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Title: Varied Types
Author: Chesterton, G. K. (Gilbert Keith), 1874-1936
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Varied Types" ***

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_Varied Types_


G.K. Chesterton

Author _of_ "The Defendant," etc.

New York: _Dodd, Mead and Company_



These papers, with certain alterations and additions, are reprinted
with the kind permission of the Editors of _The Daily News_ and _The




Charlotte Brontë                         3
William Morris And His School           15
The Optimism Of Byron                   29
Pope And The Art Of Satire              43
Francis                                 59
Rostand                                 73
Charles II.                             85
Stevenson                               97
Thomas Carlyle                         109
Tolstoy And The Cult Of Simplicity     125
Savonarola                             147
The Position Of Sir Walter Scott       159
Bret Harte                             179
Alfred The Great                       199
Maeterlinck                            209
Ruskin                                 217
Queen Victoria                         225
The German Emperor                     227
Tennyson                               249
Elizabeth Barrett Browning             261


Objection is often raised against realistic biography because it reveals
so much that is important and even sacred about a man's life. The real
objection to it will rather be found in the fact that it reveals about a
man the precise points which are unimportant. It reveals and asserts and
insists on exactly those things in a man's life of which the man himself
is wholly unconscious; his exact class in society, the circumstances of
his ancestry, the place of his present location. These are things which
do not, properly speaking, ever arise before the human vision. They do
not occur to a man's mind; it may be said, with almost equal truth, that
they do not occur in a man's life. A man no more thinks about himself as
the inhabitant of the third house in a row of Brixton villas than he
thinks about himself as a strange animal with two legs. What a man's
name was, what his income was, whom he married, where he lived, these
are not sanctities; they are irrelevancies.

A very strong case of this is the case of the Brontës. The Brontë is in
the position of the mad lady in a country village; her eccentricities
form an endless source of innocent conversation to that exceedingly mild
and bucolic circle, the literary world. The truly glorious gossips of
literature, like Mr. Augustine Birrell and Mr. Andrew Lang, never tire
of collecting all the glimpses and anecdotes and sermons and side-lights
and sticks and straws which will go to make a Brontë museum. They are
the most personally discussed of all Victorian authors, and the
limelight of biography has left few darkened corners in the dark old
Yorkshire house. And yet the whole of this biographical investigation,
though natural and picturesque, is not wholly suitable to the Brontës.
For the Brontë genius was above all things deputed to assert the supreme
unimportance of externals. Up to that point truth had always been
conceived as existing more or less in the novel of manners. Charlotte
Brontë electrified the world by showing that an infinitely older and
more elemental truth could be conveyed by a novel in which no person,
good or bad, had any manners at all. Her work represents the first great
assertion that the humdrum life of modern civilisation is a disguise as
tawdry and deceptive as the costume of a _bal masqué_. She showed that
abysses may exist inside a governess and eternities inside a
manufacturer; her heroine is the commonplace spinster, with the dress of
merino and the soul of flame. It is significant to notice that Charlotte
Brontë, following consciously or unconsciously the great trend of her
genius, was the first to take away from the heroine not only the
artificial gold and diamonds of wealth and fashion, but even the natural
gold and diamonds of physical beauty and grace. Instinctively she felt
that the whole of the exterior must be made ugly that the whole of the
interior might be made sublime. She chose the ugliest of women in the
ugliest of centuries, and revealed within them all the hells and heavens
of Dante.

It may, therefore, I think, be legitimately said that the externals of
the Brontës' life, though singularly picturesque in themselves, matter
less than the externals of almost any other writers. It is interesting
to know whether Jane Austen had any knowledge of the lives of the
officers and women of fashion whom she introduced into her masterpieces.
It is interesting to know whether Dickens had ever seen a shipwreck or
been inside a workhouse. For in these authors much of the conviction is
conveyed, not always by adherence to facts, but always by grasp of them.
But the whole aim and purport and meaning of the work of the Brontës is
that the most futile thing in the whole universe is fact. Such a story
as "Jane Eyre" is in itself so monstrous a fable that it ought to be
excluded from a book of fairy tales. The characters do not do what they
ought to do, nor what they would do, nor it might be said, such is the
insanity of the atmosphere, not even what they intend to do. The conduct
of Rochester is so primevally and superhumanly caddish that Bret Harte
in his admirable travesty scarcely exaggerated it. "Then, resuming his
usual manner, he threw his boots at my head and withdrew," does perhaps
reach to something resembling caricature. The scene in which Rochester
dresses up as an old gipsy has something in it which is really not to be
found in any other branch of art, except in the end of the pantomime,
where the Emperor turns into a pantaloon. Yet, despite this vast
nightmare of illusion and morbidity and ignorance of the world, "Jane
Eyre" is perhaps the truest book that was ever written. Its essential
truth to life sometimes makes one catch one's breath. For it is not true
to manners, which are constantly false, or to facts, which are almost
always false; it is true to the only existing thing which is true,
emotion, the irreducible minimum, the indestructible germ. It would not
matter a single straw if a Brontë story were a hundred times more
moonstruck and improbable than "Jane Eyre," or a hundred times more
moonstruck and improbable than "Wuthering Heights." It would not matter
if George Read stood on his head, and Mrs. Read rode on a dragon, if
Fairfax Rochester had four eyes and St. John Rivers three legs, the
story would still remain the truest story in the world. The typical
Brontë character is, indeed, a kind of monster. Everything in him except
the essential is dislocated. His hands are on his legs and his feet on
his arms, his nose is above his eyes, but his heart is in the right

The great and abiding truth for which the Brontë cycle of fiction stands
is a certain most important truth about the enduring spirit of youth,
the truth of the near kinship between terror and joy. The Brontë
heroine, dingily dressed, badly educated, hampered by a humiliating
inexperience, a kind of ugly innocence, is yet, by the very fact of her
solitude and her gaucherie, full of the greatest delight that is
possible to a human being, the delight of expectation, the delight of an
ardent and flamboyant ignorance. She serves to show how futile it is of
humanity to suppose that pleasure can be attained chiefly by putting on
evening dress every evening, and having a box at the theatre every first
night. It is not the man of pleasure who has pleasure; it is not the man
of the world who appreciates the world. The man who has learnt to do all
conventional things perfectly has at the same time learnt to do them
prosaically. It is the awkward man, whose evening dress does not fit
him, whose gloves will not go on, whose compliments will not come off,
who is really full of the ancient ecstasies of youth. He is frightened
enough of society actually to enjoy his triumphs. He has that element of
fear which is one of the eternal ingredients of joy. This spirit is the
central spirit of the Brontë novel. It is the epic of the exhilaration
of the shy man. As such it is of incalculable value in our time, of
which the curse is that it does not take joy reverently because it does
not take it fearfully. The shabby and inconspicuous governess of
Charlotte Brontë, with the small outlook and the small creed, had more
commerce with the awful and elemental forces which drive the world than
a legion of lawless minor poets. She approached the universe with real
simplicity, and, consequently, with real fear and delight. She was, so
to speak, shy before the multitude of the stars, and in this she had
possessed herself of the only force which can prevent enjoyment being as
black and barren as routine. The faculty of being shy is the first and
the most delicate of the powers of enjoyment. The fear of the Lord is
the beginning of pleasure.

Upon the whole, therefore, I think it may justifiably be said that the
dark wild youth of the Brontës in their dark wild Yorkshire home has
been somewhat exaggerated as a necessary factor in their work and their
conception. The emotions with which they dealt were universal emotions,
emotions of the morning of existence, the springtide joy and the
springtide terror. Every one of us as a boy or girl has had some
midnight dream of nameless obstacle and unutterable menace, in which
there was, under whatever imbecile forms, all the deadly stress and
panic of "Wuthering Heights." Every one of us has had a day-dream of
our own potential destiny not one atom more reasonable than "Jane Eyre."
And the truth which the Brontës came to tell us is the truth that many
waters cannot quench love, and that suburban respectability cannot touch
or damp a secret enthusiasm. Clapham, like every other earthly city, is
built upon a volcano. Thousands of people go to and fro in the
wilderness of bricks and mortar, earning mean wages, professing a mean
religion, wearing a mean attire, thousands of women who have never found
any expression for their exaltation or their tragedy but to go on
working harder and yet harder at dull and automatic employments, at
scolding children or stitching shirts. But out of all these silent ones
one suddenly became articulate, and spoke a resonant testimony, and her
name was Charlotte Brontë. Spreading around us upon every side to-day
like a huge and radiating geometrical figure are the endless branches of
the great city. There are times when we are almost stricken crazy, as
well we may be, by the multiplicity of those appalling perspectives, the
frantic arithmetic of that unthinkable population. But this thought of
ours is in truth nothing but a fancy. There are no chains of houses;
there are no crowds of men. The colossal diagram of streets and houses
is an illusion, the opium dream of a speculative builder. Each of these
men is supremely solitary and supremely important to himself. Each of
these houses stands in the centre of the world. There is no single house
of all those millions which has not seemed to someone at some time the
heart of all things and the end of travel.


It is proper enough that the unveiling of the bust of William Morris
should approximate to a public festival, for while there have been many
men of genius in the Victorian era more despotic than he, there have
been none so representative. He represents not only that rapacious
hunger for beauty which has now for the first time become a serious
problem in the healthy life of humanity, but he represents also that
honourable instinct for finding beauty in common necessities of
workmanship which gives it a stronger and more bony structure. The time
has passed when William Morris was conceived to be irrelevant to be
described as a designer of wall-papers. If Morris had been a hatter
instead of a decorator, we should have become gradually and painfully
conscious of an improvement in our hats. If he had been a tailor, we
should have suddenly found our frock-coats trailing on the ground with
the grandeur of mediæval raiment. If he had been a shoemaker, we should
have found, with no little consternation, our shoes gradually
approximating to the antique sandal. As a hairdresser, he would have
invented some massing of the hair worthy to be the crown of Venus; as an
ironmonger, his nails would have had some noble pattern, fit to be the
nails of the Cross.

The limitations of William Morris, whatever they were, were not the
limitations of common decoration. It is true that all his work, even his
literary work, was in some sense decorative, had in some degree the
qualities of a splendid wall-paper. His characters, his stories, his
religious and political views, had, in the most emphatic sense, length
and breadth without thickness. He seemed really to believe that men
could enjoy a perfectly flat felicity. He made no account of the
unexplored and explosive possibilities of human nature, of the
unnameable terrors, and the yet more unnameable hopes. So long as a man
was graceful in every circumstance, so long as he had the inspiring
consciousness that the chestnut colour of his hair was relieved against
the blue forest a mile behind, he would be serenely happy. So he would
be, no doubt, if he were really fitted for a decorative existence; if he
were a piece of exquisitely coloured card-board.

But although Morris took little account of the terrible solidity of
human nature--took little account, so to speak, of human figures in the
round, it is altogether unfair to represent him as a mere æsthete. He
perceived a great public necessity and fulfilled it heroically. The
difficulty with which he grappled was one so immense that we shall have
to be separated from it by many centuries before we can really judge of
it. It was the problem of the elaborate and deliberate ugliness of the
most self-conscious of centuries. Morris at least saw the absurdity of
the thing. He felt it was monstrous that the modern man, who was
pre-eminently capable of realising the strangest and most contradictory
beauties, who could feel at once the fiery aureole of the ascetic and
the colossal calm of the Hellenic god, should himself, by a farcical
bathos, be buried in a black coat, and hidden under a chimney-pot hat.
He could not see why the harmless man who desired to be an artist in
raiment should be condemned to be, at best, a black and white artist. It
is indeed difficult to account for the clinging curse of ugliness which
blights everything brought forth by the most prosperous of centuries. In
all created nature there is not, perhaps, anything so completely ugly as
a pillar-box. Its shape is the most unmeaning of shapes, its height and
thickness just neutralising each other; its colour is the most repulsive
of colours--a fat and soulless red, a red without a touch of blood or
fire, like the scarlet of dead men's sins. Yet there is no reason
whatever why such hideousness should possess an object full of civic
dignity, the treasure-house of a thousand secrets, the fortress of a
thousand souls. If the old Greeks had had such an institution, we may be
sure that it would have been surmounted by the severe, but graceful,
figure of the god of letter-writing. If the mediæval Christians has
possessed it, it would have had a niche filled with the golden aureole
of St. Rowland of the Postage Stamps. As it is, there it stands at all
our street-corners, disguising one of the most beautiful of ideas under
one of the most preposterous of forms. It is useless to deny that the
miracles of science have not been such an incentive to art and
imagination as were the miracles of religion. If men in the twelfth
century had been told that the lightning had been driven for leagues
underground, and had dragged at its destroying tail loads of laughing
human beings, and if they had then been told that the people alluded to
this pulverising portent chirpily as "The Twopenny Tube," they would
have called down the fire of Heaven on us as a race of half-witted
atheists. Probably they would have been quite right.

This clear and fine perception of what may be called the anæsthetic
element in the Victorian era was, undoubtedly, the work of a great
reformer: it requires a fine effort of the imagination to see an evil
that surrounds us on every side. The manner in which Morris carried out
his crusade may, considering the circumstances, be called triumphant.
Our carpets began to bloom under our feet like the meadows in spring,
and our hitherto prosaic stools and sofas seemed growing legs and arms
at their own wild will. An element of freedom and rugged dignity came in
with plain and strong ornaments of copper and iron. So delicate and
universal has been the revolution in domestic art that almost every
family in England has had its taste cunningly and treacherously
improved, and if we look back at the early Victorian drawing-rooms it is
only to realise the strange but essential truth that art, or human
decoration, has, nine times out of ten in history, made things uglier
than they were before, from the "coiffure" of a Papuan savage to the
wall-paper of a British merchant in 1830.

But great and beneficent as was the æsthetic revolution of Morris, there
was a very definite limit to it. It did not lie only in the fact that
his revolution was in truth a reaction, though this was a partial
explanation of his partial failure. When he was denouncing the dresses
of modern ladies, "upholstered like arm-chairs instead of being draped
like women," as he forcibly expressed it, he would hold up for practical
imitation the costumes and handicrafts of the Middle Ages. Further than
this retrogressive and imitative movement he never seemed to go. Now,
the men of the time of Chaucer had many evil qualities, but there was at
least one exhibition of moral weakness they did not give. They would
have laughed at the idea of dressing themselves in the manner of the
bowmen at the battle of Senlac, or painting themselves an æsthetic blue,
after the custom of the ancient Britons. They would not have called that
a movement at all. Whatever was beautiful in their dress or manners
sprang honestly and naturally out of the life they led and preferred to
lead. And it may surely be maintained that any real advance in the
beauty of modern dress must spring honestly and naturally out of the
life we lead and prefer to lead. We are not altogether without hints and
hopes of such a change, in the growing orthodoxy of rough and athletic
costumes. But if this cannot be, it will be no substitute or
satisfaction to turn life into an interminable historical fancy-dress

But the limitation of Morris's work lay deeper than this. We may best
suggest it by a method after his own heart. Of all the various works he
performed, none, perhaps, was so splendidly and solidly valuable as his
great protest for the fables and superstitions of mankind. He has the
supreme credit of showing that the fairy tales contain the deepest truth
of the earth, the real record of men's feeling for things. Trifling
details may be inaccurate, Jack may not have climbed up so tall a
beanstalk, or killed so tall a giant; but it is not such things that
make a story false; it is a far different class of things that makes
every modern book of history as false as the father of lies; ingenuity,
self-consciousness, hypocritical impartiality. It appears to us that of
all the fairy-tales none contains so vital a moral truth as the old
story, existing in many forms, of Beauty and the Beast. There is
written, with all the authority of a human scripture, the eternal and
essential truth that until we love a thing in all its ugliness we
cannot make it beautiful. This was the weak point in William Morris as a
reformer: that he sought to reform modern life, and that he hated modern
life instead of loving it. Modern London is indeed a beast, big enough
and black enough to be the beast in Apocalypse, blazing with a million
eyes, and roaring with a million voices. But unless the poet can love
this fabulous monster as he is, can feel with some generous excitement
his massive and mysterious _joie-de-vivre_, the vast scale of his iron
anatomy and the beating of his thunderous heart, he cannot and will not
change the beast into the fairy prince. Morris's disadvantage was that
he was not honestly a child of the nineteenth century: he could not
understand its fascination, and consequently he could not really develop
it. An abiding testimony to his tremendous personal influence in the
æsthetic world is the vitality and recurrence of the Arts and Crafts
Exhibitions, which are steeped in his personality like a chapel in that
of a saint. If we look round at the exhibits in one of these æsthetic
shows, we shall be struck by the large mass of modern objects that the
decorative school leaves untouched. There is a noble instinct for giving
the right touch of beauty to common and necessary things, but the things
that are so touched are the ancient things, the things that always to
some extent commended themselves to the lover of beauty. There are
beautiful gates, beautiful fountains, beautiful cups, beautiful chairs,
beautiful reading-desks. But there are no modern things made beautiful.
There are no beautiful lamp-posts, beautiful letter-boxes, beautiful
engines, beautiful bicycles. The spirit of William Morris has not seized
hold of the century and made its humblest necessities beautiful. And
this was because, with all his healthiness and energy, he had not the
supreme courage to face the ugliness of things; Beauty shrank from the
Beast and the fairy-tale had a different ending.

But herein, indeed, lay Morris's deepest claim to the name of a great
reformer: that he left his work incomplete. There is, perhaps, no better
proof that a man is a mere meteor, merely barren and brilliant, than
that his work is done perfectly. A man like Morris draws attention to
needs he cannot supply. In after-years we may have perhaps a newer and
more daring Arts and Crafts Exhibition. In it we shall not decorate the
armour of the twelfth century, but the machinery of the twentieth. A
lamp-post shall be wrought nobly in twisted iron, fit to hold the
sanctity of fire. A pillar-box shall be carved with figures emblematical
of the secrets of comradeship and the silence and honour of the State.
Railway signals, of all earthly things the most poetical, the coloured
stars of life and death, shall be lamps of green and crimson worthy of
their terrible and faithful service. But if ever this gradual and
genuine movement of our time towards beauty--not backwards, but
forwards--does truly come about, Morris will be the first prophet of it.
Poet of the childhood of nations, craftsman in the new honesties of art,
prophet of a merrier and wiser life, his full-blooded enthusiasm will be
remembered when human life has once more assumed flamboyant colours and
proved that this painful greenish grey of the æsthetic twilight in
which we now live is, in spite of all the pessimists, not of the
greyness of death, but the greyness of dawn.


Everything is against our appreciating the spirit and the age of
Byron. The age that has just passed from us is always like a dream when
we wake in the morning, a thing incredible and centuries away. And the
world of Byron seems a sad and faded world, a weird and inhuman world,
where men were romantic in whiskers, ladies lived, apparently, in
bowers, and the very word has the sound of a piece of stage scenery.
Roses and nightingales recur in their poetry with the monotonous
elegance of a wall-paper pattern. The whole is like a revel of dead men,
a revel with splendid vesture and half-witted faces.

But the more shrewdly and earnestly we study the histories of men, the
less ready shall we be to make use of the word "artificial." Nothing in
the world has ever been artificial. Many customs, many dresses, many
works of art are branded with artificiality because they exhibit vanity
and self-consciousness: as if vanity were not a deep and elemental
thing, like love and hate and the fear of death. Vanity may be found in
darkling deserts, in the hermit and in the wild beasts that crawl around
him. It may be good or evil, but assuredly it is not artificial: vanity
is a voice out of the abyss.

The remarkable fact is, however, and it bears strongly on the present
position of Byron, that when a thing is unfamiliar to us, when it is
remote and the product of some other age or spirit, we think it not
savage or terrible, but merely artificial. There are many instances of
this: a fair one is the case of tropical plants and birds. When we see
some of the monstrous and flamboyant blossoms that enrich the equatorial
woods, we do not feel that they are conflagrations of nature; silent
explosions of her frightful energy. We simply find it hard to believe
that they are not wax flowers grown under a glass case. When we see some
of the tropic birds, with their tiny bodies attached to gigantic beaks,
we do not feel that they are freaks of the fierce humour of Creation.
We almost believe that they are toys out of a child's play-box,
artificially carved and artificially coloured. So it is with the great
convulsion of Nature which was known as Byronism. The volcano is not an
extinct volcano now; it is the dead stick of a rocket. It is the remains
not of a natural but of an artificial fire.

But Byron and Byronism were something immeasurably greater than anything
that is represented by such a view as this: their real value and meaning
are indeed little understood. The first of the mistakes about Byron lies
in the fact that he is treated as a pessimist. True, he treated himself
as such, but a critic can hardly have even a slight knowledge of Byron
without knowing that he had the smallest amount of knowledge of himself
that ever fell to the lot of an intelligent man. The real character of
what is known as Byron's pessimism is better worth study than any real
pessimism could ever be.

It is the standing peculiarity of this curious world of ours that almost
everything in it has been extolled enthusiastically and invariably
extolled to the disadvantage of everything else.

One after another almost every one of the phenomena of the universe has
been declared to be alone capable of making life worth living. Books,
love, business, religion, alcohol, abstract truth, private emotion,
money, simplicity, mysticism, hard work, a life close to nature, a life
close to Belgrave Square are every one of them passionately maintained
by somebody to be so good that they redeem the evil of an otherwise
indefensible world. Thus, while the world is almost always condemned in
summary, it is always justified, and indeed extolled, in detail after

Existence has been praised and absolved by a chorus of pessimists. The
work of giving thanks to Heaven is, as it were, divided ingeniously
among them. Schopenhauer is told off as a kind of librarian in the House
of God, to sing the praises of the austere pleasures of the mind.
Carlyle, as steward, undertakes the working department and eulogises a
life of labour in the fields. Omar Khayyam is established in the
cellar, and swears that it is the only room in the house. Even the
blackest of pessimistic artists enjoys his art. At the precise moment
that he has written some shameless and terrible indictment of Creation,
his one pang of joy in the achievement joins the universal chorus of
gratitude, with the scent of the wild flower and the song of the bird.

Now Byron had a sensational popularity, and that popularity was, as far
as words and explanations go, founded upon his pessimism. He was adored
by an overwhelming majority, almost every individual of which despised
the majority of mankind. But when we come to regard the matter a little
more deeply we tend in some degree to cease to believe in this
popularity of the pessimist. The popularity of pure and unadulterated
pessimism is an oddity; it is almost a contradiction in terms. Men would
no more receive the news of the failure of existence or of the
harmonious hostility of the stars with ardour or popular rejoicing than
they would light bonfires for the arrival of cholera or dance a
breakdown when they were condemned to be hanged. When the pessimist is
popular it must always be not because he shows all things to be bad, but
because he shows some things to be good.

