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Title: Impressions of Theophrastus Such
Author: Eliot, George, 1819-1880
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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IMPRESSIONS OF THEOPHRASTUS SUCH


GEORGE ELIOT


Second Edition

William Blackwood and Sons
Edinburgh and London
MDCCCLXXIX



  "Suspicione si quis errabit sua,
  Et rapiet ad se, quod erit commune omnium,
  Stulte nudabit animi conscientiam
  Huic excusatum me velim nihilominus
  Neque enim notare singulos mens est mihi,
  Verum ipsam vitam et mores hominum ostendere"

  --Phaedrus


CONTENTS


    I. LOOKING INWARD

   II. LOOKING BACKWARD

  III. HOW WE ENCOURAGE RESEARCH

   IV. A MAN SURPRISED AT HIS ORIGINALITY

    V. A TOO DEFERENTIAL MAN

   VI. ONLY TEMPER

  VII. A POLITICAL MOLECULE

 VIII. THE WATCH-DOG OF KNOWLEDGE

   IX. A HALF-BREED

    X. DEBASING THE MORAL CURRENCY

   XI. THE WASP CREDITED WITH THE HONEYCOMB

  XII. "SO YOUNG!"

 XIII. HOW WE COME TO GIVE OURSELVES FALSE
       TESTIMONIALS, AND BELIEVE IN THEM

  XIV. THE TOO READY WRITER

   XV. DISEASES OF SMALL AUTHORSHIP

  XVI. MORAL SWINDLERS

 XVII. SHADOWS OF THE COMING RACE

XVIII. THE MODERN HEP! HEP! HEP!



I.


LOOKING INWARD.

It is my habit to give an account to myself of the characters I meet
with: can I give any true account of my own? I am a bachelor, without
domestic distractions of any sort, and have all my life been an
attentive companion to myself, flattering my nature agreeably on
plausible occasions, reviling it rather bitterly when it mortified me,
and in general remembering its doings and sufferings with a tenacity
which is too apt to raise surprise if not disgust at the careless
inaccuracy of my acquaintances, who impute to me opinions I never held,
express their desire to convert me to my favourite ideas, forget whether
I have ever been to the East, and are capable of being three several
times astonished at my never having told them before of my accident in
the Alps, causing me the nervous shock which has ever since notably
diminished my digestive powers. Surely I ought to know myself better
than these indifferent outsiders can know me; nay, better even than my
intimate friends, to whom I have never breathed those items of my inward
experience which have chiefly shaped my life.

Yet I have often been forced into the reflection that even the
acquaintances who are as forgetful of my biography and tenets as they
would be if I were a dead philosopher, are probably aware of certain
points in me which may not be included in my most active suspicion. We
sing an exquisite passage out of tune and innocently repeat it for the
greater pleasure of our hearers. Who can be aware of what his foreign
accent is in the ears of a native? And how can a man be conscious of
that dull perception which causes him to mistake altogether what will
make him agreeable to a particular woman, and to persevere eagerly in a
behaviour which she is privately recording against him? I have had some
confidences from my female friends as to their opinion of other men whom
I have observed trying to make themselves amiable, and it has occurred
to me that though I can hardly be so blundering as Lippus and the rest
of those mistaken candidates for favour whom I have seen ruining their
chance by a too elaborate personal canvass, I must still come under the
common fatality of mankind and share the liability to be absurd without
knowing that I am absurd. It is in the nature of foolish reasoning to
seem good to the foolish reasoner. Hence with all possible study of
myself, with all possible effort to escape from the pitiable illusion
which makes men laugh, shriek, or curl the lip at Folly's likeness, in
total unconsciousness that it resembles themselves, I am obliged to
recognise that while there are secrets in me unguessed by others, these
others have certain items of knowledge about the extent of my powers and
the figure I make with them, which in turn are secrets unguessed by me.
When I was a lad I danced a hornpipe with arduous scrupulosity, and
while suffering pangs of pallid shyness was yet proud of my superiority
as a dancing pupil, imagining for myself a high place in the estimation
of beholders; but I can now picture the amusement they had in the
incongruity of my solemn face and ridiculous legs. What sort of hornpipe
am I dancing now?

Thus if I laugh at you, O fellow-men! if I trace with curious interest
your labyrinthine self-delusions, note the inconsistencies in your
zealous adhesions, and smile at your helpless endeavours in a rashly
chosen part, it is not that I feel myself aloof from you: the more
intimately I seem to discern your weaknesses, the stronger to me is the
proof that I share them. How otherwise could I get the discernment?--for
even what we are averse to, what we vow not to entertain, must have
shaped or shadowed itself within us as a possibility before we can think
of exorcising it. No man can know his brother simply as a spectator.
Dear blunderers, I am one of you. I wince at the fact, but I am not
ignorant of it, that I too am laughable on unsuspected occasions; nay,
in the very tempest and whirlwind of my anger, I include myself under my
own indignation. If the human race has a bad reputation, I perceive that
I cannot escape being compromised. And thus while I carry in myself the
key to other men's experience, it is only by observing others that I can
so far correct my self-ignorance as to arrive at the certainty that I am
liable to commit myself unawares and to manifest some incompetency which
I know no more of than the blind man knows of his image in the glass.

Is it then possible to describe oneself at once faithfully and fully? In
all autobiography there is, nay, ought to be, an incompleteness which
may have the effect of falsity. We are each of us bound to reticence by
the piety we owe to those who have been nearest to us and have had a
mingled influence over our lives; by the fellow-feeling which should
restrain us from turning our volunteered and picked confessions into an
act of accusation against others, who have no chance of vindicating
themselves; and most of all by that reverence for the higher efforts of
our common nature, which commands us to bury its lowest fatalities, its
invincible remnants of the brute, its most agonising struggles with
temptation, in unbroken silence. But the incompleteness which comes of
self-ignorance may be compensated by self-betrayal. A man who is
affected to tears in dwelling on the generosity of his own sentiments
makes me aware of several things not included under those terms. Who has
sinned more against those three duteous reticences than Jean Jacques?
Yet half our impressions of his character come not from what he means to
convey, but from what he unconsciously enables us to discern.

This _naïve_ veracity of self-presentation is attainable by the
slenderest talent on the most trivial occasions. The least lucid and
impressive of orators may be perfectly successful in showing us the weak
points of his grammar. Hence I too may be so far like Jean Jacques as to
communicate more than I am aware of. I am not indeed writing an
autobiography, or pretending to give an unreserved description of
myself, but only offering some slight confessions in an apologetic
light, to indicate that if in my absence you dealt as freely with my
unconscious weaknesses as I have dealt with the unconscious weaknesses
of others, I should not feel myself warranted by common-sense in
regarding your freedom of observation as an exceptional case of
evil-speaking; or as malignant interpretation of a character which
really offers no handle to just objection; or even as an unfair use for
your amusement of disadvantages which, since they are mine, should be
regarded with more than ordinary tenderness. Let me at least try to feel
myself in the ranks with my fellow-men. It is true, that I would rather
not hear either your well-founded ridicule or your judicious strictures.
Though not averse to finding fault with myself, and conscious of
deserving lashes, I like to keep the scourge in my own discriminating
hand. I never felt myself sufficiently meritorious to like being hated
as a proof of my superiority, or so thirsty for improvement as to desire
that all my acquaintances should give me their candid opinion of me. I
really do not want to learn from my enemies: I prefer having none to
learn from. Instead of being glad when men use me despitefully, I wish
they would behave better and find a more amiable occupation for their
intervals of business. In brief, after a close intimacy with myself for
a longer period than I choose to mention, I find within me a permanent
longing for approbation, sympathy, and love.

Yet I am a bachelor, and the person I love best has never loved me, or
known that I loved her. Though continually in society, and caring about
the joys and sorrows of my neighbours, I feel myself, so far as my
personal lot is concerned, uncared for and alone. "Your own fault, my
dear fellow!" said Minutius Felix, one day that I had incautiously
mentioned this uninteresting fact. And he was right--in senses other
than he intended. Why should I expect to be admired, and have my company
doated on? I have done no services to my country beyond those of every
peaceable orderly citizen; and as to intellectual contribution, my only
published work was a failure, so that I am spoken of to inquiring
beholders as "the author of a book you have probably not seen." (The
work was a humorous romance, unique in its kind, and I am told is much
tasted in a Cherokee translation, where the jokes are rendered with all
the serious eloquence characteristic of the Red races.) This sort of
distinction, as a writer nobody is likely to have read, can hardly
counteract an indistinctness in my articulation, which the
best-intentioned loudness will not remedy. Then, in some quarters my
awkward feet are against me, the length of my upper lip, and an
inveterate way I have of walking with my head foremost and my chin
projecting. One can become only too well aware of such things by looking
in the glass, or in that other mirror held up to nature in the frank
opinions of street-boys, or of our Free People travelling by excursion
train; and no doubt they account for the half-suppressed smile which I
have observed on some fair faces when I have first been presented before
them. This direct perceptive judgment is not to be argued against. But I
am tempted to remonstrate when the physical points I have mentioned are
apparently taken to warrant unfavourable inferences concerning my mental
quickness. With all the increasing uncertainty which modern progress has
thrown over the relations of mind and body, it seems tolerably clear
that wit cannot be seated in the upper lip, and that the balance of the
haunches in walking has nothing to do with the subtle discrimination of
ideas. Yet strangers evidently do not expect me to make a clever
observation, and my good things are as unnoticed as if they were
anonymous pictures. I have indeed had the mixed satisfaction of finding
that when they were appropriated by some one else they were found
remarkable and even brilliant. It is to be borne in mind that I am not
rich, have neither stud nor cellar, and no very high connections such as
give to a look of imbecility a certain prestige of inheritance through a
titled line; just as "the Austrian lip" confers a grandeur of historical
associations on a kind of feature which might make us reject an
advertising footman. I have now and then done harm to a good cause by
speaking for it in public, and have discovered too late that my attitude
on the occasion would more suitably have been that of negative
beneficence. Is it really to the advantage of an opinion that I should
be known to hold it? And as to the force of my arguments, that is a
secondary consideration with audiences who have given a new scope to the
_ex pede Herculem_ principle, and from awkward feet infer awkward
fallacies. Once, when zeal lifted me on my legs, I distinctly heard an
enlightened artisan remark, "Here's a rum cut!"--and doubtless he
reasoned in the same way as the elegant Glycera when she politely puts
on an air of listening to me, but elevates her eyebrows and chills her
glance in sign of predetermined neutrality: both have their reasons for
judging the quality of my speech beforehand.

This sort of reception to a man of affectionate disposition, who has
also the innocent vanity of desiring to be agreeable, has naturally a
depressing if not embittering tendency; and in early life I began to
seek for some consoling point of view, some warrantable method of
softening the hard peas I had to walk on, some comfortable fanaticism
which might supply the needed self-satisfaction. At one time I dwelt
much on the idea of compensation; trying to believe that I was all the
wiser for my bruised vanity, that I had the higher place in the true
spiritual scale, and even that a day might come when some visible
triumph would place me in the French heaven of having the laughers on my
side. But I presently perceived that this was a very odious sort of
self-cajolery. Was it in the least true that I was wiser than several of
my friends who made an excellent figure, and were perhaps praised a
little beyond their merit? Is the ugly unready man in the corner,
outside the current of conversation, really likely to have a fairer
view of things than the agreeable talker, whose success strikes the
unsuccessful as a repulsive example of forwardness and conceit? And as
to compensation in future years, would the fact that I myself got it
reconcile me to an order of things in which I could see a multitude with
as bad a share as mine, who, instead of getting their corresponding
compensation, were getting beyond the reach of it in old age? What could
be more contemptible than the mood of mind which makes a man measure the
justice of divine or human law by the agreeableness of his own shadow
and the ample satisfaction of his own desires?

I dropped a form of consolation which seemed to be encouraging me in the
persuasion that my discontent was the chief evil in the world, and my
benefit the soul of good in that evil. May there not be at least a
partial release from the imprisoning verdict that a man's philosophy is
the formula of his personality? In certain branches of science we can
ascertain our personal equation, the measure of difference between our
own judgments and an average standard: may there not be some
corresponding correction of our personal partialities in moral
theorising? If a squint or other ocular defect disturbs my vision, I can
get instructed in the fact, be made aware that my condition is abnormal,
and either through spectacles or diligent imagination I can learn the
average appearance of things: is there no remedy or corrective for that
inward squint which consists in a dissatisfied egoism or other want of
mental balance? In my conscience I saw that the bias of personal
discontent was just as misleading and odious as the bias of
self-satisfaction. Whether we look through the rose-coloured glass or
the indigo, we are equally far from the hues which the healthy human eye
beholds in heaven above and earth below. I began to dread ways of
consoling which were really a flattering of native illusions, a
feeding-up into monstrosity of an inward growth already
disproportionate; to get an especial scorn for that scorn of mankind
which is a transmuted disappointment of preposterous claims; to watch
with peculiar alarm lest what I called my philosophic estimate of the
human lot in general, should be a mere prose lyric expressing my own
pain and consequent bad temper. The standing-ground worth striving after
seemed to be some Delectable Mountain, whence I could see things in
proportions as little as possible determined by that self-partiality
which certainly plays a necessary part in our bodily sustenance, but has
a starving effect on the mind.

Thus I finally gave up any attempt to make out that I preferred cutting
a bad figure, and that I liked to be despised, because in this way I was
getting more virtuous than my successful rivals; and I have long looked
with suspicion on all views which are recommended as peculiarly
consolatory to wounded vanity or other personal disappointment. The
consolations of egoism are simply a change of attitude or a resort to a
new kind of diet which soothes and fattens it. Fed in this way it is apt
to become a monstrous spiritual pride, or a chuckling satisfaction that
the final balance will not be against us but against those who now
eclipse us. Examining the world in order to find consolation is very
much like looking carefully over the pages of a great book in order to
find our own name, if not in the text, at least in a laudatory note:
whether we find what we want or not, our preoccupation has hindered us
from a true knowledge of the contents. But an attention fixed on the
main theme or various matter of the book would deliver us from that
slavish subjection to our own self-importance. And I had the mighty
volume of the world before me. Nay, I had the struggling action of a
myriad lives around me, each single life as dear to itself as mine to
me. Was there no escape here from this stupidity of a murmuring
self-occupation? Clearly enough, if anything hindered my thought from
rising to the force of passionately interested contemplation, or my poor
pent-up pond of sensitiveness from widening into a beneficent river of
sympathy, it was my own dulness; and though I could not make myself the
reverse of shallow all at once, I had at least learned where I had
better turn my attention.

Something came of this alteration in my point of view, though I admit
that the result is of no striking kind. It is unnecessary for me to
utter modest denials, since none have assured me that I have a vast
intellectual scope, or--what is more surprising, considering I have
done so little--that I might, if I chose, surpass any distinguished man
whom they wish to depreciate. I have not attained any lofty peak of
magnanimity, nor would I trust beforehand in my capability of meeting a
severe demand for moral heroism. But that I have at least succeeded in
establishing a habit of mind which keeps watch against my
self-partiality and promotes a fair consideration of what touches the
feelings or the fortunes of my neighbours, seems to be proved by the
ready confidence with which men and women appeal to my interest in their
experience. It is gratifying to one who would above all things avoid the
insanity of fancying himself a more momentous or touching object than he
really is, to find that nobody expects from him the least sign of such
mental aberration, and that he is evidently held capable of listening to
all kinds of personal outpouring without the least disposition to become
communicative in the same way. This confirmation of the hope that my
bearing is not that of the self-flattering lunatic is given me in ample
measure. My acquaintances tell me unreservedly of their triumphs and
their piques; explain their purposes at length, and reassure me with
cheerfulness as to their chances of success; insist on their theories
and accept me as a dummy with whom they rehearse their side of future
discussions; unwind their coiled-up griefs in relation to their
husbands, or recite to me examples of feminine incomprehensibleness as
typified in their wives; mention frequently the fair applause which
their merits have wrung from some persons, and the attacks to which
certain oblique motives have stimulated others. At the time when I was
less free from superstition about my own power of charming, I
occasionally, in the glow of sympathy which embraced me and my confiding
friend on the subject of his satisfaction or resentment, was urged to
hint at a corresponding experience in my own case; but the signs of a
rapidly lowering pulse and spreading nervous depression in my previously
vivacious interlocutor, warned me that I was acting on that dangerous
misreading, "Do as you are done by." Recalling the true version of the
golden rule, I could not wish that others should lower my spirits as I
was lowering my friend's. After several times obtaining the same result
from a like experiment in which all the circumstances were varied except
my own personality, I took it as an established inference that these
fitful signs of a lingering belief in my own importance were generally
felt to be abnormal, and were something short of that sanity which I
aimed to secure. Clearness on this point is not without its
gratifications, as I have said. While my desire to explain myself in
private ears has been quelled, the habit of getting interested in the
experience of others has been continually gathering strength, and I am
really at the point of finding that this world would be worth living in
without any lot of one's own. Is it not possible for me to enjoy the
scenery of the earth without saying to myself, I have a cabbage-garden
in it? But this sounds like the lunacy of fancying oneself everybody
else and being unable to play one's own part decently--another form of
the disloyal attempt to be independent of the common lot, and to live
without a sharing of pain.

Perhaps I have made self-betrayals enough already to show that I have
not arrived at that non-human independence. My conversational
reticences about myself turn into garrulousness on paper--as the
sea-lion plunges and swims the more energetically because his limbs are
of a sort to make him shambling on land. The act of writing, in spite of
past experience, brings with it the vague, delightful illusion of an
audience nearer to my idiom than the Cherokees, and more numerous than
the visionary One for whom many authors have declared themselves willing
to go through the pleasing punishment of publication. My illusion is of
a more liberal kind, and I imagine a far-off, hazy, multitudinous
assemblage, as in a picture of Paradise, making an approving chorus to
the sentences and paragraphs of which I myself particularly enjoy the
writing. The haze is a necessary condition. If any physiognomy becomes
distinct in the foreground, it is fatal. The countenance is sure to be
one bent on discountenancing my innocent intentions: it is pale-eyed,
incapable of being amused when I am amused or indignant at what makes me
indignant; it stares at my presumption, pities my ignorance, or is
manifestly preparing to expose the various instances in which I
unconsciously disgrace myself. I shudder at this too corporeal auditor,
and turn towards another point of the compass where the haze is
unbroken. Why should I not indulge this remaining illusion, since I do
not take my approving choral paradise as a warrant for setting the press
to work again and making some thousand sheets of superior paper
unsaleable? I leave my manuscripts to a judgment outside my imagination,
but I will not ask to hear it, or request my friend to pronounce, before
I have been buried decently, what he really thinks of my parts, and to
state candidly whether my papers would be most usefully applied in
lighting the cheerful domestic fire. It is too probable that he will be
exasperated at the trouble I have given him of reading them; but the
consequent clearness and vivacity with which he could demonstrate to me
that the fault of my manuscripts, as of my one published work, is simply
flatness, and not that surpassing subtilty which is the preferable
ground of popular neglect--this verdict, however instructively
expressed, is a portion of earthly discipline of which I will not
beseech my friend to be the instrument. Other persons, I am aware, have
not the same cowardly shrinking from a candid opinion of their
performances, and are even importunately eager for it; but I have
convinced myself in numerous cases that such exposers of their own back
to the smiter were of too hopeful a disposition to believe in the
scourge, and really trusted in a pleasant anointing, an outpouring of
balm without any previous wounds. I am of a less trusting disposition,
and will only ask my friend to use his judgment in insuring me against
posthumous mistake.

Thus I make myself a charter to write, and keep the pleasing, inspiring
illusion of being listened to, though I may sometimes write about
myself. What I have already said on this too familiar theme has been
meant only as a preface, to show that in noting the weaknesses of my
acquaintances I am conscious of my fellowship with them. That a
gratified sense of superiority is at the root of barbarous laughter may
be at least half the truth. But there is a loving laughter in which the
only recognised superiority is that of the ideal self, the God within,
holding the mirror and the scourge for our own pettiness as well as our
neighbours'.



II.


LOOKING BACKWARD.

Most of us who have had decent parents would shrink from wishing that
our father and mother had been somebody else whom we never knew; yet it
is held no impiety, rather, a graceful mark of instruction, for a man to
wail that he was not the son of another age and another nation, of which
also he knows nothing except through the easy process of an imperfect
imagination and a flattering fancy.

But the period thus looked back on with a purely admiring regret, as
perfect enough to suit a superior mind, is always a long way off; the
desirable contemporaries are hardly nearer than Leonardo da Vinci, most
likely they are the fellow-citizens of Pericles, or, best of all, of the
Aeolic lyrists whose sparse remains suggest a comfortable contrast with
our redundance. No impassioned personage wishes he had been born in the
age of Pitt, that his ardent youth might have eaten the dearest bread,
dressed itself with the longest coat-tails and the shortest waist, or
heard the loudest grumbling at the heaviest war-taxes; and it would be
really something original in polished verse if one of our young writers
declared he would gladly be turned eighty-five that he might have known
the joy and pride of being an Englishman when there were fewer reforms
and plenty of highwaymen, fewer discoveries and more faces pitted with
the small-pox, when laws were made to keep up the price of corn, and the
troublesome Irish were more miserable. Three-quarters of a century ago
is not a distance that lends much enchantment to the view. We are
familiar with the average men of that period, and are still consciously
encumbered with its bad contrivances and mistaken acts. The lords and
gentlemen painted by young Lawrence talked and wrote their nonsense in a
tongue we thoroughly understand; hence their times are not much
flattered, not much glorified by the yearnings of that modern sect of
Flagellants who make a ritual of lashing--not themselves but--all their
neighbours. To me, however, that paternal time, the time of my father's
youth, never seemed prosaic, for it came to my imagination first through
his memories, which made a wondrous perspective to my little daily world
of discovery. And for my part I can call no age absolutely unpoetic: how
should it be so, since there are always children to whom the acorns and
the swallow's eggs are a wonder, always those human passions and
fatalities through which Garrick as Hamlet in bob-wig and knee-breeches
moved his audience more than some have since done in velvet tunic and
plume? But every age since the golden may be made more or less prosaic
by minds that attend only to its vulgar and sordid elements, of which
there was always an abundance even in Greece and Italy, the favourite
realms of the retrospective optimists. To be quite fair towards the
ages, a little ugliness as well as beauty must be allowed to each of
them, a little implicit poetry even to those which echoed loudest with
servile, pompous, and trivial prose.

Such impartiality is not in vogue at present. If we acknowledge our
obligation to the ancients, it is hardly to be done without some
flouting of our contemporaries, who with all their faults must be
allowed the merit of keeping the world habitable for the refined
eulogists of the blameless past. One wonders whether the remarkable
originators who first had the notion of digging wells, or of churning
for butter, and who were certainly very useful to their own time as well
as ours, were left quite free from invidious comparison with
predecessors who let the water and the milk alone, or whether some
rhetorical nomad, as he stretched himself on the grass with a good
appetite for contemporary butter, became loud on the virtue of ancestors
who were uncorrupted by the produce of the cow; nay, whether in a high
flight of imaginative self-sacrifice (after swallowing the butter) he
even wished himself earlier born and already eaten for the sustenance of
a generation more _naïve_ than his own.

I have often had the fool's hectic of wishing about the unalterable, but
with me that useless exercise has turned chiefly on the conception of a
different self, and not, as it usually does in literature, on the
advantage of having been born in a different age, and more especially in
one where life is imagined to have been altogether majestic and
graceful. With my present abilities, external proportions, and generally
small provision for ecstatic enjoyment, where is the ground for
confidence that I should have had a preferable career in such an epoch
of society? An age in which every department has its awkward-squad seems
in my mind's eye to suit me better. I might have wandered by the Strymon
under Philip and Alexander without throwing any new light on method or
organising the sum of human knowledge; on the other hand, I might have
objected to Aristotle as too much of a systematiser, and have preferred
the freedom of a little self-contradiction as offering more chances of
truth. I gather, too, from the undeniable testimony of his disciple
Theophrastus that there were bores, ill-bred persons, and detractors
even in Athens, of species remarkably corresponding to the English, and
not yet made endurable by being classic; and altogether, with my present
fastidious nostril, I feel that I am the better off for possessing
Athenian life solely as an inodorous fragment of antiquity. As to
Sappho's Mitylene, while I am convinced that the Lesbian capital held
some plain men of middle stature and slow conversational powers, the
addition of myself to their number, though clad in the majestic folds of
the himation and without cravat, would hardly have made a sensation
among the accomplished fair ones who were so precise in adjusting their
own drapery about their delicate ankles. Whereas by being another sort
of person in the present age I might have given it some needful
theoretic clue; or I might have poured forth poetic strains which would
have anticipated theory and seemed a voice from "the prophetic soul of
the wide world dreaming of things to come;" or I might have been one of
those benignant lovely souls who, without astonishing the public and
posterity, make a happy difference in the lives close around them, and
in this way lift the average of earthly joy: in some form or other I
might have been so filled from the store of universal existence that I
should have been freed from that empty wishing which is like a child's
cry to be inside a golden cloud, its imagination being too ignorant to
figure the lining of dimness and damp.

On the whole, though there is some rash boasting about enlightenment,
and an occasional insistance on an originality which is that of the
present year's corn-crop, we seem too much disposed to indulge, and to
call by complimentary names, a greater charity for other portions of the
human race than for our contemporaries. All reverence and gratitude for
the worthy Dead on whose labours we have entered, all care for the
future generations whose lot we are preparing; but some affection and
fairness for those who are doing the actual work of the world, some
attempt to regard them with the same freedom from ill-temper, whether on
private or public grounds, as we may hope will be felt by those who will
call us ancient! Otherwise, the looking before and after, which is our
grand human privilege, is in danger of turning to a sort of
other-worldliness, breeding a more illogical indifference or bitterness
than was ever bred by the ascetic's contemplation of heaven. Except on
the ground of a primitive golden age and continuous degeneracy, I see no
rational footing for scorning the whole present population of the globe,
unless I scorn every previous generation from whom they have inherited
their diseases of mind and body, and by consequence scorn my own scorn,
which is equally an inheritance of mixed ideas and feelings concocted
for me in the boiling caldron of this universally contemptible life, and
so on--scorning to infinity. This may represent some actual states of
mind, for it is a narrow prejudice of mathematicians to suppose that
ways of thinking are to be driven out of the field by being reduced to
an absurdity. The Absurd is taken as an excellent juicy thistle by many
constitutions.

Reflections of this sort have gradually determined me not to grumble at
the age in which I happen to have been born--a natural tendency
certainly older than Hesiod. Many ancient beautiful things are lost,
many ugly modern things have arisen; but invert the proposition and it
is equally true. I at least am a modern with some interest in advocating
tolerance, and notwithstanding an inborn beguilement which carries my
affection and regret continually into an imagined past, I am aware that
I must lose all sense of moral proportion unless I keep alive a stronger
attachment to what is near, and a power of admiring what I best know and
understand. Hence this question of wishing to be rid of one's
contemporaries associates itself with my filial feeling, and calls up
the thought that I might as justifiably wish that I had had other
parents than those whose loving tones are my earliest memory, and whose
last parting first taught me the meaning of death. I feel bound to quell
such a wish as blasphemy.

Besides, there are other reasons why I am contented that my father was a
country parson, born much about the same time as Scott and Wordsworth;
notwithstanding certain qualms I have felt at the fact that the property
on which I am living was saved out of tithe before the period of
commutation, and without the provisional transfiguration into a modus.
It has sometimes occurred to me when I have been taking a slice of
excellent ham that, from a too tenable point of view, I was breakfasting
on a small squealing black pig which, more than half a century ago, was
the unwilling representative of spiritual advantages not otherwise
acknowledged by the grudging farmer or dairyman who parted with him. One
enters on a fearful labyrinth in tracing compound interest backward, and
such complications of thought have reduced the flavour of the ham; but
since I have nevertheless eaten it, the chief effect has been to
moderate the severity of my radicalism (which was not part of my
paternal inheritance) and to raise the assuaging reflection, that if the
pig and the parishioner had been intelligent enough to anticipate my
historical point of view, they would have seen themselves and the rector
in a light that would have made tithe voluntary. Notwithstanding such
drawbacks I am rather fond of the mental furniture I got by having a
father who was well acquainted with all ranks of his neighbours, and am
thankful that he was not one of those aristocratic clergymen who could
not have sat down to a meal with any family in the parish except my
lord's--still more that he was not an earl or a marquis. A chief
misfortune of high birth is that it usually shuts a man out from the
large sympathetic knowledge of human experience which comes from contact
with various classes on their own level, and in my father's time that
entail of social ignorance had not been disturbed as we see it now. To
look always from overhead at the crowd of one's fellow-men must be in
many ways incapacitating, even with the best will and intelligence. The
serious blunders it must lead to in the effort to manage them for their
good, one may see clearly by the mistaken ways people take of flattering
and enticing those whose associations are unlike their own. Hence I have
always thought that the most fortunate Britons are those whose
experience has given them a practical share in many aspects of the
national lot, who have lived long among the mixed commonalty, roughing
it with them under difficulties, knowing how their food tastes to them,
and getting acquainted with their notions and motives not by inference
from traditional types in literature or from philosophical theories, but
from daily fellowship and observation. Of course such experience is apt
to get antiquated, and my father might find himself much at a loss
amongst a mixed rural population of the present day; but he knew very
well what could be wisely expected from the miners, the weavers, the
field-labourers, and farmers of his own time--yes, and from the
aristocracy, for he had been brought up in close contact with them and
had been companion to a young nobleman who was deaf and dumb. "A
clergyman, lad," he used to say to me, "should feel in himself a bit of
every class;" and this theory had a felicitous agreement with his
inclination and practice, which certainly answered in making him beloved
by his parishioners. They grumbled at their obligations towards him; but
what then? It was natural to grumble at any demand for payment, tithe
included, but also natural for a rector to desire his tithe and look
well after the levying. A Christian pastor who did not mind about his
money was not an ideal prevalent among the rural minds of fat central
England, and might have seemed to introduce a dangerous laxity of
supposition about Christian laymen who happened to be creditors. My
father was none the less beloved because he was understood to be of a
saving disposition, and how could he save without getting his tithe? The
sight of him was not unwelcome at any door, and he was remarkable among
the clergy of his district for having no lasting feud with rich or poor
in his parish. I profited by his popularity, and for months after my
mother's death, when I was a little fellow of nine, I was taken care of
first at one homestead and then at another; a variety which I enjoyed
much more than my stay at the Hall, where there was a tutor. Afterwards
for several years I was my father's constant companion in his outdoor
business, riding by his side on my little pony and listening to the
lengthy dialogues he held with Darby or Joan, the one on the road or in
the fields, the other outside or inside her door. In my earliest
remembrance of him his hair was already grey, for I was his youngest as
well as his only surviving child; and it seemed to me that advanced age
was appropriate to a father, as indeed in all respects I considered him
a parent so much to my honour, that the mention of my relationship to
him was likely to secure me regard among those to whom I was otherwise a
stranger--my father's stories from his life including so many names of
distant persons that my imagination placed no limit to his
acquaintanceship. He was a pithy talker, and his sermons bore marks of
his own composition. It is true, they must have been already old when I
began to listen to them, and they were no more than a year's supply, so
that they recurred as regularly as the Collects. But though this system
has been much ridiculed, I am prepared to defend it as equally sound
with that of a liturgy; and even if my researches had shown me that some
of my father's yearly sermons had been copied out from the works of
elder divines, this would only have been another proof of his good
judgment. One may prefer fresh eggs though laid by a fowl of the meanest
understanding, but why fresh sermons?

Nor can I be sorry, though myself given to meditative if not active
innovation, that my father was a Tory who had not exactly a dislike to
innovators and dissenters, but a slight opinion of them as persons of
ill-founded self-confidence; whence my young ears gathered many details
concerning those who might perhaps have called themselves the more
advanced thinkers in our nearest market-town, tending to convince me
that their characters were quite as mixed as those of the thinkers
behind them. This circumstance of my rearing has at least delivered me
from certain mistakes of classification which I observe in many of my
superiors, who have apparently no affectionate memories of a goodness
mingled with what they now regard as outworn prejudices. Indeed, my
philosophical notions, such as they are, continually carry me back to
the time when the fitful gleams of a spring day used to show me my own
shadow as that of a small boy on a small pony, riding by the side of a
larger cob-mounted shadow over the breezy uplands which we used to
dignify with the name of hills, or along by-roads with broad grassy
borders and hedgerows reckless of utility, on our way to outlying
hamlets, whose groups of inhabitants were as distinctive to my
imagination as if they had belonged to different regions of the globe.
From these we sometimes rode onward to the adjoining parish, where also
my father officiated, for he was a pluralist, but--I hasten to add--on
the smallest scale; for his one extra living was a poor vicarage, with
hardly fifty parishioners, and its church would have made a very shabby
barn, the grey worm-eaten wood of its pews and pulpit, with their doors
only half hanging on the hinges, being exactly the colour of a lean
mouse which I once observed as an interesting member of the scant
congregation, and conjectured to be the identical church mouse I had
heard referred to as an example of extreme poverty; for I was a
precocious boy, and often reasoned after the fashion of my elders,
arguing that "Jack and Jill" were real personages in our parish, and
that if I could identify "Jack" I should find on him the marks of a
broken crown.

