a crude piety, a
silly sin, a weak but continual attempt at the heroic, in a word,
melodrama. And if we wish to lay a firm basis for any efforts to help
the poor, we must not become realistic and see them from the outside.
We must become melodramatic, and see them from the inside. The novelist
must not take out his notebook and say, "I am an expert."  No; he must
imitate the workman in the Adelphi play. He must slap himself on the
chest and say, "I am a man."



XX.  Concluding Remarks on the Importance of Orthodoxy

Whether the human mind can advance or not, is a question too little
discussed, for nothing can be more dangerous than to found our social
philosophy on any theory which is debatable but has not been debated.
But if we assume, for the sake of argument, that there has been in the
past, or will be in the future, such a thing as a growth or improvement
of the human mind itself, there still remains a very sharp objection to
be raised against the modern version of that improvement.  The vice of
the modern notion of mental progress is that it is always something
concerned with the breaking of bonds, the effacing of boundaries, the
casting away of dogmas.  But if there be such a thing as mental growth,
it must mean the growth into more and more definite convictions, into
more and more dogmas.  The human brain is a machine for coming to
conclusions; if it cannot come to conclusions it is rusty. When we hear
of a man too clever to believe, we are hearing of something having
almost the character of a contradiction in terms. It is like hearing of
a nail that was too good to hold down a carpet; or a bolt that was too
strong to keep a door shut. Man can hardly be defined, after the
fashion of Carlyle, as an animal who makes tools; ants and beavers and
many other animals make tools, in the sense that they make an
apparatus.  Man can be defined as an animal that makes dogmas.  As he
piles doctrine on doctrine and conclusion on conclusion in the
formation of some tremendous scheme of philosophy and religion, he is,
in the only legitimate sense of which the expression is capable,
becoming more and more human. When he drops one doctrine after another
in a refined scepticism, when he declines to tie himself to a system,
when he says that he has outgrown definitions, when he says that he
disbelieves in finality, when, in his own imagination, he sits as God,
holding no form of creed but contemplating all, then he is by that very
process sinking slowly backwards into the vagueness of the vagrant
animals and the unconsciousness of the grass.  Trees have no dogmas.
Turnips are singularly broad-minded.

If then, I repeat, there is to be mental advance, it must be mental
advance in the construction of a definite philosophy of life.  And that
philosophy of life must be right and the other philosophies wrong. Now
of all, or nearly all, the able modern writers whom I have briefly
studied in this book, this is especially and pleasingly true, that they
do each of them have a constructive and affirmative view, and that they
do take it seriously and ask us to take it seriously. There is nothing
merely sceptically progressive about Mr. Rudyard Kipling. There is
nothing in the least broad minded about Mr. Bernard Shaw. The paganism
of Mr. Lowes Dickinson is more grave than any Christianity. Even the
opportunism of Mr. H. G. Wells is more dogmatic than the idealism of
anybody else.  Somebody complained, I think, to Matthew Arnold that he
was getting as dogmatic as Carlyle. He replied, "That may be true; but
you overlook an obvious difference. I am dogmatic and right, and
Carlyle is dogmatic and wrong." The strong humour of the remark ought
not to disguise from us its everlasting seriousness and common sense;
no man ought to write at all, or even to speak at all, unless he thinks
that he is in truth and the other man in error.  In similar style, I
hold that I am dogmatic and right, while Mr. Shaw is dogmatic and
wrong.  But my main point, at present, is to notice that the chief
among these writers I have discussed do most sanely and courageously
offer themselves as dogmatists, as founders of a system.  It may be
true that the thing in Mr. Shaw most interesting to me, is the fact
that Mr. Shaw is wrong. But it is equally true that the thing in Mr.
Shaw most interesting to himself, is the fact that Mr. Shaw is right.
Mr. Shaw may have none with him but himself; but it is not for himself
he cares. It is for the vast and universal church, of which he is the
only member.

The two typical men of genius whom I have mentioned here, and with
whose names I have begun this book, are very symbolic, if only because
they have shown that the fiercest dogmatists can make the best artists.
In the fin de siecle atmosphere every one was crying out that
literature should be free from all causes and all ethical creeds. Art
was to produce only exquisite workmanship, and it was especially the
note of those days to demand brilliant plays and brilliant short
stories. And when they got them, they got them from a couple of
moralists. The best short stories were written by a man trying to
preach Imperialism. The best plays were written by a man trying to
preach Socialism. All the art of all the artists looked tiny and
tedious beside the art which was a byproduct of propaganda.

