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Title: A Novelist on Novels
Author: George, Walter Lionel, 1882-1926
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Novelist on Novels" ***





  OLGA NAZIMOV (Short Stories)



[Footnote 1: Published in the U.S.A. and Canada under the title, 'Until
the Day Break']

[Footnote 2: Published in the U.S.A. and Canada under the title, 'The
Little Beloved']




  Copyright 1918


The chapters that follow have been written in varying moods, and express
the fluctuating feelings aroused in the author by the modern novel and
its treatment at the hands of the public. Though unrelated with the
novel, the chapters on 'Falstaff,' 'The Esperanto of Art,' and 'The
Twilight of Genius' have been included, either because artistically in
keeping with other chapters, or because their general implications
affect the fiction form.

A half of the book has not before now been published in Great Britain
and Dominions.



  A DECEPTIVE DEDICATION                                               1

  LITANY OF THE NOVELIST                                              24

  WHO IS THE MAN?                                                     62


      1. _D. H. LAWRENCE_                                             90

      2. _AMBER REEVES_                                              101

      3. _SHEILA KAYE-SMITH_                                         109

  FORM AND THE NOVEL                                                 118

  SINCERITY: THE PUBLISHER AND THE POLICEMAN                         124


      1. _TARTARIN_                                                  147

      2. _FALSTAFF_                                                  161

      3. _MÜNCHAUSEN_                                                177

  THE ESPERANTO OF ART                                               191

  THE TWILIGHT OF GENIUS                                             208

A Deceptive Dedication


I have shown the manuscript of this book to a well-known author. One of
those staid, established authors whose venom has been extracted by the
mellow years. My author is beyond rancour and exploit; he has earned the
right to bask in his own celebrity, and needs to judge no more, because
no longer does he fear judgment. He is like a motorist who has sowed his
wild petrol. He said to me: 'You are very, very unwise. I never
criticise my contemporaries, and, believe me, it doesn't pay.' Well, I
am unwise; I always was unwise, and this has paid in a coin not always
recognised, but precious to a man's spiritual pride. Why should I not
criticise my contemporaries? It is not a merit to be a contemporary.
Also, they can return the compliment; some of them, if I may venture
upon a turn of phrase proper for Mr Tim Healy, have returned the
compliment before they got it. It may be unwise, but I join with
Voltaire in thanking God that he gave us folly. So I will affront the
condemnatory vagueness of wool and fleecy cloud, be content to think
that nobody will care where I praise, that everybody will think me
impertinent where I judge. I will be content to believe that the
well-known author will not mind if I criticise him, and that the others
will not mind either. I will hope, though something of a Sadducee, that
there is an angel in their hearts.

I want to criticise them and their works because I think the novel, this
latest born of literature, immensely interesting and important. It is
interesting because, more faithfully than any other form, it expresses
the mind of man, his pains that pass, his hopes that fade and are born
again, his discontent pregnant with energy, the unrulinesses in which he
misspends his vigour, the patiences that fit him to endure all things
even though he dare them not. In this, all other forms fail: history,
because it chronicles battles and dates, yet not the great movements of
the peoples; economics, because in their view all men are vile;
biography, because it leads the victim to the altar, but never
sacrifices it. Even poetry fails; I do not try to shock, but I doubt
whether the poetic is equal to the prose form.

I do not want to fall into the popular fallacy that prose and poetry
each have their own field, strictly preserved, for prose is not always
prosy, nor poetry always poetic; prose may contain poetry, poetry cannot
contain prose, just as some gentlemen are bounders, but no bounders are
gentlemen. But the admiration many people feel for poetry derives from a
lack of intelligence rather than from an excess of emotion, and they
would be cured if, instead of admiring, they read. Some subjects and
ideas naturally fall into poetry, mainly the lyric ideas; 'To Anthea,'
and 'The Skylark' would, in prose, lie broken-pinioned upon the ground,
but the exquisiteness of poetry, when it conveys the ultimate aspiration
of man, defines its limitations. Poetry is child of the austerity of
literature by the sensuality of music. Thus it is more and less than its
forbears; speaking for myself alone, I feel that 'Epipsychidion' and the
'Grecian Urn' are just a little less than the Kreutzer Sonata, that
Browning and Whitman might have written better in prose, though they
might thus have been less quoted. For poetry is too often
_schwaermerei_, a thing of lilts; when it conveys philosophical ideas,
as in Browning and in that prose writer gone astray, Shakespeare, it
suffers the agonising pains of constriction. Rhyme and scansion tend to
limit and hamper it; everything can be said in prose, but not in poetry;
to prose no licence need be granted, while poetry must use and abuse it,
for prose is free, poetry shackled by its form. No doubt that is why
poetry causes so much stir, for it surmounts extraordinary difficulties,
and men gape as at a tenor who attains a top note. However exquisite,
the scope of poetry is smaller than that of prose, and if any doubt it
let him open at random an English Bible and say if Milton can
out-thunder Job, or Swinburne outcloy the sweetness of Solomon's Song.

More than interesting, the novel is important because, low as its status
may be, it does day by day express mankind, and mankind in the making.
Sometimes it is the architect that places yet another brick upon the
palace of the future. Always it is the showman of life. I think of
'serious books,' of the incredible heaps of memoirs, works on finance,
strategy, psychology, sociology, biology, omniology ... that fall every
day like manna (unless from another region they rise as fumes) into the
baskets of the reviewers. All this paper ... they dance their little
dance to four hundred readers and a great number of second-hand
booksellers, and lo! the dust of their decay is on their brow. They live
a little longer than an article by Mr T. P. O'Connor, and live a little

The novel, too, does not live long, but I have known one break up a
happy home, and another teach revolt to several daughters; can we give
greater praise? Has so much been achieved by any work entitled _The
Foundations of the Century_, or something of that sort? The novel,
despised buffoon that it is, pours out its poison and its pearls within
reach of every lip; its heroes and heroines offer examples to the reader
and make him say: 'That bold, bad man ... you wouldn't think it to look
at me, who'm a linen-draper, but it's me.' If, in this preface, I may
introduce a personal reminiscence, I can strengthen my point by saying
that after publishing _The Second Blooming_ I received five letters from
women I did not know, who wholly recognised themselves in my principal
heroine, of course the regrettable one.

The novel moulds by precept and example, and therefore we modern
jesters, inky troubadours, are responsible for the gray power which we
wield behind the throne. Given this responsibility, it is a pity there
should be so many novels, for the reader is distracted with various
examples, and painfully hesitates between the career of Raffles and that
of John Inglesant. Thus the novel fires many a sanctimoniousness, makes
lurid many a hesitating life. If only we could endow it! But we cannot,
for the old saying can be garbled: call no novelist famous until he is

It is a fascinating idea, this one of endowing the novel. In principle
it is not difficult, only we must assume our capable committee and that
is quite as difficult as ignoring the weight of the elephant. I wonder
what would happen if an Act of Parliament were to endow genius! I wonder
who would sit on the sub-committee appointed by the British Government
to endow literature. I do not wonder, I know. There would be Professor
Saintsbury, Mr Austin Dobson, Professor Walter Raleigh, Sir Sidney Lee,
Professor Gollancz, all the academics, all the people drier than the
drought, who, whether the god of literature find himself in the car or
in the cart, never fail to get into the dickey. I should not even wonder
if, by request of the municipality of Burton-on-Trent, it were found
desirable to infuse a democratic element into the sub-committee by
adding the manager of the Army and Navy Stores and, of course, Mr
Bottomley. Do not protest: Mr Bottomley has recently passed embittered
judgments, under the characteristic heading 'Dam-Nation,' on Mr Alec
Waugh, who ventured, in a literary sketch, to show English soldiers
going over the top with oaths upon their lips and the courage born of
fear in their hearts. I think Mr Bottomley would like to have Mr Waugh
shot, and the editor of _The Nation_ confined for seven days in the
Press Bureau, for having told the truth in literary form. I do not
impugn his judgment of what it feels like to go over the top, for he
has had long experience of keeping strictly on the surface.

No, our sub-committee would be appointed without the help of Thalia and
Calliope. It would register judgments such as those of the famous
sub-committee that grants the Nobel Prizes. That committee, during its
short life, has managed to reward Sully-Prudhomme and to leave out
Swinburne, to give a prize to Sienkewicz, whom a rather more recent
generation has found so suitable for the cinema. It has even given a
prize to Mr Rudyard Kipling, but whether in memory of literature or
dynamite is not known.

So literary genius must, as before, look for its endowment in the
somewhat barren heart of man, and continue to shed a hundred seeds in
its stony places, in the forlorn hope that the fowls of the air may not
devour them all, and that a single ear of corn may wilt and wither its
way into another dawn.


The reading of most men and women provides distressing lists. So far as
I can gather from his conversation, the ordinary, busy man, concerned
with his work, finds his mental sustenance in the newspapers,
particularly in _Punch_, in the illustrated weeklies and in the journals
that deal with his trade; as for imaginative literature, he seems to
confine himself to Mr Nat Gould, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Mr W. W.
Jacobs, Mr Mason, and such like, who certainly do not strain his
imaginative powers; he is greatly addicted to humour of the coarser
kind, and he dissipates many of his complexes by means of vile stories
which he exchanges with his fellows; these do not at all represent his
kindliness and his respectability. Sometimes he reads a shocker, the
sort that is known as 'railway literature,' presumably because it cannot
hold the attention for more than the time that elapses between two

The more serious and scholarly man, who abounds in every club, is
addicted to the monthly reviews, (price two-and-six; he does not like
the shilling ones), to the _Times_, to the _Spectator_; that kind of man
is definitely stodgy and prides himself upon being sound. He is fond of
memoirs, rather sodden accounts of aristocrats and politicians, of the
dull, ordinary lives of dull, ordinary people; when he has done with the
book it goes to the pulping machine, but some of the pulp gets into that
man's brain. ('Ashes to ashes, pulp to pulp.') He likes books of travel,
biographies, solid French books (strictly by academicians), political
works, economic works. His conversation sounds like it, and that is why
his wife is so bored; his emotions are reflex and run only round the
objects he can see; art cannot touch him, and no feather ever falls upon
his brow from an airy wing. He commonly tells you that good novels are
not written nowadays; he must be excused that opinion, for he never
tries to read them. The only novels with which the weary Titan refreshes
his mind are those of Thackeray, sometimes of Trollope; the more
frivolous sometimes go so far as to sip a little of the honey that falls
from the mellifluous lips of Mr A. C. Benson.

The condition of women is different. They care for little that ends in
'ic,' and so their consumption of novels is enormous. The commonplace
woman is attracted by the illustrated dailies and weeklies, but she also
needs large and continuous doses of religious sentimentality, of papier
maché romance, briefly, of novels described in literary circles as
'bilge,' such as the works of Mr Hall Caine, Mrs Barclay, Miss E. M.
Dell, and a great many more; if she is of the slightly faster kind that
gives smart lunch parties at the Strand Corner House, her diet is
sometimes a little stronger; she takes to novels of the orchid house and
the tiger's lair, to the artless erotics of Miss Elinor Glyn, Mr Hubert
Wales, and Miss Victoria Cross. She likes memoirs too, memoirs of vague
Bourbons and salacious Bonapartes; she takes great pleasure in the
historical irregularities of cardinals. She likes poetry too as conveyed
by Miss Ella Wheeler Wilcox.

If that type of woman were not a woman the arts could base as few hopes
on her as they do on men, but the most stupid woman is better ground
than the average man, because she is open, while he is smug. So it is no
wonder that among the millions of women who mess and muddle their way
through the conservatories and pigsties of literature, should be found
the true reading public, the women who are worth writing for, who read
the best English novels, who are in touch with French and Russian
literature, who reads plays, and even essays, ancient and modern. Hail
Mary, mother of mankind; but for these the arts must starve!

That fine public cannot carry us very far. They are not enough to keep
literature vigorous by giving it what it needs: a consciousness of
fellowship with many readers. If literature is to flourish (of which I
am not sure, though endure in some form it will), the general public
taste must be raised. I feel that taste can be raised and cultivated,
and many have felt that too. From the middle of the nineteenth century
onwards, and especially since 1870, an ascending effort has been made to
stimulate the taste of the rising artisan. Books like Lord Avebury's
_Pleasures of Life_, like _Sesame and Lilies_, collections such as the
_Hundred Best Books_ and the _Hundred Best Pictures_, have all been
attuned to that key. The only pity is that the selections, nearly all of
them excellent, were immeasurably above the heads of the public for
which they were meant. Two recent instances are worth analysing. One of
them is _A Library for Five Pounds_ by Sir William Robertson Nicoll,
(whom Mr Arnold Bennett delighteth to revile), the other _Literary Taste
and How to Form It_, by Mr Bennett himself. Now Sir William Robertson
Nicoll's book is much more sensible than the funereal lists available at
most polytechnics. The author does not pretend that one should read
Plato in one's bath; he seems to realise the state of mind of the
ordinary, fairly busy, fairly willing, fairly intelligent person. A sign
of it is that he selects only sixty-one works, and out of those allows
twenty-seven novels. Of the rest, most are readable, except _Pilgrim's
Progress_ and _The Origin of Species_, a touching couple. The list is by
far the best guide I have ever seen, but ... there is not a living
author in it. It is not a library, it is a necropolis. The novelists
that Sir William Robertson Nicoll recommends are Scott, Jane Austen,
Dickens, Thackeray, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, Hawthorne, Trollope,
Blackmore, Defoe, and Swift. All their books are readable, but they do
not take by the hand the person who has thought wrong or not thought at
all. When you want to teach a child history you do not dump upon its
desk Hume and Smollett, in forty volumes; you lead it by degrees, by
means of text-books, that is _according to plan_. That is how I conceive
literary education, but before suggesting a list, let us glance at
_Literary Taste and How to Form It_. In this book the author shows
himself much more unpractical and much less sympathetic than Sir William
Robertson Nicoll (whom Mr Bennett delighteth to revile). The book itself
is very interesting; it is bright, intelligent; it teaches you how to
read, and how to make allowances for the classics; it tells you how you
may woo your way to Milton, but, after all, when you have done, you find
that you have not wooed your way an inch nearer. That is because Mr
Arnold Bennett takes up to his public an attitude more highbrowed than I
could imagine if I were writing a skit on his book. Mr Bennett's idea of
a list for the aspirant to letters is to throw the London Library at his
head; he lays before us a stodgy lump of two or three hundred volumes,
many of them excellent, and many more absolutely penal. It is enough to
say that he seriously starts his list with the Venerable Bede's
_Ecclesiastical History_. Bede! the dimmest, most distant of English
chroniclers, who depicts the dimmest and most distant period of English
history; once, in an A.B.C., I saw a shopman reading _Tono-Bungay_,
which was propped against the cruet. Does Mr Bennett imagine that man
dropping the tear of emotion and the gravy of excitement upon the
Venerable Bede? And if one goes on with the list and discovers the
_Autobiography of Lord Herbert of Cherbury_, _Religio Medici_,
Berkeley's _Principles of Human Knowledge_, Reynold's _Discourses on
Art_, the works of Pope, _Voyage of the Beagle_ ... one comes to
understand how such readers may have been made by such masters. From the
beginning to the end of that list my mind is obsessed by the word
'stodge,' and the novels do not relieve it much. There are a good many,
but they comprise the usual Thackeray, Scott, Dickens ... need I go on?
Relief is found only in Fielding, Sterne, and in one book each of
Marryat, Lever, Kingsley, and Gissing. These authors are admitted
presumably because they are dead.

In all this, where is hope? How many green daffodil heads, trying to
burst their painful way through the heavy earth of a dull life, has Mr
Bennett trampled on? Is it impossible to find some one who is (as Mr
Bennett certainly is), capable of the highest artistic appreciation and
of high literary achievement, and who will, for a moment, put himself in
the place of the people he is addressing? Is it impossible for an adult
to remember that as a boy he hated the classics? Has he forgotten that
as a young man he could be charmed, but educated only by means of a
machine like the one they use for stuffing geese? The people we want to
introduce to literature are, nearly all of them, people who work; some
earn thirty shillings a week, and ponder a great deal on how to live on
it; some earn hundreds a year and are not much better off; all are
occupied with material cares, their work, their games, their gardens,
their loves; nearly all are short of time, and expend on work, transit,
and meals, ten to twelve hours a day. They read in tubes and omnibuses,
in the midst of awful disturbance and overcrowding; also they are deeply
corrupted by the daily papers, where nothing over a column is ever
printed, where the news are conveyed in paragraphs and headlines, so
that they never have to concentrate, and find it difficult to do so;
they are corrupted too by the vulgarity and sensationalism which are the
bones and blood of the magazines, until they become unable to think
without stimulants.

It is no use saying those people are lost. They are not lost, but they
have gone astray, or rather, nobody has ever tried to turn their faces
the right way. Certainly Mr Arnold Bennett does nothing for them. If
they could read _The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire_ they would,
but they cannot. People cannot plunge into old language, old
atmospheres; they have no links with these things; their imagination is
not trained to take a leap; many try, and nearly all fail because their
literary leaders go to sleep, or march them into bogs. No crude mind can
jump into ancient literature; modern literature alone can help it,
namely cleanse its _nearest_ section, and prepare it for further strain.
The limits of literary taste can, in each person, be carried as far as
that person's intellectual capacity goes, but only _by degrees_. In
other words, limit your objective instead of failing at a large

I am not prepared to lay down a complete list, but I am prepared to hint
at one. If I had to help a crude but willing taste, I would handle its
reading as follows:--


Reading made up exclusively of recent novels, good, well-written,
thoughtful novels, not too startling in form or contents. I would begin
on novels because anybody can read a novel, and because the first
cleansing operation is to induce the subject to read good novels instead
of bad ones. Here is a preliminary list:--

  _Tony-Bungay_ (Wells)
  _Kipps_ (Wells)
  _The Custom of the Country_ (Wharton)
  _The Old Wives' Tale_ (Bennett)
  _The Man of Property_ (Galsworthy)
  _Jude the Obscure_ (Hardy)
  _Tess of the D'Urbervilles_ (Hardy)
  _Sussex Gorse_ (Kaye-Smith)

and say twenty or thirty more of this type, all published in the last
dozen years. It is, of course, assumed that interest would be
maintained by conversation.


After the subject (victim, if you like) had read say thirty of the best
solid novels of the twentieth century, I think I should draw him to the
more abstruse modern novels and stories. In the first period he would
come in contact with a general criticism of life. In the second period
he would read novels of a more iconoclastic and constructive kind, such

  _The Island Pharisees_ (Galsworthy)
  _The New Machiavelli_ (Wells)
  _Sinister Street_ (Mackenzie)
  _The Celestial Omnibus_ (Forster)
  _The Longest Journey_ (Forster)
  _Sons and Lovers_ (Lawrence)
  _The White Peacock_ (Lawrence)
  _Ethan Frome_ (Wharton)
  _Round the Corner_ (Cannan)

Briefly, the more ambitious kind of novel, say thirty or forty
altogether. At that time, I should induce the subject to browse
occasionally in the _Oxford Book of English Verse_.


Now only would I come to the older novels, because, by then, the mind
should be supple enough to stand their congestion of detail, their
tendency to caricature, their stilted phrasing, and yet recognise their
qualities. Here are some:--

  _The Rise of Silas Lapham_ (Howells)
  _Vanity Fair_ (Thackeray)
  _The Vicar of Wakefield_ (Goldsmith)
  _The Way of All Flesh_ (Butler)
  _Quentin Durward_ (Scott)
  _Guy Mannering_ (Scott)

Briefly, the bulk of the works of Thackeray, Jane Austen, Charlotte
Brontë, and George Eliot. 'Barry Lyndon' twice, and Trollope never.
Here, at last, the solid curriculum, but only, you will observe, when a
little of the mud of the magazines had been cleaned off. Rather more
verse too, beginning with Tennyson and Henley, passing on to Rossetti
and perhaps to Swinburne. Verse, however, should not be pressed. But I
think I should propose modern plays of the lighter kind, Mr Bernard
Shaw's _Major Barbara_ and _John Bull's Other Island_, for instance. One
could pass by degrees to the less obvious plays of Mr Shaw, certainly to
those of St John Hankin, and perhaps to _The Madras House_. I think also
a start might be made on foreign works, but these would develop mainly
in the


Good translations being available, I would suggest notably:--

  _Madame Bovary_ (Flaubert)
  _Resurrection_ (Tolstoi)
  _Fathers and Children_ (Turgenev)
  Various short stories of Tchekoff.

And then, _if the subject seemed to enjoy these works_,

  _L'Education Sentimentale_ (Flaubert)
  _Le Rouge et le Noir_ (Stendhal)
  _The Brothers Karamazov_ (Dostoievsky)

Mark this well, if the subject seemed to enjoy them. If there is any
strain, any boredom, there is lack of continuity, and a chance of losing
the subject's interest altogether. I think the motto should be 'Don't
press'; that is accepted when it comes to golf; why has it never been
accepted when it affects man? This period would, I think, end with the
lighter plays of Shakespeare, such as _The Merry Wives of Windsor_, _The
Taming of the Shrew_, and perhaps _Hamlet_. I think modern essays should
also come in _via_ Mr E. V. Lucas, Mr Belloc, and Mr Street; also I
would suggest Synge's travels in Wicklow, Connemara, and the Arran
Islands; this would counteract the excessive fictional quality of the


I submit that, by that time, if the subject had a good average mind, he
would be prepared by habit to read older works related with the best
modern works. The essays of Mr Lucas would prepare him for the works of
Lamb; those of Mr Belloc, for the essays of Carlyle and Bacon. Thus
would I lead back to the heavier Victorian novels, to the older ones of
Fielding and Sterne. If any taste for plays has been developed by
Shakespeare, it might be turned to Marlowe, Congreve, and Sheridan. The
drift of my argument is: read the easiest first; do not strain; do not
try to 'improve your mind,' but try to enjoy yourself. Than books there
is no better company, but it is no use approaching them as dour
pedagogues. Proceed as a snob climbing the social ladder, namely, know
the best people in the neighbourhood, then the best people they know.
The end is not that of snobbery, but an eternal treasure.

I think that my subject, if capable of developing taste, would find his
way to the easier classic works, such as Carlyle's _French Revolution_,
Boswell's _Life of Johnson_, perhaps even to Wesley's _Journal_. But at
that stage the subject would have to be dismissed to live or die. Enough
would have been done to lead him away from boredom, from dull solemnity
and false training, to purify his taste and make it of some use. The day
is light and the past is dark; all eyes can see the day and find it
splendid, but eyes that would pierce the darkness of the past must grow
familiar with lighter mists; to every man the life of the world about
him is that man's youth, while old age is ill to apprehend.

Litany of the Novelist

There are times when one wearies of literature; when one reads over
one's first book, reflects how good it was, and how greatly one was
misunderstood; when one considers the perils and misadventures of so
accidental a life and likens oneself to those dogs described by Pliny
who run fast as they drink from the Nile for fear they should be seized
by the crocodiles; when one tires of following Mr Ford Madox Hueffer's
advice, 'to sit down in the back garden with pen, ink, and paper, to put
vine leaves in one's hair and to write'; when one remembers that in
Flaubert's view the literary man's was a dog's life (metaphors about
authors lead you back to the dog) but that none other was worth living.
In those moods, one does not agree with Flaubert; rather, one agrees
with Butler:--

  '... those that write in rhyme still make
  The one verse for the other's sake;
  For one for sense and one for rhyme,
  I think's sufficient at one time.'

One sees life like Mr Polly, as 'a rotten, beastly thing.' One sighs for
adventure, to become a tramp or an expert witness. One knows that one
will never be so popular as Beecham's pills; thence is but a step to
picture oneself as less worthy.

We novelists are the showmen of life. We hold up its mirror, and, if it
look at us at all, it mostly makes faces at us. Indeed a writer might
have with impunity sliced Medusa's head: she would never have noticed
him. The truth is that the novelist is a despised creature. At moments,
when, say, a learned professor has devoted five columns to showing that
a particular novelist is one of the pests of society, the writer feels
exalted. But as society shows no signs of wanting to be rid of the pest,
the novelist begins to doubt his own pestilency. He is wrong. In a way,
society knows of our existence, but does not worry; it shows this in a
curiously large number of ways, more than can be enumerated here. It
sees the novelist as a man apart; as a creature fraught with venom, and,
paradoxically, a creature of singularly lamb-like and unpractical

Consider, indeed, the painful position of a respectable family whose
sons make for Threadneedle Street every day, its daughters for Bond
Street and fashion, or for the East End, good works, and social
advancement. Imagine that family, who enjoys a steady income, shall we
say in the neighbourhood of £5000 a year, enough to keep it in modest
comfort, confronted with the sudden infatuation of one of its daughters
for an unnamed person, met presumably in the East End where he was
collecting copy. You can imagine the conversation after dinner:--

Angeline: 'What does he do, father? Oh, well! he's a novelist.'

Father: .... What! a novelist! One of those long-haired, sloppy-collared
ragamuffins without any soles to their boots! Do you think that because
I've given you a motor-car I'm going to treat you to a husband? A bar
loafer ... (we are always intemperate) ... A man whom your mother and
sisters ... (our morals are atrocious) ... I should not wonder if the
police ... (we are all dishonest, and yet we never have any money) ... I
was talking to the Bishop ... (we practise no religion, except that
occasionally we are Mormons)....

And so on, and so on. Father won't have it, and if in the end Father
does have it he finds that Angeline's eyes are _not_ blacked, but that
Angeline's husband's boots _are_ blacked, that the wretched fellow keeps
a balance at the bank, can ride a horse, push a perambulator, drive a
nail; but he does not believe it for a long time. For it is, if not
against all experience, at any rate against all theory that a novelist
should be eligible. The bank clerk is eligible, the novelist is not; we
are not 'safe,' we are adventurers, we have theories, and sometimes the
audacity to live up to them. We are often poor, which happens to other
men, and this is always our own fault, while it is often their
misfortune. Of late years, we have grown still more respectable than our
forefathers, who were painfully such: Dickens lived comfortably in
Marylebone; Thackeray reigned in a luxurious house near Kensington
Square and in several first-class clubs; Walter Scott reached a terrible
extreme of respectability; he went bankrupt, but later on paid his debts
in full. Yet we never seem quite respectable, perhaps because
respectability is so thin a varnish. Even the unfortunate girls whom we
'entice away from good homes' into the squalor of the arts, do not think
us respectable. For them half the thrill of marrying a novelist consists
in the horror of the family which must receive him; it is like marrying
a quicksand, and the idea is so bitter that a novelist who wears his
hair long might do well to marry a girl who wears hers short. He will
not find her in the bourgeoisie.

The novelist is despised because he produces a commodity not recognised
as 'useful.' There is no definition of usefulness, yet everybody is
clear that the butcher, the railway porter, the stock jobber are useful;
that they fulfil a function necessary for the maintenance of the State.
The pugilist, the dancer, the music hall actor, the novelist, produce
nothing material, while the butcher does. To live, one wants meat, but
not novels. We need not pursue this too far and ask the solid classes to
imagine a world without arts, presumably they could not. It is enough to
point the difference, and to suggest that we are deeply enthralled by
the Puritan tradition which calls pleasure, if not noxious, at any rate
unimportant; the maintenance of life is looked upon as more essential
than the enjoyment thereof, so that many people picture an ideal world
as a spreading cornfield dotted with cities that pay good rents,
connected by railways which pay good dividends. They resemble the
revolutionary, who on the steps of the guillotine said to Lavoisier:
'_La Republique n'a pas besoin de savants._' This is obvious when the
average man (which includes many women) alludes to the personality of
some well-known writer. One he has come to respect: Mr Hall Caine,
because popular report says that his latest novel brought him in about a
hundred thousand pounds, but those such as Mr Arnold Bennett and Mr H.
G. Wells leave strange shadows upon his memory. Of Mr Bennett he says:
'Oh, yes, he writes about the North Country, doesn't he? Or is it the
West Country? Tried one of his books once. I forget its name, and now I
come to think of it, it may have been by somebody else. He must be a
dreary sort of chap, anyhow, sort of methodist.'

Mr H. G. Wells is more clearly pictured: 'Wells? the fellow who writes
about flying machines and men in the moon. Jules Verne sort of stuff,
isn't it? He's a Socialist.'

And so out with Mr Bennett, one of our best modern stylists, who in
spite of an occasional crowding of the canvas has somehow fixed for us
the singular and ferocious tribe from which he springs; so out with Mr
Wells, with his restless, impulsive, combative, infinitely audacious
mind. The average man says: 'Flying machines,' and the passion of Mr
Wells for a beautiful, if somewhat over-hygienic world is swept away.
Those are leading instances. Others, such as Mr Conrad, Miss Edith
Wharton, O. Henry, Mr Galsworthy, are not mentioned at all; if the name
of Mr Henry James is spoken, it leads up to a gibe at long sentences.

