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Title: Suspended Judgments - Essays on Books and Sensations
Author: Powys, John Cowper, 1872-1963
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Suspended Judgments - Essays on Books and Sensations" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.

[Note: I have made the following spelling changes:  qualites which
strike to qualities which strike, revelled in to reveled in, protegés to
protégés, voluptuous femininty to voluptuous femininity, tyrrannise
to tyrannise, Montagus to Montagues, Zarathrustra to Zarathustra,
antiChrist to anti-Christ, Car nous voulous to Car nous voulons,
Gélent votre chair to Gèlent votre chair, slips in in to slips in,
irrresponsible a temperament to irresponsible a temperament,
common occurences to common occurrences, philanthrophy to
philanthropy, demogorgon to Demogorgon, somethings which palls
upon us to something which palls upon us, never encounted to never
encountered, Arimathaea to Arimathea, the the contemptuous libels
to the contemptuous libels, lapséd soul to lapsed soul, philsophical
motto to philosophical motto, sybilline to sibylline, pseudo-latin to
pseudo-Latin, and ninteenth century to nineteenth century.]




Copyright, 1916, by G. Arnold Shaw
Copyright in Great Britain and the Colonies



The Art of Discrimination   3
Montaigne                  17
Pascal                     47
Voltaire                   63
Rousseau                   83
Balzac                    107
Victor Hugo               133
Guy de Maupassant         149
Anatole France            171
Paul Verlaine             197
Remy de Gourmont          225
William Blake             257
Byron                     279
Emily Brontë              313
Joseph Conrad             337
Henry James               367
Oscar Wilde               401
Suspended Judgment        425


The world divides itself into people who can discriminate and
people who cannot discriminate. This is the ultimate test of
sensitiveness; and sensitiveness alone separates us and unites us.

We all create, or have created for us by the fatality of our
temperament, a unique and individual universe. It is only by
bringing into light the most secret and subtle elements of this
self-contained system of things that we can find out where our lonely
orbits touch.

Like all primordial aspects of life the situation is double-edged and

The further we emphasise and drag forth, out of their reluctant
twilight, the lurking attractions and antipathies of our destiny, the
nearer, at once, and the more obscure, we find ourselves growing, to
those about us.

And the wisdom of the difficult game we are called upon to play,
lies in just this very antinomy,--in just this very contradiction--that
to make ourselves better understood we have to emphasise our
differences, and to touch the universe of our friend we have to travel
away from him, on a curve of free sky.

The cultivation of what in us is lonely and unique creates of
necessity a perpetual series of shocks and jars. The unruffled nerves
of the lower animals become enviable, and we fall into moods of
malicious reaction and vindictive recoil. And yet,--for Nature makes
use even of what is named evil to pursue her cherished ends--the
very betrayal of our outraged feelings produces no unpleasant effect
upon the minds of others. They know us better so, and the sense of
power in them is delicately gratified by the spectacle of our
weakness; even as ours is by the spectacle of theirs.

The art of discrimination is the art of letting oneself go, more and
more wilfully; letting oneself go along the lines of one's unique
predilections; letting oneself go with the resolute push of the
inquisitive intellect; the intellect whose rôle it is to register--with
just all the preciseness it may--every one of the little discoveries we
make on the long road.

The difference between interesting and uninteresting critics of life,
is just the difference between those who have refused to let
themselves be thus carried away, on the stream of their fatality, and
those who have not refused. That is why in all the really arresting
writers and artists there is something equivocal and disturbing when
we come to know them.

Genius itself, in the last analysis, is not so much the possession of
unusual vision--some of the most powerful geniuses have a vision
quite mediocre and blunt--as the possession of a certain demonic
driving-force, which pushes them on to be themselves, in all the
fatal narrowness and obstinacy, it may be, of their personal

The art of discrimination is precisely what such characters are born
with; hence the almost savage manner in which they resent the
beckonings of alien appeals; appeals which would draw them out of
their pre-ordained track.

One can see in the passionate preference displayed by men of real
power for the society of simple and even truculent persons over that
of those who are urbanely plastic and versatile, how true this is.

Between their own creative wilfulness and the more static obstinacy
of these former, there is an instinctive bond; whereas the tolerant
and colourless cleverness of the latter disconcerts and puzzles them.

This is why--led by a profound instinct--the wisest men of genius
select for their female companions the most surprising types, and
submit to the most wretched tyranny. Their craving for the sure
ground of unequivocal naturalness helps them to put up with what
else were quite intolerable.

For it is the typical modern person, of normal culture and playful
expansiveness, who is the mortal enemy of the art of discrimination.

Such a person's shallow cleverness and conventional good-temper is
more withering to the soul of the artist than the blindest bigotry
which has the recklessness of genuine passion behind it.

Not to like or to dislike people and things, but to tolerate and
patronise a thousand passionate universes, is to put yourself out of
the pale of all discrimination. To discriminate is to refine upon one's
passions by the process of bringing them into intelligent
consciousness. The head alone cannot discriminate; no! not with all
the technical knowledge in the world; for the head cannot love nor
hate, it can only observe and register.

Nor can the nerves alone discriminate; for they can only cry aloud
with a blind cry. In the management of this art, what we need is the
nerves and the head together, playing up to one another; and,
between them, carrying further--always a little further--the silent
advance, along the road of experience, of the insatiable soul.

It is indeed only in this way that one comes to recognise what is,
surely, of the essence of all criticism; the fact, namely, that the
artists we care most for are doing just the thing we are doing
ourselves--doing it in their own way and with their own inviolable
secret, but limited, just as we are, by the basic limitations of all flesh.

The art of discrimination is, after all, only the art of appreciation,
applied negatively as well as positively; applied to the flinging away
from us and the reducing to non-existence for us, of all those forms
and modes of being, for which, in the original determination of our
taste, we were not, so to speak, born.

And this is precisely what, in a yet more rigorous manner, the artists
whose original and subtle paths we trace, effected for themselves in
their own explorations.

What is remarkable about this cult of criticism is the way in which it
lands us back, with quite a new angle of interest, at the very point
from which we started; at the point, namely, where Nature in her
indiscriminate richness presents herself at our doors.

It is just here that we find how much we have gained, in delicacy of
inclusion and rejection, by following these high and lonely tracks.
All the materials of art, the littered quarries, so to speak, of its
laborious effects have become, in fact, of new and absorbing interest.
Forms, colours, words, sounds; nay! the very textures and odours of
the visible world, have reduced themselves, even as they lie here, or
toss confusedly together on the waves of the life-stream, into
something curiously suggestive and engaging.

We bend our attention to one and to another. We let them group
themselves casually, as they will, in their random way, writing their
own gnomic hieroglyphics, in their own immense and primeval
language, as the earth-mothers heave them up from the abyss or
draw them down; but we are no more confined to this stunned and
bewildered apprehension.

We can isolate, distinguish, contrast.

We can take up and put down each delicate fragment of potential
artistry; and linger at leisure in the work-shop of the immortal gods.

Discrimination of the most personal and vehement kind in its
relation to human works of art, may grow largely and indolently
receptive when dealing with the scattered materials of such works,
spread out through the teeming world.

Just here lies the point of separation between the poetic and the
artistic temper. The artist or the art-critic, discriminating still, even
among these raw materials of human creation, derives an elaborate
and subtle delight from the suggestiveness of their colours, their
odours, and their fabrics--conscious all the while of wondrous and
visionary evocations, wherein they take their place.

The poetical temper, on the other hand, lets itself go with a more
passive receptivity; and permits the formless, wordless brooding of
the vast earthpower to work its magic upon it, in its own place and
season. Not, however, in any destruction of the defining and
registering functions of the intellect does this take place.

Even in the vaguest obsessions of the poetical mind the intellect is
present, watching, noting, weighing, and, if you will, discriminating.

For, after all, poetry, though completely different in its methods, its
aims, and its effects from the other arts, is itself the greatest of all
the arts and must be profoundly aware, just as they are aware, of the
actual sense-impressions which produce its inspiration.

The difference, perhaps, is that, whereas the materials for the other
arts become most suggestive when isolated and disentangled from
the mass, the materials of poetry, though bringing with them, in this
case or in the other, their particular sense-accompaniment, must be
left free to flow organically together, and to produce their effect in
that primeval wanton carelessness, wherein the gods themselves
may be supposed to walk about the world.

One thing at least is clear. The more we acquire a genuine art of
discrimination amid the subtler processes of the mind the less we
come to deal in formulated or rationalistic theory.

The chief rôle of the intellect in criticism is to protect us from the
intellect; to protect us from those tiresome and unprofitable
"principles of art" which in everything that gives us thrilling
pleasure are found to be magnificently contradicted!

Criticism, whether of literature or art, is but a dead hand laid upon a
living thing, unless it is genuine response, to the object criticised, of
something reciprocal in us. Criticism in fact, to be of any value,
must be a stretching out of our whole organic nature, a sort of
sacramental partaking, with both senses and soul, of the bread and
wine of the "new ritual."

The actual written or spoken word in explanation of what we have
come to feel about the thing offered, is after all a mere subordinate

The essential matter is that what we experience in regard to the new
touch, the new style, should be a personal and absorbing plunge into
an element which we feel at once to have been, as it were, "waiting"
to receive us with a predestined harmony.

The point I am seeking to make is that what is called the "critical
attitude" towards new experiments in art is the extreme opposite of
the mood required in genuine criticism.

That negation of interest in any given new thing which is not only
allowable but commendable, if we are to preserve the outlines of our
identity from the violence of alien intrusion, becomes a sheer waste
of energy when it is transmuted into ponderous principles of

Give us, ye gods, full liberty to pass on our way indifferent. Give us
even the illuminating insight of unbounded hate. But deliver us--that
at least we pray--from the hypocrisy of judicial condemnation!

More and more does it become necessary, as the fashion of new
things presses insolently upon us, to clear up once for all and in a
largely generous manner, the difficult question of the relation of
experiment to tradition.

The number of shallow and insensitive spirits who make use of the
existence of these new forms, to display--as if it were a proof of
aesthetic superiority--their contempt for all that is old, should alone
lead us to pause and consider.

Such persons are as a rule quite as dull to real subtleties of thought
and feeling as any absolute Philistine; and yet they are the ones who
with their fuss about what they call "creative art" do so much to
make reasonable and natural the ordinary person's prejudices against
the whole business.

They actually have the audacity to claim as a mark of higher
aesthetic taste their inability to appreciate traditional beauty. They
make their ignorance their virtue; and because they are dull to the
delicate things that have charmed the centuries, they clamorously
acclaim the latest sensational novelty, as though it had altered the
very nature of our human senses.

One feels instinctive suspicion of this wholesale way of going to
work, this root and branch elimination of what has come down to us
from the past. It is right and proper--heaven knows--for each
individual to have his preferences and his exclusions. He has not,
one may be quite sure, found himself if he lacks these. But to have
as one's basic preference a relinquishing in the lump of all that is old,
and a swallowing in the lump of all that is new, is carrying things
suspiciously far.

One begins to surmise that a person of this brand is not a rebel or a
revolutionary, but quite simply a thick-skin; a thick-skin endowed
with that insolence of cleverness which is the enemy of genius and
all its works.

True discrimination does not ride rough-shod over the past like this.
It has felt the past too deeply. It has too much of the past in its own
blood. What it does, allowing for a thousand differences of
temperament, is to move slowly and warily forward, appropriating
the new and assimilating, in an organic manner, the material it offers;
but never turning round upon the old with savage and ignorant

But it is hard, even in these most extreme cases, to draw rigorous

Life is full of surprises, of particular and exceptional instances. The
abnormal is the normal; and the most thrilling moments some of us
know are the moments when we snatch an inspiration from a quarter
outside our allotted circle.

There are certain strangely constituted ones in our midst whose
natural world, it might seem, existed hundreds or even thousands of
years ago. Bewildered and harassed they move through our modern
streets; puzzled and sad they gaze out from our modern windows.
They seem, in their wistful way, hardly conscious of the movements
about them, and all our stirring appeals leave them wearily cold.

It is with the very wantonness of ironic insult that our novelty-mongers
come to these, bringing fantastic inventions. What is it to them,
children of a nobler past, that this or the other newly botched-up
caprice should catch for an hour the plaudits of the mob?

On the other hand, one comes now and again, though rarely enough,
upon exceptional natures whose proper and predestined habitation
seems to be rather with our children's children than with us.

The word has gone forth touching what is called super-man; but the
natures I speak of are not precisely that.

Rather are they devoid in some strange manner of the gross weapons,
the protective skin, adapted to the shocks and jolts of our rough and
tumble civilisation. They seem prepared and designed to exist in a
finer, a more elaborate, in a sense a more luxurious world, than the
one we live in.

Their passions are not our passions; nor is their scorn our scorn. If
the magic of the past leaves them indifferent, the glamour of the
present finds them antipathetic and resentful. With glacial coldness
they survey both past and present, and the frosty fire of their
devotion is for what, as yet, is not.

Dull indeed should we be, if in the search of finer and more delicate
discriminations in the region of art, we grew blunt and blind to the
subtle-edged pathos of all these delicate differences between man
and man.

It is by making our excursions in the aesthetic world thus entirely
personal and idiosyncratic that we are best spared from the bitter
remorse implicit in any blunders in this more complex sphere.

We have learned to avoid the banality of the judicial decisions in the
matter of what is called beautiful. We come to learn their even
greater uselessness in the matter of what is called the good.

To discriminate, to discriminate endlessly, between types we adore
and types we suspect, this is well and wise; but in the long result we
are driven, whether it is pleasant to our prejudices or not that it
should be so, crushingly to recognise that in the world of human
character there are really no types at all; only tragic and lonely
figures; figures unable to express what they want of the universe, of
us, of themselves; figures that can never, in all the aeons of time, be
repeated again; figures in whose obliquities and ambiguities the
mysteries of all the laws and all the prophets are transcended!


We, who are interested rather in literature than in the history of
literature, and rather in the reaction produced upon ourselves by
great original geniuses than in any judicial estimate of their actual
achievements, can afford to regard with serene indifference the
charges of arbitrariness and caprice brought against us by
professional students.

Let these professional students prove to us that, in addition to their
learning, they have receptive senses and quickly stimulated
imagination, and we will accept them willingly as our guides.

We have already accepted Pater, Brandes, de Gourmont, critics who
have the secret of combining immense erudition with creative
intelligence, and it is under the power and the spell of these
authoritative and indisputable names that we claim our right to the
most personal and subjective enjoyment, precisely as the occasion
and hour calls, of the greatest figures in art and letters.

Most of all we have a right to treat Montaigne as we please, even
though that right includes the privilege of _not_ reading every word
of the famous Essays, and of only reverting--in our light return to
them--to those aspects and qualities which strike an answering chord
in ourselves.

This was, after all, what he--the great humanist--was always doing;
he the unscrupulous, indiscriminate and _casual_ reader; and if we
treat him in the same spirit as that in which he treated the classical
authors he loved most, we shall at least be acting under the cloak of
his approval, however much we annoy the Calvins and Scaligers of
our age.

The man must have been a colossal genius. No human writer has
done quite what he did, anticipating the methods and spiritual
secrets of posterity, and creating for himself, with sublime
indifference to contemporary usage and taste, the sort of intellectual
atmosphere that suited him.

When one thinks how sensitive we all are to the intellectual
environments in which we move--how we submit for instance, at
this very moment, without being able to help ourselves, to the ideas
set in motion by Nietzsche, say, or Walt Whitman--it seems
impossible to overrate as a sheer triumph of personal force, the thing
that Montaigne did in disentangling himself from the tendencies of
his age, and creating almost "in vacuo," with nothing to help him but
his own temperament and the ancient classics, a new emotional
attitude toward life, something that might without the least
exaggeration be called "a new soul."

The magnitude of his spiritual undertaking can best be estimated if
we conceive ourselves freeing our minds, at this moment, from the
influences of Nietzsche and Dostoievsky and Whitman and Pater
and Wilde, and launching out into some completely original attitude
toward existence, fortified it may be by the reading of Sophocles or
of Lucretius, but with so original a mental vista that we leave every
contemporary writer hopelessly behind.

Suppose we looked about us with a view to the undertaking of so
huge an intellectual venture, where should we go to discover the
original impetus, the first embryonic germ, of the new way?

In ourselves? In our own temperament? Ah! that is the crux of the
whole matter. It was in his temperament that he found the force and
inexhaustible riches to carry the matter through--but have we got
such power at our disposal? It is doubtful. It is hard to even dream
that we have. And yet--consider the simplicity of what he did!

He just took himself, Michael de Montaigne, as he was, in the plain
unvarnished totality of his vigorous self-conscious temperament,
and jotted down, more for his own amusement than for that of
posterity, carelessly, frankly, nonchalantly, his tastes, his vices, his
apathies, his antipathies, his prejudices and his pleasures.

In doing this--though there is a certain self-revelation in Augustine's
confessions and a certain autobiographical frankness in the writings
of many of the classical authors--he did what had never been done
by any one before his time, and what, not forgetting Rousseau and
Heine and Casanova and Charles Lamb, has never been so well done
since. But whether, in these latter days, we can achieve this thing as
Montaigne achieved it, the fact remains that this is what we are all at
the present time trying hard to do.

The "new soul," which he was permitted by the gods to evoke out of
the very abyss, has become, in the passionate subjectivity of our age,
the very life-blood of our intellect. Not one among our most
interesting artists and writers but does his utmost to reveal to the
world every phase and aspect of his personal identity. What was but
a human necessity, rather concealed and discouraged than reveled in
and exploited before Montaigne, has, after Montaigne, become the
obsession and preoccupation of us all. We have got the secret, the
great idea, the "new soul." It only remains for us to incarnate it in
beautiful and convincing form.

Ah! it is just there where we find the thing so hard. It is easy to
say--"Find yourself, know yourself, express yourself!" It is extremely
difficult to do any of these things.

No one who has not attempted to set down in words the palpable
image and body of what he is, or of what he seems to himself, can
possibly conceive the difficulty of the task.

More--oh, so much more--is needed than the mere saying, "I like
honey and milk better than meat and wine" or "I like girls who are
plump and fair better than those who are slim and dark." That is why
so much of modern autobiographical and confessional writing is dull
beyond words. Even impertinence will not save our essays upon
ourselves from being tedious--nor will shamelessness in the
flaunting of our vices. Something else is required than a mere wish
to strip ourselves bare; something else than a mere desire to call
attention to ourselves. And this "something else" is genius, and
genius of a very rare and peculiar kind. It is not enough to say, "I am
this or that or the other." The writer who desires to give a
convincing picture of what he is must diffuse the essence of his soul
not merely into his statements about himself but into the style in
which these statements are made.

Two men may start together to write confessions, and one of the two
may dissect every nerve and fibre of his inmost soul, while the other
may ramble carelessly on about the places he has seen, and the
people he has met; yet in the ultimate result it may turn out that it is
the latter rather than the former who has revealed his identity.

Human personalities--the strange and subtle differences which
separate us from one another--refuse to give up the secrets of their
quality save at the magical summons of what we call "style." Mr.
Pepys was a quaint fellow and no Goethean egotist; but he managed
to put a peculiar flavour of style--with a rhythm and a colour all its
own--into his meticulous gossip.

Montaigne's essays are not by any means of equal value. The more
intimately they deal with his own ways and habits, the more
_physiological_ they become in their shameless candour, the better
do they please us. They grow less interesting to my thinking where
they debouch into quotations, some of them whole pages in length,
from his favourite Roman writers.

He seems to have kept voluminous scrap-books of such quotations,
and, like many less famous people, to have savoured a peculiar
satisfaction from transcribing them. One can imagine the deliberate
and epicurean way he would go about this task, deriving from the
mere bodily effort of "copying out" these long and carefully chosen
excerpts, an almost sensual pleasure; the sort of pleasure which the
self-imposed observance of some mechanical routine in a leisured
person's life is able to produce, not unaccompanied by agreeable
sensations of physical well-being.

But what, after all, is this "new soul" which Montaigne succeeded in
putting into our western civilisation at the very moment when
Catholic and Protestant were so furiously striving for the mastery?
What is this new tone, this new temper, this new temperamental
atmosphere which, in the intervals of his cautious public work and
his lazy compiling of scrap-books from the classics, he managed to
fling abroad upon the air?

It is a spiritual ingredient, composed, when one comes to analyse it,
of two chemical elements; of what might be called aesthetic egoism
and of what we know as philosophic scepticism. Let us deal with the
former of these two elements first.

Egoism, in the new psychological sense of the word, may be
regarded as the deliberate attempt in an individual's life to throw the
chief interest and emphasis of his days upon the inward, personal,
subjective impressions produced by the world, rather than upon
outward action or social progress. Egoism does not necessarily
imply the invidious stigma of selfishness. Goethe, the greatest of all
egoists, was notoriously free from such a vice. "Who," cried
Wieland, when they first met at Weimar, "who can resist the
_unselfishness_ of this man?"

Egoism does not necessarily imply "egotism," though it must be
confessed that in Montaigne's case, though not in Goethe's, there
may have been a touch of that less generous attribute.

Egoism is an intellectual gesture, a spiritual attitude, a
temperamental atmosphere. It is a thing which implies a certain
definite philosophical mood in regard to the riddle of existence;
though, of course, between individual egoists there may be wide
gulfs of personal divergence.

Between Montaigne and Goethe, for instance, there is an immense
difference. Goethe's egoism was creative; Montaigne's receptive.
Goethe's was many-sided; driven forward by a tremendous
_demonic_ urge toward the satisfaction of a curiosity which was
cosmic and universal. Montaigne's was in a certain sense narrow,
limited, cautious, earth-bound. It had nothing of the large poetic
sweep, nothing of the vast mystical horizons and huge imaginative
vistas of the great German. But on the other hand, it was closer to
the soil, homelier, more humorous, in a certain measure more
natural, normal and human.

This "cult of egoism" is obviously not entirely modern. Traces of it,
aspects of it, fragments and morsels of it, have existed from all time.
It was the latent presence of this quality in his great Romans, much
more than their mere "outward triumphs," which led him to brood so
incessantly upon their memories.

But Montaigne himself was the first of all writers to give palpable
intellectual shape to this diffused spiritual temper.

In recent times, some of the most fascinating of our literary guides
have been philosophical egotists. Whitman, Matthew Arnold,
Emerson, Pater, Stendhal, Maurice Barrès (in his earlier work), de
Gourmont, D'Annunzio, Oscar Wilde--are all, in their widely
different ways, masters of the same cult.

The out-looking activities and the out-looking social interests of
Voltaire or Renan, or Anatole France, give to these great writers
quite a different psychological tone. The three I have just mentioned
are all too inveterately spirits of mockery even to take seriously
_their own_ "sensations and ideas"; and however ironical and
humorous an egoist may be with regard to other people's
impressions, with regard to his own he is grave, intent, preoccupied,
almost solemn.

When one thinks of it, there is a curious solemnity of preoccupation
with themselves and their own sensations about Wilde, Pater,
Whitman, Stendhal, D'Annunzio and Barrès. And this "gravity of
egoism" is precisely the thing which, for all his humorous humanity,
distinguished the great Montaigne and which his early critics found
so irritating.

"What do I care--what does any one care," grumbled the learned
Scaliger, "whether he prefers white wine to red wine?"

The second element in the compound chemistry of the "modern
temper" introduced into the world by Montaigne may be found in his
famous scepticism. The formidable levity of that notorious "que
sais-je?" "What do I know?" writes itself nowadays across our
whole sky. This also--"this film of white light," as some one has
called it, floating waveringly beneath each one of our most
cherished convictions was, not unknown before his time.

All the great sophists--Protagoras especially, with his "man the
measure of all things"--were, in a sense, professional teachers of a
refined scepticism.

Plato himself, with his wavering and gracious hesitations, was more
than touched by the same spirit.

Scepticism as a natural human philosophy--perhaps as the only
natural human philosophy--underlies all the beautiful soft-coloured
panorama of pagan poetry and pagan thought. It must have been the
habitual temper of mind in any Periclean symposium or Caesarean
salon. It is, pre-eminently and especially, the _civilised_ attitude of
mind; the attitude of mind most dominant and universal in the great
races, the great epochs, the great societies.

It is for this reason that France, among all modern nations, is the
most sceptical.

