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Title: Personality in Literature
Author: Scott-James, Rolfe Arnold
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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_First published 1913_



  THE DEGRADATION OF BEAUTY                                3

  LITERATURE A FINE ART                                   14

  PASSIONS SPIN THE PLOT                                  42

  THE POPULAR TASTE                                       55


  TO-DAY AND YESTERDAY                                    81

  PROFESSIONAL POLITICS                                   96

  SPECIALISM IN RELIGION                                 103

  SPECIALISM IN WAR                                      109

  SPECIALISM IN LITERATURE                               115

  PHILOSOPHY AND JUSTICE                                 121


  BERNARD SHAW                                           131

  H.G. WELLS                                             151

  ARNOLD BENNETT                                         170

  GILBERT CHESTERTON                                     187

  SOME MODERN POETS                                      196

  J.M. SYNGE                                             222

  THE SHRAMANA EKAI KAWAGUCHI                            226

  FRANCIS THOMPSON                                       235





Some time ago I found myself at an exhibition of Post-Impressionist
pictures, under the ægis of an artist who was himself of that
persuasion. Indeed, he was one of the exhibitors, and I was
constrained to express my opinions in the form of questions. We passed
before a picture which to my untutored eyes was formless, meaningless
and ugly. It was by a well-known artist, and my instructor admired it.
He said it was the head of a woman, and he indicated certain hook-like
marks in the painting which to him distinctly suggested the nose, the
mouth and the neck of a woman, reduced to their simplest terms. After
he had fully explained the picture, I asked him if the result was in
any sense beautiful to him.

"Beautiful!" he exclaimed, with something of disdain in his voice.
"Why should it be beautiful? I do not require that a picture should be

He had not finished, but I was relieved by the first part of his
reply. As I cannot hope to appreciate more than a certain number of
things in the world, I am willing, so far as pictures are concerned,
to be limited to beautiful pictures, and to be proved ignorant and
obtuse in regard to all others. For the same reason I have long since
reconciled myself to the fact that there are some branches of science
and natural history which I shall never master. I shall always
endeavour to follow clever writers like Shaw and Brieux whose plays
have, as the former puts it, "a really scientific natural history" for
their basis. But I cannot hope to acquire the whole of knowledge or
reform the whole of the world, and there are books which contain a
great deal of sound knowledge and urgent opinion for which I have no
use. Moreover, I deny Mr. Shaw's right to interfere with my enjoyment
if I turn to literature which teaches nothing and serves no
utilitarian or reforming purpose. It is only when I am in the
scientific frame of mind that I desire accurate natural history, or
when I am in the reforming frame of mind that I desire earnest
exhortations to improve society. In the same way I am only drawn to
the Post-Impressionists when I want, not beautiful pictures, but an
agreeable sense of the impudence and imbecility of professional
craftsmen. But when I am in the mood for literature and art, I demand
something that shall appeal to my sense of beauty; and I refuse to be
shamed into believing that I ought to prefer scientific knowledge, or
ethical suasion, or those particular kinds of ugliness admired by some
Realists and some Post-Impressionists.

But I was a little disconcerted when my Post-Impressionist artist
concluded with the remark: "I have never yet found anyone who could
tell me what he meant by beauty."

Certainly I had not asked him for an exact definition, or any
definition of Beauty in the abstract. I should have been satisfied if,
for the moment, he had taken it on trust, as most of us take the law
of gravity, the postulates of Euclid, and the evidence of our senses.
I was not dismayed because a single Post-Impressionist thought that
"beautiful" is a word that has no meaning; but because the reply came
so pat upon his lips;--he was repeating, parrot-like, a current view;
he was adopting the fashionable attitude of scorn towards what is
regarded as an ancient tyranny, long since indicted and exploded. This
bland acceptance of the meaninglessness and the inefficacy of beauty
is habitual to most young professionals who wield pen or pencil. They
have learnt it from Mr. Shaw, forgetting that when Mr. Shaw demands
complete freedom for the writer he also demands objective truth; or
they have learnt it from Mr. Roger Fry, forgetting that even Mr. Fry
demands some kind of subjective truth. Every young artist like my
acquaintance at the Grafton Gallery, every young novelist like Mr.
Gilbert Cannan,[1] is encouraged by the intellectuals to accept
formlessness and anarchy as evidence of a magnanimous and enlightened

But it is not necessary to expose this falsity in its crude and most
violent forms. For we may find it expressed in an almost academic way,
with philosophical aloofness, a show of nice reasoning, and a kind of
Epicurean sweetness in a Romanes lecture delivered by Mr. Arthur James
Balfour and published under the title _Criticism and Beauty_. It is
worth while to study so responsible a writer, for we may be sure that
he will weigh his words, that he will not over-state his case, or be
led away by passion or fanaticism. And it is assuredly interesting to
examine the argument for anarchy as stated and defended by a
Conservative statesman.

Indeed, it is hard to believe that the author of this essay is the
same Mr. Balfour whom we know as the leader of the Conservative party.
A statesman ostensibly so consistent in upholding order and authority
in the Church, in adhering to time-honoured standards of government,
and in trusting the judgment of men "trained in the tradition of
politics," might have been expected to hold views somewhat similar in
matters of art. We should have expected him to believe in the
existence, not perhaps of artistic canons, but of artistic standards;
to be convinced that in æsthetics there is an æsthetic right and
wrong; to attach weight to the judgment of men of "trained
sensibility." But it is not so. He holds in the most extreme form the
ancient doctrine that _seeming_ is _being_. Art, as such, has for him
nothing to do with truth. He recognises no valid standard of
excellence. The only excellence in a work of art is to afford æsthetic
pleasure, and the pleasure which a boy derives from a blood-curdling
adventure-book or the public from a popular melodrama is, in Mr.
Balfour's view, no less "æsthetic" than the pleasure which another may
derive from contemplating a statue by Michelangelo. There is no
universal standard; no criterion; no excellence in art except such as
each man accepts for himself.

Mr. Balfour does, indeed, make a proper distinction between art as
"technical dexterity" and art as related to the "sublime," the
"beautiful," the "pathetic," the "humorous," the "melodious," and
admits that it is possible to apply an "objective test" to technical
skill--to decide that this line scans, that this rhyme is flawless,
that these bars in music are in such-and-such a key. But he will allow
no objective grounds of excellence to art in the more important sense.
If you say that this poem is beautiful or sublime, you are asserting
what is only true for you, a mere personal preference which others
need not be expected to share. Not only do men of "trained
sensibility" differ from the uncultured, but they differ equally from
one another. He cites the evidence of Greek music to show how widely
the cultured of one nation and epoch may differ from the cultured of
other nations and epochs. Having laid it down as an axiom that our
æsthetic judgments are "for the most part immediate, and, so to speak,
intuitive," and observing that the fastidious differ among themselves,
and that their delight in fine objects is no more intense than the
delight of the vulgar in coarser themes, he proceeds to the conclusion
that there can be no valid right or wrong in taste, no absolute
standard of beauty. He even maintains that art is not based upon any
special faculty for perceiving the true. "I can find no justification
in experience for associating great art with penetrating insight."

Before going further it is necessary to hint at a curious confusion in
which he here involves himself--a surely rather crude confusion
between æsthetic, and moral, right and wrong. Being concerned to
disprove the existence of the former, he for a moment identifies it
with the latter. It is either, as I have taken it, a crude confusion
of thought, or an equivocating device more often used in political
controversy than in the domain of art criticism--that of identifying
the opinion attacked with another of an ignominious character. The
view which he is rejecting is thus set forth. "An artist is deemed to
be more than the maker of beautiful things. He is a seer, a moralist,
a prophet." Surely he must realise that there are many who would most
fervently hold that an artist must be a seer or even a prophet, who
would ridicule the idea that he must be that very different sort of
thing, a moralist. And in the same way, when he has declared
categorically: "I can find no justification in experience for
associating great art with penetrating insight," he almost ludicrously
adds, "or good art with good morals."

It is this confusion of the aim of the artist with the aims of other
expounders--the moralist, the philosopher, the theologian--that
vitiates his argument against the insight of the great artists. Why
does he deny them this "penetrating insight?" Because they have
cherished opposite convictions about fundamental matters. "Optimism
and pessimism; materialism and spiritualism; theism, pantheism,
atheism, morality and immorality; religion and irreligion; lofty
resignation and passionate revolt--each and all have inspired or
helped to inspire the creators of artistic beauty." The _non
sequitur_ of this argument lies in the fact that he only shows that
artists have differed in respect of what is not essential to art. If
he had shown that some artists have created the beautiful, and others
have created the ugly, he would have produced evidence fatal to his
opponents. As it is he has denied perception of the beautiful to
artists because they differ in respect of that which has no necessary
connection with beauty.

But to leave this technical, though not wholly unreal, disputation.
There is this merit in Mr. Balfour's essay: that it states in its most
extreme form a view for which there is something to be said and which
has been gaining in favour in modern times. It is a reaction against
the view which became established in the course of the last century.
It was the habit of the eighteenth century to judge poetry by its form
alone; the nineteenth judged it by the spirit which inspired it, by
that which, as De Quincey puts it, was "incarnated" in a work of art.
William Blake literally believed that there was a real world of the
imagination which was opened up to the artist in his visions, and that
was why he said: "Learn to see _through_, not _with_, the eye."
Coleridge, too, asserted the primacy of Reason and imagination; and
for Wordsworth poetry was "Reason in her most exalted form," just as
for Keats "Beauty is truth, truth Beauty." Even so logical and prosaic
a thinker as John Stuart Mill recognised that supremacy of the artist
to which he himself could not attain; the artist, as he said in a
letter to Carlyle, perceives truth immediately, by intuition, and it
was his own humble function to translate the truths discerned by the
artist into logic. "Is not the distinction between mysticism, the
mysticism which is of truth, and mere dreamery, or the institution of
imaginations for realities, exactly this, that mysticism may be
translated into logic?" Logic, for Mill, was only the hand-servant of
that art which is concerned, not with "imaginations" only, but with
realities. And it was in the same spirit that Matthew Arnold laid down
his decisive verdict that literature is a criticism of life, that it
may be subjected to a "universal" estimate, and that the standard is
"the best that has been said and thought in the world."

But in recent years there has been a revolt against the idea of
standards or authority in art. Art has always been conceived as
something which affords pleasure; but now it is conceived as that
which affords pleasure to anyone. The democracy, now that it has
become literate, claims the right of private judgment, equality for
its members even in matters of art. And in a sense it is right.
Nothing should be or can be acclaimed as beautiful unless it appears
beautiful to the spectator. There is no criterion of beauty outside
the perception of beauty. For each man, that only is beautiful which
affords him the experience of beauty; and whatever does afford him
that experience has given him the æsthetic pleasure which is the true
pleasure of art. But there are many pleasurable thrills which have
nothing to do with beauty or with art. That is why Mr. Balfour surely
is wrong when he suggests that the youthful delight in blood-curdling
adventures is an "enjoyment of what is Art, and nothing but Art." But
I agree that we are confronted with an antinomy which seems hard
enough to overcome--on the one hand art is only good because some
people have judged or felt it to be good; on the other hand all
sincere critics are convinced that some works are absolutely good,
that their excellence is beyond reasonable challenge, and that those
who do not perceive this excellence are lacking in fineness of

The anarchistic side of the paradox is put in its crudest form by Mr.
Balfour. It has been put in perhaps its finest and truest form by Mr.
Henry James:

    Art is the one corner of human life in which we may take our
    ease. To justify our presence there the only thing demanded of
    us is that we shall have felt the representational impulse. In
    other connections our impulses are conditioned and embarrassed;
    we are allowed to have only so many as are consistent with those
    of our neighbours; with their convenience and well-being, with
    their convictions and prejudices, their rules and regulations.
    Art means an escape from all this. Wherever her shining standard
    floats the need for apology and compromise is over; there it is
    enough simply that we please or are pleased. There the tree is
    judged only by its fruits. If these are sweet the tree is
    justified--and not less so the consumer.... Differences here are
    not iniquity and righteousness; they are simply variations of
    temperament, kinds of curiosity. We are not under theological

It is true; in art, at least, we are "not under theological
government," and that was a maxim worth asserting at a time when the
_dicta_ of Matthew Arnold and Ruskin were being converted into
shibboleths. It is necessary for happiness no less than for honesty
that we should realise that poetry, music, and pictures are personal
things; that what they are worth to us is their sole measure of value.
And here it must be mentioned that Mr. Balfour puts forth two hints
which are inconclusive enough, but which do dimly suggest a truer way
of escape than that to which his argument leads. He notes, first of
all, that art is disinterested; that it is not a means, but an end in
itself. And, secondly, we feel towards beautiful things as we feel
towards persons; if they are congenial we may like or love them,
though we can assign no ground for our preference.

If the analogy were pursued it might lead to something like a solution
of the difficulty. For all fine art is beautiful expression; it is
self-expression; it is the expression of something which the artist
perceives. If it strikes an answering chord in us we are satisfied;
and that fact of response means a community of perception, of æsthetic
knowledge, between the artist and the recipient, something perhaps
which is dragged from the depths of our duller natures but which burst
forth in expression from the artist with his quicker and more apt
perception. But let it be noted that there could be no such response
or sympathy conveyed from one to another by a symbol unless there were
some real bond, some existent principle possessed in common. Art is
communicative, but not surely a communication of nothing. It
communicates something which is not the less real because it is
intangible and mysterious. If it inexplicably affords us--as it
does--an experience which some persons describe as transcendent, then
that quality in it, which we call the "sublime" or the "beautiful,"
has at least to this extent a definite reality, that it affords us
unique experiences. It is this question which I shall examine in the
following chapter.

Some men have not been so made that they can respond to the beauty
which is summoned by art, just as some men, born blind, are not
touched by the light of the sun. But it is of no moment to say that
tastes differ. Men may differ about their friends, but they do not
differ about friendship. They may have different codes of honour, but
a sense of honour is the same thing for a savage as it is for a
bishop. And so not all things are called beautiful by the same men,
but beauty is the same for all.


[1] See Preface to _Round the Corner_. (Martin Secker.)



There are many people of my acquaintance who think it almost indecent
to talk of literature as a fine art. They have the same distaste for
the word "art" as others have for the name of God. It has indeed been
misused in certain æsthetic circles and discussed almost unctuously,
so that it is often associated with long hair and cant, and seems
nonsensical if not disreputable to plain and honest men. I remember an
Oxford don, chiefly noted for his cricket and his knowledge of Homer,
and in later life for his dyspepsia, abusing a distinguished Austrian
critic who visited the University--"These foreigners are always
talking about Art!" Foreigners and long-haired æsthetes were one and
the same thing to my atrabilious instructor. The latter was an exact
man. No wonder he detested a word which is used so vaguely and in so
many contrary senses; which is sometimes applied to a poem or a novel
as if its "art" were an ornamental thing _separate_ from the poem or
the novel; or as if it were a mere synonym for style or adherence to
some technical formula.

Yet we cannot very well get on without the word, and we certainly
cannot avoid its connotation. No man in his senses can deny that there
is such a thing as the "art of literature," though it may seem absurd
to talk about it. No one, however healthy in his tastes, would refuse
to distinguish the statement "This is a very good book"--which may
mean only that it is instructive, or useful for certain purposes--from
the statement "This, anyhow, is literature"--which means something
quite specific, namely, that this is a work of art. The very word
would become less offensive if we could be a little less vague about
it, if we could make up our minds what it is that it does mean or that
we wish it to mean. We all of us distinguish between good and bad in
literature, even if we regard our own judgments as fallible. We are
all disposed to mistrust the opinions of our contemporaries, though we
have a childlike faith in the verdict of posterity. Well, what is it
that will satisfy posterity, and that ought, _a fortiori_, to satisfy
us? What is it, in the domain of the delightful, as opposed to the
merely knowable, which has value for the future, and therefore should
have more value for the present? And what is it--an even more
important question--which may have this kind of value for us, whether
posterity choose to value it or not? That is the main point. We want
to find what that quality is, in literature or any of the fine arts,
which makes it a matter of so great consideration to us. What do we
expect and demand from it, if it is to be something of real moment?
That is one side of the question. And putting the question from the
other side--What sort of process is implied in the writing of
literature, and what is the sanction of the writer? It seems we are
compelled to form some provisional theory of art before we can make
the most modest pretensions to discuss literature. For such a theory
is implied in every literary discussion, in every review of a book,
and in every appreciative or antagonistic reading of a book. I myself
have written hundreds of reviews of books, and I certainly do not
think it more presumptuous to set down what it is that I require, or
believe that I require, in creative literature, and what that
requirement presupposes in the artist, than to have written those
hundreds of reviews.

I begin, then, from the side of our actual requirements, and I lay it
down as a self-evident proposition, that if we mean anything at all by
creative literature, or literature regarded as a fine art, we must
mean something which provides us with an addition to experience, an
experience _sui generis_. We demand that it should be something which
will occupy us and engage our faculties, something not to be
approached carelessly and indolently, but with energy and alertness of
the mind; not because it is abstruse or difficult, but because we are
demanding something which will give full play to the spirit, which
will come profoundly in contact with us when we are in fullest
possession of ourselves, which will not merely stir us, but stir us to

That I would take as an axiom. If we are going to regard fiction, for
example, as a fine art, the artistic novel will be a book which we
approach not for mere distraction, but for activity, mental and
spiritual, for the opportunity it affords of putting forth energy, of
giving full play to the vitality, of going through a vital experience.
Just as the keen golfer delights in the skilful use of eye and limb,
and is exhilarated by the difficulties and the physical exertion of
the game, so the keen reader of a book enjoys the strenuous mental
exercise it affords him. To some extent the mind is more elastic than
the body. Even when it is tired it can sometimes be whipped into
energy by thought, or reading, or talk, whereas the body in its
corresponding state cannot so readily respond with accuracy and
effectiveness. But the mind too--Heaven knows--may be dulled to fine
issues; and it is only when it is in well-balanced activity that it
can do full justice to a work of art; and that is no work of art which
the jaded intelligence can wholly grasp. Anyone who enjoys pictures,
and does not care to look at them perfunctorily or in a "sightseeing"
spirit, knows well that he can only appreciate a picture when he
allows eyes and imagination to concentrate upon it, so that he
_perceives_ as well as sees it, and derives a complex impression from
it akin to that which the artist felt at the moment when he conceived
it. And in the same way with every work of art worthy of the name,
whether it be a picture, a statue, a poem, a play or a novel, it is
part of its excellence to call forth _activity_ in the mind which
apprehends it.

But we must note that it not only calls forth activity, but
_disinterested_ activity--and by that I mean an activity of the kind
which is especially called forth in the fine arts, and not that which
science, or religion, or ethics might call forth without the aid of
the arts. To preserve the analogy of golf, it may happen--and
generally does happen--that the playing of golf makes the limbs more
elastic and promotes general health. But to take an interest in golf
is not the same thing as to take an interest in the health-producing
results of golf. The true golfer is he who plays golf for its own sake
and without any ulterior end, without thought of consequences,
although consequences of some kind are inevitable. In the same way the
activity called forth in all art, both in the artist at the time of
creation and in the man who is appreciating it, is disinterested; he
is, in proportion as he is an artist or an appreciator of art,
concerned at the moment in nothing but the subject-matter of the
artist, and the treatment; in making or receiving a certain effect,
without thought of the possible practical consequences which may
follow through some inference drawn from the work or some
psychological result attending upon it. This is not a re-statement of
the much-abused theory of "Art for Art's sake," for that theory has
always tended to minimise the importance of subject-matter, and to
represent Beauty as something aloof from the rest of life, instead of
being inseparable from the warp and woof of things social, moral,
intellectual, religious, and physical. When I say that the activity of
the artist is disinterested, I do not mean that he may not be
concerned with any conceivable theme under the sun, but that his
business is to provide us with an experience, and that any end he may
have beyond making that experience vivid and complete is an alien end,
destroying his singleness of purpose, wholly disruptive of his art
and destructive to its energy.

And here we must abandon the analogy of a game of skill, for whereas
golf-balls have no interest except as things to be knocked about, the
objects with which poet, dramatist or novelist deals are ideas,
persons, associated things, having character and interest of their
own. The experience he is to provide is primarily a spiritual
experience, an affair of the mind and the emotions. And being, as it
must clearly be, an experience _sui generis_, it is obviously not
derived from a mere reproduction of life; for life cannot be
reproduced excepting in life itself, whereas art claims no more than
to be an imitation, or an envisagement, of nature, and its life is its
own. What we demand of it is that it should put into its picture
something that is and is not in nature--something, in other words,
that is only there for those who choose to see it, but which the
artist makes clearer, awakening the perceptions to that aspect of
truth which he has in view. In a book called _The Ascending Effort_,
Mr. George Bourne urged that the art of life consists in the
realisation of "choice ideas"; meaning by "choice ideas" those which
are refined out of the commonplace and the meagre; the ideas which are
apprehended most actively, with all the mind and all the perceptions;
the ideas which admit of relation to all other ideas, which come into
some sort of harmony with such schemes of life as we have made. If
this is true of the art of life, _a fortiori_ is it true of the fine
arts from which the analogy is drawn. In other words, the artist's aim
is not to reproduce the facts which make up the mass of our ordinary
and undigested life, but to substitute for the dishevelled commonplace
the "choiceness" of an ordered interpretation. Only in this way can
art give us an experience _sui generis_; only by the refinement and
re-energising of the treatment can it give us emotions vivid enough to
compete in some measure with the vividness of nature.

Implicitly all great artists must have accepted this general view of
their function, and many in one way or another have explicitly stated
it. "As light to the eye, even such is beauty to the mind," said
Coleridge, whose meaning was philosophically definite, but in no way
at variance with Shakespeare's too hackneyed but ever memorable words:

          Spirits are not finely touched,
    But to fine issues.

The "fine": the "alight" or "luminous": the "choice"--here are three
ways of qualifying the objects which artists seek to present. Matthew
Arnold was captivated by the simile of light, and having repeated
Amiel's passionate cry for "more light," used "sweetness and light" as
a refrain in all his criticism. Walter Pater, to whom the beauty of
the human form, and therefore of sculpture, was especially appealing,
loved to use such terms as "shapely," "comely," "blythe," "gracious,"
"engaging," to express the fine flavour[2] of a work of art. The
quality may be manifested primarily through the intellect, as with
Meredith; through the senses, as with Swinburne; through the
perceptions, as with Turgeniev, Flaubert and Joseph Conrad; or through
intellect and perceptions acutely balanced, as with Mr. Henry James
(who gives us "curiosity" as the keynote); but in any case it is that
which we require an artist to bring with him--"fineness," "light,"
"choiceness," "comeliness," "graciousness"--when he visualises or
focusses his object. Does not that untranslatable λιπαρὸς αἰθήρ of
Homer--the shining upper air--suggest not only the physical atmosphere
breathed by the gods of Olympus and the great-hearted Odysseus, but
also the poetic atmosphere of the Odyssey itself?

We have, then, added a third term to our generalisation about art. We
now require, as it seems, that it should provide us with an energetic
experience; that it should be disinterested in the sense that it
cannot aim at any competing, alien end; and thirdly, that this
experience should come from objects made beautiful in the sense of
being shown in a certain light, or made alight--in a manner which
demands further inquiry. And here indeed is the difficulty. For we
must endeavour to examine the question from the artist's standpoint,
and seek counsel from him.

It would be no less futile than presumptuous to lay down exact formulæ
as to what the artist ought and ought not to do. No modern critic is
likely to waste his time in framing rules and canons, which can be so
easily handled by the pedant and stand condemned by the first great
man who defies them. Aristotle did it once and for all for the Greek
drama, and when the perspective of life widened and new forms of
literature grew up to compete with drama, his rules were destined
either to shackle literature or to be thrown ruthlessly overboard in
the violent revulsion against Classicism. Shakespeare fortunately was
guiltless of any exact knowledge of Aristotle, and the fact that
Corneille and Racine, who had no French Shakespeare to precede them,
were in bondage to that influential philosopher, had a lasting effect
upon French literature which the mighty influence of Hugo was
insufficient to destroy. But at least the example of these Classicist
writers has proved that literature itself is not only profoundly
affected, but made and unmade, by theories of literature. And
Corneille and Racine bestowed at any rate this immeasurable benefit on
their countrymen: they taught them the lesson of form and technique--a
lesson which they have never forgotten, which is illustrated as much
in fiction as in drama--in Merimée, Flaubert, Maupassant and Anatole
France. Shakespeare, on the contrary, whose influence on English
literature has been supreme since the beginning of the Romantic
movement, provided no obvious model for the student of form. To the
casual reader his very imagination seems to be lawlessness and
extravagance, carrying him tempestuously and recklessly into the mêlée
of poetry. But every careful reader knows that Shakespeare was not so
reckless as he seems; observe how rigidly he conformed to the
conditions prescribed by the Elizabethan theatre and audience; it is
to the credit of his technique that he complied with these exacting
conditions without cramping the finer issues of poetry and drama. And
in the broader sense of the term Shakespeare's form was precisely
proportionate to his genius, though it is seen rather in the
transcendence of his poetry and the management by which his persons
are swept along on their own characters than in those more obvious
elements of form--structure of plot, the subservience of dialogue and
incident to the dramatic purpose, and all the minor probabilities and
proprieties. But it is just the obvious elements which are most
noticeable to those who study form in a superficial way; for those who
imitate Shakespeare, or are influenced by him, his careless freedom
and extravagance often bulk larger than the expression of genius which
made trifles of these defects. A result is that throughout the
nineteenth century Shakespeare has been for English authors not always
an inspiration, but a national pretext for decrying technique.

And yet those who had the insight and the power to restore Shakespeare
in all his fulness to English readers were wholly free from this
ignorance--conspicuously Charles Lamb and S.T. Coleridge. Coleridge
was indeed the first of Englishmen to think out anything like a
complete and satisfactory theory of poetry and the fine arts. The
supreme value of his theory comes from the fact that he was one of the
few who had actually experienced those creative impulses which as a
theorist he endeavoured to account for. He had had the inspiration of
poetry; he had achieved it; and to that extent he had indisputable
evidence before him. If only on the one hand he had extended his
method a little further than he did, and taken into consideration that
formal side of art which is dear to classicism, and on the other hand
been more confident--or shall I say less shy?--when he considered the
origin of the creative imagination, the ideal conceiver and creator of
_Natura Naturata_, then his scheme would have been complete--probably
too complete. On the latter subject, however, he threw out hints which
were broad enough, and did not wholly shun the controversial sphere of
metaphysics. The critic who would avoid the heights and depths of
mysticism would do well to imitate his reserve, and exceed him in
metaphysical diffidence.

"_Good Sense_ is the _Body_ of poetic genius," said Coleridge,
"_Fancy_ its _Drapery_, _Motion_ its _Life_, and _Imagination_ the
_Soul_ that is everywhere, and in each; and forms all into one
graceful and intelligent whole." It is by that "synthetic and magical
power" which he calls "imagination" that the poet "brings the whole
soul of man into activity," and "diffuses a tone and spirit of unity."
Coleridge's theory of the Fine Arts presupposes his metaphysic; and it
asserts the primacy of the reason. "Of all we see, hear, feel and
touch the substance is and must be in ourselves: and therefore there
is no alternative in reason between the dreary (and, thank Heaven!
almost impossible) belief that everything around us is but a phantom,
or that the life which is in us is in them likewise.... The artist
must imitate that which is within the thing, that which is active
through form and figure, and discourses to us by symbols."

He defines the beautiful as "that in which the _many_, still seen as
many, becomes one," and takes as an instance: "The frost on the
windowpane has by accident crystallised into a striking resemblance of
a tree or a sea-weed. With what pleasure we trace the parts, and their
relation to each other and to the whole." "The beautiful arises from
the perceived harmony of an object, whether sight or sound, with the
inborn and constitutive rules of the judgment and imagination, and it
is always intuitive." It is that which "calls on the soul" (καλόν
quasi καλοῦν). He conceives it to be the function of the human reason
to discover the unifying idea which underlies all the variety of
nature; and thus it is that when manifold objects of sense are reduced
by the imagination to order and unity the soul is satisfied, and its
experience is an experience of what is called the beautiful. It is
with this discovering of order in the seemingly chaotic, in other
words the discovering of beauty, that the creative artist is
concerned. It is his business to inform matter with idea; and matter
symbolically used becomes the expression of the artist's thought just
as for the theologian the world of nature is an expression of the
thought of God. "To make the external internal, the internal external,
to make nature thought, and thought nature--this is the mystery of
genius in the Fine Arts." And he goes on significantly: "Dare I add
that the genius must act on the feeling, that body is but a striving
to become mind--that it is mind in its essence?" And in all the
_Biographia Literaria_ there is perhaps no more striking suggestion
than: "Remark the seeming identity of body and mind in infants, and
thence the loveliness of the former."

It should be observed that Coleridge's philosophy presupposes "a bond
between nature in the higher sense and the soul of a man,"
presupposes, that is, that the spirit of the artist "has the same
ground with nature," whose unspoken language he must learn "in its
main radicals." It is only by reason of this bond that external
nature, the manifestation of _Natura naturans_, lends itself to the
artist so that he too may manifest himself. To attain this end the
artist will imitate nature but not copy her. ("What idle rivalry!" he
exclaims. Is not a copy of nature like a wax-work figure, which shocks
because it lacks "the motion and the life which we expected?") The
artist imitates what he perceives to be essential in nature; he takes
the images which life affords him and so disposes of them as to bring
to light the unities which the spirit loves; it is he who brings order
out of disorder, imposing upon matter a form which the imagination has

For the purposes of the general critic of art, Coleridge has given us
too much and too little. He gives us too much: for the acceptance of
his theory in its completeness is only possible for those who can also
accept his metaphysic (his artist stands in a special relationship to
that _Natura naturans_ which is a name for God). It is indeed clear to
me that no complete conception of the operations of art can be formed
without a complete metaphysical theory; but both are difficult to
attain. Both lead to speculation, controversy, and a thousand
opportunities of error. And any systematically complete theory of
art, seeking as it must to account for infinity, must, like all
metaphysical systems, fall short of the truth by precisely the
difference between infinite thought and the thought of one man--by the
difference between the Universe and You or Me. Those who are anxious
to learn what can be learnt about the creative process, and to explain
it to themselves, not in terms of abstract thought, but in terms of
the humanly intelligible and appreciable, may be satisfied with a
lower degree of truth, with something more certain though not fully
explained. We may be content if we can hit upon some least common
denominator free from the controversies of metaphysics.

If that is our object, Coleridge has given us too much. But he has
also given us too little. So generalised is his treatment that we are
led to the conclusion that his perfect artist (who cannot exist) ought
to express nothing less than the whole of himself in one single
comprehensive work of art, as the divine Creator is conceived to have
produced one harmonious expression of Himself in the Universe. What he
does not sufficiently discuss is the imperfect artist--the only artist
that has yet been given to the world. It is true the great genius in
letters, or any other kind of art, can never rest content until he has
bodied forth in a multitude of works all of that complex which is his
conception of life. But he works under the conditions of time and
space. His conception of life has been modified before he has had time
to vanquish time. In practice, at any given moment, he is at work upon
a single aspect of life, upon one part only of his general
conception, so that the most immediate task before him is not that of
_unifying_ nature, but of _separating_, of _selecting_; and only when
he has thus separated and selected can he proceed to make a unity
within that restricted sphere of nature--his particular subject. On
this practical question, this problem, not of perfection but of
imperfection, Coleridge is characteristically silent.

But at least we must follow him in his view that the great artist is
engaged in the attempt to body forth, through the symbols which
external nature provides him, his fundamental conceptions about life.
Were this not so, art would not be concerned, as it claims to be, with
what is most important in the world, or at least most important to the
artist. "No man was ever yet a great poet," he insisted, "without
being at the same time a profound philosopher." We may recall the
dictum of Meredith: "If we do not speedily embrace philosophy in
fiction, the Art is doomed to extinction." But there is a great
difference between the two views. A work of art which is broad enough
to embrace philosophy is not the same thing as a work of art which is
embraced by philosophy, and is a complete product of the philosophical
imagination. Meredith extolled the intellect, which works
discursively; Coleridge extolled the reason, which apprehends
intuitively. For Coleridge, the intellect was only the organ by which
rational conceptions and intuitions are logically applied, and adapted
to circumstance. From his point of view we might conclude that the
genius of Meredith missed the greatest effects because, applying his
intellect _discursively_ to life, he so often refused to make it
subservient to any central conception or intuition. However that may
be, it is impossible to resist at least this conclusion, that the
artist in whose work we feel a _background_, whose work suggests more
than it directly is, being capable of arousing numberless feelings and
associations in the mind, so that it stands veritably as a symbol of
the whole of life, is the artist _par excellence_. Much of this effect
may be produced by an _unconscious_ activity which Coleridge
recognised as a part of the activity of genius. Nevertheless, whether
the activity is conscious or unconscious, it cannot do more than
express what arises in, or passes through, the imagination of the
artist; it is his complex conception of life and the significance of
life, his definite individual outlook, which accounts for this
background to a work of art, for this suggestiveness which makes it
appealing and awakening, for these associations which it has cunningly
brought before us. And whether or not we are going to allow that
something less than this can be called art, that the merely shapely
(shapely as if by accident) ought to be included in its category,
nevertheless, it is this which holds the highest place. The answer is
given by all the great authors of the world who have left their
individual stamp upon their art, who created images representative of
life as they conceived it essentially to be.

But I am far from holding that those central conceptions which the
artist embodies through the forms of his art are metaphysical
conceptions. This is where I should disagree with Mr. Lascelles
Abercrombie, who wrote some profoundly interesting chapters on this
subject in a book on Thomas Hardy. Mr. Abercrombie laid it down that
every great artist must have a metaphysic, and that in bringing his
subject-matter under the form conceived by his imagination his
metaphysic is throughout the work consistently represented (of course
implicitly, not explicitly); and he suggested that we may apply a
definite standard of criticism by asking: How far does a work of art
correspond with the artist's philosophical view of life?--this being
for him another way of saying: How far has the artist succeeded in
imposing the desired form upon his material? With the latter mode of
stating the question I should have no quarrel. But the former implies
that the artist has devoted himself to metaphysical studies. Mr.
Abercrombie may have meant only that every work of art presupposes a
metaphysic; but so does everything in the world. The remark would
scarcely have been worth making. So I suppose him to have meant that
every great artist must have subdued his mind to a definite
philosophical interpretation of the Universe, and that in his works he
shows nature and human life as parts of the cosmic scheme definitely
conceived by him. As it happened, the particular novelist whom he was
considering, Mr. Thomas Hardy, exactly answers to this description. So
does Sophocles, so does Milton--authors specially esteemed by Mr.
Abercrombie. Homer, too, might perhaps be accounted for in this way;
for he had at any rate a perfectly definite conception of the relation
of men to the gods of Olympus and to the ghosts who trod the mead of
Asphodel; and to the perfect spontaneity, the unhesitating certainty
with which Homer bodies forth the conviction of pantheism is due much
of the charm and infinite delight of the Epics. Perhaps with ingenuity
one might discover a metaphysic for Shakespeare--and even if we could
not discover it, none the less it may have been there. But how about
Herrick, Robert Burns, or even Mr. Henry James? Are we to equip them
with a metaphysic, or exclude them from the portals of art? Shall we
not gain more by requiring from an artist something, definite indeed,
but less exacting and elusive than a definite scheme of the Universe;
something which would admit, for example, Calverley; which would take
some heed of the simplest of songs, and account for Lewis Carroll in
the same way that we can account for Sophocles or Milton?