The attitude is simple; we are not taken seriously. Novelists have to
take mankind seriously because they want to understand it; mankind is
exempt from the obligation because it does not conceive the desire. We
are not people who take degrees, who can be scheduled and classified. We
are not Doctors of Science, Licentiates of Music Schools. We are just
men and women of some slight independence, therefore criminals, men who
want to observe and not men who want to do, therefore incredible. And
so, because we cannot fall into the classes made for those who can be
classified, we are outside class, below class. We are the mistletoe on
the social oak.

It is perhaps in search of dignity and status that the modern novelist
has taken to journalism. Journalism raises a novelist's status, for a
view expressed by a fictitious character is not taken seriously, while
the same view fastened to an event of the day acquires importance,
satisfies the specific function of the press, which is more and more
that of a champion of found causes. The newspaper is a better
jumping-off ground than the pulpit or the professorial chair; it enjoys
a vast circulation, which the novel does not; it conveys an idea to
millions of people who would never think of buying a newspaper for the
sake of an idea, but who buy it for news, murder cases or corn market
reports; it is a place where a writer may be serious, _because the
newspaper is labelled as serious, while the novel is labelled as

This is vital to the proposition, and explains why so many novelists
have sought refuge in the press. It is not exactly a question of money.
Journalism rewards a successful novelist better than does the novel,
though successful novelists make very good incomes; they often earn as
much as the red-nosed comedian with the baggy trousers and the battered
bowler. Thackeray, Washington Irving, Kingsley, and notably Dickens,
knew the value of journalism. Dickens was the most peculiar case, for it
is fairly clear that _Nicholas Nickleby_ helped to suppress the ragged
schools and that _Oliver Twist_ was instrumental in reforming workhouse
law; both works were immensely successful, but Dickens felt that he
wanted a platform where he could be always wholly serious: for this the
_Daily News_ was born in 1846. Likewise Mr Wells has written enormously
upon the war and economics; Mr Arnold Bennett has printed many political
articles; Mr Galsworthy has become more direct than a novelist can be
and written largely on cruelty to animals, prison reform, etc. It is the
only way in which we can be taken seriously. We must be solemn, a little
dull, patriotic or unpatriotic, socialistic or conservative; there is
only one thing we may not be, and that is creative and emotional.

It should be said in passing that even the press does not think much of
us. Articles on solid subjects by novelists are printed, well paid for,
sought after; it does a paper good to have an article on Imperial
Federation by Mr Kipling, or on Feminism by Mr Zangwill. The novelist
amounts to a poster; he is a blatant advertisement; he is a curiosity,
the man who makes the public say: 'I wonder what the _Daily_ ---- is up
to now.' Be assured that Mr Zangwill's views on Feminism do not command
the respectful treatment that is accorded a column leader in the
_Times_; he is too human; he sparkles too much; he has not the matchless
quality of those leaders which compels you to put on an extra stamp if
you have to send the paper through the post.

The newspapers court the novelist as the people of a small town court
the local rich man, but neither newspaper nor little town likes very
much the object of its courtship. Except when they pay us to express
them, the newspapers resent our having any views at all; the thought
behind is always: 'Why can't the fellows mind their own business, and go
on writing about love and all that sort of stuff?' During the war,
references to novelists who express their views have invariably been
sneering; it is assumed that because we are novelists we are unable to
comprehend tactics, politics, in fact any 'ics,' except perhaps the
entirely unimportant aesthetics. But the peculiarity of the situation is
that not a voice has been raised against professors of philology, who
write on finance, against Bishops dealing with land settlement, against
doctors when they re-map Europe, against barristers, businessmen....
These may say anything they like; they are plain, hard-headed men, while
our heads are soft enough to admit a new idea.

To define the attitude of the press is in modern times to define the
attitude of the State. From our point of view this is frigid. In
America, there are no means of gauging a novelist's position, for
American classification rests upon celebrity and fortune. Ours rests
upon breeding and reliability. America is more adventurous; Britannia
rides in a chariot, while the American national emblem foreshadowed the
aeroplane. And so, in the United States it may profit a man as well to
be a Jack London as an Elihu Root. America has no means of recognising
status, while in England we have honours. We distribute a great many
honours, and indeed the time may come, as Mr Max Beerbohm says, when
everybody will be sentenced to a knighthood without the option of a
fine. Honours are rather foolish things, monuments that create a need
for circumspection; they are often given for merits not easily
perceived, but still they are a _rough_ test of status. Setting aside
money, which is the primary qualification, and justifies Racine in
saying that without money honour is nothing but a disease, a title is a
fairly clear sign of distinction. Sir Edward Shackleton, Sir Douglas
Haig, Sir Frederick Treves, Lord Reading, Sir William Crookes, Lord
Lister, all those titles are obvious recognition of prominence in Polar
Exploration, the Army, the Law, Medicine, Research, as the case may be;
there are scores of Medical Knights, many Law Lords, many Major Generals
and Admirals endowed with the Knight Commandership of the Bath. We do
not complain. They deserve their honours, most of them. They deserve
them more than the politicians who have received for long service
rewards that ability could not give them, than the Lord Mayors who are
titled because they sold, for instance, large quantities of kitchen
fenders. When we consider the arts, we observe a discrepancy. The arts
do not ask for honours; they are too arrogant, and know that born
knights cannot be knighted. Only they claim that an attempt should be
made to honour them, to grant them Mr Gladstone's and Mr Chamberlain's
privilege of refusing honours.

Consider, for instance, the Order of Merit, one of the highest honours
that the British Crown can confer. At the end of last year it numbered
twenty-one members. Among them were some distinguished foreigners,
Prince Oyama, Prince Yamagata and Admiral Togo; historians, pro-consuls,
four Admirals ... and one novelist. Mr Thomas Hardy. We do not complain
that only Mr Thomas Hardy was chosen, for there is nobody else to set at
his side ... only we do complain that in this high order four admirals
find a place. Are we then so rich in admiralty, so poor in literature?
The same is still truer when we come to the inferior orders, which are
still fairly high, such as the Commandership of the Bath. That ancient
order is almost entirely recruited from amongst soldiers, sailors,
politicians, and civil servants; it does not hold the name of a single
novelist. No novelist is a Privy Councillor, though the position is
honorific and demands no special knowledge. On the Privy Council you
find labour members of Parliament, barristers, coal owners, sellers of
chemicals and other commodities, but no novelists. In all the other
orders it is the same thing; for novelists there are neither
commanderships of the Bath, nor of the Victorian Order, nor of St
Michael and St George, no honours great or minor; no man has ever in
England been offered a peerage _because_ he wrote novels; and yet he has
been offered a peerage because he sold beer. George Meredith was not
offered a peerage, even though some think that his name will live when
those of captains and kings have melted into dust. Our little band of
recognised men, such as Sir James Barrie, Sir Anthony Hope Hawkins, Sir
Rider Haggard, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, small is the toll they have taken
of public recognition; perhaps they should not expect it; perhaps they
have been recognised only because of certain political activities; but
must we really believe that so many lawyers and so few writers are
worthy of an accolade? Is the novelist worthless until he is dead?

This picture may seem too black, but it is that of Great Britain, where
contempt for literature has risen to a peculiar degree. Make an
imaginative effort; see yourself in the drawing-room of some social
leader, where a 'crush' of celebrities is taking place. A flunkey at the
head of the stairs announces the guests. He announces: 'Lord Curzon! ...
Mr Joseph Conrad! ... The Bishop of London!' Who caused a swirl in the
'gilded throng?' The cleric? The politician? Or the novelist? Be honest
in your reply, and you will know who, at that hypothetical reception,
created a stir. The stir, according to place or period, greeted the
politician or the bishop, and only in purely literary circles would Mr
Conrad have been preferred.... For the worship of crowds goes to power
rather than to distinction, to the recognised functionary of the State,
to him whose power can give power, to all the evanescent things, and
seldom to those stockish things, the milestones on the road to eternity.
The attitude of the crowd is the attitude of the State, for the State
is only the crowd, and often just the mob; it is the chamberlain of
ochlocracy, the leader who follows. In all times, the State has shown
its indifference, its contempt, for the arts, and particularly for
literature. Now and then a prince, such as Louis of Bavaria, Philip of
Spain, Lorenzo the Magnificent, has given to literature more than
respect. He has given love, but that only because he was a man before a
prince. The prince must prefer the lawyer, the politician, the general,
and indeed, of late years what prince was found to patron George
Meredith or Henry James?

The attitude of the State to the novelist defines itself most clearly
when a royal commission is appointed. In England, royal commissions are
_ad hoc_ bodies appointed by the government from among men of political
influence and special knowledge, to investigate a special question.

As a rule they are well composed. For instance, a royal commission on
water supply would probably comprise two or three members of Parliament
of some standing, the President of the Institute of Civil Engineers, a
professor of sanitation, a canal expert, one or two trade unionists, one
or two manufacturers, and a representative of the Home Office or the
Board of Trade. Any man of position who has shown interest in public
affairs may be asked to sit on a royal commission ... provided he is not
a novelist. Only one novelist has attained so giddy a height: Sir Rider
Haggard; how it happened is not known: it must have been a mistake. We
are not weighty enough, serious enough to be called on, even if our
novels are so weighty and so serious that hardly anybody can read them.
We are a gay tribe of Ariels, too light to discuss even our own trade.
For royal commissions concern themselves with our trade, with copyright
law, with the restrictions of the paper supply. You might think that,
for instance, paper supply concerned us, for we use cruel quantities,
yet no recognised author sat on the commission; a publisher was the
nearest approach. Apparently there were two great consumers of paper,
authors and grocers, but alone the grocers were consulted. What is the
matter with us? Is our crime that we put down in indecent ink what we
think and feel, while other people think and feel the same, but
prudently keep it down? Possibly our crimes are our imagination and our
tendency to carry this imagination into action. Bismarck said that a
State conducted on the lines of the Sermon on the Mount would not last
twenty-four hours; perhaps it is thought that a State in the conduct of
which a novelist had a share would immediately resolve itself into a
problem play. Something like that, though in fact it is unlikely that
Ariel come to judgment would be much more fanciful in his decrees than
the historic Solomon.

All this because we lack solidity ... and yet the public calls us
commercial, self-advertisers, money-grubbers. It is thought base that we
should want three meals a day, though nobody suggests that we can hope
to find manna in the street, or drink in our parks from the fountain
Hippocrene. We are told that we make our contracts too keenly, that we
are grasping, that we are not straight ... and yet we are told that we
are not business men. What are we to do? Shall we form a trade union and
establish a piece rate? Shall we sell our novels by the yard? May we not
be as commercial and respected as the doctor who heals with words and
the lawyer who strangles with tape? Now and then the defences of
society and state are breached, and a novelist enters Parliament. Mr
Hilaire Belloc, Mr A. E. W. Mason, followed Disraeli into the House of
Commons, but it is very extraordinary. No one knows how these gentlemen
managed to convince the electors that with their eye 'in fine frenzy
rolling' they would not scandalise their party by voting against it.
(Those writing chaps, you know, they aren't _safe_!)

It must be said that in Parliament the novelists did not have a very
good time; they were lucky in having been preferred to a landowner or a
pawnbroker, but once in they had not the slightest chance of being
preferred to those estimable members of society. It was not a question
of straight votes; it never came to that, for Mr Belloc soon disagreed
with both sides and became a party of one, while Mr A. E. W. Mason as a
rushlight flickered his little flicker and went out. It is as well; they
would never have been taken seriously. It is almost a tradition that
they should not be taken seriously, and it is on record in most of the
worldly memoirs of the nineteenth century that the two main objections
to Disraeli were his waistcoats and his authorship of _Contarini
Fleming_. Nero liked to see people burnt alive; Disraeli wrote novels.
Weaknesses are found in all great men.

There seems in this to lie error as well as scandal; when a new
organisation is created, say for the control of lamp oil, obviously a
novelist should not be made its chairman, but why should a blotting
paper merchant be preferred? Indeed, one might side with Mr Zangwill,
who demands representation for authors in the Cabinet itself, on the
plea that they would introduce the emotion which is necessary if the
Cabinet is to manage impulsive mankind. As he finely says, we are
professors of human nature; if only some University would give us a
title and some initials to follow our name, say P.H.N., people might
believe that we knew something of it. But the attitude of the State in
these matters is steadfast enough. It recognises us as servants rather
than as citizens; if in our later years we come upon hard times, we can
be given, through the Civil List, pensions which rescue us from the
indignities of the poorhouse, but no more. Mostly these pensions benefit
our heirs, but the offering is so small that it shocks; it is like
tipping an archbishop. Thus Mr W. B. Yeats enjoys a pension of £150, Mr
Joseph Conrad, of £100. Why give us pensions at all if they must be
alms? One cannot be dignified on £100 a year; one can be dignified on
£5000 a year, because the world soon forgets that you ride a gift horse
if that horse is a fine, fat beast. The evidence is to be found in the
retiring pensions of our late Lord Chancellors, who receive £5000 a
year, of our Judges, £1000 to £3750, in the allowances made to
impoverished politicians, which attain £2000. Out of a total of £320,000
met by our civil list, literature, painting, science, research, _divide_
every year £1200. Nor do the immediate rewards show greater equality.
Lord Roberts was voted £100,000 for his services in South Africa; Mr
Thomas Hardy has not yet been voted anything for _The Dynasts_.

The shame of literature is carried on even into following generations.
The present Lord Nelson, who is not a poor man, for he owns 7000 acres
of land, is still drawing a pension of £5000 a year, earned by his
august ancestor, but the daughter of Leigh Hunt must be content with
£50. We are unknown. We are nobody. Rouget de l'Isle, author of _La
Marseillaise_, gave wings to the revolutionary chariot, but tiny,
bilious, tyrannic Robespierre rode in it, and rides in it to-day through
the pages of history, while men go to their death singing the words of
Rouget de l'Isle and know him not.

Even in our own profession of authorship the novelist is an object of
disdain. We are less than the economists, the historians, the political
writers: we amuse while they teach; they bore, and as they bore it is
assumed that they educate, dullness always having been the sorry
companion of education. Evidence is easily found; there exists a useful,
short encyclopædia called _Books That Count_. It contains the names of
about 4000 authors, out of whom only sixty-three are novelists. Divines
whose sermons do not fetch a penny at the second-hand bookseller's,
promoters of economic theories long disproved, partisan historians,
mendacious travellers ... they crowd out of the 'books that count' the
pale sixty-three novelists, all that is left of the large assembly that
gave us _Tom Jones_ and _The Way of All Flesh_. This attitude we observe
in most reference books. We observe it, for instance, in the well-known
_Who's Who Year Book_, which, amazing as it seems, contains no list of
authors. The book contains a list of professors, including those of
dental surgery, a list of past Presidents of the Oxford Union, a list of
owners of Derby winners, but not a list of authors. The editors of this
popular reference book know what the public wants; apparently the public
wants to know that Mr Arthur H. King is General Manager of the
Commercial Bank of London Ltd. ... but the public does not want to know
that Mr Anatole France is a great man. The only evidence of notice is a
list of our pseudonyms. It matters that Mr Richard Le Gallienne should
write under the name of 'Logroller,' for that is odd. Mr Le Gallienne,
being an author, is a curiosity; it matters to nobody that he is a man.


What is the area of a novelist's reputation? How far do the ripples
extend when he casts a novel into the whirlpool of life? It is difficult
to say, but few novelists were ever so well known to the people as were
in their time such minor figures as Bradlaugh and Dr Grace, nor is there
a novelist to-day whose fame can vie with that of, say, Mr Roosevelt. It
is strange to think that Dickens himself could not in his own day create
as much stir as, say, Lord Salisbury. He lacked political flavour; he
was merely one of the latter day prophets who lack the unique
advertisement of being stoned. It will be said that such an instance is
taken from the masses of the world, most of whom do not read novels,
while all are affected by the politician, but in those circles that
support literature the same phenomenon appears; the novel may be known;
the novelist is not. The novel is not respected and, indeed, one often
hears a woman, at a big lending library, ask for 'three of the latest
novels.' New novels! Why not new potatoes? She takes the books away
calmly, without looking at the titles or the names. She is quite
satisfied; sometimes she does not care much whether or not she has read
those novels before, for she does not remember them. They go in at one
ear and come out at the other presumably, as a judge said, because there
is nothing to stop them.

It is undeniable that the great mass of readers forget either names or
titles; many forget both. Some of the more educated remember the author
and ask their library for 'something by E. M. Dell,' because she writes
such sweet, pretty books, a definition where slander subtly blends with
veracity. But, in most cases, nothing remains of either author or title
except a hazy impression; the reader is not quite sure whether the book
she liked so much is _Fraternity_ or the _Corsican Brothers_. She will
know that it had something to do with family, and that the author's name
began with 'G' ... unless it was 'S'. It cannot be otherwise, so long as
novels are read in the way they are read, that is to say, if they are
taken as drugs. Generally, novels are read to dull the mind, and many
succeed, ruining the chances of those whose intent is not morphean,
which fulfil the true function of art, viz., to inflame. The object of a
novel is not to send the reader to sleep, not to make him oblivious of
time on a railway journey; it is meant to show character, to stimulate
observation, to make life vivid, and as life is most vivid when it is
most unpleasant, the novel that is worth reading is naturally set
aside. For such novels stir the brain too much to let it go to sleep.
Those novels are judged in the same way as the baser kind, and that is,
perhaps, why the novel itself stands so low. It does stand low, at least
in England, for it is almost impossible to sell it. Inquiries made of
publishers show that they expect to sell to the circulating libraries
seventy to seventy-five per cent. of the copies printed. To sell to a
circulating library is not selling; it is lending at one remove; it
means that a single copy bought by a library is read by anything between
twenty and a hundred people. Sometimes it is read by more, for a copy
bought by Mudie's is sold off when the subscribers no longer ask for it.
It goes to a town of the size of, say Winchester. Discarded after a year
or so by the subscribers it may be sold off for a penny or twopence,
with one thrown into the dozen for luck, and arrive with its cover
hanging on in a way that is a testimonial to the binder, with its pages
marked with thumbs, stained with tears, or, as the case may be, with
soup, at some small stationer's shop in a little market town, to go out
on hire at a penny a week, until it no longer holds together, and goes
to its eternal rest in the pulping machine. On the way, nobody has
bought it except to let it out, as the padrone sends out the pretty
Italian boys with an organ and a monkey. The public have not bought the
book to read and to love. The twenty-five or thirty per cent. actually
sold have been disposed of as birthday or Christmas presents, because
one has to give something, and because one makes more effect with a
well-bound book costing six shillings than with six shillings' worth of
chocolates. Literature has been given its royalty on the bread of shame.
Yet, impossible as the novel finds it to tear its shilling from the
public, the theatre easily wheedles it into paying a guinea or more for
two stalls. It seems strange that two people will pay a guinea to see
_Three Weeks_ on the boards, yet would never dream of giving four and
sixpence for Miss Elinor Glyn's book. That is because theatre seats must
be paid for, while books can be borrowed. It goes so far that novelists
are continually asked 'where one can get their books,' meaning 'where
they can be borrowed'; often they are asked to lend a copy, while no one
begs a ride from a cabman.

In England, the public of the novel is almost exclusively feminine. Few
men read novels, and a great many nothing at all except the newspaper.
They say that they are too busy, which is absurd when one reflects how
busy is the average woman. The truth is that they are slack and
ignorant. They have some historic reason to despise the novel, for it is
quite true that in the nineteenth century, with a few exceptions, such
as Thackeray, Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, Nathaniel Hawthorne,
Dickens, Scott, George Eliot, the three volume novel was trash. It
dealt, generally, with some rhetorical Polish hero, a high-born English
maiden, cruel parents, and Italian skies. Right up to 1885 that sort of
thing used to arrive every morning outside Mudie's in a truck, but if it
still arrives at Mudie's in a truck it should not be forgotten that
other novels arrive. That is what the men do not know. If they read at
all you will find them solemnly taking in _The Reminiscences of Mr
Justice X. Y. Z._ or _Shooting Gazelle in Bulbulland_, _Political
Economics_, or _Economic Politics_, (it means much the same either way
up). All that sort of thing, that frozen, dried-up, elderly waggishness,
that shallow pomp, is mentally murderous. Sometimes men do read novels,
mostly detective stories, sporting or very sentimental tales. When
observed, they apologise and say something about resting the brain. That
means that they do not respect the books they read, which is base; it is
like keeping low company, where one can yawn and put one's boots on the
sofa. Now, no company is low unless you think it is. As soon as you
realise that and stay, you yourself grow naturalised to it. Likewise, if
you read a book without fellowship and respect for its author, you are
outraging it. But mankind is stupid, and it would not matter very much
that a few men should read novels in that shamefaced and patronising way
if they were not so open about it. If they do not apologise, they boast
that they never read a novel; they imply superiority. Their feminine
equivalent is the serious-minded girl, who improves her mind with a book
like _Vicious Viscounts of Venice_; if she reads novels at all she holds
that like good wine they improve with keeping, and must be at least
fifty years old. By that time the frivolous author may have redeemed his

It is because of all these people, the people who borrow and do not
cherish, the people who skim, the people who indulge and cringe, and the
people who do not indulge at all, that we have come to a corruption of
literary taste, where the idea is abashed before the easy emotion, where
religiosity expels religion, and the love passion turns to heroics or to
maundering, that the success of the second-rate, of Mrs Barclay, of Miss
Gene Stratton Porter, of Mr Hall Caine, has come about. It is a killing
atmosphere. It is almost incomprehensible, for when the talk is of a
political proposal, say, of land settlement in South Africa, or of a new
type of oil engine, hardly a man will say: 'I am not interested.' He
would be ashamed to say that. It would brand him as a retrograde person.
Sometimes he will say: 'I do not like music,' but he will avoid that if
he can, for music is an evidence of culture; he will very seldom confess
that he does not care for pictures; he will confess without any
hesitation that he does not care for any kind of book. He will be rather
proud to think that he prefers a horse or a golf-stick. It will seldom
occur to him that this literature of which some people talk so much can
hold anything for him. It will not even occur to him to try, for
literature is judged at Jedburgh. It hardly ever occurs to any one that
literature has its technique, that introductions to it are necessary; a
man will think it worth while to join a class if he wants to acquire
scientific knowledge, but seldom that anything in the novel justifies
his taking preliminary steps. It is not that literature repels him by
its occasional aridity; it is not that he has stumbled upon classics,
which, as Mr Arnold Bennett delightfully says, 'are not light women who
turn to all men, but gracious ladies whom one must long woo.' Men do not
think the lady worth wooing. This brings us back to an early conclusion
in this chapter; novelists are not useful; we are pleasant, therefore
despicable. Our novels do not instruct; all they can do is to delight or
inflame. We can give a man a heart, but we cannot raise his bank
interest. So our novels are not worthy of his respect because they do
not come clad in the staid and reassuring gray of the text-book; they
are not dull enough to gain the respect of men who can appreciate only
the books that bore them, who shrink away from the women who charm them
and turn to those who scrag their hair off their forehead, and bring
their noses, possibly with a cloth, to a disarming state of brilliancy.

Sometimes, when the novelist thinks of all these things, he is overcome
by a desperate mood, decides to give up literature and grow respectable.
He thinks of becoming a grocer, or an attorney, and sometimes he wants
to be the owner of a popular magazine, where he will exercise, not the
disreputable function of writing, but the estimable one of casting
pleasant balance sheets. Then the mood passes, and he is driven back to
Flaubert's view that it is a dog's life, but the only one. He decides to
live down the extraordinary trash that novelists produce. Incredible as
truth may be, fiction is stranger still, and there is no limit to the
intoxications of the popular novelist. Consider, indeed, the following
account of six novels, taken from the reviews in the literary supplement
of the _Times_, of 27th July, 1916. In the first, _Seventeen_, Mr Booth
Tarkington depicts characters of an age indicated by the title,
apparently concerned with life as understood at seventeen, who conduct
baby talk with dogs. In the second, _Blow the Man Down_, by Mr Holman
Day, an American financier causes his ship to run ashore, while the
captain is amorously pursued by the daughter of the villainous
financier, and cuts his way out through the bottom of a schooner. _The
Plunderers_, by Mr Edwin Lefevre, is concerned with robbers in New York,
whose intentions are philanthropic; we observe also _Wingate's Wife_, by
Miss Violet Tweedale, where the heroine suffers 'an agony of
apprehension,' and sees a man murdered; but all is well, as the victim
happens to be the husband whom she had deserted twenty years before.
There is also _The Woman Who Lived Again_, by Mr Lindsey Russell, where
a cabinet, in office when the war breaks out, concerns itself with
German spies and an ancient Eurasian, who with Eastern secrets revives a
dead girl and sends her back to England to confound the spies. There is
also _Because It Was Written_, by Princess Radziwill, where Russian and
Belgian horrors are framed in between a prologue and epilogue entirely
devoted to archangels. There is nothing extraordinary in these novels;
they merely happen to be reviewed on the same day. The collection
compares perfectly with another, in the _Daily News_ of the 19th
September, 1916, where are reviewed a novel by Miss C. M. Matheson, one
by Mr Ranger Gull, and one by 'Richard Dehan.' They are the usual sort
of thing. The first is characterised by Mr Garnett as 'a hash of trite
images and sentimental meanderings.' Miss Matheson goes so far as to
introduce a shadowy, gleaming figure, which, with hand high upraised
over the characters' heads, describes the Sign of the Cross. Mr Ranger
Gull introduces as a manservant one of the most celebrated burglars of
the day, a peer poisoned with carbon disulphide, wireless apparatus, and
the lost heir to a peerage. As for 'Richard Dehan,' it is enough to
quote one of her character's remarks: 'I had drained my cup of shame to
the dregs.'

This sort of thing is produced in great abundance, and has helped to
bring the novel down. Unreality, extravagance, stage tears, offensive
piety, ridiculous abductions and machinery, because of those we have
'lost face,' like outraged Chinamen. No wonder that people of common
intelligence, who find at their friend's house drivel such as this,
should look upon the novel as unworthy. It is natural, though it is
unjust. The novel is a commodity, and if it seeks a wide public it must
make for a low one: the speed of a fleet is that of its slowest ship;
the sale of a novel is the capacity of the basest mind. Only it might be
remembered that all histories are not accurate, all biographies not
truthful, all economic text-books not readable. Likewise, it should be
remembered, and we need quote only Mr Conrad, that novels are not
defined by the worst of their kind.... It is men's business to find out
the best books; they search for the best wives, why not for the best
novels? There are novels that one can love all one's life, and this
cannot be said of every woman.

There are to-day in England about twenty men and women who write novels
of a certain quality, and about as many who fail, but whose appeal is to
the most intelligent. These people are trying to picture man, to
describe their period, to pluck a feather from the wing of the fleeting
time. They do not write about radium murders, or heroines clad in
orchids and tiger skins. They strive to seize a little of the raw life
in which they live. The claim is simple; even though we may produce two
thousand novels a year which act upon the brain in the evening as
cigarettes do after lunch, we do put forth a small number of novels
which are the mirror of the day. Very few are good novels, and perhaps
not one will live, but many a novel concerned with labour problems,
money, freedom in love, will have danced its little dance to some
purpose, will have created unrest, always better than stagnation, will
have aroused controversy, anger, impelled some people, if not to change
their life, at least to tolerate that others should do so. _The New
Machiavelli_, _Lord Jim_, _The White Peacock_, _The Rise of Silas
Lapham_, _Ethan Frome_, none of those are supreme books, but every one
of them is a hand grenade flung at the bourgeoisie; we do not want to
kill it, but we do want to wake it up.

It is the bourgeoisie's business to find out the novels that will wake
it up; it should take as much pains to do this as to find out the best
cigar. The bourgeoisie has congestion of the brain; the works of
scholars will stupefy it still more; only in the novelists of the day,
who are rough, unpleasant, rebellious, restless, will they find a

Whether the reading public can discern that undying flame in the choking
smoke of books written for money and not for love, is another question.
Every year more novels are published; but when one considers the
novelists of the past, Thackeray's continual flow of sugary claptrap,
the incapacity of Dickens to conceive beauty, the almost unrelieved,
stagey solemnity of Walter Scott, the novelist of to-day is inclined to
thank God that he is not as other men. Those old writers trod our paths
for us, but they walked blindfold; let us recognise their splendid
qualities, their feeling for atmosphere, their knowledge of men, but we
find more that is honest and hopeful in a single page of _Tono Bungay_
than in all the great Victorians put together. Yes, we are arrogant; why
not? Why should it be natural to us to see our faults and not our
talents? We are held in contempt, but such was the fate of every
prophet; they make us into mummers and we learn mummery, but Balzac and
Turgenev rise from their own dust. We are not safe people, or quiet
people; not tame rabbits in a hutch, nor even romantic rogues: most of
us are no more romantic than jockeys.