Barbarian peoples are rarely endowed with this quality. The crude
animal energy, which makes them successful! in business, and even
sometimes in war, is an energy which, for all its primitive force, is
destructive of civilisation. Civilisation, the rarest work of art of our
race's evolution, is essentially a thing created in restraint of such
crude energies; as it is created in restraint of the still cruder energies
of nature itself.

The Protestant Reformation springing out of the soul of the
countries "beyond the Alps" is, of course, the supreme example of
this uncivilised force. One frequently encounters sceptical-minded
Catholics, full of the very spirit of Montaigne--who died in the
Catholic faith--but it is rare to meet a Protestant who is not, in a
most barbarous sense, full of dogmatic and argumentative "truth."

So uncivilised and unlovely is this controversial mood that
free-thinkers are often tempted to be unfair to the Reformation. This is a
fault; for after all it is something, even for ingrained sceptics
prepared to offer incense at any official altar, to be saved from the
persecuting alliance of church and state.

It is not pleasant to meet argumentative revivalists, and the Puritan
influence upon art and letters is no less than deadly; but it is better to
be teased with impertinent questions about one's soul than to be led
away to the stake for its salvation.

The mention of the situation, in which in spite of Shakespeare and
the rest poor modern sceptics still find themselves, is an indication
of how hopelessly illusive all talk of "progress" is. Between Calvin
on the one hand and the Sorbonne on the other, Montaigne might
well shuffle home from his municipal duties and read Horace in his
tower. And we, after three hundred odd years, have little better to do.

Heine, impish descendant of this great doubter, took refuge from
human madness at the feet of Venus in the Louvre. Machiavel--for
all his crafty wisdom--was driven back to his books and his
memories. Goethe built up the "pyramid of his existence" among
pictures and fossils and love affairs, leaving the making of history to
others, and keeping "religious truth" at a convenient distance.

This scepticism of Montaigne is a much rarer quality among men of
genius than the egoism with which it is so closely associated. I am
inclined to regard it as the sanest of all human moods. What
distinguishes it from other intellectual attitudes is the fact that it is
shared by the very loftiest with the very simplest minds. It is the
prevailing temper of shepherds and ploughmen, of carters and
herdsmen, of all honest gatherers at rustic taverns who discuss the
state of the crops, the prospects of the weather, the cattle market and
the rise and fall of nations. It is the wisdom of the earth itself;
shrewd, friendly, full of unaccountable instincts; obstinate and
capricious, given up to irrational and inexplicable superstitions;
sluggish, suspicious, cautious, hostile to theory, enamoured of
inconsistencies, humorously critical of all ideals, realistic, empirical,
wayward, ready to listen to any magical whisper, to any faint
pipings of the flutes of Pan, but grumblingly reluctant to follow the
voices of the prophets and the high doctrines of the leaders of men.

Its wisdom is the wisdom of lazy noons in spacious corn-fields; of
dewy mornings in misty lanes and moss-grown paths; of dreamy
shadows in deep grass when the apple boughs hang heavily
earthward, and long nights of autumn rain have left amber-coloured
pools in the hollow places of the trees and in the mud trodden by the

Its sanity is the sanity of farm-yards and smoking dung-heaps and
Priapian jests beneath wintry hedges, and clear earth-sweet
thoughtless laughter under large, liquid, mid-summer stars.

The nonchalant "What do I know?"--"What does any one know?"--of
this shrewd pagan spirit has nothing in it of the ache of
pessimistic disillusion. It has never had any illusions. It has taken
things as they appear, and life as it appears, and it is so close to the
kindly earth-mud beneath our feet that it is in no fear of any
desperate fall.

What lends the sceptical wisdom of Montaigne such massive and
enduring weight is the very fact of its being the natural pagan
wisdom of generations of simple souls who live close to the earth.
No wonder he was popular with the farmers and peasants of his
countryside and with the thrifty burgesses of his town. He must have
gathered much wisdom from his wayfaring among the fields, and
many scandalous sidelights upon human nature as he loitered among
the streets and wharfs of the city.

It is indeed the old joyous, optimistic, pagan spirit, full of courage
and gaiety; full too, it must be confessed, of a humorous terror now
and then, and yet capable enough sometimes of looking very
formidable antagonists squarely in the face and refusing to quit the
quiet ways it has marked out and the shrewd middle path it has

Turning over the pages of Cotton's translation--it is my fancy to
prefer this one to the more famous Florio's--there seems to me to
arise from these rambling discourses, a singularly wholesome savour.
I seem to see Montaigne's massive and benignant countenance as he
jogs home, wrapped against the wind in the cloak that was once his
father's, along the muddy autumn lanes, upon his strong but not
over-impetuous nag. Surely I have seen that particular cast of
features in the weather-beaten face of many a farm labourer, and
listened too, from the same lips, to just as relishing a commentary
upon the surprising ways of providence with mortal men.

Full of a profound sense of a physical well-being, which the
troublesome accidents of chance and time only served to intensify,
Montaigne surveyed the grotesque panorama of human life with a
massive and indelible satisfaction.

His optimism, if you can call it by such a name, is not the optimism
of theory; it is not the optimism of faith, far less is it that mystic and
transcendental optimism which teases one, in these later days, with
its swollen words and windy rhetoric. It is the optimism of simple,
shrewd, sane common sense, the optimism of the poor, the optimism
of sound nerves, the optimism of cab-men and bus drivers, of
fishermen and gardeners, of "tinkers, tailors, soldiers, sailors,
apothecaries and thieves."

What Montaigne really does is to bring into the courts of philosophy
and to heighten with the classic style of one who was "brought up
upon Latin," the sheer, natural, incorrigible love of life, of such
persons, rich or poor, as have the earth in their blood and the shrewd
wisdom of the earth and the geniality of the earth, and the
mischievous wantonness of the earth, and the old, sly chuckling
malice of the earth, in their blood and in their soul.

He can record, and does often record, in those queer episodic dips
into his scrap-book, the outrageous stories of a thousand freaks of
nature. He loves these little impish tricks of the great careless gods.
He loves the mad, wicked, astounding, abnormal things that are
permitted to happen as the world moves round. He reads Tacitus and
Plutarch very much as a Dorsetshire shepherd might read the
_Western Gazette,_ and makes, in the end, much of the same

In a certain sense Montaigne is the most human of all great geniuses.
The whole turbulent stream of the motley spectacle passes through
his consciousness and he can feel equal sympathy with the heroism
of a Roman patriot and with the terrors of a persecuted philosopher.

What pleases him best is to note the accidental little things--"life's
little ironies"--which so frequently intervene between ideal
resolutions and their results in practise and fact. He chuckles over
the unfortunate lapses in the careers of great men much as a
mischievous gossip in a tavern might chuckle over similar lapses in
the careers of local potentates.

Montaigne's scepticism is the result of his looking at the world not
through books or through the theories of books, but through his own
eyes. He is sceptical because he sees that any one who wishes to live
in harmony with the facts of life must be sceptical. Life is made up
of such evasive entangled confused elements that any other attitude
than this one is a noble madness if it is not knavish hypocrisy. The
theories, convictions, moralities, opinions, of every child of Adam
are subject to lamentable upheavals, as the incorrigible earth-gods,
with their impish malice, seize them and play nine-pins with them.

"All flows away and nothing remains," says the ancient philosopher,
and Montaigne shows clearly enough how vain it is to put our trust
in any theory or system or principle or idea.

It is a mistake to regard his scepticism as merely negative. It is far
more than that. Like all wise scepticism it is creative and
constructive; not out of theories and phrases, nor out of principles
and opinions, but out of events and persons and passions and
instincts and chances and occasions.

It is realistic--this Montaignesque method--realistic not materialistic.
It takes each occasion as it occurs, each person as he presents
himself, each passion, each instinct, each lust, each emotion, and out
of these he creates a sort of piece-meal philosophy; modest enough
and making no claim to finality, but serving us, at a pinch, as a sort
of rough-and-ready clue through the confusions of life.

It will always appear presumptuous to the dogmatic type of mind,
the mind made up of rationalistic and logical exigencies, to call
scepticism like this by the name of "philosophy." It will be still more
obscure to such a mind how it is possible for a human being to live
happily and joyfully in a complete absence of any synthetic system.

And yet one feels certain enough that amid the jolts and jars and
shocks of actual life even the most idealistic of philosophers leave
their logic to shift for itself and just drift on as they may in the
groove of traditional usages or the track of temperamental bias.

It must not, however, be for a moment supposed that the scepticism
of Montaigne is identical with the so-called "pragmatism" of
William James or with the "instinct theories" of Bergson.

Both of these modern attitudes make the assumption that a genuine
advance in our knowledge of "truth" is really possible; though
possible along quite different lines from the old absolute dogmatic
metaphysical ones. But the scepticism of Montaigne throws doubt
upon every human attempt to get behind the shifting flowing stream
of sense impressions. The rough and ready clue which it offers to the
confusions of life is not drawn from any individualistic "point
d'appui" of pseudo-psychological personal vision, as are these
modern clues to the mystery. It is drawn from nothing more
recondite than the customary traditions, usages, pieties and customs
of the generations of humanity; habits of mind and moods of hope
which have behind them, not so much the psychological insight of
clever individuals--the William Jameses and Bergsons of past
ages--as the primitive and permanent emotions of the masses of average
men and women themselves, confronting the eternal silence.

What the scepticism of Montaigne does is to clear out of the path all
the individual claims to extraordinary insight of the philosophic
great men of the world, by means of showing how, under the
pressure of obstinate and malicious reality, such explanations of the
universe break down and such great men collapse and become as
blind, helpless, groping and uncertain as all the rest of us. Prophets
and rationalists alike, logicians and soothsayers together, so collapse
and fall away; while in their place the long slow patient wisdom of
the centuries, the old shrewd superstitious wisdom of anonymous
humanity rises up out of the pagan earth, and offers us our only

Not that what we get in this humble way is really a solution at all.
Rather is it a modest working substitute for such solutions, a dim
lamp flickering in a great darkness, a faint shadow falling on a long
uncertain road; a road of which we can see neither the beginning nor
the end, and along which we have nothing better to guide us than
such pathetic "omens of the way" as old wives' tales repeat and old
traditions hand down from mouth to mouth.

To certain minds the condition of the human race under the burden
of such a twilight may well seem intolerable. To Montaigne it was
not intolerable. It was his element, his pleasant Arcadia, his natural
home. He loved the incongruities and inconsistencies of such a
world; its outrageous Rabelaisian jests, its monstrous changes and
chances, its huge irrelevancy. He loved its roguish and goblinish
refusal to give up its secret to grave and solemn intellects, taking
upon themselves the rôle of prophets. He loved a world that hides its
treasures from the "wise and prudent" and reveals them--or at any
rate all that will ever be revealed of them--to "babes and sucklings."

Those who read Montaigne with a natural affinity for his peculiar
turn of mind, will find themselves in a position to regard
very humorously and lightly the portentous claims of modern
philosophers whether they be rationalists or intuitivists. "There are
more things in Heaven and earth," they will retort to these scholarly
Horatios in the very vein of that Prince of Denmark who--according
to reliable critical opinion--was actually modelled on Montaigne

They will be encouraged to go on, as before, making the best of
what the traditional wisdom of the centuries brings them, but not
taking even this with more seriousness than its pathetic weight of
human experience demands, and not dreaming that, with even this to
help them, they are very closely initiated into the ultimate mystery.

They will be encouraged to go on as before, enjoying the books of
the writers with a pinch of pleasant salt, but enjoying them with
infinite zest and profit, and, at least, with full _aesthetic_

They will be encouraged to fall back upon the kindly possibilities
and broad hopeful vistas to which the unsophisticated heart of man
naturally and spontaneously turns.

They will be encouraged to go to the "highways and hedges" for
their omens, to the felicitous encounters of the common road for
their auguries and inspirations. They will listen reverently to the
chatter of very simple people, and catch the shadow of the wings of
fate falling upon very homely heads. The rough earth-wisdom of
ploughed fields, heavy with brown sun-lit mud, will be redolent for
them with whispers and hints and intimations of things that no
philosophy can include and no psychology explain.

Out of the coarse rankness of rude primitive natures strange sweet
mysteries will come to light, and upon the sensual lusts of satyrs,
gambolling grossly in rain-soaked leafy midnights, the moon of
tender purity will shed down her virginal benediction.

For them the grotesque roots of trees will leer magically from the
wayside to meet the uncouth gestures of the labourer and his trull;
while in the smoke-thick air of mellow tavern-corners the shameless
mirth of honest revellers philosophising upon the world will have a
smack of true divinity.

They will be encouraged--the people who read Montaigne--to sink
once more into their own souls and enjoy the rare sensations
permitted to their own physical and psychological susceptibility, as
the great world sweeps by them.

I sometimes think that the wisdom of Montaigne, with its essential
roots in physiological well-being, is best realised and understood
when on some misty autumn morning, full of the smell of leaves,
one lies, just newly awakened out of pleasant dreams, and watches
the sunshine on wall and window and floor, and listens to the traffic
of the town or the noises of the village. It is then, with the sweet
languor of awakening, that one seems conscious of some ineffable
spiritual secret to be drawn from the material sensations of the
nerves of one's body.

Montaigne, with all his gravity, is quite shameless in the assumption
that the details of his bodily habits form an important part, not by
any means to be neglected, of the picture he sets out to give of

And those who read Montaigne with sympathetic affinity will find
themselves growing into the habit of making much of the sensations
of their bodies. They will not rush foolishly and stupidly, like dull
economic machines, from bedroom to "lunch counter" and from
"lunch counter" to office. They will savour every moment which can
be called _their own_ and they will endeavour to enlarge such
moments by any sort of economic or domestic change.

They will make much of the sensations of waking and bathing and
eating and drinking and going to sleep; just as they make much of
the sensations of reading admirable books. They will cross the road
to the sunny side of the street; they will pause by the toy-shops and
the flower-shops. They will go out into the fields, before breakfast,
to look for mushrooms.

They will miss nothing of the caprices and humours and comedies of
every day of human life; for they will know that in the final issue
none of us are wiser than the day and what the day brings; none of
us wiser than the wisdom of street and field and market-place; the
wisdom of the common people, the wisdom of our mother, the earth.

In the enjoyment of life spent thus fastidiously in the cultivation of
our own sensations, and thus largely and generously in a broad
sympathy with the emotions of the masses of men, there is room for
many kinds of love. But of all the love passions which destiny offers
us, none lends itself better to the peculiar path we have chosen than
the passion of friendship. It is the love of an "alter ego," a second
self, a twin soul, which more than anything else is able to heighten
and deepen our consciousness of life.

The "love of women" has always about it something tragic and
catastrophic. It means the plunging of one's hands into frozen snow
or burning fire. It means the crossing of perilous glades in tropic
jungles. It means the "sowing of the whirlwind" on the edge of the
avalanche and the hunting of the mirage in the desert. The ecstasy
brought by it is too blinding to serve as an illumination for our days;
and for all the tremulous sweetness of its approach it leaves behind
it the poison of disillusion and the scars of rancour and remorse.

But the passion of friendship for one of one's own sex burns with a
calm clear flame. A thousand little subtleties of observation, that
would mean nothing were we alone, take to themselves a significant
and symbolic value and lead us down pleasant and flower-strewn
vistas of airy fancy. In the absence of our friend the colour of his
imagination falls like a magical light upon the saddest and dullest
scenes; while with him at our side, all the little jerks and jars and
jolts and ironical tricks of the hour and the occasion lose their
brutish emphasis and sink into humorous perspective. The sense of
having some one for whom one's weakest and least effective
moments are of interest and for whom one's weariness and unreason
are only an additional bond, makes what were otherwise intolerable
in our life easy and light to bear.

And what a delicious sense, in the midst of the open or hidden
hostilities of our struggle against the world, to feel one has some one
near at hand with whom, crouched in any "corner of the hubbub,"
we may "make game of _that_" which makes as much of us!

Love, in the sexual sense, fails us in the bitterest crisis of our days
because love, or the person loved, is the chief cause of the misery.
Scourged and lacerated by Aphrodite it is of little avail to flee to
Eros. But friendship--of the noble, rare, _absolute_ kind such as
existed between Montaigne and his sweet Etienne--is the only
antidote, the only healing ointment, the only anodyne, which can
make it possible for us to endure without complete disintegration
"the pangs of despised love" and love's bitter and withering reaction.

Love too--in the ordinary sense--implies jealousy, exclusiveness,
insatiable exactions; whereas friendship, sure of its inviolable roots
in spiritual equality, is ready to look generously and sympathetically
upon every wandering obsession or passing madness in the friend of
its choice.

With the exception of the love of a parent for a child this is the only
human love which is outward-looking and centrifugal in its gaze;
and even in the case of the love of a mother there is often something
possessive and indrawing.

How beautifully, how finally, Montaigne, in his description of this
high passion, sweeps aside at one stroke all that selfish emphasis
upon "advantage" of which Bacon makes so much, and all that
idealistic anxiety to retain one's "separate identity" in which
Emerson indulges!

"I love him because he is he and he loves me because I am I." This
is worthy to be compared with the beautiful and terrible "I _am_
Heathcliff" of the heroine in the Brontë novel.

Emerson speaks as though, having sounded the depths of one's
friend's soul, one moved off, with a wave of the hand, upon one's
lonely quest, having none but God as one's eternal companion.

This translunar preference for the "Over-soul" over every human
feeling is not Montaigne's notion of the passion of friendship. He is
more earth-bound in his proclivities.

"He is he and I am I," and as long as we are what we are, in our flesh,
in our blood, in our bones, nothing, while we live, can sever the
bond between us. And in death? Ah! how much nearer to the pagan
heart of this great mystery is the cry of the son of Jesse over the
body of his beloved than all the Ciceronian rhetoric in the
world--and how much nearer to what that loss means!

Montaigne does not really, as Pater so charmingly hints, break the
flexible consistency of his philosophic method when he loves his
friends in this unbounded manner. He is too great a sceptic to let his
scepticism stand in the way of high adventures of this sort.

The essence of his unsystematic system is that one should give
oneself freely up to what the gods throw in one's way. And if the
gods--in their inescapable predestination--have made him "for me"
and me "for him," to cling fast with cold cautious hands to the
anchor of moderation were to be false to the philosophy of the
"Eternal Now."

The whole of life is an enormous accident--a dice-throw of eternity
in the vapours of time and space. Why not then, with him we love
by our side, make richer and sweeter the nonchalant gaiety of our
amusement, in the great mad purposeless preposterous show, by the
"quips and cranks" of a companionable scepticism; canvassing all
things in earth and heaven, reverencing God and Caesar on _this
side_ of idolatry, relishing the foolish, fooling the wise, and letting
the world drift on as it will?

"What do I know?" There may be more in life than the moralists
guess, and more in death than the atheists imagine.


There are certain figures in the history of human thought who in the
deepest sense of the word must be regarded as _tragic_; and this not
because of any accidental sufferings they have endured, or because
of any persecution, but because of something inherently _desperate_
in their own wrestling with truth.

Thus Swift, while an eminently tragic figure in regard to his
personal character and the events of his life, is not tragic in regard to
his thought.

It is not a question of pessimism. Schopenhauer is generally, and
with reason, regarded as a pessimist; but no one who has read his
"World as Will and Idea" can visualise Schopenhauer, even in the
sphere of pure thought, as a tragic personality.

The pre-eminent example in our modern world of the sort of
desperate thinking which I have in mind as worthy of this title is, of
course, Nietzsche; and it is a significant thing that over and over
again in Nietzsche's writings one comes upon passionate and
indignant references to Pascal.

The great iconoclast seemed indeed, as he groped about like a blind
Samson in the temple of human faith, to come inevitably upon the
figure of Pascal, as if this latter were one of the main pillars of the
formidable edifice. It is interesting to watch this passionate
attraction of steel for steel.

Nietzsche was constantly searching among apologists for
Christianity for one who in intellect and imagination was worthy of
his weapons; and it must be confessed that his search was generally
vain. But in Pascal he did find what he sought.

His own high mystical spirit with its savage psychological insight
was answered here by something of the same metal. His own
"desperate thinking" met in this instance a temper equally
"desperate," and the beauty and cruelty of his merciless imagination
met here a "will to power" not less abnormal.

It is seldom that a critic of a great writer has, by the lucky throwing
of life's wanton dice, an opportunity of watching the very temper he
is describing, close at hand. But it does sometimes happen, even
when the subject of one's criticism has been dead two hundred years,
that one comes across a modern mind so penetrated with its master's
moods; so coloured, so dyed, so ingrained with that particular spirit,
that intercourse with it implies actual contact with its archetype.

Such an encounter with the subtlest of Christian apologists has been
my own good fortune in my association with Mr. W. J. Williams,
the friend of Loisy and Tyrrel, and the interpreter, for modern piety,
of Pascal's deepest thoughts.

The superiority of Pascal over all other defenders of the faith is to be
looked for in the peculiar angle of his approach to the terrific
controversy--an angle which Newman himself, for all his serpentine
sagacity, found it difficult to retain.

Newman worked in a mental atmosphere singularly unpropitious to
formidable intellectual ventures, and one never feels that his
essentially ecclesiastical mind ever really grasped the human
plausibility of natural paganism. But Pascal went straight back to
Montaigne, and, like Pater's Marius under the influence of
Aristippus, begins his search after truth with a clean acceptance of
absolute scepticism.

Newman was sceptical too, but his peculiar kind of intellectual piety
lacked the imagination of Pascal. He could play, cleverly enough,
with hypothetical infidelity, and refute it, so to say, "in his study"
with his eye on the little chapel door; but there was a sort of refined
shrinking from the jagged edges of reality in his somewhat
Byzantine temperament which throws a certain suspicion of special
pleading over his crafty logic.

Newman argues like a subtle theologian who has been clever
enough to add to his "repertoire" a certain evasive mist of pragmatic
modernism, under the filmy and wavering vapours of which the
inveterate sacerdotalism of his temperament covers its tracks. But
with Pascal we get clean away from the poison-trail of the

Pascal was essentially a layman. There was nothing priestly in his
mood; nothing scholastic in his reasoning; nothing sacerdotal in his
conclusions. We breathe with him the clear sharp air of mathematics;
and his imagination, shaking itself free from all controversial
pettifogging, sweeps off into the stark and naked spaces of the true
planetary situation.

One feels that Newman under all conceivable circumstances was
bound to be a priest. There was priestliness writ large upon his
countenance. His manner, his tone, his beautiful style, with
something at once pleading and threatening, and a kind of feminine
attenuation in its vibrant periods, bears witness to this.

Stripped of his cassock and tossed into the world's "hurly-burly,"
Newman would have drawn back into himself in Puritan dismay,
and with Puritan narrowness and sourness would have sneered at the
feet of the dancers. There was, at bottom, absolutely nothing in
Newman of the clear-eyed human sweetness of the Christ of the
Gospels; that noble, benignant, tolerant God, full of poetic
imagination, whose divine countenance still looks forth from the
canvasses of Titian.

Newman's piety, at best, was provincial, local, distorted. His Christ
is the Christ of morbid Seminarists and ascetic undergraduates; not
the Christ that Leonardo da Vinci saw breaking bread with his
disciples; not the Christ that Paolo Veronese saw moving among the
crowds of the street like a royal uncrowned king.

It is a mistake to regard Pascal as a Protestant. It is equally a mistake
to press hard upon his Catholicity. He was indeed too tragically
preoccupied with the far deeper question as to whether faith in
Christ is possible at all, to be limited to these lesser disputes.

His quarrel with the Jesuits was not essentially a theological quarrel.
It was the eternal quarrel between the wisdom and caution and
casuistry of the world and the uncompromising vision of the poet
and prophet.

Nietzsche would never have singled out Pascal as his most
formidable enemy if the author of "The Thoughts" had been nothing
but a theological controversialist. What gives an eternal value to
Pascal's genius, is that it definitely cleared the air. It swept aside all
blurring and confusing mental litter, and left the lamentable stage of
the great dilemma free for the fatal duel.

Out of the immense darkness of the human situation, that forlorn
stage rises. The fearful spaces of the godless night are its roof, and
row above row, tier above tier in its shadowy enclosure, the troubled
crowds of the tribes of men wait the wavering issue of the contest.
Full on the high stage in this tragic theatre of the universe Pascal
throws the merciless searchlight of his imaginative logic, and the
rhythm of the duality of man's fate is the rhythm of the music of his
impassioned utterances.