There is surely something more essential to a man even than his
codification of himself in the final terms of philosophy. It is that
kernel of personality which inclines him in this direction or that. It
is this kernel of personality which turns him in the first place to
philosophy, if he be a philosopher; or which makes him detest abstract
speculation, if he is another kind of man. It is prior to philosophy.
It is a condition of its being. It determines, surely, even the
character of a man's metaphysic, setting him, not to range like an
aimless ghost of thought across the Universe, but to express himself
accurately; to express himself, with the help of his intellect,
consistently. Now the artist, or imaginative person, is not seeking to
express himself, like the philosopher, in terms of logical notions;
and he is under no obligation to express himself, to himself,
logically, before he proceeds to express himself imaginatively. All
that is essential is that the kernel of his personality, that which
determines philosophies as it determines every other achievement,
should be directly, immediately, expressed in the figurative language
of his art. This is the central, the all-important thing, that final,
_essential_, and therefore indefinable entity which has thrust itself
upon us when we say of a man that he has an "interesting personality."
The more powerful and energetic a man is, the more distinctive become
his ways of looking at things, his ways of thinking, observing,
appreciating; we discover a kind of centre of gravity in him, or a
kernel which has been developed by active experience and reflection.
This kernel of his character is to the rest of him, the accidental or
inessential, what in the language of modern philosophy the "real will"
of an individual is to the variety of his particular desires. The less
he concentrates, the less is his real personality expressed; the
weaker the will, the more evident the inessential and slovenly parts
of his nature; the weaker the intelligence, the less adequate is his
attempt to express himself.

The artist has not necessarily that "strong personality" which
attempts to assert itself by influencing the action of others. His is
the personality which wishes to express imaginatively. And by
imagination I mean the making of images--I mean that stretching out of
the _essential_ personality towards nature, so that it may touch
nature at as many points as possible, fashioning it into images,
binding itself to nature, and nature to itself, ever seeking to expand
in this contact or sympathy, so that as far as possible the whole
essential personality may be expressed through as much as possible of
nature. The artistic impulse, the poetic or creative impulse, is that
which impels him to the expression of what is most really and
centrally himself. The world of nature as perceived by him when he is
in full possession of himself assumes a form schemed by his
imagination; and it is this which he endeavours to body forth when he
selects now these and now those objects to represent his conception of

We may, then, take it that the first essential to an artist is the
imaginative impulse which makes him desire to express himself in terms
of life. And the second is that energetic quality by which he
endeavours to express what is central to his personality, that part of
him which is his "real self." This is what is meant by "sincerity" in
art. And a third surely is a sort of self-detachment, or sympathy, or
knowledge, by means of which he is able to estimate the material in
which he works. The two last mentioned qualities, taken together,
imply a sense of form, in accordance with which the idea is embodied
in the finished work of art, and technique--the professional knowledge
by the help of which this embodiment is accomplished.

The objection may be raised that the man who has an essentially
distorted or meagre personality and succeeds exactly in expressing
himself is, according to my estimate, entitled to the same artistic
credit as a man of the loftiest ideas. To that I reply that though the
clue to his work is to be found, in the last resort, in his
personality, it is not by his personality that he is to be judged; he
is to be judged by his works; and in producing these works he
expresses himself, not in terms of himself, but in terms of external
objects, in terms of life known to all of us; and that if he perfectly
expresses distorted or meagre views of life, the representation of
life which he gives to us will itself be palpably distorted and
meagre. We are all capable of detecting the falsity if the facts of
life are distorted before our eyes, or represented in so dull or
meagre a way that they afford us no vivid experience whatsoever. An
artist stands self-condemned if his interpretation fails to correspond
with that outward life to which our senses are a sufficient guide.

Indeed we have already demanded, as a self-evident axiom, that the
artist should afford us a vivid experience, and that which directly
contradicts the truth of common sense can produce no experience except
that of confusion or disgust. It belongs to the first rudiments of
art--the mere grammar--that an artist's convictions, as bodied forth
in sense-given symbols, should not palpably and shockingly contradict
the conditions of the sensible world; his is the far more difficult
and delicate task of expressing himself, not by violation, but by
selection, emphasis, reconstruction. The penalty he must pay if he
refuses these terms is that of being unintelligible.

But granted that the artist has obeyed this law, which is obvious to
the majority of the sane, we further demand from him that his work
should be "sincere," that is to say, that it should be consistent with
his own clearest conceptions, his most urgent convictions, his most
penetrating intuitions--in a word, consistent with that central thing
which I have called the kernel of his personality. An artist is in
this sense insincere whenever, for example, he inserts anything in his
work which exists solely for the sake of convention--some of
Shakespeare's clown scenes were often put in solely because an
Elizabethan audience demanded them, and they were to that extent a
truckling to convention, an insincerity. They do not express the real
Shakespeare. Any artist not capable of entirely direct and spontaneous
expression (and probably no great art was ever completely spontaneous)
must make up his mind about himself, about what is temperamentally
real in him, about that which is his primary _raison d'être_; and in
accordance with, and out of this kernel of himself he must interpret
all that he touches. By this means alone can he introduce order, form,
unity into the indeterminate chaos of life. By this means alone can
life assume coherent shape under his hands, and it is coherence and
shape which alone can give us the impression of beauty, of that
coherent shapeliness of matter drawn into the semblance of a living

It may be a very simple unity, this microcosm of art, like a cell
compounded from protoplasm, yet it will give us its corresponding
pleasure, so long as it is made with the sincerity of the imagination.
If it is merely the informing of life with the spirit of light
laughter--as in Calverley--it affords its proper pleasure--it is the
spectacle of life drawn up into that kind of imagination to which
laughter belongs. Lewis Carroll's _Alice_ is in the same sense a work
of art. Is there not throughout those two most charming of children's
books an entirely consistent spirit of bonhomie and exquisite
rationality--rationality of an order high enough to produce those
delightful expositions of the irrational and the absurd? That the
author of _Alice in Wonderland_ was a mathematician is exactly what we
might have expected--though he was, what mathematicians rarely are,
the artist-mathematician, who understood the world intuitively as well
as logically, and thus manifested his spirit of laughter and logic
through an inverted world of contradiction.

And so again, if we take a modern author of a very different type,
such a one as Henry James, whose concern it is to state life, with a
view to throwing into relief the finer shades, we shall observe that
most of his work is characterised by a kind of intensive culture, as
opposed to that extensive method which through lack of form was abused
in Dickens, and through obedience to form was satisfactorily applied
by the poet Swinburne at his best. We may safely say that when
Swinburne was at his best, when he was "himself," his world was a
world of rhythmical energy, of impetuous freedom and sensuous
activity, which, translated into poetry, was expressed through the
symbols of love and sea-foam and battle; to be true to the genius
which was central to himself, he required no pregnancy or subtle
suggestiveness of phrase; he needed no more than rhyme, rhythm and
onomatopœic words, and with these he gave all he had to give--the
sense of energy remembered, the sensuous delight of physical activity,
a world of divinely glorified sensation. Mature readers do not seek
him often, for there are only a few moods which he can satisfy. A
writer such as Mr. Henry James stands at the exactly opposite pole. It
was the proper business of such a man as Swinburne merely to affirm
sensation, and he could do it perfectly. It is the proper business of
Mr. James, not to assert sensation or any experience--he could not do
it with sincerity--but to question sensation, to question emotion and
sentiment; it is his proper business to examine experience with the
amused, searching gaze of one who expects the unexpected. It is his
business to make experience interesting, not, like Swinburne, by
multiplication, but rather by division--by the method of the
microscope which reveals in a fly's wing some unsuspected fineness of
pattern and variegated brilliance of colour. He himself is fond of the
word "curiosity"; it defines something that is central to his
personality; this, brought into activity by the "representational
impulse" (which in his opinion is the one justification for the
artist), takes form in the intricate and delicately woven patterns of
human temperament which are the objects of his curiosity.

And now we begin to see why every critic, when considering an author's
works, almost invariably, and instinctively, examines not only his
finished works, but also whatever may be known about him as a man. I
admit, as all would admit, that his works must stand or fall solely on
their own account; but the critic finds that in seeking to discover
the central interest and significance of an author's art his task is
facilitated if once he can find the clue to his temperament. This
backstairs knowledge does the trick for him. The bond between the man
and his art is so necessary and immediate that no objectiveness of
method can conceal it. It was by realising this fact, and applying his
exceptionally fine critical intuition to this task, that Professor
Raleigh, considering the _essentials_, was able to draw a very much
more convincing picture of the personality of Shakespeare than that
which was drawn, brilliantly indeed, by Mr. Frank Harris; but Mr.
Harris, I think, devoted his attention to qualities in Shakespeare
which--whether in any sense real or not--were in any case secondary
and inessential elements in the dramatist's character. And this is why
his criticism, in spite of its brilliance, was comparatively

I must not be supposed to mean that the artist begins with an abstract
conception, and that he then proceeds to search for objects suitable
to its concrete representation. There are, I know, brilliant novelists
and painters who have proceeded in that manner; but the result, to my
mind, seldom reveals that complete unity of object and idea which men
require; for this method is so dependent upon the intellectual fitting
of facts to idea that either the facts are forced and made unreal, or
the idea is sacrificed. I am told that in the case of Mr. Joseph
Conrad the process is reversed; he perceives, as by vision, some
intense single situation--that picture, for instance, in _Lord Jim_,
where the Captain looking over the side of his ship is tempted to
desert his crew. Such a situation, a focal point in a story, is for
the artist object and idea in one, simultaneously presented by the
imagination; the union of matter and spirit is already there at the
moment of creation; and in that way, I imagine, most of the finest
pictures, poems, dramas and stories have been first conceived. When
once that focal point has been presented in all its vividness and
significance by the imagination, it remains for the artist to mass his
detail in and around it as appropriately as his invention and
technique permit.

We have now reached conclusions which were approached from two
distinct points of view. Starting from certain axioms or self-evident
propositions, and looking at art from the outside, I suggested that it
must provide us with an energetic experience which we value for its
own sake without thought of consequences or alien interests, an
experience which has a fineness or an illuming quality of its own. And
examining the same question from the inside--from the side of the
mental processes implied in the act of creation--I have tried to adapt
the conclusions of Coleridge to a view which should not pre-suppose
his metaphysic, and have asked what is implied in this fineness or
illuming quality in a work of art, this which is called beautiful. And
when we learnt that all creative art comes from the imagination of the
artist projecting itself upon the material of life, I concluded that
the two things essential to the creative imagination were knowledge
and sincerity--knowledge of life itself, so that the artist can use an
intelligible language and speak in terms of things real to
everyone--and sincerity, meaning conformity with that which is
essential or central in the artist himself. Art is thus a
representation of actual life in terms of the artist. It must be real,
and it must be ideal. It is the act of genius to be able to give us in
one and the same creation a representation of nature and an expression
of the artist's personality. This is the new thing which genius
constantly adds to the sum-total of human experience--it is the old
stuff of life quickened and illuminated by the new incarnation. And
thus the stuff of life itself is increased, and succeeding artists
start with a wider range of material.

We shall not find any actual artist completely satisfying the demand.
For the difficulties of form are endless, and sounds, colours, words
are obstinate materials when they are to be made the vehicle of ideas;
and even the artist in the full tide of the creative impulse must
always find that he has expressed something less than his intention
and has strayed into the pathless wastes of the inessential. But it is
the business of the critic to give him credit for all that is
attempted in the sincere spirit of the imagination, and at the same
time, in sympathy with the actualities of nature; for on the union of
these two depends the truth which is the beauty of art.

But the artist himself is not necessarily concerned with these
theories. His main business is intercourse with life, and also the
envisaging of life rather "by meditation" as Coleridge says, "than by
observation." He has to beware of the facts which overcame Coleridge
himself, when he sacrificed the divinity of his art to that philosophy
which banished the god. "Well were it for me," he exclaims, "if I had
continued to pluck the flowers and reap the harvest from the
cultivated surface, instead of delving in the unwholesome quicksilver
mines of metaphysic depths." The "shaping spirit of imagination" which
impelled him to unrivalled poetry in his youth was starved in him, not
only because of his ill-health, his poverty, his drugs and laziness,
but equally because he denied expression to "fancy, and the love of
nature and the sense of beauty in forms and sounds." For him perhaps
it was a poor compensation that through this denial he was able to
leave us a unique interpretation of his æsthetic and creative


[2] The word "flavour" in this connection was constantly used by the
late Canon Ainger.



If the reader has borne with my audacity in generalising about the
main functions of imaginative literature, he will be willing to pursue
a further and plainer question concerning its subject-matter. It is
time to discuss a little more fully what I mean by that "energetic
experience "which a work of art can give us. For the sake of
simplicity I will confine myself to a single issue--to that kind of
energetic experience invariably afforded by that small body of
imaginative literature which the world has agreed to regard as
supreme. If we can understand how literature in its greatest examples
provides us with an "addition to life," we can, if we are in the mind
to do so, extend the inquiry to the lighter and less intense
experiences of secondary literature.

By "supreme" literature I mean the literature which has proved itself
to be supreme--supreme by virtue of its conquest over time and over
changes in thought and environment. The Iliad and the Odyssey are in a
language which we should have to learn if only for the sake of these
two epics; they still profoundly interest us, they present emotions
which can still move us; without Homer, the society which they
describe would have vanished from human knowledge; through Homer, it
is an intimate and cherished part of our experience. This kind of
supremacy belongs, I think, to Æschylus and Sophocles, and might
perhaps be attributed to the Gospel of S. Mark, if that book may be
considered as imaginative literature. Virgil and Dante--in part at
least--are of this order, as also are Milton, in _Samson Agonistes_
and the earlier books of _Paradise Lost_, and Goethe in the first part
of _Faust_. And there are few besides Mr. Shaw who would deny such
supremacy to the tragedies of Shakespeare.

Now these authors have survived, and are likely to survive, for a
variety of reasons. But what is common to them all, and what makes us
set especial store on them, is not merely that they have in large
measure achieved what they set out to do (lesser artists have done
that), but that they have set out to do a big thing, to give us the
most intense kind of experience that we can have. In other words, they
have produced the fineness which emerges through the intensity of
human passion, and it is in proportion to their fine realisation of
passion that we find them most moving.

I am not, of course, using the word "passion" in its modern vulgarised
sense. For just as the word "romance" is often degraded to signify no
more than a petty love affair, so the word "passion" has been
appropriated to the amorous, sexual pre-occupation which is the only
intense feeling of many jaded moderns. Humanity, however devitalised,
however incapable of varied passions, does not lose the love passion
so long as it has the animal instinct of the fly and the rudimentary
human instinct to idealise. But a race must be strangely incurious if
the only romance it can conceive is the romance of a youth and a maid,
and its only passion the passion of sexual desire. Yet such is the
state of mind--to judge by the common usage of words--of the major
portion of modern society.

Needless to say, I am not wishing to disparage the literature of love,
whether it be poetry, fiction, or of any other kind. English people
least of all can afford to belittle it, for if we eliminated it half
of our best lyrical poetry would go. For we count it a distinction in
English poetry that upon this theme the changes have been rung so
finely and to such exquisite effect. But much of the fineness of love
poetry is to be distinguished from the fineness of the emotion of
love. Lovelace declares to his Lucasta:

    True, a new mistress now I chase,
      The first foe in the field;
    And with a stronger faith embrace
      A sword, a horse, a shield.

That is in the true spirit of English love poetry, which does not so
idealise the amorous passion as to make it, in the modern emasculate
manner, a substitute for valour, faith, honour; it is not opposed to
the manly virtues; it may be the song which a warrior sings to the
clank of "a sword, a horse, a shield."

But let us for a moment examine this matter of passion with which
great creative literature is so evidently concerned. No acute physical
pain or thrilling sensuous delight is ever dignified with the name of
passion, in the significant sense of the word; the essence of passion
is mental, or spiritual; emotion made intense by idealism turned in a
definite direction, that is to say, by the idealising of an object
which a man has set before himself. The meaning the word has acquired
is almost the opposite of passivity; it implies a state of the soul in
unrest, a state requiring action. Passion is a suffering where the
mind assails the body and torments it with an ideal imperative; and it
is the double tragedy of passion that the will may not be strong
enough, as in the case of Hamlet, to translate that imperative into
action; and second, as we have it in _Faust_, that the object, when
attained, proves to be not the thing that was desired. In a great
passion the mind is set upon an object which it idealises beyond the
possibility of complete satisfaction, and there is suffering because
the will is thwarted and cheated of its ideal. Macbeth's passionate
ambition to be a king, encouraged in him by the witches' chant, is an
ambition for something that no being a king can satisfy; and the
tragedy of his passion lies in the painful effort by which he wins his
object and the painful disillusion when it turns to dust.

The passions with which literature deals run side by side with actions
that are impelled by ideals. The richest mind is that which can
idealise every kind of activity, which can see what we call poetry in
every commonplace, which can read destiny in apparently petty desires,
which widens the vision of life by seeing in every action man in
relation to the Universe. In art and in life passions are limited by
the bounds of our perceptive imagination; by the extent to which we
are capable of seeing and feeling things intensely. If we only see or
feel ambition as a petty and sordid thing, in a petty and sordid
person, we cannot make a tragic passion of ambition; if jealousy is a
little vice with no more than small results it cannot be the theme of
imaginative literature; if the religious ideal cannot be conceived as
possessing the whole soul, we cannot appreciate the religious passion
of a John Inglesant; if revenge is no more than spite there can be no
Hamlet, nor a Lear if arrogance is unmixed with love and honour. If,
to-day, the passion of love is treated more often than any other
emotion, that is probably because the one capacity for intense
experience, which never seems to desert the human race, is the
capacity to identify the sex impulse with an ideal. The great artist
is not confined to this one channel of idealism. He sees branching out
in every direction all the human activities intensified or refined by
a spirituality which the lesser person sees only under the stress of
love. But this fact is to be noticed, that whether it is love of a
woman, whether it is ambition, whether it is love of humanity, whether
it is religious zeal, revenge, or anything else whatsoever on a great
scale, passion implies idealism, an object set before the mind in its
spiritual or imaginative capacity, and that the intensity of the
passion is enhanced by the difficulty of the quest.

Great passion, then, is a kind of critical union, or rather
half-union, of body and soul. It is the perpetual effort of the body
to become soul, the real to become ideal; the painful and ever
frustrated effort of the individual to become universal; or
conversely, the painful condition of the human soul which sees its
ideal shattered and its glory reduced to dust and ashes. Its character
is a problem for religion no less than for æsthetics. It is Browning
who declares:

                          But priests
      Should study passion; how else cure mankind,
    Who come for help in passionate extremes?

The dramatist and the novelist need no more than the power to create
such a passion; for the greater includes the less; it is not achieved
in art, unless plot, narrative, style, and all the subsidiary devices
have served to expose it in its reality and its intensity. This is
presumably what Dumas _père_ meant in the lines which Henley quotes
from him: "All _he_ wanted was 'four trestles, four boards, two
actors, and a passion.'" The passionate hero either strains towards an
idealised object, or he still proclaims his yearning after the ideal
by the lamentations with which he curses his ill-fate. Throughout
Greek tragedy there is an undercurrent of protest against inexorable
Fate which is set against the realisation of the ideal. The passion of
Prometheus sums up the perpetual agony of the human race in its
perpetual striving to rise beyond its limitations. The tragic irony of
the Greeks is but the expression of the tragedy of passion in its
pitiful reaction from hope, the intensity of feeling with which men
see desire defeated and ideal unattainable. So, too, in the most
intense moments the characters of Shakespeare become ironical:

          Misery makes Sport to mock itself.

And we can readily understand, what some persons have thought strange,
that Ophelia's language should become coarse, like Lear's, in the full
tide of bitterness. It is the reaction after the perception of a
spiritual beauty. The beauty seems broken; the earth and its foulness
remain, and the anguished spirit sees the foulness exaggerated by
contrast with its ideal. Lear, who had seen his daughters as paragons,
sees them now as centaurs; he, who had adored their filial devotion,
compares them now to the most obscene things which can besmirch the
sight; nothing is too shameful to express the fall from that ideal.

We see, then, why it is that the highest forms of literature are
necessarily concerned with pain. It is not merely that art requires
intensity of feeling, and that the emotion of pain is the most intense
we know. It is because the highest literature must necessarily be
concerned with human beings in their most profound aspirations, in
their most deeply experienced strivings each after his own ideal,
according to his own conception of what will satisfy him; and it is
because in the nature of things such an ideal is more than experience
can satisfy that the anguish of striving and the anguish of failure
are the subjects of art. A play such as Marlowe's _Tamburlaine_ can
never be regarded as great drama. Amid scenes of magnificence and
splendid savage rhetoric Tamburlaine passes on from triumph to
triumph, the incarnation of the conquering will. There are numberless
detached passages of what we may call lyrical poetry--for a lyrical
poem expresses no more than a moment's mood, a single phase of the
sequence which is passion. But there is no passionate sequence in
_Tamburlaine_; it is a monotonous record of much-vaunted triumphs. We
do not feel the painful struggle; there is no prospect of defeat;
there is no storm and stress of an ideal at stake, a human being
battered by circumstance. We may, if we are brutal enough, bow down
before Tamburlaine's Juggernaut car; but he does not touch our
emotions; he is not a tragic hero. Tragedy has no interest in
supermen; unless, indeed, like Chapman's Bussy d'Ambois, the hero has
the courage of the superman with the limitations of the rest of

But if the superman is not a possible subject for great art, neither
is the crawling earthworm. Many modern authors and critics seem to
consider that because tragic passion is always painful, therefore pain
is the essential thing in tragedy. It is this grossly false assumption
that is responsible for many disasters in contemporary literature; it
is the deep-lying error in much of our so-called "intellectual drama"
and "intellectual fiction." I have heard authors and critics complain
that the public will not read certain books or go to certain plays
because they are "painful" or "grim." If it had been because these
books or plays were "_passionate_" that the public had refused to
attend, I should have understood the complaint. Pain without passion
may be scientifically interesting, but it has no artistic content, no
high emotional significance. Indeed, it is not true to suppose that
the public dislikes the spectacle of the painful or the ugly. All know
something of the fascination which disturbed Leontius, the son of
Aglaion, who, coming up from the Piræus, observed dead bodies on the
ground; and desiring to look at them and loathing the thought opened
his eyes wide, exclaiming, "There, you wretches, take your fill of the
horrid sight!" If anyone doubts this let him recall that a painful and
sordid episode in the law-courts fascinates the public just as it is
fascinated by the crude villainies of East-end melodrama; and that the
most highly moralised section of the public can be stirred to attend
to the persecution of Congo natives or Macedonian Christians only by
the most appalling stories of massacre, outrage, and various forms of
extreme suffering.

Surely it is not because they are concerned with painful subjects that
many of the "intellectual" dramatists have failed--failed, I mean, not
only with the very ignorant public, but also with more discriminating
audiences. In some cases, which it is not my business here to specify,
they have failed because the authors have set their hearts on a
problem outside the subject of their art, and the art has suffered in
consequence; for only disinterested art has the power to move us. In
some cases they have failed because the authors have held theories
which I believe to be fatal to literature. The narrow view of what is
called Realism has been an adjunct to intellectual faddism and
propagandism, and has served to sterilise literature. The great
Realists have never been mere Realists; they have never thought that
to produce art it is sufficient merely to reproduce fact. The word
"Truth" has been introduced in the most shameless fashion. It is true
that there are men without arms and legs and noses, but to delineate
such a creature with exquisite accuracy is not to produce a faithful
rendering of life. It is true that there are drab, sordid,
expressionless lives, without happiness, without hope, without ideals.
To describe these lives in all their miserable detail may be of
infinite value for social and reforming purposes. It may be the duty
of every one of us to study these sores in the body politic for the
existence of which we are collectively responsible. It may be craven
cowardice not to open our eyes wide to these painful and hideous
facts, which cry out to be removed and prevented. And if any person
whose enthusiasm in life it is to abolish them hits upon an artistic
device for calling attention to them, he is justified by his object.
But let us nevertheless be frank about the matter. His object is the
removal of abuses. To stir emotions in a fine way is not his primary
end and aim; it is for him only a means to something else. We are not
condemning him when we say that his object is not the object of the
creative artist, who is concerned with life not in its partial
aspects, but as a whole. But he on his part has no right to complain
if he fails. The "truth" with which he is concerned is a scientific
case, not an artistic truth. He has failed to stir our emotions
because the attempt to stir emotions was only a dodge on his part; he
was playing a trick on us, for a laudable end, and if we are not taken
in the fault is not ours.

Drama, fiction, poetry, and the other fine arts cannot tolerate even
the best-intentioned insincerity. There is here no arbitrary dogma or
canon of art, but merely an assertion of the simple fact that you
cannot achieve two wholly different ends at one and the same time,
that success is dependent upon singleness of aim and enthusiasm. It is
true that there is no subject whatsoever that may not lend itself to
treatment. But it must be treated for its own sake, disinterestedly.
Literature will not move us greatly unless it is concerned with great
emotions. It will not move us finely except in the presence of an
ideal. For in the great passions of literature, as in the great
passions of life, there is always an ideal at stake, an ideal that is
more than the attainable, a grasping at a fulness of satisfaction
which is more than experience can afford.

I am making no appeal for what is misunderstood by the term "Art for
Art's sake," or for that typically French view the expression of which
I may take from the younger Dumas' _Affaire Clemenceau_:

    Savez-vous ce que c'est que l'art? C'est le Beau dans le vrai,
    et, d'après ce principe, l'art s'est créé des règles absolus,
    que vous chercheriez en vain dans la nature seule. Si la nature
    seule pouvait le satisfaire, vous n'auriez qu'à mouler un beau
    modèle de la tête aux pieds, pour faire un chef d'œuvre. Ou,
    si vous exécutiez cette idée, vous ne produiriez qu'un
    grotesque. Le talent consiste à compléter la nature, Ã
    recueillir çà et là ses indications merveilleuses, mais
    partielles, à les résumer dans un ensemble homogène et a donner
    à cet ensemble une pensée ou un sentiment, puisque nous pouvons
    lui donner une âme.

I am in sympathy with that view so far as it implies that the artist
cannot be content with a slavish reproduction of isolated facts taken
from nature; and that he sets his gaze upon "_le Beau dans le vrai_,"
which I should like to render, not the "beautiful in the true," but
the "Ideal in the true." But I am not in sympathy with it so far as it
implies a formal beauty which the artist discerns in accordance with a
principle mysteriously and exclusively artistic, existing in a region
remote from life. Art is not a sacred mystery into which only the
initiated can penetrate. It is not concerned with beauties drawn from
a peculiar and exclusive artistic Absolute. Literature deals with
life, but in life in an intense manifestation, with that passionate
life which attains its richness, its breadth, its tremendous lustiness
through the desire for something more than normal life can give.
Nobody can object that these ideals are not real, that they are not
true to life, and indeed the most vital part of life. The passions
they call forth in men are the most real, the most vivid, the most
illuminating; they widen and refine experience; they bring us into a
larger universe, they add to the stature of personality, they are the
means of growth. Literature is an expansion of the mind out of the
narrower truth into the larger. It despises no experience, but drags
to light its hidden resources, its unexpected wealth. It is profoundly
interested in experience on its intense, that is to say, its
passionate side. The original mind, not content to find poetic value
in a single emotion such as that of love, finds it on all sides,
discovering interests here, there, and everywhere. If it concentrates
on one of these for the purposes of a poem, a play, a novel, it
neglects, of course, no adventitious aid which gives reality to the
persons, sufficiency to their motives, contrast, relief,
atmosphere--all that is expressed by the ordinary jargon of criticism.
To sum up: great creative literature does not deal with things painful
or otherwise merely because they are facts of life. Its business is
the intensification of life, to bring home to us its myriad
finenesses; it achieves this end by presenting persons passing through
the intense experiences which we call passions; and these are
conditions of the spirit in which an idealised object encourages,
thwarts, or tantalises the seeker, and dejects him utterly if the
reality turns out to be less than the ideal. The inquiry opens a
question for the metaphysician--What is the source of this ideal
element which enters into every object passionately sought, and so
transcends realisation that the object cannot be attained without a
sense of loss?



If anything is worse than bad literature it is the tedious Pharisaism
of the "man of culture." How flattering to the self-esteem to cast a
supercilious eye upon the melodramatic, sentimental, unbeautiful books
which constitute the mass of modern literature! The mass of modern
literature is provided for the mass of men and women, but history has
proved that a small and educated public may embrace stupidities not
less desiccating than the stupidity of the million. A cultured public
in the eighteenth century which could tolerate Colley Cibber gains
nothing by comparison with an uncultured public which delights in Hall
Caine. An author who attempted a poetic drama in the eighteenth
century had to conform to the rules, but his compliance with
convention is worth no more to literature than the libertinism of the
modern reporter. The correct taste of that period is sufficiently
flagellated in Swift's _Recipe to make an Epic Poem_, wherein he
"makes it manifest that epic poems may be made without genius, nay
without learning or much reading.... It is easily brought about by him
that has a genius, but the skill lies in doing it without one." To
this day there exists an oligarchy of academic persons whose taste is
almost exactly on a par with the taste most in evidence two hundred
years ago. They are the people who estimate literature by its
correctness rather than by its fineness or power, who are impregnable
in their little fortress of pedantry, and are for ever secure against
the attacks of original genius.

If, then, we find that there is much in modern popular literature that
we dislike, this is a very different thing from saying that we prefer
the technical banalities dear to the pedant, or would set up the
standard of a barren culture. The popular taste is something not to be
scoffed at, but to be accounted for. To complain of it is wasted
effort; to explain it would be something to the purpose. And this we
can only do by keeping in mind that vital ideal which in spite of
every set-back the world has contrived to preserve, and endeavouring
to discover what it is--short of that ideal, or remote from it--that
the modern public wants: what taste it is that hundreds of modern
authors are trying to satisfy.

It is evidently a very various taste, for it is the taste of the whole
people. Everyone in the modern civilised state has been taught to
read, and almost everyone has had the written word thrust upon him; so
that reading has become a habit. At every turn the eye falls upon the
printed advertisement, the printed leaflet, the hand-written letter;
and the habit which is developed by the necessities of life has
intertwined itself also in the amenities. Newspapers, and weekly and
monthly periodicals, adapt themselves to the tastes of every class in
the community. The time is still far distant when books will be
universally and systematically read; but the number of volumes
annually distributed has increased at least tenfold in the last
generation; and a large proportion of this literature must find its
way to strata of society which fifty years ago read nothing at all.

It would be too much to expect that these millions of recruits to the
reading public would be drawn to that literature which can be classed
with the fine arts. One would no more expect them to admire it than
one would expect a child of five to admire _Hamlet_. The astonishing
thing is, not that so few people appreciate the best literature, as
that so many--_under direction_--are open to its influence, as we may
see from the immense sales of those popular volumes which Mr. Ernest
Rhys and others guarantee to be genuine "classics." Unfortunately, in
the case of recently written books, Mr. Rhys is not always at hand. In
such cases there is little direction for docile disciples of culture
excepting such as is given in newspaper reviews, and reviews are as
likely to misdirect and confuse as to encourage and guide.

But although this considerable and growing public of ambitious readers
already exists, and may some day come to the support of original
literature, it is at present easily swamped by that heterogeneous
public for which the largest number of books are provided. That
majority, in the nature of things, is unable to give the concentrated
attention, still less the selective appreciation, which literature of
the higher order requires. There is nothing to encourage them to
concentrate. The newspaper, the popular magazine, the theatre, the
moving-picture show, and the whole shifting, rapid panorama of modern
life discourage concentration. There are readers who can only give
the odds and ends of their time to reading. Most of them are devoting
the best efforts of their brain and attention to their business,
household duties, their social and domestic affairs, and they turn to
books only when their minds are fatigued and in need of repose. That
is to say, they read not for a renewal of activity, but for
distraction. With them, books satisfy the desire, not for an
enhancement of life, but for the forgetting of it. Their literature is
at the most a stimulant which excites without giving active play to
their faculties; it presents nothing which connects with life or
ideas, nothing even to call forth the effort demanded by their
practical affairs.

There are others, for the most part women not of the working class,
who support with apparent earnestness the purveyors of popular fiction
and biography, and even patronise poetry and genteel social
philosophy. Amongst them are to be found those to whom the sterner
actualities of life are unfamiliar and repugnant, for whom the
practice of trifling with books is rather an ornament than an
occupation, a mode of killing time rather than using it. They, too,
read to be distracted, choosing an emasculate literature which panders
to their essential dilettantism.

Now those who regard literature as an important thing, playing a
significant part in the life of a nation, must, as I have already
indicated, seek in it something more positive than a _distraction_
from life; for them it must be an _addition to life_. It must provide
experience compounded of the same stuff as other experience; but not
having the vividness which the direct impact of life carries with it,
it must gain its vividness by an intensity, a fineness, an interest of
its own--by a distinctive quality distilled into it from the
personality of the writer. It is imagination which achieves this, the
faculty so apprehensive of life that it can fashion life into images
which are projections of the artist, his own stamp upon the stuff of
life. To such an author literature cannot be a mere amusement or
profession. It deals with what he conceives to be the most essential
things in the world; it is his rendering of the world, his
perspective; and it is just in so far as he has made this, his ideal
and real world, appreciable also to us, that he has succeeded in his
art. Such imaginative reconstruction of the facts of life, such
impregnation of life with fineness, calls for alertness of faculty in
the reader, demands from him something of that eagerness to perceive
which characterises the artist himself. But how can the tired worker
seeking distraction, or the idle dilettante seeking only a drug or a
stimulant, muster that alertness of faculty and that eagerness to
perceive which are needed for the appreciation of art? It is not to be
expected. A coarser appeal will produce all that such minds are able
to assimilate. For good reading, like good writing, requires the
energy of men not robbed of leisure, men who can enjoy some respite
from the commonplace.

And yet it often happens, as we shall see, that those who have
succeeded in distracting the many have put into their work some
fineness which commends it also to the few. It is only in theory that
there is a fixed boundary between works of art and the works which
Philistines enjoy. In practice, merit and demerit exist side by side;
works crude in conception reveal a hundred finenesses, and works fine
in conception reveal crudenesses of execution. And just as there are
authors who mingle good and bad in their books, so too there are
readers who enjoy certain kinds of excellence though they can be
vulgarly excited by the cruder devices. And again there are persons
who appreciate to some extent genuine works of art, who in moments of
fatigue or jaded appetite can be diverted by the mere appeal to

The clever publisher knows well that the public for whose distraction
he caters is divided into many classes, and that these classes must be
attracted each in a special way. For the purposes of my argument I
group these under five different heads, which are probably not
exhaustive and certainly not mutually exclusive, but correspond, I
think, to the five chief means of exciting and distracting the
multitude. The two largest classes constantly overlap, consisting:
firstly, of those whose love of sensation is satisfied by violent
incident; and secondly, of those who are especially susceptible to the
sentimental appeal. To a third class belong those who take pleasure in
the agitations of sex feeling; and to a fourth, those whose sense of
humour is tickled by the sallies of the literary clown. The fifth
class--a very large one--consists of those who are of a habit of mind
to be excited by sensations which can be associated with religion and
morality. It is useless to name as a sixth class those who are moved
by intellectual ideas, for so small a class is not the objective of
the popular author.

I. All novels must to some extent depend upon incident and arrangement
of incident, but there is a kind of novel which only interests through
the excitement of events in their nature fictitious, even when
accidentally true. Any really good book which may be spoken of as a
"novel of incident" will invariably prove to be very much more. To
take the case of Fielding's _Tom Jones_, one observes that it is an
imitation of life which is neither a slavish copying nor a
make-believe, but a vivid representation of eighteenth-century England
as Fielding saw it; it is a book which presents characters, and itself
has a character. Its atmosphere is quite unmistakable. It is not a
"slice" out of the eighteenth century--there can be no real "slice out
of life" excepting in life itself. It is Fielding's rendering of the
eighteenth century, in particular it is his assertion of the
_physicality_ (if I may use the term) of life, a direct assertion of
the boisterous physical vitality which, as Fielding presents it and as
Marlowe presented it, acquires value for the spirit and is acceptable
to the imagination. It is the original pagan assertion of life, which
finds its opposite in Euripides' conception of the ascetic Hippolytus;
an assertion which Propertius repeated in the language of mockery when
he speaks of a _lena_ as

    "Docta vel Hippolytum Veneri mollire negantem."