Sometimes when I am in a crowded London drawing-room (for I am a
town-bird now, acquainted with smoky eaves, and tasting Nature in the
parks) quick flights of memory take me back among my father's
parishioners while I am still conscious of elbowing men who wear the
same evening uniform as myself; and I presently begin to wonder what
varieties of history lie hidden under this monotony of aspect. Some of
them, perhaps, belong to families with many quarterings; but how many
"quarterings" of diverse contact with their fellow-countrymen enter into
their qualifications to be parliamentary leaders, professors of social
science, or journalistic guides of the popular mind? Not that I feel
myself a person made competent by experience; on the contrary, I argue
that since an observation of different ranks has still left me
practically a poor creature, what must be the condition of those who
object even to read about the life of other British classes than their
own? But of my elbowing neighbours with their crush hats, I usually
imagine that the most distinguished among them have probably had a far
more instructive journey into manhood than mine. Here, perhaps, is a
thought-worn physiognomy, seeming at the present moment to be classed as
a mere species of white cravat and swallow-tail, which may once, like
Faraday's, have shown itself in curiously dubious embryonic form leaning
against a cottage lintel in small corduroys, and hungrily eating a bit
of brown bread and bacon; _there_ is a pair of eyes, now too much
wearied by the gas-light of public assemblies, that once perhaps learned
to read their native England through the same alphabet as mine--not
within the boundaries of an ancestral park, never even being driven
through the county town five miles off, but--among the midland villages
and markets, along by the tree-studded hedgerows, and where the heavy
barges seem in the distance to float mysteriously among the rushes and
the feathered grass. Our vision, both real and ideal, has since then
been filled with far other scenes: among eternal snows and stupendous
sun-scorched monuments of departed empires; within the scent of the long
orange-groves; and where the temple of Neptune looks out over the
siren-haunted sea. But my eyes at least have kept their early
affectionate joy in our native landscape, which is one deep root of our
national life and language.

And I often smile at my consciousness that certain conservative
prepossessions have mingled themselves for me with the influences of our
midland scenery, from the tops of the elms down to the buttercups and
the little wayside vetches. Naturally enough. That part of my father's
prime to which he oftenest referred had fallen on the days when the
great wave of political enthusiasm and belief in a speedy regeneration
of all things had ebbed, and the supposed millennial initiative of
France was turning into a Napoleonic empire, the sway of an Attila with
a mouth speaking proud things in a jargon half revolutionary, half
Roman. Men were beginning to shrink timidly from the memory of their
own words and from the recognition of the fellowships they had formed
ten years before; and even reforming Englishmen for the most part were
willing to wait for the perfection of society, if only they could keep
their throats perfect and help to drive away the chief enemy of mankind
from our coasts. To my father's mind the noisy teachers of revolutionary
doctrine were, to speak mildly, a variable mixture of the fool and the
scoundrel; the welfare of the nation lay in a strong Government which
could maintain order; and I was accustomed to hear him utter the word
"Government" in a tone that charged it with awe, and made it part of my
effective religion, in contrast with the word "rebel," which seemed to
carry the stamp of evil in its syllables, and, lit by the fact that
Satan was the first rebel, made an argument dispensing with more
detailed inquiry. I gathered that our national troubles in the first two
decades of this century were not at all due to the mistakes of our
administrators; and that England, with its fine Church and Constitution,
would have been exceedingly well off if every British subject had been
thankful for what was provided, and had minded his own business--if,
for example, numerous Catholics of that period had been aware how very
modest they ought to be considering they were Irish. The times, I heard,
had often been bad; but I was constantly hearing of "bad times" as a
name for actual evenings and mornings when the godfathers who gave them
that name appeared to me remarkably comfortable. Altogether, my father's
England seemed to me lovable, laudable, full of good men, and having
good rulers, from Mr Pitt on to the Duke of Wellington, until he was for
emancipating the Catholics; and it was so far from prosaic to me that I
looked into it for a more exciting romance than such as I could find in
my own adventures, which consisted mainly in fancied crises calling for
the resolute wielding of domestic swords and firearms against unapparent
robbers, rioters, and invaders who, it seemed, in my father's prime had
more chance of being real. The morris-dancers had not then dwindled to a
ragged and almost vanished rout (owing the traditional name probably to
the historic fancy of our superannuated groom); also, the good old king
was alive and well, which made all the more difference because I had no
notion what he was and did--only understanding in general that if he had
been still on the throne he would have hindered everything that wise
persons thought undesirable.

Certainly that elder England with its frankly saleable boroughs, so
cheap compared with the seats obtained under the reformed method, and
its boroughs kindly presented by noblemen desirous to encourage
gratitude; its prisons with a miscellaneous company of felons and
maniacs and without any supply of water; its bloated, idle charities;
its non-resident, jovial clergy; its militia-balloting; and above all,
its blank ignorance of what we, its posterity, should be thinking of
it,--has great differences from the England of to-day. Yet we discern a
strong family likeness. Is there any country which shows at once as much
stability and as much susceptibility to change as ours? Our national
life is like that scenery which I early learned to love, not subject to
great convulsions, but easily showing more or less delicate (sometimes
melancholy) effects from minor changes. Hence our midland plains have
never lost their familiar expression and conservative spirit for me;
yet at every other mile, since I first looked on them, some sign of
world-wide change, some new direction of human labour has wrought itself
into what one may call the speech of the landscape--in contrast with
those grander and vaster regions of the earth which keep an indifferent
aspect in the presence of men's toil and devices. What does it signify
that a lilliputian train passes over a viaduct amidst the abysses of the
Apennines, or that a caravan laden with a nation's offerings creeps
across the unresting sameness of the desert, or that a petty cloud of
steam sweeps for an instant over the face of an Egyptian colossus
immovably submitting to its slow burial beneath the sand? But our
woodlands and pastures, our hedge-parted corn-fields and meadows, our
bits of high common where we used to plant the windmills, our quiet
little rivers here and there fit to turn a mill-wheel, our villages
along the old coach-roads, are all easily alterable lineaments that seem
to make the face of our Motherland sympathetic with the laborious lives
of her children. She does not take their ploughs and waggons
contemptuously, but rather makes every hovel and every sheepfold, every
railed bridge or fallen tree-trunk an agreeably noticeable incident; not
a mere speck in the midst of unmeasured vastness, but a piece of our
social history in pictorial writing.

Our rural tracts--where no Babel-chimney scales the heavens--are without
mighty objects to fill the soul with the sense of an outer world
unconquerably aloof from our efforts. The wastes are playgrounds (and
let us try to keep them such for the children's children who will
inherit no other sort of demesne); the grasses and reeds nod to each
other over the river, but we have cut a canal close by; the very heights
laugh with corn in August or lift the plough-team against the sky in
September. Then comes a crowd of burly navvies with pickaxes and
barrows, and while hardly a wrinkle is made in the fading mother's face
or a new curve of health in the blooming girl's, the hills are cut
through or the breaches between them spanned, we choose our level and
the white steam-pennon flies along it.

But because our land shows this readiness to be changed, all signs of
permanence upon it raise a tender attachment instead of awe: some of us,
at least, love the scanty relics of our forests, and are thankful if a
bush is left of the old hedgerow. A crumbling bit of wall where the
delicate ivy-leaved toad-flax hangs its light branches, or a bit of grey
thatch with patches of dark moss on its shoulder and a troop of
grass-stems on its ridge, is a thing to visit. And then the tiled roof
of cottage and homestead, of the long cow-shed where generations of the
milky mothers have stood patiently, of the broad-shouldered barns where
the old-fashioned flail once made resonant music, while the watch-dog
barked at the timidly venturesome fowls making pecking raids on the
outflying grain--the roofs that have looked out from among the elms and
walnut-trees, or beside the yearly group of hay and corn stacks, or
below the square stone steeple, gathering their grey or ochre-tinted
lichens and their olive-green mosses under all ministries,--let us
praise the sober harmonies they give to our landscape, helping to unite
us pleasantly with the elder generations who tilled the soil for us
before we were born, and paid heavier and heavier taxes, with much
grumbling, but without that deepest root of corruption--the
self-indulgent despair which cuts down and consumes and never plants.

But I check myself. Perhaps this England of my affections is half
visionary--a dream in which things are connected according to my
well-fed, lazy mood, and not at all by the multitudinous links of
graver, sadder fact, such as belong everywhere to the story of human
labour. Well, well, the illusions that began for us when we were less
acquainted with evil have not lost their value when we discern them to
be illusions. They feed the ideal Better, and in loving them still, we
strengthen the precious habit of loving something not visibly, tangibly
existent, but a spiritual product of our visible tangible selves.

I cherish my childish loves--the memory of that warm little nest where
my affections were fledged. Since then I have learned to care for
foreign countries, for literatures foreign and ancient, for the life of
Continental towns dozing round old cathedrals, for the life of London,
half sleepless with eager thought and strife, with indigestion or with
hunger; and now my consciousness is chiefly of the busy, anxious
metropolitan sort. My system responds sensitively to the London
weather-signs, political, social, literary; and my bachelor's hearth is
imbedded where by much craning of head and neck I can catch sight of a
sycamore in the Square garden: I belong to the "Nation of London." Why?
There have been many voluntary exiles in the world, and probably in the
very first exodus of the patriarchal Aryans--for I am determined not to
fetch my examples from races whose talk is of uncles and no
fathers--some of those who sallied forth went for the sake of a loved
companionship, when they would willingly have kept sight of the familiar
plains, and of the hills to which they had first lifted up their eyes.



III.


HOW WE ENCOURAGE RESEARCH.

The serene and beneficent goddess Truth, like other deities whose
disposition has been too hastily inferred from that of the men who have
invoked them, can hardly be well pleased with much of the worship paid
to her even in this milder age, when the stake and the rack have ceased
to form part of her ritual. Some cruelties still pass for service done
in her honour: no thumb-screw is used, no iron boot, no scorching of
flesh; but plenty of controversial bruising, laceration, and even
lifelong maiming. Less than formerly; but so long as this sort of
truth-worship has the sanction of a public that can often understand
nothing in a controversy except personal sarcasm or slanderous ridicule,
it is likely to continue. The sufferings of its victims are often as
little regarded as those of the sacrificial pig offered in old time,
with what we now regard as a sad miscalculation of effects.

One such victim is my old acquaintance Merman.

Twenty years ago Merman was a young man of promise, a conveyancer with a
practice which had certainly budded, but, like Aaron's rod, seemed not
destined to proceed further in that marvellous activity. Meanwhile he
occupied himself in miscellaneous periodical writing and in a
multifarious study of moral and physical science. What chiefly attracted
him in all subjects were the vexed questions which have the advantage of
not admitting the decisive proof or disproof that renders many ingenious
arguments superannuated. Not that Merman had a wrangling disposition: he
put all his doubts, queries, and paradoxes deferentially, contended
without unpleasant heat and only with a sonorous eagerness against the
personality of Homer, expressed himself civilly though firmly on the
origin of language, and had tact enough to drop at the right moment such
subjects as the ultimate reduction of all the so-called elementary
substances, his own total scepticism concerning Manetho's chronology, or
even the relation between the magnetic condition of the earth and the
outbreak of revolutionary tendencies. Such flexibility was naturally
much helped by his amiable feeling towards woman, whose nervous system,
he was convinced, would not bear the continuous strain of difficult
topics; and also by his willingness to contribute a song whenever the
same desultory charmer proposed music. Indeed his tastes were domestic
enough to beguile him into marriage when his resources were still very
moderate and partly uncertain. His friends wished that so ingenious and
agreeable a fellow might have more prosperity than they ventured to hope
for him, their chief regret on his account being that he did not
concentrate his talent and leave off forming opinions on at least
half-a-dozen of the subjects over which he scattered his attention,
especially now that he had married a "nice little woman" (the generic
name for acquaintances' wives when they are not markedly disagreeable).
He could not, they observed, want all his various knowledge and Laputan
ideas for his periodical writing which brought him most of his bread,
and he would do well to use his talents in getting a speciality that
would fit him for a post. Perhaps these well-disposed persons were a
little rash in presuming that fitness for a post would be the surest
ground for getting it; and on the whole, in now looking back on their
wishes for Merman, their chief satisfaction must be that those wishes
did not contribute to the actual result.

For in an evil hour Merman did concentrate himself. He had for many
years taken into his interest the comparative history of the ancient
civilisations, but it had not preoccupied him so as to narrow his
generous attention to everything else. One sleepless night, however (his
wife has more than once narrated to me the details of an event memorable
to her as the beginning of sorrows), after spending some hours over the
epoch-making work of Grampus, a new idea seized him with regard to the
possible connection of certain symbolic monuments common to widely
scattered races. Merman started up in bed. The night was cold, and the
sudden withdrawal of warmth made his wife first dream of a snowball,
and then cry--

"What is the matter, Proteus?"

"A great matter, Julia. That fellow Grampus, whose book is cried up as a
revelation, is all wrong about the Magicodumbras and the Zuzumotzis, and
I have got hold of the right clue."

"Good gracious! does it matter so much? Don't drag the clothes, dear."

"It signifies this, Julia, that if I am right I shall set the world
right; I shall regenerate history; I shall win the mind of Europe to a
new view of social origins; I shall bruise the head of many
superstitions."

"Oh no, dear, don't go too far into things. Lie down again. You have
been dreaming. What are the Madicojumbras and Zuzitotzums? I never heard
you talk of them before. What use can it be troubling yourself about
such things?"

"That is the way, Julia--that is the way wives alienate their husbands,
and make any hearth pleasanter to him than his own!"

"What _do_ you mean, Proteus?"

"Why, if a woman will not try to understand her husband's ideas, or at
least to believe that they are of more value than she can understand--if
she is to join anybody who happens to be against him, and suppose he is
a fool because others contradict him--there is an end of our happiness.
That is all I have to say."

"Oh no, Proteus, dear. I do believe what you say is right That is my
only guide. I am sure I never have any opinions in any other way: I mean
about subjects. Of course there are many little things that would tease
you, that you like me to judge of for myself. I know I said once that I
did not want you to sing 'Oh ruddier than the cherry,' because it was
not in your voice. But I cannot remember ever differing from you about
_subjects_. I never in my life thought any one cleverer than you."

Julia Merman was really a "nice little woman," not one of the stately
Dians sometimes spoken of in those terms. Her black _silhouette_ had a
very infantine aspect, but she had discernment and wisdom enough to act
on the strong hint of that memorable conversation, never again giving
her husband the slightest ground for suspecting that she thought
treasonably of his ideas in relation to the Magicodumbras and
Zuzumotzis, or in the least relaxed her faith in his infallibility
because Europe was not also convinced of it. It was well for her that
she did not increase her troubles in this way; but to do her justice,
what she was chiefly anxious about was to avoid increasing her husband's
troubles.

Not that these were great in the beginning. In the first development and
writing out of his scheme, Merman had a more intense kind of
intellectual pleasure than he had ever known before. His face became
more radiant, his general view of human prospects more cheerful.
Foreseeing that truth as presented by himself would win the recognition
of his contemporaries, he excused with much liberality their rather
rough treatment of other theorists whose basis was less perfect. His own
periodical criticisms had never before been so amiable: he was sorry for
that unlucky majority whom the spirit of the age, or some other
prompting more definite and local, compelled to write without any
particular ideas. The possession of an original theory which has not yet
been assailed must certainly sweeten the temper of a man who is not
beforehand ill-natured. And Merman was the reverse of ill-natured.

But the hour of publication came; and to half-a-dozen persons, described
as the learned world of two hemispheres, it became known that Grampus
was attacked. This might have been a small matter; for who or what on
earth that is good for anything is not assailed by ignorance, stupidity,
or malice--and sometimes even by just objection? But on examination it
appeared that the attack might possibly be held damaging, unless the
ignorance of the author were well exposed and his pretended facts shown
to be chimeras of that remarkably hideous kind begotten by imperfect
learning on the more feminine element of original incapacity. Grampus
himself did not immediately cut open the volume which Merman had been
careful to send him, not without a very lively and shifting conception
of the possible effects which the explosive gift might produce on the
too eminent scholar--effects that must certainly have set in on the
third day from the despatch of the parcel. But in point of fact Grampus
knew nothing of the book until his friend Lord Narwhal sent him an
American newspaper containing a spirited article by the well-known
Professor Sperm N. Whale which was rather equivocal in its bearing, the
passages quoted from Merman being of rather a telling sort, and the
paragraphs which seemed to blow defiance being unaccountably feeble,
coming from so distinguished a Cetacean. Then, by another post, arrived
letters from Butzkopf and Dugong, both men whose signatures were
familiar to the Teutonic world in the _Selten-erscheinende
Monat-schrift_ or Hayrick for the insertion of Split Hairs, asking their
Master whether he meant to take up the combat, because, in the contrary
case, both were ready.

Thus America and Germany were roused, though England was still drowsy,
and it seemed time now for Grampus to find Merman's book under the heap
and cut it open. For his own part he was perfectly at ease about his
system; but this is a world in which the truth requires defence, and
specious falsehood must be met with exposure. Grampus having once looked
through the book, no longer wanted any urging to write the most crushing
of replies. This, and nothing less than this, was due from him to the
cause of sound inquiry; and the punishment would cost him little pains.
In three weeks from that time the palpitating Merman saw his book
announced in the programme of the leading Review. No need for Grampus to
put his signature. Who else had his vast yet microscopic knowledge, who
else his power of epithet? This article in which Merman was pilloried
and as good as mutilated--for he was shown to have neither ear nor nose
for the subtleties of philological and archaeological study--was much
read and more talked of, not because of any interest in the system of
Grampus, or any precise conception of the danger attending lax views of
the Magicodumbras and Zuzumotzis, but because the sharp epigrams with
which the victim was lacerated, and the soaring fountains of acrid mud
which were shot upward and poured over the fresh wounds, were found
amusing in recital. A favourite passage was one in which a certain kind
of sciolist was described as a creature of the Walrus kind, having a
phantasmal resemblance to higher animals when seen by ignorant minds in
the twilight, dabbling or hobbling in first one element and then the
other, without parts or organs suited to either, in fact one of Nature's
impostors who could not be said to have any artful pretences, since a
congenital incompetence to all precision of aim and movement made their
every action a pretence--just as a being born in doeskin gloves would
necessarily pass a judgment on surfaces, but we all know what his
judgment would be worth. In drawing-room circles, and for the immediate
hour, this ingenious comparison was as damaging as the showing up of
Merman's mistakes and the mere smattering of linguistic and historical
knowledge which he had presumed to be a sufficient basis for theorising;
but the more learned cited his blunders aside to each other and laughed
the laugh of the initiated. In fact, Merman's was a remarkable case of
sudden notoriety. In London drums and clubs he was spoken of abundantly
as one who had written ridiculously about the Magicodumbras and
Zuzumotzis: the leaders of conversation, whether Christians, Jews,
infidels, or of any other confession except the confession of ignorance,
pronouncing him shallow and indiscreet if not presumptuous and absurd.
He was heard of at Warsaw, and even Paris took knowledge of him. M.
Cachalot had not read either Grampus or Merman, but he heard of their
dispute in time to insert a paragraph upon it in his brilliant work,
_L'orient au point de vue actuel_, in which he was dispassionate enough
to speak of Grampus as possessing a _coup d'oeil presque français_ in
matters of historical interpretation, and of Merman as nevertheless an
objector _qui mérite d'être connu_. M. Porpesse, also, availing himself
of M. Cachalot's knowledge, reproduced it in an article with certain
additions, which it is only fair to distinguish as his own, implying
that the vigorous English of Grampus was not always as correct as a
Frenchman could desire, while Merman's objections were more sophistical
than solid. Presently, indeed, there appeared an able _extrait_ of
Grampus's article in the valuable _Rapporteur scientifique et
historique_, and Merman's mistakes were thus brought under the notice of
certain Frenchmen who are among the masters of those who know on
oriental subjects. In a word, Merman, though not extensively read, was
extensively read about.

Meanwhile, how did he like it? Perhaps nobody, except his wife, for a
moment reflected on that. An amused society considered that he was
severely punished, but did not take the trouble to imagine his
sensations; indeed this would have been a difficulty for persons less
sensitive and excitable than Merman himself. Perhaps that popular
comparison of the Walrus had truth enough to bite and blister on
thorough application, even if exultant ignorance had not applauded it.
But it is well known that the walrus, though not in the least a
malignant animal, if allowed to display its remarkably plain person and
blundering performances at ease in any element it chooses, becomes
desperately savage and musters alarming auxiliaries when attacked or
hurt. In this characteristic, at least, Merman resembled the walrus. And
now he concentrated himself with a vengeance. That his counter-theory
was fundamentally the right one he had a genuine conviction, whatever
collateral mistakes he might have committed; and his bread would not
cease to be bitter to him until he had convinced his contemporaries that
Grampus had used his minute learning as a dust-cloud to hide
sophistical evasions--that, in fact, minute learning was an obstacle to
clear-sighted judgment, more especially with regard to the Magicodumbras
and Zuzumotzis, and that the best preparation in this matter was a wide
survey of history and a diversified observation of men. Still, Merman
was resolved to muster all the learning within his reach, and he
wandered day and night through many wildernesses of German print, he
tried compendious methods of learning oriental tongues, and, so to
speak, getting at the marrow of languages independently of the bones,
for the chance of finding details to corroborate his own views, or
possibly even to detect Grampus in some oversight or textual tampering.
All other work was neglected: rare clients were sent away and amazed
editors found this maniac indifferent to his chance of getting
book-parcels from them. It was many months before Merman had satisfied
himself that he was strong enough to face round upon his adversary. But
at last he had prepared sixty condensed pages of eager argument which
seemed to him worthy to rank with the best models of controversial
writing. He had acknowledged his mistakes, but had restated his theory
so as to show that it was left intact in spite of them; and he had even
found cases in which Ziphius, Microps, Scrag Whale the explorer, and
other Cetaceans of unanswerable authority, were decidedly at issue with
Grampus. Especially a passage cited by this last from that greatest of
fossils Megalosaurus was demonstrated by Merman to be capable of three
different interpretations, all preferable to that chosen by Grampus, who
took the words in their most literal sense; for, 1°, the incomparable
Saurian, alike unequalled in close observation and far-glancing
comprehensiveness, might have meant those words ironically; 2°, _motzis_
was probably a false reading for _potzis_, in which case its bearing was
reversed; and 3°, it is known that in the age of the Saurians there
were conceptions about the _motzis_ which entirely remove it from the
category of things comprehensible in an age when Saurians run
ridiculously small: all which views were godfathered by names quite fit
to be ranked with that of Grampus. In fine, Merman wound up his
rejoinder by sincerely thanking the eminent adversary without whose
fierce assault he might not have undertaken a revision in the course of
which he had met with unexpected and striking confirmations of his own
fundamental views. Evidently Merman's anger was at white heat.

The rejoinder being complete, all that remained was to find a suitable
medium for its publication. This was not so easy. Distinguished mediums
would not lend themselves to contradictions of Grampus, or if they
would, Merman's article was too long and too abstruse, while he would
not consent to leave anything out of an article which had no
superfluities; for all this happened years ago when the world was at a
different stage. At last, however, he got his rejoinder printed, and not
on hard terms, since the medium, in every sense modest, did not ask him
to pay for its insertion.

But if Merman expected to call out Grampus again, he was mistaken.
Everybody felt it too absurd that Merman should undertake to correct
Grampus in matters of erudition, and an eminent man has something else
to do than to refute a petty objector twice over. What was essential had
been done: the public had been enabled to form a true judgment of
Merman's incapacity, the Magicodumbras and Zuzumotzis were but
subsidiary elements in Grampus's system, and Merman might now be dealt
with by younger members of the master's school. But he had at least the
satisfaction of finding that he had raised a discussion which would not
be let die. The followers of Grampus took it up with an ardour and
industry of research worthy of their exemplar. Butzkopf made it the
subject of an elaborate _Einleitung_ to his important work, _Die
Bedeutung des Aegyptischen Labyrinthes_; and Dugong, in a remarkable
address which he delivered to a learned society in Central Europe,
introduced Merman's theory with so much power of sarcasm that it became
a theme of more or less derisive allusion to men of many tongues. Merman
with his Magicodumbras and Zuzumotzis was on the way to become a
proverb, being used illustratively by many able journalists who took
those names of questionable things to be Merman's own invention, "than
which," said one of the graver guides, "we can recall few more
melancholy examples of speculative aberration." Naturally the subject
passed into popular literature, and figured very commonly in advertised
programmes. The fluent Loligo, the formidable Shark, and a younger
member of his remarkable family known as S. Catulus, made a special
reputation by their numerous articles, eloquent, lively, or abusive, all
on the same theme, under titles ingeniously varied, alliterative,
sonorous, or boldly fanciful; such as, "Moments with Mr Merman," "Mr
Merman and the Magicodumbras," "Greenland Grampus and Proteus Merman,"
"Grampian Heights and their Climbers, or the New Excelsior." They tossed
him on short sentences; they swathed him in paragraphs of winding
imagery; they found him at once a mere plagiarist and a theoriser of
unexampled perversity, ridiculously wrong about _potzis_ and ignorant of
Pali; they hinted, indeed, at certain things which to their knowledge he
had silently brooded over in his boyhood, and seemed tolerably well
assured that this preposterous attempt to gainsay an incomparable
Cetacean of world-wide fame had its origin in a peculiar mixture of
bitterness and eccentricity which, rightly estimated and seen in its
definite proportions, would furnish the best key to his argumentation.
All alike were sorry for Merman's lack of sound learning, but how could
their readers be sorry? Sound learning would not have been amusing; and
as it was, Merman was made to furnish these readers with amusement at no
expense of trouble on their part. Even burlesque writers looked into his
book to see where it could be made use of, and those who did not know
him were desirous of meeting him at dinner as one likely to feed their
comic vein.

On the other hand, he made a serious figure in sermons under the name of
"Some" or "Others" who had attempted presumptuously to scale eminences
too high and arduous for human ability, and had given an example of
ignominious failure edifying to the humble Christian.

All this might be very advantageous for able persons whose superfluous
fund of expression needed a paying investment, but the effect on Merman
himself was unhappily not so transient as the busy writing and speaking
of which he had become the occasion. His certainty that he was right
naturally got stronger in proportion as the spirit of resistance was
stimulated. The scorn and unfairness with which he felt himself to have
been treated by those really competent to appreciate his ideas had
galled him and made a chronic sore; and the exultant chorus of the
incompetent seemed a pouring of vinegar on his wound. His brain became a
registry of the foolish and ignorant objections made against him, and of
continually amplified answers to these objections. Unable to get his
answers printed, he had recourse to that more primitive mode of
publication, oral transmission or button-holding, now generally regarded
as a troublesome survival, and the once pleasant, flexible Merman was on
the way to be shunned as a bore. His interest in new acquaintances
turned chiefly on the possibility that they would care about the
Magicodumbras and Zuzumotzis; that they would listen to his complaints
and exposures of unfairness, and not only accept copies of what he had
written on the subject, but send him appreciative letters in
acknowledgment. Repeated disappointment of such hopes tended to embitter
him, and not the less because after a while the fashion of mentioning
him died out, allusions to his theory were less understood, and people
could only pretend to remember it. And all the while Merman was
perfectly sure that his very opponents who had knowledge enough to be
capable judges were aware that his book, whatever errors of statement
they might detect in it, had served as a sort of divining rod, pointing
out hidden sources of historical interpretation; nay, his jealous
examination discerned in a new work by Grampus himself a certain
shifting of ground which--so poor Merman declared--was the sign of an
intention gradually to appropriate the views of the man he had attempted
to brand as an ignorant impostor.

And Julia? And the housekeeping?--the rent, food, and clothing, which
controversy can hardly supply unless it be of the kind that serves as a
recommendation to certain posts. Controversial pamphlets have been known
to earn large plums; but nothing of the sort could be expected from
unpractical heresies about the Magicodumbras and Zuzumotzis. Painfully
the contrary. Merman's reputation as a sober thinker, a safe writer, a
sound lawyer, was irretrievably injured: the distractions of controversy
had caused him to neglect useful editorial connections, and indeed his
dwindling care for miscellaneous subjects made his contributions too
dull to be desirable. Even if he could now have given a new turn to his
concentration, and applied his talents so as to be ready to show himself
an exceptionally qualified lawyer, he would only have been like an
architect in competition, too late with his superior plans; he would not
have had an opportunity of showing his qualification. He was thrown out
of the course. The small capital which had filled up deficiencies of
income was almost exhausted, and Julia, in the effort to make supplies
equal to wants, had to use much ingenuity in diminishing the wants. The
brave and affectionate woman whose small outline, so unimpressive
against an illuminated background, held within it a good share of
feminine heroism, did her best to keep up the charm of home and soothe
her husband's excitement; parting with the best jewel among her wedding
presents in order to pay rent, without ever hinting to her husband that
this sad result had come of his undertaking to convince people who only
laughed at him. She was a resigned little creature, and reflected that
some husbands took to drinking and others to forgery: hers had only
taken to the Magicodumbras and Zuzumotzis, and was not unkind--only a
little more indifferent to her and the two children than she had ever
expected he would be, his mind being eaten up with "subjects," and
constantly a little angry, not with her, but with everybody else,
especially those who were celebrated.

This was the sad truth. Merman felt himself ill-used by the world, and
thought very much worse of the world in consequence. The gall of his
adversaries' ink had been sucked into his system and ran in his blood.
He was still in the prime of life, but his mind was aged by that eager
monotonous construction which comes of feverish excitement on a single
topic and uses up the intellectual strength.

Merman had never been a rich man, but he was now conspicuously poor, and
in need of the friends who had power or interest which he believed they
could exert on his behalf. Their omitting or declining to give this help
could not seem to him so clearly as to them an inevitable consequence of
his having become impracticable, or at least of his passing for a man
whose views were not likely to be safe and sober. Each friend in turn
offended him, though unwillingly, and was suspected of wishing to shake
him off. It was not altogether so; but poor Merman's society had
undeniably ceased to be attractive, and it was difficult to help him. At
last the pressure of want urged him to try for a post far beneath his
earlier prospects, and he gained it. He holds it still, for he has no
vices, and his domestic life has kept up a sweetening current of motive
around and within him. Nevertheless, the bitter flavour mingling itself
with all topics, the premature weariness and withering, are irrevocably
there. It is as if he had gone through a disease which alters what we
call the constitution. He has long ceased to talk eagerly of the ideas
which possess him, or to attempt making proselytes. The dial has moved
onward, and he himself sees many of his former guesses in a new light.
On the other hand, he has seen what he foreboded, that the main idea
which was at the root of his too rash theorising has been adopted by
Grampus and received with general respect, no reference being heard to
the ridiculous figure this important conception made when ushered in by
the incompetent "Others."

Now and then, on rare occasions, when a sympathetic _tête-à-tête_ has
restored some of his old expansiveness, he will tell a companion in a
railway carriage, or other place of meeting favourable to
autobiographical confidences, what has been the course of things in his
particular case, as an example of the justice to be expected of the
world. The companion usually allows for the bitterness of a disappointed
man, and is secretly disinclined to believe that Grampus was to blame.



IV.


A MAN SURPRISED AT HIS ORIGINALITY.

Among the many acute sayings of La Rochefoucauld, there is hardly one
more acute than this: "La plus grande ambition n'en a pas la moindre
apparence lorsqu'elle se rencontre dans une impossibilité absolue
d'arriver où elle aspire." Some of us might do well to use this hint in
our treatment of acquaintances and friends from whom we are expecting
gratitude because we are so very kind in thinking of them, inviting
them, and even listening to what they say--considering how insignificant
they must feel themselves to be. We are often fallaciously confident in
supposing that our friend's state of mind is appropriate to our moderate
estimate of his importance: almost as if we imagined the humble mollusc
(so useful as an illustration) to have a sense of his own exceeding
softness and low place in the scale of being. Your mollusc, on the
contrary, is inwardly objecting to every other grade of solid rather
than to himself. Accustomed to observe what we think an unwarrantable
conceit exhibiting itself in ridiculous pretensions and forwardness to
play the lion's part, in obvious self-complacency and loud
peremptoriness, we are not on the alert to detect the egoistic claims of
a more exorbitant kind often hidden under an apparent neutrality or an
acquiescence in being put out of the question.

Thoughts of this kind occurred to me yesterday when I saw the name of
Lentulus in the obituary. The majority of his acquaintances, I imagine,
have always thought of him as a man justly unpretending and as nobody's
rival; but some of them have perhaps been struck with surprise at his
reserve in praising the works of his contemporaries, and have now and
then felt themselves in need of a key to his remarks on men of celebrity
in various departments. He was a man of fair position, deriving his
income from a business in which he did nothing, at leisure to frequent
clubs and at ease in giving dinners; well-looking, polite, and generally
acceptable in society as a part of what we may call its bread-crumb--the
neutral basis needful for the plums and spice. Why, then, did he speak
of the modern Maro or the modern Flaccus with a peculiarity in his tone
of assent to other people's praise which might almost have led you to
suppose that the eminent poet had borrowed money of him and showed an
indisposition to repay? He had no criticism to offer, no sign of
objection more specific than a slight cough, a scarcely perceptible
pause before assenting, and an air of self-control in his utterance--as
if certain considerations had determined him not to inform against the
so-called poet, who to his knowledge was a mere versifier. If you had
questioned him closely, he would perhaps have confessed that he did
think something better might be done in the way of Eclogues and
Georgics, or of Odes and Epodes, and that to his mind poetry was
something very different from what had hitherto been known under that
name.