It is, perhaps, because we are not safe (and are we any less safe than
company promoters?) that we are disliked. We are disliked, as Stendhal
says, because all differences create hatred; because by showing it its
face in the glass we tend to disrupt society, to exhibit to its shocked
eyes what is inane in its political constitution, barbarous in its moral
code. We are queer people, nasty people, but we are neither nastier nor
queerer than our fellows. We are merely more shameless and exhibit what
they hide. We have got outside, and we hate being outside; we should so
much like to enlist under the modern standard, the silk hat, and yet we
are arrogant. Doctors, judges, bishops, merchants, think little of us;
we regret it and rejoice in it. We are unhappy and exalted adventurers
in the frozen fields of human thought. We are the people who make the
'footprints on the sands of time.' Later on, the bourgeoisie will tread
in them.

Who is the Man?


And so from hour to hour we ripe and ripe, and then from hour to hour we
rot and rot. A gloomy saying, but one which applies to men as well as to
empires, and to none, perhaps, more than to those men who stand in the
vanguard of literature. Of very few writers, save those who were so
fortunate as to be carried away by death in the plenitude of their
powers (unless, like Mr Thomas Hardy, they drew back from the battle of
letters) can it be said that the works of their later years were equal
to those of their maturity. The great man has his heir in the world, one
who impatiently waits for his shoes and is assured that he will fill
them. It is well so, for shoes must be filled, and it is good to know
the claimants.

Who are these men? Is it possible already to designate them? To mark out
the Hardy or the Meredith of to-morrow? The Bennett, the Wells, or the
Galsworthy? It is difficult. I shall not be surprised if some quarrel
with these names, cavil at the selection and challenge a greatness which
they look upon as transient. Those critics may be right. I do not, in
this article, attempt a valuation of those whom I will call the literary
novelists, that is to say, the men who have 'somehow,' and owing to
hardly ascertained causes, won their way into the front rank of modern
English letters. It may be urged that these are not our big men, and
that the brazen blaring of popular trumpets has drowned the blithe
piping of tenderer songsters. But, if we view facts sanely, we must all
agree that there are in England five men, of whom one is a foreigner,
who hold without challenge the premier position among novelists: Mr
Arnold Bennett, Mr Joseph Conrad, Mr John Galsworthy, Mr Thomas Hardy,
and Mr H. G. Wells. Theirs is a special position: there is not one of
them, probably, whose sales would create envy in the bosom of Mr Harold
Bell Wright or of Mrs Barclay; nor are they of the super-hyper class
whose works are issued in wisely limited editions and printed in
over-beautiful type. They are, in a very rough way, the men of their
time and, a very little, the men of all time. Whatever be their
greatness or their littleness, they are the men who will, for the
University Extension Lecturer of 1950, represent the English novel in a
given period; they are not the most literary of their contemporaries;
they have not more ideas than some of their contemporaries, and all of
them have their faults, their mannerisms, and their lapses, but yet, in
a rough and general way, these five men combine more ideas with more
style than any who are beyond their group. 'Somehow' they stand at the
head, and I make no attempt to criticise them, to classify them: I have
even named them in alphabetical order. Now not one of these men is under
forty; one is over seventy; one approaches sixty. They must be replaced.
Not yet, of course, though some of the young begin, a little rashly, to
cast stones at those mature glories. But still, some time, faced as we
are with a horde of novelists, not less in these islands than fifteen
hundred, we must ask ourselves: Who are the young men who rear their
heads above the common rank? Which ones among them are likely to inherit
the purple?


In such an examination we must not ask for achievement, for by young men
is meant those who have not passed, or have but lately passed, thirty.
That they should show promise at all is remarkable enough, and
distinguishes them from their forbears: while Mr Bennett, Mr Galsworthy,
and Mr Conrad published no novel at all before they were thirty, and Mr
Wells not much more than a fantastic romance, the young men of to-day
tell a different tale. Mr J. D. Beresford, Mr Gilbert Cannan, Mr E. M.
Forster, Mr D. H. Lawrence, Mr Compton Mackenzie, Mr Oliver Onions, Mr
Frank Swinnerton, are a brilliant little stable, and have mostly tried
their paces many years earlier; theirs have been the novels of the
twenty-eight-year-old, in one case, at least, that of the
twenty-six-year-old. They have affirmed themselves earlier than did
their seniors and yet quite definitely.

The short list defies challenge, even though some may wish to include an
obscurer favourite, some other young intellectual novelist or a more
specialised man, such as Mr Algernon Blackwood, Mr Frederick Niven, or
Mr James Stephens, or a recent discovery, such as Mr Alec Waugh, Mr J.
W. N. Sullivan, Mr Stephen McKenna, or Mr James Joyce; still the
classification is a very general one; it is almost undeniable that those
are the men among whom will be recruited the leaders of to-morrow.
Indeed I have neglected some aspirants, relegated them into a class
which will, in a few years give us the inheritors of certain men of high
literary quality who, owing to accident to style or to choice of
subject, have not laid hands upon literary crowns. But that is
inevitable. The seven men selected are those who show promise.

By promise is meant a suggestion that the young man will become a big
man, that is to say that, in ten years or so, he will be the vehicle of
the modern idea through the style of the time; he may not be very
popular, but he will not be unpopular; he will be quoted, criticised,
discussed; briefly, he will matter. Now I do not suggest that the seven
men named will inevitably become big men. There is not room for seven
big novelists, but it is among them that, in all likelihood, the two or
three leaders will be found. And then there is the dark horse, still,
perhaps, in some university, in America or in a colony, perhaps in a
factory or a shop, who may sally forth, swift as a comet, and destroy
our estimate; I have at least one such dark horse in my mind. But in a
valuation we must reckon on the known, and it is submitted that we know
nothing beyond this list.

The manner in which these men will express themselves cannot be
determined absolutely. The literary tradition is changing, and a new one
is being made. If the future is to give us a Balzac or a Fielding he
will not write like a Balzac or a Fielding: he will use a new style.
That is why there is very little hope for those who competently follow
the tradition of the past. If a _Madame Bovary_ were to be written
to-day by a man of thirty it would not be a good book; it would be a
piece of literary archæology. If the seven young men become the men of
to-morrow, it will be because they break away from the old traditions,
the tradition of aloofness and the tradition of comment. They do not
rigidly stand outside the canvas, as did Flaubert and de Maupassant; nor
do they obviously intervene as did Thackeray. If they look back at all
it is to Dostoievsky and Stendhal, that is to say, they stand midway
between the expression of life and the expression of themselves; indeed,
they try to express both, to achieve art by 'criticising life'; they
attempt to take nature into partnership. Only they do this to a greater
or lesser extent; some do little more than exploit themselves, show the
world in relation to their own autobiography; others hold up the mirror
to life and interpose between picture and object the veil of their
prejudice; and one of them is almost a commentator, for his prejudice is
so strong as to become a protagonist in his drama. All this is to be
expected, for one cannot expect a little group of seven which enjoys the
high honour of having been selected from among fifteen hundred, to be
made up of identical entities. Indeed, all must be contrasting persons:
if two of them were alike, one would be worthless. And so each one has
his devil to exorcise and his guardian-angel to watch over him. They
must, each one of them, beware of exploiting themselves overmuch of
becoming dull as they exhaust their own history of being cold if they
draw too thin a strand of temperament across the object which they
illumine. But these dangers are only the accidents of a dangerous trade,
where a man hazards his soul and may see it grow sick. If we wish to
measure these dangers, we must then analyse the men one by one, and it
will serve us best to divide them into three groups: self-exploiters,
mirror-bearers, and commentators. These are not exact divisions; they
overlap on one another; one man denies by one book what he affirms by a
second. But, in a very rough way these divisions will serve: hesitations
and contradictions indicate, indeed better than achievement, the
tempestuous course of promising youth.


Though, broadly speaking, the seven young men are profoundly interested
in themselves, there are four that attach especial importance to the
life which has made them what they are. Messrs Cannan, Walpole,
Beresford, and Lawrence, capable though they be of standing outside
themselves, are, without much doubt, happier when they stand inside. I
do not know in extreme detail where they were born or what they
suffered, but it demands no great sagacity to reconstruct, for instance,
Mr Walpole as a man who went to Cambridge, taught in a school, and later
wrote books; likewise Mr Beresford, as one who struggled up against
poverty and physical infirmity into a place in the sunshine of letters;
Mr Cannan is still more emphatically interested in the reactions of his
own harsh and sensitive temperament, while Mr Lawrence, a little more
puzzling, is very much the lover of life, telling us tales of his
mistress. This is not, perhaps, because they take these facts that lie
nearest to their hand as the argument of their play. Each one of them
has shown by some excursion that he was capable of jerking the earth off
its axis, the axis being, with him as with all of us, his own
personality. Thus Mr Cannan, in _Peter Homunculus_, presents in
Meredithian wise, a picture of the development of a very young man, a
rather romantic though metallically brilliant young man predestined by
nature to have a bad, but very exciting time: that is Mr Cannan. More
clearly still, in _Little Brother_, he takes himself up again, himself
wondering in Cambridge 'what it's all for,' as Mr Wells would say,
wondering still more, and still more vainly, when he enters London's
cultured circles, from which he escapes through an obscure byway of
Leicester Square. And then again, in _Round the Corner_, it is, a very
little, Mr Cannan in Manchester, incredulously examining, and through
Serge commenting upon the world. Were it not for _Devious Ways_ one
would be inclined to think that Mr Cannan had nothing to say except
about himself, and, indeed, it is disquieting to think that the book
which saves him from such a conclusion is inferior to his subjective
work. Still, it is not altogether a bad book; it is not the sort of book
with which Mr Cannan will bid for fame, but it represents the streak of
detachment which is essential if this author is to show himself able to
stand outside his own canvas; moreover, in _Round the Corner_, Mr Cannan
was less limited by himself than he was in his previous books. The
praise that has been showered on this novel was perfervid and
indiscriminate; it was not sufficiently taken into account that the
book was congested, that the selection of details was not unerring, and
that the importation of such a character as Serge laid the author open
to the imputation of having recently read _Sanin_; but, all this being
said, it is certain that _Round the Corner_, with its accurate
characterisation, its atmospheric sense and its diversity, marked a
definite stage in the evolution of Mr Cannan. Though refusing to accept
it as work of the first rank, I agree that it is an evidence of Mr
Cannan's ability to write work of the first rank: he may never write it,
but this book is his qualification for entering the race. His later
novels, _Young Earnest_ and _Mendel_, have done him no good; they are
too closely related to his own life; his private emotions are also too
active in his pacifist skit, _Windmills_, which is inferior to _The Tale
of a Tub_. Other novels, too, such as _Three Pretty Men_ and _The Stucco
House_, exhibit painful superiority over the ordinary person; lacking
humour, it seems that Mr Cannan has taken himself too seriously, one
might almost say, too dramatically; those sufferings, misunderstandings,
isolations, and struggles of his youth have been to him too vivid and
too significant. For a long time his picture fogged his vision; he could
not see himself for himself. But he may come to view more sanely the
epic of his own life and more wholly the epic of the life of others. If
he will consent to be less the actor and more the spectator, he will
probably succeed in becoming the playwright.

Mr Walpole does not, so definitely as Mr Cannan, view the world in terms
of his own life, his personality is otherwise tinged: he is less angry,
less chafed, and it may be that because he is of the softer Southern
breed, he has no share in the dour aggressiveness of Mr Cannan's North
country. And there is a variation in the self that Mr Walpole paints: it
is not what he is, or even what he thinks he is, but what he would like
to be. In his chief work, by which is meant the most artistic, _Mr
Perrin and Mr Traill_, the writer shares with us much of the wistfulness
he must have felt in his early manhood, but Mr Traill is not Mr Walpole;
if he were, he would have recurred in other novels; he is the simple,
delicate, and passionate young man (passionate, that is, in the modest
English way), that Mr Walpole would like to be. This we know because Mr
Walpole loves Traill and sees no weakness in him: now, one may love that
which one despises, but that which one admires one must love. No lover
can criticise his lady, if his lady she is to remain, and thus, in his
incapacity to see aught save charm in his hero, Mr Walpole indicates the
direction of his own desire. Yet, and strangely enough, in _The Prelude
to Adventure_, there is a suggestion that Mr Walpole would gladly be
Dune, haughty and sombre; in _Fortitude_, that he would be Peter
Westcott, have his fine courage, his delicacy and his faith. He asks too
much in wishing to be Proteus, but, in so doing, he puts forward a claim
to talent, for he tells us his aspiration rather than his realisation.
Indeed, if it were not that _The Prelude to Adventure_ is so very much
his life in Cambridge, _Mr Perrin and Mr Traill_ his career in a little
school, _Fortitude_ his life under the influence of London's
personality, he would not come into the class of those men who make copy
of their past. And it is a feature of high redeeming value that in
_Maradick at Forty_, he should have attempted to make copy of his
future, for, again, here is aspiration. Mr Walpole needs to increase his
detachment and widen the fields which he surveys. Schools and Cambridge:
these are tales of little boys and their keepers; literary London: that
is the grasshopper and its summer singing. He needs to develop, to
embrace business and politics, the commonness of love, and the vital
roughness of the world. He has tried to do this in _The Dark Forest_,
but this is so close a _pastiche_ of Russian novels that it cannot stand
for Mr Walpole's emancipation.


In Mr Beresford we discover a closer identity between the man and the
mask, though he has written several books where he does not figure, _The
Hampdenshire Wonder_, the tale of an incredible child, _The House in
Demetrius Road_, and _Goslings_, a fantastic commentary upon life. Mr
Beresford is more at his ease when he tells his own tale. In three
books, _The Early History of Jacob Stahl_, _A Candidate for Truth_, and
_The Invisible Event_, Mr Beresford has exploited himself with some
eloquence; he has the sense of selection, he is not crabbed, and he
informs with fine passion those early years through which fleets a fine
woman figure. In these books, as also in _Housemates_, Mr Beresford
shows that he knows love, and isolation, and pain: those other young men
with whom we are concerned feel these things, too, but hardly one so
passionately. Mr Beresford's merit is that he is more ordinary, thus
that he is less unreal than the passionate persons his rivals are or
would be. Yet, if this were all, it might not be enough, for a tale may
be told twice but not more often; if, in the first part of _Goslings_,
Mr Beresford had not shown how closely and incisively he can picture the
lower-middle class, analyse its ambitions, sympathise with its hopes,
his would be a limited scope. I hope he will go further in this
direction, extend his criticism of life through more of those people and
more of their fates, while he himself remains outside. He must choose:
Jacob Stahl, that is Mr Beresford, is a charming creature whom one would
gladly know; but Jasper Thrale, expounding the world, is not Mr
Beresford, for he is a prig. Mr Beresford may run on two lines: one for
himself alone, and one for the world as he sees it.

Mr D. H. Lawrence's is not in the same class. Once only can he have been
autobiographical; either in _The White Peacock_, or in _Sons and
Lovers_, for he could evidently not have been, at the same time, the
poetic son of a collier and a cultured member of the well-to-do classes
in a farming community. Probably it is an open secret that Mr Lawrence
is closer to the Nottingham collier than to the rustic who made hay
while others played Bach. But it does not matter very much whether he be
one or the other; it is not his physical self he puts into his books,
but the adventures of his temperament. It is a curious temperament, a
mixture of Northern brutality with wistful Northern melancholy. His
characters, and this applies to George and Lettice in _The White
Peacock_, to Sigmund, in _The Trespasser_, to Paul Morel, Mrs Morel, and
Miriam, in _Sons and Lovers_, are always battling with adversity for the
sake of their fine hopes, are held up by their pride, and divorced a
little from commoner folk by the taste that takes them to Verlaine and
Lulli. If it is Mr Lawrence to whom every flower of the hedge and every
feather of the strutting cock cries colour and passionate life, if it is
for him that the water-meadows are fragrant and the star-lit nights
endless deep, it is not for him that the characters live, but for us: he
takes his share, he leaves us ours; he inflames his characters, then
allows them to act. Indeed, if no fault were to be found with him on
mere literary score, Mr Lawrence would be more than a man of promise: he
would have arrived. But his passion carries him away; he sees too much,
shows too much, he analyses too fully, discovers too many elements. It
may be urged that no artist can see or analyse too fully. But he can, if
he discovers that which is not there. Mr Lawrence, having found gold in
the dross of common men and women, is inclined to infer that there is
too much gold in the vulgar. Being convinced of this, he becomes hectic;
his people are as flames, feeding upon mortal bodies and burning them
up. His peril is excessive sensation. He needs some better knowledge of
affairs, more intercourse with the cruder rich, with the drab
middle-class, so that his brilliant vision may by its dulling become
tolerable to meaner eyes. He needs to discover those for whom music hath
no charms, and yet are not base in attitude.

Mr Lawrence, who exploits his life not over much, affords us a necessary
transition between those who are interested in little else and the
second group, Mr Mackenzie, Mr Onions, and Mr Swinnerton, who have, with
more or less success, tried to stand back as they write. Of these, Mr
Compton Mackenzie is the most interesting because, in three volumes, he
has made three new departures: _The Passionate Elopement_, a tale of
powder and patches; _Carnival_, a romance of the meaner parts of London
and of Charing Cross Road, and lastly _Sinister Street_, where he links
up with those who exploit only their experiences. Evidently Mr Mackenzie
believes that a good terrier never shakes a rat twice. Had _Sinister
Street_ been his first contribution to literature, Mr Mackenzie would
have found his place indicated in the first group, but as he began by
standing outside himself it must be assumed that he thought it a pity to
let so much good copy go begging. He is a man difficult of assessment
because of his diversity. He has many graces of style, and a capacity
which may be dangerous of infusing charm into that which has no charm.
He almost makes us forget that the heroine of _Carnival_ is a vulgar
little Cockney, by tempting us to believe that it might have been
otherwise with her. There is a cheapness of sentiment about this Jenny,
this Islington columbine, but we must not reproach Mr Mackenzie for
loving his heroine over-much: too many of his rivals are not loving
theirs enough. Indeed, his chief merit is that he finds the beautiful
and the lovable more readily than the hideous. His figures can serve as
reagents against the ugly heroine and the scamp hero who grew
fashionable twenty years ago. His success, if it comes at all, will be
due to his executive rather than to his artistic quality, for he often
fails to sift his details. In _Sinister Street_, we endure a great
congestion of word and interminable catalogues of facts and things. If
he has a temperament at all, which I believe, it is stifled by the
mantle in which he clothes it. It is not that Mr Mackenzie knows too
much about his characters, for that is not possible, but he tells us too
much. He does not give our imagination a chance to work. His romantic
earnestness, as shown in _Guy and Pauline_, is unrelieved by humour and
makes those details wearisome. Yet, his hat is in the ring. If he can
prune his efflorescent periods and select among his details he may, by
force of charm, attain much further than his fellows. He will have to
include just those things and no others which can give us an illusion of
the world.


In direct opposition to Mr Mackenzie, we find Mr Onions. While Mr
Mackenzie gives us too much and allows us to give nothing, Mr Onions
gives us hardly anything and expects us to write his novel for him as we
read it. There are two strands in his work, one of them fantastic and
critical, the other creative. Of the first class are the tales of
_Widdershins_, and _The Two Kisses_, a skit on studios and
boarding-houses. Even slightly more massive works, such as the love epic
of advertisement, _Good Boy Seldom_, and the fierce revelation of
disappointment which is in _Little Devil Doubt_ do not quite come into
the second class; they are not the stones on which Mr Onions is to
build. They are a destructive criticism of modern life, and criticism,
unless it is creative, is a thing of the day, however brilliant it may
seem. Mr Oliver Onions can be judged only on his trilogy, _In Accordance
with the Evidence_, _The Debit Account_, and _The Story of Louie_, for
these are creative works, threaded and connected; they are an attempt
and, on the whole, a very successful one, to take a section of life and
to view it from different angles. If the attempt has not completely
succeeded, it is perhaps because it was too much. It rests upon close
characterisation, a sense of the iron logic of facts and upon
atmospheric quality. There is not a young man, and for the matter of
that an old one, more than Mr Onions, capable of anatomical psychology.
There may be autobiography in some of Mr Onions's work, but there is in
his trilogy no more than should colour any man's book.

Yet Mr Onions has his devil, and it takes the form of a rage against the
world, of a hatred that seems to shed a bilious light over his puppets.
His strong men are hard, almost brutal, inconsiderate, dominant only by
dint of intellect, and arrogant in their dominance; his weak men are
craven, lying, incapable of sweetness; even strong Louie is so haughty
as almost to be rude. All this appears in the very style, so much so
that, were it not for the cliché, I would quote Buffon. The sentences
are tortured as if born in agony; the highly selected detail is
reluctant, avaricious, as if Mr Onions hated giving the world anything.
And yet, all this culminates in an impression of power: Mr Onions is the
reticent man whose confidence, when earned, is priceless. He lays no
pearls before us; he holds them in his half-extended hand for us to take
if we can. Some tenderness; some belief that men can be gentle and women
sweet; a little more hope and some pity, and Mr Onions will be judged
more fairly.

Of Mr Swinnerton, who also stands outside his canvas, one is not so
sure. He made, in _The Casement_, an elusive picture of the life of the
well-to-do when confronted with the realities of life, but did not
succeed emphatically enough in the more ponderous effort entitled _The
Happy Family_. There he was too uniform, too mechanical, and rather too
much bound by literary traditions. He was so bound also in his brilliant
_Nocturne_, the tragedy of five creatures within a single night. But Mr
Swinnerton has a point of view, an attitude toward life; I could not
define it, but am conscious of its existence, and in a man of promise
that is quite enough. For a man with an individual attitude will make it
felt if he has the weapons of style with which to express it. Now Mr
Swinnerton shows great dexterity in the use of words, felicity of
phrase, a discrimination in the choice of details which will enable him
to embody such ideas as he may later on conceive. He has only to fear
that he may be mistaken as to the size of his ideas; like Mr Hugh de
Selincourt, he may be too much inclined to take as the plot of a novel
an idea and a story in themselves too slender. Under modern publishing
conditions he may be compelled to spin out his work: as his tendency is
to concentrate, he may find himself so much hampered as to lose the
chief charm of his writing, viz., balance. He has shown charm in
_Nocturne_, some power in _The Happy Family_; these two qualities need
blending, so that Mr Swinnerton be no longer two men, but one.

Brief mention must be made of Mr Perceval Gibbon. Of his novels, one
only, _Souls in Bondage_, showed remarkable promise, but his later work
with the exception of a few short stories, was disappointing. In that
book there was colour, atmosphere, characterisation and technique, but
there was also passion. The passion was not maintained in later years.
Other qualities were still there: he knows how to express the dusty
glare or the dank warmth of the tropics, the languor, veiling fire, of
its men and women, but the vision is a little exterior. Mr Gibbon needs
to state his point of view, if he has one, to let us see more clearly
how he himself stands in relation to the world. This does not apply to
Mr de Selincourt, somewhat afflicted with moral superciliousness, whose
point of view is one of aloof vigour. To a great charm of style he adds
selectiveness; in _A Daughter of the Morning_, the characterisation is
inwrought, just as in _A Boy's Marriage_ it is passionate. And again
there is Mr C. E. Montague, all bathed in the glamour of George
Meredith and Mr Henry James. Of these Mr de Selincourt is by far the
most interesting; he has elected to depict not the people who live ill,
but those whom he conceives as living well, proud of their body,
responsible to their instincts. In _A Soldier of Life_, notably, he
makes almost credible the regeneration of the 'ordinary' man. Still,
they are difficult to classify, these three; to reject their candidature
may be too much, so fine are their qualities; and yet, to inscribe them
upon the roll may be undue, for they have not the raw massiveness, the
air that one wants to find in boys, about to be men; they are too
particular, too much inclined to look away from the world and to
concentrate on some microscopic section. To enlarge without loosening is
no easy matter.

Lastly, and by himself, there is Mr E. M. Forster, who has been
forgotten a little in a hurry, because he has not, since 1910, felt
inclined to publish a novel; he is still one of the young men, while it
is not at all certain that he is not 'the' young man. Autobiography has
had its way with him, a little in _A Room With a View_, and very much
more in that tale of schoolmasters, _The Longest Journey_; but it was
_Howard's End_, that much criticised work, which achieved the
distinction of being popular, though of high merit. This marks out Mr
Forster and makes it likely that he can climb Parnassus if he chooses.
In _Howard's End_ Mr Forster surveyed the world in particular and also
in general; he was together local and cosmic; he was conscious of the
little agitations and artificialities of the cultured, of the upthrust
of the untaught and of the complacent strength of those who rule. Over
all, hung his own self as the wings of a roc darkening the countryside.
It is because Mr Forster has seized a portion of the world and welded it
with himself that the essence of him may persist and animate other
worlds. His attitude is one of tolerance; he prays that we may not drift
too far from the pride of body which is the pride of spirit. Mystic
athleticism: that seems to be Mr Forster's message; as it is essential
that the man of to-morrow should be a man of ideas as well as a man of
perceptions, it is quite certain that, if Mr Forster chooses to return
to the field, he will establish his claim.

One word as to women. The time has gone when we discriminated between
the work of women and of men; to-day, 'Lucas Malet,' Miss May Sinclair,
Mrs Sedgwick, Mrs Edith Wharton, Miss Violet Hunt, Miss Ethel Sidgwick,
Mrs Belloc-Lowndes, and Mrs Dudeney, must take their chance in the rough
and tumble of literary criticism, and the writer does not suggest a
comparison between them and the leading men. For this there is a very
good reason: the young women of to-day are promising work of an entirely
new kind. They have less style than their precursors and more ideas:
such women writers as Miss Amber Reeves,[3] Miss Viola Meynell, Miss
Sheila Kaye-Smith,[4] Miss Tennyson Jesse, Miss Dorothy Richardson, Miss
Katherine Gerould, Miss Bridget MacLagan have produced so far, very
little; they can be indicated as candidates, but much more faintly than
their masculine rivals. They write less, and less easily; they are
younger at their trade, more erratic. It is enough to mention them, and
to say that, so far as women are showing indications of approximating to
men in literary quality, these are the women who are likely soon to
bear the standards of their sex.

[Footnote 3: See Special Chapter.]

[Footnote 4: _Ibid._]

To sum up, I suggest that the rough classification of the seven young
men must not be taken as fixed. Some are more autobiographic than
evocative; some are receptive rather than personally active, and yet
others have not chosen between the two roads. Yet, taking them as a
whole, with the reservation of possible dark horses, these are probably
the men among whom will be found the two or three who will 'somehow,' in
another ten years, lead English letters. It will be an indefinable
'somehow,' a compound of intellectual dominance and emotional sway. We
shall not have a Bennett for a Bennett, nor a Wells for a Wells, but
equivalents of power, and equivalents of significance, who will be
intimately in tune with their time and better than any will express it.

Three Young Novelists


It is not a very long time ago since Professor Osler startled America
and England by proclaiming that a man was too old at forty. This is not
generally held, though, I suppose, most of us will accept that one is
too old to begin at forty. But that is not the end: very soon, in
literature at least, it may be too late to begin at thirty, if we are to
take into account the achievements of the young men, of whom Mr D. H.
Lawrence is one of the youngest. Mr Lawrence is certainly one of the
young men, not a member of a school, for they have no formal school, and
can have none if they are of any value, but a partner in their
tendencies and an exponent of their outlook. He has all the unruliness
of the small group that is rising up against the threatening State, its
rules and its conventions, proclaiming the right of the individual to
do much more than live--namely, to live splendidly.

It is this link makes Mr Lawrence so interesting; this fact that, like
them, he is so very much of his time, so hot, controversial, uneasy;
that, like them, he has the sudden fury of the bird that beats against
the bars of its cage. But while the young men sneer at society, at the
family, at every institution, Mr Lawrence tends to accept these things;
he has no plan of reform, no magic wand with which to transmute the
world into fairyland: he claims only as a right to develop his
individuality, and to see others develop theirs, within a system which
tortures him as another Cardinal La Balue.

This it is differentiates him from so many of his rivals. He has in his
mind no organisations; he is mainly passionate aspiration and passionate
protest. And that is not wonderful when we consider who he is.
Surprising to think, this prominent young novelist is only thirty-four.
Son of a Nottinghamshire coal-miner, a Board-school boy, his early
career seems to have been undistinguished: a county council scholarship
made of him a school teacher, imparting knowledge in the midst of
old-fashioned chaos in a room containing several classes. Then another
scholarship, two years at college, and Mr Lawrence went to Croydon to
teach for less than £2 a week. Then the literary life, though I extract
from his record the delightful fact that at college they gave him prizes
for history and chemistry, but placed him very low in the English class.
(This is rather embarrassing for those who believe in the public
endowment of genius.)