The more one dreams over the unique position which Pascal has
come to occupy, the more one realises how few writers there are
whose imagination is large enough to grapple with the sublime
horror of being born of the human race into this planetary system.

They take for granted so many things, these others. They have no
power in them to lift eagle wings and fly over the cold grey
boundless expanse of the shadowy waters.

They take for granted--materialists and mystics alike--so much; so
much, that there is no longer any tragic dilemma left, any sublime
"parting of the ways," any splendid or terrible decision.

Pascal's essential grandeur consists in the fact hat he tore himself
clear of all those peddling and pitiful compromises, those half
humorous concessions, those lazy conventionalisms, with which
most people cover their brains as if with wool, and ballast their
imagination as if with heavy sand.

He tore himself clear of everything; of his own temperamental
proclivities, of his pride, of his scientific vanity, of his human
affections, of his lusts, of his innocent enjoyments. He tore himself
clear of everything; so as to envisage the universe in its unmitigated
horror, so as to look the emptiness of space straight between its
ghastly lidless eyes.

One sees him there, at the edge of the world, silhouetted against the
white terror of infinity, wrestling desperately in the dawn with the
angel of the withheld secret.

His pride--his pride of sheer intellect--ah! that, as Nietzsche well
knew, was the offering that had the most blood in it, the sacrifice
that cried the loudest, as he bound it to the horns of the altar. The
almost insane howl of suppressed misery which lurks in the
scoriating irony of that terrible passage about sprinkling oneself with
"holy water" and rendering oneself "stupid," is an indication of what
I mean. Truly, as his modern representative does not hesitate to hint,
the hand of Pascal held Christianity by the hair.

To certain placid cattle-like minds, the life we have been born into is
a thing simple and natural enough. To Pascal it was monstrously and
insolently unnatural. He had that species of grand and terrible
imagination which is capable of piercing the world through and
through; of rising high up above it, and of pulverising it with
impassioned logic.

The basic incongruities of life yawned for him like bleeding
eye-sockets, and never for one moment could he get out of his mind
the appalling nothingness of the stellar spaces.

Once, after thinking about Pascal, I dreamed I saw him standing, a
tall dark figure, above a chaotic sea. In his hand he held a gigantic
whip, whose long quivering lash seemed, as he cracked it above the
moaning waters, to summon the hidden monsters of the depths to
rise to the surface. I could not see in my dream the face of this figure,
for dark clouds kept sweeping across his head; but the sense of his
ferocious loneliness took possession of me, and since then I have
found it increasingly difficult to confine his image to mild
Jansenistic heresies, ironic girdings at Jesuitical opponents,
philosophic strolls with evangelical friends.

What Pascal does is a thing that, curiously enough, is very rarely
done, even by great metaphysical writers; I mean the bringing home
to the mind, without any comfortable illusive softenings of the stark
reality, of what life really implies in its trenchant outlines. To do this
with the more complete efficacy, he goes back to Montaigne and
uses the scepticism of Montaigne as his starting point.

The Christian faith, in order to be a thing of beauty and dignity,
must necessarily have something _desperate_ about it, something of
the terrible sweat and tears of one who wrestles with the ultimate
angel. Easy-going Christianity, the Christianity of plump prelates
and argumentative presbyters, is not Christianity at all. It is simply
the "custom of the country" greased with the unction of professional

One remembers how both Schopenhauer and Heine sweep away the
Hegelian Protestantism of their age and look for the spirit of Christ
in other quarters.

That so tremendous a hope, that so sublime a chance should have
appeared at all in the history of the human race is a thing to wonder
at; and Pascal, coming upon this chance, this hope, this supreme
venture, from the depths of a corrosive all-devouring scepticism,
realised it at its true value.

Hung between the infinitely great and the infinitely little, frozen by
the mockery of two eternities, this "quintessence of dust" which is
ourselves, cries aloud to be delivered from the body of its living

A reed that thinks! Could there anywhere be found a better
description of what we are? Reed-like we bow ourselves to the
winds of the four horizons--reed-like we murmur repetitions of the
music of forest and sea--reed-like we lift our heads among the dying
stalks of those who came before us--reed-like we wither and droop
when our own hour comes--but with it all, we _think!_

Pascal looking at the face of the world sees evidence on all sides of
the presence of something blighting and poisonous, something
diabolic and malign in the way things are now organised. He traces
the cause of this to the wilful evil in the heart of man, and he finds
the only cure for it in the acceptance of God's grace.

There may be something irritating to the pagan mind about this
arbitrary introduction of the idea of "sin" as the cause of the
lamentable misery of the world. Among modern writers the idea of
"sin" is ridiculed, and the notion of its supernaturalism scouted. But
is this true psychology?

Whatever its extraordinary origin, this thing which we call
"conscience" has emerged as a definite and inalienable phenomenon
among us. To be exempt from the power of _remorse_ is still, even
in these modern days, to be something below or above the level of
ordinary humanity. If the thing is everywhere present with us, then,
as an actual undeniable experience; if we feel it, if we suffer from it,
where is the philosophical or human advantage of slurring over its
existence and refusing to take account of it?

The great artists are wiser in these matters than the philosophers.
Are we to suppose that the depths of malignity in an Iago, or the
"dark backward and abysm" of remorse in a Macbeth, are things
purely relative and illusive?

"Hell is murky," whispers the sleep-walker, and the words touch the
nerves of our imagination more closely than all the arguments of the

We will not follow Pascal through the doctrinal symbols of his
escape from the burden of this consciousness. Where we must still
feel the grandeur of his imagination is in his recognition of the
presence of "evil" in the world as an objective and palpable thing
which no easy explanations can get rid of and only a stronger
spiritual force can overcome.

The imagination of Pascal once more makes life terrible, beautiful
and dramatic. It pushes back the marble walls of mechanical cause
and effect, and opens up the deep places. It makes the universe
porous again. It restores to life its strange and mysterious
possibilities. It throws the human _will_ once more into the
foreground, and gives the drama of our days its rightful spaciousness
and breadth.

The kind of religious faith which lends itself to our sense of the
noble and the tragic is necessarily of this nature. Like the tight-rope
dancer in Zarathustra, it balances itself between the upper and the
nether gulfs. It makes its choice between eternal issues; it throws the
dice upon the cosmic gaming-table; it wagers the safety of the soul
against the sanity of the intellect.

And it is pre-eminently the mark of a great religion that it should be
founded upon a great scepticism. Anything short of this lacks the
true tragic note; anything short of this is mere temperamental
cheerfulness, mere conventional assent to custom and tradition.

The great religion must carve its daring protest against the whole
natural order of the universe upon the flaming ramparts of the
world's uttermost boundary. The great religion must engrave its
challenge to eternity upon the forehead of the Great Sphinx.

And after all, even supposing that Pascal is wrong; even supposing
that making his grand wager he put his money upon the _wrong
horse_, does that diminish the tragedy of his position? Does that
lessen the sublimity of his imagination? Obviously it is the practical
certainty that he is wrong, and that he did put his money on the
wrong horse, which creates the grandeur of the whole desperate
business. If he were right, if the universe were really and truly
composed in the manner he conceived it--why then, so far from his
figure being a tragic one, he would present himself as a shrewd
magician, who has found the "wonderful lamp" of the world's
Aladdin's cave, and has entered upon inestimable treasures while
disappearing into the darkness.

The sublimity of Pascal's vision depends upon its being illusive. The
grandeur of his world-logic depends upon its being false. The beauty
of his heroic character depends upon his philosophy being a lie.

If all that is left of this desperate dicer with eternity is a little dust
and a strangely shaped skull, how magnificently dramatic, in the
high classic sense, was his offering up of his intellect upon the altar
of his faith!

In the wise psychology of the future--interesting itself in the historic
aberrations of the human mind--it is likely that many chapters will
be devoted to this strange "disease of desperation" full of such wild
and fatal beauty.

The Spectacle of the world will lack much contrasting shadow when
this thing passes away. A _certain deep crimson upon black_ will be
missing from the tapestry of human consciousness. There will be
more sun-light but less Rembrantian chiaroscuro in the pigments of
the great Picture. At any rate this is certain; by his tragic gambling
in the darkness of the abyss between the unfathomed spaces, Pascal
has drawn the perilous stuff of the great disease to a dramatic head.
The thing can no longer diffuse itself like an attenuated evil humour
through every vein of the world-body.

Customary piety, conventional religion, the thin security of
self-satisfied morality, can now no more tease us with their sleek
impertinence. In the presence of a venture of this high distinction, of
a faith of this tragic intensity, such shabby counterfeits of the race's
hope dwindle and pale and fade.

We now perceive what the alternative is, what the voice of "deep
calling unto deep" really utters, as the constellation of Hercules
draws the solar world toward it through the abysmal night. No more
ethical foolery; no more pragmatic insolence; no more mystical

The prophets of optimism "lie in hell like sheep." The world yawns
and quivers to its foundations. Jotunheim rushes upon Asgard. From
the pleasant fields of sun-lit pagan doubt comes to our ears the
piping of the undying Pan--older than all the "twilights" of all the

But for the rest the issue is now plain, the great dilemma clear. No
more fooling with shadows when faith has lost its substance;
no more walking on the road to Emmaus when the Master is
transformed to a stream of tendency; no more liberal theology when
Socrates is as divine as Jesus.

The "Thinking Reed" bows before the wind of the infinite spaces. It
bows. It bends. It is broken.

Aut Christus aut Nihil!


The immense bulk of Voltaire's writings is profoundly uninteresting
to me. I once saw--I think it must have been in Liverpool--a
wonderful edition of his complete works published during the
Revolution and with a duplicate copy of every illustrative print. I
couldn't afford the price of the thing just then, amazingly low though
it was, but in my devotion to that great name, I swore that, when I
made my library, that noble edition should be in it.

I have never made any library and never intend to. The sight of
classical authors in row upon row depresses me beyond words.
Public Libraries are still worse. I have no wish to be helped "to get
on in the world" by Mr. Carnegie. I resent the association between
literature and "public benefactions." Does he propose to dole out the
exquisite taste necessary to appreciate these rare things, on condition
that our "home town" pay half the cost? Thank Heaven, a feeling for
what is noble and distinguished in human thought is beyond the
reach of any philanthropist. I mean beyond his power of giving or
taking away, and I do not believe that those among the poor who
really have this feeling are often found in libraries. They probably
have their "Oxford Book of English Verse"--a gift from their
gentlest acquaintance--just as I have; and, for the rest, they can sell
their school prizes to buy Hardy and Henry James.

Except for "Candide" and a few excerpts from the "Philosophical
Dictionary," I must confess I have no wish to turn over another page
of Voltaire. It is simply incredible to me that human beings
possessed of the same senses as ours could find satisfaction for their
imagination in the sterile moralising, stilted sentiment, superficial
wit, and tiresome persiflage of that queer generation. I suppose they
didn't really. I suppose they used to go off on the sly, and read
Rabelais and Villon. I suppose it was only the preposterous "social
world" of those days who enjoyed nothing in literature except
pseudo-classic attitudes and gestures; just as it is only the
preposterous "social world" with us who enjoy nothing but Gaelic
mythology and Oriental Mysticism.

Those pseudo-classic writers of the eighteenth century, in England
and France, have their admirers still. I confess such admiration
excites in me as much wonder as the works themselves excite
distaste. What can they find in them that is thrilling or exciting or
large or luminous or magical? I would pile up the whole lot of them
along with those books that are no books--biblia-a-biblia--of which
Charles Lamb speaks so plaintively. Backgammon boards with
lettering behind them should be their companions.

What a relief to turn from contemplation of the works of Voltaire to
that bust of him by Houdon!

Ah! there we have him, there we apprehend him, there we catch his
undying spirit! And what a man he was! As one looks at that face
wherein a mockery more trenchant than the world is able to endure
leers and wags the tongue, one feels certain that the soul of the
eighteenth century was not really contented with its heroic
sentimental mask. The look upon that face, with its aristocratic
refinement, its deadly intellect, its beautiful cynicism, is worth all
the sessions of the Academy and all the seasons of the Salons. It
makes one think somehow of the gardens of Versailles. One seems
to see it as a mocking fragment of heathen marble--some Priapian
deity of shameless irreverence, peering forth in the moonlight from
among the yew hedges and the fountains; watching the Pierrot of the
Minute make love to Columbine, and the generations of men drift by
like falling leaves.

Voltaire!--He was well advised to choose that name for himself; a
name which sounds even now like the call of a trumpet. And a call it
is; a call to the clear intelligences and the unclouded brains; a call to
the generous hearts and the unperverted instincts; a call to sanity and
sweetness and clarity and noble commonsense; to all that is free and
brave and gay and friendly, to rally to the standard of true
civilisation against the forces of stupidity, brutality and

Voltaire was one of those great men whose thoughts are armies and
whose words are victories in the cause of the liberation of humanity.
If we do not read his books, we look at his image and we read his
life. We name his name and we seal ourselves of his tribe; the name
and tribe of such as refuse to bow their knees to Baal, and if they
worship in the house of Rimmon, worship with a large reservation!

Voltaire is much more than a man of letters. He is a prophet of the
age to come, when the execrable superstitions of narrow minds shall
no longer darken the sunlight, and the infamous compulsion of
human manners, human intellects, human tastes, into the petty
mould of oppressive public opinion shall be ended forever.

That bust in the Louvre and the sublime story of his life will outlast
all but one of those half a hundred volumes of his which Mr.
Carnegie's liberality has put at the disposal of our "home town."

We too, like the populace of Paris, on the day when he came back to
his own, flock out to see the "saviour of the Calas." We too, like the
passionate actresses who crowned his image in the great
comedy-house while--as they say--he bowed his head so low that his
forehead touched the front of his box, acclaim him still as the
Messiah of the Liberty of the human intellect.

How admirable it is to come back to the spirit and temper of
Voltaire from the fussy self-love and neurotic introspections of
our modern egoists. The new fashionable doctrine among the
"intellectuals" is that one is to live in one's ivory tower and let the
world go; live in one's ivory tower while brutal and detestable
people tyrannise over the gentle and sensitive; live in one's ivory
tower while the heavy hand of popular ignorance lies like a dead
weight upon all that is fine and rare; live in one's ivory tower while
complacent well-paid optimism whispers acquiescence in the "best
of all possible worlds."

The great Voltaire was made in another mould. Few enjoyed the
pleasures of life more than he; but the idea of the stupid brutality
and ignorant tyranny from which in this world so many harmless
people suffer filled him with fury. The Calas were only one--only
the best known--of a long list of victims on whose behalf he entered
the arena. In these campaigns of justice, he was tireless,
inexhaustible, insatiable. He flooded Europe with pamphlets on
behalf of his protégés. He defied Church and State in his crusades to
defend them. His house at Ferney became a sort of universal refuge
and sanctuary for the persecuted persons of the civilised world.

A great and good man! I sometimes think that of all the heroic
champions of sensitiveness against insensitiveness, of weakness
against strength, of the individual against public opinion, I would
soonest call up the noble shade of Voltaire and kiss his pontifical

The Pantheistic Carlyle grumbles at his levity and rails against his
persiflage. One hopes there will always be a "persiflage" like that of
Voltaire to clear the human stage of stupid tyranny and drive the
mud-monsters of obscurantism back into their mid-night caverns. He
was a queer kind of Apollo--this little great man with his
old-fashioned wig and the fur-cloak "given him by Catherine of
Russia"--but the flame which inspired him was the authentic fire, and
the arrows with which he fought were dipped in the golden light of the

I said there was one book of Voltaire's to which the souls of honest
people who love literature must constantly return. This, of course, is
"Candide"; a work worthy to be bound up in royal vellum and
stained in Tyrian dyes. If it were not for "Candide"--so stiff and
stilted was the fashionable spirit of that age--there would be little in
Voltaire's huge shelf of volumes, little except stray flashes of his
irrepressible gaiety, to arrest and to hold us. But into the pages of
"Candide" he poured the full bright torrent of his immortal wit, and
with this book in our hands we can feel him and savour him as he

One has only to glance over the face of Europe at this present hour
to get the sting and Pythian poison of this planetary irony. It is like a
Circean philtre of sweet sunbrewed wine, sparkling with rainbow
bubbles and gleaming with the mockery of the deathless gods. Once
for all in this scandalous and beautiful book, the lying optimism of
the preachers receives its crushing blow. "Candide" is the final retort
of all sane and generous spirits, full of magnanimity and laughter, to
that morbid and shameful propitiation of the destinies which cries
"peace when there is no peace."

One feels when one reads it as if it were written by some wanton
and gracious youth, in the marble courts of some happy palace
of Utopia, commenting upon the mad delusions and diseased
hypocrisies of the men of the old time when superstition still reigned.
No book in the world has more spontaneous gaiety, more of the
triumphant spirit of human boyishness in its blood. Certainly the
great Voltaire was to the end of his life--and you can see that very
thing in the old-young face of the famous bust--inspired by the
immortal flame of youth. He never grew old. To the last his attitude
toward life was the attitude of that exuberant and unbounded energy
which takes nothing seriously and loves the contest with darkness
and stupidity for the sake of the divine "sport" of the struggle. There
is a certain sun-born sanity of _commonsense_ about such natural
youthfulness, which contradicts all popular fallacies.

It is the Mercutio spirit, striking up the swords of both Montagues
and Capulets and fooling them all on their grey-haired obsessions. It
comes into this solemn custom-ridden world, as if from some
younger and gayer star, and makes wanton sport of its pious
hypocrisies. It opens its astonished laughing eyes upon the meanness
of men and the cruelties of men and the insane superstitions and
illusions of men, and it mocks them all with mischievous delight. It
refuses to bow its head before hoary idols. It refuses to go weeping
and penitent and stricken with a sense of "sin" in the presence of
natural fleshly instincts. It is absolutely irresponsible--what, in a
world like this, should one be responsible for?--and it is shamelessly
frivolous. Why not? Where the highest sanctities are so lamentably
human, and where the phylacteries of the moralists are embroidered
with such earth-spun threads, why go on tip-toe and with forlorn
visage? It is outrageously indecent. Why not? Who made this
portentous "decency" to be the rule of free-born life? Who put
fig-leaves upon the sweet flesh of the immortals? Decency after all is a
mere modern barbarism; the evocation of morbid vulgarity and a
perverted heart.

The great classic civilisations included a poetic obscenity with easy
nonchalance. They had a god to protect its interests, and its
sun-burnt youthful wantonness penetrates all their art. This modern cult
of "decency"--thrust down the throat of human joy by a set of
Calvins and John Knoxes--is only one of the indications in our
wretched commercialised age of how far we have sunk from the
laughter of the gods and the dancing of the morning stars.

To sit listening in the forlorn streets of a Puritan city--when for one
day the cheating tradesmen leave their barbarous shops--to the
wailing of unlovely hymns, empty of everything except a degraded
sentimentality that would make an Athenian or a Roman slave blush
with shame, is enough to cause one to regard the most scandalous
levity of Voltaire as something positively sacred and holy.

One wonders that scholars are any longer allowed even to read
Aristophanes--far less translate him. And cannot they see--these
perverts of a purity that insults the sunshine--that _humour,_ decent
or indecent, is precisely the thing that puts sex properly in its place?
Cannot they see that by substituting morbid sentiment for honest
Rabelaisianism they are obsessing the minds of every one with a
matter which after all is only one aspect of life?

The great terrible Aphrodite--ruler of gods and men--is not to be
banished by conventicle or council. She will find her way back,
though she has to tread strange paths, and the punishment for the
elimination of natural wantonness is the appearance of hideous
hypocrisy. Driven from the haunts of the Muses, expelled from the
symposia of the wise and witty, the spirit of sexual irreverence takes
refuge in the streets; and the scurrilous vulgarities of the tavern
balance the mincing proprieties of the book-shop.

After all sex _is_ a laughable thing. The tragedies connected with it,
the high and thrilling pleasures connected with it, do not obliterate
its original absurdity. And Voltaire--this sane sun-born child of the
shameless intellect--never permits us for a moment to forget how
ridiculous in the last resort all this fuss about the matter is.

Puritanical suppression and neurotic obsession are found invariably
together. It is precisely in this way that the great goddess revenges
herself upon those who disobey her laws. Voltaire, the least
Puritanical of men, is also the least neurotic. The Satyrish laughter
of his eternally youthful energy clears the air of the world.

Humour of all human things is the most transitory and changing in
its moods. As a perambulating interpreter of literature, ancient as
well as modern, this has especially been borne in upon me. I have
been guilty, in that sickening academic way which makes one howl
with shame in one's self-respecting moments, of "trying out" upon
people the old stock humours of the standard authors.

I have dragged poor Bottom back to life and made the arms of the
Cervantian wind-mill turn and the frogs of Aristophanes croak. But
oh, shade of Yorick! how the sap, the ichor, the sharp authentic tang,
that really tickles our sensibilities, has thinned out and fallen flat
during the centuries. My hearers have smiled and tittered perhaps--with
a pathetic wish to be kind, or a desire to show themselves not
quite dull to these classic amenities--and between us we have, in a
kind of chuckling pedantry, shuffled through the occasion; but it is
not pleasant to recall such moments.

Of course a sly comedian could make anything amusing; but one
cannot help feeling that if the humour of these famous scenes were
really permanent it would force its way even through the frosty air
of academic culture into our human nerves.

"We are not wood; we are not stones, but men"--and being men the
essential spirit of outrageous humour ought surely to hit us, however
poorly interpreted. And it does; only the proprieties and the
decencies sheer us off from what is permanently appealing!

I recollect on one occasion, how, after making my hearers cry over
the natural and permanent tragedy of Shylock, I asked the fatuous
question, addressing it, as one does, to the vague air--

"What are we to say about Launcelot Gobbo?"

Now obviously any one but a professional interpreter of literature
would know that there's _nothing_ to say about this harmless fool.
Shakespeare threw him in as "a comic relief" and probably felt his
strongest appeal to the native genius of the actor who impersonated
him. But I can recall now, with that sense of humiliation which
wrings one's withers, the sweetly murmured tones of some tactful
woman who answered--and the last thing one wants is an answer to
these inanities--

"Oh, we must say that Launcelot Gobbo is charming!"

But Gobbo or no Gobbo, the fact remains that humour is one of the
most delicate, the most evasive, and the most unstable of human
qualities. I am myself inclined to hold that sheer outrageous ribaldry,
especially if graced with an undertone of philosophic irony, is the
only kind of humour which is really permanent. To give permanence
to any human quality in literature, there must be an appeal to
something which is beyond the power of time and change and
fashion and custom and circumstance. And, as a matter of fact,
nothing in the world except sex itself answers this requirement.

The absurdities of men are infinite, but they alter with every
generation. What never alters or can alter, is the absurdity of being a
man at all.

Where Shakespeare's humour still touches us most nearly is
precisely in those scenes which the superficial custom of our age
finds least endurable. It is not in his Gobbos or in his frolicsome
boy-girls, that his essential spirit must be looked for; but in his
Falstaffs and Mercutios.

But Shakespeare's humour is largely, after all, a lovely, dreamy,
poetical thing. I doubt if it has the weight or the massive solidity of
the humour of Rabelais. I think the humour of Charles Lamb wears
well; but that is probably because it has a most indisputable flavour
of Rabelaisian roguery underlying its whimsical grace. Anatole
France has the true classic spirit. His humour will remain fresh
forever, because it is the humour of the eternal absurdity of sexual
desire. Heine can never lose the sharpness of his bite, for his
irreverence is the eternal irreverence of the soul that neither man nor
God can scourge into solemn submission.

Humour to be really permanent and to outlast the changes of fashion
must go plummet-like to the basic root of things. It is nothing less
than extraordinary that Voltaire, living in the age of all ages the
most obsessed with the modishness of the hour, should have written
"Candide," a book full of the old unalterable laughter. For "Candide"
is not only a clever book, a witty book, a wise book. It is a book
preposterously and outrageously funny. It tickles one's liver and
one's gall; it relaxes one's nerves; it vents the suppressed spleen of
years in a shout of irrepressible amusement. Certain passages in
it--and, as one would have suspected they are precisely the passages
that cannot be quoted in a modern book--compel one to laugh aloud
as one thinks of them.