Men can only join in a chorus of praise, even if it is the praise of
denunciation. The man who is popular must be optimistic about something,
even if he is only optimistic about pessimism. And this was emphatically
the case with Byron and the Byronists. Their real popularity was founded
not upon the fact that they blamed everything, but upon the fact that
they praised something. They heaped curses upon man, but they used man
merely as a foil. The things they wished to praise by comparison were
the energies of Nature. Man was to them what talk and fashion were to
Carlyle, what philosophical and religious quarrels were to Omar, what
the whole race after practical happiness was to Schopenhauer, the thing
which must be censured in order that somebody else may be exalted. It
was merely a recognition of the fact that one cannot write in white
chalk except on a black-board.

Surely it is ridiculous to maintain seriously that Byron's love of the
desolate and inhuman in nature was the mark of vital scepticism and
depression. When a young man can elect deliberately to walk alone in
winter by the side of the shattering sea, when he takes pleasure in
storms and stricken peaks, and the lawless melancholy of the older
earth, we may deduce with the certainty of logic that he is very young
and very happy. There is a certain darkness which we see in wine when
seen in shadow; we see it again in the night that has just buried a
gorgeous sunset. The wine seems black, and yet at the same time
powerfully and almost impossibly red; the sky seems black, and yet at
the same time to be only too dense a blend of purple and green. Such was
the darkness which lay around the Byronic school. Darkness with them was
only too dense a purple. They would prefer the sullen hostility of the
earth because amid all the cold and darkness their own hearts were
flaming like their own firesides.

Matters are very different with the more modern school of doubt and
lamentation. The last movement of pessimism is perhaps expressed in Mr.
Aubrey Beardsley's allegorical designs. Here we have to deal with a
pessimism which tends naturally not towards the oldest elements of the
cosmos, but towards the last and most fantastic fripperies of artificial
life. Byronism tended towards the desert; the new pessimism towards the
restaurant. Byronism was a revolt against artificiality; the new
pessimism is a revolt in its favour.

The Byronic young man had an affectation of sincerity; the decadent,
going a step deeper into the avenues of the unreal, has positively an
affectation of affectation. And it is by their fopperies and their
frivolities that we know that their sinister philosophy is sincere; in
their lights and garlands and ribbons we read their indwelling despair.
It was so, indeed, with Byron himself; his really bitter moments were
his frivolous moments. He went on year after year calling down fire
upon mankind, summoning the deluge and the destructive sea and all the
ultimate energies of nature to sweep away the cities of the spawn of
man. But through all this his subconscious mind was not that of a
despairer; on the contrary, there is something of a kind of lawless
faith in thus parleying with such immense and immemorial brutalities. It
was not until the time in which he wrote "Don Juan" that he really lost
this inward warmth and geniality, and a sudden shout of hilarious
laughter announced to the world that Lord Byron had really become a

One of the best tests in the world of what a poet really means is his
metre. He may be a hypocrite in his metaphysics, but he cannot be a
hypocrite in his prosody. And all the time that Byron's language is of
horror and emptiness, his metre is a bounding _pas de quatre_. He may
arraign existence on the most deadly charges, he may condemn it with the
most desolating verdict, but he cannot alter the fact that on some walk
in a spring morning when all the limbs are swinging and all the blood
alive in the body, the lips may be caught repeating:

  "Oh, there's not a joy the world can give like that it takes away,
  When the glow of early youth declines in beauty's dull decay;
  'Tis not upon the cheek of youth the blush that fades so fast,
  But the tender bloom of heart is gone ere youth itself be past."

That automatic recitation is the answer to the whole pessimism of Byron.

The truth is that Byron was one of a class who may be called the
unconscious optimists, who are very often, indeed, the most
uncompromising conscious pessimists, because the exuberance of their
nature demands for an adversary a dragon as big as the world. But the
whole of his essential and unconscious being was spirited and confident,
and that unconscious being, long disguised and buried under emotional
artifices, suddenly sprang into prominence in the face of a cold, hard,
political necessity. In Greece he heard the cry of reality, and at the
time that he was dying, he began to live. He heard suddenly the call of
that buried and subconscious happiness which is in all of us, and which
may emerge suddenly at the sight of the grass of a meadow or the spears
of the enemy.


The general critical theory common in this and the last century is
that it was very easy for the imitators of Pope to write English poetry.
The classical couplet was a thing that anyone could do. So far as that
goes, one may justifiably answer by asking anyone to try. It may be
easier really to have wit, than really, in the boldest and most enduring
sense, to have imagination. But it is immeasurably easier to pretend to
have imagination than to pretend to have wit. A man may indulge in a
sham rhapsody, because it may be the triumph of a rhapsody to be
unintelligible. But a man cannot indulge in a sham joke, because it is
the ruin of a joke to be unintelligible. A man may pretend to be a poet:
he can no more pretend to be a wit than he can pretend to bring rabbits
out of a hat without having learnt to be a conjuror. Therefore, it may
be submitted, there was a certain discipline in the old antithetical
couplet of Pope and his followers. If it did not permit of the great
liberty of wisdom used by the minority of great geniuses, neither did it
permit of the great liberty of folly which is used by the majority of
small writers. A prophet could not be a poet in those days, perhaps, but
at least a fool could not be a poet. If we take, for the sake of
example, such a line as Pope's:

  "Damn with faint praise, assent with civil leer,"

the test is comparatively simple. A great poet would not have written
such a line, perhaps. But a minor poet could not.

Supposing that a lyric poet of the new school really had to deal with
such an idea as that expressed in Pope's line about Man:

  "A being darkly wise and rudely great,"

Is it really so certain that he would go deeper into the matter than
that old antithetical jingle goes? I venture to doubt whether he would
really be any wiser or weirder or more imaginative or more profound.
The one thing that he would really be, would be longer. Instead of

  "A being darkly wise and rudely great,"

the contemporary poet, in his elaborately ornamented book of verses,
would produce something like the following:

  "A creature
  Of feature
  More dark, more dark, more dark than skies,
  Yea, darkly wise, yea, darkly wise:
  Darkly wise as a formless fate.
  And if he be great,
  If he be great, then rudely great,
  Rudely great as a plough that plies,
  And darkly wise, and darkly wise."

Have we really learnt to think more broadly? Or have we only learnt to
spread our thoughts thinner? I have a dark suspicion that a modern poet
might manufacture an admirable lyric out of almost every line of Pope.

There is, of course, an idea in our time that the very antithesis of the
typical line of Pope is a mark of artificiality. I shall have occasion
more than once to point out that nothing in the world has ever been
artificial. But certainly antithesis is not artificial. An element of
paradox runs through the whole of existence itself. It begins in the
realm of ultimate physics and metaphysics, in the two facts that we
cannot imagine a space that is infinite, and that we cannot imagine a
space that is finite. It runs through the inmost complications of
divinity, in that we cannot conceive that Christ in the wilderness was
truly pure, unless we also conceive that he desired to sin. It runs, in
the same manner, through all the minor matters of morals, so that we
cannot imagine courage existing except in conjunction with fear, or
magnanimity existing except in conjunction with some temptation to
meanness. If Pope and his followers caught this echo of natural
irrationality, they were not any the more artificial. Their antitheses
were fully in harmony with existence, which is itself a contradiction in

Pope was really a great poet; he was the last great poet of
civilisation. Immediately after the fall of him and his school come
Burns and Byron, and the reaction towards the savage and the elemental.
But to Pope civilisation was still an exciting experiment. Its perruques
and ruffles were to him what feathers and bangles are to a South Sea
Islander--the real romance of civilisation. And in all the forms of art
which peculiarly belong to civilisation, he was supreme. In one
especially he was supreme--the great and civilised art of satire. And in
this we have fallen away utterly.

We have had a great revival in our time of the cult of violence and
hostility. Mr. Henley and his young men have an infinite number of
furious epithets with which to overwhelm anyone who differs from them.
It is not a placid or untroubled position to be Mr. Henley's enemy,
though we know that it is certainly safer than to be his friend. And
yet, despite all this, these people produce no satire. Political and
social satire is a lost art, like pottery and stained glass. It may be
worth while to make some attempt to point out a reason for this.

It may seem a singular observation to say that we are not generous
enough to write great satire. This, however, is approximately a very
accurate way of describing the case. To write great satire, to attack a
man so that he feels the attack and half acknowledges its justice, it is
necessary to have a certain intellectual magnanimity which realises the
merits of the opponent as well as his defects. This is, indeed, only
another way of putting the simple truth that in order to attack an army
we must know not only its weak points, but also its strong points.
England in the present season and spirit fails in satire for the same
simple reason that it fails in war: it despises the enemy. In matters of
battle and conquest we have got firmly rooted in our minds the idea (an
idea fit for the philosophers of Bedlam) that we can best trample on a
people by ignoring all the particular merits which give them a chance of
trampling upon us. It has become a breach of etiquette to praise the
enemy; whereas, when the enemy is strong, every honest scout ought to
praise the enemy. It is impossible to vanquish an army without having a
full account of its strength. It is impossible to satirise a man without
having a full account of his virtues. It is too much the custom in
politics to describe a political opponent as utterly inhuman, as utterly
careless of his country, as utterly cynical, which no man ever was since
the beginning of the world. This kind of invective may often have a
great superficial success: it may hit the mood of the moment; it may
raise excitement and applause; it may impress millions. But there is one
man among all those millions whom it does not impress, whom it hardly
ever touches; that is the man against whom it is directed. The one
person for whom the whole satire has been written in vain is the man
whom it is the whole object of the institution of satire to reach. He
knows that such a description of him is not true. He knows that he is
not utterly unpatriotic, or utterly self-seeking, or utterly barbarous
and revengeful. He knows that he is an ordinary man, and that he can
count as many kindly memories, as many humane instincts, as many hours
of decent work and responsibility as any other ordinary man. But behind
all this he has his real weaknesses, the real ironies of his soul:
behind all these ordinary merits lie the mean compromises, the craven
silences, the sullen vanities, the secret brutalities, the unmanly
visions of revenge. It is to these that satire should reach if it is to
touch the man at whom it is aimed. And to reach these it must pass and
salute a whole army of virtues.

If we turn to the great English satirists of the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries, for example, we find that they had this rough, but
firm, grasp of the size and strength, the value and the best points of
their adversary. Dryden, before hewing Ahitophel in pieces, gives a
splendid and spirited account of the insane valour and inspired cunning
of the

  "daring pilot in extremity,"

who was more untrustworthy in calm than in storm, and

  "Steered too near the rocks to boast his wit."

The whole is, so far as it goes, a sound and picturesque version of the
great Shaftesbury. It would, in many ways, serve as a very sound and
picturesque account of Lord Randolph Churchill. But here comes in very
pointedly the difference between our modern attempts at satire and the
ancient achievement of it. The opponents of Lord Randolph Churchill,
both Liberal and Conservative, did not satirise him nobly and honestly,
as one of those great wits to madness near allied. They represented him
as a mere puppy, a silly and irreverent upstart whose impudence supplied
the lack of policy and character. Churchill had grave and even gross
faults, a certain coarseness, a certain hard boyish assertiveness, a
certain lack of magnanimity, a certain peculiar patrician vulgarity. But
he was a much larger man than satire depicted him, and therefore the
satire could not and did not overwhelm him. And here we have the cause
of the failure of contemporary satire, that it has no magnanimity, that
is to say, no patience. It cannot endure to be told that its opponent
has his strong points, just as Mr. Chamberlain could not endure to be
told that the Boers had a regular army. It can be content with nothing
except persuading itself that its opponent is utterly bad or utterly
stupid--that is, that he is what he is not and what nobody else is. If
we take any prominent politician of the day--such, for example, as Sir
William Harcourt--we shall find that this is the point in which all
party invective fails. The Tory satire at the expense of Sir William
Harcourt is always desperately endeavouring to represent that he is
inept, that he makes a fool of himself, that he is disagreeable and
disgraceful and untrustworthy. The defect of all that is that we all
know that it is untrue. Everyone knows that Sir William Harcourt is not
inept, but is almost the ablest Parliamentarian now alive. Everyone
knows that he is not disagreeable or disgraceful, but a gentleman of the
old school who is on excellent social terms with his antagonists.
Everyone knows that he is not untrustworthy, but a man of unimpeachable
honour who is much trusted. Above all, he knows it himself, and is
therefore affected by the satire exactly as any one of us would be if
we were accused of being black or of keeping a shop for the receiving of
stolen goods. We might be angry at the libel, but not at the satire: for
a man is angry at a libel because it is false, but at a satire because
it is true.

Mr. Henley and his young men are very fond of invective and satire; if
they wish to know the reason of their failure in these things, they need
only turn to the opening of Pope's superb attack upon Addison. The
Henleyite's idea of satirising a man is to express a violent contempt
for him, and by the heat of this to persuade others and himself that the
man is contemptible. I remember reading a satiric attack on Mr.
Gladstone by one of the young anarchic Tories, which began by asserting
that Mr. Gladstone was a bad public speaker. If these people would, as I
have said, go quietly and read Pope's "Atticus," they would see how a
great satirist approaches a great enemy:

  "Peace to all such! But were there one whose fires
  True genius kindles, and fair fame inspires,
  Blest with each talent, and each art to please,
  And born to write, converse, and live with ease.
  Should such a man--"

And then follows the torrent of that terrible criticism. Pope was not
such a fool as to try to make out that Addison was a fool. He knew that
Addison was not a fool, and he knew that Addison knew it. But hatred, in
Pope's case, had become so great and, I was almost going to say, so
pure, that it illuminated all things, as love illuminates all things. He
said what was really wrong with Addison; and in calm and clear and
everlasting colours he painted the picture of the evil of the literary

  "Bear, like the Turk, no brother near the throne,
  View him with scornful, yet with jealous eyes,
  And hate for arts that caused himself to rise.

         *       *       *       *       *

  Like Cato give his little Senate laws,
  And sit attentive to his own applause.
  While wits and templars every sentence raise,
  And wonder with a foolish face of praise."

This is the kind of thing which really goes to the mark at which it
aims. It is penetrated with sorrow and a kind of reverence, and it is
addressed directly to a man. This is no mock-tournament to gain the
applause of the crowd. It is a deadly duel by the lonely seashore.

In current political materialism there is everywhere the assumption
that, without understanding anything of his case or his merits, we can
benefit a man practically. Without understanding his case and his
merits, we cannot even hurt him.


Asceticism is a thing which, in its very nature, we tend in these days
to misunderstand. Asceticism, in the religious sense, is the repudiation
of the great mass of human joys because of the supreme joyfulness of the
one joy, the religious joy. But asceticism is not in the least confined
to religious asceticism: there is scientific asceticism which asserts
that truth is alone satisfying: there is æsthetic asceticism which
asserts that art is alone satisfying: there is amatory asceticism which
asserts that love is alone satisfying. There is even epicurean
asceticism, which asserts that beer and skittles are alone satisfying.
Wherever the manner of praising anything involves the statement that the
speaker could live with that thing alone, there lies the germ and
essence of asceticism. When William Morris, for example, says that "love
is enough," it is obvious that he asserts in those words that art,
science, politics, ambition, money, houses, carriages, concerts,
gloves, walking-sticks, door-knockers, railway-stations, cathedrals, and
any other things one may choose to tabulate are unnecessary. When Omar
Khayyam says:

  "A book of verses underneath the bough,
  A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou
  Beside me singing in the wilderness--
  O wilderness were Paradise enow."

It is clear that he speaks fully as much ascetically as he does
æsthetically. He makes a list of things and says that he wants no more.
The same thing was done by a mediæval monk. Examples might, of course,
be multiplied a hundred-fold. One of the most genuinely poetical of our
younger poets says, as the one thing certain, that

  "From quiet home and first beginning
    Out to the undiscovered ends--
  There's nothing worth the wear of winning
    But laughter and the love of friends."

Here we have a perfect example of the main important fact, that all true
joy expresses itself in terms of asceticism.

But if, in any case, it should happen that a class or a generation lose
the sense of the peculiar kind of joy which is being celebrated, they
immediately begin to call the enjoyers of that joy gloomy and
self-destroying. The most formidable liberal philosophers have called
the monks melancholy because they denied themselves the pleasures of
liberty and marriage. They might as well call the trippers on a Bank
Holiday melancholy because they deny themselves, as a rule, the
pleasures of silence and meditation. A simpler and stronger example is,
however, to hand. If ever it should happen that the system of English
athletics should vanish from the public schools and the universities, if
science should supply some new and non-competitive manner of perfecting
the physique, if public ethics swung round to an attitude of absolute
contempt and indifference towards the feeling called sport, then it is
easy to see what would happen. Future historians would simply state that
in the dark days of Queen Victoria young men at Oxford and Cambridge
were subjected to a horrible sort of religious torture. They were
forbidden, by fantastic monastic rules, to indulge in wine or tobacco
during certain arbitrarily fixed periods of time, before certain brutal
fights and festivals. Bigots insisted on their rising at unearthly hours
and running violently around fields for no object. Many men ruined their
health in these dens of superstition, many died there. All this is
perfectly true and irrefutable. Athleticism in England is an asceticism,
as much as the monastic rules. Men have overstrained themselves and
killed themselves through English athleticism. There is one difference
and one only: we do feel the love of sport; we do not feel the love of
religious offices. We see only the price in the one case and only the
purchase in the other.

The only question that remains is what was the joy of the old Christian
ascetics of which their asceticism was merely the purchasing price? The
mere possibility of the query is an extraordinary example of the way in
which we miss the main points of human history. We are looking at
humanity too close, and see only the details and not the vast and
dominant features. We look at the rise of Christianity, and conceive it
as a rise of self-abnegation and almost of pessimism. It does not occur
to us that the mere assertion that this raging and confounding universe
is governed by justice and mercy is a piece of staggering optimism fit
to set all men capering. The detail over which these monks went mad with
joy was the universe itself; the only thing really worthy of enjoyment.
The white daylight shone over all the world, the endless forests stood
up in their order. The lightning awoke and the tree fell and the sea
gathered into mountains and the ship went down, and all these
disconnected and meaningless and terrible objects were all part of one
dark and fearful conspiracy of goodness, one merciless scheme of mercy.
That this scheme of Nature was not accurate or well founded is perfectly
tenable, but surely it is not tenable that it was not optimistic. We
insist, however, upon treating this matter tail foremost. We insist that
the ascetics were pessimists because they gave up threescore years and
ten for an eternity of happiness. We forget that the bare proposition of
an eternity of happiness is by its very nature ten thousand times more
optimistic than ten thousand pagan saturnalias.

Mr. Adderley's life of Francis of Assisi does not, of course, bring this
out; nor does it fully bring out the character of Francis. It has rather
the tone of a devotional book. A devotional book is an excellent thing,
but we do not look in it for the portrait of a man, for the same reason
that we do not look in a love-sonnet for the portrait of a woman,
because men in such conditions of mind not only apply all virtues to
their idol, but all virtues in equal quantities. There is no outline,
because the artist cannot bear to put in a black line. This blaze of
benediction, this conflict between lights, has its place in poetry, not
in biography. The successful examples of it may be found, for instance,
in the more idealistic odes of Spenser. The design is sometimes almost
indecipherable, for the poet draws in silver upon white.

It is natural, of course, that Mr. Adderley should see Francis primarily
as the founder of the Franciscan Order. We suspect this was only one,
perhaps a minor one, of the things that he was; we suspect that one of
the minor things that Christ did was to found Christianity. But the vast
practical work of Francis is assuredly not to be ignored, for this
amazingly unworldly and almost maddeningly simple-minded infant was one
of the most consistently successful men that ever fought with this
bitter world. It is the custom to say that the secret of such men is
their profound belief in themselves, and this is true, but not all the
truth. Workhouses and lunatic asylums are thronged with men who believe
in themselves. Of Francis it is far truer to say that the secret of his
success was his profound belief in other people, and it is the lack of
this that has commonly been the curse of these obscure Napoleons.
Francis always assumed that everyone must be just as anxious about their
common relative, the water-rat, as he was. He planned a visit to the
Emperor to draw his attention to the needs of "his little sisters the
larks." He used to talk to any thieves and robbers he met about their
misfortune in being unable to give rein to their desire for holiness. It
was an innocent habit, and doubtless the robbers often "got round him,"
as the phrase goes. Quite as often, however, they discovered that he had
"got round" them, and discovered the other side, the side of secret

Conceiving of St. Francis as primarily the founder of the Franciscan
Order, Mr. Adderley opens his narrative with an admirable sketch of the
history of Monasticism in Europe, which is certainly the best thing in
the book. He distinguishes clearly and fairly between the Manichæan
ideal that underlies so much of Eastern Monasticism and the ideal of
self-discipline which never wholly vanished from the Christian form. But
he does not throw any light on what must be for the outsider the
absorbing problem of this Catholic asceticism, for the excellent reason
that, not being an outsider, he does not find it a problem at all.

To most people, however, there is a fascinating inconsistency in the
position of St. Francis. He expressed in loftier and bolder language
than any earthly thinker the conception that laughter is as divine as
tears. He called his monks the mountebanks of God. He never forgot to
take pleasure in a bird as it flashed past him, or a drop of water, as
it fell from his finger: he was, perhaps, the happiest of the sons of
men. Yet this man undoubtedly founded his whole polity on the negation
of what we think the most imperious necessities; in his three vows of
poverty, chastity, and obedience, he denied to himself and those he
loved most, property, love, and liberty. Why was it that the most
large-hearted and poetic spirits in that age found their most congenial
atmosphere in these awful renunciations? Why did he who loved where all
men were blind, seek to blind himself where all men loved? Why was he a
monk, and not a troubadour? These questions are far too large to be
answered fully here, but in any life of Francis they ought at least to
have been asked; we have a suspicion that if they were answered, we
should suddenly find that much of the enigma of this sullen time of ours
was answered also. So it was with the monks. The two great parties in
human affairs are only the party which sees life black against white,
and the party which sees it white against black, the party which
macerates and blackens itself with sacrifice because the background is
full of the blaze of an universal mercy, and the party which crowns
itself with flowers and lights itself with bridal torches because it
stands against a black curtain of incalculable night. The revellers are
old, and the monks are young. It was the monks who were the spendthrifts
of happiness, and we who are its misers.