I have said 'then the literary life,' but I was wrong, for already at
twenty-one Mr Lawrence had begun _The White Peacock_, of which, year by
year, and he confesses often during lectures, he was laying the
foundations. Mr Lawrence did not, as do so many of us, enter the
literary life at a given moment: literature grew in him and with him,
was always with him, even in the worst years of his delicate health. If
literature was not his passion, it was to his passion what the tongue is
to speech: the essential medium of his expression.

Sometimes when reading one of his works, I wonder whether Mr Lawrence
has not mistaken his medium, and whether it is not a painter he ought
to have been, so significant is for him the slaty opalescence of the
heron's wing and so rutilant the death of the sun. When he paints the
countryside, sometimes in his simplicity he is almost Virgilian, but
more often he is a Virgil somehow strayed into Capua and intoxicated
with its wines. All through his novels runs this passionate streak, this
vision of nature in relation to himself. But it is certainly in _The
White Peacock_ that this sensation attains its apogee. It is not a story
which one can condense. Strictly, it is not a story at all. It presents
to us a group of well-to-do people, cultured, and yet high in emotional

Mr Lawrence himself, who figures in it, is effaced; Lettice, wayward and
beautiful, is the fragrance of sex, but not more so than the honeysuckle
in the hedges; George, muscles rippling under his skin, insensitive to
cruelty, yet curiously moved by delicacy, is the brother of the bulls he
herds; and all the others, the fine gentlemen, the laughing girls,
farmers, school teachers, making hay, making music, making jokes,
walking in the spangled meadows, and living, and wedding, and dying, all
of them come to no resolution. Their lives have no beginning and no
end. Mr Lawrence looks: Pippa passes. It is almost impossible to
criticise _The White Peacock_, and the danger in an appreciation is that
one should say too much good of it, for the book yields just the quality
of illusion that a novel should give us, which does not of itself
justify the critic in saying that it is a great book. For the novel,
equally with the picture, can never reproduce life; it can only suggest
it, and when it does suggest it, however peculiarly or partially, one is
inclined to exaggerate the impression one has received and to refrain
from considering whether it is a true impression. It is the vividness of
Mr Lawrence's nature-vision carries us away; such phrases as these
deceive us: 'The earth was red and warm, pricked with the dark,
succulent green of bluebell sheaths, and embroidered with gray-green
clusters of spears, and many white flowerets. High above, above the
light tracery of hazel, the weird oaks tangled in the sunset. Below in
the first shadows drooped hosts of little white flowers, so silent and
sad, it seemed like a holy communion of pure wild things, numberless,
frail and folded meekly in the evening light.' They deceive us because
Mr Lawrence's realisation of man is less assured than his realisation of
nature. I doubt the quality of his people's culture, the spontaneity of
their attitude towards the fields in which they breathe; their
spontaneity seems almost artificial.

That impression Mr Lawrence always gives; he sees the world through a
magnifying-glass, and perhaps more so in _Sons and Lovers_ than in _The
White Peacock_. In that book he gives us unabashed autobiography--the
story of his early youth, of his relation to his mother, a creature of
fitful, delicate charm. Mrs Morel is very Northern; she has, with the
harshness of her latitude, its fine courage and its ambition; Paul
Morel, the hero, is Mr Lawrence himself, the little blue flower on the
clinker heap. And those other folk about him, dark Miriam, slowly
brooding over him; her rival, that conquering captive of sex; the
brothers, the sisters, and the friends; this intense society is vital
and yet undefinably exaggerated. Perhaps not so undefinably, for I am
oppressed by unbelief when I find this grouping of agriculturists and
colliers responding to the verse of Swinburne and Verlaine, to Italian,
to Wagner, to Bach. I cannot believe in the spinet at the pit's mouth.
And yet all this, Mr Lawrence tells us, is true! Well, it is true, but
it is not general, and that is what impairs the value of Mr Lawrence's
visions. Because a thing is, he believes that it is; when a thing is, it
may only be accidental; it may be particular. Now one might discuss at
length whether a novelist should concentrate on the general or on the
particular, whether he should use the microscope or the aplanetic lense,
and many champions will be found in the field. I will not attempt to
decide whether he should wish, as Mr Wells, to figure all the world, or
as Mr Bennett, to take a section; probably the ideal is the mean. But
doubtless the novelist should select among the particular that which has
an application to the general, and it may safely be said that, if Mr
Lawrence errs at all, it is in selecting such particular as has not
invariably a universal application.

Mr Lawrence lays himself open to this criticism in a work such as _Sons
and Lovers_, because it has a conscious general scope, but in _The
Trespasser_ his conception is of a lesser compass. The book holds a more
minute psychological intention. That Sigmund should leave his wife for
another love and find himself driven to his death by an intolerable
conflict between his desire, the love he bears his children, and the
consciousness of his outlawry, should have made a great book. But this
one of Mr Lawrence's novels fails because the author needs a wide sphere
within which the particular can evolve; he is clamouring within the
narrow limits of his incident; Sigmund appears small and weak;
unredeemed by even a flash of heroism; his discontented wife, her
self-righteous child hold their own views, and not enough those of the
world which contains them. An amazing charge to make against a novelist,
that his persons are too much persons! But persons must partly be types,
or else they become monsters.

It would be very surprising if Mr Lawrence were not a poet in verse as
well as in prose, if he did not sing when addressing his love:--

  'Coiffing up your auburn hair
    In a Puritan fillet, a chaste white snare
  To catch and keep me with you there
    So far away.'

But a poet he is much more than a rebel, and that distinguishes him from
the realists who have won fame by seeing the dunghill very well, and
not at all the spreading chestnut-tree above. Though he select from the
world, he is greedy for its beauty, so greedy that from all it has to
give, flower, beast, woman, he begs more:--

  'You, Helen, who see the stars
    As mistletoe berries burning in a black tree,
  You surely, seeing I am a bowl of kisses,
    Should put your mouth to mine and drink of me,'

  'Helen, you let my kisses steam
    Wasteful into the night's black nostrils; drink
  Me up, I pray; oh, you who are Night's Bacchante,
    How can you from my bowl of kisses shrink!'

I cannot, having no faith in my power to judge poetry, proclaim Mr
Lawrence to Parnassus, but I doubt whether such cries as these, where an
urgent wistfulness mingles in tender neighbourhood with joy and pain
together coupled, can remain unheard.

And so it seems strange to find in Mr Lawrence activities alien a
little to such verses as these, to have to say that he is also an
authoritative critic of German literature, and the author of a prose
drama of colliery life. More gladly would I think of him always as
remote from the stirrings of common men, forging and nursing his dreams.
For dreams they are, and they will menace the realities of his future if
he cannot 'breathe upon his star and detach its wings.' It is not only
the dragon of autobiography that threatens him. It is true that so far
he has written mainly of himself, of the world in intimate relation with
himself, for that every writer must do a little; but he has followed his
life so very closely, so often photographed his own emotions, that
unless life holds for him many more adventures, and unless he can retain
the power to give minor incident individual quality, he may find himself
written out. For Mr Lawrence has not what is called ideas. He is
stimulated by the eternal rather than by the fugitive; the fact of the
day has little significance for him; thus, if he does not renew himself
he may become monotonous, or he may cede to his more dangerous tendency
to emphasise overmuch. He may develop his illusion of culture among the
vulgar until it is incredible; he may be seduced by the love he bears
nature and its throbbings into allowing his art to dominate him. Already
his form is often turgid, amenable to no discipline, tends to lead him
astray. He sees too much, feels significances greater than the actual;
with arms that are too short, because only human, he strives to embrace
the soul of man. This is exemplified in his last novel, _The Rainbow_,
of which little need be said, partly because it has been suppressed, and
mainly because it is a bad book. It is the story of several generations
of people so excessive sexually as to seem repulsive. With dreadful
monotony the women exhibit riotous desire, the men slow cruelty, ugly
sensuality; they come together in the illusion of love and clasp hatred
within their joined arms. As in _Sons and Lovers_, but with greater
exaggeration, Mr Lawrence detects hate in love, which is not his
invention, but he magnifies it into untruth. His intensity of feeling
has run away with him, caused him to make particular people into
monsters that mean as little to us, so sensually crude, so flimsily
philosophical are they, as any Medusa, Medea, or Klytemnestra. _The
Rainbow_, as also some of Mr Lawrence's verse, is the fruit of personal
angers and hatreds; it was born in one of his bad periods from which he
must soon rescue himself. If he cannot, then the early hopes he aroused
cannot endure and he must sink into literary neurasthenia.


'I don't agree with you at all.' As she spoke I felt that Miss Amber
Reeves would have greeted as defiantly the converse of my proposition.
She stood in a large garden on Campden Hill, where an at-home was
proceeding, her effect heightened by Mr Ford Madox Hueffer's weary
polish, and the burning twilight of Miss May Sinclair. Not far off Mr
Wyndham Lewis was languid and Mr Gilbert Cannan eloquently silent. Miss
Violet Hunt, rather mischievous, talked to Mr Edgar Jepson, who
obviously lay in ambush, preparing to slay an idealist, presumably Sir
Rabindrahath Tagore. I felt very mild near this young lady, so dark in
the white frock of simplicity or artifice, with broad cheeks that
recalled the rattlesnake, soft cheeks tinted rather like a tea rose,
with long, dark eyes, wicked, aggressive, and yet laughing. I felt very
old--well over thirty. For Miss Reeves had just come down from Newnham,
and, indeed, that afternoon she was still coming down ... on a toboggan.
When I met her the other day she said: 'Well, perhaps you are right.'
It's queer how one changes!

She was about twenty-three, and that is not so long ago; she was still
the child who has been 'brought up pious,' attended Sunday School and
felt a peculiar property in God. Daughter of a New Zealand Cabinet
Minister and of a mother so rich in energy that she turned to suffrage
the scholarly Mr Pember Reeves, Miss Amber Reeves was a spoilt child.
She was also the child of a principle, had been sent to Kensington High
School to learn to be democratic and meet the butcher's daughter. She
had been to Newnham too, taken up socialism, climbed a drain pipe and
been occasionally sought in marriage. At ten she had written poems and
plays, then fortunately gave up literature and, as a sponge flung into
the river of life, took in people as they were, arrived at the maxim
that things do not matter but only the people who do them. A last
attempt to organise her took place in the London School of Economics,
where she was to write a thesis; one sometimes suspects that she never
got over it.

This is not quite just, for she is changed. Not hostile now, but
understanding, interested in peculiarities as a magpie collecting
spoons. Without much illusion, though; her novels are the work of a
faintly cynical Mark Tapley.

She is driven to mimic the ordinary people whom she cannot help loving,
who are not as herself, yet whom she forgives because they amuse her.
She is still the rattlesnake of gold and rose, but (zoological
originality) one thinks also of an Italian greyhound with folded paws,
or a furred creature of the bush that lurks and watches with eyes
mischievous rather than cruel.

On reading this over again I discover that she has got over the London
School of Economics, though her first two books showed heavy the brand
of Clare Market. Miss Amber Reeves started out to do good, but has
fortunately repented. She has not written many novels, only three in
five years, an enviable record, and they were good novels, with faults
that are not those of Mrs Barclay or of Mr Hall Caine. Over every
chapter the Blue Book hovered. Her first novel, _The Reward of Virtue_,
exhibited the profound hopelessness of youth. For Evelyn Baker, daughter
of a mother who was glad she was a girl because 'girls are so much
easier,' was doomed to lead the stupid life. Plump, handsome, fond of
pink, she lived in Notting Hill, went to dances, loved the artist and
married the merchant, knew she did not love the merchant and went on
living with him; she took to good works, grew tired of them, and gave
birth to a girl child, thanking fate because 'girls are so much easier.'
The story of Evelyn is so much the story of everybody that it seems
difficult to believe it is the story of anybody. But it is. _The Reward
of Virtue_ is a remarkable piece of realism, and it is evidence of taste
in a first novel to choose a stupid heroine, and not one who plays
Vincent d'Indy and marries somebody called Hugo.

In that book Miss Amber Reeves indicated accomplishment, but this was
rather slight; only in her second novel, _A Lady and Her Husband_, was
she to develop her highest quality: the understanding of the ordinary
man. (All young women novelists understand the artist, or nobody does;
the man they seldom understand is the one who spends fifty years
successfully paying bills.) The ordinary man is Mr Heyham, who runs tea
shops and easily controls a handsome wife of forty-five, while he fails
to control Fabian daughters and a painfully educated son. He runs his
tea shops for profit, while Mrs Heyham comes to the unexpected view that
he should run them for the good of his girls. There is a revolution in
Hampstead when she discovers that Mr Heyham does not, for the girls are
sweated; worse still, she sees that to pay them better will not help
much, for extra wages will not mean more food but only more hats. They
are all vivid, the hard, lucid daughters, the soft and illogical Mrs
Heyham, and especially Mr Heyham, kindly, loving, generous, yet capable
of every beastliness while maintaining his faith in his own rectitude.
Mr Heyham is a triumph, for he is just everybody; he is 'the man with
whose experiences women are trained to sympathise while he is not
trained to sympathise with theirs.' He is the ordinary, desirous man,
the male. Listen to this analysis of man: 'He has a need to impress
himself on the world he finds outside him, an impulse that drives him to
achieve his ends recklessly, ruthlessly, through any depth of suffering
and conflict ... it is just by means of the qualities that are often so
irritating, their tiresome restlessness, their curiosity, their
disregard for security, for seemliness, even for life itself, that men
have mastered the world and filled it with the wealth of civilisation.
It is after this foolish, disorganised fashion of theirs, each of
them--difficult, touchy creatures--busy with his personal ambitions,
that they have armed the race with science, dignified it with art--one
can take men lightly but one cannot take lightly the things that men
have done.'

That sort of man sweats his waitresses because such is his duty to the
shareholders. It is in this sort of man, Mr Heyham, who wants more
money, in Edward Day, the prig who hates spending it, that Miss Amber
Reeves realises herself. Analysis rather than evocation is her mission;
she does not as a rule seek beauty, and when she strives, as in her last
novel, _Helen in Love_, where a cheap little minx is kissed on the
beach and is thus inspired, Miss Amber Reeves fails to achieve beauty in
people; she achieves principally affectation. Beauty is not her
_metier_; irony and pity are nearer to her, which is not so bad if we
reflect that such is the motto of Anatole France. Oh! she is no mocking
literary sprite, as the Frenchman, nor has she his graces; she is
somewhat tainted by the seriousness of life, but she has this to
distinguish her from her fellows: she can achieve laughter without

One should not, however, dismiss in a few words this latest novel. One
can disregard the excellent picture of the lower-middle class family
from which Helen springs, its circumscribed nastiness, its vulgar
pleasure in appearances, for Miss Amber Reeves has done as good work
before. But one must observe her new impulse towards the rich, idle,
cultured people, whom she idealises so that they appear as worn
ornaments of silver-gilt. It seems that she is reacting against
indignation, that she is turning away from social reform towards the
caste that has achieved a corner in graces. It may be that she has come
to think the world incurable and wishes to retire as an anchorite ...
only she retires to Capua: this is not good, for any withdrawal into a
selected atmosphere implies that criticism of this atmosphere is
suspended. Nothing so swiftly as that kills virility in literature.

But even so Miss Amber Reeves distinguishes herself from her immediate
rivals, Miss Viola Meynell, Miss Bridget Maclagan, Miss Sheila
Kaye-Smith, Miss Katherine Gerould, by an interest in business and in
politics. She really knows what is a limited liability company or an
issue warrant. She is not restricted to love, but embraces such problems
as money, rank, science, class habits, which serve or destroy love. She
finds her way in the modern tangle where emotion and cupidity trundle
together on a dusty road. She is not always just, but she is usually
judicial. Her men are rather gross instead of strong; she likes them,
she tolerates them, they are altogether brutes and 'poor dears.' But
then we are most of us a little like that.


I do not know whether this is a compliment, but I should not be
surprised if a reader of, say, _Starbrace_ or _Sussex Gorse_, were to
think that Sheila Kaye-Smith is the pen-name of a man. Just as one
suspects those racy tales of guardsmen, signed 'Joseph Brown' or 'George
Kerr,' of originating from some scented boudoir, so does one hesitate
before the virility, the cognisance of oath and beer, of rotating crop,
sweating horse, account book, vote and snickersnee that Sheila
Kaye-Smith exhibits in all her novels. This is broader, deeper than the
work of the women novelists of to-day, who, with the exception of Amber
Reeves, are confined in a circle of eternally compounding pallid or
purple loves. One side of her work, notably, surprises, and that is the
direction of her thoughts away from women, their great and little
griefs, towards men and the glory of their combat against fate. Sheila
Kaye-Smith is more than any of her rivals the true novelist: the showman
of life.

Yet she is a woman. You will imagine her as seeming small, but not so;
very thin, with a grace all made of quiescence, her eyes gray and
retracted a little, as if always in pain because man is not so beautiful
as the earth that bore him, because he fails in idealism, falls away
from his hopes and cannot march but only shamble from one eternity into
another. There is in her a sort of cosmic choler restrained by a Keltic
pride that is ready to pretend a world made up of rates and taxes and
the 9.2 train to London Bridge. Afire within, she will not allow herself
to 'commit melodrama.' In _Isle of Thorns_ her heroine, Sally Odiarne,
so describes her attempt to murder her lover, and I like to think of
Sheila Kaye-Smith's will leashing the passion that strains. I like even
more to think of the same will giving rein to anger, of a converse cry:
'Commit melodrama! I jolly well shall! I'm justabout sick of things!'

'Justabout!' That word, free-scattered in the speech of her rustics, is
all Sussex. For Sheila Kaye-Smith has given expression to the county
that from the Weald spreads green-breasted to meet the green sea. In all
the novels is the slow Sussex speech, dotted with the kindly 'surelye,'
the superlative 'unaccountable'; women are 'praaper,' ladies 'valiant,'
troubles 'tedious.' It has colour, it is true English, unstained of
Cockneyism and American. It is the speech of the oasthouse, of the
cottage on the marsh, of the forester's hut in Udimore Wood, where sings
the lark and rivulets flow like needles through the moss.

_Assez de littérature!_ Sheila Kaye-Smith is not a painter, even though
with dew diamonds the thorn-bush she spangle. Her Sussex is male: it is
not the dessicated Sussex of the modern novelist, but the Sussex of the
smuggler, of the Methodist, the squire; the Sussex where men sweat, and
read no books. Old Sussex, and the Sussex of to-day which some think was
created by the L.B. & S.C. Railway, she loves them both, and in both has
found consolation, but I think she loves best the old. It was old Sussex
made her first novel, _The Tramping Methodist_. Old Sussex bred its
hero, Humphrey Lyte. He was a picaresque hero, the young rebel, for he
grew enmeshed in murder and in love, in the toils of what England called
justice in days when the Regent went to Brighton. But Lyte does not
reveal Sheila Kaye-Smith as does _Starbrace_. Here is the apologia for
the rebel: Starbrace, the son of a poor and disgraced man, will not eat
the bread of slavery at his grandfather's price. You will imagine the
old man confronted with this boy, of gentle blood but brought up as a
labourer's son, hot, unruly, lusting for the freedom of the wet earth.
Starbrace is a fool; disobedient he is to be flogged. He escapes among
the smugglers on Winchelsea marsh, to the wild world of the
mid-eighteenth century. It is a world of fighting, and of riding, of
blood, of excisemen, of the 'rum pads' and their mistresses, their
dicing and their death. Despite his beloved, Theodora Straightway, lady
who fain would have him gentleman, Starbrace must ride away upon his
panting horse, Pharisee. Love as he may, he cannot live like a rabbit in
a hutch; he must have danger, be taken, cast into a cell, be released to
die by the side of Pharisee, charging the Pretender's bodyguard at
Prestonpans. All this is fine, for she has the secret of the historical
novel: to show not the things that have changed, but those which have

_Starbrace_ is, perhaps, Sheila Kaye-Smith's most brilliant flight, but
not her most sustained. She has had other adventures in literature, such
as _Isle of Thorns_, where Sally Odiarne wanders with Stanger's
travelling show, hopelessly entangled in her loves, unable to seize
happiness, unable to give herself to the tender Raphael, bound to
good-tempered, sensual Andy, until at last she must kill Andy to get
free, kill him to escape to the sea and die. But she finds God:--

     'She had come out to seek death, and had found life. Who can stand
     against life, the green sea that tumbles round one's limbs and
     tears up like matchwood the breakwaters one has built? There,
     kneeling in the surf and spray, Sally surrendered to life.'

Sheila Kaye-Smith has not surrendered to life, though the weakness of
her may be found in another book, _Three Against the World_, where the
worthless Furlonger family can but writhe as worms drying in the sun; in
the tired flatness of her last work, _The Challenge to Sirius_. The
vagary of her mind is in such work as criticism: she has published a
study of John Galsworthy which is judicial, though not inspired. But
she was destined for finer tasks. Already in _Spell Land_, the story of
a Sussex farm where lived two people, driven out of the village because
they loved unwed, she had given a hint of her power to see not only man
but the earth. She has almost stated herself in _Sussex Gorse_.

I have read many reviews of this book. I am tired of being told it is
'epic.' It is not quite; it has all the grace that Zola lacked in _La
Terre_, but if the beauty is anything it is Virgilian, not Homeric. The
scheme is immense, the life of Reuben Backfield, of Odiam, inspired in
early youth with the determination to possess Boarzell, the common grown
with gorse and firs, the fierce land of marl and shards where naught
save gorse could live. The opening is a riot, for the Enclosures Act is
in force and the squire is seizing the people's land. In that moment is
born Reuben's desire; Boarzell shall be his. He buys some acres and his
struggle is frightful; you see his muscles bulging in his blue shirt,
you smell his sweat, you hear the ploughshare gripped with the stones,
teeth biting teeth. For Boarzell Common is old, crafty, and savage, and
would foil man. Reuben is not foiled; he can bear all things, so can
dare all things. He buys more land; there shall be on his farm no
pleasure so that he may have money to crush Boarzell. His brother,
Harry, is struck while Reuben blows up the enemy trees, and haunts his
life, a horrible, idiot figure; his wife, Naomi, ground down by forced
child-bearing (for Boarzell needs men and Reuben sons) dies. His six
sons, devoid of the money Boarzell takes, leave him; one becomes a
thief, another a sailor, another a sot in London, another a success; all
leave him, even his daughters; one to marry a hated rival farmer, one to
love because Reuben forbade love, and to end on the streets. He loses
all, he loses his pretty second wife, he loses Alice Jury whom alone he
loved, he loses the sons that Rose gave him. He gives all to Boarzell,
to fighting it for seventy years, sometimes victor, sometimes crushed,
for Boarzell is evil and fierce:

     'It lay in a great hush, a great solitude, a quiet beast of power
     and mystery. It seemed to call to him through the twilight like a
     love forsaken. There it lay: Boarzell--strong, beautiful, desired,
     untamed, still his hope, still his battle.'

There are faults, here and there, degraded clichés; Sheila Kaye-Smith
loves the stars too well, and often indulges in horrid astronomic
orgies; there is not enough actual combat with the earth; the author
intervenes, points to the combat instead of leaving at grips the two
beasts, Reuben and Boarzell. She has not quite touched the epic, yet
makes us want to resemble the hero, fierce, cruel, but great when old
and alone, still indomitable. And one wonders what she will do, what she
will be. There are lines in her poems, _Willow's Forge_, that prophesy;
the moment may be enough:--

  'When the last constellations faint and fall,
  When the last planets burst in fiery foam,
  When all the winds have sunk asleep, when all
  The worn way-weary comets have come home--
  When past and present and the future flee,
  My moment lives!'

She may strive no more, as she proposes to the seeker in _The Counsel of

  'Why wander round Gilgamesh?
    Why vainly wander round?
  What canst thou find, O seeker,
    Which hath not long been found?

  What canst thou know, O scholar,
    Which hath not long been known?
  What canst thou have, O spoiler,
    Which dead men did not own?'

But I do not think so. I do not know whether she will be great. It is
enough that to-day she is already alone.

Form and the Novel

Every now and then a reviewer, recovering the enthusiasm of a critic,
discovers that the English novel has lost its form, that the men who
to-day, a little ineffectually, bid for immortality, are burning the
gods they once worshipped. They declare that the novel, because it is no
longer a story travelling harmoniously from a beginning towards a middle
and an end, is not a novel at all, that it is no more than a platform
where self-expression has given place to self-proclamation. And
sometimes, a little more hopefully, they venture to prophesy that soon
the proud Sicambrian will worship the gods that he burnt.

I suspect that this classic revival is not very likely to come about.
True, some writers, to-day in their cradles, may yet emulate Flaubert,
but they will not be Flaubert. They may take something of his essence
and blend it with their own; but that will create a new essence, for
literature does not travel in a circle. Rather it travels along a
cycloid, bending back upon itself, following the movement of man.
Everything in the world we inhabit conspires to alter in the mirror of
literature the picture it reflects; haste, luxury, hysterical
sensuousness, race-optimism and race-despair. And notably publicity, the
attitude of the Press. For the time has gone when novels were written
for young ladies, and told the placid love of Edwin and Angeline;
nowadays the novel, growing ambitious, lays hands upon science,
commerce, philosophy: we write less of moated granges, more of tea-shops
and advertising agencies, for the Press is teaching the people to look
to the novel for a cosmic picture of the day, for a cosmic commentary.

Evidently it was not always so. Flaubert, de Maupassant, Butler, Tolstoy
(who are not a company of peers), aspired mainly 'to see life sanely and
to see it whole.' Because they lived in days of lesser social
complexity, economically speaking, they were able to use a purely
narrative style, the only notable living exponent of which is Mr Thomas
Hardy. But we, less fortunate perhaps, confronted with new facts, the
factory system, popular education, religious unrest, pictorial
rebellion, must adapt ourselves and our books to the new spirit. I do
not pretend that the movement has been sudden. Many years before
_L'Education Sentimentale_ was written, Stendhal had imported chaos
(with genius) into the spacious 'thirties. But Stendhal was a meteor:
Dostoievsky and Mr Romain Rolland had to come to break up the old
narrative form, to make the road for Mr Wells and for the younger men
who attempt, not always successfully, to crush within the covers of an
octavo volume the whole of the globe spinning round its axis, to express
with an attitude the philosophy of life, to preach by gospel rather than
by statement.

Such movements as these naturally breed a reaction, and I confess that,
when faced with the novels of the 'young men,' so turgid, so bombastic,
I turn longing eyes towards the still waters of Turgenev, sometimes even
towards my first influence, now long discarded--the novels of Zola.
Though the Zeitgeist hold my hand and bid me abandon my characters,
forget that they should be people like ourselves, living, loving, dying,
and this enough; though it suggest to me that I should analyse the
economic state, consider what new world we are making, enlist under the
banner of the 'free spirits' or of the 'simple life,' I think I should
turn again towards the old narrative simplicities, towards the schedules
of what the hero said, and of what the vicar had in his drawing-room, if
I were not conscious that form evolves.

If literature be at all a living force it must evolve as much as man,
and more if it is to lead him; it must establish a correspondence
between itself and the uneasy souls for which it exists. So it is no
longer possible to content ourselves with such as Jane Austen; we must
exploit ourselves. Ashamed as we are of the novel with a purpose, we can
no longer write novels without a purpose. We need to express the motion
of the world rather than its contents. While the older novelists were
static, we have to be kinetic: is not the picture-palace here to give
us a lesson and to remind us that the waxworks which delighted our
grandfathers have gone?

But evolution is not quite the same thing as revolution. I do believe
that revolution is only evolution in a hurry; but revolution can be in
too great a hurry, and cover itself with ridicule. When the Futurists
propose to suppress the adjective, the adverb, the conjunction, and to
make of literature a thing of 'positive substantives' and 'dynamic
verbs'--when Mr Peguy repeats over and over again the same sentence
because, in his view, that is how we think--we smile. We are both right
and wrong to smile, for these people express in the wrong way that which
is the right thing. The modern novel has and must have a new
significance. It is not enough that the novelist should be cheery as
Dickens, or genially cynical as Thackeray, or adventurous as Fielding.
The passions of men, love, hunger, patriotism, worship, all these things
must now be shared between the novelist and his reader. He must
collaborate with his audience ... emulate the show-girls in a revue,
abandon the stage, and come parading through the stalls. A new passion
is born, and it is a complex of the old passions; the novelist of to-day
cannot end as Montaigne, say that he goes to seek a great perhaps. He
needs to be more positive, to aspire to know what we are doing with the
working-class, with the Empire, the woman question, and the proper use
of lentils. It is this aspiration towards truth that breaks up the old
form: you cannot tell a story in a straightforward manner when you do
but glimpse it through the veil of the future.