The reason, indeed, is very simple.  A man cannot be wise enough to be
a great artist without being wise enough to wish to be a philosopher. A
man cannot have the energy to produce good art without having the
energy to wish to pass beyond it.  A small artist is content with art;
a great artist is content with nothing except everything. So we find
that when real forces, good or bad, like Kipling and G. B. S., enter
our arena, they bring with them not only startling and arresting art,
but very startling and arresting dogmas.  And they care even more, and
desire us to care even more, about their startling and arresting dogmas
than about their startling and arresting art. Mr. Shaw is a good
dramatist, but what he desires more than anything else to be is a good
politician.  Mr. Rudyard Kipling is by divine caprice and natural
genius an unconventional poet; but what he desires more than anything
else to be is a conventional poet. He desires to be the poet of his
people, bone of their bone, and flesh of their flesh, understanding
their origins, celebrating their destiny. He desires to be Poet
Laureate, a most sensible and honourable and public-spirited desire.
Having been given by the gods originality--that is, disagreement with
others--he desires divinely to agree with them. But the most striking
instance of all, more striking, I think, even than either of these, is
the instance of Mr. H. G. Wells. He began in a sort of insane infancy
of pure art.  He began by making a new heaven and a new earth, with the
same irresponsible instinct by which men buy a new necktie or
button-hole. He began by trifling with the stars and systems in order
to make ephemeral anecdotes; he killed the universe for a joke.  He has
since become more and more serious, and has become, as men inevitably
do when they become more and more serious, more and more parochial.  He
was frivolous about the twilight of the gods; but he is serious about
the London omnibus. He was careless in "The Time Machine," for that
dealt only with the destiny of all things; but he is careful, and even
cautious, in "Mankind in the Making," for that deals with the day after
to-morrow. He began with the end of the world, and that was easy. Now
he has gone on to the beginning of the world, and that is difficult.
But the main result of all this is the same as in the other cases. The
men who have really been the bold artists, the realistic artists, the
uncompromising artists, are the men who have turned out, after all, to
be writing "with a purpose."  Suppose that any cool and cynical
art-critic, any art-critic fully impressed with the conviction that
artists were greatest when they were most purely artistic, suppose that
a man who professed ably a humane aestheticism, as did Mr. Max
Beerbohm, or a cruel aestheticism, as did Mr. W. E. Henley, had cast
his eye over the whole fictional literature which was recent in the
year 1895, and had been asked to select the three most vigorous and
promising and original artists and artistic works, he would, I think,
most certainly have said that for a fine artistic audacity, for a real
artistic delicacy, or for a whiff of true novelty in art, the things
that stood first were "Soldiers Three," by a Mr. Rudyard Kipling; "Arms
and the Man," by a Mr. Bernard Shaw; and "The Time Machine," by a man
called Wells. And all these men have shown themselves ingrainedly
didactic. You may express the matter if you will by saying that if we
want doctrines we go to the great artists.  But it is clear from the
psychology of the matter that this is not the true statement; the true
statement is that when we want any art tolerably brisk and bold we have
to go to the doctrinaires.

In concluding this book, therefore, I would ask, first and foremost,
that men such as these of whom I have spoken should not be insulted by
being taken for artists.  No man has any right whatever merely to enjoy
the work of Mr. Bernard Shaw; he might as well enjoy the invasion of
his country by the French.  Mr. Shaw writes either to convince or to
enrage us.  No man has any business to be a Kiplingite without being a
politician, and an Imperialist politician. If a man is first with us,
it should be because of what is first with him. If a man convinces us
at all, it should be by his convictions. If we hate a poem of Kipling's
from political passion, we are hating it for the same reason that the
poet loved it; if we dislike him because of his opinions, we are
disliking him for the best of all possible reasons. If a man comes into
Hyde Park to preach it is permissible to hoot him; but it is
discourteous to applaud him as a performing bear. And an artist is only
a performing bear compared with the meanest man who fancies he has
anything to say.

