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Title: The Book of This and That
Author: Lynd, Robert, 1879-1949
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                      THE BOOK OF THIS AND THAT



                               THE BOOK
                           OF THIS AND THAT

                                  BY
                             ROBERT LYND


                        MILLS & BOON, LIMITED
                           49 RUPERT STREET
                              LONDON, W.



                           _Published 1915_



                             IN MEMORIAM
                           WILLIAM BARKLEY



CONTENTS


                                                                PAGE
       I. SUSPICION                                                1
      II. ON GOOD RESOLUTIONS                                      9
     III. THE SIN OF DANCING                                      17
      IV. THOUGHTS AT A TANGO TEA                                 25
       V. THE HUMOURS OF MURDER                                   34
      VI. THE DECLINE AND FALL OF HELL                            43
     VII. ON CHEERFUL READERS                                     51
    VIII. ST G. B. S. AND THE BISHOP                              59
      IX. STUPIDITY                                               68
       X. WASTE                                                   77
      XI. ON CHRISTMAS                                            85
     XII. ON DEMAGOGUES                                           94
    XIII. ON COINCIDENCES                                        102
     XIV. ON INDIGNATION                                         111
      XV. THE HEART OF MR GALSWORTHY                             120
     XVI. SPRING FASHIONS                                        129
    XVII. ON BLACK CATS                                          137
   XVIII. ON BEING SHOCKED                                       145
     XIX. CONFESSIONS                                            154
      XX. THE TERRORS OF POLITICS                                162
     XXI. ON DISASTERS                                           170
    XXII. THE RIGHTS OF MURDER                                   180
   XXIII. THE HUMOUR OF HOAXES                                   188
    XXIV. ANATOLE FRANCE                                         197
     XXV. THE SEA                                                205
    XXVI. THE FUTURISTS                                          215
   XXVII. A DEFENCE OF CRITICS                                   224
  XXVIII. ON THE BEAUTY OF STATISTICS                            232


      _These essays have appeared from week to week in_ The New
      Statesman, _to the Editor and Proprietors of which I make
      grateful acknowledgment._

                                                         R. L.



THE BOOK OF THIS AND THAT



I

SUSPICION


Suspicion is a beast with a thousand eyes, but most of them are blind,
or colour-blind, or askew, or rolling, or yellow. It is a beast with a
thousand ears, but most of them are like the ears of the deaf man in
the comic recitation who, when you say "whiskers" hears "solicitors,"
and when you are talking about the weather thinks you are threatening
to murder him. It is a beast with a thousand tongues, and they are all
slanderous. On the whole, it is the most loathsome monster outside the
pages of _The Faërie Queene_. Just as the ugliest ape that ever was
born is all the more repellent for being so like a man, so suspicion
is all the more hideous because it is so close a caricature of the
passion for truth. It is a leering perversion of that passion which
sent Columbus looking for a lost continent and urged Galileo to turn
his telescope on the heavens. Columbus may, in a sense, be said to
have suspected that America was there, and Galileo suspected more than
was good for his comfort about the conduct of the stars. But these
were noble suspicions--leaps into the light. They are no more
comparable to the suspicions which are becoming a feature of public
life than the energies of an explorer of the South Pole are comparable
to the energies of one of those private detectives who are paid to
grub after evidence in divorce cases. One might put it a good deal
more strongly, indeed, for the private detective may in his own way be
an officer of truth and humanity, while the suspicious politician is
the prophet only of party disreputableness. He is like the average
suspicious husband, in the case of whom, even when his suspicions are
true, one is inclined to sympathise with the wife for being married to
so green-eyed a fool. Suspicion, take it all in all, is the most
tedious and scrannel of the sins.

It would be folly, of course, to suggest that there is no such thing
as justifiable suspicion. If you see a man in a Tube lift with his
hand on some old gentleman's watch-chain, you are justified in
suspecting that his object is something less innocent than to persuade
the old gentleman to become a Plymouth Brother. But the man of
suspicious temperament is not content with cases of this sort. He is
the sort of man who, if it were not for the law of libel, would
suspect the Rev. F. B. Meyer of having stolen La Gioconda from the
Louvre.

His suspicions are like those of a man who would accost you in the
street with the assertion that you had just murdered the President of
the United States or that you were hiding a stolen Dreadnought in your
pocket. Obviously there would be no reply to a man like this, except
that he was mad. He has got an idea into his head, and it is his idea,
and not the proof or disproof that the idea has any justification,
which seems to him to be the most important thing in the world.
Suspicion, indeed, is a well-known form of mania. Husbands suspect
their wives of trying to poison their beer; friends suspect friends of
planning the most extraordinary series of losses and humiliations for
them. Nothing can happen but the suspicious man believes that somebody
did it on purpose. He is like the savage who cannot believe that his
great-grandmother died without somebody having plotted it. Obviously,
to believe things like this is to put poison in the air, and it is not
surprising to learn that the savage goes out and murders the first man
he meets for being his great-grandmother's murderer. In this matter
civilised man is little better than the savage. He knows a little more
about natural laws, and so he is not suspicious of quite the same
things; but his suspicions, as soon as he begins to harbour them,
swiftly strip off his civilisation as a drunken man strips off his
coat in order to fight in the street. He becomes Othello while the
clock is striking. Straightway, all the world's his bolster; there is
no creature on earth so innocent or so beautiful that he will not
smother it in the insanity of his passion. Literature is to a great
extent an indictment of suspicion. _The Ring and the Book_ is an epic
of suspicion, and the _Blot on the 'Scutcheon_ is its tragedy. In the
story of Paolo and Francesca, again, we are made feel that the hideous
thing was not the love of Paolo and Francesca, but the murderous
suspicion of Malatesta. In this case it may be admitted, there was
justice in the suspicion; but suspicion is so very loathsome a thing
that, even when it is just, we like it as little as we like spying.
All we can say in its favour is that it is more pitiable. Men do not
go spying because there is a fury in their bosoms, but the suspicious
man is one who is being eaten alive at the heart. He wears the mark of
doom on his sullen brows as surely as Cain. For such a man the sun
does not shine and the stars are silver conspirators. He is a person
who can suspect whole landscapes; he sees a countryside, not as an
exciting pattern of meadow and river-bend and hills and smoke among
trees, but as an arrangement of a thousand farms with fierce dogs
eager for the calves of his legs. He can concentrate his affections on
nothing beautiful. He can see only worms in buds. He can ultimately
follow nothing with enthusiasm but will-o'-the-wisps. To go after
these he will leave wife and children and lands, and he will dance
into the perils of the marshes, into sure drowning--a lost figure of
derision or pity, according to your gentleness.

Nor is it only in private life that suspicion is a light that leads
men into bog-holes. Suspicion in public life is also a disaster among
passions. Englishmen who realise this must have noticed with
apprehension the growth of suspicion as a principle in recent years.

Suspicion is the arch-calumniator. That is why, of all weapons, it is
most avoided by decent fighters. Every honourable man would rather be
calumniated than a calumniator--every sensible man, too, for calumny
is the worst policy. It is clear that while the public men of a
country are prepared to believe each other capable of anything there
can be no more national unity than in present-day Mexico or than in
Poland before the partition. It is the same with parties as with
nations. The reason why revolutionary parties are so rarely successful
is that the members suspect not only everybody else but each other.
The more revolutionary the party is, the more the members are inclined
to regard each other, not as potential Garibaldis, but potential
traitors. For much the same reasons criminal conspiracies seldom
prosper. Crime seems to create an atmosphere of suspicion, and
co-operation among men who doubt each other is impossible. But it is
the same with every conspiracy, whether it is criminal or not. Secrecy
seems to awaken all the nerves of suspicion, even when one is secret
for the public good, and the conspirators soon find themselves
believing the most ludicrous things. Who has not known committees on
which some man or woman will not sit because of an idea that some
other member is in the pay of Scotland Yard? The amusing part of the
business is that this kind of thing goes on even in committees about
the proceedings of which there is no need of secrecy at all and at
which reporters from the _Times_ might be present for all the harm to
man or beast that is discussed. But there is a tradition of suspicion
in some movements that serves the purpose of enabling many innocent
people to lead exciting lives. I once knew a man who spent half his
time tying up his bootlaces under lamp-posts. He had an invincible
belief that detectives followed him, and he was never content till he
had allowed whoever was behind him to get past. Scotland Yard, I am
confident, knew as little of him as it does of Wordsworth. But it was
his folly to think otherwise, and for all I know he may be going on
with those slow but sensational walks of his through the London
streets at the present day. This is the amusing side of suspicion.
Unfortunately, it has also its base and mirthless side. Practically,
every bloody mistake--I use the word not as an oath--in the French
Revolution was the result of suspicion. It began with suspicion of the
Girondins; but suspicion of Danton and Robespierre soon followed.
Suspicion is a monster that devours her own children. Manifestly, no
movement can succeed in which men believe that their friends are viler
than their enemies. But in every movement, there are men who make a
trade of suspecting the leaders in their own camp, and the Socialist
movement is as much exposed to the plague as any other. Suspicion of
this kind, I think, is a bitter form of egoism. It is a trampling of
the suspected persons under one's own white feet.

Nor is it only in movements and in nations that suspicion plays havoc.
International suspicion is a no less costly visitor. We live in a
world in which every cup of tea we drink and every pipe of tobacco we
smoke pays toll to this ancient and gluttonous dragon. Every year each
country sets up huge altars of men and ships and guns to the beast,
but he is not satisfied. He demands universal power, and insists that
we shall give all our goods to him except just enough to keep
ourselves alive and that we shall not shrink even from offering up
human sacrifices at a nod of his head. Perhaps some day a new St
George will arise and release us from so shameful a subjection. Common
sense seems to have as little force against him as an ordinary
foot-soldier against Goliath. We feel the need of some miraculous
personage to put an end to our distress. Meanwhile, one may hail as
prophetic the continual organisation of new knighthoods for the
Suppression of the Dragon.



II

ON GOOD RESOLUTIONS


There is too little respect paid to the good resolutions which are so
popular a feature of the New Year. We laugh at the man who is always
turning over a new leaf as though he were the last word in absurdity,
and we even invent proverbs to discourage him, such as that "the road
to Hell is paved with good intentions." This makes life extremely
difficult for the well-meaning. It robs many of us of the very last of
our little store of virtue. Our virtue we have hitherto put almost
entirely into our resolutions. To ask us to put it into our actions
instead is like asking a man who has for years devoted his genius to
literature to switch it off on to marine biology. Nature,
unfortunately, has not made us sufficiently accommodating for these
rapid changes. She has appointed to each of us his own small plot; has
made one of us a poet, another an economist, another a politician--one
of us good at making plans, another good at putting them into
execution. One feels justified, then, in claiming for the maker of
good resolutions a place in the sun. Good resolutions are too
delightful a form of morality to be allowed to disappear from a world
in which so much of morality is dismal. They are morality at its
dawn--morality fresh and untarnished and full of song. They are golden
anticipations of the day's work--anticipations of which, alas! the
day's work too often proves unworthy. Work, says Amiel somewhere, is
vulgarised thought. Work, I prefer to say, is vulgarised good
resolutions. There are, no doubt, some people whose resolutions are so
natively mediocre that it is no trouble in the world to put them into
practice. Promise and performance are in such cases as like as a pair
of twins; both are contemptible. But as for those of us whose promises
are apt to be Himalayan, how can one expect the little pack-mule of
performance to climb to such pathless and giddy heights? Are not the
Himalayas in themselves a sufficiently inspiring spectacle--all the
more inspiring, indeed, if some peak still remains unscaled,
mysterious?

But resolutions of this magnitude belong rather to the region of
day-dreams. They take one back to one's childhood, when one longed to
win the football cup for one's school team, and, if possible, to have
one's leg broken just as one scored the decisive try. Considering that
one did not play football, this may surely be regarded as a noble
example of an impossible ideal. It has the inaccessibility of a star
rather than of a mountain-peak. As one grows older, one's resolutions
become earthier. They are concerned with such things as giving up
tobacco, taking exercise, answering letters, chewing one's food
properly, going to bed before midnight, getting up before noon. This
may seem a mean list enough, but there is wonderful comfort to be got
out of even a modest good resolution so long as it refers, not to the
next five minutes, but to to-morrow, or next week, or next month, or
next year, or the year after. How vivid, how beautiful, to-morrow
seems with our lordly regiment of good resolutions ready to descend
upon it as upon a city seen afar off for the first time! Every day
lies before us as wonderful as London lay before Blücher on the night
when he exclaimed: "My God, what a city to loot!" Our life is gorgeous
with to-morrows. It is all to-morrows. Good resolutions might be
described, in the words in which a Cabinet Minister once described
journalism, as the intelligent anticipation of events. They are,
however, the intelligent anticipation of events which do not take
place. They are the April of virtue with no September following.

On the other hand, there is much to be said for putting a good
resolution into effect now and then. There is a brief introductory
period in most human conduct, before the novelty has worn off, when
doing things is almost, if not quite, as pleasant as thinking about
them. Thus, if you make a resolve to get up at seven o'clock every day
during the year 1915, you should do it on at least one morning. If you
do, you will feel so surprised with the world, and so content with
your own part in it, that you will decide to get up at seven every
morning for the rest of your life. But do not be rash. Getting up
early, if you do it seldom enough, is an intoxicating experience. But
before long the intoxication fades, and only the habit is left. It was
not the elder brother with his habits, but the prodigal with his
occasional recurrence into virtue, for whom the fatted calf was
killed. Even for the prodigal, when once he had settled down to
orderly habits, the supply of the fatted calves from his father's farm
was bound before long to come to an end.

There are, however, other good resolutions in which it is not so easy
to experiment for a single morning. If you resolved to learn German,
for instance, there would be very little intoxication to be got out
of a single sitting face to face with a German grammar. Similarly, the
inventors of systems of exercise for keeping the townsman in condition
all stress the fact that, in order to attain health, one must go on
toiling morning after morning at their wretched punchings and
twistings and kickings till the end of time. This is an unfair
advantage to take of the ordinary maker of good resolutions. He is
enticed into the adventure of trying a new thing only to discover that
he cannot be said to have tried it until he has tried it on a thousand
occasions. Most of us, it may be said at once, are not to be enticed
into such matters higher than our knees. We may go so far as to buy
the latest book on health or the latest mechanical apparatus to hang
on the wall. But soon they become little more than decorations for our
rooms. That pair of immense dumb-bells which we got in our boyhood,
when we believed that the heavier the dumb-bell the more magnificently
would our biceps swell--who would think of taking them from their
dusty corner now? Then there was that pair of wooden dumb-bells light
as wind, which we tried for a while on hearing that heavy dumb-bells
were a snare and only hardened the muscles without strengthening them.
They lie now where the woodlouse may eat them if it has so lowly an
appetite. But our good resolutions did really array themselves in
colours when the first of the exercisers was invented. There was a
thrill in those first mornings when we rose a little earlier than
usual and expected to find an inch added to our chest measurement
before breakfast. That is always the characteristic of good
resolutions. They are founded on a belief in the possibility of
performing miracles. If we could swell visibly as a result of a single
half-hour's tug at weights and wires, we would all desert our
morning's sleep for our exerciser with a will. But the faith that
believes in miracles is an easy sort of faith. The faith that goes on
believing in the final excellence, though one day shows no obvious
advance on another, is the more enviable genius. It is, perhaps, the
rarest thing in the world, and all the good resolutions ever made, if
placed end to end, would not make so much as an inch of it. One man I
knew who had faith of this kind. He used to practise strengthening his
will every evening by buying almonds and raisins or some sort of sweet
thing, and sitting down before them by the hour without touching them.
And frequently, so he told me, he would repeat over to himself a
passage which Poe quotes at the top of one of his stories--_The_
_Fall of the House of Ussher_, was it not?--beginning "Great are the
mysteries of the will." I envied him his philosophic grimness: I
should never have been able to resist the almonds and raisins. But
that incantation from Poe--was not that, too, but a desperate
clutching after the miraculous?

There is nothing which men desire more fervently than this mighty
will. It may be the most selfish or unselfish of desires. We may long
for it for its own sake or for the sake of some purpose which means
more to us than praise. We are eager to escape from that continuous
humiliation of the promises we have made to ourselves and broken. It
is all very well to talk about being baffled to fight better, but that
implies a will on the heroic scale. Most of us, as we see our
resolutions fly out into the sun, only to fall with broken wings
before they have more than begun their journey, are inclined at times
to relapse into despair. On the other hand, Nature is prodigal, and in
nothing so much as good resolutions. In spite of the experience of
half a lifetime of failure, we can still draw upon her for these with
the excitement of faith in our hearts. Perhaps there is some instinct
for perfection in us which thus makes us deny our past and stride off
into the future forgetful of our chains. It is the first step that
counts, says the proverb. Alas! we know that that is the step that
nearly everybody can take. It is when we are about to take the steps
that follow that our ankle feels the drag of old habit. For even those
of us who are richest in good resolutions are the creatures of habit
just as the baldly virtuous are. The only difference is that we are
the slaves of old habits, while they are the masters of new ones....
On the whole, then, we cannot do better as the New Year approaches
than resolve to go out once more in quest of the white flower which
has already been allowed to fade too long, where Tennyson placed it,
in the late Prince Consort's buttonhole.



III

THE SIN OF DANCING


It is a pleasure to see a modern clergyman expressing his horror of
the dancing of the moment as Canon Newbolt did in St Paul's. One had
begun to fear lately that the clergy were trying to run a race of
tolerance with the dramatic critics and the nuts. On the whole I
prefer clergymen in the denouncing mood. They are there to remind us
that the soul does not pour out its riches in rag-time songs, that
Peter is not to be bribed with trinkets, and that the gates of Heaven
will not--so far as is known--open to the bark of a toy-dog. They are
there, in a sentence, as the shaven critics of a saltatory world. The
history of civilisation might be interpreted with some reason as a
prolonged conflict between the preachers and the dancers. The preacher
and the dancer may both be necessary to us, like east and west in a
map; but we feel that, like east and west, they should keep their
distance from each other in censorious irreconcilement. I know, of
course, that the modern anthropologist is inclined to insist upon the
kinship between dancing and religion. We are told that the Church was
born not, it may be, under a dancing star, but at any rate under a
dancing savage. The theory is that man originally expressed his
deepest emotions about food, love, and war in dances. In the course of
time the leaping groups felt the need of a leader, and gradually the
leader of the dance evolved into a hero, or representative of the
group soul, and from that he afterwards swelled into a god. This, we
are asked to believe, is the lineage of Zeus. The theory strikes me as
being too simple to be true. It is like an attempt to spell a long
word with a single letter. At the same time, it gains colour from the
fact that the heads of the Church have continually shown a tendency to
dancing since the days of King David. We have it on good authority
that in the Latin Church the Bishops were called Præsules because they
led the dances in the church choir on feast days. It is a fact of some
significance, indeed, that at more than one period of history it has
been the heretics rather than the orthodox who have raged most
furiously against dancing. The Albigenses and the Waldenses are both
examples of this. Superficially, this may seem to weaken my contention
that preaching and dancing can no more become friends than the lion
and the unicorn. But, if you reflect for a moment, you will see that
it is the heretics rather than the orthodox who are, of all men, the
most given to preaching. Bishops preach as a matter of duty;
Savonarola and Mr Shaw preach for the religious pleasure of it. So
rare a thing is it to find an orthodox clergyman of standing doing
anything that deserves the name of preaching--and by preaching I mean
protesting in capable words against the subordination of life to
luxury--that, whenever he does so, the newspapers put it on their
posters among the great events, like a scandal about a Cabinet
Minister or an earthquake.

It is not difficult to see why the preachers have usually been so
doubtful about the dancers. It is simply that dancing is for the most
part a rhythmical pantomime of sex. It is the most haremish of
pastimes. One is not surprised to learn that Henry VIII was the most
expert of royal dancers. He was an enthusiast for the kissing dances
of his day, indeed, even before he had abandoned his youthful
straitness for the moral code of a farmyard that had gone off its
head. I can imagine how a preacher with his craft at his fingers' ends
could deduce Henry's downfall from those first delicate trippings.
Even the _Encyclopædia Britannica_ is driven to admit the presence of
the amorous element in dancing. "Actual contact of the partners," it
insists, "is quite intelligible as matter of pure dancing; for, apart
altogether from the pleasure of the embrace, the harmony of the double
rotation adds very much to the enjoyment." But that reference to "the
pleasure of the embrace" is fatal to the sentence. How are we simple
people as we whirl in the waltz to know whether it is the pleasure of
the embrace or the harmony of the double rotation that is making us
glow so? The preachers will certainly not give us the benefit of the
doubt. They will follow the lead of Byron, who, in his horror at the
popularisation of the waltz, declared that Terpsichore was henceforth
"the least a vestal virgin of the Nine." Many people will remember the
letter which Byron prefaced to _The Waltz_ over the signature of
Horace Hornem, supposed to be a country gentleman from the Midlands.
Describing his sensations on first seeing his wife waltzing, Mr Hornem
says:--

     Judge of my surprise ... to see poor Mrs Hornem with her arms
     half round the loins of a huge hussar-looking gentleman I
     never set eyes on before; and his, to say truth, rather more
     than half round her waist, turning round, and round, and
     round, to a d----d see-saw, up-and-down sort of tune, that
     reminded me of the "Black joke."

Cynics explain Byron's attitude to dancing as a matter of envy, since
he himself was too lame to waltz. At the same time, I fancy that an
anthropologist from Mars, if he visited the earth, would take the same
view of the drama of the waltz as Byron did. I do not mean to say that
the waltz cannot be danced in a sublime innocence. It can, and often
is. But the point is that sex is the arch-musician of it, and whether
you approve of waltzing or disapprove of it will depend upon whether,
like the preachers, you regard sex as Aholah and Aholibah, or, like
the poets, as April and the song of the stars. It is worth remembering
in this connection that a great preacher like Huxley took much the
same view of poetry that Byron took of dancing. Most of it, he said,
seemed to him to be little more than sensual caterwauling. Tolstoi, if
I am not mistaken, interpreted _Romeo and Juliet_ in the same spirit.
This kind of analysis, whether it is just or foolish, always shocks
the crowd, which can never admit the existence of the senses without
blushing for them. Confirmed in its sentimentalism--and therefore
given to "harping on the sensual string"--it swears that it finds the
Russian ballet more edifying than church, and would have no objection
to seeing the Merry Widow waltz introduced into a mothers' meeting.
There is nothing in which we are such hypocrites as our pleasures.
That is why some of us like the preachers. Even if they are grossly
inhuman in wanting to take our amusements away from us, they at least
insist that we shall submit them to a realistic analysis. In this they
are excellent servants of the scientific spirit.

What, then, is a reasonable attitude to adopt towards sex in dancing?
Obviously we cannot abolish sex, even if we wished to do so. And if we
try to chain it up, it will merely become crabbed like a dog. On the
other hand, there is all the difference in the world between putting a
dog on a chain and encouraging it to go mad and bite half the parish.
There is nearly as wide a distance separating the courtly dances of
the eighteenth century from the cake-walk, and the apache dance from
the Irish reel. Priests, I know, in whom the gift of preaching has
turned sour, have been as severe on innocent as on furious dances. But
this is merely an exaggeration of the prevailing sense of mankind that
sex is a wild animal and most difficult to tame into a fireside pet.
It is upon the civilisation of this animal, none the less, though not
upon the butchering of it, that the decencies of the world depend. And
this is exercise for a hero, for the animal in question has a
desperate tendency to revert to type. One noticed how its eye bulged
with the memory of African forests when the cake-walk affronted the
sun a few years ago. The cake-walk, I admit, seemed a right and
rapturous thing enough when it was danced by those in whose veins was
the recent blood of Africa. But when young gentlemen began to
introduce it as a figure in the lancers in suburban back-parlours one
resented it, not merely as an emasculated parody, but as an act of
dishonest innocence. But everywhere it has been the tendency of
dancing in recent years to become more noisily sexual. I am not
thinking of the dancing in undress which for a time captured the
music-halls. That is almost the least sexual dancing we have had. The
dancing of Isidora Duncan was of as good report as a painting by old
Sir Joshua. We may pass over the Russian ballet, too, because of the
art which often raised it to beauty, though it is interesting to
speculate what St Bernard would have thought of Nijinsky. But, as for
rag-time, it is a silly madness, a business for Mænads of both sexes;
and all those gesticulations of the human frame known as bunny-hugs,
turkey-trots, and the rest of it are condemned by their very names as
tolerable only in the menagerie. On the other hand, because the bunny
in man and the turkey in woman have revived themselves with such
impudence, are we to get out our guns against all dancing? Far from
it. One is not going to sacrifice the flowery grace of Genée, or
Pavlova with her genius of the butterflies, because of the multitude
of fools. All we can do is to insist upon the recognition of the fact
that dancing may be good or bad, as eggs are good or bad, and to
remind the world that in dancing, as in eggs, freshness is even more
beautiful than decadence. Perhaps some of the performances of the
Russian ballet would come off limping from such a test. Opinions will
differ about that. In any case, one cannot help the logic of one's
belief. Each of us, no doubt, contains something of the preacher and
something of the dancer; and our enthusiasms depend upon which of the
two is dominant in us. Meanwhile, we are likely to go on preaching
against our dancing, and dancing against our preaching, till the end
of time. That merely proves the completeness of our humanity. It makes
for balance, like, as I have said, east and west in a map. That,
surely, is a conclusion which ought to satisfy everybody.



IV

THOUGHTS AT A TANGO TEA


It is not easy to decide what is the dullest feature in the Tango Teas
upon which Londoners are now wasting their afternoons and their
silver. The most disconcertingly tedious part of the whole
entertainment is, in my opinion, the Tango itself: it is mere
virtuoso-work in dancing--an eccentric caper, not after beauty, but
after variety. But the rest of the programme has no compensating
liveliness. The songs are sad affairs, even for a music-hall, and the
band, with its continual "selections" dropped into every available
hole in the afternoon's amusement, gets on the nerves like a tune
played over and over again. And then, to crown everything, comes the
parade of mannequins wearing the latest fashions in women's dress, or
what will be the latest fashions in another month or two. On the whole
I think this part of the show must be given the prize for inanity. The
Tango is bad, and the tea varies, but this milliner's business--it is
more than dull, it is an outrage on human intelligence.

Students of society cannot afford to leave unnoticed this new
development in the tastes of the upper and middle classes. It seems to
me to represent almost the extreme limit in the evolution of the
English theatre. The actor-managers have often in recent years turned
Shakespeare into a dress parade, but here is the dress parade with
Shakespeare left out. Musical comedies, hundreds of them, have been as
amazing as fireworks with their wonder of costumes, and here is the
wonder of costumes without any alloy of musical comedy. Nor are these
costumes flashed upon you with a chorussed insolence. Slowly and
separately each girl appears, sometimes from the back of the stalls,
sometimes from the back of the stage, and marches before your vision
as obtrusive as an advertisement, while the band plays some tune like
"You made me love you." One should not say "marches" perhaps, but
glides. The glide seems to be the ideal at which the modern woman aims
in her walk, and the mannequin glides with every exaggeration. But, if
you have ever seen cows ambling along a country road you have seen
something strangely like the glide that is now in fashion, yet no one
thinks of speaking of cows as "gliding." The mannequins come before
us one by one at this slow cattle-walk, and pass along one of those
Reinhardt pathways above the heads of the people in the stalls. Then
they raise their arms and turn round as in a showroom and smile as in
the advertisement of a tooth-wash. And so on till ten or a dozen of
them have appeared and disappeared. Then out glides the whole school
of them again not singly this time, but in a procession, all smiling
under their barbaric panaches and their towering crest of feathers,
and one of them with her head and chin wrapped in gilt embroideries
that make her look like a queen with a toothache. All smiles and
paint, the girls nevertheless seem to have no more relation to their
gowns than a statue to the hat which someone has perched on its head.
They give us no drama of dress. They are simply lay-figures imitating
the colours of the rainbow. Perhaps, to a student of fashion, they
have some meaning and interest. But a student of fashion does not go
for his lessons to a music-hall. To the rest of us they are simply a
trash of fine clothes. They are a decadent substitute for gladiatorial
exhibitions. They are a last wild--no, no; not wild--a last tame
parody on life. Life as a parade of mannequins--the satiric
imagination could invent nothing more contemptuously comic. Perhaps,
in the theatre of the future, the characters of the plays will remain
as mannequins, while the words will be left out as superfluous. Hamlet
will appear in his inky cloak at the right intervals, turn round so as
to give us a good back and front view, and Ophelia will then take his
place in a procession of fine dresses, the whole play being a solemn
in-and-out movement of silent gowned figures. Shakespeare ought to be
much more popular that way. Even Shakespeare on the cinematograph
could hardly compete with it.