For my own part, being of a superstitious nature, given readily to
imagine alarming causes, I immediately, on first getting these mystic
hints from Lentulus, concluded that he held a number of entirely
original poems, or at the very least a revolutionary treatise on
poetics, in that melancholy manuscript state to which works excelling
all that is ever printed are necessarily condemned; and I was long timid
in speaking of the poets when he was present. For what might not
Lentulus have done, or be profoundly aware of, that would make my
ignorant impressions ridiculous? One cannot well be sure of the negative
in such a case, except through certain positives that bear witness to
it; and those witnesses are not always to be got hold of. But time
wearing on, I perceived that the attitude of Lentulus towards the
philosophers was essentially the same as his attitude towards the poets;
nay, there was something so much more decided in his mode of closing his
mouth after brief speech on the former, there was such an air of rapt
consciousness in his private hints as to his conviction that all
thinking hitherto had been an elaborate mistake, and as to his own
power of conceiving a sound basis for a lasting superstructure, that I
began to believe less in the poetical stores, and to infer that the line
of Lentulus lay rather in the rational criticism of our beliefs and in
systematic construction. In this case I did not figure to myself the
existence of formidable manuscripts ready for the press; for great
thinkers are known to carry their theories growing within their minds
long before committing them to paper, and the ideas which made a new
passion for them when their locks were jet or auburn, remain perilously
unwritten, an inwardly developing condition of their successive selves,
until the locks are grey or scanty. I only meditated improvingly on the
way in which a man of exceptional faculties, and even carrying within
him some of that fierce refiner's fire which is to purge away the dross
of human error, may move about in society totally unrecognised, regarded
as a person whose opinion is superfluous, and only rising into a power
in emergencies of threatened black-balling. Imagine a Descartes or a
Locke being recognised for nothing more than a good fellow and a
perfect gentleman--what a painful view does such a picture suggest of
impenetrable dulness in the society around them!

I would at all times rather be reduced to a cheaper estimate of a
particular person, if by that means I can get a more cheerful view of my
fellow-men generally; and I confess that in a certain curiosity which
led me to cultivate Lentulus's acquaintance, my hope leaned to the
discovery that he was a less remarkable man than he had seemed to imply.
It would have been a grief to discover that he was bitter or malicious,
but by finding him to be neither a mighty poet, nor a revolutionary
poetical critic, nor an epoch-making philosopher, my admiration for the
poets and thinkers whom he rated so low would recover all its buoyancy,
and I should not be left to trust to that very suspicious sort of merit
which constitutes an exception in the history of mankind, and recommends
itself as the total abolitionist of all previous claims on our
confidence. You are not greatly surprised at the infirm logic of the
coachman who would persuade you to engage him by insisting that any
other would be sure to rob you in the matter of hay and corn, thus
demanding a difficult belief in him as the sole exception from the
frailties of his calling; but it is rather astonishing that the
wholesale decriers of mankind and its performances should be even more
unwary in their reasoning than the coachman, since each of them not
merely confides in your regarding himself as an exception, but overlooks
the almost certain fact that you are wondering whether he inwardly
excepts _you_. Now, conscious of entertaining some common opinions which
seemed to fall under the mildly intimated but sweeping ban of Lentulus,
my self-complacency was a little concerned.

Hence I deliberately attempted to draw out Lentulus in private dialogue,
for it is the reverse of injury to a man to offer him that hearing which
he seems to have found nowhere else. And for whatever purposes silence
may be equal to gold, it cannot be safely taken as an indication of
specific ideas. I sought to know why Lentulus was more than indifferent
to the poets, and what was that new poetry which he had either written
or, as to its principles, distinctly conceived. But I presently found
that he knew very little of any particular poet, and had a general
notion of poetry as the use of artificial language to express unreal
sentiments: he instanced "The Giaour," "Lalla Rookh," "The Pleasures of
Hope," and "Ruin seize thee, ruthless King;" adding, "and plenty more."
On my observing that he probably preferred a larger, simpler style, he
emphatically assented. "Have you not," said I, "written something of
that order?" "No; but I often compose as I go along. I see how things
might be written as fine as Ossian, only with true ideas. The world has
no notion what poetry will be."

It was impossible to disprove this, and I am always glad to believe that
the poverty of our imagination is no measure of the world's resources.
Our posterity will no doubt get fuel in ways that we are unable to
devise for them. But what this conversation persuaded me of was, that
the birth with which the mind of Lentulus was pregnant could not be
poetry, though I did not question that he composed as he went along, and
that the exercise was accompanied with a great sense of power. This is a
frequent experience in dreams, and much of our waking experience is but
a dream in the daylight. Nay, for what I saw, the compositions might be
fairly classed as Ossianic. But I was satisfied that Lentulus could not
disturb my grateful admiration for the poets of all ages by eclipsing
them, or by putting them under a new electric light of criticism.

Still, he had himself thrown the chief emphasis of his protest and his
consciousness of corrective illumination on the philosophic thinking of
our race; and his tone in assuring me that everything which had been
done in that way was wrong--that Plato, Robert Owen, and Dr Tuffle who
wrote in the 'Regulator,' were all equally mistaken--gave my
superstitious nature a thrill of anxiety. After what had passed about
the poets, it did not seem likely that Lentulus had all systems by
heart; but who could say he had not seized that thread which may
somewhere hang out loosely from the web of things and be the clue of
unravelment? We need not go far to learn that a prophet is not made by
erudition. Lentulus at least had not the bias of a school; and if it
turned out that he was in agreement with any celebrated thinker,
ancient or modern, the agreement would have the value of an undesigned
coincidence not due to forgotten reading. It was therefore with renewed
curiosity that I engaged him on this large subject--the universal
erroneousness of thinking up to the period when Lentulus began that
process. And here I found him more copious than on the theme of poetry.
He admitted that he did contemplate writing down his thoughts, but his
difficulty was their abundance. Apparently he was like the woodcutter
entering the thick forest and saying, "Where shall I begin?" The same
obstacle appeared in a minor degree to cling about his verbal
exposition, and accounted perhaps for his rather helter-skelter choice
of remarks bearing on the number of unaddressed letters sent to the
post-office; on what logic really is, as tending to support the buoyancy
of human mediums and mahogany tables; on the probability of all miracles
under all religions when explained by hidden laws, and my
unreasonableness in supposing that their profuse occurrence at half a
guinea an hour in recent times was anything more than a coincidence; on
the haphazard way in which marriages are determined--showing the
baselessness of social and moral schemes; and on his expectation that he
should offend the scientific world when he told them what he thought of
electricity as an agent.

No man's appearance could be graver or more gentleman-like than that of
Lentulus as we walked along the Mall while he delivered these
observations, understood by himself to have a regenerative bearing on
human society. His wristbands and black gloves, his hat and nicely
clipped hair, his laudable moderation in beard, and his evident
discrimination in choosing his tailor, all seemed to excuse the
prevalent estimate of him as a man untainted with heterodoxy, and likely
to be so unencumbered with opinions that he would always be useful as an
assenting and admiring listener. Men of science seeing him at their
lectures doubtless flattered themselves that he came to learn from them;
the philosophic ornaments of our time, expounding some of their luminous
ideas in the social circle, took the meditative gaze of Lentulus for one
of surprise not unmixed with a just reverence at such close reasoning
towards so novel a conclusion; and those who are called men of the
world considered him a good fellow who might be asked to vote for a
friend of their own and would have no troublesome notions to make him
unaccommodating. You perceive how very much they were all mistaken,
except in qualifying him as a good fellow.

This Lentulus certainly was, in the sense of being free from envy,
hatred, and malice; and such freedom was all the more remarkable an
indication of native benignity, because of his gaseous, illimitably
expansive conceit. Yes, conceit; for that his enormous and contentedly
ignorant confidence in his own rambling thoughts was usually clad in a
decent silence, is no reason why it should be less strictly called by
the name directly implying a complacent self-estimate unwarranted by
performance. Nay, the total privacy in which he enjoyed his
consciousness of inspiration was the very condition of its undisturbed
placid nourishment and gigantic growth. Your audibly arrogant man
exposes himself to tests: in attempting to make an impression on others
he may possibly (not always) be made to feel his own lack of
definiteness; and the demand for definiteness is to all of us a needful
check on vague depreciation of what others do, and vague ecstatic trust
in our own superior ability. But Lentulus was at once so unreceptive,
and so little gifted with the power of displaying his miscellaneous
deficiency of information, that there was really nothing to hinder his
astonishment at the spontaneous crop of ideas which his mind secretly
yielded. If it occurred to him that there were more meanings than one
for the word "motive," since it sometimes meant the end aimed at and
sometimes the feeling that prompted the aiming, and that the word
"cause" was also of changeable import, he was naturally struck with the
truth of his own perception, and was convinced that if this vein were
well followed out much might be made of it. Men were evidently in the
wrong about cause and effect, else why was society in the confused state
we behold? And as to motive, Lentulus felt that when he came to write
down his views he should look deeply into this kind of subject and show
up thereby the anomalies of our social institutions; meanwhile the
various aspects of "motive" and "cause" flitted about among the motley
crowd of ideas which he regarded as original, and pregnant with
reformative efficacy. For his unaffected goodwill made him regard all
his insight as only valuable because it tended towards reform.

The respectable man had got into his illusory maze of discoveries by
letting go that clue of conformity in his thinking which he had kept
fast hold of in his tailoring and manners. He regarded heterodoxy as a
power in itself, and took his inacquaintance with doctrines for a
creative dissidence. But his epitaph needs not to be a melancholy one.
His benevolent disposition was more effective for good than his silent
presumption for harm. He might have been mischievous but for the lack of
words: instead of being astonished at his inspirations in private, he
might have clad his addled originalities, disjointed commonplaces, blind
denials, and balloon-like conclusions, in that mighty sort of language
which would have made a new Koran for a knot of followers. I mean no
disrespect to the ancient Koran, but one would not desire the roc to lay
more eggs and give us a whole wing-flapping brood to soar and make
twilight.

Peace be with Lentulus, for he has left us in peace. Blessed is the man
who, having nothing to say, abstains from giving us wordy evidence of
the fact--from calling on us to look through a heap of millet-seed in
order to be sure that there is no pearl in it.



V.


A TOO DEFERENTIAL MAN.

A little unpremeditated insincerity must be indulged under the stress of
social intercourse. The talk even of an honest man must often represent
merely his wish to be inoffensive or agreeable rather than his genuine
opinion or feeling on the matter in hand. His thought, if uttered, might
be wounding; or he has not the ability to utter it with exactness and
snatches at a loose paraphrase; or he has really no genuine thought on
the question and is driven to fill up the vacancy by borrowing the
remarks in vogue. These are the winds and currents we have all to steer
amongst, and they are often too strong for our truthfulness or our wit.
Let us not bear too hardly on each other for this common incidental
frailty, or think that we rise superior to it by dropping all
considerateness and deference.

But there are studious, deliberate forms of insincerity which it is fair
to be impatient with: Hinze's, for example. From his name you might
suppose him to be German: in fact, his family is Alsatian, but has been
settled in England for more than one generation. He is the superlatively
deferential man, and walks about with murmured wonder at the wisdom and
discernment of everybody who talks to him. He cultivates the low-toned
_tête-à-tête,_ keeping his hat carefully in his hand and often stroking
it, while he smiles with downcast eyes, as if to relieve his feelings
under the pressure of the remarkable conversation which it is his honour
to enjoy at the present moment. I confess to some rage on hearing him
yesterday talking to Felicia, who is certainly a clever woman, and,
without any unusual desire to show her cleverness, occasionally says
something of her own or makes an allusion which is not quite common.
Still, it must happen to her as to every one else to speak of many
subjects on which the best things were said long ago, and in
conversation with a person who has been newly introduced those
well-worn themes naturally recur as a further development of salutations
and preliminary media of understanding, such as pipes, chocolate, or
mastic-chewing, which serve to confirm the impression that our new
acquaintance is on a civilised footing and has enough regard for
formulas to save us from shocking outbursts of individualism, to which
we are always exposed with the tamest bear or baboon. Considered purely
as a matter of information, it cannot any longer be important for us to
learn that a British subject included in the last census holds Shakspere
to be supreme in the presentation of character; still, it is as
admissible for any one to make this statement about himself as to rub
his hands and tell you that the air is brisk, if only he will let it
fall as a matter of course, with a parenthetic lightness, and not
announce his adhesion to a commonplace with an emphatic insistance, as
if it were a proof of singular insight. We mortals should chiefly like
to talk to each other out of goodwill and fellowship, not for the sake
of hearing revelations or being stimulated by witticisms; and I have
usually found that it is the rather dull person who appears to be
disgusted with his contemporaries because they are not always strikingly
original, and to satisfy whom the party at a country house should have
included the prophet Isaiah, Plato, Francis Bacon, and Voltaire. It is
always your heaviest bore who is astonished at the tameness of modern
celebrities: naturally; for a little of his company has reduced them to
a state of flaccid fatigue. It is right and meet that there should be an
abundant utterance of good sound commonplaces. Part of an agreeable
talker's charm is that he lets them fall continually with no more than
their due emphasis. Giving a pleasant voice to what we are all well
assured of, makes a sort of wholesome air for more special and dubious
remark to move in.

Hence it seemed to me far from unbecoming in Felicia that in her first
dialogue with Hinze, previously quite a stranger to her, her
observations were those of an ordinarily refined and well-educated woman
on standard subjects, and might have been printed in a manual of polite
topics and creditable opinions. She had no desire to astonish a man of
whom she had heard nothing particular. It was all the more exasperating
to see and hear Hinze's reception of her well-bred conformities.
Felicia's acquaintances know her as the suitable wife of a distinguished
man, a sensible, vivacious, kindly-disposed woman, helping her husband
with graceful apologies written and spoken, and making her receptions
agreeable to all comers. But you would have imagined that Hinze had been
prepared by general report to regard this introduction to her as an
opportunity comparable to an audience of the Delphic Sibyl. When she had
delivered herself on the changes in Italian travel, on the difficulty of
reading Ariosto in these busy times, on the want of equilibrium in
French political affairs, and on the pre-eminence of German music, he
would know what to think. Felicia was evidently embarrassed by his
reverent wonder, and, in dread lest she should seem to be playing the
oracle, became somewhat confused, stumbling on her answers rather than
choosing them. But this made no difference to Hinze's rapt attention and
subdued eagerness of inquiry. He continued to put large questions,
bending his head slightly that his eyes might be a little lifted in
awaiting her reply.

"What, may I ask, is your opinion as to the state of Art in England?"

"Oh," said Felicia, with a light deprecatory laugh, "I think it suffers
from two diseases--bad taste in the patrons and want of inspiration in
the artists."

"That is true indeed," said Hinze, in an undertone of deep conviction.
"You have put your finger with strict accuracy on the causes of decline.
To a cultivated taste like yours this must be particularly painful."

"I did not say there was actual decline," said Felicia, with a touch of
_brusquerie_. "I don't set myself up as the great personage whom nothing
can please."

"That would be too severe a misfortune for others," says my
complimentary ape. "You approve, perhaps, of Rosemary's 'Babes in the
Wood,' as something fresh and _naïve_ in sculpture?"

"I think it enchanting."

"Does he know that? Or _will_ you permit me to tell him?"

"Heaven forbid! It would be an impertinence in me to praise a work of
his--to pronounce on its quality; and that I happen to like it can be of
no consequence to him."

Here was an occasion for Hinze to smile down on his hat and stroke
it--Felicia's ignorance that her praise was inestimable being peculiarly
noteworthy to an observer of mankind. Presently he was quite sure that
her favourite author was Shakspere, and wished to know what she thought
of Hamlet's madness. When she had quoted Wilhelm Meister on this point,
and had afterwards testified that "Lear" was beyond adequate
presentation, that "Julius Caesar" was an effective acting play, and
that a poet may know a good deal about human nature while knowing little
of geography, Hinze appeared so impressed with the plenitude of these
revelations that he recapitulated them, weaving them together with
threads of compliment--"As you very justly observed;" and--"It is most
true, as you say;" and--"It were well if others noted what you have
remarked."

Some listeners incautious in their epithets would have called Hinze an
"ass." For my part I would never insult that intelligent and
unpretending animal who no doubt brays with perfect simplicity and
substantial meaning to those acquainted with his idiom, and if he feigns
more submission than he feels, has weighty reasons for doing so--I would
never, I say, insult that historic and ill-appreciated animal, the ass,
by giving his name to a man whose continuous pretence is so shallow in
its motive, so unexcused by any sharp appetite as this of Hinze's.

But perhaps you would say that his adulatory manner was originally
adopted under strong promptings of self-interest, and that his absurdly
over-acted deference to persons from whom he expects no patronage is the
unreflecting persistence of habit--just as those who live with the deaf
will shout to everybody else.

And you might indeed imagine that in talking to Tulpian, who has
considerable interest at his disposal, Hinze had a desired appointment
in his mind. Tulpian is appealed to on innumerable subjects, and if he
is unwilling to express himself on any one of them, says so with
instructive copiousness: he is much listened to, and his utterances are
registered and reported with more or less exactitude. But I think he
has no other listener who comports himself as Hinze does--who,
figuratively speaking, carries about a small spoon ready to pick up any
dusty crumb of opinion that the eloquent man may have let drop. Tulpian,
with reverence be it said, has some rather absurd notions, such as a
mind of large discourse often finds room for: they slip about among his
higher conceptions and multitudinous acquirements like disreputable
characters at a national celebration in some vast cathedral, where to
the ardent soul all is glorified by rainbow light and grand
associations: any vulgar detective knows them for what they are. But
Hinze is especially fervid in his desire to hear Tulpian dilate on his
crotchets, and is rather troublesome to bystanders in asking them
whether they have read the various fugitive writings in which these
crotchets have been published. If an expert is explaining some matter on
which you desire to know the evidence, Hinze teases you with Tulpian's
guesses, and asks the expert what he thinks of them.

In general, Hinze delights in the citation of opinions, and would
hardly remark that the sun shone without an air of respectful appeal or
fervid adhesion. The 'Iliad,' one sees, would impress him little if it
were not for what Mr Fugleman has lately said about it; and if you
mention an image or sentiment in Chaucer he seems not to heed the
bearing of your reference, but immediately tells you that Mr Hautboy,
too, regards Chaucer as a poet of the first order, and he is delighted
to find that two such judges as you and Hautboy are at one.

What is the reason of all this subdued ecstasy, moving about, hat in
hand, with well-dressed hair and attitudes of unimpeachable correctness?
Some persons conscious of sagacity decide at once that Hinze knows what
he is about in flattering Tulpian, and has a carefully appraised end to
serve though they may not see it They are misled by the common mistake
of supposing that men's behaviour, whether habitual or occasional, is
chiefly determined by a distinctly conceived motive, a definite object
to be gained or a definite evil to be avoided. The truth is, that, the
primitive wants of nature once tolerably satisfied, the majority of
mankind, even in a civilised life full of solicitations, are with
difficulty aroused to the distinct conception of an object towards which
they will direct their actions with careful adaptation, and it is yet
rarer to find one who can persist in the systematic pursuit of such an
end. Few lives are shaped, few characters formed, by the contemplation
of definite consequences seen from a distance and made the goal of
continuous effort or the beacon of a constantly avoided danger: such
control by foresight, such vivid picturing and practical logic are the
distinction of exceptionally strong natures; but society is chiefly made
up of human beings whose daily acts are all performed either in
unreflecting obedience to custom and routine or from immediate
promptings of thought or feeling to execute an immediate purpose. They
pay their poor-rates, give their vote in affairs political or parochial,
wear a certain amount of starch, hinder boys from tormenting the
helpless, and spend money on tedious observances called pleasures,
without mentally adjusting these practices to their own well-understood
interest or to the general, ultimate welfare of the human race; and when
they fall into ungraceful compliment, excessive smiling or other
luckless efforts of complaisant behaviour, these are but the tricks or
habits gradually formed under the successive promptings of a wish to be
agreeable, stimulated day by day without any widening resources for
gratifying the wish. It does not in the least follow that they are
seeking by studied hypocrisy to get something for themselves. And so
with Hinze's deferential bearing, complimentary parentheses, and
worshipful tones, which seem to some like the over-acting of a part in a
comedy. He expects no appointment or other appreciable gain through
Tulpian's favour; he has no doubleness towards Felicia; there is no
sneering or backbiting obverse to his ecstatic admiration. He is very
well off in the world, and cherishes no unsatisfied ambition that could
feed design and direct flattery. As you perceive, he has had the
education and other advantages of a gentleman without being conscious of
marked result, such as a decided preference for any particular ideas or
functions: his mind is furnished as hotels are, with everything for
occasional and transient use. But one cannot be an Englishman and
gentleman in general: it is in the nature of things that one must have
an individuality, though it may be of an often-repeated type. As Hinze
in growing to maturity had grown into a particular form and expression
of person, so he necessarily gathered a manner and frame of speech which
made him additionally recognisable. His nature is not tuned to the pitch
of a genuine direct admiration, only to an attitudinising deference
which does not fatigue itself with the formation of real judgments. All
human achievement must be wrought down to this spoon-meat--this mixture
of other persons' washy opinions and his own flux of reverence for what
is third-hand, before Hinze can find a relish for it.

He has no more leading characteristic than the desire to stand well with
those who are justly distinguished; he has no base admirations, and you
may know by his entire presentation of himself, from the management of
his hat to the angle at which he keeps his right foot, that he aspires
to correctness. Desiring to behave becomingly and also to make a figure
in dialogue, he is only like the bad artist whose picture is a failure.
We may pity these ill-gifted strivers, but not pretend that their works
are pleasant to behold. A man is bound to know something of his own
weight and muscular dexterity, and the puny athlete is called foolish
before he is seen to be thrown. Hinze has not the stuff in him to be at
once agreeably conversational and sincere, and he has got himself up to
be at all events agreeably conversational. Notwithstanding this
deliberateness of intention in his talk he is unconscious of falsity,
for he has not enough of deep and lasting impression to find a contrast
or diversity between his words and his thoughts. He is not fairly to be
called a hypocrite, but I have already confessed to the more
exasperation at his make-believe reverence, because it has no deep
hunger to excuse it.



VI.


ONLY TEMPER.

What is temper? Its primary meaning, the proportion and mode in which
qualities are mingled, is much neglected in popular speech, yet even
here the word often carries a reference to an habitual state or general
tendency of the organism in distinction from what are held to be
specific virtues and vices. As people confess to bad memory without
expecting to sink in mental reputation, so we hear a man declared to
have a bad temper and yet glorified as the possessor of every high
quality. When he errs or in any way commits himself, his temper is
accused, not his character, and it is understood that but for a brutal
bearish mood he is kindness itself. If he kicks small animals, swears
violently at a servant who mistakes orders, or is grossly rude to his
wife, it is remarked apologetically that these things mean nothing--they
are all temper.

Certainly there is a limit to this form of apology, and the forgery of a
bill, or the ordering of goods without any prospect of paying for them,
has never been set down to an unfortunate habit of sulkiness or of
irascibility. But on the whole there is a peculiar exercise of
indulgence towards the manifestations of bad temper which tends to
encourage them, so that we are in danger of having among us a number of
virtuous persons who conduct themselves detestably, just as we have
hysterical patients who, with sound organs, are apparently labouring
under many sorts of organic disease. Let it be admitted, however, that a
man may be "a good fellow" and yet have a bad temper, so bad that we
recognise his merits with reluctance, and are inclined to resent his
occasionally amiable behaviour as an unfair demand on our admiration.

Touchwood is that kind of good fellow. He is by turns insolent,
quarrelsome, repulsively haughty to innocent people who approach him
with respect, neglectful of his friends, angry in face of legitimate
demands, procrastinating in the fulfilment of such demands, prompted to
rude words and harsh looks by a moody disgust with his fellow-men in
general--and yet, as everybody will assure you, the soul of honour, a
steadfast friend, a defender of the oppressed, an affectionate-hearted
creature. Pity that, after a certain experience of his moods, his
intimacy becomes insupportable! A man who uses his balmorals to tread on
your toes with much frequency and an unmistakeable emphasis may prove a
fast friend in adversity, but meanwhile your adversity has not arrived
and your toes are tender. The daily sneer or growl at your remarks is
not to be made amends for by a possible eulogy or defence of your
understanding against depredators who may not present themselves, and on
an occasion which may never arise. I cannot submit to a chronic state of
blue and green bruise as a form of insurance against an accident.

Touchwood's bad temper is of the contradicting pugnacious sort. He is
the honourable gentleman in opposition, whatever proposal or proposition
may be broached, and when others join him he secretly damns their
superfluous agreement, quickly discovering that his way of stating the
case is not exactly theirs. An invitation or any sign of expectation
throws him into an attitude of refusal. Ask his concurrence in a
benevolent measure: he will not decline to give it, because he has a
real sympathy with good aims; but he complies resentfully, though where
he is let alone he will do much more than any one would have thought of
asking for. No man would shrink with greater sensitiveness from the
imputation of not paying his debts, yet when a bill is sent in with any
promptitude he is inclined to make the tradesman wait for the money he
is in such a hurry to get. One sees that this antagonistic temper must
be much relieved by finding a particular object, and that its worst
moments must be those where the mood is that of vague resistance, there
being nothing specific to oppose. Touchwood is never so little engaging
as when he comes down to breakfast with a cloud on his brow, after
parting from you the night before with an affectionate effusiveness at
the end of a confidential conversation which has assured you of mutual
understanding. Impossible that you can have committed any offence. If
mice have disturbed him, that is not your fault; but, nevertheless, your
cheerful greeting had better not convey any reference to the weather,
else it will be met by a sneer which, taking you unawares, may give you
a crushing sense that you make a poor figure with your cheerfulness,
which was not asked for. Some daring person perhaps introduces another
topic, and uses the delicate flattery of appealing to Touchwood for his
opinion, the topic being included in his favourite studies. An
indistinct muttering, with a look at the carving-knife in reply, teaches
that daring person how ill he has chosen a market for his deference. If
Touchwood's behaviour affects you very closely you had better break your
leg in the course of the day: his bad temper will then vanish at once;
he will take a painful journey on your behalf; he will sit up with you
night after night; he will do all the work of your department so as to
save you from any loss in consequence of your accident; he will be even
uniformly tender to you till you are well on your legs again, when he
will some fine morning insult you without provocation, and make you wish
that his generous goodness to you had not closed your lips against
retort.

It is not always necessary that a friend should break his leg for
Touchwood to feel compunction and endeavour to make amends for his
bearishness or insolence. He becomes spontaneously conscious that he has
misbehaved, and he is not only ashamed of himself, but has the better
prompting to try and heal any wound he has inflicted. Unhappily the
habit of being offensive "without meaning it" leads usually to a way of
making amends which the injured person cannot but regard as a being
amiable without meaning it. The kindnesses, the complimentary
indications or assurances, are apt to appear in the light of a penance
adjusted to the foregoing lapses, and by the very contrast they offer
call up a keener memory of the wrong they atone for. They are not a
spontaneous prompting of goodwill, but an elaborate compensation. And,
in fact, Dion's atoning friendliness has a ring of artificiality.
Because he formerly disguised his good feeling towards you he now
expresses more than he quite feels. It is in vain. Having made you
extremely uncomfortable last week he has absolutely diminished his
power of making you happy to-day: he struggles against this result by
excessive effort, but he has taught you to observe his fitfulness rather
than to be warmed by his episodic show of regard.

I suspect that many persons who have an uncertain, incalculable temper
flatter themselves that it enhances their fascination; but perhaps they
are under the prior mistake of exaggerating the charm which they suppose
to be thus strengthened; in any case they will do well not to trust in
the attractions of caprice and moodiness for a long continuance or for
close intercourse. A pretty woman may fan the flame of distant adorers
by harassing them, but if she lets one of them make her his wife, the
point of view from which he will look at her poutings and tossings and
mysterious inability to be pleased will be seriously altered. And if
slavery to a pretty woman, which seems among the least conditional forms
of abject service, will not bear too great a strain from her bad temper
even though her beauty remain the same, it is clear that a man whose
claims lie in his high character or high performances had need impress
us very constantly with his peculiar value and indispensableness, if he
is to test our patience by an uncertainty of temper which leaves us
absolutely without grounds for guessing how he will receive our persons
or humbly advanced opinions, or what line he will take on any but the
most momentous occasions.

For it is among the repulsive effects of this bad temper, which is
supposed to be compatible with shining virtues, that it is apt to
determine a man's sudden adhesion to an opinion, whether on a personal
or impersonal matter, without leaving him time to consider his grounds.
The adhesion is sudden and momentary, but it either forms a precedent
for his line of thought and action, or it is presently seen to have been
inconsistent with his true mind. This determination of partisanship by
temper has its worst effects in the career of the public man, who is
always in danger of getting so enthralled by his own words that he looks
into facts and questions not to get rectifying knowledge, but to get
evidence that will justify his actual attitude which was assumed under
an impulse dependent on something else than knowledge. There has been
plenty of insistance on the evil of swearing by the words of a master,
and having the judgment uniformly controlled by a "He said it;" but a
much worse woe to befall a man is to have every judgment controlled by
an "I said it"--to make a divinity of his own short-sightedness or
passion-led aberration and explain the world in its honour. There is
hardly a more pitiable degradation than this for a man of high gifts.
Hence I cannot join with those who wish that Touchwood, being young
enough to enter on public life, should get elected for Parliament and
use his excellent abilities to serve his country in that conspicuous
manner. For hitherto, in the less momentous incidents of private life,
his capricious temper has only produced the minor evil of inconsistency,
and he is even greatly at ease in contradicting himself, provided he can
contradict you, and disappoint any smiling expectation you may have
shown that the impressions you are uttering are likely to meet with his
sympathy, considering that the day before he himself gave you the
example which your mind is following. He is at least free from those
fetters of self-justification which are the curse of parliamentary
speaking, and what I rather desire for him is that he should produce the
great book which he is generally pronounced capable of writing, and put
his best self imperturbably on record for the advantage of society;
because I should then have steady ground for bearing with his diurnal
incalculableness, and could fix my gratitude as by a strong staple to
that unvarying monumental service. Unhappily, Touchwood's great powers
have been only so far manifested as to be believed in, not demonstrated.
Everybody rates them highly, and thinks that whatever he chose to do
would be done in a first-rate manner. Is it his love of disappointing
complacent expectancy which has gone so far as to keep up this
lamentable negation, and made him resolve not to write the comprehensive
work which he would have written if nobody had expected it of him?

One can see that if Touchwood were to become a public man and take to
frequent speaking on platforms or from his seat in the House, it would
hardly be possible for him to maintain much integrity of opinion, or to
avoid courses of partisanship which a healthy public sentiment would
stamp with discredit. Say that he were endowed with the purest honesty,
it would inevitably be dragged captive by this mysterious, Protean bad
temper. There would be the fatal public necessity of justifying
oratorical Temper which had got on its legs in its bitter mood and made
insulting imputations, or of keeping up some decent show of consistency
with opinions vented out of Temper's contradictoriness. And words would
have to be followed up by acts of adhesion.

Certainly if a bad-tempered man can be admirably virtuous, he must be so
under extreme difficulties. I doubt the possibility that a high order of
character can coexist with a temper like Touchwood's. For it is of the
nature of such temper to interrupt the formation of healthy mental
habits, which depend on a growing harmony between perception,
conviction, and impulse. There may be good feelings, good deeds--for a
human nature may pack endless varieties and blessed inconsistencies in
its windings--but it is essential to what is worthy to be called high
character, that it may be safely calculated on, and that its qualities
shall have taken the form of principles or laws habitually, if not
perfectly, obeyed.

If a man frequently passes unjust judgments, takes up false attitudes,
intermits his acts of kindness with rude behaviour or cruel words, and
falls into the consequent vulgar error of supposing that he can make
amends by laboured agreeableness, I cannot consider such courses any the
less ugly because they are ascribed to "temper." Especially I object to
the assumption that his having a fundamentally good disposition is
either an apology or a compensation for his bad behaviour. If his temper
yesterday made him lash the horses, upset the curricle and cause a
breakage in my rib, I feel it no compensation that to-day he vows he
will drive me anywhere in the gentlest manner any day as long as he
lives. Yesterday was what it was, my rib is paining me, it is not a main
object of my life to be driven by Touchwood--and I have no confidence in
his lifelong gentleness. The utmost form of placability I am capable of
is to try and remember his better deeds already performed, and, mindful
of my own offences, to bear him no malice. But I cannot accept his
amends.

If the bad-tempered man wants to apologise he had need to do it on a
large public scale, make some beneficent discovery, produce some
stimulating work of genius, invent some powerful process--prove himself
such a good to contemporary multitudes and future generations, as to
make the discomfort he causes his friends and acquaintances a vanishing
quality, a trifle even in their own estimate.



VII.


A POLITICAL MOLECULE.

The most arrant denier must admit that a man often furthers larger ends
than he is conscious of, and that while he is transacting his particular
affairs with the narrow pertinacity of a respectable ant, he subserves
an economy larger than any purpose of his own. Society is happily not
dependent for the growth of fellowship on the small minority already
endowed with comprehensive sympathy: any molecule of the body politic
working towards his own interest in an orderly way gets his
understanding more or less penetrated with the fact that his interest is
included in that of a large number. I have watched several political
molecules being educated in this way by the nature of things into a
faint feeling of fraternity. But at this moment I am thinking of Spike,
an elector who voted on the side of Progress though he was not inwardly
attached to it under that name. For abstractions are deities having many
specific names, local habitations, and forms of activity, and so get a
multitude of devout servants who care no more for them under their
highest titles than the celebrated person who, putting with forcible
brevity a view of human motives now much insisted on, asked what
Posterity had done for him that he should care for Posterity? To many
minds even among the ancients (thought by some to have been invariably
poetical) the goddess of wisdom was doubtless worshipped simply as the
patroness of spinning and weaving. Now spinning and weaving from a
manufacturing, wholesale point of view, was the chief form under which
Spike from early years had unconsciously been a devotee of Progress.