Even Euripides himself was so infected with the pagan view that he
sees a sort of Nemesis pursuing the hero whom the slighted Aphrodite
reproaches with lack of reverence--religious reverence--for her power.
This primitive pagan view, crude, non-moral, but essentially sincere,
animates the story of Tom Jones and gives it a character which is
lacking in the popular "novel of incident."

_Tom Jones_ was and is a popular book. But I hope I am not wronging
the larger mass of mankind when I say that those (of the majority) who
like Fielding do not like him for his unique excellences; they would
be equally pleased if puppets instead of vital persons had passed
along the same course of exciting events; and that there are others
who would not read him even if he began writing to-day, because his
picture of life is too consistent with his imagination, and this very
tenacity would perturb and irritate the trivial. Nevertheless he would
have many readers among a large minority, just as Mr. Arnold Bennett
has to-day--readers who can appreciate a story which is direct, vivid,
and mainly external in treatment.

But the largest public is for writers like Mr. Cutcliffe Hyne or Mr.
William Le Queux. These more nearly represent the popular ideal in a
"novel of incident." For the former I have some respect. He shows
ingenuity in his concoction of improbable plots. In _Captain Kettle_
there is at least some attention to character--of a freakish kind--and
something of atmosphere which gives it a mock-romantic interest. It
holds the multitude by reason of the thrilling sensations extracted
from incidents wholly unlike anything possible in their lives, but
near enough to reported facts to be able to astonish and excite them.
Such improbable but ingeniously contrived events are enough to
distract them, and if there be more in Mr. Hyne's stories imparted by
his personal eagerness and honesty, it escapes them, or at least does
not annoy them.

But this finer quality has been lacking in such of Mr. Le Queux's
books as I have chanced to read. I may have been unlucky in my
selection, and there may be admirable qualities in those of his novels
which I have not read. But in the three or four volumes known to me I
found that the persons were puppets, moving in unnatural situations,
meeting sensational adventures which constituted all that there was of
an improbable and slenderly connected plot. We all know the sort of
book. But what is it that makes this, and others like it, popular?
There were scenes of spurious passion. There were incidents in which
action assumed the proportions of prodigy. There was vague sensation.
In one of his novels I found an introduction by Lord Roberts warning
Englishmen to prepare for the German invasion planned by Mr. Le Queux
for 1910! History has not yet revealed the horror and devastation of
that war; but this horror and devastation lent to Mr. Le Queux's book
the interest which it required.

Yet the novel which is read mainly for the thrill of the incident may
be written in a far finer spirit. Most historical novels depend mainly
upon the vigour of the action. The very best historical novelists must
be excepted; in Scott, for example, as in Fielding, there is so much
which depends on character and atmosphere that there is always much
more than thrilling incident to hold the attention. In the books of a
modern writer like Mr. Ford Madox Hueffer, at his best, there is an
artistry of composition, a synthetic quality in the romance, a unity
of pictorial effort which give to them a quality of design and
exquisiteness; they are a distillation of Mr. Hueffer's romantic
personality. But if we consider Mr. Stanley Weyman, we are taking a
novelist in whom everything depends upon the thrill of incident.
Still, he has made of his work a fine craft. He uses words
conscientiously. He has exceptional skill in tracing his ingenious
plots. He has read history carefully, and for the most part adheres
faithfully to facts--though I believe he is not so well instructed in
German as in French history. The scrupulousness which refines his work
gives quality to his narrative, and he can be read with pleasure by
persons of exacting taste. And, again, we might take the case of
Richard Dehan, author of _The Dop Doctor_. That writer is not innocent
of the crudest melodrama. She is diffuse, extravagant, formless. But
she has imagined and created certain characters. She has at moments
touched profoundly that most rudimentary of all emotions--the
war-emotion--an emotion which may be experienced intensely by every
member of an energetic community, and therefore affords the basis of a
real popular art--just as certain universal sentiments afforded the
basis of folk-songs, which were constantly taken up and moulded into
fine artistic forms. _The Dop Doctor_ is a book compounded of vulgar
sensationalism on the one hand, and a strange imaginative vigour and
actuality on the other.

But the sensibility of the crudest and, it is to be feared, the (at
present) largest strata of society can be touched, as we have seen, by
the sheer extravagance of the novel of incident, by action distorted
out of the proportions of life and made astonishing, by violent
assaults upon the reader calculated to arouse him like pistol-shots,
since a more moderate appeal would escape his attention. Just as a
donkey with a hard mouth can only be guided by violent jerks upon the
reins, so a dull sensibility can only be awakened by the harshest
literary appeal. Style in such cases must adapt itself to the subject.
Redundant words are heaped up where one would suffice for the trained
intelligence. A multitude of violent, flamboyant phrases assist to the
excitement of fever. It is possible, indeed, that some rudimentary
art-feeling lurks behind this pandemonium of crude literature, more
probably in cases where lawlessness is the result not of indolence,
but of some sort of vigour and spontaneity. But it should be
remembered that the mimetic impulses in which art among primitive
races is supposed to originate, are not themselves art; and
continually to whet the appetite with such primitive exercises is to
perpetuate the rudimentary condition and stifle the finer faculties.

II. The sentimental absurdities of Pyramus and Thisbe are the occasion
of some apt criticism which Shakespeare puts into the mouths of
Hippolyta and Theseus:

  HIPPOLYTA. This is the silliest stuff that e'er I heard.

  THESEUS.   The best in this kind are but shadows; and the worst are
                no worse, if imagination amend them.

  HIPPOLYTA. It must be your imagination then, and not theirs.

Shakespeare is commenting on the sentimentality which is generally
pleasing to Quince, Snug, Bottom, and the like. If he is mistaken it
is in suggesting that this sickliness is confined to the company of
carpenters and bellows-menders, and is not equally to be found among
those of the high estate of Hermia, Helena, and Hippolyta herself. But
it would never have done to admit so much before an audience of
tinkers and tailors, splendidly patronised by a few young bloods of
noble birth. Sentiment is distinguished from sentimentality precisely
as Shakespeare suggests. The one is concerned with real emotions, the
other with shadows. The first is informed by the imagination, the
second is devoid of it, and is divorced alike from intellect and
common sense. To touch the chord of sentiment justly and truly is one
of the most difficult things in literature. Shakespeare himself by no
means always succeeded. There is often an affectation in his lighter
love-scenes which destroys the impression of sincerity. Even in life
one may see how at any time the note of sentiment may be turned to
absurdity by the least discordant element. The lover whose tender
expressions are wholly pleasing to his lady may become an object of
ridicule before an uninvited audience. Everyone can remember some
occasion when a whole company of persons, wistfully alluding to a
recent death, has suddenly burst into uncontrollable laughter,
betraying, not lack of respect for the dead, but ridicule at some
falsity of expression.

Sentiment is one of the everyday emotions, fine and light in its
texture, requiring the tenderest and most delicate treatment, and
often it must pass off in laughter. It is something less than passion.
It is not concerned with tragedies or crises, but the subtlest
apprehensions of what comes and goes at every moment of life. It must
never be treated as if it were passion, or the slender threads of
which it consists will snap, and ridicule will justly reveal the
unbalanced judgment of the sentimentalist. Nor must it ever be far
from laughter, or it will collapse under its own strain, and we may be
betrayed into thinking that the cynic is the best judge of life. It is
the imagination exercising itself among things real, but not of the
first order of importance. If you attribute to them that importance,
you are guilty of false sentiment. The facts of life convict you.

See how delicately Charles Lamb could hold the balance in such an
essay as _Dream Children_. Great-grandmother Field is just in her
place, upright, graceful, and the best of dancers; and Alice's little
right foot plays its involuntary movement in the nick of time; and
when Uncle John died, the "children fell a-crying" at the narrative
and asked about the mourning which they were wearing. It is all just
important enough, just trivial enough, to carry its fragile burden of
sentiment--so much, and no more. The charm is complete. Conceive what
Dickens would have made of the story if he had been writing it! How
sickly a fantasy of Paul Dombeys and Little Nells and garrulous "wild
waves" he would have conjured up for _his_ dream children! His dream
children--the good ones, at any rate--were little old people,
monstrosities, freaks. Reality rejects monstrosities, and what reality
rejects is no subject for literature--strictly speaking, is no subject
at all--save when, like goblins and fairies, it assumes the
quasi-reality of fantasy and dreams.

I remember a story by a popular modern writer, Mr. E. Temple Thurston.
It appeared in a volume entitled _Thirteen_. The author arranged his
story with skill. He led up to his _dénouement_ with admirable
stage-management. The story was about a little boy who understood that
his father wanted a shop and fifty pounds to buy it with. This amiable
child sallies forth from his poor quarter of the city and tramps to
the distant regions where rich people live. Nothing doubting, he asks
for fifty pounds. He receives sixpence. He exchanges it for a pair of
braces and an insurance ticket. He drowns himself with exquisite
deliberation, and on the merits of his death and the insurance ticket
the fifty pounds are forthcoming.

The defects of the story are obvious. The little boy has no proper
place in this world, and his drowning, so far from being pathetic, was
the best thing that could happen to him. For he was a freak, a
monstrosity. Even those who may not accept this view must at least
agree that he ought to have known better, and deserved a whipping
rather than the reward of martyrdom and sentimental praise. But even
if we assume that the boy is a possible creature, and that his act in
begging for the money was beautiful and moving, we cannot escape the
objection that the fatal ending is pitched in a discordant note of
tragedy. The tragic conclusion is appropriate to a tale of passion, or
to a tale which arouses a sense of the most urgent things in life. But
to turn a slender sentiment into a thing of tragedy is to pass the
limits of sentiment; it cannot carry the burden. The conclusion is not
true enough to be even shocking. It is merely disgusting.

How is it that this mimicry of sentiment proves effective in moving
the multitude, when the real thing so often fails to please? The
answer, I think, is, that the artistic imagination can neither express
itself through distorted objects, nor can it confuse in one blurred
series of images the trivial and the urgent; its business being to see
life with such sense of proportion as the concentrated artistic vision
of the artist ensures. But careless readers do not see objects until
they are exaggerated out of resemblance to life; the adjustments of
the artistic vision are too delicate to reach their perceptions. Mr.
Thurston's little boy is seen to be very good, and to the
sentimentalist his mere goodness is "beautiful." When he tramps across
London his fatigue is sad, and the sadness of it is beautiful. When
the rich gentleman gives him sixpence instead of fifty pounds, the
reader sheds happy, thoughtless tears, and his beautiful death at the
end is all that he requires as the final "assault upon his feelings."
The phrase, of course, is Stevenson's, and it can hardly be avoided.
Popularity rewards the writer who can _assault_ the feelings of his
readers, and anyone who uses a more delicate method must be content
with a smaller circle of readers.

It is in this manner, amiably enough, that Miss Ella Wheeler Wilcox
can conquer America with sentimental poems, as Ian Maclaren once
conquered England with sentimental stories. They touch us where the
intellect and the common sense are in abeyance, and the moral sense is
steeped in false sentiment. Thus it was that when a sort of torpor
came upon the intellect and the common sense of Mr. A.C. Benson, he,
who had been formerly a scholar and a friend of literature, became
merely a sentimentalist. The author of _The Sick-a-bed Lady_ (Eleanor
Halliwell Abbott) is for the same reason esteemed as highly in America
as the author of _Letters to My Son_ is esteemed in England. The
trowel is the instrument with which these honours--and these
fortunes--are won.

III. It might seem that the popular literature of love ought to have
been treated under the same head as that of sentimental literature.
But it will become clear not only that there can be a popular erotic
literature of a quite different order, but that I might have
subdivided this class into two: one concerned with the popular
literature of passion, the other with that of sensualism. There is, of
course, a sentiment of love which is sufficiently considered in the
last section. But I have made a distinction between sentiment and
passion, which for my view is important; and I must add the further
and more obvious distinction between the love passion, which is an
intense emotional experience affecting the imagination no less than
the senses, and that sex feeling, which in essence is merely sensual.
Leaving out of count, then, the "sentiment" of love, we have an
obvious distinction between the literature which deals with the love
passion and the literature which deals with sensual desire. But I do
not propose any grandmotherly legislation which permits one subject to
the artist and relegates the other to the pornographer. For it is
clear that an author may deal well or ill with a subject intended to
yield genuine passion (though in the latter case the popular interest
will attach to the sensational character of the incidents rather than
to the treatment of passion as such, and a book of this kind may be
considered as I have already considered the "novel of incident"). And,
again, an author may deal well or ill with the sensations of sex;
those sensations can provide material for fine art. It is a matter of
treatment. Upon feelings of this sort Maupassant based some of his
most felicitous stories. But Maupassant did not use sexual incidents
for the sake of sex feeling; for him such incidents were various
symbols, flickering images, of life, incarnations of the brooding
spirit of cynicism and scorn. We have already seen that to Fielding,
for whom they were of less special significance on their own account,
they were presented as assertions of boisterous physical eagerness, of
delight in energetic life for its own sake.

It has already become obvious that the tendency of the most popular
literature is to substitute the cruder sensations for the higher
emotions and sentiments. We have seen how incident is liked for the
mere sensation it can afford; how sentiment is turned into
sentimentality. As a rule, in discussing inferior literature the
higher emotions need be taken little into account. But in the case of
love it is different. The average man, by reason of his pre-occupation
and his averageness, is little affected by a variety of fine emotions;
the hard facts of life smother them. But everyone can observe that the
emotion of love is not only an emotion to which most men at a certain
age are susceptible, but that it seems to present itself, at some time
or another, in a form finer than that of any other feeling entertained
by average men. I believe that all observers would agree that
innumerable men and women who cannot be touched in a subtle way by any
other emotion--unless we except, especially in primitive men, the
emotion of war; and then it is rather intense than subtle--can be and
are so touched by the emotion of love.

Here, then, we might expect to find the basis for a literature which
may be both widely popular and at the same time finely imagined.
Within certain limits I believe the love passion does afford such a
basis. If we can imagine an artist confining himself to this single
issue, relying on no finenesses outside it, then we might have a work
of art which men and women, representing in other respects any degree
of imagination and dullness, might all almost equally enjoy. In
practice it is seldom that an artist is content to confine himself so
exclusively to this issue; it is not in the nature of the imaginative
temperament to limit itself in that way. But I think we have an
example approximating to the supposed type in Emily Brontë's
_Wuthering Heights_. The strenuousness of the love emotion is in this
book rendered with consummate power, and hence the hold it has over
men of intelligence and over fools. But in almost every other respect
the novel is sheer rhetoric, crudeness, and unshapeliness.

The novel (or popular biography) which deals not with the emotion of
love but the sex sensation, requires little discussion. If the object
of the writer is to treat such a theme with imaginative criticism,
well and good. If he intends only to reproduce the sensation, he is a

IV. It is extraordinary that there should be so little humorous
literature distributed among the English-speaking peoples, for a sense
of humour is a boon which has been allotted to a very large minority
of the human race, and some sense of the ridiculous to the majority.
It is through his sense of what is ridiculous in life, and his power
of presenting it imaginatively, that Dickens seems to have acquired
not only a permanent place in English literature, but a popularity
quite unique among standard English novelists. The jocularity of Mark
Twain is equally dexterous, but it is not so completely imagined as
the humour of Dickens; it springs more often from situation than from
character, and to that extent belongs more to the accidents than to
the essentials of life. Mr. W.W. Jacobs deserves a higher place than
is usually accorded to him in contemporary literature. His short
stories are excellently contrived within their limits; the humour
springs from situation and character conjoined. When a clever writer
is content to confine himself primarily to the ridiculous in life, it
is possible for him to make his effect both for the million and the
more exacting few. As _Wuthering Heights_ was popular because it was
little more than a brilliant presentation of the love passion, so
_Many Cargoes_ and _Light Freights_ are popular as well as excellent
because they aim at nothing but the broad effect of laughter. Mr.
Jacobs is inferior to Dickens because he is a humorist and nothing
more, and also because he has an infinitely narrower range. His art is
one which presents but a single aspect of life, and suggests no
ambition to exhibit a large grasp upon life as a whole. But he
succeeded exactly in what he set out to do.

But have any of Mr. Jacobs' books, or any of Dickens', enjoyed greater
popularity than fell to Mr. Jerome's _Three Men in a Boat_? In this
book the humour sprang in no sense out of character; nor did it even
spring out of situations contrived with especial skill. It consisted
of a series of ludicrous impressions such as that of a man sitting on
a pat of butter. Well, a man sitting on a pat of butter is a funny
thing--when it happens naturally in life. But a collection of
incidents, each of which might be funny if it happened among the
accidents of life, are a poor source of entertainment when strung
together without the life which makes them real. It should be
remembered that what is an accident in life ceases to be an accident
when it is invented in a story. A writer must needs supply from the
imagination something which may give the artistic effect of accident.
Even farce misses its true effects if it contains no verisimilitude.
To see your friend sitting on a pat of butter is amusing; to listen to
an invented account of besmeared garments is not amusing; for it
misses the amusing point--which was the fact of its happening. But the
admirers of _Three Men in a Boat_ see only trousers and butter,
trousers and butter; and they find nothing offensive in the manner in
which this incongruity has been thrust upon their sight. Their
complacent minds receive this funny visual impression because they do
not perceive the glaring artifice which for another banishes the

V. Morality among the Anglo-Saxon races is a popular theme. It can
cover a multitude of artistic sins. Religion is popular in all
countries, and is not always associated with good morals; but in
England and the United States good religion and good morals fall under
the same hierarchy. Both have their corresponding sensations and
emotions. We may see them violently operative at revival meetings,
distracting agents which are sometimes indeed so powerful as to lead
to extraordinary reactions. It is difficult to attain the same
violence with the written as with the spoken word, but if any living
novelist has succeeded in attaining the effect of pandemonium through
the use of religious and moral subjects, it is Miss Marie Corelli. As
_proxime accessit_ I might name Mr. Hall Caine. By the same methods
Mr. Guy Thorne (_alias_ Ranger Gull) attained, with the pulpit
assistance of the Bishop of London, a sensational popular success in
_When it was Dark_. There have also been many fine writers who did
not aim at spurious effects, but received praise by reason of their
"moral tone" in circles where they would never have received it on the
grounds of literary excellence. If George Eliot had not been a
moralist she would not have been so popular in England. If Ruskin had
not been primarily a preacher he could never have wielded his vast
influence. Tennyson was beloved as much for his moralism as for his
sweetness; and to-day so admirable a writer as Mr. John Galsworthy is,
even in "serious" circles, regarded as a serious novelist mainly
because he is a critic of morals. Mr. John Masefield wrote many novels
and plays in which he showed singular fineness of feeling and beauty
of style. But when he wrote a poem called _The Everlasting Mercy_--a
story of thrilling incident with an admirable moral--lo! his popular
reputation was made! People could understand a story of sensational
incident. They could understand the moral. They flattered themselves
that they were enjoying poetry!

       *       *       *       *       *

If anyone should reproach me with adopting the tone of that odious
thing the "superior person," and should declare that I underestimate
the intelligence and good sense of the majority of readers, my reply
is that the finest literature is not that which is most read, and I am
compelled to conclude that the finest ideas are not those which are
most often embraced. To assert this is not to disparage the common
sense and the practical intelligence of the mass of mankind. I believe
that they are capable of vast activity and eagerness, much of which
runs to waste through the fatigues of excessive labour; much, through
lack of training and mental stimulus, can find no congenial outlet
through the mysterious processes of art. The outlet which the majority
of men find for their superfluous energy is not through the channel of
fine ideas. Such literature as they read is for distraction and not
for the vigorous use of their faculties. It cannot be otherwise. That
is the condition imposed by the fragmentary education alone vouchsafed
to the majority of men and women, giving them no more than that
modicum of learning which is a dangerous thing. And it is a matter of
supreme importance because this new reading habit of the million has
turned the energies of authors and publishers from the few to the
many. It has introduced into the literary profession a demagogic
habit, and has set up a quantitative instead of a qualitative






"We must read what the world reads at the moment," said Dr. Johnson,
giving the remark an ironical meaning when he added, "A man will have
more gratification for his vanity in conversation from having read
modern books than from having read the best works of antiquity."
Nevertheless, one great difference between the time of Dr. Johnson and
the world of to-day is, that whilst the former lived in perpetual
admiration of antiquity, we live in perpetual admiration of ourselves.
Though Johnson agreed that Pope's poetry was not talked of so much
after his death as in his lifetime, he declared that it had "been as
much admired since his death as during his life.... Virgil is less
talked of than Pope, and Homer is less talked of than Virgil; but they
are not less admired."

But in the intellectual circle which is most before the public to-day
there is a tendency to despise the traditions of English literature
and to worship only the idol of originality. In a paper largely
devoted to literary matters I recently read a statement to the effect
that many authors, indifferent to books, neither buy nor read them,
whilst others positively dislike them. Mr. Shaw's quarrel with
Shakespeare has been of long standing, but at least Mr. Shaw has done
his old-fashioned rival the honour of reading him. Mr. Arnold Bennett,
on the other hand, who is undoubtedly one of the most brilliant
contemporary novelists, has declared, not without pride, that the only
novel of Dickens that he had ever read was _Little Dorrit_, and this
but recently, and that he considered him a greatly overrated novelist.
The conclusion is not surprising, and the living author is no doubt
confirmed in his opinion that the works of Mr. Bennett are of vastly
superior merit.

This modern self-confidence is undoubtedly a healthy sign of
intellectual activity and eagerness. It goes to show that authors are
scrutinising keenly the life that is going on around them; that they
are interested in facts and things, and seeking to give them a larger
reality in terms of ideas; and we see that they are finding a similar
response from the reading public. It was not without significance that
all through the period of the great Coal Strike publishers reduced
their output of books to the smallest possible dimensions, and
especially refrained from issuing books of the highest class. I do not
believe that this was merely due to the fact that in times of economic
crisis there is a lack of pocket-money with which to purchase
literature. The fact surely was that much of the attention which in
many circles is given to modern books was drawn away by the stirring
events that were happening in our midst. The study and contemplation
of the Coal Strike were of precisely the same nature as the study and
contemplation of original contemporary literature. For that
literature in its most characteristic forms is concerned with the
problems and the structure of modern society.

If at the time of the Coal Strike we had inquired what English plays
had recently called forth the most criticism and interest in
intellectual circles, we should probably have named, first, Mr.
Galsworthy's _Justice_, and secondly, his _Strife_. The latter was
concerned with a situation exactly similar to that developed by the
Coal Strike. The action of the drama took place in the middle of a
great strike. Mr. Galsworthy presented typical characters representing
owners and men, both acting on principle, both determined and
irreconcilable, stubborn and loyal, both betraying human qualities
fundamentally the same. I am not for the moment concerned with the
conclusion drawn by the dramatist, but with the fact that the serious
attention which is given to modern literature and drama is the same
sort of attention as that given to the great social questions of our


To search for hidden unities in the literature of an age is often to
distort facts in the interest of theory. But there may come a
point--and I think the most notable literature of the year preceding
the Coal Strike marks such a point--when certain salient facts emerge
so violently and so repeatedly from the written page that no one but
the blindest can ignore or deny them. If one should take six books
written in that period by six authors who are fairly representative of
contemporary English literature--E.M. Forster, Arnold Bennett, H.G.
Wells, Granville Barker, Bernard Shaw, and John Galsworthy--there
would be found one truth about them so obvious that it has been
remarked by dozens of reviewers. It is that they are concerned with
the same social problems as those which fall under the science of
sociology; that they advocate, criticise, or imply reforms scarcely
less directly than do those for whom social reform is a profession.

But this, I think, is scarcely the most satisfactory way of putting
the matter. The same truth may perhaps be expressed in wider and more
significant terms by saying that the characteristic literature of
to-day is the literature of change. The most vigorous writers are
generally those who respond most to their environment, in the same
sense that to such men everything must be full of suggestion,
interesting, and matter for the interpretative mind; though the
greatest of all are those who nourish themselves at all the sources of
inspiration, in the past and the present, in the seen and the unseen.
The latter are in consequence not so purely representative of their
own special time as are those vigorous, active minds which fill a
secondary place in the world's literature, but bulk largest to their
contemporaries. Shakespeare is not so representative of the
Elizabethans as is Marlowe or Chapman. Probably if a greater number of
Greek plays survived we should find that Sophocles is less
characteristically Athenian than Euripides. And in the same way Mr.
Joseph Conrad is not so representative of the contemporary world as is
Mr. Bernard Shaw or Mr. Wells. But it is in men of the latter type
that we shall find the qualities by which their epoch is
differentiated from others, the qualities which to some extent appear
in the greatest, which appear far more abundantly in those biggest
only in contemporary estimation--which in any case mark the trend of
thought and the peculiar contribution of the time. The literature
produced by men of this type is most profoundly impressed by what may
be called the spirit of change.

The briefest consideration of contemporary literature is sufficient to
prove how powerfully these minds have been moulded, either by
observing this fact of change or contemplating its possibility. The
fact itself may perhaps best be illustrated by the case of Mr. Edmund
Gosse and the story told in his memorable book, _Father and Son_. As a
piece of biography alone that book stands high, for the fine drawing
of the mind and character of the father. But the noticeable point lies
in the vivid contrast between the father and son, the transition from
the hard-headed, scrupulous, rigid, narrow-minded Puritan, who is so
typical of the Victorian age, to the broad-minded, cultured
_littérateur_ of to-day. There is the fact of change--the Rev. Philip
Gosse of forty years ago has become the Mr. Edmund Gosse of to-day.

If we would see how this actual change in the outward and inward order
of the world has affected novelists we may turn to Mr. Arnold Bennett,
Mr. Wells, or Mr. E.M. Forster. In _Clayhanger_, as in _Old Wives'
Tales_, Mr. Bennett traces the progression of the English world from
the generation of our grandfathers to our own generation; he shows
this change creeping upon us at an accelerated pace, catching the
older inhabitants unawares, a visible change in bricks and mortar, in
widening streets, in enlarged factories, in the introduction of trams
which in due course became electric trams; and a change no less
decisive in customs and habits, the older folk marvelling at the
new-fangled independence of the young; the whole being nothing less
than a revolution which has descended with the sure but imperceptible
advance of a glacier, so that within living memory the face and
character of England have been altered. In _Milestones_ he has more
recently given us another account of the same historic progression.

And an exactly similar idea has captured the imagination of Mr. Wells.
In _The New Machiavelli_, as in _Tono-Bungay_ and other books, he
tells the story of the rapidly evolving world in which his heroes have
grown up; of the ever-spreading suburbs stretching out their tentacles
north and south and east and west, of the mushroom houses which arose
without order or system, of the changing system of education, the
changing ideas towards parents--everything spasmodic, growing,
muddled. Similarly, Mr. E.M. Forster, in _Howard's End_, shows the old
house so dear to the heart of Mrs. Wilcox, as the symbol of permanence
in an unfixed society which is homeless, restless, changing. Even if
we look abroad we shall find something of this same sense of the
transformation in the order of things; in America, Mr. Winston
Churchill has written a series of novels to illustrate the successive
phases in the American character; and in France authors like M. Paul
Bourget and M. René Bazin emphasise respectively the change from
aristocracy to democracy, and from the reverence of orthodoxy to the
revolutionary secular spirit.

In a somewhat different way Mr. Galsworthy, Mr. Shaw, and Mr.
Granville Barker are affected by the fluidity of their environment. Of
Mr. Galsworthy I shall have something more to say, and need merely
point out for the moment that in _Fraternity_, _Strife_, and
especially _Justice_, the author is not merely indicating but
advocating changes which, instead of being left to accident, are to be
guided in accordance with a definite human purpose. Mr. Shaw is so
minded that he preaches against change wherever he perceives it, and
clamours for it when he perceives it not. Thus in _The Doctor's
Dilemma_ and the Preface to it, finding himself confronted with great
changes in medical science, he denounces medical progress and its
pretensions as a superstition and a fraud. In _Getting Married_, on
the other hand, finding that the public is still often content with
old-fashioned ideas of sex relations and home life, he ridicules "home
life as we understand it," on the ground that it is "no more natural
to us than a cage is natural to a cockatoo." I am not accusing him of
any real inconsistency in thus alternating between conservative and
revolutionary dogmas. He would doubtless hold that changes ought to
have been made where there have been none, and that those which have
occurred have not followed the course which he, or men gifted with
similar foresight, would have prescribed.

It may be objected that the influence of change upon literature is
not only felt by our contemporaries, but has affected the literature
of all times; that it is the function of men of letters to be ahead of
their contemporaries and to initiate ideas which are productive of
change; that the history of literature is the history of the progress
of thought and imagination; and that therefore the present age does
not differ in this respect from others. To which I would reply that
whilst other literatures have represented or initiated change, there
has never been a time when so many of the best creative intellects
have consciously concerned themselves with this process, making change
of conditions either their artistic subject or their deliberate
practical object. The reason, of course, is obvious; there never has
been a time when the world was undergoing such a startling and rapid
transformation. It is true, the economic, material, scientific, and
moral changes in the Athens of the fifth century came about quickly
and drastically, and the reconstitution of intellectual and moral
ideas mooted by the Sophists found a profound expression in the
dialectic of the drama. How far the Elizabethans were influenced by
the revival of learning and science, the discovery of the new world
and the expansion of commerce, is a question I need not embark upon.
But it will not be disputed that the face of the world has never in
any known period of history been so changed out of all recognition as
it has been by the scientific and industrial revolutions of the
nineteenth century. The barbarian invasions which put an end to
Imperial Rome can have had no outward and visible effect comparable
to that of the invasion of the machine. What wonder that the
superficial, hurried reader of to-day finds little to satisfy him in
the literature of the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries, the former
so much concerned either with religion or pleasure, the latter with
the moral virtues or their opposites!

The Renaissance did not reach its moral consummation till the time of
the French Revolution, its intellectual consummation till the
nineteenth century, its material consummation till the twentieth
century and thereafter. The growth of science first affected the
imagination, for it was an emancipating idea; its first offspring was
Romanticism and the idea of liberty and democracy. But science as it
progressed in the nineteenth century came, first with the machine and
the whip, then with the machine and the moralist, at its elbow. But
wherever and however it came, it transformed with lightning rapidity,
just in that way in which Mr. Wells, Mr. Bennett, Mr. Forster, and Mr.
Winston Churchill, the American, have indicated; till the mere fact of
its transforming became so remarkable and absorbing that that fact has
almost exhausted the attention of three-fourths of the artists and
intellectuals of our age.

So habituated then have we become to rapid change in the conditions of
life that the first thing we postulate is further change. The rustic
accustomed to the same food every day of his life does not criticise
his fare; it is the epicure, accustomed to variety, who is critical of
the menu. The active mind which witnesses perpetual variety must be
perpetually critical. To be aware that the conditions of to-day are
different from the conditions of yesterday and of to-morrow is,
according to the temperament of the beholder, to lament the past or to
hasten the future. In this respect the Radical and the Conservative
are alike, that it is the perception of change which determines them,
though it determines them in different ways, the one being affected by
hope, the other by fear. Both are discontented with the present, the
one because it falls short of the future, which he imagines, the other
because it has departed from the security of the past, which he
idealises. And, as we have seen, even the creative artist cannot
escape from the fascination of this ever-changing environment, where
the unsystematised present obtrudes its fresh discontents, and the
unknown future is pregnant with possibilities of good and the
alternative of unimaginable evil. All perceive that something must be
done to direct the plunging course of this hydra-headed democracy
which, as its onrush is in any case irresistible, may at any moment
deviate from the path and fling itself headlong to perdition. When the
guns are firing and the battle is joined and the cries of the wounded
fill the air, there are not many who can sit down in the midst, like
the German philosopher at the battle of Austerlitz, to contemplate the
Absolute. Most of them, even though their function is art, rush out to
join the mêlée; and this is why they incur the censure of the
reviewers, making fiction and drama a branch of sociology.

But one seems to hear, distinguishable occasionally amidst the din, a
low, faint murmur. This way madness lies. Is man, the master of his
soul, to be thus enslaved to his conditions? Is he to be tossed
hither and thither by changes which he did not create, by ideas to
which he did not subscribe, by a tempest he never wished to combat? Is
there no quiet place of refuge wherein he may be at peace to live as
his ancestors lived, and to cherish the humble ambitions which they
cherished? The answer, in a certain sense, is "No." The conventions
which served their purpose have in many cases lost their meaning; the
duties our ancestors performed have lost their usefulness; the old
bottles will not hold the new wine which our generation serves to us.
And this is one reason why so many people rate and gibe at what they
call the "muddle-headed British public; "because it cannot change its
ideas so quickly as it is forced to change its conditions of life.

But is there not an important significance in the very fact which
makes our intellectuals desperate with indignation, the fact that you
cannot change the "public mind" so rapidly as you can change its
tramway services, its government, or the place--the cellar, the crust
of the earth, or the sky--in which it is to be housed? It is easier to
take a man up in an aeroplane than it is to make him agree that his
neighbour ought to run away with his wife, or that his sons ought not
to read Thucydides. Even amongst those writers whom I have named there
is beginning to arise a half-formed consciousness that amid all these
changes in circumstances we must be careful how we admit changes in
character and in mental calibre; a consciousness that we are in need
of some fixed point by which the world may be enabled to retain its
sanity. Now there are two classes of people who believe in permanence:
those who think that the world is the same always because they are too
silly to open their eyes; and the very small class of those who have
felt profoundly that all things are changing in something more than
the Heraclitean sense, who have yet penetrated to the necessity of a
permanence, of an organic human continuity, underlying the multiplex
circumstances and ideas of our life.

And this brings me back to Mr. Forster and Mr. Galsworthy. "Howard's
End," the old-fashioned house which gives its name to Mr. Forster's
novel, is contrasted with the new buildings which are occupied and
vacated, which spring up on all sides and are vicariously inhabited,
which draw nearer and nearer to the garden and the wych-elm of
"Howard's End." It is the symbol of permanence, of the old order which
"connects" the past with the present, the personal and individual with
the cosmopolitan and indifferent; it is the something sacred which
neither an individual nor a nation can afford to neglect. Mr. Forster,
impressed as he is with the need of change, directed instead of
haphazard, nevertheless perceives that there are permanent elements,
belonging to character, in our blood and our tradition, which cannot
be ignored without peril.

Mr. Galsworthy, in _The Patrician_, is no longer the mere antagonist
of the established order of things. He seems to have attained a sort
of optimism strangely at variance with his earlier views; to have
declared that running through all these conflicts, revolutions, and
evolutions there is and has been a certain national sense, a sort of
collective reasonableness, which is constantly making itself felt, and
being expressed in its best form by the leaders of opinion, the
aristocrats of nature; that the torrent runs, as it were, between
solid banks; that in the long run character triumphs over confusion.


It would be folly to regret that the drama of modern life, of our
swiftly evolving modern society, has become absorbingly interesting to
so many of the best brains of the time. Although we may detect a
serious limitation to literature, a didacticism alien to the
disinterested spirit of art, still we cannot fail to see that a new
sort of vitality, belonging rather to the moral sense than the
intellect or the perceptions, has been infused into imaginative
literature. Something, at least, which is fresh and real and vital has
been introduced, exclusive of much that we have been accustomed to
regard as excellent, but serving surely to give a distinctive and far
from negligible character to the typical literature of our time. That
typical literature, in its most important manifestations, is concerned
with the events that are happening around us here and now--with ideas,
largely partisan, that give meaning to them--with the purposes that
direct and determine them. Criticism, if it is to be vital criticism,
cannot dissociate itself from those ideas, nor look on with sublime
indifference to opinions as to the true and the false, the desirable
and the undesirable.