There is, indeed, one class of modern writers and thinkers who cannot
altogether be overlooked in this question, though there is no space
here for a lengthy account of them, which, indeed, to confess the
truth, would consist chiefly of abuse.  I mean those who get over all
these abysses and reconcile all these wars by talking about "aspects of
truth," by saying that the art of Kipling represents one aspect of the
truth, and the art of William Watson another; the art of Mr. Bernard
Shaw one aspect of the truth, and the art of Mr. Cunningham Grahame
another; the art of Mr. H. G. Wells one aspect, and the art of Mr.
Coventry Patmore (say) another. I will only say here that this seems to
me an evasion which has not even bad the sense to disguise itself
ingeniously in words. If we talk of a certain thing being an aspect of
truth, it is evident that we claim to know what is truth; just as, if
we talk of the hind leg of a dog, we claim to know what is a dog.
Unfortunately, the philosopher who talks about aspects of truth
generally also asks, "What is truth?"  Frequently even he denies the
existence of truth, or says it is inconceivable by the human
intelligence.  How, then, can he recognize its aspects? I should not
like to be an artist who brought an architectural sketch to a builder,
saying, "This is the south aspect of Sea-View Cottage. Sea-View
Cottage, of course, does not exist."  I should not even like very much
to have to explain, under such circumstances, that Sea-View Cottage
might exist, but was unthinkable by the human mind. Nor should I like
any better to be the bungling and absurd metaphysician who professed to
be able to see everywhere the aspects of a truth that is not there.  Of
course, it is perfectly obvious that there are truths in Kipling, that
there are truths in Shaw or Wells. But the degree to which we can
perceive them depends strictly upon how far we have a definite
conception inside us of what is truth. It is ludicrous to suppose that
the more sceptical we are the more we see good in everything.  It is
clear that the more we are certain what good is, the more we shall see
good in everything.

I plead, then, that we should agree or disagree with these men.  I
plead that we should agree with them at least in having an abstract
belief. But I know that there are current in the modern world many
vague objections to having an abstract belief, and I feel that we shall
not get any further until we have dealt with some of them. The first
objection is easily stated.

A common hesitation in our day touching the use of extreme convictions
is a sort of notion that extreme convictions specially upon cosmic
matters, have been responsible in the past for the thing which is
called bigotry. But a very small amount of direct experience will
dissipate this view. In real life the people who are most bigoted are
the people who have no convictions at all.  The economists of the
Manchester school who disagree with Socialism take Socialism seriously.
It is the young man in Bond Street, who does not know what socialism
means much less whether he agrees with it, who is quite certain that
these socialist fellows are making a fuss about nothing. The man who
understands the Calvinist philosophy enough to agree with it must
understand the Catholic philosophy in order to disagree with it. It is
the vague modern who is not at all certain what is right who is most
certain that Dante was wrong.  The serious opponent of the Latin Church
in history, even in the act of showing that it produced great infamies,
must know that it produced great saints. It is the hard-headed
stockbroker, who knows no history and believes no religion, who is,
nevertheless, perfectly convinced that all these priests are knaves.
The Salvationist at the Marble Arch may be bigoted, but he is not too
bigoted to yearn from a common human kinship after the dandy on church
parade. But the dandy on church parade is so bigoted that he does not
in the least yearn after the Salvationist at the Marble Arch. Bigotry
may be roughly defined as the anger of men who have no opinions.  It is
the resistance offered to definite ideas by that vague bulk of people
whose ideas are indefinite to excess. Bigotry may be called the
appalling frenzy of the indifferent. This frenzy of the indifferent is
in truth a terrible thing; it has made all monstrous and widely
pervading persecutions. In this degree it was not the people who cared
who ever persecuted; the people who cared were not sufficiently
numerous.  It was the people who did not care who filled the world with
fire and oppression. It was the hands of the indifferent that lit the
faggots; it was the hands of the indifferent that turned the rack.
There have come some persecutions out of the pain of a passionate
certainty; but these produced, not bigotry, but fanaticism--a very
different and a somewhat admirable thing.  Bigotry in the main has
always been the pervading omnipotence of those who do not care crushing
out those who care in darkness and blood.