What, one wonders, is the cause of all this mannequinism? Is it a
survival of the passion for dolls? Or is it a case of woman's flying
to a refuge after man has ousted her from all her old busy pleasures?
Scarcely anything but the dress interest is left to her. Woman--at
least the kind of woman whom one sees at Tango Teas--no longer bakes,
or weaves, or spins, or makes medicines, or even sews as her
grandmothers--or, to be quite accurate, her grandmothers'
grandmothers--did. She has gradually been led to hand over her baking
to the baker, her medicines to the chemist, her weaving and spinning
to the mills. What could Penelope herself do in such circumstances?
Without her loom there would have been nothing for her but to think
out fresh ways of arranging her hair and to disguise herself
endlessly in new draperies which would have led to her being pestered
more than ever by the suitors. Idleness, it does not take a
Sunday-school teacher to see, is the universal dressmaker, and a woman
who is not allowed to work and does not drink and has not even a vote
is driven among the mannequins as surely as if you forced her there by
law. After all, if one has nothing to do, one must do something. One
must put one's virtue into hats and stockings if one is not allowed to
practise it more soberly. It may be, of course, that the mannequin
stage which the women of the comfortable classes have now reached is
really a step towards a more sober dignity. Woman had to be released
from the old servitude of the house--from the predestined making of
beds and sewing of clothes and cooking of dinners--in order to assert
her equal capacities with those of the man who rode to war and cozened
his fellows in the city and sat on committees and stayed out till all
hours. She may not have realised at the time that it was merely an
escape from one drudgery to another--from the drudgery of housework to
the drudgery of pleasure--but she cannot take her brains with her into
a music-hall matinée without realising it now. And she is learning to
hate the one as much as the other. Feminism is woman's great protest
against the drudgery of pleasure. Some of the feminists, it may be
granted, turn it into a claim to share with man all those old
pleasures with which man's eyes have long been yellow and weary. But
the spectacle of the middle-aged male followers of the life of
pleasure in any restaurant or theatre ought to terrify these bold
ladies from maintaining such a demand. The supreme philosophers of
pleasure, from Epicurus to Stevenson, have all had to turn to hard
work and virtue as the only forms of amusement which did not spoil the
bloom of one's cheek. Even the supreme philosopher of clothes would
have kept us far too busy ever to think about them.

People unfortunately have got it into their heads, as the result of a
long process of civilisation, that, in order to be beautiful, clothes
must be a kind of finery to which one gives the thoughts of one's
nights and days. And the result is that most women would rather take
the advice of their dressmaker than of Epicurus. It is one of the most
ludicrous misdirections that the human race has ever followed. The
dressmaker's living depends on her keeping off Epicurus with one hand
and the Twelve Apostles with the other, and she has certainly done so
with the most brilliant efficiency. We who do not live by dressmaking,
however, should be coolly critical of the dressmaker's point of view.
It was not she, perhaps, who invented, but it is she who most brazenly
keeps alive, the great delusion of civilised society that woman's
foolish dresses are more beautiful than the reasonable clothes of men.
In fifteen thousand years or so, when the idea of beauty will have had
time to develop into a tiny bud, men and supermen will laugh at this
old absurdity. The idea that modern men's clothes are ugly is a
deception chiefly maintained by advertisement agents and shopkeepers.
There is, I admit, much to be said against the bowler hat. But the
jacket, the trousers, and the sock--so long as it does not match the
tie--come nearer what is excellent and appropriate in dress than any
other costume that has been invented since the strong silent
Englishman left his coat of paint behind him in the wood. It is
possible, no doubt, to spoil the effect of it all with too much
folding and pressing. Dandyism means the ruin of one's clothes from
the æsthetic point of view. One must be ready to expose them to all
weathers--to have them rained upon and rumpled--if one wants them to
be really beautiful, say, like an old church.

It is because woman's dress at its finest does not stand this test of
beauty that a marchioness is worse clad than the driver of a coal cart
or a chimney-sweep. Not luxury, but necessity, is the creator of
beauty. Beauty comes from our submission to Nature; it is not a matter
of thieving a few handfuls of coloured feathers from Nature's breast
and wings. It comes by accident, as you will see if you look down from
a hill at night on a gas-lit town. Almost the only kind of lights
which are not beautiful are those which are deliberately so. One has
to go out of the streets among the lights of the White City in order
to see beauty giving way to prettiness. Similarly, one might say that
the only kind of dresses which are not beautiful are those which are
deliberately so. Even among the poor there is more grace to be found
among mill-girls in their shawls than when on Sundays they dress
themselves up to look as like their dream of riches as possible. I
hope that the dress parades in the West End theatres and music-halls
will sooner or later be transferred to the poorer districts. They may
not at once kill envy and the respect for wealth. They may not strike
people as being so ridiculous as they really are, though anyone who
finds amusement in waxworks ought to get sufficient entertainment from
a dress parade. But if the show has not this effect, it may at least
open the eyes of the poor to the barbarous conditions in which the
rich live and fire them with the determination to hurry to the rescue
and release them from the gilded cage of their luxuries. The beginning
of the social revolution, I foresee, will be a rising against the
mannequins. It will be an infinitely greater event in history than the
taking of the Bastille.



V

THE HUMOURS OF MURDER


Almost everyone who has committed a murder knows that the business has
its tragic side. Whether it also has its comic side is a question that
has been raised since the production of Sir James Barrie's play, _The
Adored One_. This, as most people are aware, is a farce about a lady
who kills a man by pushing him out of a railway carriage because he
will not allow the window to be shut. Some of the critics have
protested that the theme is too grim for light entertainment. They
are, most of them, probably, lovers of fresh air, who foresee a new
danger in railway travel if women--creatures already enjoying the
possession of an extremely feeble moral sense--are taught to regard
the murder of a hygienic fellow-passenger as a laughing matter. Some
years ago, when _The Playboy of the Western World_ was first put on
the stage in Dublin, there were similar denunciations of the idea of
making a comedy of murder. It was then considered, however, that
nobody outside Ireland could take murder so seriously as to miss
seeing the joke of it. As a matter of fact, I believe the average
respectable man all the world over would side in his heart with the
Dublin demonstrators. Murder is, after all, one of the oldest
institutions on earth. It dates from the second generation of the
human race. It is almost as venerable as a sin can be, and to treat it
flippantly is as shocking to comfortable ears as the blasphemies of a
boy. Everybody knows how Baudelaire used to shock the citizens of
Brussels by opening his conversation in cafés in a raised voice with
the words: "The night I killed my father." He has himself related how
he began the thing as a joke in order to punish the Belgians for
believing everything he said. "Exasperated by always being believed,"
he wrote, "I spread the report that I had killed my father, and that I
had eaten him, and that if I had been allowed to escape from France it
was only on account of the services I had rendered to the French
police, and I was BELIEVED!"

That is the penalty of the jester on serious subjects like murder. He
is nearly always believed. The very mention of prepense death puts a
great many people into a solemn mood that is hostile to wit and humour
and any kind of facetiousness. I have met men and women, for
instance, who were quite unable to see the entertaining side of
cannibalism. Gilbert's ballad of the _Nancy Lee_, about the cook who
gradually ate all the rest of the crew, moves them not to laughter but
to horror. When the cook, or somebody else, as he gobbles one of his
mates, enthusiastically exclaims: "Oh, how like pig!" they merely
shudder. Those of us who are amused, on the other hand, are so only
because we are not such inveterate realists as our neighbours. We
treat comic murders as Charles Lamb treated comic cuckoldries. We
regard them as happening, not in our world of realities, but in a kind
of no-man's-land of humour. If it were not so, we should probably be
as shocked as anyone else--those of us, that is, who are old-fashioned
enough to consider murder and adultery as on the whole reprehensible.
Luckily, human beings in the mass have gradually developed an artistic
sense which enables them to leave the world of serious facts for the
world of comic pretences at a moment's notice. And even the strictest
humanitarian can smile with a good conscience at the most hideous of
the tortures--"something with boiling oil in it"--discussed in the
paper-fan world of _The Mikado_. I can imagine a sensitive child's
being sharply disturbed by the punishments that at one time seem to be
in store for so many of the characters in the opera. But for the rest
of us Gilbert's Japan is as unreal as a nest of insects, where even
the crimes seem funny. In the same way we have made a child's joke of
Bluebeard, whose prototype was at least as atrocious a character as
Jack the Ripper. Perhaps, in some distant island of the South Seas,
where Europe is sufficiently remote to be unreal, the children are
already enjoying the humours of Jack the Ripper in the local
substitute for the Christmas pantomime.

Even a real murder, however, may strike one as amusing, if only it has
about it something incongruous. A thousand people have laughed for one
who has wept over Wainwright's murder of Helen Abercrombie, not
because it was not a filthy deed, but because the murderer, on being
reproached for it, uttered his famous reply: "Yes; it was a dreadful
thing to do, but she had very thick ankles." Here it is the
incongruity between the deed and the excuse for it that appeals to our
sense of humour. We laugh at it as we would laugh at Milton's Satan if
we saw him dressed in baby clothes. Similarly, when Peer Gynt and the
Cook fight after the shipwreck for possession of the place of safety
on the upturned boat, and Peer in effect murders the Cook, the
situation is comic because of the incongruity between what is said
and what is done. Take, for instance, the Lord's Prayer scene:

     THE COOK (_slipping_): I'm drowning!

     PEER (_seizing him_): By this wisp of hair
     I'll hold you; say your Lord's Prayer, quick!

     THE COOK: I can't remember; all turns black----

     PEER: Come, the essentials in a word!

     THE COOK: Give us this day----!

     PEER: Skip that part, Cook.
     You'll get all _you_ need, safe enough.

     THE COOK: Give us this day----

     PEER: The same old song!
     'Tis plain you were a cook in life----

       (THE COOK _slips from his grasp_.)

     THE COOK (_sinking_): Give us this day our----
       (_Disappears.)_

     PEER: Amen, lad!
     To the last gasp you were yourself.
       (_Draws himself up on to the bottom of the boat._)
     So long as there is life there's hope.

It is the paradox that delights us here--the exquisite
inappropriateness of Peer's invitation to the Cook to say a prayer
before he lets him dip under for the last time, and of the only
petition which the Cook can remember in his extremity. The latter
amuses us like Mr George Moore's story about the Irish poet who was
asked to say a prayer when out in a curragh on Galway Bay during a
furious gale, and who astonished the boat's crew by beginning: "Of
man's first disobedience and the fruit." Even in _The Playboy_ it is
the humours of the inappropriate that make Christy Mahon's narrative
of how he slew his da comic. One remembers the sentence in which he
first lets the secret of his deed slip out:

     CHRISTY: Don't strike me. I killed my poor father, Tuesday
     was a week, for doing the like of that.

     PEGEEN (_in blank amazement_): Is it killed your father?

     CHRISTY (_subsiding_): With the help of God I did surely, and
     that the Holy Immaculate Mother may intercede for his soul.

There you have incongruity to a point that shocks an ordinary
Christian like a blasphemy. And Christy's reflection, as he finds that
the supposed murder has made him a hero--"I'm thinking this night
wasn't I a foolish fellow not to kill my father in the years gone
by"--tickles us because it brings a new and incongruous standard to
the measurement of moral values. De Quincey's essay, "On Murder
considered as one of the Fine Arts," owes its reputation for humour to
the same kind of unexpectedness in its table of values. At least,
that passage in which the lecturer of the essay describes the warning
he gave to a new servant whom he suspected of dabbling in murder plays
a delightful topsy-turvy game with our everyday moral world:

     If once a man indulges himself in murder, very soon he comes
     to think very little of robbing; and from robbing he comes
     next to drinking and Sabbath breaking, and from that to
     incivility and procrastination. Once begin upon this downward
     path, you never know where you are to stop. Many a man has
     dated his ruin from some murder or other that perhaps he
     thought little of at the time.

Humour is largely a matter of new proportions and unexpected elements.
And it visits the gaol as readily as the music-hall, and attends us in
our hearse no less than in our perambulator. Self-murder is not in
itself a funny subject, but who can remain solemn over the case of the
man who put an end to his life because he got tired of all the
buttoning and unbuttoning. Similarly, detestable a crime as we may
think cannibalism, we cannot help smiling when a traveller notes, as a
recent traveller in West Africa did, that human flesh never gives the
eater indigestion as the flesh of beasts does. It is--at least, I
suppose it is--merely a statement of fact, but it amuses us because
it introduces an inappropriate and unexpected element into our
consideration of cannibalism.

Perhaps Sir James Barrie would prefer to defend the humour of _The
Adored One_ on the ground, not that it is the humour of unreality, but
that, like the examples I have quoted, it is the humour of
incongruity. And, indeed, we only laugh at Leonora's murder in the
train because the reason for it was so disproportionate to the crime.
It is not funny for a woman to kill a man because he has beaten her
black and blue. It is not funny for her to kill him for his money, or
for any other reasonable motive. On the other hand, it would be funny
if she killed him for smoking a pipe while wearing a tall hat, or
because he said "lay" instead of "lie." It is the unreason of the
thing that appeals to us, and no amount of theorising about the
immorality of murder can deprive us of our joke. At the same time one
is willing to admit the excellence of those people who are so
overwhelmed by the exceeding sinfulness of sin that they cannot raise
a smile over even the most ridiculous scenes of murder and marital
infidelity. I know a great many people who can see nothing comic in
the upside-down antics of the drunken; they feel as if in laughing at
the absurdities of vice they would be acquiescing in vice. Perhaps
they would. Perhaps laughter is given to sinners as a compensation
for sins. It makes us tolerant by making us cheerful, and if we could
really laugh at murders and all indecencies, we should possibly end in
thinking that they are far less black than they are painted. So, I
imagine, the unlaughing saints reason. They always visualise sin in
its horror in a way that is beyond most of us, and we can respect
their gloom. But we who are more complex than the saints--we know well
enough that so paradoxical an affair is the human soul that a man may
laugh and laugh and keep the Ten Commandments; and we claim the right,
on the plea that "my mind to me a kingdom is," of maintaining a court
fool in our hearts to parody our royal existence, and so keep it from
going stale. In any case, we can no more help laughing than we can
help the colour of our hair. That is why we shall go on laughing at
the humours of the seven deadly sins, and why old scoundrels like Nero
and Gilles de Retz and Henry VIII are likely to remain favourite
characters in the comic chapters of human life till the book is burnt
and a new volume opens.



VI

THE DECLINE AND FALL OF HELL


It is significant of the change that has come over the religious
imagination that a number of representative clergymen have issued a
manifesto of disbelief in Hell and no heresy-hunt has begun. Disbelief
in Hell, it must in fairness be added, not as a symbol of something
sufficiently real, but as a definite place on the map of the Universe,
a gulf of wild flame and red-hot torments without end. There was a
time when to doubt any jot or tittle in the scenery and rhetoric of
Hell would have been thought a kind of atheism, and a world without
Hell would have seemed to many religious minds almost as lonely as a
world without God. Life was conceived chiefly in terms of Hell. It was
a kind of tight-rope walk across a bottomless pit of shooting fires
and the intolerable wailing of the damned. Heaven was sought less
almost for its proper delights than as an escape from the malignance
of the demons in this vast torture-chamber. Hell, indeed, was the most
desperately real of countries. For centuries men studied its
geography with greater zeal of research than we devote to-day to the
geography of Africa. They described its rule and estimated its
population, one author, with how much belief I know not, detailing the
names of seventy-two of its princes with 7,405,926 devils serving
them. In _The Apocalypse of St Peter_, which is as old at least as the
second century, the occupations of the damned are set forth with a
horrid carefulness. Hell is depicted as a continent of lakes of fire
and burning mud, over which adulterers hang by the hair and
blasphemers of the way of righteousness by the tongue. False witnesses
chew tongues of fire in their mouths. Misers roll on red-hot stones
sharper than spikes. Men who have committed unnatural crimes are
endlessly hurled from the top of dreadful crags. And this is but one
of the first of a long line of visions of the hereafter which
appeared, like the season's fruits, all through the early Christian
centuries and the Middle Ages, and achieved their perfect statement in
Dante. Every new writer sought out the most exquisite torments a
sensational imagination could invent, and added them to the picture of
the daily life of Hell and Purgatory. The Monk of Evesham saw in his
dream of Purgatory men being fried in a pan and others "pierced with
fiery nails even to their bones and to the loosening of their joints."
Others were gnawed by worms or dragged with hooks, or hung on gallows,
or "soaked in baths of pitch and brimstone with a horrible stench,"
and, if they tried to escape, "the devils that met with them beat them
sorely with scourges and forks and other kinds of torments." But we
need not go back beyond our own days for instances of these torturing
imaginations. Many who are now living have had the night-fears of
their childhood made monstrous with stories of devils with red-hot
pincers to tear one's flesh and with red-hot nails to lacerate one's
back. I have a friend who loves to tell of the regular Sunday summons
of an ancient clergyman to his congregation to flee from the doom of
the condemned sinner whom he invariably pictured as "seated upon a
projecting crag over a lurid, hissing, moaning, raging sea of an
undone Eternity, calling out, 'The harvest is past and I am not
savèd.'"

Why the human imagination did not revolt against such a painful orgy
of sensationalism long before it did, it is difficult to understand.
Lecky tells us that the only prominent theologian to dispute the
material fire of Hell throughout the Middle Ages was the Irishman
Johannes Scotus Erigena. All the others accepted it either in terror
or with delight. For who can question that men can obtain as fiercely
sensual a pleasure from inflicting the pains of Hell on their enemies
as from flogging children and slaves? One of the best known instances
of this--shall I say, hellish?--sensualism, is the appeal of
Tertullian to his fellow Christians not to attend public spectacles on
the ground that they would one day behold the far more glorious
spectacle of the heathen rolling in the flames of the Pit.

     "What," he wrote, "shall be the magnitude of that scene? How
     shall I wonder? How shall I laugh? How shall I rejoice? How
     shall I triumph when I behold so many and such illustrious
     kings, who were said to be mounted into heaven groaning with
     Jupiter their god in the lowest darkness of Hell! Then shall
     the soldiers who persecuted the name of Christ burn in more
     cruel fire than any they had kindled for the saints....
     Compared with such spectacles, with such subjects of triumph
     as these, what can praetor or consul, quaestor or pontiff,
     afford? And even now faith can bring them near, imagination
     can depict them as present."

Thus, Hell became the poor man's consolation, the oppressed and baited
man's revenge. Sleep itself hardly brought greater balm that the
thought of this large engulfing doom for opprobrious neighbours. It
would be unfair, on the other hand, to suggest that the ordinary
Christian ever believed in Hell save in honest misery of heart. "O,
Lord," an old lay evangelist used to pray in the homes he visited,
"shake these Thy children over Hell-fire, but shake them in marcy!"
There you have the voice of one who regarded Hell, not with glee as
the end of his enemies, but with desperate earnestness as a necessary
moral agency--who believed that men must be terrorised into virtue or
never know virtue at all. And, it is interesting to note, a clerical
correspondent has been writing to the _Daily News_ expressing the same
gloomy view. This writer declares, as the fruit of long experience,
that he has never known a case of a man's being converted except
through fear. It is common enough, too--or used to be--to hear
church-going young men profess that if they did not believe in Hell,
they would amaze the earth with their lusts and exploits. Viewed in
this light, the Devil becomes the world's super-policeman, and those
who seek to abolish him will naturally be looked on as dangerous
anarchists who would destroy the foundations of the law. As for that,
it would be foolish to deny the great part played by fear in the lives
both of sinners and saints, but whether morality is ultimately served
by our being afraid of the wrong things is a question that calls for
consideration. Certainly, Hell has produced its crop of devils as well
as of saints upon earth. It was men who believed in Hell who invented
the thumb-screw and the rack, and many of the most fiendish
instruments of torture the world has known.

Whether it is the case that man made Hell because he believed in
torture, or took to torture because he believed in Hell, there is no
denying that the worst period of torture our European civilisation has
known coincided with the time when men believed that God Himself
doomed to savage and eternal torments men, women, and even infants in
the cradle, on the most paltry excuses. And as man's conscience has
more and more decisively forbidden him to use torture as a punishment,
it has also forbidden him to believe that a beneficent Deity could do
such a thing. It may be thought that a beneficent Deity who could
permit cancer and the Putumayo and the factory system at its worst,
might easily enough sanction the fires of the mediæval Hell. But even
cancer and the Putumayo are not a denial of what Stevenson called "the
ultimate decency of things." They are temporary, not eternal.
Thoughtful Christians can no longer accept the old Hell, because it
would mean, not the final triumph of righteousness, but the final
defeat of God. Many of those who dutifully cling to the dogma of their
Church on the point would agree with the French curé who said that he
believed in Hell, but he did not think there was anybody in it except
Voltaire. And even Voltaire will nowadays seem to most people to be
hardly a sufficiently scandalous person to deserve infinite millions
of years of anguish. The truth is, Hell shocks our moral sense.
Tennyson put the modern disbelief in it with a theatrical forcibleness
when he said that, if after death he woke up, even though it should be
in Heaven, and found there was a Hell, he would turn round and shake
his fist in the face of God Almighty. Since Tennyson's time Hell's
foundations have subsided: the ancient flames have died down; and man
has now for the background of his days no fierce and devouring
universe, but a cricket score-board and a page of "thinklet"
competitions in a penny paper. Perhaps the antithesis is an unfair
one, but some cosmic sense has certainly been lost to the general
imagination. No doubt it will return as moral ideas take the place of
materialistic terrors; for out of the wreck of the fiery Hell a moral
Hell is already rising. A moral Purgatory, one ought to say--a place
of discipline made in the image of this disciplining earth. For the
terrors of death and evil and pain all survive, and, even if we
abolish utterly the Devil with the pitchfork, and put in his place the
Button-moulder, is that a figure a pennyworth less dreadful? No, the
escape from Hell is not so much a holiday as we thought. There is
still an interval of adventure between us and Paradise, and all the
perils and fears to be overcome as of old. We have chased an allegory
from our doors, but its ghostly reality returns and stands outside the
window. And salvation and damnation remain the two chief facts under
the sun. And the saints and the parsons--and everybody, indeed, except
gloating old Tertullian--were right after all.



VII

ON CHEERFUL READERS


There has been an increasing demand lately for cheerful books. Mr
Balfour began it--at least, he gave it a voice by quoting approvingly
a phrase from one of Mr Bennett's novels about the books that cheer us
all up. It was a most unfortunate phrase to quote in public. It
confirmed every bald old scaramouch in all his hostilities to realism,
tragedy, and every other form of literature that does not go about
with its hat over its eye. It also confirmed a popular prejudice to
the effect that it is the duty of men of letters to be cheerful in a
way in which it is not the duty, say, of mathematicians to be
cheerful. Now, one need not be an enemy of cheerfulness to detest this
theory. One merely needs to be sufficiently awake to recognise that
cheerfulness may easily become a tyranny which will bind the hands and
feet of literature as it has already bound the hands and feet of
drama. Cheerfulness, cheerfulness, and yet again cheerfulness, is the
all too golden rule in the theatre. One result of this is that Ibsen
has been expelled from the stage for the only naughtiness of which the
English theatre takes notice--the naughtiness of being serious. Even
Mr Shaw, who possesses the comic spirit in greater abundance than any
other writer of his time, is flayed alive by the critics on the
production of each new play he writes, because, besides being
cheerful, he is a man of ideas. It is not enough that you should be
cheerful: you must be cheerful to the exclusion of everything
else--everything, at least, that might bring unrest to the intellect
or the spirit or to any other part of a man except the muscles that
work the oil-wells of sentiment and the creaking jaws of laughter. The
consequences might have been foreseen. No one unaided, could be quite
so inhumanly vacuous as the audiences in the theatres expected him to
be. And so the dramatic author had to call in to his aid the
musicians, the poets, the limelight-men, the mask-sellers, the dancing
girls, the dressmakers, and a host of other people, each of whom
separately could only be a little inane, but all of whom together
could be overwhelmingly inane; and among them they produced that
overwhelming inanity, musical comedy. There you have the ultimate
logic of cheerfulness in the theatre. It is like the obtrusive
cheerfulness of the performing animals in music-halls. It is a tedious
and beastly thing. It is cheerfulness without mind or meaning. It is
like a laugh painted on a clown's face. Compulsory cheerfulness must
always end like that, because, if one has to laugh all the time, it is
far easier to put the laugh on with a brush than to keep one's face
distorted by strength of will.

With the warning of the cheerful theatre before us, then, it would be
the stupidest folly to pay any heed to the new plea for cheerful
books. It is an extraordinary fact that thousands of people can be
serious to the point of bad temper over a political argument or a game
of cards or tennis; but if you asked them to take a book seriously,
they would regard the prospect as worse than a dry pharyngitis. They
put literature on a level not with their games, but with the
chocolates and drinks they consume when they are resting from their
games. It is of the chocolate kind of literature that ninety-nine out
of a hundred persons are thinking when they applaud phrases about the
books that cheer us all up. Or it might be nearer the mark to liken
the sort of literature they have in mind to one of those brands of
medicated port which innocent old ladies find grateful and comforting.
We live in an age of advertised brain-fag, and we demand of
literature that it shall be the literature of brain-fag. We ask of it
not friendship, but a drug. That is the heresy which must be killed if
letters are to live. Till it is killed they will not even be enjoyed.
I grant at once that it would be an impudence to expect an average
sensual man to regard books with the same profound interest as his
business affairs or his wife. On the other hand, persuade him that it
is pleasant to put as much of his heart into the enjoyment of a book
as he puts into the enjoyment of a football match, and you will
produce a revolution among the book-reading public. No man who is not
eccentric dreams of asking that a football match shall be amusing or a
game of chess cheerful. He goes to the one for its furious energy, for
the thrill of the rivalry of real people; he turns to the other for an
experience of intensity, of prescient skill. It is for energetic
experiences of a comparable kind, as Mr R. A. Scott-James suggestively
pointed out in a recent volume, that we go to literature. Literature
is not primarily meant to cheer us up when we are too tired to read
the paper, though incidentally it often does so, and to despise this
kind of literature would be as sinful as to despise Christmas pudding
and brandy sauce. But the purpose of literature is not to be an
epilogue to energy. It involves not a slackening, but a change, of
effort. That is why even the difficult authors like the Browning of
_Sordello_ attract us. They have the appeal of pathless mountains. It
is a curious fact, at the same time, that some of those who delight
most boldly in physical experiences turn from intellectual and
imaginative experiences with a kind of contempt. They despise from
their hearts the mollycoddle who will not risk a wound or a cold for
the pleasures of the sun and air. But, so far as the imagination is
concerned, they themselves are mollycoddles who will not venture
beyond a game of halma or a sugarstick by the hearth. What the world
of literature needs most is not cheerful writers, but adventurous
readers. The reading of poetry will become as popular as swimming when
once it is recognised that it is as natural and as exhilarating.

Literature thus justifies itself not so much by cheering us all up
when we are limp as by its appeal to the spirit of adventure, or, if
you like the phrase better, the spirit of experience. That is the
explanation of the pleasure we take in tragic literature. Tragedy
reminds certain spiritual energies in us that they are alive. It
enables them to expand, to exert themselves, to breathe freely. That
is why, in literature, it makes us happy to be miserable. To put
forth our strength, whether of limb or of imagination, makes for our
happiness far more than the passive cheerfulness of the fireside; or
if not more, at least as much. It would be ungrateful to speak
slightingly of the easy-chair and its pleasures. But the chief danger
in literature at present is not that the easy-chair will be neglected,
but that it will be given a place of far too great importance. Hence
it is necessary to emphasise the pleasures of the strenuous life in
contrast. This may seem to some readers a tolerable excuse for liking
tragedy and poetry, but a poor defence of the taste for realism,
naturalism, or whatever you like to call it. Even those who respond
immediately to the appeal of the mountains and the sea will often
resist the invitation of Zola and Huysmans and their followers to seek
adventures in the slums. They will not see that it is as natural to go
on one's travels in the slums as in the most beautiful lakeland on
earth. As a matter of fact, the discovery of the slums was one of the
most tremendous discoveries of the nineteenth century. It was one of
those revolutionary discoveries that have changed our whole view of
society. Whether it was the men of letters or the sociologists who
first discovered them I do not know. I contend, however, that the men
of letters had as much right to go to them as the sociologists. They
found life expressed there in horror and beauty, in sordidness and
nobility, and to reveal this in literature was to some extent to
create a new world for the imagination. It was to do more than this.
Society could not become fully self-conscious or articulate until the
pauper aspect of it was expressed in literature. Hence the novelist of
mean streets extended the boundaries of social self-consciousness. The
realists indeed have brought the remedial imagination to us as the
sociologist has brought the remedial facts and figures. This
remedialism, no doubt, is an extra-literary interest. But nothing is
quite alien to literature which touches the imagination. The
imagination may find its treasures in Tyre and Sidon or in an alley
off a back street, or even in a semi-detached villa. One must not
limit it in its wanderings to safe and clean and comfortable places.