But when we have said that, we are also bound to recognise the
drawbacks and serious limitations of the modern tendency. It
includes--and we come back to the point at which we started--a
tendency to dissociate modern writing from the continuous stream of
English and world literature. Incidentally the didacticism of modern
writers, and their absorption in the affairs of the moment, have not
only served to make a breach between themselves and English literature
as a whole, to the detriment of their perspective, but have also set a
gulf between themselves and those of another school, for whom world
literature is more important than the literature of to-day, for whom
erudition and interest in the past are not to be lightly dismissed as
academicism. I can imagine no greater disaster to letters than a
breach between the literary originator and the man of learning. Such a
breach can only mean that learning is cast back upon itself, loses
humanity, and becomes academic; and that the author who despises or
ignores erudition, and with it the sense of human continuity and
permanence for which it ought to stand, tends to become opinionative
and shallow. His work must lack the imaginative range, the mellowness,
the beauty which cannot take form through instinct alone, which cannot
be expressed by those who have not lovingly studied the models of
antiquity and our own literature, who have not sought contact with the
life of other times as well as with the life of to-day.

The great gain to literature in recent years is that it is more
closely related to action and those general ideas which lead to
action. Its great corresponding defect--and this is immeasurable--is
its loss in form, in universality, in that disinterestedness which is
essential to art. Erudition, when it is humane, and even when it is
merely academic, has, at any rate, always that disinterestedness which
is essential alike to science and art. If it is humane--as it was, on
the whole, in the Elizabethan age--its whole moral support, vast in
this age of idol-worshippers, will be on the side of disinterested art
and literature. We do not hope, or wish, that all authors should be
men of learning--they should be of all sorts. But if authors and men
of learning continue to be removed in sympathy, interests, and ideals,
it is a sign that both are in a bad way.



"Take my word for this, reader, and say a fool told it you, if you
wish: that he who hath not a dram of folly in his mixture, hath pounds
of much worse matter in his composition." These words were written by
an irresponsible fellow before the days of "responsibility" were
inaugurated; before politicians had become a race apart, admired or
execrated according to the temperament of the beholder; before writers
were solemnly divided into men-of-letters, novelists, _littérateurs_,
journalists, hacks, and professors; before physicians had become a
close corporation of certificated benefactors; not, indeed, before
lawyers had learnt to trade on human litigiousness, but before they
had won the respect of the public for the disinterested exercise of
their talents. The days of specialism have added to the sum-total of
human knowledge; but they have diminished intercourse, they have made
men more inaccessible to one another, they have promoted new
groupings, new atmospheres, new officialdoms, new barriers and
water-tight compartments.

The professional spirit has affected and infected the whole of modern
society; we see its results in what we call the "disappearance of
wit," or the "loss of the conversational faculty," or the "didactic
habit," or anything else implying regret for the individualism of the
past. It means that our several callings have separated us, have made
us into creatures of our profession, have established us on our own
particular pedestals on which, as good statues, we must remain, and
that our common humanity is an insufficient link between us. Our
special knowledge, our special habit, our special highly-esteemed
reputation, sets up a barrier which cuts us off from our fellows and
destroys community of feeling.

The politician of mediocre capacity may know enough to cut a figure
among his political associates only by judicious silence, or by
talkativeness on those subjects of which others are ignorant. But put
him among his non-political friends, and he is an oracle of wisdom
upon the law and the Constitution. The doctor, who has forgotten his
scientific principles but has picked up some empirical knowledge, has
the advantage of experience and authority as against the layman for
whom he prescribes. The lawyer, the civil servant, the professional
theologian, and the diplomat are in the same position. They all know
enough of their subject to be superior to those who know next to
nothing of it. They know enough to have pedestals of their own; to be
on their guard; to have a reputation to maintain; to conceal the "dram
of folly;" to be, to that extent, artificial in their relations with
men. They dare not betray the "laughable blunder," which, said Charles
Lamb, is the test your neighbour giveth you "that he will not betray
or over-reach you."

In the case of the chartered accountant, or the stockbroker, or the
pedlar, this special knowledge is not so damning a thing. No
accountant, be he ever so limited, can be wholly contented with
accountancy as an explanation or sum-total of life; nor can the
broker, however absorbed in his business, admit to his friends that
the manipulating of stocks and shares is the only matter which should
consume the interest of mortals. It is otherwise with the politician,
the priest, the man of letters, the professional philosopher, and even
the lawyer and the soldier. There is nothing human which may not enter
into politics, religion or philosophy, or become the subject of
literature; the human complexion of the State may be transformed by
the professional prejudice of the lawyer or the soldier.

Consider how, for democratic purposes, the Member of Parliament is
made. There is no need to pay undue attention to the amusing
exaggerations and distortions of Mr. Belloc and Mr. Cecil Chesterton.
The Member of Parliament has been supported in his constituency by a
group of local politicals who have a healthy enthusiasm for the party
war-cry. The serious candidate is too experienced, too professional,
to share those enthusiasms in precisely that form which they assume,
at election time, in the minds of his supporters. I do not mean that
he is less enthusiastic than they, a less whole-hearted backer of his
party, but that, from the nature of his political experience, politics
presents itself to him under a perspective which cannot be theirs. He
leaves his constituency a specially ordained champion of political
truth; he arrives at Westminster a unit in the crowd.

If we follow our member to Westminster we shall soon find that he has
fallen into the Parliamentary manner; that his ideas are grouped around
the ideas familiar to the House of Commons; that he has taken its tone,
and that his habits are becoming gradually assimilated to the habits of
those few with whom he especially associates himself. Let us attend a
meeting of some propagandist committee comprising a number of expert
politicians--Members of Parliament, or others. We shall find there the
bond of a common knowledge, a common sympathy, a common approach towards
a given subject, a common jargon. We shall be aware of the fact that we
have come into a particular, highly-specialised atmosphere, where the
familiar language of ordinary life, the familiar ideas, would be
intrusions, meriting nothing but frowns or compassionate smiles.

And the same thing is true of most corporate journalism and most
corporate religion. The atmosphere is highly specialised; it is
binding; and those who live in it believe it to be co-extensive with
the whole of life. Let us bind ourselves by Tolstoy; let us agree to
loosen ourselves by Nietzsche; but, in any case let us agree to love
our neighbour on the principle of a close corporation. The main
influences which shape the modern world operate, for the most part,
through intellectual groups; each group can only be appealed to in a
language familiar to it; it can only act on principles (consciously
accepted or presupposed) which are its very special property; you can
never touch it to the quick, in its corporate and active capacity,
without accepting or appearing to accept its collective prejudices.
Its differentia is that which separates it from the unit of common

Thus we come to something more difficult to analyse than
specialisation of work--a specialisation of sentiment, habits and
morals, which makes people supremely sapient within a narrow sphere
which they have appropriated, and so limited as to be blind in the
broad field of ethics which lies outside their special ken. And yet it
is through these groups, keen-eyed in one direction, blind in others,
that the intellect, the reforming zeal, the earnestness, the idealism
of the age, have to pass before ideas and vague aspiration can be
transformed into action or effective influence. These groups are the
main-drainage-system of modern life; they are the ordinary channels
through which the business of the world has to pass, and its organised
thought be directed. Take any one of these groups, and consider its
differential character, its mode of apperception, its _êthos_, and you
find it something deformed, twisted, strained in one direction, like a
tree by the sea-shore. But take a few score of them, and imagine their
qualities fused together, and the result would accord with the ideals
of common humanity--ideals vaguely conceived, perhaps, but generous.
It is just because the qualities of these groups, in politics,
religion, social work, and to a lesser extent in literature, are not
and cannot be fused together, but on the contrary, stand apart in
water-tight compartments, so that the whole is like an elaborate
system of checks to make each part inoperative, that, at a time when
the whole community is strangely alive with good will, the actual
social achievement is beyond measure disappointing.

The test of success or failure is the degree of satisfaction afforded
to the common man. By the "common man" I do not mean the inferior man,
but the man who has not specialised himself out of his common
humanity. If there is any interest which an honest lawyer can share
with an honest fisherman, a decent cockney with a decent Bedouin Arab,
he does it in virtue of this nobler "commonness;" it may include the
interests of good fellowship, of delight in song or nature, of a
belief in God, and a host of indescribable interests which do not
belong to the mechanism and compulsory organisation of life; it
includes some "dram of folly," some capacity for "laughable blunder"
in intercourse between men. Culture may break in upon this
"commonness" and destroy it. But it need not be so. Shakespeare has
this commonness in a high degree; so have Johnson, and Goldsmith, and
Lamb; all great artists have had it when their culture has not crazed
them, or when they have not lifted themselves into an almost mystical
absorption in exercising some gift of austere, monumental expression;
in which case, like Milton, they scarcely belong to the category of
humans; their food is ambrosial, and their wine is nectar.

The task of the inspired politician has become harder in proportion as
the problem of government has become more intricate and more
specialised. He must work through his machinery, which includes not
only the administrative machine, but all those groups, in and out of
Parliament, limited by their ethical and sentimental specialities. He
must be professional enough to appreciate the ground of their
excellences, and "common" enough to discard their limitations. It is
only when there are several such men, powerful enough to leaven
politics and lead politicians, that modern democracy can have any
shadow of reality--men who understand the rank and file of humanity,
conversant also with the complicated machine and the contending groups
of narrowly defined ideals, men fired with that constructive
imagination which crystallises in common sense.



It is significant that the name "Religion of Humanity" was given to a
set of tenets which strictly speaking contained no religion at all.
Positivism gained ground in middle-Victorian England not merely
because Science and the theory of Evolution were in the ascendant, but
still more because it was recognised that the orthodox Churches were
out of harmony with modern life; that they were ministering neither to
modern humanitarian feeling nor to humanity. Positivism survives to
this day in the person of Mr. Frederic Harrison and a few others
(including several of the leaders of the Young Turkish party); but it
would by this time have been a powerful creed if it had been really a
creed, if it had anything spiritual and _credible_ to offer to those
who are outraged by the professional neglect, self-absorption, and
intellectual insincerity of the Churches. Everyone is aware of the
failure of the Churches to touch modern life; to escape from their
grooves; to cease to deal in conventional and monotonous iterations of
old-fashioned formulæ instead of finding vital, human, developing
expressions of the spiritual craving of man. Even Mr. George Cadbury
is aware of this failure, as he showed by his zeal for the inquiry
into church attendance some years ago, an inquiry which has been
repeated this year with results unsatisfactory to the Churches. The
question has been debated again and again, and inquirers have been
unable to make up their minds whether it is the Churches that are not
good enough for the people, or the people who are not good enough for
the Churches. It is a question of the priority of the chicken or the
egg. It is not known whether public sentiment is depraved because it
is alienated from the Churches, or whether the Churches are depraved
because they have excluded so many of the most powerful moral forces
of the time. Certain it is that they have offended by their
exclusiveness; by the narrowing down of interest; by the cliquishness
of those who are specialists in piety or ritual. We may observe their
habit of mind in that narrow Victorian sect which converted Mr.
Gosse's strong-willed and in many ways lovable father into an
intolerant tyrant (as set forth in _Father and Son_); that lax and
snobbish branch of the Anglican Church which failed to capture Mr.
Bernard Shaw in his youth, because it stood only for a "class
prejudice;" and those strange types of Christianity which, as Mr.
Lowes Dickinson expresses it, find no disharmony between belief in a
"Power that is supposed to have created the stars and the tiger" and
"the sentimental, almost erotic character of many Christian hymns:

    Jesu, lover of my soul,
    Let me to Thy bosom fly."

The evidence of those who have been estranged from the Churches is
worth considering. We see that Mr. Gosse was driven from them in his
youth by their sectarian narrowness and unwillingness to face
intellectual inquiry; Mr. Shaw by the flippancy of the Irish Church,
its class prejudice, its false respectability; Mr. Lowes Dickinson,
among other reasons, because at a time when men are learning to adapt
the processes of Nature to their ends, when it becomes them to "dwell
less and less upon their weaknesses and more and more upon their
strength," the orthodox Christians assert that we are "miserable
sinners," that "there is no health in us," when they "ought to be too
busy demonstrating in fact the contrary." Members of the general
public in one way and another have become accustomed to regard
religion with an uneasy constraint; there are harmless things which
must not be said in the presence of a priest; there is a pastorality
about the minister which implies a flock and a coterie; and Englishmen
seldom mention the name of God without an appearance of apology or
secret shame. Religion has become largely a matter of cliques,
coteries, associations--of specialism in codes and casuistry.

I will not press the question whether the history of the Christian
Church has not been the history of the perversions of Christianity. A
distinguished Chinese author not long ago indicted the alleged
un-Christian methods of our missionaries in China; Dr. Halil Halid, a
Turk, has pointed out that it is in the Christian countries that the
Christian virtues of humility and disdain of wealth are least in
evidence. What concerns us now is the feeling in formally Christian
countries that in spite of Christianity the Christian Churches have
not taught that the Kingdom of Heaven is on earth; they have not
taught toleration and love; they have urged us to ignore the present
world in the interests of the next; and because their own followers
have refused to do anything of the kind they have isolated religion
from practical life. I agree that many Churches, seeking to adapt
themselves to modern needs, have organised social clubs, carried on
political crusades, and rendered useful service in "rescue work;" but
even so they have rather tended to distinguish between themselves in
their spiritual capacity and themselves in their secular capacity. The
majority of people do not seem to find in the religious services of
the Churches a note that touches their practical needs or their
spiritual ideals. The most successful popular appeal has been made by
those organisations which have endeavoured to add to the zest of life
by exciting music, tuneful hymns, and buoyant rhetoric.

In our unprecedented age of incessant change, continuous revolution,
and swift innovation, we have become accustomed to the idea that the
social order can and must be altered, that men must take things into
their own hands. The fatalism of the old orthodoxy is not for a people
who see that things are accomplished by the human will; such people
are naturally impatient with those who entreat the Deity to do for
them what they can very well do for themselves. The last of the great
fatalists in English literature is Mr. Thomas Hardy. He was moved by
the downfall of the old settled civilisation and the purposeless,
vexing changes which swept like a hurricane on a nation now suddenly
made conscious of its evil lot. He was aware of the "modern vice of
unrest" at a time when the human will had not yet set itself to direct
and organise change. Thus it was that he came to pronounce the last
word about Fatalism, and, in so doing, to reduce it to absurdity. "The
First Cause," as Sue Fawley perceived it, "worked automatically like a
somnambulist, and not reflectively like a sage;" she blamed "things in
general, because they are so horrid and cruel!"

Whatever one's theological views may be, no one to-day tolerates in
the drama of life any god-of-the-machine. In Greece, art and religion
went hand in hand, and this was possible because gods were like men
and manifested themselves through Nature, not in a sphere outside
Nature. No civilisation prior to our own experienced so rapid an
evolution as Athens in the fifth century B.C.; but when that
century was over, it was still possible for a philosopher to draw
robust symbolical illustrations from the old mythology. The Modernists
to-day are only applying a law of history when they say that religion
must evolve with the evolution of human culture. In the first thirteen
centuries, the Christian Church did in practice change and adapt
itself to civilisation. As long as the world was conservative, a
conservative Church could keep pace with it. The first cataclysm came
at the time when civilisation was again rapidly changing, and
Christianity only emerged torn and divided by the Reformation. But the
world to-day is being altered far more rapidly than at the time of the
Renaissance. It turns from the Churches, not because it is tired of
the spiritual life, or of other-worldliness, but because, just as it
demands of literature and art that they should appeal to the modern
mind and heart, so it can be content with nothing less from religion.
And it is just because the Churches have been too conservative,
because they tend to tradition, formulæ, conventions, and manners
which, retained beyond their time, assume the garb of unreality, that
they are abandoned or slighted by the people--as they must continue to
be slighted--until new prophets arise to present universal truths in a
new and practical form; to endeavour to preach religion as the great
man of letters endeavours to represent beauty and truth.



England is very near to the Continent of Europe, and we are accustomed
to thinking of Western civilisation as one. Yet every time we cross
the Channel we are reminded in some fresh way of the foreignness of
foreign countries. The dwelling-houses of France, for instance, are
different from the dwelling-houses of England in respect of the
important fact that they are all to some extent fortified houses.
Great and small houses alike are evidently built with a view to
defence from within. If you take a country walk anywhere in Normandy
you find that the gardens of the country houses have massive gates and
high walls, the front door is like a portcullis, and the window
shutters are barricades. The smallest cottages have great doors and
window shutters, and if there is a garden, it is two to one that the
wall is a real wall. And not only in the country districts, but in the
towns, pre-eminently in Paris itself, each house or block of flats is
so constructed as to defy the violent intruder.

It strikes us strangely, as we walk through the cities of France and
reflect upon the reasons for these square doors and these guarded
windows. We have suffered no recent invasion, we have had no bloody
revolution. During the whole of the nineteenth century our island has
known nothing more violent than the Peterloo massacre or the Chartist
riots. We have constantly had wars, but they have been distant wars, a
matter for the hireling soldier, and not often dragging in the
volunteer civilian. If we were disgusted when we heard the true story
of the Crimea, we soon forgot the story. We were shocked again by the
facts of the Boer War; we had not thought that so many men could be so
quickly killed, so many millions of money whittled away. But even the
South African War never remotely seemed to threaten the security of
our own islands. For the most part, the policeman has been enough. A
light bolt and a key guard us against petty burglars; we walk abroad
unarmed--at the worst, we comment on the fact that it is well to carry
a stick if we walk alone in Epping Forest. We have abolished duelling.
We have forbidden prize-fights. Even the horse-whip has ceased to be
the patrician's mode of redressing wrong. For assault, libel, slander,
we have a remedy in the law courts. Even in our punishment of
criminals, if occasionally we have to put a man out of the way by
discreetly hanging him, we never subject him to the degradation of a
whipping. Youthful barbarians at public schools still roll about and
pummel one another, but the organised, stand-up fight, such as was
fought in Tom Brown's schooldays, is discouraged; public opinion is
against it. From infancy we are taught to be peaceful, law-abiding

Most of us, then, know very little about physical violence. The
shedding of blood is an unfamiliar spectacle. If a man is knocked
down by a motor-bus, we may or we may not feel human sympathy, but
certainly we are physically shocked by the gruesome sight. We send men
to the gallows, but we no longer watch their agony on Tyburn Hill. We
despatch men to a frontier war, but we know little about their wounds.
And yet, as of old, our martial ardour is aroused and we glow with
patriotic pride when a regiment of soldiers marches past to the sound
of music. As of old, the thought of any great European war excites us,
even fascinates us. We know enough, indeed, to assure ourselves that a
great war would mean economic ruin, that even a distant war between
two foreign countries, such as Turkey and Italy, or Turkey and
Bulgaria, will probably react unfavourably on our own trade. Yet the
thought of a great war still profoundly interests the mass of
Englishmen; they are fascinated; they almost long for news of the
great, decisive, bloody battle which means a sensation, a spectacle,
an acquaintance with something doing, a something strange, gruesome,
violent, and vast.

I am not saying that the people of this country approved of the war
which Italy thought good to wage against Turkey, or were pleased at
the horrible slaughter in the Balkans. It is obvious, on the contrary,
that they strongly disapproved. The "Great Illusion," so effectively
exposed by Norman Angell, is no longer universally entertained.
Capital has learnt the horrors of war, and organised labour has
emphatically declared against it. And yet, though there were few
English people who would not have stopped the Turco-Italian war and
mitigated the horrors of the Balkan war if they could have done so, it
is manifest that there were few who did not revel in the sensation,
just as some years ago even our most philanthropic classes deplored
and revelled in the spectacle of Macedonian atrocities. A fire at a
theatre, an appalling railway accident, and especially murder on a
vast, heroic scale, attracts, in these peaceful days, certainly not
less than in the days when barbarism was customary.

Now, violence and brutality are obviously one thing to a peaceful
people and a very different thing to people accustomed to violence in
their daily lives. Upon a man of sedentary occupation a prize-fight
must have a very different effect from that which it will have upon
men accustomed to the use of their fists. It is worth asking: What is
this love of violence which moves the breast of the man of peace? What
is this emotion which leads men to be heroic by proxy? Is it surviving
physical excellence which reveals itself in this way, or is it a
cumbrous atavistic relic like the appendix which the doctors remove?
We see, for instance, enormous crowds gathering at the football
matches where professional players show their prowess, and muscles
trained and hardened for the fray. We know that there was a crowd
looking forward to the Wells-Johnson contest. Contrast these events
with a cricket match, where there is practically no violence. Whatever
be the reason, any sportsman will testify to the fact that the crowd
which goes to see cricket is generally a cricketing crowd, but that
the crowd which goes to a cup-tie football match is by no means in
the same way a footballing crowd. In other words, so far as the
onlookers are concerned, the cricket match is more truly a sporting
event than is the professional football match or the Wells-Johnson

Whatever the answer be, it is certain that when we beat the big drum
of patriotism and set the guns firing, the thrill which it arouses in
the vocal populace is different from the thrill in a people accustomed
to violence and blood. We say the "vocal" populace, remembering that
there is a portion of the population, very important to the community
and growing in power, which is not facile in the art of
self-expression. That portion of the population was in evidence at the
time of the great Coal Strike, when it seemed actually on the verge of
rebellion, when it actually committed violence to the horror and
surprise of our peaceful middle classes. The fact is that the very
poor are never so far from the violent life as are members of other
classes. Violent deaths are not infrequent in factories, in
coal-mines, in great building-works, in dockyards. The life of
deprivation makes the passion of anger frequent; among the poor blows
are often exchanged, and the police are seldom called upon to
interfere. Necessarily, from the nature of the case, the poor are more
familiar with violence than are their richer and more conventional
neighbours; it is a natural thing for the more ignorant of them to
fall back upon physical force, as they did at Liverpool. And so, too,
just as they are more accustomed to petty war, they are less
interested in war between nations. In Italy it was the working-men
who protested against the war with Turkey.

But it seems that the more educated and the more organised we become,
the more we leave our affairs to be managed by professionals. When a
nation declares for war, it declares for a war to be waged by its
professionals, and it turns them on to do a job which, according to
civilised practices, is a dirty job. And when it is fired with
patriotic pride for achievements won in the field it is exercising its
emotions on something it cannot understand or realise, for the simple
reason that the violence of war is strange, distantly horrible,
fascinating, but unfamiliar. It has never directly entered into our



Some time ago Mr. Brander Matthews made the original suggestion in the
_North American Review_ that books should be written for the benefit
of the reader. The suggestion is not on the face of it paradoxical,
but it will be rank heresy to those who blame the public for not
bowing down before the sacrosanctity of the "serious" author. He
admits that "a book ought to be rich with the full flavour of the
author's personality;" primarily it ought to express him; but
secondarily--and this is Mr. Brander Matthews' point--"it is for the
sole benefit of the reader."

I think we may go a little further than Mr. Matthews, and find a
second reason why certain authors fail to find favour with the general
reader. In the case which Mr. Matthews seemed to be considering there
are authors who have every qualification for writing except that they
cannot write. Secondly, there are authors who, in the ordinary
literary sense of the term, can write, who have gathered knowledge and
formed seriously-grounded opinions about life, who are nevertheless so
out of touch with the broad, common interests of men that they
invariably fail to make a strong emotional or imaginative appeal.

Every reader is acquainted with the tiresome writer who has a great
deal to say but labours infinitely in the saying of it. In a crude,
energetic, excessively eulogised novel published in America a few
years ago--_Queed_--we were introduced to an economist engaged upon a
work so learned that he knew there were only three persons in America
capable of understanding it. There is, doubtless, something to be said
for an appreciative audience of three; but it is safe to assert that
even the exact sciences might be made more widely intelligible. I am,
however, thinking primarily of those studies which have some claim to
rank as literary studies. It is through literature that the historian,
the biographer, the sociologist, and the philosopher must make their
contributions to knowledge. Yet how much research and how much acute
thinking are wasted because the student has not the means of making
his subject alive for others, has not the reconstructive imagination
by means of which truth is communicated! It is because he cannot

But this being able to write is not a matter of putting words and
clauses together with correctness and elegance. That much the mere
scholar generally understands, and it is because he thinks it
sufficient that he fails. What is wanted is a quality of mind which is
too often excluded from the specialist by his habit of thought. "A few
years of journalism," said Mr. W.B. Yeats on one occasion, "is an
invaluable discipline for the man of letters." No one is more fully
alive to the defects of journalism than Mr. Yeats--its frequent
looseness, prejudice, obviousness, and dissipation of interest. But,
in spite of that, he saw that the good journalist's faculty of
addressing himself directly to the subject in hand, of stating it
clearly and in its essentials without waste of words, of so escaping
his own particular mould of thought that he may be easily intelligible
to a variety of minds, required a discipline and a broadening
invaluable to the man who really has something to say. The specialist
is inclined to lack the broad outlook of one who is interested in many
things; he acquires a jargon of his own; his mind runs in the narrow
channel to which that jargon corresponds; the language he uses becomes
stilted and dead. There is no tonic in the truths he tries to
proclaim, no relevance to the rest of knowledge. In other words, what
he has to say may be scientifically valuable, but he fails to convey
it to any but his fellow-specialists.

Mr. Brander Matthews points out that the great students are those who
have combined the Teutonic thoroughness with the French
comprehensiveness and lucidity. Gibbon and Mommsen are the great
examples to which he points. England surely has been very rich in
writers thorough and lucid, but we may observe that they follow rather
the eighteenth-century tradition, with its intelligible common sense,
than the romantic or transcendental tradition, with its mysticism and
obscurity. Locke, Berkeley, and Hume, the most lucid of philosophers,
are scarcely easier to follow than John Stuart Mill, Huxley, and
Leslie Stephen. But it is hardly necessary to enter a _caveat_ against
supposing that lucidity of expression is precisely proportional to
clearness of thought. The philosophy of Kant did not admit of the
simple language of Hume, and T.H. Green and Mr. Bradley are not to be
blamed if they are more difficult to understand than Sir Leslie

The second aspect of the question is more important, especially at a
time when we are constantly reminded that the public is indifferent to
the finest creative literature now produced. The fault may be with the
public, and it may also be with the authors. It is worth remembering
that this is a time when special forms of expression are being made to
do work which once belonged to other forms. Fiction, for example, is
being made to carry the load of philosophic psychology, of poetry, of
the economic, moral, or political treatise. Drama is often used as a
vehicle for truths which were once left to the pulpit, the political
platform, or the lecture hall. Both of them, in the case of the
extreme realists, are being used as the store-room or the dissecting
chamber of the experimental scientist. Supposing that an author's
facts are supremely important, his discernment most acute, his ideas
significant, still, before we condemn the public unheard, we are
compelled to ask of him: Have you given to this material a form which
it will accept? Have you addressed the public in a language which has
a wide human appeal? Are you, in fact, a master of that higher
technique which implies an understanding, not only of the fine
essences of truth, but the broad, common facts of human nature? It is
just because they are not masters of this higher technique that many
exponents of so-called "intellectual fiction" and "intellectual drama"
are doomed to failure.

I am well aware that such arguments as this must be qualified. For I
have not forgotten that what are now the commonplaces of culture were
once the unintelligible obscurities of a sage. Much that we now
apprehend at a glance, all that makes our cultural birthright, was
only acquired by slow and arduous processes, in which the pioneers
were laughed to scorn. The original mind sees things in a new light,
and his language is to us strange and unfamiliar, and we do not learn
it till our eyes and ears have become accustomed. And there are others
who do not stand conspicuously in the main stream of mental progress,
who, nevertheless, remote and perhaps secluded as they are, have a
vision rarefied, subtle, strange not only in their own times, but for
all times. Those men have their own communication to make to those
anxious to add to the fineness of their perception, or merely perhaps
to the oddness of experience. If some sting of truth reaches the mind
through writing obscure to the general, through language which may be
barbarous in form, an author has justified himself; and it would be
idle to follow Mr. Brander Matthews in his quotation from the
ever-pleasing Lord Chesterfield: "Speak the language of the company
you are in; speak it purely and unloaded with any other." For, after
all, is it not open to the author to choose his company? If his
receptions are ill-attended, that may not reflect ill on those who
accept the invitation. Not everyone will read the poems of Mr.
Doughty; Mr. Doughty has made it hard for them; but if they do, they
are repaid. Not everyone will tolerate the finesse of Mr. Henry James;
but among those who can understand him, assuredly Mr. James is in very
good company.



In the play called _Justice_, Mr. Galsworthy attacked the professional
mechanism of English law in much the same way as the late William
James attacked professional philosophy. These two kinds of specialism,
or departmentalism, may therefore conveniently be treated together;
for I may leave Mr. Galsworthy and William James to conduct the
attack, contenting myself with the task of linking up their forces.
Both Professor James and Mr. Galsworthy appealed against the
machine--the one against the machine of thought which is divorced from
common perception, the other against the machine of the law which has
no contact with the needs of persons. "We," said William James,
meaning the Pragmatists, or the Humanists, "turn to the great unpent
and unstayed wilderness of truth as we feel it to be constituted, with
as good a conscience as rationalists are moved by when they turn from
our wilderness into their neater and cleaner intellectual abodes." In
_Justice_ the young advocate who appears for the defence is not so
much pleading for the client under the law, as arraigning the present
legal system, setting up a new conception of law based upon common
sense, human insight, and a morality finer than legalism.
"Gentlemen," he says, "men like the defendant are destroyed daily
under our laws for want of that human insight which sees them as they
are, patients, and not criminals.... Justice is a machine that, when
someone has once given it the starting push, rolls on of itself. Is
this young man to be ground to pieces under this machine for an act
which at the worst was one of weakness?"

This attempt to get back to something that _satisfies_ the human mind,
the human idea of good, is to be seen equally in these two thinkers
who belong to different countries and different traditions. The word
"satisfactory" continually occurs in Professor James' writings.
"Humanism," he says, "conceiving the more 'true' as the more
'satisfactory,' has sincerely to renounce rectilinear arguments and
ancient ideals of rigour and finality." He wishes to break with that
view of philosophy which says "the anatomy of the world is logical,
and its logic is that of a university professor." He is one of those
who, having been a lifelong student of philosophy and psychology, has
the energy to know that, however theoretically perfect may be the
logical system evolved by thought, that system will not be sufficient
to prevent a man from saying, "After all, am I sure of it?" The only
things of which we are sure are those things which we directly
experience. We know the appearance of a tree, because we see it; we
know the emotion of pity or love, because we have felt it; we know
that what we call tigers exist in India, because acquaintances have
seen them, and direct experience has taught us that their evidence is
satisfactory, and if we went to India their testimony could be found
true by the evidence of our own senses. "What becomes our warrant for
calling anything reality? The only reply is--the faith of the present
critic or inquirer. At every moment of his life he finds himself
subject to a belief in _some_ realities, even though his realities of
this year should prove to be his illusions of the next." "_The most we
can claim is, that what we say about cognition may be counted as true
as what we say about anything else_." Nothing is true for him unless
it has reference to the world which we know, which we accept on faith,
by the practical evidence of our senses, or, it might be added, our
desires, our aspirations, our intuitions. Nothing is ruled out so long
as it can be pinned down at any moment to what is real, to what is
individual. "Demonstration in the last resort" is to the senses.

    Contemned though they may be by some thinkers, these sensations
    are the mother-earth, the anchorage, the stable rock, the first
    and last limits, the _terminus a quo_ and the _terminus ad quem_
    of the mind. To find such sensational _termini_ should be our
    aim with all higher thought. They end discussion, they destroy
    the false conceit of knowledge, and without them we are all at
    sea with each other's meaning. If two men act alike on a
    percept, they believe themselves to feel alike about it; if not,
    they may suspect they know it in differing ways. We can never be
    sure we understand each other till we are able to bring the
    matter to this test. This is why metaphysical discussions are so
    much like fighting with the air; they have no practical issue of
    a sensational kind.

Truth, then, for the Pragmatists is that which has "practical
consequences." A belief is held to be true when it is "found to work."
Transcendent ideas have no validity except as ideas unless they are
found to have a "cash value" in practical life, that is to say, unless
they refer to, and are operative in, the world of immediate
experience. "Reality is an accumulation of our own intellectual
inventions, and the struggle for 'truth' in our progressive dealings
with it is always a struggle to work in new nouns and adjectives while
altering as little as possible the old." You may talk of Absolutes as
much as you like, you may contemplate the fundamental categories of
the mind, you may dwell upon the _a priori_ conceptions to which all
our experiences must conform, but the fact remains, says Professor
James, turning his back on all transcendental idealism, "the concrete
truth _for us_ will always be that way of thinking in which our
various experiences most profitably combine."

    The true is the opposite of whatever is instable, of whatever is
    practically disappointing, of whatever is useless, of whatever
    is lying and unreliable, of whatever is unverifiable and
    unsupported, of whatever is inconsistent and contradictory, of
    whatever is artificial and eccentric, of whatever is unreal in
    the sense of being of no practical account. Here are pragmatic
    reasons with a vengeance why we should turn to truth--truth
    saves us from a world of that complexion. What wonder that its
    very name awakens loyal feeling! In particular what wonder that
    all little provisional fools' paradises of belief should appear
    contemptible in comparison with its bare pursuit! When
    Absolutists reject humanism because they feel it to be untrue,
    that means that the whole habit of their mental needs is wedded
    already to a different view of reality, in comparison with which
    the humanistic world seems but the whim of a few irresponsible
    youths. Their own subjective apperceiving mass is what speaks
    here in the name of the eternal natures and bids them reject our
    humanism--as they apprehend it. Just so with us humanists, when
    we condemn all noble, clean-cut, fixed, eternal, rational,
    temple-like systems of philosophy.

I am not here seeking to examine closely, still less to criticise,
Professor James' pragmatic doctrines. What I am concerned to show is
that we have in him a trained philosopher adopting towards the theory
of knowledge a point of view strangely similar to that which Mr.
Galsworthy takes up towards the social ethics of modern England. Is it
not Mr. Galsworthy's function to "condemn all noble, clean-cut, fixed,
eternal, rational, temple-like systems" of morality and etiquette?
Professor James' rationalist antagonists are exactly like the
administrators of law and order criticised by Sweedle in the play:
"They've forgot what human nature's like." Just as your Hegelian
wishes for nothing but the perfection of knowledge, and leaves you in
an inconceivable, unknowable Absolute, so, according to Falder, who
has been in prison, "Nobody wishes you any harm, but they down you all
the same." In precisely the same way as Professor James pleads for a
view of truth which rests on the unfailing vividness of finite
experience, so Mr. Galsworthy pleads for a justice which shall be
applicable, not to an infinite number of imaginary cases, but to the
individual, to the person whom we might chance to know, and meet, and
work with--to the necessitous human being. He pleads for a law which
shall be elastic, not rigid; dealing with men, not cases; for which
mercy shall come to be a part of the idea of justice. That which is
good enough for human beings in their dealings one with another ought
not to be too good for the law. Intercourse with concrete reality is
Professor James' requirement for the truth of an idea; intercourse
with human beings is Mr. Galsworthy's requirement as the basis of
social morality and of law. That does not of course mean that the
legislator must be acquainted with all those for whom he legislates
any more than that we can directly experience the facts of history
which we claim to know. But every rule--in knowledge, in morality, in
law--must be referable to this test of intercourse. Let your judgment
of human beings be such as you would award to those who are
sufficiently human to be among your friends. Let it be directed solely
towards the well-being of the individual so far as that is consistent
with the well-being of society. Again and again Mr. Galsworthy has
shown us how stereotyped views, abstractions of the human mind, settle
down upon classes and individuals and warp their judgments and their
conduct. In _Fraternity_ he showed how the idea of class differences
becomes an obsession in the human mind, obliterating the truer idea of
human community, of those common qualities in character which are not
skin-deep, like class, but fundamental. In _Strife_ he showed how the
idea of the rights of an employer, of the rights of a workman, is an
abstraction hiding from master and workman the human bond which human
intercourse would have revealed. In _Justice_, again, he showed how
that lowest of all existing codes, the legal code, erects a
"temple-like" abstraction of the law to which all individuals, however
different they may be, however various their requirements, are made to

We may notice that in the cases both of the philosopher and the
dramatist there is a return to what I may call a rudimentary common
sense. Professor James' views come as a reaction in the course of the
long evolution of ideas. If on the one side we had not had thinker
after thinker who emphasised the necessity of approaching reality as a
relation of the conscious mind, and on the other side sceptics who
asserted that there is nothing knowable but the continuum of
disconnected sensations which present themselves--a blind array of
atoms--there would be no meaning in a thesis like that of Professor
James, which refutes the follies of the two extremes, and stands upon
a ground which is very nearly a denial of the possibility of
philosophy. In like manner Mr. Galsworthy's ethics are only valuable
as a chain in the progress of morality and institutions. Primitive
society conceived punishment as an antidote to the horrors of
unchecked violence. Mediæval law devised fearful penalties for the
forger, because forgery was a fearful menace to the stability of a
commerce not yet backed by a high commercial morality. But now we have
reached the time when we are menaced by the machinery set up by our
ancestors. The law works with a violence and a brutality which were
invented in, and proper to, an age of violence and brutality; and we
are confronted with the daily spectacle of judges compelled to
administer an antiquated and ferocious law, which awards to the
criminal the double penalty of chastisement and shame. The old
barbarism clings to the machine and works havoc. And because it is
old, and because we are accustomed to it, we tolerate it. We do not
put it to the test, which must be a personal test: How does it work in
the case of this individual and of that? Is the application of these
rules "satisfactory" when they are made to operate on the human beings
for whom they were devised? Has this code any social "cash value" when
it is brought to bear on the lawyer's clerk who forged a cheque to
save a woman?