There are people, however, who dig somewhat deeper than this into the
possible evils of dogma.  It is felt by many that strong philosophical
conviction, while it does not (as they perceive) produce that sluggish
and fundamentally frivolous condition which we call bigotry, does
produce a certain concentration, exaggeration, and moral impatience,
which we may agree to call fanaticism. They say, in brief, that ideas
are dangerous things. In politics, for example, it is commonly urged
against a man like Mr. Balfour, or against a man like Mr. John Morley,
that a wealth of ideas is dangerous.  The true doctrine on this point,
again, is surely not very difficult to state.  Ideas are dangerous, but
the man to whom they are least dangerous is the man of ideas. He is
acquainted with ideas, and moves among them like a lion-tamer. Ideas
are dangerous, but the man to whom they are most dangerous is the man
of no ideas.  The man of no ideas will find the first idea fly to his
head like wine to the head of a teetotaller. It is a common error, I
think, among the Radical idealists of my own party and period to
suggest that financiers and business men are a danger to the empire
because they are so sordid or so materialistic. The truth is that
financiers and business men are a danger to the empire because they can
be sentimental about any sentiment, and idealistic about any ideal, any
ideal that they find lying about. just as a boy who has not known much
of women is apt too easily to take a woman for the woman, so these
practical men, unaccustomed to causes, are always inclined to think
that if a thing is proved to be an ideal it is proved to be the ideal.
Many, for example, avowedly followed Cecil Rhodes because he had a
vision. They might as well have followed him because he had a nose; a
man without some kind of dream of perfection is quite as much of a
monstrosity as a noseless man.  People say of such a figure, in almost
feverish whispers, "He knows his own mind," which is exactly like
saying in equally feverish whispers, "He blows his own nose." Human
nature simply cannot subsist without a hope and aim of some kind; as
the sanity of the Old Testament truly said, where there is no vision
the people perisheth.  But it is precisely because an ideal is
necessary to man that the man without ideals is in permanent danger of
fanaticism.  There is nothing which is so likely to leave a man open to
the sudden and irresistible inroad of an unbalanced vision as the
cultivation of business habits. All of us know angular business men who
think that the earth is flat, or that Mr. Kruger was at the head of a
great military despotism, or that men are graminivorous, or that Bacon
wrote Shakespeare. Religious and philosophical beliefs are, indeed, as
dangerous as fire, and nothing can take from them that beauty of
danger. But there is only one way of really guarding ourselves against
the excessive danger of them, and that is to be steeped in philosophy
and soaked in religion.

Briefly, then, we dismiss the two opposite dangers of bigotry and
fanaticism, bigotry which is a too great vagueness and fanaticism which
is a too great concentration.  We say that the cure for the bigot is
belief; we say that the cure for the idealist is ideas. To know the
best theories of existence and to choose the best from them (that is,
to the best of our own strong conviction) appears to us the proper way
to be neither bigot nor fanatic, but something more firm than a bigot
and more terrible than a fanatic, a man with a definite opinion.  But
that definite opinion must in this view begin with the basic matters of
human thought, and these must not be dismissed as irrelevant, as
religion, for instance, is too often in our days dismissed as
irrelevant. Even if we think religion insoluble, we cannot think it
irrelevant. Even if we ourselves have no view of the ultimate verities,
we must feel that wherever such a view exists in a man it must be more
important than anything else in him.  The instant that the thing ceases
to be the unknowable, it becomes the indispensable. There can be no
doubt, I think, that the idea does exist in our time that there is
something narrow or irrelevant or even mean about attacking a man's
religion, or arguing from it in matters of politics or ethics.  There
can be quite as little doubt that such an accusation of narrowness is
itself almost grotesquely narrow. To take an example from comparatively
current events:  we all know that it was not uncommon for a man to be
considered a scarecrow of bigotry and obscurantism because he
distrusted the Japanese, or lamented the rise of the Japanese, on the
ground that the Japanese were Pagans.  Nobody would think that there
was anything antiquated or fanatical about distrusting a people because
of some difference between them and us in practice or political
machinery. Nobody would think it bigoted to say of a people, "I
distrust their influence because they are Protectionists."  No one
would think it narrow to say, "I lament their rise because they are
Socialists, or Manchester Individualists, or strong believers in
militarism and conscription."  A difference of opinion about the nature
of Parliaments matters very much; but a difference of opinion about the
nature of sin does not matter at all.  A difference of opinion about
the object of taxation matters very much; but a difference of opinion
about the object of human existence does not matter at all. We have a
right to distrust a man who is in a different kind of municipality; but
we have no right to mistrust a man who is in a different kind of
cosmos.  This sort of enlightenment is surely about the most
unenlightened that it is possible to imagine. To recur to the phrase
which I employed earlier, this is tantamount to saying that everything
is important with the exception of everything. Religion is exactly the
thing which cannot be left out--because it includes everything.  The
most absent-minded person cannot well pack his Gladstone-bag and leave
out the bag. We have a general view of existence, whether we like it or
not; it alters or, to speak more accurately, it creates and involves
everything we say or do, whether we like it or not.  If we regard the
Cosmos as a dream, we regard the Fiscal Question as a dream. If we
regard the Cosmos as a joke, we regard St. Paul's Cathedral as a joke.
If everything is bad, then we must believe (if it be possible) that
beer is bad; if everything be good, we are forced to the rather
fantastic conclusion that scientific philanthropy is good.  Every man
in the street must hold a metaphysical system, and hold it firmly. The
possibility is that he may have held it so firmly and so long as to
have forgotten all about its existence.