He was a political molecule of the most gentleman-like appearance, not
less than six feet high, and showing the utmost nicety in the care of
his person and equipment. His umbrella was especially remarkable for its
neatness, though perhaps he swung it unduly in walking. His complexion
was fresh, his eyes small, bright, and twinkling. He was seen to great
advantage in a hat and greatcoat--garments frequently fatal to the
impressiveness of shorter figures; but when he was uncovered in the
drawing-room, it was impossible not to observe that his head shelved off
too rapidly from the eyebrows towards the crown, and that his length of
limb seemed to have used up his mind so as to cause an air of
abstraction from conversational topics. He appeared, indeed, to be
preoccupied with a sense of his exquisite cleanliness, clapped his hands
together and rubbed them frequently, straightened his back, and even
opened his mouth and closed it again with a slight snap, apparently for
no other purpose than the confirmation to himself of his own powers in
that line. These are innocent exercises, but they are not such as give
weight to a man's personality. Sometimes Spike's mind, emerging from its
preoccupation, burst forth in a remark delivered with smiling zest; as,
that he did like to see gravel walks well rolled, or that a lady should
always wear the best jewellery, or that a bride was a most interesting
object; but finding these ideas received rather coldly, he would relapse
into abstraction, draw up his back, wrinkle his brows longitudinally,
and seem to regard society, even including gravel walks, jewellery, and
brides, as essentially a poor affair. Indeed his habit of mind was
desponding, and he took melancholy views as to the possible extent of
human pleasure and the value of existence. Especially after he had made
his fortune in the cotton manufacture, and had thus attained the chief
object of his ambition--the object which had engaged his talent for
order and persevering application. For his easy leisure caused him much
_ennui_. He was abstemious, and had none of those temptations to sensual
excess which fill up a man's time first with indulgence and then with
the process of getting well from its effects. He had not, indeed,
exhausted the sources of knowledge, but here again his notions of human
pleasure were narrowed by his want of appetite; for though he seemed
rather surprised at the consideration that Alfred the Great was a
Catholic, or that apart from the Ten Commandments any conception of
moral conduct had occurred to mankind, he was not stimulated to further
inquiries on these remote matters. Yet he aspired to what he regarded as
intellectual society, willingly entertained beneficed clergymen, and
bought the books he heard spoken of, arranging them carefully on the
shelves of what he called his library, and occasionally sitting alone in
the same room with them. But some minds seem well glazed by nature
against the admission of knowledge, and Spike's was one of them. It was
not, however, entirely so with regard to politics. He had had a strong
opinion about the Reform Bill, and saw clearly that the large trading
towns ought to send members. Portraits of the Reform heroes hung framed
and glazed in his library: he prided himself on being a Liberal. In this
last particular, as well as in not giving benefactions and not making
loans without interest, he showed unquestionable firmness. On the Repeal
of the Corn Laws, again, he was thoroughly convinced. His mind was
expansive towards foreign markets, and his imagination could see that
the people from whom we took corn might be able to take the cotton goods
which they had hitherto dispensed with. On his conduct in these
political concerns, his wife, otherwise influential as a woman who
belonged to a family with a title in it, and who had condescended in
marrying him, could gain no hold: she had to blush a little at what was
called her husband's "radicalism"--an epithet which was a very unfair
impeachment of Spike, who never went to the root of anything. But he
understood his own trading affairs, and in this way became a genuine,
constant political element. If he had been born a little later he could
have been accepted as an eligible member of Parliament, and if he had
belonged to a high family he might have done for a member of the
Government. Perhaps his indifference to "views" would have passed for
administrative judiciousness, and he would have been so generally silent
that he must often have been silent in the right place. But this is
empty speculation: there is no warrant for saying what Spike would have
been and known so as to have made a calculable political element, if he
had not been educated by having to manage his trade. A small mind
trained to useful occupation for the satisfying of private need becomes
a representative of genuine class-needs. Spike objected to certain items
of legislation because they hampered his own trade, but his neighbours'
trade was hampered by the same causes; and though he would have been
simply selfish in a question of light or water between himself and a
fellow-townsman, his need for a change in legislation, being shared by
all his neighbours in trade, ceased to be simply selfish, and raised him
to a sense of common injury and common benefit. True, if the law could
have been changed for the benefit of his particular business, leaving
the cotton trade in general in a sorry condition while he prospered,
Spike might not have thought that result intolerably unjust; but the
nature of things did not allow of such a result being contemplated as
possible; it allowed of an enlarged market for Spike only through the
enlargement of his neighbours' market, and the Possible is always the
ultimate master of our efforts and desires. Spike was obliged to
contemplate a general benefit, and thus became public-spirited in spite
of himself. Or rather, the nature of things transmuted his active egoism
into a demand for a public benefit. Certainly if Spike had been born a
marquis he could not have had the same chance of being useful as a
political element. But he might have had the same appearance, have been
equally null in conversation, sceptical as to the reality of pleasure,
and destitute of historical knowledge; perhaps even dimly disliking
Jesuitism as a quality in Catholic minds, or regarding Bacon as the
inventor of physical science. The depths of middle-aged gentlemen's
ignorance will never be known, for want of public examinations in this
branch.



VIII.


THE WATCH-DOG OF KNOWLEDGE

Mordax is an admirable man, ardent in intellectual work,
public-spirited, affectionate, and able to find the right words in
conveying ingenious ideas or elevated feeling. Pity that to all these
graces he cannot add what would give them the utmost finish--the
occasional admission that he has been in the wrong, the occasional frank
welcome of a new idea as something not before present to his mind! But
no: Mordax's self-respect seems to be of that fiery quality which
demands that none but the monarchs of thought shall have an advantage
over him, and in the presence of contradiction or the threat of having
his notions corrected, he becomes astonishingly unscrupulous and cruel
for so kindly and conscientious a man.

"You are fond of attributing those fine qualities to Mordax," said
Acer, the other day, "but I have not much belief in virtues that are
always requiring to be asserted in spite of appearances against them.
True fairness and goodwill show themselves precisely where his are
conspicuously absent. I mean, in recognising claims which the rest of
the world are not likely to stand up for. It does not need much love of
truth and justice in me to say that Aldebaran is a bright star, or Isaac
Newton the greatest of discoverers; nor much kindliness in me to want my
notes to be heard above the rest in a chorus of hallelujahs to one
already crowned. It is my way to apply tests. Does the man who has the
ear of the public use his advantage tenderly towards poor fellows who
may be hindered of their due if he treats their pretensions with scorn?
That is my test of his justice and benevolence."

My answer was, that his system of moral tests might be as delusive as
what ignorant people take to be tests of intellect and learning. If the
scholar or _savant_ cannot answer their haphazard questions on the
shortest notice, their belief in his capacity is shaken. But the
better-informed have given up the Johnsonian theory of mind as a pair of
legs able to walk east or west according to choice. Intellect is no
longer taken to be a ready-made dose of ability to attain eminence (or
mediocrity) in all departments; it is even admitted that application in
one line of study or practice has often a laming effect in other
directions, and that an intellectual quality or special facility which
is a furtherance in one medium of effort is a drag in another. We have
convinced ourselves by this time that a man may be a sage in celestial
physics and a poor creature in the purchase of seed-corn, or even in
theorising about the affections; that he may be a mere fumbler in
physiology and yet show a keen insight into human motives; that he may
seem the "poor Poll" of the company in conversation and yet write with
some humorous vigour. It is not true that a man's intellectual power is
like the strength of a timber beam, to be measured by its weakest point.

Why should we any more apply that fallacious standard of what is called
consistency to a man's moral nature, and argue against the existence of
fine impulses or habits of feeling in relation to his actions
generally, because those better movements are absent in a class of cases
which act peculiarly on an irritable form of his egoism? The mistake
might be corrected by our taking notice that the ungenerous words or
acts which seem to us the most utterly incompatible with good
dispositions in the offender, are those which offend ourselves. All
other persons are able to draw a milder conclusion. Laniger, who has a
temper but no talent for repartee, having been run down in a fierce way
by Mordax, is inwardly persuaded that the highly-lauded man is a wolf at
heart: he is much tried by perceiving that his own friends seem to think
no worse of the reckless assailant than they did before; and Corvus, who
has lately been flattered by some kindness from Mordax, is unmindful
enough of Laniger's feeling to dwell on this instance of good-nature
with admiring gratitude. There is a fable that when the badger had been
stung all over by bees, a bear consoled him by a rhapsodic account of
how he himself had just breakfasted on their honey. The badger replied,
peevishly, "The stings are in my flesh, and the sweetness is on your
muzzle." The bear, it is said, was surprised at the badger's want of
altruism.

But this difference of sensibility between Laniger and his friends only
mirrors in a faint way the difference between his own point of view and
that of the man who has injured him. If those neutral, perhaps even
affectionate persons, form no lively conception of what Laniger suffers,
how should Mordax have any such sympathetic imagination to check him in
what he persuades himself is a scourging administered by the qualified
man to the unqualified? Depend upon it, his conscience, though active
enough in some relations, has never given him a twinge because of his
polemical rudeness and even brutality. He would go from the room where
he has been tiring himself through the watches of the night in lifting
and turning a sick friend, and straightway write a reply or rejoinder in
which he mercilessly pilloried a Laniger who had supposed that he could
tell the world something else or more than had been sanctioned by the
eminent Mordax--and what was worse, had sometimes really done so. Does
this nullify the genuineness of motive which made him tender to his
suffering friend? Not at all. It only proves that his arrogant egoism,
set on fire, sends up smoke and flame where just before there had been
the dews of fellowship and pity. He is angry and equips himself
accordingly--with a penknife to give the offender a _comprachico_
countenance, a mirror to show him the effect, and a pair of nailed boots
to give him his dismissal. All this to teach him who the Romans really
were, and to purge Inquiry of incompetent intrusion, so rendering an
important service to mankind.

When a man is in a rage and wants to hurt another in consequence, he can
always regard himself as the civil arm of a spiritual power, and all the
more easily because there is real need to assert the righteous efficacy
of indignation. I for my part feel with the Lanigers, and should object
all the more to their or my being lacerated and dressed with salt, if
the administrator of such torture alleged as a motive his care for Truth
and posterity, and got himself pictured with a halo in consequence. In
transactions between fellow-men it is well to consider a little, in the
first place, what is fair and kind towards the person immediately
concerned, before we spit and roast him on behalf of the next century
but one. Wide-reaching motives, blessed and glorious as they are, and of
the highest sacramental virtue, have their dangers, like all else that
touches the mixed life of the earth. They are archangels with awful brow
and flaming sword, summoning and encouraging us to do the right and the
divinely heroic, and we feel a beneficent tremor in their presence; but
to learn what it is they thus summon us to do, we have to consider the
mortals we are elbowing, who are of our own stature and our own
appetites. I cannot feel sure how my voting will affect the condition of
Central Asia in the coming ages, but I have good reason to believe that
the future populations there will be none the worse off because I
abstain from conjectural vilification of my opponents during the present
parliamentary session, and I am very sure that I shall be less injurious
to my contemporaries. On the whole, and in the vast majority of
instances, the action by which we can do the best for future ages is of
the sort which has a certain beneficence and grace for contemporaries. A
sour father may reform prisons, but considered in his sourness he does
harm. The deed of Judas has been attributed to far-reaching views, and
the wish to hasten his Master's declaration of himself as the Messiah.
Perhaps--I will not maintain the contrary--Judas represented his motive
in this way, and felt justified in his traitorous kiss; but my belief
that he deserved, metaphorically speaking, to be where Dante saw him, at
the bottom of the Malebolge, would not be the less strong because he was
not convinced that his action was detestable. I refuse to accept a man
who has the stomach for such treachery, as a hero impatient for the
redemption of mankind and for the beginning of a reign when the kisses
shall be those of peace and righteousness.

All this is by the way, to show that my apology for Mordax was not
founded on his persuasion of superiority in his own motives, but on the
compatibility of unfair, equivocal, and even cruel actions with a nature
which, apart from special temptations, is kindly and generous; and also
to enforce the need of checks from a fellow-feeling with those whom our
acts immediately (not distantly) concern. Will any one be so hardy as to
maintain that an otherwise worthy man cannot be vain and arrogant? I
think most of us have some interest in arguing the contrary. And it is
of the nature of vanity and arrogance, if unchecked, to become cruel and
self-justifying. There are fierce beasts within: chain them, chain them,
and let them learn to cower before the creature with wider reason. This
is what one wishes for Mordax--that his heart and brain should restrain
the outleap of roar and talons.

As to his unwillingness to admit that an idea which he has not
discovered is novel to him, one is surprised that quick intellect and
shrewd observation do not early gather reasons for being ashamed of a
mental trick which makes one among the comic parts of that various actor
Conceited Ignorance.

I have a sort of valet and factotum, an excellent, respectable servant,
whose spelling is so unvitiated by non-phonetic superfluities that he
writes _night_ as _nit_. One day, looking over his accounts, I said to
him jocosely, "You are in the latest fashion with your spelling, Pummel:
most people spell "night" with a _gh_ between the _i_ and the _t_, but
the greatest scholars now spell it as you do." "So I suppose, sir,"
says Pummel; "I've see it with a _gh_, but I've noways give into that
myself." You would never catch Pummel in an interjection of surprise. I
have sometimes laid traps for his astonishment, but he has escaped them
all, either by a respectful neutrality, as of one who would not appear
to notice that his master had been taking too much wine, or else by that
strong persuasion of his all-knowingness which makes it simply
impossible for him to feel himself newly informed. If I tell him that
the world is spinning round and along like a top, and that he is
spinning with it, he says, "Yes, I've heard a deal of that in my time,
sir," and lifts the horizontal lines of his brow a little higher,
balancing his head from side to side as if it were too painfully full.
Whether I tell him that they cook puppies in China, that there are ducks
with fur coats in Australia, or that in some parts of the world it is
the pink of politeness to put your tongue out on introduction to a
respectable stranger, Pummel replies, "So I suppose, sir," with an air
of resignation to hearing my poor version of well-known things, such as
elders use in listening to lively boys lately presented with an
anecdote book. His utmost concession is, that what you state is what he
would have supplied if you had given him _carte blanche_ instead of your
needless instruction, and in this sense his favourite answer is, "I
should say."

"Pummel," I observed, a little irritated at not getting my coffee, "if
you were to carry your kettle and spirits of wine up a mountain of a
morning, your water would boil there sooner." "I should say, sir." "Or,
there are boiling springs in Iceland. Better go to Iceland." "That's
what I've been thinking, sir."

I have taken to asking him hard questions, and as I expected, he never
admits his own inability to answer them without representing it as
common to the human race. "What is the cause of the tides, Pummel?"

"Well, sir, nobody rightly knows. Many gives their opinion, but if I
was to give mine, it 'ud be different."

But while he is never surprised himself, he is constantly imagining
situations of surprise for others. His own consciousness is that of one
so thoroughly soaked in knowledge that further absorption is
impossible, but his neighbours appear to him to be in the state of
thirsty sponges which it is a charity to besprinkle. His great
interest in thinking of foreigners is that they must be surprised at
what they see in England, and especially at the beef. He is often
occupied with the surprise Adam must have felt at the sight of the
assembled animals--"for he was not like us, sir, used from a b'y to
Wombwell's shows." He is fond of discoursing to the lad who acts as
shoe-black and general subaltern, and I have overheard him saying to
that small upstart, with some severity, "Now don't you pretend to know,
because the more you pretend the more I see your ignirance"--a lucidity
on his part which has confirmed my impression that the thoroughly
self-satisfied person is the only one fully to appreciate the charm of
humility in others.

Your diffident self-suspecting mortal is not very angry that others
should feel more comfortable about themselves, provided they are not
otherwise offensive: he is rather like the chilly person, glad to sit
next a warmer neighbour; or the timid, glad to have a courageous
fellow-traveller. It cheers him to observe the store of small comforts
that his fellow-creatures may find in their self-complacency, just as
one is pleased to see poor old souls soothed by the tobacco and snuff
for which one has neither nose nor stomach oneself.

But your arrogant man will not tolerate a presumption which he sees to
be ill-founded. The service he regards society as most in need of is to
put down the conceit which is so particularly rife around him that he is
inclined to believe it the growing characteristic of the present age. In
the schools of Magna Graecia, or in the sixth century of our era, or
even under Kublai Khan, he finds a comparative freedom from that
presumption by which his contemporaries are stirring his able gall. The
way people will now flaunt notions which are not his without appearing
to mind that they are not his, strikes him as especially disgusting. It
might seem surprising to us that one strongly convinced of his own value
should prefer to exalt an age in which _he_ did not flourish, if it were
not for the reflection that the present age is the only one in which
anybody has appeared to undervalue him.



IX.


A HALF-BREED

An early deep-seated love to which we become faithless has its unfailing
Nemesis, if only in that division of soul which narrows all newer joys
by the intrusion of regret and the established presentiment of change. I
refer not merely to the love of a person, but to the love of ideas,
practical beliefs, and social habits. And faithlessness here means not a
gradual conversion dependent on enlarged knowledge, but a yielding to
seductive circumstance; not a conviction that the original choice was a
mistake, but a subjection to incidents that flatter a growing desire. In
this sort of love it is the forsaker who has the melancholy lot; for an
abandoned belief may be more effectively vengeful than Dido. The child
of a wandering tribe caught young and trained to polite life, if he
feels an hereditary yearning can run away to the old wilds and get his
nature into tune. But there is no such recovery possible to the man who
remembers what he once believed without being convinced that he was in
error, who feels within him unsatisfied stirrings towards old beloved
habits and intimacies from which he has far receded without conscious
justification or unwavering sense of superior attractiveness in the new.
This involuntary renegade has his character hopelessly jangled and out
of tune. He is like an organ with its stops in the lawless condition of
obtruding themselves without method, so that hearers are amazed by the
most unexpected transitions--the trumpet breaking in on the flute, and
the oböe confounding both.

Hence the lot of Mixtus affects me pathetically, notwithstanding that he
spends his growing wealth with liberality and manifest enjoyment. To
most observers he appears to be simply one of the fortunate and also
sharp commercial men who began with meaning to be rich and have become
what they meant to be: a man never taken to be well-born, but
surprisingly better informed than the well-born usually are, and
distinguished among ordinary commercial magnates by a personal kindness
which prompts him not only to help the suffering in a material way
through his wealth, but also by direct ministration of his own; yet with
all this, diffusing, as it were, the odour of a man delightedly
conscious of his wealth as an equivalent for the other social
distinctions of rank and intellect which he can thus admire without
envying. Hardly one among those superficial observers can suspect that
he aims or has ever aimed at being a writer; still less can they imagine
that his mind is often moved by strong currents of regret and of the
most unworldly sympathies from the memories of a youthful time when his
chosen associates were men and women whose only distinction was a
religious, a philanthropic, or an intellectual enthusiasm, when the lady
on whose words his attention most hung was a writer of minor religious
literature, when he was a visitor and exhorter of the poor in the alleys
of a great provincial town, and when he attended the lectures given
specially to young men by Mr Apollos, the eloquent congregational
preacher, who had studied in Germany and had liberal advanced views then
far beyond the ordinary teaching of his sect. At that time Mixtus
thought himself a young man of socially reforming ideas, of religious
principles and religious yearnings. It was within his prospects also to
be rich, but he looked forward to a use of his riches chiefly for
reforming and religious purposes. His opinions were of a strongly
democratic stamp, except that even then, belonging to the class of
employers, he was opposed to all demands in the employed that would
restrict the expansiveness of trade. He was the most democratic in
relation to the unreasonable privileges of the aristocracy and landed
interest; and he had also a religious sense of brotherhood with the
poor. Altogether, he was a sincerely benevolent young man, interested in
ideas, and renouncing personal ease for the sake of study, religious
communion, and good works. If you had known him then you would have
expected him to marry a highly serious and perhaps literary woman,
sharing his benevolent and religious habits, and likely to encourage
his studies--a woman who along with himself would play a distinguished
part in one of the most enlightened religious circles of a great
provincial capital.

How is it that Mixtus finds himself in a London mansion, and in society
totally unlike that which made the ideal of his younger years? And whom
_did_ he marry?

Why, he married Scintilla, who fascinated him as she had fascinated
others, by her prettiness, her liveliness, and her music. It is a common
enough case, that of a man being suddenly captivated by a woman nearly
the opposite of his ideal; or if not wholly captivated, at least
effectively captured by a combination of circumstances along with an
unwarily manifested inclination which might otherwise have been
transient. Mixtus was captivated and then captured on the worldly side
of his disposition, which had been always growing and flourishing side
by side with his philanthropic and religious tastes. He had ability in
business, and he had early meant to be rich; also, he was getting rich,
and the taste for such success was naturally growing with the pleasure
of rewarded exertion. It was during a business sojourn in London that he
met Scintilla, who, though without fortune, associated with families of
Greek merchants living in a style of splendour, and with artists
patronised by such wealthy entertainers. Mixtus on this occasion became
familiar with a world in which wealth seemed the key to a more brilliant
sort of dominance than that of a religious patron in the provincial
circles of X. Would it not be possible to unite the two kinds of sway? A
man bent on the most useful ends might, _with a fortune large enough_,
make morality magnificent, and recommend religious principle by showing
it in combination with the best kind of house and the most liberal of
tables; also with a wife whose graces, wit, and accomplishments gave a
finish sometimes lacking even to establishments got up with that
unhesitating worldliness to which high cost is a sufficient reason.
Enough.

Mixtus married Scintilla. Now this lively lady knew nothing of
Nonconformists, except that they were unfashionable: she did not
distinguish one conventicle from another, and Mr Apollos with his
enlightened interpretations seemed to her as heavy a bore, if not quite
so ridiculous, as Mr Johns could have been with his solemn twang at the
Baptist chapel in the lowest suburbs, or as a local preacher among the
Methodists. In general, people who appeared seriously to believe in any
sort of doctrine, whether religious, social, or philosophical, seemed
rather absurd to Scintilla. Ten to one these theoretic people pronounced
oddly, had some reason or other for saying that the most agreeable
things were wrong, wore objectionable clothes, and wanted you to
subscribe to something. They were probably ignorant of art and music,
did not understand _badinage_, and, in fact, could talk of nothing
amusing. In Scintilla's eyes the majority of persons were ridiculous and
deplorably wanting in that keen perception of what was good taste, with
which she herself was blest by nature and education; but the people
understood to be religious or otherwise theoretic, were the most
ridiculous of all, without being proportionately amusing and invitable.

Did Mixtus not discover this view of Scintilla's before their marriage?
Or did he allow her to remain in ignorance of habits and opinions which
had made half the occupation of his youth?

When a man is inclined to marry a particular woman, and has made any
committal of himself, this woman's opinions, however different from his
own, are readily regarded as part of her pretty ways, especially if they
are merely negative; as, for example, that she does not insist on the
Trinity or on the rightfulness or expediency of church rates, but simply
regards her lover's troubling himself in disputation on these heads as
stuff and nonsense. The man feels his own superior strength, and is sure
that marriage will make no difference to him on the subjects about which
he is in earnest. And to laugh at men's affairs is a woman's privilege,
tending to enliven the domestic hearth. If Scintilla had no liking for
the best sort of nonconformity, she was without any troublesome bias
towards Episcopacy, Anglicanism, and early sacraments, and was quite
contented not to go to church.

As to Scintilla's acquaintance with her lover's tastes on these
subjects, she was equally convinced on her side that a husband's queer
ways while he was a bachelor would be easily laughed out of him when he
had married an adroit woman. Mixtus, she felt, was an excellent
creature, quite likable, who was getting rich; and Scintilla meant to
have all the advantages of a rich man's wife. She was not in the least a
wicked woman; she was simply a pretty animal of the ape kind, with an
aptitude for certain accomplishments which education had made the most
of.

But we have seen what has been the result to poor Mixtus. He has become
richer even than he dreamed of being, has a little palace in London, and
entertains with splendour the half-aristocratic, professional, and
artistic society which he is proud to think select. This society regards
him as a clever fellow in his particular branch, seeing that he has
become a considerable capitalist, and as a man desirable to have on the
list of one's acquaintance. But from every other point of view Mixtus
finds himself personally submerged: what he happens to think is not felt
by his esteemed guests to be of any consequence, and what he used to
think with the ardour of conviction he now hardly ever expresses. He is
transplanted, and the sap within him has long been diverted into other
than the old lines of vigorous growth. How could he speak to the artist
Crespi or to Sir Hong Kong Bantam about the enlarged doctrine of Mr
Apollos? How could he mention to them his former efforts towards
evangelising the inhabitants of the X. alleys? And his references to his
historical and geographical studies towards a survey of possible markets
for English products are received with an air of ironical suspicion by
many of his political friends, who take his pretension to give advice
concerning the Amazon, the Euphrates, and the Niger as equivalent to the
currier's wide views on the applicability of leather. He can only make a
figure through his genial hospitality. It is in vain that he buys the
best pictures and statues of the best artists. Nobody will call him a
judge in art. If his pictures and statues are well chosen it is
generally thought that Scintilla told him what to buy; and yet Scintilla
in other connections is spoken of as having only a superficial and
often questionable taste. Mixtus, it is decided, is a good fellow, not
ignorant--no, really having a good deal of knowledge as well as sense,
but not easy to classify otherwise than as a rich man. He has
consequently become a little uncertain as to his own point of view, and
in his most unreserved moments of friendly intercourse, even when
speaking to listeners whom he thinks likely to sympathise with the
earlier part of his career, he presents himself in all his various
aspects and feels himself in turn what he has been, what he is, and what
others take him to be (for this last status is what we must all more or
less accept). He will recover with some glow of enthusiasm the vision of
his old associates, the particular limit he was once accustomed to trace
of freedom in religious speculation, and his old ideal of a worthy life;
but he will presently pass to the argument that money is the only means
by which you can get what is best worth having in the world, and will
arrive at the exclamation "Give me money!" with the tone and gesture of
a man who both feels and knows. Then if one of his audience, not having
money, remarks that a man may have made up his mind to do without money
because he prefers something else, Mixtus is with him immediately,
cordially concurring in the supreme value of mind and genius, which
indeed make his own chief delight, in that he is able to entertain the
admirable possessors of these attributes at his own table, though not
himself reckoned among them. Yet, he will proceed to observe, there was
a time when he sacrificed his sleep to study, and even now amid the
press of business he from time to time thinks of taking up the
manuscripts which he hopes some day to complete, and is always
increasing his collection of valuable works bearing on his favourite
topics. And it is true that he has read much in certain directions, and
can remember what he has read; he knows the history and theories of
colonisation and the social condition of countries that do not at
present consume a sufficiently large share of our products and
manufactures. He continues his early habit of regarding the spread of
Christianity as a great result of our commercial intercourse with black,
brown, and yellow populations; but this is an idea not spoken of in the
sort of fashionable society that Scintilla collects round her husband's
table, and Mixtus now philosophically reflects that the cause must come
before the effect, and that the thing to be directly striven for is the
commercial intercourse, not excluding a little war if that also should
prove needful as a pioneer of Christianity. He has long been wont to
feel bashful about his former religion; as if it were an old attachment
having consequences which he did not abandon but kept in decent privacy,
his avowed objects and actual position being incompatible with their
public acknowledgment.

There is the same kind of fluctuation in his aspect towards social
questions and duties. He has not lost the kindness that used to make him
a benefactor and succourer of the needy, and he is still liberal in
helping forward the clever and industrious; but in his active
superintendence of commercial undertakings he has contracted more and
more of the bitterness which capitalists and employers often feel to be
a reasonable mood towards obstructive proletaries. Hence many who this
is an idea not spoken of in the sort of fashionable society that
Scintilla collects round her husband's table, and Mixtus now
philosophically reflects that the cause must come before the effect, and
that the thing to be directly striven for is the commercial intercourse,
not excluding a little war if that also should prove needful as a
pioneer of Christianity. He has long been wont to feel bashful about his
former religion; as if it were an old attachment having consequences
which he did not abandon but kept in decent privacy, his avowed objects
and actual position being incompatible with their public acknowledgment.

There is the same kind of fluctuation in his aspect towards social
questions and duties. He has not lost the kindness that used to make him
a benefactor and succourer of the needy, and he is still liberal in
helping forward the clever and industrious; but in his active
superintendence of commercial undertakings he has contracted more and
more of the bitterness which capitalists and employers often feel to be
a reasonable mood towards obstructive proletaries. Hence many who have
occasionally met him when trade questions were being discussed, conclude
him to be indistinguishable from the ordinary run of moneyed and
money-getting men. Indeed, hardly any of his acquaintances know what
Mixtus really is, considered as a whole--nor does Mixtus himself know
it.



X.


DEBASING THE MORAL CURRENCY.

"Il ne faut pas mettre un ridicule où il n'y en a point: c'est se gâter
le goût, c'est corrompre son jugement et celui des autres. Mais le
ridicule qui est quelque part, il faut l'y voir, l'en tirer avec grâce
et d'une manière qui plaise et qui instruise."

I am fond of quoting this passage from La Bruyère, because the subject
is one where I like to show a Frenchman on my side, to save my
sentiments from being set down to my peculiar dulness and deficient
sense of the ludicrous, and also that they may profit by that
enhancement of ideas when presented in a foreign tongue, that glamour of
unfamiliarity conferring a dignity on the foreign names of very common
things, of which even a philosopher like Dugald Stewart confesses the
influence. I remember hearing a fervid woman attempt to recite in
English the narrative of a begging Frenchman who described the violent
death of his father in the July days. The narrative had impressed her,
through the mists of her flushed anxiety to understand it, as something
quite grandly pathetic; but finding the facts turn out meagre, and her
audience cold, she broke off, saying, "It sounded so much finer in
French--_j'ai vu le sang de mon père_, and so on--I wish I could repeat
it in French." This was a pardonable illusion in an old-fashioned lady
who had not received the polyglot education of the present day; but I
observe that even now much nonsense and bad taste win admiring
acceptance solely by virtue of the French language, and one may fairly
desire that what seems a just discrimination should profit by the
fashionable prejudice in favour of La Bruyère's idiom. But I wish he had
added that the habit of dragging the ludicrous into topics where the
chief interest is of a different or even opposite kind is a sign not of
endowment, but of deficiency. The art of spoiling is within reach of the
dullest faculty: the coarsest clown with a hammer in his hand might
chip the nose off every statue and bust in the Vatican, and stand
grinning at the effect of his work. Because wit is an exquisite product
of high powers, we are not therefore forced to admit the sadly confused
inference of the monotonous jester that he is establishing his
superiority over every less facetious person, and over every topic on
which he is ignorant or insensible, by being uneasy until he has
distorted it in the small cracked mirror which he carries about with him
as a joking apparatus. Some high authority is needed to give many worthy
and timid persons the freedom of muscular repose under the growing
demand on them to laugh when they have no other reason than the peril of
being taken for dullards; still more to inspire them with the courage to
say that they object to the theatrical spoiling for themselves and their
children of all affecting themes, all the grander deeds and aims of men,
by burlesque associations adapted to the taste of rich fishmongers in
the stalls and their assistants in the gallery. The English people in
the present generation are falsely reputed to know Shakspere (as, by
some innocent persons, the Florentine mule-drivers are believed to have
known the _Divina Commedia_, not, perhaps, excluding all the subtle
discourses in the _Purgatorio_ and _Paradiso_); but there seems a clear
prospect that in the coming generation he will be known to them through
burlesques, and that his plays will find a new life as pantomimes. A
bottle-nosed Lear will come on with a monstrous corpulence from which he
will frantically dance himself free during the midnight storm; Rosalind
and Celia will join in a grotesque ballet with shepherds and
shepherdesses; Ophelia in fleshings and a voluminous brevity of
grenadine will dance through the mad scene, finishing with the famous
"attitude of the scissors" in the arms of Laertes; and all the speeches
in "Hamlet" will be so ingeniously parodied that the originals will be
reduced to a mere _memoria technica_ of the improver's puns--premonitory
signs of a hideous millennium, in which the lion will have to lie down
with the lascivious monkeys whom (if we may trust Pliny) his soul
naturally abhors.

I have been amazed to find that some artists whose own works have the
ideal stamp, are quite insensible to the damaging tendency of the
burlesquing spirit which ranges to and fro and up and down on the earth,
seeing no reason (except a precarious censorship) why it should not
appropriate every sacred, heroic, and pathetic theme which serves to
make up the treasure of human admiration, hope, and love. One would have
thought that their own half-despairing efforts to invest in worthy
outward shape the vague inward impressions of sublimity, and the
consciousness of an implicit ideal in the commonest scenes, might have
made them susceptible of some disgust or alarm at a species of burlesque
which is likely to render their compositions no better than a dissolving
view, where every noble form is seen melting into its preposterous
caricature. It used to be imagined of the unhappy medieval Jews that
they parodied Calvary by crucifying dogs; if they had been guilty they
would at least have had the excuse of the hatred and rage begotten by
persecution. Are we on the way to a parody which shall have no other
excuse than the reckless search after fodder for degraded
appetites--after the pay to be earned by pasturing Circe's herd where
they may defile every monument of that growing life which should have
kept them human?