This seems to me to be the great justification of the demand, not for
cheerful books, but for cheerful and courageous readers. The cheerful
reader will be able to go to hell with Dante and to hospital with
Esther Waters; and though this may be but a poor and secondhand
courage, it is at least preferable to the intellectual and imaginative
cowardice which will admit danger into literature only when it has
been stripped of every semblance of reality. The courage of the study,
it may be, is not so fine a thing as the courage of the workshop and
the field. But it is finer than is generally admitted. And it is much
rarer. There is no place in which men and women are so shamelessly
lazy and timid as among their books. If happiness lay in that
direction, the laziness might be justified. But it does not. Happiness
can never come from the atrophy of nine-tenths of our nature. It is
the result of the vigorous delight of heart and mind and spirit as
well as of body. The cheerful reader feels as ready for Æschylus and
his furies as the yachtsman for his sail on a choppy sea. He fears the
tragic satire of _Madame Bovary_ no more than a good pedestrian fears
the east wind. This is not to say that he does not enjoy cheerful
books when he finds them. He may even prefer _Tristram Shandy_ and
_The Pickwick Papers_ to Tolstoi. But he realises that cheerfulness in
a book is a delightful accident, not a necessity of literature. He
knows that to be cheerful is his own business, whether he goes with
his author into the dark and solitary places or into the sheltered and
smiling gardens of the sun.



VIII

ST G. B. S. AND THE BISHOP


There has been a delightful correspondence going on in the _Times_
about Mdlle Gaby Deslys. It owed not a little of its charm, I suspect,
to the fact that none of the correspondents had seen Gaby. The Bishop
of Kensington had not seen her; Mr H. B. Irving had not seen her; Mr
Bernard Shaw had not seen her. So they quarrelled furiously over her
as men have always quarrelled over the unseen, and if Æsop had been
alive, he might have got a fable out of the affair. The Bishop made
the mistake at the beginning of calling upon the Censor to suppress
Gaby. Mr Shaw, at mention of the Censor, immediately saw red, and Gaby
of the Lilies presented herself to his inflamed vision as a beautiful
damsel who was about to be made a meal of by an ecclesiastical
monster. He at once challenged the Bishop to battle--a battle of
theories. The Bishop unfortunately had no theory with him. He took his
stand upon the law. After the manner of Shylock, he insisted upon his
pound of flesh. Mr Shaw, of course, who bristled with theories could
not stand this. So he gave the Bishop his choice of theories and even
put several into his mouth, and forced a conflict upon him. And it was
a famous victory.

  But what they fought each other for
    I could not well make out.

Perhaps Mr Shaw himself did not quite know. But he made during the
fight some weird statements which are well worth examination.

One of these was that, in regard to sex as in regard to religion, it
is very difficult to say what is good and what is evil, and more
difficult still to suppress the one without suppressing the other. So
much is this so according to Mr Shaw that "one man seeing a beautiful
actress will feel that she has made all common debaucheries impossible
to him; another seeing the same actress in the same part will plunge
straight into those debaucheries because he has seen her body without
seeing her soul." But why choose a beautiful actress for the argument?
This matter can only be debated fairly if we take the case of an
actress whose lure is not beauty but some indecency of attitude,
gesture or phrase, which is meant to awaken the debauchee keeping
house in the breast of each of us with the ineffectual angel, and
which either does this or bores us into the bar. (I do not, I may say,
refer to Gaby Deslys, whom I, too, have not seen. I made more than one
attempt, but the crush of beauty-lovers was too great.) It is quite
easy to imagine an actress such as I have described: most of us have,
in the course of many hours misspent in music-halls, seen her. To say
that she may do good as well as harm is the same as saying that an
indecent photograph may do good as well as harm. If this is to be the
last word on the subject, then there is no logical reason why we
should not decorate the walls of elementary schools with indecent
photographs instead of maps, and teach the children limericks instead
of _Lady Clara Vere de Vere_ and _The Wreck of the Hesperus_. Mr Shaw
may retort that he would allow any man who did not find indecent
photographs and limericks "objectionable" to have his fill of them,
but that he would not allow him to thrust them upon children. But this
is to pass a moral judgment. If it is not certain whether the dangers
of the sensual parodies of the arts are greater than the dangers of
religion--or say, of geography--there is surely no more reason for
preserving the children from one than from the other.

Even if we waive this point for the sake of argument, is Mr Shaw's
other position tenable--that, if we consider any form of entertainment
objectionable, we should show our disapproval, not by trying to have
it stopped, but simply by staying away from it? Surely even in
music-hall performances, there is a line to be drawn somewhere. We can
no more be sure where good ends and evil begins than we can be sure
where light ends and darkness begins. But we all have a good enough
notion of when it is dark, and it is not so very difficult to tell
when a music-hall turn is out of bounds. Some people, it may be
granted, run to excess in their sense of propriety. They are as
delicate as the lady who, when carving a chicken at table, used to
inquire: "Will you have a wing or a limb?" On the other hand, there is
an equally large number of people who have no delicacy at all but who
are always ready to greet the obscene with a cheer. Their favourite
meal of entertainment is brutality for an entrée and sensuality for a
sweet. They can even mix their dishes at times, as, many years ago in
Paris, when a woman stripped to the waist and with her hands tied
behind her back used to get down on her knees and wait for rats to be
loosed out of a cage and kill them one by one with her mouth. Is there
no reason for suppressing a show of this kind except that it is rough
on rats? I think there is. It deserves suppression because it is what
we call, in a vague word, degrading. It is easy enough for a lively
imagination to picture as beastly a scene in which there would be no
rats present, and which, even if a thousand youths and maidens were
willing to pay night after night to see it, would still be a case for
the police.

One cannot help feeling that, in attacking the Bishop in regard to the
liberty of music-halls, Mr Shaw has allowed himself to be made angry
by the way in which the Church nearly always concentrates on sex when
it wishes to make war on sin. Probably he does well to be angry. It is
always worth while to denounce the Church for making morality so much
an affair of abstinences. On the other hand, the Church and the
prophets have realised by a wise instinct that this planet on which we
live tends perpetually to become a huge disorderly house, and that the
history of the world is largely the history of a struggle for decency.
At times, no doubt, the world has also been in danger of being
converted into a tyrannous Sabbath-school. But that was usually an
aftermath of disorder. There is no denying that the average human
being finds it far easier to learn to leer than to learn to sing
psalms. The fight against the leer is one of the first necessities of
civilisation. It may be argued that a policeman cannot be sent in
pursuit of a leer as he can in search of a pickpocket, and that, if he
were, he would more probably than not run it to earth in some
masterpiece of art or literature. But what about the leer when it has
been isolated--when it has no more connection with art or literature
than with Esperanto?

Mr Shaw seems to think that even in that case the attempt to suppress
it would be a form of persecution. But is it persecution to take
action against pickpockets or against employers who dodge the Factory
Acts or against the corrupters of children? Surely there are offences
that are capable of being dealt with by magistrates. Only the most
innocent optimist can believe that sweating, for instance, can be put
an end to by public opinion in the abstract as effectively as it can
be stopped by public opinion acting through the police. It is no
argument to say that, if we suppress certain music-hall turns because
we dislike them, those who object to the theory of the Atonement have
an equal right to try to suppress the teaching and preaching of that
doctrine. Might not the same argument be used against interference
with thieves and forgers or still more extreme criminals in the
pursuit of their livelihood? After all, supposing the Methodists added
to the Calvinist and Wesleyan varieties already in existence a new
sect of, say, Aphrodisiac Methodists, it is quite easy to conceive not
only public opinion, but the police interfering with it with the
approval of the mass of moral and immoral citizens. Similarly, if a
sect of Particular Baptist Thugs made its appearance, its religious
complexion would hardly save it from suppression. There might still be
half-a-dozen apostles of religious freedom who would tell you that you
could not logically take action against the Thugs and the Aphrodisiacs
without preparing the way for the prohibition of Bible-reading and for
burning psalm-singers at the stake. But common-sense knows better. It
knows that there are certain things which must be put down, either by
public opinion or by the police, if the world is to remain a place
into which it is worth a child's while to be born. It knows, too, that
the liberty to seek after truth and beauty in one's own way does not
necessarily involve the liberty to say or to do whatever beastly thing
one pleases, even if thousands of people enjoy it. If it did, then
the Censor's interference with _Mrs Warren's Profession_ would be an
act of the same kind as Scotland Yard's interference with the worst
kind of night clubs.

At the same time, one need not deny that the difficulty of deciding
what should be suppressed and what should not is immense. I see that
in some part of the world or other Isidora Duncan's dancing has been
prohibited. I myself have met a lady, who, when she was taken to see
Madame Duncan, was in an agony of blushes till she got out into the
street. But she sat through _The Merry Widow_ without turning a hair.
What, then, is to be the test in these matters? On the whole I think
it is a good rule to fight against the suppression of anything that
can by any stretch of the imagination be considered honestly intended
or beautiful. In the arts, one can believe without casuistry, beauty
ultimately transforms the beast. But there are forms of art,
literature and drama which are nothing else than a kind of indecent
exposure. Let us give them the benefit of the doubt, so long as there
is a doubt. But when there is no doubt, let them be given the benefit
of the policeman.

I wonder whether Mr Shaw would have argued so fiercely on the other
side if the Bishop had not dragged in the Censor. If the controversy
had not got mixed up with the Censorship, indeed, it would have
greatly simplified matters. Mr Shaw seems to have begun to belabour
the Bishop from a feeling that a blow to the Bishop was a blow to the
Censor, but having once begun, he seems to have gone on simply because
he enjoyed beating a Bishop. And of the remains there were gathered up
twelve basketsful. But, all the same, I cannot help feeling that the
Bishop perished in a good cause.



IX

STUPIDITY

    "Surely honest men may thank God they belong to 'the Stupid
    Party'!"--_The Spectator_, March 28, 1914.


It is a terrible thing to boast of stupidity, even in irony. It is a
still more terrible thing to associate stupidity with honesty. There
is a good deal to be said in favour of honesty, but stupidity in the
garb of honesty is the merest masquerader. There was once a member of
a local body whom I heard praised in the words: "He's the only honest
man in the Corporation, and that is because he is too stupid to be
anything else." I doubt if predestined honesty of this sort is
entitled to a statue. It has its public uses, no doubt, as an
occasional stumbling-block to those who traffic both in their own and
other people's virtue. Here, at least, is virtue that cannot be bought
at a crisis. On the other hand, it does not withstand the temptations
of gold a bit more sturdily than it withstands the appeals of reason.
It will not move either for a thousand pounds or for the Archangel
Gabriel. It bars the way to Heaven and the road to Hell impartially.
It has the unbudgeableness of the ass rather than the adaptability
which enables human beings to survive on this wrinkled planet. Even
so, one may admit a sneaking respect and affection for honest stupid
people in private life. It is when they feel called upon to devote
their combined honesty and stupidity to public affairs that one begins
to tremble and to wonder whether, after all, an honest fool or a
clever rogue is likely to do better service to the State. Oscar Wilde
once said it was well that good people did not live to see the evil
results of their goodness and that wicked people did not live to see
the good results of their wickedness. This is true, perhaps, no matter
how cunning one may be in one's virtue or how provident in one's
vices. But it is especially true of that blind and bigoted honesty
which cannot see farther than its nose. I know a town where the
lamplighter twenty years ago was an honest old man of the blind and
bigoted type. It was his duty to go out and light the lamps of the
little town on every night when there was no moon. One month, however,
it was noticed that all the lamps were alight while the moon was
blazing, and that when the moon was dark the lamps were dark too. The
old man was called before the town committee to account for his
disobedience to orders. Instead of apologising, however, he firmly
insisted that he had done his duty, and produced a calendar to prove
that there was no moon on the nights on which everybody had seen it
shining, and that it might have reasonably been expected to shine on
the nights on which it was obscured. He was asked why he did not trust
his eyes, but he said that he always went by the calendar, and he
would not yield an inch of his position till someone took the calendar
from him and noticed that it was not even a current one, but a
calendar of the previous year. There, I think, is a dramatisation of a
very common form of honesty. It is as common among Cabinet Ministers
and Churchmen as among aged lamplighters. It expresses itself in
adherence not only to antiquated Mother Seigel calendars but to
constitutions and confessions of faith that have lost their meaning.
Whether this can justly be called honesty at all is a question with
something to be said on both sides. It is certainly stupidity of the
very best quality.

One of the reasons why one rather disbelieves in reverencing stupidity
is that it is not always as honest as it looks. It is often an armour
instinctively, if not deliberately, put on by comfortable people.
This kind of stupidity has sometimes been attributed to excessive
eating and drinking, as when Holinshed wrote of the sixteenth-century
Scots that "they far exceed us in overmuch and distemperate
gormandise, and so engross their bodies that diverse of them do oft
become unapt to any other purpose than to spend their times in large
tabling and belly cheer." But I have known gluttons who have yet had
all their wits about them and ladies who could hardly get through the
wing of a chicken and were nevertheless as stupid as a prize cat
blinking beside the fire. There is more in it than the stomach.
Stupidity of the kind I mean is really an ingeniously built castle
with moat and drawbridge to guard against the entrance of the facts of
life--at least, of the disagreeable facts of life. It is by a perfect
network of castles of this kind that so many feudal privileges have
been kept alive generations after anyone defends the idea of
feudalism. Against stupidity, it has been said, the gods themselves
fight in vain, and it is hardly to be wondered at that democracy also
falls back from the impassive walls of those old castles like a broken
tide. It is only fair to say, however, that again and again different
noble inmates--how suggestive a word--of the castles have refused to
shelter themselves behind the drawbridge of stupidity and have even
offered to lead the people in an assault on castles in general. It is
then usually discovered that the people, too, have their dear retreat
of stupidity to which they fly on the first hint of a raid upon
Utopia. The stupidity of the underfed is an even more desperate thing
than the stupidity of the overfed, and, when a castellan offers his
sword to their cause, they merely look at each other and ask darkly:
"What's he going to get out of it?" It is the popular stupidity which
led Mr Shaw the other day to observe that he had more hope of
converting a millionaire than a millionaire's chauffeur to Socialism.
Certainly it is the stupid in the back streets who make the stupid in
the castles secure. The latter see in the former, indeed, not only
their first line of defence, but their justification. They see their
justification, however, in everything and everybody. They wrap
themselves up in little comforting thoughts that the poor do not feel
things as the respectable do. I have heard a comfortable artist, for
instance, in winter, arguing that there was no need to pity a blind
beggar shivering at a street-corner. "Each of us is kept warm," he
declared, "by a little stove in his stomach, and you would be
surprised to know how little it takes to keep a man like that's stove
alight. You see, he's been training himself all his life to do with
very little food and very little clothing and to sit out in all kinds
of weather. A fall in the temperature that would paralyse you or me
would affect him hardly more than a fall in the price of champagne.
You see, he's learned to do without things." There was almost a note
of envy in his voice for the man who had learned to do without
things--without soap, and meat, and blankets, and clothes-brushes, and
servants, and fires, and sunshine. That seems to be one of the
favourite hypocrisies of the stupid, the pretence of envying the poor.
I have seen a merchant grow suddenly eloquent as he described the
happy lot of the working-man, who had nothing to do but draw his
wages, and compared it with the anxious life of the employer, who had
all the cares and responsibilities of the business on his shoulders.
The rich never feel so good as when they are speaking of their
possessions as responsibilities. Hear a mistress set forth the
advantages of the life of a servant-girl--how she not only gets higher
wages than servants ever got before, but think of the food, and no
rent to pay! She even becomes mawkish over the fortune of a girl who
is too poor to be called upon to pay rates and taxes. Alas, these
idylls of the kitchen are all written in the drawing-room. If a
servant's life were all a matter of freedom from rent and rates and
taxes and the worries of making both ends meet on a thousand a year,
the idylls would be apt enough; but it is just possible that even to
make both ends meet on twenty-five pounds a year may have its own
difficulties. Certainly one has a right to suspect these ladies who
glorify the life of the cook and the parlour-maid. I will refuse to
believe in them till I hear that one of them has run away from her
husband to take one of those sinecures advertised in the domestic
service columns of the _Morning Post_. But, perhaps, their sense of
duty is too strong to allow them to fly from their responsibilities in
that way.

Stupidity might be defined as resignation to other people's
misfortunes. Alternatively, it is a way of regarding comforts as
responsibilities and of getting out of one's uncomfortable
responsibilities altogether. There is no greater enemy of change. For,
granted enough stupidity, it is easy to believe that Hell itself is
Heaven. It is the stupidity of the rich, rather than deliberate
heartlessness, that permits so many of them to live cheerfully on
ill-paid labour and slum rents. Fortunately the cheerful dullness of
rich people is rarer than it was a century ago. Then it was reinforced
by political economy which regarded transactions in human beings in
much the same light as transactions in pounds of tea. Our first
awakening to the right of other people to live happened just before we
gave up cannibalism. The second happened just before we gave up
slavery. The third will happen just before we give up capitalism.
Obviously, it is only our stupidity which enables us to go on putting
the rights of Tom, Dick, and Harry before the rights of the race. It
is only our stupidity which makes us believe that, while it is right
that superfluous wealth should be taxed a shilling in the pound for
the good of all, it would be robbery to tax it ten shillings in the
pound for the good of all. The first statesman who levied the first
tax thereby announced the dual ownership of property between the
citizen and the State. He vindicated the right of the State,
representing the common good, as against the individual, representing
only his private good, to a first share in property. The income-tax
stands for exactly the same principle in regard to State rights as
would the nationalisation of the land or the railways. As we grow less
stupid, we shall gradually awake to the fact that there is no right to
food and shelter and State benevolence that we possess which our
neighbours ought not also in justice to possess. We shall gradually
understand, for instance, that it is not worth while that a thousand
children should be brought up in the gutters of misery in order that a
few dozen young gentlemen may sup on plovers' eggs. It has already
dawned upon us that, if pensions are good for field-marshals, they
cannot be so very bad for linen-lappers. Perhaps we shall yet come to
see that a pension is a very good thing to begin life with as well as
to end life with. In the meantime, most of us are either too
comfortable or too miserable to think about such things. Our
stupidity, at least, keeps conscience or revolution from destroying
the peace of our meals.



X

WASTE


When Mr Churchill referred in Manchester to the piling up of armaments
as so much misdirected human energy, he said something with which men
of all parties will agree, except those few romantic souls who believe
that it is a bracing thing to shed the blood of a foreigner every now
and then. Obviously, if two men live beside one another, and if each
of them is so afraid of the other's climbing secretly into his back
garden that he hires a watchman to walk up and down the garden path
all day and night with a six-shooter in his hand, he is wasting on his
fears a great deal of energy that might be expended on cabbages.
Again, if there is a stream running between the gardens, and if each
of the householders is always preparing for the day when the other may
question his right to use the water, he will have to hire other strong
men, and many a man who might have made a good blacksmith or barman
may be turned into a sailor. The situation is so absurd that it does
not bear thinking about except as a game: the military aristocracies
who treat preparation for war as a form of sport are in this entirely
logical. On the other hand, when the burgess fulminates against war as
though it were the only example of wasted human energy that does not
bear thinking of, he is shutting his eyes to the fact that the whole
of modern civilisation is built upon a foundation of waste where it is
not built upon a foundation of want.

Our estimates of men and nations rise and fall with their capacity for
waste. The great nation, in the eyes of the Imperialist, is the nation
that can waste the world. It is the nation that can mow down harvests
of savages without even the comparatively decent excuse that it wants
to eat them. It is the nation that can make the genius of other
nations as though it were not--that can ruin harbours and send ships
worth a million pounds to the bottom of the sea. I do not say that
there are not other elements that have a part in the greatness of
nations. But the power of destruction alone is enough to make any
nation supreme for a day--and the supremacy of no nation lasts much
longer--and remembered in history. Similarly, with individual men and
women. "Everybody," said Emerson, "loves a lover." It would be almost
truer to say that everybody loves a wastrel. In our boyhood we love
those who waste themselves. In our discreeter years we envy those who
can waste the lives of others. It has often been noticed that youths
and maidens have a tenderness for drunkards and rakes. They reverence
the genius of life wasted almost more than the genius of life
fulfilled. Byron, whose vices killed him in his thirties; Sydney
Carton, who was seldom sober; Mr Kipling's gentleman-rankers, "damned
from here to eternity"--these awake a passionate devotion in the
breasts of the young such as is never lavished on successful grocers.
It is the prodigal son, and not his respectable brother, at whom
affectionate eyes look round as he passes along the street. Perhaps it
is because he is so much more obviously trying a fall with destiny
than the grocer. The mark of doom makes a more picturesque effect on
the brow than a silk-lined bowler hat. According to this view, the
wastrel owes his appeal largely to the fact that he is a fighter in a
lost cause--the cause of those who have lifted hands against the
universe.

The reverence of middle age for the wealthier geniuses of waste,
however, cannot be explained on grounds like these. One does not think
of Lord Tomnoddy or Sir Alexander Soapsuds as a warrior against
destiny. The prodigality of the rich appeals to us for quite other
reasons than does the prodigality of the prodigal. We endure it
chiefly because we envy it. The dream of being a rich man who can
thrust out men and women from their homes to make room for pheasants,
who by sheer economic pressure can force us to make bonbons for his
guests when we ought to be making boots for ourselves, who can take a
man who might be a duke and turn him into a flunkey, lulls us into a
kind of satisfaction with the world. The man who has the power to
waste fields and men and women and money and labour is the king who
rules in every vulgar heart among us. His royal wastefulness in food
and servants and ornaments brings him, it may be granted, not a
teaspoonful of added health or an eggcupful more of happiness. Even
the poets, who have so often sung for rich masters, have always had
the grace to warn them that over-eating and over-drinking and
over-confidence in this world's goods were merely three death's-heads
dressed up in seductive bonnets. But the truth is we never believe the
poets when once we have laid down the book. Our ideal of wastefulness
is firmly rooted in us beyond the attacks of any æsthete with his
harmless little quiver of phrases.

Even when we are not rich ourselves we can imitate the rich in their
wastefulness. There is nothing the average servant scorns more than
the house in which she is expected to make use of the torsos of
loaves, and in which she is forbidden to sacrifice odds and ends of
meat to the little gods of the dust-bin. She loves the house where
there is milk for the sink as well as for the children and the cat.
Years ago, when some people were advocating a tax on salt, they did so
on the ground that no one need suffer since at present everybody puts
on his plate several times as much salt as he ever uses. Hence, if we
were more careful with the salt, such a tax would be a tax not on salt
but on wastefulness. It is the same with mustard. I remember a
Scotsman once asking me in a hushed voice if I knew how Colman had
made his fortune. I thought from my friend's solemn air that it must
have been in some sensational way--by buying a deserted gold-mine or
running a South American revolution. But my friend merely pointed to
the plate from which I was eating. "He made it," he declared solemnly,
"out of mustard you leave on the edge of your plate."

Perhaps the Scotsman was right in shaking his head so gravely over our
extravagance in mustard. But somehow I, too, have the kitchen's taste
for superfluities, and enough never seems half so good as a little
more. Horace described the happy man as the man who had enough and
something over for servants and thieves. "Oh, the little more, and how
much it is!" Even if we grudge it to the thieves, we love it because
of the sense it gives us that we are no longer struggling in the water
but sitting in triumph on the dry land. The average Englishman
dislikes Tariff Reform, not entirely because he has grasped the
economics of the subject, but because it would bring in a system which
would compel him to be as thrifty as a Frenchman and as careful as a
German. One must admit to a certain degree of sympathy with him. When
one hears of French peasants (as I once did) calling round after the
meals of the rich to carry off the scrapings of the plates to make
soup for their families, and of their doing this not because they were
very poor, but because they were very thrifty, one's heart suddenly
rejoices at the sight of the tattered old flag of prodigality again.
One does not want to see thrift given the extreme character of an
orgy.

On the other hand, a good many of us get an easy sense of the heroic
by living in lordly wastefulness. It appeals to us as a kind of
enlargement of our personality. That is why so many of us shrink with
horror from such social economies as a kitchen or a heating apparatus
that would serve a street. We like our own fires and our own bad
cookery. It is as childish as if we wanted our own footpath and our
own moon, and no doubt we would insist on these if we could. We
pretend that romance would leave the world if the sausages were turned
by a citizen in a municipal cap of liberty instead of by a wage-slave,
and that freedom would be dead if we warmed our toes at a civic fire.
I wonder that no one takes exception to the communal warmth of the
sun.

The present wastefulness would be little worse than an insane joke if
all this multiplying of cooks and parlourmaids did not absorb such an
amount of reluctant youth and deftness and energy. But, alas! our
ideals of private citizenship seldom mean that we do our work
privately ourselves. They only mean that we privately hire somebody
else to do it. In other words, they are usually a violation of the
private citizenship of somebody else. Consequently, though we enjoy
helping in the wastefulness of it all as a puppy enjoys tearing a
book, we do not feel justified in elevating our tastes into an ethical
system. We are simply grabbers of the corn supply. Probably, even in a
hundred years, people will look back on our present west-European
society and marvel at the common habit of prosperous men in sitting
down to a table where there are far more dishes and elegancies than
they can ever absorb, while men, women and children walk the streets
empty. I seldom sit down to dinner in a hotel without a sense that I
am being offered three people's food. No, a society that gives three
people's food to one man and one man's portion of food--or less--to
three people must be the laughing-stock of angels. The social waste
that results from railway monopolies and battleship programmes and the
warren of small shops in every city is as nothing to this. Except,
perhaps, in so far as it is the cause of this. On the whole, however,
the problem of waste goes deeper than battleships, which are but toys
and which will disappear as soon as the nations grow up and cease
making faces at each other. It is a problem on the same level with
lust, which, indeed, is a form of waste. It is one of the great
problems of egoism, which is more concerned with mastery than with
truth or common-sense or gentleness. Not mastery of oneself--just
gimcrack, made-in-Birmingham mastery. This is the Mammon of our
conceit upon whose altars we are willing to offer up the sacrifice of
the wasted earth.



XI

ON CHRISTMAS


There is a cant of Christmas, and there is a cant of anti-Christmas.
There are some people who want to throw their arms round you simply
because it is Christmas; there are other people who want to strangle
you simply because it is Christmas. Thus, between those who appreciate
and those who depreciate Christmas, it is difficult for an ordinary
man to escape bruises. As I grow older, I confess, I accept Christmas
more philosophically than I used to do. There was a time when it
seemed a dangerous institution, like home life or going to church. One
felt that in undermining its joys one was making a breach in the
defences of an ancient hypocrisy. Still more, one resented the steady
boredom of the day--the boredom of a day from which one had been led
to expect larger ecstasies than a surfeit of dishes and the explosion
of crackers can give. One might have enjoyed it well enough, perhaps,
if one had not had the feeling that it was one's duty to be happy. But
to be deliberately happy for a whole day was a task as exhausting as
deliberately hopping with one's feet tied. It was not that one wanted
to be unhappy. It was merely that one desired one's liberty to be
either as happy or as miserable as one pleased.

Remembering these early hostilities, I will not bid anyone be happy or
merry or jolly on Christmas Day, except as the turkey and plum-pudding
move them. At the same time, I cannot let the festival pass without
recanting my childish insolence towards the holly and the mistletoe. I
have been converted to Christmas as thoroughly almost as that prince
of individualists, Scrooge. I can now pull a cracker with any man; I
can accept gifts without actual discourtesy; and if the flame goes out
before the plum-pudding reaches me, I am as mortified as can be. The
Christmas tree shines with the host of the stars, and I can even
forgive my neighbour who plays "While shepherds watched" all day long
on the gramophone. The Salvation Army, which plays the same tune and
one or two others all through the small hours on the trombone and the
cornet-à-piston, is a severer test of endurance. But even that one can
grin and bear when one remembers that the Salvationist bandsmen are
but a sort of melancholy herald angels. The solitary figure in the
Christmas procession, indeed, whom one hates with a boiling and
bubbling hatred, is the postman who does not call. In Utopia the
postman does not miss a letter-box on Christmas Day. Or on any other
day.

It would be affectation to pretend, however, that one has suddenly
developed a craving for plum-pudding and cracker-mottoes in one's
middle age. One's reconcilement with Christmas is due neither to one's
stomach nor to a taste for the wit and wisdom of cracker
manufacturers. It is simply that one has come to enjoy a season of
lordly inutility, when for the space of a day or two the cash-nexus
hangs upon the world as light as air. It is no small thing to have
this upsetting of the tyrannies, if it is only for a few hours. The
heathen, as we call them, realised this even before the birth of
Christ, and had the Saturnalia and other festivals of the kind in
which a communism of licence ruled, if not a communism of gentleness.
It is still an instinct in many Christian places to turn Christmas
into a general orgy--to make it a day on which one bows down and
worships the human maw. (And there are worse things in the world than
brandy-sauce.) On the other hand, there is also the instinct to make
of the day a door into a new world of neighbourliness. It is the only
day in the year on which many men speak humanly to their servants and
open their eyes to the cheerful lives of children and simple people.
Hypercritical youth will deny that man has a right to confine his
neighbourliness to a single day in the year any more than he has a
right to confine his sanctity to the Sabbath. But we who have ceased
to exact miracles from human nature are glad to have even a single day
as a beginning. Socialism, we may admit, depends upon the extension of
the Christmas festival into the rest of the year. It demands that the
relations between man and man shall be, as far as possible, not
shopkeeping relations, but Christmas relations. In other words, it
aims at a society in which the little conquests of gain will cease to
be the chief end of time, and men will no more think of cheating each
other than Romeo would think of cheating Juliet. Nor is there any
other side of the new civilisation which will be more difficult to
build than this. This is the very spirit of the new city. Without it
the rest would be but a chaos of stones and mortar--a Gehenna of
purposeless machinery.