I have not considered Professor James' merits as a dialectician, or
Mr. Galsworthy's as a dramatist. I have attempted to hint at that
quality in them which is called "humanism," humanism in thought,
humanism in ethics--the quality which makes men seek to judge ideas,
institutions and things by what they are worth to human beings for
their most pressing, their most vital needs. It is evident that this
same "humanism" is beginning to manifest itself in politics, religion
and even literary criticism. Clearly it tends at all times to set up
individual conviction against authority, freedom against discipline.
It has as its virtue the quality of being opposed to red tape,
professionalism, departmentalism pedantry, officiousness, intolerance,
lethargy, and the tyranny of custom; it has its dangers in that,
resting as it does in the last resort on the personal and the
concrete, it tends in ill-balanced minds to neglect the value of
ancient and dear illusions, and to degenerate into chaos and caprice.
Chaos, however, is not so much to be feared as those "little
provisional fools' paradises of belief" exposed so brilliantly by
William James.





It is doubtful if any person in England exercises so many-sided and so
considerable an influence as that of Mr. Bernard Shaw. It is not that
his books are read by very many thousands of readers; that his plays
have long runs or can compete in popularity with those of Mr. Barrie
or the Gaiety Theatre; that his lectures and speeches are reported so
fully as those of an ordinary Cabinet Minister; that his letters to
the newspapers are as numerous as those of Mr. Algernon Ashton or Dr.
Clifford in his prime. He seldom demonstrates his power by passing
Acts of Parliament or organising garden parties. He figures less often
in the Social and Personal columns than Sir H. Beerbohm Tree. He is
not so well known in the law courts as Mr. Horatio Bottomley. Yet
there is no other man in England who is so conspicuous in so many
spheres of activity, and wherever he appears he is always _facile
princeps_ in the public eye. Everyone who has any knowledge of him is
compelled to think about him, and those who have no direct knowledge
of him--so insidious is his influence--are to be found constantly
thinking in terms of Bernard Shaw. The active, talking, persuading,
book-writing, lecturing, propagandist population of England has been
bitten by him; it re-writes and popularises him; it even talks his
jargon when it is criticising him. It began by regarding him as a
brilliant and witty writer whom no one could take seriously; it now
regards him as a serious, and indeed responsible, thinker whose wit is
a matter of harmless inspiration, and often a tactical advantage.

Mr. Shaw, in fact, has thrust himself upon English public life.
Wherever anything is doing or being talked about he is in the thick of
it. Whenever he rises to speak, he is supreme. He sweeps away all the
false issues in a few sentences; he attacks the very heart of the
problem under discussion, and makes the most practical proposals. He
can cover a hostile argument with ridicule, and drive it out of the
field with good-tempered laughter. But his method is not only that of
raillery. He is remorselessly logical. He can pursue the logical
sequence of his case, and set it forth with a fusillade of perfectly
relevant and illuminating instances and analogies. He never loses his
thread like Mr. Chesterton; he never wanders off into vague rhetoric
like Mr. Wells. He chases his enemies and his subject until he has
subdued the first and set forth the second so that it shines with
crystal clearness. There is no man in England who can state a case, on
the platform or in the Press, with such perfect lucidity, such logical
order, with such brightness and lightness, or with such force as Mr.
Bernard Shaw. He is the greatest debater in England, the greatest
pamphleteer, the most observable personality in public life.

That is not all. As an organiser there is no one who has more driving
power. He can set himself to committee work, and keep every member of
a committee active, himself included. He can, when necessary, pester
responsible persons till they are goaded into action. Whilst his
attention is always fixed on the central object, he has an eye for the
most trifling details.

He is a first-rate business man. He knows as much about the trade of
publishing as any publisher. He refuses to employ a literary agent,
and personally transacts the business of placing his work--and
sometimes that of his friends--in the literary and dramatic market all
over the world.

Also he is a man personally benevolent. No one was ever less
sentimental or romantic, but he is charitably disposed to everyone
whom he does not regard as a fool.

If we examine the records of Mr. Shaw's life we shall see that it has
been spent somewhere mid-way between the lives of the man-of-action
and the man-of-letters. He has been primarily and essentially a critic
of the current ideas about existing facts, the ideas which are
pre-supposed in the typical and habitual activities of our modern
world. He has been, almost invariably, a destructive critic--a critic
of that rare kind which is able to win attention because he himself is
so active in this Vandal work of his, because he can make his critical
attack in so many different ways, because there seem to be a greater
vital force and spirit in his pulling down of gods than ever existed
in the gods themselves. Socrates, one would suppose, was not more
insistent and unexpected in his gadfly attacks upon the Athenian
sophists than is Mr. Shaw in his raids upon the Pharisees of
sophisticated London. His biography, when it is written, will be a
very fascinating and a very large book, and Mr. Shaw himself thinks
that it will be identical with the history of his time. There is
already in existence a book which claims to be an authorised "Critical
Biography;" and, needless to say, it was written by an American--Dr.
Archibald Henderson--who stepped in with superb confidence and
compelled Mr. Shaw to criticise, overhaul, and contribute to his
daring enterprise. "You can force my hand to some extent," said Mr.
Shaw, "for any story that you start will pursue me to all eternity."

This valiant American describes with gusto the active, talking,
debating, propagating, protesting life that Mr. Shaw has lived. It has
not been a "domestic" life; not even a specially "literary" life. We
feel it has been a life in which there has been little privacy or
intimacy, that it has seldom been wholly shut off from the
market-place and the theatre; that if he is a man entirely destitute
of "company manners," this is because he has lived always "in
company." He was, of course, born in Ireland, not very far from
Dublin. His parents were Protestants belonging to that middle class
which is hampered by social pretensions and insufficient worldly
means. He was taught at Protestant schools, where he was expected to
believe that "Roman Catholics are socially inferior persons, who will
go to hell when they die, and leave Heaven in the exclusive possession
of ladies and gentlemen." At the age of fifteen he went into a land
office and helped to collect rents, without realising, it is to be
presumed, that he was contributing to an iniquitous system. He studied
pictures in the Irish National Gallery, became interested in music
through his mother and her friends, and made his first appearance in
print when moved to protest against the evangelistic services of
Sankey and Moody. At the age of twenty he turned his back upon
Ireland, and started a literary career in London. In the first nine
years of "consistent literary drudgery" he succeeded in earning six

To put it frankly, Mr. Shaw was not born to succeed as "a mere man of
letters," and assuredly not as a writer of romances. His own statement
that he "exhausted romanticism before he was ten years old" is
historically inaccurate. He started a literary career early, but at
twenty-nine he was still a romantic young man who had written reams of
romantic literature, and had signally failed. He was right to abandon
romance; it had never inspired him, and it was entirely natural and
human that he should ever after disown and abuse this treacherous
mistress. It is characteristic that what really did inspire him and
set him moving upon the course ever after to be his own was an event
unconnected with those personal, intimate issues of experience which
usually feed the flame of imaginative art. It was a debating speech by
Henry George which aroused the reforming ardour thenceforward
essential and characteristic in Mr. Shaw, a speech which sent him to
Karl Marx, and made him a "man with some business in the world."
Henry George sent him to Karl Marx, and Karl Marx sent him to that
group of clever people among whom were Graham Wallas, Hubert Bland,
Sidney Olivier, and--of main importance--Sidney Webb.

"Quite the cleverest thing I ever did in my life," Mr. Shaw is
reported to have said to his American interviewer, "was to force my
friendship on Webb, to extort his, and keep it." Mr. Sidney Webb was
then, as now, the constructive encyclopædist, the man who, wherever he
went, "knew more than anybody present." "The truth of the matter is
that Webb and I are very useful to each other. We are in perfect
contrast, each supplying the deficiency in the other.... As I am an
incorrigible mountebank, and Webb is one of the simplest of geniuses,
I have always been in the centre of the stage, whilst Webb has been
prompting me, invisible, from the side." It was this singular union
more than anything else which gave direction and motive force to the
propaganda carried on by the Fabian Society for a quarter of a
century, whilst to Mr. Shaw personally it gave the consistency of
thought and definiteness of aim which underlie all his later work. We
cannot, of course, neglect the intellectual influence of Ibsen and
Nietzsche, Wagner and Samuel Butler, the individualists and
aristocrats who corrected the mob-sentiment of old-fashioned
socialism; but these and similar influences matured in him through his

Bernard Shaw, of the Fabian Society, ceased to be a private citizen. He
became a man of "affairs," destined, thenceforward, to live in the
publicity of debating-halls, among those ideas which reformers and
politicians have actually socialised, removing them from the privacy of
human experience and turning them into public property--like parks, open
spaces, and wash-houses. I do not mean that he treated this public
property as other, and more conventionally-minded, men habitually treat
it. Mr. Shaw walks down the Strand as if it were his private
bridle-path. He walks across an Insurance Bill or a National Theatre
scheme or a policy for giving self-government to Englishmen as a man who
might be treading the weeds in his own garden. But the intellectual
stage-properties were all prepared for him and presented ready-made in
those times when he went night after night to lecture in the city and
suburbs of London. He had, indeed, the social cosmopolitanism which made
him dissociate himself from small literary coteries and gain a practical
knowledge of publicly-minded men. But one cannot fail to see that his
long experience of lecturing, debating, setting up arguments, and
parrying verbal attacks--which made him the best debater in England, and
turned him, as Dr. Henderson has suggested, from a doctrinaire into a
"practical opportunist"--served not only to endow him with his
consistency as a thinker and his excellence in expounding ideas, but
also confirmed him in his defects as a humanist. His continual
intercourse with the innumerable fixed ideas of societies and
committees, his debater's habit of attacking whatever fixed idea he
encounters, have had the effect of organising his own mind along the
lines of such fixed ideas, theses, positions and oppositions as could be
defended or countered by his boundless resource in argument, wit, and
raillery; and it followed that his interpretation of life was likely to
resolve itself into the debater's generalisations, the partialities and
half-truths which ignore what is individual, personal, intimate, and
finest--for the finest things in life are those which cannot be
generalised, which are individual and unique, which admit of being
stated but not argued. It follows also that his strength is in attack
and in destructive criticism. The only important positive ideas for
which he stands are the Supermannish idea of the duty of every man to be
himself to the utmost, and a generous democratic idea of freedom, in
accordance with which every self-respecting man and woman should be
given the opportunity to work out his or her own destiny fully,
unhampered by the tyrannies of caste, prestige, sentimental traditions,
false codes, and effete moral obligations.

But these ideas are of very considerable magnitude. They are capable
of almost infinite extension and application to life. And it should be
observed that, though Mr. Shaw thinks mainly about obvious "public
questions"--politics, the professions, the institution of marriage,
patriotism, public oratory, public health, etc., he has nothing in
common with the unimaginative public man who merely criticises
proposals and policies. He is always interested in the state of mind
which produces proposals and policies. When he pleads for the
abolition of the Dramatic Censorship before a Royal Commission, he
gives us not only the most effective practical exposure of the
Censorship that has ever been written, but also a far-reaching
philosophical analysis of liberty as freedom to express and propagate
ideas. "My reputation has been gained by my persistent struggle to
force the public to reconsider its morals," he says in the _Rejected
Statement_, the presentation of which to the Royal Commission affords
one of those delightful true stories that only a Shaw can make so
damaging. "I write plays with the deliberate object of converting the
nation to my opinion in these matters." That he has to a large extent
already converted the intellectuals--whether by his plays or by other
means--is beyond question. Many of the most powerful writers of the
last ten years have concentrated their efforts on exposing the tyranny
of the established idea and the established moral code. Such diverse
writers as Mr. Wells, Mr. Galsworthy, Mr. Granville Barker, Mr.
Cunninghame-Graham, Mr. Belloc, and Mr. Chesterton have written books
the motives of which have been satire, divine anger, _sæva
indignatio_, directed against the established moral codes or
intellectual habits of the time. Mr. Shaw, who originally followed the
obscure Samuel Butler, showed the way for the others. His method was,
and is, to combine argument with the more telling weapon of ridicule.
In his Preface to _Blanco Posnet_ he exposes and ridicules the
Dramatic Censorship, just as in _Getting Married_ he exposes and
ridicules the popular conception of happy domestic life, and in like
manner in _The Doctor's Dilemma_ the superstition that the faculty of
medicine is infallible.

The picture of concerted professional fraud given us in _The Doctor's
Dilemma_ is not too exaggerated for the purposes of a debating
argument; but in his long essay on the subject he gives a far more
reasonable statement of the case. He does not treat the doctor as a
murderer, or a pickpocket, or a human vulture, or even a cold-blooded
cynic; he explains what is likely to happen to the ordinary,
moderately decent, normal man, without any special moral or
intellectual equipment, who becomes a doctor. "As to the honour and
conscience of doctors, they have as much as any other class of men, no
more and no less. And what other men," he adds characteristically,
"dare pretend to be impartial where they have a strong pecuniary
interest on one side?" He analyses the psychology of the practitioner
and the specialist. He shows how much guesswork there must be where
even the most distinguished differ; in what manner we are all handed
over, bound, to the tender mercies of the men who are often poor,
overworked, unscientific, and, if they are specialists, prejudiced by
exclusive study of one disease. What he says about the surgeon and the
specialist is nearer to the truth than what he says about the general
practitioner. Long experience of all sorts of illnesses is more
valuable for the curing of simple diseases than much so-called
"scientific knowledge;" and, as it happens, the life of the general
practitioner who comes into sympathetic contact with so many men and
women of different types is one which does promote certain healthy
cynicisms and human decencies singularly lacking in the specialist on
the one side and the routine-driven hospital nurse on the other. But
there we have the individual equation. Mr. Shaw is good at
considering general cases; he is never, in his writing, much concerned
about individuals.

The essay which preceded _Getting Married_ is stronger in its attack
than in its reconstructive proposals; and the essay is better than the
play, because Mr. Shaw can present arguments more effectively than
persons, and arguments are more suited to essays than to plays. It is
interesting to find him confessing that "young women come to me and
ask me whether they ought to consent to marry the man they have
decided to live with." Mr. Shaw, of course, urges them "on no account
to compromise themselves without the security of an authentic
wedding-ring." He should not have been surprised. He, if anyone,
should have known that if you attack an existing morality, the public
will inevitably think you are advocating the corresponding
"immorality" as popularly understood; and one suspects that Mr. Shaw
has, from this natural misunderstanding, more to answer for than he
himself dreams of. When he calls himself "an immoralist," he means
that he is the true moralist; that he is going to substitute for a
decayed, outworn, conventional, and stupid morality, a morality based
upon a rational human principle--a morality that will make society
better and more tolerable. In this particular essay he asks us to get
rid of the idea that the family, _as at present constituted_, is the
highest form of human co-partnership. "The people who talk and write
as if the highest attainable state is that of a family stewing in love
continuously from the cradle to the grave can hardly have given five
minutes' serious consideration to so outrageous a proposition."

    Home life as we understand it is no more natural to us than a
    cage is natural to a cockatoo. Its grave danger to the nation
    lies in its narrow views, its unnaturally sustained and
    spitefully jealous concupiscences, its petty tyrannies, its
    false social pretences, its endless grudges and squabbles, its
    sacrifice of the boy's future by setting him to earn money to
    help the family when he should be in training for his adult life
    (remember the boy Dickens and the blacking factory), and of the
    girl's chances by making her a slave to sick or selfish parents,
    its unnatural packing into little brick boxes of little parcels
    of humanity of ill-assorted ages, with the old scolding or
    beating the young for behaving like young people, and the young
    hating and thwarting the old for behaving like old people, and
    all the other ills, mentionable and unmentionable, that arise
    from excessive segregation. It sets these evils up as benefits
    and blessings representing the highest attainable degree of
    honour and virtue, whilst any criticism of or revolt against
    them is savagely persecuted as the extremity of vice.

But when Mr. Shaw begins to reconstruct, and thinks that the whole
matter can be solved by such simple--and so far as they go,
excellent--economic expedients as making women economically
independent, and legitimising children, he ceases to be persuasive.
There comes a point when brilliant cleverness and sheer logic _from
necessity_ miss the truth. It is precisely the cut-and-dried Fabian
side of Mr. Shaw which blinds him to facts of a certain sort--the
fact, for instance, that for certain human needs no ingenious, or
_invented_, rational remedy is possible; that in certain departments
of life where the great instincts are concerned the accumulated
conscious and subconscious experience of thousands of years of mankind
have produced a kind of instinctive knowledge which logic cannot
tamper with; which is bound up with human nature and is near to a
thousand subtle truths never yet brought within the scope of
scientific knowledge; which it is dangerous to attack by a brutal
frontal assault, as if the issue were a single and simple debating
issue; which is defied only under just such penalties as Mr. Shaw
himself alludes to.

It is already evident why Mr. Shaw is far better as lecturer, debater,
pamphleteer, and writer of critical essays than as writer of either
romances or plays. He is primarily a social reformer, like Henry
George and Karl Marx, though he brings more wit, cleverness, driving
power, and intellectual agility to bear upon his subjects. He is
interested in public morality and "affairs," in generalities rather
than individuals, in ideas about life rather than in life at first
hand. He sees through the intellect rather than through the
perceptions. He is concerned to prove and to teach rather than to
_show_. He has made very few _characters_ in his plays, for the simple
reason that he handicaps his persons by treating them as _ideas_
rather than as _persons_. This is to say, that as an artist he is
never disinterested; he is more concerned with the case which his
puppets are set up to prove than with a situation for its own sake. In
_Cæsar and Cleopatra_ he did for once allow a subject to exist for
its own sake. He had no axe to grind, primarily, on behalf of society
and its morals. It is not perhaps the cleverest of his plays, but it
is the play which is most a play; and if it is not a great play, that
is because Mr. Shaw is not a great dramatist--he has not allowed
himself to be a great imaginative artist--he turned his back upon
imaginative art at the age of twenty-nine.

In the cleverest of his plays there is, indeed, always one real
person, and that person is none other than himself. In _Man and
Superman_, in _Arms and the Man_, and in _John Bull's Other Island_,
the hero is in each case nothing more nor less than a new
impersonation of Bernard Shaw. (In _John Bull's Other Island_ I take
Larry Doyle as the hero.) The hero is a man who on every possible
occasion either gets up and argues with extraordinary fluency and good
sense as if he were a very brilliant young man in a debate, or else is
forced into the sort of action which that brilliant debater would have
advocated. Broadbent, in _John Bull's Other Island_, is not a person
at all; he is a brilliantly conceived caricature of English stupidity;
he is a general idea, not an individual. Even Keegan, who has been
extolled as a romantic and unusual figure among the Shavian _dramatis
personæ_, is a chorus rather than a character, and essentially Shavian
in that his ideals are vegetarian, and that his language is couched in
such terms as--

    How will you drag our acres from the ferret's grip of Matthew
    Haffigan? How will you persuade Cornelius Doyle to forego the
    pride of being a small landowner? How will Barney Doran's
    millrace agree with your motor-boats?... Perhaps I had better
    vote for an efficient devil that knows his own mind and his own
    business than for a foolish patriot who has no mind and no

That is not the way in which priests, madmen, or idealists talk in
Ireland. It is the way they talk at the Fabian Society.

The present writer is fully aware of the great work which Mr. Shaw has
done. He yields to no one in his admiration for the strength of
character and the spirited eagerness which have made him so effective
in his onslaught upon pernicious illusions, in making people look
beyond the formula and refuse to be blinded by social taboos. But it
is just because his influence is so great and in many respects
beneficial that we ought to be on our guard against a man who may not
always mesmerise us to our advantage. And it is in the matter of the
drama and the fine arts in general that Mr. Shaw is proving a
dangerous Messiah. He has done much to cleanse the Augean stables of
the English theatre. He has discredited though he has not destroyed
the artificial "drawing-room play;" he has poured ridicule upon the
so-called "well-made play" which Scribe, Sardou, and their school
could concoct for the delight of Frenchmen; he has exposed the
insignificance of the accidents and catastrophes, and the coming down
of the curtain "on a hero slain or married." He has compelled sensible
people to look to the theatre for something more than sentiment,
romance, ingenuity; for something relevant to the larger issues of
life. That he has done; and it is doubtful if any English-speaking and
English-writing man now alive, excepting Mr. Shaw, could have done it
with any thoroughness.

But having freed us from these old tyrannies of the stage, he has not
rested there. He has imposed new tyrannies of his own which are
sanctioned either by his own extraordinary influence or by that swing
of the Time-Spirit of which he is the visible pendulum. He is very
persuasive, and puts his case so well that he is able to blind us to
false issues. He states his case in the Preface which he wrote to
_Three Plays by Brieux_. Brieux is for him the greatest French
dramatist since Molière; and more important because whilst Molière was
content to indict human nature, Brieux devotes his energy to an
indictment of society. "His fisticuffs are not aimed heavenward: they
fall on human noses for the good of human souls."

    When he sees human nature in conflict with a political abuse he
    does not blame human nature, knowing that such blame is the
    favourite trick of those who wish to perpetuate the abuse
    without being able to defend it. He does not even blame the
    abuse: he exposes it, and then leaves human nature to tackle it
    with its eyes open....

    You do not go away from a Brieux play with the feeling that the
    affair is finished or the problem solved for you by the
    dramatist.... You come away with a very disquieting sense that
    you are involved in the affair, and must find the way out of it
    for yourself and everybody else if civilisation is to be
    tolerable to your sense of honour.

All this is unmistakable. Mr. Shaw regards the theatre primarily and
essentially as a substitute for the pulpit, as a convenient
lecture-hall for the propaganda of Shavian socialism. He takes it for
granted that there is to be a social "problem;" that "fisticuffs" are
to be aimed at somebody's nose as they were in those delightful games
of play in which he indulged as a young and earnest Fabian; that the
audience is to come away tuned up to social endeavour just as people
come away from Revival meetings tuned up to the tasks of spiritual

This is well enough. Upon two conditions, I agree that there would be
no objection to Mr. Shaw or any other dramatist using the theatre as a
means of reforming men; these conditions being, firstly, that he is
able to do it--which I doubt; and secondly, that he should not insist
that this use of the theatre is the only proper and legitimate use.

Mr. Shaw has not yet been able to use the theatre in this way, and
still less, Brieux. Brieux's influence in France is mainly due to the
fact that he is a brilliant and eloquent lecturer. Mr. Shaw's
influence in England is due to his essays, speeches, conversations,
personal vehemence, and ubiquity. People go to see his plays because
they are very witty; they understand them and think they are convinced
by them only when they have read and digested his far more convincing
Prefaces. The reason why it is impossible to be profoundly interested
in his plays is because he is not profoundly interested in them
himself. He evidently wrote them without being excited about his
persons, their experiences, or the emotions which the situation drew
from them; he was excited about his case, about the moral or social
truth which his puppets could be made to illustrate. There is much
ingenious arrangement, much plausible argument, and abundant wit. What
really does delight us is the often irrelevant wit of the
conversation, and this because Mr. Shaw himself delights in irrelevant
wit; it is only when he is writing wittily and irrelevantly that he is
disinterested, that he is doing something for its own sake, that he is
writing in the only way in which an artist can write effectively. But
in so far as he is aiming at something other than a significant
presentation of life--and he generally is--he is attempting to
"indict" society, to show up abuses, to expose political and social
sores; he is ceasing to be interested in his subject, his persons, his
play; he is forcing human nature out of itself; he is distorting it;
he is making it unreal; he is creating monsters--and no dramatist, no
artist of any kind, can deal effectively with monsters. When he writes
a play, Mr. Shaw attempts to do two completely different things at one
and the same time--to present life, and to deduce an arguable and
preconceived conclusion about life. If he has not completely failed,
that is because he has not completely lived up to his theories.

It is not Mr. Shaw's fault that so many of the cleverest younger writers
of the time allow themselves to be led away by his example. But that
they are so led away--not only in drama, but in the kindred art of
fiction--is a fact so important that it requires statement. Mr. Shaw is
entitled to his own opinion that "what we want as the basis of our plays
and novels is not romance, but a really scientific natural history;" he
is quite right, if he feels it to be his own particular function, to
spend his whole force in "indicting" society. But how terrible a loss in
human interest and vitality if all our creative artists are to occupy
themselves in this process of "indictment"--indictment being at all
times the antithesis of fair criticism and presentment. I would venture
to suggest that human life, roughly speaking, may be divided into two
great parts, one of which is completely tabooed by Mr. Shaw. These two
parts or aspects of life may be named and envisaged in a hundred
different ways. Aristotle called them the "practical" and the
"theoretic." The Roman Church called them the "temporal" and the
"spiritual." The social philosophers called them the "State" and the
"Individual." They may be called "Science" and "Art," "Politics" and
"Poetry," "Public" and "Private," "Social" and "Personal," "Public Work"
(Shaw) and "The Will of God," "Philanthropy" and "Friendship," "Justice"
and "Mercy," "Humanitarian" and "Human." Each second term in these
categories is cut clean out of modern life by Mr. Shaw. When he says
that "Ibsen was to the last fascinating and full of a strange moving
beauty," he says it as if he were reproaching Ibsen. His whole influence
is thrown on to the side of an austere common sense which destroys
emotion because it may become fanaticism, which laughs at sentiment
because it may be perverted into nonsense, which is as Puritanically
cruel to the insidious blandishments of romance as Plato was cruel to
the poets.

Is it fanciful to imagine that it is with the Irishman as I have
always fancied it was with the Greek philosopher, that by reason of
his own knowledge of the dangerous burning fever of poetry, from his
own susceptibility to its enchantments, he decided to crown the poets
with garlands and banish them to another city? That, indeed, is an
idle fancy. Mr. Shaw exists to prove that there are Irishmen who do
not suffer from the intoxication of beauty, who are not susceptible to
the windy ardours of romance. Nevertheless Mr. Shaw, too, has his
romance. He learnt it in the eager, fighting days when he held up the
standard of Fabianism before the blinking eyes of suburban audiences;
when he learnt to detest the silly ways of silly people whose
silliness was feebly glorified under the names of morality, religion,
sentiment, and patriotism; whose qualities he soon found himself
exposing in the manner habitual to the trained debater. But this was
no ordinary debater. There were conviction, sincerity, and even
romantic--God save the word!--_romantic_ zeal behind this fire of
argument, laughter, repartee. Life had become for him, as he said to
Dr. Henderson, "a sort of splendid torch, which I have got hold of for
the moment." It became his business "to make it burn as brightly as
possible before handing it on to future generations."



Mr. Shaw has said that his biography will be the history of his time.
In like manner we might say of Mr. Wells that his life has represented
the English life of his time. The former has touched this English life
at a thousand points, but he has touched it from the outside. The
latter has been an integral part of it, a part which has sprung into
consciousness of itself, so that he has written from within outwards.
Inevitably in writing about the England of his time he has found
himself writing about that England of which he himself is symbolic.
Mr. Shaw is amazingly clever in generalising about England, in
reducing England to formulæ, in expressing the ideas which her life
and society have stirred in his logical mind. But Mr. Wells has felt
this national life within himself; he has known it by conscious and
subconscious experience, this experience being with him a kind of
instinct developing into self-knowledge, and so into a more objective
and philosophical perception. You can tell from Mr. Shaw's light,
debonair, and laughing manner, just as you might guess from his rather
hard and unemotional writing, that experience of living has laid no
heavy toll upon his temperament. How different that nervous and
slightly self-conscious manner of Mr. Wells, that exterior geniality
which never wholly possesses the man, a cover, as it were, to those
inner springs of consciousness to which he has evidently referred the

It was strange when these two men, presenting so marked a contrast,
confronted each other at the Fabian Society--that association of
well-informed, constructive, slightly academic Socialists to which
both at the time belonged. It was evident that Bernard Shaw, supported
by Sidney Webb, standing for a perfectly clear-cut policy and program,
should win the day against a man whose appeal was essentially to
something not clear-cut, not defined, but to instinct and psychology.
I have been told that Mr. Wells was never able to put forward a
coherent program, to state an intelligible case--but all that I know
for certain is that it was not intelligible to the Fabians. It is
probable enough that his program, as a program, was defective, for
whilst it is perfectly easy to define a simple, definite, not widely
inclusive policy of action, it is far harder to define that side of
the life of a nation which belongs to temperament and instinct. This
was what Mr. Wells had in mind; but the social reformers to whom he
addressed himself preferred a definite scheme touching the surface of
life to an indefinite scheme which aimed at the centre. So Mr. Wells
ceased to be a Fabian, and became a Tory-Socialist.

I suggest that Mr. Wells' life and activity may be taken as symbolical
of the life of his time. He has told his own story again and again in
his novels; it is his own story that he has been telling when he
unfolds his ideas about the society in which we live. He, more than
any other considerable living writer, seems to have been born to
realise within the microcosm of his own experience the social
evolution which most of us see in the macrocosm of the nation--an
evolution which has been _observed_ by Mr. Bennett with equal
clearness, but in a less personal and subjective way, with more
detachment. All of us know from the study of history in what way
England has changed in the last hundred years--how scientific thought
suddenly gained a new importance when it was applied to industry--how
the shell of feudalism survived its vitality when the great factory
towns began to dominate the country--how all the classes were shuffled
and left unsettled--how the cities spread out in disorderly suburbs
and slums, without plan or direction--how men and women became factory
workers and office workers without knowing why, most of them scantily
educated, housed as the competing jerry-builders thought fit, and
flung into the maelstrom of competitive labour. All this we knew in a
certain sense, but it was Mr. Wells more than anyone else who made us
aware of this national life by presenting it in the only possible
effective way, the imaginative way. It may almost be said that he gave
it to us as an impressionistic account of his own life. He had lived
in all this; the social system, or lack of system, had expressed
itself in him; and finally he became conscious of all those elements
about him and in him which had left their deep impression. Most of us
have had an experience in some way similar, though not many of us have
been so intimately acquainted with so many classes, so many varieties
of people, or have felt our experiences so acutely. He was singular in
that he found his way to an expression of those effects which the
national life had had upon _him_--that is to say, upon a man who had
been brought up in a lower middle-class family in the Victorian era,
who had watched the London suburbs creeping outwards, who had lived
among shop-assistants, who had studied science in laboratories, who
had aspired to something more fruitful for the spirit. He did not
become aware of these significances all at once. The first eager
desire to express himself and create took the form of those early
romantic stories--_The Invisible Man_, _The Descent of the Martians_,
_The Time Machine_, etc.--stories in which his knowledge of science
and Jules Verne were not yet allied to a philosophic enthusiasm for
human beings in society. Then he began to be conscious of the great
problems of society, and generalised about them in his romantic,
ingenious, philosophically imaginative way in such books as
_Anticipations_, _A Modern Utopia_, etc., until he began to realise
that that personal method which he had adopted in _Kipps_ was the best
method of expressing the consciousness now awake in him of his own
life, of his relations with the people he had met and the country he
had lived in, and of the vague, restless desires--desires cast in the
mould of this material world, yet half mystical in their nature--which
had first made him percipient, then critical and dissatisfied, then
critical and irritable, then critical and religious, and
afterwards--it remains to be seen.

It was in _Tono-Bungay_ that Mr. Wells achieved an unquestionable
success. When he wrote that book it seemed that all the experiences of
which hitherto he had been only partially conscious became clear to
him; that all the clever but unrelated literary efforts which he had
hitherto made found here their clue and connecting link, their
inspired synthesis. Long before this he had written astonishing,
ingenious, philosophic, shrewd, suggestive books, but he had achieved
no success on this scale. Here he seemed to have brought together all
the threads of his many intellectual energies, and woven them into a
single fabric fit for wear-and-tear and adornment. At the first he had
written romances such as Jules Verne would have been glad to write; he
had gone on to project new worlds constructed after analysis of the
present, or in anticipation of the future, or ideally from the ideal;
he had written comic stories and weird stories, and one or two true
stories; and he had turned to economics and political science with
reforming zeal. But here we have it all again, not in parts, but as a
comprehensive whole, in a novel which asks us to consider every class
in the social ladder in modern England, which questions the whole
organisation of our society, which raises central questions about
birth, marriage, religion, death, and survival, and presents the whole
as a personal and human affair.

Mr. Wells set himself to this task in his own queer, plodding, English
way. To the niceties of style and form he paid little attention. He
tells the story as best he can, in his own slangy, cumbrous,
Latin-English, but idiomatic way--there is little selection or
self-suppression, but he makes his points. He draws from a copious
store. Considered as social satire, it is an exposure of the silliness
and futility of our system of competitive capitalism superimposed on
feudalism. Or you may take it as a book of adventure, and find our
hero and his erratic uncle plunging into orgies of hazardous exploits
and achievements. Or you may take it as a novel of love, and languish
with the hero in a misdirected amour, and burn with him in a glorious,
futile, and tragic affection. Or you may take it as a novel of
England, of the many currents of English life joining in one vast
stream on which the barque of the narrator floats. "'This,' it came to
me, 'is England. This is what I wanted to give in my book. This!'" And
this, the vision which comes to Mr. Wells through a kind of instinct
about the life he has experienced and sought to convey--the vague
dream that haunts and baffles him--the desired, intangible,
dimly-felt, but unknown thing--is offered as a kind of mystical
solution to the insoluble problem of an imperfect world.

The title--it is typical of Mr. Wells--suggests at once the farcical
element in the whole thing. Tono-Bungay--a quack medicine, "slightly
injurious rubbish" sold at "one-and-three-halfpence and two-and-nine a
bottle, including the Government stamp." We can only approach
Tono-Bungay, which is modern and representative of our whole
industrial system, by way of something prior to it--the old social
order which exists only as a tradition, which is maintained as a vast,
stupid, demoralising pretence, undermined by Tono-Bungayism. The old
order, in Mr. Wells' language, is called the Bladesover System,
Bladesover being the house where "I," George Ponderevo, the
housekeeper's son--one of the many incarnations of the author
himself--was born, brought up, and acquired his first impressions of

    The great house, the church, the village, and the labourers, and
    the servants in their stations and degrees seemed to me, I say,
    to be a closed and complete social system. About us were other
    villages and great estates, and from house to house,
    interlacing, correlated, the gentry, the fine Olympians, came
    and went. The country towns seemed mere collections of shops,
    marketing-places for the tenantry, centres for such education as
    they needed, as entirely dependent on the gentry as the village
    and scarcely less directly so. I thought this was the order of
    the whole world.