The world seems to me well supplied with what is genuinely ridiculous:
wit and humour may play as harmlessly or beneficently round the changing
facets of egoism, absurdity, and vice, as the sunshine over the rippling
sea or the dewy meadows. Why should we make our delicious sense of the
ludicrous, with its invigorating shocks of laughter and its
irrepressible smiles which are the outglow of an inward radiation as
gentle and cheering as the warmth of morning, flourish like a brigand on
the robbery of our mental wealth?--or let it take its exercise as a
madman might, if allowed a free nightly promenade, by drawing the
populace with bonfires which leave some venerable structure a blackened
ruin or send a scorching smoke across the portraits of the past, at
which we once looked with a loving recognition of fellowship, and
disfigure them into butts of mockery?--nay, worse--use it to degrade the
healthy appetites and affections of our nature as they are seen to be
degraded in insane patients whose system, all out of joint, finds
matter for screaming laughter in mere topsy-turvy, makes every passion
preposterous or obscene, and turns the hard-won order of life into a
second chaos hideous enough to make one wail that the first was ever
thrilled with light?

This is what I call debasing the moral currency: lowering the value of
every inspiring fact and tradition so that it will command less and less
of the spiritual products, the generous motives which sustain the charm
and elevation of our social existence--the something besides bread by
which man saves his soul alive. The bread-winner of the family may
demand more and more coppery shillings, or assignats, or greenbacks for
his day's work, and so get the needful quantum of food; but let that
moral currency be emptied of its value--let a greedy buffoonery debase
all historic beauty, majesty, and pathos, and the more you heap up the
desecrated symbols the greater will be the lack of the ennobling
emotions which subdue the tyranny of suffering, and make ambition one
with social virtue.

And yet, it seems, parents will put into the hands of their children
ridiculous parodies (perhaps with more ridiculous "illustrations") of
the poems which stirred their own tenderness or filial piety, and carry
them to make their first acquaintance with great men, great works, or
solemn crises through the medium of some miscellaneous burlesque which,
with its idiotic puns and farcical attitudes, will remain among their
primary associations, and reduce them throughout their time of studious
preparation for life to the moral imbecility of an inward giggle at what
might have stimulated their high emulation or fed the fountains of
compassion, trust, and constancy. One wonders where these parents have
deposited that stock of morally educating stimuli which is to be
independent of poetic tradition, and to subsist in spite of the finest
images being degraded and the finest words of genius being poisoned as
with some befooling drug.

Will fine wit, will exquisite humour prosper the more through this
turning of all things indiscriminately into food for a gluttonous
laughter, an idle craving without sense of flavours? On the contrary.
That delightful power which La Bruyère points to--"le ridicule qui est
quelque part, il faut l'y voir, l'en tirer avec grâce et d'une manière
qui plaise et qui instruise"--depends on a discrimination only
compatible with the varied sensibilities which give sympathetic insight,
and with the justice of perception which is another name for grave
knowledge. Such a result is no more to be expected from faculties on the
strain to find some small hook by which they may attach the lowest
incongruity to the most momentous subject, than it is to be expected of
a sharper, watching for gulls in a great political assemblage, that he
will notice the blundering logic of partisan speakers, or season his
observation with the salt of historical parallels. But after all our
psychological teaching, and in the midst of our zeal for education, we
are still, most of us, at the stage of believing that mental powers and
habits have somehow, not perhaps in the general statement, but in any
particular case, a kind of spiritual glaze against conditions which we
are continually applying to them. We soak our children in habits of
contempt and exultant gibing, and yet are confident that--as Clarissa
one day said to me--"We can always teach them to be reverent in the
right place, you know." And doubtless if she were to take her boys to
see a burlesque Socrates, with swollen legs, dying in the utterance of
cockney puns, and were to hang up a sketch of this comic scene among
their bedroom prints, she would think this preparation not at all to the
prejudice of their emotions on hearing their tutor read that narrative
of the _Apology_ which has been consecrated by the reverent gratitude of
ages. This is the impoverishment that threatens our posterity:--a new
Famine, a meagre fiend with lewd grin and clumsy hoof, is breathing a
moral mildew over the harvest of our human sentiments. These are the
most delicate elements of our too easily perishable civilisation. And
here again I like to quote a French testimony. Sainte Beuve, referring
to a time of insurrectionary disturbance, says: "Rien de plus prompt à
baisser que la civilisation dans des crises comme celle-ci; on perd en
trois semaines le résultat de plusieurs siècles. La civilisation, la
_vie_ est une chose apprise et inventée, qu'on le sache bien: '_Inventas
aut qui vitam excoluere per artes_.' Les hommes après quelques années de
paix oublient trop cette verité: ils arrivent à croire que la _culture_
est chose innée, qu'elle est la même chose que la _nature_. La
sauvagerie est toujours là à deux pas, et, dès qu'on lâche pied, elle
recommence." We have been severely enough taught (if we were willing to
learn) that our civilisation, considered as a splendid material fabric,
is helplessly in peril without the spiritual police of sentiments or
ideal feelings. And it is this invisible police which we had need, as a
community, strive to maintain in efficient force. How if a dangerous
"Swing" were sometimes disguised in a versatile entertainer devoted to
the amusement of mixed audiences? And I confess that sometimes when I
see a certain style of young lady, who checks our tender admiration with
rouge and henna and all the blazonry of an extravagant expenditure, with
slang and bold _brusquerie_ intended to signify her emancipated view of
things, and with cynical mockery which she mistakes for penetration, I
am sorely tempted to hiss out "_Pétroleuse!_" It is a small matter to
have our palaces set aflame compared with the misery of having our sense
of a noble womanhood, which is the inspiration of a purifying shame, the
promise of life--penetrating affection, stained and blotted out by
images of repulsiveness. These things come--not of higher education,
but--of dull ignorance fostered into pertness by the greedy vulgarity
which reverses Peter's visionary lesson and learns to call all things
common and unclean. It comes of debasing the moral currency.

The Tirynthians, according to an ancient story reported by Athenaeus,
becoming conscious that their trick of laughter at everything and
nothing was making them unfit for the conduct of serious affairs,
appealed to the Delphic oracle for some means of cure. The god
prescribed a peculiar form of sacrifice, which would be effective if
they could carry it through without laughing. They did their best; but
the flimsy joke of a boy upset their unaccustomed gravity, and in this
way the oracle taught them that even the gods could not prescribe a
quick cure for a long vitiation, or give power and dignity to a people
who in a crisis of the public wellbeing were at the mercy of a poor
jest.



XI.


THE WASP CREDITED WITH THE HONEYCOMB

No man, I imagine, would object more strongly than Euphorion to
communistic principles in relation to material property, but with regard
to property in ideas he entertains such principles willingly, and is
disposed to treat the distinction between Mine and Thine in original
authorship as egoistic, narrowing, and low. I have known him, indeed,
insist at some expense of erudition on the prior right of an ancient, a
medieval, or an eighteenth century writer to be credited with a view or
statement lately advanced with some show of originality; and this
championship seems to imply a nicety of conscience towards the dead. He
is evidently unwilling that his neighbours should get more credit than
is due to them, and in this way he appears to recognise a certain
proprietorship even in spiritual production. But perhaps it is no real
inconsistency that, with regard to many instances of modern origination,
it is his habit to talk with a Gallic largeness and refer to the
universe: he expatiates on the diffusive nature of intellectual
products, free and all-embracing as the liberal air; on the
infinitesimal smallness of individual origination compared with the
massive inheritance of thought on which every new generation enters; on
that growing preparation for every epoch through which certain ideas or
modes of view are said to be in the air, and, still more metaphorically
speaking, to be inevitably absorbed, so that every one may be excused
for not knowing how he got them. Above all, he insists on the proper
subordination of the irritable self, the mere vehicle of an idea or
combination which, being produced by the sum total of the human race,
must belong to that multiple entity, from the accomplished lecturer or
populariser who transmits it, to the remotest generation of Fuegians or
Hottentots, however indifferent these may be to the superiority of their
right above that of the eminently perishable dyspeptic author.

One may admit that such considerations carry a profound truth to be
even religiously contemplated, and yet object all the more to the mode
in which Euphorion seems to apply them. I protest against the use of
these majestic conceptions to do the dirty work of unscrupulosity and
justify the non-payment of conscious debts which cannot be defined or
enforced by the law. Especially since it is observable that the large
views as to intellectual property which can apparently reconcile an
able person to the use of lately borrowed ideas as if they were his
own, when this spoliation is favoured by the public darkness, never
hinder him from joining in the zealous tribute of recognition and
applause to those warriors of Truth whose triumphal arches are seen in
the public ways, those conquerors whose battles and "annexations" even
the carpenters and bricklayers know by name. Surely the acknowledgment
of a mental debt which will not be immediately detected, and may never
be asserted, is a case to which the traditional susceptibility to
"debts of honour" would be suitably transferred. There is no massive
public opinion that can be expected to tell on these relations of
thinkers and investigators—relations to be thoroughly understood
and felt only by those who are interested in the life of ideas and
acquainted with their history. To lay false claim to an invention or
discovery which has an immediate market value; to vamp up a
professedly new book of reference by stealing from the pages of one
already produced at the cost of much labour and material; to copy
somebody else's poem and send the manuscript to a magazine, or hand it
about among; friends as an original "effusion;" to deliver an elegant
extract from a known writer as a piece of improvised
eloquence:—these are the limits within which the dishonest
pretence of originality is likely to get hissed or hooted and bring
more or less shame on the culprit. It is not necessary to understand
the merit of a performance, or even to spell with any comfortable
confidence, in order to perceive at once that such pretences are not
respectable. But the difference between these vulgar frauds, these
devices of ridiculous jays whose ill-secured plumes are seen falling
off them as they run, and the quiet appropriation of other people's
philosophic or scientific ideas, can hardly be held to lie in their
moral quality unless we take impunity as our criterion. The pitiable
jays had no presumption in their favour and foolishly fronted an alert
incredulity; but Euphorion, the accomplished theorist, has an audience
who expect much of him, and take it as the most natural thing in the
world that every unusual view which he presents anonymously should be
due solely to his ingenuity. His borrowings are no incongruous
feathers awkwardly stuck on; they have an appropriateness which makes
them seem an answer to anticipation, like the return phrases of a
melody. Certainly one cannot help the ignorant conclusions of polite
society, and there are perhaps fashionable persons who, if a speaker
has occasion to explain what the occipat is, will consider that he has
lately discovered that curiously named portion of the animal frame:
one cannot give a genealogical introduction to every long-stored item
of fact or conjecture that may happen to be a revelation for the large
class of persons who are understood to judge soundly on a small basis
of knowledge. But Euphorion would be very sorry to have it supposed
that he is unacquainted with the history of ideas, and sometimes
carries even into minutiae the evidence of his exact registration of
names in connection with quotable phrases or suggestions: I can
therefore only explain the apparent infirmity of his memory in cases
of larger "conveyance" by supposing that he is accustomed by the very
association of largeness to range them at once under those grand laws
of the universe in the light of which Mine and Thine disappear and are
resolved into Everybody's or Nobody's, and one man's particular
obligations to another melt untraceably into the obligations of the
earth to the solar system in general.

Euphorion himself, if a particular omission of acknowledgment were
brought home to him, would probably take a narrower ground of
explanation. It was a lapse of memory; or it did not occur to him as
necessary in this case to mention a name, the source being well
known--or (since this seems usually to act as a strong reason for
mention) he rather abstained from adducing the name because it might
injure the excellent matter advanced, just as an obscure trade-mark
casts discredit on a good commodity, and even on the retailer who has
furnished himself from a quarter not likely to be esteemed first-rate.
No doubt this last is a genuine and frequent reason for the
non-acknowledgment of indebtedness to what one may call impersonal as
well as personal sources: even an American editor of school classics
whose own English could not pass for more than a syntactical shoddy of
the cheapest sort, felt it unfavourable to his reputation for sound
learning that he should be obliged to the Penny Cyclopaedia, and
disguised his references to it under contractions in which _Us. Knowl._.
took the place of the low word _Penny_. Works of this convenient stamp,
easily obtained and well nourished with matter, are felt to be like rich
but unfashionable relations who are visited and received in privacy, and
whose capital is used or inherited without any ostentatious insistance
on their names and places of abode. As to memory, it is known that this
frail faculty naturally lets drop the facts which are less flattering to
our self-love--when it does not retain them carefully as subjects not to
be approached, marshy spots with a warning flag over them. But it is
always interesting to bring forward eminent names, such as Patricius or
Scaliger, Euler or Lagrange, Bopp or Humboldt. To know exactly what has
been drawn from them is erudition and heightens our own influence, which
seems advantageous to mankind; whereas to cite an author whose ideas may
pass as higher currency under our own signature can have no object
except the contradictory one of throwing the illumination over his
figure when it is important to be seen oneself. All these reasons must
weigh considerably with those speculative persons who have to ask
themselves whether or not Universal Utilitarianism requires that in the
particular instance before them they should injure a man who has been of
service to them, and rob a fellow-workman of the credit which is due to
him.

After all, however, it must be admitted that hardly any accusation is
more difficult to prove, and more liable to be false, than that of a
plagiarism which is the conscious theft of ideas and deliberate
reproduction of them as original. The arguments on the side of acquittal
are obvious and strong:--the inevitable coincidences of contemporary
thinking; and our continual experience of finding notions turning up in
our minds without any label on them to tell us whence they came; so that
if we are in the habit of expecting much from our own capacity we accept
them at once as a new inspiration. Then, in relation to the elder
authors, there is the difficulty first of learning and then of
remembering exactly what has been wrought into the backward tapestry of
the world's history, together with the fact that ideas acquired long ago
reappear as the sequence of an awakened interest or a line of inquiry
which is really new in us, whence it is conceivable that if we were
ancients some of us might be offering grateful hecatombs by mistake, and
proving our honesty in a ruinously expensive manner. On the other hand,
the evidence on which plagiarism is concluded is often of a kind which,
though much trusted in questions of erudition and historical criticism,
is apt to lead us injuriously astray in our daily judgments, especially
of the resentful, condemnatory sort. How Pythagoras came by his ideas,
whether St Paul was acquainted with all the Greek poets, what Tacitus
must have known by hearsay and systematically ignored, are points on
which a false persuasion of knowledge is less damaging to justice and
charity than an erroneous confidence, supported by reasoning
fundamentally similar, of my neighbour's blameworthy behaviour in a case
where I am personally concerned. No premisses require closer scrutiny
than those which lead to the constantly echoed conclusion, "He must have
known," or "He must have read." I marvel that this facility of belief on
the side of knowledge can subsist under the daily demonstration that the
easiest of all things to the human mind is _not_ to know and _not_ to
read. To praise, to blame, to shout, grin, or hiss, where others shout,
grin, or hiss--these are native tendencies; but to know and to read are
artificial, hard accomplishments, concerning which the only safe
supposition is, that as little of them has been done as the case admits.
An author, keenly conscious of having written, can hardly help imagining
his condition of lively interest to be shared by others, just as we are
all apt to suppose that the chill or heat we are conscious of must be
general, or even to think that our sons and daughters, our pet schemes,
and our quarrelling correspondence, are themes to which intelligent
persons will listen long without weariness. But if the ardent author
happen to be alive to practical teaching he will soon learn to divide
the larger part of the enlightened public into those who have not read
him and think it necessary to tell him so when they meet him in polite
society, and those who have equally abstained from reading him, but wish
to conceal this negation and speak of his "incomparable works" with that
trust in testimony which always has its cheering side.

Hence it is worse than foolish to entertain silent suspicions of
plagiarism, still more to give them voice, when they are founded on a
construction of probabilities which a little more attention to everyday
occurrences as a guide in reasoning would show us to be really
worthless, considered as proof. The length to which one man's memory can
go in letting drop associations that are vital to another can hardly
find a limit. It is not to be supposed that a person desirous to make an
agreeable impression on you would deliberately choose to insist to you,
with some rhetorical sharpness, on an argument which you were the first
to elaborate in public; yet any one who listens may overhear such
instances of obliviousness. You naturally remember your peculiar
connection with your acquaintance's judicious views; but why should
_he_? Your fatherhood, which is an intense feeling to you, is only an
additional fact of meagre interest for him to remember; and a sense of
obligation to the particular living fellow-struggler who has helped us
in our thinking, is not yet a form of memory the want of which is felt
to be disgraceful or derogatory, unless it is taken to be a want of
polite instruction, or causes the missing of a cockade on a day of
celebration. In our suspicions of plagiarism we must recognise as the
first weighty probability, that what we who feel injured remember best
is precisely what is least likely to enter lastingly into the memory of
our neighbours. But it is fair to maintain that the neighbour who
borrows your property, loses it for a while, and when it turns up again
forgets your connection with it and counts it his own, shows himself so
much the feebler in grasp and rectitude of mind. Some absent persons
cannot remember the state of wear in their own hats and umbrellas, and
have no mental check to tell them that they have carried home a
fellow-visitor's more recent purchase: they may be excellent
householders, far removed from the suspicion of low devices, but one
wishes them a more correct perception, and a more wary sense that a
neighbours umbrella may be newer than their own.

True, some persons are so constituted that the very excellence of an
idea seems to them a convincing reason that it must be, if not solely,
yet especially theirs. It fits in so beautifully with their general
wisdom, it lies implicitly in so many of their manifested opinions, that
if they have not yet expressed it (because of preoccupation) it is
clearly a part of their indigenous produce, and is proved by their
immediate eloquent promulgation of it to belong more naturally and
appropriately to them than to the person who seemed first to have
alighted on it, and who sinks in their all-originating consciousness to
that low kind of entity, a second cause. This is not lunacy, nor
pretence, but a genuine state of mind very effective in practice, and
often carrying the public with it, so that the poor Columbus is found to
be a very faulty adventurer, and the continent is named after Amerigo.
Lighter examples of this instinctive appropriation are constantly met
with among brilliant talkers. Aquila is too agreeable and amusing for
any one who is not himself bent on display to be angry at his
conversational rapine--his habit of darting down on every morsel of
booty that other birds may hold in their beaks, with an innocent air, as
if it were all intended for his use, and honestly counted on by him as a
tribute in kind. Hardly any man, I imagine, can have had less trouble in
gathering a showy stock of information than Aquila. On close inquiry you
would probably find that he had not read one epoch-making book of modern
times, for he has a career which obliges him to much correspondence and
other official work, and he is too fond of being in company to spend his
leisure moments in study; but to his quick eye, ear, and tongue, a few
predatory excursions in conversation where there are instructed persons,
gradually furnish surprisingly clever modes of statement and allusion on
the dominant topic. When he first adopts a subject he necessarily falls
into mistakes, and it is interesting to watch his gradual progress into
fuller information and better nourished irony, without his ever needing
to admit that he has made a blunder or to appear conscious of
correction. Suppose, for example, he had incautiously founded some
ingenious remarks on a hasty reckoning that nine thirteens made a
hundred and two, and the insignificant Bantam, hitherto silent, seemed
to spoil the flow of ideas by stating that the product could not be
taken as less than a hundred and seventeen, Aquila would glide on in the
most graceful manner from a repetition of his previous remark to the
continuation--"All this is on the supposition that a hundred and two
were all that could be got out of nine thirteens; but as all the world
knows that nine thirteens will yield," &c.--proceeding straightway into
a new train of ingenious consequences, and causing Bantam to be regarded
by all present as one of those slow persons who take irony for
ignorance, and who would warn the weasel to keep awake. How should a
small-eyed, feebly crowing mortal like him be quicker in arithmetic than
the keen-faced forcible Aquila, in whom universal knowledge is easily
credible? Looked into closely, the conclusion from a man's profile,
voice, and fluency to his certainty in multiplication beyond the
twelves, seems to show a confused notion of the way in which very common
things are connected; but it is on such false correlations that men
found half their inferences about each other, and high places of trust
may sometimes be held on no better foundation.

It is a commonplace that words, writings, measures, and performances in
general, have qualities assigned them not by a direct judgment on the
performances themselves, but by a presumption of what they are likely to
be, considering who is the performer. We all notice in our neighbours
this reference to names as guides in criticism, and all furnish
illustrations of it in our own practice; for, check ourselves as we
will, the first impression from any sort of work must depend on a
previous attitude of mind, and this will constantly be determined by the
influences of a name. But that our prior confidence or want of
confidence in given names is made up of judgments just as hollow as the
consequent praise or blame they are taken to warrant, is less commonly
perceived, though there is a conspicuous indication of it in the
surprise or disappointment often manifested in the disclosure of an
authorship about which everybody has been making wrong guesses. No doubt
if it had been discovered who wrote the 'Vestiges,' many an ingenious
structure of probabilities would have been spoiled, and some disgust
might have been felt for a real author who made comparatively so shabby
an appearance of likelihood. It is this foolish trust in prepossessions,
founded on spurious evidence, which makes a medium of encouragement for
those who, happening to have the ear of the public, give other people's
ideas the advantage of appearing under their own well-received name,
while any remonstrance from the real producer becomes an each person who
has paid complimentary tributes in the wrong place.

Hardly any kind of false reasoning is more ludicrous than this on the
probabilities of origination. It would be amusing to catechise the
guessers as to their exact reasons for thinking their guess "likely:"
why Hoopoe of John's has fixed on Toucan of Magdalen; why Shrike
attributes its peculiar style to Buzzard, who has not hitherto been
known as a writer; why the fair Columba thinks it must belong to the
reverend Merula; and why they are all alike disturbed in their previous
judgment of its value by finding that it really came from Skunk, whom
they had either not thought of at all, or thought of as belonging to a
species excluded by the nature of the case. Clearly they were all wrong
in their notion of the specific conditions, which lay unexpectedly in
the small Skunk, and in him alone--in spite of his education nobody
knows where, in spite of somebody's knowing his uncles and cousins, and
in spite of nobody's knowing that he was cleverer than they thought him.

Such guesses remind one of a fabulist's imaginary council of animals
assembled to consider what sort of creature had constructed a honeycomb
found and much tasted by Bruin and other epicures. The speakers all
started from the probability that the maker was a bird, because this was
the quarter from which a wondrous nest might be expected; for the
animals at that time, knowing little of their own history, would have
rejected as inconceivable the notion that a nest could be made by a
fish; and as to the insects, they were not willingly received in society
and their ways were little known. Several complimentary presumptions
were expressed that the honeycomb was due to one or the other admired
and popular bird, and there was much fluttering on the part of the
Nightingale and Swallow, neither of whom gave a positive denial, their
confusion perhaps extending to their sense of identity; but the Owl
hissed at this folly, arguing from his particular knowledge that the
animal which produced honey must be the Musk-rat, the wondrous nature of
whose secretions required no proof; and, in the powerful logical
procedure of the Owl, from musk to honey was but a step. Some
disturbance arose hereupon, for the Musk-rat began to make himself
obtrusive, believing in the Owl's opinion of his powers, and feeling
that he could have produced the honey if he had thought of it; until an
experimental Butcher-bird proposed to anatomise him as a help to
decision. The hubbub increased, the opponents of the Musk-rat inquiring
who his ancestors were; until a diversion was created by an able
discourse of the Macaw on structures generally, which he classified so
as to include the honeycomb, entering into so much admirable exposition
that there was a prevalent sense of the honeycomb having probably been
produced by one who understood it so well. But Bruin, who had probably
eaten too much to listen with edification, grumbled in his low kind of
language, that "Fine words butter no parsnips," by which he meant to say
that there was no new honey forthcoming.

Perhaps the audience generally was beginning to tire, when the Fox
entered with his snout dreadfully swollen, and reported that the
beneficent originator in question was the Wasp, which he had found much
smeared with undoubted honey, having applied his nose to it--whence
indeed the able insect, perhaps justifiably irritated at what might seem
a sign of scepticism, had stung him with some severity, an infliction
Reynard could hardly regret, since the swelling of a snout normally so
delicate would corroborate his statement and satisfy the assembly that
he had really found the honey-creating genius.

The Fox's admitted acuteness, combined with the visible swelling, were
taken as undeniable evidence, and the revelation undoubtedly met a
general desire for information on a point of interest. Nevertheless,
there was a murmur the reverse of delighted, and the feelings of some
eminent animals were too strong for them: the Orang-outang's jaw dropped
so as seriously to impair the vigour of his expression, the edifying
Pelican screamed and flapped her wings, the Owl hissed again, the Macaw
became loudly incoherent, and the Gibbon gave his hysterical laugh;
while the Hyaena, after indulging in a more splenetic guffaw, agitated
the question whether it would not be better to hush up the whole affair,
instead of giving public recognition to an insect whose produce, it was
now plain, had been much overestimated. But this narrow-spirited motion
was negatived by the sweet-toothed majority. A complimentary deputation
to the Wasp was resolved on, and there was a confident hope that this
diplomatic measure would tell on the production of honey.



XII.


"SO YOUNG!"

Ganymede was once a girlishly handsome precocious youth. That one cannot
for any considerable number of years go on being youthful, girlishly
handsome, and precocious, seems on consideration to be a statement as
worthy of credit as the famous syllogistic conclusion, "Socrates was
mortal." But many circumstances have conspired to keep up in Ganymede
the illusion that he is surprisingly young. He was the last born of his
family, and from his earliest memory was accustomed to be commended as
such to the care of his elder brothers and sisters: he heard his mother
speak of him as her youngest darling with a loving pathos in her tone,
which naturally suffused his own view of himself, and gave him the
habitual consciousness of being at once very young and very interesting.
Then, the disclosure of his tender years was a constant matter of
astonishment to strangers who had had proof of his precocious talents,
and the astonishment extended to what is called the world at large when
he produced 'A Comparative Estimate of European Nations' before he was
well out of his teens. All comers, on a first interview, told him that
he was marvellously young, and some repeated the statement each time
they saw him; all critics who wrote about him called attention to the
same ground for wonder: his deficiencies and excesses were alike to be
accounted for by the flattering fact of his youth, and his youth was the
golden background which set off his many-hued endowments. Here was
already enough to establish a strong association between his sense of
identity and his sense of being unusually young. But after this he
devised and founded an ingenious organisation for consolidating the
literary interests of all the four continents (subsequently including
Australasia and Polynesia), he himself presiding in the central office,
which thus became a new theatre for the constantly repeated situation of
an astonished stranger in the presence of a boldly scheming
administrator found to be remarkably young. If we imagine with due
charity the effect on Ganymede, we shall think it greatly to his credit
that he continued to feel the necessity of being something more than
young, and did not sink by rapid degrees into a parallel of that
melancholy object, a superannuated youthful phenomenon. Happily he had
enough of valid, active faculty to save him from that tragic fate. He
had not exhausted his fountain of eloquent opinion in his 'Comparative
Estimate,' so as to feel himself, like some other juvenile celebrities,
the sad survivor of his own manifest destiny, or like one who has risen
too early in the morning, and finds all the solid day turned into a
fatigued afternoon. He has continued to be productive both of schemes
and writings, being perhaps helped by the fact that his 'Comparative
Estimate' did not greatly affect the currents of European thought, and
left him with the stimulating hope that he had not done his best, but
might yet produce what would make his youth more surprising than ever.

I saw something of him through his Antinoüs period, the time of rich
chesnut locks, parted not by a visible white line, but by a shadowed
furrow from which they fell in massive ripples to right and left. In
these slim days he looked the younger for being rather below the middle
size, and though at last one perceived him contracting an indefinable
air of self-consciousness, a slight exaggeration of the facial
movements, the attitudes, the little tricks, and the romance in
shirt-collars, which must be expected from one who, in spite of his
knowledge, was so exceedingly young, it was impossible to say that he
was making any great mistake about himself. He was only undergoing one
form of a common moral disease: being strongly mirrored for himself in
the remark of others, he was getting to see his real characteristics as
a dramatic part, a type to which his doings were always in
correspondence. Owing to my absence on travel and to other causes I had
lost sight of him for several years, but such a separation between two
who have not missed each other seems in this busy century only a
pleasant reason, when they happen to meet again in some old accustomed
haunt, for the one who has stayed at home to be more communicative about
himself than he can well be to those who have all along been in his
neighbourhood. He had married in the interval, and as if to keep up his
surprising youthfulness in all relations, he had taken a wife
considerably older than himself. It would probably have seemed to him a
disturbing inversion of the natural order that any one very near to him
should have been younger than he, except his own children who, however
young, would not necessarily hinder the normal surprise at the
youthfulness of their father. And if my glance had revealed my
impression on first seeing him again, he might have received a rather
disagreeable shock, which was far from my intention. My mind, having
retained a very exact image of his former appearance, took note of
unmistakeable changes such as a painter would certainly not have made by
way of flattering his subject. He had lost his slimness, and that curved
solidity which might have adorned a taller man was a rather sarcastic
threat to his short figure. The English branch of the Teutonic race does
not produce many fat youths, and I have even heard an American lady say
that she was much "disappointed" at the moderate number and size of our
fat men, considering their reputation in the United States; hence a
stranger would now have been apt to remark that Ganymede was unusually
plump for a distinguished writer, rather than unusually young. But how
was he to know this? Many long-standing prepossessions are as hard to be
corrected as a long-standing mispronunciation, against which the direct
experience of eye and ear is often powerless. And I could perceive that
Ganymede's inwrought sense of his surprising youthfulness had been
stronger than the superficial reckoning of his years and the merely
optical phenomena of the looking-glass. He now held a post under
Government, and not only saw, like most subordinate functionaries, how
ill everything was managed, but also what were the changes that a high
constructive ability would dictate; and in mentioning to me his own
speeches and other efforts towards propagating reformatory views in his
department, he concluded by changing his tone to a sentimental head
voice and saying--

"But I am so young; people object to any prominence on my part; I can
only get myself heard anonymously, and when some attention has been
drawn the name is sure to creep out. The writer is known to be young,
and things are none the forwarder."

"Well," said I, "youth seems the only drawback that is sure to diminish.
You and I have seven years less of it than when we last met."

"Ah?" returned Ganymede, as lightly as possible, at the same time
casting an observant glance over me, as if he were marking the effect of
seven years on a person who had probably begun life with an old look,
and even as an infant had given his countenance to that significant
doctrine, the transmigration of ancient souls into modern bodies.

I left him on that occasion without any melancholy forecast that his
illusion would be suddenly or painfully broken up. I saw that he was
well victualled and defended against a ten years' siege from ruthless
facts; and in the course of time observation convinced me that his
resistance received considerable aid from without. Each of his written
productions, as it came out, was still commented on as the work of a
very young man. One critic, finding that he wanted solidity, charitably
referred to his youth as an excuse. Another, dazzled by his brilliancy,
seemed to regard his youth as so wondrous that all other authors
appeared decrepit by comparison, and their style such as might be looked
for from gentlemen of the old school. Able pens (according to a familiar
metaphor) appeared to shake their heads good-humouredly, implying that
Ganymede's crudities were pardonable in one so exceedingly young. Such
unanimity amid diversity, which a distant posterity might take for
evidence that on the point of age at least there could have been no
mistake, was not really more difficult to account for than the
prevalence of cotton in our fabrics. Ganymede had been first introduced
into the writing world as remarkably young, and it was no exceptional
consequence that the first deposit of information about him held its
ground against facts which, however open to observation, were not
necessarily thought of. It is not so easy, with our rates and taxes and
need for economy in all directions, to cast away an epithet or remark
that turns up cheaply, and to go in expensive search after more genuine
substitutes. There is high Homeric precedent for keeping fast hold of an
epithet under all changes of circumstance, and so the precocious author
of the 'Comparative Estimate' heard the echoes repeating "Young
Ganymede" when an illiterate beholder at a railway station would have
given him forty years at least. Besides, important elders, sachems of
the clubs and public meetings, had a genuine opinion of him as young
enough to be checked for speech on subjects which they had spoken
mistakenly about when he was in his cradle; and then, the midway parting
of his crisp hair, not common among English committee-men, formed a
presumption against the ripeness of his judgment which nothing but a
speedy baldness could have removed.

It is but fair to mention all these outward confirmations of Ganymede's
illusion, which shows no signs of leaving him. It is true that he no
longer hears expressions of surprise at his youthfulness, on a first
introduction to an admiring reader; but this sort of external evidence
has become an unnecessary crutch to his habitual inward persuasion. His
manners, his costume, his suppositions of the impression he makes on
others, have all their former correspondence with the dramatic part of
the young genius. As to the incongruity of his contour and other little
accidents of physique, he is probably no more aware that they will
affect others as incongruities than Armida is conscious how much her
rouge provokes our notice of her wrinkles, and causes us to mention
sarcastically that motherly age which we should otherwise regard with
affectionate reverence.

But let us be just enough to admit that there may be old-young coxcombs
as well as old-young coquettes.



XIII.


HOW WE COME TO GIVE OURSELVES FALSE TESTIMONIALS, AND BELIEVE IN THEM.

It is my way when I observe any instance of folly, any queer habit, any
absurd illusion, straightway to look for something of the same type in
myself, feeling sure that amid all differences there will be a certain
correspondence; just as there is more or less correspondence in the
natural history even of continents widely apart, and of islands in
opposite zones. No doubt men's minds differ in what we may call their
climate or share of solar energy, and a feeling or tendency which is
comparable to a panther in one may have no more imposing aspect than
that of a weasel in another: some are like a tropical habitat in which
the very ferns cast a mighty shadow, and the grasses are a dry ocean in
which a hunter may be submerged; others like the chilly latitudes in
which your forest-tree, fit elsewhere to prop a mine, is a pretty
miniature suitable for fancy potting. The eccentric man might be
typified by the Australian fauna, refuting half our judicious
assumptions of what nature allows. Still, whether fate commanded us to
thatch our persons among the Eskimos or to choose the latest thing in
tattooing among the Polynesian isles, our precious guide Comparison
would teach us in the first place by likeness, and our clue to further
knowledge would be resemblance to what we already know. Hence, having a
keen interest in the natural history of my inward self, I pursue this
plan I have mentioned of using my observation as a clue or lantern by
which I detect small herbage or lurking life; or I take my neighbour in
his least becoming tricks or efforts as an opportunity for luminous
deduction concerning the figure the human genus makes in the specimen
which I myself furnish.