And so it goes hard with Edwin and Angeline. We have no more time to
tell that love; we need to break up their simple story, to consider
whether they are eugenically fitted for each other, and whether their
marriage settlement has a bearing upon national finance. Inevitably we
become chaotic; the thread of our story is tangled in the threads which
bind the loves of all men. We must state, moralise, explain, analyse
motives, because we try to fit into a steam civilisation the old
horse-plough of our fathers. I do not think that we shall break the old
plough; now and then we may use it upon sands, but there is much good
earth for it to turn.

Sincerity: the Publisher and the Policeman

There is always much talk of sincerity in literature. It is a favourite
topic in literary circles, but often the argument sounds vain, for
English literature seldom attains sincerity; it may never do so until
Englishmen become Russians or Frenchmen, which, in spite of all
temptations, they are not likely to do.

Once upon a time we had a scapegoat ready, the circulating libraries,
for they made themselves ridiculous when they banned _Black Sheep_ and
_The Uncounted Cost_, while every now and then they have banned a book
of artistic value, likely to lead astray the mothers rather than the
daughters. Like the others, I foamed and fumed against the libraries,
who after all were only conducting their business according to their
commercial interests; like many others, I set up the idea that the
circulating library was a sort of trustee for literature, and after this
coronation I abused the library as one unworthy of a crown. It was
rather unfair, for the conditions which militate against the free
embodiment of brute facts into fiction form prevailed before the Library
Censorship was thought of; the libraries have not made public opinion
but followed it; nowadays they slightly influence it. For public opinion
is not the opinion of the public, it is the opinion of a minority. The
opinion of a minority makes the opinion of the majority, because the
latter has, as a rule, no opinion at all.

Who the censorious minority is I do not quite know. I have a vision of a
horrid conclave made up of the National Council of Public Morals, some
shopkeepers addicted to their chapel in default of other vices, of
anti-suffragists who think _Ann Veronica_ dangerous; it must number some
elderly ladies too, tired of converting the stubborn heathen, and I
think some bishops, quite elderly and still more ladylike; there are
celibates with whom celibacy has not agreed and who naturally want to
serve out the world; there is everybody who in the name of duty,
decency, self-control, purity, and such like catch-words, has stuffed
his ears against the pipes of Pan with the cotton wool of aggressive
respectability. A pretty congress, and like all congresses it talks as
abundantly and as virulently as any young novelist. The vocal opinion of
these people is well described in a recent successful revue: 'To the
pure all things are impure.' Often of late years it has run amuck. Not
long ago it caused the Municipal Libraries of Doncaster and Dewsbury to
banish _Tom Jones_ and to pronounce _Westward Ho!_ unfit for devout
Roman Catholics; it still spreads into the drama and holds such plays as
_Waste_, _Mrs Warren's Profession_, _Monna Vanna_ well hidden under the
calico and red flannel of British rectitude; it has had its outbursts in
picture palaces and music halls, where it happened to overlook the
Salome dance and living pictures; often it unchains merriment, as on the
perfect days when it cropped titles that seemed suggestive and caused
plays to appear under more stimulating titles of 'The Girl Who Went' ...
and 'The Girl Who Lost' ... (I do not remember what she lost, but I
passionately want to know; such are the successes of Puritanism).

It is true that in some directions Puritanism has recently weakened.
Plays long outcast, such as 'Damaged Goods,' 'Ghosts,' and 'The Three
Daughters of Monsieur Dupont' have unashamedly taken the boards, but I
fear that this does not exhibit the redemption of virtue by sin: if the
newspapers had not conducted a campaign for the protection of the
notoriously guileless New Zealand soldiers against the flapper with the
hundred heads (every one of them filled with evil), if contagious
diseases had not suddenly become fashionable, these plays would still be
lying with the other unborn in the limbo of the Lord Chamberlain. But
Puritanism has long teeth; it can still drive out of politics our next
Charles Dilke, our next Parnell, however generous or gifted; it still
hangs over the Law Courts, where women may be ordered out, or where
cases may be heard _in camera_; it still holds some sway over everything
but private life, where humanity recoups its public losses.

Puritan opinion has therefore a broader face of attack on the novel than
is afforded by the Library Censorship. For the latter can injure a book
but it cannot suppress it; on the whole banned books have suffered, but
they have also benefited because many people buy what they cannot
borrow, and because many buy the books which the Puritans advertise as
unfit to read. (They are much disappointed, as a rule, unless they are
themselves Puritans.) That buying class is not very large, but it
counts, and I suppose we must charitably assume that the people who post
to the bookseller to purchase the works which the library has rejected
are supporters of literary sincerity; we must form our private opinion
as to that. But whether the people who buy the banned book are or are
not eager to obtain four-and-six penn'orth of truth, the fact remains
that they do buy, that the deplorable authors do live, and that they do
persist in writing their regrettable novels. The libraries have not
killed sincerity; they have done no more than trammel it. For instance,
in the well-known cases of _The Devil's Garden_, _Sinister Street_, and
_The Woman Thou Gavest Me_, the faltering hesitation of the circulating
libraries resulted in a colossal advertisement, of which Mr Maxwell and
Mr Compton Mackenzie made the best, and Mr Hall Caine of course a little
more. The libraries did not deprive of sustenance the authors of
_Limehouse Nights_ and _Capel Sion_, and in their new spirit did not
interfere when Mr Galsworthy's heroine, in _Beyond_, made the best of
one world and of two men.

The assassins of sincerity are the publisher and the policeman. Dismiss
the illusion that banned books are bold and bad; for the most part they
are kindly and mild, silly beyond the conception of Miss Elinor Glyn,
beyond the sentimental limits of Mrs Barclay; they are seldom vicious in
intent, and too devoid of skill to be vicious in achievement. The real
bold books are unwritten or unpublished; for nobody but a fool would
expect a publisher to be fool enough to publish them. There are, it is
true, three or four London publishers who are not afraid of the
libraries, but they are afraid of the police, and any one who wishes to
test them can offer them, for instance, a translation of _Le Journal
d'une Femme de Chambre_. A publisher is to a certain extent a human
being; he knows that works of this type (and this one is masterly) are
often works of art; he knows that they are saleable, and that assured
profits would follow on publication, were the books not suppressed by
the police. But he does not publish them, because he also knows that
the police and its backers, purity societies and common informers, would
demand seizure of the stock after the first review and hurry to Bow
Street all those who had taken part in the printing and issue of the
works. As a result many of these books are driven underground into the
vile atmosphere of the vilest shops; some are great works of art; one
is, in the words of Mr Anatole France, 'minded to weep over them with
the nine Muses for company.' Need I say more than that _Madame Bovary_,
the greatest novel the world has seen, is now being sold in a shilling
paper edition under a cover which shows Madame Bovary in a sort of
private dining-room, dressed in a chemise, and preparing to drink off a
bumper of champagne. (Possibly the designer of this cover has in his
mind sparkling burgundy.)

Several cases are fresh in my memory where purity, living in what Racine
called 'the fear of God, sir, and of the police,' has intervened to stop
the circulation of a novel. One is that of _The Yoke_, a novel of no
particular merit, devoid of subversive teaching, but interesting because
it was frank, because it did not portray love on the lines of musical
comedy, because it faced the common sex problem of the middle aged
spinster and the very young man, because it did not ignore the peril
which everybody knows to be lurking within a mile of Charing Cross. _The
Yoke_ enjoyed a large sale at 6s. and was not interfered with,
presumably because those who can afford 6s. may be abandoned to the
scarlet woman. It was then published at a shilling. Soon after, the
secret combination of common informer, purity group, and police forced
the publisher into a police court, compelled him to express regret for
the publication, and to destroy all the remaining copies and moulds.
That is a brief tragedy, and it in no wise involves the library system.
Another tragedy may be added. In 1910 Sudermann's novel, _Das Hohe
Lied_, was published under the title of _The Song of Songs_. It is not a
very interesting novel; it is long, rather crude, but it relates
faithfully enough the career of a woman who lived by the sale of
herself. The trouble was that she made rather a success of it, and it
was shown in a few scenes that she did not always detest the incidents
of this career, which is not unnatural. In December, 1910, two
inspectors from the Criminal Investigation Department called on the
publisher and informed his manager that a complaint had been made
against the book; it was described as obscene. The officers apparently
went on to say that their director, Sir Melville Macnaghten, did not
associate himself with that opinion, but their object was to draw the
publisher's attention to the fact that a complaint had been made.
Thereupon, without further combat, the publisher withdrew the book.
Nobody can blame him; he was not in business to fight battles of this
kind, and I suppose that few British juries would have supported him.
They would, more likely, have given the case against him first and tried
to get hold of a private copy of the book after, presumably to read on
Sunday afternoons. The interesting part of the business is that the
accusation remained anonymous, that the police did not associate itself
with it, but came humbly, helmet in hand, to convey the displeasure of
some secret somebody with some secret something in the book. And there
you are! That is all you need to snuff out the quite good work of a
novelist with a quite good European reputation.

Once upon a time, I thought I might myself have a taste of the purity
medicine. In 1910 I had ready for publication a novel called _A Bed of
Roses_. I placed it with Messrs Alston Rivers, Ltd., whose standard of
respectability was beyond attachment. They read the book without, so far
as I remember, any ill effects; at least I saw no signs of corruption in
the managing director and the secretary; the maidenly reserve of the
lady shorthand-typist seemed unblemished. But some horrid internal
convulsion must have suddenly occurred in the firm; they must have lost
their nerve; or perhaps my corrupting influence was gradual and
progressive; at any rate, they suddenly sent the book to their legal
adviser, who wired back that it would almost certainly be prosecuted. So
the contract was not signed, and if I had not, in those days, been an
enthusiastic young man who longed to be prosecuted, I might never have
published the book at all; the moral pressure might have been enough to
keep it down. But I offered it to many publishers, all of whom rejected
it, at the same time asking whether some milder spring might not be
struck from the rock of my imagination, until I came across Mr Frank
Palmer, who was a brave man. I offered him that book, cropped of about
seventy pages, which I thought so true to life that I realised they must
cause offence. He accepted it. Those were beautiful times, and I knew an
exquisite day when I decided to chance the prosecution. I remember the
bang of the MS. as it dropped into the post box; garbling an old song, I
thought: 'Good-bye, good-bye, ye lovely young girls, we're off to Botany

The police treated me very scurvily; they took no notice at all. The
book was banned by all libraries owing to its alleged hectic qualities,
and in due course achieved a moderate measure of scandalous success. I
tell this story to show that had I been a sweet and shrinking soul, that
if Mr Palmer had not shared in my audacity, the book would not have been
published. We should not have been stopped, but we should have been
frightened off, and this, I say, is the force that keeps down sincere
novels, deep down in the muddy depths of their authors' imagination.

Now and then a publisher dares, and dares too far. Such is the case of
_The Rainbow_, by Mr D. H. Lawrence, where the usual methods of Puritan
terrorism were applied, where the publisher was taken into court, and
made to eat humble pie, knowing that if he refused he must drink
hemlock. Certainly _The Rainbow_ was a bad book, for it was an
ill-written book, a book of hatred and desire ... but many of us are
people of hatred and desire, and I submit that there is no freedom when
a minority of one in a nation of fifty millions is hampered in the
expression of his feelings. More than one opinion has been held by one
man and is now the belief of all the world. The beliefs of to-morrow
will be slain if we suppress to-day the opinion of one. I would
surrender all the rupees and virgins of Bengal for the sake of the atom
of truth which may, in another age, build up immortal understanding in
the heart of man.

All this has frightened publishers, so that they will now take no risks,
and even the shy sincerity of English writers is turned away. The public
subserve the Puritans, little mean people whom Mr Wells ideally
nicknamed 'Key-hole,' or 'Snuffles,' little people who form 'watch
committees' or 'vigilance societies'; who easily discover the obscene
because it hangs like a film before their eyes, little people who keep
the window shut. The police must obey, or be called corrupt; the courts
are ready to apply the law severely rather than leniently, for who shall
play devil's advocate at the Old Bailey? No wonder the publishers are
frightened; the combination of their timidity, of truculent Puritanism
and of a reluctantly vigilant police makes it almost impossible to
_publish_ a sincere work.

One result is that we are deprived of translations of foreign novels,
some of which are of the first rank. There is _Le Journal d'une Femme de
Chambre_; there is _Aphrodite_, the work of M. Pierre Louys, who is an
artist in his way; there is Mr Boylesve's delicate, inwrought _La Leçon
d'Amour dans un Parc_; there is the Parisian mischief of M. Prévost's
_Lettres de Femmes_, the elegance of M. Henri de Régnier. _Sanin_ got
through, how I do not know; I have not read the translation, and it may
very well be that it escaped only after the translator had thickly
coated it with the soapsuds of English virtue.

Small as their chances may be it is a pity that the publishers do not
adventure. It is true that Mr Vizetelly went to jail for publishing
translations of Zola's novels, but when we are told by Mr George Moore
that Mr W. T. Stead confided to him that the Vigilance Society
considered the prosecution of _Madame Bovary_, it seems necessary again
to test the law. For you will observe that in all the cases quoted the
publisher has not allowed himself to be committed for trial; he has
chosen the prudent and humble course of apologising and withdrawing the
book, and one wonders what would happen if just once, supported by a
common fund, a publisher were to face the Puritans, let the case go for
trial, test the law. One wonders what the result might not be in the
hands of, for instance, Sir John Simon. He might win a glorious victory
for English letters; he might do away with much of the muckraking which
is keeping English letters in subjection because nobody dares drag it
out for public exposure and combat. Until that happens Puritan influence
is more potent than a score of convictions, for no publisher knows what
he may do and what he may not; prosecution is as effective in threat as
in action, and I hope that if ever this struggle comes it will be over
some book of mine.

Let it be clear that no blame attaches to the publisher; he does not
trade under the name 'Galahad & Co.'; he knows that even defeated
Puritans would attempt to avenge their downfall, and malignantly pursue
all the works he issued in every municipal library. But still it is a
pity that no publisher will face them; half a dozen of our best known
publishers are knights: perhaps one day one of them will put on his

This secret terrorism is a national calamity, for it procures the
sterilisation of the English novel. It was always so, for there is not
complete sincerity in _Tom Jones_, or in _A Mummer's Wife_, even as the
word sincerity is understood in England, and there is little nowadays.
We have to-day a certain number of fairly courageous novelists whose
works are alluded to in other chapters, but they are not completely
sincere. If they were they would not be concerned with censorships; they
would not be published at all. I do not suggest that they wish to be
insincere, but they cannot help it. Their insincerity, I suspect, as
exemplified by the avoidance of certain details, arises from the
necessity of that avoidance; it arises also from the habit of
concealment and evasion which a stupefied public, led by a neurotic
faction, has imposed upon them.

Our novelists openly discuss every feature of social life, politics,
religion, but they cast over sex a thick veil of ellipse and metaphor.
Thus Mr Onions suggests, but dares not name, the disease a character
contracts; Mr Lawrence leaves in some doubt the actual deeds of his
_Trespasser_, while 'H. H. Richardson' leaves to our conjectures the
habits of Schilsky. (So do I, you see; if I were to say exactly what I
mean it would never do.)

It may be said that all this is not insincerity, and that there is no
need to dwell upon what the respectable call the unwholesome, the
unhealthy, the unnecessary, but I think we must accept that the
bowdlerising to which a novelist subjects his own work results in
lopsidedness. If a novelist were to develop his characters evenly the
three hundred page novel might extend to five hundred; the additional
two hundred pages would be made up entirely of the sex preoccupations
of the characters, their adventures and attempts at satisfaction. There
would be as many scenes in the bedroom as in the drawing-room, probably
more, given that human beings spend more time in the former than in the
latter apartment. There would be abundant detail, detail that would
bring out an intimacy of contact, a completeness of mutual understanding
which does not generally come about when characters meet at breakfast or
on the golf course. The additional pages would offer pictures of the sex
side of the characters, and thus would compel them to come alive; at
present they often fail to come alive because they develop only on, say,
five sides out of six.

No character in a modern English novel has been fully developed.
Sometimes, as in the case of Mendel, of Jude the Obscure, of Mark
Lennan, of Gyp Fiörsen, one has the impression that they are fully
developed because the book mainly describes their sex adventures, but
one could write a thousand pages about sex adventures and have done
nothing but produce sentimental atmosphere. A hundred kisses do not make
one kiss, and there is more truth in one page of _Madame Bovary_, than
in the shackled works of Mr Hardy. It is not his fault, it is a case of
... if England but knew ... and, therefore, if Hardy but could. Our
literary characters are lopsided because their ordinary traits are fully
portrayed, analysed with extraordinary minuteness, while their sex life
is cloaked, minimised, or left out. Therefore, as the ordinary man does
indulge his sexual proclivities, as a large proportion of his thoughts
run on sex, if he is a live man, the characters in modern novels are
false. They are megacephalous and emasculate. If their religious views,
their political opinions, their sporting tastes were whittled down as
cruelly as their sexual tendencies, then the characters would become
balanced; they would be dwarfs, but they would be true; if all the
characteristics of men were as faintly suggested in them as their sexual
traits, the persons that figure in novels would simulate reality.

They would not be reality, but they would be less untrue than they are
to-day. This, however, is merely theory, for it is impossible to apply
to the novel the paradox that insincerity in everything being better
than insincerity in one thing it is desirable to be insincere
throughout. The paradox cannot be applied, because then a novel of ideas
could not be written; shrouded religious doubt, shy socialism, suggested
anarchism, would reduce the length by nine tenths, make of the novel a
short story. It would be perfectly balanced and perfectly insincere;
aesthetically sound, it would satisfy nobody. We should be compelled to
pad it out with murder, theft, and arson, which, as everybody knows, are
perfectly moral things to write about.

It is a cruel position for the English novel. The novelist may discuss
anything but the main pre-occupation of life. If he describes the City
clerk he may dilate upon City swindles, but he must select warily from
among the City clerk's loves. The novelist knows these loves, records
them in his mind, speaks of them freely, but he does not write them
down. If he did, his publisher would go to jail. For this reason there
is no completely sincere writing. The novelist is put into the witness
box, but he is not sworn to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing
but the truth; he is sworn to tell the truth, but not the whole truth.
He is not perjured, but he is muzzled.

Obviously this is an unhealthy state, for the spirit of a people is in
its books, and I suspect that it does a people no good if its
preoccupation find no outlet; it develops inhibitions, while its Puritan
masters develop phobias. The cloaking of the truth makes neither modesty
nor mock modesty; it makes impurity. There is no market for pornography,
for pornography makes no converts who were not already converted. I
believe that the purity propaganda creates much of the evil that lives;
I charge advertising reformers with minds full of hate, bishops full of
wind, and bourgeois full of fear, with having exercised through the
pulpit and the platform a more stimulating effect upon youth, and with
having given it more unhealthy information about white slavery, secret
cinemas, and disorderly houses than it could ever have gained from all
the books that were ever printed in Amsterdam. I once went to a meeting
for men only, and came out with two entirely new brands of vice; a
bishop held up to me the luridities of secret cinemas, and did
everything for me except to give me the address. But he filled my mind
with cinemas. One could multiply these instances indefinitely. I do not
think that we should cover things up; we had enough of that during the
mid-Victorian period, when respectability was at its height, and when
women, in bodice and bustle, did their best to make respectability
difficult; no, we do not want things covered up, but we do want them
advertised. I believe that as good coin drives out bad the Puritans
would find a greater safety and the world a greater freedom in allowing
good literature to vie with evil; the good would inevitably win; no
immoral literature is good; all bad literature dies. The seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries in England and France produced the vilest
pornography we know. Those centuries also produced Molière and Fielding.
Well, to-day, you can buy Molière and Fielding everywhere, but the
pornography of those centuries is dead, and you can find it nowhere
except in a really good West End club.

It may be argued that the English are not, as a nation, interested in
sex, that they do not discuss it and that they do not think about it. If
this were true, then a novelist would be sincere if he devoted nine
tenths of his novel to business and play and no more than a tenth to
sex. But it is not true. The English, particularly English women, speak
a great deal about sex and, as they are certainly shy of the subject,
they must devote to it a great deal of thought which they never put into
words. If anybody doubts this, let him play eavesdropper in a club, a
public house, or an office, listen to men, their views, their stories;
let him especially discover how many 'humorous' tales are based on sex.
And let him discreetly ascertain the topics young women discuss when no
men are present; some, like Elsie Lindtner, are frank enough to tell.

In their private lives the English do not talk of sex as they would like
to, but they do talk, and more openly every day. Yet their sex
preoccupations are not reflected in the novels which purport to reflect
their lives; conversation is over-sexed, the novel is under-sexed,
therefore untrue, therefore insincere. For this there is no immediate
remedy. Neither the Society of Authors, nor a combine of publishers, nor
a 'Liberty Library' can shake the combination of fears which actuates
persecution. The law should certainly be tested, just as it was tested
in France by the prosecution of Flaubert in 1857, but we know perfectly
well that even a victory for sincerity would do no more than carry us a
little nearer to our goal. The law is a trifle compared with public
feeling, and public feeling is a trifle beside the emotions the public
is told it ought to feel. We had best reconcile ourselves to the
inevitable, admit that we cannot be sincere because the police dare not
allow it, and acquit the libraries of this one sin, that they killed in
English literature a sincerity which was not there.

Three Comic Giants


It is not every country and every period gives birth to a comic giant.
Tragic and sentimental heroes are common, and make upon the history of
literature a mark of sorts; we have Achilles and Werther, William Tell,
d'Artagnan, Tristan, Sir Galahad, others, too, with equal claims to
fame: but comic giants are few. The literature of the world is full of
comic pigmies; it is fairly rich in half-growns such as Eulenspiegel, Mr
Dooley, Tchitchikoff, and Mr Pickwick, but it does not easily produce
the comic character who stands alone and massive among his fellows, like
Balzac among novelists. There are not half a dozen competitors for the
position, for Pantagruel and Gargantua are too philosophic, while Don
Quixote does not move every reader to laughter; he is too romantic, too
noble; he is hardly comic. Baron von Münchausen, Falstaff, and Tartarin
alone remain face to face, all of them simple, all of them adventurous,
but adventurous without literary inflation, as a kitten is adventurous
when it explores a work-basket. There is no gigantic quality where there
is self-consciousness or cynicism; the slightest strain causes the
gigantic to vanish, the creature becomes human. The comic giant must be
obvious, he must be, to himself, rebellious to analysis; he must also be
obvious to the beholder, indeed transparent. That is not a paradox, it
is a restatement of the fact that the comic giant's simplicity must be
so great that everybody but he will realise it.

All this Tartarin fulfils. He is the creature of Alphonse Daudet, a
second-rate writer who has earned for him a title maybe to immortality.
There is no doubt that Daudet was a second-rate writer, and that Mr
George Moore was right when he summed him up as _de la bouillabaisse_;
his novels are sentimental, his reminiscences turgid, his verses
suitable for crackers, but Daudet had an asset--his vivid feeling for
the South. It was not knowledge or observation made Tartarin; it was
instinct. Neither in _Tartarin de Tarascon_ nor in _Tartarin sur les
Alpes_ was Daudet for a moment inconsistent or obscure; for him,
Tartarin and his followers stood all the time in violent light. He knew
not only what they had to say in given circumstances, but also what they
would say in any circumstances that might arise.

It is not wonderful then, that Tartarin appears as a large character.
You will figure him throughout as a French bourgeois, aged about forty
in the first novel, fifty in the second, and sixty in the third.
Daudet's dates being unreliable, you must assume his adventures as
happening between 1861 and 1881, and bridge the gaps that exist between
them with a vision of Tartarin's stormily peaceful life in the sleepy
town of Tarascon. For Tartarin was too adventurous to live without
dangers and storms. When he was not shooting lions in Algeria, or
climbing the Alps, or colonising in Polynesia, Tartarin was still a
hero: he lived in his little white house with the green shutters,
surrounded with knives, revolvers, rifles, double-handed swords,
crishes, and yataghans; he read, not the local paper, but Fenimore
Cooper and Captain Cook; he learned how to fight and how to hunt, how to
follow a trail, or he hypnotised himself with the recitals of Alpine
climbs, of battles in China with the bellicose Tartar. Save under
compulsion, he never did anything, partly because there was nothing to
do at Tarascon, partly because his soul was turned rather towards
bourgeois comfort than towards glory and blood. This, however, the fiery
Southerner could not accept: if he could not do he could pretend, and
thus did Daudet establish the enormous absurdity of his character.

There was nothing to shoot at Tarascon, so Tartarin and his followers
went solemnly into the fields and fired at their caps; there was nothing
to climb, except the neighbouring Alpilles ... whose height was three
hundred feet, but Tartarin bought an alpen-stock and printed upon his
visiting-cards initials which meant 'President of the Alpine Club';
there was no danger in the town, but Tartarin never went out at night
without a dagger and several guns. He was a bourgeois, but he was a
romantic: he had to find in fiction the excitement that life refused
him, to create it where it did not exist. In the rough, Tartarin was the
jovial Frenchman of the South, short, fat, excitable, unable to see
things as they are, unable to restrain his voice, his gestures, his
imagination; he was greedy and self-deceived, he saw trifles as
enormous, he placed the world under a magnifying glass.

Because of this enormous vision of life Tartarin was driven into
adventure. Because he magnified his words he was compelled by popular
opinion to sail to Algiers to shoot lions, though he was at heart afraid
of dogs; to scale the Alps, though he shuddered when he thought of
catching cold. He had to justify himself in the eyes of his
fellow-citizens, or forgo for ever the halo of heroism. He did not have
to abandon it, for Daudet loved his Tartarin; in Algeria he was mocked,
swindled, beaten, but somehow he secured his lion's skin; and, in the
Alps, he actually scaled both the Jungfrau and Mont Blanc ... the first
without knowing that it was dangerous, the second against his will.
Tartarin won because he was vital, his vitality served him as a shield.
All his qualities were of those that make a man absurd but invincible;
his exaggeration, his histrionics, his mock heroics, his credulity, his
mild sensuality, his sentimentality, and his bumptious cowardice--all
this blended into an enormous bubbling charm which neither man nor
circumstance could in the end withstand.

Daudet brings out his traits on every page. Everywhere he makes Tartarin
strut and swell as a turkey-cock. Exaggeration, in other words lying,
lay in every word and deed of Tartarin. He could not say: 'We were a
couple of thousand at the amphitheatre yesterday,' but naturally said:
'We were fifty thousand.' And he was not exactly lying; Daudet, who
loved him well, pleaded that this was not lying but mirage, mirage
induced by the hot sun. He was not quite wrong: when Tartarin said that
he had killed forty lions he believed it; and his fellow-climber
believed the absurd story he had concocted: that Switzerland was a
fraud, that there were eiderdowns at the bottom of every crevasse, and
that he had himself climbed the Andes on his hands and knees. Likewise,
Tartarin and the people of Tarascon were deceived by their own
histrionics. The baobab (_arbos gigantea_) which Tartarin trained in a
flower-pot stood, in their imagination, a hundred feet high.

Histrionics and mock heroics pervade the three books. It is not the fact
that matters, it is the fact seen through the coloured Southern mind,
and that mind turns at once away from the fact towards the trifles that
attend it. Thus costume is everywhere a primary concern. Tartarin cannot
land at Algiers to shoot lions unless he be dressed for the part in Arab
clothes, and he must carry three rifles, drag behind him a portable
camp, a pharmacy, a patent tent, patent compressed foods. Nothing is too
absurd for him: he has a 'Winchester rifle with thirty-two cartridges in
the magazine'; he does not shrink from _a rifle with a semicircular
barrel for shooting round the corner_. To climb the Righi (instead of
using the funicular) he must wear a jersey, ice-shoes, snow goggles.
Everywhere he plays a part and plays it in costume. Nor is Tartarin
alone in this; the Tarasconnais emulate their chief: Major Bravida dons
black when he calls to compel Tartarin 'to redeem his honour' and sail
for Algiers; when Port Tarascon, the frantic colony, is formed, costumes
are designed for grandees, for the militia, for the bureaucrats.
Appearances alone matter: Tarascon is not content with the French flag,
but spread-eagles across it a fantastic local animal, _La Tarasque_, of
mythical origin.