Doubtless, as is apparent from Mr. Adderley's book, the clear and
tranquil life of the Three Vows had a fine and delicate effect on the
genius of Francis. He was primarily a poet. The perfection of his
literary instinct is shown in his naming the fire "brother," and the
water "sister," in the quaint demagogic dexterity of the appeal in the
sermon to the fishes "that they alone were saved in the Flood." In the
amazingly minute and graphic dramatisation of the life, disappointments,
and excuses of any shrub or beast that he happened to be addressing, his
genius has a curious resemblance to that of Burns. But if he avoided the
weakness of Burns' verses to animals, the occasional morbidity, bombast,
and moralisation on himself, the credit is surely due to a cleaner and
more transparent life.

The general attitude of St. Francis, like that of his Master, embodied a
kind of terrible common sense. The famous remark of the Caterpillar in
"Alice in Wonderland"--"Why not?" impresses us as his general motto. He
could not see why he should not be on good terms with all things. The
pomp of war and ambition, the great empire of the Middle Ages, and all
its fellows begin to look tawdry and top-heavy, under the rationality of
that innocent stare. His questions were blasting and devastating, like
the questions of a child. He would not have been afraid even of the
nightmares of cosmogony, for he had no fear in him. To him the world
was small, not because he had any views as to its size, but for the
reason that gossiping ladies find it small, because so many relatives
were to be found in it. If you had taken him to the loneliest star that
the madness of an astronomer can conceive, he would have only beheld in
it the features of a new friend.


When "Cyrano de Bergerac" was published, it bore the subordinate title
of a heroic comedy. We have no tradition in English literature which
would justify us in calling a comedy heroic, though there was once a
poet who called a comedy divine. By the current modern conception, the
hero has his place in a tragedy, and the one kind of strength which is
systematically denied to him is the strength to succeed. That the power
of a man's spirit might possibly go to the length of turning a tragedy
into a comedy is not admitted; nevertheless, almost all the primitive
legends of the world are comedies, not only in the sense that they have
a happy ending, but in the sense that they are based upon a certain
optimistic assumption that the hero is destined to be the destroyer of
the monster. Singularly enough, this modern idea of the essential
disastrous character of life, when seriously considered, connects itself
with a hyper-æsthetic view of tragedy and comedy which is largely due
to the influence of modern France, from which the great heroic comedies
of Monsieur Rostand have come. The French genius has an instinct for
remedying its own evil work, and France gives always the best cure for
"Frenchiness." The idea of comedy which is held in England by the school
which pays most attention to the technical niceties of art is a view
which renders such an idea as that of heroic comedy quite impossible.
The fundamental conception in the minds of the majority of our younger
writers is that comedy is, _par excellence_, a fragile thing. It is
conceived to be a conventional world of the most absolutely delicate and
gimcrack description. Such stories as Mr. Max Beerbohm's "Happy
Hypocrite" are conceptions which would vanish or fall into utter
nonsense if viewed by one single degree too seriously. But great comedy,
the comedy of Shakespeare or Sterne, not only can be, but must be, taken
seriously. There is nothing to which a man must give himself up with
more faith and self-abandonment than to genuine laughter. In such
comedies one laughs with the heroes, and not at them. The humour which
steeps the stories of Falstaff and Uncle Toby is a cosmic and
philosophic humour, a geniality which goes down to the depths. It is not
superficial reading, it is not even, strictly speaking, light reading.
Our sympathies are as much committed to the characters as if they were
the predestined victims in a Greek tragedy. The modern writer of
comedies may be said to boast of the brittleness of his characters. He
seems always on the eve of knocking his puppets to pieces. When John
Oliver Hobbes wrote for the first time a comedy of serious emotions, she
named it, with a thinly-disguised contempt for her own work, "A
Sentimental Comedy." The ground of this conception of the artificiality
of comedy is a profound pessimism. Life in the eyes of these mournful
buffoons is itself an utterly tragic thing; comedy must be as hollow as
a grinning mask. It is a refuge from the world, and not even, properly
speaking, a part of it. Their wit is a thin sheet of shining ice over
the eternal waters of bitterness.

"Cyrano de Bergerac" came to us as the new decoration of an old truth,
that merriment was one of the world's natural flowers, and not one of
its exotics. The gigantesque levity, the flamboyant eloquence, the
Rabelaisian puns and digressions were seen to be once more what they had
been in Rabelais, the mere outbursts of a human sympathy and bravado as
old and solid as the stars. The human spirit demanded wit as headlong
and haughty as its will. All was expressed in the words of Cyrano at his
highest moment of happiness, _Il me faut des géants_. An essential
aspect of this question of heroic comedy is the question of drama in
rhyme. There is nothing that affords so easy a point of attack for the
dramatic realist as the conduct of a play in verse. According to his
canons, it is indeed absurd to represent a number of characters facing
some terrible crisis in their lives by capping rhymes like a party
playing _bouts rimés_. In his eyes it must appear somewhat ridiculous
that two enemies taunting each other with insupportable insults should
obligingly provide each other with metrical spacing and neat and
convenient rhymes. But the whole of this view rests finally upon the
fact that few persons, if any, to-day understand what is meant by a
poetical play. It is a singular thing that those poetical plays which
are now written in England by the most advanced students of the drama
follow exclusively the lines of Maeterlinck, and use verse and rhyme for
the adornment of a profoundly tragic theme. But rhyme has a supreme
appropriateness for the treatment of the higher comedy. The land of
heroic comedy is, as it were, a paradise of lovers, in which it is not
difficult to imagine that men could talk poetry all day long. It is far
more conceivable that men's speech should flower naturally into these
harmonious forms, when they are filled with the essential spirit of
youth, than when they are sitting gloomily in the presence of immemorial
destiny. The great error consists in supposing that poetry is an
unnatural form of language. We should all like to speak poetry at the
moment when we truly live, and if we do not speak, it is because we have
an impediment in our speech. It is not song that is the narrow or
artificial thing, it is conversation that is a broken and stammering
attempt at song. When we see men in a spiritual extravaganza, like
"Cyrano de Bergerac," speaking in rhyme, it is not our language
disguised or distorted, but our language rounded and made whole. Rhymes
answer each other as the sexes in flowers and in humanity answer each
other. Men do not speak so, it is true. Even when they are inspired or
in love they talk inanities. But the poetic comedy does not misrepresent
the speech one half so much as the speech misrepresents the soul.
Monsieur Rostand showed even more than his usual insight when he called
"Cyrano de Bergerac" a comedy, despite the fact that, strictly speaking,
it ends with disappointment and death. The essence of tragedy is a
spiritual breakdown or decline, and in the great French play the
spiritual sentiment mounts unceasingly until the last line. It is not
the facts themselves, but our feeling about them, that makes tragedy and
comedy, and death is more joyful in Rostand than life in Maeterlinck.
The same apparent contradiction holds good in the case of the drama of
"L'Aiglon," now being performed with so much success. Although the hero
is a weakling, the subject a fiasco, the end a premature death and a
personal disillusionment, yet, in spite of this theme, which might have
been chosen for its depressing qualities, the unconquerable pæan of the
praise of things, the ungovernable gaiety of the poet's song swells so
high that at the end it seems to drown all the weak voices of the
characters in one crashing chorus of great things and great men. A
multitude of mottoes might be taken from the play to indicate and
illustrate, not only its own spirit, but much of the spirit of modern
life. When in the vision of the field of Wagram the horrible voices of
the wounded cry out, _Les corbeaux, les corbeaux_, the Duke, overwhelmed
with a nightmare of hideous trivialities, cries out, _Où, où, sont les
aigles?_ That antithesis might stand alone as an invocation at the
beginning of the twentieth century to the spirit of heroic comedy. When
an ex-General of Napoleon is asked his reason for having betrayed the
Emperor, he replies, _La fatigue_, and at that a veteran private of the
Great Army rushes forward, and crying passionately, _Et nous?_ pours out
a terrible description of the life lived by the commoner soldier.
To-day, when pessimism is almost as much a symbol of wealth and fashion
as jewels or cigars, when the pampered heirs of the ages can sum up life
in few other words but _la fatigue_, there might surely come a cry from
the vast mass of common humanity from the beginning--_et nous?_ It is
this potentiality for enthusiasm among the mass of men that makes the
function of comedy at once common and sublime. Shakespeare's "Much Ado
About Nothing" is a great comedy, because behind it is the whole
pressure of that love of love which is the youth of the world, which is
common to all the young, especially to those who swear they will die
bachelors and old maids. "Love's Labour's Lost" is filled with the same
energy, and there it falls even more definitely into the scope of our
subject, since it is a comedy in rhyme in which all men speak lyrically
as naturally as the birds sing in pairing time. What the love of love
is to the Shakespearean comedies, that other and more mysterious human
passion, the love of death, is to "L'Aiglon." Whether we shall ever have
in England a new tradition of poetic comedy it is difficult at present
to say, but we shall assuredly never have it until we realise that
comedy is built upon everlasting foundations in the nature of things,
that it is not a thing too light to capture, but too deep to plumb.
Monsieur Rostand, in his description of the Battle of Wagram, does not
shrink from bringing about the Duke's ears the frightful voices of
actual battle, of men torn by crows, and suffocated with blood, but when
the Duke, terrified at these dreadful appeals, asks them for their final
word, they all cry together _Vive l'Empereur!_ Monsieur Rostand,
perhaps, did not know that he was writing an allegory. To me that field
of Wagram is the field of the modern war of literature. We hear nothing
but the voices of pain; the whole is one phonograph of horror. It is
right that we should hear these things, it is right that not one of
them should be silenced; but these cries of distress are not in life, as
they are in modern art, the only voices; they are the voices of men, but
not the voice of man. When questioned finally and seriously as to their
conception of their destiny, men have from the beginning of time
answered in a thousand philosophies and religions with a single voice
and in a sense most sacred and tremendous, _Vive l'Empereur_.


There are a great many bonds which still connect us with Charles II.,
one of the idlest men of one of the idlest epochs. Among other things
Charles II. represented one thing which is very rare and very
satisfying; he was a real and consistent sceptic. Scepticism, both in
its advantages and disadvantages, is greatly misunderstood in our time.
There is a curious idea abroad that scepticism has some connection with
such theories as materialism and atheism and secularism. This is of
course a mistake; the true sceptic has nothing to do with these theories
simply because they are theories. The true sceptic is as much a
spiritualist as he is a materialist. He thinks that the savage dancing
round an African idol stands quite as good a chance of being right as
Darwin. He thinks that mysticism is every bit as rational as
rationalism. He has indeed the most profound doubts as to whether St.
Matthew wrote his own gospel. But he has quite equally profound doubts
as to whether the tree he is looking at is a tree and not a rhinoceros.

This is the real meaning of that mystery which appears so prominently in
the lives of great sceptics, which appears with especial prominence in
the life of Charles II. I mean their constant oscillation between
atheism and Roman Catholicism. Roman Catholicism is indeed a great and
fixed and formidable system, but so is atheism. Atheism is indeed the
most daring of all dogmas, more daring than the vision of a palpable day
of judgment. For it is the assertion of a universal negative; for a man
to say that there is no God in the universe is like saying that there
are no insects in any of the stars.

Thus it was with that wholesome and systematic sceptic, Charles II. When
he took the Sacrament according to the forms of the Roman Church in his
last hour he was acting consistently as a philosopher. The wafer might
not be God; similarly it might not be a wafer. To the genuine and
poetical sceptic the whole world is incredible, with its bulbous
mountains and its fantastic trees. The whole order of things is as
outrageous as any miracle which could presume to violate it.
Transubstantiation might be a dream, but if it was, it was assuredly a
dream within a dream. Charles II. sought to guard himself against hell
fire because he could not think hell itself more fantastic than the
world as it was revealed by science. The priest crept up the staircase,
the doors were closed, the few of the faithful who were present hushed
themselves respectfully, and so, with every circumstance of secrecy and
sanctity, with the cross uplifted and the prayers poured out, was
consummated the last great act of logical unbelief.

The problem of Charles II. consists in this, that he has scarcely a
moral virtue to his name, and yet he attracts us morally. We feel that
some of the virtues have been dropped out in the lists made by all the
saints and sages, and that Charles II. was pre-eminently successful in
these wild and unmentionable virtues. The real truth of this matter and
the real relation of Charles II. to the moral ideal is worth somewhat
more exhaustive study.

It is a commonplace that the Restoration movement can only be understood
when considered as a reaction against Puritanism. But it is
insufficiently realised that the tyranny which half frustrated all the
good work of Puritanism was of a very peculiar kind. It was not the fire
of Puritanism, the exultation in sobriety, the frenzy of a restraint,
which passed away; that still burns in the heart of England, only to be
quenched by the final overwhelming sea. But it is seldom remembered that
the Puritans were in their day emphatically intellectual bullies, that
they relied swaggeringly on the logical necessity of Calvinism, that
they bound omnipotence itself in the chains of syllogism. The Puritans
fell, through the damning fact that they had a complete theory of life,
through the eternal paradox that a satisfactory explanation can never
satisfy. Like Brutus and the logical Romans, like the logical French
Jacobins, like the logical English utilitarians, they taught the lesson
that men's wants have always been right and their arguments always
wrong. Reason is always a kind of brute force; those who appeal to the
head rather than the heart, however pallid and polite, are necessarily
men of violence. We speak of "touching" a man's heart, but we can do
nothing to his head but hit it. The tyranny of the Puritans over the
bodies of men was comparatively a trifle; pikes, bullets, and
conflagrations are comparatively a trifle. Their real tyranny was the
tyranny of aggressive reason over the cowed and demoralised human
spirit. Their brooding and raving can be forgiven, can in truth be loved
and reverenced, for it is humanity on fire; hatred can be genial,
madness can be homely. The Puritans fell, not because they were
fanatics, but because they were rationalists.

When we consider these things, when we remember that Puritanism, which
means in our day a moral and almost temperamental attitude, meant in
that day a singularly arrogant logical attitude, we shall comprehend a
little more the grain of good that lay in the vulgarity and triviality
of the Restoration. The Restoration, of which Charles II. was a
pre-eminent type, was in part a revolt of all the chaotic and unclassed
parts of human nature, the parts that are left over, and will always be
left over, by every rationalistic system of life. This does not merely
account for the revolt of the vices and of that empty recklessness and
horseplay which is sometimes more irritating than any vice. It accounts
also for the return of the virtue of politeness, for that also is a
nameless thing ignored by logical codes. Politeness has indeed about it
something mystical; like religion, it is everywhere understood and
nowhere defined. Charles is not entirely to be despised because, as the
type of this movement, he let himself float upon this new tide of
politeness. There was some moral and social value in his perfection in
little things. He could not keep the Ten Commandments, but he kept the
ten thousand commandments. His name is unconnected with any great acts
of duty or sacrifice, but it is connected with a great many of those
acts of magnanimous politeness, of a kind of dramatic delicacy, which
lie on the dim borderland between morality and art. "Charles II.," said
Thackeray, with unerring brevity, "was a rascal, but not a snob." Unlike
George IV. he was a gentleman, and a gentleman is a man who obeys
strange statutes, not to be found in any moral text-book, and practises
strange virtues nameless from the beginning of the world.

So much may be said and should be said for the Restoration, that it was
the revolt of something human, if only the debris of human nature. But
more cannot be said. It was emphatically a fall and not an ascent, a
recoil and not an advance, a sudden weakness and not a sudden strength.
That the bow of human nature was by Puritanism bent immeasurably too
far, that it overstrained the soul by stretching it to the height of an
almost horrible idealism, makes the collapse of the Restoration
infinitely more excusable, but it does not make it any the less a
collapse. Nothing can efface the essential distinction that Puritanism
was one of the world's great efforts after the discovery of the true
order, whereas it was the essence of the Restoration that it involved no
effort at all. It is true that the Restoration was not, as has been
widely assumed, the most immoral epoch of our history. Its vices cannot
compare for a moment in this respect with the monstrous tragedies and
almost suffocating secrecies and villainies of the Court of James I. But
the dram-drinking and nose-slitting of the saturnalia of Charles II.
seem at once more human and more detestable than the passions and
poisons of the Renaissance, much in the same way that a monkey appears
inevitably more human and more detestable than a tiger. Compared with
the Renaissance, there is something Cockney about the Restoration. Not
only was it too indolent for great morality, it was too indolent even
for great art. It lacked that seriousness which is needed even for the
pursuit of pleasure, that discipline which is essential even to a game
of lawn tennis. It would have appeared to Charles II.'s poets quite as
arduous to write "Paradise Lost" as to regain Paradise.

All old and vigorous languages abound in images and metaphors, which,
though lightly and casually used, are in truth poems in themselves, and
poems of a high and striking order. Perhaps no phrase is so terribly
significant as the phrase "killing time." It is a tremendous and
poetical image, the image of a kind of cosmic parricide. There are on
the earth a race of revellers who do, under all their exuberance,
fundamentally regard time as an enemy. Of these were Charles II. and the
men of the Restoration. Whatever may have been their merits, and as we
have said we think that they had merits, they can never have a place
among the great representatives of the joy of life, for they belonged to
those lower epicureans who kill time, as opposed to those higher
epicureans who make time live.

Of a people in this temper Charles II. was the natural and rightful
head. He may have been a pantomime King, but he was a King, and with all
his geniality he let nobody forget it. He was not, indeed, the aimless
flaneur that he has been represented. He was a patient and cunning
politician, who disguised his wisdom under so perfect a mask of folly
that he not only deceived his allies and opponents, but has deceived
almost all the historians that have come after him. But if Charles was,
as he emphatically was, the only Stuart who really achieved despotism,
it was greatly due to the temper of the nation and the age. Despotism is
the easiest of all governments, at any rate for the governed.

It is indeed a form of slavery, and it is the despot who is the slave.
Men in a state of decadence employ professionals to fight for them,
professionals to dance for them, and a professional to rule them.

Almost all the faces in the portraits of that time look, as it were,
like masks put on artificially with the perruque. A strange unreality
broods over the period. Distracted as we are with civic mysteries and
problems we can afford to rejoice. Our tears are less desolate than
their laughter, our restraints are larger than their liberty.


A recent incident has finally convinced us that Stevenson was, as we
suspected, a great man. We knew from recent books that we have noticed,
from the scorn of "Ephemera Critica" and Mr. George Moore, that
Stevenson had the first essential qualification of a great man: that of
being misunderstood by his opponents. But from the book which Messrs.
Chatto & Windus have issued, in the same binding as Stevenson's works,
"Robert Louis Stevenson," by Mr. H. Bellyse Baildon, we learn that he
has the other essential qualification, that of being misunderstood by
his admirers. Mr. Baildon has many interesting things to tell us about
Stevenson himself, whom he knew at college. Nor are his criticisms by
any means valueless. That upon the plays, especially "Beau Austin," is
remarkably thoughtful and true. But it is a very singular fact, and goes
far, as we say, to prove that Stevenson had that unfathomable quality
which belongs to the great, that this admiring student of Stevenson can
number and marshal all the master's work and distribute praise and blame
with decision and even severity, without ever thinking for a moment of
the principles of art and ethics which would have struck us as the very
things that Stevenson nearly killed himself to express.

Mr. Baildon, for example, is perpetually lecturing Stevenson for his
"pessimism"; surely a strange charge against a man who has done more
than any modern artist to make men ashamed of their shame of life. But
he complains that, in "The Master of Ballantrae" and "Dr. Jekyll and Mr.
Hyde," Stevenson gives evil a final victory over good. Now if there was
one point that Stevenson more constantly and passionately emphasised
than any other it was that we must worship good for its own value and
beauty, without any reference whatever to victory or failure in space
and time. "Whatever we are intended to do," he said, "we are not
intended to succeed." That the stars in their courses fight against
virtue, that humanity is in its nature a forlorn hope, this was the very
spirit that through the whole of Stevenson's work sounded a trumpet to
all the brave. The story of Henry Durie is dark enough, but could anyone
stand beside the grave of that sodden monomaniac and not respect him? It
is strange that men should see sublime inspiration in the ruins of an
old church and see none in the ruins of a man.

The author has most extraordinary ideas about Stevenson's tales of blood
and spoil; he appears to think that they prove Stevenson to have had (we
use Mr. Baildon's own phrase) a kind of "homicidal mania." "He
[Stevenson] arrives pretty much at the paradox that one can hardly be
better employed than in taking life." Mr. Baildon might as well say that
Dr. Conan Doyle delights in committing inexplicable crimes, that Mr.
Clark Russell is a notorious pirate, and that Mr. Wilkie Collins thought
that one could hardly be better employed than in stealing moonstones
and falsifying marriage registers. But Mr. Baildon is scarcely alone in
this error: few people have understood properly the goriness of
Stevenson. Stevenson was essentially the robust schoolboy who draws
skeletons and gibbets in his Latin grammar. It was not that he took
pleasure in death, but that he took pleasure in life, in every muscular
and emphatic action of life, even if it were an action that took the
life of another.

Let us suppose that one gentleman throws a knife at another gentleman
and pins him to the wall. It is scarcely necessary to remark that there
are in this transaction two somewhat varying personal points of view.
The point of view of the man pinned is the tragic and moral point of
view, and this Stevenson showed clearly that he understood in such
stories as "The Master of Ballantrae" and "Weir of Hermiston." But there
is another view of the matter--that in which the whole act is an abrupt
and brilliant explosion of bodily vitality, like breaking a rock with a
blow of a hammer, or just clearing a five-barred gate. This is the
standpoint of romance, and it is the soul of "Treasure Island" and "The
Wrecker." It was not, indeed, that Stevenson loved men less, but that he
loved clubs and pistols more. He had, in truth, in the devouring
universalism of his soul, a positive love for inanimate objects such as
has not been known since St. Francis called the sun brother and the well
sister. We feel that he was actually in love with the wooden crutch that
Silver sent hurtling in the sunlight, with the box that Billy Bones left
at the "Admiral Benbow," with the knife that Wicks drove through his own
hand and the table. There is always in his work a certain clean-cut
angularity which makes us remember that he was fond of cutting wood with
an axe.