It is an extraordinary fact that the rediscovery of Christmas in the
nineteenth century was not followed sooner by the rediscovery of the
limitations of individualism. Dickens himself, the incarnation of
Christmas, did not realise till quite late in life what a denial
modern civilisation is of the Christmas spirit. Even in _Hard Times_,
where, as Mr Shaw pointed out, he expresses the insurrection of the
human conscience against a Manchesterised society, he offers us no
hope except from the spread of a sort of Tory benevolence. Perhaps,
however, it does not matter how you label benevolence so long as it is
the real thing and is not merely another name for that most insidious
form of egotism--patronage. That Dickens was pugnaciously benevolent
in all his work--except when he was writing about Dissenters and
Americans--was one of the most fortunate accidents in the popular
literature of the nineteenth century. He did not, perhaps, dramatise
the secret mystery of human brotherhood--the brotherhood of saint and
fool and criminal and ordinary man--as Tolstoi and Dostoevsky have
done in some of their work. But he dramatised goodwill with a
thoroughness never attempted before in England.

On the whole, it may be doubted whether the Christmas spirit has not
grown stronger and deeper since the time of Dickens. Only a few years
ago it seemed as though it were dying. People began to detest even
Christmas cards as something more Victorian than _The Idylls of the
King_. But here the old enthusiasm is back again, and we can no more
kill Christmas than the lion could kill Androcles. Perhaps the
popularisation of Italian art, as well as Dickens, has something to do
with it. Our imaginations cannot escape from the Virgin and the Child,
and we are like children ourselves in the inquisitiveness with which
we peer into that magic stable where the ass and the cow worship and
the shepherds and the kings and the little angels in their nightgowns
are on their knees. There has come back a gaiety, a playfulness, into
the picture, such as our grandfathers might have thought irreverent,
but their grandfathers' grandfathers, on the other hand, would have
seen to be perfectly natural. The cult of the child has, perhaps, been
overdone in recent years, and we have brought our mawkishness and our
morbid analysis even to the side of the cradle. At the same time, no
one has yet been able to point out a way by which we can escape from
the obsession of rates and taxes, of profit and loss, except by the
recovery of the child's vision. Without that vision religion itself
becomes a matter of profit and loss. With that vision the dullest
world blossoms with flowers; even truisms cease to be meaningless; and
Christmas is itself again. Out of the drowning of the world we have
made a toy for the nursery, and the birth of the King of Glory has
become the theme of a song for infants.

One of the most exquisite pictures in literature is that of the three
ships that come sailing into Bethlehem "on Christmas Day, in the
morning"; and not less childishly beautiful is that other short carol:

  There comes a ship far sailing then,
  Saint Michael was the steersman,
      Saint John sat in the horn;
  Our Lord harped, our Lady sang,
  And all the bells of Heaven they rang,
      On Christ's Sunday at morn.

One sees the same childish imagination at work in the old English
carol, "Hail, comely and clean," in which the three shepherds come to
the inn stable with their gifts, the first with "a bob of cherries"
for the new-born baby, the second with a bird, and the third with a
tennis-ball. "Hail," cries the third shepherd--

  Hail, darling dear, full of godheed!
  I pray Thee be near, when that I have need.
  Hail! sweet Thy cheer! My heart would bleed
  To see Thee sit here in so poor weed,
      With no pennies.
  Hail! put forth Thy dall!
  I bring Thee but a ball,
  Have and play Thee withal.
      And go to the tennis.

These songs, it may be, are more popular to-day than they were fifty
years ago--partly owing to the decline of the old-fashioned suspicious
sort of Protestantism, which saw the Pope behind every bush--including
the holly-bush. One remembers how Protestants of the old school used
to denounce even Raphael's grave Madonnas as trash of Popery. "I'll
have no Popish pictures in my house," declared a man I know to his
son, who had brought home the Sistine Madonna to hang on his walls;
and the picture had to be given away to a friend. Similarly, the
observance of Christmas Day was regarded in some places as a Popish
superstition. One old Protestant clergyman many years ago used to make
the rounds of his friends and parishioners on Christmas morning to
wish them the compliments of the day. It was his custom, however, to
pray with each of them, and in the course of his prayers to explain
that he must not be regarded as taking Christmas Day seriously.
"Lord," he would pray, "we are not gathered here in any superstitious
spirit, as the Roman Catholics are, under the delusion that Thy Son
was born in Bethlehem on the twenty-fifth of December. Hast not Thou
told us in Thy Holy Book that on the night on which Thy Son was born
the shepherds watched their flocks by night in the open air? And Thou
knowest, O Lord, that in the fierce and inclement weather of
December, with its biting frosts and its whirling snows, this would
not have been possible, and can be but a Popish invention." But,
having set himself right with God, he was human enough to proceed on
his journey of good wishes. Noble intolerance like his is now, I
believe, dead. To-day even a Plymouth Brother may wreathe his brow
with mistletoe, and a Presbyterian may wish you a merry Christmas
without the sky or the Shorter Catechism falling.



XII

ON DEMAGOGUES


It is still the custom in civilised countries for the politicians to
call each other names. The word "serpent" has, one regrets to say,
fallen out of use. But we are compensated for this in some measure by
the invention of new terms of insult almost every day. It is not very
long since Mr Lloyd George called Mr Steel Maitland "the
cat's-meat-man of the Tory party," and Mr Steel Maitland retorted by
calling Mr Lloyd George "Gehazi, the leper." And, side by side with
original fancies of this kind, the old-fashioned dictionary of abuse
still stands as open as the English Bible, where statesmen may arm
themselves with nouns and adjectives that everybody can understand,
such as "duke," "turncoat," "Jack Cade," "paid agitator," "Irish,"
"attorney," "despot," "nefarious" (which was almost as dead as
"serpent" till Sir Edward Carson revived it), and, last but not least,
"demagogue." It is only a day or two since Mr Bonar Law called Mr
Lloyd George a demagogue, and one was disappointed to find that Mr
Lloyd George, instead of calling Mr Bonar Law Nebuchadnezzar or Judas
Iscariot in return, merely insisted that he could not be a demagogue,
because a demagogue was a man who kicked away the ladder by which he
had risen. This is very much as if you were to call a man "Bill
Sikes," and he retorted that he could not be Bill Sikes because Bill
Sikes had a wooden leg. Of course, Bill Sikes had not a wooden leg,
and a demagogue is not necessarily a man who kicks away the ladder by
which he has risen. A demagogue is simply a mob-leader--a man who
appeals to popular passions rather than principles. He is what half
the statesmen of all parties aspire to be in every democratic
community. Despots obtain their mastery over the crowd by the sword:
demagogues by the catchword. That is the difference between a tyranny
and a democracy. It may not seem to be a change for the better to
those who have a taste for the costumes and lights of the theatre. But
the demagogue at least consults the mob as though it had a mind and
will of its own. The very way in which he flatters it and instigates
it to passion is an assertion of its freedom of choice, and,
therefore, a concession to the dignity of human nature. It is like
wooing as compared with marriage by capture.

Even when we have put the demagogue securely above the despot,
however, we are left in considerable doubt about him. Somehow or other
we do not like him. We do not trust him further than we can see him.
We distrust him as Aristophanes, Shakespeare, and Dickens did. We feel
that the difference between a demagogue and a statesman is that the
former converts human beings into a mob, while the latter exalts a mob
into a company of human beings. It is the difference between a pander
and a prophet. It is true that men of a conservative temper hate the
pander and the prophet almost equally. Shakespeare, for instance, who
was a bad politician as well as a good poet, mocks at Utopias no less
than at bombast in that unhistorical picture he suggests of Jack
Cade:--

     CADE: There shall be in England seven halfpenny loaves sold
     for a penny: the three-hooped pot shall have ten hoops, and I
     will make it felony to drink small beer: all the realm shall
     be in common; and in Cheapside shall my palfrey go to grass;
     and when I am king, as king I will be,----

     ALL: God save your majesty!

     CADE: I thank you, good people: there shall be no money; all
     shall eat and drink on my score; and I will apparel them all
     in one livery, that they may agree like brothers, and
     worship me, their lord.

     DICK: The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers.

     CADE: Nay, that I mean to do.

To many of us, if you omit Cade's occasional lapses into
individualism--as in his desire to be worshipped as a king--this will
seem an admirable programme. It will more than hold its own in
comparison with any programme that ever originated in Newcastle or
Birmingham. William Morris himself might have had that vision of
restoring Cheapside to green fields, and even the extremest
Marconoclast could hardly go further than Cade in suggestions for a
summary way with lawyers. Who is there who is not whole-heartedly with
Cade for the abolition of poverty? In fact, there seems little to
criticise in the man as Shakespeare drew him, except that he made his
proposals for personal, not for social ends. That, I believe, is the
real essence of demagogy.

To be a demagogue is not to advocate one thing rather than another. It
depends on the manner, not on the matter, of one's proposals. One may
reap one's own glory out of praise of the New Jerusalem no less than
out of the most vulgar incitements to war and hatred. It is a
temptation to which every man is subject who has ever stood on a cart
above a crowd of his fellows. One feels tempted to play on them, like
a child who finds itself left alone with a piano. It is worse than
that. A crowd is like a sea of liquor, the fumes of which go to an
orator's head and make him boast and lie and leer as he would be
ashamed to see himself doing in his sober senses. He becomes, to
parody Novalis on Spinoza, a mob-intoxicated man. But there is one
notable difference between a decent drunkard and a demagogue. The
drunkard is satisfied with getting drunk himself. The demagogue is not
content till he has made the crowd drunk too. He and the mob are, as
it were, mutual intoxicants, and in the result many a public meeting
turns into so disgraceful an orgy that, if anything comparable to it
occurred in a music-hall, the licence would be withdrawn. This is a
kind of vice of which the moralists have not yet taken sufficient
note. And yet there is no more execrable passion on earth than
demagogue-passion on the one hand, and mob-passion on the other. Cleon
will always be remembered as one of the basest Athenians who ever
lived, and this is because he was the first demagogue of
Imperialism--a violent animal on his hind-legs who bellowed till he
woke up the blood-lust of his fellow-citizens. He was powerful only
so long as he could keep that and other popular lusts active. Men, it
has been said by a notable philosopher, seek after power rather than
beauty; but this, I believe, is only true of demagogues and egoists of
kindred sorts. The demagogue is the man who, instead of aiming at
bringing the mob to his mood, feels after the mood of the mob, and,
having discovered it, whips it into froth and fury. If you keep your
eyes open at a public meeting--not always an easy thing to do in days
when men discuss Welsh Disestablishment--you will see how the
demagogue often becomes the master of a meeting that has listened
coldly to intelligent and honest speeches. Like pot-boiling in art, it
is perfectly easy if you know the way. The Sausage Seller who aspired
to be Cleon's rival, in _The Knights_ of Aristophanes, expounds the
whole art of demagogy in his prayer:

  Ye influential impudential powers
  Of sauciness and jabber, slang and jaw!
  Ye spirits of the market-place and street,
  Where I was reared and bred--befriend me now!
  Grant me a voluble utterance, and a vast
  Unbounded voice, and steadfast impudence!

And, in another passage, Demosthenes initiates him into the means of
obtaining power over the people:

  Interlard your rhetoric with lumps
  Of mawkish sweet, and greasy flattery.
  Be fulsome, coarse, and bloody!

This, indeed, is what oratory is bound to degenerate into in a
democracy unless it is the weapon of a conviction. It is like any
other form of art which is practised, not from any burning and
generous motive, but for mere love of that sense of power which gain
and popularity give. Dickens, owing to a curious gap in his knowledge,
made his typical Trade-Union leader, Slackbridge, in _Hard Times_, a
demagogue of the ranting type, who began a speech:

     Oh, my friends, the down-trodden operatives of Coketown! Oh,
     my friends and fellow-countrymen, the slaves of an
     iron-handed and a grinding despotism! Oh, my friends and
     fellow-sufferers, and fellow-workmen and fellow-men!

Slackbridge, we are also told, was "an ill-made, high-shouldered man
with lowering brows, and his features crushed into an habitually sour
expression." That represents the attitude of many people to popular
leaders. They believe that no one can advocate a reasonable future for
the poor without being venomous and of an ugly appearance. They do not
realise that the demagogues and agitators of to-day are chiefly men of
the propertied classes and their allies, like Sir Edward Carson and
Mr F.E. Smith. Sir Edward Carson's speeches in Ulster, indeed, are the
most extreme instances of demagogy we have had in recent years. They
are all noise and passion, roaring echoes of the mob-soul, rhetoric
and not reason, thunder-storms instead of light. They are appeals to
the war-spirit--the same spirit that Cleon and all the demagogues have
sought to awaken. Incidentally I admit that a class-war or a sex-war
may as readily produce its Carsons as a war of sectarianism. Sir
Edward Carson is the awful example to all creeds and classes of how
not to do it.



XIII

ON COINCIDENCES


An amazing story of coincidences appears in the _Westminster Gazette_.
During the Boer War four men met by chance for the first time on the
eve of some big action, and the meeting was so agreeable that one of
the men who had a bad two-shilling piece in his pocket divided it, and
gave each of the others a quarter as a memento of the evening.
Immediately afterwards they separated, and never saw or heard of each
other again till a few evenings ago, when a dinner was given in honour
of somebody or other in Birmingham. The four men were friends of the
guest of the evening, and all of them turned up at the dinner, where
they recognised each other easily, we are told, because each of them
was wearing his quarter-florin on his watch-chain.

Life is, of course, a series of coincidences, but we never cease to be
surprised as each new one happens, and nothing can destroy their
recurring freshness. We may make mathematical calculations showing
that there is a chance in a million that such and such a thing will
happen, but, when it happens once in a million times, it seems to us
as marvellous as a comet. We cannot get accustomed to the pattern of
Nature, which repeats itself as daringly as the pattern in a
wall-paper. Our fathers recognised this pattern, and saw in it the
weird craftsmanship of destiny. We who believe in iron law, which
surely implies a rigid pattern, are by a curious want of logic
sceptics, and we treat each new emergence of the pattern as a strange
exception to scientific rule. We cannot believe that Nature arranged
howlings of dogs and disasters in the stars to accompany the death of
a Cæsar or a Napoleon. Everything that we can call dramatic in Nature
we put down to chance and coincidence. Superstitious people confront
us with instance upon instance of the succession of omen and event,
but we label these exception No. 1, exception No. 2, and so forth, and
go cheerfully on our way.

Believers in omens tell us that, some time before Laud's trial and
execution, he found his portrait fallen on to the floor, and predicted
disaster; and they ask us to admit that this was more than a
coincidence, especially as there are a hundred similar stories. They
relate how the stumble of a horse proved as fatal an omen for Mungo
Park as did the fall of a picture for Laud. One day before he
departed on his last expedition to Africa his horse stumbled, and Sir
Walter Scott, who was with him, said: "I am afraid this is a bad
omen." "Omens follow those who look to them," replied the explorer,
and set forth on the expedition from which he never returned. Luckily
we have examples which suggest that Park and not Scott was right.
Everyone knows the story of William the Conqueror's fall as he landed
on the shores of England, and how, in order to calm the superstitious
alarm of his followers, he called on them to observe how he had taken
possession of the country with both hands. In the very fact of doing
so, of course, he merely substituted one interpretation of an omen for
another. But if omens are capable in this way of opposite
interpretations, we are on the direct road to scepticism about their
significance, and so to a view that most events that appear to have
been heralded by omens are simple coincidences.

One remarkable coincidence of this kind came to my ears the other day.
A man I know was suddenly dismissed from his post with three months'
salary in his pocket. I happened to be talking about superstitions
with him the same afternoon, when he said: "It's all very well, but
only last week, when I was in the country, some one was telling
fortunes by tea-leaves in the house where I was stopping; and he
turned to me and said: 'Old man, there's a big surprise in store for
you, and I see some money in the bottom of the cup.' I shan't let them
know this has happened," he added, "as it might encourage them to be
superstitious." Certainly, when such a coincidence happens in our own
lives, it is difficult to believe that it is not a deliberate act on
the part of Nature. Nature, we can see, does concern herself with the
minutest cell or atom of our being; why not with these premonitory
shadows of our deeds and sufferings? Many coincidences, on the other
hand, admit of a less fatalistic explanation. Everybody has noticed
how one no sooner meets a new name in a book that one comes on the
same name in real life also for the first time. I had not read Mr
Forrest Reid's novel, _The Bracknels_, a week, when, on walking down a
London avenue, the same name--"The Bracknels"--stared at me from a
gate. It is not easy, however, to conceive that destiny deliberately
leads one into a suburban avenue to enjoy the humour of one's surprise
at so trivial a coincidence. It is a more natural conclusion that
these names one begins to notice so livelily would still have remained
unobserved, were it not that they had acquired a new significance for
one's eyes owing to something one had read or heard. After all, one
can ride down the Strand on the top of a 'bus for a month without
consciously seeing a single name over a shop-window. But let any of
these names become real to us as the result of some accident, and it
leaps to one's eyes like a scene in a play. It is merely that one now
selects this particular name for observation, and ignores the others.
It is all due to the artistic craving for patterns. I am inclined at
times to explain the evidence in favour of the Baconian theory of
Shakespeare as pattern-mongering. Those cyphers, those coincidences of
phrase and suggestion at such-and-such a line from the beginning or
end of so many of the plays, those recurrences of hoggish pictures,
are enough to shake the balance of anyone who cannot himself go
forward with a study of the whole evidence. But, as we proceed with an
examination of the coincidences, we find that many of them are
coincidences only for the credulous. It seems a strange coincidence
that Shakespeare and Bacon should so often make use of the same
metaphors and words. But it seems strange only till we discover that
plenty of other pre-Shakespearean and Elizabethan writers made use of
them as well. Much of the Baconian theory, indeed, is built, not upon
coincidence, but upon pseudo-coincidence. The fact that Shakespeare
died on the same day of the month--or almost on the same day--as that
on which he was born is really a more interesting coincidence than any
that occurs within the field of Baconianism.

Much the same may be said of the coincidences discovered by those who
have, at one time or another, counted up the numerical values of the
letters in the names of Napoleon and Gladstone and other leaders of
men, and found that they were equal to 666, the fatal number of the
Antichrist. In nearly every case the name has been distorted in its
transliteration into Greek in such a way as to make the coincidence no
coincidence at all. On the other hand, there are some genuinely
interesting coincidences in figures, which have been recorded by
various writers on credulity and superstition. French history since
the middle of the eighteenth century can almost be written as a series
of figure-mongers' coincidences. It began with Louis XVI, who came to
the throne in 1774. By adding the sum of the ciphers in this figure to
the figure itself--1774 + 1 + 7 + 7 + 4--the arithmetical diviners
point out that you get 1793, the year of the King's death. Similarly,
the beginning of the French Revolution foretold the end of the
Revolutionary period with Napoleon's fall, for if you add up 1789 + 1
+ 7 + 8 + 9 you get 1814, the year of Elba. Louis Philippe's
accession-date, 1830, gives scarcely less remarkable results. If you
add to it the figures in 1773, the date of his birth--1830 + 1 + 7 + 7
+ 3--you get 1848, the date of his fall and flight. It is the same if
you add to his accession-date the figures in 1809, the date of his
marriage. Here again 1830 + 1 + 8 + 0 + 9 results in 1848. And, if you
turn to his Queen, you find that the figures in her birth-date, 1782,
lead up to the same fatal message: 1830 + 1 + 7 + 8 + 2 once more
mount to the ominous figure. The arithmeticians, whose ingenuities are
recorded in Mr Sharper Knowlson's _Origins of Popular Superstitions_,
have unearthed similar significances in the dates of Napoleon III.
They add the figure 1852--the date of his inauguration as Emperor--to
the ciphers of 1808, his birth-date--1852 + 1 + 8 + 0 + 8--and arrive
at the fatal date, 1869, when the Empire came to an end. The Empress
Eugénie was born in 1826 and married in 1853. Add the ciphers in these
dates to 1852--1852 + 1 + 8 + 5 + 3 or + 1 + 8 + 2 + 6--and 1869
appears once more. But there is no need to go on with these quaint
sums. I have quoted enough to suggest the intricate and subtle
patterns which the ingenious can discover everywhere in Nature.

Nature, assuredly, has provided us with coincidences so lavishly that
we may well go about in amazement. Even the fiction of Mr William Le
Queux is not quite so abundant in strange coincidences as the life of
the most ordinary man you could see reading a halfpenny newspaper. It
is only in literature, indeed, that coincidences seem unnatural.
Sophocles has been blamed for making a tragedy out of a man who
unwittingly slew his father and afterwards unwittingly married his
mother. It is incredible as fiction; but I imagine real life could
give us as startling a coincidence even as that. Each of us is, to use
Sir Thomas Browne's phrase, Africa and its prodigies. We tread a
miraculous earth which is all mirrors and echoes, hints and symbols
and correspondences. Each deed we do may, for all we know, be echoed
and mirrored in Nature in a thousand places, even before we do it, and
I can imagine it possible that the shape of a man's fate may be
scattered over the palm of his hand. I am a sceptic on the subject,
and I see what a door is opened to charlatanry if we admit the
presence of too many meanings in the world about us. But I am not
ready to deride the notion that there may be some undiscovered law
underlying many of the coincidences which puzzle us. True, if someone
contended that a mysterious sort of gravitation was working steadily
through the years to bring those four soldiers together again at the
Birmingham dinner, I should be anxious to hear his proofs. But I am
willing to listen patiently to almost any theory on the subject. No
theory could be more sensational than the facts.



XIV

ON INDIGNATION


There is nothing in which the newspapers deal more generously than
indignation. There is enough indignation going to waste in the columns
of the London Press to overturn the Pyramids in ruins and to alter the
course of the Danube. We have had a characteristic flow of popular
indignation over the execution of Mr Benton, a British citizen, in
Mexico. Probably not one Englishman in a million had ever heard of Mr
Benton before, but no sooner was he executed and in his grave than he
rose, as it were, the very impersonation of British citizenship
outraged by foreigners. On the whole, there is nothing healthier than
group-indignation of the kind that sees in an injury to one an injury
to all--that demands just dealing for even the poorest and least
distinguished member of the group. It is the sort of passion it would
be pleasant to see trained and developed. My only complaint against it
is that in the present state of the world it is too often reserved
for foreigners and for those semi-foreigners, the people who belong to
a different political party or social class from your own. One would
have thought, for instance, that the group-indignation which denounced
the execution of Mr Benton without a fair trial might also have
denounced the expulsion of the labour leaders from South Africa with
no trial at all. The fact that it did not and that several of the
London capitalist papers treated the whole South African episode as a
good joke at the expense of Labour is evidence that to a good many
Englishmen the maltreatment of British citizens is not in itself an
objectionable thing, provided it happens within the British Empire. It
seems to me that this is an entirely topsy-turvy kind of patriotism.
For every British citizen who is likely to be badly treated abroad,
there must be thousands who are in danger of being badly treated in
the British Empire itself. Is not the killing of an Englishman by an
English railway company, for instance, as outrageous a crime as the
killing of an Englishman by a foreign general? There is also this to
be remembered: your indignation against the criminal in your own
country is more likely to bear fruit than your indignation against the
criminal in a foreign country. You can catch your English
railway-director with a single policeman; you may not be able to
catch your foreigner without an international war. Thus, though I do
not question the occasional value of indignation against wicked
foreigners, I contend that a true economy of indignation would lead to
most of its being directed against wicked fellow-countrymen.

It may be retorted that Englishmen certainly do not limit their
indignation to foreigners, and that the Marconi campaign is a proof
that a good Englishman can always become righteously indignant against
a bad Englishman--at least when the latter happens to be a Welshman or
a Jew. But the Marconi campaign was only another example of
group-indignation against persons who were outside the group. It was
not, in this instance, a national or Imperial group: it was a party
group. What I am arguing for is the direction of group-indignation,
not against outsiders, but when necessary against the members of the
group. I should like to see Conservatives becoming really indignant
about Conservative scandals, Liberals becoming really indignant about
Liberal scandals, Socialists becoming really indignant about Socialist
scandals. As it is, indignation is usually merely a form of sectarian
excitement It is always easy to find something about which to become
indignant in your political opponent, if it is only his good temper.
His crime of crimes is that he is your political opponent--you use his
minor crimes merely as rods to punish him for that. Our indignation
against our opponents, to say truth, is usually ready long before the
happy excuse comes which looses it like a wild beast into the arena.
One sees a good example of this leashed indignation in the Ulster
Unionist attitude to Nationalist Ireland. There is a silly scuffle
about flags at Castledawson between a Sunday-school excursion party
and a Hibernian procession, both of which ought to have known better.
Not a woman or child is injured, according to the verdict of a judge
on the bench, but the Ulster Unionists, armed to the teeth with
indignation in advance, denounce the affair as though it were on the
same level of villainy with the September Massacres. Not long
afterwards real outrages break out in Belfast, and Catholics and
Socialists are kicked and beaten within an inch of their lives. Here
was a test of the reality of the indignation against outrages on human
beings. Did the Ulstermen then come forward in a righteous fury
against the wrongdoers on their own side? Not a bit of it. Sir Edward
Carson did disown them in the House of Commons. But the Ulster
Unionists, as a whole, raised not a breath of indignation. Being
average human beings, indeed, they invariably retort to any charges
made against them with an angry _tu quoque_ to the South. It is not
long, for instance, since a Special Commission sat to investigate the
facts about sweated women workers in Belfast, and issued a report in
which the prevalence of sweating was demonstrated beyond the doubt of
any but a blind man. Instead, however, of directing their indignation
against the evils of a system in their own midst, the Ulster
Unionists--at least, one of their organs in the Press--straightway
sent one of their representatives down into the South of Ireland to
prove how bad wages and conditions of life were there. What a waste of
indignation all this was! Munster was full of indignation against the
disease of sweating in Belfast, which it could not cure. Ulster, on
the other hand, was full of indignation against the disease of bad
housing in Dublin, which it could not cure. There is a flavour of
hypocrisy in much of this anger against sins that are outside the
circle of one's own responsibility. I do not mind how many sins a man
is angry with provided they include the sins he is addicted to himself
and that are at his own door. There is little credit in a rich
manufacturer's indignation against the evils of the land system if he
is indifferent to the evils of the factory system, and landlords who
denounce industrial evils but see nothing that needs redressing in the
lot of the agricultural labourer are in the same boat. Perhaps, in the
end, the world is served even by this outside virtue. The landlords,
in order to distract attention from their own case, have more than
once brought a useful indignation to bear on the case of the
manufacturers, and _vice versa_, and ultimately the bewildered,
ox-like public has begun to drink in a little of the truth. On the
other hand, this is an unhealthy atmosphere for public virtue. It
gives rise to cynical views such as are expressed in the proverb,
"When thieves fall out, honest men come by their own," and in the
lines concerning those who

  Compound for sins they are inclined to
  By damning those they have no mind to.

We all do it, unfortunately. The Presbyterian speaks with horror of
the way in which the Catholic breaks the Sabbath, and the Catholic
thinks it a terrible thing that the Presbyterian should go to a
theatre on Good Friday. Montaigne, who was by inclination a
sensualist, looked with disgust on the man who drank too much, and the
drunkard retorts that every vice except his own is selfish and
anti-social. Even when we admit our own sins we are half in love with
them. It seems a less intolerable crime in oneself to rob the poor-box
than in one's neighbour to have an unwashed neck. Englishmen never
began to sing the praises of cleanliness as the virtue that makes a
nation great until they had themselves taken to the bath. True, they
often wash, as they govern themselves, not directly but by proxy; but,
even so, cleanliness has been exalted into a national virtue till the
very people of the slums, where the bath is used only for the storage
of coal, have learned to shout "Dirty foreigner!" as the most
indignant thing that can be said at a crisis.

There is nothing that makes us feel so good as the idea that some one
else is an evildoer. Our scandal about our neighbours is nearly all a
muttered tribute to our own virtue. It fills us with a new pride in
ourselves that it was not we who gambled with trust money or made love
to our neighbour's wife or ran away in battle. By kicking our
neighbours down for their sins we secure for ourselves, it seems, a
better place on the ladder. The object of all religion is to destroy
this self-satisfied indignation with our neighbours--to make us feel
that we ourselves are no better than the prostitute or the foreigner.
Similarly philosophy bids us know ourselves instead of following the
line of least resistance and damning others. That is why one would
like to see Englishmen concerned about injuries done to Englishmen by
Englishmen, even more than about injuries done to Englishmen by
foreigners. Indignation against the latter, necessary though it may
be, is apt to become a mere melodramatic substitute for native virtue.
There are crimes enough at home for any Englishman to practise his
indignation upon without ever letting his eye wander further than
Dover--crimes of underpayment, crimes of overwork, crimes of rotten
houses, crimes that are murder in everything but swiftness and theft
in everything except illegality. It is fine, no doubt, that Englishmen
should become hot with anger at the news of a Benton murdered in
Mexico as it is fine that the democracies of Europe should be inflamed
with indignation at the murder of a Ferrer in Spain. These things are
evidence of large brotherhoods, of an extension of those family
charities which are at the back of all advance in civilisation. On the
other hand, can none of this passionate fraternity be spared for John
Smith, aged fourteen, done to death by the half-time system, or for
his father killed on the line as the result of the need of making
dividends for railway shareholders, or for his mother working for a
halfpenny an hour in a narrow room the filth of which is transmuted
into gold for some rich man? These, too, are your brothers and
sisters, and deserve the angry eloquence of an epitaph. Here is
subject enough for indignation--not a weak and ineffectual indignation
against foreigners, but indignation knocking terribly at your own
doors.