Life in Tarascon is too easy: Tartarin helps it on with a war-whoop. He
creates adventure. Thus in 1870 he organises against the Germans the
defence of the town; mines are laid under the marketplace, the _Café
de la Comédie_ is turned into a redoubt, volunteers drill in the street.
Of course there is no fighting, the Germans do not come, nor do the
prudent Tarasconnais attempt to seek them out, but in its imagination
the town has been heroic. It is heroic again when it defends against the
Government the monks of Pampérigouste: the convent becomes a fortress,
but there is no fighting; when the supplies give out the heroic
defenders march out with their weapons and their banners, in their
crusaders' uniforms. The town believes. It believes anything and
anybody. Because a rogue calls himself a prince, Tartarin entrusts him
with his money and is deserted in the Sahara; because another calls
himself a duke, thousands of Tarasconnais follow Tartarin to a
non-existent colony bought by them from the pseudo-duke. Whether the
matter be general or personal Tartarin believes. He falls in love with
a Moorish girl, and innocently allows himself to be persuaded that a
substitute is the beauty whom he glimpsed through the yashmak.

Tartarin believes because he is together romantic, sentimental, and
mildly sensual: that which he likes he wants to think true. He wants to
believe that sweet Baia is his true love; when again he succumbs to
Sonia, the Russian exile, he wants to believe that he too is an
extremist, a potential martyr in the cause of Nihilism; and again he
wants to believe that Likiriki, the nigger girl, is the little creature
of charm for whom his heart has been calling. His sentimentality is
always ready--for women, for ideas, for beasts. He can be moved when he
hears for the hundredth time the ridiculous ballads that are popular in
the local drawing-rooms, weep when Bezuquet, the chemist, sings 'Oh
thou, beloved white star of my soul!' For him the lion is 'a noble
beast,' who must be shot, not caged; the horse 'the most glorious
conquest of man.' He is always above the world, never of it unless his
own safety be endangered, when he scuttles to shelter; as Daudet says,
half Tartarin is Quixote, half is Sancho ... but Sancho wins. It is
because Tartarin is a comic coward that he will not allow the heroic
crusaders of Pampérigouste to fire on the Government troops; the 'abbot'
of Port Tarascon to train the carronade on the English frigate; alone,
he is a greater coward than in public; he shivers under his weapons when
he walks to the club in the evening; he severs the rope on Mont Blanc,
sending his companion to probable death. But the burlesque does not end
tragically: nobody actually dies, all return to Tarascon in time to hear
their funeral orations.

It might be thought that Tartarin is repulsive: he is not; he is too
young, too innocent. His great, foolish heart is too open to the woes of
any damsel; his simplicity, his credulity, his muddled faith, the
optimism which no misfortune can shatter--all these traits endear him to
us, make him real. For Tartarin is real: he is the Frenchman of the
South; in the words of a character, 'The Tarasconnais type is the
Frenchman magnified, exaggerated, as seen in a convex mirror.' Tartarin
and his fellows typify the South, though some typify one side of the
Southern Frenchman rather than another; thus Bravida is military pride,
Excourbaniès is the liar, and mild Pascalon is the imitator of
imitators: when Tarascon, arrested by the British captain and brought
home on board the frigate, takes up the attitude of Napoleon on the
_Bellerophon_, Pascalon begins a memorial and tries to impersonate Las
Cases. As for Tartarin, bell-wether of the flock, he has all the
characteristics, he even sings all the songs. He is the South.

The three Tartarin books constitute together the most violent satire
that has ever been written against the South. Gascony, Provence, and
Languedoc are often made the butts of Northern French writers, while
Lombards introduce in books ridiculous Neapolitans, and Catalonians
paint burlesque Andalusians, but no writer has equalled Alphonse Daudet
in consistent ferocity. So evident is this, that Tarascon to this day
resents the publications, and that, some years ago, a commercial
traveller who humorously described himself on the hotel register as
'Alphonse Daudet' was mobbed in the street, and rescued by the police
from the rabble who threatened to throw him into the Rhone. Tarascon, a
little junction on the way to Marseilles, has been made absurd for
ever. Yet, though Daudet exaggerated, he built on the truth: there is a
close connection between his preposterous figures, grown men with the
tendencies of children enormously distorted, and the Frenchmen of the
South. Indeed, the Southern Frenchman is the Frenchman as we picture him
in England; there is between him and his compatriot from Picardy or
Flanders a difference as great as exists between the Scotsman and the
man of Kent. The Northern Frenchman is sober, silent, hard, reasonable,
and logical; his imagination is negligible, his artistic taste as
corrupt as that of an average inhabitant of the Midlands. But the
Southern Frenchman is a different creature; his excitable temperament,
his irresponsibility and impetuousness run through the majority of
French artists and politicians. As the French saying goes, 'the South
moves'; thus it is not wonderful that Le Havre and Lille should not
rival Marseilles and Bordeaux.

Tartarin lives to a greater or lesser degree within every Frenchman of
the plains, born South of the line which unites Lyons and Bordeaux. It
is Tartarin who stands for hours at street corners in Arles or
Montpellier, chattering with Tartarin and, like Tartarin, endlessly
brags of the small birds he has killed, of the hearts he has won and of
his extraordinary luck at cards. It is Tartarin again who still wears
night-caps and flannel belts, and drinks every morning great bowls of
chocolate. And it is Tartarin who, light-heartedly, joins the colonial
infantry regiment and goes singing into battle because he likes the
adventure and would rather die in the field than be bored in barracks.
Daudet has maligned the South so far as courage is concerned: there is
nothing to show that the Southerners, Tarasconnais and others, are any
more cowardly than the men of the North. Courage goes in zones, and
because the North has generally proved harder the South must not be
indicted _en bloc_. Presumably Daudet felt compelled to make Tartarin a
poltroon so as to throw into relief his braggadocio; that is a flaw in
his work, but if it be accepted as the licence of a _litterateur_, it
does not mar the picture of Tartarin.

It should not, therefore, be lost sight of by the reader of _Tartarin de
Tarascon_ and of _Tartarin Sur Les Alpes_ that this is a caricature.
Every line is true, but modified a little by the 'mirage' that Alphonse
Daudet so deftly satirises; it is only so much distorted as irony
demands. _Tartarin de Tarascon_ is by far the best of the three books;
it is the most compact, and within its hundred-odd pages the picture of
Tartarin is completely painted; the sequel is merely the response of the
author to the demand of a public who so loved Tartarin as to buy five
hundred thousand copies of his adventures. As for _Port Tarascon_, the
beginning of Tartarin's end, it should not have been written, for it
closes on a new Tartarin who no longer believes in his own triumphs--a
sober, disillusioned Tartarin, shorn of his glory, flouted by his
compatriots and ready to die in a foreign town. Alphonse Daudet had
probably tired of his hero, for he understood him no longer. The real
Tartarin could not be depressed by misadventure, chastened by loss of
prestige: to cast him to earth could only bring about once more the
prodigy of Anteus. He would have risen again, more optimistic and
bombastic than ever, certain that no enemy had thrown him and that he
had but slipped. And if Tartarin had to die, which is not certain, for
Tartarin's essence is immortal, he could not die disgraced, but must
die sumptuously--like Cleopatra among her jewels, or a Tartar chief
standing on his piled arms on the crest of a funeral pyre.


Like Hamlet, Tartuffe, Don Quixote, Falstaff has had his worshippers and
his exegetists. The character Dr. Johnson dwelled on still serves to-day
to exercise the critical capacity of the freshman; he is one of the
stars in a crowded cast, a human, fallible, lovable creature, and it is
not wonderful that so many have asked themselves whether there lurked
fineness and piety within his gross frame. But, though 'his pyramid rise
high unto heaven,' it is not everybody has fully realised his
psychological enormity, his nationality; the tendency has been to look
upon him rather as a man than as a type. I do not contend that it is
desirable to magnify type at the expense of personality; far from it,
for the personal quality is ever more appealing than the typical, but
one should not ignore the generalities which hide in the individual,
especially when they are evident. It is remarkable that Dr Johnson
should have so completely avoided this side of Falstaff's character, so
remarkable that I quote in full his appreciation of the fat Knight[5]:--

[Footnote 5: Following on the second part of _King Henry IV._, Dr
Johnson's edition, 1765.]

     'But Falstaff, unimitated, unimitable Falstaff! how shall I
     describe thee? thou compound of sense and vice; of sense which may
     be admired, but not esteemed; of vice which may be despised, but
     hardly detested. Falstaff is a character loaded with faults, and
     with those faults which naturally produce contempt. He is a thief
     and a glutton, a coward and a boaster; always ready to cheat the
     weak, and prey upon the poor; to terrify the timorous, and insult
     the defenceless. At once obsequious and malignant, he satirises in
     their absence those whom he lives by flattering. He is familiar
     with the prince only as an agent of vice; but of this familiarity
     he is so proud, as not only to be supercilious and haughty with
     common men, but to think his interest of importance to the Duke of
     Lancaster. Yet the man thus corrupt, thus despicable, makes
     himself necessary to the prince that despises him, by the most
     pleasing of all qualities, perpetual gaiety; by an unfailing power
     of exciting laughter, which is the more freely indulged, as his wit
     is not of the splendid or ambitious kind, but consists in easy
     scapes and sallies of levity, which make sport, but raise no envy.
     It must be observed, that he is stained with no enormous or
     sanguinary crimes, so that his licentiousness is not so offensive
     but that it may be borne for his mirth.'

A judgment such as this one is characteristic of Johnson; it is
elaborate, somewhat prejudiced, and very narrow. Johnson evidently saw
Falstaff as a mere man, perhaps as one whose ghost he would willingly
have taught to smoke a churchwarden at the 'Cheshire Cheese.' He saw
in him neither heroic nor national qualities and would have scoffed at
the possibility of their existence, basing himself on his own remark to
Boswell: 'I despise those who do not see that I am right....'

But smaller men than Johnson have judged Falstaff in a small way. They
have concentrated on his comic traits, and considered very little
whether he might be dubbed either giant or Englishman: if Falstaff is a
diamond they have cut but one or two facets. Now the comic side of
Falstaff must not be ignored; if he were incapable of creating laughter,
if he could draw from us no more than a smile, as do the heroes of
Anatole France, of Sterne, or Swift, his gigantic capacity would be
affected. It is essential that he should be absurd; it is almost
essential that he should be fat, for it is an established fact that
humanity laughs gladly at bulk, at men such as Sancho Panza and Mr
Pickwick. It is likely that Shakespeare was aware of our instinct when
he caused Hal to call Falstaff 'this bed-presser, this
horseback-breaker, this huge hill of flesh.' In the mathematics of the
stage fat = comedy, lean = tragedy; I do not believe that Hamlet was
flesh-burdened, even though 'scant of breath.'

Fat was, however, but Falstaff's prelude to comedy. He needed to be what
he otherwise was, coarse, salaciously-minded, superstitious, blustering,
cowardly, and lying; he needed to be a joker, oft-times a wit, and
withal a sleepy drunkard, a butt for pranks. His coarseness is comic,
but not revolting, for it centres rather on the human body than on the
human emotion; he does not habitually scoff at justice, generosity or
faithfulness, even though he be neither just, nor generous, nor
faithful: his brutality is a brutality of word rather than thought, one
akin to that of our poorer classes. Had Falstaff not had an air of the
world and a custom of courts he would have typified the lowest classes
of our day and perhaps stood below those of his own time. His is the
coarseness of the drunkard, a jovial and not a maudlin drunkard; when
sober he reacts against his own brutality, vows to '... purge and leave
sack, and live cleanly, as a nobleman should do.'

Falstaff led his life by a double thread. Filled with the joy of living,
as he understood it, limited by his desires for sack and such as Doll
Tearsheet, he was bound too by his stupidity. He was stupid, though
crafty, as is a cat, an instinctive animal; none but a stupid man could
have taken seriously the mockery of the fairies in Windsor Park; himself
it is acknowledges that he is 'made an ass.' We laugh, and again we
laugh when, in silly terror and credulity, he allows the Merry Wives to
pack him in the foul linen basket; where Falstaff is, there is also
rubicund pleasantry.

In the same spirit we make merry over his cowardice; the cowardice
itself is not comic, indeed it would be painful to see him stand and
deliver to Gadshill, if the surrender were not prefaced by the deep
grumbles of a man who suspects that Hal and Poins have captured his
affections with drugs, who acknowledge that 'eight yards of uneven
ground is threescore and ten miles afoot' with him. The burlesque
conceals the despicable, and we fail to sneer because we laugh; we
forgive his acceptance of insult at the hands of the Chief Justice's
servant: it is not well that a knight should allow a servant to tell him
that he lies in his throat, but if leave to do so can be given in jest
the insult loses its sting. Falstaff is more than a coward, he is the
coward-type, for he is (like Pistol) the blustering coward. The mean,
cringing coward is unskilled at his trade: the true coward is the fat
knight who, no sooner convicted of embellishing his fight with
highwaymen, of having forgone his booty rather than defend it, can roar
that he fears and will obey no man, and solemnly say: ''Zounds! an' I
were at the strappado, or all the racks in the world, I would not tell
you upon compulsion.' The attitude is so simple, so impudent, that we
laugh, forgive. And we forgive because such an attitude could not be
struck with confidence save by a giant.

A giant he is, this comic and transparent man. There is nothing
unobtrusive in Falstaff's being; his feelings and his motives are large
and unmistakable. His jolly brutality and mummery of pride are in
themselves almost enough to ensure him the crown of Goliath, but add to
these the poetry wrapped in his lewdness, the idealistic gallantry which
follows hard upon his crudity, add that he is lawless because he is
adventurous, add simplicity, bewilderment, and cast over this
temperament a web of wistful philosophy: then Falstaff stands forth
enormous and alone.

Falstaff is full of gross, but artistic glee; for him life is epic and
splendid, and his poetic temperament enables him to discover the beauty
that is everywhere. It may be that Henry IV. rightly says: 'riot and
dishonour stain the brow of my young Harry,' but it may be also that
the young prince is not unfortunate in a companion who can find grace in
highwaymen: '... let us not that are squires of the night's body be
called thieves of the day's beauty: let us be Diana's foresters,
gentlemen of the shade, minions of the moon; and let men say, we be men
of good government, being governed as the sea is, by our noble and
chaste mistress the moon, under whose countenance we steal.' Falstaff is
big with the love of life and ever giving birth to it; he is the spirit
of the earth, a djinn released whom none may bottle. Because of this he
is lawless; he cannot respect the law, for he can respect no limits; he
bursts out from the small restrictions of man as does his mighty paunch
from his leather belt. It is hopeless to try to abash him; force even,
as embodied in the Chief Justice, does not awe him overmuch, so well
does he know that threats will not avail to impair his pleasure.
Falstaff in jail would make merry with the jailers, divert them with
quips, throw dice and drink endlessly the sack they would offer him for
love. He cannot be daunted, feeling too deeply that he holds the ball of
the world between his short arms; once only does Falstaff's big, gentle
heart contract, when young Hal takes ill his kindly cry: 'God save thee,
my sweet boy!' He is assured that he will be sent for in private, and it
is in genuine pain rather than fear he cries out: 'My lord, my lord!'
when committed to the Fleet.

In this simple faith lies much of Falstaff's gigantic quality. To
believe everything, to be gullible, in brief to be as nearly as may be
an instinctive animal, that is to be great. I would not have Falstaff
sceptical; he must be credulous, faithfully become the ambassador of
Ford to Ford's wife, and be deceived, and again deceived; he must
believe himself loved of all women, of Mistress Ford, or Mistress Page,
or Doll Tearsheet; he must readily be fooled, pinched, pricked, singed,
ridiculously arrayed in the clothes of Mother Prat. One moment of doubt,
a single inquiry, and the colossus would fall from his pedestal, become
as mortal and suspicious men. But there is no downfall; he believes and,
breasting through the sea of ridicule, he holds Mistress Ford in his
arms for one happy moment, the great moment which even a rain of
potatoes from the sky could not spoil. It could not, for there echoes
in Falstaff's mind the sweet tune of 'Green Sleeves':

  'Greensleeves was all my joy,
  Greensleeves was my delight,
  Greensleeves was my heart of gold,
  And who but Lady Greensleeves?'

It is natural that such a temperament should, in the ordinary sense,
breed lies. Falstaff does and does not lie; like Tartarin he probably
suffers from mirage and, when attacked by highwaymen, truly sees them as
a hundred when, in fact, they are but two. But he is not certain, he is
too careless of detail, he readily responds when it is suggested he lies
and makes the hundred into a mere sixteen. Falstaff the artist is either
unconscious of exaggeration, therefore truthful, or takes a childish
pleasure in exaggerating; he is a giant, therefore may exaggerate, for
all things are small relatively to him. If the ocean could speak none
would reproach it if it said that fifty inches of rain had fallen into
its bosom within a single hour, for what would it matter? one inch or
fifty, what difference would that make to the ocean? Falstaff is as the
ocean; he can stand upon a higher pedestal of lies than can the mortal,
for it does not make him singular. Indeed it is this high pedestal of
grossness, lying, and falsity makes him great; no small man would dare
to erect it; Falstaff dares, for he is unashamed.

He is unashamed, and yet not quite unconscious. I will not dilate on the
glimmerings that pierce through the darkness of his vanity: if anything
they are injurious, for they drag him down to earth; Shakespeare
evidently realised that these glimmerings made Falstaff more human,
introduced them with intention, for he could not know that he was
creating a giant, a Laughter God, who should be devoid of mortal
attributes. But these flecks are inevitable, and perhaps normal in the
human conception of the extra-human: the Greek Gods and Demigods, too,
had their passions, their envies, and their tantrums. Falstaff bears
these small mortalities and bears them easily with the help of his
simple, sincere philosophy.

It is pitiful to think of Falstaff's death, in the light of his
philosophy. According to Mr Rowe,[6] 'though it be extremely natural,
"it" is yet as diverting as any part of his life.' I do not think so,
for hear Mrs Quickly, the wife of Pistol: 'Nay, sure, he's not in hell:
he's in Arthur's bosom, if ever man went to Arthur's bosom. A' made a
finer end, and went away, an it had been any christom child; a' parted
just between twelve and one, even at the turning o' the tide: for after
I saw him fumble with the sheets, and play with flowers, and smile upon
his fingers' ends, I knew there was but one way; for his nose was as
sharp as a pen, and a' babbled of green fields. "How now, Sir John!"
quoth I: "what, man! be of good cheer!" So a' cried out, "God, God,
God!" three or four times: now I, to comfort him, bid him a' should not
think of God; I hoped there was no need to trouble himself with any such
thoughts yet. So a' bade me lay more clothes on his feet; I put my hand
into the bed, and felt them, and they were as cold as any stone; then I
felt to his knees, and so upward, and upward, and all was as cold as any

[Footnote 6: _Account of the Life and Writings of Shakespeare._]

It is an incredible tale. Falstaff to die, to be cold, to call
mournfully upon his God ... it is pitiful, and as he died he played
with flowers, those things nearest to his beloved earth. For he loved
the earth; he had the traits of the peasant, his lusts, his simplicity,
his coarseness and his unquestioning faith. His guide was a rough and
jovial Epicureanism, which rated equally with pleasure the avoidance of
pain; Falstaff loved pleasure but was too simple to realise that
pleasure must be paid for; the giant wanted or the giant did not want,
and there was an end of the matter. He viewed life so plainly that he
was ready to juggle with words and facts, so as to fit it to his
desires; thus, when honour offended him, he came to believe there was no
honour, to refuse God the death he owed him because of honour: 'Yea, but
how if honour prick me off when I come on? how then? Can honour set a
leg? No. Or an arm? No. Or take away the grief of a wound? No. Honour
hath no skill in surgery then? No. Who hath it? he that died o'
Wednesday. Doth he feel it? No. Doth he hear it? No. It is insensible
then? Yea, to the dead. But will it not live with the living? No. Why?
Detraction will not suffer it. Therefore I'll none of it; honour is a
mere scutcheon; and so ends my catechism.'

Casuist! But he was big enough to deceive himself. Such casuistry was
natural to the Englishman of Falstaff's day, who took his Catholicism as
literally as any Sicilian peasant may take his to-day. Of Falstaff's
unquestioning faith there is no doubt at all; his familiar modes of
address of the Deity, his appeal when dying, his probable capacity for
robbing a friar and demanding of him absolution, all these are
indications of a simplicity so great that casuistry alone could rescue
him from the perilous conclusions drawn from his faith. This is a
difficulty, for Falstaff is not entirely the Englishman of to-day; he is
largely the boisterous, Latinised Englishman of the pre-Reformation
period; he is almost the typical Roman Catholic, who preserved through
his sinful life a consciousness that faith would save him. But the human
sides of Falstaff are wholly English; his love of meat and drink, his
sleepiness, his gout, his coarseness (which was free from depravity),
all these live to-day in the average Englishman of the
well-to-do-classes, that Englishman who dislikes the motor-car but
keeps a hunter he is too fat to ride, who prefers suet pudding to any
hotel _bavaroise_, and who, despite his gout (inherited from Falstaff),
is still a judge of port.

That Englishman is not quite Falstaff, for he has lost his gaiety; he
does not dance round the maypole of Merrie England; he is oppressed by
cares and expenditures, he fears democracy and no longer respects
aristocracy: the old banqueting-hall in which Falstaff rioted is
tumbling about his ears. Yet he contains the Falstaffian elements and
preciously preserves them. He is no poet, but he still enshrines within
him, to burst out from among his sons, the rich lyrical verse which, Mr
Chesterton truly says, belongs primarily to the English race. The poetry
which runs through Falstaff is still within us, and his philosophy
radiates from our midst. The broad tolerances of England, her taste for
liberty and ease, her occasional bluster and her boundless conceit, all
these are Falstaffian traits and would be eternal if admixture of Celtic
blood did not slowly modify them. Falstaff contains all that is gross in
England and much that is fine; his cowardice, his craft, his capacity
for flattery are qualifying factors, for they are not English, any more
than they are Chinese: they are human, common. But the outer Falstaff is
English, and the lawless root of him is yet more English, for there is
not a race in the world hates the law more than the English race. Thus
the inner, adventurous Falstaff is the Englishman who conquered every
sea and planted his flag among the savages; he is perhaps the Englishman
who went out to those savages with the Bible in his hand; he is the
unsteady boy who ran away to sea, the privateersman who fought the
French and the Dutch; he is the cheerful, greedy, dull, and obstinate
Englishman, who is so wonderfully stupid and so wonderfully full of
common sense. Falstaff was never crushed by adversity: no more was the
English race; it was, like him, too vain and too optimistic, too
materially bounded by its immediate desires. It is not, therefore, wild
to claim him as the gigantic ancestor and kindly inspiration of the
priests, merchants, and soldiers who have conquered and held fields
where never floated the lilies of the French or the castles of the
Portuguese. Too dull to be beaten and too big to be moved, Falstaff was
the Englishman.


Exaggeration is a subtle weapon and it must be handled subtly. Handled
without skill it is a boomerang, recoils upon the one who uses it and
makes of him a common liar; under the sway of a master it is a long bow
with which splendid shafts may be driven into human conceit and human
folly. There have been many exaggerators in history and fiction since
the days of Sindbad, and they have not all been successful; some were
too small, dared not stake their reputation upon a large lie; some were
too serious and did not know how to wink at humanity, put it in good
temper and thus earn its tolerance; and some did not believe their own
stories, which was fatal.

For it is one thing to exaggerate and another to exaggerate enough. A
lie must be writ so large as to become invisible; it must stand as the
name of a country upon a map, so much larger than its surroundings as to
escape detection. One may almost in the cause of invention, parallel the
saying of Machiavelli, 'If you make war, spare not your enemy,' and say
'If you lie, let it not be by halves'; let the lie be terrific,
incredible, for it will then cause local anæsthesia of the brain, compel
unreasoning acceptance in the stunned victim. If the exaggerator shrinks
from this course his lie will not pass; it might have passed, and I
venture a paradox, if it had been gigantic enough. The gigantic quality
in lies needs definition; evidently the little 'white' lie is beyond
count, while the lie with a view to a profit, the self-protective lie,
the patriotic lie and the hysterical, vicious lie follow it into
obscurity. One lie alone remains, the splendid, purposeless lie, born of
the joy of life. That is the lie of braggadocio, a shouting, rich thing,
the mischievous, arch thing beloved of Münchausen. The Baron hardly lied
to impress his friends; he lied to amuse them and amuse himself. To him
a lie was a hurrah and a loud, resonant hurrah, because it was big

In the bigness of the lie is the gigantic quality of the liar. If, for
instance, we assume that no athlete has ever leapt higher than seven
feet, it is a lie to say that one has leapt eight. But it is not a
gigantic lie: it is a mean, stupid lie. The giant must not stoop so
low; he must leap, not eight feet, but eight score, eight hundred. He
must leap from nebula to nebula. If he does not claim to have achieved
the incredible he is incredible in the gigantic sense. Likewise he is
not comic unless he can shock our imagination by his very enormity. We
do not laugh at the pigmy who claims an eight-foot leap; we sneer.
Humour has many roots, and exaggeration is one of them, for it embodies
the essential incongruous; thus we need the incongruity of contrast
between the little strutting man and the enormous feat he claims to have

If Münchausen is comic it is because he is not afraid; his godfather,
the _Critical Review_,[7] rightly claimed that 'the marvellous had never
been carried to a more whimsical and ludicrous extent.' Because he was
not afraid, we say 'Absurd person,' and laugh, not at but with him. We
must laugh at the mental picture of the Lithuanian horse who so bravely
carried his master while he fought the Turk outside Oczakow, only to be
cut in two by the portcullis ... and then greedily drank at a fountain,
drank and drank until the fountain nearly ran dry because the water
spouted from his severed (but still indomitable) trunk! The impossible
is the comedy of Münchausen; when he approaches the possible his mantle
seems to fall from him. For instance, in a contest with a bear, or
rather one of the contests, for Münchausen seemed to encounter bears
wherever he went, he throws a bladder of spirits into the brute's face,
so that, blinded by the liquor, it rushes away and falls over a
precipice. This is a blemish; a mortal hunter might thus have saved
himself with his whisky-flask; this is not worthy of Münchausen. For
Münchausen, to be comic, must do what we cannot do, thrust his hand into
the jaws of a wolf, push on, seize him by the tail and turn him inside
out. Then he can leave us with this vision before our eyes of the
writhing animal nimbly treated as an old glove.

[Footnote 7: December, 1785.]

In such scenes as these contests with bears, wolves, lions, crocodiles,
the Baron is the chief actor, plays the part of comedian, but he is big
enough to shed round himself a zone of comic light. The giant makes
comedy as he walks; notably in St Petersburg, he runs from a mad dog,
discarding his fur coat in his hurry, and that, so far as he is
concerned, is the end of the adventure. But a comic fate pursues
Münchausen, for his fur coat, bitten by the mad dog, develops
hydrophobia, leaps at and destroys companion clothing, until its master
arrives in time to see it 'falling upon a fine full-dress suit which
_he_ shook and tossed in an unmerciful manner.' That is an example of
the comic zone in which Münchausen revolves; round him the inanimate
breathes, is animated by his own life-lust until the 'it' of things
vanishes into the magic 'he.'

It is a pity, from the purely comic point of view, that the Baron should
so uniformly dominate circumstances. A victorious hero is seldom so
mirth-making as is the ridiculous and ridiculed Tartarin; we find relief
when Münchausen fails to throw a piece of ordnance across the
Dardanelles, and when he shatters his chariot against the rock he thus
decapitates and makes into Table Mountain. His failure, injurious to his
gigantic quality, is essential to his comic quality, for the reader
often cries out, in presence of his flaming victories: Accursed sun!
Will you never set? But the sun of Münchausen will never set. For a
moment it may be obscured by a passing cloud, while its powerful rays
rebelliously glow through the clot of mist and maintain the outline of
the Baron's wicked little eye, but set it cannot: is it not in its
master's power to juggle with moons and arrest the steeds of Apollo?

Demigodly, the giant must see but not judge, for one cannot judge when
one is so far away. Thus Münchausen has but few sneers for little
mankind; he observes that the people of an island choose as governors a
man and his wife who were 'plucking cucumbers on a tree' because they
fell from the tree on the tyrant of the isle and destroyed him, but he
does not seem to see anything singular in this method of government. Nor
has he an express scoff for the College of Physicians because no deaths
happened on earth while it was suspended in the air. The scoff is there,
but it is not expressed by Münchausen; he takes the earth in his hand,
remarks 'Odd machine, this,' and lays it down again. And it may be too
much to say 'odd'; though Münchausen expresses astonishment from time to
time it is not vacuous astonishment; it is reasonable, measured
astonishment, that of a modern tourist in Baedekerland. Thus, in his
view, politicians, rulers, pedagogues, apothecaries, explorers are not
subjects for his sling: they are curiosities.