Stevenson's new biographer, however, cannot make any allowance for this
deep-rooted poetry of mere sight and touch. He is always imputing
something to Stevenson as a crime which Stevenson really professed as an
object. He says of that glorious riot of horror, "The Destroying Angel,"
in "The Dynamiter," that it is "highly fantastic and putting a strain
on our credulity." This is rather like describing the travels of Baron
Munchausen as "unconvincing." The whole story of "The Dynamiter" is a
kind of humorous nightmare, and even in that story "The Destroying
Angel" is supposed to be an extravagant lie made up on the spur of the
moment. It is a dream within a dream, and to accuse it of improbability
is like accusing the sky of being blue. But Mr. Baildon, whether from
hasty reading or natural difference of taste, cannot in the least
comprehend that rich and romantic irony of Stevenson's London stories.
He actually says of that portentous monument of humour, Prince Florizel
of Bohemia, that, "though evidently admired by his creator, he is to me
on the whole rather an irritating presence." From this we are almost
driven to believe (though desperately and against our will) that Mr.
Baildon thinks that Prince Florizel is to be taken seriously, as if he
were a man in real life. For ourselves. Prince Florizel is almost our
favourite character in fiction; but we willingly add the proviso that
if we met him in real life we should kill him.

The fact is, that the whole mass of Stevenson's spiritual and
intellectual virtues have been partly frustrated by one additional
virtue--that of artistic dexterity. If he had chalked up his great
message on a wall, like Walt Whitman, in large and straggling letters,
it would have startled men like a blasphemy. But he wrote his
light-headed paradoxes in so flowing a copy-book hand that everyone
supposed they must be copy-book sentiments. He suffered from his
versatility, not, as is loosely said, by not doing every department well
enough, but by doing every department too well. As child, cockney,
pirate, or Puritan, his disguises were so good that most people could
not see the same man under all. It is an unjust fact that if a man can
play the fiddle, give legal opinions, and black boots just tolerably, he
is called an Admirable Crichton, but if he does all three thoroughly
well, he is apt to be regarded, in the several departments, as a common
fiddler, a common lawyer, and a common boot-black. This is what has
happened in the case of Stevenson. If "Dr. Jekyll," "The Master of
Ballantrae," "The Child's Garden of Verses," and "Across the Plains" had
been each of them one shade less perfectly done than they were, everyone
would have seen that they were all parts of the same message; but by
succeeding in the proverbial miracle of being in five places at once, he
has naturally convinced others that he was five different people. But
the real message of Stevenson was as simple as that of Mohamet, as moral
as that of Dante, as confident as that of Whitman, and as practical as
that of James Watt. The conception which unites the whole varied work of
Stevenson was that romance, or the vision of the possibilities of
things, was far more important than mere occurrences: that one was the
soul of our life, the other the body, and that the soul was the precious
thing. The germ of all his stories lies in the idea that every landscape
or scrap of scenery has a soul: and that soul is a story. Standing
before a stunted orchard with a broken stone wall, we may know as a
mere fact that no one has been through it but an elderly female cook.
But everything exists in the human soul: that orchard grows in our own
brain, and there it is the shrine and theatre of some strange chance
between a girl and a ragged poet and a mad farmer. Stevenson stands for
the conception that ideas are the real incidents: that our fancies are
our adventures. To think of a cow with wings is essentially to have met
one. And this is the reason for his wide diversities of narrative: he
had to make one story as rich as a ruby sunset, another as grey as a
hoary monolith: for the story was the soul, or rather the meaning, of
the bodily vision. It is quite inappropriate to judge "The Teller of
Tales" (as the Samoans called him) by the particular novels he wrote, as
one would judge Mr. George Moore by "Esther Waters." These novels were
only the two or three of his soul's adventures that he happened to tell.
But he died with a thousand stories in his heart.


[1] "Robert Louis Stevenson: A Life Study in Criticism." By H. Bellyse
Baildon. Chatto & Windus.


There are two main moral necessities for the work of a great man: the
first is that he should believe in the truth of his message; the second
is that he should believe in the acceptability of his message. It was
the whole tragedy of Carlyle that he had the first and not the second.

The ordinary capital, however, which is made out of Carlyle's alleged
gloom is a very paltry matter. Carlyle had his faults, both as a man and
as a writer, but the attempt to explain his gospel in terms of his
"liver" is merely pitiful. If indigestion invariably resulted in a
"Sartor Resartus," it would be a vastly more tolerable thing than it is.
Diseases do not turn into poems; even the decadent really writes with
the healthy part of his organism. If Carlyle's private faults and
literary virtues ran somewhat in the same line, he is only in the
situation of every man; for every one of us it is surely very difficult
to say precisely where our honest opinions end and our personal
predilections begin. But to attempt to denounce Carlyle as a mere savage
egotist cannot arise from anything but a pure inability to grasp
Carlyle's gospel. "Ruskin," says a critic, "did, all the same, verily
believe in God; Carlyle believed only in himself." This is certainly a
distinction between the author he has understood and the author he has
not understood. Carlyle believed in himself, but he could not have
believed in himself more than Ruskin did; they both believed in God,
because they felt that if everything else fell into wrack and ruin,
themselves were permanent witnesses to God. Where they both failed was
not in belief in God or in belief in themselves; they failed in belief
in other people. It is not enough for a prophet to believe in his
message; he must believe in its acceptability. Christ, St. Francis,
Bunyan, Wesley, Mr. Gladstone, Walt Whitman, men of indescribable
variety, were all alike in a certain faculty of treating the average man
as their equal, of trusting to his reason and good feeling without fear
and without condescension. It was this simplicity of confidence, not
only in God, but in the image of God, that was lacking in Carlyle.

But the attempts to discredit Carlyle's religious sentiment must
absolutely fall to the ground. The profound security of Carlyle's sense
of the unity of the Cosmos is like that of a Hebrew prophet; and it has
the same expression that it had in the Hebrew prophets--humour. A man
must be very full of faith to jest about his divinity. No Neo-Pagan
delicately suggesting a revival of Dionysus, no vague, half-converted
Theosophist groping towards a recognition of Buddha, would ever think of
cracking jokes on the matter. But to the Hebrew prophets their religion
was so solid a thing, like a mountain or a mammoth, that the irony of
its contact with trivial and fleeting matters struck them like a blow.
So it was with Carlyle. His supreme contribution, both to philosophy and
literature, was his sense of the sarcasm of eternity. Other writers had
seen the hope or the terror of the heavens, he alone saw the humour of
them. Other writers had seen that there could be something elemental and
eternal in a song or statute, he alone saw that there could be something
elemental and eternal in a joke. No one who ever read it will forget the
passage, full of dark and agnostic gratification, in which he narrates
that some Court chronicler described Louis XV. as "falling asleep in the
Lord." "Enough for us that he did fall asleep; that, curtained in thick
night, under what keeping we ask not, he at least will never, through
unending ages, insult the face of the sun any more ... and we go on, if
not to better forms of beastliness, at least to fresher ones."

The supreme value of Carlyle to English literature was that he was the
founder of modern irrationalism; a movement fully as important as modern
rationalism. A great deal is said in these days about the value or
valuelessness of logic. In the main, indeed, logic is not a productive
tool so much as a weapon of defence. A man building up an intellectual
system has to build like Nehemiah, with the sword in one hand and the
trowel in the other. The imagination, the constructive quality, is the
trowel, and argument is the sword. A wide experience of actual
intellectual affairs will lead most people to the conclusion that logic
is mainly valuable as a weapon wherewith to exterminate logicians.

But though this may be true enough in practice, it scarcely clears up
the position of logic in human affairs. Logic is a machine of the mind,
and if it is used honestly it ought to bring out an honest conclusion.
When people say that you can prove anything by logic, they are not using
words in a fair sense. What they mean is that you can prove anything by
bad logic. Deep in the mystic ingratitude of the soul of man there is an
extraordinary tendency to use the name for an organ, when what is meant
is the abuse or decay of that organ. Thus we speak of a man suffering
from "nerves," which is about as sensible as talking about a man
suffering from ten fingers. We speak of "liver" and "digestion" when we
mean the failure of liver and the absence of digestion. And in the same
manner we speak of the dangers of logic, when what we really mean is the
danger of fallacy.

But the real point about the limitation of logic and the partial
overthrow of logic by writers like Carlyle is deeper and somewhat
different. The fault of the great mass of logicians is not that they
bring out a false result, or, in other words, are not logicians at all.
Their fault is that by an inevitable psychological habit they tend to
forget that there are two parts of a logical process, the first the
choosing of an assumption, and the second the arguing upon it, and
humanity, if it devotes itself too persistently to the study of sound
reasoning, has a certain tendency to lose the faculty of sound
assumption. It is astonishing how constantly one may hear from rational
and even rationalistic persons such a phrase as "He did not prove the
very thing with which he started," or, "The whole of his case rested
upon a pure assumption," two peculiarities which may be found by the
curious in the works of Euclid. It is astonishing, again, how
constantly one hears rationalists arguing upon some deep topic,
apparently without troubling about the deep assumptions involved, having
lost their sense, as it were, of the real colour and character of a
man's assumption. For instance, two men will argue about whether
patriotism is a good thing and never discover until the end, if at all,
that the cosmopolitan is basing his whole case upon the idea that man
should, if he can, become as God, with equal sympathies and no
prejudices, while the nationalist denies any such duty at the very
start, and regards man as an animal who has preferences, as a bird has

       *       *       *       *       *

Thus it was with Carlyle: he startled men by attacking not arguments,
but assumptions. He simply brushed aside all the matters which the men
of the nineteenth century held to be incontrovertible, and appealed
directly to the very different class of matters which they knew to be
true. He induced men to study less the truth of their reasoning, and
more the truth of the assumptions upon which they reasoned. Even where
his view was not the highest truth, it was always a refreshing and
beneficent heresy. He denied every one of the postulates upon which the
age of reason based itself. He denied the theory of progress which
assumed that we must be better off than the people of the twelfth
century. Whether we were better than the people of the twelfth century,
according to him, depended entirely upon whether we chose or deserved to

He denied every type and species of prop or association or support which
threw the responsibility upon civilisation or society, or anything but
the individual conscience. He has often been called a prophet. The real
ground of the truth of this phrase is often neglected. Since the last
era of purely religious literature, the era of English Puritanism, there
has been no writer in whose eyes the soul stood so much alone.

Carlyle was, as we have suggested, a mystic, and mysticism was with him,
as with all its genuine professors, only a transcendent form of common
sense. Mysticism and common sense alike consist in a sense of the
dominance of certain truths and tendencies which cannot be formally
demonstrated or even formally named. Mysticism and common sense are
alike appeals to realities that we all know to be real, but which have
no place in argument except as postulates. Carlyle's work did consist in
breaking through formulæ, old and new, to these old and silent and
ironical sanities. Philosophers might abolish kings a hundred times
over, he maintained, they could not alter the fact that every man and
woman does choose a king and repudiate all the pride of citizenship for
the exultation of humility. If inequality of this kind was a weakness,
it was a weakness bound up with the very strength of the universe. About
hero worship, indeed, few critics have done the smallest justice to
Carlyle. Misled by those hasty and choleric passages in which he
sometimes expressed a preference for mere violence, passages which were
a great deal more connected with his temperament than with his
philosophy, they have finally imbibed the notion that Carlyle's theory
of hero worship was a theory of terrified submission to stern and
arrogant men. As a matter of fact, Carlyle is really inhumane about some
questions, but he is never inhumane about hero worship. His view is not
that human nature is so vulgar and silly a thing that it must be guided
and driven; it is, on the contrary, that human nature is so chivalrous
and fundamentally magnanimous a thing that even the meanest have it in
them to love a leader more than themselves, and to prefer loyalty to
rebellion. When he speaks of this trait in human nature Carlyle's tone
invariably softens. We feel that for the moment he is kindled with
admiration of mankind, and almost reaches the verge of Christianity.
Whatever else was acid and captious about Carlyle's utterances, his hero
worship was not only humane, it was almost optimistic. He admired great
men primarily, and perhaps correctly, because he thought that they were
more human than other men. The evil side of the influence of Carlyle and
his religion of hero worship did not consist in the emotional worship
of valour and success; that was a part of him, as, indeed, it is a part
of all healthy children. Where Carlyle really did harm was in the fact
that he, more than any modern man, is responsible for the increase of
that modern habit of what is vulgarly called "Going the whole hog."
Often in matters of passion and conquest it is a singularly hoggish hog.
This remarkable modern craze for making one's philosophy, religion,
politics, and temper all of a piece, of seeking in all incidents for
opportunities to assert and reassert some favourite mental attitude, is
a thing which existed comparatively little in other centuries. Solomon
and Horace, Petrarch and Shakespeare were pessimists when they were
melancholy, and optimists when they were happy. But the optimist of
to-day seems obliged to prove that gout and unrequited love make him
dance with joy, and the pessimist of to-day to prove that sunshine and a
good supper convulse him with inconsolable anguish. Carlyle was strongly
possessed with this mania for spiritual consistency. He wished to take
the same view of the wars of the angels and of the paltriest riot at
Donnybrook Fair. It was this species of insane logic which led him into
his chief errors, never his natural enthusiasms. Let us take an example.
Carlyle's defence of slavery is a thoroughly ridiculous thing, weak
alike in argument and in moral instinct. The truth is, that he only took
it up from the passion for applying everywhere his paradoxical defence
of aristocracy. He blundered, of course, because he did not see that
slavery has nothing in the world to do with aristocracy, that it is,
indeed, almost its opposite. The defence which Carlyle and all its
thoughtful defenders have made for aristocracy was that a few persons
could more rapidly and firmly decide public affairs in the interests of
the people. But slavery is not even supposed to be a government for the
good of the governed. It is a possession of the governed avowedly for
the good of the governors. Aristocracy uses the strong for the service
of the weak; slavery uses the weak for the service of the strong. It is
no derogation to man as a spiritual being, as Carlyle firmly believed
he was, that he should be ruled and guided for his own good like a
child--for a child who is always ruled and guided we regard as the very
type of spiritual existence. But it is a derogation and an absolute
contradiction to that human spirituality in which Carlyle believed that
a man should be owned like a tool for someone else's good, as if he had
no personal destiny in the Cosmos. We draw attention to this particular
error of Carlyle's because we think that it is a curious example of the
waste and unclean places into which that remarkable animal, "the whole
hog," more than once led him.

In this respect Carlyle has had unquestionably long and an
unquestionably bad influence. The whole of that recent political ethic
which conceives that if we only go far enough we may finish a thing for
once and all, that being strong consists chiefly in being deliberately
deaf and blind, owes a great deal of its complete sway to his example.
Out of him flows most of the philosophy of Nietzsche, who is in modern
times the supreme maniac of this moonstruck consistency. Though
Nietzsche and Carlyle were in reality profoundly different, Carlyle
being a stiff-necked peasant and Nietzsche a very fragile aristocrat,
they were alike in this one quality of which we speak, the strange and
pitiful audacity with which they applied their single ethical test to
everything in heaven and earth. The disciple of Nietzsche, indeed,
embraces immorality like an austere and difficult faith. He urges
himself to lust and cruelty with the same tremulous enthusiasm with
which a Christian urges himself to purity and patience; he struggles as
a monk struggles with bestial visions and temptations with the ancient
necessities of honour and justice and compassion. To this madhouse, it
can hardly be denied, has Carlyle's intellectual courage brought many at


The whole world is certainly heading for a great simplicity, not
deliberately, but rather inevitably. It is not a mere fashion of false
innocence, like that of the French aristocrats before the Revolution,
who built an altar to Pan, and who taxed the peasantry for the enormous
expenditure which is needed in order to live the simple life of
peasants. The simplicity towards which the world is driving is the
necessary outcome of all our systems and speculations and of our deep
and continuous contemplation of things. For the universe is like
everything in it; we have to look at it repeatedly and habitually before
we see it. It is only when we have seen it for the hundredth time that
we see it for the first time. The more consistently things are
contemplated, the more they tend to unify themselves and therefore to
simplify themselves. The simplification of anything is always
sensational. Thus monotheism is the most sensational of things: it is as
if we gazed long at a design full of disconnected objects, and,
suddenly, with a stunning thrill, they came together into a huge and
staring face.

Few people will dispute that all the typical movements of our time are
upon this road towards simplification. Each system seeks to be more
fundamental than the other; each seeks, in the literal sense, to
undermine the other. In art, for example, the old conception of man,
classic as the Apollo Belvedere, has first been attacked by the realist,
who asserts that man, as a fact of natural history, is a creature with
colourless hair and a freckled face. Then comes the Impressionist, going
yet deeper, who asserts that to his physical eye, which alone is
certain, man is a creature with purple hair and a grey face. Then comes
the Symbolist, and says that to his soul, which alone is certain, man is
a creature with green hair and a blue face. And all the great writers of
our time represent in one form or another this attempt to reestablish
communication with the elemental, or, as it is sometimes more roughly
and fallaciously expressed, to return to nature. Some think that the
return to nature consists in drinking no wine; some think that it
consists in drinking a great deal more than is good for them. Some think
that the return to nature is achieved by beating swords into
ploughshares; some think it is achieved by turning ploughshares into
very ineffectual British War Office bayonets. It is natural, according
to the Jingo, for a man to kill other people with gunpowder and himself
with gin. It is natural, according to the humanitarian revolutionist, to
kill other people with dynamite and himself with vegetarianism. It would
be too obviously Philistine a sentiment, perhaps, to suggest that the
claim of either of these persons to be obeying the voice of nature is
interesting when we consider that they require huge volumes of
paradoxical argument to persuade themselves or anyone else of the truth
of their conclusions. But the giants of our time are undoubtedly alike
in that they approach by very different roads this conception of the
return to simplicity. Ibsen returns to nature by the angular exterior of
fact, Maeterlinck by the eternal tendencies of fable. Whitman returns to
nature by seeing how much he can accept, Tolstoy by seeing how much he
can reject.

Now, this heroic desire to return to nature, is, of course, in some
respects, rather like the heroic desire of a kitten to return to its own
tail. A tail is a simple and beautiful object, rhythmic in curve and
soothing in texture; but it is certainly one of the minor but
characteristic qualities of a tail that it should hang behind. It is
impossible to deny that it would in some degree lose its character if
attached to any other part of the anatomy. Now, nature is like a tail in
the sense that it vitally important, if it is to discharge its real
duty, that it should be always behind. To imagine that we can see
nature, especially our own nature, face to face, is a folly; it is even
a blasphemy. It is like the conduct of a cat in some mad fairy-tale, who
should set out on his travels with the firm conviction that he would
find his tail growing like a tree in the meadows at the end of the
world. And the actual effect of the travels of the philosopher in search
of nature, when seen from the outside, looks very like the gyrations of
the tail-pursuing kitten, exhibiting much enthusiasm but little dignity,
much cry and very little tail. The grandeur of nature is that she is
omnipotent and unseen, that she is perhaps ruling us most when we think
that she is heeding us least. "Thou art a God that hidest Thyself," said
the Hebrew poet. It may be said with all reverence that it is behind a
man's back that the spirit of nature hides.

It is this consideration that lends a certain air of futility even to
all the inspired simplicities and thunderous veracities of Tolstoy. We
feel that a man cannot make himself simple merely by warring on
complexity; we feel, indeed, in our saner moments, that a man cannot
make himself simple at all. A self-conscious simplicity may well be far
more intrinsically ornate than luxury itself. Indeed, a great deal of
the pomp and sumptuousness of the world's history was simple in the
truest sense. It was born of an almost babyish receptiveness; it was the
work of men who had eyes to wonder and men who had ears to hear.

  "King Solomon brought merchant men
    Because of his desire
  With peacocks, apes, and ivory,
    From Tarshish unto Tyre."

But this proceeding was not a part of the wisdom of Solomon; it was a
part of his folly--I had almost said of his innocence. Tolstoy, we feel,
would not be content with hurling satire and denunciation at "Solomon in
all his glory." With fierce and unimpeachable logic he would go a step
further. He would spend days and nights in the meadows stripping the
shameless crimson coronals off the lilies of the field.

The new collection of "Tales from Tolstoy," translated and edited by Mr.
R. Nisbet Bain, is calculated to draw particular attention to this
ethical and ascetic side of Tolstoy's work. In one sense, and that the
deepest sense, the work of Tolstoy is, of course, a genuine and noble
appeal to simplicity. The narrow notion that an artist may not teach is
pretty well exploded by now. But the truth of the matter is, that an
artist teaches far more by his mere background and properties, his
landscape, his costume, his idiom and technique--all the part of his
work, in short, of which he is probably entirely unconscious, than by
the elaborate and pompous moral dicta which he fondly imagines to be his
opinions. The real distinction between the ethics of high art and the
ethics of manufactured and didactic art lies in the simple fact that the
bad fable has a moral, while the good fable is a moral. And the real
moral of Tolstoy comes out constantly in these stories, the great moral
which lies at the heart of all his work, of which he is probably
unconscious, and of which it is quite likely that he would vehemently
disapprove. The curious cold white light of morning that shines over all
the tales, the folklore simplicity with which "a man or a woman" are
spoken of without further identification, the love--one might almost say
the lust--for the qualities of brute materials, the hardness of wood,
and the softness of mud, the ingrained belief in a certain ancient
kindliness sitting beside the very cradle of the race of man--these
influences are truly moral. When we put beside them the trumpeting and
tearing nonsense of the didactic Tolstoy, screaming for an obscene
purity, shouting for an inhuman peace, hacking up human life into small
sins with a chopper, sneering at men, women, and children out of respect
to humanity, combining in one chaos of contradictions an unmanly Puritan
and an uncivilised prig, then, indeed, we scarcely know whither Tolstoy
has vanished. We know not what to do with this small and noisy moralist
who is inhabiting one corner of a great and good man.