"All this fine appearance was already sapped." George himself, as a
boy, had already begun to "question the final rightness of the
gentlefolks," declaring his rebellion by "resolving to marry a
viscount's daughter" and blacking the eye of her half-brother. He is
transported to the house of Nicodemus Frapp, baker, of Chatham, where
he again rebels, this time against the threat of being burned for ever
in Hell. Thence he is taken to the house of his uncle Ponderevo,
chemist, of Wimblehurst, a small town dominated, like Bladesover, by
the landed gentry tradition. And he finds in this uncle, whose name is
soon to become a household word throughout the country, a veritable
embodiment of the new spirit which is invading the Bladesover system
and altering England. Mr. Ponderevo is restless and discontented. He
does not like Wimblehurst. "One rubs along. But there's no
development--no growth. They just come along here and buy pills when
they want 'em--and a horse-ball or such. They've got to be ill before
there's a prescription. That sort they are. You can't get 'em to
launch out, you can't get 'em to take up anything new."

Mr. Ponderevo, being bankrupt, moves to London, and in the course of
time George, now a student of science, follows him. New vistas of life
open up in the midst of this vast, overgrown, "purposeless," "dingy"
city. Nobody since Dickens has given us the impression of London in
all its multitudinous, dismal-gay activities as Mr. Wells gives it us.
But it is no longer the London of Dickens. It is a "great, stupid
giantess," a "city of Bladesover ... parasitically occupied,
insidiously replaced by alien, unsympathetic, and irresponsible
elements." It was a chaotic mass of houses built for the middle-class
Victorian families. And even while these houses were being run up:

    Means of transit were developing to carry the moderately
    prosperous middle-class families out of London; education and
    factory employment were whittling away at the supply of rough
    hard-working, obedient girls who would stand the subterranean
    drudgery of these places; new classes of hard-up middle-class
    people such as my uncle, employees of various types, were coming
    into existence, for whom no homes were provided. None of these
    classes have ideas of what they ought to be, or fit in any
    legitimate way into the Bladesover theory that dominates our
    minds. It was nobody's concern to see them housed under
    civilised conditions, and the beautiful laws of supply and
    demand had free play.

It was such a London, such an England, which offered itself invitingly
to the predatory ambitions of Mr. Ponderevo, so that out of a simple
concoction of drugs and water he was able to capture the money of
hundreds of thousands who fondly believed that Tono-Bungay would give
them new vigour and zest in life. Mr. Wells describes to us the sudden
rise and development of Mr. Ponderevo, to whose fortunes those of
George are linked; he tells us how he grows in importance, how he
moves into houses larger and larger to suit his new place in the
social scale, how vast a position he comes to hold in the financial
world of London, in the philanthropic world, and, of course, in the
social world.

It is whilst he is interesting us in George and his associates that
Mr. Wells makes us aware also of the higher unit of society and the
whole strange fraud of modern life, the pretence that there has been
no change when conditions have radically changed and are still
changing. The theory of the old order broods over the new, chaotic,
haphazard world which flings people up and down, sets their whole
life--birth, marriage, possessions, happiness--at the mercy of mere
chance. In the love interest which is an important part of the story
he presents the modern treatment of marriage and sex as another
disastrous example of muddling and disorder.

But he does not dwell long or didactically on each of these problems.
They arise naturally and inevitably, as a part of human life, in the
course of his story of adventure and love. He does not pretend to
solve the perplexing questions. The hero feels that he is "like a man
floundering in a universe of soap-suds, up and down, east and west."
"I can't stand it. I must get my foot on something solid or--I don't
know what." Behind it all, in its chaos and ugliness, he does not lose
the sense of something other and better, a vague but insistent ideal
cherished by the spirit. "There is something links things for me, a
sunset or so, a mood or so, the high air, something there was in
Marion's form and colour, something I find and lose in Mantegna's
pictures, something in the lines of these boats I make."

There, evidently enough, is something that the artist, the poet even,
wants. It is the mystical need, the desideratum, expressed in terms of
this world's goods--"Marion's form and colour," "Mantegna's pictures,"
the lines of a boat. If there is any solution here, let it be noted
that it is essentially an individual, a personal solution, the
artist's solution of the world-problem in terms of what is personally
significant to individuals. But when applied to men and women in the
mass, how thin and watery this ideal becomes, how unsubstantial and
shadowy, how unsuited to the collective needs of society, which are
practical and material. Every man in his public, social capacity must
necessarily express his ideals in a material and practical form; the
mystical side can only find expression in the private life, in the
personal way which is the way of art and individual intercourse. But
when Mr. Wells became dimly aware of the personal equation in life and
the personal ideal, he, who had already dedicated himself to the
treatment of social problems and men in the mass, attempted, by
mystical contradiction, to identify the private and the public, the
ideal with the material, the free with the bound. To make my meaning
clearer, I will recall again the incident at the Fabian Society. It is
just as if Mr. Wells had gone to that mixed gathering of austere and
flippant socialists, and had said, "We want something to link things
for us; we must remember the things that men cherish most of all, a
sunset or so, a mood or so, the high air. When we are settling the
women's question, we must not forget that Marion cares more about her
form and colour than about her vote; and if we are nationalising the
great masters, let us remember that there is something we may find and
lose in a single Mantegna more important to us than all the galleries
in the world. The derelict 'Victory,' with her romantic lines, means
as much to the nation as the biggest Dreadnought in the world."

And we can imagine Mr. Shaw getting up to question the novelist. "Will
Mr. Wells explain to us how the State is going to preserve Marion's
colour? Does he propose to arrange sunset effects on Primrose Hill?
Will he describe the apparatus by which he intends to capture and
bottle the high air, and distribute it for public consumption? And
where are we to look for the something to be found in Mantegna's
pictures when he has been so unfortunate as to lose it?"

Mr. Wells, naturally enough, broke with the Fabian Society; and at
the same time, discovering the inadequacy of his remedy, broke with
the whole social order, resigned himself for a time to sheer
irritation, and took his revenge upon the world in _The New
Machiavelli_. He devoted his brilliant powers to satirising the whole
public life of Great Britain, in the same breath lampooning the public
persons with whom he had been personally associated, and defending
himself against certain personal charges which had been brought
against him.

It was an effective book. It occasioned not a little gossip,
excitement, scandal, and even heart-burning. Though the author
announced that the persons in the novel were composite characters, not
to be taken as likenesses of real persons, and though no doubt there
were scenes and conversations which he had invented and incidents
which he had transposed, nevertheless in many essentials the story was
photographic. Mr. Wells himself was never, like his hero Remington,
either at Cambridge or in Parliament, but he came under the same
educational, social, and political influences which determined
Remington's character and career. Remington's friends, who are exposed
in all the intimacy of private life to the public gaze, were once,
under other names, the friends of Mr. Wells. No one who has any
acquaintance with public personages in London can fail to identify
those apostles of social organisation, Mr. Bailey and his wife
Altiora. Equally transparent are the young Liberals, Edward and Willie
Crampton. If the novelist has caricatured these persons he has seen to
it that he has never distorted them out of recognition. The realism
with which he describes these and a score of popularly "esteemed"
public men is applied also to their womenkind; Isabel is not spared;
nor is Margaret, Remington's wife.

Here, then, we have what is at the same time Remington's Apologia for
his errors, and his revenge upon the society which decided to
discredit him. He presents himself as an "unarmed, discredited man,"
whose power with the pen cannot be checked; a man "half out of life
already" because of the "red blaze that came out of my unguarded
nature, and closed my career for me;" a man who "cries out of his
heart to the unseen fellowship about him," and to those who "have
heard already some crude inaccurate version of our story and why I did
not take office, and have formed your partial judgment on me."
Remington's reply to the man who urges him to hush up the scandal
gives a colour of personal disinterestedness to the story.

    "It's our duty to smash now openly in the sight of everyone.
    I've got that as clear and plain--as prison whitewash. I am
    convinced that we have got to be public to the uttermost now--I
    mean it--until every corner of our world knows this story, knows
    it fully, adds it to the Parnell story and the Ashton Dean story
    and the Carmel story and the Witterslea story, and all the other
    stories that have kicked man after man out of English public
    life, the men with active imaginations, the men of strong
    initiative. To think this tottering, old-woman-ridden Empire
    should dare to waste a man on such a score!"

But Mr. Wells intends something more than to explain the state of mind
which led a distinguished politician and moralist, a married,
middle-aged man, to victimise--that is the "worldly" way of looking at
it--a beautiful young girl who had fallen in love with his genius.
Here we have the life-story and character of Remington portrayed at
full length--Remington an individual product of our social
environment--Remington in relation to the vast national processes
which have been changing England from the "muddle" of the Victorians
to the muddle of to-day--a Remington clever enough to see our
representative institutions stripped of their hollowness and their
cant; quick to pierce through the shell of Liberalism, not perhaps
quite to the kernel of it, but to the insincere part of it; quick to
see a profound psychological meaning in the Suffragette movement, and
to distinguish between the outer bearing of public men and the
individuality behind it--the "hinterland." The whole was a brilliant
analysis of England in macrocosm and microcosm welded into the
life-story of Remington. And his hero is not like one of Mrs. Humphry
Ward's puppets, set up to be a great politician. Remington as a
thinker is almost a great man; he is a profound analyst of society on
its human side; he _is_ a gifted critic of public institutions; even
his absurd perversity in trying to invent a constructive,
motherhood-endowing Toryism is the perversity of a versatile and
clever man whose action is precipitated by bitterness or pique.

But the extraordinary thing about _The New Machiavelli_ is, that this
envisaging of England in her social, political, and intellectual life,
this acutely and almost diabolically observed crowd of _real_
persons, this minute psychology, this exact history, this elaborate
philosophy--all are subservient to the purpose of explaining how it
was that Remington was driven into the net of sex, and Isabel was
enabled to "darn his socks." _Parturiunt montes_. Is it thus that
Remington will make himself immortal in literature, the
twentieth-century Benvenuto Cellini, swaggering, in a self-conscious,
twentieth-century way, through the tale of his glorious peccadilloes?
Or is it to be a Jonathan Wild, memorable as the hero of a hundred
magnificent felonies with which a Fielding or a Wells could glorify a
sturdy vagabond? But Remington writes in bitterness. His pen is
steeped in the gall of Swift. He feels rancour against Altiora,
against the Cramptons, against all the "Pinky-Dinkies" who prescribe
morals for a genius erratic in his desires.

The successive mental stages by which Remington emerges had been set
forth before in other books. They are here brought together and surveyed
in a comprehensive whole. He is anxious to strip off the disguises of
human nature, and to expose, in each of the persons arrayed before us,
the "self-behind-the-frontage." "In the ostensible self who glowed under
the approbation of Altiora Bailey, and was envied and discussed, praised
and depreciated, in the House and in smoking-room groups, you really
have as much of a man as usually figures in a novel or an obituary
notice." His ideal is the individual who lives and acts in the full
light of that "self-behind-the-frontage"--the "hinterland," as he calls
him; and his literary method in this book is to expose the emptiness of
the shop-window, to cast his satire upon the poor show.

The weakness of his attacks is that the ideal with which he would
illuminate his background is shifty, uncertain, ill-realised; being
undetermined, the function that is allotted to the human ideal is
actually left to chance, to accidental impulse rather than to
conscious will--to human frailty rather than to human strength. Hence
it is that he declares the rights of sex where its claims are weakest;
now applauds the conduct of Remington, now apologises for it; now
explains elaborately that his mere sensual side would assert itself,
now that sex never appealed to him without an admixture of the ideal;
now cries out for discussion and public enlightenment on this subject,
and now acknowledges that Remington, who had discussed it for years,
acted on impulse, in the dark. How uncertain it all is, how mixed in
its motives, how brilliantly bewildering in its conclusions--and yet
how clever!

It was probably a passing phase in Mr. Wells' history, an unhappy
phase for him, presumably, but inevitable. In the uneasy period of
irritation and defiance he lost none of his skill in self-portraiture,
in projecting himself upon the canvas of modern life. It was that vein
of undefined Romanticism in him, according so ill with the life of
"public affairs," that put him out of harmony with himself. Such an
ideal as he had formed for himself could never by its nature
completely satisfy any but the solitary recluse, and had little to
give to man in his social capacity, still less to the man whom he
depicted in _Marriage_, irritated, frustrated, drained of his higher
energies by the irritating calls of society. Long before, in _A
Modern Utopia_, he had prescribed for his Samurai rulers a periodical
course of solitude and meditation in the desert. In the book which,
while I write, is the last of his books--_Marriage_--he comes back to
the same idea. He depicts a hero full of scientific ardour and
intellectual ambition who finds that in the social life there is
nothing to satisfy his deepest needs, and that only in turning his
back on the world of people and flying to commune with God, nature,
and himself, in solitude, can he attain the mystical peace he longs
for. The social world which becomes an obsession to Trafford, his
hero, is made to swarm about him through the inevitable net of
marriage--although it is marriage to a fascinating woman whom he still
loves. At first he had sacrificed his scientific ideal to the domestic
and material needs. He had abandoned research in order to make
Marjorie rich and to surround her with luxury and smugness. The
comfortable house, the artistic surroundings, the social pleasures,
and the ennui of acquaintances reveal themselves to him as
frustrations of the life which man in his more glorious capacity
seemed destined to live. He sees the impulses under which men and
women seek to escape "from the petty, weakly stimulating, competitive
motives of low-grade and law-abiding prosperity." Marriage is the
social bond which has involved him in this. Marjorie herself has
become the feminine embodiment of that urgent life of "getting on," of
just "doing," which seeks to trammel, stifle, and kill the spirit and
higher intelligence of man. Through marriage the earthy sociality of
life had thrust itself upon him, and was killing what was
apprehensive, curious, spiritually and intelligently aspiring within
him. He rebels. He flies to the wintry wilds of Labrador, and takes
Marjorie with him.

There, in a merely fantastic but brilliantly described scene, amid the
thrilling dangers of a wild solitude and a grim winter, they discover
themselves. They come near to one another in moments of peril,
deprivation, and self-sacrifice. He passionately asserts, she
passionately agrees, that "we can't _do_ things. We don't bring things
off!" ... "The real thing is to get knowledge and express it" ...
"This Being--using its eyes, listening, trying to comprehend it. Every
good thing in man is that--looking and making pictures, listening and
making songs, making philosophies and sciences, trying new powers,
bridge and engine, spark and gun. At the bottom of my soul, _that_."
He sees man without "eyes for those greater things, but we've got the
promise--the intimation of eyes."

This is not, it is to be feared, a very satisfactory solution for the
average man or woman who is suffering either from destiny unrealised
or from the milder malady of nerves. The medical or the spiritual
adviser who should prescribe a course of Labrador whenever we are
physically or spiritually "run down" would be of little use to the
majority of us. We see here the monkish side of Mr. Wells' temperament
deliberately torturing the social and worldly side of him, the spirit
suggesting to the flesh and the devil that they ought to be content
with spiritual contemplation. The mystic has the final word in those
humorous-passionate conversations in which first and last things are
discussed by the man and the woman in the wild--the man and woman,
still comparatively young, about to return to a new life in
civilisation. But what will they become when they return? What will
Marjorie do when the shops once again lie temptingly before her, and
when her aunt Plessington's guests once more besiege her, and social
life presents itself again in its garish variety? Is this visit to the
wild more decisive than marriage itself? Will their brief vision of
God, their intellectual and spiritual conversion, make them "live
happily ever after?" Mr. Wells, at least, should know that it will
not; he will surely be bound to write another novel to show the final
stage of Marjorie and Trafford, the renewed conflict, within them and
between them, of the world and the spirit. For it is a conflict
without end, a conflict which Mr. Wells, as he goes on writing the
history of his own most interesting self in relation to his own most
interesting environment, must contrive to present to us in each new
book that he writes.



Mr. Arnold Bennett has often been spoken of as if he were a sort of
revised edition of Mr. Wells. In reality the contrast which these two
writers present is far more remarkable than the resemblance. The
important works of Mr. Wells came first in order of time, and Mr.
Bennett would readily admit that he owes much to the other's
imaginative pictures of a changing civilisation. He belongs also, like
Mr. Wells, to the essentially English tradition of fiction. In spite
of an admiration for French literature which has had a refreshing
effect upon his style, he has written many of his novels as Fielding,
Smollett, Dickens, and Thackeray wrote theirs--out of the abundance of
his imagination, from an inordinate eagerness to reproduce human life
in all its profusion, in its littleness and its greatness, a colossal
whole out of which the reader rather than the artist makes the
selection. In his longer books he has adopted the epic rather than the
dramatic method of writing fiction. He will often indulge his fancy
for insubordinate episodes, so long as they are in some way
characteristic. He loves abundance of description--there is scarcely
any novelist who is more precise in describing all the minutiæ of a
place or the physical traits of a person. This sort of profusion is
very English; and Mr. Wells, too, is essentially English.

The two men were born at about the same time. They came from families
which belonged, broadly speaking, to the same social class. They have
both of them written with perfect frankness of the sort of people they
have known intimately in their youth. And there, I think, the
resemblance ends.

The contrast is far more striking. All the most important of Mr.
Wells' books have been written about himself. Mr. Bennett has never
written about himself excepting in an early book like _The Man from
the North_, in certain inferior books of his middle period, and when
he is deliberately writing his impressions of places, as in his book
about America. It is always the personality of Mr. Wells with which
Mr. Wells is most concerned, and the world as related to him. The
personality of Mr. Bennett is kept in the background. He is an
interested observer, and he gives what he has seen or believes that he
has seen--he reports faithfully as one who might be held responsible
for the actuality of his vision. Men and women, places and things, are
all to him curious phenomena which it will be worth his while to note,
to try to understand, to record in so far as they are significant.

Mr. Wells has an extraordinary intellectual capacity of interpreting
his own impressions, and lighting upon truths by some romantic or
instinctive process of his own. Mr. Bennett has a very much harder
sense of fact. He understands romance, but he is not himself romantic.
His interests are all in the understanding and interpreting of the
significant facts of life, and he cares very little for the pleasure
of living outside that kind of living which is artistic perception.
And yet he has so much practicality and common sense--the sense of
fact which in his art stands him in such good stead--that he has even
been prepared to sacrifice his art to the main practical necessities
of life. At any rate, it is upon this hypothesis that we must explain
some of the very poor books which he perpetrated before it became
worth his while to protect his reputation--the only other possible
explanation being that, as he writes at all times and in all moods,
much of his work might be expected to be below his proper level.

But Mr. Bennett is not only extraordinarily versatile in his
observations of people, places, books--anything whatsoever that he
comes upon--but he has the faculty always of seeing objects as if he
saw them for the first time; that is to say, he brings imaginative
curiosity to bear upon them. He is not personally distressed, like Mr.
Wells, about the evil fate of the world any more than he would be
elated by its good fortune. But he is interested. He looks for
character, and he finds it. He looks for situation, and he makes it.
He can be content with a light comic situation, as in _Helen with the
High Hand_, and the result is admirable. He can present with equal
skill profoundly poignant situations, such as occur in _Clayhanger_
and _Hilda Lessways_. He is aware of the fact that life is a
spectacle; and that to make it interesting you must make it vivid, you
must show it as something that is intense and passionate. And he is
also aware of the fact that the feeling of intensity and passion may
be elicited from a sense of the monotonous, the trivial, and the
vapid; that tragic effect may be gained by the spectacle of men
seeking an ideal which is beyond their powers, or grasping at an ideal
which proves unworthy, or indifferent to an ideal which we see to be
within their reach.

It may be taken as certain that, with or without the example of Mr.
Wells, Mr. Bennett must inevitably have been affected by the sense of
the changing conditions of modern life, and the passing of the
generations from one set of habits to another. For it must be
remembered that he was born and brought up in the Potteries in the
middle and later Victorian periods; that as a young man he left those
provinces, and in course of time found himself engaged in the
profession of literature at a safe distance from them. He wrote about
all sorts of subjects--and in every sort of style--articles, didactic
books, fantasies, novels--but as a good journalist he at length
discovered that on one subject he was a specialist, that to his
accounts of one part of the world he could supply "local colour"--that
part of the world being, of course, the Five Towns of the Potteries.
He made this region his own. He adopted it for literary purposes. And
in writing _Anna of the Five Towns_, _Tales of the Five Towns_, _The
Grim Smile of the Five Towns_, and his more famous later novels he
naturally found himself describing the Potteries as they were when he
was a young man, but as they no longer are to-day. What was more
natural than that, as he passed from the last generation to the
present, writing in the present about the remarkably different past,
he should become supremely impressed with the very fact of the
transition--that fact of changing and growing old which dominates _The
Old Wives' Tale_, and supplies him with his theme in the play of

In _The Old Wives' Tale_ he presents a series of pictures which make
us realise that there are men and women about us who were brought up
in a world so totally unlike ours that we regard it as purely
historical. He has brought out this fact in a way that may cause
misgivings even to those who are still considered young. He takes us
back to the most vivid memories of our childhood. He recalls to us
what England was like and what people were like in an age when
electric trams were unknown, when bicycles were rare, when the retail
trader was a person who could still call his soul his own. He has
shown us people born in one world and growing old in another. He has
presented to us the fantastic but true panorama of certain persons who
were young and idealistic, who became middle-aged and practical, who
are now old and acquiescent; of persons who were born mid-Victorians,
who became later-Victorians, who to this day survive grotesquely among
the moderns--and again young men and women of to-day who themselves
will survive to a derelict old age among people as unlike us as we are
unlike the heroes of Mrs. Ward Beecher Stowe. No one of us will attain
a ripe old age without experiencing three different generations marked
by three different sets of habits, sentiments, ideals. Mr. Bennett's
subject is the tragi-comedy of growing old.

The author presented his people, and the places in which they lived,
in all the minutiæ of their and its existence. He combined the
realistic modern method with the bitter, ironical, sententious method
of Thackeray. There is nothing in the first half of this book which
Thackeray would have done better, and Thackeray never illustrated a
law of life remorselessly working itself out as Mr. Bennett has done.
His mind and his perceptions are at work simultaneously. He is
alternately humorous and grim, but is too philosophical, interested,
and detached ever to be bitter. That was the world our fathers were
born in--he shows it to us--that is what our fathers are among us to
this day--and again we have the picture. "You cannot step twice into
the same river," said Heraclitus. "You cannot go back to the town you
were born in," Mr. Bennett means to say; and his book makes his
meaning clear.

Two sisters, Constance and Sophia, are the girls, women, widows whom
we see growing up from the 'fifties to the latter part of the first
decade of the twentieth century. When we meet them first they are
young girls--fifteen and sixteen--"rather like racehorses, quivering
with delicate, sensitive, and luxuriant life; exquisite, enchanting
proof of the circulation of the blood; innocent, artful, roguish,
prim, gushing, ignorant, and miraculously wise"--at an age when "if
one is frank, one must admit that one has nothing to learn: one has
learnt simply everything in the previous six months." These two young
people are unconscious of "the miraculous age which is us." They lived
in the Potteries before the Potteries had acquired that big black
spot on the map which now dignifies and degrades their existence. They
lived in and around the important draper's shop in "The Square," under
the wing of their respected parents, the once active citizen, now
paralytic, Mr. Baines, and Mrs. Baines, the ruler, the dictator of the
household and of the morals of all its members.

In the first stage we see Constance and Sophia subject to this
parental rule. They take castor oil when they are bidden. They do not
leave the house without the sanction of Mrs. Baines. They must not,
needless to say, realise the fact that marriageable young men are real
facts. They must pay attention to the shop, preserving a proper
distance from the assistants. They must be careful that Maggie, the
servant, does not overhear familiar conversations. They must not go
into the drawing-room except on Sunday afternoons. They must wait upon
the paralytic father with proper punctilio. And they must be quiet and
attentive when Mrs. Baines is directing their morals. Then Mr. Baines
dies, because Sophia has been looking out of the window at a dashing
commercial traveller; and Mr. Bennett soliloquises:

    John Baines had belonged to the past, to the age when men really
    did think of their souls, when orators by phrases could move
    crowds to fury or to pity, when no one had learnt to hurry, when
    Demos was only turning in his sleep, when the sole beauty of
    life resided in its inflexible and slow dignity, when hell
    really had no bottom and a gilt-clasped Bible really was the
    secret of England's greatness. Mid-Victorian England lay on
    that mahogany bed. Ideals had passed away with John Baines. It
    is thus that ideals die; not in the conventional pageantry of
    honoured death, but sorrily, ignobly, while one's head is

But the generation of the Baineses does not give place easily; it
tries to shut its ears to the knocking at the door, insistently as it
may knock in the whimsical, assertive personality of Sophia. The
romantic commercial traveller whose fault it was that Mr. Baines died
a premature, though, scientifically speaking, a belated death, is the
symbol of the new influence which Mrs. Baines is too out-of-date to
resist. Sophia runs away with the commercial traveller, makes him
marry her, and is translated from "The Square" to Paris. Poor Sophia!
She is the victim of being half a generation ahead of her time, a
suffragette before it was an honour to be a martyr to the cause. But
in Constance the old influences are stronger. She persists like a
piece of old furniture which survives the relic-hunters and the
broker's men. She marries that trusted servant, Mr. Povey, who has
such a head for inventing tickets and labels and sign-boards, who
himself outdistances Mr. Baines as railway trains outdistance stage
coaches, and as aeroplanes will outdistance motor-cars. The married
couple naturally displace Mrs. Baines, and Constance notices her
mother shortly after the honeymoon--"Poor dear!" she thought, "I'm
afraid she's not what she was." "Incredible that her mother could have
aged in less than six weeks! Constance did not allow for the chemistry
that had been going on in herself."

And so they go on, till Mr. Povey is "forty next birthday," though,
dear innocent soul, he scarcely notices it as we notice it tragically
in these days of quick living. And Constance buries her mother, and
becomes engrossed in Cyril, her son, and scarcely observes how the
atmosphere in the Potteries gets blacker and blacker, and the trains
run nearer and more frequently, and the electric trams replace the
horse trams, linking up the Five Towns of the "District." And Mr.
Povey too gets buried, and Constance's son goes to London, and her
hair grows white, and at last--at last Sophia comes back to live with
her in the old house in the modern Potteries. And still those two old
women are living there together.

I shall not dwell upon the career of Sophia--who has pursued her life
in Paris very wisely, shrewdly, circumspectly, not to say
commercially, thus showing how honest bourgeois ancestry can triumph
over the flightiest of modern temperaments. Suffice it that she is now
an aged widow, a contemporary of the Crimean veterans, living to this
day in comfortable and old-maidish sobriety in the Potteries, hardly
conscious of the fact that aeroplanes are an innovation. It is Mr.
Bennett, not the Sophias, who makes us conscious of the strange,
portentous progress of evolution; of the lapse of time; the changing
mind of man; the desperate love of what has been; the inevitableness
of what is to come, of what is to replace us, and put us, too, on the
shelf among outworn things.

In _Clayhanger_ and _Hilda Lessways_, the first two books of a
trilogy which, at the time when I write, is still unfinished, Mr.
Bennett again presents the process of the generations, but he has
given us a more intense dramatic interest, he has singled out a few
persons for more significant characterisation; he has focussed his
picture better, concentrated the interest, and produced emotional
tension. The reason why _Pickwick_ retains its place as the first of
Dickens' novels is that it is almost the only book he wrote which had
a really satisfactory hero--an individual character. _Clayhanger_ has
two such persons--Edwin, and Darius his father, as well as a dozen or
more of interesting subordinate characters. There are other things
with which Mr. Bennett is concerned in this book beside the transition
from youth to old age, from Victorian to Edwardian. But he does not
let us forget this transition. "To Edwin, Darius was exactly the same
father, and for Darius, Edwin was still aged sixteen. They both of
them went on living on the assumption that the world had stood still
in those seven years between 1873 and 1880. If they had been asked
what had happened during those seven years, they would have answered,
'Oh, nothing particular.'"

Ordinary, humdrum life, an integral part of the national life,
enacting by slow, imperceptible changes the processes of the
Time-Spirit, still occupies Mr. Bennett's attention. He has again
traced for a score of years the lives of a group of people belonging
to the risen, well-to-do tradesman class in the latter part of the
Victorian era. With the successive cross-sections of life which he
draws for us he again makes us look backwards and forwards to the
England of yesterday and the England of to-morrow: the England which
has been revolutionising its conditions of life once or twice in every
generation, and has been giving its persons different food for ideas,
different standards to act upon, different habits to conform to or
revolt against: people whose parents were nurtured in the sweated
atmosphere of factories before the Factory Acts, and whose sons will
be the people of 1913. He shows us a whole generation of persons who,
living through these prodigious changes and being asked what has
happened, reply, "Oh, nothing particular." But though the score of
people in the Potteries with whom we are concerned are but
individually selected from the swarm that is provincial England, they
are none the less intensely individual. Darius Clayhanger, the hero's
father, the man who has emerged from the pit, and by sheer obstinacy
in work has made himself well off with his printing shop, stands out
clear as life with all his idiosyncrasies. Hard, plain-spoken, without
conscious ideals, satisfied with the _status quo_ (since the Corn Laws
were passed), unelastic, relentless, he is yet capable of bursting out
emotionally in a manner that displeases his more guarded son. We have
memorable persons in Big James, the foreman; Mr. Shushions, the aged
Primitive Methodist; Aunt Clara, the lady whose business in life was
tact; Mr. Orgreave, the architect; Janet Orgreave, his daughter; and
others who come familiarly in and out.

All of these persons whom I have mentioned, completely different as
one is from another, are none the less normal provincial characters.
They have a natural place in the Five Towns; their ambition does not
stretch out beyond the finite limits of Bursley unless it be to the
mild ecstasies of conventional religion or the generous aspiration
which accompanies song.

But the hero, Edwin Clayhanger, is something different. In the head of
Edwin the boy "a flame burnt that was like an altar-fire." But would
the atmosphere of the Potteries be damp enough to quench that flame?
Or did that flame burn intensely enough to survive so that his spirit
should rise out of the commerce, the routine, the unaspiring
neighbourly atmosphere which is the dull _clay_ of life? He longed to
be an architect. He did not understand architecture, he was unaware of
its finest possibilities, but something in him akin to the art-impulse
made him long to be an architect. But his father stamped out that
ambition. He entered his father's works, and, however rebellious at
heart, was continually submissive to his overmastering will. But once,
when the routine was settling down upon him, illumined only a little
by vaguely directed reading, his soul was burst out of its environment
by a passionate love which grew in a day; which seemed to win success;
but was thwarted by the woman who, without a word, incomprehensibly,
jilts him.

The years pass on--Mr. Bennett's transitions make us imagine forlorn,
almost intolerable passages of years in which the human soul trudges
stupidly and wearily towards death, discussing muffins and tea whilst
the Cosmos is plotting upheavals for the sole benefit of stupidity in
the mass--and Edwin, suffering at his father's hands, triumphing over
him in old age, is becoming an ordinary inhabitant of Bursley,
working, resting, taking his ease. Sometimes the smouldering flame
bursts out in him again, and he would perceive that he had been
nothing, achieved nothing, that he had been a mere "spendthrift of
time and years." "And there was he, Edwin, eating bacon and eggs
opposite his sister in the humdrum dining-room at Bleakridge."

But the flame breaks out once more. Art had had no chance to claim him
for its own, and Love had cheated him. But when he discovers Hilda,
and Hilda's son, and Hilda's misery--Hilda, "with her passion for
Victor Hugo, obliged by circumstances to polish a brass door-plate
surreptitiously at night!"-with her, love, passion, pity, intensity of
living come back to him.

It is interesting to turn from _Clayhanger_ to the story of _Hilda
Lessways_. This story has not quite the distinctive note which Mr.
Bennett struck in the two preceding novels. What we miss is, first of
all, the "local colour" which is the author's speciality, most of the
scenes being laid in Brighton or London; and second, that detached
manner which enabled Mr. Bennett to present his persons as if he were
himself indifferent to their fate, with the result that they stand or
fall entirely on their own merits. Here we feel that he is a partisan.
He has taken up Hilda's case. He is evidently prepared to champion her
against all the world. Hence the very femininity of the heroine which
he has so cleverly created, to some extent colours the book itself, as
if by a kind of sympathy between author and heroine. The perfervid
woman has sometimes communicated too much of her fervour to the very
language of the author.

But in other respects the book shows an advance in Mr. Bennett's art.
For the first time in his life he has resisted the temptation to
overwhelm us with the wealth of invention which his fertile mind is
busy upon. He has pruned away the unessential details. He has cut away
the delightful but irrelevant details which even in _The Old Wives'
Tale_ and in _Clayhanger_ threatened to shatter the perspective; and
has concentrated on the matter in hand with enormous advantage to the
dramatic sharpness and distinctness of his story.

He has made a further gain in intensity by using the story of
Clayhanger as a background to the present story. The technical
difficulty in all creative literature is a difficulty of language and
symbols--the difficulty of so speaking to the reader that he may see
moods, moments, situations, concurrences of life and forces of passion
in the fine, dry, intense light in which the author has seen them.
That is the infinite difficulty of all literature--to find a language
and to create an atmosphere which may become familiar to the reader
without becoming commonplace. How much do we gain in the reading of
Shakespeare by the fact that from the sheer poetry of the thing we
have been compelled to read him a score of times! How fully the Greek
dramatists understood that to be instantly appreciated they must deal
with stories every detail of which was stored with friendly
associations for the audience!

Mr. Bennett elicits something of this effect of the marvellous from
the familiar by putting the life-story of Hilda Lessways on a
foreground behind which lies the already familiar story of Edwin
Clayhanger. We remember Clayhanger living in the printing shop in the
Potteries; his uncouthness, his shyness, his pertinacity; his desire
to be an architect and to live the imaginative life, thwarted by his
grim old father; and the manner in which Hilda dawned upon him,
entered into his experience in a brief rapture of passion, and
disappeared, leaving Clayhanger to grope again with the commonplaces.
And in this new story we see the life of the girl, the woman; she,
too, groping among the commonplaces, with her heart set upon a wider
experience, till a moment comes when her story coincides with and is
complementary to that of Clayhanger. The speeches which we heard her
make in the earlier story are heard again here, with greater
comprehension; the apparently trifling words which fell from the lips
of Clayhanger, scarcely heeded, are heard again now, and heard as they
sounded to Hilda, grasping after a purpose and a fulfilment of

Mr. Bennett has endeavoured to examine the mind and heart of this
woman from the inside. Whether the machinery of the emotions, the
will, and the intellect really do work out just like this is a matter
harder for a man to decide than for a woman; but to me Mr. Bennett's
account seems plausible. What is mainly important is that Hilda,
whether she is psychologically true to life or not, is, at any rate,
a conceivable person. She is presented as one more example of the
spirit too large for its habitation. Cooped up with her mother in a
little house in the Five Towns, she was in trouble not the less acute
because "the trouble was that she wanted she knew not what." Hilda,
maturing, steadfast, idealistic, with a desperate readiness to live
through the inferior things of life if she could not now grasp the
best, with a vitality which enables her to emerge again and again from
tragedy that for most people would be final, is a contrast to her
rather futile, fussy, merely experienced mother. Hilda flings herself
into the work of a provincial newspaper office with the ardour of her
idealism. Here was something she had set her mind on, and the
practical quest was a religious passion, tragic in its way because the
real result of the work was so paltry and sordid.

What was she? Nothing but a clerk at a commencing salary of fifteen
shillings per week! Ah! but she was a priestess! She had a vocation
which was unsoiled by the economic excuse. She was a pioneer. No young
woman had ever done what she was doing. She was the only girl in the
Five Towns who knew shorthand.

And Mr. Bennett succeeds in interesting us in the ambitious,
speculative Cannon mainly by reason of the pathetically inadequate
objects on which he lavishes the passion of his energies and his
ideals--on a newspaper, a corrupt thing--on a boarding-house, a centre
of triviality. And Miss Gailey, whose heart is set on her hot-water
bottle and her cup of tea, and the easing of her rheumatism, interests
us profoundly, because it is such death-in-life which may prove
tragically destructive to the ascendant nature of a Hilda.