He stares at these curiosities with simple wonder. He does not see the
world as a joke, but as an earnest and extraordinary thing. He is always
ready to be mildly surprised and he is never sceptical; that is, he
never doubts the possibility of the impossible when it happens to him:
he gravely doubts it when it happens to anybody else. Thus it is clear
that he does not think much of Mr Lemuel Gulliver, that his chief enemy
is his old rival Baron de Tott. If he were not so polite Münchausen
would call de Tott a plain liar; he refrains and merely outstrips the
upstart, as a gentleman should do. Münchausen sees the world in terms of
himself; he would have no faith in the marvellous escapes of von Trenck,
Jack Sheppard, and Monte Cristo. 'I,' says Münchausen, and the rivals
may withdraw. He does not even fear imitation, and if he were confronted
with Dickens's story of the lunars in _Household Words_, or with his
French imitator, M. de Crac, he would chivalrously say: 'Most
creditable, but I....' Nothing in Münchausen is so colossal as his 'I.'
Like the Gauls he fears naught, save that the sky will fall upon his
head, and I am not sure that he fears even that: the accident might
enable him to make interesting notes on heaven.

There is, perhaps, unjustified levity in this surmise of mine, for
Münchausen is a pious man. When, in Russia, he covers an old man with
his cloak, a voice from heaven calls to him: 'You will be rewarded, my
son, for this in time.' It must have been the voice of St Hubert, the
patron to whom Münchausen readily paid his homage, for Münchausen simply
believed in him, liked to think that 'some passionate holy sportsman, or
sporting abbot or bishop, may have shot, planted, and fixed the cross
between the antlers of St Hubert's stag.' But his piety is personal; he
believes that the voice is for him alone, that St Hubert is his own
saint. Gigantic Münchausen shuts out his own view of the world. His
shadow falls upon and obscures it. That is why he so continuously brags.
The most resolute horseman shrinks from a wild young horse, but
Münchausen tames him in half an hour and makes him dance on the
tea-table without breaking a single cup; the Grand Seignior discards his
own envoy and employs him on State business at Cairo; he makes a cannon
off a cannon-ball, 'having long studied the art of gunnery'; he does
away (in his third edition) with the French persecutors of Marie
Antoinette. He, always he, is the actor; he is not the chief actor, he
is the sole actor, and the rest of the world is the audience.

So simply and singly does he believe in himself that his gigantic
quality is assured. He disdains to imitate; when confined in the belly
of the great fish he does not wait like Sindbad, or wait and pray like
Jonah: Baron Münchausen dances a hornpipe. He is quite sure that he will
escape from the fish: the fish is large, but not large enough to contain
the spirit of a Münchausen; and he is sure that the story is true. There
is nothing in any adventure to show that the Baron doubted its accuracy,
and we must not conclude from his threat in Chapter VIII.: 'If any
gentleman will say he doubts the truth of this story, I will fine him a
gallon of brandy and make him drink it at one draught,' that he knew
himself for a liar. As a man of the world he recognised that his were
wonderful stories, and he expected to encounter unbelief, but he did not
encounter it within himself. No, Münchausen accepted his own enormity,
gravely believed that he 'made it a rule always to speak within
compass.' If he winked at the world as he told his tales it was not
because he did not believe in them; he winked because he was gay and,
mischievously enough, liked to keep the world on the tenterhooks of
scepticism and gullibility. He did not even truckle to his audience, try
to be in any way consistent; thus, when entangled with the eagle he
rides in the branches of a tree, he dares not jump for fear of being
killed ... while he has previously fallen with impunity some five miles,
on his descent from the moon, with such violence as to dig a hole nine
fathoms deep.

No, this precursor of Bill Adams, who saved Gibraltar for General
Elliott, simply believed. Like Falstaff, like Tartarin, he suffered from
mirage; though some of his adventures are dreams, monstrous pictures of
facts so small that we cannot imagine them, others are but the
distortions of absolutely historic affairs. No doubt Münchausen saw a
lion fight a crocodile: it needed no gigantic flight for him to believe
that he cut off the lion's head while it was still alive, if he actually
cut it off 'to make sure' when it was dead; and though he did not tie
his horse to a snow-surrounded steeple, he may have tied him to a post
and found, in the morning, that the snow had so thawed as to leave the
horse on a taut bridle; assuredly he did not kill seventy-three brace of
wildfowl with one shot, but the killing of two brace was a feat noble
enough to be magnified into the slaughter of a flight.

Münchausen lied, but he lied honestly, that is to himself before all
men. For he was a gentleman, a gentleman of high lineage the like of
whom rode and drove in numbers along the eighteenth century roads. His
own career, or rather that of his historian, Raspe,[8] harmonises with
his personal characteristics, reveals his Teutonic origin, and it
matters little whether he was the German 'Münchausen' or the Dutch
Westphalian 'Munnikhouson.' The first sentence of his first chapter
tells of his beard; his family pride stares us everywhere in the face;
Münchausen claims descent from the wife of Uriah (and he might have been
innocent enough to accept Ananias as a forbear), and knows that
_noblesse oblige_, for, says he to the Lady Fragantia when receiving
from her a plume: 'I swear ... that no savage, tyrant, or enemy upon the
face of the earth shall despoil me of this favour, while one drop of the
blood of the Münchausens doth circulate in my veins!' Quixotic
Münchausen, it is well that you should, in later adventures, meet and
somewhat humiliate the Spanish Don. For you are a gentleman of no
English and cold-blooded pattern, even though you buy your field-glasses
at Dollonds's and doubtless your clothes at the top of St James's
Street. Too free, too unrestrained to be English you maintain an air of
fashion, you worship at the shrine of any Dulcinea.

[Footnote 8: See Mr Thomas Seccombe's brilliant introduction to the
Lawrence and Bullen edition, 1895.]

Münchausen has no use for women, save as objects for worship; they must
not serve, or co-operate; for him they are inspiration, beautiful things
before whom he bows, whom he compliments in fulsome wise; he is
preoccupied by woman whenever he is not in the field; he has chivalrous
oaths for others than the Lady Fragantia; he makes the horse mount the
tea-table for the ladies' pleasure; he receives gracefully the proposals
of Catherine of Russia; he is the favourite of the Grand Seignior's
favourite; he is haunted by the Lady Fragantia, who was 'like a summer's
morning, all blushing and full of dew.'

Polite and gallant as any cavalier, Münchausen carries in him the soul
of a professor; he is minute, he kills no two score beasts, but exactly
forty-one; every little thing counts for him, as if he were a student:
Montgolfier and his balloon, architecture, and the amazing etymology for
which 'Vide Otrckocsus de Orig-Hung.' A swordsman and a scholar he
recalls those reiters who fled from kings into monasteries, there to
labour as Benedictines. And he has Teutonic appetites. Indeed nothing is
so Germanic as the Baron's perpetual concern with food: he remembers how
good was the cherry-sauce made from the cherries that grew out of the
stag's forehead; he gloats over a continent of cheese and a sea of wine;
even on eagleback he finds bladders of gin and good roast-beef-fruit;
bread-fruit, plum-pudding-fruit (hot), Cape wine, Candian sugar,
fricassee of pistols, pistol-bullets, gunpowder sauce, all these figure
in his memoirs. And if, sometimes, he is a little gross, as when he
stops a leak in a ship by sitting upon it, which he can do because he is
of Dutch extraction, he confirms completely the impression we have of
him: a gallant gentleman, brave in the field, lusty at the trencher, gay
in the boudoir.

Good Münchausen, you strut large about the Kingdom of Loggerheads,
debonair, tolerant, confident; you believe in yourself, because so large
that you cannot overlook yourself; you believe in yourself because you
tower and thus amaze humanity; and you believe in yourself because you
are as enormously credulous as you would have us be. Thus, because you
believe in yourself, you are: you need no Berkeley to demonstrate you.

The Esperanto of Art

It is established and accepted to-day that a painter may not like music,
that a writer may yawn in a picture-gallery: though we proclaim that art
is universal, it certainly is not universal for the universe. This
should not surprise us who know that van Gogh wrote: 'To paint and to
love women is incompatible'; van Gogh was right for himself, which does
not mean that he was right for everybody, and I will not draw from his
dictum the probably incorrect conclusion that 'To paint and to love
literature is incompatible.' But van Gogh, who had not read Bergson, was
indicating clearly enough that he knew he must canalise his powers,
therefore exclude from his emotional purview all things which did not
appertain directly to his own form of art.

Form of art! Those three words hold the difficulty of mutual
understanding among artists. While sympathising with van Gogh in his
xenophobia, I cannot accept that because certain artists did not
appreciate certain forms of art, no artist can understand another whose
form is alien to him. There is, there must be a link between the
painter, the sculptor, the writer, the musician, the actor, between the
poet in words and the one, to-day most common, who wishes to express
himself in the deeds of his own life. For art is, we are assured
thereof, all of one stuff. A symphony and a poem may be allotropic forms
of the same matter: to use a common simile, there is red phosphorus and
there is yellow, but both are phosphorus. Likewise there are different
forms of art, but there is only one art.

It is important that artists should understand one another so that
conflict may arise from their impressions, so that they may form a
critical brotherhood. Some, to-day, are able to grasp one another's
meaning and yet find it difficult, because every form of art has its own
jargon, to express what they mean; they can grasp that the painter
equally with the writer is striving to express himself, but they fail to
phrase their appreciation and their criticism because writers cannot
talk of masses or painters of style. There stands between them a hedge
of technique; so thick is it that often they cannot see the spirit of
the works; their difficulty is one of terms. Now I do not suggest that
the musician should study Praxiteles and himself carve marble; he is
better employed expressing his own passion in the Key of C. But I do
feel that if technical terms are the preserve of each form of art,
general terms are not; that _continuity_, _rhythm_, _harmony_, to quote
but a few, have a precise meaning, that they are inherent in no form of
art because they are inherent in art itself.

The following, then, is a forlorn attempt to find the common language,
the esperanto of art. It is made up of general terms (in italics); it
represents no more than a personal point of view, and is for this reason
laid down in a tentative spirit: it is not a solution but a finger-post.
Order being a necessary antidote for the abstruse, I have divided the
terms into groups, according to their nature, to the dimension they
affect or the matter to which they refer. Following this line of thought
we find that works of art affect us in virtue of four properties: their
power, their logic, their movement, and their attitude; this leads us to
four groups of properties:--

     Group A. (Volumetric): _Concentration_, _Relief_, _Density_,

     Group B. (Linear): _Linking Continuity_.

     Group C. (Kinetic): _Rhythm_, _Intensity_, _Reaction_, _Key_,

     Group D. (Static): _Grace_, _Balance_, _Harmony_.

This is a rough classification, for an opera does not necessarily
compare with a square rood of paint or a novel of Tolstoyan length;
indeed, on the volumetric basis, an opera may have less bulk than a

Group A. (Volumetric). By _concentration_ we mean the quality of
conveying a great deal within a small space. It follows that
_concentration_ is in inverse ratio to area, though it does not follow
that area is in inverse ratio to _concentration_. While _Anna Karenin_
is an enormous novel it is as concentrated as the sonnet of d'Arvers; on
the other hand, Francis Thompson's _Arab Love Song_ is more concentrated
than the complete works of Mrs Barclay; while any Rubens is more
concentrated than a modern miniature, an intaglio may be more
concentrated than twenty square yards of Delacroix. We nullify areas,
therefore, and must lay down that the test of concentration is the
effect: if the painter realises that the author has felt all he wrote,
if the writer sees that every line was necessary, then both can be sure
that they are respectively in presence of concentrated works.

Likewise with _relief_. A bas-relief may have none. A fresco may.
_Relief_ then is a matter of contrast, as is shown especially in the
mosaics of Taj Mahal; but its nature is easily seen if we compare prose
with paint:--

     'He stood at the edge of the sea while the waves crept towards him,
     nearer and nearer, sinuously flowing and ebbing, but ever nearer.

I give this as an instance, not as a fragment of literature. The lonely
'ever' gives _relief_ to the sentence of twenty-four words if we assume
that another long sentence follows. (If no sentence follows, 'ever' is
no longer _relief_ but _culmination_, see Group C.) The painter renders
the same effect by a more vivid line of foam in the middle distance,
the musician by interposing a treble motif between basses. Thus, if we
find variety of sentence, variety of tone, we have _relief_.

_Density_ and _Depth_ need not detain us long. Flaubert, the Psalms,
Jacob Epstein's _Oscar Wilde_, the Eroica and Velasquez all give the
sensation we call by those names; we mean by them that the work contains
a suggestion of something behind. Atmospheric quality, then, together
with thought withdrawn, echo unheard and space unlimned, are the bases
on which the two terms rest. The suggestion that this 'behind' exists is
of course essential, for we must not conclude that where there is
nothing to be seen there is something to be guessed: there must be no
guessing, but if a feeling of reserve is created then _density_ and
_depth_ exist.

Group B. (Linear). The quality of _linking_ is opposed to the quality of
discord, though a discord may prove to be a link. The most perfect
instances of _linking_ and _continuity_, for I almost identify the
terms, are the solar spectrum and the song of the lark, but in the field
of art we must be content with the gamut, the sequence of shades and
the concatenation of phrases. In prose:--

'The bird rose up into the air, and its wings beat slowly. The air was
laden with mist. The bird rose towards the clouds ...' is an instance
where there is a solution of continuity, which could be remedied if the
second sentence were related to the flight of the bird. And the same
lack of continuity would exist if the painter of a harlequin were to
make his skull-cap brown, if in a pause of some work of Locatelli the
musician interposed (however skilfully and gradually) some
characteristic Grieg chords.

It does not, of course, follow that a discord is discontinuous.
Providing it recurs within the scheme of the work, as the clashes in
_Elektra_, the sequence of discords becomes a sequence of links, and we
arrive at this paradox, that it is the solutions of continuity provide
the continuity, while the apparently continuous portions of the work are
carried by the discordant sections. Thus there is continuity in the
Louvre Ghirlandajo because equivalent, if minor, discords repeat the
motif of the red mantle in two other portions of the picture. The
relation of the discords is sometimes vital to more than continuity,
namely to _rhythm_ (Group C.).

With Group C. (Kinetic) we touch the most vital portion of the subject,
for the kinetic quality in art amounts to the quality of life in man.
And its chief component is _rhythm_. If _rhythm_ be taken as a condition
of internal movement within the inanimate, as a suggestion of expanding
and retracting life, of phrases (musical, pictorial, or literary) that
come to an inevitable resolution, it is seen that its presence in a work
of art must baffle until it is realised under what guise it appears. A
simple instance of prose rhythm is:--

     'The wayfarer stopped by the well. He looked within its depths and
     the water was far below. Idly he dropped a pebble between the
     walls; and it seemed minutes while he waited until the water sped
     its thanks.'

This is not metrical but rhythmic prose, and it would be wearisome if
the rhythm were not altered from paragraph to paragraph; short sentences
alternate with long at fixed intervals, or passive verbs are inset
between actives, while Gothic words, juxtaposed to Latin, or adjectival
combinations produce the same effect of rise and fall. The rhythm may be
regular as the movement of a woman's breast or spasmodic within the
regular as the flight of a gull.

Pictorially _rhythm_ is best gauged by certain tapestries based on the
flower backgrounds of Fergusson and Anne Estelle Rice. Assume a black
square of cloth; if the flowers are grouped thus from left to right:
dark red, pink, white, there is no rhythm, for the mental line is a mere
downgrade; if they are grouped: dark red, light blue, dark green, there
is no rhythm, for the mental line is a mere curve, a circular or perhaps
parabolic basin; but if the grouping amounts to: dark red, pink, light
blue, black, light green, cream, dark brown, there is a succession of
ebb and flow, rise and fall, _rhythm_. And this applies to drawing also,
if we accept that colour is indicated by line, that lines are colours
and that colours are tenses. That line can indicate colour is beyond
denial, for we accept that colour is not material while tone is
material. Colour being the _relation_ between an impression and the
impression of colourlessness, and tone being the resultant translation
of the intensity of the colour, then it is feasible to reproduce a red
and blue combination by a green and yellow combination of equal
contrast.[9] Therefore a combination of blacks may be made to balance a
combination of even seven colours, provided the relative intensity
(amount) of the blacks is in a true relation, in tone, with the relative
intensity of the colours. C. R. W. Nevinson achieves this with grays and
blacks, while Wyndham Lewis forgoes it.

[Footnote 9: Hence, _if the colour relations are maintained_, it is
correct to represent a blue-eyed rubicund man by red eyes and a violet

The quality of _rhythm_ being obvious in music needs no discussion; it
is the only form of rhythm the popular can recognise, but if we accept
the principles of grouping in phrase and colour, no musician will fail
to recognise a sarabande in a dance of Matisse or in the posturings of
Kellermann's clown.

As for _intensity_, with which goes _reaction_, for the first cannot
exist without the second, it is naturally brought about by the rhythmic
focusing of the subject's attention upon words, colours or notes.
Intensity is marked, for instance, by the triplets of the Venusberg
music, their continual slow billowing; it can be found, less easily, in
phrases and colours, but it must exist if the work is art. In prose it
is marked by a general nervousness of form and word:--

     'Upon the crag the tower pointed to the sky like a finger of stone,
     and about its base were thick bushes, which had burst forth into
     flower patches of purple and scarlet. The air was heavy with their

Here the _intensity_ is confined within the simile and the colour
scheme; the intervening space corresponds to the background of a
picture, while the final short sentence, purposely dulled, is the
_reaction_. Evidently (and all the more so as I have chosen a pictorial
effect) an analogous intensity could be obtained in a painting; the
flower patches could be exaggerated in colour to the uttermost limit of
the palette, while the reagent final sentence was figured by a filmy
treatment of the atmosphere. The limit to _intensity_ is the _key_ in
which the work is conceived. But the word _key_ must not be taken in
its purely musical sense; obviously, within the same piece the governing
motif must not be andante at the beginning and presto at the end, but in
artistic generalisations it must be taken as the spirit that informs
rather than as the technical rule which controls. Thus, in literature,
the _key_ is the attitude of the writer: if in one part of the book his
thought recalls Thackeray and in another Paul de Kock the _key_ has been
changed; and again if the left side of the picture is pointillist, the
right side cubist, the _key_ has been changed. I choose exaggerated,
almost absurd instances to make the point clear; in practice, when the
writer, the musician, or the painter appears to have seen consistently,
the key he has worked in is steadfast.

It should be said that uniformity of _key_ does not imply absence of
_reaction_; there is room, while the _key_ remains uniform, for the
juxtaposition of burlesque and romance, just as there is room in
Holbein's 'Ambassadors' for the incomprehensible object in the
foreground, said to embody a pun (Hohl Bein). But the _key_ needs to be
kept in mind as its maximum expression is the _culmination_ of the
effect. The _culmination_ of a speech is in its peroration; of a poem
in its incorporated envoi. Thus in the _Arab Love Song_, the culmination

  'And thou what needest with thy tribe's black tents
  Who hast the red pavilion of my heart?'

There is no difficulty there. But in painting the _culmination_ is more
subtle. It consists in the isolation of the chief object. Say that we
have from left to right: Black, yellow, dark brown, light blue, dark
red; then add on the extreme right, crimson, then gold. The picture
_culminates_ on the extreme right, with the result that attention is
directed there and that any object in that section of the picture
benefits by an influence about equivalent to that of footlights.
_Culmination_, involves the painter in great difficulties, for there
must be _culmination_, while an effect in the wrong place may destroy
the _balance_ of his work. This appertains to

Group D. (Static). Its chief quality, _balance_, is easily defined in
painting. Where there is correspondence between every section of the
picture, where no value is exaggerated, _balance_ exists. Hence the
failure of Futurism. While the Futurists understand very well
_intensity_, _reaction_, and _relief_, they refuse to give _balance_ any
attention at all; leaving aside the absurdity of rendering the mental
into terms of the pictorial, and taking as an instance one who was once
less Futurist than the Futurists, Severini, we see in his 'Pan-pan
Dance' how he detached himself from his school: he attained _balance_ by
giving every object an equal _intensity_. Such is also the tendency of
Wadsworth. Evidently if there are no clashes of tone-values, there must
be _balance_, and the instance serves to show that where there are
clashes of tone-values _balance_ must be ensured by the artist's hand.
There is always _balance_ in the purely decorative; in the realistic
there is _balance_ if the attention of the beholder is directed
simultaneously to the several points of _culmination_ indicated by the
_rhythm_ of the picture. Thus there is _balance_ in Rothenstein's
'Chloe' because the rocks on the right repeat the significance of the
rocks on the left.

Likewise in literature there is balance in certain groupings of

     'The waves rolled in. Every one, edged with foam, curved forward to
     kiss the sand. Silvery in the sun they rolled. And they came
     assured, as if they had forgotten that they had come at other
     dawns, only to retire before the inert earth.'

This is almost the exact 'short-long-short-long' of waves themselves,
and there is _balance_ because each short-long grouping figures one
curled wave. Nothing clarifies this idea so well as the Morse Code.

With perfect _balance_ go _grace_ and _harmony_. While _grace_ must
stand by itself as a not especially important quality because it is not,
need not, always be present, _harmony_ must be recognised as a synonym
of _balance_. It is only because _grace_ is often used where _harmony_
is meant that it finds a place in this glossary. Obviously there is no
_grace_ in Rodin's Balzac, while there is _grace_ in every note of Lulli
and Glück; by _grace_ we mean the quality of lightness we find in Pater,
Meredith, André Gide, Mozart, Watteau, Donatello: the instances suffice
to indicate the meaning, while _harmony_, if it be taken as a synonym of
_balance_, needs no further explanation than has been given for that

I venture to repeat in conclusion that there is nothing dogmatic about
these ideas. They are subject to criticism and objection, for we are
groping in the dark towards what Mr Leonard Inkster calls the
standardisation of artistic terms; if I prefer to his scientific way the
more inspired suggestion of 'esperanto,' that is a common language of
the arts, it is without fear of being called metaphysical. It may be
argued that a purely intellectual attempt to extract and correlate the
inspirations of forms of art is a metaphysical exercise doomed to
failure by its own ambition. I do not think so. For art is universal
enough to contain all the appeals, the sensuous, the intellectual, and,
for those who perceive it, the spiritual; but the sensuous is incapable
of explanation because sensuousness is a thing of perceptions which
vanish as soon as the brain attempts to state them in mental terms; and
the spiritual, which I will define much as I would faith as a
stimulation produced by a thing which one knows to be inexistent, also
resists analysis; if we are to bridge the gulfs that separate the
various forms of art, some intellectual process must be applied. Now it
may be metaphysical to treat of the soul in terms of the intellect, but
the intellect has never in philosophic matters refrained from laying
hands upon the alleged soul of man; I see no reason, therefore, to place
art higher than the essence of human life and grant it immunity from
attack and exegesis by the intellect. Indeed, the intellect in its
metaphysical moods is alone capable of solving the riddle of artistic
sensation. Once defined by intellect and applied by intellect, the
esperanto of the arts may well serve to reconcile them and demonstrate
to their various forms, against their will, their fundamental unity.

The Twilight of Genius


Given that the attitude of the modern community towards genius is one of
suspicion, modified by fear, I am inclined to wonder what a latter day
Tarquinius would do in the garden of contemporary thought. The old
Superb struck off the heads of those flowers grown higher than their
fellows; he was ancestor to those who persecuted Galileo, Copernicus,
Hargreaves, Papin, Manet, all the people who differed from their
brethren and thus engendered the greatest malevolence of which man is
capable: family hatred. I think Tarquinius has but himself to blame if
there are to-day so few heads to strike off. He has struck off so many
that in a spirit of self-protection genius has bred more sparingly. All
allowances made for the hope from which the thought springs, I feel that
we live on a soil watered by many tears, poor ground for genius to
flourish in, where now and then it may sprout and wither into success,
where glory is transmuted into popularity, where beauty is spellbound
into smartness. My general impression is that genius is missing and
unlikely of appearance; weakly, I turn to the past and say, 'Those were
the days'; until I remember that in all times people spoke of the past
and said 'Those were the days.' For the past is never vile, never ugly;
it has the immense merit of being past. But even so, I feel that in
certain periods, in certain places, genius could flourish better than it
does in the midst of our underground railways and wireless

Our period is perhaps poor in genius because it is so rich in talent.
There is so much talent that one can buy any amount of it for £400 a
year, and a great deal more for two lines in an evening paper. Talent is
the foe of genius; it is the offshoot from the big tree, which cannot
itself become a tree, and yet weakens the parent stock. Indeed, it may
be that the sunset of genius and the sunrise of democracy happened all
within one day. In former times, so few men had access to learning that
they formed a caste without jealousy, anxious to recruit from among
ambitious youth. The opportunities of the common man were small; the
opportunities of the uncommon man were immense. Perhaps because of this
three of the richest epochs in mankind came about; the self-made
merchant, writing to his son, was not wrong to say that there is plenty
of room at the top, and no elevator; but he should have added that there
was a mob on the stairs and on the top a press agency.

My general impression of the Medicis is a highly select society,
centring round a Platonic academy which radiated the only available
culture of the day, the Latin and the Greek. War, intrigue, clerical
ambition, passion, and murder, all these made of a century a coloured
background against which stand out any flowers that knew how to bloom.
The small, parochial society of the Medicis wanted flowers; to-day, we
want bouquets. It was the same in the big period that includes
Elizabeth, the period that saw Sydney, Beaumont, Sir Walter Raleigh,
Shakespeare, Spenser;--here again a nucleus of time haloed with the
golden dust of thought, as a fat comet draws its golden trail. The
Elizabethan period was the heroic time of English history, the time of
romance, because it sought the unknown land and the unknown truth,
because if some easily went from gutter to gallows, others as easily
found their way from gutter to palace. This is true also of the period
of Louis XIV., an inferior person, of barbarous vanity, of negligent
uxoriousness, untiring stratagem, but a great man all the same because
greedy of all that life can give, whether beautiful women, broad
kingdoms, or sharp intellects. To please him, Molière, Boileau, Racine,
and many of less importance, danced their little dance under the
umbrella of his patronage. They are still dancing, and Louis XIV., that
typical big-wig, stands acquitted.

When one thinks of these periods, one is, perhaps, too easily
influenced, for one compares them with one's own, its haste, its scurry
for money, its noisy hustle. One fails to see the flaws in other times,
one forgets the spurns that merit of the unworthy took, the crumb that
the poor man of thought picked up from the carpet of the man of place.
But still, but still ... like an obstinate old lady, that is all one
can say, one feels that those were better days for genius, because then
respectability was unborn.

It may be that already my readers and I are at war, for here am I,
glibly talking of genius, without precisely knowing what it is, as one
may talk of art, or love, without being able to define those things; all
one can do is to point out genius when one sees it. Carlyle was much
laughed at for saying that genius was an infinite capacity for taking
pains. That does not sound like genius; one imagines genius as ravelling
its hair, whatever ravelling may be, and producing the immortal Word to
the accompaniment of epileptic fits; absinthe also goes with genius very
well. But in reality genius, I suspect, is a tamer affair, and arises
easily enough in men like Rembrandt, who painted pictures because he
liked doing it and because the sitters paid him for their portraits;
more satisfactorily to Carlyle it arises in men like Flaubert, who
revealed much of his attitude in one phrase of his correspondence:
'To-day I have worked sixteen hours and have at last finished my page.'
Therein lies the difference between Flaubert and de Maupassant; it may
be, too, that Boileau was right in advising the poet a hundred times to
replace his work upon the bench, endlessly polish it, and polish it
again, but many instances of almost spontaneous creation confront us; it
is enough to quote that in six years, between 1602 and 1608, Shakespeare
appears to have written eleven plays, among them _Julius Cæsar_,
_Hamlet_, _Othello_, _Macbeth_, and _King Lear_. What shall we say then
of that vague thing, genius, which is to mankind what the thing some
call soul is to man? For my part, I believe it to be volcanic rather
than sedimentary. It is as if the spirit of the race had accumulated in
a creature, the spirit of life claiming to be born. Genius will out, but
it is most frequent in certain periods of human history, such as the
Elizabethan or Medician, in certain places, such as France, Italy, and
the Low Countries, under certain influences, such as oppression, war,
revolution, or social decay. That is an interesting catalogue, and if
history repeats itself, the future for genius, as evidenced particularly
in art, would be black, for there has been no period where comfort, ease
and security bred genius. It is as if the plant needed something to
push against. Every day life becomes more secure, justice more certain,
property more assured; humanity grows fat, and the grease of its comfort
collects round its heart. It is difficult to imagine genius flourishing
in a world perfectly administered by city councils.