It is difficult in every case to reconcile Tolstoy the great artist with
Tolstoy the almost venomous reformer. It is difficult to believe that a
man who draws in such noble outlines the dignity of the daily life of
humanity regards as evil that divine act of procreation by which that
dignity is renewed from age to age. It is difficult to believe that a
man who has painted with so frightful an honesty the heartrending
emptiness of the life of the poor can really grudge them every one of
their pitiful pleasures, from courtship to tobacco. It is difficult to
believe that a poet in prose who has so powerfully exhibited the
earth-born air of man, the essential kinship of a human being, with the
landscape in which he lives, can deny so elemental a virtue as that
which attaches a man to his own ancestors and his own land. It is
difficult to believe that the man who feels so poignantly the detestable
insolence of oppression would not actually, if he had the chance, lay
the oppressor flat with his fist. All, however, arises from the search
after a false simplicity, the aim of being, if I may so express it, more
natural than it is natural to be. It would not only be more human, it
would be more humble of us to be content to be complex. The truest
kinship with humanity would lie in doing as humanity has always done,
accepting with a sportsmanlike relish the estate to which we are called,
the star of our happiness, and the fortunes of the land of our birth.

The work of Tolstoy has another and more special significance. It
represents the re-assertion of a certain awful common sense which
characterised the most extreme utterances of Christ. It is true that we
cannot turn the cheek to the smiter; it is true that we cannot give our
cloak to the robber; civilisation is too complicated, too vain-glorious,
too emotional. The robber would brag, and we should blush; in other
words, the robber and we are alike sentimentalists. The command of
Christ is impossible, but it is not insane; it is rather sanity preached
to a planet of lunatics. If the whole world was suddenly stricken with a
sense of humour it would find itself mechanically fulfilling the Sermon
on the Mount. It is not the plain facts of the world which stand in the
way of that consummation, but its passions of vanity and
self-advertisement and morbid sensibility. It is true that we cannot
turn the cheek to the smiter, and the sole and sufficient reason is that
we have not the pluck. Tolstoy and his followers have shown that they
have the pluck, and even if we think they are mistaken, by this sign
they conquer. Their theory has the strength of an utterly consistent
thing. It represents that doctrine of mildness and non-resistance which
is the last and most audacious of all the forms of resistance to every
existing authority. It is the great strike of the Quakers which is more
formidable than many sanguinary revolutions. If human beings could only
succeed in achieving a real passive resistance they would be strong with
the appalling strength of inanimate things, they would be calm with the
maddening calm of oak or iron, which conquer without vengeance and are
conquered without humiliation. The theory of Christian duty enunciated
by them is that we should never conquer by force, but always, if we can,
conquer by persuasion. In their mythology St. George did not conquer the
dragon: he tied a pink ribbon round its neck and gave it a saucer of
milk. According to them, a course of consistent kindness to Nero would
have turned him into something only faintly represented by Alfred the
Great. In fact, the policy recommended by this school for dealing with
the bovine stupidity and bovine fury of this world is accurately summed
up in the celebrated verse of Mr. Edward Lear:

  "There was an old man who said, 'How
  Shall I flee from this terrible cow?
  I will sit on a stile and continue to smile
  Till I soften the heart of this cow.'"

Their confidence in human nature is really honourable and magnificent;
it takes the form of refusing to believe the overwhelming majority of
mankind, even when they set out to explain their own motives. But
although most of us would in all probability tend at first sight to
consider this new sect of Christians as little less outrageous than some
brawling and absurd sect in the Reformation, yet we should fall into a
singular error in doing so. The Christianity of Tolstoy is, when we come
to consider it, one of the most thrilling and dramatic incidents in our
modern civilisation. It represents a tribute to the Christian religion
more sensational than the breaking of seals or the falling of stars.

From the point of view of a rationalist, the whole world is rendered
almost irrational by the single phenomenon of Christian Socialism. It
turns the scientific universe topsy-turvy, and makes it essentially
possible that the key of all social evolution may be found in the dusty
casket of some discredited creed. It cannot be amiss to consider this
phenomenon as it realty is.

The religion of Christ has, like many true things, been disproved an
extraordinary number of times. It was disproved by the Neo-Platonist
philosophers at the very moment when it was first starting forth upon
its startling and universal career. It was disproved again by many of
the sceptics of the Renaissance only a few years before its second and
supremely striking embodiment, the religion of Puritanism, was about to
triumph over many kings and civilise many continents. We all agree that
these schools of negation were only interludes in its history; but we
all believe naturally and inevitably that the negation of our own day
is really a breaking up of the theological cosmos, an Armageddon, a
Ragnorak, a twilight of the gods. The man of the nineteenth century,
like a schoolboy of sixteen, believes that his doubt and depression are
symbols of the end of the world. In our day the great irreligionists who
did nothing but dethrone God and drive angels before them have been
outstripped, distanced, and made to look orthodox and humdrum. A newer
race of sceptics has found something infinitely more exciting to do than
nailing down the lids upon a million coffins, and the body upon a single
cross. They have disputed not only the elementary creeds, but the
elementary laws of mankind, property, patriotism, civil obedience. They
have arraigned civilisation as openly as the materialists have arraigned
theology; they have damned all the philosophers even lower than they
have damned the saints. Thousands of modern men move quietly and
conventionally among their fellows while holding views of national
limitation or landed property that would have made Voltaire shudder like
a nun listening to blasphemies. And the last and wildest phase of this
saturnalia of scepticism, the school that goes furthest among thousands
who go so far, the school that denies the moral validity of those ideals
of courage or obedience which are recognised even among pirates, this
school bases itself upon the literal words of Christ, like Dr. Watts or
Messrs. Moody and Sankey. Never in the whole history of the world was
such a tremendous tribute paid to the vitality of an ancient creed.
Compared with this, it would be a small thing if the Red Sea were cloven
asunder, or the sun did stand still at midday. We are faced with the
phenomenon that a set of revolutionists whose contempt for all the
ideals of family and nation would evoke horror in a thieves' kitchen,
who can rid themselves of those elementary instincts of the man and the
gentleman which cling to the very bones of our civilisation, cannot rid
themselves of the influence of two or three remote Oriental anecdotes
written in corrupt Greek. The fact, when realised, has about it
something stunning and hypnotic. The most convinced rationalist is in
its presence suddenly stricken with a strange and ancient vision, sees
the immense sceptical cosmogonies of this age as dreams going the way of
a thousand forgotten heresies, and believes for a moment that the dark
sayings handed down through eighteen centuries may, indeed, contain in
themselves the revolutions of which we have only begun to dream.

This value which we have above suggested unquestionably belongs to the
Tolstoians, who may roughly be described as the new Quakers. With their
strange optimism, and their almost appalling logical courage, they offer
a tribute to Christianity which no orthodoxies could offer. It cannot
but be remarkable to watch a revolution in which both the rulers and the
rebels march under the same symbol. But the actual theory of
non-resistance itself, with all its kindred theories, is not, I think,
characterised by that intellectual obviousness and necessity which its
supporters claim for it. A pamphlet before us shows us an extraordinary
number of statements about the new Testament, of which the accuracy is
by no means so striking as the confidence. To begin with, we must
protest against a habit of quoting and paraphrasing at the same time.
When a man is discussing what Jesus meant, let him state first of all
what He said, not what the man thinks He would have said if he had
expressed Himself more clearly. Here is an instance of question and

Q. "How did our Master Himself sum up the law in a few words?"

A. "Be ye merciful, be ye perfect even as your Father; your Father in
the spirit world is merciful, is perfect."

There is nothing in this, perhaps, which Christ might not have said
except the abominable metaphysical modernism of "the spirit world"; but
to say that it is recorded that He did say it, is like saying it is
recorded that He preferred palm trees to sycamores. It is a simple and
unadulterated untruth. The author should know that these words have
meant a thousand things to a thousand people, and that if more ancient
sects had paraphrased them as cheerfully as he, he would never have had
the text upon which he founds his theory. In a pamphlet in which plain
printed words cannot be left alone, it is not surprising if there are
mis-statements upon larger matters. Here is a statement clearly and
philosophically laid down which we can only content ourselves with
flatly denying: "The fifth rule of our Lord is that we should take
special pains to cultivate the same kind of regard for people of foreign
countries, and for those generally who do not belong to us, or even have
an antipathy to us, which we already entertain towards our own people,
and those who are in sympathy with us." I should very much like to know
where in the whole of the New Testament the author finds this violent,
unnatural, and immoral proposition. Christ did not have the same kind of
regard for one person as for another. We are specifically told that
there were certain persons whom He specially loved. It is most
improbable that He thought of other nations as He thought of His own.
The sight of His national city moved Him to tears, and the highest
compliment He paid was, "Behold an Israelite indeed." The author has
simply confused two entirely distinct things. Christ commanded us to
have love for all men, but even if we had equal love for all men, to
speak of having the same love for all men is merely bewildering
nonsense. If we love a man at all, the impression he produces on us must
be vitally different to the impression produced by another man whom we
love. To speak of having the same kind of regard for both is about as
sensible as asking a man whether he prefers chrysanthemums or billiards.
Christ did not love humanity; He never said He loved humanity; He loved
men. Neither He nor anyone else can love humanity; it is like loving a
gigantic centipede. And the reason that the Tolstoians can even endure
to think of an equally distributed affection is that their love of
humanity is a logical love, a love into which they are coerced by their
own theories, a love which would be an insult to a tom-cat.

But the greatest error of all lies in the mere act of cutting up the
teaching of the New Testament into five rules. It precisely and
ingeniously misses the most dominant characteristic of the teaching--its
absolute spontaneity. The abyss between Christ and all His modern
interpreters is that we have no record that He ever wrote a word, except
with His finger in the sand. The whole is the history of one continuous
and sublime conversation. Thousands of rules have been deduced from it
before these Tolstoian rules were made, and thousands will be deduced
afterwards. It was not for any pompous proclamation, it was not for any
elaborate output of printed volumes; it was for a few splendid and idle
words that the cross was set up on Calvary, and the earth gaped, and the
sun was darkened at noonday.


Savonarola is a man whom we shall probably never understand until we
know what horror may lie at the heart of civilisation. This we shall not
know until we are civilised. It may be hoped, in one sense, that we may
never understand Savonarola.

The great deliverers of men have, for the most part, saved them from
calamities which we all recognise as evil, from calamities which are the
ancient enemies of humanity. The great law-givers saved us from anarchy:
the great physicians saved us from pestilence: the great reformers saved
us from starvation. But there is a huge and bottomless evil compared
with which all these are fleabites, the most desolating curse that can
fall upon men or nations, and it has no name except we call it
satisfaction. Savonarola did not save men from anarchy, but from order;
not from pestilence, but from paralysis; not from starvation, but from
luxury. Men like Savonarola are the witnesses to the tremendous
psychological fact at the back of all our brains, but for which no name
has ever been found, that ease is the worst enemy of happiness, and
civilisation potentially the end of man.

For I fancy that Savonarola's thrilling challenge to the luxury of his
day went far deeper than the mere question of sin. The modern
rationalistic admirers of Savonarola, from George Eliot downwards,
dwell, truly enough, upon the sound ethical justification of
Savonarola's anger, upon the hideous and extravagant character of the
crimes which polluted the palaces of the Renaissance. But they need not
be so anxious to show that Savonarola was no ascetic, that he merely
picked out the black specks of wickedness with the priggish
enlightenment of a member of an Ethical Society. Probably he did hate
the civilisation of his time, and not merely its sins; and that is
precisely where he was infinitely more profound than a modern moralist.
He saw, that the actual crimes were not the only evils: that stolen
jewels and poisoned wine and obscene pictures were merely the symptoms;
that the disease was the complete dependence upon jewels and wine and
pictures. This is a thing constantly forgotten in judging of ascetics
and Puritans in old times. A denunciation of harmless sports did not
always mean an ignorant hatred of what no one but a narrow moralist
would call harmful. Sometimes it meant an exceedingly enlightened hatred
of what no one but a narrow moralist would call harmless. Ascetics are
sometimes more advanced than the average man, as well as less.

Such, at least, was the hatred in the heart of Savonarola. He was making
war against no trivial human sins, but against godless and thankless
quiescence, against getting used to happiness, the mystic sin by which
all creation fell. He was preaching that severity which is the
sign-manual of youth and hope. He was preaching that alertness, that
clean agility and vigilance, which is as necessary to gain pleasure as
to gain holiness, as indispensable in a lover as in a monk. A critic has
truly pointed out that Savonarola could not have been fundamentally
anti-æsthetic, since he had such friends as Michael Angelo, Botticelli,
and Luca della Robbia. The fact is that this purification and austerity
are even more necessary for the appreciation of life and laughter than
for anything else. To let no bird fly past unnoticed, to spell patiently
the stones and weeds, to have the mind a storehouse of sunset, requires
a discipline in pleasure, and an education in gratitude.

The civilisation which surrounded Savonarola on every side was a
civilisation which had already taken the wrong turn, the turn that leads
to endless inventions and no discoveries, in which new things grow old
with confounding rapidity, but in which no old things ever grow new. The
monstrosity of the crimes of the Renaissance was not a mark of
imagination; it was a mark, as all monstrosity is, of the loss of
imagination. It is only when a man has really ceased to see a horse as
it is, that he invents a centaur, only when he can no longer be
surprised at an ox, that he worships the devil. Diablerie is the
stimulant of the jaded fancy; it is the dram-drinking of the artist.
Savonarola addressed himself to the hardest of all earthly tasks, that
of making men turn back and wonder at the simplicities they had learnt
to ignore. It is strange that the most unpopular of all doctrines is the
doctrine which declares the common life divine. Democracy, of which
Savonarola was so fiery an exponent, is the hardest of gospels; there is
nothing that so terrifies men as the decree that they are all kings.
Christianity, in Savonarola's mind, identical with democracy, is the
hardest of gospels; there is nothing that so strikes men with fear as
the saying that they are all the sons of God.

Savonarola and his republic fell. The drug of despotism was administered
to the people, and they forgot what they had been. There are some at the
present day who have so strange a respect for art and letters, and for
mere men of genius, that they conceive the reign of the Medici to be an
improvement on that of the great Florentine republican. It is such men
as these and their civilisation that we have at the present day to
fear. We are surrounded on many sides by the same symptoms as those
which awoke the unquenchable wrath of Savonarola--a hedonism that is
more sick of happiness than an invalid is sick of pain, an art sense
that seeks the assistance of crime since it has exhausted nature. In
many modern works we find veiled and horrible hints of a truly
Renaissance sense of the beauty of blood, the poetry of murder. The
bankrupt and depraved imagination does not see that a living man is far
more dramatic than a dead one. Along with this, as in the time of the
Medici, goes the falling back into the arms of despotism, the hunger for
the strong man which is unknown among strong men. The masterful hero is
worshipped as he is worshipped by the readers of the "Bow Bells
Novelettes," and for the same reason--a profound sense of personal
weakness. That tendency to devolve our duties descends on us, which is
the soul of slavery, alike whether for its menial tasks it employs serfs
or emperors. Against all this the great clerical republican stands in
everlasting protest, preferring his failure to his rival's success. The
issue is still between him and Lorenzo, between the responsibilities of
liberty and the license of slavery, between the perils of truth and the
security of silence, between the pleasure of toil and the toil of
pleasure. The supporters of Lorenzo the Magnificent are assuredly among
us, men for whom even nations and empires only exist to satisfy the
moment, men to whom the last hot hour of summer is better than a sharp
and wintry spring. They have an art, a literature, a political
philosophy, which are all alike valued for their immediate effect upon
the taste, not for what they promise of the destiny of the spirit. Their
statuettes and sonnets are rounded and perfect, while "Macbeth" is in
comparison a fragment, and the Moses of Michael Angelo a hint. Their
campaigns and battles are always called triumphant, while Cæsar and
Cromwell wept for many humiliations. And the end of it all is the hell
of no resistance, the hell of an unfathomable softness, until the whole
nature recoils into madness and the chamber of civilisation is no longer
merely a cushioned apartment, but a padded cell.

This last and worst of human miseries Savonarola saw afar off, and bent
his whole gigantic energies to turning the chariot into another course.
Few men understood his object; some called him a madman, some a
charlatan, some an enemy of human joy. They would not even have
understood if he had told them, if he had said that he was saving them
from a calamity of contentment which should be the end of joys and
sorrows alike. But there are those to-day who feel the same silent
danger, and who bend themselves to the same silent resistance. They also
are supposed to be contending for some trivial political scruple.

Mr. M'Hardy says, in defending Savonarola, that the number of fine works
of art destroyed in the Burning of the Vanities has been much
exaggerated. I confess that I hope the pile contained stacks of
incomparable masterpieces if the sacrifice made that one real moment
more real. Of one thing I am sure, that Savonarola's friend Michael
Angelo would have piled all his own statues one on top of the other,
and burnt them to ashes, if only he had been certain that the glow
transfiguring the sky was the dawn of a younger and wiser world.


Walter Scott is a writer who should just now be re-emerging into his own
high place in letters, for unquestionably the recent, though now
dwindling, schools of severely technical and æsthetic criticism have
been unfavourable to him. He was a chaotic and unequal writer, and if
there is one thing in which artists have improved since his time, it is
in consistency and equality. It would perhaps be unkind to inquire
whether the level of the modern man of letters, as compared with Scott,
is due to the absence of valleys or the absence of mountains. But in any
case, we have learnt in our day to arrange our literary effects
carefully, and the only point in which we fall short of Scott is in the
incidental misfortune that we have nothing particular to arrange.

It is said that Scott is neglected by modern readers; if so, the matter
could be more appropriately described by saying that modern readers are
neglected by Providence. The ground of this neglect, in so far as it
exists, must be found, I suppose, in the general sentiment that, like
the beard of Polonius, he is too long. Yet it is surely a peculiar thing
that in literature alone a house should be despised because it is too
large, or a host impugned because he is too generous. If romance be
really a pleasure, it is difficult to understand the modern reader's
consuming desire to get it over, and if it be not a pleasure, it is
difficult to understand his desire to have it at all. Mere size, it
seems to me, cannot be a fault. The fault must lie in some
disproportion. If some of Scott's stories are dull and dilatory, it is
not because they are giants, but because they are hunchbacks or
cripples. Scott was very far indeed from being a perfect writer, but I
do not think that it can be shown that the large and elaborate plan on
which his stories are built was by any means an imperfection. He
arranged his endless prefaces and his colossal introductions just as an
architect plans great gates and long approaches to a really large
house. He did not share the latter-day desire to get quickly through a
story. He enjoyed narrative as a sensation; he did not wish to swallow a
story like a pill, that it should do him good afterwards. He desired to
taste it like a glass of port, that it might do him good at the time.
The reader sits late at his banquets. His characters have that air of
immortality which belongs to those of Dumas and Dickens. We should not
be surprised to meet them in any number of sequels. Scott, in his heart
of hearts, probably would have liked to write an endless story without
either beginning or close.

Walter Scott is a great, and, therefore, mysterious man. He will never
be understood until Romance is understood, and that will be only when
Time, Man, and Eternity are understood. To say that Scott had more than
any other man that ever lived a sense of the romantic seems, in these
days, a slight and superficial tribute. The whole modern theory arises
from one fundamental mistake--the idea that romance is in some way a
plaything with life, a figment, a conventionality, a thing upon the
outside. No genuine criticism of romance will ever arise until we have
grasped the fact that romance lies not upon the outside of life, but
absolutely in the centre of it. The centre of every man's existence is a
dream. Death, disease, insanity, are merely material accidents, like
toothache or a twisted ankle. That these brutal forces always besiege
and often capture the citadel does not prove that they are the citadel.
The boast of the realist (applying what the reviewers call his scalpel)
is that he cuts into the heart of life; but he makes a very shallow
incision, if he only reaches as deep as habits and calamities and sins.
Deeper than all these lies a man's vision of himself, as swaggering and
sentimental as a penny novelette. The literature of can-dour unearths
innumerable weaknesses and elements of lawlessness which is called
romance. It perceives superficial habits like murder and dipsomania, but
it does not perceive the deepest of sins--the sin of vanity--vanity
which is the mother of all day-dreams and adventures, the one sin that
is not shared with any boon companion, or whispered to any priest.

In estimating, therefore, the ground of Scott's pre-eminence in romance
we must absolutely rid ourselves of the notion that romance or adventure
are merely materialistic things involved in the tangle of a plot or the
multiplicity of drawn swords. We must remember that it is, like tragedy
or farce, a state of the soul, and that, for some dark and elemental
reason which we can never understand, this state of the soul is evoked
in us by the sight of certain places or the contemplation of certain
human crises, by a stream rushing under a heavy and covered wooden
bridge, or by a man plunging a knife or sword into tough timber. In the
selection of these situations which catch the spirit of romance as in a
net, Scott has never been equalled or even approached. His finest scenes
affect us like fragments of a hilarious dream. They have the same
quality which is often possessed by those nocturnal comedies--that of
seeming more human than our waking life--even while they are less
possible. Sir Arthur Wardour, with his daughter and the old beggar
crouching in a cranny of the cliff as night falls and the tide closes
around them, are actually in the coldest and bitterest of practical
situations. Yet the whole incident has a quality that can only be called
boyish. It is warmed with all the colours of an incredible sunset. Rob
Roy trapped in the Tolbooth, and confronted with Bailie Nicol Jarvie,
draws no sword, leaps from no window, affects none of the dazzling
external acts upon which contemporary romance depends, yet that plain
and humourous dialogue is full of the essential philosophy of romance
which is an almost equal betting upon man and destiny. Perhaps the most
profoundly thrilling of all Scott's situations is that in which the
family of Colonel Mannering are waiting for the carriage which may or
may not arrive by night to bring an unknown man into a princely
possession. Yet almost the whole of that thrilling scene consists of a
ridiculous conversation about food, and flirtation between a frivolous
old lawyer and a fashionable girl. We can say nothing about what makes
these scenes, except that the wind bloweth where it listeth, and that
here the wind blows strong.

It is in this quality of what may be called spiritual adventurousness
that Scott stands at so different an elevation to the whole of the
contemporary crop of romancers who have followed the leadership of
Dumas. There has, indeed, been a great and inspiriting revival of
romance in our time, but it is partly frustrated in almost every case by
this rooted conception that romance consists in the vast multiplication
of incidents and the violent acceleration of narrative. The heroes of
Mr. Stanley Weyman scarcely ever have their swords out of their hands;
the deeper presence of romance is far better felt when the sword is at
the hip ready for innumerable adventures too terrible to be pictured.
The Stanley Weyman hero has scarcely time to eat his supper except in
the act of leaping from a window or whilst his other hand is employed in
lunging with a rapier. In Scott's heroes, on the other hand, there is no
characteristic so typical or so worthy of humour as their disposition to
linger over their meals. The conviviality of the Clerk of Copmanhurst
or of Mr. Pleydell, and the thoroughly solid things they are described
as eating, is one of the most perfect of Scott's poetic touches. In
short, Mr. Stanley Weyman is filled with the conviction that the sole
essence of romance is to move with insatiable rapidity from incident to
incident. In the truer romance of Scott there is more of the sentiment
of "Oh! still delay, thou art so fair"! more of a certain patriarchal
enjoyment of things as they are--of the sword by the side and the
wine-cup in the hand. Romance, indeed, does not consist by any means so
much in experiencing adventures as in being ready for them. How little
the actual boy cares for incidents in comparison to tools and weapons
may be tested by the fact that the most popular story of adventure is
concerned with a man who lived for years on a desert island with two
guns and a sword, which he never had to use on an enemy.