Mr. Bennett is not afraid of the drab side of life. But he never shows
peevishness on the one side nor bloodless romanticism on the other. He
sees this drab side, and he sees the passion of life--the aspiring
human always trying to be more than it is, or can be, in some
desperate, foolish way. This is the tragedy and the hopefulness of
tragedy which Mr. Bennett has grasped. To possess a keen faculty of
observation by which to present life exactly and realistically, and at
the same time to re-imagine these facts so that the vividness, the
intensity, the pitiful passion of life are what we mainly remember--to
combine these two qualities as Mr. Bennett combines them is to hold a
unique position in contemporary literature.



It has often been pointed out that the intellectuals--the people whose
business it is to formulate opinions in Parliament, Press, and
Pulpit--are not really expressing public opinion; they are only
expressing the opinion of the intellectuals. Perhaps it would be
nearer the mark to say that every civilised or semi-civilised human
being may be divided into two persons, the one an individual who
chooses, walks, eats, feels, and imagines in a private and personal
way; the other a sort of official person who registers formal opinions
when called upon to do so. The latter corresponds to the
"intellectual," and is the dominant element in the souls of the ruling
classes; whilst the former--the instinctive, the spontaneous, the
common-sense element--dominates the man in the street.

It would not be far wrong to describe Mr. Chesterton's philosophy as a
sort of sublimated public opinion _minus_ the opinion of the
intellectuals. To get at what I mean I must for the moment ask the
reader to think of Mr. Chesterton as an abstraction. Let him conceive
an Englishman, unlike any existing Englishman, who has never heard of
Darwin or Spencer; who has never been impregnated with the theory of
induction or analytical psychology; an Englishman who has never read
or heard of Macaulay, Froude, Carlyle, Ruskin, Bagehot, Mill, Seeley,
or Mr. Frederic Harrison; who has read none of the poets since Milton;
who has never been asked to consider the Reform Bill or the Education
Bill, the Oxford Movement or the Æsthetic Movement, Realism or
Impressionism, Non-Resistance or the Will to Power, Mr. Bernard Shaw
or Mr. Aylmer Maude, the Primrose League or the Labour Party, Mr.
Yeats or even Mr. O'Finnigan. Let us imagine that this agreeable
abstraction is in the habit of moving about among other abstractions
like himself; that he knows a horse when he sees it (even if he cannot
ride it); that he is accustomed to hospitable inn-parlours where you
may discuss any philosophy so long as it is not a system; that he has
a chivalrous admiration for women; that he likes sunshine and adores
the moon; that he believes in God, the respectability of wives, ballad
poetry, good fellowship, and good wine.

And now, having stripped Mr. Chesterton so that he is no longer even
an attenuated ghost of himself, let us re-clothe him and present him
decent and as he is. We must imagine this abstracted personage,
ignorant and therefore unbiassed, suddenly introduced to all the
learned jargon of the day. He still retains his simple views about
things out of date, and is called upon to pronounce views upon
entirely new matters--aristocracy and democracy, religion and
scepticism, art and morality, Tolstoy and Nietzsche. A welter of odd
ideas and delirious fanaticisms is suddenly sprung upon his simple
consciousness. He finds all the intellectual circles in England
working themselves into a fury about ideas, factitious ideas, which
positively did not exist for him when he was a happy abstraction.
Naturally, in his brief visit to the unabstracted world he has not
time to study in detail all the philosophies which have been invented
for the purpose of debate. But he goes round from circle to circle,
listens to this argument and to that, notices the effect which the
various philosophies have upon the characters of their exponents, and
himself enters into the fun of debate as if he had never been an
abstraction at all. He accepts the terminology which he finds ready
made, but of course uses it in his own way--he is obviously unable to
take anything for granted like the people who have always been
intellectuals. He continually comes across queer verbal usages, and
feels bound to declare that what we call free-thinking is not what we
call free; that what we call certainties are also what we call
uncertain; that aristocrats are unaristocratic; that doubters are
dogmatists; and that tradition is an "extension of the franchise." And
then the world, having never been out of its own generation, having
never been anything so shocking as an abstraction, dismisses Mr.
Chesterton with the smiling remark that he is, after all, a brilliant
writer of paradoxes.

Let us for a moment put aside our own intellectual prejudices, our
preconceptions, and follow Mr. Chesterton along his path of common
sense. He himself, in his book on _Orthodoxy_, throws over the
intellectuals. It is not that he refutes them--that would be a denial of
his own method; nor that he has completely studied them--that would be a
denial of his own character; but he does show us what havoc their
methods may work upon the mind, what an overthrow of our workaday
notions, our most vivid and keen impressions. If all the things that we
seem to know the best, the emotions most natural to men "fighting
peoples or proud mothers, or first love or fear upon the sea"--if all
these things stand for nothing, if they are not to be thought about by
our philosophers, what have we got left? The cosmos? "The cosmos is
about the smallest hole that a man can hide his head in." He finds that
the great popular thinkers--and it is right that he, a potent popular
writer, should concern himself with these rather than with the
systematic philosophers who observe conventions incomprehensible to the
common mind--are each and all of them prone to follow exclusively some
strange bent of thought, leading by pure reason to one of those awful
conclusions which "tend to make a man lose his wits:" Tolstoy, for
instance, reaching an unthinkable doctrine of self-sacrifice, Nietzsche
an equally unthinkable doctrine of egoism, Ibsen, Haeckel, Mr. Shaw, Mr.
McCabe--that never-to-be-forgotten Mr. McCabe--each of them by sheer
force of logic betrayed into insanity.

Just as I am affected by the maniac, so I am affected by most modern
thinkers. That unmistakable mood or note that I hear from Hanwell, I
hear also from half the chairs of science and seats of learning
to-day; and most of the mad doctors are mad doctors in more senses
than one. They all have exactly that combination we have noted; the
combination of one expansive and exhaustive reason with a contracted
common sense. They are universal only in the sense that they take one
thin explanation and carry it very far. But a pattern can stretch for
ever and still be a small pattern. They see a chess-board white on
black, and if the universe is paved with it, it is still white on
black. Like the lunatic, they cannot alter their standpoint, they
cannot make a mental effort and suddenly see it black on white.

Madness, he says, is "reason used without root, reason in the void."
"Madness may be defined as using mental activity so as to reach mental
helplessness." For he notes how some of the rationalists, in doubting
everything, have cast doubt even on the validity of thought. The
complete sceptic says, "I have no right to think for myself. I have no
right to think at all." The intellect has destroyed, but has not
constructed; there is no proposition which is not doubted, no ideal
which is not an object of attack; there is no rebel who has a sure
faith in his own revolt, no fanatic except the fanatic about nothing.
Where are the common things--the things we used to know and care
about--the self-contradictory things if you like, but the
realities--the things which make men kill their enemies, go gladly to
the stake, or shut themselves in a hermitage?

All these are things which, Mr. Chesterton thinks, the intellectual is
willing to throw overboard at the bidding of intellect. But he would
rather throw over intellectualism. He prefers to abide by the "test of
the imagination," the "test of fairyland." "The only words that ever
satisfied me as describing Nature are the terms used in the fairy
books, 'charm,' 'spell,' 'enchantment.' They express the
arbitrariness of the fact and its mystery. A tree grows fruit because
it is a _magic_ tree. Water runs down-hill because it is bewitched."
The so-called "laws of nature" are not one whit less mysterious
because of their uniformity. And again: "It is supposed that if a
thing goes on repeating itself it is probably dead; a piece of
clock-work." Mr. Chesterton supposes exactly the opposite. "Because
children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce
and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They
always say, 'Do it again;' and the grown-up person does it again until
he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult
in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It
is possible that God says every morning, 'Do it again' to the sun, and
every evening, 'Do it again' to the moon.... Repetition may go on for
millions of years, by mere choice, and at any instant it may stop."

Is not this, someone will say, only the _Religio Medici_ over again? Is
it not more than two and a half centuries since Sir Thomas Browne said:
"That there was a deluge once seems not to me so great a miracle as that
there is not one always;" and "where I cannot satisfy my reason, I love
to humour my fancy;" and "I can answer all the objections of Satan and
every rebellious reason, with that odd resolution I learned of
Tertullian, _Certum est quia impossibile est?_" Yes, it has all been
expressed in the _Religio_; but it is no small matter that, in spite of
Spencer, Karl Marx, Nietzsche, and Mr. Sidney Webb, there should still
be a modern and a popular way of using the thoughts of Sir Thomas
Browne. Mr. Chesterton has been driven into this apparent reaction by
the scientific thinkers to whom he was introduced with the scantiest
preparation. "It was Huxley and Herbert Spencer and Bradlaugh who
brought me back to Orthodox theology." His supernaturalism, which he
identifies with orthodox Christianity, I should prefer to call the
Romance of Christianity--Romance implying not falsity, but the desirable
and the ideal. He deliberately takes that which he and other people
_admire_ or _want_ as the standard of truth. "I want to love my
neighbour not because he is I, but precisely because he is not I." "The
_heart_ of humanity, especially of European humanity, is certainly much
more _satisfied_ by the strange hints and symbols that gather round the
Trinitarian idea, the image of a council at which mercy pleads as well
as justice...." Mr. Chesterton defends what he calls Christianity not so
much on the ground that it is credible, but on the ground that it is
satisfying, that it is agreeable.

I say "what he calls Christianity," for his argument is prone to fall
into a vicious circle; he arbitrarily calls all that is satisfying to
him by the name of Christianity. It endorses, he says, a "first
loyalty to things" and enjoins the "reform of things;" it commands a
man "not only to look inwards, but to look outwards." God is a part of
the cosmos, and yet he is distinct from it and from us, or we could
not worship him. Christianity commands us to desire to live, and it
commands us to be glad to die (and this contradiction, he says, like
all the others, is human, just as the virtue of courage is human; for
does not courage mean "a strong desire to live taking the form of a
readiness to die?"). It is against compromise, against the "dilution
of two things" neither of which "is present in its full strength or
contributes its full colour;" it endorses the extremes of pride and
humility, anger and love, mercy and severity. It is full-blooded,
allowing place for every human emotion, directing anger against the
crime, and love towards the criminal. And he draws a fanciful and
grotesque picture of the Christian Church as a "heavenly chariot"
whirling through the ages "fierce and fast with any war-horse,"
swerving "to left and right, so as exactly to avoid enormous

I shall not examine this fanciful picture. The Christian Church may
have indulged every extreme in human life, but the Christianity of the
Bible takes sides more definitely. And as for the Catholic Church,
embracing as it did so many seemingly contradictory elements, it is
nevertheless true that at one time it failed to satisfy human nature
because it was too ascetic, and at another time it caused bloody
revolt because it was worldly and luxurious. I need not pursue this
question, for the "orthodoxy" which Mr. Chesterton defends is not the
teaching of the Christian Churches. At first sight it seems to be
anarchy modified by mysticism and friendship for persons. But it is
more than that. Negatively it is a protest against false culture and
cant, and we cannot fail to see that it is at the same time a protest
against that virtue which is the predecessor of false culture--the
incessant, arduous effort to seek truth with the help of the intellect
and the reason. Positively, it champions the spiritual perceptions on
the one hand, and the physical sensations on the other--the
excellences of the manifold activities of the human body and soul.
Both in his view provide the proper avenues of truth. Every spiritual
emotion and every animal passion are in themselves good and excellent.
For him the struggle of life resolves itself into a romantic game,
with immortality as its conclusion. The one discipline which he
upholds, the only precept he has really taken from Christianity, is
that arising from love for your neighbour. That unnamable quality in
life which in every deeper feeling and every keen perception lights
the spirit and charges it with intuitive knowledge is in his
philosophy the love of God and the source of the love for persons.



A few years ago it was the fashion to lament the dearth of promising
authors, especially poets. But since then we have assured ourselves
that we are still, after all, a poetical people. The reproach against
the age was taken as a challenge by dozens of young adventurers, who
resolved to prove in their own persons that the twentieth century was
not without poets. Tiny volumes of verse fluttered forth from the
press. Poetry Societies were started, and Poetry Reviews, and men and
women met in the darkened hall of Clifford's Inn to hear Mr. Sturge
Moore declaim sonorous verses. Publishers began to advertise new
genius, and reviewers began to attend to poetry as if it were really a
serious business. The opening pages of _The English Review_ were
devoted to poems which seemed to be appreciated in proportion to their
ever-increasing length. Mr. John Masefield had a success such as had
been attained by no poet since Stephen Phillips in his prime. It is
true that Mr. W.H. Davies might have starved if he had not received a
Government pension; that Mr. Yeats--I believe I am right--never
entertained the idea of supporting himself by poetry; that Mr. Doughty
has not so much as been heard of by one Englishman in a thousand.
Nevertheless, poetry has now become a mentionable subject in decent
society; and it is no longer synonymous with Tennyson or Mr. Kipling.
It has become a modern thing, lending itself to new experiments, a
possible vehicle for new ideas, a means even of becoming notorious on
a grand scale.

But before considering some of these younger authors who represent
newer phases in poetry I should like to dwell a little upon the work
of an elder--one who is not by any means so exquisite a poet as Mr.
Robert Bridges, who cannot compare in creative vigour with the greater
poets who were contemporary with him, nor with his junior, Mr. W.B.
Yeats--but interesting for purposes of comparison because his poetry,
even his quite recent poetry, has in it the ring of a past age, of a
poetic ideal to which we are not likely to return in this century. I
allude to Mr. Edmund Gosse, whom we all think of as a distinguished
student and critic of literature, but it is very seldom that we hear
any allusion to his poetical work. "Anyone who has the patience to
turn over these pages," he says in the Preface to his _Collected
Poems_, "will not need to be told that the voice is not of 1911--it is
of 1872, or of a still earlier date--since my technique was determined
more than forty years ago, and what it was it has remained." When
first I read these words they sounded strangely to me. It was only the
other day that he began to edit a distinguished literary page for a
daily paper. Still more recently I heard him speaking on a public
platform. His activity does not seem to be a thing of yesterday, and
it was he who wrote the most intimate and, perhaps, the most
interesting biographical study of recent years; as editor and critic
he is still amongst active living writers. In reading his later poems
we can see how keen is his desire to retain sensibility to the full,
not to become stereotyped by the past, or blind to the newer beauties.
He is conscious of the passage of the Time-Spirit and the changed ways
of men, and the passionate desire of all vital minds to be fully
percipient to the last.

    So, if I pray for length of days,
      It is not in the barren pride
    That looks behind itself, and says,
      "The Past alone is deified!"

    Nay, humbly, shrinkingly, in dread
      Of fires too splendid to be borne--
    In expectation lest my head
      Be from its Orphic shoulders torn--

    I wait, till, down the eastern sky,
      Muses, like Maenads in a throng,
    Sweep my decayed traditions by,
      In startling tunes of unknown song.

In the 350 pages of the _Collected Poems_ there is nothing which were
better omitted. Even the mere literary experiments, the rondeaus, the
sestinas--the literary jokes in which every poet indulges--are neatly
turned. Mr. Gosse has attempted, and succeeded with, a great variety
of metres. His diction is almost unfailingly good; indeed, it is the
very regularity and faultlessness of his verse that sometimes jars. It
is the work of a man many-sided in his nature, many-sided in his
moods. He can find himself in the atmosphere of a Coleridge, a
Wordsworth, a Keats, a Rossetti, a Béranger, and often his form
insensibly glides into that of the precursor whose spirit he for the
moment assimilates. He is by no means a mere imitator. His feeling is
his own; but his genius seems to be rather assimilative than strictly
creative. Scores of his poems have the beauty and the value of the
literature written by the great poets, when they were not in their
greatest moods.

And perhaps it is precisely the many-sidedness of Mr. Gosse's tastes
and interests which has left him so few decisive poetic successes. He
has ranged through literature with a catholic taste. He has helped to
create reputations--the reputations, for instance, of Ibsen and
Stevenson. There have been many calls upon his literary instinct, and
it is not surprising that the most uniformly successful of his poems
are those in praise of the great men of letters whom, with his faculty
for friendship, he made his friends. In the poems on these men--Ibsen,
Ruskin, Stevenson, Henry Sidgwick, Rossetti, and unnamed friends who
have departed--there is dignity, fineness, and the pathos of a regret
for that which he shared with them, though he lacked the power, or
more probably the opportunity, fully to express it.

    But not in vain beneath this lofty shade
      I danced awhile, frail plaything of the seas;
      Unfit to brave the ampler main with these;
    Yet, by the instinct which their souls obeyed,
    Less steadfast, o'er the trackless wave I strayed,
      And follow still their vanishing trestle-trees.

The beauties of literature, of many kinds and in many languages, the
feeling and perception of friendship, nature, and the whole
life-process through which men pass to a green memory or to
oblivion--these are to be found here, the full-bodied expression of a
personality--for poetry is that, or nothing. It is no defect in it
that it is of 1872--that there is a certain formality, a kind of
austerity, even, in its flippancies. It is meditative poetry. It is
poetry which is essentially concerned with the emotions, the fancies,
or the reflections, the very personal and secluded reflections, of a
mind still concerned about the private ways of the spirit. The
emotions, the operations of the mind, and the objective things of
life--they are the concern of Mr. Gosse as they were the concern of
Tennyson, Browning, Arnold, Morris, and many poets before them. For
the most part the men of that age adhered to the traditions of poetry,
whether they were romantic or classical. At any rate on the formal
side most of them--Browning is an exception--remained faithful to the
accepted types. On the inner side it was an age which was much
concerned about its soul, about nature, and about persons--yes, about
persons. Whatever we may think about the Victorian age, from its
literature at least we should conclude that it was an age when men
valued friendships. And so its best poetry was essentially emotional,
personal and subjective.

Now I do not suggest that in the poetry of our younger men there is
emerging a single new type with a few distinctive characteristics
which can be contrasted with Victorian poetry. On the contrary, if
there is anything which we should particularly remark, it is the
absence of such typical traits, it is the extraordinary diversity of
type; men are experimenting with verse, attempting to revive old
forms and invent new, to restore the spirit of antiquity or to ride
abreast of the practical spirit of the time. Men like Mr. W.B. Yeats
and "A.E." sought to unite the ancient and, as they believed,
essential Irish spirit with the spirit which is manifested throughout
the stream of English lyrical poetry. In Mr. Yeats there was more
romanticism than he would care to admit, though the Elizabethan ideal
which he cherished and his own power of concentration did much to
subdue and chasten the insubordinate, vaguely aspiring spirit which in
lesser Celtic poets turns to froth, with no undercurrent of human
truth to give significance to its flaky beauty. Fiona Macleod is the
classic instance of this frothy Celtic spirit which is unstayed by
human truth or relevance to life; and there is much of this in
contemporary Irish poetry. Mr. Yeats is not wholly free from it, but
he was conscious of the evil tendency, and subdued it, and the body of
fine poetry which stands to his name, taken as a whole, is unequalled
for clarity, feeling, beauty and felicity of expression by any large
body of poetry standing to the name of any other living poet.

But the Time-Spirit is active, or fickle perhaps, and Mr. Yeats has
already almost ceased to be a quite modern poet. He, like Mr. Gosse,
formed his technique in the nineteenth century, and the twentieth
century is casting about with feverish energy for a new technique and
new things to express. Mr. William Watson belongs quite as much to the
past as does Mr. Gosse, though it might be said of him that he could
belong to any age that knew its Milton and its Wordsworth. In him
assuredly there was no attempt at inventiveness; he has always
repudiated the idea that the poet should seek to innovate. He stands
for austerity and discipline in thought, style, and diction, for a
fine exactness which in his case was compatible with the old passion
for the idea of "freedom" no less than with that private,
self-communing spirit which the Victorians loved to express. Such a
poet as Mr. Maurice Hewlett, antiquarian as he often is in the
subjects he treats, is much more modern in spirit. In style and
technique he is one of those who have gone back, as men for four
centuries have constantly gone back, to the manner of the ancient
Greeks. Just as that clever experimenter in verse, Mr. Ezra Pound, has
created something of an effect by repeating the very metres, melodies,
and mannerisms of the Provençal troubadours, so Mr. Hewlett, modelling
his style upon the far finer Greek originals, produced an effect which
was better than Mr. Pound's in proportion as the Greek tragedians are
superior to the troubadours. In his execution he has really recaptured
much of the manner of the great Greek tragedians. In _The Death of
Hippolytus_ there is something of the aloofness, the blitheness, the
thrust of phrases, the grimness, the sedateness which we associate
with Greek drama. If he has little of the passion or fluency of
Swinburne, he has some of his phrase-making skill, and he is free from
that rhythmical lilt which in Swinburne was often excessive. We shall
never be carried away as by the music of _Atalanta in Calydon_, but we
are often arrested by grim echoes from the actual Greek, apt
translations, as they might be, from an existing original.

But though Mr. Hewlett has been clever enough to adapt the technique
of Greek poets to his own purpose in poetical drama, nevertheless in
his treatment of subject, in thought and feeling, we may see, rather
by his defects than by his excellences, how entirely modern he is. In
_Minos, King of Crete_, the first play in his trilogy _The Agonists_,
we may find ourselves at the outset not a little irritated by his
habit of stage-managing with a view to a public that likes sensational
and scenic effects. Shakespeare used thunder and lightning at the
beginning of _The Tempest_, but only a very modern modern poet could
use these devices as an introduction to tragedy. But it is more to the
point that his treatment of Pasiphae is not only one that would have
been impossible to the Greeks, but would have been impossible to any
literary age which had not been so led away by modern theories of
realism as to believe that any sort of monstrosity, being conceived as
actual, might be made also an object of sympathetic emotion. Pasiphae
is a creature of monstrous, unnatural lust, so vile, and so inhuman in
its vileness, that it is impossible to conceive that human sympathy
should be enlisted in her affair, as if it were a normal and humanly
pitiable lapse from virtue. No Greek tragedian ever did attempt, or
ever would have attempted, to arouse pity for a creature whose
grotesque story expressed the Greek abomination for Phœnician
barbarism. Nothing but the Philistine, or in this case Phœnician,
realism of the twentieth century, can account for Mr. Hewlett's
attempt to elicit fine feeling from an abnormal and nauseous incident.

It has always seemed to me that the transition from the Victorian Age
to the experimental age which followed it was marked by the South
African War. For a dozen years before that war there had been restless
movements in the very heart of the nation; the men who were to be most
conspicuous at the close of the century were leavening the nation or
being leavened themselves. Joseph Chamberlain appeared as the
embodiment of the transitional spirit in the political arena. In
journalism the movement took shape in the person of Alfred Harmsworth.
In literature the man of the moment was Rudyard Kipling. These three
fateful embodiments of the Time-Spirit seemed to dominate England and
shake her clean out of her fin-de-siècle complacency. England could
never be the same again, after those three men had been at the helm,
for however short a period. The course was deflected; the reckoning
lost. Austere, dignified Whigs would appear again in politics, but
never again would their austerity and dignity represent our political
system. Sonorous, sober, highly judicious journalists might still
succeed in producing, at great loss, a journal expressing themselves
and their views, but no considerable section of the nation would ever
again hang upon their words. And even in poetry, which lies so much
nearer to the roots of human nature, and might therefore be expected
to vary less with the fashions of a time, we cannot but perceive that
the private, personal utterances of an Arnold, a Tennyson, a Browning,
a Rossetti, would have less chance of being heard in the din of
to-day, however sweet the expression, however intimately moving to the
spirit. There is a poet belonging to the younger generation who has
written lyrics of exquisite grace and charm, who can deal half
playfully, half seriously with the lightest of subjects, and make it
delicate and entrancing; who can touch the deeper note of the romantic
poets and make of it something grim, perplexing, haunting; or can
produce in a few stanzas an intimate feeling for persons portrayed in
some suggestive aspect. Mr. Walter De la Mare is well known to a small
circle of literary persons, but neither his poems nor his
prose-writings have been widely read as they should have been.

Mr. Rudyard Kipling would perhaps shudder at the thought, but it is
evident--is it not to his credit?--that he was essentially a democrat.
He made his appeal to the average man. His ballads were written about
ordinary men and ordinary things; the feelings they portrayed were the
feelings of everyday life, feelings which everyone without distinction
might feel in a vigorous and perhaps boisterous way. Wordsworth never
really brought poetry back to the common, everyday life of simple
folk. Long ago Coleridge pointed out that this was a popular
superstition about Wordsworth shared by the poet himself. But to a far
greater extent Mr. Kipling did make his appeal to the common stock of
everyday and average emotion--the emotion of the average man. He was
not interested, as the great Victorian poets had been, in the lonely
way of the spirit; in the more personal emotions; or in nicety of
expression. For him it was the corporate spirit that counted--the
instinct, not for friendship, but for fellowship. He had sentiment in
abundance, but he approached sentiment with that sort of nervous
braggadocio with which the schoolboy conceals his softer feelings. A
clever American critic, Mr. Bliss Perry, alludes to that "commonness
of mind and tone" which Mr. Bryce declared to be inevitable among
masses of men associated, as they are in America, under modern
democratic government. "This commonness of mind and tone," says Mr.
Perry, "is often one of the penalties of fellowship. It may mean a
levelling down instead of a levelling up." The loud stridency of Mr.
Kipling's voice is perhaps "one of the penalties" which has to be paid
for the democratic sentiment of fellowship.

That there should be some "levelling down" is sure to follow when the
poet finds himself absorbed in the common emotions of common life, and
speaking to the common man. But there need not necessarily be that
coarseness of sentiment, that crudity of thought, that bigotry of
limited sympathy, mis-called patriotism, which has debased the level
of so much of Mr. Kipling's writing. I should say that Mr. G.K.
Chesterton owes more than he supposes to the influence, direct or
indirect, of Mr. Kipling; that though his opinions, his sympathies,
his conclusions are all diametrically opposed to those of the elder
writer, still there is something in common between the two which is
essentially a democratic quality, the final standard being that of
reference to commonness, normal feeling, the common man. Mr.
Chesterton wrote a very stirring poem in his Ballad of King Alfred, a
ballad which appealed to patriotism, fellowship, and those broad,
profound emotions which underlie the common sense of a people. It was
far nearer to the spirit of the _Barrack Room Ballads_ than he, I am
sure, would be willing to admit.

Mr. Kipling did this great thing, if not for literature, at least for
men and men-of-letters. He expressed emotions in language which was as
far as possible from the language of æstheticism. This meant, perhaps,
that he could not express very subtle or unusual emotions, that his
perceptions were broad rather than fine; but he at least taught the
world that there were certain profound manly feelings which might be
expressed without the preliminary _unmanning_ of æstheticism; and his
distinction lies in the fact that he uttered them with vehemence and
intensity. In Victorian times the average citizen thought of poetry as
a somewhat weak-minded, effeminate pursuit--as very often it was. The
poet who might be persuaded of the sublimity of his calling had
necessarily to steel himself against the abuse of the matter-of-fact
persons who have no traffic in poetry; and in so doing he lost the
advantage of that bracing though insufficient criticism by which the
sane, practical man influences many of the arts; that is to say, the
readers and upholders of poetry everywhere agreed to put the poet
beyond the reach of a criticism from which prose can never be wholly
exempt. The matter-of-fact view being put out of court in the
judgment of poetry, the poet was encouraged to believe that he was not
concerned with the same universe as that of common fact. I have heard
literary critics speak of romantic or highly imaginative novels,
saying: "It is all delicate fancy and imagination; it is not concerned
with realities; it is sheer poetry"--as if poetry were not concerned
with realities! I have heard people criticise the prose works of Mr.
A.C. Benson: "This is all too musical, and sentimental, and
self-centred; this sort of thing cannot be done in prose; it should be
done in poetry"--as if nonsense becomes less nonsensical by means of
metre or rhyme! This easy-going view of the function of the poetic art
has borne an ample harvest of nonsense. I could, were it worth while,
name many living bards who consider that any sort of fancy or feeling
is good enough for poetry so long as it be prettily or gracefully
handled, who would thus degrade poetry to the position of the easiest,
as it has for long been the least prized, of the fine arts. This havoc
has been wrought, in part, by what I may call the doctrine of the
sensitive soul. Keats is the classic example of the poet who lived and
died through sensitiveness. It was a weakness inherent in the romantic
movement which, though it had so much that was enchantingly strange
and beautiful to give to the world, bequeathed to it also a
consciousness of its nerves and a pride in its very defects. When
Coleridge had taught his successors to glorify the poetic perception
and vision, to give to the secret feelings a new warrant and value,
they came to think it boorish to conceal their fine feelings, and
they acquired the habit of expressing feelings which the common man
scarcely experiences without a sense of shame. The poet came to be
essentially the man who felt acutely, and anything that was a
"feeling" came to have a sort of value of its own as denoting poetic
sensitiveness. Hence the excessive softness, the indefiniteness, the
languishing and the effeminacy which since the beginning of the
nineteenth century have been tolerated in poetry because poetry was
supposed to be the proper vehicle for such weakness. It is significant
that the most admired poem of Keats begins with a sentiment which we
should agree to detest in a prose-writing:

    My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
    My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk----

I contend that as this sentiment would be intolerable in prose, so
also it is not to be suffered in poetry.

Now, the Kipling epoch did introduce a certain hardness, or
masculinity, into the cultured life of the country which gave an
opportunity for escape from the querulousness and the vagueness which
had become poetic habits among English poets and lovers of poetry. I
say the "Kipling epoch," for Mr. Kipling himself never had the
self-discipline, perhaps had not the sense of form, to achieve much
durable poetry, and his very masculinity turned at last into an
unmasculine shriek. He marked no more than the transition period. Mr.
Chesterton is a part of it. He, too, is lacking in sense of form and
diction, and could never have been a considerable poet, though there
is in his writings abundant evidence of poetic feeling. What I am
concerned to observe is that his ballad poetry, too, is marked by
that essentially masculine note which seemed to have died out of
English poetry--unless Browning and Morris be taken as exceptions. Mr.
Hilaire Belloc comes at the latter end of the transition period. When
a man has only written a few poems it is injudicious to say of him
that he is a great poet. But, at any rate, Mr. Belloc has written a
few poems which belong to the great order of lyrical verse, and in
_The South Country_ he surpasses anything that Kipling or Henley
achieved, anything perhaps that any English lyrical poet has written
this century. If that is not a great poem, then I for one will abjure
great poetry, and be content with the less. There is all Mr. Kipling's
sense of fellowship, a thousand times refined, and in alliance with
all the most vital emotions of life, the sense for concrete, simple
things, the sense for things remembered, of tragedy expected but not
feared, the feeling for men, as men; for places, as places; for
things, as things; for the emotions, as the ironies of life; for the
ludicrous, as the surface aspect of the pathetic--for the whole male
side of existence which poetry for a hundred years has been inclined
to ignore.

It is quite evident in the very early poetry of Mr. John Masefield
that the loudly reverberating ballads of Rudyard Kipling had had their
effect upon him; that something of their sheer vehemence and lustiness
had mingled with his own feeling for the tropical seas into which he
had adventured, with the vivid sense of men and things in strange
places which had wrought upon his imagination, as years before they
had wrought upon Mr. Conrad. Needless to say, Mr. Masefield in most
respects stands at the opposite pole of temperament from Mr. Kipling.
He is a lyrical poet whose poetry springs not so much from intense
interest in the lusty vigour of common life as from an intense feeling
for sheer beauty, for that exquisite refinement which may be extracted
from life; and it may be mingled with equally intense pain when the
beauty is removed. He is, perhaps, more nearly akin to the type to
which Keats belonged. But certainly the arrival of the spirit
represented by Kipling, added to the discipline of his own early
adventures, braced him and energised him; and almost his first
literary effort took the form of ballad poems uniting a fineness and
sweetness which were entirely his own with a kind of lusty vigour
which was superimposed. It is easy enough to see the influence of
Kipling in a ballad such as that which begins:

    Spanish waters, Spanish waters, you are singing in my ears,
    Like a slow sweet piece of music from the grey forgotten years;
    Telling tales, and beating tunes, and bringing weary thoughts to me
    Of the sandy beach at Muertos, where I would that I could be.

Those early ballads had some of the emotional vigour without the
characteristic defects of Kipling, and in many cases a charm which was
entirely his own. But he very early shook off what there was of that
Kipling influence. It was superficial and transitory. Mr. Kipling, as
I have said, represented a transition period; and another--an
experimental period--has followed. It is probable that Joseph Conrad
became a far more potent influence on the imagination of Mr.
Masefield than any one other author; though he was assuredly not
content to follow any single example, and began steadily to experiment
and to strike out his own line. It was unfortunate that the craze for
experiment and innovation should, for a time--probably a brief
time--have had so strange and uncouth an effect upon so fine and
sensitive a genius. Mr. Masefield was--and is--a lyrical poet, fitted
to express the personal emotions which lyrical poetry can support. But
he became obsessed with the conviction that poetry ought to be made to
do something else than suggest feelings and ideas in a beautiful way;
that it ought to serve a social purpose; that it ought to become a
direct contributory force to the social morality of the time; that it
ought to concern itself with practical modern questions in a practical
way; that it ought to present actual life, realistically. The same
feeling affected a lesser poet, Mr. Wilfrid Wilson Gibson, who, being
a story-teller in verse and a moralist, has been acclaimed as a
powerful poet in both England and America. Mr. Gibson has not yet
shown that he is a considerable poet. But Mr. Masefield undoubtedly
does possess the poetic talent, perhaps even genius, which Mr. Gibson
has not yet revealed. But the most recent poems of the former have
been praised for just the same reasons that Mr. Gibson's have been
praised. The New York _Outlook_ said of Mr. Gibson: "He is bringing a
message which might well rouse his day and generation to an
understanding of and a sympathy with life's disinherited--the
overworked masses." Mr. Masefield's _The Everlasting Mercy_ and his
series of realistic poems of the same order have been lavishly
eulogised in exactly the same way--and for a similar reason. Each of
these poems contains a rousing story; each subserves the purpose of an
excellent moral. They are realistic enough, but only in rare passages
are they beautiful. "Nothing," said Shelley, "can be equally well
expressed in prose that is not tedious and supererogatory in verse." I
have felt that Mr. Masefield's long narrative poems might equally well
have been expressed in prose.

I believe this to be no more than a passing phase in Mr. Masefield. A
poet who could write the charming lyrical poem which, by a curious
accident, was published at the end of _The Everlasting Mercy_ in the
_English Review_ will not long be content to write sensational tracts;
we may even be glad that these tracts have been written if they bring
the public to attend to the more significant work of so finely gifted
an author.

But I am very far from suggesting that the effort made by Mr. Gibson
and Mr. Masefield to bring poetry into touch with modern life is
without significance. It represented reaction against the
querulousness, the vagueness, the mere prettiness which have so often
resulted in nauseous verse. It had its source in the same impulse
which led J.M. Synge to create his finest imaginative effects by means
of a severely realistic method. And still earlier Mr. Doughty, who
holds a solitary position in modern poetry, had expressed himself in
the only way that was natural to him, through an archaic language, the
language in which he thought, which lent itself to the hard, vivid,
and superbly brutal images belonging to his primitive, barbarian, and
as it were primeval theme. Mr. Doughty belongs neither to our own nor
to any other age, but he has not been without influence upon men of
our time. To appreciate _The Dawn in Britain_ or _Adam Cast Forth_ is
to long for the hardness and masculinity which have been rare in
English poetry for a hundred years; to feel that what poetry needs is
more grit and more brain; and to plead for these is to plead for more
poetry, for a stronger imagination.