Personally I hold the opinion that "Candide" is the most humorous
piece of human writing in the world. And yet its ribaldry, its
irreverence, is unbounded. It sticks at nothing. It says everything. It
wags the philosophic tongue at every conceivable embodiment of
popular superstition.

If the best books are the books which the authors of them have most
enjoyed writing, the books that have the thrill of excellent pleasure
on every page, then "Candide" certainly bears away the palm. One
would like to have watched Voltaire's countenance as he wrote it.
The man's superb audacity, his courage, his aplomb, his god-like
shamelessness, appear in every sentence.

What an indictment of the human race! What an arraignment of the
"insolence of office"! What a tract for the philanthropists! What a
slap in the face for the philosophers! And all done with such
imperturbable good temper, such magnanimity of fine malice.

Poor Candide! how loyally he struggled on, with Pangloss as his
master and his ideal; and what shocks he experienced! I would
sooner go down to posterity as the author of "Candide" than of any
volume in the world except Goethe's "Faust."

There is something extraordinarily reassuring about the book. It
reconciles one to life even at the moment it is piling up life's
extravagant miseries. Its buoyant and resilient energy, full of the
unconquerable irreverence and glorious shamelessness of youth,
takes life fairly by the throat and mocks it and defies it to its face. It
indicates courageous gaiety as the only victory, and ironical
submission to what even gaiety cannot alter as the only wisdom.

There are few among us, I suppose, who in going to and fro in the
world, have not come upon some much-persecuted, much-battered
Candide, "cultivating his garden" after a thousand disillusions; and
holding fast, in spite of all, to the doctrines of some amazing
Pangloss. Such encounters with such invincible derelicts must put us
most wholesomely to shame. Our neurotic peevishness, our
imaginary grievances, our vanity and our pride, are shown up at
such moments in their true light.

If complacent optimism appears an insolent falsifying of life's facts,
a helpless pessimism appears a cowardly surrender to life's
impertinence. Neither to gloss over the outrageous reality nor to lose
our resistant obstinacy, whatever such reality may do to us, is the
last word of noble commonsense. And it is a noble commonsense
which, after all, is Voltaire's preeminent gift.

The Voltairian spirit refuses to be fooled by man or god. The
universe may batter it and bruise it, but it cannot break it. The
brutality of authority, the brutality of public opinion, may crush it to
the earth; but from the earth it mocks still, mocks and mocks and
mocks, with the eternal youthfulness of its wicked tongue!

Voltaire took the world as he found it. With the weapons of the
world he fought the world; with the weapons of the world he
overcame the world. The neurotic modern vulgarity which,
misinterpreting the doctrines of Nietzsche, worships force and bows
down in the dust before the great unscrupulous man, finds no
support in Voltaire. Honest people, cultivating their gardens and
keeping the prophets away from their backyards, find in the
Voltairian spirit their perpetual refuge.

The old Horatian wisdom, clear-eyed, cynical and friendly, leaps up
once again from the dust of the centuries, a clean bright flame, and
brings joyousness and sanity back to the earth.

Voltaire could be kind and generous without calling to his aid the
"immensities" and the "eternities." He could strike fiercely on behalf
of the weak and the oppressed without darkening the sunshine by
any worship of "sorrow." He could be thoroughly and most entirely
"good," while spitting forth his ribald irreverences against every
pious dogma. He could be long-suffering and considerate and
patient, to a degree hardly ever known among men of genius, while
ruling Europe with his indomitable pen.

The name of Voltaire is more than a trumpet call of liberty for the
oppressed artists and thinkers of the world; it is a challenge to the
individual Candides of our harassed generation to rise above their
own weaknesses and introspections and come forth into the sunshine.

The name of Voltaire is a living indictment of the madness of
politicians and the insanity of parties and sects. It brings us back to
the commonsense of honest men, who "care for none of these

He was a queer Apollo of light and reason--this lean bewigged
figure with cane and snuffbox and laced sleeves--but the powers of
darkness fled from before his wit as they have not fled from before
the wit of any other; for the wit of Voltaire is in harmony with the
spirit of the human race, as it shakes itself free from superstition
"and all uncharitableness."

He was a materialist if you will, for his "deism" meant no more to
him than a distant blue sky giving the world space and perspective
and free air; but a materialism that renders men kind and courteous,
urbane and sweet-tempered, honest and clear-headed, is better than a
spirituality that leads to intolerance and madness.

He was a ribald and a scoffer in the presence of much that the world
holds sacred; but the most sacred thing of all--the _sanity of human
reason_--has never been more splendidly defended.

He mocked at the traditions of men; but he remains a champion of
man's highest prerogative. He turned the churches into indecent
ridicule; but wherever an honest man strikes at tyrannous
superstition, or a solitary "cultivator of his garden" strikes at stupid
mob-rule, one stone the more is added to that great "ecclesia" of
civilisation, which "Deo erexit Voltaire"; which Voltaire built--and
builds--to God.


Nothing is more clear than that the enjoyment of art and letters is
forbidden, in any rich or subtle degree, to the apprehension of the
moralist. It is also forbidden, for quite other reasons, to the
apprehension of the extravagantly vicious.

The moralist is debarred from any free and passionate love of
literature by the simple fact that all literature is created out of the
vices of men of letters. The extravagantly vicious man is debarred
from such a love by the still simpler fact that his own dominant
obsession narrows down his interest to the particular writers who
share his own vice.

When I encounter a catholic and impassioned lover of books--of
many books and many authors--I know two things about him--I
know that he is the opposite of a moralist, and I know that he is free
from any maniacal vice. I might go further and say that I know he
has a rooted hatred of moralists and a tolerant curiosity about every
other form of human aberration.

When I say that literature is created out of the vices of men of letters,
I use the word in a large and liberal sense. A vice is a pleasant
sensation condemned by Puritans. It is an over-emphasis laid upon
some normal reaction; or it is a perverse and morbid deviation from
the normal path.

It would not require any fantastic stretch of psychological
interpretation to show how all the great men of letters are driven
forward along their various paths by some demoniac urge, some
dynamic impulse, that has its sensual as well as its intellectual origin.
The "psychology of genius" is still in its infancy. It seems a pity that
so much of the critical interpretation of the great writers of the world
should be in the hands of persons who--by the reason of their
academic profession--are naturally more interested in the effect of
such work upon youthful minds than in its intrinsic quality.

The barbaric vulgarity of our commercial age is largely responsible
for the invidious slur cast upon any genuine critical psychology;
upon any psychology which frankly recognises the enormous
influence in literature exercised by normal or abnormal sexual

Criticism of literature which has nothing to say about the particular
sexual impulse--natural or vicious, as it may happen--which drives a
writer forward, becomes as dull and unenlightening as theology
without the Real Presence.

Among the influences that obstruct such free criticism among us at
present may be noted Puritan fanaticism, academic professionalism
(with its cult of the "young person"), popular vulgarity, and that
curious Anglo-Saxon uneasiness and reticence in these things which
while in no sense a sign of purity of mind invokes an invincible
prejudice against any sort of straightforward discussion.

It is for these reasons that the art of criticism in England and
America is so childish and pedantic when compared with that of
France. In France even the most reactionary of critics--persons like
Léon Bloy, for instance--habitually use the boldest sexual
psychology in elucidating the mysterious caprices of human genius;
and one can only wish that the conventional inhibition that renders
such freedom impossible with us could come to be seen in its true
light, that is to say as itself one of the most curious examples of
sexual morbidity ever produced by unnatural conditions.

Rousseau is perhaps of all great original geniuses the one most
impossible to deal with without some sort of recognition of the
sexual peculiarities which penetrated his passionate and restless
spirit. No writer who has ever lived had so sensitive, so nervous, so
vibrant a physiological constitution. Nothing that he achieved in
literature or in the creation of a new atmosphere of feeling in Europe,
can be understood without at least a passing reference to the
impulses which pushed him forward on his wayward road.

As we watch him in his pleasures, his passions, his pilgrimages, his
savage reactions, it is difficult to avoid the impression that certain
kinds of genius are eminently and organically anti-social.

It is perhaps for this reason at bottom that the political-minded
Anglo-Saxon race, with its sturdy "good citizen" ideals, feels so
hostile and suspicious toward these great anarchists of the soul.

Rousseau is indeed, temperamentally considered, one of the most
passionately anarchical minds in the history of the race. The citizen
of Geneva, the lover of humanity, the advocate of liberty and
equality, was so scandalous an individualist that there has come to
breathe from the passage of his personality across the world an
intoxicating savour of irresponsible independence.

The most ingrained pursuer of his own path, the most intransigeant
"enemy of the people," would be able to derive encouragement in
his obstinate loneliness from reading the works of this philanthropist
who detested humanity; this reformer who fled from society; this
advocate of domesticity who deserted his children; this pietist who
worshipped the god of nature.

The man's intellect was so dominated by his sensualism that, even at
the moment he is eloquently protesting in favour of a regenerated
humanity living under enlightened laws, there emanates from the
mere physical rhythm of his sentences an anti-social passion, a
misanthropic self-worship, a panic terror of the crowd, which
remains in the mind when all his social theories are forgotten.

He is the grand example of a writer whose sub-conscious intimate
self contradicts his overt dogmas and creates a spiritual atmosphere
in which his own reforming schemes wither and vanish.

Rousseau is, from any moral or social or national point of view, a
force of much more disintegrating power than Nietzsche can ever be.
And he is this for the very reason that his sensual and sentimental
nature dominates him so completely.

From the austere Nietzschean watch-tower, this man's incorrigible
weakness presents itself as intrinsically more dangerous to the race
than any unscrupulous strength. The voluptuous femininity of his
insidious eloquence lends itself, as Nietzsche saw, to every sort of
crafty hypocrisy.

Rousseau's rich, subtle, melodious style--soft as a voice of a choir of
women celebrating some Euripidean Dionysus--flows round the
revolutionary figure of Liberty with an orgiastic passion worthy of
the backward flung heads, bared breasts and streaming hair of a
dance of Bassarids.

Other symbolic figures besides that of Liberty emerge above the
stream of this impassioned "Return to Nature." The figure of justice
is there and the figure of fraternity; while above them all the
shadowy lineaments of some female personification of the Future of
Humanity, crowned with the happy stars of the Age of Gold, looks
down upon the rushing tide.

"Oh, Liberty!" one can hear the voice of many heroic souls
protesting, "Oh, Liberty--what things are done in thy name!"

For it is of the essential nature of Rousseau's eloquence, as it is of
the essential nature of his temperament, that any kind of sensual
abandonment, slurred over by rich orchestral litanies of human
freedom, should be more than tolerated.

This Religion of Liberty lends itself to strange hypocrisies when the
torrent of his imaginative passion breaks upon the jagged rocks of
reality. That is why--from Robespierre down to very modern
persons--the eloquent use of such vague generalisations as Justice,
Virtue, Simplicity, Nature, Humanity, Reason, excites profound
suspicion in the psychological mind.

From the antinomian torrent of this voluptuous anarchy the spirits of
Epicurus, of Spinoza, of Goethe, of Nietzsche, turn away in horror.
This is indeed an insurrection from the depths; this is indeed a
breaking loose of chaos; this is indeed a "return to Nature." For there
is a perilous intoxication in all this, and, like chemical ingredients in
some obsessing drug these great vague names work magically and
wantonly upon us, giving scope to all our weaknesses and

If I were asked--taking all the great influences which have moulded
human history together--what figure, what personality, I would set
up as the antipodal antagonist of the influence of Nietzsche, I would
retort with the name of Rousseau.

Here is an "immoralism" deeper and far more anti-social than any
"beyond good and evil." Nietzsche hammered furiously at Christian
ethics; but he did so with the sublime intention of substituting for
what he destroyed a new ethical construction of his own.

Rousseau, using with stirring and caressing unction symbol after
symbol, catch-word after catch-word, from the moral atmosphere of
Christendom, draws us furiously after him, in a mad hysterical
abandonment of all that every human symbol covers, toward a
cataract of limitless and almost inhuman subjectivity.

To certain types of mind Rousseau appears as a noble prophet of
what is permanent in evangelic "truth" and of what is desirable and
lovely in the future of humanity. To other types--to the pronounced
classical or Goethean type, for instance--he must appear as the most
pernicious, the most disintegrating, the most poisonous, the most
unhealthy influence that has ever been brought to bear upon the
world. Such minds--confronting him with a genuine and logical
anarchist, such as Max Stirner--would find him far more dangerous.
For Rousseau's anarchy is of an emotional, psychological, feminine
kind; a kind that carries along upon the surface of its eloquence
every sort of high-sounding abstraction; while, all the time, the
sinuous waters of its world-sapping current filter through all the
floodgates of human institution.

One cannot but be certain that Rousseau would have been one of
those irresistible but most injurious persons whom, honorably
crowned with fillets of well-spun wool and fresh-grown myrtle,
Plato would have dismissed from the gates of the great Republic.

One asks oneself the question--and it is a question less often asked
than one would expect--whether it is really possible that a man of
immense genius and magnetic influence can actually, as the phrase
runs, "do more harm than good" to the happiness of the human race.
We are so absurdly sheep-like and conventional in these things that
we permit our old-fashioned belief in a benignant providence
turning all things to good, to transform itself into a vague optimistic
trust in evolutionary progress; a progress which can never for one
moment fail to make everything work out to the advantage of

We have such pathetic trust too in the inherent friendliness of the
universe that it seems inconceivable to us that a great genius,
inspired from hidden cosmic depths, should be actually a power of
evil, dangerous to humanity. And yet, why not? Why should there
not appear sometimes from the secret reservoirs of Being, powerful
and fatal influences that, in the long result, are definitely baleful and
malign in their effect upon the fortunes of the human race?

This was the underlying belief in the Middle Ages, and it led to the
abominable persecution of persons who were obviously increasing
the sum of human happiness. But may not there have been behind
such unpardonable persecution, a legitimate instinct of
self-protection--an instinct for which in these latter days of popular
worship of "great names" there is no outlet of expression?

The uneasiness of the modern English-speaking world in the
presence of free discussion of sex is, of course, quite a different
matter. This objection is a mere childish prejudice reinforced by
outworn superstitions. The religious terror excited by certain
formidable free-thinkers and anti-social philosophers in earlier days
went much deeper than this, and was quite free from that mere
prurient itch of perverted sensuality which inspires the Puritans of
our time.

This religious terror, barbarous and hideous as it was in many of its
manifestations, may have been a legitimate expression of
subconscious panic in the presence of something that, at least now
and then, was really antagonistic to the general welfare.

Why should there not arise sometimes great demonic forces,
incarnated in formidable personalities, who are really and truly
"humani generis hostes," enemies of the human race? The weird
mediaeval dream of the anti-Christ, drawn from Apocalyptic
literature, symbolises this occult possibility.

Because a writer has immense genius there is no earthly reason why
his influence upon the world should be good. There is no reason
why it should be for the happiness of the world, putting the moral
question aside.

In the classic ages the State regulated literature. In the Middle Ages,
the Church regulated it. In our own age it is not regulated at all; it is
neglected by ignorance and expurgated by stupidity. The mob in our
days cringes before great names, the journalist exploits great names,
and the school-master dishes them up for the young. No one
seriously criticises them; no one seriously considers their influence
upon the world.

The business man has a shrewd suspicion that they have no
influence at all; or certainly none comparable with that of well
placed advertisements. Meanwhile under the surface, from sensitive
minds to sensitive minds, there run the electric currents of new
intellectual ideas, setting in motion those psychic and spiritual
forces which still, in spite of all our economic philosophers, upheave
the world.

Was Rousseau, more than any one, more than Voltaire, more than
Diderot, responsible for the French Revolution? I am inclined to
hold that he was, and if so, according to the revolutionary instincts
of all enemies of oppression, we are bound to regard his influence as
"good"; unless by chance we are among those who consider the
tyranny of the middle-class no less outrageous than the tyranny of
the aristocracy. But Rousseau's influence--so far stretching is the
power of personal genius--does not stop with the French Revolution.
It does not stop with the Commune or with any other outburst of
popular indignation. It works subterraneanly in a thousand devious
ways until the present hour. Wherever, under the impassioned
enthusiasm of such words as Justice, Liberty, Equality, Reason,
Nature, Love, self-idealising, self-worshipping, self-deceiving
prophets of magnetic genius give way to their weaknesses, their
perversities, their anti-social reactions, the vibrant nerves of the
great citizen of Geneva may still be felt, quivering melodiously;
touching us with the tremulousness of their anarchical revolt against
everything hard and stern and strong.

Suppose for a moment that Rousseau were the equivocal pernicious
influence, half-priest, half-pandar, half-charlatan, half-prophet of a
world-disintegrating orgy of sentiment, should I for one, I am
tempted to ask, close the gates of our platonic republic against him?

Not so! Let the world look to itself. Let the sheep-like crowd take
the risks of its docility. Let the new bourgeois tyrants cuddle and
cosset the serpent that shall bite them, as did the salon ladies of the
old regime.

No! Let the world look to itself and let progress look to itself.

There seems something exhilarating about this possible appearance
upon the earth of genuinely dangerous writers, of writers who
exploit their vices, lay bare their weaknesses, brew intoxicating
philtres of sweet poison out of their obsessions and lead humanity to
the edge of the precipice! And there is something peculiarly
stimulating to one's psychological intelligence when all this is done
under the anaesthesia of humanitarian rhetoric and the lulling
incantations of pastoral sentiment.

Rousseau is, in one very important sense, the pioneer of that art of
delicate egoism in which the wisest epicureans of our day love to
indulge. I refer to his mania for solitude, his self-conscious passion
for nature. This feeling for nature was absolutely genuine in him and
associates itself with all his amours and all his boldest speculations.

The interesting thing about it is that it takes the form of that vague,
intimate magical rapport between our human souls and whatever
mysterious soul lurks in the world around us, which has become in
these recent days the predominant secret of imaginative poetry.

Not that Rousseau carries things as far as Wordsworth or Shelley.
He is a born prose writer, not a poet. But for the very reason that he
is writing prose, and writing it with a sentimental rather than a
mystical bias, there are aspects of his work which have a simple
natural _personal_ appeal that the sublime imagination of the great
spiritual poets must necessarily lack.

There is indeed about Rousseau's allusions to places and spots which
had become dear to him from emotional association a lingering
regretful tenderness, full of wistful memories and a vague tremulous
yearning, which leaves upon the mind a feeling unlike that produced
by any other writer. The subconscious music of his days seems at
those times to rise from some hidden wells of emotion in him and
overflow the world.

When he speaks of such places the mere admixture in his tone of the
material sensuousness of the eighteenth century with something new
and thrilling and different has itself an appealing charm. The
blending of a self-conscious artificial, pastoral sentiment, redolent of
the sophisticated Arcadias of Poussin and Watteau, and suggestive
of the dairy-maid masquerades of Marie Antoinette in the gardens of
Versailles, with a direct passionate simplicity almost worthy of
some modern Russian, produces a unique and memorable effect
upon a sympathetic spirit.

The mere fact that that incorrigible egoist and introspective
epicurean, William Hazlitt, whose essays are themselves full of an
ingratiating and engaging sensuousness, should have taken
Rousseau as his special master and idealised him into a symbolic
figure, is a proof of the presence in him of something subtle,
arresting and unusual.

I always like to bring these recondite odours and intimations of
delicate spiritual qualities down to the test of actual experience, and
I am able to say that, through the help of Hazlitt's intuitive
commentaries, the idea of Rousseau has twined itself around some
of the pleasantest recollections of my life.

I can see at this moment as I pen these lines, a certain ditch-bordered
path leading to a narrow foot-bridge across a river in Norfolk. I can
recall the indescribable sensations which the purple spikes of
loosestrife and the tall willow-herb, growing with green rushes,
produced in my mind on a certain misty morning when the veiled
future bowed toward me like a vision of promise and the dead past
flew away over the fens like a flight of wild swans.

The image of Rousseau cherishing so tenderly every rose-tinged
memory and every leafy oasis in his passionate pilgrimage, came to
me then, as it comes to me now, a thing that no harsh blows of the
world, no unkind turns of fate, no "coining of my soul for drachmas"
can ever quite destroy.

There is, after all, a sort of spiritual second self, a sort of astral
residuum left behind by a personality of this kind, which to certain
natures becomes more sacred and suggestive than any of those
tedious speculations or literary theories about which the historians
may argue.

Most human beings--especially in these "centres of civilisation,"
which are more hideous than anything the sun has looked upon since
it watched the mammoths tusking the frozen earth or the
ichtheosauruses wallowing in the primeval mud--go through this life
blindly, mechanically, unconsciously, fulfilling their duties,
snatching at their pleasures, and shuddering at the thought of the end.

Few men and women seem really conscious of what it is to be alive,
to be alive and endowed with imagination and memory, upon this
time-battered planet. It needs perhaps the anti-social instincts of a
true "philosophic anarchist" to detach oneself from the absorbing
present and to win the larger perspective.

Rousseau was of so fluid, so irresponsible a temperament that he
never could be brought to take seriously, to take as anything but as
suggestive subjects for eloquent diatribes, the practical and domestic
relations between human beings in organised society.

He played lightly with these relations, he laughed over them and
wept over them, he wrote impassioned and dithyrambic orations
upon them. But they were not his real life. His real life was the life
he lived with his music and his botany and his love affairs, the life
of his dreamy wanderings from refuge to refuge among the woods
and chateaux of France; the life of his delicate memories and wistful
regrets; the life of his thrilling indescribable thoughts, half sensual
and half spiritual, as he drifted along the lonely roads and under the
silent stars, or sat staring at the fire-light in his Paris attic while the
city roared about him.

No lonely introspective spirit, withdrawn from the crowd and hating
the voices of the world, can afford to lose touch with the secret of
Rousseau; with what his self-centred and impassioned existence
really meant.

We need not tease ourselves with his pious speculations, with his
philanthropic oratory or his educational proposals. These can be left
to those who are interested in such things. What we find arresting
and suggestive in him, after this lapse of years, is a certain quality of
personal passion, a certain vein of individual feeling, the touch of
which still has a living power.

How interesting, for example, is that voluptuous desire of his to lay
bare all his basest and meanest lusts, all his little tricks and devices
and vanities and envies and jealousies. This mania for self-exposure,
this frantic passion for self-laceration and self-humiliation is all of a
piece with the manner in which he seemed to enjoy being ill-used
and tyrannised over in his singular love-affairs.

More interesting still, and still more morbid, is that persecution
mania which seized him in his later days--the mania that all the
world loathed him and laughed at him and plotted to make a fool of
him. Though betrayed into using the popular phrase, "persecution
mania," I am myself inclined to resent, on Rousseau's behalf and on
behalf of those who temperamentally resemble him, this cool
assumption by the normal world that those whom it instinctively
detests are "mad" when they grow aware of such detestation.

There seems no doubt that certain human beings appear at intervals
on the world stage, whose sentient organisation, attuned to an
abnormal receptivity, renders them alien and antagonistic to the
masses of mankind.

They seem like creatures dropped upon the earth from some other
planet, and, do what they may, they cannot grow "native and endued
unto the element" of our terrestrial system. This difference in them
is not only irritating to the normal herd; it is also provocative of
bitter hostility in those among their contemporaries who are
themselves possessed of genius.

These other wooers of posterity feel outraged and piqued to the limit
of their endurance at having to contend in the same arena with an
antagonist who seems to obey no human rules. "A conspiracy of
silence" or of scandalous aspersions is almost instinctively set on

Rousseau's so-called mania of persecution can easily be explained.
There was morbidity; there was neurotic unwisdom, in the manner
in which he dealt with all these people. But he was probably
perfectly right in assuming that they came to hate him.

In his Confessions he does his best to make posterity hate him; and
in private life he must have been constantly, like one of those
strange self-lacerating persons in Dostoievsky, bringing to the front,
with shameless indecency, his vanities and jealousies, his weakness
and his manias. When he couldn't enjoy the society of some friendly
lady--and his friends were nearly always uneasy under the
infliction--he poured forth his childish petulances and his rare
imaginations on the bosom, so to speak, of society in general;
and society in general flung him back in wondering contempt.