Closely connected with this is one of the charges most commonly brought
against Scott, particularly in his own day--the charge of a fanciful
and monotonous insistence upon the details of armour and costume. The
critic in the _Edinburgh Review_ said indignantly that he could tolerate
a somewhat detailed description of the apparel of Marmion, but when it
came to an equally detailed account of the apparel of his pages and
yeomen the mind could bear it no longer. The only thing to be said about
that critic is that he had never been a little boy. He foolishly
imagined that Scott valued the plume and dagger of Marmion for Marmion's
sake. Not being himself romantic, he could not understand that Scott
valued the plume because it was a plume, and the dagger because it was a
dagger. Like a child, he loved weapons with a manual materialistic love,
as one loves the softness of fur or the coolness of marble. One of the
profound philosophical truths which are almost confined to infants is
this love of things, not for their use or origin, but for their own
inherent characteristics, the child's love of the toughness of wood, the
wetness of water, the magnificent soapiness of soap. So it was with
Scott, who had so much of the child in him. Human beings were perhaps
the principal characters in his stories, but they were certainly not the
only characters. A battle-axe was a person of importance, a castle had a
character and ways of its own. A church bell had a word to say in the
matter. Like a true child, he almost ignored the distinction between the
animate and inanimate. A two-handed sword might be carried only by a
menial in a procession, but it was something important and immeasurably
fascinating--it was a two-handed sword.

There is one quality which is supreme and continuous in Scott which is
little appreciated at present. One of the values we have really lost in
recent fiction is the value of eloquence. The modern literary artist is
compounded of almost every man except the orator. Yet Shakespeare and
Scott are certainly alike in this, that they could both, if literature
had failed, have earned a living as professional demagogues. The feudal
heroes in the "Waverley Novels" retort upon each other with a passionate
dignity, haughty and yet singularly human, which can hardly be
paralleled in political eloquence except in "Julius Cæsar." With a
certain fiery impartiality which stirs the blood, Scott distributes his
noble orations equally among saints and villains. He may deny a villain
every virtue or triumph, but he cannot endure to deny him a telling
word; he will ruin a man, but he will not silence him. In truth, one of
Scott's most splendid traits is his difficulty, or rather incapacity,
for despising any of his characters. He did not scorn the most revolting
miscreant as the realist of to-day commonly scorns his own hero. Though
his soul may be in rags, every man of Scott can speak like a king.

This quality, as I have said, is sadly to seek in the fiction of the
passing hour. The realist would, of course, repudiate the bare idea of
putting a bold and brilliant tongue in every man's head, but even where
the moment of the story naturally demands eloquence the eloquence seems
frozen in the tap. Take any contemporary work of fiction and turn to the
scene where the young Socialist denounces the millionaire, and then
compare the stilted sociological lecture given by that self-sacrificing
bore with the surging joy of words in Rob Roy's declaration of himself,
or Athelstane's defiance of De Bracy. That ancient sea of human passion
upon which high words and great phrases are the resplendent foam is just
now at a low ebb. We have even gone the length of congratulating
ourselves because we can see the mud and the monsters at the bottom.

In politics there is not a single man whose position is due to eloquence
in the first degree; its place is taken by repartees and rejoinders
purely intellectual, like those of an omnibus conductor. In discussing
questions like the farm-burning in South Africa no critic of the war
uses his material as Burke or Grattan (perhaps exaggeratively) would
have used it--the speaker is content with facts and expositions of
facts. In another age he might have risen and hurled that great song in
prose, perfect as prose and yet rising into a chant, which Meg Merrilies
hurled at Ellangowan, at the rulers of Britain: "Ride your ways. Laird
of Ellangowan; ride your ways, Godfrey Bertram--this day have ye
quenched seven smoking hearths. See if the fire in your ain parlour
burns the blyther for that. Ye have riven the thack of seven cottar
houses. Look if your ain roof-tree stands the faster for that. Ye may
stable your stirks in the sheilings of Dern-cleugh. See that the hare
does not couch on the hearthstane of Ellangowan. Ride your ways, Godfrey

The reason is, of course, that these men are afraid of bombast and Scott
was not. A man will not reach eloquence if he is afraid of bombast, just
as a man will not jump a hedge if he is afraid of a ditch. As the object
of all eloquence is to find the least common denominator of men's souls,
to fall just within the natural comprehension, it cannot obviously have
any chance with a literary ambition which aims at falling just outside
it. It is quite right to invent subtle analyses and detached criticisms,
but it is unreasonable to expect them to be punctuated with roars of
popular applause. It is possible to conceive of a mob shouting any
central and simple sentiment, good or bad, but it is impossible to think
of a mob shouting a distinction in terms. In the matter of eloquence,
the whole question is one of the immediate effect of greatness, such as
is produced even by fine bombast. It is absurd to call it merely
superficial; here there is no question of superficiality; we might as
well call a stone that strikes us between the eyes merely superficial.
The very word "superficial" is founded on a fundamental mistake about
life, the idea that second thoughts are best. The superficial impression
of the world is by far the deepest. What we really feel, naturally and
casually, about the look of skies and trees and the face of friends,
that and that alone will almost certainly remain our vital philosophy to
our dying day.

Scott's bombast, therefore, will always be stirring to anyone who
approaches it, as he should approach all literature, as a little child.
We could easily excuse the contemporary critic for not admiring
melodramas and adventure stories, and Punch and Judy, if he would admit
that it was a slight deficiency in his artistic sensibilities. Beyond
all question, it marks a lack of literary instinct to be unable to
simplify one's mind at the first signal of the advance of romance. "You
do me wrong," said Brian de Bois-Guilbert to Rebecca. "Many a law, many
a commandment have I broken, but my word, never." "Die," cries Balfour
of Burley to the villain in "Old Mortality." "Die, hoping nothing,
believing nothing--" "And fearing nothing," replies the other. This is
the old and honourable fine art of bragging, as it was practised by the
great worthies of antiquity. The man who cannot appreciate it goes along
with the man who cannot appreciate beef or claret or a game with
children or a brass band. They are afraid of making fools of themselves,
and are unaware that that transformation has already been triumphantly

Scott is separated, then, from much of the later conception of fiction
by this quality of eloquence. The whole of the best and finest work of
the modern novelist (such as the work of Mr. Henry James) is primarily
concerned with that delicate and fascinating speech which burrows deeper
and deeper like a mole; but we have wholly forgotten that speech which
mounts higher and higher like a wave and falls in a crashing peroration.
Perhaps the most thoroughly brilliant and typical man of this decade is
Mr. Bernard Shaw. In his admirable play of "Candida" it is clearly a
part of the character of the Socialist clergyman that he should be
eloquent, but he is not eloquent because the whole "G.B.S." condition of
mind renders impossible that poetic simplicity which eloquence requires.
Scott takes his heroes and villains seriously, which is, after all, the
way that heroes and villains take themselves--especially villains. It is
the custom to call these old romantic poses artificial; but the word
artificial is the last and silliest evasion of criticism. There was
never anything in the world that was really artificial. It had some
motive or ideal behind it, and generally a much better one than we

Of the faults of Scott as an artist it is not very necessary to speak,
for faults are generally and easily pointed out, while there is yet no
adequate valuation of the varieties and contrasts of virtue. We have
compiled a complete botanical classification of the weeds in the
poetical garden, but the flowers still flourish, neglected and nameless.
It is true, for example, that Scott had an incomparably stiff and
pedantic way of dealing with his heroines: he made a lively girl of
eighteen refuse an offer in the language of Dr. Johnson. To him, as to
most men of his time, woman was not an individual, but an institution--a
toast that was drunk some time after that of Church and King. But it is
far better to consider the difference rather as a special merit, in that
he stood for all those clean and bracing shocks of incident which are
untouched by passion or weakness, for a certain breezy bachelorhood,
which is almost essential to the literature of adventure. With all his
faults, and all his triumphs, he stands for the great mass of natural
manliness which must be absorbed into art unless art is to be a mere
luxury and freak. An appreciation of Scott might be made almost a test
of decadence. If ever we lose touch with this one most reckless and
defective writer, it will be a proof to us that we have erected round
ourselves a false cosmos, a world of lying and horrible perfection,
leaving outside of it Walter Scott and that strange old world which is
as confused and as indefensible and as inspiring and as healthy as he.


There are more than nine hundred and ninety-nine excellent reasons
which we could all have for admiring the work of Bret Harte. But one
supreme reason stands not in a certain general superiority to them
all--a reason which may be stated in three propositions united in a
common conclusion: first, that he was a genuine American; second, that
he was a genuine humourist; and, third, that he was not an American
humourist. Bret Harte had his own peculiar humour, but it had nothing in
particular to do with American humour. American humour has its own
peculiar excellence, but it has nothing in particular to do with Bret
Harte. American humour is purely exaggerative; Bret Harte's humour was
sympathetic and analytical.

In order fully to understand this, it is necessary to realise, genuinely
and thoroughly, that there is such a thing as an international
difference in humour. If we take the crudest joke in the world--the
joke, let us say, of a man sitting down on his hat--we shall yet find
that all the nations would differ in their way of treating it
humourously, and that if American humour treated it at all, it would be
in a purely American manner. For example, there was a case of an orator
in the House of Commons, who, after denouncing all the public abuses he
could think of, did sit down on his hat. An Irishman immediately rose,
full of the whole wealth of Irish humour, and said, "Should I be in
order, Sir, in congratulating the honourable gentleman on the fact that
when he sat down on his hat his head was not in it?" Here is a glorious
example of Irish humour--the bull not unconscious, not entirely
conscious, but rather an idea so absurd that even the utterer of it can
hardly realise how abysmally absurd it is. But every other nation would
have treated the idea in a manner slightly different. The Frenchman's
humour would have been logical: he would have said, "The orator
denounces modern abuses and destroys to himself the top-hat: behold a
good example!" What the Scotchman's humour would have said I am not so
certain, but it would probably have dealt with the serious advisability
of making such speeches on top of someone else's hat. But American
humour on such a general theme would be the humour of exaggeration. The
American humourist would say that the English politicians so often sat
down on their hats that the noise of the House of Commons was one
crackle of silk. He would say that when an important orator rose to
speak in the House of Commons, long rows of hatters waited outside the
House with note-books to take down orders from the participants in the
debate. He would say that the whole hat trade of London was disorganised
by the news that a clever remark had been made by a young M. P. on the
subject of the imports of Jamaica. In short, American humour, neither
unfathomably absurd like the Irish, nor transfiguringly lucid and
appropriate like the French, nor sharp and sensible and full of
realities of life like the Scotch, is simply the humour of imagination.
It consists in piling towers on towers and mountains on mountains; of
heaping a joke up to the stars and extending it to the end of the world.

With this distinctively American humour Bret Harte had little or nothing
in common. The wild, sky-breaking humour of America has its fine
qualities, but it must in the nature of things be deficient in two
qualities, not only of supreme importance to life and letters, but of
supreme importance to humour--reverence and sympathy. And these two
qualities were knit into the closest texture of Bret Harte's humour.
Everyone who has read and enjoyed Mark Twain as he ought to be read and
enjoyed will remember a very funny and irreverent story about an
organist who was asked to play appropriate music to an address upon the
parable of the Prodigal Son, and who proceeded to play with great
spirit, "We'll all get blind drunk, when Johnny comes marching home."
The best way of distinguishing Bret Harte from the rest of American
humour is to say that if Bret Harte had described that scene, it would
in some subtle way have combined a sense of the absurdity of the
incident with some sense of the sublimity and pathos of the theme. You
would have felt that the organist's tune was funny, but not that the
Prodigal Son was funny. But America is under a kind of despotism of
humour. Everyone is afraid of humour: the meanest of human nightmares.
Bret Harte had, to express the matter briefly but more or less
essentially, the power of laughing not only at things, but also with
them. America has laughed at things magnificently, with Gargantuan
reverberations of laughter. But she has not even begun to learn the
richer lesson of laughing with them.

The supreme proof of the fact that Bret Harte had the instinct of
reverence may be found in the fact that he was a really great parodist.
This may have the appearance of being a paradox, but, as in the case of
many other paradoxes, it is not so important whether it is a paradox as
whether it is not obviously true. Mere derision, mere contempt, never
produced or could produce parody. A man who simply despises Paderewski
for having long hair is not necessarily fitted to give an admirable
imitation of his particular touch on the piano. If a man wishes to
parody Paderewski's style of execution, he must emphatically go through
one process first: he must admire it, and even reverence it. Bret Harte
had a real power of imitating great authors, as in his parodies on
Dumas, on Victor Hugo, on Charlotte Brontë. This means, and can only
mean, that he had perceived the real beauty, the real ambition of Dumas
and Victor Hugo and Charlotte Brontë. To take an example, Bret Harte has
in his imitation of Hugo a passage like this:

"M. Madeline was, if possible, better than M. Myriel. M. Myriel was an
angel. M. Madeline was a good man." I do not know whether Victor Hugo
ever used this antithesis; but I am certain that he would have used it
and thanked his stars if he had thought of it. This is real parody,
inseparable from admiration. It is the same in the parody of Dumas,
which is arranged on the system of "Aramis killed three of them. Porthos
three. Athos three." You cannot write that kind of thing unless you
have first exulted in the arithmetical ingenuity of the plots of Dumas.
It is the same in the parody of Charlotte Brontë, which opens with a
dream of a storm-beaten cliff, containing jewels and pelicans. Bret
Harte could not have written it unless he had really understood the
triumph of the Brontës, the triumph of asserting that great mysteries
lie under the surface of the most sullen life, and that the most real
part of a man is in his dreams.

This kind of parody is for ever removed from the purview of ordinary
American humour. Can anyone imagine Mark Twain, that admirable author,
writing even a tolerable imitation of authors so intellectually
individual as Hugo or Charlotte Brontë? Mark Twain would yield to the
spirit of contempt which destroys parody. All those who hate authors
fail to satirise them, for they always accuse them of the wrong faults.
The enemies of Thackeray call him a worldling, instead of what he was, a
man too ready to believe in the goodness of the unworldly. The enemies
of Meredith call his gospel too subtle, instead of what it is, a
gospel, if anything, too robust. And it is this vulgar misunderstanding
which we find in most parody--which we find in all American parody--but
which we never find in the parodies of Bret Harte.

  "The skies they were ashen and sober,
  The streets they were dirty and drear,
  It was the dark month of October,
  In that most immemorial year.
  Like the skies, I was perfectly sober,
  But my thoughts they were palsied and sear,
  Yes, my thoughts were decidedly queer."

This could only be written by a genuine admirer of Edgar Allan Poe, who
permitted himself for a moment to see the fun of the thing. Parody might
indeed be defined as the worshipper's half-holiday.

The same general characteristic of sympathy amounting to reverence marks
Bret Harte's humour in his better-known class of works, the short
stories. He does not make his characters absurd in order to make them
contemptible: it might almost be said that he makes them absurd in order
to make them dignified. For example, the greatest creation of Bret
Harte, greater even than Colonel Starbottle (and how terrible it is to
speak of anyone greater than Colonel Starbottle!) is that unutterable
being who goes by the name of Yuba Bill. He is, of course, the
coach-driver in the Bret Harte district. Some ingenious person, whose
remarks I read the other day, had compared him on this ground with old
Mr. Weller. It would be difficult to find a comparison indicating a more
completely futile instinct for literature. Tony Weller and Yuba Bill
were both coach-drivers, and this fact establishes a resemblance just
about as much as the fact that Jobson in "Rob Roy" and George Warrington
in "Pendennis" were both lawyers; or that Antonio and Mr. Pickwick were
both merchants; or that Sir Galahad and Sir Willoughby Patten were both
knights. Tony Weller is a magnificent grotesque. He is a gargoyle, and
his mouth, like the mouths of so many gargoyles, is always open. He is
garrulous, exuberant, flowery, preposterously sociable. He holds that
great creed of the convivial, the creed which is at the back of so much
that is greatest in Dickens, the creed that eternity begins at ten
o'clock at night, and that nights last forever. But Yuba Bill is a
figure of a widely different character. He is not convivial; it might
almost be said that he is too great ever to be sociable. A circle of
quiescence and solitude such as that which might ring a saint or a
hermit rings this majestic and profound humourist. His jokes do not flow
upon him like those of Mr. Weller, sparkling, continual, and deliberate,
like the play of a fountain in a pleasure garden; they fall suddenly and
capriciously, like a crash of avalanches from a great mountain. Tony
Weller has the noisy humour of London, Yuba Bill has the silent humour
of the earth.

One of the worst of the disadvantages of the rich and random fertility
of Bret Harte is the fact that it is very difficult to trace or recover
all the stories that he has written. I have not within reach at the
moment the story in which the character of Yuba Bill is exhibited in its
most solemn grandeur, but I remember that it concerned a ride on the
San Francisco stage coach, a difficulty arising from storm and darkness,
and an intelligent young man who suggested to Yuba Bill that a certain
manner of driving the coach in a certain direction might minimise the
dangers of the journey. A profound silence followed the intelligent
young man's suggestion, and then (I quote from memory) Yuba Bill
observed at last:

"Air you settin' any value on that remark?"

The young man professed not fully to comprehend him, and Yuba Bill
continued reflectively:

"'Cos there's a comic paper in 'Frisco pays for them things, and I've
seen worse in it."

To be rebuked thus is like being rebuked by the Pyramids or by the
starry heavens. There is about Yuba Bill this air of a pugnacious calm,
a stepping back to get his distance for a shattering blow, which is like
that of Dr. Johnson at his best. And the effect is inexpressively
increased by the background and the whole picture which Bret Harte
paints so powerfully; the stormy skies, the sombre gorge, the rocking
and spinning coach, and high above the feverish passengers the huge
dark form of Yuba Bill, a silent mountain of humour.

Another unrecovered and possibly irrecoverable fragment about Yuba Bill,
I recall in a story about his visiting a lad who had once been his
protége in the Wild West, and who had since become a distinguished
literary man in Boston. Yuba Bill visits him, and on finding him in
evening dress lifts up his voice in a superb lamentation over the
tragedy of finding his old friend at last "a 'otel waiter." Then,
vindictively pursuing the satire, he calls fiercely to his young friend,
"Hi, Alphonse! bring me a patty de foy gras, damme." These are the
things that make us love the eminent Bill. He is one of those who
achieve the noblest and most difficult of all the triumphs of a
fictitious character--the triumph of giving us the impression of having
a great deal more in him than appears between the two boards of the
story. Smaller characters give us the impression that the author has
told the whole truth about them, greater characters give the impression
that the author has given of them, not the truth, but merely a few hints
and samples. In some mysterious way we seem to feel that even if
Shakespeare was wrong about Falstaff, Falstaff existed and was real;
that even if Dickens was wrong about Micawber, Micawber existed and was
real. So we feel that there is in the great salt-sea of Yuba Bill's
humour as good fish as ever came out of it. The fleeting jests which
Yuba Bill throws to the coach passengers only give us the opportunity of
fancying and deducing the vast mass of jests which Yuba Bill shares with
his creator.

Bret Harte had to deal with countries and communities of an almost
unexampled laxity, a laxity passing the laxity of savages, the laxity of
civilised men grown savage. He dealt with a life which we in a venerable
and historic society may find it somewhat difficult to realise. It was
the life of an entirely new people, a people who, having no certain
past, could have no certain future. The strangest of all the sardonic
jests that history has ever played may be found in this fact: that
there is a city which is of all cities the most typical of innovation
and dissipation, and a certain almost splendid vulgarity, and that this
city bears the name in a quaint old European language of the most
perfect exponent of the simplicity and holiness of the Christian
tradition; the city is called San Francisco. San Francisco, the capital
of the Bret Harte country, is a city typifying novelty in a manner in
which it is typified by few modern localities. San Francisco has in all
probability its cathedrals, but it may well be that its cathedrals are
less old and less traditional than many of our hotels. If its
inhabitants built a temple to the most primal and forgotten god of whose
worship we can find a trace, that temple would still be a modern thing
compared with many taverns in Suffolk round which there lingers a faint
tradition of Mr. Pickwick. And everything in that new gold country was
new, even to the individual inhabitants. Good, bad, and indifferent,
heroes and dastards, they were all men from nowhere.

Most of us have come across the practical problem of London landladies,
the problem of the doubtful foreign gentleman in a street of respectable
English people. Those who have done so can form some idea of what it
would be to live in a street full of doubtful foreign gentlemen, in a
parish, in a city, in a nation composed entirely of doubtful foreign
gentlemen. Old California, at the time of the first rush after gold, was
actually this paradox of the nation of foreigners. It was a republic of
incognitos: no one knew who anyone else was, and only the more
ill-mannered and uneasy even desired to know. In such a country as this,
gentlemen took more trouble to conceal their gentility than thieves
living in South Kensington would take to conceal their blackguardism. In
such a country everyone is an equal, because everyone is a stranger. In
such a country it is not strange if men in moral matters feel something
of the irresponsibility of a dream. To plan plans which are continually
miscarrying against men who are continually disappearing by the
assistance of you know not whom, to crush you know not whom, this must
be a demoralising life for any man; it must be beyond description
demoralising for those who have been trained in no lofty or orderly
scheme of right. Small blame to them indeed if they become callous and
supercilious and cynical. And the great glory and achievement of Bret
Harte consists in this, that he realised that they do not become
callous, supercilious, and cynical, but that they do become sentimental
and romantic, and profoundly affectionate. He discovered the intense
sensibility of the primitive man. To him we owe the realisation of the
fact that while modern barbarians of genius like Mr. Henley, and in his
weaker moments Mr. Rudyard Kipling, delight in describing the coarseness
and crude cynicism and fierce humour of the unlettered classes, the
unlettered classes are in reality highly sentimental and religious, and
not in the least like the creations of Mr. Henley and Mr. Kipling. Bret
Harte tells the truth about the wildest, the grossest, the most
rapacious of all the districts of the earth--the truth that, while it is
very rare indeed in the world to find a thoroughly good man, it is
rarer still, rare to the point of monstrosity, to find a man who does
not either desire to be one, or imagine that he is one already.