XV

THE HEART OF MR GALSWORTHY


Mr Galsworthy has been writing to the _Times_ on "the heartlessness of
Parliament." The _Times_, always noted for its passion for humane
causes, ranges itself behind him and asserts that Englishmen have now
learned to speak of the politician "with intellectual contempt, as of
one who is making a game of realities, who fiddles a dull tune while
Rome is burning." Both Mr Galsworthy and the _Times_ are apparently
agreed that the measures which Parliament has for some time past been
discussing are matters of trivial significance and, in so far as they
take up time which might be devoted to better things, are an outrage
upon the conscience of (to use the odd phrase of the newspaper) "those
who are most interested in the spectacle of life and the future of
mankind." Mr Galsworthy, wearing his heart in his ink-pot not only
denounces the indifference of politicians to vital things, but goes on
to lay down an alternative programme--a programme of the heart, as he
might call it, in contrast to the programme of the hustings. He begins
his list of things which ought to be legislated about with the
sweating of women workers and insufficient feeding of children, and he
ends it with live instances of--in an even odder phrase than that
quoted from the _Times_--"abhorrent things done daily, daily left
undone."

     Export of horses worn-out in work for Englishmen--save the
     mark! Export that for a few pieces of blood-money delivers up
     old and faithful servants to wretchedness.

     Mutilation of horses by docking, so that they suffer, offend
     the eye, and are defenceless against the attacks of flies
     that would drive men, so treated, crazy.

     Caging of wild things, especially wild song-birds, by those
     who themselves think liberty the breath of life, the jewel
     above price.

     Slaughter for food of millions of creatures every year by
     obsolete methods that none but the interested defend.

     Importation of the plumes of ruthlessly slain wild birds,
     mothers with young in the nest, to decorate our gentlewomen.

Probably ninety-nine readers out of a hundred will sympathise with Mr
Galsworthy's bitter cry against a Parliament that has so long left
these and other wrongs unrighted. Let Mr Galsworthy take any one of
his cases of inhumanity by itself, and he is sure of the support of
nearly all decent people in demanding that an end shall be put to it.
The human conscience has developed considerably in recent years in
regard to the treatment both of human beings and of animals, and,
though conscience is frequently dumb in the impressive presence of
economic interests, it has still the power to get things done, as
witness, for example, the establishment of minimum-wage boards in
certain sweated trades. Mr Galsworthy, however, does not ask you to
consider each of his desired reforms on its merits. He asks you, in
effect, to put them in place of the reforms which politicians are at
present discussing. "Almost any one of them," he declares of his brood
of evils, "is productive of more suffering to innocent and helpless
creatures, human or not, and probably of more secret harm to our
spiritual life, more damage to human nature, than, for example, the
admission or rejection of Tariff Reform, the Disestablishment or
preservation of the Welsh Church, I would almost say than the granting
or non-granting of Home Rule."

It seems to me that Mr Galsworthy is doing his cause, or causes, no
service in making comparisons of this sort. He is like a man who
would go before Parliament, when it was discussing some big project
like the nationalisation of the railways and deny its right to
legislate on such a matter till it had passed a measure forbidding the
sticky sort of fly-papers. One might sympathise heartily with his
desire to abolish the slow torture of flies, and I for one detest with
my whole soul those filthy fly-traps in which the insects go dragging
their legs out till they die. But it is obvious that the question of
cruelty to flies is one which must be dealt with on its merits. To
weigh it in the balance against such a thing as nationalisation of the
railways is merely to invite a humorous rather than a serious
treatment of the question. It is not a comic question in itself: it
may easily become comic as a result of some ridiculous comparison.
That is, more or less, what one feels in regard to Mr Galsworthy's
implied comparison between the importance of Free Trade and the
importance of putting an end to the "export of horses worn-out in work
for Englishmen--save the mark! Export that for a few pieces of
blood-money delivers up old and faithful servants to wretchedness." In
so far as the export of horses leads to cruelty and wretchedness I
agree with Mr Galsworthy that it ought to be stopped. Not because the
horses are "worn out in work for Englishmen," not because they are
"old and faithful servants"--that is mere sentimentalising and
rhetoric--but because they are living creatures which ought not to be
subjected to any pain that is not necessary. On the other hand, is not
Mr Galsworthy rather unimaginative in failing to see that Tariff
Reform might conceivably lead in present circumstances to intense pain
and distress in every town and county in England? The imposition or
non-imposition of a tariff may seem, at a superficial glance, to
belong to the mere pedantry of politics. But consider the human
consequences of such a thing. Every penny taken out of the pockets of
the poor owing to an increase in the price of goods means the
disappearance of a potential pennyworth of food from the poor man's
home. Obviously, in a country where hundreds of thousands of people
are living on the edge of starvation--and over it--even a slight rise
in the cost of things might produce the most calamitous results.
Starvation and disease and the anguish of those who have to watch
their children suffer, an increase in crime and insanity and
wretchedness--these are all quite conceivable results of a sudden
change in the poor man's capacity to buy the necessaries of life. That
is the humane Free Trader's case for Free Trade. The humane Tariff
Reformer's case for Tariff Reform, on the other hand, is that a change
in the fiscal system would increase wages and employment and quickly
put an end to the present abominations of starvation, sweating, and
unemployment. I am not concerned for the moment with the comparative
merits of Free Trade and Tariff Reform. I am concerned merely with
pointing out that Mr Galsworthy's theory that such a thing as the
export of worn-out horses causes "more suffering to innocent and
helpless creatures" than would be caused by an error in fiscal policy,
affecting millions of men and women and children, does not bear a
moment's examination.

Take, again, Mr Galsworthy's comparison of the case of the Home Rule
Bill with the case of the caging of wild song-birds. Is not Mr
Galsworthy in this instance also lacking in imagination? Had he read
Irish history he would have learned a little about the "suffering to
innocent and helpless creatures" that logically flows from the denial
of a country's right to self-government. I will give the classic
example. In the late forties of the nineteenth century, the Irish
potato crop failed. The crops of corn were abundant, cattle were
abundant, but the potatoes everywhere rotted in the fields under a
mysterious blight. As the potato was the staple food of the people,
this would have been sufficiently disastrous, even in a self-governed
country. But, if Ireland had had self-government in 1847, does any one
believe that her Ministers would have allowed corn and cattle to go on
being exported from the country while the people were starving? Right
through the Famine Ireland went on exporting grain and cattle to the
value of seventeen million pounds a year so that rents might be paid.
Many leading Irishmen urged the Government to pass a temporary measure
prohibiting the export of foodstuffs from Ireland while the Famine
lasted. This step had been taken by the Governments of Belgium and
Portugal in similar circumstances. Had it been taken in Ireland--as it
is incredible that it would not if the Union had not been in
existence--between half a million and a million men, women, and
children would have been saved from the torture of death by starvation
and typhus fever. Not only this, but does not Mr Galsworthy also
overlook those multiplied agonies of exile, eviction, and agrarian
crime, which living creatures in Ireland would have been spared--in
great measure, at least--if the country had possessed self-government?
It may be doubted, whether all the wild song-birds that have ever
existed since the Garden of Eden have endured among them such an
excess of misery as fell to the lot of the Irish people in the half
century following the Famine--much of it preventable by a simple
change in the machinery of the constitution. Nor can one easily
measure the amount of suffering in England indirectly due to the fact
that the political intellect of the country was so occupied with the
Irish question that it had not the time or the energy left to tackle
scores of pressing English questions. Housing, poor law reform,
half-time--these and a host of other matters have been thrust out of
the way till statesmen, released from the woes of Ireland, might have
time to consider them. Many Socialists have a way of forgetting the
social meaning of constitutional changes. They regard constitutional
reform as something that delays social reform, whereas it may be
something that enables the public, if it so desires, to speed up
social reform. That is why Home Rule, the abolition of the veto of the
House of Lords, and a dozen comparable matters, must be as eagerly
ensued by Socialists as by Radicals. The underfed child, the sweated
woman--even the maltreated animal, I imagine--will benefit as a result
of changes which, to say the least, take some of the impediments out
of the way of the social reformer. Meanwhile, let Mr Galsworthy and
those who think with him redouble their efforts on behalf of humanity,
whether towards man or beast. But let them not seek to destroy a good
thing that is being done in order to call attention to a good thing
that is not being done. Let them not try to persuade us that it is
more important for the Russian people to abolish mouse traps than to
get a constitutional monarch and sound Parliamentary institutions. I
have the sincerest respect for Mr Galsworthy's heart--for the generous
passion with which he stands up for all the lame dogs in the world. I
agree heartily with every separate cause he advocates in his letter to
the _Times_. It is only his table of values with which I quarrel, and
the destructive use he makes of it. I believe that an overwhelming
case could be made out against Parliament on the score of its
heartlessness, but Mr Galsworthy has not made it.



XVI

SPRING FASHIONS


In spite of the progress of civilisation, there are still women to
whom the returning Spring is mainly a festival of dresses. It is
pleasant to know that there is, after all, a remnant of primitive
humanity surviving. Women will before long be the only savages. Long
after the last anthropologist has departed from the last South Sea
Island in despair, when the people have all become Christians and have
no manners and customs left, the race of fashionable women will still
march its feathered regiments up and down under the sun, a puzzle and
an exasperation to the scientific inquirer. Like all really primitive
people, women will go on refusing to believe in or bow down to the
laws of Nature. Nature may tell them, for instance, of the correct
position of the human waist; but they will not listen to her; they
will insist that the human waist may be anywhere you like between the
neck and the knees, according to the fashion of the moment, and Nature
may as well put her fingers in her ears and go home. Savages, we are
told, do not even believe in the manifest generalisation of death:
they regard each new death as an entirely surprising event, due not to
natural, but to accidental causes. Similarly, the fashionable woman
regards the body each Spring as an entirely new body, subject to none
of the generalisations which seemed appropriate to the body of even a
year before. This is the grand proof she offers us of her superiority
to the animals. She will have no commerce with the monotony of their
ways. She will not submit herself to the regular gait of the sheep,
the horse, or the cow, which is the same this year as it was in the
year of Waterloo, or, for that matter, in the year of Salamis. She
claims for her body the liberty to move one year with the long stride
of a running fowl, and the next at a hobble like a spancelled goat. It
might be said of her that she is not one animal, but all the animals.
She will borrow from all Nature, dead and alive, indeed, as greedily
as a poet. She will colour her hair to look like a gorse-bush and her
lips to look like a sunset. She will capture the green from the grass,
the purple from the hills, the blue from Eastern seas, the silver from
the mists, as it suits her fancy. One year she will demand of life
that it shall be gorgeous in hue as a baboon's courtships; the next,
that it shall be as colourless as a rook's funeral. She enters upon
the labour of life as though it were a long series of disguises.
Probably it was her success in passing from form to form that led the
ancient Greeks to suspect the presence of nymphs now in trees, now in
running water, and now even in the hills. Everywhere in Nature man
sees evasive woman. There is nothing anywhere, from a mountain valley
in flower to a chestnut tree glistening into bud, which does not
remind him of something about her--her hats, her cloaks, or her
ribbons. Such a plunderer of beauties would, one cannot but feel,
become a great artist if only she possessed some standards. But she
dresses without standards, without philosophy: there is nothing but
appetite in it all, and a capricious appetite at that. She has no
settled principle but the principle of change. She flies from grace to
ugliness lightheartedly, indiscriminately. She is like the kind of
butterfly which you could get only in a fairy tale--a butterfly that
could change itself into a mouse, and from a mouse into a dandelion,
and from a dandelion into a camel, and from a camel into a
grasshopper, and from a grasshopper into a cat, and so on through a
thousand transformations. Her world leaves us giddy like the
transformation scene in a pantomime. In her artistic ideals she is a
follower, not of Orpheus, but of Proteus.

Yet who can disparage her April ritual? She is in league with the
whole singing earth, which once a year sets out on its long procession
of praise. Her new fashions are but an item in the general rejoicing
over the infinite resurrections of Nature. Every thorn-bush gowns
itself in green, a ghost of beauty. Every laurel puts forth new leaves
like little green flames. There is a glow in the grass as though some
spirit lurked behind it deeper a million times than its roots.
Everywhere Nature has relit the sacred fire. She has given us back
warmth--the warmth in which food increases and birds sing; and we can
no more escape her gladness than if we had been rescued from the
perils and privations of a siege. This is the time when men wake up to
find they are alive, and their exultation makes them poets. One of the
first things of which man seems to have become conscious in the world
about him was the renewal of life each spring.

  The earth does like a snake renew
  Her winter weeds outworn.

Once a year he beheld the coming of the golden age again. He
worshipped the serpent as the emblem of endless life long before he
learned to suspect it as the devil. He may have been an infidel as he
shivered in the winter rains, but the lark leaping into the sun
awakened the old splendid credulity again. He knows that Persephone
will rise. Hence the divine madness that possesses him year by year at
this season--a madness which nowadays expresses itself largely in
throwing hard balls at coconuts. Possibly this symbolises the
contemptuous smashing of the winter's fears, for is there anything
which looks more like a withered fear than one of those grisly brown
bearded fruits? And do not the showman's cries and his bell-ringings
at the coconut saloon make up a clamour like the clamour of the savage
beating forth the flock of his superannuated terrors? He is the
incarnation of the boastful faith that has returned to us. Perhaps,
too, the coconuts may be symbols of the hoarded food supply of the
winter--the supply which we were continually in dread might come to a
slow close, and which we can now rail at and insult in our revived
confidence in the green world.

Certainly this enthusiasm of ours for the spring is not all so
disinterested as it appears. We are hungry animals before we are
poetical animals, and we are often praising the promise of our food
when we seem to be most exalted in our raptures. It may be that even
the pleasure we take in the singing of birds is simply a relic of the
pleasure which primitive man felt as he heard the voice of many
dinners making its way back to him at the turn of the year. But the
appeal of music and colour need not be so detailedly stomachic as
that. Man may not have loved the lark's song because he wanted in
particular to eat the lark, or, indeed, any bird. He may have loved it
merely as a significant voice amid the chorus and banners of the
returning hosts of eatable things. If it were not so, many of our
tastes would be different. Among the smells and colours of spring
those we love most are not the smells and colours of eatable things,
but of inculinary things, like roses, and if we loved the music of
birds by some standard of the stomach, it is the crowing of the cock
and not the song of the lark that would inspire us to poetry. It is
the grunting of the pig and not the cuckoo's call which would startle
in us the thrill of romance.

There is, on the other hand, just a chance that natural man does
respond more sympathetically to the voice of the cock and the pig than
to the speech of the cuckoo and the skylark. The difference between
the farmer's and the artist's taste in landscape is proverbial. When
man looks at the world and sums it up in terms of food, he is
indifferent to masses of colour and runs of music. His favourite
colour is the colour of a good crop of corn or a field of grass that
will fatten the cattle. He cares less for silver streams than for the
drains in his turnip-fields. Whether the love of the more ornamental
things--the useless songs of the birds and the scent of flowers, which
is a prosaic thing only to the bees--is an advance on this passion for
utility may be questioned by the advocates of the simple life.
Ornament, they may contend, especially in woman's dress, is simply
mannikin's vainglory. Woman was first hung or robed with precious
things, not in order that she might be happy, but in order that man
might be able to boast of her among his neighbours. She was as sure a
sign of his power as a string of enemies' heads hanging from his
waist. She was the advertisement of his riches. Before long woman
became happy in her golden slavery. Wisely so, perhaps, for in the end
she was able to make use of the man's fatuous love of boasting to
exact high terms for aiding him in his conspiracy of magnificence. She
studied the science of surprise, and applied it to the labour of
dressing herself in such a way as to make him slavishly regard her as
the most wonderful being on earth. If we may trust the testimony of
Mrs Edith Wharton's novels, woman has so subjugated man with this
chameleon brilliance of hers in modern America that he thinks himself
quite happy if she makes use of him as the hodman of her charms. Thus
in the spring fashions we may see the triumph of a sex rather than a
hymn of colour to the revival of Nature. It is a lamentable declension
in theory, and therefore I do not entirely believe it. I still hold to
the conviction that the gaiety of women's Easter dress is in some
manner allied to the gaiety of the earth. It is but a decrepit gaiety
compared to what it might be. But that is because of its long
association with all sorts of alien things--the necessity of the
man--hunt, the pride of the church parade, and the rest of it. When
woman meets man on equal terms she will, one hopes in one's credulous
moments, cultivate beauty more and fashion less. She will no longer be
estranged from the morning stars that sing together and the little
hills that clap their hands. Her feet will be beautiful in Bond
Street, and Regent Street shall have cause to shout for joy.



XVII

ON BLACK CATS


It is easy to imagine the enthusiasm of the audience at Manchester
when a black cat walked on to the platform at a meeting of Sir Edward
Carson's. Lord Derby, who presided, hailed it as an omen of the
success of the Ulster cause. He went on to tell the audience that the
last Unionist victory in Manchester had been presaged by the
appearance of a black cat in some polling booth or other. That, you
may be sure, was the most convincing argument in the night's
speech-making. People who will stumble over the logic of politics for
a lifetime can appreciate the logic of the black cat in a fraction of
a second. Black cats, indeed, are one of the very few things in which
a good many unbelievers nowadays believe. These are the substitute for
the angels and devils of our grandfathers. We are sceptics in
everything but our superstitions. The most superstitious people of all
are often to be found among those who do not believe in God, and who
would not dream of entering a church-gate unless there was no other
way of avoiding walking under a ladder. These it is who pick up pins
with the greatest enthusiasm, and who become downcast if a dog howls,
and who had rather not sleep at all than sleep in a room numbered
thirteen. They will deride the cherubim and the seraphim, but they
will not risk offending the demon to whom they throw an oblation of
the salt they have just spilt on the table. It is as though each man
carried his own little firmament of immortals about with him, and
sacrificed to them on his own infinitesimal altars. This is not, I
suspect, because he loves them, but because he fears them. He regards
them as a species of blackmailers--the Scottish way of looking at
fairies. Nearly every portent is to him a portent of misfortune. The
number thirteen, the spilling of salt, the bay of a dog, the sight of
a red-haired man first thing on New Year's morning, dreams about
babies--these things cast a gloom over his world deeper than midnight;
and of this kind are nearly all the portents which wriggle like little
snakes in the superstitious imagination.

It is the distinction of the black cat that he is one of the few
cheerful superstitions left to us. Why he should be so no one can tell
us, and he has not been considered so in all times or in all places.
He has even been regarded on occasion as the false shape of a witch.
Perhaps, the origin of all our care of him was the tenderness of fear.
He may be like the black god worshipped by the ancient Slavs who were
indifferent to his white brother-god. They did this, we are told,
because they thought that the white god was so good that they had
nothing to fear from him in any case. But the black god one could not
trust, and so one had to buy his goodwill. It seems not improbable
that the veneration of the black cat may have begun in much the same
way. The smile with which our ancestors first greeted him was, I
fancy, a nervous, doubting smile, like the smile with which many of us
try to cajole snarling dogs. Then, gradually, as he did not leap upon
them and destroy them, they came to believe less and less in his will
to do evil, and in the end he was canonised, and now he has been
accepted as a sound English Tory, which is generally admitted to be
the highest type of animal that Nature has produced.

Two centuries or so ago Addison poured such finished contempt on all
superstitions of this kind that it would have been difficult to
believe that men and women of intellect would still be clinging to
them to-day. At the same time, their survival is the most natural
thing in the world. They are bound to survive in a world in which men
live not in faiths and enjoyments, but in hopes and fears. Faith is
the way of religion, and enjoyment is the way of philosophy; but hopes
and fears are the coloured lights that illuminate the exciting way of
superstition. If we are creatures of hopes and fears we have no sun,
and our lights have a trick of appearing and disappearing like
will-o'-the-wisps, leading us a pretty dance whither we know not.
Every step we take we expect to unfold the secret. We find omens in
the direction of straws, in the running of hares, in the flight of
birds. If the girl of hopes and fears wishes to know what colour of a
man she is going to marry, she waits till she hears the cuckoo in
summer, and then examines the sole of her shoe in the expectation of
finding a hair on it which will be the colour of her future husband's
head. I will make a confession of my own. I have never listened
slavishly for the cuckoo, but many years ago I had as foolish a
superstition about farthings. I believed that they were luck-bringers.
At the time I was lodging in the traditional garret in Pimlico, trying
more or less vainly to make a living by writing. Whenever I had sent
off a manuscript I used to go out the same evening to a little shop
where, when they sold a loaf, they always gave you a farthing change
out of your threepence. How cheerily I used to leave the shop with the
loaf under my arm and the farthing in my pocket! That farthing, I
felt, could be trusted to cast a spell on the editor towards whom the
manuscript was flying. It would be as effective as an introduction
from one of the crowned heads of Europe. And even if, a night or two
afterwards, the most loathsome of all visible objects--a returned
manuscript--made the lodging-house look still more sordid than before,
I abated no jot of my trust. My heart sank for the moment, but in the
end I settled down to acceptance of the fact that there was a fool
sitting in an editor's chair who could resist even the power of
farthings. On the next day, or the day after, I would set out with
revived hope for the baker's shop again. I remember the acute misery I
felt on one occasion when I went into a more pretentious shop, where
the girl put my loaf in the scales and asked me whether I would prefer
a small roll or a part of a loaf to make up the full threepenceworth
of weight. I would have given my boots, and even my old hat, to be
able to say, "Please, may I have my farthing?" But my courage failed.
There are things one cannot say to a pretty shop-girl. Years
afterwards I happened to be discussing superstitions with a friend,
and I instanced the well-known belief in the luckiness of farthings.
"But farthings aren't supposed to be lucky," said my friend, with a
smile of authority: "they're supposed to be extremely unlucky." It was
as though the world reeled. Here I had been steadily building up ruin
for myself all that time with my miser's hoard of farthings. I felt
like the man in _The Silver King_ who cries: "Turn back, O wheels of
the Universe, and give me back my yesterday!" If only I could get back
some of my yesterdays, I would assuredly buy my bread in that big,
bright shop where the girl gives you full weight for your threepence;
and never would I set foot in that little low shop where a half-blind
old man wraps your loaf in a page of newspaper, and lays in your hand
a dirty farthing that is only the price of your undoing.

It is, perhaps, natural that my experience should have left me rather
unfriendly to superstitions. I cannot believe that the universe, or
even a single planet of it, is ruled by imps of chance which express
themselves in the doings of crows, and in floating tea-leaves and in
the dropping of umbrellas. Better join the church of the Sea-Dyaks of
Borneo, if one can find nothing better to believe in than that. It is
in order to protest against the heathen religion of crows and numbers
and tea-leaves that I sometimes deliberately leap on to a 'bus
numbered thirteen, or walk under a ladder rather than go round it.
Occasionally, I say, for my mood varies. There are days when I feel
like turning a blind eye to 'bus number 13, and when a crow, sitting
and cawing on the roof of the church opposite, gives me the shivers.
It is in vain that I tell myself that the last superstition is the
most irrational of all, because in some places the sight of one crow
is supposed to be lucky, the sight of two unlucky, while in other
places the reverse is the case, and apart from this, the superstition
does not refer to crows at all, but to magpies. Then, again, when I am
arguing against the dislike of setting out on a Friday, I find myself
compelled to admit that the holiday in which I was not able to get
away till Saturday was, on the whole, the best I ever had. But the
salt--I refuse to throw salt over my shoulder, no matter what happens.
I prefer to exorcise the demon with some formula from trigonometry, as
I once heard a man doing when he passed under a ladder. And if I
retain a hankering faith in black cats, it is, as I have said, the
most cheerful superstition in the world. About two months ago I was
sitting one night in the depths of gloom expecting news of a tragedy.
Suddenly, I heard a cat mewing as if in difficulties. It seemed some
way up the road, and I thought that it must be caught in a hedge, or
that somebody was tormenting it. I went downstairs and put my hat on
to go out and look for it, and had hardly opened the door, when in
walked a little black kitten with bright eyes and its tail in the air.
I defy anyone to have disbelieved in black kittens at that moment. It
seemed more like an omen than anything I have ever known. I had never
seen the kitten before, and its owner has reclaimed it since. But I
cannot help being grateful to it for anticipating with its gleaming
eyes the happy news that reached me a day or two later. Of course, I
do not believe the black cat superstition any more than I believe that
it is unlucky to see the new moon for the first time through glass.
But still, if you happen to be requiring a black cat at any time, I
advise you to make quite sure that there are no white hairs in its
coat. One white hair spoils all, and puts it on a level with any
common squaller in the back garden.



XVIII

ON BEING SHOCKED


Being shocked is evidently still one of the favourite pastimes of the
British people. There has been something of a festival of it since the
production of Mr Shaw's new play. Even the open Bible, it appears, is
not a greater danger to souls than _Androcles and the Lion_. Of
course, the open Bible has become generally accepted in England now,
but one remembers how the Church used to censor it, and one looks back
to the first men who protested against its being banned as to bright
heroes of adventure. Everybody knows, however, that if the Bible were
not already an accepted book--if we could read it with a fresh eye as
a book written by real people like ourselves and only just published
for the first time--it would leave most of us as profoundly shocked as
Canon Hensley Henson, who, though he does not want to limit its
circulation, is eager at least to expurgate it for the reading of
simple persons. I do not, I may say, quarrel with Canon Henson. Every
man has a right to be shocked so long as it is his own shock and not a
mere imitation of somebody else's. What one has no patience with is
the case of those people who are always shocked in herds. They are
intellectually too lazy to be shocked, so to say, off their own bat.
So they join a mob of the shocked as they might join a demonstration
in the streets or a political party. They are so lacking in initiative
that, instead of boldly being shocked themselves, they frequently even
are content to be shocked by proxy. In the world of the theatre they
hire the Censor to be shocked for them by all the immoral plays that
are written. The Censor having been duly shocked, the public feels
that it has done all that can be expected of it in that direction and
it refuses to turn a hair afterwards no matter what it sees in the
theatre. It takes schoolgirls to musical comedies which are as often
as not mere tinkling farces of lust. But it does not care. It has
handed over its capacity for being shocked to the Censor, and nothing
can stir it out of the happy sleep of its faculties any more--nothing,
I should add, except a Shaw play. For even the chalk of a dozen
censors could not remove the offence of Mr Shaw. He is like an
evangelist who would suddenly rise up at a garden party and talk
about God. He is as bad form as one of those enthusiastic converts who
corner us in railway trains or buttonhole us in the streets to ask us
if we are saved. He is a Salvationist who has broken into the
playhouse, and, as he unfolds the knockabout comedy of redemption, we
are aware that we no longer feel knowing and superior, as we expect
the winking laughter of the theatre to make us feel, but ignorant and
simple, like a child singing its first hymns. That is the mood, at any
rate, of _Androcles and the Lion_. That is the offence and the stone
of stumbling. Mr Shaw has stripped some of our most sacred feelings as
bare as babies, and we do not know what to do to express our sense of
the indecency.