Introspection which starts with the purpose of finding out one's own
absurdities is not likely to be very mischievous, yet of course it is
not free from dangers any more than breathing is, or the other functions
that keep us alive and active. To judge of others by oneself is in its
most innocent meaning the briefest expression for our only method of
knowing mankind; yet, we perceive, it has come to mean in many cases
either the vulgar mistake which reduces every man's value to the very
low figure at which the valuer himself happens to stand; or else, the
amiable illusion of the higher nature misled by a too generous
construction of the lower. One cannot give a recipe for wise judgment:
it resembles appropriate muscular action, which is attained by the
myriad lessons in nicety of balance and of aim that only practice can
give. The danger of the inverse procedure, judging of self by what one
observes in others, if it is carried on with much impartiality and
keenness of discernment, is that it has a laming effect, enfeebling the
energies of indignation and scorn, which are the proper scourges of
wrong-doing and meanness, and which should continually feed the
wholesome restraining power of public opinion. I respect the horsewhip
when applied to the back of Cruelty, and think that he who applies it is
a more perfect human being because his outleap of indignation is not
checked by a too curious reflection on the nature of guilt--a more
perfect human being because he more completely incorporates the best
social life of the race, which can never be constituted by ideas that
nullify action. This is the essence of Dante's sentiment (it is painful
to think that he applies it very cruelly)--

  "E cortesia fù, lui esser villano"[1]--

and it is undeniable that a too intense consciousness of one's kinship
with all frailties and vices undermines the active heroism which battles
against wrong.

But certainly nature has taken care that this danger should not at
present be very threatening. One could not fairly describe the
generality of one's neighbours as too lucidly aware of manifesting in
their own persons the weaknesses which they observe in the rest of her
Majesty's subjects; on the contrary, a hasty conclusion as to schemes of
Providence might lead to the supposition that one man was intended to
correct another by being most intolerant of the ugly quality or trick
which he himself possesses. Doubtless philosophers will be able to
explain how it must necessarily be so, but pending the full extension of
the _à priori_ method, which will show that only blockheads could expect
anything to be otherwise, it does seem surprising that Heloisa should be
disgusted at Laura's attempts to disguise her age, attempts which she
recognises so thoroughly because they enter into her own practice; that
Semper, who often responds at public dinners and proposes resolutions on
platforms, though he has a trying gestation of every speech and a bad
time for himself and others at every delivery, should yet remark
pitilessly on the folly of precisely the same course of action in
Ubique; that Aliquis, who lets no attack on himself pass unnoticed, and
for every handful of gravel against his windows sends a stone in reply,
should deplore the ill-advised retorts of Quispiam, who does not
perceive that to show oneself angry with an adversary is to gratify him.
To be unaware of our own little tricks of manner or our own mental
blemishes and excesses is a comprehensible unconsciousness; the puzzling
fact is that people should apparently take no account of their
deliberate actions, and should expect them to be equally ignored by
others. It is an inversion of the accepted order: _there_ it is the
phrases that are official and the conduct or privately manifested
sentiment that is taken to be real; _here_ it seems that the practice is
taken to be official and entirely nullified by the verbal representation
which contradicts it. The thief making a vow to heaven of full
restitution and whispering some reservations, expecting to cheat
Omniscience by an "aside," is hardly more ludicrous than the many ladies
and gentlemen who have more belief, and expect others to have it, in
their own statement about their habitual doings than in the
contradictory fact which is patent in the daylight. One reason of the
absurdity is that we are led by a tradition about ourselves, so that
long after a man has practically departed from a rule or principle, he
continues innocently to state it as a true description of his
practice--just as he has a long tradition that he is not an old
gentleman, and is startled when he is seventy at overhearing himself
called by an epithet which he has only applied to others.

[Footnote 1: Inferno, xxxii. 150.]

"A person with your tendency of constitution should take as little sugar
as possible," said Pilulus to Bovis somewhere in the darker decades of
this century. "It has made a great difference to Avis since he took my
advice in that matter: he used to consume half a pound a-day."

"God bless me!" cries Bovis. "I take very little sugar myself."

"Twenty-six large lumps every day of your life, Mr Bovis," says his
wife.

"No such thing!" exclaims Bovis.

"You drop them into your tea, coffee, and whisky yourself, my dear, and
I count them."

"Nonsense!" laughs Bovis, turning to Pilulus, that they may exchange a
glance of mutual amusement at a woman's inaccuracy.

But she happened to be right. Bovis had never said inwardly that he
would take a large allowance of sugar, and he had the tradition about
himself that he was a man of the most moderate habits; hence, with this
conviction, he was naturally disgusted at the saccharine excesses of
Avis.

I have sometimes thought that this facility of men in believing that
they are still what they once meant to be--this undisturbed
appropriation of a traditional character which is often but a melancholy
relic of early resolutions, like the worn and soiled testimonial to
soberness and honesty carried in the pocket of a tippler whom the need
of a dram has driven into peculation--may sometimes diminish the
turpitude of what seems a flat, barefaced falsehood. It is notorious
that a man may go on uttering false assertions about his own acts till
he at last believes in them: is it not possible that sometimes in the
very first utterance there may be a shade of creed-reciting belief, a
reproduction of a traditional self which is clung to against all
evidence? There is no knowing all the disguises of the lying serpent.

When we come to examine in detail what is the sane mind in the sane
body, the final test of completeness seems to be a security of
distinction between what we have professed and what we have done; what
we have aimed at and what we have achieved; what we have invented and
what we have witnessed or had evidenced to us; what we think and feel in
the present and what we thought and felt in the past.

I know that there is a common prejudice which regards the habitual
confusion of _now_ and _then_, of _it was_ and _it is_, of _it seemed
so_ and _I should like it to be so_, as a mark of high imaginative
endowment, while the power of precise statement and description is rated
lower, as the attitude of an everyday prosaic mind. High imagination is
often assigned or claimed as if it were a ready activity in fabricating
extravagances such as are presented by fevered dreams, or as if its
possessors were in that state of inability to give credible testimony
which would warrant their exclusion from the class of acceptable
witnesses in a court of justice; so that a creative genius might fairly
be subjected to the disability which some laws have stamped on dicers,
slaves, and other classes whose position was held perverting to their
sense of social responsibility.

This endowment of mental confusion is often boasted of by persons whose
imaginativeness would not otherwise be known, unless it were by the slow
process of detecting that their descriptions and narratives were not to
be trusted. Callista is always ready to testify of herself that she is
an imaginative person, and sometimes adds in illustration, that if she
had taken a walk and seen an old heap of stones on her way, the account
she would give on returning would include many pleasing particulars of
her own invention, transforming the simple heap into an interesting
castellated ruin. This creative freedom is all very well in the right
place, but before I can grant it to be a sign of unusual mental power, I
must inquire whether, on being requested to give a precise description
of what she saw, she would be able to cast aside her arbitrary
combinations and recover the objects she really perceived so as to make
them recognisable by another person who passed the same way. Otherwise
her glorifying imagination is not an addition to the fundamental power
of strong, discerning perception, but a cheaper substitute. And, in
fact, I find on listening to Callista's conversation, that she has a
very lax conception even of common objects, and an equally lax memory of
events. It seems of no consequence to her whether she shall say that a
stone is overgrown with moss or with lichen, that a building is of
sandstone or of granite, that Meliboeus once forgot to put on his cravat
or that he always appears without it; that everybody says so, or that
one stock-broker's wife said so yesterday; that Philemon praised
Euphemia up to the skies, or that he denied knowing any particular evil
of her. She is one of those respectable witnesses who would testify to
the exact moment of an apparition, because any desirable moment will be
as exact as another to her remembrance; or who would be the most worthy
to witness the action of spirits on slates and tables because the action
of limbs would not probably arrest her attention. She would describe the
surprising phenomena exhibited by the powerful Medium with the same
freedom that she vaunted in relation to the old heap of stones. Her
supposed imaginativeness is simply a very usual lack of discriminating
perception, accompanied with a less usual activity of misrepresentation,
which, if it had been a little more intense, or had been stimulated by
circumstance, might have made her a profuse writer unchecked by the
troublesome need of veracity.

These characteristics are the very opposite of such as yield a fine
imagination, which is always based on a keen vision, a keen
consciousness of what _is_, and carries the store of definite knowledge
as material for the construction of its inward visions. Witness Dante,
who is at once the most precise and homely in his reproduction of actual
objects, and the most soaringly at large in his imaginative
combinations. On a much lower level we distinguish the hyperbole and
rapid development in descriptions of persons and events which are lit up
by humorous intention in the speaker--we distinguish this charming play
of intelligence which resembles musical improvisation on a given motive,
where the farthest sweep of curve is looped into relevancy by an
instinctive method, from the florid inaccuracy or helpless exaggeration
which is really something commoner than the correct simplicity often
depreciated as prosaic.

Even if high imagination were to be identified with illusion, there
would be the same sort of difference between the imperial wealth of
illusion which is informed by industrious submissive observation and the
trumpery stage-property illusion which depends on the ill-defined
impressions gathered by capricious inclination, as there is between a
good and a bad picture of the Last Judgment. In both these the subject
is a combination never actually witnessed, and in the good picture the
general combination may be of surpassing boldness; but on examination it
is seen that the separate elements have been closely studied from real
objects. And even where we find the charm of ideal elevation with wrong
drawing and fantastic colour, the charm is dependent on the selective
sensibility of the painter to certain real delicacies of form which
confer the expression he longed to render; for apart from this basis of
an effect perceived in common, there could be no conveyance of aesthetic
meaning by the painter to the beholder. In this sense it is as true to
say of Fra Angelico's Coronation of the Virgin, that it has a strain of
reality, as to say so of a portrait by Rembrandt, which also has its
strain of ideal elevation due to Rembrandt's virile selective
sensibility. To correct such self-flatterers as Callista, it is worth
repeating that powerful imagination is not false outward vision, but
intense inward representation, and a creative energy constantly fed by
susceptibility to the veriest minutiae of experience, which it
reproduces and constructs in fresh and fresh wholes; not the habitual
confusion of provable fact with the fictions of fancy and transient
inclination, but a breadth of ideal association which informs every
material object, every incidental fact with far-reaching memories and
stored residues of passion, bringing into new light the less obvious
relations of human existence. The illusion to which it is liable is not
that of habitually taking duck-ponds for lilied pools, but of being more
or less transiently and in varying degrees so absorbed in ideal vision
as to lose the consciousness of surrounding objects or occurrences; and
when that rapt condition is past, the sane genius discriminates clearly
between what has been given in this parenthetic state of excitement, and
what he has known, and may count on, in the ordinary world of
experience. Dante seems to have expressed these conditions perfectly in
that passage of the _Purgatorio_ where, after a triple vision which has
made him forget his surroundings, he says--

  "Quando l'anima mia tornò di fuori
    Alle cose che son fuor di lei vere,
    Io riconobbi i miei non falsi errori."--(c xv)

He distinguishes the ideal truth of his entranced vision from the series
of external facts to which his consciousness had returned. Isaiah gives
us the date of his vision in the Temple--"the year that King Uzziah
died"--and if afterwards the mighty-winged seraphim were present with
him as he trod the street, he doubtless knew them for images of memory,
and did not cry "Look!" to the passers-by.

Certainly the seer, whether prophet, philosopher, scientific discoverer,
or poet, may happen to be rather mad: his powers may have been used up,
like Don Quixote's, in their visionary or theoretic constructions, so
that the reports of common-sense fail to affect him, or the continuous
strain of excitement may have robbed his mind of its elasticity. It is
hard for our frail mortality to carry the burthen of greatness with
steady gait and full alacrity of perception. But he is the strongest
seer who can support the stress of creative energy and yet keep that
sanity of expectation which consists in distinguishing, as Dante does,
between the _cose che son vere_ outside the individual mind, and the
_non falsi errori_ which are the revelations of true imaginative power.



XIV.


THE TOO READY WRITER

One who talks too much, hindering the rest of the company from taking
their turn, and apparently seeing no reason why they should not rather
desire to know his opinion or experience in relation to all subjects, or
at least to renounce the discussion of any topic where he can make no
figure, has never been praised for this industrious monopoly of work
which others would willingly have shared in. However various and
brilliant his talk may be, we suspect him of impoverishing us by
excluding the contributions of other minds, which attract our curiosity
the more because he has shut them up in silence. Besides, we get tired
of a "manner" in conversation as in painting, when one theme after
another is treated with the same lines and touches. I begin with a
liking for an estimable master, but by the time he has stretched his
interpretation of the world unbrokenly along a palatial gallery, I have
had what the cautious Scotch mind would call "enough" of him. There is
monotony and narrowness already to spare in my own identity; what comes
to me from without should be larger and more impartial than the judgment
of any single interpreter. On this ground even a modest person, without
power or will to shine in the conversation, may easily find the
predominating talker a nuisance, while those who are full of matter on
special topics are continually detecting miserably thin places in the
web of that information which he will not desist from imparting. Nobody
that I know of ever proposed a testimonial to a man for thus
volunteering the whole expense of the conversation.

Why is there a different standard of judgment with regard to a writer
who plays much the same part in literature as the excessive talker plays
in what is traditionally called conversation? The busy Adrastus, whose
professional engagements might seem more than enough for the nervous
energy of one man, and who yet finds time to print essays on the chief
current subjects, from the tri-lingual inscriptions, or the Idea of the
Infinite among the prehistoric Lapps, to the Colorado beetle and the
grape disease in the south of France, is generally praised if not
admired for the breadth of his mental range and his gigantic powers of
work. Poor Theron, who has some original ideas on a subject to which he
has given years of research and meditation, has been waiting anxiously
from month to month to see whether his condensed exposition will find a
place in the next advertised programme, but sees it, on the contrary,
regularly excluded, and twice the space he asked for filled with the
copious brew of Adrastus, whose name carries custom like a celebrated
trade-mark. Why should the eager haste to tell what he thinks on the
shortest notice, as if his opinion were a needed preliminary to
discussion, get a man the reputation of being a conceited bore in
conversation, when nobody blames the same tendency if it shows itself in
print? The excessive talker can only be in one gathering at a time, and
there is the comfort of thinking that everywhere else other
fellow-citizens who have something to say may get a chance of delivering
themselves; but the exorbitant writer can occupy space and spread over
it the more or less agreeable flavour of his mind in four "mediums" at
once, and on subjects taken from the four winds. Such restless and
versatile occupants of literary space and time should have lived earlier
when the world wanted summaries of all extant knowledge, and this
knowledge being small, there was the more room for commentary and
conjecture. They might have played the part of an Isidor of Seville or a
Vincent of Beauvais brilliantly, and the willingness to write everything
themselves would have been strictly in place. In the present day, the
busy retailer of other people's knowledge which he has spoiled in the
handling, the restless guesser and commentator, the importunate hawker
of undesirable superfluities, the everlasting word-compeller who rises
early in the morning to praise what the world has already glorified, or
makes himself haggard at night in writing out his dissent from what
nobody ever believed, is not simply "gratis anhelans, multa agendo nihil
agens"--he is an obstruction. Like an incompetent architect with too
much interest at his back, he obtrudes his ill-considered work where
place ought to have been left to better men.

Is it out of the question that we should entertain some scruple about
mixing our own flavour, as of the too cheap and insistent nutmeg, with
that of every great writer and every great subject?--especially when our
flavour is all we have to give, the matter or knowledge having been
already given by somebody else. What if we were only like the Spanish
wine-skins which impress the innocent stranger with the notion that the
Spanish grape has naturally a taste of leather? One could wish that even
the greatest minds should leave some themes unhandled, or at least leave
us no more than a paragraph or two on them to show how well they did in
not being more lengthy.

Such entertainment of scruple can hardly be expected from the young; but
happily their readiness to mirror the universe anew for the rest of
mankind is not encouraged by easy publicity. In the vivacious Pepin I
have often seen the image of my early youth, when it seemed to me
astonishing that the philosophers had left so many difficulties
unsolved, and that so many great themes had raised no great poet to
treat them. I had an elated sense that I should find my brain full of
theoretic clues when I looked for them, and that wherever a poet had not
done what I expected, it was for want of my insight. Not knowing what
had been said about the play of Romeo and Juliet, I felt myself capable
of writing something original on its blemishes and beauties. In relation
to all subjects I had a joyous consciousness of that ability which is
prior to knowledge, and of only needing to apply myself in order to
master any task--to conciliate philosophers whose systems were at
present but dimly known to me, to estimate foreign poets whom I had not
yet read, to show up mistakes in an historical monograph that roused my
interest in an epoch which I had been hitherto ignorant of, when I
should once have had time to verify my views of probability by looking
into an encyclopaedia. So Pepin; save only that he is industrious while
I was idle. Like the astronomer in Rasselas, I swayed the universe in my
consciousness without making any difference outside me; whereas Pepin,
while feeling himself powerful with the stars in their courses, really
raises some dust here below. He is no longer in his spring-tide, but
having been always busy he has been obliged to use his first impressions
as if they were deliberate opinions, and to range himself on the
corresponding side in ignorance of much that he commits himself to; so
that he retains some characteristics of a comparatively tender age, and
among them a certain surprise that there have not been more persons
equal to himself. Perhaps it is unfortunate for him that he early gained
a hearing, or at least a place in print, and was thus encouraged in
acquiring a fixed habit of writing, to the exclusion of any other
bread-winning pursuit. He is already to be classed as a "general
writer," corresponding to the comprehensive wants of the "general
reader," and with this industry on his hands it is not enough for him to
keep up the ingenuous self-reliance of youth: he finds himself under an
obligation to be skilled in various methods of seeming to know; and
having habitually expressed himself before he was convinced, his
interest in all subjects is chiefly to ascertain that he has not made a
mistake, and to feel his infallibility confirmed. That impulse to
decide, that vague sense of being able to achieve the unattempted, that
dream of aerial unlimited movement at will without feet or wings, which
were once but the joyous mounting of young sap, are already taking shape
as unalterable woody fibre: the impulse has hardened into "style," and
into a pattern of peremptory sentences; the sense of ability in the
presence of other men's failures is turning into the official arrogance
of one who habitually issues directions which he has never himself been
called on to execute; the dreamy buoyancy of the stripling has taken on
a fatal sort of reality in written pretensions which carry consequences.
He is on the way to become like the loud-buzzing, bouncing Bombus who
combines conceited illusions enough to supply several patients in a
lunatic asylum with the freedom to show himself at large in various
forms of print. If one who takes himself for the telegraphic centre of
all American wires is to be confined as unfit to transact affairs, what
shall we say to the man who believes himself in possession of the
unexpressed motives and designs dwelling in the breasts of all
sovereigns and all politicians? And I grieve to think that poor Pepin,
though less political, may by-and-by manifest a persuasion hardly more
sane, for he is beginning to explain people's writing by what he does
not know about them. Yet he was once at the comparatively innocent stage
which I have confessed to be that of my own early astonishment at my
powerful originality; and copying the just humility of the old Puritan,
I may say, "But for the grace of discouragement, this coxcombry might
have been mine."

Pepin made for himself a necessity of writing (and getting printed)
before he had considered whether he had the knowledge or belief that
would furnish eligible matter. At first perhaps the necessity galled him
a little, but it is now as easily borne, nay, is as irrepressible a
habit as the outpouring of inconsiderate talk. He is gradually being
condemned to have no genuine impressions, no direct consciousness of
enjoyment or the reverse from the quality of what is before him: his
perceptions are continually arranging themselves in forms suitable to a
printed judgment, and hence they will often turn out to be as much to
the purpose if they are written without any direct contemplation of the
object, and are guided by a few external conditions which serve to
classify it for him. In this way he is irrevocably losing the faculty of
accurate mental vision: having bound himself to express judgments which
will satisfy some other demands than that of veracity, he has blunted
his perceptions by continual preoccupation. We cannot command veracity
at will: the power of seeing and reporting truly is a form of health
that has to be delicately guarded, and as an ancient Rabbi has solemnly
said, "The penalty of untruth is untruth." But Pepin is only a mild
example of the fact that incessant writing with a view to printing
carries internal consequences which have often the nature of disease.
And however unpractical it may be held to consider whether we have
anything to print which it is good for the world to read, or which has
not been better said before, it will perhaps be allowed to be worth
considering what effect the printing may have on ourselves. Clearly
there is a sort of writing which helps to keep the writer in a
ridiculously contented ignorance; raising in him continually the sense
of having delivered himself effectively, so that the acquirement of more
thorough knowledge seems as superfluous as the purchase of costume for a
past occasion. He has invested his vanity (perhaps his hope of income)
in his own shallownesses and mistakes, and must desire their prosperity.
Like the professional prophet, he learns to be glad of the harm that
keeps up his credit, and to be sorry for the good that contradicts him.
It is hard enough for any of us, amid the changing winds of fortune and
the hurly-burly of events, to keep quite clear of a gladness which is
another's calamity; but one may choose not to enter on a course which
will turn such gladness into a fixed habit of mind, committing ourselves
to be continually pleased that others should appear to be wrong in order
that we may have the air of being right.

In some cases, perhaps, it might be urged that Pepin has remained the
more self-contented because he has _not_ written everything he believed
himself capable of. He once asked me to read a sort of programme of the
species of romance which he should think it worth while to write--a
species which he contrasted in strong terms with the productions of
illustrious but overrated authors in this branch. Pepin's romance was to
present the splendours of the Roman Empire at the culmination of its
grandeur, when decadence was spiritually but not visibly imminent: it
was to show the workings of human passion in the most pregnant and
exalted of human circumstances, the designs of statesmen, the
interfusion of philosophies, the rural relaxation and converse of
immortal poets, the majestic triumphs of warriors, the mingling of the
quaint and sublime in religious ceremony, the gorgeous delirium of
gladiatorial shows, and under all the secretly working leaven of
Christianity. Such a romance would not call the attention of society to
the dialect of stable-boys, the low habits of rustics, the vulgarity of
small schoolmasters, the manners of men in livery, or to any other form
of uneducated talk and sentiments: its characters would have virtues and
vices alike on the grand scale, and would express themselves in an
English representing the discourse of the most powerful minds in the
best Latin, or possibly Greek, when there occurred a scene with a Greek
philosopher on a visit to Rome or resident there as a teacher. In this
way Pepin would do in fiction what had never been done before: something
not at all like 'Rienzi' or 'Notre Dame de Paris,' or any other attempt
of that kind; but something at once more penetrating and more
magnificent, more passionate and more philosophical, more panoramic yet
more select: something that would present a conception of a gigantic
period; in short something truly Roman and world-historical.

When Pepin gave me this programme to read he was much younger than at
present. Some slight success in another vein diverted him from the
production of panoramic and select romance, and the experience of not
having tried to carry out his programme has naturally made him more
biting and sarcastic on the failures of those who have actually written
romances without apparently having had a glimpse of a conception equal
to his. Indeed, I am often comparing his rather touchingly inflated
_naïveté_ as of a small young person walking on tiptoe while he is
talking of elevated things, at the time when he felt himself the author
of that unwritten romance, with his present epigrammatic curtness and
affectation of power kept strictly in reserve. His paragraphs now seem
to have a bitter smile in them, from the consciousness of a mind too
penetrating to accept any other man's ideas, and too equally competent
in all directions to seclude his power in any one form of creation, but
rather fitted to hang over them all as a lamp of guidance to the
stumblers below. You perceive how proud he is of not being indebted to
any writer: even with the dead he is on the creditor's side, for he is
doing them the service of letting the world know what they meant better
than those poor pre-Pepinians themselves had any means of doing, and he
treats the mighty shades very cavalierly.

Is this fellow--citizen of ours, considered simply in the light of a
baptised Christian and tax-paying Englishman, really as madly
conceited, as empty of reverential feeling, as unveracious and careless
of justice, as full of catch-penny devices and stagey attitudinising as
on examination his writing shows itself to be? By no means. He has
arrived at his present pass in "the literary calling" through the
self-imposed obligation to give himself a manner which would convey the
impression of superior knowledge and ability. He is much worthier and
more admirable than his written productions, because the moral aspects
exhibited in his writing are felt to be ridiculous or disgraceful in the
personal relations of life. In blaming Pepin's writing we are accusing
the public conscience, which is so lax and ill informed on the momentous
bearings of authorship that it sanctions the total absence of scruple in
undertaking and prosecuting what should be the best warranted of
vocations.

Hence I still accept friendly relations with Pepin, for he has much
private amiability, and though he probably thinks of me as a man of
slender talents, without rapidity of _coup d'oeil_ and with no
compensatory penetration, he meets me very cordially, and would not, I
am sure, willingly pain me in conversation by crudely declaring his low
estimate of my capacity. Yet I have often known him to insult my betters
and contribute (perhaps unreflectingly) to encourage injurious
conceptions of them--but that was done in the course of his professional
writing, and the public conscience still leaves such writing nearly on
the level of the Merry-Andrew's dress, which permits an impudent
deportment and extraordinary gambols to one who in his ordinary clothing
shows himself the decent father of a family.



XV.


DISEASES OF SMALL AUTHORSHIP

Particular callings, it is known, encourage particular diseases. There
is a painter's colic: the Sheffield grinder falls a victim to the
inhalation of steel dust: clergymen so often have a certain kind of sore
throat that this otherwise secular ailment gets named after them. And
perhaps, if we were to inquire, we should find a similar relation
between certain moral ailments and these various occupations, though
here in the case of clergymen there would be specific differences: the
poor curate, equally with the rector, is liable to clergyman's sore
throat, but he would probably be found free from the chronic moral
ailments encouraged by the possession of glebe and those higher chances
of preferment which follow on having a good position already. On the
other hand, the poor curate might have severe attacks of calculating
expectancy concerning parishioners' turkeys, cheeses, and fat geese, or
of uneasy rivalry for the donations of clerical charities.

Authors are so miscellaneous a class that
their personified diseases, physical and moral,
might include the whole procession of human
disorders, led by dyspepsia and ending in
madness--the awful Dumb Show of a world-historic
tragedy. Take a large enough area
of human life and all comedy melts into
tragedy, like the Fool's part by the side of
Lear. The chief scenes get filled with erring
heroes, guileful usurpers, persecuted discoverers,
dying deliverers: everywhere the
protagonist has a part pregnant with doom.
The comedy sinks to an accessory, and if there
are loud laughs they seem a convulsive transition
from sobs; or if the comedy is touched
with a gentle lovingness, the panoramic scene
is one where

        "Sadness is a kind of mirth
  So mingled as if mirth did make us sad
  And sadness merry."[1]

[Footnote 1: Two Noble Kinsmen.]

But I did not set out on the wide survey that would carry me into
tragedy, and in fact had nothing more serious in my mind than certain
small chronic ailments that come of small authorship. I was thinking
principally of Vorticella, who flourished in my youth not only as a
portly lady walking in silk attire, but also as the authoress of a book
entitled 'The Channel Islands, with Notes and an Appendix.' I would by
no means make it a reproach to her that she wrote no more than one book;
on the contrary, her stopping there seems to me a laudable example. What
one would have wished, after experience, was that she had refrained from
producing even that single volume, and thus from giving her
self-importance a troublesome kind of double incorporation which became
oppressive to her acquaintances, and set up in herself one of those
slight chronic forms of disease to which I have just referred. She lived
in the considerable provincial town of Pumpiter, which had its own
newspaper press, with the usual divisions of political partisanship and
the usual varieties of literary criticism--the florid and allusive, the
_staccato_ and peremptory, the clairvoyant and prophetic, the safe and
pattern-phrased, or what one might call "the many-a-long-day style."

Vorticella being the wife of an important townsman had naturally the
satisfaction of seeing 'The Channel Islands' reviewed by all the organs
of Pumpiter opinion, and their articles or paragraphs held as naturally
the opening pages in the elegantly bound album prepared by her for the
reception of "critical opinions." This ornamental volume lay on a
special table in her drawing-room close to the still more gorgeously
bound work of which it was the significant effect, and every guest was
allowed the privilege of reading what had been said of the authoress and
her work in the 'Pumpiter Gazette and Literary Watchman,' the 'Pumpshire
Post,' the 'Church Clock,' the 'Independent Monitor,' and the lively but
judicious publication known as the 'Medley Pie;' to be followed up, if
he chose, by the instructive perusal of the strikingly confirmatory
judgments, sometimes concurrent in the very phrases, of journals from
the most distant counties; as the 'Latchgate Argus,' the Penllwy
Universe,' the 'Cockaleekie Advertiser,' the 'Goodwin Sands Opinion,'
and the 'Land's End Times.'

I had friends in Pumpiter and occasionally paid a long visit there. When
I called on Vorticella, who had a cousinship with my hosts, she had to
excuse herself because a message claimed her attention for eight or ten
minutes, and handing me the album of critical opinions said, with a
certain emphasis which, considering my youth, was highly complimentary,
that she would really like me to read what I should find there. This
seemed a permissive politeness which I could not feel to be an
oppression, and I ran my eyes over the dozen pages, each with a strip or
islet of newspaper in the centre, with that freedom of mind (in my case
meaning freedom to forget) which would be a perilous way of preparing
for examination. This _ad libitum_ perusal had its interest for me. The
private truth being that I had not read 'The Channel Islands,' I was
amazed at the variety of matter which the volume must contain to have
impressed these different judges with the writer's surpassing capacity
to handle almost all branches of inquiry and all forms of presentation.
In Jersey she had shown herself an historian, in Guernsey a poetess, in
Alderney a political economist, and in Sark a humorist: there were
sketches of character scattered through the pages which might put our
"fictionists" to the blush; the style was eloquent and racy, studded
with gems of felicitous remark; and the moral spirit throughout was so
superior that, said one, "the recording angel" (who is not supposed to
take account of literature as such) "would assuredly set down the work
as a deed of religion." The force of this eulogy on the part of several
reviewers was much heightened by the incidental evidence of their
fastidious and severe taste, which seemed to suffer considerably from
the imperfections of our chief writers, even the dead and canonised: one
afflicted them with the smell of oil, another lacked erudition and
attempted (though vainly) to dazzle them with trivial conceits, one
wanted to be more philosophical than nature had made him, another in
attempting to be comic produced the melancholy effect of a half-starved
Merry-Andrew; while one and all, from the author of the 'Areopagitica'
downwards, had faults of style which must have made an able hand in the
'Latchgate Argus' shake the many-glanced head belonging thereto with a
smile of compassionate disapproval. Not so the authoress of 'The Channel
Islands:' Vorticella and Shakspere were allowed to be faultless. I
gathered that no blemishes were observable in the work of this
accomplished writer, and the repeated information that she was "second
to none" seemed after this superfluous. Her thick octavo--notes,
appendix and all--was unflagging from beginning to end; and the 'Land's
End Times,' using a rather dangerous rhetorical figure, recommended you
not to take up the volume unless you had leisure to finish it at a
sitting. It had given one writer more pleasure than he had had for many
a long day--a sentence which had a melancholy resonance, suggesting a
life of studious languor such as all previous achievements of the human
mind failed to stimulate into enjoyment. I think the collection of
critical opinions wound up with this sentence, and I had turned back to
look at the lithographed sketch of the authoress which fronted the first
page of the album, when the fair original re-entered and I laid down the
volume on its appropriate table.

"Well, what do you think of them?" said Vorticella, with an emphasis
which had some significance unperceived by me. "I know you are a great
student. Give me _your_ opinion of these opinions."

"They must be very gratifying to you," I answered with a little
confusion, for I perceived that I might easily mistake my footing, and I
began to have a presentiment of an examination for which I was by no
means crammed.

"On the whole--yes," said Vorticella, in a tone of concession. "A few of
the notices are written with some pains, but not one of them has really
grappled with the chief idea in the appendix. I don't know whether you
have studied political economy, but you saw what I said on page 398
about the Jersey fisheries?"

I bowed--I confess it--with the mean hope that this movement in the nape
of my neck would be taken as sufficient proof that I had read, marked,
and learned. I do not forgive myself for this pantomimic falsehood, but
I was young and morally timorous, and Vorticella's personality had an
effect on me something like that of a powerful mesmeriser when he
directs all his ten fingers towards your eyes, as unpleasantly visible
ducts for the invisible stream. I felt a great power of contempt in her,
if I did not come up to her expectations.

"Well," she resumed, "you observe that not one of them has taken up that
argument. But I hope I convinced you about the drag-nets?"

Here was a judgment on me. Orientally speaking, I had lifted up my foot
on the steep descent of falsity and was compelled to set it down on a
lower level. "I should think you must be right," said I, inwardly
resolving that on the next topic I would tell the truth.

"I _know_ that I am right," said Vorticella. "The fact is that no critic
in this town is fit to meddle with such subjects, unless it be Volvox,
and he, with all his command of language, is very superficial. It is
Volvox who writes in the 'Monitor,' I hope you noticed how he
contradicts himself?"

My resolution, helped by the equivalence of dangers, stoutly prevailed,
and I said, "No."

"No! I am surprised. He is the only one who finds fault with me. He is
a Dissenter, you know. The 'Monitor' is the Dissenters' organ, but my
husband has been so useful to them in municipal affairs that they would
not venture to run my book down; they feel obliged to tell the truth
about me. Still Volvox betrays himself. After praising me for my
penetration and accuracy, he presently says I have allowed myself to be
imposed upon and have let my active imagination run away with me. That
is like his dissenting impertinence. Active my imagination may be, but I
have it under control. Little Vibrio, who writes the playful notice in
the 'Medley Pie,' has a clever hit at Volvox in that passage about the
steeplechase of imagination, where the loser wants to make it appear
that the winner was only run away with. But if you did not notice
Volvox's self-contradiction you would not see the point," added
Vorticella, with rather a chilling intonation. "Or perhaps you did not
read the 'Medley Pie' notice? That is a pity. Do take up the book again.
Vibrio is a poor little tippling creature, but, as Mr Carlyle would say,
he has an eye, and he is always lively."