The celebrations in connection with the millenary of King Alfred struck
a note of sympathy in the midst of much that was unsympathetic, because,
altogether apart from any peculiar historical opinions, all men feel the
sanctifying character of that which is at once strong and remote; the
ancient thing is always the most homely, and the distant thing the most
near. The only possible peacemaker is a dead man, ever since by the
sublime religious story a dead man only could reconcile heaven and
earth. In a certain sense we always feel the past ages as human, and our
own age as strangely and even weirdly dehumanised. In our own time the
details overpower us; men's badges and buttons seem to grow larger and
larger as in a horrible dream. To study humanity in the present is like
studying a mountain with a magnifying glass; to study it in the past is
like studying it through a telescope.

For this reason England, like every other great and historic nation, has
sought its typical hero in remote and ill-recorded times. The personal
and moral greatness of Alfred is, indeed, beyond question. It does not
depend any more than the greatness of any other human hero upon the
accuracy of any or all of the stories that are told about him. Alfred
may not have done one of the things which are reported of him, but it is
immeasurably easier to do every one of those things than to be the man
of whom such things are reported falsely. Fable is, generally speaking,
far more accurate than fact, for fable describes a man as he was to his
own age, fact describes him as he is to a handful of inconsiderable
antiquarians many centuries after. Whether Alfred watched the cakes for
the neat-herd's wife, whether he sang songs in the Danish camp, is of no
interest to anyone except those who set out to prove under considerable
disadvantages that they are genealogically descended from him. But the
man is better pictured in these stories than in any number of modern
realistic trivialities about his favourite breakfast and his favourite
musical composer. Fable is more historical than fact, because fact tells
us about one man and fable tells us about a million men. If we read of a
man who could make green grass red and turn the sun into the moon, we
may not believe these particular details about him, but we learn
something infinitely more important than such trivialities, the fact
that men could look into his face and believe it possible. The glory and
greatness of Alfred, therefore, is like that of all the heroes of the
morning of the world, set far beyond the chance of that strange and
sudden dethronement which may arise from the unsealing of a manuscript
or the turning over of a stone. Men may have told lies when they said
that he first entrapped the Danes with his song and then overcame them
with his armies, but we know very well that it is not of us that such
lies are told. There may be myths clustering about each of our
personalities; local saga-men and chroniclers have very likely
circulated the story that we are addicted to drink, or that we
ferociously ill-use our wives. But they do not commonly lie to the
effect that we have shed our blood to save all the inhabitants of the
street. A story grows easily, but a heroic story is not a very easy
thing to evoke. Wherever that exists we may be pretty certain that we
are in the presence of a dark but powerful historic personality. We are
in the presence of a thousand lies all pointing with their fantastic
fingers to one undiscovered truth.

Upon this ground alone every encouragement is due to the cult of Alfred.
Every nation requires to have behind it some historic personality, the
validity of which is proved, as the validity of a gun is proved, by its
long range. It is wonderful and splendid that we treasure, not the
truth, but the very gossip about a man who died a thousand years ago. We
may say to him, as M. Rostand says to the Austrian Prince:

  "Dors, ce n'est pas toujours la Légende qui ment:
  Une rêve est parfois moins trompeur qu'un document."

To have a man so simple and so honourable to represent us in the
darkness of primeval history, binds all the intervening centuries
together, and mollifies all their monstrosities. It makes all history
more comforting and intelligible; it makes the desolate temple of the
ages as human as an inn parlour.

But whether it come through reliable facts or through more reliable
falsehoods the personality of Alfred has its own unmistakable colour and
stature. Lord Rosebery uttered a profound truth when he said that that
personality was peculiarly English. The great magnificence of the
English character is expressed in the word "service." There is, perhaps,
no nation so vitally theocratical as the English; no nation in which the
strong men have so consistently preferred the instrumental to the
despotic attitude, the pleasures of the loyal to the pleasures of the
royal position. We have had tyrants like Edward I. and Queen Elizabeth,
but even our tyrants have had the worried and responsible air of
stewards of a great estate. Our typical hero is such a man as the Duke
of Wellington, who had every kind of traditional and external arrogance,
but at the back of all that the strange humility which made it
physically possible for him without a gleam of humour or discomfort to
go on his knees to a preposterous bounder like George IV. Across the
infinite wastes of time and through all the mists of legend we still
feel the presence in Alfred of this strange and unconscious
self-effacement. After the fullest estimate of our misdeeds we can still
say that our very despots have been less self-assertive than many
popular patriots. As we consider these things we grow more and more
impatient of any modern tendencies towards the enthronement of a more
self-conscious and theatrical ideal. Lord Rosebery called up before our
imaginations the picture of what Alfred would have thought of the vast
modern developments of his nation, its immense fleet, its widespread
Empire, its enormous contribution to the mechanical civilisation of the
world. It cannot be anything but profitable to conceive Alfred as full
of astonishment and admiration at these things; it cannot be anything
but good for us that we should realise that to the childlike eyes of a
great man of old time our inventions and appliances have not the
vulgarity and ugliness that we see in them. To Alfred a steamboat would
be a new and sensational sea-dragon, and the penny postage a miracle
achieved by the despotism of a demi-god.

But when we have realised all this there is something more to be said in
connection with Lord Rosebery's vision. What would King Alfred have said
if he had been asked to expend the money which he devoted to the health
and education of his people upon a struggle with some race of Visigoths
or Parthians inhabiting a small section of a distant continent? What
would he have said if he had known that that science of letters which he
taught to England would eventually be used not to spread truth, but to
drug the people with political assurances as imbecile in themselves as
the assurance that fire does not burn and water does not drown? What
would he have said if the same people who, in obedience to that ideal of
service and sanity of which he was the example, had borne every
privation in order to defeat Napoleon, should come at last to find no
better compliment to one of their heroes than to call him the Napoleon
of South Africa? What would he have said if that nation for which he had
inaugurated a long line of incomparable men of principle should forget
all its traditions and coquette with the immoral mysticism of the man of

Let us follow these things by all means if we find them good, and can
see nothing better. But to pretend that Alfred would have admired them
is like pretending that St. Dominic would have seen eye to eye with Mr.
Bradlaugh, or that Fra Angelico would have revelled in the posters of
Mr. Aubrey Beardsley. Let us follow them if we will, but let us take
honestly all the disadvantages of our change; in the wildest moment of
triumph let us feel the shadow upon our glories of the shame of the
great king.


The selection of "Thoughts from Maeterlinck" is a very creditable and
also a very useful compilation. Many modern critics object to the
hacking and hewing of a consistent writer which is necessary for this
kind of work, but upon more serious consideration, the view is not
altogether adequate. Maeterlinck is a very great man; and in the long
run this process of mutilation has happened to all great men. It was the
mark of a great patriot to be drawn and quartered and his head set on
one spike in one city and his left leg on another spike in another city.
It was the mark of a saint that even these fragments began to work
miracles. So it has been with all the very great men of the world.
However careless, however botchy, may be the version of Maeterlinck or
of anyone else given in such a selection as this, it is assuredly far
less careless and far less botchy than the version, the parody, the
wild misrepresentation of Maeterlinck which future ages will hear and
distant critics be called upon to consider.

No one can feel any reasonable doubt that we have heard about Christ and
Socrates and Buddha and St. Francis a mere chaos of excerpts, a mere
book of quotations. But from those fragmentary epigrams we can deduce
greatness as clearly as we can deduce Venus from the torso of Venus or
Hercules _ex pede Herculem_. If we knew nothing else about the Founder
of Christianity, for example, beyond the fact that a religious teacher
lived in a remote country, and in the course of his peregrinations and
proclamations consistently called Himself "the Son of Man," we should
know by that alone that he was a man of almost immeasurable greatness.
If future ages happened to record nothing else about Socrates except
that he owned his title to be the wisest of men because he knew that he
knew nothing, they would be able to deduce from that the height and
energy of his civilisation, the glory that was Greece. The credit of
such random compilations as that which "E.S.S." and Mr. George Allen
have just effected is quite secure. It is the pure, pedantic, literal
editions, the complete works of this author or that author which are
forgotten. It is such books as this that have revolutionised the destiny
of the world. Great things like Christianity or Platonism have never
been founded upon consistent editions; all of them have been founded
upon scrap-books.

The position of Maeterlinck in modern life is a thing too obvious to be
easily determined in words. It is, perhaps, best expressed by saying
that it is the great glorification of the inside of things at the
expense of the outside. There is one great evil in modern life for which
nobody has found even approximately a tolerable description: I can only
invent a word and call it "remotism." It is the tendency to think first
of things which, as a matter of fact, lie far away from the actual
centre of human experience. Thus people say, "All our knowledge of life
begins with the amoeba." It is false; our knowledge of life begins with
ourselves. Thus they say that the British Empire is glorious, and at the
very word Empire they think at once of Australia and New Zealand, and
Canada, and Polar bears, and parrots and kangaroos, and it never occurs
to any one of them to think of the Surrey Hills. The one real struggle
in modern life is the struggle between the man like Maeterlinck, who
sees the inside as the truth, and the man like Zola, who sees the
outside as the truth. A hundred cases might be given. We may take, for
the sake of argument, the case of what is called falling in love. The
sincere realist, the man who believes in a certain finality in physical
science, says, "You may, if you like, describe this thing as a divine
and sacred and incredible vision; that is your sentimental theory about
it. But what it is, is an animal and sexual instinct designed for
certain natural purposes." The man on the other side, the idealist,
replies, with quite equal confidence, that this is the very reverse of
the truth. I put it as it has always struck me; he replies, "Not at all.
You may, if you like, describe this thing as an animal and sexual
instinct, designed for certain natural purposes; that is your
philosophical or zoölogical theory about it. What it is, beyond all
doubt of any kind, is a divine and sacred and incredible vision." The
fact that it is an animal necessity only comes to the naturalistic
philosopher after looking abroad, studying its origins and results,
constructing an explanation of its existence, more or less natural and
conclusive. The fact that it is a spiritual triumph comes to the first
errand boy who happens to feel it. If a lad of seventeen falls in love
and is struck dead by a hansom cab an hour afterwards, he has known the
thing as it is, a spiritual ecstasy; he has never come to trouble about
the thing as it may be, a physical destiny. If anyone says that falling
in love is an animal thing, the answer is very simple. The only way of
testing the matter is to ask those who are experiencing it, and none of
those would admit for a moment that it was an animal thing.

Maeterlinck's appearance in Europe means primarily this subjective
intensity; by this the materialism is not overthrown: materialism is
undermined. He brings, not something which is more poetic than realism,
not something which is more spiritual than realism, not something which
is more right than realism, but something which is more real than
realism. He discovers the one indestructible thing. This material world
on which such vast systems have been superimposed--this may mean
anything. It may be a dream, it may be a joke, it may be a trap or
temptation, it may be a charade, it may be the beatific vision: the only
thing of which we are certain is this human soul. This human soul finds
itself alone in a terrible world, afraid of the grass. It has brought
forth poetry and religion in order to explain matters; it will bring
them forth again. It matters not one atom how often the lulls of
materialism and scepticism occur; they are always broken by the
reappearance of a fanatic. They have come in our time: they have been
broken by Maeterlinck.


I do not think anyone could find any fault with the way in which Mr.
Collingwood has discharged his task, except, of course, Mr. Ruskin
himself, who would certainly have scored through all the eulogies in
passionate red ink and declared that his dear friend had selected for
admiration the very parts of his work which were vile, brainless, and
revolting. That, however, was merely Ruskin's humour, and one of the
deepest disappointments with Mr. Collingwood is that he, like everyone
else, fails to appreciate Ruskin as a humourist. Yet he was a great
humourist: half the explosions which are solemnly scolded as "one-sided"
were simply meant to be one-sided, were mere laughing experiments in
language. Like a woman, he saw the humour of his own prejudices, did not
sophisticate them by logic, but deliberately exaggerated them by
rhetoric. One tenth of his paradoxes would have made the fortune of a
modern young man with gloves of an art yellow. He was as fond of
nonsense as Mr. Max Beerbohm. Only ... he was fond of other things too.
He did not ask humanity to dine on pickles.

But while his kaleidoscope of fancy and epigram gives him some kinship
with the present day, he was essentially of an earlier type: he was the
last of the prophets. With him vanishes the secret of that early
Victorian simplicity which gave a man the courage to mount a pulpit
above the head of his fellows. Many elements, good and bad, have
destroyed it; humility as well as fear, camaraderie as well as
scepticism, have bred in us a desire to give our advice lightly and
persuasively, to mask our morality, to whisper a word and glide away.
The contrast was in some degree typified in the House of Commons under
the last leadership of Mr. Gladstone: the old order with its fist on the
box, and the new order with its feet on the table. Doubtless the wine of
that prophecy was too strong even for the strong heads that carried it.
It made Ruskin capricious and despotic, Tennyson lonely and whimsical,
Carlyle harsh to the point of hatred, and Kingsley often rabid to the
ruin of logic and charity. One alone of that race of giants, the
greatest and most neglected, was sober after the cup. No mission, no
frustration could touch with hysteria the humanity of Robert Browning.

But though Ruskin seems to close the roll of the militant prophets, we
feel how needful are such figures when we consider with what pathetic
eagerness men pay prophetic honours even to those who disclaim the
prophetic character. Ibsen declares that he only depicts life, that as
far as he is concerned there is nothing to be done, and still armies of
"Ibsenites" rally to the flag and enthusiastically do nothing. I have
found traces of a school which avowedly follows Mr. Henry James: an idea
full of humour. I like to think of a crowd with pikes and torches
shouting passages from "The Awkward Age." It is right and proper for a
multitude to declare its readiness to follow a prophet to the end of the
world, but if he himself explains, with pathetic gesticulations, that
he is only going for a walk in the park, there is not much for the
multitude to do. But the disciple of Ruskin had plenty to do. He made
roads; in his spare moments he studied the whole of geology and botany.
He lifted up paving stones and got down into early Florentine cellars,
where, by hanging upside down, he could catch a glimpse of a Cimabue
unpraisable but by divine silence. He rushed from one end of a city to
the other comparing ceilings. His limbs were weary, his clothes were
torn, and in his eyes was that unfathomable joy of life which man will
never know again until once more he takes himself seriously.

Mr. Collingwood's excellent chapters on the art criticism of Ruskin
would be better, in my opinion, if they showed more consciousness of the
after revolutions that have reversed, at least in detail, much of
Ruskin's teaching. We no longer think that art became valueless when it
was first corrupted with anatomical accuracy. But if we return to that
Raphaelism to which he was so unjust, let us not fall into the old
error of intelligent reactionaries, that of ignoring our own debt to
revolutions. Ruskin could not destroy the market of Raphaelism, but he
could and did destroy its monopoly. We may go back to the Renaissance,
but let us remember that we go back free. We can picnic now in the ruins
of our dungeon and deride our deliverer.

But neither in Mr. Collingwood's book nor in Ruskin's own delightful
"Præterita" shall we ever get to the heart of the matter. The work of
Ruskin and his peers remains incomprehensible by the very completeness
of their victory. Fallen forever is that vast brick temple of
Utilitarianism, of which we may find the fragments but never renew the
spell. Liberal Unionists howl in its high places, and in its ruins Mr.
Lecky builds his nest. Its records read with something of the mysterious
arrogance of Chinese: hardly a generation away from us, we read of a
race who believed in the present with the same sort of servile optimism
with which the Oriental believes in the past. It may be that banging his
head against that roof for twenty years did not improve the temper of
the prophet. But he made what he praised in the old Italian
pictures--"an opening into eternity."


[2] "The Life of John Ruskin." By W.G. Collingwood. London: Methuen.


Anyone who possesses spiritual or political courage has made up his mind
to a prospect of immutable mutability; but even in a "transformation"
there is something catastrophic in the removal of the back scene. It is
a truism to say of the wise and noble lady who is gone from us that we
shall always remember her; but there is a subtler and higher compliment
still in confessing that we often forgot her. We forgot her as we forget
the sunshine, as we forget the postulates of an argument, as we commonly
forget our own existence. Mr. Gladstone is the only figure whose loss
prepared us for such earthquakes altering the landscape. But Mr.
Gladstone seemed a fixed and stationary object in our age for the same
reason that one railway train looks stationary from another; because he
and the age of progress were both travelling at the same impetuous rate
of speed. In the end, indeed, it was probably the age that dropped
behind. For a symbol of the Queen's position we must rather recur to the
image of a stretch of scenery, in which she was as a mountain so huge
and familiar that its disappearance would make the landscape round our
own door seem like a land of strangers. She had an inspired genius for
the familiarising virtues; her sympathy and sanity made us feel at home
even in an age of revolutions. That indestructible sense of security
which for good and evil is so typical of our nation, that almost
scornful optimism which, in the matter of ourselves, cannot take peril
or even decadence seriously, reached by far its highest and healthiest
form in the sense that we were watched over by one so thoroughly English
in her silence and self-control, in her shrewd trustfulness and her
brilliant inaction. Over and above those sublime laws of labour and pity
by which she ordered her life, there are a very large number of minor
intellectual matters in which we might learn a lesson from the Queen.
There is one especially which is increasingly needed in an age when
moral claims become complicated and hysterical. That Queen Victoria was
a model of political unselfishness is well known; it is less often
remarked that few modern people have an unselfishness so completely free
from morbidity, so fully capable of deciding a moral question without
exaggerating its importance. No eminent person of our time has been so
utterly devoid of that disease of self-assertion which is often rampant
among the unselfish. She had one most rare and valuable faculty, the
faculty of letting things pass--Acts of Parliament and other things. Her
predecessors, whether honest men or knaves, were attacked every now and
then with a nightmare of despotic responsibility; they suddenly
conceived that it rested with them to save the world and the Protestant
Constitution. Queen Victoria had far too much faith in the world to try
to save it. She knew that Acts of Parliament, even bad Acts of
Parliament, do not destroy nations. But she knew that ignorance,
ill-temper, tyranny, and officiousness do destroy nations, and not upon
any provocation would she set an example in these things. We fancy that
this sense of proportion, this largeness and coolness of intellectual
magnanimity is the one of the thousand virtues of Queen Victoria of
which the near future will stand most in need. We are gaining many new
mental powers, and with them new mental responsibilities. In psychology,
in sociology, above all in education, we are learning to do a great many
clever things. Unless we are much mistaken the next great task will be
to learn not to do them. If that time comes, assuredly we cannot do
better than turn once more to the memory of the great Queen who for
seventy years followed through every possible tangle and distraction the
fairy thread of common sense.

We are suffering just now from an outbreak of the imagination which
exhibits itself in politics and the most unlikely places. The German
Emperor, for example, is neither a tyrant nor a lunatic, as used to be
absurdly represented; he is simply a minor poet; and he feels just as
any minor poet would feel if he found himself on the throne of
Barbarossa. The revival of militarism and ecclesiasticism is an invasion
of politics by the artistic sense; it is heraldry rather than chivalry
that is lusted after. Amid all this waving of wands and flaunting of
uniforms, all this hedonistic desire to make the most of everything,
there is something altogether quiet and splendid about the sober disdain
with which this simple and courteous lady in a black dress left idle
beside her the sceptre of a hundred tyrants. The heart of the whole
nation warmed as it had never warmed for centuries at the thought of
having in their midst a woman who cared nothing for her rights, and
nothing for those fantastic duties which are more egotistical than
rights themselves.

The work of the Queen for progressive politics has surely been greatly
underrated. She invented democratic monarchy as much as James Watt
invented the steam engine. William IV., from whom we think of her as
inheriting her Constitutional position, held in fact a position entirely
different to that which she now hands on to Edward VII. William IV. was
a limited monarch; that is to say, he had a definite, open, and
admitted power in politics, but it was a limited power. Queen Victoria
was not a limited monarch; in the only way in which she cared to be a
monarch at all she was as unlimited as Haroun Alraschid. She had
unlimited willing obedience, and unlimited social supremacy. To her
belongs the credit of inventing a new kind of monarchy; in which the
Crown, by relinquishing the whole of that political and legal department
of life which is concerned with coercion, regimentation, and punishment,
was enabled to rise above it and become the symbol of the sweeter and
purer relations of humanity, the social intercourse which leads and does
not drive. Too much cannot be said for the wise audacity and confident
completeness with which the Queen cut away all those cords of political
supremacy to which her predecessors had clung madly as the only stays of
the monarchy. She had her reward. For while William IV.'s supremacy may
be called a survival, it is not too much to say that the Queen's
supremacy might be called a prophecy. By lifting a figure purely human
over the heads of judges and warriors, we uttered in some symbolic
fashion the abiding, if unreasoning, hope which dwells in all human
hearts, that some day we may find a simpler solution of the woes of
nations than the summons and the treadmill, that we may find in some
such influence as the social influence of a woman, what was called in
the noble old language of mediæval monarchy, "a fountain of mercy and a
fountain of honour."