This latter situation is certainly possible; in fact, it is the
situation of the whole modern world.  The modern world is filled with
men who hold dogmas so strongly that they do not even know that they
are dogmas. It may be said even that the modern world, as a corporate
body, holds certain dogmas so strongly that it does not know that they
are dogmas.  It may be thought "dogmatic," for instance, in some
circles accounted progressive, to assume the perfection or improvement
of man in another world.  But it is not thought "dogmatic" to assume
the perfection or improvement of man in this world; though that idea of
progress is quite as unproved as the idea of immortality, and from a
rationalistic point of view quite as improbable. Progress happens to be
one of our dogmas, and a dogma means a thing which is not thought
dogmatic.  Or, again, we see nothing "dogmatic" in the inspiring, but
certainly most startling, theory of physical science, that we should
collect facts for the sake of facts, even though they seem as useless
as sticks and straws. This is a great and suggestive idea, and its
utility may, if you will, be proving itself, but its utility is, in the
abstract, quite as disputable as the utility of that calling on oracles
or consulting shrines which is also said to prove itself. Thus, because
we are not in a civilization which believes strongly in oracles or
sacred places, we see the full frenzy of those who killed themselves to
find the sepulchre of Christ.  But being in a civilization which does
believe in this dogma of fact for facts' sake, we do not see the full
frenzy of those who kill themselves to find the North Pole.  I am not
speaking of a tenable ultimate utility which is true both of the
Crusades and the polar explorations. I mean merely that we do see the
superficial and aesthetic singularity, the startling quality, about the
idea of men crossing a continent with armies to conquer the place where
a man died. But we do not see the aesthetic singularity and startling
quality of men dying in agonies to find a place where no man can
live--a place only interesting because it is supposed to be the
meeting-place of some lines that do not exist.

Let us, then, go upon a long journey and enter on a dreadful search.
Let us, at least, dig and seek till we have discovered our own
opinions. The dogmas we really hold are far more fantastic, and,
perhaps, far more beautiful than we think.  In the course of these
essays I fear that I have spoken from time to time of rationalists and
rationalism, and that in a disparaging sense.  Being full of that
kindliness which should come at the end of everything, even of a book,
I apologize to the rationalists even for calling them rationalists.
There are no rationalists.  We all believe fairy-tales, and live in
them. Some, with a sumptuous literary turn, believe in the existence of
the lady clothed with the sun.  Some, with a more rustic, elvish
instinct, like Mr. McCabe, believe merely in the impossible sun itself.
Some hold the undemonstrable dogma of the existence of God; some the
equally undemonstrable dogma of the existence of the man next door.

Truths turn into dogmas the instant that they are disputed. Thus every
man who utters a doubt defines a religion.  And the scepticism of our
time does not really destroy the beliefs, rather it creates them; gives
them their limits and their plain and defiant shape. We who are
Liberals once held Liberalism lightly as a truism. Now it has been
disputed, and we hold it fiercely as a faith. We who believe in
patriotism once thought patriotism to be reasonable, and thought little
more about it.  Now we know it to be unreasonable, and know it to be
right.  We who are Christians never knew the great philosophic common
sense which inheres in that mystery until the anti-Christian writers
pointed it out to us.  The great march of mental destruction will go
on.  Everything will be denied. Everything will become a creed.  It is
a reasonable position to deny the stones in the street; it will be a
religious dogma to assert them.  It is a rational thesis that we are
all in a dream; it will be a mystical sanity to say that we are all
awake. Fires will be kindled to testify that two and two make four.
Swords will be drawn to prove that leaves are green in summer. We shall
be left defending, not only the incredible virtues and sanities of
human life, but something more incredible still, this huge impossible
universe which stares us in the face. We shall fight for visible
prodigies as if they were invisible.  We shall look on the impossible
grass and the skies with a strange courage. We shall be of those who
have seen and yet have believed.



THE END





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