It was not in worlds such as ours that the geniuses of the past sped
their flights, but in anxious, tortured, corrupt, starving worlds,
worlds of heaping ambition and often tottering fortune. Napoleon lived
in one of those periods of reconstruction, when the earth bears new
life, restores what the earth has just destroyed, a period very like
this war (a hopeful sign, though I make no prophecies); but if Napoleon
is remembered, it is not only as a conqueror, for other men have won
battles and the dust of their fame is mingled with the dust of their
bones. His genius does not lie in his military skill, in his capacity to
pin a wing while piercing a centre, nor in his original idea that guns
should be taken from battalions and massed into artillery brigades. The
genius of Napoleon lies in the generality of his mind, in his
understanding of the benefits the State would derive from the tobacco
monopoly, in his conception of war as the victory of the transport
officer, in his conception of peace as the triumph of law, which is the
French Civil Code. It manifested itself when Napoleon in the middle of
flaming Moscow, in a conquered country, surrounded by starving troops
and massing enemies, could calmly peruse the law establishing the French
state-endowed theatres and sign it upon a drumhead. That is typical, for
genius is both general and particular. It is the quality to which
nothing that is human can be alien, whether of mankind or of man.
Lincoln was a man such as that; his passionate advocacy of the negro,
his triumph at Cooper Union, his Gettysburg dedication, his
administrative capacity, all that is little by the side of his one
sentiment for the conquered South: 'I will treat them as if they had
never been away.'

The detail, which is the prison house of the little man, is the
exercising ground of the great one. Such men as Galileo showed what
brand it was they would set upon history's face; the soul of Galileo is
not in the telescope, or in the isochronism of the pendulum oscillation,
or even in the discovery (which was rather an intuition) of the
movement of the earth. All of Galileo is in one phrase, when poor,
imprisoned, tortured and mocked, heretic and recusant, he was able to
murmur to those who bade him recant: 'Still she moves.' It is in all of
them, this general and this particular, in Leonardo, together painter,
mathematician, architect, and excellent engineer, but above all father
of La Gioconda. It is in Beethoven, not so much in the 'Pathétique' or
in the 'Pastorale,' as in the man who, through his deafness, could still
hear the songs of eternity. Special and general were they all; one comes
to think that genius is together an infinite capacity for seeing all
things, and an infinite capacity for ignoring all things but one.


Life goes marching on, who shall claim the laurel wreath that time
cannot wither? So many, still living or recently dead, have postured so
well that it is hard to say what will be left when they have been
discounted at the Bank of Posterity. Politicians, writers, men of
science, highly prized by their fellows ... what living court is cool
enough to judge them? Who shall say whether Rodin will remain upon a
pedestal, or whether he will fall to a rank as low as that of Lord
Leighton? Likewise, Dr Ehrlich saw the furrow he ploughed crossed by
other furrows; it may be that the turbulent, inquisitive mind of Mr
Edison may have developed only fascinating applications, and not have,
as we think, set new frontiers to the field of scientific thought. Those
are men difficult to fix, as are also men such as Lord Kitchener and
Henry James, because they are too close to us as persons to be seen
entirely, and yet too far for us to imagine the diagrams of their
personalities. We are closer to some others, to people such as Mr Thomas
Hardy, even though he stopped in full flight and gathered himself
together only to produce the _Dynasts_ in a medium which is not quite
the one he was born to. We are fairly close, too, to Mr Anatole France,
to his gaiety, his malignancy, his penetration without excessive pity.
Mr Anatole France is one of the great doubtfuls of our period, like the
Kaiser and Mr Roosevelt. Like both, he has something of the colossal,
and like both he suggests that there were, or may be, taller giants.
For as one reads Mr Anatole France, as he leads one by the hand through
Ausonian glades, the shadow of Voltaire haunts one wearing a smile
secure and vinegary. Likewise, when we consider the Kaiser, where depth
has been transmuted into area, where responsibility to his own pride
borders upon mania, appraisal is difficult. The Kaiser, judging him from
his speeches and his deeds, appears to have carried the commonplace to a
pitch where it attains distinction. He has become as general as an
encyclopædia; he is able to embrace in a single brain theocracy and
local government, official art and zoology; he has carried respect for
the family to the limit of patriarchal barbarity ... one loses all sense
of proportion and ceases to know whether he is colossal or monstrous. In
many ways one discovers brotherhood in people like Cecil Rhodes, the
Kaiser, and Mr Roosevelt. All three are warriors in a modern Ring, and
all three suggest displacement from their proper period, for I imagine
the Kaiser better as a Frederick Barbarossa, Cecil Rhodes as an
all-powerful Warren Hastings, and Mr Roosevelt as a roaring Elizabethan
sailor, born to discover and ravage some new kind of Spanish Main.

They are not easily passed through the gauge of criticism, these people.
Their angles have not worn off, so that many doubtfuls, such as Carlyle,
Whitman, de Maupassant, Beaconsfield, people who dumped themselves in
history and stayed there, because one did not know how to move them, put
their names down as candidates to the immortal roll. Excepting perhaps
Mr Anatole France, it is difficult to tell where they will pass
eternity. If we cannot say who of our fathers may claim the laurel
wreath, how can we choose from among ourselves? We judge our fathers so
harshly that it is a comfort to think we may be as unjust to our sons
... but what of ourselves? of this generation which feels so important
that it hardly conceives a world without itself? a generation like other
generations in the Age of Bronze, that felt so advanced because the Age
of Stone had gone by? Let us name nobody, and consider rather the times
in which we sow our seeds.

They are not very good times, these modern ones. Historically speaking,
they are not the sort of times which favour genius; though it be true
that genius is volcanic, there are conditions which assist its birth,
which give tongues to inglorious Miltons. It is so, just as certain
times and conditions can stifle even genius, and the paradox is that
both are the same. Poverty can kill genius, and it can make it;
oppression may clip its wings or grow its feathers; disease may sap its
strength, or flog its nerves. Epictetus was a slave. But one feature of
our period is its devouring hatred of anything worthy of being called
art; thus have come about two decays, that of the artist and that of
art. A vivid and vulgarised world has deprived us of an aloof audience,
for the aristocrats who once were cultured are photographed in the
papers. Haste, crudity, sensation, freedom from moral, religious, social
ties have brought about a neglect of fine shades. Thus, when I consider
the conditions created in every civilised State by the present war, when
speech is repressed, where letters are read, rebels banished, where the
songs of the muses are drowned by the yapping of the popular curs, I
find hope in humanity, because it is a sleepy thing and often asserts
its greatness when it is most reviled. To take a minor instance (and
let us not exaggerate its value), I doubt if post-impressionists,
futurists, cubists, and such like would have achieved the little they
have, if they had not felt outcast, a sort of gray company marching into
the lonely dawn. Oh yes! some of them (_but not all_) are small people,
absurd people, many of them; they will be followed by other people quite
as small and as petty, and they will set to work to astonish the
bourgeois. At that game, one of them may manage to stagger humanity.

I suspect that three main qualities affect the occurrence of genius: the
emotional quality of a period, its intellectual and its romantic
quality. It is not easy to discern those three qualities in the modern
world, because of the growing uniformity of mankind. The individual is
greater than the citizen, and yet a deep-dyed national livery brings him
out. As civilisation spreads, in all white countries other than Russia
it tends to produce a uniform type; at any rate, it produces uniform
groups of types. For instance, if we measure types by their anxiety to
gain money or status, by the houses in which they agree to live, by the
clothes they wear, the foods and the pleasures they like, we find
little difference between the industrial, districts of Lombardy and
Sheffield, the coal mines and factories of Lille, or those of
Pennsylvania. Likewise, if we compare elegance, hurry, display,
intellectual keenness, a man will find all he wants, whether he live in
Paris, in Vienna, in New York, or in London. (I have eaten dinner at the
Metropole, London, the Metropole, Paris, the Metropole, Brussels, and
the Continental, San Sebastian; and it was the same dinner everywhere,
more or less: Suprème de Volaille, Riz à l'Impératrice, etc.). Even the
farmers, those laggards, have lost so many of their ancient ways that
from Sussex to Kentucky identities have sprung up. The races, now that
railways and steamers have come, mingle freely, exchange dishes, plays,
and entangle themselves matrimonially in foreign lands. It was less so
in 1850, and it was hardly so in 1800. Following on travel, and on the
growth of foreign trade, the study of foreign languages has sprung up,
so that most of us are fit to become ambassadors or waiters. Education,
too, which in its golden age taught no man anything that would be of the
slightest practical use to him, that contented itself with making him
into a man of culture, has in all white countries set itself the task of
fitting men, by the means of languages, cheap science, geography and
book-keeping, to force life to pay dividends. Only life pays no
dividends; it merely increases its capital.

This similarity of life, induced by the modern applications of science,
the railway, the telegraph, the telephone, double-entry, the steamer,
the film, has denationalised man, and however many wars he may wage in
the cause of nationality, he will continue to grow denationalised,
because the contact of neighbours, which he cannot avoid, teaches him to
desire what they enjoy; he can attain his desire only by becoming more
like them. I doubt if this is the best atmosphere for the rise of

Retirement within self, followed by violent emergence, one of the
conditions of genius, is more easily attained in an enclosed community
of the type of ancient Florence than in a sort of international congress
like Chicago. The sensation of being a chosen people, felt by all strong
nationalities, such as the Elizabethan English, the 'Mayflower'
settlers, the Jews, the Castilians, provides the stimulus to pride,
which spurs into the gallop of genius a talent which might trot. Thus
the Chinese potters, and the Japanese painters of the past, produced
their unequalled work ... while of late years they have taken to
European ways, and have come to paint so ill that they are admired in
respectable drawing rooms. Molière was a Frenchman; his humour is not
that of Falstaff, nor of Aristophanes, nor of Gogol. He was a Frenchman
first, and a genius after. Likewise, Cervantes was a Spaniard, and
Turgenev a Russian. None of them could be anything else. But they did
not carry their nation: they rode it; though genius express the world,
its consciousness of its own people expresses that people. The
nationality of a man of genius is a sort of tuning fork which tells him
all the time whether his word or his deed is ringing true to his own

It is not wonderful that in such conditions the emotional quality of our
time should be hard to discern, for it is not easy to survey a boiling
world. That quality can be expressed only through four media--art,
patriotism, religion, and love. Art, which, of course, includes letters,
is not in a very good state. There is the one sculptor, Jacob Epstein,
who detaches himself and makes a bid for a pedestal; Mestrovic, his
Serbian rival, tends to the colossal rather than to the great. In
painting, the chaos is perhaps pregnant, but it is still chaos; not one
of our young cubists or futurists can pretend to be anything more than a
finger-post. In literature, Italy, Germany, and Austria are desert,
while France, represented by men such as Mr Paul Fort, the late Marcel
Proust, the much boomed Mr Barbusse, and Mr Claudel, seems to have
reached the nadir of decay. If the writers of the day were not mortal
and the future leisurely, the Germans (though they have nothing to boast
of) might well argue that France should take her farewell benefit.
England is happier, even though nearly all her young novelists are
afflicted with a monstrous interest in themselves, and an equally
monstrous lack of sympathy with everybody else. They are in reaction
against surrounding life, builders and destroyers as well as showmen.
Their seniors, who once bid so high, such as Mr Bennett and Mr Wells,
have taken the fatal plunge which leads to popularity, but the younger
ones have produced one man, Mr D. H. Lawrence, prejudiced, diseased in
outlook, hectic and wandering, who has the exquisite feeling for natural
beauty, the rhapsodic quality which may make of him a prose Shelley, if
not a prose neurotic. America does not come in yet; she is too old to
bring forth the genius of the pioneer, too young to bring forth the
genius of maturity. The time of the Hawthornes has gone, and the time of
the Dreisers is not yet. It is true, though likely to be disputed, that
in men such as Mr Theodore Dreiser and Mr Owen Johnson, men who write
badly and vulgarly, whose works are either sentimental or brutish,
America must look to her claimants for literary fame. Those men are
alive; they will fail like Jack London, but they indicate the trend of
America and represent the violent quality of her fresh-painted
civilisation. Other men, in other times, will sing their songs; to a
country like America, what is five hundred years?

The emotional quality of our time is no better expressed in patriotism,
however prevalent this emotion may be just now. The patriotism which
to-day reigns in the world is rather a negative thing; it consists much
more in hating enemies than in loving friends. It is a smoky, dusty,
bloody, angry affair. It calls up every heroism and every ugliness.
There is so much drama in the world that our sentiments grow dramatic,
and we come to depend for our patriotic feelings upon the daily stimulus
of newspapers, uniforms, and bands. All that is ephemeral because it
lacks exaltation. The Germans enjoy a rather more romantic patriotism,
because they are the most aggressive and the most guilty of what is
happening ... and it is an irony that in this guilt should be found the
ancient strength that made the unjust man flourish as the green bay
tree. But their patriotism is, perhaps, the most shoddy, the most
artificial of all: rhapsodies about the ancient German gods are
ridiculous when we think that Germany is mainly a country of aniline
factories; when they call a trench line the Siegfried Line (why not the
Schopenhauer Redoubt?) they are ridiculous. Patriotism is not found in
such theatrical eccentricities, any more than it is found in the
constant courage of those who defend. Patriotism is in the brain, not
in the body; it is love rather than hatred, a builder, not a destroyer.
It opens its eyes towards fair horizons and plans cities in the clouds.
It is an eternally young man who dreams dreams. Patriotism sailed with
Columbus, held the hand of Necker and Witte, striving to reform their
countries; it was in Grant rather than in the gallant Robert Lee.
Patriotism so conceived does not haunt the streets, for it is a drab
affair to give all one's energy to make the justice of one's country
clean, to provide for its aged and its sick, to help it to grow learned
or liberal. In peace times there are no patriots; there are only

We are told that emotion repressed finds its outlet in religion, but
that is not true, for religion is now a decaying force, and every day
rebellion grows against dogma. Let it be clear that ethics are not
decaying, but these have nothing whatever to do with religion. In the
true conception of religion many a rogue has gone to heaven, because by
faith he gave it existence, while many a well-living churchwarden haunts
another region, possibly because it was the only one that he could
conceive. The modern world does not meditate on religion. It is
interested in right and wrong, but it desires no extra-human solution of
the problem of life, unless it can find it in the test-tube of a
laboratory. It frankly does not care, and so the afflatus which swelled
such triumphant men as St Augustine, Ignatius of Loyola, Torquemada,
Mahomet, seeks sails to fill, but finds only steamboats. Religion, in
its true meaning, an aspiration towards the divine, still exists among
the Brahmins, but in a state of such quietism that it is sterile; it is
lost to the whites. Differences of faith engender rivalry only, not
hate, which is the next best thing to love. The doom of the faiths was
written when their supporters lost the impulse to burn heretics.

Love is more fortunate, except that to-day too few bonds tie its wings,
for it is the everlastingly real thing in the world. Mankind was charmed
with its prowess in the age of stone, because it was the lyra upon which
mortal man always thought to sing an immortal song. Love still sings its
immortal songs, while the tramways go clanking by; it sings in
daisy-spangled meadows and by the side of gasometers; its voice can
dominate a nigger band, and there is no life it cannot embalm with the
ashes of incense. But even so, many things soil it, the need for money
in a civilisation where the gamble of life turns into an investment;
there is social position, too, of which Henry VIII. thought very little,
which means mainly that one always looks down upon somebody, always
looks up to somebody, and seldom at anybody. But even so the
satisfaction of love is too easy; if a man wishes to marry his cook, he
has only to get rich and to give good dinners. (He would ... obviously.)
He can be divorced and forgiven. No brutal duke can exile him or lock up
his beloved in a convent. There are no Montagues and Capulets to duel in
Piccadilly. A few banknotes and some audacity will buy the right to defy
anything; barriers are coming down; classes are rising, others falling,
and the time may not be far off when a Philadelphian maid will introduce
her negro bridegroom.


Many factors go towards lowering the tone of this mankind whence genius
should spring, as a madman or a god. One is our intense consciousness of
money. The discovery of money is recent, for the rich men of the Bible
wanted flocks and lands only so that they might eat well, drink well,
and wed fair women; the lust of Ahab was rather unusual. At other times
in Babylon, in Venice, wealth brought material benefits first, later
only distinction. Only with the rise of the middle class did wealth
become the greatest force, for it alone could make the middle class
equal with their fellows. As they could claim no lineage, they naturally
came to want to claim themselves better than their fellows; the merchant
princes of the Victorian period, their sideboards, barouches, and
sarcophagi, the American millionaires with their demon cars, their
Ritz-Carlton dinners, their investments in old masters, (guaranteed
mouldy), are natural consequences. Whereas in the seventeenth century
you could impress if you were a duke, in the twentieth century if you
become a millionaire you can stun. And you can stun only because
everybody admires you for being a millionaire, because, as Miss Marion
Ashworth perfectly says, 'there are people whom the mention of great
fortunes always makes solemn.'

Even potential genius has been touched by this. Ruskin, Thackeray, Diaz,
Kruger, all these loved money well, and all approached the state defined
by Oscar Wilde: 'to know the price of everything and the value of
nothing.' Love of money makes genius a laggard, for genius does not pay
except in a run too long for most men's breath. 'Too long!' ... that is
perhaps the cry of a century disinclined to take infinite pains.

With the demand for money goes the demand for fame. I doubt whether a
genius still unrevealed will accept the idea that he may not achieve
swift success. The fatal result is that potential genius is tempted to
take the necessary steps to 'get-famous-quick'; that is to say, it must
condescend. Instead of being one so high that none can understand him,
the genius must become one just high enough to be admired. Then he is
popular--and defeated, for as some Frenchman rightly said, he has
earned the wages of popularity, which are the same as those of glory ...
but paid out in coppers.

It is not altogether our fault, all this. The conditions in which we
live do not favour the breeding of titans. Mr Dreiser's 'titan,'
Cowperwood, his 'genius,' Witla, are fairly good instances of the modern
view of genius. They are blatant, stupid, acquisitive, full of the
vulgar strength which would have made of them successful saloon keepers.
They cannot help it; they dwell in a world like an international
exhibition, between a machine that can turn out seventeen thousand
sausages an hour and the most expensive Velasquez on record; they thrive
on the sweet draught of the soda fountain rather than on the honey of
Hymettus, while the sun sees his horses unharnessed from his chariot and
set to grinding out units of caloric power by the something or other
company. This does not suit genius. Genius needs solitude, true
solitude, not only a place where you cannot buy newspapers, but a place
where there are none _in the consciousness_. Genius needs to retreat
upon itself, to fecundate itself until from the nightmare of one life
is born the dream of another. Genius cannot find this solitude, because
the round globe hums as it spins, because it is alive with haste, with
deeds crowding into the fleet hour that is no slower nor more rapid
however crowded it may be, but only more hectic. We have come to a point
where noise is natural, where we cannot sleep unless trains roar past
our windows and newsboys cry murders to the unmoved night.

Literature has felt this of late years, and has retired into the country
to find silence, but it is so nervous that silence stuns it. That will
not last; many men of genius, Rembrandt, Whitman, Bach, Racine, felt
this need to withdraw, even though most of them, in the country or in
tiny towns, could well afford to mix with their fellows, because there
were not enough of them to make a mob. They had their opportunity and
could take it, and so they produced art which some thought to be an
unhealthy secretion of the intellect. Their followers will not be so
fortunate, and I have a growing vision of the world in the year 2500,
when there may be but one State, one language, one race, when railways
will have pushed their heads over the Himalaya at regular five-mile
intervals, when there will be city councils on the shores of Lake
Tanganyika, and Patagonia will stand first for technology. First?
Perhaps not--it may be worse. I feel there may be no first, but a
uniform level of mediocre excellence from which there will be no escape.

The intellectual prospects are better than the artistic, for the spirit
of education overhangs the planet. It is true that education does not
breed genius, but it breeds a type of man in whom arise intellectual
manifestations akin to genius. Modern science has probably a large
number of first principles to discover, and may have to destroy a good
many principles now established; it will not need education for this,
but it will need education to apply the new principles. A large mind can
apprehend without special education, and it may be true that Isaac
Newton traced the law of gravitation from the fall of an apple, that Mr
Edison was led to the phonograph by a pricked finger, but it is much
more true that the research man does not fluke upon the serum that will
neutralise a disease germ, but will discover it by endless experiment
and contrivance.

No educated man can discover a serum, or hope to design a multiphase
dynamo. To do this astonishing work man needs a substratum of general
and technical knowledge. This is being given him all over the world,
where the classics are slowly vacating the schools and more quickly the
universities, where elementary education is improving, where laboratory
work is beginning to mean more than bangs and smells, where science
applied to dyes, to foods, to metals, has established itself in a
generation as a sort of elder sister to the pure science which came to
us from alchemy. This goes further than science, which includes
mathematics; not only are there thousands of schools for engineers, but
the universities are developing on morphology, psychology, applied
philosophy, history, law, constitutional practice, etc. This is
happening all over the world and creating a sounder intellectual mind.
That mind is far too specialised, but still it is a trained mind, a
little more able than the old passionate mind to accept conclusions
which do not square with its prejudices.

In France and Germany education is mainly utilitarian, which I think
unfortunate, except from the point of view of intellectual production;
in England, the desire for 'useful' education has not yet gone very far
in the public schools, which still bring forth the admirable type of
idiotic gentleman, but already in the old universities of Oxford and
Cambridge there is a strong movement against compulsory Greek, which
will develop against compulsory Latin. As the new universities in the
manufacturing towns, Glasgow, Manchester, London, Leeds, Birmingham,
grow up, the movement will be precipitated at Oxford and Cambridge, for
they have always been kicked into leadership and no doubt will be kicked
again. In America the movement is perhaps more pronounced, but more
peculiar, because America appears to desire equally riches and culture.
Certainly, Yale and Harvard no longer hold over other centres the
hegemony which Oxford and Cambridge contrive to hold here. For America
has not yet had time to make castes; she has been too busy making a
great country.

I do not say that all this is agreeable. It is not, for education, once
too deeply rooted in the useless, is throwing out equally dangerous
roots into the useful. (As if we knew what is useful and what is useless
in a life that must end in a passage through the needle's eye!) I do not
like to think that a scholar should ask himself whether a subject will
pay; it is distasteful that he should learn Russian to trade in Russia,
and not to read Dostoievsky. There will be a reaction, for all fevers
fall. A period must come when a new Virchow leads a crusade for the
humanities, for philosophy, for the arts, and will make fashionable
'culture for culture's sake.' But before then the world must sink deeper
into materialist education. That education will profit the world
materially, because it makes the soil in which invention grows. It
appears to be a good thing that ten ears of corn should be made to grow
where once there grew but one, and so I suppose we must assume that it
is a good thing if a machine can be induced to produce a million
tin-tacks in ten minutes instead of half an hour, although I do not
quite know why we should assume it. It is true that the boys and girls
whom we draw from the poorer classes, whom we fill with dreams of
becoming young gentlemen in black coats, and perfect ladies, are likely
to produce a more nervous and intellectually acquisitive race, that they
are more observant, more anxious to apprehend intellectually than were
their forefathers, who only wanted to live. That class is to-day
producing the industrial chemist, the technical agriculturalist, the
electrician, the stone and timber expert, etc. The doctor, the
solicitor, even the clergyman, are intellectually better trained than
they were, more inclined to keep up-to-date by means of the journals of
their societies and of the latest books. I think that class is likely to
give us a sufficient group of Edisons, Pasteurs, Faradays, Röntgens. The
coming centuries will inevitably see scientific developments which we
only guess at: synthetic foods, synthetic fuels, metals drawn from the
sea, the restoration of tissues, the prolongation of life, the
applications of radio-active energy; we may assist at developments such
as systematic thought transference, enlarge valuable organs such as the
lungs, and procure the atrophy of useless ones such as the appendix. We
have practically created protoplasm, and may soon reach the amoeba ...
stumble perhaps a little further towards the triumph that would make man
divine: the creation of life. We have everything to help us. Early
genius was handicapped by having very little to build on, by finding it
almost impossible to learn anything, because up to the eighteenth
century anything and anybody intellectually valuable was burnt; early
genius could depend only upon itself; it could not correlate its
discoveries with those of others; nobody could assist it towards proof;
genius always had to begin again at the beginning, and as a result made
only occasional discoveries, so that the ignorance of the world was like
an uncharted sea, dotted here and there with a ship of knowledge, unable
to signal to another. That is over. No hypothesis is too daring, no
claim is too great; every specialist is inflamed with an insatiable
appetite for more knowledge, and on the whole he is willing to publish
his own. This means that thousands, some of them men of talent, are
co-operating on a single point, and it is quite possible that they will
achieve more than the solitary outcast whom his fellows could not

Such a future is not open to the arts, for they endeavour to-day to
appeal not to small classes but to 'the public'; this means that they
must startle or remain unknown. The artist was not always so tempted;
sometimes he sold himself to a patron, but there were not many of them,
and so the artist worked for himself, hoping at best that a limited
cultured class would recognise him: to-day he must sing to a deaf
public, and so is tempted to bray. It is therefore in science and
statesmanship that the romantic quality of the future will be found.
Romance is a maligned word, debased to fit any calf-love; romance is
pinkish, or bluish, tender, feeble, and ends in orange blossom, or, as
the case may be, tears by the side of mother's grave. That is the
romance of the provincial touring company. True romance is virile,
generous, and its voice is as that of the trumpet. Romance is the wage
of the watcher, who with ever-open eyes scans the boundless air in
eternal expectation that a thing unknown will appear. Romance is the
quest of the unknown thing; it is Don Quixote riding Rozinante, Vasco da
Gama for the first time passing the Cape; romance is every little boy
who dug in the back garden in the hope of reaching the antipodes. For
the romantic goal is always on the other side of the hill; everlastingly
we seek it in love, for the spirit of the loved thing is on the other
side of the hill, because, more exactly, what we seek is on the other
side of ourselves.

In our modern world it is possible to lead the romantic life, even
though the equator and the poles be accessible to the touring agencies,
even though most loves be contracts, for we live in times of
disturbance, where war, international and civil holds its sway, where
democracies stir, where men are exalted and abased. All times, no doubt,
were stirring, and after the fall of the Roman Empire, they followed
almost everywhere the same course. After the invasion of the barbarians,
romance fell into the hands of the rough knights, who established order
by the sword; it passed to the more spiritual knights, who went forth on
the Crusade; then the kings dominated the knights, creating States,
while the citizens raised their banners and exacted equality with kings;
the age of exploration came, the triumph of the merchant in India,
Virginia, Hudson's Bay; wealth arose, an ambitious foe of royal and
aristocratic power. Then came the revolutions, the American, the French,
the European struggle of 1848, the grand battle against slavery,
culminating in the United States. That was romance, all that excitement,
ambition, achievement, carrying its men high. If citizen slays
aristocrat, if rich man slays labour, now labour may slay rich man.
Divisions of blood have gone and every day fall lower, as the
Portuguese, the Chinese, the Russians set up republican states where no
blood is blue. That is not the end, for the modern division is economic,
and the romance of mankind will be the establishment of states where
strife will kill strife, where tolerance if not justice can reign, where
discontent will give way to a content not ignoble.

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries many romantic lives have been
led; startling persons have risen like meteors, and a few still burn
like suns. Men like Cecil Rhodes, like Mr Lloyd George, like President
Carranza, Mr Hearst, Mr Leiter, Mr Rockefeller, Prince Kropotkin, have
lived startling lives of contest and desire. In these movements still
obscure, where labour will array itself against wealth, where hideous,
tyrannic things will be done in the name of liberty, where hatred will
smooth the path to love, I think there will be extraordinary careers
because nothing is impossible to men, and a few things may become
possible to women. Many say too lightly that opportunity is not as great
as under Elizabeth; they forget, that if the arts are sick, other
careers are open; while one man could expect coronation by Elizabeth,
many can now aim at the high crown of the love or hatred of Demos.
Republics, too, can have their Rasputins.

The future of genius lies with science and the State, because the State
has effected a corner in power and romance. For art and letters there is
little hope in a growingly mechanical civilisation, because the modern
powerful depend upon the mob and not upon each other; therefore, as
Napoleon said, they must be a little like the mob--be the super-mob. In
their view, as in the view of those who follow them, art cannot rival
money and domination. The mob hates the arts whenever they rise high,
for the arts can be felt, but not understood; at other times it scorns
them. Therefore, the arts must suffer from the atmosphere of
indifference they must breathe. They will not vanish, for mankind needs
always to express itself, its aspiration, its content, its discontent;
those three can be expressed only in the arts. But this does not mean
that the arts can aspire to thrones or be worthy of them; as science and
the State dwarf them, they must become little stimulants, sing little
songs that will less and less be heard amid the roar of the spinning



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