I did take up the book again, and read as demanded.

"It is very ingenious," said I, really appreciating the difficulty of
being lively in this connection: it seemed even more wonderful than that
a Vibrio should have an eye.

"You are probably surprised to see no notices from the London press,"
said Vorticella. "I have one--a very remarkable one. But I reserve it
until the others have spoken, and then I shall introduce it to wind up.
I shall have them reprinted, of course, and inserted in future copies.
This from the 'Candelabrum' is only eight lines in length, but full of
venom. It calls my style dull and pompous. I think that will tell its
own tale, placed after the other critiques."

"People's impressions are so different," said I. "Some persons find 'Don
Quixote' dull."

"Yes," said Vorticella, in emphatic chest tones, "dulness is a matter of
opinion; but pompous! That I never was and never could be. Perhaps he
means that my matter is too important for his taste; and I have no
objection to _that_. I did not intend to be trivial. I should just like
to read you that passage about the drag-nets, because I could make it
clearer to you."

A second (less ornamental) copy was at her elbow and was already opened,
when to my great relief another guest was announced, and I was able to
take my leave without seeming to run away from 'The Channel Islands,'
though not without being compelled to carry with me the loan of "the
marked copy," which I was to find advantageous in a re-perusal of the
appendix, and was only requested to return before my departure from
Pumpiter. Looking into the volume now with some curiosity, I found it a
very ordinary combination of the commonplace and ambitious, one of those
books which one might imagine to have been written under the old Grub
Street coercion of hunger and thirst, if they were not known beforehand
to be the gratuitous productions of ladies and gentlemen whose
circumstances might be called altogether easy, but for an uneasy vanity
that happened to have been directed towards authorship. Its importance
was that of a polypus, tumour, fungus, or other erratic outgrowth,
noxious and disfiguring in its effect on the individual organism which
nourishes it. Poor Vorticella might not have been more wearisome on a
visit than the majority of her neighbours, but for this disease of
magnified self-importance belonging to small authorship. I understand
that the chronic complaint of 'The Channel Islands' never left her. As
the years went on and the publication tended to vanish in the distance
for her neighbours' memory, she was still bent on dragging it to the
foreground, and her chief interest in new acquaintances was the
possibility of lending them her book, entering into all details
concerning it, and requesting them to read her album of "critical
opinions." This really made her more tiresome than Gregarina, whose
distinction was that she had had cholera, and who did not feel herself
in her true position with strangers until they knew it.

My experience with Vorticella led me for a time into the false
supposition that this sort of fungous disfiguration, which makes Self
disagreeably larger, was most common to the female sex; but I presently
found that here too the male could assert his superiority and show a
more vigorous boredom. I have known a man with a single pamphlet
containing an assurance that somebody else was wrong, together with a
few approved quotations, produce a more powerful effect of shuddering at
his approach than ever Vorticella did with her varied octavo volume,
including notes and appendix. Males of more than one nation recur to my
memory who produced from their pocket on the slightest encouragement a
small pink or buff duodecimo pamphlet, wrapped in silver paper, as a
present held ready for an intelligent reader. "A mode of propagandism,"
you remark in excuse; "they wished to spread some useful corrective
doctrine." Not necessarily: the indoctrination aimed at was perhaps to
convince you of their own talents by the sample of an "Ode on
Shakspere's Birthday," or a translation from Horace.

Vorticella may pair off with Monas, who had also written his one
book--'Here and There; or, a Trip from Truro to Transylvania'--and not
only carried it in his portmanteau when he went on visits, but took the
earliest opportunity of depositing it in the drawing-room, and
afterwards would enter to look for it, as if under pressure of a need
for reference, begging the lady of the house to tell him whether she,
had seen "a small volume bound in red." One hostess at last ordered it
to be carried into his bedroom to save his time; but it presently
reappeared in his hands, and was again left with inserted slips of paper
on the drawing-room table.

Depend upon it, vanity is human, native alike to men and women; only in
the male it is of denser texture, less volatile, so that it less
immediately informs you of its presence, but is more massive and capable
of knocking you down if you come into collision with it; while in women
vanity lays by its small revenges as in a needle-case always at hand.
The difference is in muscle and finger-tips, in traditional habits and
mental perspective, rather than in the original appetite of vanity. It
is an approved method now to explain ourselves by a reference to the
races as little like us as possible, which leads me to observe that in
Fiji the men use the most elaborate hair-dressing, and that wherever
tattooing is in vogue the male expects to carry off the prize of
admiration for pattern and workmanship. Arguing analogically, and
looking for this tendency of the Fijian or Hawaian male in the eminent
European, we must suppose that it exhibits itself under the forms of
civilised apparel; and it would be a great mistake to estimate
passionate effort by the effect it produces on our perception or
understanding. It is conceivable that a man may have concentrated no
less will and expectation on his wristbands, gaiters, and the shape of
his hat-brim, or an appearance which impresses you as that of the modern
"swell," than the Ojibbeway on an ornamentation which seems to us much
more elaborate. In what concerns the search for admiration at least, it
is not true that the effect is equal to the cause and resembles it. The
cause of a flat curl on the masculine forehead, such as might be seen
when George the Fourth was king, must have been widely different in
quality and intensity from the impression made by that small scroll of
hair on the organ of the beholder. Merely to maintain an attitude and
gait which I notice in certain club men, and especially an inflation of
the chest accompanying very small remarks, there goes, I am convinced,
an expenditure of psychical energy little appreciated by the
multitude--a mental vision of Self and deeply impressed beholders which
is quite without antitype in what we call the effect produced by that
hidden process.

No! there is no need to admit that women would carry away the prize of
vanity in a competition where differences of custom were fairly
considered. A man cannot show his vanity in a tight skirt which forces
him to walk sideways down the staircase; but let the match be between
the respective vanities of largest beard and tightest skirt, and here
too the battle would be to the strong.



XVI.


MORAL SWINDLERS.

It is a familiar example of irony in the degradation of words that "what
a man is worth" has come to mean how much money he possesses; but there
seems a deeper and more melancholy irony in the shrunken meaning that
popular or polite speech assigns to "morality" and "morals." The poor
part these words are made to play recalls the fate of those pagan
divinities who, after being understood to rule the powers of the air and
the destinies of men, came down to the level of insignificant demons, or
were even made a farcical show for the amusement of the multitude.

Talking to Melissa in a time of commercial trouble, I found her disposed
to speak pathetically of the disgrace which had fallen on Sir Gavial
Mantrap, because of his conduct in relation to the Eocene Mines, and to
other companies ingeniously devised by him for the punishment of
ignorance in people of small means: a disgrace by which the poor titled
gentleman was actually reduced to live in comparative obscurity on his
wife's settlement of one or two hundred thousand in the consols.

"Surely your pity is misapplied," said I, rather dubiously, for I like
the comfort of trusting that a correct moral judgment is the strong
point in woman (seeing that she has a majority of about a million in our
islands), and I imagined that Melissa might have some unexpressed
grounds for her opinion. "I should have thought you would rather be
sorry for Mantrap's victims--the widows, spinsters, and hard-working
fathers whom his unscrupulous haste to make himself rich has cheated of
all their savings, while he is eating well, lying softly, and after
impudently justifying himself before the public, is perhaps joining in
the General Confession with a sense that he is an acceptable object in
the sight of God, though decent men refuse to meet him."

"Oh, all that about the Companies, I know, was most unfortunate. In
commerce people are led to do so many things, and he might not know
exactly how everything would turn out. But Sir Gavial made a good use of
his money, and he is a thoroughly _moral_ man."

"What do you mean by a thoroughly moral man?" said I.

"Oh, I suppose every one means the same by that," said Melissa, with a
slight air of rebuke. "Sir Gavial is an excellent family man--quite
blameless there; and so charitable round his place at Tiptop. Very
different from Mr Barabbas, whose life, my husband tells me, is most
objectionable, with actresses and that sort of thing. I think a man's
morals should make a difference to us. I'm not sorry for Mr Barabbas,
but _I am_ sorry for Sir Gavial Mantrap."

I will not repeat my answer to Melissa, for I fear it was offensively
brusque, my opinion being that Sir Gavial was the more pernicious
scoundrel of the two, since his name for virtue served as an effective
part of a swindling apparatus; and perhaps I hinted that to call such a
man moral showed rather a silly notion of human affairs. In fact, I had
an angry wish to be instructive, and Melissa, as will sometimes happen,
noticed my anger without appropriating my instruction, for I have since
heard that she speaks of me as rather violent-tempered, and not over
strict in my views of morality.

I wish that this narrow use of words which are wanted in their full
meaning were confined to women like Melissa. Seeing that Morality and
Morals under their _alias_ of Ethics are the subject of voluminous
discussion, and their true basis a pressing matter of dispute--seeing
that the most famous book ever written on Ethics, and forming a chief
study in our colleges, allies ethical with political science or that
which treats of the constitution and prosperity of States, one might
expect that educated men would find reason to avoid a perversion of
language which lends itself to no wider view of life than that of
village gossips. Yet I find even respectable historians of our own and
of foreign countries, after showing that a king was treacherous,
rapacious, and ready to sanction gross breaches in the administration of
justice, end by praising him for his pure moral character, by which one
must suppose them to mean that he was not lewd nor debauched, not the
European twin of the typical Indian potentate whom Macaulay describes as
passing his life in chewing bang and fondling dancing-girls. And since
we are sometimes told of such maleficent kings that they were religious,
we arrive at the curious result that the most serious wide-reaching
duties of man lie quite outside both Morality and Religion--the one of
these consisting in not keeping mistresses (and perhaps not drinking too
much), and the other in certain ritual and spiritual transactions with
God which can be carried on equally well side by side with the basest
conduct towards men. With such a classification as this it is no wonder,
considering the strong reaction of language on thought, that many minds,
dizzy with indigestion of recent science and philosophy, are far to seek
for the grounds of social duty, and without entertaining any private
intention of committing a perjury which would ruin an innocent man, or
seeking gain by supplying bad preserved meats to our navy, feel
themselves speculatively obliged to inquire why they should not do so,
and are inclined to measure their intellectual subtlety by their
dissatisfaction with all answers to this "Why?" It is of little use to
theorise in ethics while our habitual phraseology stamps the larger part
of our social duties as something that lies aloof from the deepest needs
and affections of our nature. The informal definitions of popular
language are the only medium through which theory really affects the
mass of minds even among the nominally educated; and when a man whose
business hours, the solid part of every day, are spent in an
unscrupulous course of public or private action which has every
calculable chance of causing widespread injury and misery, can be called
moral because he comes home to dine with his wife and children and
cherishes the happiness of his own hearth, the augury is not good for
the use of high ethical and theological disputation.

Not for one moment would one willingly lose sight of the truth that the
relation of the sexes and the primary ties of kinship are the deepest
roots of human wellbeing, but to make them by themselves the equivalent
of morality is verbally to cut off the channels of feeling through
which they are the feeders of that wellbeing. They are the original
fountains of a sensibility to the claims of others, which is the bond of
societies; but being necessarily in the first instance a private good,
there is always the danger that individual selfishness will see in them
only the best part of its own gain; just as knowledge, navigation,
commerce, and all the conditions which are of a nature to awaken men's
consciousness of their mutual dependence and to make the world one great
society, are the occasions of selfish, unfair action, of war and
oppression, so long as the public conscience or chief force of feeling
and opinion is not uniform and strong enough in its insistance on what
is demanded by the general welfare. And among the influences that must
retard a right public judgment, the degradation of words which involve
praise and blame will be reckoned worth protesting against by every
mature observer. To rob words of half their meaning, while they retain
their dignity as qualifications, is like allowing to men who have lost
half their faculties the same high and perilous command which they won
in their time of vigour; or like selling food and seeds after
fraudulently abstracting their best virtues: in each case what ought to
be beneficently strong is fatally enfeebled, if not empoisoned. Until we
have altered our dictionaries and have found some other word than
_morality_ to stand in popular use for the duties of man to man, let us
refuse to accept as moral the contractor who enriches himself by using
large machinery to make pasteboard soles pass as leather for the feet of
unhappy conscripts fighting at miserable odds against invaders: let us
rather call him a miscreant, though he were the tenderest, most faithful
of husbands, and contend that his own experience of home happiness makes
his reckless infliction of suffering on others all the more atrocious.
Let us refuse to accept as moral any political leader who should allow
his conduct in relation to great issues to be determined by egoistic
passion, and boldly say that he would be less immoral even though he
were as lax in his personal habits as Sir Robert Walpole, if at the same
time his sense of the public welfare were supreme in his mind, quelling
all pettier impulses beneath a magnanimous impartiality. And though we
were to find among that class of journalists who live by recklessly
reporting injurious rumours, insinuating the blackest motives in
opponents, descanting at large and with an air of infallibility on
dreams which they both find and interpret, and stimulating bad feeling
between nations by abusive writing which is as empty of real conviction
as the rage of a pantomime king, and would be ludicrous if its effects
did not make it appear diabolical--though we were to find among these a
man who was benignancy itself in his own circle, a healer of private
differences, a soother in private calamities, let us pronounce him
nevertheless flagrantly immoral, a root of hideous cancer in the
commonwealth, turning the channels of instruction into feeders of social
and political disease.

In opposite ways one sees bad effects likely to be encouraged by this
narrow use of the word _morals_, shutting out from its meaning half
those actions of a man's life which tell momentously on the wellbeing of
his fellow-citizens, and on the preparation of a future for the children
growing up around him. Thoroughness of workmanship, care in the
execution of every task undertaken, as if it were the acceptance of a
trust which it would be a breach of faith not to discharge well, is a
form of duty so momentous that if it were to die out from the feeling
and practice of a people, all reforms of institutions would be helpless
to create national prosperity and national happiness. Do we desire to
see public spirit penetrating all classes of the community and affecting
every man's conduct, so that he shall make neither the saving of his
soul nor any other private saving an excuse for indifference to the
general welfare? Well and good. But the sort of public spirit that
scamps its bread-winning work, whether with the trowel, the pen, or the
overseeing brain, that it may hurry to scenes of political or social
agitation, would be as baleful a gift to our people as any malignant
demon could devise. One best part of educational training is that which
comes through special knowledge and manipulative or other skill, with
its usual accompaniment of delight, in relation to work which is the
daily bread-winning occupation--which is a man's contribution to the
effective wealth of society in return for what he takes as his own
share. But this duty of doing one's proper work well, and taking care
that every product of one's labour shall be genuinely what it pretends
to be, is not only left out of morals in popular speech, it is very
little insisted on by public teachers, at least in the only effective
way--by tracing the continuous effects of ill-done work. Some of them
seem to be still hopeful that it will follow as a necessary consequence
from week-day services, ecclesiastical decoration, and improved
hymn-books; others apparently trust to descanting on self-culture in
general, or to raising a general sense of faulty circumstances; and
meanwhile lax, make-shift work, from the high conspicuous kind to the
average and obscure, is allowed to pass unstamped with the disgrace of
immorality, though there is not a member of society who is not daily
suffering from it materially and spiritually, and though it is the fatal
cause that must degrade our national rank and our commerce in spite of
all open markets and discovery of available coal-seams.

I suppose one may take the popular misuse of the words Morality and
Morals as some excuse for certain absurdities which are occasional
fashions in speech and writing--certain old lay-figures, as ugly as the
queerest Asiatic idol, which at different periods get propped into
loftiness, and attired in magnificent Venetian drapery, so that whether
they have a human face or not is of little consequence. One is, the
notion that there is a radical, irreconcilable opposition between
intellect and morality. I do not mean the simple statement of fact,
which everybody knows, that remarkably able men have had very faulty
morals, and have outraged public feeling even at its ordinary standard;
but the supposition that the ablest intellect, the highest genius, will
see through morality as a sort of twaddle for bibs and tuckers, a
doctrine of dulness, a mere incident in human stupidity. We begin to
understand the acceptance of this foolishness by considering that we
live in a society where we may hear a treacherous monarch, or a
malignant and lying politician, or a man who uses either official or
literary power as an instrument of his private partiality or hatred, or
a manufacturer who devises the falsification of wares, or a trader who
deals in virtueless seed-grains, praised or compassionated because of
his excellent morals.

Clearly if morality meant no more than such decencies as are practised
by these poisonous members of society, it would be possible to say,
without suspicion of light-headedness, that morality lay aloof from the
grand stream of human affairs, as a small channel fed by the stream and
not missed from it. While this form of nonsense is conveyed in the
popular use of words, there must be plenty of well-dressed ignorance at
leisure to run through a box of books, which will feel itself initiated
in the freemasonry of intellect by a view of life which might take for a
Shaksperian motto--

  "Fair is foul and foul is fair,
  Hover through the fog and filthy air"--

and will find itself easily provided with striking conversation by the
rule of reversing all the judgments on good and evil which have come to
be the calendar and clock-work of society. But let our habitual talk
give morals their full meaning as the conduct which, in every human
relation, would follow from the fullest knowledge and the fullest
sympathy--a meaning perpetually corrected and enriched by a more
thorough appreciation of dependence in things, and a finer sensibility
to both physical and spiritual fact--and this ridiculous ascription of
superlative power to minds which have no effective awe-inspiring vision
of the human lot, no response of understanding to the connection between
duty and the material processes by which the world is kept habitable for
cultivated man, will be tacitly discredited without any need to cite the
immortal names that all are obliged to take as the measure of
intellectual rank and highly-charged genius.

Suppose a Frenchman--I mean no disrespect to the great French nation,
for all nations are afflicted with their peculiar parasitic growths,
which are lazy, hungry forms, usually characterised by a
disproportionate swallowing apparatus: suppose a Parisian who should
shuffle down the Boulevard with a soul ignorant of the gravest cares and
the deepest tenderness of manhood, and a frame more or less fevered by
debauchery, mentally polishing into utmost refinement of phrase and
rhythm verses which were an enlargement on that Shaksperian motto, and
worthy of the most expensive title to be furnished by the vendors of
such antithetic ware as _Les_ _marguerites de l'Enfer_, or _Les délices
de Béelzébuth_. This supposed personage might probably enough regard his
negation of those moral sensibilities which make half the warp and woof
of human history, his indifference to the hard thinking and hard
handiwork of life, to which he owed even his own gauzy mental garments
with their spangles of poor paradox, as the royalty of genius, for we
are used to witness such self-crowning in many forms of mental
alienation; but he would not, I think, be taken, even by his own
generation, as a living proof that there can exist such a combination as
that of moral stupidity and trivial emphasis of personal indulgence with
the large yet finely discriminating vision which marks the intellectual
masters of our kind. Doubtless there are many sorts of transfiguration,
and a man who has come to be worthy of all gratitude and reverence may
have had his swinish period, wallowing in ugly places; but suppose it
had been handed down to us that Sophocles or Virgil had at one time made
himself scandalous in this way: the works which have consecrated their
memory for our admiration and gratitude are not a glorifying of
swinishness, but an artistic incorporation of the highest sentiment
known to their age.

All these may seem to be wide reasons for objecting to Melissa's pity
for Sir Gavial Mantrap on the ground of his good morals; but their
connection will not be obscure to any one who has taken pains to observe
the links uniting the scattered signs of our social development.



XVII.


SHADOWS OF THE COMING RACE.

My friend Trost, who is no optimist as to the state of the universe
hitherto, but is confident that at some future period within the
duration of the solar system, ours will be the best of all possible
worlds--a hope which I always honour as a sign of beneficent
qualities--my friend Trost always tries to keep up my spirits under the
sight of the extremely unpleasant and disfiguring work by which many of
our fellow-creatures have to get their bread, with the assurance that
"all this will soon be done by machinery." But he sometimes neutralises
the consolation by extending it over so large an area of human labour,
and insisting so impressively on the quantity of energy which will thus
be set free for loftier purposes, that I am tempted to desire an
occasional famine of invention in the coming ages, lest the humbler
kinds of work should be entirely nullified while there are still left
some men and women who are not fit for the highest.

Especially, when one considers the perfunctory way in which some of the
most exalted tasks are already executed by those who are understood to
be educated for them, there rises a fearful vision of the human race
evolving machinery which will by-and-by throw itself fatally out of
work. When, in the Bank of England, I see a wondrously delicate machine
for testing sovereigns, a shrewd implacable little steel Rhadamanthus
that, once the coins are delivered up to it, lifts and balances each in
turn for the fraction of an instant, finds it wanting or sufficient, and
dismisses it to right or left with rigorous justice; when I am told of
micrometers and thermopiles and tasimeters which deal physically with
the invisible, the impalpable, and the unimaginable; of cunning wires
and wheels and pointing needles which will register your and my
quickness so as to exclude flattering opinion; of a machine for drawing
the right conclusion, which will doubtless by-and-by be improved into
an automaton for finding true premises; of a microphone which detects
the cadence of the fly's foot on the ceiling, and may be expected
presently to discriminate the noises of our various follies as they
soliloquise or converse in our brains--my mind seeming too small for
these things, I get a little out of it, like an unfortunate savage too
suddenly brought face to face with civilisation, and I exclaim--

"Am I already in the shadow of the Coming Race? and will the creatures
who are to transcend and finally supersede us be steely organisms,
giving out the effluvia of the laboratory, and performing with
infallible exactness more than everything that we have performed with a
slovenly approximativeness and self-defeating inaccuracy?"

"But," says Trost, treating me with cautious mildness on hearing me vent
this raving notion, "you forget that these wonder-workers are the slaves
of our race, need our tendance and regulation, obey the mandates of our
consciousness, and are only deaf and dumb bringers of reports which we
decipher and make use of. They are simply extensions of the human
organism, so to speak, limbs immeasurably more powerful, ever more
subtle finger-tips, ever more mastery over the invisibly great and the
invisibly small. Each new machine needs a new appliance of human skill
to construct it, new devices to feed it with material, and often
keener-edged faculties to note its registrations or performances. How
then can machines supersede us?--they depend upon us. When we cease,
they cease."

"I am not so sure of that," said I, getting back into my mind, and
becoming rather wilful in consequence. "If, as I have heard you contend,
machines as they are more and more perfected will require less and less
of tendance, how do I know that they may not be ultimately made to
carry, or may not in themselves evolve, conditions of self-supply,
self-repair, and reproduction, and not only do all the mighty and subtle
work possible on this planet better than we could do it, but with the
immense advantage of banishing from the earth's atmosphere screaming
consciousnesses which, in our comparatively clumsy race, make an
intolerable noise and fuss to each other about every petty ant-like
performance, looking on at all work only as it were to spring a rattle
here or blow a trumpet there, with a ridiculous sense of being
effective? I for my part cannot see any reason why a sufficiently
penetrating thinker, who can see his way through a thousand years or so,
should not conceive a parliament of machines, in which the manners were
excellent and the motions infallible in logic: one honourable
instrument, a remote descendant of the Voltaic family, might discharge a
powerful current (entirely without animosity) on an honourable
instrument opposite, of more upstart origin, but belonging to the
ancient edge-tool race which we already at Sheffield see paring thick
iron as if it were mellow cheese--by this unerringly directed discharge
operating on movements corresponding to what we call Estimates, and by
necessary mechanical consequence on movements corresponding to what we
call the Funds, which with a vain analogy we sometimes speak of as
"sensitive." For every machine would be perfectly educated, that is to
say, would have the suitable molecular adjustments, which would act not
the less infallibly for being free from the fussy accompaniment of that
consciousness to which our prejudice gives a supreme governing rank,
when in truth it is an idle parasite on the grand sequence of things."

"Nothing of the sort!" returned Trost, getting angry, and judging it
kind to treat me with some severity; "what you have heard me say is,
that our race will and must act as a nervous centre to the utmost
development of mechanical processes: the subtly refined powers of
machines will react in producing more subtly refined thinking processes
which will occupy the minds set free from grosser labour. Say, for
example, that all the scavengers work of London were done, so far as
human attention is concerned, by the occasional pressure of a brass
button (as in the ringing of an electric bell), you will then have a
multitude of brains set free for the exquisite enjoyment of dealing with
the exact sequences and high speculations supplied and prompted by the
delicate machines which yield a response to the fixed stars, and give
readings of the spiral vortices fundamentally concerned in the
production of epic poems or great judicial harangues. So far from
mankind being thrown out of work according to your notion," concluded
Trost, with a peculiar nasal note of scorn, "if it were not for your
incurable dilettanteism in science as in all other things--if you had
once understood the action of any delicate machine--you would perceive
that the sequences it carries throughout the realm of phenomena would
require many generations, perhaps aeons, of understandings considerably
stronger than yours, to exhaust the store of work it lays open."

"Precisely," said I, with a meekness which I felt was praiseworthy; "it
is the feebleness of my capacity, bringing me nearer than you to the
human average, that perhaps enables me to imagine certain results better
than you can. Doubtless the very fishes of our rivers, gullible as they
look, and slow as they are to be rightly convinced in another order of
facts, form fewer false expectations about each other than we should
form about them if we were in a position of somewhat fuller intercourse
with their species; for even as it is we have continually to be
surprised that they do not rise to our carefully selected bait. Take me
then as a sort of reflective and experienced carp; but do not estimate
the justice of my ideas by my facial expression."

"Pooh!" says Trost (We are on very intimate terms.)

"Naturally," I persisted, "it is less easy to you than to me to imagine
our race transcended and superseded, since the more energy a being is
possessed of, the harder it must be for him to conceive his own death.
But I, from the point of view of a reflective carp, can easily imagine
myself and my congeners dispensed with in the frame of things and giving
way not only to a superior but a vastly different kind of Entity. What I
would ask you is, to show me why, since each new invention casts a new
light along the pathway of discovery, and each new combination or
structure brings into play more conditions than its inventor foresaw,
there should not at length be a machine of such high mechanical and
chemical powers that it would find and assimilate the material to supply
its own waste, and then by a further evolution of internal molecular
movements reproduce itself by some process of fission or budding. This
last stage having been reached, either by man's contrivance or as an
unforeseen result, one sees that the process of natural selection must
drive men altogether out of the field; for they will long before have
begun to sink into the miserable condition of those unhappy characters
in fable who, having demons or djinns at their beck, and being obliged
to supply them with work, found too much of everything done in too short
a time. What demons so potent as molecular movements, none the less
tremendously potent for not carrying the futile cargo of a consciousness
screeching irrelevantly, like a fowl tied head downmost to the saddle of
a swift horseman? Under such uncomfortable circumstances our race will
have diminished with the diminishing call on their energies, and by the
time that the self-repairing and reproducing machines arise, all but a
few of the rare inventors, calculators, and speculators will have become
pale, pulpy, and cretinous from fatty or other degeneration, and behold
around them a scanty hydrocephalous offspring. As to the breed of the
ingenious and intellectual, their nervous systems will at last have been
overwrought in following the molecular revelations of the immensely
more powerful unconscious race, and they will naturally, as the less
energetic combinations of movement, subside like the flame of a candle
in the sunlight Thus the feebler race, whose corporeal adjustments
happened to be accompanied with a maniacal consciousness which imagined
itself moving its mover, will have vanished, as all less adapted
existences do before the fittest--i.e., the existence composed of the
most persistent groups of movements and the most capable of
incorporating new groups in harmonious relation. Who--if our
consciousness is, as I have been given to understand, a mere stumbling
of our organisms on their way to unconscious perfection--who shall say
that those fittest existences will not be found along the track of what
we call inorganic combinations, which will carry on the most elaborate
processes as mutely and painlessly as we are now told that the minerals
are metamorphosing themselves continually in the dark laboratory of the
earth's crust? Thus this planet may be filled with beings who will be
blind and deaf as the inmost rock, yet will execute changes as delicate
and complicated as those of human language and all the intricate web of
what we call its effects, without sensitive impression, without
sensitive impulse: there may be, let us say, mute orations, mute
rhapsodies, mute discussions, and no consciousness there even to enjoy
the silence."

"Absurd!" grumbled Trost.

"The supposition is logical," said I. "It is well argued from the
premises."

"Whose premises?" cried Trost, turning on me with some fierceness. "You
don't mean to call them mine, I hope."

"Heaven forbid! They seem to be flying about in the air with other
germs, and have found a sort of nidus among my melancholy fancies.
Nobody really holds them. They bear the same relation to real belief as
walking on the head for a show does to running away from an explosion or
walking fast to catch the train."



XVIII.


THE MODERN HEP! HEP! HEP!

To discern likeness amidst diversity, it is well known, does not require
so fine a mental edge as the discerning of diversity amidst general
sameness. The primary rough classification depends on the prominent
resemblances of things: the progress is towards finer and finer
discrimination according to minute differences. Yet even at this stage
of European culture one's attention is continually drawn to the
prevalence of that grosser mental sloth which makes people dull to the
most ordinary prompting of comparison--the bringing things together
because of their likeness. The same motives, the same ideas, the same
practices, are alternately admired and abhorred, lauded and denounced,
according to their association with superficial differences, historical
or actually social: even learned writers treating of great subjects
often show an attitude of mind not greatly superior in its logic to that
of the frivolous fine lady who is indignant at the frivolity of her
maid.

To take only the subject of the Jews: it would be difficult to find a
form of bad reasoning about them which has not been heard in
conversation or been admitted to the dignity of print; but the neglect
of resemblances is a common property of dulness which unites all the
various points of view--the prejudiced, the puerile, the spiteful, and
the abysmally ignorant.

That the preservation of national memories is an element and a means of
national greatness, that their revival is a sign of reviving
nationality, that every heroic defender, every patriotic restorer, has
been inspired by such memories and has made them his watchword, that
even such a corporate existence as that of a Roman legion or an English
regiment has been made valorous by memorial standards,--these are the
glorious commonplaces of historic teaching at our public schools and
universities, being happily ingrained in Greek and Latin classics. They
have also been impressed on the world by conspicuous modern instances.
That there is a free modern Greece is due--through all infiltration of
other than Greek blood--to the presence of ancient Greece in the
consciousness of European men; and every speaker would feel his point
safe if he were to praise Byron's devotion to a cause made glorious by
ideal identification with the past; hardly so, if he were to insist that
the Greeks were not to be helped further because their history shows
that they were anciently unsurpassed in treachery and lying, and that
many modern Greeks are highly disreputable characters, while others are
disposed to grasp too large a share of our commerce. The same with
Italy: the pathos of his country's lot pierced the youthful soul of
Mazzini, because, like Dante's, his blood was fraught with the kinship
of Italian greatness, his imagination filled with a majestic past that
wrought itself into a majestic future. Half a century ago, what was
Italy? An idling-place of dilettanteism or of itinerant motiveless
wealth, a territory parcelled out for papal sustenance, dynastic
convenience, and the profit of an alien Government. What were the
Italians? No people, no voice in European counsels, no massive power in
European affairs: a race thought of in English and French society as
chiefly adapted to the operatic stage, or to serve as models for
painters; disposed to smile gratefully at the reception of halfpence;
and by the more historical remembered to be rather polite than truthful,
in all probability a combination of Machiavelli, Rubini, and Masaniello.
Thanks chiefly to the divine gift of a memory which inspires the moments
with a past, a present, and a future, and gives the sense of corporate
existence that raises man above the otherwise more respectable and
innocent brute, all that, or most of it, is changed.

Again, one of our living historians finds just sympathy in his vigorous
insistance on our true ancestry, on our being the strongly marked
heritors in language and genius of those old English seamen who,
beholding a rich country with a most convenient seaboard, came,
doubtless with a sense of divine warrant, and settled themselves on this
or the other side of fertilising streams, gradually conquering more and
more of the pleasant land from the natives who knew nothing of Odin,
and finally making unusually clean work in ridding themselves of those
prior occupants. "Let us," he virtually says, "let us know who were our
forefathers, who it was that won the soil for us, and brought the good
seed of those institutions through which we should not arrogantly but
gratefully feel ourselves distinguished among the nations as possessors
of long-inherited freedom; let us not keep up an ignorant kind of naming
which disguises our true affinities of blood and language, but let us
see thoroughly what sort of notions and traditions our forefathers had,
and what sort of song inspired them. Let the poetic fragments which
breathe forth their fierce bravery in battle and their trust in fierce
gods who helped them, be treasured with affectionate reverence. These
seafaring, invading, self-asserting men were the English of old time,
and were our fathers who did rough work by which we are profiting. They
had virtues which incorporated themselves in wholesome usages to which
we trace our own political blessings. Let us know and acknowledge our
common relationship to them, and be thankful that over and above the
affections and duties which spring from our manhood, we have the closer
and more constantly guiding duties which belong to us as Englishmen."