It is clear, then, that being shocked is simply a way of recovering
our balance. It is also a way of recovering our sense of superiority.
There is more pleasure in being shocked by the sin of one's neighbour
or one's neighbour's wife than in eating cream buns. Not, indeed, that
it is always the sins that shock us most. Much as we enjoy the whisper
of how a great man beats his wife, or a poet drinks, or some merry
Greek has flirted her virtue away, we would shake our heads over them
with equal gravity if they had the virtues of Buddhist monks and
sisters. It is the virtues that shock us no less than the vices.
Perhaps it was because Swinburne gave utterance to the horror a great
many quite normal people feel for virtue that, in spite of an
intellect of far from splendid quality, he ended his life as something
of a prophet. Tolstoi never shocked Europe more than a hair's weight
so long as he blundered through the seven sins like nearly any other
man of his class. He only scandalised us when he began to try to live
in literal obedience to the Sermon on the Mount. When we are in
church, no doubt, we say fie to the young man who had great
possessions and would not sell all that he had and give to the poor,
as Jesus commanded him. But in real life we should be troubled only if
the young man took such a command seriously. Obviously, then, the
psychology of being shocked cannot be explained in terms of triumphant
virtue. We must look for an explanation rather in the widespread
instinct which forbids a man to be different either in virtues or in
vices from other people. It arises out of a loyalty to ordinary
standards, which the average man has made for his comfort--perhaps, we
should say, for his self-respect. To deny these standards in one's
life is like denying a foot-rule--which would be an outrage on the
common-sense of the whole trade union of carpenters. Or one might put
it this way. To live publicly like a saint is as disturbing as if you
were to ask a tailor to measure your soul instead of your legs. It is
to whisk your neighbour into a world of new dimensions--to leave him
dangling where he can scarcely breathe. This does not, it may be
thought, explain the attitude of the shocked man towards sinners. But,
after all, we are very tolerant of sinners until they break some code
of our class. John Bright defended adulteration because he was a
manufacturer. Grocers object to the forgery of cheques, which is a
danger to their business, in a manner in which they do not object to
the forgery of jam, which puts money in their purses. We are more
shocked by the man who gets drunk furiously once in six months than by
the man who tipples all the time, not because the former is more
surely destroying himself, but because he is more likely to do
something that will inconvenience business or society. We can forgive
almost all sins except those that inconvenience us. There are others,
it may be argued, that we hate for their own sake. But is not a part
of our hatred even of these due to the fact that they inconvenience
our minds, having about them something novel or immeasurable? It is in
the last analysis that breaches of codes and conventions shock us
most. If your uncle danced down Piccadilly dressed like a Chinaman,
your sense of propriety would be more outraged than if he appeared in
the Divorce Court, since, bad as the latter is, it is less
bewilderingly abnormal. Mr Wells, in _The Passionate Friends_, offers
a defence of the conventions by which Society attempts to reduce us
all to a common pattern. He sees in them, as it were, angels with
flaming swords against the remorseless individualism that flesh is
heir to. They are a sort of compulsion to brotherhood. They are signs
to us that we must not live merely to ourselves, but that we must in
some way identify ourselves with the larger self of human society. It
is a tempting paradox, and, in so far as it is true, it is a defence
of all the orthodoxies that have ever existed. Every orthodoxy is a
little brotherhood of men. At least, it is so until it becomes a
little brotherhood of parrots. It only breaks down when some horribly
original person discovers the old truth that it is a shocking thing
for men to be turned into parrots, and gives up his life to the work
of rescuing us from our unnatural cages. Perhaps a brotherhood of
parrots is better than no brotherhood at all. But the worst of it is,
the conventions do not gather us into one brood even of this kind.
They sort us into a thousand different painted and chattering groups,
each screaming against the other like, in the vulgar phrase, the
Devil. No: brotherhood does not lie that way. Perched vainly in his
cage of malice and uncharitableness, man feels more like a boss than a
brother. There is nothing so like an average superman as a parrot.

The passion for being shocked, then, must be redeemed from its present
cheapness if it is to help us on the way to being fit for the double
life of the individual and society. We must learn to be shocked by the
normal things--by the conventions themselves rather than by breaches
of the conventions. Those who lift their hands in pious horror over
conventional Christianity should also lift their hands in pious horror
over conventional un-Christianity. The conventions are often merely
truths that have got the sleeping-sickness; but by this very fact they
are disabled as regards any useful purpose. Every great leader,
whether in religion or in the reform of society, comes to us with
living truths to take the place of conventions. He gives the lie to
our bread-and-butter existence, and teaches us to be shocked by most
things to which we are accustomed and many things which we have
treasured. Society progresses only in so far as it learns to be
shocked, not by other people, but by itself. What did England ever
gain except a purr or a glow from being shocked by French morals or
German manners? The English taste for being shocked is only worth its
weight in old iron when it is directed on some thing such as the
procession of the poor and the ill-clad that circulates from morning
till night in the streets of English slums. Being shocked is a maker
of revolutions and literatures when men are shocked by the right
things--or, rather, by the wrong things. Out of a mood of shock came
Blake's fiery rout of proverbs in that poem which begins:

  A Robin Redbreast in a cage
  Puts all heaven in a rage.

It is, unfortunately, not the Robin Redbreast in a cage that shocks us
most now. It is rather the Robin Redbreast which revolts against being
expected to sit behind bars and sing like a mechanical toy. Our
resurrection as men and women will begin when we learn to be shocked
by our mechanical servitudes, as Ruskin and Morris used to be in their
fantastic way, instead of being shocked, as we are at present--the
conventionally good, the conventionally bad, and the conventionally
artistic who are too pallid to be either--by what are really only our
immortal souls. At our present stage of evolution, Heaven would shock
us far more than earth has succeeded in doing. That is at once our
condemnation and our comedy.



XIX

CONFESSIONS


Father Hugh Benson has been praised for his courage in confessing that
he could not read Sir Walter Scott. Surely this must be a world of
lies if it is remarkable to find a man honest in so simple a matter as
his tastes in literature. All but one--or it may even be a few
hundred--we are under the empire of shame, which withers truth upon
our lips and threatens us with the rack if we do not confess things
that are lies. That is the reason why in any given year we all appear
to have the same tastes. This year it is Croce; last year it was
Bergson; the year before that it was William James; the year before
that it was Nietzsche. In advanced circles you can already say what
you like about Bergson. You will hardly dare to be frank about Croce
till after midsummer. It is the same in literature as in philosophy.
Twenty years ago we were all swearing that Stevenson and Kipling were
two such artists as England had never seen before. We did not say
they were greater than Dickens and Shakespeare. We simply accepted
them as incomparable. To-day, no one who is not middle-aged speaks of
Mr Kipling as an artist, and one is humoured as a fogey by boys and
girls if one mentions Stevenson seriously in a discussion on
literature. Nor can we blame this popular changeableness as entirely
dishonest. We may love an author for his novelty for a time, as we
loved Swinburne for his novel metres and Mr Kipling for his novel
brutalities; and after a while, when the novelty has faded, we may see
that there is little enough left--too little, at any rate, to justify
our primrose praises. It is an ignominious confession to make that we
have been taken in by a new kind of powder and paint, but, as
everybody else has been taken in and afterwards disillusioned in the
same way and in the same hour, that does not trouble us. We do not
mind being ignominious in regiments. It is the refusal to
right-about-face and to march at the public word of command that would
be the difficult thing. We had rather go wrong with the crowd than be
solitary and conspicuous in our rectitude. In the Sunday-school we
used to sing "Dare to be a Daniel," but we sang it with a thousand
voices. The lion's den was an acclaimed resort for the childish
imagination at the moment. In one's surroundings, as a matter of
fact, one could have achieved resemblance to Daniel only by some such
extreme step as casting doubt upon his historical existence. Had one
done so, the commiteee of the school would quickly have made it clear
that Daniel in short breeches and a white Sunday tie was a most
undesirable person. It has always been as great a crime to behave like
Daniel as it has been an act of piety to praise him.

It is because there are so few who are willing to face the terrors of
isolation that any one who will do so gains an easy notoriety. A man
has only to confess quite honestly that he has individual tastes and
failings in order to take a place among men of genius. His confession,
however, must be as honest as if vanity and pretence had never been
known. It is not enough that he should confess his vices. It may be
more fashionable at the time to confess one's vices than one's
virtues. When a confession is merely a form of boasting it becomes as
frivolous as Dr Cook's story of his discovery of the Pole. There is a
natural humility in the great books of confessions: the writers of
sham-confessions are no more capable of the act of bending than a
balloon. It is possible to give the life-story of every sin one has
ever committed and yet to remain dishonest. One may be attitudinising
even while one tells the truth. It is, it may be granted,
extraordinarily difficult to see oneself truly and without bias, and
to refrain from discovering excuses for oneself faster almost than one
discovers one's faults. It is this humbug sense of excuses in the
background that makes most of us the merest pretenders when we confess
that we are blackguards, and call ourselves by other insulting names.
Our confessions are as often as not mean attempts to forestall the
accusations of those we have injured. We make them in the hope of
turning anger into pity, and when the trick has succeeded we laugh in
secret triumph over the simplicity of human nature. Anatole France has
maintained that all the good writers of confessions, from Augustine
onwards, are men who are still a little in love with their sins. It is
a paradox with the usual grain of truth. The self-analyst, probably
enough, will fall in love with the material on which he works just as
the surgeon does. One has heard surgeons wax enthusiastic over some
unique case of disease which they have cured. They will even speak of
such things as "lovely." It is thus a fighter shakes hands with his
opponent. Similarly, the saint with his sins. For him they will always
be illuminated, as it were, by grace. Saints have even been known to
thank God for their sins as the means of their salvation. On the
other hand, no good book of confessions is mere
play-acting--lip-service to heaven, secret gratitude to the devil.
When confession becomes a luxury of this dramatic sort, one may begin
to suspect oneself as but a refined sort of sensualist. There are
moods of false exaltation in which the confession that one has broken
a commandment seems to add an inch to one's stature. The true
confessor, on the other hand, will as soon confess a mouse as a
mountain. He will not begin, like Baudelaire in the café: "On the
night I killed my father...." He will more likely tell us, like Pepys,
how he beat the servant-girl with a broom, or how, like Horace, he
threw away his shield and ran from the battle. Pepys lives in
literature because he was unblushingly, unboastingly, frank about his
littleness--his jealousy of his wife, his petty conquests of other
women, his eternal sensualities mixed with his eternal prayers. How
vitally he portrays himself in a thousand sentences like: "I took
occasion to be angry with my wife before I rose about her putting up
half-a-crown of mine in a paper box, which she had forgotten where she
had lain it. But we were friends again, as we are always!" Between
that and the artistic attitude of naughtiness in a book like Mr
George Moore's _Memoirs of My Dead Life_, what a gulf there is! The
one is as fresh a piece of nature as a thorn-tree on a hill-side; the
other is as near life as the cloak-and-dagger plays of the theatre.
English prose literature has suffered immensely during the last
century because it has shrunk from the honesty of Mr Pepys and
attitudinised, now in the manner of Prince Albert, now in the manner
of Mr Moore. It has worn the white flower of a blameless life--or the
opposite--instead of the white sheet of repentance. It has suffered
from the obsession at one time of sex, at another time of sexlessness.
It has seldom, like modern Russian literature, been the confession of
a man's or a people's soul.

It is not only in literature, however, that the supreme genius is the
genius of confession. One demands the same kind of honest and personal
speech from one's friends. One cannot be friends with a man who is not
a man but an echo. The poets have sung of echo as a beautiful thing.
It may be well enough among the mountains, but who would live in a
world of echoes? One demands of one's friend that he shall be himself,
even though it involves a liking for the poems of Mr G. R. Sims,
rather than that he should be a boneless imitation who can talk the
current jargon about Picasso and the cubists. To confess that one has
no taste for the latest fad in the arts and philosophy is becoming a
rarer and rarer form of originality. We utter our pallid judgments in
terror at once of the clique of the moment and of posterity. We are
afraid that our contemporaries may tell us that we no longer can keep
abreast of _les jeunes_, but are become ossified. We are afraid that
our grandchildren will look back on us with the smiling superiority
with which we look back on those who raved against Wagner and flung
epithets at Ibsen. Be in no trouble about that. Your grandchildren
will smile at you in any case. Has not the reputation of Matthew
Arnold already sunk lower than that of the reviewers in the daily
papers? Is not even Pater being thrust into a second grave as an
indolent driveller without judgment? There is no phylactery against
the poor opinion of one's grandchildren. Nor need we be greatly in
fear of damning bad art because an occasional Wagner has been
condemned. After all, there were other people condemned besides
Wagner. They were so bad, however, that we have forgotten what the
critics said about them. Pope wrote his _Dunciad_ not against the
Wagners and Ibsens of his day, but against all those fashionable
fellows whose names survive only in his satire. No one would have the
courage to write a _Dunciad_ to-day. We have discovered that there
are no dunces except the people who were the vogue yesterday. Thus we
chorus the season's reputations. We are ready to stab last week's gods
in the back if it happens to be the fashion. We can all say what we
please about Shakespeare now that it no longer requires courage to do
so, but we dare not confess with equal frankness our feelings about
some little wren of a minor poet who came out of the shell a month
ago. The world has become a maze of echoes in which no honest
conversation can be heard for the dull reverberant speech of the
walls.



XX

THE TERRORS OF POLITICS


There is a good deal to be said for Mr Lloyd George's complaint
against the world for its treatment of politicians. In one sense, it
may be better to throw a brick at a politician than to trust him. It
encourages the others. Unhappily, it is a habit that, once acquired,
is by no means easy to discontinue. One throws one's first brick as a
public duty; before one has got through one's first cart-load,
however, one is throwing for the sheer exhilaration of the thing. It
is difficult, for instance, to believe that if Mr Leo Maxse went to
Paradise itself, he would be able to forget his cunning with the words
"swindlers," "rogues," and "cabals"; one feels sure that he would
discover some angels requiring to be denounced for singing "cocoa"
hymns, and some committee of the saints which it was necessary to
arraign as Foozle & Co. The popularity of Mr Maxse's redundant abuse
in _The National Review_ seems to me to be one of the most significant
phenomena of the day. It is a symptom of the reviving taste for
looking on one's political opponent not only as a public, but as a
private, villain. There was probably never a time when it was a more
popular amusement, both in print and at the dinner table, to give a
twist of criminality to the portraiture of political enemies. When
Daniel O'Connell denounced Disraeli as "the heir-at-law of the
blasphemous thief who died on the cross," he was abusing him, not for
his home life, but as a public figure. Similarly, when Sir William
Harcourt described Mr Chamberlain as "a serpent gnawing a file," he
said nothing which would make even the most proper lady shrink from
bowing to Mr Chamberlain in the street. The modern sort of
nomenclature, however, has gone beyond this. It is a constant
suggestion that Cabinets are recruited from Pentonville and Wormwood
Scrubs. One would hardly be surprised, on meeting a Prime Minister
nowadays, to find that he had the bristly chin and the club of Bill
Sikes. As for the rank and file of Ministers, one does not insult Bill
Sikes by comparing them to him. One thinks of them rather as on the
level with racecourse sneak-thieves and the bullies of disorderly
houses. Decidedly, they are not persons to take tea with.

Calumny, of course, is as old as Adam--or, at least, as Joseph--and
one remembers that even Mr Gladstone was accused of the vulgarest
immorality till a journalist tracked him down and discovered that it
was rescue work, and not the deadly sin with the largest circulation,
which was his private hobby. That sort of libel no man can escape who
risks remaining alive. Perhaps we should come to hate our public men
as the Athenians came to hate Aristides if we could find nothing evil
to think about them. What the politician of the present day has to
fear is not an occasional high tide of calumny, or even a volley of
the old-fashioned abusive epithets, which are, so to speak, all in the
day's play. It is rather the million-eyed beast of suspicion which
democracies every now and then take to their bosoms as a pet. Often it
seems a noble beast, for it is impossible to be suspicious all the
time without sometimes suspecting the truth. Its food, however, is
neither primarily truth nor primarily falsehood; it thrives on both
indifferently. And one foresees that, during the transition stage
between the break-up of the old manners of servility and the
inauguration of the new manners of service, this beast is going to be
more voracious than ever. This may from some points of view be a good
thing. It will be an announcement, at least, of new forces struggling
to become politically articulate. On the other hand from the
politician's point of view, it will be not only deplorable, but
terrifying. It will be worse than having to fight wild beasts in the
arena. Politics, it is safe to prophesy, will before long call for as
cool a nerve, as determined a heroism, as aviation.

It may be that things have always been like this--that base motives
have been imputed to politicians ever since politics began--that one's
political enemies always charged one with a dishonest greed for the
spoils of office and all the rest of it. But the terror of the
politics of the future is likely to be, not that one will be abused by
one's enemies, but that one will be abused by one's friends. That is
the tendency in a democracy which has not yet found itself. It is a
tendency which one sees occasionally at work to-day at labour
conventions. The unofficial leaders denounce the official leaders; the
official leaders retort in kind; and the hosts of Labour set out to
face the enemy tugging at each other's ears. There is no job on earth
less enviable than the job of a Labour leader. The Tory and Radical
leaders are supported at least in public by their respective parties;
but the Labour leader at home among his followers is commonly regarded
as a cross between a skunk and a whited sepulchre. As a rule, it may
be, he deserves all he gets, but the point is that he would get it
just the same whether he deserved it or not. The light that beats upon
a Labour M.P.'s seat on the platform is a thousand times fiercer and
more devouring than any that ever beat upon a throne. This partly
arises from the fact that the working classes are less practised than
others in concealing what passes through their minds. If they suspect
the worst they say so instead of passing a vote of thanks to the
object of their suspicions. Further, they are still fresh enough to
politics to be very exacting in their demands upon politicians. Other
people have got accustomed to the idea that lawyers, whether Liberal
or Tory, do not go into the House of Commons, as the Americans say,
for their health. They have settled down comfortably to regard
politics as a field of personal ambition even more than a field of
public service. No doubt the two aims are, to a great extent,
compatible, but, even so, no one expects the ordinary party politician
to have the faith that goes to the stake for a conviction. Labour, on
the other hand, in so far as it is articulate, does demand faith of
this kind from its leaders. If they do not possess it already it is
prepared to thump it into them with a big stick.

The difficulty is to retain this faith after one has been, as it were,
inside politics. One goes into politics believing in the faith that
will remove mountains: one remains in politics believing in the
machine that will remove mole-hills. It is only the rare politician
who does not ultimately succumb to the fatal fascination of the
machine. It may be the party machine or the Parliamentary machine or
the administrative machine. In any case, and to whatever party he
belongs, he soon comes to take it for granted, not that the machine
must be made to do what the people want, but that the people must
learn to be patient, even to the point of reverence, with the machine,
and must be careful to keep it supplied, not with the vinegar of
criticism, but with the oil of agreement, which alone enables its
wheels to run smoothly. Democracy has again and again had to rise up
and smash its machines, just because they had become idols in this
way. No doubt, even were Socialism in full swing, the idolatry of
machinery would still, to some extent, continue, and new machines
would constantly have to be invented to take the place of the old as
soon as the latter began to acquire this pseudo-religious sanction.
There will probably still also be people who will go about wanting to
destroy machinery from a rather illogical idea that anything which is
even capable of being turned into an idol must be evil. The
politicians and the anti-politicians will always stand to each other
in the relation of priests and iconoclasts. "Priests of machinery,"
indeed, would be a much more realistic description of most politicians
than Mr Lloyd George's phrase, "priests of humanity."

There you have the politician's doom. There you have the real terror
for the good man going into politics. He dreads not that he will be
called names so much as that he will deserve them. Office, he knows,
is as perilous a gift as riches, and the temptation to be a tyrant, if
it is only in a committee room down a side street, has destroyed men
who stood out like heroes against drink and the flesh and gold. The
House of Commons could easily drift into becoming the house of the six
hundred tyrants, if only the public would permit it. There is no
amulet against the despotism of politicians except living opinions
among the people. It would be foolish, however, merely because
politicians are in danger of setting themselves up as tyrants, to
propose to exterminate them. They can, if taken in time and
domesticated, be made at least as useful as the horse and the cow.
Indeed, so long as they are content to be regarded merely as our poor
brothers, they can be as useful as any other human beings almost,
except the saints. But they must demand no sacrosanctity for their
position. At present, when they denounce people for abusing them, they
are as often as not angry merely at being criticised. They are too
fond of thinking that it is the chief function of the electors to pass
votes of confidence in them. That is why, heartily as I love
politicians, I would keep them on a chain. But I would not throw
stones at them in their misery. I would even feed the brutes.



XXI

ON DISASTERS


It is a remarkable thing that human beings have never yet got
reconciled to disaster. Each new disaster, like the ship on fire, the
burning mine and the wrecked train inspires us with a new horror, as
though it were something without precedent. Occasionally in the
history of the world horror has been heaped on horror till people
became indifferent. During the Reign of Terror, for instance, the
tragic death of a man or woman became so everyday an affair that
before long it was regarded with almost as little emotion as a stumble
on the stairs. Luckily, the periods are rare in which this terrible
indifference is possible to us. It is only by keeping our sense of
disaster sharp and burnished that we shall ever succeed in stirring
ourselves into action against it. On the other hand, it is amazing for
how brief a period the impulse to action in most of us lasts. On the
morrow of a great preventable disaster it is as if the whole human
race stood up with bared heads and swore in the presence of Heaven
that this abominable thing should never be allowed to occur again.
But, alas! a full meal and a bottle of wine do wonders in restoring
the rosy view of life. Our tears which at first seemed to flow from
the depths of our hearts soon give place to commonplaces of the lips
and to sighs that actually increase our sense of comfort rather than
otherwise. We who but yesterday realised that trusting to luck was a
crime far deadlier in its effects than a mere passionate murder will
to-morrow accommodate ourselves once more to the accidental medley of
life which at least justified itself in letting so many of our fathers
and grandfathers die in their beds.

This accommodation of ourselves to life, it is curious to reflect, is
just the consenting to drift without a star which is condemned by all
the religions. Life is conceived in the religions as a vigilance. If
we are not vigilant, we are damned. It is the same in politics, where
we all quote Burke's sentence about eternal vigilance being the price
of liberty. But religion and politics do not long survive the dessert.
We are as much in love with drowsiness as the lotus-eaters, and at a
seemingly safe distance we are as careless of the ruin of the skies as
Horace's just man. Preachers may tell us once a week that we are
sentinels sleeping at our posts, and, if they say it eloquently
enough, we may possibly raise their salaries. But we have got used to
sleeping at our posts, and what we have got used to, we feel in our
bones, cannot be regarded as a very serious sin. Once, in the fine
wakefulness of our youth, we summoned the world out of its sleep. But
our voices sounded so thin and lonely in the sleep-laden air that we
felt rather ashamed of ourselves, and we soon climbed down out of our
golden balconies and took our places with our brothers among the hosts
of slumber. Upon our slumber, no doubt, there still breaks the
occasional voice of a prophet who persists--who bids us arise and get
ready for the battle, or flee from the wrath to come, or do anything
indeed except acquiesce with a sleepy grunt in the despotism of
disaster. It is to fight against disaster and destruction that we were
born. Our prophets are those who put wakeful hearts in us for the
conflict.

There should perhaps be no prophet needed to belabour us into making
an end of such disasters as have recently taken place in so far as
they are preventable. Even our common-sense, it might be thought,
would be strong enough to insist upon the ordinary rules of caution
being observed in ships and railways, and, though most of us are in
little danger of dying in a pit explosion, even in coal-mines.
Sometimes, when I read the evidence of the cause of a railway
disaster, and find a managing director or someone else in authority
confessing, without repentance, that his committee for one reason or
another ignored the recommendations made by the Board of Trade for the
general safety, I marvel that the public never rise up and demand that
a railway director shall be hanged. I have small belief in capital
punishment, but if capital punishment must still be permitted in order
to add a spice to the lives of newspaper readers, then I should
confine it to railway directors and other magnates who, though they
never commit a murder privately for the delight of the thing, still
run a system of murder far more sensational in results than any that
was ever planned by French motor-bandits. Think of all the railway
accidents of recent times--the accidents of every day to the men on
the line, and the accidents of red-letter days to us of the general
public. There have been so many of these lately that even the most
stupid devotees of private ownership are beginning to think that
somebody must be responsible; and if somebody is responsible, then in
a society which resorts to penal measures somebody deserves
punishment. It is ridiculous to send weak-minded women to gaol for
borrowing knicknacks off a shop counter while you send strong-minded
railway directors to Belgravia and Mayfair for maintaining a system of
sudden death for workmen and travellers. In the days of the Irish
famine, coroners' juries, whose business it was to report on the death
of some starved man, used to bring in a verdict of wilful murder
against Lord John Russell. Is there no coroner's jury of the present
day to bring in an occasional verdict of wilful murder against the
directors of a railway or a factory? When we see a railway manager
sentenced to seven years' penal servitude as the reasonable
consequence of some disaster on the line, I have an idea that the
number of railway accidents will diminish. When we see the directors
of a shipping company fined a year's income and a captain dismissed
from his post for sending a ship full steam ahead through a fog, we
shall be thrilled by fewer accidents at sea. But it is the old story.
One's crime has only to be on a sufficiently grand scale to be as far
above punishment as an act of God. What punishment can be too severe
for a half-witted farm hand who burns his master's haystack? But as
for the railway lords who burn a score of men, women and children in
the course of a railway smash by their carefully calculated
carelessness, why, one might as well call down punishment on a
thunderstorm. It pleases our indolent brains to regard accidents
associated with dividends as the works of an inscrutable Providence.
It is not enough that Providence should be the author, at least
passively, of earthquakes and gales and tidal waves. He must also be
held accountable for every breakage of bones that occurs as the result
of our passion for saving money rather than life. Some day, I hope,
the distinction between Providence and the capitalist will be a little
clearer than it at present is. The confusion between the two has
hitherto led to the capitalist's being invested with a sacrosanctity
to which we offer up human sacrifices on a scale far surpassing
anything ever known in Peru or the dark places of Africa.

It would be folly however to prophesy a world from which disaster has
disappeared on the heels of the mastodon. One can do little more than
regulate disaster. We already regulate death by offering a strong
discouragement to murder. Pessimists may contend that, in a world
where so many deaths are taking place as it is, one or two more or
less can hardly matter. But all the advances the human race has ever
made have only been an affair of one or two--the distribution of one
or two women, of one or two privileges, of one or two pennies.
Consequently, even in a world where disasters grow as thick as trees,
we are bound to fight them so far as they can be fought. If we do not,
the wilderness will swallow us. One is usually consoled by the
leader-writers, after a disaster has taken place, by the reflection
that it has taught us certain lessons that will never, never be
forgotten. Unfortunately, we knew the lessons already. We do not want
to be taught our A B C over again by having the alphabet burned into
our flesh with a red-hot iron.

At the same time, the leader-writers do well in trying to arrive at
some philosophy of disaster. But the true philosophy of disaster is
one which will teach us to rage where raging will be of avail and to
endure where there is nothing for it but endurance. Most of us in
these days are content to have no philosophy at all, philosophy being
a name for serious thought about the universal disaster of death. To
read Montaigne, who lived blithely in conversation with death, is to
step right out of our modern civilisation into a wiser world. It is to
become an inhabitant of the universe instead of a rather inefficient
earner of an income. Montaigne tells us that, even when he was in
good health, if a thought occurred to him during a walk he jotted it
down at once for fear he might be dead before he could reach home and
write it down at leisure. He made himself as familiar with death as he
was with the sun or his neighbours. He explains what a happiness it
would have been to him to write a history of the way in which
different great men had died, and his essays are in great part an
expression of interest in the caprices of death among the heroes of
the human race. History was to him a procession of
disasters--disasters, however, seen against a background of faith in
the benevolence of the scheme of things--and he made his account with
life as something to be enjoyed as a privilege rather than a right.

"If a man could by any means avoid it," he said of death, "though by
creeping under a calf's skin, I am one that should not be ashamed of
the shift." Somehow, one hardly believes him. He seems here to be
speaking for our reassurance rather than historically. On the other
hand, he is right a thousand times in summoning even the most
timid-kneed to go out and shake hands with disaster as with a friend.
To hide from it is only a kind of watered-down atheism. It is a
distrust of life. It is easy, of course, to compose sentences on the
subject: it is quite another thing to compose ourselves. Matthew
Arnold relates in one of his prefaces how he once failed to bring any
consolation to the occupants of a railway carriage at a time when a
panic about murder in railway trains was running its course by bidding
them reflect that, even if any of them died suddenly by violent hands,
the gravel-walks of their villas would still be rolled, and there
would still be a crowd at the corner of Fenchurch Street. It is a very
rational mind that can get comfort out of a thought like that. Even
when we are not troubled by thinking of our work or our family, we
cannot but cry out against the corruption of this flesh of our bodies,
and many of us quake at the thought of the enforced adventure of the
soul into a secret world. Marked down for disaster, we may add to our
income, or win a place in the Cabinet, or make a reputation for
singing comic songs, but death will steal upon us in our security, and
strip us bare of everything save the courage we have learned from
philosophy and the faith that has been given us by religion. We spend
our hours shirking that fact. Cowardice and pessimism will avail on
our death-beds no more than wealth or stuffed birds of paradise.
Logically, then, every circumstance shouts to us to be brave. But,
alas! bravery, though in face of the disasters of others it is easy
enough, in the face of our own disasters is a rare and splendid form
of genius, To attain it is the crown of existence.



XXII

THE RIGHTS OF MURDER


Mr Justice Darling, before passing a sentence of seven years' penal
servitude on Julia Decies for wounding her lover with intent to kill
him, made a remark which must interest all students of the morals of
murder. No one, probably, he declared, would very much lament the
wounded man, but "that was not the question." So far as one can gather
from the scrappy reports in the newspapers, the crime was in the main
a crime of jealousy. The man and woman had lived together for some
years, had then separated, had come back to each other, and had
finally quarrelled as the result of a suggestion "that he had taken up
with some other woman, with whom he was going to Paris." Incidentally
it was stated that the man had given Julia Decies £500 and some
furniture in the previous October on the understanding that she was to
trouble him no further. It was also stated that "the prosecutor had
infected the woman with a terrible disease and that she was
pregnant." There you have a story of contemporary life as mean in its
horror as any that Gorky has written. It is a story in which the only
conceivably beautiful element is the insurgent anger of the woman. It
is a tragedy, not of heroic suffering, but of the dull slums of human
nature. Probably, in any country where they managed things according
to "rough justice" instead of with judges and juries, no one would
have blamed Julia Decies even to the extent of a day's imprisonment
for seeking to avenge herself in the most extreme form on an
environment so intolerable--on a man whom, in the judge's phrase, "no
one, probably, would very much lament." There is a mining camp logic
which holds that if a man is not worth lamenting, one need not be
greatly concerned whether he is alive or dead. Civilisation however,
speaking from under the wig of Mr Justice Darling, says of even the
most worthless of its human products: "He was a person whose life was
entitled to the protection of the law as though he were a person with
the best of characters." To the moralist of the mining camp this would
seem like saying that the weeds have as good a right to exist as the
flowers.