His clever contemporaries would naturally, under the pressure of the
moment, concentrate their critical attention upon the weakest part of
his genius--that is to say upon his reforming theories and large
world-shaking speculations--while the portion of him that interests
us now would merely strike them as tiresome and irrelevant.

He grew more and more lonely as he neared his end. It might be said
that he deserved this fate; he who refused to accept even the
responsibility of paternity. But one cannot resist a certain
satisfaction in noting how the high-placed society people who came
to visit him as he sat in his attic, copying music for a livelihood,
were driven from his door.

The great Sentimentalist must have had his exquisite memories,
even then, as he sat brooding over his dull mechanical work, he
whose burning eloquence about Liberty and Justice and Simplicity
and Nature was already sowing the seed of the earthquake.

Queer memories he must have had of his early tramp life through
the roads and villages of France; of his conversations with the
sceptical Hume among the hills of Derbyshire; of his sweet romantic
sojournings in old historic houses, and his strange passions and fatal
loves. But the rarest of his memories must have been of those hours
and days when, in the pastoral seclusion of some cherished
hiding-place, he let the world go by and sank, among patient leaves and
flowers that could not mock him, into his own soul and the soul of

He has been hugely vituperated by evolutionary philosophers for his
mania for the "age of gold" and his disbelief in progress.

One of his favourite themes that civilisation is a curse and not a
blessing excited the derision of his best friends. Others said that he
stole the idea. But we may be sure that as he copied his daily portion
of music with the civilisation of the Salons clamouring unheeded
around him, his mind reverted rather to those exquisite moments
when he had been happy alone, than to all the triumphs of his genius.

He was just the type that the world would naturally persecute.
Devoid of any sparkling wit, devoid of any charm of manner,
singularly devoid of the least sense of proportion, he lent himself to
every sort of social rancour. He was one of those persons who take
themselves seriously, and that, in his world as in the world of our
own time, was an unpardonable fault.

He loved humanity better than men and women. He loved nature
better than humanity.

He was a man with little sense of humour and with little interest in
other men. He lived for his memories and his dreams, his glimpses
and his visions.

Turning away from all dogmatic creeds, he yet sought God and
prayed to him for his mercy.

Born into a world whose cleverness he dreaded, whose institutions
he loathed, whose angers he provoked, whose authorities he
scandalised, whose crowds he hated, he went aside "botanizing" and
"copying music"; every now and then hurling forth from his
interludes of sentimental journeying a rhythmical torrent of eloquent
prophecy in which he himself only half believed and of which, quite
often, "the idea was stolen."

In his abnormal receptivity, he was used as a reed for the invisible
powers to blow their wild tunes through and to trouble the earth. He
produced one great Revolution, and he may, through the medium of
souls like his own, produce another; but all the time his real
happiness was in his wanderings by field and hedge and road and
lane, by canal side and by river bank, thinking the vague delicious
thoughts of sensuous solitude and dreaming over the dumb
quiescence of that mute inanimate background of our days into
which, with his exasperated human nerves, he longed to sink and be
at rest.


The real value of the creations of men of genius is to make richer
and more complicated what might be called the imaginative margin
of our normal life.

We all, as Goethe says, have to bear the burden of humanity--we
have to plunge into the bitter waters of reality, so full of sharp rocks
and blinding spray. We have to fight for our own hand. We have to
forget that we so much as possess a soul as we tug and strain at the
resistant elements out of which we live and help others to live.

It is nonsense to pretend that the insight of philosophers and the
energy of artists help us very greatly in this bleak wrestling. They
are there, these men of genius, securely lodged in the Elysian fields
of large and free thoughts--and we are here, sweating and toiling in
the dust of brutal facts.

The hollow idealism that pretends that the achievements of literature
and thought enter profoundly into the diurnal necessity which prods
us forward is a plausible and specious lie. We do not learn how to
deal craftily and prosperously with the world from the Machiavels
and Talleyrands. We do not learn how to love the world and savour
it with exquisite joy from the Whitmans and Emersons. What we do
is to struggle on, as best we may; living by custom, by prejudice, by
hope, by fear, by envy and jealousy, by ambition, by vanity, by love.

They call it our "environment," this patched up and piecemeal
panorama of mad chaotic blunderings, which pushes us hither and
thither; and they call it our "heredity," this confused and twisted
amalgam of greeds and lusts and conscience-stricken reactions,
which drives us backward and forward from within. But there is
more in the lives of the most wretched of us than this blind struggle.

There are those invaluable, unutterable moments, which we have _to
ourselves,_ free of the weight of the world. There are the moments--the
door of our bedroom, of our attic, of our ship's cabin, of our
monastic cell, of our tenement-flat, shut against the intruder--when
we can enter the company of the great shadows and largely and
freely converse with them to the forgetting of all vexation.

At such times, it is to the novelists, to the inventors of stories, that
we most willingly turn for the poppied draught that we crave. The
poets hurt us with the pang of too dear beauty. They remind us too
pitifully of what we have missed. There is too much Rosemary
which is "for remembrance" about their songs; too many dead
violets between their leaves!

But on the large full tide of a great human romance, we can forget
all our troubles. We can live in the lives of people who resemble
ourselves and yet are not ourselves. We can put our own misguided
life into the sweet distance, and see it--it also--as an invented story;
a story that may yet have a fortunate ending!

The philosophers and even the poets are too anxious to convert us to
their visions and their fancies. There is the fatal odour of the prophet
in their perilous rhetoric, and they would fain lay their most noble
fingers upon our personal matters. They want to make us moral or
immoral. They want to thrust their mysticism, their materialism,
their free love, or their imprisoned thoughts, down our reluctant

But the great novelists are up to no such mischief; they are dreaming
of no such outrage. They are telling their stories of the old eternal
dilemmas; stories of love and hate and fear and wonder and madness;
stories of life and death and strength and weakness and perversion;
stories of loyalty and treachery, of angels and devils, of things seen
and things unseen. The greatest novelists are not the ones that deal
in sociological or ethical problems. They are the ones that make us
forget sociological and ethical problems. They are the ones that deal
with the beautiful, mad, capricious, reckless, tyrannous passions,
which will outlast all social systems and are beyond the categories
of all ethical theorising.

First of all the arts of the world was, they say, the art of dancing.
The aboriginal cave-men, we are to believe, footed it in their long
twilights to tunes played on the bones of mammoths. But I like to
fancy, I who have no great love for this throwing abroad of legs and
arms, that there were a few quiet souls, even in those days, who
preferred to sit on their haunches and listen to some hoary greybeard
tell stories, stories I suppose of what it was like in still earlier days,
when those lumbering Diplodocuses were still snorting in the
remoter marshes.

It was not, as a matter of fact, in any attic or ship's cabin that I read
the larger number of Balzac's novels. I am not at all disinclined to
explain exactly and precisely where it was, because I cannot help
feeling that the way we poor slaves of work manage to snatch an
hour's pleasure, and the little happy accidents of place and
circumstance accompanying such pleasure, are a noteworthy part of
the interest of our experience. It was, as it happens, in a cheerful
bow-window in the Oxford High Street that I read most of Balzac;
read him in the dreamy half-light of late summer afternoons while
the coming on of evening seemed delayed by something golden in
the drowsy air which was more than the mere sinking of the sun
behind the historic roofs.

Oxford is not my Alma Mater. The less courtly atmosphere which
rises above the willows and poplars of the Cam nourished my
youthful dreams; and I shall probably to my dying day never quite
attain the high nonchalant aloofness from the common herd proper
to a true scholar.

It was in the humbler capacity of a summer visitor that I found
myself in those exclusive purlieus, and it amuses me now to recall
how I associated, as one does in reading a great romance, the
personages of the Human Comedy with what surrounded me then.

It is a far cry from the city of Matthew Arnold and Walter Pater to
the city of Vautrin and Rastignac and Lucien de Rubempré and
Gobsec and Père Goriot and Diane de Maufrigneuse; and the great
Balzacian world has the power of making every other milieu seem a
little faded and pallid. But one got a delicious sense of contrast
reading him just there in those golden evenings, and across the
margin of one's mind floated rich and thrilling suggestions of the
vast vistas of human life. One had the dreamy pleasure that some
sequestered seminarist might have, who, on a sunny bench, under
high monastic walls, reads of the gallantries and adventures of the
great ungodly world outside.

Certainly the heavy avalanches of scoriac passion which rend their
way through the pages of the Human Comedy make even the
graceful blasphemies of the Oscar Wilde group, in those fastidious
enclosures, seem a babyish pretence of naughtiness.

I remember how I used to return after long rambles through those
fields and village lanes which one reads about in "Thyrsis," and
linger in one of the cavernous book-shops which lie--like little
Bodleians of liberal welcome--anywhere between New College and
Balliol, hunting for Balzac in the original French. Since then I have
not been able to endure to read him in any edition except in that very
cheapest one, in dusty green paper, with the pages always so
resistently uncut and tinted with a peculiar brownish tint such as I
have not seemed to find in any other volumes. What an enormous
number of that particular issue there must be in Paris, if one can find
so many of them still, sun-bleached and weather-stained, in the old
book-shops of Oxford!

Translations of Balzac, especially in those "editions de luxe" with
dreadful interpretative prefaces by English professors, are odious to
me. They seem the sort of thing one expects to find under
glass-cases in the houses of cultured financiers. They are admirably
adapted for wedding presents. And they have illustrations! That is
really too much. A person who can endure to read Balzac, or any
other great imaginative writer, in an edition with illustrations, is a
person utterly outside the pale. It must be for barbarians of this sort
that the custom has arisen of having handsome young women,
representing feminine prettiness in general, put upon the covers of
books in the way they put them upon chocolate boxes. I have seen
even "Tess of the d'Urbervilles" prostituted in this manner. It is all
on a par with every other aspect of modern life. Indeed it may be
said that what chiefly distinguishes our age from previous ages is its
habit of leaving nothing to the imagination.

On the whole, Balzac must still be regarded as the greatest novelist
that ever lived. Not to love Balzac is not to love the art of fiction,
not to love the huge restorative pleasure of wandering at large
through a vast region of imaginary characters set in localities and
scenes which may be verified and authenticated by contact with
original places.

I would flatly refuse to two classes of persons, at any rate, any claim
to be regarded as genuine lovers of fiction. The first class are those
who want nothing but moral support and encouragement. These are
still under the illusion that Balzac is a wicked writer. The second
class are those who want nothing but neurotic excitement and
tingling sensual thrills. These are under the illusion that Balzac is a
dull writer.

There is yet a third class to whom I refuse the name of lovers of
fiction. These are the intellectual and psychological maniacs who
want nothing but elaborate social and personal problems, the
elucidation of which may throw scientific light upon anthropological
evolution. Well! We have George Eliot to supply the need of the
first; the author of "Homo Sapiens" to supply the need of the second;
and Paul Bourget to deal with the last.

It is difficult not to extend our refusal of the noble title of real
Fiction-Lovers to the whole modern generation. The frivolous craze
for short books and short stories is a proof of this.

The unfortunate illusion which has gone abroad of late that a thing
to be "artistic" must be concise and condensed and to the point,
encourages this heresy. I would add these "artistic" persons with
their pedantry of condensation and the "exact phrase" to all the
others who don't really love this large and liberal art. To a genuine
fiction-lover a book cannot be too long. What causes such true
amorists of imaginative creation real suffering is when a book
comes to an end. It can never be enjoyed again with quite the same
relish, with quite the same glow and thrill and ecstasy.

To listen to certain fanatics of the principle of unity is to get the
impression that these mysterious "artistic qualities" are things that
may be thrust into a work from outside, after a careful perusal of,
shall we say, Flaubert's Letters to Madame Something-or-other, or a
course of studies of the Short Story at Columbia University. Chop
the thing quite clear of all "surplusage and irrelevancy"; chop it clear
of all "unnecessary detail"; chop the descriptions and chop the
incidents; chop the characters; "chop it and pat it and mark it with
T," as the nursery rhyme says, "and put it in the oven for Baby and
me!" It is an impertinence, this theory, and an insult to natural
human instincts.

Art is not a "hole and corner" thing, an affair of professional
preciosities and discriminations, a set of tiresome rules to be learned
by rote.

Art is the free play of generous and creative imaginations with the
life-blood of the demiurgic forces of the universe in their veins.
There is a large and noble joy in it, a magnanimous nonchalance and
aplomb, a sap, an ichor, a surge of resilient suggestion, a rich
ineffable magic, a royal liberality.

Devoid of the energy of a large and free imagination, art dwindles
into an epicene odalisque, a faded minion of pleasure in a perfumed
garden. It becomes the initiatory word of an exclusive Rosicrucian
order. It becomes the amulet of an affected superiority, the signet
ring of a masquerading conspiracy.

The habitation of the spirit of true art is the natural soul of man, as it
has been from the beginning and as it will be to the end. The soul of
man has depths which can only be fathomed by an art which breaks
every rule of the formalists and transgresses every technical law.

The mere fact that the kind of scrupulous artistry advocated by these
pedants of "style" is a kind that can be defined in words at all writes
its own condemnation upon it. For the magical evocations of true
genius are beyond definition.

As Goethe says the important thing in all great art is just what
cannot be put in words. Those who would seek so to confine it are
the bunglers who have missed the mark themselves, and "they
like"--the great critic adds malignantly--"they like to be together."

The so-called rules of technique are nothing when you come to
analyse them but a purely empirical and pragmatic deduction from
the actual practise of the masters. And every new master creates new
laws and a new taste capable of appreciating these new laws. There
is no science of art. These modern critics, with their cult of "the
unique phrase" and the "sharply defined image," are just as
intolerant as the old judicial authorities whose prestige they scout;
just as intolerant and just as unilluminating.

It is to the _imagination_ we must go for a living appreciation of
genius, and many quite simple persons possess this, to whom the
jargon of the studios is empty chatter.

No human person has a right to say "Balzac ought to have put more
delicacy, more subtlety into his style," or to say, "Balzac ought to
have eliminated those long descriptions." Balzac is Balzac; and that
ends it. If you prefer the manner of Henry James, by all means read
him and let the other alone.

There is such a thing as the mere absence of what the "little masters"
call style being itself a quite definite style.

A certain large and colourless fluidity of manner is often the only
medium through which a vision of the world can be expressed at all;
a vision, that is to say, of a particular kind, with the passion of it
carried to a particular intensity.

In America, at this present time, the work of Mr. Theodore Dreiser
is an admirable example of this sort of thing. Mr. Dreiser, it must be
admitted, goes even beyond Balzac in his contempt for the rules; but
just as none of the literary goldsmiths of France convey to us the
flavour of Paris as Balzac does, so none of the clever writers of
America convey to us the flavour of America as Mr. Dreiser does.

Indeed I am ready to confess that I have derived much light in
regard to my feeling for the demonic energy of the great Frenchman
from watching the methods of this formidable American. I discern in
Mr. Dreiser the same obstinate tenacity of purpose, the same occult
perception of subterranean forces, the same upheaving, plough-like
"drive" through the materials of life and character.

Balzac is undoubtedly the greatest purely creative genius that has
ever dealt with the art of fiction. It is astonishing to realise how
entirely the immense teeming world through which he leads us is the
product of unalloyed imagination.

Experience has its place in the art of literature; it would be foolish to
deny it; but the more one contemplates the career of Balzac the more
evident does it become that his art is the extreme opposite of the art
of the document-hunters and the chroniclers.

The life which he habitually and continually led was the life of the
imagination. He lived in Paris. He knew its streets, its tradesmen, its
artists, its adventurers, its aristocratic and its proletarian demi

He came from the country and he knew the country; its peasants, its
farmers, its provincial magnates, its village tyrants, its priests, its
doctors, its gentlemen of leisure.

But when one comes to calculate the enormous number of hours he
spent over his desk, night after night, and day after day, one comes
to see that there was really very scant margin left for the conscious
collecting of material. The truth is he lived an abnormally sedentary
life. Had he gone about a little more he would probably have lived
much longer. The flame of his genius devoured him, powerful and
titanic though his bodily appearance was, and unbounded though his
physical energy. He _lived by the imagination_ as hardly another
writer has ever done and his reward is that, as long as human
imagination interests itself in the panorama of human affairs, his
stories will remain thrilling. How little it really matters whether this
story or the other rounds itself off in the properly approved way!

Personally I love to regard all the stories of Balzac as one immense
novel--of some forty volumes--dealing with the torrential life of the
human race itself as it roars and eddies in its huge turbulency with
France and Paris for a background. I am largely justified in this view
of Balzac's work by his own catholic and comprehensive title--The
Human Comedy--suggestive certainly of a sort of uniting thread
running through the whole mass of his productions. I am also
justified by his trick of introducing again and again the same
personages; a device which I daresay is profoundly irritating to the
modern artistic mind, but which is certainly most pleasing to the
natural human instinct.

This alone, this habit of introducing the same people in book after
book, is indicative of how Balzac belongs to the company of the
great natural story-tellers. A real lover of a story wants it to go on
forever; wants nobody in it ever to die; nobody in it ever to
disappear; nobody in it ever to round things off or complete his life's
apprenticeship, with a bow to the ethical authorities, in that
annoying way of so many modern writers.

No wonder Oscar Wilde wept whenever he thought of the death of
Lucien de Rubempré. Lucien should have been allowed at least one
more "avatar." That is one of the things that pleases me so much in
that old ten-penny paper edition published by the great Paris house.
We have a list of the characters in the index, with all their other
appearances on the stage; just exactly as if it were real life! It was all
real enough at any rate to Balzac himself, according to that beautiful
tale of how he turned away from some troublesome piece of
personal gossip with the cry:

"Come back to actualities! Come back to my books!"

And in the old ideal platonic sense it _is_ the true reality, this
reproduction of life through the creative energy of the imagination.

The whole business of novel writing lies in two things; in the
creating of exciting situations and imaginatively suggestive
characters--and in making these situations and characters _seem

They need not be dragged directly forth from personal experiences.
One grows to resent the modern tendency to reduce everything to
autobiographical reminiscence. These histories of free-thinking
young men breaking loose from their father's authority and running
amuck among Paris studios and Leicester Square actresses become
tedious and banal after a time. Such sordid piling up of meticulous
detail, drawn so obviously from the writer's own adventures, throws
a kind of grey dust over one's interest in the narrative.

One's feeling simply is that it is all right and all true; that just in
this casual chaotic sort of way the impact of life has struck oneself as
one drifted along. But there is no more in it than a clever sort of
intellectual photography, no more in it than a more or less moralised
version of the ordinary facts of an average person's life-story.

One is tempted to feel that, after all, there is a certain underlying
justification for the man in the street's objection to this kind of
so-called "realism." We have a right after all to demand of art
something more than a clever reproduction of the experiences we
have undergone. We have a right to demand something creative,
something exceptional, something imaginative, something that lifts
us out of ourselves and our ordinary environments, something that
has _deep holes_ in it that go down into unfathomable mystery,
something that has vistas, horizons, large and noble perspectives,
breadth, sweep, and scope.

The truth is that these grey psychological histories of typical young
persons, drearily revolting against dreary conventions, are, in a deep
and inherent sense, false to the mystery of life.

One feels certain that even the clever people who write them have
moods and impulses far more vivid and thrilling, far more abnormal
and bizarre, than they have the audacity to put into their work. A
sort of perverted Puritanism restrains them. They have the diseased
conscience of modern art, and they think that nothing can be true
which is not draggle-tailed and nothing can be real which is not
petty and unstimulating. And all the while the maddest, beautifulest
fantasticalest things are occurring every day, and every day the great
drunken gods are tossing the crazy orb of our fate from hand to hand
and making it shine with a thousand iridescent hues! The natural
man takes refuge from these people's drab perversions of the
outrageous reality, in the sham wonders of meretricious romances
which are not real at all.

What we cry out for is something that shall have about it the
liberating power of the imagination and yet be able to convince us of
its reality. We need an imaginative realism. We need a romanticism
which has its roots in the solid earth. We need, in fact, precisely
what Balzac brings.

So far from finding anything tedious or irksome in the heavy
massing up of animate and inanimate back-grounds which goes on
all the while in Balzac's novels, I find these things most germane to
the matter. What I ask from a book is precisely this huge weight of
formidable verisimilitude which shall surround me on all sides and
give firm ground for my feet to walk on. I love it when a novel is
thick with the solid mass of earth-life, and when its passions spring
up volcano-like from flaming pits and bleeding craters of torn and
convulsed materials. I demand and must have in a book a
four-square sense of life-illusion, a rich field for my imagination to
wander in at large, a certain quantity of blank space, so to speak,
filled with a huge litter of things that are not tiresomely pointing to
the projected issue.

I hold the view that in the larger aspects of the creative imagination
there is room for many free margins and for many materials that are
not slavishly symbolic. I protest from my heart against this
tyrannous "artistic conscience" which insists that every word
"should tell" and every object and person referred to be of "vital
importance" in the evolution of the "main theme."

I maintain that in the broad canvas of a nobler, freer art there is
ample space for every kind of digression and by-issue. I maintain
that the mere absence of this self-conscious vibrating pressure upon
one string gives to a book that amplitude, that nonchalance, that
huge friendly discursiveness, which enables us to breathe and loiter
and move around and see the characters from all sides--from behind
as well as from in front! The constant playing upon that one string of
a symbolic purpose or a philosophical formula seems to me to lead
invariably to a certain attenuation and strain. The imagination grows
weary under repeated blows upon the same spot. We long to
debouch into some path that leads nowhere. We long to meet some
one who is interesting in himself and does nothing to carry anything

Art of this tiresomely technical kind can be taught to any one. If this
were all--if this were the one thing needful--we might well rush off
en masse to the lecture-rooms and acquire the complete rules of the
Short Story. Luckily for our pleasant hours there is still, in spite of
everything, a certain place left for what we call genius in the
manufacture of books; a place left for that sudden thrilling lift of the
whole thing to a level where the point of the interest is not in the
mere accidents of one particular plot but in the vast stream of the
mystery of life itself.

Among the individual volumes of the Human Comedy, I am inclined
to regard "Lost Illusions"--of which there are two volumes in that
ten-penny edition--as the finest of all, and no one who has read that
book can forget the portentous weight of realistic background with
which it begins.

After "Lost Illusions" I would put "Cousin Bette" as Balzac's
master-piece, and, after that, "A Bachelor's Establishment." But I lay
no particular stress upon these preferences. With the exception of
such books as "The Wild Ass's Skin" and the "Alkahest" and
"Seraphita," the bulk of his work has a sort of continuous interest
which one would expect in a single tremendous prose epic dealing
with the France of his age.

Balzac's most remarkable characteristic is a sort of exultant reveling
in every kind of human passion, in every species of desire or greed
or ambition or obsession which gives a dignity and a tragic grandeur
to otherwise prosaic lives. There is a kind of subterranean torrent of
blind primeval energy running through his books which focusses
itself in a thick smouldering fuliginous eruption when the moment
or the occasion arises. The "will to power," or whatever else you
may call it, has never been more terrifically exposed. I cannot but
feel that as a portrayer of such a "will to power" among the obstinate,
narrow, savage personages of small provincial towns, no one has
approached Balzac.

Here, in his country scenes, he is a supreme master; and the tough,
resistant fibre of his slow-moving, massively egotistic provincials,
with their backgrounds of old houses full of wicked secrets and
hoarded wealth, lends itself especially well to his brooding
materialistic imagination, ready to kindle under provocation into
crackling and licking flames.

His imagination has transformed, for me at least, the face of more
than one country-side. Coming in on a windy November evening,
through muddy lanes and sombre avenues of the outskirts of any
country town, how richly, how magically, the lights in the scattered
high walled houses and the faces seen at the windows, suggest the
infinite possibilities of human life! The sound of wheels upon
cobblestones, as the street begins and as the spire of the church rises
over the moaning branches of its leafless elm-trees has a meaning
for me now, since I have read Balzac, different from what it had
before. Is that muffled figure in the rumbling cart which passes me
so swiftly the country doctor or the village priest, summoned to the
death-bed of some notorious atheist? Is the slender white hand
which closes those heavy shutters in that gloomy house the hand of
some heart-broken Eugenie, desolately locking herself up once more,
for another lonely night, with her sick hopes and her sacred

I feel as though no one but Balzac has expressed the peculiar
brutality, thick, impervious, knotted and fibrous like the roots of the
tree-trunks at his gate, of the small provincial farmer in England as
well as in France.