To this view of our nationality most persons who have feeling and
understanding enough to be conscious of the connection between the
patriotic affection and every other affection which lifts us above
emigrating rats and free-loving baboons, will be disposed to say Amen.
True, we are not indebted to those ancestors for our religion: we are
rather proud of having got that illumination from elsewhere. The men who
planted our nation were not Christians, though they began their work
centuries after Christ; and they had a decided objection to Christianity
when it was first proposed to them: they were not monotheists, and their
religion was the reverse of spiritual. But since we have been fortunate
enough to keep the island-home they won for us, and have been on the
whole a prosperous people, rather continuing the plan of invading and
spoiling other lands than being forced to beg for shelter in them,
nobody has reproached us because our fathers thirteen hundred years ago
worshipped Odin, massacred Britons, and were with difficulty persuaded
to accept Christianity, knowing nothing of Hebrew history and the
reasons why Christ should be received as the Saviour of mankind. The Red
Indians, not liking us when we settled among them, might have been
willing to fling such facts in our faces, but they were too ignorant,
and besides, their opinions did not signify, because we were able, if we
liked, to exterminate them. The Hindoos also have doubtless had their
rancours against us and still entertain enough ill-will to make
unfavourable remarks on our character, especially as to our historic
rapacity and arrogant notions of our own superiority; they perhaps do
not admire the usual English profile, and they are not converted to our
way of feeding: but though we are a small number of an alien race
profiting by the territory and produce of these prejudiced people, they
are unable to turn us out; at least, when they tried we showed them
their mistake. We do not call ourselves a dispersed and a punished
people: we are a colonising people, and it is we who have punished
others.

Still the historian guides us rightly in urging us to dwell on the
virtues of our ancestors with emulation, and to cherish our sense of a
common descent as a bond of obligation. The eminence, the nobleness of a
people depends on its capability of being stirred by memories, and of
striving for what we call spiritual ends--ends which consist not in
immediate material possession, but in the satisfaction of a great
feeling that animates the collective body as with one soul. A people
having the seed of worthiness in it must feel an answering thrill when
it is adjured by the deaths of its heroes who died to preserve its
national existence; when it is reminded of its small beginnings and
gradual growth through past labours and struggles, such as are still
demanded of it in order that the freedom and wellbeing thus inherited
may be transmitted unimpaired to children and children's children; when
an appeal against the permission of injustice is made to great
precedents in its history and to the better genius breathing in its
institutions. It is this living force of sentiment in common which makes
a national consciousness. Nations so moved will resist conquest with
the very breasts of their women, will pay their millions and their blood
to abolish slavery, will share privation in famine and all calamity,
will produce poets to sing "some great story of a man," and thinkers
whose theories will bear the test of action. An individual man, to be
harmoniously great, must belong to a nation of this order, if not in
actual existence yet existing in the past, in memory, as a departed,
invisible, beloved ideal, once a reality, and perhaps to be restored. A
common humanity is not yet enough to feed the rich blood of various
activity which makes a complete man. The time is not come for
cosmopolitanism to be highly virtuous, any more than for communism to
suffice for social energy. I am not bound to feel for a Chinaman as I
feel for my fellow-countryman: I am bound not to demoralise him with
opium, not to compel him to my will by destroying or plundering the
fruits of his labour on the alleged ground that he is not cosmopolitan
enough, and not to insult him for his want of my tailoring and religion
when he appears as a peaceable visitor on the London pavement. It is
admirable in a Briton with a good purpose to learn Chinese, but it
would not be a proof of fine intellect in him to taste Chinese poetry in
the original more than he tastes the poetry of his own tongue.
Affection, intelligence, duty, radiate from a centre, and nature has
decided that for us English folk that centre can be neither China nor
Peru. Most of us feel this unreflectingly; for the affectation of
undervaluing everything native, and being too fine for one's own
country, belongs only to a few minds of no dangerous leverage. What is
wanting is, that we should recognise a corresponding attachment to
nationality as legitimate in every other people, and understand that its
absence is a privation of the greatest good.

For, to repeat, not only the nobleness of a nation depends on the
presence of this national consciousness, but also the nobleness of each
individual citizen. Our dignity and rectitude are proportioned to our
sense of relationship with something great, admirable, pregnant with
high possibilities, worthy of sacrifice, a continual inspiration to
self-repression and discipline by the presentation of aims larger and
more attractive to our generous part than the securing of personal ease
or prosperity. And a people possessing this good should surely feel not
only a ready sympathy with the effort of those who, having lost the
good, strive to regain it, but a profound pity for any degradation
resulting from its loss; nay, something more than pity when happier
nationalities have made victims of the unfortunate whose memories
nevertheless are the very fountain to which the persecutors trace their
most vaunted blessings.

These notions are familiar: few will deny them in the abstract, and many
are found loudly asserting them in relation to this or the other
particular case. But here as elsewhere, in the ardent application of
ideas, there is a notable lack of simple comparison or sensibility to
resemblance. The European world has long been used to consider the Jews
as altogether exceptional, and it has followed naturally enough that
they have been excepted from the rules of justice and mercy, which are
based on human likeness. But to consider a people whose ideas have
determined the religion of half the world, and that the more cultivated
half, and who made the most eminent struggle against the power of Rome,
as a purely exceptional race, is a demoralising offence against rational
knowledge, a stultifying inconsistency in historical interpretation.
Every nation of forcible character--i.e., of strongly marked
characteristics, is so far exceptional. The distinctive note of each
bird-species is in this sense exceptional, but the necessary ground of
such distinction is a deeper likeness. The superlative peculiarity in
the Jews admitted, our affinity with them is only the more apparent when
the elements of their peculiarity are discerned.

From whatever point of view the writings of the Old Testament may be
regarded, the picture they present of a national development is of high
interest and speciality, nor can their historic momentousness be much
affected by any varieties of theory as to the relation they bear to the
New Testament or to the rise and constitution of Christianity. Whether
we accept the canonical Hebrew books as a revelation or simply as part
of an ancient literature, makes no difference to the fact that we find
there the strongly characterised portraiture of a people educated from
an earlier or later period to a sense of separateness unique in its
intensity, a people taught by many concurrent influences to identify
faithfulness to its national traditions with the highest social and
religious blessings. Our too scanty sources of Jewish history, from the
return under Ezra to the beginning of the desperate resistance against
Rome, show us the heroic and triumphant struggle of the Maccabees, which
rescued the religion and independence of the nation from the corrupting
sway of the Syrian Greeks, adding to the glorious sum of its memorials,
and stimulating continuous efforts of a more peaceful sort to maintain
and develop that national life which the heroes had fought and died for,
by internal measures of legal administration and public teaching.
Thenceforth the virtuous elements of the Jewish life were engaged, as
they had been with varying aspects during the long and changeful
prophetic period and the restoration under Ezra, on the side of
preserving the specific national character against a demoralising fusion
with that of foreigners whose religion and ritual were idolatrous and
often obscene. There was always a Foreign party reviling the National
party as narrow, and sometimes manifesting their own breadth in
extensive views of advancement or profit to themselves by flattery of a
foreign power. Such internal conflict naturally tightened the bands of
conservatism, which needed to be strong if it were to rescue the sacred
ark, the vital spirit of a small nation--"the smallest of the
nations"--whose territory lay on the highway between three continents;
and when the dread and hatred of foreign sway had condensed itself into
dread and hatred of the Romans, many Conservatives became Zealots, whose
chief mark was that they advocated resistance to the death against the
submergence of their nationality. Much might be said on this point
towards distinguishing the desperate struggle against a conquest which
is regarded as degradation and corruption, from rash, hopeless
insurrection against an established native government; and for my part
(if that were of any consequence) I share the spirit of the Zealots. I
take the spectacle of the Jewish people defying the Roman edict, and
preferring death by starvation or the sword to the introduction of
Caligula's deified statue into the temple, as a sublime type of
steadfastness. But all that need be noticed here is the continuity of
that national education (by outward and inward circumstance) which
created in the Jews a feeling of race, a sense of corporate existence,
unique in its intensity.

But not, before the dispersion, unique in essential qualities. There is
more likeness than contrast between the way we English got our island
and the way the Israelites got Canaan. We have not been noted for
forming a low estimate of ourselves in comparison with foreigners, or
for admitting that our institutions are equalled by those of any other
people under the sun. Many of us have thought that our sea-wall is a
specially divine arrangement to make and keep us a nation of sea-kings
after the manner of our forefathers, secure against invasion and able to
invade other lands when we need them, though they may lie on the other
side of the ocean. Again, it has been held that we have a peculiar
destiny as a Protestant people, not only able to bruise the head of an
idolatrous Christianity in the midst of us, but fitted as possessors of
the most truth and the most tonnage to carry our purer religion over the
world and convert mankind to our way of thinking. The Puritans,
asserting their liberty to restrain tyrants, found the Hebrew history
closely symbolical of their feelings and purpose; and it can hardly be
correct to cast the blame of their less laudable doings on the writings
they invoked, since their opponents made use of the same writings for
different ends, finding there a strong warrant for the divine right of
kings and the denunciation of those who, like Korah, Dathan, and Abiram,
took on themselves the office of the priesthood which belonged of right
solely to Aaron and his sons, or, in other words, to men ordained by the
English bishops. We must rather refer the passionate use of the Hebrew
writings to affinities of disposition between our own race and the
Jewish. Is it true that the arrogance of a Jew was so immeasurably
beyond that of a Calvinist? And the just sympathy and admiration which
we give to the ancestors who resisted the oppressive acts of our native
kings, and by resisting rescued or won for us the best part of our civil
and religious liberties--is it justly to be withheld from those brave
and steadfast men of Jewish race who fought and died, or strove by wise
administration to resist, the oppression and corrupting influences of
foreign tyrants, and by resisting rescued the nationality which was the
very hearth of our own religion? At any rate, seeing that the Jews were
more specifically than any other nation educated into a sense of their
supreme moral value, the chief matter of surprise is that any other
nation is found to rival them in this form of self-confidence.

More exceptional--less like the course of our own history--has been
their dispersion and their subsistence as a separate people through ages
in which for the most part they were regarded and treated very much as
beasts hunted for the sake of their skins, or of a valuable secretion
peculiar to their species. The Jews showed a talent for accumulating
what was an object of more immediate desire to Christians than animal
oils or well-furred skins, and their cupidity and avarice were found at
once particularly hateful and particularly useful: hateful when seen as
a reason for punishing them by mulcting or robbery, useful when this
retributive process could be successfully carried forward. Kings and
emperors naturally were more alive to the usefulness of subjects who
could gather and yield money; but edicts issued to protect "the King's
Jews" equally with the King's game from being harassed and hunted by the
commonalty were only slight mitigations to the deplorable lot of a race
held to be under the divine curse, and had little force after the
Crusades began. As the slave-holders in the United States counted the
curse on Ham a justification of negro slavery, so the curse on the Jews
was counted a justification for hindering them from pursuing agriculture
and handicrafts; for marking them out as execrable figures by a peculiar
dress; for torturing them to make them part with their gains, or for
more gratuitously spitting at them and pelting them; for taking it as
certain that they killed and ate babies, poisoned the wells, and took
pains to spread the plague; for putting it to them whether they would be
baptised or burned, and not failing to burn and massacre them when they
were obstinate; but also for suspecting them of disliking the baptism
when they had got it, and then burning them in punishment of their
insincerity; finally, for hounding them by tens on tens of thousands
from the homes where they had found shelter for centuries, and
inflicting on them the horrors of a new exile and a new dispersion. All
this to avenge the Saviour of mankind, or else to compel these
stiff-necked people to acknowledge a Master whose servants showed such
beneficent effects of His teaching.

With a people so treated one of two issues was possible: either from
being of feebler nature than their persecutors, and caring more for ease
than for the sentiments and ideas which constituted their distinctive
character, they would everywhere give way to pressure and get rapidly
merged in the populations around them; or, being endowed with uncommon
tenacity, physical and mental, feeling peculiarly the ties of
inheritance both in blood and faith, remembering national glories,
trusting in their recovery, abhorring apostasy, able to bear all things
and hope all things with the consciousness of being steadfast to
spiritual obligations, the kernel of their number would harden into an
inflexibility more and more insured by motive and habit. They would
cherish all differences that marked them off from their hated
oppressors, all memories that consoled them with a sense of virtual
though unrecognised superiority; and the separateness which was made
their badge of ignominy would be their inward pride, their source of
fortifying defiance. Doubtless such a people would get confirmed in
vices. An oppressive government and a persecuting religion, while
breeding vices in those who hold power, are well known to breed
answering vices in those who are powerless and suffering. What more
direct plan than the course presented by European history could have
been pursued in order to give the Jews a spirit of bitter isolation, of
scorn for the wolfish hypocrisy that made victims of them, of triumph in
prospering at the expense of the blunderers who stoned them away from
the open paths of industry?--or, on the other hand, to encourage in the
less defiant a lying conformity, a pretence of conversion for the sake
of the social advantages attached to baptism, an outward renunciation of
their hereditary ties with the lack of real love towards the society
and creed which exacted this galling tribute?--or again, in the most
unhappy specimens of the race, to rear transcendent examples of odious
vice, reckless instruments of rich men with bad propensities,
unscrupulous grinders of the alien people who wanted to grind _them_?

No wonder the Jews have their vices: no wonder if it were proved (which
it has not hitherto appeared to be) that some of them have a bad
pre-eminence in evil, an unrivalled superfluity of naughtiness. It would
be more plausible to make a wonder of the virtues which have prospered
among them under the shadow of oppression. But instead of dwelling on
these, or treating as admitted what any hardy or ignorant person may
deny, let us found simply on the loud assertions of the hostile. The
Jews, it is said, resisted the expansion of their own religion into
Christianity; they were in the habit of spitting on the cross; they have
held the name of Christ to be _Anathema_. Who taught them that? The men
who made Christianity a curse to them: the men who made the name of
Christ a symbol for the spirit of vengeance, and, what was worse, made
the execution of the vengeance a pretext for satisfying their own
savageness, greed, and envy: the men who sanctioned with the name of
Christ a barbaric and blundering copy of pagan fatalism in taking the
words "His blood be upon us and on our children" as a divinely appointed
verbal warrant for wreaking cruelty from generation to generation on the
people from whose sacred writings Christ drew His teaching. Strange
retrogression in the professors of an expanded religion, boasting an
illumination beyond the spiritual doctrine of Hebrew prophets! For
Hebrew prophets proclaimed a God who demanded mercy rather than
sacrifices. The Christians also believed that God delighted not in the
blood of rams and of bulls, but they apparently conceived Him as
requiring for His satisfaction the sighs and groans, the blood and
roasted flesh of men whose forefathers had misunderstood the
metaphorical character of prophecies which spoke of spiritual
pre-eminence under the figure of a material kingdom. Was this the method
by which Christ desired His title to the Messiahship to be commended to
the hearts and understandings of the nation in which He was born? Many
of His sayings bear the stamp of that patriotism which places
fellow-countrymen in the inner circle of affection and duty. And did the
words "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do," refer only to
the centurion and his band, a tacit exception being made of every Hebrew
there present from the mercy of the Father and the compassion of the
Son?--nay, more, of every Hebrew yet to come who remained unconverted
after hearing of His claim to the Messiahship, not from His own lips or
those of His native apostles, but from the lips of alien men whom cross,
creed, and baptism had left cruel, rapacious, and debauched? It is more
reverent to Christ to believe that He must have approved the Jewish
martyrs who deliberately chose to be burned or massacred rather than be
guilty of a blaspheming lie, more than He approved the rabble of
crusaders who robbed and murdered them in His name. But these
remonstrances seem to have no direct application to personages who take
up the attitude of philosophic thinkers and discriminating critics,
professedly accepting Christianity from a rational point of view as a
vehicle of the highest religious and moral truth, and condemning the
Jews on the ground that they are obstinate adherents of an outworn
creed, maintain themselves in moral alienation from the peoples with
whom they share citizenship, and are destitute of real interest in the
welfare of the community and state with which they are thus identified.
These anti-Judaic advocates usually belong to a party which has felt
itself glorified in winning for Jews, as well as Dissenters and
Catholics, the full privileges of citizenship, laying open to them every
path to distinction. At one time the voice of this party urged that
differences of creed were made dangerous only by the denial of
citizenship--that you must make a man a citizen before he could feel
like one. At present, apparently, this confidence has been succeeded by
a sense of mistake: there is a regret that no limiting clauses were
insisted on, such as would have hindered the Jews from coming too far
and in too large proportion along those opened pathways; and the
Roumanians are thought to have shown an enviable wisdom in giving them
as little chance as possible. But then, the reflection occurring that
some of the most objectionable Jews are baptised Christians, it is
obvious that such clauses would have been insufficient, and the doctrine
that you can turn a Jew into a good Christian is emphatically retracted.
But clearly, these liberal gentlemen, too late enlightened by
disagreeable events, must yield the palm of wise foresight to those who
argued against them long ago; and it is a striking spectacle to witness
minds so panting for advancement in some directions that they are ready
to force it on an unwilling society, in this instance despairingly
recurring to mediaeval types of thinking--insisting that the Jews are
made viciously cosmopolitan by holding the world's money-bag, that for
them all national interests are resolved into the algebra of loans, that
they have suffered an inward degradation stamping them as morally
inferior, and--"serve them right," since they rejected Christianity. All
which is mirrored in an analogy, namely, that of the Irish, also a
servile race, who have rejected Protestantism though it has been
repeatedly urged on them by fire and sword and penal laws, and whose
place in the moral scale may be judged by our advertisements, where the
clause, "No Irish need apply," parallels the sentence which for many
polite persons sums up the question of Judaism--"I never _did_ like the
Jews."

It is certainly worth considering whether an expatriated, denationalised
race, used for ages to live among antipathetic populations, must not
inevitably lack some conditions of nobleness. If they drop that
separateness which is made their reproach, they may be in danger of
lapsing into a cosmopolitan indifference equivalent to cynicism, and of
missing that inward identification with the nationality immediately
around them which might make some amends for their inherited privation.
No dispassionate observer can deny this danger. Why, our own countrymen
who take to living abroad without purpose or function to keep up their
sense of fellowship in the affairs of their own land are rarely good
specimens of moral healthiness; still, the consciousness of having a
native country, the birthplace of common memories and habits of mind,
existing like a parental hearth quitted but beloved; the dignity of
being included in a people which has a part in the comity of nations
and the growing federation of the world; that sense of special belonging
which is the root of human virtues, both public and private,--all these
spiritual links may preserve migratory Englishmen from the worst
consequences of their voluntary dispersion. Unquestionably the Jews,
having been more than any other race exposed to the adverse moral
influences of alienism, must, both in individuals and in groups, have
suffered some corresponding moral degradation; but in fact they have
escaped with less of abjectness and less of hard hostility towards the
nations whose hand has been against them, than could have happened in
the case of a people who had neither their adhesion to a separate
religion founded on historic memories, nor their characteristic family
affectionateness. Tortured, flogged, spit upon, the _corpus vile_ on
which rage or wantonness vented themselves with impunity, their name
flung at them as an opprobrium by superstition, hatred, and contempt,
they have remained proud of their origin. Does any one call this an evil
pride? Perhaps he belongs to that order of man who, while he has a
democratic dislike to dukes and earls, wants to make believe that his
father was an idle gentleman, when in fact he was an honourable artisan,
or who would feel flattered to be taken for other than an Englishman. It
is possible to be too arrogant about our blood or our calling, but that
arrogance is virtue compared with such mean pretence. The pride which
identifies us with a great historic body is a humanising, elevating
habit of mind, inspiring sacrifices of individual comfort, gain, or
other selfish ambition, for the sake of that ideal whole; and no man
swayed by such a sentiment can become completely abject. That a Jew of
Smyrna, where a whip is carried by passengers ready to flog off the too
officious specimens of his race, can still be proud to say, "I am a
Jew," is surely a fact to awaken admiration in a mind capable of
understanding what we may call the ideal forces in human history. And
again, a varied, impartial observation of the Jews in different
countries tends to the impression that they have a predominant
kindliness which must have been deeply ingrained in the constitution of
their race to have outlasted the ages of persecution and oppression.
The concentration of their joys in domestic life has kept up in them the
capacity of tenderness: the pity for the fatherless and the widow, the
care for the women and the little ones, blent intimately with their
religion, is a well of mercy that cannot long or widely be pent up by
exclusiveness. And the kindliness of the Jew overflows the line of
division between him and the Gentile. On the whole, one of the most
remarkable phenomena in the history of this scattered people, made for
ages "a scorn and a hissing" is, that after being subjected to this
process, which might have been expected to be in every sense
deteriorating and vitiating, they have come out of it (in any estimate
which allows for numerical proportion) rivalling the nations of all
European countries in healthiness and beauty of _physique_, in practical
ability, in scientific and artistic aptitude, and in some forms of
ethical value. A significant indication of their natural rank is seen in
the fact that at this moment, the leader of the Liberal party in Germany
is a Jew, the leader of the Republican party in France is a Jew, and the
head of the Conservative ministry in England is a Jew. And here it is
that we find the ground for the obvious jealousy which is now
stimulating the revived expression of old antipathies. "The Jews," it is
felt, "have a dangerous tendency to get the uppermost places not only in
commerce but in political life. Their monetary hold on governments is
tending to perpetuate in leading Jews a spirit of universal alienism
(euphemistically called cosmopolitanism), even where the West has given
them a full share in civil and political rights. A people with oriental
sunlight in their blood, yet capable of being everywhere acclimatised,
they have a force and toughness which enables them to carry off the best
prizes; and their wealth is likely to put half the seats in Parliament
at their disposal."

There is truth in these views of Jewish social and political relations.
But it is rather too late for liberal pleaders to urge them in a merely
vituperative sense. Do they propose as a remedy for the impending danger
of our healthier national influences getting overridden by Jewish
predominance, that we should repeal our emancipatory laws? Not all the
Germanic immigrants who have been settling among us for generations,
and are still pouring in to settle, are Jews, but thoroughly Teutonic
and more or less Christian craftsmen, mechanicians, or skilled and
erudite functionaries; and the Semitic Christians who swarm among us are
dangerously like their unconverted brethren in complexion, persistence,
and wealth. Then there are the Greeks who, by the help of Phoenician
blood or otherwise, are objectionably strong in the city. Some judges
think that the Scotch are more numerous and prosperous here in the South
than is quite for the good of us Southerners; and the early
inconvenience felt under the Stuarts of being quartered upon by a
hungry, hard-working people with a distinctive accent and form of
religion, and higher cheek-bones than English taste requires, has not
yet been quite neutralised. As for the Irish, it is felt in high
quarters that we have always been too lenient towards them;--at least,
if they had been harried a little more there might not have been so many
of them on the English press, of which they divide the power with the
Scotch, thus driving many Englishmen to honest and ineloquent labour.

So far shall we be carried if we go in search of devices to hinder
people of other blood than our own from getting the advantage of
dwelling among us.

Let it be admitted that it is a calamity to the English, as to any other
great historic people, to undergo a premature fusion with immigrants of
alien blood; that its distinctive national characteristics should be in
danger of obliteration by the predominating quality of foreign settlers.
I not only admit this, I am ready to unite in groaning over the
threatened danger. To one who loves his native language, who would
delight to keep our rich and harmonious English undefiled by foreign
accent, foreign intonation, and those foreign tinctures of verbal
meaning which tend to confuse all writing and discourse, it is an
affliction as harassing as the climate, that on our stage, in our
studios, at our public and private gatherings, in our offices,
warehouses, and workshops, we must expect to hear our beloved English
with its words clipped, its vowels stretched and twisted, its phrases of
acquiescence and politeness, of cordiality, dissidence or argument,
delivered always in the wrong tones, like ill-rendered melodies, marred
beyond recognition; that there should be a general ambition to speak
every language except our mother English, which persons "of style" are
not ashamed of corrupting with slang, false foreign equivalents, and a
pronunciation that crushes out all colour from the vowels and jams them
between jostling consonants. An ancient Greek might not like to be
resuscitated for the sake of hearing Homer read in our universities,
still he would at least find more instructive marvels in other
developments to be witnessed at those institutions; but a modern
Englishman is invited from his after-dinner repose to hear Shakspere
delivered under circumstances which offer no other novelty than some
novelty of false intonation, some new distribution of strong emphasis on
prepositions, some new misconception of a familiar idiom. Well! it is
our inertness that is in fault, our carelessness of excellence, our
willing ignorance of the treasures that lie in our national heritage,
while we are agape after what is foreign, though it may be only a vile
imitation of what is native.

This marring of our speech, however, is a minor evil compared with what
must follow from the predominance of wealth--acquiring immigrants, whose
appreciation of our political and social life must often be as
approximative or fatally erroneous as their delivery of our language.
But take the worst issues--what can we do to hinder them? Are we to
adopt the exclusiveness for which we have punished the Chinese? Are we
to tear the glorious flag of hospitality which has made our freedom the
world-wide blessing of the oppressed? It is not agreeable to find
foreign accents and stumbling locutions passing from the piquant
exception to the general rule of discourse. But to urge on that account
that we should spike away the peaceful foreigner, would be a view of
international relations not in the long-run favourable to the interests
of our fellow-countrymen; for we are at least equal to the races we call
obtrusive in the disposition to settle wherever money is to be made and
cheaply idle living to be found. In meeting the national evils which are
brought upon us by the onward course of the world, there is often no
more immediate hope or resource than that of striving after fuller
national excellence, which must consist in the moulding of more
excellent individual natives. The tendency of things is towards the
quicker or slower fusion of races. It is impossible to arrest this
tendency: all we can do is to moderate its course so as to hinder it
from degrading the moral status of societies by a too rapid effacement
of those national traditions and customs which are the language of the
national genius--the deep suckers of healthy sentiment. Such moderating
and guidance of inevitable movement is worthy of all effort. And it is
in this sense that the modern insistance on the idea of Nationalities
has value. That any people at once distinct and coherent enough to form
a state should be held in subjection by an alien antipathetic government
has been becoming more and more a ground of sympathetic indignation; and
in virtue of this, at least one great State has been added to European
councils. Nobody now complains of the result in this case, though
far-sighted persons see the need to limit analogy by discrimination. We
have to consider who are the stifled people and who the stiflers before
we can be sure of our ground.

The only point in this connection on which Englishmen are agreed is,
that England itself shall not be subject to foreign rule. The fiery
resolve to resist invasion, though with an improvised array of
pitchforks, is felt to be virtuous, and to be worthy of a historic
people. Why? Because there is a national life in our veins. Because
there is something specifically English which we feel to be supremely
worth striving for, worth dying for, rather than living to renounce it.
Because we too have our share--perhaps a principal share--in that spirit
of separateness which has not yet done its work in the education of
mankind, which has created the varying genius of nations, and, like the
Muses, is the offspring of memory.

Here, as everywhere else, the human task seems to be the discerning and
adjustment of opposite claims. But the end can hardly be achieved by
urging contradictory reproaches, and instead of labouring after
discernment as a preliminary to intervention, letting our zeal burst
forth according to a capricious selection, first determined accidentally
and afterwards justified by personal predilection. Not only John Gilpin
and his wife, or Edwin and Angelina, seem to be of opinion that their
preference or dislike of Russians, Servians, or Greeks, consequent,
perhaps, on hotel adventures, has something to do with the merits of the
Eastern Question; even in a higher range of intellect and enthusiasm we
find a distribution of sympathy or pity for sufferers of different blood
or votaries of differing religions, strangely unaccountable on any other
ground than a fortuitous direction of study or trivial circumstances of
travel. With some even admirable persons, one is never quite sure of any
particular being included under a general term. A provincial physician,
it is said, once ordering a lady patient not to eat salad, was asked
pleadingly by the affectionate husband whether she might eat lettuce, or
cresses, or radishes. The physician had too rashly believed in the
comprehensiveness of the word "salad," just as we, if not enlightened by
experience, might believe in the all-embracing breadth of "sympathy with
the injured and oppressed." What mind can exhaust the grounds of
exception which lie in each particular case? There is understood to be a
peculiar odour from the negro body, and we know that some persons, too
rationalistic to feel bound by the curse on Ham, used to hint very
strongly that this odour determined the question on the side of negro
slavery.

And this is the usual level of thinking in polite society concerning the
Jews. Apart from theological purposes, it seems to be held surprising
that anybody should take an interest in the history of a people whose
literature has furnished all our devotional language; and if any
reference is made to their past or future destinies some hearer is sure
to state as a relevant fact which may assist our judgment, that she, for
her part, is not fond of them, having known a Mr Jacobson who was very
unpleasant, or that he, for his part, thinks meanly of them as a race,
though on inquiry you find that he is so little acquainted with their
characteristics that he is astonished to learn how many persons whom he
has blindly admired and applauded are Jews to the backbone. Again, men
who consider themselves in the very van of modern advancement, knowing
history and the latest philosophies of history, indicate their
contemptuous surprise that any one should entertain the destiny of the
Jews as a worthy subject, by referring to Moloch and their own
agreement with the theory that the religion of Jehovah was merely a
transformed Moloch-worship, while in the same breath they are glorifying
"civilisation" as a transformed tribal existence of which some
lineaments are traceable in grim marriage customs of the native
Australians. Are these erudite persons prepared to insist that the name
"Father" should no longer have any sanctity for us, because in their
view of likelihood our Aryan ancestors were mere improvers on a state of
things in which nobody knew his own father?

For less theoretic men, ambitious, to be regarded as practical
politicians, the value of the Hebrew race has been measured by their
unfavourable opinion of a prime minister who is a Jew by lineage. But it
is possible to form a very ugly opinion as to the scrupulousness of
Walpole or of Chatham; and in any case I think Englishmen would refuse
to accept the character and doings of those eighteenth century statesmen
as the standard of value for the English people and the part they have
to play in the fortunes of mankind.

If we are to consider the future of the Jews at all, it seems
reasonable to take as a preliminary question: Are they destined to
complete fusion with the peoples among whom they are dispersed, losing
every remnant of a distinctive consciousness as Jews; or, are there in
the breadth and intensity with which the feeling of separateness, or
what we may call the organised memory of a national consciousness,
actually exists in the world-wide Jewish communities--the seven millions
scattered from east to west--and again, are there in the political
relations of the world, the conditions present or approaching for the
restoration of a Jewish state planted on the old ground as a centre of
national feeling, a source of dignifying protection, a special channel
for special energies which may contribute some added form of national
genius, and an added voice in the councils of the world?

They are among us everywhere: it is useless to say we are not fond of
them. Perhaps we are not fond of proletaries and their tendency to form
Unions, but the world is not therefore to be rid of them. If we wish to
free ourselves from the inconveniences that we have to complain of,
whether in proletaries or in Jews, our best course is to encourage all
means of improving these neighbours who elbow us in a thickening crowd,
and of sending their incommodious energies into beneficent channels. Why
are we so eager for the dignity of certain populations of whom perhaps
we have never seen a single specimen, and of whose history, legend, or
literature we have been contentedly ignorant for ages, while we sneer at
the notion of a renovated national dignity for the Jews, whose ways of
thinking and whose very verbal forms are on our lips in every prayer
which we end with an Amen? Some of us consider this question dismissed
when they have said that the wealthiest Jews have no desire to forsake
their European palaces, and go to live in Jerusalem. But in a return
from exile, in the restoration of a people, the question is not whether
certain rich men will choose to remain behind, but whether there will be
found worthy men who will choose to lead the return. Plenty of
prosperous Jews remained in Babylon when Ezra marshalled his band of
forty thousand and began a new glorious epoch in the history of his
race, making the preparation for that epoch in the history of the world
which has been held glorious enough to be dated from for evermore. The
hinge of possibility is simply the existence of an adequate community of
feeling as well as widespread need in the Jewish race, and the hope that
among its finer specimens there may arise some men of instruction and
ardent public spirit, some new Ezras, some modern Maccabees, who will
know how to use all favouring outward conditions, how to triumph by
heroic example, over the indifference of their fellows and the scorn of
their foes, and will steadfastly set their faces towards making their
people once more one among the nations.

Formerly, evangelical orthodoxy was prone to dwell on the fulfilment of
prophecy in the "restoration of the Jews," Such interpretation of the
prophets is less in vogue now. The dominant mode is to insist on a
Christianity that disowns its origin, that is not a substantial growth
having a genealogy, but is a vaporous reflex of modern notions. The
Christ of Matthew had the heart of a Jew--"Go ye first to the lost
sheep of the house of Israel." The Apostle of the Gentiles had the heart
of a Jew: "For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my
brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh: who are Israelites; to whom
pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the
giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; whose are
the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came." Modern
apostles, extolling Christianity, are found using a different tone: they
prefer the mediaeval cry translated into modern phrase. But the
mediaeval cry too was in substance very ancient--more ancient than the
days of Augustus. Pagans in successive ages said, "These people are
unlike us, and refuse to be made like us: let us punish them." The Jews
were steadfast in their separateness, and through that separateness
Christianity was born. A modern book on Liberty has maintained that from
the freedom of individual men to persist in idiosyncrasies the world may
be enriched. Why should we not apply this argument to the idiosyncrasy
of a nation, and pause in our haste to hoot it down? There is still a
great function for the steadfastness of the Jew: not that he should
shut out the utmost illumination which knowledge can throw on his
national history, but that he should cherish the store of inheritance
which that history has left him. Every Jew should be conscious that he
is one of a multitude possessing common objects of piety in the immortal
achievements and immortal sorrows of ancestors who have transmitted to
them a physical and mental type strong enough, eminent enough in
faculties, pregnant enough with peculiar promise, to constitute a new
beneficent individuality among the nations, and, by confuting the
traditions of scorn, nobly avenge the wrongs done to their Fathers.

There is a sense in which the worthy child of a nation that has brought
forth illustrious prophets, high and unique among the poets of the
world, is bound by their visions.

Is bound?

Yes, for the effective bond of human action is feeling, and the worthy
child of a people owning the triple name of Hebrew, Israelite, and Jew,
feels his kinship with the glories and the sorrows, the degradation and
the possible renovation of his national family.

Will any one teach the nullification of this feeling and call his
doctrine a philosophy? He will teach a blinding superstition--the
superstition that a theory of human wellbeing can be constructed in
disregard of the influences which have made us human.


THE END.





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