It is obviously one of the earliest instincts of man to get rid of his
rivals by killing them. Cain was representative of the human race at
this barbarous stage. It is the stage of unhampered egoism, of
_laissez-faire_ applied to morals. Poets, who sometimes inherit this
egoism, have written sympathetically of Cain: now that art is becoming
deliberately primitive again, we may expect to see new statues to Cain
insolently set up in the poets' back bedrooms. Civilisation is, in one
aspect, a war against Cain and the minor poets. It depends in its
early stages on the suppression of the private right to murder--on the
socialisation, one may say, of the right to kill. No doubt, even in
the most highly-developed civilisations, the right to kill is still
left to some extent in the hands of private individuals. One has the
right to kill certain people in self-defence. But the more advanced
civilisation is, the more limited will that right be. So limited has
it become in modern England that it has been maintained one is not
even entitled to shoot a burglar unless, by running away and in
various other ways, one has first exhausted all the gentler devices
for escaping injury at his hands. This may seem a sad falling-away
from the dramatic virtues of the heroic age, when one slung dead
burglars round one's neck like a bag of game. But the heroic age, as
has been pointed out, was an age of egoists, not of citizens. When
heroes evolved into citizens, as we see in the history of Athens, the
culminating triumph came with the abandonment of the right to kill as
symbolised in the carrying of arms. Athens was the first city in
Greece in which the men went about unarmed. That was a recognition of
the fact that civilised man is not a killing animal to the greatest
degree possible, but only in the least degree possible.

It may be retorted, on the other hand, that murder was not condoned in
the case either of Cain or of Orestes, and there are many other
examples of guilty murderers in the heroic age. This, however, only
means that there was some limitation put upon the right to kill from
the beginning. The right to kill did not exist as against the members
of one's own family. It would have been impossible to explain the
humour of _The Playboy of the Western World_ to men of the heroic age.
The women who flocked with their farmhouse gifts to show their
appreciation of the boy who had killed his father would have seemed
long-nailed monsters of depravity to the Greeks of the time of
Oedipus. Professor Freud, in his book on dreams, maintains that men
in all ages desire to kill their fathers out of jealousy; he contends
even that Hamlet's reluctance to kill his father's murderer was due
to the fact that he had often wished to murder his father himself.
This, however, is an abnormal interpretation of the jealousies and
hatreds of human beings. The philosopher, perhaps, may see the
principle of murder in every feeling of anger in the same way as the
Christian Apostle saw that, if you hate a man, you are already a
murderer in your own heart. The hatred of parents and children,
however, is not universal any more than the hatred of husbands and
wives. Still, family quarrels are sufficiently natural to enable us to
see that the first step towards good citizenship must have been the
prohibition of the right to kill the members of one's own family.
Gradually, the family widened into the clan, the clan into the city,
the city into the nation, the nation into the larger unit embracing
men of the same colour, and it will ultimately widen, one hopes, into
the human race. But we are far from having reached that stage yet. It
is said to be almost impossible to get a death sentence passed on an
Englishman who has murdered an Indian native. This merely means that
it is regarded as a lesser crime for a European to murder an Asiatic
than for a European to murder a European. In other words the family
sanctities have been extended in some respects so as to cover Europe,
but they have not yet overflowed so far as Asia and Africa. The
objection of the war-at-any-price party to-day to civil war is purely
on the ground that it is fratricidal--that it is an outrage on
recognised family sanctities. The militarists do not see that every
war is fratricidal--that every war is a civil war. As a rule, indeed,
they deny the existence of family rights outside the borders of their
own nation in the narrowest sense. They do not realise that it is as
horrible a thing to shoot fellow-Europeans--not to say, fellow-men--as
it is to shoot fellow-countrymen. As private citizens they not only
admit but insist upon the foreigner's right to live. As public-minded
men and patriots, they will admit nothing beyond his right to be
carried off on a stretcher if they fail to kill him on the field of
battle.

This, however, is to discuss Cain as a statesman rather than Cain as a
human being--to consider the social right to kill rather than the
individual right to kill. Public morals being so far in the rear of
private morals, it raises an entirely different question from that
suggested by Mr Justice Darling's remark. Mr Justice Darling laid it
down that the private citizen has not--except, it may be presumed, in
the last necessities of self-defence--the right to kill even the most
worthless and treacherous of human beings. The spy, the sweater, the
rack-renter, the ravisher--each has the right to trial by his peers.
This, I believe, is good morals as well as good law. Even where it is
a case of a blackguard's commission of some unspeakable crime for
which there is no legal redress, though we may sympathise with his
murderer, we cannot praise the murder. There are, it may be admitted,
cases of murder with a high moral purpose. These are especially
abundant in the annals of political assassination, which may be
described as private murder for public reasons. Very few of us would
claim to be the moral equals of Charlotte Corday, and we have abased
ourselves for centuries before the at-last-suspected figures of
Harmodius and Aristogeiton. There are crimes which are the crimes of
saints. Our reverence for the saintliness leads us almost into a
reverence for the crime. The hero of Finland a few years ago was a
young man who slew a Russian tyrant at the expense of his own life.
Deeds like this have the moral glow of self-sacrifice beyond one's own
most daring attempts at virtue. How, then, is one to condemn them? But
we condemn them by implication if we do not believe in imitating them;
and few of us would believe in imitating them to the point of
bringing up our children to be even the most honourable of assassins.
One unconsciously analyses these crimes into their elements, some of
them noble, some of them the reverse. One has heard, again, of what
may be called private murders for family reasons--crimes of revenge
for some wrong done to a mother, a sister, or a child. Even here,
however, one knows that it is against the interests of the State and
of the race that we should admit the right to kill. Once allow crimes
of indignation, and every indignant man will claim to be a law to
himself. It may be that the prohibition of murder--even murder with
the best intentions--is in the interests of society rather than of any
absolute code of morality. But even so society must set up its own
code of morality in self-defence. In practice, of course, it has also
the right to distinguish between crimes that are the outcome of a
criminal nature, and crimes that are isolated accidents in the lives
of otherwise good men and women. Lombroso was opposed to the severe
punishment of crimes of passion--crimes which are not likely to be
repeated by those who perpetrate them. This, however, is a plea for
the consideration of mitigating circumstances, not an assertion that
the crime of murder is in any circumstances justifiable.



XXIII

THE HUMOUR OF HOAXES


It was only the other day that Mr G. A. Birmingham gave us a play
about a hoax at the expense of an Irish village, in course of which a
statue was erected to an imaginary Irish-American General, the
aide-de-camp of the Lord-Lieutenant coming down from Dublin to perform
the unveiling ceremony. Lady Gregory, it may be remembered, had
previously used a similar theme in _The Image_. And now comes the
story of yet another statue hoax from Paris. On the whole the Paris
joke is the best of the three. It was a stroke of genius to invent a
great educationist called Hégésippe Simon. One can hardly blame the
members of the Chamber of Deputies for falling to the lure of a name
like that. Perhaps they should have been warned by the motto which M.
Paul Bérault, of _L'Eclair_, the perpetrator of the hoax, quoted from
among the sayings of the "precursor" to whom he wished to erect a
centenary statue. "The darkness vanishes when the sun rises" is an
aphorism which is almost too good to be true. M. Bérault, however,
relying upon the innocence of human nature, sent a circular to a
number of senators and deputies opposed to him in politics, announcing
that, "thanks to the liberality of a generous donor, the disciples of
Hégésippe Simon have at length been able to collect the funds
necessary for the erection of a monument which will rescue the
precursor's memory from oblivion," and inviting them to become
honorary members of a committee to celebrate the event. Despite the
fact that he quoted the sentence about the darkness and the sunrise,
thirty of the politicians replied that they would be delighted to help
in the centenary rejoicings. M. Bérault thereupon published their
names with the story of the hoax he had practised on them, and as a
result, according to the newspaper correspondents, all Paris has been
laughing at the joke, "the good taste of which," adds one of them,
"would hardly be relished in England, where other political manners
obtain."

With all respect to this patriotic journalist, I am afraid the love of
hoaxing and practical joking cannot be limited to the Latin, or even
to the Continental races. It is a passion that is as universal as
lying, and a good deal older than drinking. It is merely the instinct
for lying, indeed, turned to comic account. Christianity, unable to
suppress it entirely, had to come to terms with it, and as a result we
have one day of the year, the first of April, devoted to the humours
of this popular sin. There are many explanations of the origin of All
Fools' Day, one of which is that it is a fragmentary memorial of the
mock trial of Jesus, and another of which refers it to the belief that
it was on the first of April that Noah sent out the dove from the Ark.
But the Christian or Hebrew origin of the festival appears to be
unlikely in view of the fact that the Hindus have an All Fools' Day of
their own, the Huli Festival, on almost exactly the same date. One may
take it that it was in origin simply a great natural holiday, on which
men enjoyed the license of lying as they enjoy the license of drinking
on a Bank Holiday. There is no other sport for which humanity would be
more likely to desire the occasional sanction of Church and State than
the sport of making fools of our neighbours. We must have fools if we
cannot have heroes. Some people, who are enthusiasts for destruction,
indeed, would give us fools and knaves in the place of our heroes, and
have even an idea that they would be serving some moral end in doing
so. It is on an iconoclastic eagerness of one kind or another that
nearly all hoaxing and practical joking is based. It consists chiefly
in taking somebody down a peg. The boy who used to shout "Wolf!",
however, may have been merely an excessively artistic youth who
enjoyed watching the varied expressions on the faces of the sweating
and disillusioned passersby who ran to his assistance. Obviously, a
man's face is a dozen times more interesting to look at when it is
crimson with frustrate virtue than when it is placid with thoughts of
the price of pigs.

This is not to justify the morality of hoaxing. It is to explain it as
an art for art's sake. Murder can, and has, been defended on the same
grounds. It is to be feared, however, that few hoaxers or murderers
can be named who pursued their hobby in the disinterested spirit of
artists. In most cases there is some motive of cruelty or dislike. One
would not go to the trouble of murdering and hoaxing people if it did
not hurt or vex somebody or other. Those who invent hoaxes are first
cousins of the boy who ties kettles or lighted torches to cats' tails.
It is the terror of the cat that amuses him. If the cat purred as the
instruments of torture were fitted on to it the boy would feel that he
had serious cause for complaint. There is, no doubt, a great deal of
the cruelty of boys which is experimental rather than malicious--the
practice of blowing up frogs, for instance. But, for the most part,
it must be admitted, a spice of cruelty is counted a gain in human
amusements. This is called thoughtlessness in boys, but it is a
deliberate enthusiasm in primitive man, out of which we have to be
slowly civilised. There is probably no more popular game with the
infancy of the streets than covering a brick with an old hat in the
hope that some glorious fool will come along who will kick hat and
brick together, and go limping and swearing on his way. One might
easily produce a host of similar instances of the humour of the small
boy who looks so like an angel and behaves so like a devil. There are,
it may be, thousands of small boys who never perpetrated an act of
such cheerful malice in their lives. But even they have usually some
other outlet for their comic cruelty. The half of comic literature
depends upon someone's getting cudgelled or ducked in a well, or
subjected to some pain. It is one of the paradoxes of comedy, indeed,
that, even when we like the hero of it, we also like to see him hurt
and humiliated. We are glad when Don Quixote is beaten to a jelly, and
when his teeth are knocked down his throat. We rejoice at every
discomfort that befalls poor Parson Adams. Humour, even when it
reaches the pitch of genius, has still about it much of the elemental
cruelty of the boy who arranges a pin upon the point of which his
friend may sit down, or who pulls away a chair and sends someone
sprawling.

Hoaxes, at the best, spring from a desire to harry one's neighbour. As
a rule, refined men and women have by this time given up the ambition
to cause others physical pain, but one still hears of milder
annoyances being practised with considerable spirit. It was Theodore
Hook, I believe, who originated the practice of hoaxing tradesmen into
delivering long caravans of goods at some house or other, to the fury
of the householder and the disturbance of traffic. Every now and then
the jest is still revived, whereupon everybody condemns it and--laughs
at it. That is one of the oddest facts about the hoax as a form of
humour. No one has a good word to say for it, and yet everyone who
tells you the story of a hoax tells it with a chuckle. Some years ago
a young gentleman from one of the Universities palmed himself off on
an admiral--was it not?--as the Sultan of Zanzibar, and was
entertained as such by the officers on board one of King George's
ships. Everybody frowned at the young gentleman's taste, but nobody
outside the Navy failed to enjoy the hoax as the best item of the
day's news. Similarly, the Köpenick affair set not only all Germany
but all Europe laughing. Skill and audacity always delight us for
their own sakes; when it is rogueries that are skilful and audacious,
they shock us into malicious appreciation. They are adventures
standing on their heads. It is difficult not to forgive a clever
impostor so long as it is not we on whom he has imposed.

As for the Hégésippe hoax, it may be that there is even an ethical
element in our pleasure. Such a hoax as this is a pin stuck in
pretentiousness. If it is an imposture, it is an imposture on
impostors. One feels that it is good that members of Parliament should
be exposed from time to time. Otherwise they might become puffed up.
Still, there remains a very good reason why we should oppose a
disapproving front to hoaxes of all sorts. We ourselves may be the
next victims. Most of us have a Hégésippe Simon in our cupboards.
Whether in literature, history, or politics, the human animal is much
given to pretending to knowledge that he does not possess. There are
some men whom one could inveigle quite easily into a discussion on
plays of Shakespeare and Euripides which were never written. I
remember how one evening two students concocted a poem beginning with
the drivelling line, "I stood upon the rolling of the years," and
foisted it on a noisy admirer of Keats as a work of the master.
Similarly, in political arguments, one has known a man to invent
sayings of Gladstone and Chamberlain without being challenged. This
is, of course, not amusing in itself. It becomes amusing only when the
other disputants, instead of confessing their ignorance, make a
pretence of being acquainted with the invented quotations. It is our
dread of appearing ignorant that leads us into the enactment of this
kind of lies. We will go to any extreme rather than confess that we
have never even heard of Hégésippe Simon. Luckily, Hégésippe Simon
happens to be a person who can trip our pretentiousness up. But the
senators and deputies who were willing to celebrate the precursor's
centenary were probably not humbugs to any greater degree than if they
had consented to celebrate the anniversary of Diderot or Rousseau or
Alfred de Musset. It is utter imposture, this practice of doing honour
to great names which mean less to one than a lump of sugar; and if an
end could be put to centenary celebrations in all countries, no great
harm would be done to public honesty. On the other hand, most public
rejoicings over men of genius would be exceedingly small if all the
speeches and applause had to come from the heart without any addition
from those who merely like to be in the latest movement. Perhaps the
adherents of Hégésippe Simon are necessary in order to make it
profitable to be a man of genius at all. They are not only a useful
claque, but they pay. That is why even if William Shakespeare, Anatole
France, and Bergson are only other and better known names for
Hégésippe, it would be madness to destroy such enthusiasm as has
gathered round them. M. Bérault, by his light-hearted hoax on his
political opponents, has struck at the very roots of popular homage to
men of genius.



XXIV

ANATOLE FRANCE


There does not at first glance seem to be any great similarity between
Mr Thomas Hardy and M. Anatole France, the latter of whom has come to
London to see how enthusiastically Englishmen can dine when they wish
to express their feelings about literature. Yet both writers are
extraordinarily alike. Each of them is an incarnation of the spirit of
pity, of the spirit of irony. Mr Hardy may have more pity than irony
and Anatole France may have more irony than pity. I might put it
another way and say that Mr Hardy has the tragic spirit of pity while
Anatole France has the comic spirit of pity. But each of them is, in
his own way, the last word of the nineteenth century on the
universe--the century that extinguished the noon of faith and gave us
the little star of pity to light up the darkness instead. Each of them
is, therefore, a pessimist--Mr Hardy typically British, Anatole France
typically French, in his distress. It is as though Mr Hardy spoke out
of a rain-cloud; Anatole France out of a cloud of irresponsible
lightnings. There, perhaps, you have an eternal symbol of the
difference between the Englishman, who takes his irreligion as
seriously as his religion, and the Frenchman, who takes his irreligion
as smilingly as his _apéritif_.

It is just because he sums up the end of the nineteenth century so
well that Anatole France is already in some quarters a declining
fashion. He is the victim of a reaction against his century, not of a
reaction against his style. He is the last of the true mockers: the
twentieth century demands that even its mockers shall be partisans of
the coming race. Anatole France does not believe in the coming race.
He is willing to join a society for bringing it into existence--he is
even a Socialist--but his vision of the world shows him no prospect of
Utopias. He is as sure as the writer of _Ecclesiastes_ that every
blessed--or, rather, cursed--thing is going to happen over and over
again. Life is mainly a procession of absurdities in which lovers and
theologians and philosophers and collectors of bric-à-brac are the
most amusing figures. It is one of the happy paradoxes of human
conduct that, in spite of this vision of futilities, Anatole France
came forward at the Dreyfus crisis as a man of action, a man who
believed that the procession of absurdities could be diverted into a
juster road. "Suddenly," as Brandes has said, "he stripped himself of
all his scepticism and stood forth, with Voltaire's old blade gleaming
in his hand--like Voltaire irresistible by reason of his wit, like him
the terrible enemy of the Church, like him the champion of innocence.
But, taking a step in advance of Voltaire, France proclaimed himself
the friend of the poor in the great political struggle." He even did
his best to become a mob-orator for his faith. Since that time he has
given his name willingly to the cause of every oppressed class and
nation. It is as though he had no hope and only an intermittent spark
of faith; but his heart is full of charity.

That somewhere or other a preacher lay hidden in Anatole France might
have all along been suspected by observant readers of his works. He is
a born fabulist. He drifts readily into fable in everything he writes.
And, if his fables do not always walk straight to their moral in their
Sunday clothes, that is not because he is not a very earnest moralist
at heart, but because his wit and humour continually entice him down
by-paths. It is sometimes as though he set out to serve morality and
ended by telling an indecent story--as though he knelt down to pray
and found himself addressing God in a series of blasphemies. This is
the contradiction in his nature which makes him so ineffectual as a
propagandist, so effectual as an artist. Ineffectual, one ought to
say, perhaps, not as a propagandist so much as a partisan. For he does
propagate with the most infectious charm his view of the animal called
man, and the need for being tender and not too serious in dealing with
him. If he has not preached the brotherhood of man with the missionary
fervour of the idealists, he has at least, in accordance with an
idealism of his own, preached a brotherhood of the beasts. He never
lets himself savagely loose upon his brother-beasts as Swift does.
Even in _Penguin Island_, with all its bitterness, he shakes his head
rather than his stick at the vicious kennels of men. The truth is,
Epicureanism is in his blood. If he could, he would watch the stream
of circumstance, as it went by, with the appreciative indifference of
the gods. It is only the preacher in his heart that prevents this.
Like his own Abbé Coignard, he shares his loyalty between Epicurus and
Christ. Henley once described Stevenson as something of the
sensualist, and something of the Shorter Catechist. Translated into
French, that might serve as a character-sketch of Anatole France.

Originality has been denied to him in some quarters, but, it seems to
me, unjustly. One may find something very like this or that aspect of
him in Sterne, or Voltaire, or Heine. But in none of them does one
find the complete Anatole France, ironist, fabulist, critic,
theologian, artist, connoisseur, politician, philosopher, and creator
of character. As artist, he is at many points comparable to Sterne. He
has the same sentimental background to his wit, the same tenderness in
his ridicule, the same incapacity for keeping his jests from
scrambling about the very altar, the same almost Christian sensuality.
Sterne, of course, is the more innocent writer, because his intellect
was not nearly so covetous of experience. Sterne, though in his
humanitarianism he occasionally stood in a pulpit above his time, was
content for the most part to work as an artist. He could do all the
preaching he wanted on Sundays. On week-days my Uncle Toby and
Corporal Trim were the only minor prophets he troubled about. Anatole
France, on the other hand, is not a preacher by trade. He has no
safety-valve of that kind for his moralisings. The consequence is that
he has again and again felt himself compelled to ease his mind by
adopting the part of the lay preacher we call the journalist. He is in
much of his work a Sterne turned journalist--a Sterne flashingly
interested in leaving the world better than he found it and other
things that grieve the artistic. He might even be described as the
greatest living journalist. The Bergeret series of novels are, apart
from their artistic excellence, the most supremely delightful examples
of modern European journalism. Similarly, when he turned for a too
brief space to literary criticism, he proved himself the master of all
living men in the art of the literary causerie. The four volumes of
_La Vie Littéraire_ will, I imagine, survive all but a few of the
literary essays of the nineteenth century. They are in a sense only
trifles, but what irresistible trifles!

But no criticism would be just which stopped short at the assertion
that Anatole France is to some extent a journalist. So was Dickens for
that matter, and so, no doubt, was Shakespeare. It is much more
important to emphasise the fact that Anatole France is an artist--that
he stands at the head of the artists of Europe, indeed, since Tolstoi
died. His novels are not the issue of an impartial love of form, like
Flaubert's. They are as freakish as the author's personality; they
tell only the most interrupted of stories. They might be said in many
cases to introduce the Montaigne method into fiction. They are essays
portraying a personality rather than novels on a conventional model.
They may have a setting amid early Christianity or early Mediævalism;
they may disguise themselves as realism or as fairy tales; but the
secret passion of them all is the self-revelation of the author--the
portraiture of the last of the mockers as he surveys this mouldy world
of churches and courtesans. This portrait peeps round the corner at us
in nearly every sentence. "Milesian romancers!" cried M. Bergeret. "O
shrewd Petronius! O Noël du Fail! O forerunners of Jean de la
Fontaine! What apostle was wiser or better than you, who are commonly
called good-for-nothing rascals? O benefactors of humanity! You have
taught us the true science of life, the kindly scorn of the human
race!" There, by implication, you have the ideal portrait of Anatole
France himself--the summary of his temper. The kindly scorn of the
human race is the basis upon which the Francian Decalogue will be
founded. In _Penguin Island_ the scorn at times ceases to be entirely
kindly. It ceases even to be scorn. It becomes utter despair. But in
_Thaïs_, in _Sur la Pierre Blanche_, in _Le Mannequin d'Osier_, with
what a comprehending sympathy he despises the human race! How amiably
he impales the little creatures, too, and lectures us on the humours
of amorousness and quarrelsomeness and heroism in the insect world!
Even the French Revolution he sees in _Les Dieux Ont Soif_ as a
scuffle of insects to be regarded with amusement rather than amazement
by the philosopher among his cardboard toys. Not really amusement, of
course, but pity disguised as amusement--the pity, too, not of a
philosopher in a garden, but of a philosopher always curiously
hesitating between the garden and the street.



XXV

THE SEA


It is only now and then, when some great disaster like the sinking of
the _Empress of Ireland_ occurs, that man recovers his ancient dread
of the sea. We have grown comfortably intimate with the sea. We use it
as a highway of business and pleasure with as little hesitation as the
land. The worst we fear from it is the discomfort of sea-sickness, and
we are inclined to treat that half-comically, like a boy's sickness
from tobacco. There are still a few persons who are timid of it, as
the more civilised among us are timid of forests: they cannot sleep if
they are near its dull roar, and they hate, like nagging, the damnable
iteration of its waves. For most of us, however, the sea is a
domesticated wonder. We pace its shores with as little nervousness as
we walk past the bears and lions in the Zoological Gardens. With less
nervousness, indeed, for we trust our bodies to the sea in little
scoops of wood, and even fling ourselves half-naked into its waters as
a luxury--an indulgence bolder than any we allow ourselves with the
tamest lions. Let an accident occur, however--let a ship go down or a
bather be carried out in the wash of the tide--and something in our
bones remembers the old fears of the monster in the waters. We realise
suddenly that we who trust the sea are like the people in other lands
who live under the fiery mountains that have poured death on their
ancestors time and again. We are amazed at the faith of men who
rebuild their homes under a volcano, but the sea over which we pass
with so smiling a certainty is more restless than a volcano and more
clamorous for victims. Originally, man seems to have dreaded all
water, whether of springs or of rivers or of the sea, in the idea that
it was a dragon's pasture. There is no myth more universal than that
of the beast that rises up out of the water and demands as tribute the
fairest woman of the earth. Perseus rescued Andromeda from such a
monster as this, and it is as the slayer of a water beast that St.
George lives in legend, however history may seek to degrade him into a
dishonest meat contractor. Not that it was always a maiden who was
sacrificed. Probably in the beginning the sea-beast made no
distinction of sex among its victims. In many of the legends, we find
it claiming men and women indifferently. In the story of Jonah, it
demands a male victim, and in many countries to-day there are men who
will not rescue anyone from drowning on the ground that if you
disappoint the sea of one victim it will sooner or later have you,
whether you are male or female, for your pains. These men regard the
sea as some men regard God--a beneficent being, if you get on the
right side of it. They see it as the home of one who is half-divinity
and half-monster, and who, when once his passion for sacrifice has
been satisfied, will look on you with a shining face. Hence all these
gifts to it of handsome youths and well-born children. Hence the
marriage to it of soothing maidens. In the latter case, no doubt,
there is also the idea of a magical marriage, which will promote the
fertility of water and land. Matthew Arnold's _Forsaken Merman_, if
you let the anthropologists get hold of it, will be shown to be but
the exquisite echo of some forgotten marriage of the sea.

These superstitions may reasonably enough be considered as for the
most part dramatisations of a sense of the sea's insecurity. We have
ceased to believe in dragons and mermaids, chiefly because
civilisation has built up for us a false sense of security, and you
can arrange in any of Cook's branch offices to spend your week-end
silent upon a peak in Darien, commanding the best views of the
Pacific. We have, as it were, advertised the sea till it seems as
innocuous as a patent medicine. We no more expect to be injured by it
than to be poisoned at our meals. We have lost both our fears and our
wonders, and as we glide through the miraculous places of Ocean we no
longer listen for the song of the Sirens, but sit down comfortably to
read the latest issue of the Continental edition of the _Daily Mail_.
It is a question whether we have lost or gained more by our podgy
indifference. Sometimes it seems as if there were a sentence of "Thou
fool" hanging over us as we lounge in our deck-chairs. In any case the
men who were troubled by the fancy of Scylla and Charybdis, and were
conscious of the nearness of Leviathan, and saw without surprise the
rising of islands of doom in the sunset went out none the less
high-heartedly for their fears. We are sometimes inclined to think
that no one ever quite enjoyed the wonders of the sea before the
nineteenth century. We have been brought up to believe that all the
ancients regarded the sea, with Horace, as the sailor's grave and that
that was the end of their emotions concerning it. Even in the
eighteenth century, it has been dinned into us, men took so little
impartial pleasure in the sea that a novel like _Roderick Random_,
though full of nautical adventures, does not contain three sentences
in praise of its beauty. This has always seemed to me to be great
nonsense. No doubt, men were not so much at their ease with the sea in
the old days as they are now. But be sure the terrors of the sea did
not stun the ancients into indifference to its beauty any more than
the terrors of tragedy stupefy you or me into insensitiveness. There
is a sense of all the magnificence of the sea in the cry of Jonah:

  All thy billows and thy waves passed over me.
  Then I said, I am cast out of thy sight;...
  The waters compassed me about, even to the soul:
  The depth closed me round about,
  The weeds were wrapped about my head.
  I went down to the bottoms of the mountains.

There is perhaps more of awe than of the pleasure of the senses in
this. It has certainly nothing of the "Oh, for the life of the
sailor-lad" jollity of the ballad-concert. But, then, not even the
most enthusiastic sea-literature of this sea-ridden time has. Mr
Conrad, who has found in the sea a new fatherland--if the phrase is
not too anomalous--never approaches it in that mood of flirtation that
we get in music-hall songs. He is as conscious of its dreadful
mysteries as the author of the _Book of Jonah_, and as aware of its
terrors and portents as the mariners of the _Odyssey_. He discovers
plenty of humour in the relations of human beings with the sea, but
this humour is the merest peering of stars in a night of tragic irony.
His ships crash through the tumult of the waves like creatures of
doom, even when they triumph as they do under the guidance of the
brave. His sea, too, is haunted by invisible terrors, where more
ancient sailors dreaded marvels that had shape and bulk. Mr
Masefield's love of the sea is to a still greater extent dominated by
tragic shadows. There are few gloomier poems in literature than
_Dauber_ in spite of the philosophy and calm of its close. It is only
young men who have never gone farther over the water than for a sail
at Southend who think of the sea as consistently a merry place. Not
that all sailors set out to sea in the mood of Hamlet. The praise of
the sea life that we find in their chanties is the praise of cheerful
men. But it is also the praise of men who recognise the risks and
treacheries that lurk under the ocean--a place of perils as manifestly
as any jungle in the literature of man's adventures and fears. Perhaps
it is necessary that the average man should ignore this dreadful
quality in the sea: it would otherwise interfere too much with the
commerce and the gaiety of nations. And, after all, an ocean liner is
from one point of view a retreat from the greater dangers of the
streets of London. But the imaginative man cannot be content to regard
the sea with this ignorant amiableness. To him every voyage must still
be a voyage into the unknown "where tall ships founder and deep death
waits." He is no more impudently at home with the sea than was
Shakespeare, who, in "Full fathom five thy father lies," wrote the
most imaginative poem of the sea in literature. Even Mr Kipling, who
has slapped most of the old gods on the back and pressed penny Union
Jacks into their hands, writes of the sea as a strange world of
fearful things. When he makes the deep-sea cables sing their "song of
the English," he aims at conveying the same sense of awe that we get
when we read how Jonah went down in the belly of the great fish.
Recall how the song of the deep-sea cables begins:

  The wrecks dissolve above us; their dust drops down from afar--
  Down to the dark, to the utter dark, where the blind white
          sea-snakes are.
  There is no sound, no echo of sound, in the deserts of the deep,
  Or the great grey level plains of ooze where the shell-burred
          cables creep.