I am certain no one but Balzac--except it be some of the rougher,
homelier Dutch painters--has caught the spirit of those mellow,
sensual "interiors" of typical country houses, with their mixture of
grossness and avarice and inveterate conservatism; where an odour
of centuries of egotism emanates from every piece of furniture
against the wall and from every gesture of every person seated over
the fire! One is plunged indeed into the dim, sweet, brutal heart of
reality here, and the imagination finds starting places for its
wanderings from the mere gammons of dried bacon hanging from
the smoky rafters and the least gross repartee and lewd satyrish jest
of the rustic Grangousier and Gargamelle who quaff their
amber-coloured cider under the flickering of candles.

If he did not pile up his descriptions of old furniture, old warehouses,
old barns, old cellars, old shops, old orchards and old gardens, this
thick human atmosphere--overlaid, generation after generation, by
the sensual proclivities of the children of the earth--would never
possess the unction of verisimilitude which it has.

If he were all the while fussing about his style in the exhausting
Flaubert manner, the rich dim reek of all this time-mellowed
humanity would never strike our senses as it does. Thus much one
can see quite clearly from reading de Maupassant, Flaubert's pupil,
whose stark and savage strokes of clean-cut visualisation never
attain the imaginative atmosphere or Rabelaisian aplomb of Balzac's
rural scenes.

But supreme as he is in his provincial towns and villages, one cannot
help associating him even more intimately with the streets and
squares and river banks of Paris.

I suppose Balzac has possessed himself of Paris and has ransacked
and ravished its rare mysteries more completely than any other

I once stayed in a hotel called the Louis le Grand in the Rue Louis le
Grand, and I shall never forget the look of a certain old Parisian
Banking-House, now altered into some other building, which was
visible through the narrow window of my high-placed room. That
very house is definitely mentioned somewhere in the Human
Comedy; but mentioned or not, its peculiar Balzacian air, crowded
round by sloping roofs and tall white houses, brought all the great
desperate passionate scenes into my mind.

I saw old Goriot crying aloud upon his "unkind daughters." I saw
Baron Hulot dragged away from the beseeching eyes and clinging
arms of his last little inamorata to the bedside of his much wronged
wife. I saw the Duchesse de Langeais, issuing forth from the
chamber of her victim-victor, pale and tragic, and with love and
despair in her heart.

It is the thing that pleases me most in the stories of Paul Bourget that
he has continued the admirable Balzacian tradition of mentioning
the Paris streets and localities by their historic names, and of giving
circumstantial colour and body to his inventions by thus placing
them in a milieu which one can traverse any hour of the day,
recalling the imaginary scenes as if they were not imaginary, and
reviving the dramatic issues as if they were those of real people.

A favourite objection to Balzac among aesthetic critics is that his
aristocratic scenes are lacking in true refinement, lacking in the
genuine air and grace of such fastidious circles. I do not give a fig
for that criticism. To try and limit a great imaginative spirit, full of
passionate fantasy and bizarre inventions, to the precise and petty
reproduction of the tricks of any particular class seems to me a piece
of impertinent pedantry. It might just as well be said that
Shakespeare's lords and ladies were not euphuistic enough. I protest
against this attempt to turn a Napoleonic superman of literature, with
a head like that head which Rodin has so admirably recalled for us,
into a bourgeois chronicler of bourgeois mediocrities.

Balzac's characters, to whatever class they belong, bear the royal
and passionate stamp of their demiurgic creator. They all have a
certain magnificence of gesture, a certain intensity of tone, a certain
concentrated fury of movement.

There is something tremendous and awe-inspiring about the task
Balzac set himself and the task he achieved.

One sees him drinking his black coffee in those early hours of the
morning, wrapped in his dressing-gown, and with a sort of clouded
Vulcanian grandeur about him, hammering at his population of
colossal figures amid the smouldering images of his cavernous brain.
He was wise to work in those hours when the cities of men sleep and
the tides of life run low; at those hours when the sick find it easiest
to die and the pulses of the world's heart are scarcely audible. There
was little at such times to obstruct his imagination. He could work
"in the void," and the spirit of his genius could brood over
untroubled waters.

There was something formidable and noble in the way he drove all
light and casual loves, the usual recreations of men of literary talent,
away from his threshold. Like some primordial Prometheus, making
men out of mud and fire, he kept the perilous worshippers of
Aphrodite far-distant from the smoke of his smithy, and refused to
interrupt his cosmic labour for the sake of dalliance.

That high imaginative love of his--itself like one of the great
passions he depicts--which ended, in its unworthy fulfilment, by
dragging him down to the earth, was only one other proof of how
profoundly cerebral and psychic that demonic force was which
drove the immense engine of his energy.

It is unlikely that, as the world progresses and the generations of the
artists follow one another and go their way, there will be another
like him.

Such primal force, capable of evoking a whole world of passionate
living figures, comes only once or twice in the history of a race.
There will be thousands of cleverer psychologists, thousands of
more felicitous stylists, thousands of more exact copiers of reality.

There will never be another Balzac.


My first notions of Victor Hugo were associated with the sea. It was
from the old Weymouth harbour that as a child I used to watch those
Channel-Island steamers with red funnels setting forth on what
seemed to me in those days a wondrous voyage of mystery and peril.
I read "The Toilers of the Sea" at my inland school at Mr. Hardy's
Sherton Abbas; whither, it may be remembered, poor Giles
Winterbourne set off with such trembling anxiety to fetch home his

I read it in what was probably a very quaint sort of translation. The
book was bound in that old-fashioned "yellow back" style which at
that time was considered in clergymen's families as a symbol of all
that was dissipated and dangerous; and on the outside of the yellow
cover was a positively terrifying picture of the monstrous devilfish
with which Gellert wrestled in that terrible sea-cavern.

Certain scenes in that romance lodged themselves in my brain with
diabolic intensity. That scene, for instance, when the successful
scoundrel, swimming in the water, "feels himself seized by one
foot," that scene where the man buys the revolver in the little
gunsmith's shop; that appalling scene at the end where Gellert
drowns himself, watching the ship that bears his love away to
happiness in the arms of another--all these held my imagination then,
as indeed they hold it still, with the vividness of personal experience.

It was long after this, not more than five or six years ago in fact, that
I read "Notre Dame de Paris." This book I secured from the ship's
library of some transatlantic liner and the fantastic horrors it
contains, carried to a point of almost intolerable melodrama,
harmonised well enough with the nightly thud of the engines and the
daylong staring at the heaving water.

"Notre Dame" is certainly an amazing book. If it were not for the
presence of genius in it, that ineffable all-redeeming quality, it
would be one of the most outrageous inventions of flagrant
sensationalism ever indulged in by the morbidity of man. But genius
pervades it from beginning to end; pervades even its most
impossible scenes; and on the whole I think it is a much more
arresting tale than, say, "The Count of Monte Cristo," or any of
Dumas' works except "The Three Musketeers."

I have never, even as a child, cared greatly for Dumas, and I discern
in the attitude of the persons who persist in preferring him to Victor
Hugo the presence of a temperamental cult so alien to my own that I
am tempted to regard it as no better than an affected pose.

Nowhere is Victor Hugo's genius more evident than in his invention
of names. Esmeralda, Quasimodo, Gellert, Cosette, Fantine--they all
have that indescribable ring of genuine romance about them which
more than anything else restores to us the "long, long thoughts" of

I think that Fantine is the most beautiful and imaginative name ever
given to any woman. It is far more suggestive of wild and delicate
mysteries than Fragoletta or Dolores or Charmian or Ianthe.

I am inclined to maintain that it is in the sphere of pure poetic
imagination that Victor Hugo is greatest; though, like so many other
foreigners, I find it difficult to read his formal poetry. It is, I fancy,
this poetic imagination of his which makes it possible for him to
throw his isolated scenes into such terrific relief that they lodge
themselves in one's brain with such crushing force. In all his books it
is the separate individual scenes of which one finds oneself thinking
as one recalls the progress of this narrative or the other. And when
he has struck out with a few vivid lightning-like flashes the original
lineaments of one of his superb creations, it is rather in separate and
detached scenes that he makes such a person's indelible
characteristics gleam forth from the surrounding darkness, than in
any continuous psychological process of development.

His psychology is the psychology of a child; but none the worse
perhaps for that; for it is remarkable how often the most exhaustive
psychological analysis misses the real mystery of human character.
Victor Hugo goes to work by illuminating flashes. He carries a
flaring torch in his hand; and every now and then he plunges it into
the caverns of the human heart, and one is conscious of vast
stupendous Shadows, moving from midnight to midnight.

His method is gnomic, laconic, oracular; never persuasive or
plausible. It is "Lo--here" and then again "Lo--there!" and we are
either with him or not with him. There are no half measures, no slow
evolutionary disclosures.

One of his most interesting literary devices, and it is an essentially
poetic one, is the diffusion through the story of some particular
background, a background which gathers to itself a sort of brooding
personality as the tale proceeds, and often becomes before the book
is finished far more arresting and important than any of the human
characters whose drama it dominates.

Such is the sea itself, for instance, in "The Toilers." Such is the
historic cathedral in "Notre Dame." Such is the great Revolution
--certainly a kind of natural cataclysm--in "Ninety-three." Such are the
great sewers of Paris in "Les Misérables." Such--though it is rather a
symbol than a background--is the terrible fixed smile of the
unfortunate hero in "L'Homme qui Rit."

It is one of the most curious and interesting phenomena in the
history of literature, this turning of a poet into a writer of romances,
romances which have at least as much if not more of the poetic
quality in them than the orthodox poetry of the same hand.

One is led to wonder what kind of stories Swinburne would have
written had he debouched into this territory, or what would have
been the novels conceived by Tennyson. Thomas Hardy began with
poetry and has returned to poetry; and one cannot help feeling that it
is more than anything else the absence of this quality in the
autobiographical studies of sex and character which the younger
writers of our day spin out that makes them after a time seem so
sour and flat.

It is the extravagance of the poetic temper and its lack of proportion
which leads to some of the most glaring of Victor Hugo's faults; and
it is the oracular, prophetic, gnomic tone of his genius which causes
those queer gaps and rents in his work and that fantastic arbitrariness
which makes it difficult for him to evoke any rational or organic

It is an aspect of the poetic temper too, the queer tricks which the
humour of Victor Hugo will condescend to play. I suppose he is by
nature the least endowed with a sense of humour of all the men of
genius who have ever lived. The poet Wordsworth had more. But
like so many poetic natures, whose vivid imagination lends itself to
every sort of human reaction, even to those not really indigenous,
Victor Hugo cannot resist in indulging in freakish sallies of
jocularity which sometimes become extraordinarily strained and
forced, and even remind one now and then of the horrible
mechanical smile on the countenance of the mutilated man in his
own story.

Poet-like too is the portentous pedantry of his archaeological vein;
the stupendous air of authority with which he raps out his classical
quotations and his historic allusions. He is capable sometimes of
producing upon the mind the effect of a hilarious school-master
cracking his learned jokes to an audience only too willing to
encourage him. At other times, so bizarre and out of all human
proportion are his fantasies, one receives an impression as if one of
the great granite effigies representing Liberty or Equality or the
Rights of Man, from the portico of some solemn Palais de Justice,
had suddenly yielded to the temptation of drink and was uttering the
most amazing levities. Victor Hugo in his lighter vein is really, we
must honestly confess, a somewhat disconcerting companion. One
has such respect for the sublime imaginations which one knows are
lurking behind "that cliff-like brow" that one struggles to find some
sort of congruity in these strange gestures. It is as though when
walking by the side of some revered prophet, one were suddenly
conscious that the man was skipping or putting out his tongue.
It is as though we caught Ajax masquerading as a mummer, or
Aeschylus dressed up in cap and bells.

There are persons who interest themselves still in Victor Hugo's
political attitudes, in his orations on the balcony of the Hotel de
Ville; in his theatrical visits to the barricades where "he could be
shot, but could not shoot"; in his diatribes against Napoleon the
Third; in his defence of the Commune from the safe remoteness of
Brussels. There are persons who suffer real disillusion when they
discover how much of a conservative and a courtier he was in his
youth. There are persons who are thrilled to recall how he carried his
solemn vengeance against his imperial enemy so far as to rebuke in
stern language Queen Victoria for her friendliness towards the

I must confess I find it difficult to share these emotions. I seem to
smell the foot-lights of the opera in these heroic declamations, and
indeed poor Napoleon the Little was himself so much of an operatic
hero that to exalt him into a classic tyrant seems little short of

We derive a much truer picture of Victor Hugo's antagonist from
Disraeli's "Endymion" than we do from the poet's torrential
invectives. I have a shrewd idea that the Emperor was a good deal
more amiable, if not more philosophical, than his eloquent judge.

Victor Hugo was an impassioned lover of children. Who can forget
those scenes in "Les Misérables" about little Cosette and the great
wonderful doll which Valjean gave her? He loved children and--for
all his lack of humour; sometimes I think because of it--he
thoroughly understood them. He loved children and he was a child

No one but a child would have behaved as he did on certain
occasions. The grave naiveté of his attitude to the whole spectacle of
life was like the solemnity of a child who takes very seriously every
movement of the game which he is playing. A child is solemn when
it is pretending to be an engine-driver or a pilot, and Victor Hugo
was solemn when he pretended to be a saviour of society. No one
but a person endowed with the perfect genius of childishness could
have acted toward his mistress and his wife in the way he did, or
have been so serenely blind to the irony of the world.

There is as little of the sensual in Victor Hugo's temperament as
there is in the temperament of a pure-minded child; but like a child
he finds a shuddering pleasure in approaching the edge of the
precipice; like a child he loves to loiter in melancholy fields where
the white moon-daisies are queerly stained with the old dark blood
of weird and abnormal memories.

Irony of any kind, worldly or otherwise, never crossed so much as
the margin of his consciousness. He is shamelessly, indecently,
monstrously lacking in the ironic sense.

"What are we going to do?" he dramatically asked his sons when
they had established themselves in their island home; and after they
had each replied according to their respective tastes, "I," he added,
"am going to contemplate the ocean!"

I am ready to confess that I feel a certain shame in thus joining the
company of the godless and making sport of my childhood's hero.
"He was a man, take him for all in all," and _we_ at any rate shall
not live to see his like again.

There was something genuinely large and innocent and elemental in
Victor Hugo. The austere simplicity of his life may have been
perhaps too self-consciously flung at the world's face; but it was a
natural instinct in him. I hesitate to call him a charlatan. Was it
Goethe who said "There is something of charlatanism in all genius"?
Victor Hugo hardly deserves to have Goethe quoted in his favour, so
ignorantly did he disparage, in his childish prejudice, the great
German's work; but what perhaps the world calls charlatanism in
him is really only the reaction of genius when it comes into conflict
with the brutal obstinacy of real life.

What is charlatanism? I am almost scared to look up the word in the
dictionary for fear of discovering that I am myself no better than that
opprobrious thing. But still, if Victor Hugo was really a charlatan,
one can safely say one would sooner be damned with the author of
"L'Homme qui Rit" than saved with many who have no charlatanism
in them.

But what is charlatanism? Does it imply false and extravagant
claims to qualities we do not possess? Or is there the spirit of the
Mountebank in it? If one were a deliberate Machiavel of
dissimulation, if one fooled the people thoroughly and consciously,
would one be a charlatan? Or are charlatans simply harmless fools
who are too embarrassed to confess their ignorance and too childish
to stop pretending?

There is something nobly patriarchal about the idea of Victor Hugo
in his old age. The man's countenance has certainly extraordinary
genius "writ large" there for all men to see. His head is like
something that has been carved by Michelangelo. Looking at his
face one realises where the secret of his peculiar genius lay. It lay in
a certain tragic abandonment to a sublime struggle with the elements.
When in his imagination he wrestled with the elements he forgot his
politics, his prejudices, his moral bravado.

Whatever this mysterious weakness may have been which we call
his "charlatanism," it certainly dropped away from him like a mask
when he confronted the wind or sea or such primitive forms of
human tragedy as are elemental in their simple outlines. Probably
for all his rhetoric Victor Hugo would have made an obstinate
invincible sailor on the high seas. I discern in the shape of his head
something of the look of weather-beaten mariners. I can fancy him
holding fast the rudder of a ship flying before the fury of an Atlantic

The sea-scenes in his books are unequalled in all prose literature. To
match them you would have to go to the poets--to Shakespeare--to
Swinburne. A single line of Hugo has more of the spirit of the sea,
more of its savagery, its bitter strength, its tigerish leap and bite,
than pages of Pierre Loti. Whether I am prejudiced by my childish
associations I do not know, but no other writer makes me smell the
sea-weed, catch the sharp salt tang, feel the buffeting of the waves,
as Victor Hugo does. Yes, for all his panoramic evocations of
sea-effects, Pierre Loti does not touch the old eternal mystery of the
deep, with its answer of terror and strange yearning in the heart of
man, in the way this other touches it. The great rhetorician found a
rhetoric here that put his eloquence to silence and he responded to it
with sentences as sharp, as brief, as broken, as abrupt, as stinging
and wind-driven, as the rushing waves themselves pouring over a
half drowned wreck.

And just as he deals with the sea, so he deals with the wind and rain
and snow and vapour and fire. Those who love Victor Hugo will
think of a hundred examples of what I mean, from the burning castle
in "Ninety-three," to the wind-rocked gibbet on the Isle of Portland,
when the child hero of the "Man who Laughs" escapes from the

When one tries to cast one's critical plummet into the secret motive
forces of Hugo's genius, one is continually being baffled by the
presence there of conflicting elements. For instance no one who has
read "Notre Dame" can deny the presence of a certain savage delight
in scenes of grotesque and exaggerated terror. No one who has read
"Les Misérables" can deny the existence in him of a vein of lovely
tenderness that, with a little tiny push over the edge, would
degenerate into maudlin sentiment of the most lamentable kind.

The performances of the diabolical "archdeacon" in "Notre Dame"
to the moment when Quasimodo watches him fall from the parapet,
are just what one might expect to enjoy in some old-fashioned
melodramatic theatre designed for such among the pure in heart as
have a penchant for ghastliness. But one forgets all this in a moment
when some extraordinary touch of illuminating imagination gets
hold of one by the throat.

I do not think that Victor Hugo will go down to posterity honoured
and applauded because of his love for the human race. I suspect
those critics who hold him up as a grand example of democratic
principles and libertarian ideals of not being great lovers of his
stories. He is a name for them to conjure with and that is all.

Victor Hugo loved children and he loved the mothers of children,
but he was too great a soul to spoil his colossal romance with any
blatant humanitarianism. I do not say he was the high, sad, lonely,
social exile he would have liked the world to believe him; for he was
indeed of kind, simple, honest domestic habits and a man who got
much happiness from quite little things. But when we come to
consider what will be left of him in the future I feel sure that it will
be rather by his imagination than by his social eloquence that he will
touch our descendants. It is indeed not in the remotest degree as a
rhetorician that he arrests us in these unique tales. It is by means of
something quite different from eloquence.

His best effects are achieved in sudden striking images which seem
to have in them a depth of fantastic diablerie worthy of the
wreck-strewn "humming waters" whose secrets he loved to penetrate.

It is not sufficiently realised how much there was of the "macabre"
about Victor Hugo. Like the prophet Ezekiel, he had strange visions
from the power he served, and in the primordial valleys of his
imagination there lie, strewn to the bleaching winds, the bones of
men and of demons and of gods; and the breath that blows upon
them and makes them live--live their weird phantasmal life of
mediaeval goblins in some wild procession of madness--is the breath
of the spirit of childhood's fancies.


To read for the first time, one of the short stories of Guy de
Maupassant is to receive a staggering enlargement of one's ideas as
to what mere literature can do. They hardly seem like literature at all,
these blocks from the quarry of life, flung into one's face with so
unerring an aim.

"If you prick them, they bleed. If you tickle them, they laugh." The
rough rain-smelling earth still clings to them; when you take them in
your hands, the mud of the highway comes off upon your fingers. Is
it really, one wonders, mere literary craft, mere cunning artfulness,
which gives these sentences the weight of a guillotine-blade
crashing down upon the prostrate neck of bound helpless reality?

Is it simply the art of a pupil of the euphonious Flaubert, this power
of making written sentences march full-armed like living men, and
fall, when their work is done, with a metallic ring of absolute
finality--"as a dead body falls"?

As one reads Guy de Maupassant one breathes heavily as if it were
oneself and not another upon whom the tension and the sweat of the
crisis has come. One touches with one's naked hand every object he
describes. One feels the gasping breath of every person he brings
forward. His images slap one's cheeks till they tingle, and his
situations wrestle with one to the ground.

Not for nothing was he a descendant of that race which, of all races
except the Turks, has loved love better than literature and war better
than love. Words are resounding blows and smacking kisses to Guy
de Maupassant. He writes literature as a Norman baron, and when he
rounds off a sentence it is as if he dug a spur into the flanks of a
restless filly. There is nothing like his style in the world.

They never taught me Tacitus when I was at school. My Latinity
stops short at Caesar and Cicero. One is, however, led to suppose
that the great executioner of imperial reputations was a mighty
pruner, in his day, of the "many, too many" words. But I am sure
that this other "Great Latin," as Nietzsche calls him, cleans up his
litter and chops off his surplusage quite as effectively as Tacitus,
and I suspect that neither Tacitus nor any other classic writer hits the
nail on the head with so straight, so steady, so effective a stroke.

I suppose it is the usual habit of destiny to rush into literary paths
people who are essentially dreamers and theorists and Utopians;
people who by instinct and temperament shrink away from contact
with brute reality.

I suppose even the great imaginative writers, like Balzac, live, on
the whole, sedentary and exclusive lives, making a great deal, as far
as the materials for their work go, of a very little. Now and then,
however, it happens that a man of action, a man of the world, a man
of love and war and sport, enters the literary arena; and when that
occurs, I have an idea that he hits about him with a more trenchant,
more resolute, more crushing force than the others.

The art of literature has become perhaps too completely the
monopoly of sedentary people--largely of the bourgeois class--who
bring to their work the sedentary sensitiveness, the sedentary
refinement, the sedentary lack of living experience, which are the
natural characteristics of persons who work all day in studies and
studios. That is why the appearance of a Walt Whitman or a Maxim
Gorki is so wholesome and air-clearing an event.

But not less salutary is the appearance of a ferocious aristocrat from
the class which has ridden rough-shod over the fields of submissive
actuality for many tyrannous centuries.

In the hard shrewd blows of a Maxim Gorki, the monopolising tribes
of sedentary dreamers receive their palpable hit, receive it from the
factory and the furrow. In the deadly knocks of a Guy de
Maupassant they get their "quietus" from the height, so to speak, of
the saddle of a sporting gentleman.

Do what they can to get the sharp bitter tang of reality into their
books, the bulk of these people, write they never so cleverly, seem
somehow to miss it.

The smell of that crafty old skunk--the genuine truth of
things--draws them forward through the reeds and rushes of the great dim
forests' edge, but they seldom touch the hide of the evasive animal;
no, not so much as with the end of their barge-pole.

But Guy de Maupassant plunges into the thickets, gun in hand, and
we soon hear the howl of the hunted.

A love of literature, a reverence and respect for the dignity of words,
does not by any means imply a power of making them plastic before
the pressure of truth. How often one is conscious of the intervention
of "something else," some alien material, marbly and shiny it may
be, and with a beauty of its own, but obtruding quite opaquely
between the thing said and the thing felt.

In reading Guy de Maupassant, it does not seem to be words at all
which touch us. It seems to be things--things living or dead, things
in motion or at rest. Words are there indeed; they must be there--but
they are so hammered on the anvil of his hard purpose that they have
become porous and transparent. Their one rôle now is to get
themselves out of the way; or rather to turn themselves into thin air
and clean water, through which the reality beyond can come at us
with unblurred outlines.

It is a wonderful commentary, when one thinks of it, upon the
malleability of human language that it can so take shape and colour
from the pressure of a single temperament. The words in the
dictionary are all there--all at the disposal of every one of us--but
how miraculous a thing to make their choice and their arrangement
expressive of nothing on earth but the peculiar turn of one particular

The whole mystery of life is in this; this power of the unique and
solitary soul to twist the universe into the shape of its vision.