There is one among the younger poets who has given promise of
satisfying these needs, though it remains to be seen whether he may
not perhaps be over-weighted on the side of intellect. But in _Mary
and the Bramble_ and _The Sale of St. Thomas_ he has shown us how the
poetic imagination ripens into food for adults when virility and
intellect have gone to the making of it. There is no mere prettiness
in Mr. Abercrombie's writing. The wearisome refrain of sex,
disappointed or desirous, neither has part in the argument nor
supplies him with images or asides. Innumerable things and events upon
the earth appeal to him because of that full-bodied experience which
they carry to the wakeful and the zestful, experience which is
manifold, which fills all the chinks of memory, which may recall pain,
which may be charged with pathos, but is never morbid; beautifully he
masses vigorous impressions of sense under a large imaginative idea.
Here there is no pale, languishing phantom of beauty, but that which
men delight in without the verbal distractions of the æsthete.

In _Mary and the Bramble_ he has taken an intellectual idea and
treated it allegorically, and essentially poetically. The Virgin Mary
in his story symbolises the "upward meaning mind," fastened in
"substance," yet pure and "seemly to the Lord;" and the bramble which
clutches her and seeks to smirch her purity is the folly, the
muddiness, the stupid cruelty of the world which mocks at all vision,
at all idealism--it is the mortal trying to drag down the immortal
part of man. Mary is the love of beauty, or of God; the bramble is the
stupidity and grossness of the practical world.

But Mary, "in her rapt girlhood," with her "eyes like the
rain-shadowed sea," is not the less sweet because she stands for an

    Through meadows flowering with happiness
    Went Mary, feeling not the air that laid
    Honours of gentle dew upon her head;
    Nor that the sun now loved with golden stare
    The marvellous behaviour of her hair,
    Bending with finer swerve from off her brow
    Than water which relents before a prow;
    Till in the shrinking darkness many a gleam
    Of secret bronze-red lustres answered him.

And when the Spirit of Life vaunts itself in her,

    Not vain his boast; for seemly to the Lord,
    Blue-robed and yellow-kerchieft, Mary went.
    There never was to God such worship sent
    By any angel in the Heavenly ways,
    As this that Life had utter'd for God's praise,
    This girlhood--as the service that Life said
    In the beauty and the manners of this maid.
    Never the harps of Heaven played such song
    As her grave walking through the grasses long.

I cannot dwell upon the subject of _The Sale of St. Thomas_. The
dialogue between Thomas and the captain gives opportunity for
description and metaphor almost Elizabethan in their ferocity, though
the reflections of Thomas have a spiritual quality which is entirely
modern. We hear

    Of monkeys, those lewd mammets of mankind.

And of flies staring

    Out of their little faces of gibbous eyes.

And there are lines such as

    Men there have been who could so grimly look
    That soldiers' hearts went out like candle flames
    Before their eyes, and the blood perisht in them,

which might be placed side by side with Marlowe's:

    The frowning looks of fiery _Tamburlaine_
    That with his terrour and imperious eies,
    Commands the hearts of his associates.

And we may contrast these vehement records of things with the more
philosophic passages:

    Thou must not therefore stoop thy spirit's sight
    To pore only within the candle-gleam
    Of conscious wit and reasonable brain;
    But search into the sacred darkness lying
    Outside thy knowledge of thyself, the vast
    Measureless fate, full of the power of stars,
    The outer noiseless heavens of thy soul.

We may well think that the immediate future of poetry depends upon men
of the stamp of Mr. Abercrombie, men for whom poetry is neither a
plaything nor a sweet-sounding expression of desire or anguish or
vague dreams; but a serious attempt to grapple with life through
combined experience, thought, and vision. Long ago Meredith urged that
if fiction was to go on living, it must give us "brain-stuff" and
"food-stuff." But no poet has since arisen to make some similar claim
for poetry; to urge that within its proper sphere and in its own
appropriate way it should attack the larger life of man with
intelligence, with common sense, and with virile passion.

       *       *       *       *       *

Mr. W.H. Davies stands apart from them all. I should not like to try
to account in any way for Mr. Davies any more than he could account
for a singing-bird by describing the trees among which it lived. His
poetry is unlike any other poetry that is written to-day. It is fresh
and sweet like a voice from a younger and lustier world. It is charged
with no clarion message of prophecy; it is burdened with no exactly
formulated philosophy of life. There is no rhetoric in it, no
rhodomontade. It is the melody of a man's voice singing for the
pleasure of singing, now vehemently, from the sheer delight in things
physical and outward, now sadly, as some evanescent object induces
melancholy, now in a naively reflective way, as past or future brings
memories or expectations. He never reaches quite the exquisite
melodies of Herrick, but when he writes of love he is as simple as
Herrick, and he is more direct, more heart-whole, less of the perfect
singer, perhaps, but more of the lover. If he writes with wide-eyed
wonder at the simpler marvels of life, it is in the manner of Blake
in _Songs of Innocence_, where outwardness of manner and lyrical
simplicity leave an impression of something unearthly in its
strangeness. Occasionally in the slight extravagance of his imagery we
can see that the influence of the seventeenth-century "metaphysical"
poets has not left him unscathed, as when he likens love to the
influence of spring opening up navigation.

But it is a sure instinct which has taken him to the simpler lyrical
poets and led him to mould his style on theirs. His interests lie in
the purely personal affairs of the heart; the simpler emotions may be
best expressed in those lyrical forms in which the older English
literature is pre-eminent, which eschew the fervid rhythms of the
soulful nineteenth century. But he is not merely imitative. Sometimes
in the same poem we see him, now conforming to the manner of the
traditional love-poet, now revivifying it or bursting through it with
images and ideas that are wholly personal to himself.

    She had two eyes as blue as Heaven,
      Ten times as warm they shone;
    And yet her heart was hard and cold
      As any shell or stone.

    Her mouth was like a soft red rose
      When Phœbus drinks its dew;
    But oh, that cruel thorn inside
      Pierced many a fond heart through.

    She had a step that walked unheard,
      It made the stones like grass;
    Yet that light step has crushed a heart,
      As light as that step was.

    Those glowing eyes, those smiling lips,
      I have lived now to prove
    Were not for me, were not for me,
      But came of her self-love.

    Yet, like a cow for acorns that
      Have made it suffer pain,
    So, though her charms are poisonous,
      I moan for them again.

In any other poet the cow and the acorns would be an intolerable
extravagance; but not so from Mr. Davies, who knows and loves all
beasts of the field; who knows what it is to tramp over stones and to
tread the grass, so that his "stones like grass" rings freshly, while
the dew-drinking Phœbus is stale.

But if he seems to belong to an older tradition, and to have little in
common with the self-conscious modern poet, that is only because his
life has kept him away from the fashions and fashionable ideas which
are the intellectual superficies of our time, which distinguish the
culture of one age from the culture of another. He loves with the
strength of intimate friendship the unchanging things in the natural
world, the sea, things that grow, and animals and birds. And he is
acquainted with the other unchanging things--love, the desire for
food, hatred of death, friendship. He is also too keen in his
sympathies and interests not to be modern in the sense, for instance,
that the romantic appeal has had its effect on him, or that the ugly
facts of modern life have stirred and pained him. There is a great
variety of emotions registered in his poems. There is the grim ballad
called _Treasures_. There is a bold union of magical romanticism and
sensuous passion in the poem beginning:

    I met her in the leafy woods,
      Early a summer's night;
    I saw her white teeth in the dark,
      There was no better light.

There is a remarkable confidence and elation in the little poem _The
Elements_, wherein he identifies himself with Nature--it could only be
quoted entire. And he records his impression of a tramcar which sweeps
along Westminster in the twilight carrying its load of sleeping men to
work. He can also write in a vein wholly unlike that of his simple and
more characteristic lyrical verses. Thus he describes his childish
impressions of a mariner "no good in port or out," as his granddad

    And all his flesh was pricked with Indian ink,
    His body marked as rare and delicate
    As dead men struck by lightning under trees,
    And pictured with fine twigs and curled ferns;
    Chains on his neck and anchors on his arms;
    Rings on his fingers, bracelets on his wrist;
    And on his breast the Jane of Appledore
    Was schooner rigged, and in full sail at sea.
    He could not whisper with his strong hoarse voice,
    No more than could a horse creep quietly;
    He laughed to scorn the men that muffled close
    For fear of wind, till all their neck was hid,
    Like Indian corn wrapped up in long green leaves;
    He knew no flowers but seaweeds brown and green,
    He knew no birds but those that followed ships,
    Full well he knew the water-world; he heard
    A grander music there than we on land.

All of it is the intensely personal and direct poetry of a man of many
moods, many sympathies, but happily removed from the cramping effects
of current fashions of thoughts, and talk about thought. He has lived
in the open air and among simple people, but always companioned by the
poets. And so we have in him a singer fresh and unspoilt, writing from
impulse, probably with little conscious technique, about things which
he knows and the immediate experiences of life.



Four volumes, none too thick, contain the collected works of the man
who is coming to be regarded as the greatest of Irish dramatists. As
we turn over the pages, and observe that they contain no more than six
plays--three of them very short--a few Poems and Translations, the
volume on the Aran Islands, and a volume of miscellaneous studies of
his experiences among the folk of Wicklow, Kerry, and the Congested
Districts, it is to feel wonder that a man with so profound an
imagination, so wide a knowledge of the folk, and such genius for
creation, should have produced only this for his life-work. And then
we remember the lamentable fact of his early death--he was born in
1871--and the no less important fact that he was one for whom
experience of living counted equally with the experience of art, and
that he wrought as few English authors work, being at the pains to
write and re-write till he had the result to his mind.

And so in these four volumes there is nothing whatever to
regret--nothing that can be passed over as dull or indifferent,
nothing that has not both a hard basis of actuality and also an
intensity of imagination that lifts it into the region of poetry. In
one of his later moments of self-consciousness he uttered a sentence
of criticism worthy to be treasured by the modern poet, and perhaps by
the Irish poet especially. "It may almost be said that before verse
can be human again it must learn to be brutal." What would we not give
to have Synge's "brutality" introduced into the over-idealised and
sonorous poetry of Mr. Yeats? He does not mean the brutality of our
English realists, or ugliness, sheer fact, mis-called truth, without
beauty; what he wants is fidelity to _common_ truth, a realisation of
the root, primitive facts--the most grim primitive facts--that hard
basis of fact which must be accepted before the imagination can bear

One of the most singular qualities of Synge is the extraordinary
common sense which sustains the gruesomeness of his tragic imagination
on the one side, and his no less gruesome humour on the other. It
holds together this humour and this grimness which are so truthfully
united in his work. It is the common sense of the old-fashioned poet,
the common sense which is all-pervading in Homer's Odyssey--based upon
a strong, keen sense for the concrete, ordinary things of life. It is
this which makes him find the masterly conclusion to _Riders of the
Sea_, when old Maurya, lamenting the death of her sons, comforts
herself, "No man at all can be living for ever, and we must be
satisfied;" it is this which gives Naisi the ancient love of life,
"It's a hard and bitter thing leaving the earth;" which produces so
admirable a proverb as, "Who would listen to an old woman with one
thing and she saying it over?"; and enables Pegeen, in _The Playboy of
the Western World_, to perceive, if only from pique, the
preposterousness of her infatuation--"There's a great gap," she
says--and this is the gist of the matter--"between a gallous story and
a dirty deed." But never does such common sense stay the flight of the
poetic dream. Pegeen may know the difference "between a gallous story
and a dirty deed," but that does not stop her from breaking out into
wild lamentations: "Oh, my grief, I've lost him surely. I've lost the
only Playboy of the Western World."

It is by never departing far from the high-road of common fact that
Synge suggests to us the fascinations, the dangers, and romance of the
by-paths. I think that when he travels a very long way from that
high-road he does not hold us with so firm a hand. Beautiful as is the
prose-poetry of _Deirdre of the Sorrows_, and fine as is the idealised
portrait of Deirdre, yet, as a whole, this play does not grip so well
as his other, even his slighter, plays. Is it not because he is moving
away from the common life, which he knows so well how to light up into
the uncommon atmosphere of the grim, the fanciful, the romantic, into
the already half-conventionalised art atmosphere of the old heroic
Saga? Most of his success in _Deirdre of the Sorrows_ is due to the
fact that he has treated Deirdre as if she were just one of the
peasant women whom he has known; but the ready-made plot has hampered
him, and he is shut off from the use of those little "brutalities"
which give savour to his modern plays. The actual life is not there to
secure him, and he falls into the characteristic Irish vagueness in
praising the poet-hero--even Pegeen, in _The Playboy_, had spoken of
poets as "fine, fiery fellows with great rages when their temper's
roused" (it is just so that the Irish poets like to be pictured; and
Mr. Jack Yeats, in a drawing usually much admired, has transformed
Synge himself into just such a "fine, fiery fellow" of the tradition).
In _Deirdre of the Sorrows_, Synge could not, of course, free his mind
from the traditional story, or from the poetry of all the poets who
have sung of Deirdre; but should Deirdre herself, at the tragic moment
when her lover lies dead, be thinking of "the way there will be a
story told of a ruined city and a raving king and a woman will be
young for ever?" This is like many Irish poets, but it is not worthy
of Synge.

It was his genius to be able to tell the stories that have not been
traditionalised, and to tell them in a wonderful dialect which may or
may not be true to any actual speech, but which, unlike the jargon
that is affectation in many Irish writers, used by him, has the power
of affecting us as the old Ionic could move those who spoke in Attic
Greek. It helps us to get into the fanciful and grotesque atmosphere
which he conjured up out of the most real life. In all his modern
plays there are character, dramatic intensity, fidelity to the folk
life--and that life, with its brutality and its delicacy, attains the
utmost that life can hold, seen through the poetic vision of Synge,
made poignant and vivid by his imagination.



Books are like places of entertainment in that they often afford a
pleasure wholly different in kind from that intended by the author. An
original and cultured gentleman of my acquaintance has a habit of
visiting suburban music-halls, and deriving therefrom a delight
exquisite beyond the dreams of the artists who forgather at the
Wormwood Scrubs Empire. In like manner there are books which have come
to be accepted as classics on the ground of excellences not aimed at
by their authors, not necessarily because the authors were artless,
but because their conscious art had no relation to the quality in them
which pleases. Pepys was a first-rate Admiralty official and a
desirable boon companion, but to his many excellences, known to
himself no less than to his friends, that of being a master in English
literature would never have been added. A still better example is the
_Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi_. We read them now because of
what we are accustomed to call their "human interest," because they
show us the robust, ordinary, fleshly, and ideal side of pious
mediæval Catholics; they appeal to us humorously and pathetically;
they are tragi-comedies of the transcendental life. But they were
written to commemorate the pious acts of the saints, and the authors
would have been shocked to think that they were contributing to the
profane delight of the general and possibly heretical reader. In the
same way the _Journal of John Wesley_ is a delight to many people to
whom Wesley's peculiar excellences make no appeal. He was a great
evangelist, a powerful emotional influence, a considerable thinker, a
scholar, a robust man, and a gentleman of the Church of England. But
when we have named all these qualities we have scarcely begun to
account for the endless delight of his _Journal_. That which he
consciously aimed at is not that which gives all of us pleasure.

To books of this class I should be disposed to add that of the
Shramana Ekai Kawaguchi, a distinguished Japanese priest, scholar, and
traveller, who wrote a book entitled _Three Years in Tibet_. It must
not be supposed that the Shramana is a simple or unsophisticated
writer, or that he has not studied literary effects; but his
intentional effects have the charm of _naïveté_ to an English reader,
and his narrative is wholly unstudied in respect of all that delights
us in it.

Such a book as this makes us distrustful of all our standards. It is
an example of art as unconscious as that of the song of some vain, but
for the moment solitary, child. It declares to us that Nature, when we
can bring to it our own appreciation, is the first thing, and that the
idealism of art is the second-best with which we content ourselves
when Nature, with its direct appeal, is in abeyance.

The Shramana accomplished a journey which has few parallels in the
history of travel. He spent three years residing and travelling in the
uplands of Tibet, after the exclusion of strangers had become a
rigorous policy, and before the British punitive expedition had
inspired fear of the long-handed foreigner. He had with him no
organised escort of men and mules such as accompanied Sir Sven Hedin
in his more recent and better advertised expedition. He went alone and
in disguise, as Burton went on his pilgrimage to Mecca; on intimate
terms with the natives as Mr. Doughty was with the Arabs; a mendicant
as Arminius Vambery has been in Asiatic Turkey and Persia. And he had
an advantage which none of these travellers had, one which he did not
scruple to use to the utmost--he was a Buddhist, like the Tibetans,
and not only a Buddhist, but an exceptionally learned priest,
possessed of a knowledge of things holy which he used with a religious
fervour tempered with Odysseian guile. He was no missionary, but he
carried the true Buddhism about with him in Tibet as discreetly as
Borrow carried his Bibles in Spain; and his style has a curious
resemblance to that of our English gipsy. With everyone whom he meets
he converses on religion, philology, love, or the stars, in the gayest
argumentative manner, and these dialogues come as interludes to
adventures as thrilling as any that ever fall to the lot of man. In a
few paragraphs he will dwell on the almost inconceivable perils he
experienced from mountains, floods, storms, and famine, and in the
next he is dryly recording the discourse of a holy lama, the wayside
gossip of robbers, or the passionate advances of a love-sick maiden,
against whose enticements he steeled himself with the fortitude
becoming to his profession. He tells us with what joy he preached the
simpler truths of Buddhism to the attentive nomads, and in the next
page remarks somewhat inconsistently: "I had my own reasons for being
painstaking in these preachings. I knew that religious talks always
softened the hearts of my companions, and this was very necessary, as
I might otherwise have been killed by them.... Fortunately my sermons
were well received by my companions." His whole journey was
necessarily a long and systematic tissue of deception, but when set on
by robbers he disdains to preserve his worldly trash by a concealment
of the truth. When his friends in Lhassa discover that he is not, as
he has been supposed to be, a Chinaman, but a foreigner from Japan, he
begs them to save themselves and send him in fetters to the Dalai
Lama; but sacred meditation and a supernatural voice add themselves
opportunely to the persuasions of his friends, and with this divine
sanction he makes good his escape.

The book, indeed, has a fourfold value; it reveals artlessly and
perfectly the character of the Shramana Ekai Kawaguchi, and that is
worth knowing in itself. Secondly, it unfolds the emotional and
intellectual aspects of Japanese Buddhism, showing this religion both
on its theological side and as a practical working influence. Thirdly,
it introduces us to a host of Tibetan persons, one after another,
presenting not a vague, impressionist account of them, but individuals
with whom he lived on intimate equal terms in daily social
intercourse. And in the fourth place it gives us what we may take to
be an authoritative account of the whole social system of Tibet--the
priesthood and religion, administration, finance, trade, and the
relations between the sexes and castes.

Having in 1891 given up the rectorship of a monastery in Tokyo, he
lived for some years as a hermit and devoted himself to the study of
Buddhistic books in the Chinese language. In the course of his studies
he learnt that there were Tibetan translations of the sacred text
which, though inferior in general meaning to the Chinese, were
superior as literal translations. He determined, therefore, to
undertake a journey to the forbidden land and travel there alone as a
mendicant priest. The many presents his friends offered him before his
departure he "declined to accept, save in the form of sincerely given
pledges" (and the sum of 430 yen, mentioned subsequently).

From a fisherman he exacted the promise to discontinue the cruel habit
of catching fish; from a poultry-man he secured a promise not to kill
fowls; and "from immoderate smokers I asked the immediate
discontinuance of the habit that would end in nicotine poisoning.
About forty persons willingly granted my appeal for this somewhat
novel kind of farewell presents." We are reminded of John Wesley's
exhortations to his followers to abstain from the pernicious habit of
drinking tea--"I proposed it to about forty of those whom I believed
to be strong in faith; and the next morning to about sixty more,
entreating them all to speak their minds freely. They did so; and in
the end saw the good which might ensue." In many moments of dire peril
experienced by the Shramana in Tibet, these "effective" gifts, it
seems, "contributed largely toward my miraculous escapes."

Before he could begin the most arduous part of his journey it was
necessary that he should serve an apprenticeship of no less than three
years in Darjeeling and Nepaul, studying the Tibetan language and
grammar, and Tibetan Buddhism, befriending beggars with the double
object of bestowing charity and gaining information, and ascertaining
the possible routes across the Himalayas. Then one day he was
conducted to the summit of a lofty and unguarded pass, whence, on July
4, 1900, with his luggage on his back, alone, he stepped on to the
soil of Tibet, and entered upon an unknown and apparently interminable

In his wanderings over mountains, deserts, and rivers there was no
form of hardship and danger which he had not to encounter. Now he
spent a night in the open, nearly frozen by snow, the pain of the cold
being interrupted only by the abstraction of "meditation" and the joy
of composing _utas_ (short poems). Now he was nearly drowned in
fording a river, from which he was saved at the moment he was
expressing a desire to be born again. Now he was overtaken by a
sandstorm, now bereft of his money, now nearly perishing of hunger.
But from every danger he emerged triumphant. When he approached the
tents of nomads or pilgrims and had pointed his staff at the
threatening dogs, he was generally received with hospitality, and on
one occasion he fell in with a party of robbers who were undergoing a
period of penance at Manasarova, and made him their guest for two
months. They approach the sacred peak of Kailasa:

    It inspired me with the profoundest feelings of pure reverence,
    and I looked up to it as a "natural mandala," the mansion of a
    Buddha and Bodhisattvas. Filled with soul-stirring thoughts and
    fancies I addressed myself to this sacred pillar of nature,
    confessed my sins, and performed to it the obeisance of one
    hundred and eight bows. I also took out the manuscript of my
    "twenty-two desires," and pledged their accomplishment to the
    Buddha. I then considered myself the luckiest of men, to have
    thus been enabled to worship such a holy emblem of Buddha's
    power and to vow such vows in its sacred presence, and I mused:

    Whate'er my sufferings here and dangers dire,
      Whate'er befalls me on my onward march,
    All, all, I feel, is for the common good
      For others treading on Salvation's path

    The night of my performance of these devotional practices must
    have been a matter of wonder and mystery to my companions. They
    had been watching me like gaping and astonished children, and
    were all intensely curious to know why I had bowed so many
    times, and read out such strange Chinese sentences. I was glad
    to explain to them the general meaning of my conduct and they
    seemed to be deeply struck with its significance. They said they
    had never known the Chinese Lamas were men of such Bodhisattvic
    mind! The upshot was that they asked me to preach to them that
    night, a request to which I was very glad to accede. The
    preaching which followed, which I purposely made as simple and
    as appealing to the heart as possible, seemed to affect them
    profoundly, and to make the best possible impression on them; so
    much so that they even shed tears of joy. The preaching over,
    they said in all sincerity that they were glad of companionship,
    and even offered to regard me as their guest during the two
    months which they intended to spend in pilgrimage to and round
    the Kang Rinpoche. They thought that their pilgrimage over such
    holy ground, while serving such a holy man as I now was to them,
    would absolve them completely from their sins.

It was during this pilgrimage that there occurred the tender episode
already alluded to, from which the Shramana, though "neither a block
of wood, nor a piece of stone," emerged even more creditably than John
Wesley when similarly tempted in Georgia.

I can give no account here of his arrival in Lhassa, the reputation he
gained as a "Chinese" physician, his kindly reception by the Dalai
Lama, or his intimate friendships with the apothecary and the
ex-Minister of Finance. He gives a vivid picture of the life of the
different classes of priests and monks, and the corrupt state of the
Tibetan hierarchy. He describes the rudimentary system of education,
the harsh and haphazard administration, the brutality of punishments,
the system of espionage, the free position of women and the practice
of polyandry, the filthy personal habits of the people, their
superstitions, their occupations, their festivals. I do not dwell upon
these matters, partly because many of the features described are
common to other oriental countries, but mainly because I am here
considering the peculiar excellence of the book as a book of travel, a
"human document"--as the phrase goes--a record of experience which has
taken the stamp of a most interesting personality.



In _The Blue Bird_ of Maeterlinck we are told of a child who puts on a
magic hat and turns a fairy diamond and sees all that was ugly and
sordid transformed into something transcendently beautiful. There was
no need for Francis Thompson to find a magic hat; the poetic instinct
which was always with him gave him the insight into another poet's
nature; he saw through, around, and beyond those unlovely passages in
the life of Shelley which made Matthew Arnold, for once so strangely
an adherent of Mrs. Grundy, exclaim, "What a set! What a world!" There
are few appreciations in the English language comparable to his essay
on Shelley. Fixing his eyes on what seems to him essential in the man,
Thompson finds that everything else explains itself to the observer
who will see with the poet, who can understand his sufferings, and
imagine his delights. And so his essay is no ordinary study in
criticism. He sets himself, indeed, as Pater would have done, to find
what it is that makes the specific worth of the poet. But there is no
laborious calculating of values; rather a lavish pouring forth of the
just meed of praise, an interpretation, a vindication of Shelley, like
Swinburne's vindication of Blake, in language less passionate,
perhaps, but more perfect in its melody, and more significant in its
imagery, responding to its theme with tremulous beauty.

Mr. Wyndham, I think, did not go far from the truth when he said that
this "is the most important contribution to pure letters written in
English during the last twenty years." For in a certain sense it seems
to reach an even greater height than Thompson's poetry. For whilst he
has written exalted poetry, thought-compelling poetry, magnificent in
diction and appealing to the deeper emotions, there is in this essay a
simplicity which was often lacking in the former, and a passionate
pleading which combines the cogent lucidity of a Newman with the
other-worldness of a St. Francis. If it has a fault, it is that of
being too rich in its imagery, too lavish of its judgments, too
overbearing in its vision of beauty, so that some critics will say
that it is too poetical for prose. It is, indeed, the prose of a poet,
and such as only a poet would or could write; but its harmony, its
structural balance, its masterly transitions are, save in a few cases,
those which are proper to prose.

There is, perhaps, something a little forced in the opening passage in
which he commends the services of poetry to the charity of the Church,
paragraphs which were designed to conciliate the editor of the _Dublin
Review_. He passes to consider the defect which has "mildewed" all the
poetry written since Shelley, "the predominance of art over
inspiration, of body over soul." Not, he holds, that inspiration has
been lacking--"the warrior is there, but he is hampered by his
armour." "We are self-conscious to the finger-tips; and this inherent
quality, entailing on our poetry the inevitable loss of spontaneity,
ensures that whatever poets, of whatever excellence, may be born to us
of the Shelleian stock, its founder's spirit can take among us no
reincarnation. An age that is ceasing to produce child-like children
cannot produce a Shelley. For both as poet and man he was essentially
a child."

"To the last," he exclaims, "he was the enchanted child." And he
explains what he means in words that may seem fantastic: "It is to
have a spirit yet streaming from the waters of baptism; it is to
believe in love, to believe in loveliness, to believe in belief." And
he suggests that "Shelley never could have been a man, for he never
was a boy. And the reason lay in the persecution which over-clouded
his school days." He was a grown-up child when he sailed his paper
boats on the Isis, when in his loves he gave way to that "straying,
strange and deplorable, of the spirit," when he rebelled petulantly
but not ungenerously against the order of the world, and when he
soared with the cloud or the skylark like the "child-like peoples
among whom mythologies have their rise." In his poetry "he is still at
play, save only that his play is such as manhood stops to watch, and
his playthings are those which the gods give their children. The
universe is his box of toys. He dabbles his fingers in the day-fall.
He is gold-dusty with his tumbling amidst the stars. He makes bright
mischief with the moon."

And, in the same, full way, Thompson explains in what sense Shelley
was a poet of Nature; in what manner images poured naturally from his
lips as they ought to have done, but never did, pour from the lips of
the metaphysical poets; by what "instinctive perception of the
underlying analogies, the secret subterranean passages, between matter
and soul," he was able to make such imaginative play with
abstractions; and, finally, how in his shorter poems he "forgets for a
while all that ever makes his verse turbid; forgets that he is
anything but a poet, forgets sometimes that he is anything but a
child." And all the time the essayist is dropping phrases which surely
are unforgettable, striking us alike by their truth and their
pregnance--"this beautiful, wild, feline poetry, wild because left to
range the wilds."--"His Muse has become a veritable Echo, whose body
has dissolved from about her voice."--"He stood thus at the very
junction-lines of the visible and the invisible, and could shift the
points as he willed. His thoughts became a mounted infantry, passing
with baffling swiftness from horse to foot or foot to horse."

Even to-day, five years after his death, Thompson has not attained the
full fame which he merits. It is true his very first book won the
highest praise from critics no less distinguished than Coventry
Patmore, Mr. Arthur Symons, and Mr. H.D. Traill, and long before his
death it was no small circle of admirers who looked eagerly for each
new poem from his pen.

Yet his genius is not of that kind which instantly communicates itself
to a generation. Living apart in a spiritual atmosphere of his own,
his heart divested of the desires which form half the life of most
men, his gaze was fixed on the inner mysteries of the spirit and on
those outer forms which are the vehicles of beauty. The very language
he used was as far remote as possible from "the brutish jargon we
inherit." He belonged to the hierarchy of the poets of all ages, and
pressed into his service lovely, half-forgotten words which made his
poetry seem strange and bizarre to those who were too much immersed in
the language and literature of their day. And those subtler minds who
instantly perceived its beauty, and saw how his language and his
imagery often recalled those of the seventeenth-century metaphysicals,
such as Crashaw, too readily perhaps asserted a bond between his
thought and theirs. Like them, it is true, he turned his back on the
delusive splendours of the world; he accepted and expressed in song
the divine ordinance of the universe. But he was afflicted with the
pain of modern doubt; fear and speculative curiosity struggled with
his faith; sometimes the sheer beauty of the external world, so far
from proving the divine beauty, seemed to him as a possible refuge in
his vain flight from the "Hound of Heaven."

He cannot be allocated to a single school. In his reading he had
ranged through the poets of all ages, and he had assimilated a mighty
variety of emotions, and we may see how his form shows the influence
now of one poet, now another--Milton, Cowley, Shelley, Hood, Poe, and
Rossetti--yet each influence, as it came upon him, was passed through
the crucible of his own defined temperament, and the resultant is
wholly his own, a creature which speaks of half-suppressed emotion,
yet fantastically rich in phrase, rhythm, and image. His study of all
the poets seems to have opened to him more avenues of beauty than were
open to any poet of the middle seventeenth century. There is in his
blood the fantastical romance of the Elizabethans; the love of
spiritual contemplation which marked the seventeenth-century mystic;
the passionate adoration of Nature and the open air which came with
the early nineteenth century; modern introspectiveness; and that habit
of symbolism with which Rossetti and his school have made us familiar.

Sometimes his pregnant phrases, his literary imagery, his stately,
sweeping rhetoric, and the note of underlying melancholy would lead us
to compare him with Virgil rather than with any modern poet.

    Under this dreadful brother uterine,
    This kinsman feared, Tellus, behold me come,
    Thy son stern-nursed; who mortal-mother-like,
    To turn thy weanlings' mouth averse, embitter'st,
    Thine over-childed breast. Now, mortal-sonlike,
    I thou hast suckled, Mother, I at last
    Shall sustenant be to thee. Here I untrammel,
    Here I pluck loose the body's cerementing,
    And break the tomb of life; here I shake off
    The bur o' the world, man's congregation shun,
    And to the antique order of the dead
    I take the tongueless vows.

But those last lines:

    And to the antique order of the dead
    I take the tongueless vows.

we cannot compare with any model. They stand by themselves,
unsurpassable, lines such as are only to be found here and there even
in the great poets.

The more one reads this poetry of Thompson's the more one discovers
that it is something essentially individual. Harmonies that one may
miss on a first reading become more apparent and more insistent as one
reads again, and the exquisite, haunting melody of his verse pursues
us, and its faultless, rich rhythms seem to create new patterns of
form. One may miss not a little of his thought, because the engrossing
beauty of the language lays hold of the senses. In almost every poem
one finds some lingering phrase:

              Whatso looks lovelily
    Is but the rainbow on life's weeping rain.


    The little sweetness making grief complete.

Often he shows that exact sense of lyrical fitness which Milton
pre-eminently possessed, and, second only to him, Shelley. We see it
in the passage which begins:

    Suffer me at your leafy feast
    To sit apart, a somewhat alien guest,
    And watch your mirth,
    Unsharing in the liberal laugh of earth.

_The Hound of Heaven_, I think, has rightly been pronounced his
greatest poem, for whilst in its wealth of melody, its magnificence of
imagery, and its pathos, it is unsurpassed, it reveals also the finest
depths of his thought as he takes us "down the labyrinthine ways" of
his mind's flight. But next to that I would put _The Making of Viola_,
a poem which no other, except Rossetti or his sister Christina, could
have written:


    _The Father of Heaven._
            Spin, daughter Mary, spin,
            Twirl your wheel with silver din;
            Spin, daughter Mary, spin,
                Spin a tress for Viola.

            Spin, Queen Mary, a
            Brown tress for Viola!


    _The Father of Heaven._
            Weave, hands angelical,
            Weave a woof of flesh to pall
            Weave, hands evangelical--
                Flesh to pall our Viola.

            Weave, singing brothers, a
            Velvet flesh for Viola!


    _The Father of Heaven._
            Scoop, young Jesus, for her eyes,
            Wood-browned pools of Paradise--
            Young Jesus, for the eyes,
                For the eyes of Viola.

            Tint, Prince Jesus, a
            Dusked eye for Viola!

It may be that he will always be a poet for the few; that his
mystical, esoteric spirit, finding its proper expression in baffling
imagery and elusive, other-worldly rhythms, will never be wholly
congenial to the many. But his place is assured; for he had no traffic
with the things of a day or the language of a day. The beauty which
haunts his prose and his verse is of that universal order which can
hardly fade by the mere passing of time. Only a change in the human
spirit can make it dim.


    Many of the foregoing chapters are based upon articles which
    have been published in periodicals. My thanks are due to the
    Editors of the following journals, which I name in the order of
    my indebtedness:--_The English Review_, _The Nation_, _The Daily
    News_, _The North American Review_, _The British Review_, and
    _The Athenæum_.


=Gerhart Hauptmann=


It is generally conceded that Gerhart Hauptmann is the most notable
dramatist of the present day. His work combines literary,
psychological and dramatic interest in greater measure than that of
any other contemporary writer, and the award of the Nobel prize in
literature was a public recognition of his genius.

An authorized translation of his dramas makes it possible at last for
English people to study and enjoy Hauptmann. Excellent translations of
a few plays had already been made and these, by arrangement with the
respective translators, will be adapted to the present edition, but
new translation will be made whenever it seems necessary in order to
maintain the highest standard. The editor of the edition is Professor
Ludwig Lewisohn. He supplies a general introduction to Hauptmann's
works in Volume I, and a briefer introduction to each succeeding


Volume I

_Social Dramas_
Before Dawn
The Weavers
The Beaver Coat
The Conflagration

Volume II

_Social Dramas_
Drayman Henschel
Rose Bernd
The Rats

Volume III

_Domestic Dramas_
The Reconciliation
Lonely Lives
Colleague Crampton
Michael Kramer

Volume IV

_Symbolic and Legendary Dramas_
The Sunken Bell
Henry of Aue

Volume V

_Symbolic and Historical Dramas_
Schluck and Jau
And Pippa Dances
Charlemagne's Hostage

Volume VI

_Later Dramas in Prose_
The Maidens of the Mount
Gabriel Schilling's Flight

_Each Volume Crown 8vo. Price Five Shillings net_










Each Volume Demy Octavo. With a Frontispiece
Portrait in Photogravure.
Price 7s. 6d. net.




Throughout this book a particular point of view has been adhered to,
from which the drama is looked upon as a separate art from literature,
and from which especial attention is paid to the manner of its
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The dramatists include Pinero, Henry Arthur Jones, Henry James, Oscar
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The portraits which illustrate it are from camera studies by Mr. E.O.
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_Large Crown 8vo. Price 5s. net._


      Author of "Carnival."

      Author of "The Debit Account."

      Author of "The Porcelain Lady."

      Author of "Uncle's Advice."

    By F. and E. BRETT YOUNG
      A First Novel.

      A First Novel.

      A First Novel.

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