In the universal reverence paid to the Queen there was hardly anywhere a
touch of snobbishness. Snobbishness, in so far as it went out towards
former sovereigns, went out to them as aristocrats rather than as kings,
as heads of that higher order of men, who were almost angels or demons
in their admitted superiority to common lines of conduct. This kind of
reverence was always a curse: nothing can be conceived as worse for the
mass of the people than that they should think the morality for which
they have to struggle an inferior morality, a thing unfitted for a
haughtier class. But of this patrician element there was hardly a trace
in the dignity of the Queen. Indeed, the degree to which the middle and
lower classes took her troubles and problems to their hearts was almost
grotesque in its familiarity. No one thought of the Queen as an
aristocrat like the Duke of Devonshire, or even as a member of the
governing classes like Mr. Chamberlain. Men thought of her as something
nearer to them even in being further off; as one who was a good queen,
and who would have been, had her fate demanded, with equal cheerfulness,
a good washerwoman. Herein lay her unexampled triumph, the greatest and
perhaps the last triumph of monarchy. Monarchy in its healthiest days
had the same basis as democracy: the belief in human nature when
entrusted with power. A king was only the first citizen who received the

Both royalty and religion have been accused of despising humanity, and
in practice it has been too often true; but after all both the
conception of the prophet and that of the king were formed by paying
humanity the supreme compliment of selecting from it almost at random.
This daring idea that a healthy human being, when thrilled by all the
trumpets of a great trust, would rise to the situation, has often been
tested, but never with such complete success as in the case of our dead
Queen. On her was piled the crushing load of a vast and mystical
tradition, and she stood up straight under it. Heralds proclaimed her as
the anointed of God, and it did not seem presumptuous. Brave men died in
thousands shouting her name, and it did not seem unnatural. No mere
intellect, no mere worldly success could, in this age of bold inquiry,
have sustained that tremendous claim; long ago we should have stricken
Cæsar and dethroned Napoleon. But these glories and these sacrifices did
not seem too much to celebrate a hardworking human nature; they were
possible because at the heart of our Empire was nothing but a defiant
humility. If the Queen had stood for any novel or fantastic imperial
claims, the whole would have seemed a nightmare; the whole was
successful because she stood, and no one could deny that she stood, for
the humblest, the shortest and the most indestructible of human gospels,
that when all troubles and troublemongers have had their say, our work
can be done till sunset, our life can be lived till death.


The list of the really serious, the really convinced, the really
important and comprehensible people now alive includes, as most
Englishmen would now be prepared to admit, the German Emperor. He is a
practical man and a poet. I do not know whether there are still people
in existence who think there is some kind of faint antithesis between
these two characters; but I incline to think there must be, because of
the surprise which the career of the German Emperor has generally
evoked. When he came to the throne it became at once apparent that he
was poetical; people assumed in consequence that he was unpractical;
that he would plunge Europe into war, that he would try to annex France,
that he would say he was the Emperor of Russia, that he would stand on
his head in the Reichstag, that he would become a pirate on the Spanish
Main. Years upon years have passed; he has gone on making speeches, he
has gone on talking about God and his sword, he has poured out an ever
increased rhetoric and æstheticism. And yet all the time people have
slowly and surely realised that he knows what he is about, that he is
one of the best friends of peace, that his influence on Europe is not
only successful, but in many ways good, that he knows what world he is
living in better than a score of materialists.

The explanation never comes to them--he is a poet; therefore, a
practical man. The affinity of the two words, merely as words, is much
nearer than many people suppose, for the matter of that. There is one
Greek word for "I do" from which we get the word practical, and another
Greek word for "I do" from which we get the word poet. I was doubtless
once informed of a profound difference between the two, but I have
forgotten it. The two words practical and poetical may mean two subtly
different things in that old and subtle language, but they mean the same
in English and the same in the long run. It is ridiculous to suppose
that the man who can understand the inmost intricacies of a human being
who has never existed at all cannot make a guess at the conduct of man
who lives next door. It is idle to say that a man who has himself felt
the mad longing under the mad moon for a vagabond life cannot know why
his son runs away to sea. It is idle to say that a man who has himself
felt the hunger for any kind of exhilaration, from angel or devil,
cannot know why his butler takes to drink. It is idle to say that a man
who has been fascinated with the wild fastidiousness of destiny does not
know why stockbrokers gamble, to say that a man who has been knocked
into the middle of eternal life by a face in a crowd does not know why
the poor marry young; that a man who found his path to all things kindly
and pleasant blackened and barred suddenly by the body of a man does not
know what it is to desire murder. It is idle, in short, for a man who
has created men to say that he does not understand them. A man who is a
poet may, of course, easily make mistakes in these personal and
practical relations; such mistakes and similar ones have been made by
poets; such mistakes and greater ones have been made by soldiers and
statesmen and men of business. But in so far as a poet is in these
things less of a practical man he is also less of a poet.

If Shakespeare really married a bad wife when he had conceived the
character of Beatrice he ought to have been ashamed of himself: he had
failed not only in his life, he had failed in his art. If Balzac got
into rows with his publishers he ought to be rebuked and not
commiserated, having evolved so many consistent business men from his
own inside. The German Emperor is a poet, and therefore he succeeds,
because poetry is so much nearer to reality than all the other human
occupations. He is a poet, and succeeds because the majority of men are
poets. It is true, if that matter is at all important, that the German
Emperor is not a good poet. The majority of men are poets, only they
happen to be bad poets. The German Emperor fails ridiculously, if that
is all that is in question, in almost every one of the artistic
occupations to which he addresses himself: he is neither a first-rate
critic, nor a first-rate musician, nor a first-rate painter, nor a
first-rate poet. He is a twelfth-rate poet, but because he is a poet at
all he knocks to pieces all the first-rate politicians in the war of

Having made clear my position so far, I discover with a certain amount
of interest that I have not yet got to the subject of these remarks. The
German Emperor is a poet, and although, as far as I know, every line he
ever wrote may be nonsense, he is a poet in this real sense, that he has
realised the meaning of every function he has performed. Why should we
jeer at him because he has a great many uniforms, for instance? The very
essence of the really imaginative man is that he realises the various
types or capacities in which he can appear. Every one of us, or almost
every one of us, does in reality fulfil almost as many offices as
Pooh-Bah. Almost every one of us is a ratepayer, an immortal soul, an
Englishman, a baptised person, a mammal, a minor poet, a juryman, a
married man, a bicyclist, a Christian, a purchaser of newspapers, and a
critic of Mr. Alfred Austin. We ought to have uniforms for all these
things. How beautiful it would be if we appeared to-morrow in the
uniform of a ratepayer, in brown and green, with buttons made in the
shape of coins, and a blue income-tax paper tastefully arranged as a
favour; or, again, if we appeared dressed as immortal souls, in a blue
uniform with stars. It would be very exciting to dress up as Englishmen,
or to go to a fancy dress ball as Christians.

Some of the costumes I have suggested might appear a little more
difficult to carry out. The dress of a person who purchases newspapers
(though it mostly consists of coloured evening editions arranged in a
stiff skirt, like that of a saltatrice, round the waist of the wearer)
has many mysterious points. The attire of a person prepared to criticise
the Poet Laureate is something so awful and striking that I dare not
even begin to describe it; the one fact which I am willing to reveal,
and to state seriously and responsibly, is that it buttons up behind.

But most assuredly we ought not to abuse the Kaiser because he is fond
of putting on all his uniforms; he does so because he has a large number
of established and involuntary incarnations. He tries to do his duty in
that state of life to which it shall please God to call him; and it so
happens that he has been called to as many different estates as there
are regiments in the German Army. He is a huntsman and proud of being a
huntsman, an engineer and proud of being an engineer, an infantry
soldier and proud of being so, a light horseman and proud of being so.
There is nothing wrong in all this; the only wrong thing is that it
should be confined to the merely destructive arts of war. The sight of
the German Kaiser in the most magnificent of the uniforms in which he
had led armies to victory is not in itself so splendid or delightful as
that of many other sights which might come before us without a whisper
of the alarms of war. It is not so splendid or delightful as the sight
of an ordinary householder showing himself in that magnificent uniform
of purple and silver which should signalise the father of three
children. It is not so splendid or delightful as the appearance of a
young clerk in an insurance office decorated with those three long
crimson plumes which are the well-known insignia of a gentleman who is
just engaged to be married. Nor can it compare with the look of a man
wearing the magnificent green and silver armour by which we know one who
has induced an acquaintance to give up getting drunk, or the blue and
gold which is only accorded to persons who have prevented fights in the
street. We belong to quite as many regiments as the German Kaiser. Our
regiments are regiments that are embattled everywhere; they fight an
unending fight against all that is hopeless and rapacious and of evil
report. The only difference is that we have the regiments, but not the

Only one obvious point occurs to me to add. If the Kaiser has more than
any other man the sense of the poetry of the ancient things, the sword,
the crown, the ship, the nation, he has the sense of the poetry of
modern things also. He has one sense, and it is even a joke against
him. He feels the poetry of one thing that is more poetic than sword or
crown or ship or nation, the poetry of the telegram. No one ever sent a
telegram who did not feel like a god. He is a god, for he is a minor
poet; a minor poet, but a poet still.


Mr. Morton Luce has written a short study of Tennyson which has
considerable cultivation and suggestiveness, which will be sufficient to
serve as a notebook for Tennyson's admirers, but scarcely sufficient,
perhaps, to serve as a pamphlet against his opponents. If a critic has,
as he ought to have, any of the functions anciently attributed to a
prophet, it ought not to be difficult for him to prophesy that Tennyson
will pass through a period of facile condemnation and neglect before we
arrive at the true appreciation of his work. The same thing has happened
to the most vigorous of essayists, Macaulay, and the most vigorous of
romancers, Dickens, because we live in a time when mere vigour is
considered a vulgar thing. The same idle and frigid reaction will almost
certainly discredit the stateliness and care of Tennyson, as it has
discredited the recklessness and inventiveness of Dickens. It is only
necessary to remember that no action can be discredited by a reaction.

The attempts which have been made to discredit the poetical position of
Tennyson are in the main dictated by an entire misunderstanding of the
nature of poetry. When critics like Matthew Arnold, for example, suggest
that his poetry is deficient in elaborate thought, they only prove, as
Matthew Arnold proved, that they themselves could never be great poets.
It is no valid accusation against a poet that the sentiment he expresses
is commonplace. Poetry is always commonplace; it is vulgar in the
noblest sense of that noble word. Unless a man can make the same kind of
ringing appeal to absolute and admitted sentiments that is made by a
popular orator, he has lost touch with emotional literature. Unless he
is to some extent a demagogue, he cannot be a poet. A man who expresses
in poetry new and strange and undiscovered emotions is not a poet; he is
a brain specialist. Tennyson can never be discredited before any serious
tribunal of criticism because the sentiments and thoughts to which he
dedicates himself are those sentiments and thoughts which occur to
anyone. These are the peculiar province of poetry; poetry, like
religion, is always a democratic thing, even if it pretends the
contrary. The faults of Tennyson, so far as they existed, were not half
so much in the common character of his sentiments as in the arrogant
perfection of his workmanship. He was not by any means so wrong in his
faults as he was in his perfections.

Men are very much too ready to speak of men's work being ordinary, when
we consider that, properly considered, every man is extraordinary. The
average man is a tribal fable, like the Man-Wolf or the Wise Man of the
Stoics. In every man's heart there is a revolution; how much more in
every poet's? The supreme business of criticism is to discover that part
of a man's work which is his and to ignore that part which belongs to
others. Why should any critic of poetry spend time and attention on that
part of a man's work which is unpoetical? Why should any man be
interested in aspects which are uninteresting? The business of a critic
is to discover the importance of men and not their crimes. It is true
that the Greek word critic carries with it the meaning of a judge, and
up to this point of history judges have had to do with the valuation of
men's sins, and not with the valuation of their virtues.

Tennyson's work, disencumbered of all that uninteresting accretion which
he had inherited or copied, resolves itself, like that of any other man
of genius, into those things which he really inaugurated. Underneath all
his exterior of polished and polite rectitude there was in him a genuine
fire of novelty; only that, like all the able men of his period, he
disguised revolution under the name of evolution. He is only a very
shallow critic who cannot see an eternal rebel in the heart of the

Tennyson had certain absolutely personal ideas, as much his own as the
ideas of Browning or Meredith, though they were fewer in number. One of
these, for example, was the fact that he was the first of all poets (and
perhaps the last) to attempt to treat poetically that vast and monstrous
vision of fact which science had recently revealed to mankind.
Scientific discoveries seem commonly fables as fantastic in the ears of
poets as poems in the ears of men of science. The poet is always a
Ptolemaist; for him the sun still rises and the earth stands still.
Tennyson really worked the essence of modern science into his poetical
constitution, so that its appalling birds and frightful flowers were
really part of his literary imagery. To him blind and brutal monsters,
the products of the wild babyhood of the Universe, were as the daisies
and the nightingales were to Keats; he absolutely realised the great
literary paradox mentioned in the Book of Job: "He saw Behemoth, and he
played with him as with a bird."

Instances of this would not be difficult to find. But the tests of
poetry are those instances in which this outrageous scientific
phraseology becomes natural and unconscious. Tennyson wrote one of his
own exquisite lyrics describing the exultation of a lover on the evening
before his bridal day. This would be an occasion, if ever there was one,
for falling back on those ancient and assured falsehoods of the domed
heaven and the flat earth in which generations of poets have made us
feel at home. We can imagine the poet in such a lyric saluting the
setting sun and prophesying the sun's resurrection. There is something
extraordinarily typical of Tennyson's scientific faith in the fact that
this, one of the most sentimental and elemental of his poems, opens with
the two lines:

  "Move eastward, happy earth, and leave
  Yon orange sunset waning slow."

Rivers had often been commanded to flow by poets, and flowers to blossom
in their season, and both were doubtless grateful for the permission.
But the terrestrial globe of science has only twice, so far as we know,
been encouraged in poetry to continue its course, one instance being
that of this poem, and the other the incomparable "Address to the
Terrestrial Globe" in the "Bab Ballads."

There was, again, another poetic element entirely peculiar to Tennyson,
which his critics have, in many cases, ridiculously confused with a
fault. This was the fact that Tennyson stood alone among modern poets
in the attempt to give a poetic character to the conception of Liberal
Conservatism, of splendid compromise. The carping critics who have
abused Tennyson for this do not see that it was far more daring and
original for a poet to defend conventionality than to defend a cart-load
of revolutions. His really sound and essential conception of Liberty,

  "Turning to scorn with lips divine
  The falsehood of extremes,"

is as good a definition of Liberalism as has been uttered in poetry in
the Liberal century. Moderation is _not_ a compromise; moderation is a
passion; the passion of great judges. That Tennyson felt that lyrical
enthusiasm could be devoted to established customs, to indefensible and
ineradicable national constitutions, to the dignity of time and the
empire of unutterable common sense, all this did not make him a tamer
poet, but an infinitely more original one. Any poetaster can describe a
thunderstorm; it requires a poet to describe the ancient and quiet sky.

I cannot, indeed, fall in with Mr. Morton Luce in his somewhat frigid
and patrician theory of poetry. "Dialect," he says, "mostly falls below
the dignity of art." I cannot feel myself that art has any dignity
higher than the indwelling and divine dignity of human nature. Great
poets like Burns were far more undignified when they clothed their
thoughts in what Mr. Morton Luce calls "the seemly raiment of cultured
speech" than when they clothed them in the headlong and flexible patois
in which they thought and prayed and quarrelled and made love. If
Tennyson failed (which I do not admit) in such poems as "The Northern
Farmer," it was not because he used too much of the spirit of the
dialect, but because he used too little.

Tennyson belonged undoubtedly to a period from which we are divided; the
period in which men had queer ideas of the antagonism of science and
religion; the period in which the Missing Link was really missing. But
his hold upon the old realities of existence never wavered; he was the
apostle of the sanctity of laws, of the sanctity of customs; above all,
like every poet, he was the apostle of the sanctity of words.


The delightful new edition of Mrs. Browning's "Casa Guidi Windows" which
Mr. John Lane has just issued ought certainly to serve as an opportunity
for the serious criticism and inevitable admiration to which a great
poet is entitled. For Mrs. Browning was a great poet, and not, as is
idly and vulgarly supposed, only a great poetess. The word poetess is
bad English, and it conveys a particularly bad compliment. Nothing is
more remarkable about Mrs. Browning's work than the absence of that
trite and namby-pamby elegance which the last two centuries demanded
from lady writers. Wherever her verse is bad it is bad from some
extravagance of imagery, some violence of comparison, some kind of
debauch of cleverness. Her nonsense never arises from weakness, but from
a confusion of powers. If the phrase explain itself, she is far more a
great poet than she is a good one.

Mrs. Browning often appears more luscious and sentimental than many
other literary women, but this was because she was stronger. It requires
a certain amount of internal force to break down. A complete
self-humiliation requires enormous strength, more strength than most of
us possess. When she was writing the poetry of self-abandonment she
really abandoned herself with the valour and decision of an anchorite
abandoning the world. Such a couplet as:

  "Our Euripides, the human,
  With his dropping of warm tears,"

gives to most of us a sickly and nauseous sensation. Nothing can be well
conceived more ridiculous than Euripides going about dropping tears with
a loud splash, and Mrs. Browning coming after him with a thermometer.
But the one emphatic point about this idiotic couplet is that Mrs.
Hemans would never have written it. She would have written something
perfectly dignified, perfectly harmless, perfectly inconsiderable. Mrs.
Browning was in a great and serious difficulty. She really meant
something. She aimed at a vivid and curious image, and she missed it.
She had that catastrophic and public failure which is, as much as a
medal or a testimonial, the badge of the brave.

In spite of the tiresome half-truth that art is unmoral, the arts
require a certain considerable number of moral qualities, and more
especially all the arts require courage. The art of drawing, for
example, requires even a kind of physical courage. Anyone who has tried
to draw a straight line and failed knows that he fails chiefly in nerve,
as he might fail to jump off a cliff. And similarly all great literary
art involves the element of risk, and the greatest literary artists have
commonly been those who have run the greatest risk of talking nonsense.
Almost all great poets rant, from Shakespeare downwards. Mrs. Browning
was Elizabethan in her luxuriance and her audacity, and the gigantic
scale of her wit. We often feel with her as we feel with Shakespeare,
that she would have done better with half as much talent. The great
curse of the Elizabethans is upon her, that she cannot leave anything
alone, she cannot write a single line without a conceit:

  "And the eyes of the peacock fans
  Winked at the alien glory,"

she said of the Papal fans in the presence of the Italian tricolour:

  "And a royal blood sends glances up her princely eye to trouble,
  And the shadow of a monarch's crown is softened in her hair,"

is her description of a beautiful and aristocratic lady. The notion of
peacock feathers winking like so many London urchins is perhaps one of
her rather aggressive and outrageous figures of speech. The image of a
woman's hair as the softened shadow of a crown is a singularly vivid and
perfect one. But both have the same quality of intellectual fancy and
intellectual concentration. They are both instances of a sort of
ethereal epigram. This is the great and dominant characteristic of Mrs.
Browning, that she was significant alike in failure and success. Just as
every marriage in the world, good or bad, is a marriage, dramatic,
irrevocable, and big with coming events, so every one of her wild
weddings between alien ideas is an accomplished fact which produces a
certain effect on the imagination, which has for good or evil become
part and parcel of our mental vision forever. She gives the reader the
impression that she never declined a fancy, just as some gentlemen of
the eighteenth century never declined a duel. When she fell it was
always because she missed the foothold, never because she funked the

"Casa Guidi Windows" is, in one aspect, a poem very typical of its
author. Mrs. Browning may fairly be called the peculiar poet of
Liberalism, of that great movement of the first half of the nineteenth
century towards the emancipation of men from ancient institutions which
had gradually changed their nature, from the houses of refuge which had
turned into dungeons, and the mystic jewels which remained only as
fetters. It was not what we ordinarily understand by revolt. It had no
hatred in its heart for ancient and essentially human institutions. It
had that deeply conservative belief in the most ancient of institutions,
the average man, which goes by the name of democracy. It had none of
the spirit of modern Imperialism which is kicking a man because he is
down. But, on the other hand, it had none of the spirit of modern
Anarchism and scepticism which is kicking a man merely because he is up.
It was based fundamentally on a belief in the destiny of humanity,
whether that belief took an irreligious form, as in Swinburne, or a
religious form, as in Mrs. Browning. It had that rooted and natural
conviction that the Millennium was coming to-morrow which has been the
conviction of all iconoclasts and reformers, and for which some
rationalists have been absurd enough to blame the early Christians. But
they had none of that disposition to pin their whole faith to some
black-and-white scientific system which afterwards became the curse of
philosophical Radicalism. They were not like the sociologists who lay
down a final rectification of things, amounting to nothing except an end
of the world, a great deal more depressing than would be the case if it
were knocked to pieces by a comet. Their ideal, like the ideal of all
sensible people, was a chaotic and confused notion of goodness made up
of English primroses and Greek statues, birds singing in April, and
regiments being cut to pieces for a flag. They were neither Radicals nor
Socialists, but Liberals, and a Liberal is a noble and indispensable
lunatic who tries to make a cosmos of his own head.

Mrs. Browning and her husband were more liberal than most Liberals.
Theirs was the hospitality of the intellect and the hospitality of the
heart, which is the best definition of the term. They never fell into
the habit of the idle revolutionists of supposing that the past was bad
because the future was good, which amounted to asserting that because
humanity had never made anything but mistakes it was now quite certain
to be right. Browning possessed in a greater degree than any other man
the power of realising that all conventions were only victorious
revolutions. He could follow the mediæval logicians in all their sowing
of the wind and reaping of the whirlwind with all that generous ardour
which is due to abstract ideas. He could study the ancients with the
young eyes of the Renaissance and read a Greek grammar like a book of
love lyrics. This immense and almost confounding Liberalism of Browning
doubtless had some effect upon his wife. In her vision of New Italy she
went back to the image of Ancient Italy like an honest and true
revolutionist; for does not the very word "revolution" mean a rolling
backward. All true revolutions are reversions to the natural and the
normal. A revolutionist who breaks with the past is a notion fit for an
idiot. For how could a man even wish for something which he had never
heard of? Mrs. Browning's inexhaustible sympathy with all the ancient
and essential passions of humanity was nowhere more in evidence than in
her conception of patriotism. For some dark reason, which it is
difficult indeed to fathom, belief in patriotism in our day is held to
mean principally a belief in every other nation abandoning its patriotic
feelings. In the case of no other passion does this weird contradiction
exist. Men whose lives are mainly based upon friendship sympathise with
the friendships of others. The interest of engaged couples in each other
is a proverb, and like many other proverbs sometimes a nuisance. In
patriotism alone it is considered correct just now to assume that the
sentiment does not exist in other people. It was not so with the great
Liberals of Mrs. Browning's time. The Brownings had, so to speak, a
disembodied talent for patriotism. They loved England and they loved
Italy; yet they were the very reverse of cosmopolitans. They loved the
two countries as countries, not as arbitrary divisions of the globe.
They had hold of the root and essence of patriotism. They knew how
certain flowers and birds and rivers pass into the mills of the brain
and come out as wars and discoveries, and how some triumphant adventure
or some staggering crime wrought in a remote continent may bear about it
the colour of an Italian city or the soul of a silent village of Surrey.

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