Without any doubt Guy de Maupassant is the greatest realist that
ever lived. All other realists seem idealists in comparison. Many of
the situations he describes are situations doubtless in which he
himself "had a hand." Others are situations which he came across, in
his enterprising debouchings here and there, in curious by-alleys,
and which he observed with a morose scowl of amusement, from
outside. A few--very few--are situations which he evoked from the
more recondite places of his own turbulent soul.

But one cannot read a page of him without feeling that he is a writer
who writes from out of his own experiences, from out of the shocks
and jolts and rough file-like edges of raw reality.

It is a huge encouragement to all literary ambitions, this immense
achievement of his. The scope and sweep of a great creative
imagination is given to few among us, and Guy de Maupassant was
not one of these. His imagination was rigorously earth-bound, and
not only earth-bound but bound to certain obvious and sensual
aspects of earth-life. Except when he tore open the bleeding wounds
of his own mutilated sensibility and wrote stories of his madness
with a pen dipped in the evil humours of his diseased blood, he was
a master of a certain brutal and sunburnt objectivity.

But how cheerful and encouraging it is for those among us who are
engaged in literature, to see what this astonishing man was able to
make of experiences which, in some measure, we must all have

There is never any need to leave one's own town or village or city to
get "copy." There is scarcely any need to leave one's own house. The
physiological peculiarities of the people who jostle against us in the
common routine of things will completely suffice. That is the whole
point of de Maupassant's achievement.

The same thing, of course, is true of the great imaginative writers.
_They_ also are able to derive grist for their mill from the common
occurrences; they also are free to remain at home. But their sphere is
the sphere of the human soul; his was the sphere of the human body.

He was pre-eminently the master of physiology--the physiological
writer. Bodies, not souls, were his "métier"--or souls only in so far
as they are directly affected by bodies.

But bodies--bodies of men and women are everywhere; living ones
on the earth; dead ones under the earth. One need not go to the
antipodes to find the nerves and the tissues, the flesh and the blood,
of these planetary evocations, of these microcosms of the universe.
The great imaginative writers have the soul of man always under
their hand, and Guy de Maupassant has the body of man always
under his hand.

It is not the masters who are found journeying to remote regions to
get inspiration for their work. Their "America," as Goethe puts it,
lies close to their door.

It is singularly encouraging to us men of letters to contemplate what
Guy de Maupassant could do with the natural animal instincts and
gestures and mutterings and struggles of the bodies of men and
women as their desires make them skip.

"Encouraging" did I say? Tantalizing rather, and provocative of
helpless rage. For just as the spiritual insensitiveness of our
bourgeois tyrants renders them dull and obtuse to the noble
imaginations of great souls, so their moral bigotry and stupidity
renders them obstinately averse to the freedom of the artist in
dealing with the physical eccentricities of the grotesque human

We must not deal at large with the spirit lest we weary the vulgar
and the frivolous; we must not deal at large with the body, lest we
infuriate the Puritanical and the squeamish.

It is absurd to rail at de Maupassant because of his "brutality." One
cannot help suspecting that those who do so have never recognised
the absurd comedy of their own bodily activities and desires.

It is idle to protest against the outrageous excursions of his predatory
humour. The raw bleeding pieces--each, as one almost feels, with its
own peculiar cry--of the living body of the world, clawed as if by
tiger claws, are strange morsels for the taste of some among us. But
for others, there is an exultant pleasure in this great hunt, with the
deep-mouthed hounds of veracity and sincerity, after the authentic

One touches here--in this question of the brutality of Guy de
Maupassant--upon a very deep matter; the matter namely of what
our pleasure exactly consists, as we watch, in one of his more
savage stories, the flesh of the world's truth thus clawed at.

I think it is a pleasure composed of several different elements. The
first of these is that deep and curious satisfaction which we derive
from the exhibition in art of the essential grossness and
unscrupulousness of life. We revenge ourselves in this way upon
what makes us suffer. The clear presentation of an outrage, of an
insult, of an indecency, is in itself a sort of vengeance upon the
power that wrought it, and though it may sound ridiculous enough to
speak of being avenged upon Nature, still the basic instinct is there,
and we can, if we will, personify the immense malignity of things,
and fancy that we are striking back at the gods and causing the gods
some degree of perturbation; at least letting them know that we are
not deceived by the illusions they dole out to us!

The quiet gods may well be imagined as quite as indifferent to our
artistic vengeance as Nature herself, but at any rate, like the man in
the Inferno who "makes the fig" at the Almighty, we have found
vent for our human feelings. Another element in it is the pleasure we
get--not perhaps a very Christian one, but Literature deviates from
Christianity in several important ways--from having other people
made fully aware, as we may be, of the grossness and unscrupulousness
of life.

These other people may easily be assumed to be fidgety, meticulous,
self-complacent purists; and as we read the short stories of Guy de
Maupassant, we cannot resist calling up an imaginary company of
such poor devils and forcing them to listen to a page of the great
book of human judgment upon Nature's perversity.

Finally at the bottom of all there is a much more subtle cause for our
pleasure; nothing less in fact than that old wild dark Dionysian
embracing of fate, of fate however monstrous and bizarre, simply
because it is there--an integral part of the universe--and we ourselves
with something of that ingredient in our own heathen hearts.

An imaginary symposium of modern writers upon the causes of
human pleasure in the grosser elements of art lends itself to very
free speculation. Personally I must confess to very serious
limitations in my own capacity for such enjoyment. I have a
sneaking sympathy with tender nerves. I can relish de Maupassant
up to a certain point--and that point is well this side of idolatry--but I
fancy I relish him because I discern in him a certain vibrant nerve of
revolt against the brutality of things, a certain quivering irony of
savage protest. When you get the brutality represented without this
revolt and with a certain unction of sympathetic zest, as you do in
the great eighteenth century novelists in England, I confess it
becomes more than I can endure.

This is a most grievous limitation and I apologise to the reader most
humbly for it. It is indeed a lamentable confession of weakness. But
since the limitations of critics are, consciously or unconsciously,
part of their contribution to the problems at issue, I offer mine
without further comment.

It is an odd thing that while I can relish and even hugely enjoy
ribaldry in a Latin writer, I cannot so much as tolerate vulgarity in
an English or Scotch one. Perhaps it is their own hidden
consciousness that, if they once let themselves go, they would go
unpleasantly far, which gives this morbid uneasiness to the strictures
of the Puritans. Or is it that the English-speaking races are born
between the deep sea of undiluted coarseness and the devil of a
diseased conscience? Is this the reason why every artist in the world
and every critic of art, feels himself essentially an exile everywhere
except upon Latin soil?

Guy de Maupassant visualises human life as a thing completely and
helplessly in the grip of animal appetites and instincts. He takes
what we call lust, and makes of it the main motive force in his vivid
and terrible sketches. It is perhaps for this very reason that his
stories have such an air of appalling reality.

But it is not only lust or lechery which he exploits. He turns to his
artistic purpose every kind of physiological desire, every sort of
bodily craving. Many of these are quite innocent and harmless, and
the denial of their satisfaction is in the deepest sense tragic. Perhaps
it is in regard to what this word _tragic_ implies that we find the
difference between the brutality of Guy de Maupassant and the
coarseness of the earlier English writers.

The very savagery in de Maupassant's humour is an indication of a
clear intellectual consciousness of something monstrously,
grotesquely, wrong; something mad and blind and devilish about the
whole business, which we miss completely in all English writers
except the great Jonathan Swift.

Guy de Maupassant had the easy magnanimity of the Latin races in
regard to sex matters, but in regard to the sufferings of men and of
animals from the denial of their right to every sort of natural joy,
there smouldered in him a deep black rage--a _saeva indignatio_
--which scorches his pages like a deadly acid.

In his constant preoccupation with the bodies of living creatures, it
is natural enough that animals as well as men should come into the
circle of his interest. He was a great huntsman and fisherman. He
loved to wander over the frozen marshes, gun in hand, searching for
strange wildfowl among the reeds and ditches. But though he slew
these things in the savage passion of the chase as his ancestors had
done for ages, between his own fierce senses and theirs there was a
singular magnetic sympathy.

As may be often noticed in other cases, as we go through the world,
there was between the primitive earth-instincts of this hunter of wild
things and the desperate creatures he pursued, a far deeper bond of
kinship than exists between sedentary humanitarians and the objects
of their philanthropy. It is good that there should be such a writer as
this in the world.

In the sophisticated subtleties of our varnished and velvet-carpeted
civilisation, it is well that we should be brought back to the old
essential candours which forever underlie the frills and frippery. It is
well that the stark bones of the aboriginal skeleton with its raw
"unaccommodated" flesh should peep out through the embroideries.

It is, after all, the "thing itself" which matters--the thing which
"owes the worm no silk, the cat no perfume." Forked straddling
animals are we all, as the mad king says in the play, and it is mere
effeminacy and affectation to cover up the truth.

Guy de Maupassant is never greater than when appealing to the
primitive link of tragic affiliation that binds us to all living flesh and
blood. A horse mercilessly starved in the fields; a wild bird wailing
for its murdered mate; a tramp driven by hunger and primitive desire,
and harried by the "insolence of office"; an old man denied the little
luxuries of his senile greed; an old maid torn and rent in the flesh
that is barren and the breasts that never gave suck; these are the
natural subjects of his genius--the sort of "copy" that one certainly
need not leave one's "home town" to find.

One is inclined to feel that those who miss the tragic generosity at
the heart of the brutality of Guy de Maupassant, are not really aware
of the bitter cry of this mad planet. Let them content themselves,
these people, with their pretty little touching stories, their nice blobs
of cheerful "local colour" thrown in here and there, and their sweet
impossible endings. Sunday school literature for Sunday school
children; but let there be at least one writer who writes for those who
know what the world is.

The question of the legitimacy in art of the kind of realism which
Guy de Maupassant practised, goes incalculably deep. Consider
yourself at this moment, gentle reader, lightly turning over--as
doubtless you are doing--the harmless pages of this academic book,
as you drink your tea from a well appointed tray in a sunny corner of
some friendly cake-shop. You are at this moment--come, confess
it--hiding up, perhaps from yourself but certainly from the world, some
outrageous annoyance, some grotesque resolution, some fear, some
memory, some suspicion, that has--as is natural and proper enough,
for your father was a man, your mother a woman--its physiological
origin. You turn to this elegant book of mine, with its mild and
persuasive thoughts, as if you turned away from reality into some
pleasant arbour of innocent recreation. It is a sort of little lullaby for
you amid the troubles of this rough world.

But suppose instead of the soothing cadences of this harmless
volume, you had just perused a short story of Guy de Maupassant;
would not your feelings be different? Would you not have the
sensation of being fortified in your courage, in your humour, in your
brave embracing of the fantastic truth? Would you not contemplate
the most grotesque matters lightly, wisely, sanely and with a
magnanimous heart?

The perverted moral training to which we have been all of us
subjected, has "sicklied o'er with the pale cast" of a most evil
scrupulousness our natural free enjoyment of the absurd contrasts
and accidents and chances of life.

French humour may be savage--all the better--we need a humour
with some gall in it to deal with the humour of the universe. But our
humour, stopping short so timorously of stripping the world to its
smock, is content to remain vulgar. That is the only definition of
vulgarity that I recognise--a temptation to be coarse without the
spiritual courage to be outrageous! Coarseness--our Anglo Saxon
peculiarity--is due to temperamental insensitiveness. Outrageous
grossness--with its ironical, beautiful blasphemy against the great
mother's amazing tricks--is an intellectual and spiritual thing, worthy
of all noble souls. The one is the rank breath of a bourgeois
democracy, the other is the free laughter of civilised intelligences
through all human history.

English and Americans find it difficult to understand each other's
humour. One can well understand this difficulty. No one finds any
obstacle--except Puritan prejudice--in understanding French humour;
because French humour is universal; the humour of the human spirit
contemplating the tragic comedy of the human body.

One very interesting thing must be noted here in regard to the
method of Guy de Maupassant's writings; I mean the power of the
short story to give a sense of the general stream of life which is
denied to the long story.

Personally I prefer long stories; but that is only because I have an
insatiable love of the story for its own sake, apart from its
interpretation of life. I am not in the least ashamed to confess that
when I read books, I do so to escape from the pinch of actual facts. I
have a right to this little peculiarity as much as to any other as long
as I don't let it invade the clarity of my reason. But in the short
story--and I have no scruple about admitting it--one seems to get the
flavour of the writer's general philosophy of life more completely
than in any other literary form.

It is a snatch at the passing procession, a dip into the flowing stream,
and one gets from it the sort of sudden illumination that one gets
from catching a significant gesture under the street lamp, or meeting
a swift tale-telling glance beneath a crowded doorway.

Bitterly inspired as he is by the irony of the physiological tragedy of
human life, Guy de Maupassant is at his greatest when he deals with
the bizarre accidents that happen to the body; greatest of all when he
deals with the last bizarre accident of all, the accident of death.

The appalling grotesqueness of death, its brutal and impious levity,
its crushing finality, have never been better written of. The savage
ferocity with which he tears off the mask which the sentimental
piety of generations has thrown over the features of their dead is no
sign of frivolousness in him. The gravity of the undertaker is not an
indication of deep emotion; nor is the jesting of Hamlet, as he stands
above Ophelia's grave, a sign of an inhuman heart.

The last insult of the scurrilous gods--their flinging us upon oblivion
with so indecent, so lewd a disregard for every sort of seemliness--is
answered in Guy de Maupassant by a ferocious irony almost equal
to their own.

But it would be unfair to let this dark-browed Norman go, without at
least a passing allusion to the large and friendly manner in which he
rakes up, out of brothel, out of gutter, out of tenement, out of
sweat-shop, out of circus-tent, out of wharf shanty, out of barge cabin,
every kind and species of human derelict to immortalise their
vagrant humanity in the amber of his flawless style.

There is a spacious hospitality about the man's genius which is a rare
tonic to weary aesthetes, sick of the thin-spun theories of the schools.
The sun-burnt humour of many queer tatterdemalions warms us, as
we read him, into a fine indifference to nice points of human
distinction. All manner of ragged nondescripts blink at us out of
their tragic resignation and hint at a ribald reciprocity of nature,
making the whole world kin.

In his ultimate view of life, he was a drastic pessimist, and what we
call materialism receives from his hands the clinching fiat of a
terrific imprimatur. And this is well; this is as it should be. There are
always literary persons to uphold the banners of mysticism and
morality, idealism and good hope. There will always be plenty of
talent "on the side of the angels" in these days, when it has become a
kind of intellectual cant to cry aloud, "I am no materialist!
Materialism has been disproved by the latest scientific thinkers!"

To come back to the old, honest, downright, heathen recognition of
the midnight, wherein all candles are put out, is quite a salutary
experience. It is good that there should be a few great geniuses that
are unmitigated materialists, and to whom the visible world is
absolutely all there is. One is rendered more tolerant of the
boisterousness of the players when one feels the play ends so finally
and so soon. One is rendered less exacting towards the poor
creatures of the earth when one recognises that their hour is so brief.

There will always be optimists in the countries where "the standards
of living are high." There will always be writers--scientific or
otherwise--to dispose of materialism. But meanwhile it is well that
there should be at least one great modern among us for whom that
_pulvis et umbra_ is the last word. At least, one, if only for the sake
of those whom we mourn most; so that, beholding their lives, like
torch-flames against black darkness, we shall not stint them of their


Anatole France is probably the most disillusioned human
intelligence which has ever appeared on the surface of this planet.

All the great civilised races tend to disillusion. Disillusion is the
mark of civilised eras as opposed to barbaric ones and if the dream
of the poets is ever realised and the Golden Age returns, such an age
will be the supreme age of happy, triumphant disillusion.

This was seen long ago by Lucretius, who regarded the fear of the
gods as the last illusion of the human race, and looked for its
removal as the race's entrance into the earthly paradise.

Nietzsche's noble and austere call to seriousness and spiritual
conflict is the sign of a temper quite opposite from this. Zarathustra
frees himself from all other illusions, but he does not free himself
from the most deadly one of all--the illusion namely, that the freeing
oneself from illusion is a high and terrible duty.

The real disillusioned spirit is not the fierce Nietzschean one whose
glacial laughter is an iconoclastic battle-cry and whose freedom is a
freedom achieved anew every day by a strenuous and desperate
struggle. The real disillusioned spirit plays with illusions, puts them
on and takes them off, lightly, gaily, indifferently, just as it happens,
just as the moment demands.

One feels that in spite of his cosmic persiflage and radiant attempt to
Mediterraneanise into "sun-burnt mirth" the souls of the northern
nations, Nietzsche was still at heart an ingrained hyperborean, still at
heart a splendid and savage Goth.

As in every other instance, we may take it for granted that any
popular idea which runs the gamut of the idealistic lecture-halls and
pulpits of a modern democracy is false through and through. Among
such false ideas is the almost universal one that what is called the
decadence of a nation is a sign of something regrettable and
deplorable. On the contrary, it is a sign of something admirable and
excellent. Such "weakness," in a deeper than a popular sense, is
"strength"; such decadence is simply wisdom.

The new cult of the "will to power" which Nietzsche originated is
nothing more than the old demiurgic life-illusion breaking loose
again, as it broke loose in the grave ecstasies of the early Christians
and in the Lutheran reformation. Nietzsche rent and tore at the
morality of Christendom, but he did so with the full intention of
substituting a morality of his own. One illusion for another illusion.
A Roland for an Oliver!

Nietzsche praised with desperate laudation a classical equanimity
which he was never able to reach. He would have us love fate and
laugh and dance; but there were drops of scorching tears upon the
page of his prophecy and the motif of his challenge was the terrible
gravity of his own nature; though the conclusion of his seriousness
was that we must renounce all seriousness. It is Nietzsche himself
who teaches us that in estimating the value of a philosopher we have
to consider the psychology of the motive-force which drove him.

The motive-force that drove Nietzsche was the old savage
life-instinct, penetrated with illusion through and through, and praise as
he might the classical urbanity, no temper that has ever existed was
less urbane than his own.

The history of the human race upon this planet may be regarded--in
so far as its spiritual eruptions are concerned--as the pressure
upwards, from the abysmal depths, of one scoriae tempest after
another, rending and tearing their way from the dark centre fires
where Demogorgon turns himself over in his sleep, and becoming as
soon as they reach the surface and harden into rock, the great
monumental systems of human thought, the huge fetters of our
imaginations. The central life-fire which thus forces its path at
cataclysmic intervals to the devastated surface is certainly no
illusion. It is the one terrific cosmic fact.

Where illusion enters is where we, poor slaves of traditional
ratiocination, seek to turn these explosions of eternal lava into
eternal systems. The lava of life pours forth forever, but the systems
break and crumble; each one overwhelmed in its allotted time by a
new outrushing of abysmal energy.

The reiterated eruptions from the fathomless depths make up the
shifting material with which human civilisations build themselves
their illusive homes; but the wisest civilisations are the ones that
erect a hard, clear, bright wall of sceptical "suspension of
judgment," from the face of which the raging flood of primordial
energy may be flung back before it can petrify into any further

Such a protective wall from the eruptive madness of primordial
barbarism, the scepticism of classical civilisation is forever
polishing and fortifying. Through the pearl-like glass of its
inviolable security we are able to mock the tempest-driven eagles
and the swirling glacial storms. We can amuse ourselves with the
illusions from which we are free. We can give the imagination
unbounded scope and the fancy unrestricted licence. We have
become happy children of our own self-created kingdom of heaven;
the kingdom of heaven which is the kingdom of disillusion.

And of this kingdom, Anatole France is surely the reigning king.
From the Olympian disenchantment of his tolerant urbanity, all
eruptive seriousness foams back spray-tossed and scattered. And yet
such a master of the art of "suspended judgment" was he, that he
permits himself to dally very pleasantly with the most passionate
illusions of the human race. He is too deep a sceptic even to remain
at the point of taking seriously his own aesthetic epicureanism.

This is where he differs from Oscar Wilde, from Walter Pater, from
Stendhal, from Remy de Gourmont, from Gabriele d'Annunzio. This
is where he differs from Montaigne. These great men build up an
egoism of grave subjectivity out of their suspicion of other people's
cults. They laugh at humanity but they do not laugh at themselves.
With the help of meta-physic they destroy metaphysic; only to
substitute for the gravity of idealism the gravity of Epicureanism.

But Anatole France has no gravity. He respects nothing; least of all
himself. That is why there is something singularly winning about
him which we miss in these others. There is something which palls
upon us and grows heavy and tiresome after a while about this
massive gravity in the cult of one's own sensations.

Sensations? Well! We all know how subtle and pleasant they can be;
but this perpetual religion of them, this ponderous worship of them,
becomes at last something monstrous and inhuman, something
which makes us cry aloud for air and space. Not only does it become
inhuman and heavy--it becomes comic.

Every religion, even the religion of sensation, becomes comic when
the sharp salt breath of intellectual sanity ceases to blow upon it. Its
votaries seem to be going to and fro wrapped in sheep's wool. The
wool may be stained in Tyrian dyes; but it is wool for all that, and it
tends ultimately to impede the steps of the wearer and to dull not a
few of his natural perceptions.

If one imagines a symposium in the Elysian fields between Wilde
and Pater and d'Annunzio, and the sudden entrance upon them of the
great Voltaire, one cannot but believe that after a very short time this
religion of aestheticism would prove as tiresome to the old ribald
champion of a free humanity as any other ritual.

And in this respect Anatole France is with Voltaire. He has too
humorous a soul to endure the solemnity of the cultivated senses. He
would desert such a group of pious subjectivists to chat with Horace
about the scandals of the imperial court or with Rabelais about the
price of sausages.

Sceptical in other matters, egoists of the type I have mentioned are
inclined to grow unconscionably grave when questions of sex are
brought forward. This illusion at any rate--the illusion of sexual
attraction--they would be most loth to destroy.

But Anatole France fools sex without stint. It affords him, just as it
did Voltaire and Rabelais, his finest opportunities. He fools it up hill
and down dale. He shakes it, he trundles it, he rattles it, he bangs it,
he thumps it, he tumbles it in the mud, in the sand, in the earth--just
as Diogenes did with his most noble tub. Fooling sex is the grand
game of Anatole France's classic wit. The sport never wearies him.
It seems an eternal perennial entertainment. Hardly one of his books
but has this sex fooling as its principal theme.

It seems to his detached and speculative mind the most amusing and
irresistible jest in the world that men and women should behave as
they do; that matters should be arranged in just this manner.

What we arrive at once more in Anatole France is that humorous
drawing back from the world, back into some high pitched
observation-tower of the mind, from the philosophic seclusion of
which the world scene can be easily imagined as different from what
it is. Nothing is more salutary in the midst of the mad confusion of
the world than these retirements. It is to no mere "ivory tower" of
aesthetic superiority that we retreat. It is to a much higher and more
spacious eminence. So high indeed do we withdraw that all the ivory
towers of the world seem far beneath us; beneath us, and not more
or less sacred than other secular erections.

It is from this point of observation that our humour is suddenly
made aware of the startling absurdity of human institution; and not
only of _human_ institution; for it is made aware also of the
absurdity of the whole fantastic scheme of this portentous universe.
We regard the world in these high speculative moods much as
children do when they suddenly enquire of their bewildered parents
why it is that human beings have two legs and why it is that little
girls are different from little boys.

It is one result of these withdrawings to the translunar empyrean that
the life of a man of action upon this earth does not appear any more
or any less remarkable or important than the life of a man of letters.
All human activities from that celestial height are equal; and
whether we plunge into politics or into pleasure, into science or into
theology, seems a mere incidental chance, as indifferent in the great
uncaring solar system as the movements of gnats around a lamp or
midges around a candle.

The great historic revolutions, the great social reformations, ancient
or modern, present themselves from this height as just as important—as
just as unimportant--as the visions of saintly fanatics or the
amours of besotted rakes.