Mr Kipling's particularisations of the "blind white sea-snakes" and
"level plains of ooze" achieve nothing of the majesty of the far
simpler "bottoms of the mountains" in the song of Jonah. But, when we
get behind the more vulgar and prosaic phrasing, we see that the mood
of Mr Kipling and the Hebrew author is essentially the same.

It is, nevertheless, man's constant dream that he will yet be able to
defeat these terrors of the sea. He sees himself with elation as the
conqueror of storms, and makes his plans to build a ship that no
accident can sink either in a wild sea or a calm. Before the _Titanic_
went down many people thought that the great discovery had been made.
The _Titanic_ went forth like a boast, and perished from one of the
few accidents her builders had not provided against, like a victim of
Nemesis in a Greek story. After that, we ceased to believe in the
unsinkable ship; but we thought at least that, if only ships were
furnished with enough boats to hold everyone on board, no ship would
ever again sink on a calm night carrying over a thousand human beings
to the bottom. Yet the _Empress of Ireland_ had apparently boats
enough to save every passenger, and now she has gone down with over a
thousand dead in shallow water at the mouth of a river which, the
_Times_ insists, is at least as safe for navigation as the English
Channel, and much safer than the Thames. It is as though the great
machines we have invented were not machines of safety, but machines of
destruction. They have us in their grip as we thought we had the sea
in ours. They do but betray us, indeed, in a new manner into an
ancient snare--the snare of a power that, like Leviathan,

  Esteemeth iron as straw,
  And brass as rotten wood.

We must, no doubt, go on dreaming that we shall master the sea, and
that we shall do it with machines perfectly under our control. But, if
we are wise, we shall dream humbly and put off boasting until we are
dead and quite sure that the triumph has been ours. It would be
inhuman, I admit, never to feel a thrill of satisfaction at man's
plodding success in breaking the sea and the air to his uses, in the
discovery of fire, in converting the lightning into an illumination
for nurseries. But we still perish by fire and flood, by wind and
lightning. We use them, but it is at our peril. It is as though we
were favoured strangers in the elements, but assuredly we are not
conquerors. Mr Wells in _The World Set Free_ makes one of his
characters in the pride of human invention shake his fist at the sun
and cry out, "I'll have you yet." It would have seemed to the Greeks
blasphemy, and it still seems folly for man, a hair-pin of flesh
half-hidden in trousers, to talk so. There is no victory that man has
yet been able to achieve over matter that he does not before long
discover has merely delivered him into a new servitude.



XXVI

THE FUTURISTS


The appearance of the first number of _Blast_ ought to put an end to
the Futurist movement in England. One can forgive a new movement for
anything except being tedious: _Blast_ is as tedious as an attempt to
play Pistol by someone who has no qualification for the part, but whom
neither friends nor the family clergyman can persuade into the decency
of silence. It may be urged that _Blast_ does not represent Futurism,
but Vorticism. But, after all, what is Vorticism but Futurism in an
English disguise--Futurism, one might call it, bottled in England, and
bottled badly? One has only to compare the pictures of the Vorticists
recently shown at the Goupil Gallery with the pictures of the Italian
Futurists which are being shown at the Doré to see that the two groups
differ from each other not in their aims, but in their degrees of
competence. No one going through the gallery of Italian paintings and
sculpture could fail to see that Boccioni, with all his freakishness,
his hideousness, his discordant introduction of real hair, glass eyes,
and so forth into his statuary, is an artist powerful both in
imagination and in technique. His study of a woman in a balcony is of
a kind to bring an added horror into a night of human sacrifices in
the Congo. His representation of Matter destroys the appetite like a
nightmare that has escaped from the obscene bowels of the sea. It
produces, one cannot deny, an emotional effect, like some loathsome
and shapeless thing. Compare with it most of the work that is being
done in England under Futurist inspiration and you will see the
immense difference in mere power. How seldom, apart from the work of
Mr Nevinson and one or two others, one finds among the latter a
picture that is more interesting to the imagination than a metal
toast-rack! You see a picture that looks like a badly opened
sardine-tin, and you discover that it is called "Portrait of Mother
and Infant." You see another that looks as if someone had taken a pair
of scissors and cut a Union Jack into squares and triangles, and had
then rearranged the pieces at random in a patchwork quilt, and this,
in turn, is labelled, say, "Tennyson reading _In Memoriam_ to Queen
Victoria." In either case, if the thing were done once, it might be
funny. But the young artists are not content to have done it once.
They keep on emptying the contents of ragbags and dustbins on to
canvases in the most wearisome way. After a time one can neither laugh
at them nor take them seriously. One can simply repeat the name of
their new review with violent sincerity.

It is not, however, with the Futurists themselves that one's chief
quarrel is. It is with the people who do not support the Futurists,
but will not condemn them for fear of going down to posterity in the
same boat as the people who once ridiculed Wagner and the
Impressionists. This fear of the laughter of posterity is surely the
last sign of decadence. It is the kind of thing that, in the religious
world, would prevent you from criticising the Prophet Dowie or Mrs
Eddy. It would compel you to take all new movements seriously simply
because they were new. It would lead you to suspend your judgment
about the Tango till you were in your grave and your grandchild could
come and whisper posterity's verdict to your tombstone. It is, I
agree, a fine thing to have a hospitable mind for new things--to be
able to greet a Wordsworth or a Manet appreciatively on his first
rising. Artists have the right to demand that their work shall be
judged, not according to whether it fits in with certain old
standards, but by its new power of affecting the emotions and the
imagination. Great artists are continually extending the boundaries of
their art, and there are, in the last resort, no rules to judge art by
except that the artist must by one means or another succeed in
bringing something to life. Boccioni satisfies the test in his
sculpture, and therefore we must praise him, whether we like his
methods or not. The majority of the Futurists, on the other hand,
produce no more effect of life than a diagram in Euclid which has been
crossed and blotted out with inks of various colours.

Even, however, when, as in the case of the sculptures of Boccioni and
the paintings of Severini, we admit that a brilliant imagination is at
work, we are not necessarily committed to belief in the methods
through which that imagination happens to express itself. It is
possible to enjoy Whitman's poetry without believing that he has laid
down the essential lines for the poetry of the future. One may agree
that Boccioni and Severini have justified their methods by results as
far as they themselves are concerned; this does not mean that one
agrees with them when they preach the adoption of their methods by
artists in general. One takes the Futurist movement seriously, indeed,
only because various clever men have joined it, and because young
Italians, more than most of us, seem to be justified in some form of
violent reaction against a past that oppresses them. Whether Futurism
is merely the growing pains of a rejuvenated Italy, or whether it is a
genuine manifestation of the old passion for violence which first
showed itself on the day on which Cain killed Abel, it is difficult at
times to say. Probably it is a little of both. "We wish," says
Marinetti, praising violence like any Prussian, in a famous manifesto,
"to glorify war--the only health-giver of the world--militarism,
patriotism, the destructive aim of the Anarchist, the beautiful ideas
that kill, the contempt for women." And, again: "We shall extol
aggressive movement, feverish insomnia, the double quickstep, the
somersault, the box on the ear, the fisticuff." It is very like Mr
Kipling at the age of fourteen writing for a school magazine, if you
could imagine a Kipling emancipated from religion and belief in
British law and order. Later, as Marinetti proceeds to foretell the
day on which the Futurists shall be slain by their still more
Futuristic successors, the schoolboy wakes once more in him. "And
Injustice, strong and healthy," he writes,--how one envies the fine
flourish with which he does it!--"will burst forth radiantly in their
eyes. For art can be naught but violence, cruelty, and injustice."
One need not be too solemn with writing like that. It may be growing
pains, or it may be a new jingoism of the individual, but, whichever
it is, it is amusing nonsense. One begins to swear only when people
above the school age insist upon taking it seriously as though it
might contain a new gospel for humanity. It contains no new gospel at
all. It is merely an entertaining restatement of an egoism of a kind
that man was trying to discard before the days of bows and arrows. It
is a schoolboyish plea for the revival of the tomahawk. It is a
war-song played in a city street on the bottom of a tin can. It has no
more to do with art than a display of penny fireworks, an imitation of
barking dogs at the calves of old gentlemen, or the escapades of
Valentine Vox. It has no relation to art whatsoever except from the
fact that Marinetti himself is an exceedingly clever writer, as one
may see from almost any of his manifestoes. One may turn for an
example of his manner to the following passage from his summons to the
young to destroy the museums, the libraries, and the academies ("those
cemeteries of wasted efforts, those calvaries of crucified dreams,
those ledgers of broken attempts!"):

Come, then, the good incendiaries with their charred fingers!...
Here they come! Here they come!... Set fire to the shelves of the
libraries! Deviate the course of canals to flood the cellars of the
museums!... Oh! may the glorious canvases drift helplessly! Seize
pick-axes and hammers! Sap the foundations of the venerable cities!

The oldest amongst us is thirty; we have, therefore, ten years
at least to accomplish our task. When we are forty, let others,
younger and more valiant, throw us into the basket like useless
manuscripts!... They will come against us from afar, from everywhere,
bounding upon the lightsome measure of their first poems, scratching
the air with their hooked fingers, and scenting at the academy doors
the pleasant odour of our rotting minds, marked out already for the
catacombs of the libraries.

       *       *       *       *       *

That is a vivid piece of humour. It is as amusing as Marinetti's
portrait of himself at the Doré Gallery--a portrait the head of which
is a clothes brush and the hat a tobacco tin--a toy which would be in
its right place, not at an exhibition of paintings, and sculpture, but
in the nursery squares of Mrs Bland's Magic City.

As a matter of fact, however, Futurism as an artistic method seems to
have only the slightest connection with Marinetti's
neo-Zarathustraisms. The Futurist painters give us, not the blood
that Marinetti calls for, but diagrams as free from implications of
bloodshed as a weather-chart or the illustrations in an engineering
journal. These artists are not primarily concerned with protesting
against the conversion of Italy into a "market for second-hand
dealers." They aim at inventing a new kind of art which shall be able
to paint, not objects in terms of form and colour, but the movements
of objects and the states of mind of those who see them. They have
invented a jargon about "simultaneousness," "dynamism," "ambience,"
and so forth, which is about as impressive as the writings of Mrs
Eddy; and they paint in the same jargon in which they write. "Paint
the soul, never mind the legs and arms," recommended the cleric in
_Fra Lippo Lippi_. "Paint the simultaneousness, never mind the legs
and arms," is the golden rule of the Futurists. They have conceived a
strange contempt for the visible world. They tell us that a running
horse "has not four legs, but twenty," but that is no reason for
leaving the horse entirely out of the picture, as some of the
enthusiasts do. They do not realise that our sensations about horse
and the movements of horse can only be painted in terms of horse--that
art is not a dissipation of life into wavy lines and dots and dashes,
but the opposite. There may be a science of Futurism in which the
"force-lines" of a horse or a motor car may be part of a useful
diagram. These arbitrary lines, however, have no more to do with
imaginative art than the plus and minus signs in arithmetic.
Occasionally, of course, there is an obvious symbolism in the lines as
in the charging angles which represent the dynamism of a motor car.
But this is merely speed expressed by a commonplace symbol instead of
by a symbolic impression of the flying car itself. This is an
intellectual game rather than an art. Occasionally it gives us a
wonderful piece of broken impressionism; but the stricter Futurists
are symbolistic beyond all understanding. Their work is like an
allegory, to the meaning of which one has no key--an allegory printed
in the hieroglyphs of an unknown language.



XXVII

A DEFENCE OF CRITICS


Mr E. F. Benson has been attacking the critics, and reviving against
them the old accusation that they are merely men who have failed in
the arts. There could scarcely be a more unsupported theory. As a
matter of fact, to take Mr Benson's own art, there are probably far
more bad critics who end as novelists than bad novelists who end as
critics. Criticism is usually the beginning, and not the decadence, of
a man's authorship. Young men nowadays criticise before they graduate.
One becomes a critic when one puts on long trousers. It is as natural
as writing poetry. Indeed, the gift seems in some ways to be related
to poetry. It springs at its best from the same well of imagination.
This is not to compare the art of the critic to the art of the poet in
importance, but only in kind. Criticism is by its nature bound to keep
closer to the earth than poetry. It has frequently more resemblance to
the hedge-sparrow than to the lark. It is a chatterbox of argument,
not a divine spendthrift of the beauty that is above argument. It is
the interpreter of an interpretation. It gives us beauty second-hand.
Critics are compared somewhere to "brushers of noblemen's clothes." In
an honest world, however, one might brush a nobleman's clothes not out
of servility, but out of tidiness. There would have been nothing
degrading in it if Queen Elizabeth herself had ironed the stains out
of Shakespeare's doublet, provided she had done it from decent
motives. Critics of the better sort need not worry when their service
is misconstrued as servitude. Those who attack them are usually men
who are under the delusion that it is better to be a bad artist than a
good critic. Thus we find the author of _Lanky Bill and His Dog
Bluebeard_ looking down with patronage on a man like Hazlitt, because
he lacked something that is called the creative gift. Even the life
and work of Walter Pater have not succeeded in dispelling the popular
notion that the imagination is more honourably employed in inventing
sentences for sawdust figures than in relating the experiences of
one's own soul. According to this standard, Mr Charles Garvice must be
ranked higher among imaginative authors than Sir Thomas Browne, and
the _Essays of Elia_ must give place to the novels of Mrs Florence
Barclay. Clearly no line can be drawn on principles of this kind
between imaginative and unimaginative literature. The artists, for the
most part, are as lacking in imagination as the critics. They have
merely chosen a more luxurious form of writing. Oscar Wilde used to
say that anybody could make history, but only a man of genius could
write it; and one might contend in the same way that nearly anybody
can make literature, but only a clever man can criticise it. The
genius of the critic is as much an original gift as the genius of a
runner or a composer.

One need not go back further than Dryden to realise to what an extent
the successful artists have thrown themselves into the work of
criticism. Most of us nowadays find Dryden's prefaces and his _Essay
on Dramatic Poesy_ easier reading than his verse; and, in the age that
followed, criticism seems to have come as naturally to the men of
letters as conversation. Addison, commonplace critic though he was,
was always airing his views on poetry and music; and what is Pope's
_Dunciad_ but a comic epic of criticism? Nor was Dr Johnson less
concerned with thumping the cushion in the matter of literature than
in the matter of morals. His _Lives of the Poets_ does not seem a
great book to us who have been brought up on the romantic criticism
of the nineteenth century, but it is an infinitely better book than
_Rasselas_, which has the single advantage that it is shorter. And so
one might go on through the list of great men of letters from
Johnson's to our own day. Burke, Scott, Coleridge, Wordsworth,
Macaulay, Carlyle, Thackeray, Ruskin, Matthew Arnold, Swinburne,
Pater, Meredith, Stevenson--I choose more or less at a hazard a list
of imaginative writers who are in the very mid-stream of English
criticism. Even in our own day, how many of the poets and novelists
have graduated as critics! What lover of Mr Henry James is there who
would not almost be willing to sacrifice one of his novels rather than
his _Partial Portraits_? Who is there, even among Mr Bernard Shaw's
detractors, who would wish his dramatic criticisms unwritten? And who
would not exchange a great deal of Mr George Moore's fiction for
another book like _Impressions and Opinions_? Similarly, Mr W. B.
Yeats has revealed his genius in a book of criticism like _Ideas of
Good and Evil_ no less than in a book of verse like _The Wind among
the Reeds_; Mr William Watson's works include a volume of _Excursions
in Criticism_; Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch has published two volumes of
critical causeries; Mr Max Beerbohm is no less distinguished as a
critic than as a caricaturist; "A. E." reviews books in _The Irish
Times_, and Mr Walter De la Mare in _The Westminster Gazette_. Here
surely is a list that may suggest a doubt in the minds of those who
take the view that the critics are merely a mob of embittered hacks
who have failed at everything else. This is one of those traditional
fallacies, like the stage Irishman, which men accept apparently for
the sake of ease. Even the most superficial enquiries at the offices
of the newspapers and the weekly reviews would reveal the fact that a
great percentage of the best poets and novelists either are engaged,
or have been engaged in their green and generous days, in the work of
criticism. If Shakespeare were alive to-day he would probably earn his
living at first, not by holding horses' heads, but by turning dramatic
critic. Every artist worth his salt has in him the makings of a
journalist. Milton himself was as ferocious a pamphleteer as any of
those blood-and-thunder rectors whom we see quoted by "Sub Rosa" in
_The Daily News_. Tolstoy was as furiously active, if not so furiously
bitter, a journalist. And who is the most charming and graceful
journalist and critic of our own day but the charming and graceful
novelist, Anatole France?

All this, however, is no reply to Mr Benson's indictment of the
critics on the ground that they do not discover genius, but that the
public has to discover genius in spite of them. It is one of those
indictments which can only be believed on the assumption that the
critics are a race apart who think, as it were, _en masse_. Those who
repeat it seem to regard the critics as a disciplined army of
destruction instead of realising that they are a hopelessly straggling
company of more or less ordinary men and women of varying tastes, with
a sprinkling of men and women of genius among them. They tell us that
the critics attacked the Pre-Raphaelites, but they forget that Ruskin
was a critic and a prophet of the Pre-Raphaelites. They tell us that
the critics cold-shouldered Browning; but W. J. Fox wrote
enthusiastically of Browning almost from the first, and Pater praised
him in his early essays: it was a poet who, alas! was not a
critic--Tennyson--who said the severest things about him. Ibsen,
again, is constantly cited as an example of an artist who had to make
his way to public acceptance through mobs of shrieking critics. But
what do we find to be the case? In England three of the most
remarkable critics of their time, Mr Bernard Shaw, Mr Edmund Gosse,
and Mr William Archer, fought a desperate fight for Ibsen against
almost the entire British public. The critics who attacked Ibsen did
not represent the flower of British criticism, but the flower of the
British public. It will be found, I believe, to be an almost
invariable rule that whenever the critics have attacked men of genius,
they have had the public at their back cheering them on. There are
critics, indeed, who make themselves into the hired mouthpieces of the
public. They long to express not what they themselves think (for they
do not think), but what the public thinks (though it does not think).
Can Mr Benson point to any notable catch of genius ever made by
critics of this kind? I do not, of course, contend that even the most
intelligent reviewer in these days, (who is one of the most
hard-worked of journalists), is in a good position for discovering new
stars of genius. No man can appreciate a Shakespeare that is thrown at
his head, and books are thrown at the heads of reviewers nowadays in
numbers likely to stun or bewilder rather than to evoke the mood of
rapturous understanding. As for the reviewers, they are as varied a
crowd as the rest of the public. One of them enjoys _The Scarlet
Pimpernel_ better than Shakespeare; another blames Miss Marie Corelli
for not writing like Donne; another has read and rather liked Shelley.
On the whole, they are fonder of good books than most people. They
have to read so many bad books as a duty, that many of them ultimately
get a taste for literature as a blessed relief. But, as for attacking
men of genius, why, nine out of ten of them would not attack a mouse,
unless the prejudices of the public they reverence drove them to it.
They are very nice and affable, like the gentleman in _You Never Can
Tell_--the nicest and most affable set of human beings that ever
manufactured butter outside a dairy.



XXVIII

ON THE BEAUTY OF STATISTICS


One of the most unexpected pages in Sir Edward Cook's _Life of
Florence Nightingale_, is that in which he describes Miss Nightingale,
in a phrase Lord Goschen once used about himself, as a "passionate
statistician." Somehow one did not associate statistics with Florence
Nightingale. She had already taken her place in the sentimental
history of the world as the angel of the wounded soldier. It is a
disturbance to one's preconceptions to be asked to regard her as the
angel among the Blue Books. As Sir Edward Cook reveals her to us,
however, she is ardent in the pursuit of figures as other women in
pursuit of a figure. We read how she helped one of the General
Secretaries of the International Statistical Congress of 1860 to draw
up the programme for the section dealing with sanitary statistics, at
which, indeed, her own pet scheme for uniform hospital statistics was
the chief subject of discussion. Her faith in statistics, however,
went far beyond that of statistical congresses. She believed that
statistics were in a measure the voice of God. "The laws of God were
the laws of life, and these were ascertainable by careful, and
especially by statistical, inquiry." That is how Sir Edward Cook
explains his remark that her passion for statistics was "even a
religious passion."

It is by no means to be wondered at that the religion of statistics
made its appearance in the nineteenth century. The surprising thing
is, that no church has yet been founded in its honour. In the history
of religion, philosophy and magic, numbers have again and again played
a leading part; and what are statistics but numbers on regimental
parade? Pythagoras found in number the ultimate principle of creation.
Xenocrates went a step farther when he defined the soul as "a number
which moves itself." To the unphilosophical reader the definition of
Xenocrates is the merest riddle till one realises that he was probably
trying to destroy the idea that the soul was something material, a
fact of space, as might be connoted by words like "thing" or "living
being." This is why, in order to express the soul, it was necessary to
use an abstraction; and what so abstract as number? Nor did the
numerical explanation of the universe stop here. "Pure reason,"
Gomperz tells us, in speaking of the Pythagoreans in _Greek
Thinkers_, "was assimilated to unity, knowledge to duality, opinion
to triplicity, sense-perception to quadruplicity." What a jargon it
all seems--a game of the intellect! But the heavenly arithmetic has
lingered in the world to our own day, and among simple people, too.

The mystery of numbers has entered into folklore as well as into
philosophy, as that fine jingle, "Green grow the rushes, O!" which
survives in half a dozen English counties, shows. It has always seemed
to me the perfect expression of the fantastic lyricism of numbers:

  I'll sing you one O!
  Green grow the rushes O!
  What is your one O?

And so on till we reach the number twelve in the catalogue of holy
delights:

  Twelve are the twelve apostles;
  Eleven, eleven went up to heaven;
  Ten are the ten commandments;
  Nine are the bright shiners;
  Eight are the bold rainers:
  Seven, seven are the stars in heaven;
  Six are the proud walkers;
  Five are the symbols at your door;
  Four are the gospelmakers;
  Three, three is the rivals;
  Two, two is the lilywhite boys,
  Clothed all in green, O!
  One is one and all alone
  And ever more shall be so.

What it all means is for the folklorists to dispute about. It is
interesting in the present connection chiefly as the ruins of an
arithmetical statement of the mysteries of the universe. Similar
chants of number are known in all religions. They are common to
Christianity, Mohammedanism and Judaism. One is told that, on the
night of the Passover, Jewish families chant a list of numbers,
beginning "Who knoweth One?" and going on to "Who knoweth thirteen?"
with its answer:

     I, saith Israel, know thirteen: Thirteen divine
     attributes--twelve tribes--eleven stars--ten
     commandments--nine months preceding childbirth--eight days
     preceding circumcision--seven days of the week--six books of
     the Mishnah--five books of the Law--four matrons--three
     patriarchs--two tables of the covenant--but One is our God,
     who is over the heavens and the earth.

This list may be regarded as a mere aid to memory, and no doubt it is
to some extent that. But it is also an example of the religious use of
numbers--a use which has given various numbers a magic significance.
One has an example of this magic significance in the custom, among
those who resort to holy wells, of walking round the well nine times
in the opposite direction to the sun. One always has to do things by
threes or sevens or nines. Similarly, the belief in the maleficent
power of thirteen is commoner in London than in Patagonia, where,
indeed, they do not know how to count up to thirteen. One remembers,
too, how in recent years the prophetic sort of evangelical Christians
were on the look out for some great statesman or conqueror upon whom
they could fix the dreaded number of the Antichrist, 666. First it was
Napoleon; later it was Gladstone, the letters of whose name, if you
slightly misspelt it in Greek, stood for numbers which added up to the
awful total. I recall the relief with which in my own childhood I
discovered the fact that, however wrongly my name was spelt, and in
whatever language, it was not possible to work out 666 as the answer.

So much for the mysteries of numbers. To most people the whole thing
will appear a chronicle of superstitions, as astrology does. But, just
as astronomy has taken the place of the superstitions of the stars, so
statistics has taken the place of the superstitions of numbers. It is
as though men had suspected all along that stars and numbers had some
significance beyond their immediate use and beauty, but for hundreds
of years they could only guess what it was. It was not till the
eighteenth century indeed that the science of statistics was
discovered--under its present name, at least--and ever since then men
have been debating whether it is a science or only a method. Whichever
you prefer to call it, it may be described as an explanation of human
society in terms of number. It is the discovery of the most efficient
symbols that have yet been invented for the realistic portraiture of
men in the mass. Symbols, I say advisedly, for statistics is more
closely allied to Oriental than to Western art in that it avoids the
direct imitation of life and appeals to the imagination through
conventional figures. Perhaps it is a certain suspicion of Orientalism
that accounts for the fanatical hatred of statistics which still
exists among many of the apostles of the West. For statistics is a new
thing which has had to fight as desperately for recognition as
Impressionist art or Wagnerian opera. Infuriated Victorians still
speak of "lies, damned lies, and statistics," as the three degrees of
wickedness; and the statistician is denounced in superlatives as a
sort of gaoler of humanity, who would give us all numbers instead of
names. Now, I am not concerned to defend bad statisticians any more
than bad artists. Statistics has its charlatans, its bounders after a
new thing, as well as its Da Vincis and its Michelangelos. Or,
perhaps it is more comparable to music than to painting or sculpture.
The philosophy of number is the philosophy of proportion, of harmony,
of rhythm, and statistics is the study of the proportions, harmonies,
rhythms of society. Music and poetry, it should be remembered, are
both an affair of number. "I lisped in numbers," said the poet, "for
the numbers came." And the statistician has the same apology.
Statistics, of course, is largely concerned, like the arts, with the
disharmonies of life, but it deals with them in terms of harmony. It
is a method of asserting order amid chaos, and that is why the lovers
of chaos attempt to spread the idea among the people that statistics
is a dangerous innovation, a black-coated tyranny. That is why
landlords who benefit by the social chaos have fought so hard against
the valuation of land, and churches against the registration of
ecclesiastical property. Similarly, there was a middle-class party
that denounced the income tax because it would mean a statistical
inquest into the wealth of manufacturers and shopkeepers. Among savage
tribes, we are told, it is a common custom to hide one's name, because
those who know one's name have a magic power over one's soul.
Similarly, in civilised societies, the rich man likes to hide his
number. He knows that in some way the knowledge of this will give
society a new control over him. It is possible to ignore all the evils
of monopolised riches till one knows the numbers of the rich. To
many people it is a turning-point in social and political belief to
discover such a fact as that, of the total income of Great Britain and
Ireland in 1908,

     5,500,000 people received £909,000,000,

while

     39,000,000 people received £935,000,000.

In other words, the fact that one-half of the wealth of Great Britain
and Ireland goes to the twelve per cent. of the population who belong
to the class with incomes over £160 a year. It is a terrible
revelation both of poverty and of riches. The figures thunder at one's
imagination more effectively than a sea of rhetoric. And the figures
concerning destitution and the housing of the poor are still more
terrible in their realism. Shelley never wrote a revolutionary hymn
that more surely prophesied the coming of a new society. Social greed,
that has withstood ten thousand prophets and poets, at last begins to
feel troubled in the unaccustomed presence of the statistician. Not
the statistician in his study, of course: he is no more than a
dryasdust inventor. But the statistician, like Florence Nightingale,
with the genius of a fine purpose and a sure aim with sure facts. This
is not to discredit any of the old battalions of reform. It is merely
to hail the coming of the new regiment of the statisticians, who fight
with tables instead of swords, and whose leaders exhort them on the
eve of battle with passages out of Blue Books. Statistics and the man
I sing. Let the next great epic be an Arithmiad.


               TURNBULL AND SPEARS, PRINTERS, EDINBURGH



                         TRANSCRIBER'S NOTES


1. Passages in italics are surrounded by _underscores_.

2. The word Oedipus uses an "OE" ligature in the original.

3. Missing text added on page 211 to correct "particularisations" to
"particularisations of".

4. Other than the corrections listed above, printer's inconsistencies
in spelling, punctuation, and hyphenation have been retained.





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