Nothing is important and anything may be important. It is all a
matter of the human point of view. It is all a matter of taste. Looking
at the whole mad stream of things from this altitude, we see the
world as if we were peering through an inverted telescope; or rather,
shall we say, through an instrument called an "equi-scope"--whose
peculiarity it is to make all things upon which it is turned _little and

The mental temper of Anatole France is essentially one which is
interested in historic and contemporary events; interested in the
outward actions and movements of men and in the fluctuations of
political life. But it is interested in these things with a certain
spacious reservation. It is interested in them simply because they are
there, simply because they illustrate so ironically the weaknesses
and caprices of human nature and the dramatic chances of
ineluctable fate. It is not interested in them because they are
inherently and absolutely important, but because they are important
relatively and humorously as indicative of the absurd lengths to
which human folly will go. It is interested in these things, as I have
said, with an ample reservation, but it must emphatically be noted
that it is a great deal more interested in them than in any works of art
or letters or in any achievement of philosophy.

Anatole France seems indeed to take a certain delight in putting
human thought into its place as essentially secondary and
subordinate to human will. He delights to indicate, just as
Montaigne used to do, the pathetic and laughable discrepancies
between human thoughts and human actions.

He is more concerned with men and women as they actually live and
move in the commerce of the world than in the wayward play of
their speculative fancies, and it gives him an ironic satisfaction to
show how the most heroic and ideal thoughts are affected by the
little wanton tricks of circumstances and character.

This predominant concern with the natural humours and normal
animal instincts of the human race, this refusal ever to leave the
broad and beaten path of human frailty, gives a tone to his writings,
even when he is dealing with art and literature, quite different from
other aesthetes'.

He is not really an aesthete at all; he is too Voltairian for that. As a
critic he is learned, scholarly, clear-sighted and acute; but his sense
of the humorous inconsistencies of normal flesh and blood is too
habitually present with him to admit of that complete abandonment
to the spirit of his author, which, accompanied by interpretative
subtlety, secures the most striking results.

His criticisms are wise and interesting, but they necessarily miss the
sinuous clairvoyance of a writer like Remy de Gourmont who is able
to give himself up completely and with no ironic reservation to the
abnormalities of the temperament he is discussing. Remy de
Gourmont's own temperament has something in it more receptive,
more psychological, more supple than Anatole France's. He is in
himself a far less original genius and for that very reason he can
slide more reservedly into the bizarre nooks and crannies of
abnormal minds.

Anatole France is one of those great men of genius to whom the
gods have permitted an un-blurred vision of the eternal normalities
of human weakness. This vision he can never forget. He takes his
stand upon the ground which it covers, and from that ground he
never deviates.

Man for him is always an amorous and fantastic animal, using his
reason to justify his passions, and his imagination to justify his
illusions. He is always the animal who can laugh, the animal who
can cry, the animal who can beget or bear children. He is only in a
quite secondary sense the animal who can philosophise.

It is because of his constant preoccupation with the normal
eccentricities and pathetic follies of our race that he lays so much
stress upon outward action.

The normal man is rather an animal who wills and acts than an
animal who dreams and thinks; and it is with willing and acting,
rather than with dreaming and thinking, that Anatole France is
concerned. One of the main ironic devices of his humour is to show
the active animal led astray by his illusions, and the contemplative
animal driven into absurdity by his will.

With his outward-looking gaze fixed upon the eternal and pathetic
normalities of the human situation, Anatole France has himself, like
Voltaire, a constant tendency to gravitate towards politics and public

In this respect his temperament is most obstinately classical. Like
Horace and all the ancient satirists, he feels himself invincibly
attracted to "affairs of state," even while they excite his derision.
One cannot read a page of his writing without becoming aware that
one is in the presence of a mind cast in the true classic mould.

In the manner of the great classical writers of Athens and Rome he
holds himself back from any emotional betrayal of his own feelings.
He is the type of character most entirely opposite to what might be
called the Rousseau-type.

He is un-modern in this and quite alone; for, in one form or another,
the Rousseau-type with its enthusiastic neurotic mania for
self-revelation dominates the entire literary field. One gets the
impression of something massive and self-possessed, something
serenely and almost inhumanly sane about him. One feels always
that he is the "Grand Gentleman" of literature with whom no
liberties may be taken. His tone is quiet, his manner equable, his air
smiling, urbane, superior. His reserve is the reserve of the great
races of antiquity. With a calm, inscrutable, benevolent malice, he
looks out upon the world. There is a sense of much withheld, much
unsaid, much that nothing would ever induce him to say.

His point of view is always objective. It might be maintained,
though the thing sounds like a paradox, that his very temperament is
objective. Certainly it is a temperament averse to any outbursts of
unbalanced enthusiasm.

His attitude toward what we call Nature is more classical than the
classics. Virgil shows more vibrant emotion in the presence of the
sublimities of the natural elements. His manner when dealing with
the inanimate world is the manner of the Eighteenth Century
touched with a certain airiness and charm that is perhaps more
Hellenic than Latin. As one reads him one almost feels as though the
human race detached itself from its surroundings and put between
itself and Nature a certain clear and airy space, untroubled by any
magnetic currents of spiritual reciprocity. One feels as though
Nature were kept decisively and formally in her place and not
permitted to obtrude herself upon the consciousness of civilised
people except when they require some pleasant lawn or noble trees
or smiling garden of roses to serve as a background for their
metaphysical discussions or their wanton amorous play. What we
have come to call the "magic" of Nature is never for a moment
allowed to interrupt these self-possessed epicurean arguments of
statesmen, politicians, amorists, theologians, philosophers and

Individual objects in Nature--a tree, a brook, the seashore, a bunch
of flowers, a glade in the forest, a terrace in a garden,--are described
in that clear, laconic, objective manner, which gives one the
impression of being able to touch the thing in question with one's
bare hand.

The plastic and tactile value of things is always indicated in Anatole
France's writings with brief, clear cut, decisive touches, but "the
murmurs and scents" of the great waters, the silences of the shadowy
forests are not allowed to cross the threshold of his garden of
Epicurus. Each single petal of a rose will have its curves, its colours,
its tints; but the mysterious forces of subterranean life which bring
the thing to birth are pushed back into the darkness. The marble-cold
resistance of Anatole France's classical mind offers a hard polished
surface against which the vague elemental energies of the world beat
in vain. He walks smilingly and pensively among the olive-trees of
the Academia, plucking a rose here and an oleander there; but for
the rest, the solemn wizardries of Nature are regarded with an
urbane contempt.

His style is a thing over which the fastidious lovers of human
language may ponder long and deep. The art of it is so restrained, so
aristocratic, so exclusive, that even the smallest, simplest, most
unimportant words take to themselves an emphatic significance.

Anatole France is able to tell us that Monsieur Bergeret made some
naive remark, or the Abbé Jérôme Coignard uttered some unctuous
sally, in so large and deliberate and courtly a way that the mere "he
said" or "he began" falls upon us like a papal benediction or like the
gesture of a benignant monarch.

There is no style in the world so deeply penetrated with the odour
and savour of its author's philosophy. And this philosophy, this
atmosphere of mind, is so entirely French that every least idiomatic
peculiarity in his native tongue seems willing to lend itself, to the
last generous drop of the wine of its essential soul, to the tone and
manner of his speech. All the refinements of the most consummate
civilisation in the world, all its airy cynicism, all its laughing
urbanity, all its whimsical friendliness, seem to concentrate
themselves and reach their climax on every page of his books.

A delicate odour of incense and mockery, an odour of consecrated
wine and a savour of heathen wit, rise up together from every
sentence and disarm us with the insidiousness of their pleasant
contrast. His style is so beautiful and characteristic that one cannot
read the simplest passage of easy narration from his pen without
becoming penetrated with his spirit, without feeling saner, wiser,
kindlier, and more disenchanted and more humane.

I cannot resist quoting from the prologue to "Le Puits de Sainte
Claire," a certain passage which seems to me peculiarly adapted to
the illustration of what I have just said. The writer is, or imagines
himself to be, in the city of Siena.

"Sur la voie blanche, dans ces nuits transparentes, la seule recontre
que je faisais était celle du R. P. Adone Doni, qui alors travaillait
comme moi tout le jour dans l'ancienne académie _degli Intronati._
J'avais tout de suite aimé ce cordelier qui, blanchi dans l'étude,
gardait l'humeur riante et facile d'un ignorant.

"Il causait volontiers. Je goûtais son parler suave, son beau langage,
sa pensee docte et naïve, son air de vieux Silène purifié par les eaux
baptismales, son instinct de mime accompli, le jeu de ses passions
vives et fines, le génie étrange et charmant dont il etait possédé.

"Assidu à la bibliothèque, il fréquentait aussi le marché, s'arrêtant de
préférence devant les contadines, qui vendent des pommes d'or, et
prêtant l'oreille à leur libres propos.

Il apprenait d'elles, disait-il, la belle langue toscane. . . . Je crus
m'aperçevoir en effet qu'il inclinait aux opinions singulières. Il avait
de la religion et de la science, mais non sans bizarreries. . . . C'est
sur le diable qu'il professait des opinions singulières. Il pensait que
le diable était mauvais sans l'être absolument et que son
imperfection naturelle l'empêcherait toujours d'atteindre à la
perfection du mal. Il croyait aperçevoir quelques signes de bonté
dans les actions obscures de Satan, et, sans trop l'oser dire, il en
augurait la rédemption finale de l'archange méditatif, après la
consommation des siècles. . . . Assis sur la margelle, les mains dans
les manches de sa robe, il contemplait avec un paisible etonnement
les choses de la nuit.

"Et l'ombre qui l'enveloppait laissait deviner encore dans ses yeux
clairs et sur sa face camuse l'expressions d'audace craintive et de
grâce moqueuse qui y etait profondement empreinte. Nous
échangions d'abord des souhaits solennels de bonne santé, de paix et
de contentement. . . .

"Tandis qu'il parlait, la lumiere de la lune coulait sur sa barbe en
ruisseau d'argent. Le grillon accompagnait du bruissement de ses
élytres la voix du conteur, et parfois, aux sons de cette bouche, d'où
sortait le plus doux des langages humains, répondait la plainte flutée
du crapaud, qui, de l'autre côté de la route, écoutait, amical et

The beautiful delicacy of that single touch "sur la voie blanche, dans
ces nuits transparentes" is characteristic of a thousand others of a
similar kind sprinkled among his books, where gentle and whimsical
spirits discourse upon God and the Universe.

He has a most exquisite genius for these little chance-accompaniments
of such human scenes. "L'Orme du Mail" is full of them; and
so is "Les Opinions de M. Jérôme Coignard."

In "Sur la Pierre Blanche" the impish humour of accidental
encounter brings forward nothing less than the death of Stephen the
Proto-Martyr, as an irrelevant interruption to the amorous pleasures
of one of his least attractive philosophers.

Full of malicious interest as he is in all the outward events of nations
and societies, it is always evident that what Anatole France really
regards as worthy of tender consideration is the conversation of
quaint minds and the "Humeur riante et facile" of wayward and
fantastic souls.

His sense of the fundamental futility of the whole scheme of things
is so absolute that what most modern writers would regard as the
illogical dreams of superannuated eccentrics he is inclined to treat
with smiling reverence and infinite sympathy. Where the whole
terrestrial business is only a meaningless blur upon the face of
nothingness, why should we not linger by the way, under elm trees,
or upon broken fragments of old temples, or on sunny benches in
cloistered gardens, and listen to the arbitrary fancies of unpractical
and incompetent persons whose countenances express an "audace
craintive" and a "grâce moqueuse," and who look with mild wonder
and peaceful astonishment at "les choses de la nuit"?

After perusing many volumes of Anatole France, one after another,
we come to feel as though nothing in the world were important
except the reading of unusual books, the conversation of unusual
people, and the enjoyment of such philosophical pleasures as may be
permitted by the gods and encouraged by the approbation of a
friendly and tolerant conscience.

One always rises from the savouring of his excellent genius with a
conviction that it is only the conversation of one's friends, varied by
such innocent pleasures of the senses as may be in harmony with the
custom of one's country, which renders in the last resort the madness
of the world endurable.

He alone, of all modern writers, creates that leisurely atmosphere of
noble and humorous dignity--familiar enough to lovers of the old
masters--according to which every gesture and word of the most
simple human being comes to be endowed with a kind of royal
distinction. By the very presence in his thought of the essential
meaninglessness of the world, he is enabled to throw into stronger
relief the "quips and cranks and wanton wiles" of our pathetic

Human words--the words of the most crack-brained among us--take
to themselves a weight and dignity from the presence behind them
of this cosmic purposelessness. The less the universe matters, the
more humanity matters. The less meaning there is in the macrocosm
the more tenderly and humorously must every microcosm be treated.

It thus comes about that Anatole France, the most disillusioned and
sceptical of writers, is also the writer whose books throw over the
fancies and caprices of humanity the most large and liberal

To realise how essentially provincial English and American writers
are, one has only to consider for a moment the absolute
impossibility of such books as "L'Orme du Mail," "Le Mannequin"
or "Monsieur Bergeret à Paris" appearing in either of these countries.

This amiable and smiling scepticism, this profound scholarship, this
subtle interest in theological problems, this ironical interest in
political problems, this detachment of tone, this urbane humanism,
make up an "ensemble" which one feels could only possibly appear
in the land of Rabelais and Voltaire.

Think of the emergence of a book in London or New York bearing
such quotations at the heads of the chapters as those which are to be
found in "Le Puits de Sainte Claire"! The mere look of the first page
of the volume, with its beautifully printed Greek sentence about
_ta physika kai ta ethika kai ta mathmatika_, lifts one suddenly and
with a delicious thrill of pleasure, as if from the touch of a cool,
strong, youthful hand, into that serene atmosphere of large
speculations and unbounded vistas which is the inheritance of the
great humane tradition: the tradition, older than all the dust of
modern argument, and making every other mental temper seem, in
comparison, vulgar, common, bourgeois and provincial.

The chapter headed "Saint Satyre" is prefaced by a beautiful hymn
from the "Breviarum Romanum"; while the story named "Guido
Cavalcanti" begins with a long quotation from "Il Decameron di
Messer Giovanni Boccaccio." I take the first instance that comes to
my hand; but all his books are the same. And one who reads Anatole
France for the sake of an exciting narrative, or for the sake of
illuminating psychology, or for the sake of some proselytising
theory, will be hugely disappointed. None of these things will he
find; nor, indeed, anything else that is tiresomely and absurdly

What he will find will be the old, sweet, laughing, mellow world of
rich antique wisdom; a world where the poetry of the ancients
blends harmoniously with the mystical learning of the fathers of the
church; a world where books are loved better than theories and
persons better than books; a world where the humours of the
pathetic flesh and blood of the human race are given their true value,
as more amusing than any philosophy and as the cause and origin of
all the philosophies that have ever been!

Anatole France is incorrigibly pagan. The pleasures of the senses are
described in all his books with a calm smiling assurance that
ultimately these are the only things that matter!

I suppose that no author that ever lived is so irritating to
strong-minded idealists. He does not give these people "the ghost of a
chance." He serenely assumes that all ideals are of human, too
human, origin, and that no ideals can stand up long against the
shocks of life's ironic caprices.

And yet while so maliciously introducing, with laconic Voltairian
gibes, the wanton pricking of human sensuality, he never forgets the
church. In nothing is he more French; in nothing is he more civilised,
than in his perpetual preoccupation with two things--the beauty and
frailty of women and the beauty and inconsistency of Christianity.

The clever young men who write books in England and America
seem possessed by a precisely opposite purpose; the purpose of
showing that Christianity is played out and the purpose of showing
that women are no longer frail.

That sort of earnest-minded attempt to establish some kind of
mystical substitute for the religion of our fathers, which one is
continually meeting in modern books and which has so withering an
effect both upon imagination and humour, is never encountered in
Anatole France. He is interested in old tradition and he loves to
mock at it. He is interested in human sensuality and he loves to
mock at it; but apart from traditional piety struggling with natural
passion, he finds nothing in the human soul that arrests him very

Man, to Anatole France, is a heathen animal who has been baptised;
and the humour of his whole method depends upon our keeping a
firm hold upon both these aspects of our mortal life.

In a world where men propagated themselves like plants or trees and
where there was no organised religious tradition, the humour of
Anatole France would beat its wings in the void in vain. He requires
the sting of sensual desire and he requires an elaborate ecclesiastical
system whose object is the restraint of sensual desire. With these
two chords to play upon he can make sweet music. Take them both
away and there could be no Anatole France.

The root of this great writer's genius is _irony._ His whole
philosophy is summed up in that word, and all the magic of his
unequalled style depends upon it.

Sometimes as we read him, we are stirred by a dim sense of
indignation against his perpetual tone of smiling, patronising,
disenchanted, Olympian pity. The word "pity" is one of his favourite
words, and a certain kind of pity is certainly a profound element in
his mocking heart.

But it is the pity of an Olympian god, a pity that cares little for what
we call justice, a pity that refuses to take seriously the objects of his
commiseration. His clear-sighted intelligence is often pleased to toy
very plausibly with a certain species of revolutionary socialism. But,
I suppose few socialists derive much satisfaction from that
devastating piece of irony, the Isle of the Penguins; where
everything moves in circles and all ends as it began.

The glacial smile of the yawning gulf of eternal futility flickers
through all his pages. Everything is amusing. Nothing is important.
Let us eat and drink; let us be urbane and tolerant; let us walk on the
sunny side of the road; let us smell the roses on the sepulchres of the
dead gods; let us pluck the violets from the sepulchres of our dead
loves. All is equal--nothing matters. The wisest are they who play
with illusions which no longer deceive them and with the pity that
no longer hurts them. The wisest are they who answer the brutality
of Nature with the irony of Humanity. The wisest are they who read
old books, drink old wine, converse with old friends, and let the rest

And yet--and yet--

There is a poem of Paul Verlaine dedicated to Anatole France which
speaks like one wounded well nigh past enduring by the voices of
the scoffers.

     Ah, les Voix, mourez done, mourantes que vous êtes
     Sentences, mots en vain, metaphores mal faites,
     Toute la rhétorique en fuite des péchés,
     Ah, les Voix, mourez done, mourantes que vous êtes!
     . . . .
     Mourez parmi la voix terrible de l'Amour!
     . . . .


To turn suddenly to the poetry of Paul Verlaine from the mass of
modern verse is to experience something like that sensation so
admirably described by Thoreau when he came upon a sentence in
Latin or in Greek lying like a broken branch of lovely fresh greenery
across the pages of some modern book.

Verlaine more than any other European poet is responsible for the
huge revolution in poetry which has taken in recent times so many
and so surprising shapes and has deviated so far from its originator's

There is little resemblance between the most striking modern
experiments in what is called "free verse" and the manner in which
Verlaine himself broke with the old tradition; but the spirit
animating these more recent adventures is the spirit which Verlaine
called up from the "vasty deep," and with all their divergence from
his original manner these modern rebels have a perfect right to use
the authority of his great name, "car son nom," as Coppée says, in
his tenderly written preface to his "Choix de Poésies," "éveillera
toujours le souvenir d'une poésie absolument nouvelle et qui a pris
dans les lettres franchises l'importance d'une découverte."

The pleasure with which one returns to Verlaine from wandering
here and there among our daring contemporaries is really nothing
less than a tribute to the essential nature of all great poetry; I mean
to the soul of music in the thing. Some of the most powerful and
original of modern poets have been led so far away from this
essential soul of their own great art as to treat the music of their
works as quite subordinate to its intellectual or visual import.

As far as I am able to understand the theories of the so-called
"imagists," the idea is to lay the chief stress upon the evocation of
clearly outlined shapes--images clean-cut and sharply defined, and,
while personal in their choice, essentially objective in their
rendering--and upon the absence of any traditional "beautiful words"
which might blur this direct unvarnished impact of the poet's
immediate vision.

It might be maintained with some plausibility that Verlaine's poetry
takes its place in the "impressionistic" period, side by side with
"impressionistic" work in the plastic arts, and that for this reason it
is quite natural that the more modern poets, whose artistic
contemporaries belong to the "post-impressionistic" school, should
deviate from him in many essential ways. Personally I am extremely
unwilling to permit Verlaine to be taken possession of by any
modern tendency or made the war-cry of any modern camp.

Though by reason of his original genius he has become a potent
creative spirit influencing all intelligent people who care about
poetry at all, yet, while thus inspiring a whole generation--perhaps,
considering the youth of many of our poetic contemporaries, we
might say _two_ generations--he belongs almost as deeply to certain
great eras of the past. In several aspects of his temperament he
carries us back to François Villon, and his own passionate heart is
forever reverting to the Middle Ages as the true golden age of the
spirit he represented.

He thus sweeps aside with a gesture the great seventeenth century so
much admired by Nietzsche.

     Non. Il fut gallican, ce siècle, et janséniste!
     C'est vers le Moyen Age énorme et délicat,
     Qu'il faudrait que mon coeur en panne naviguât,
     Loin de nos jours d'esprit charnel et de chair triste.

But whatever may have been the spirit which animated Verlaine, the
fact remains that when one takes up once more this "Choix de
Poésies," "avec un portrait de l'auteur par Eugene Carrière," and
glances, in passing, at that suggestive _cinquante-septième mille_
indicating how many others besides ourselves have, in the midst of
earthquakes and terrors, assuaged their thirst at this pure fount, one
recognises once more that the thing that we miss in this modern
welter of poetising is simply _music_--music, the first and last
necessity, music, the only authentic seal of the eternal Muses.

Directly any theory of poetry puts the chief stress upon anything
except music--whether it be the intellectual content of the verses or
their image-creating vision or their colour or their tone--one has a
right to grow suspicious.

The more subtly penetrated such music is by the magic of the poet's
personality, the richer it is in deep intimations of universal human
feeling, the greater will be its appeal. But the music must be there;
and since the thing to which it forever appeals is the unchanging
human sensibility, there must be certain eternal laws of rhythm
which no original experiments can afford to break without losing the
immortal touch.

This is all that lovers of poetry need contend for as against these
quaint and interesting modern theories. Let them prove their theories!
Let them thrill us in the old authentic manner by their "free verse"
and we will acknowledge them as true descendants of Catullus and
Keats, of Villon and Verlaine!

But they must remember that the art of poetry is the art of
heightening words by the magic of music. Colour, suggestion,
philosophy, revelation, interpretation, realism, impressionism--all
these qualities come and go as the fashion of our taste changes. One
thing alone remains, as the essential and undying spirit of all true
poetry; that it should have that "concord of sweet sounds"--let us say,
rather, that concord of high, delicate, rare sounds--which melts us
and enthralls us and liberates us, whatever the subject and whatever
the manner or the method! Verse which is cramped and harsh and
unmelodious may have its place in human history; it may have its
place in human soothsaying and human interest; it has no place or
lot in poetry. Individual phrases may have their magic; individual
words may have their colour; individual thoughts may have their
truth; individual sentences their noble rhetoric;--all this is well and
right and full of profound interest. But all this is only the material,
the atmosphere, the medium, the instrument. If the final result does
not touch us, does not move us, does not rouse us, does not quiet us,
as _music_ to our ears and our souls--it may be the voice of the
prophet; it may be the voice of the charmer; it is not the voice of the
immortal god.

Verlaine uses the term _nuance_ in his "ars poetica" to express the
evasive quality in poetry which appeals to him most and of which he
himself is certainly one of the most delicate exponents; but
remembering the power over us of certain sublime simplicities,
remembering the power over us of certain great plangent lines in
Dante and Milton, where there is no "nuance" at all, one hesitates to
make this a dogmatic doctrine.

But in what he says of music he is supremely right, and it is for the
sake of his passionate authority on this matter--the authority of one
who is certainly no formal traditionalist--that I am led to quote
certain lines.

They occur in "Jadis et Naguère" and are placed, appropriately
enough, in the centre of the volume of Selections which I have now
before me.

     De la musique avant toute chose,
     Et pour cela préfère l'Impair
     Plus vague et plus soluble dans l'air,
     Sans rien en lui qui pèse ou qui pose.

     Il faut aussi que tu n'ailles point
     Choisir tes mots sans quelque méprise:
     Rien de plus cher que la chanson grise
     Où l'Indécis au Précis se joint.

     Car nous voulons la Nuance encor,
     Pas la Couleur, rien que la nuance!
     Oh! la nuance seule fiance
     Le rêve au rêve et la flûte au cor!

     Fuis du plus loin la Pointe assassine,
     L'Esprit cruel et le Rire impur,
     Qui font pleurer les yeux de l'Azur,
     Et tout cet ail de basse cuisine!

     Prends l'éloquence et tords-lui sou cou!
     Tu feras bien, en train d'énergie
     De rendre un peu la Rime assagie
     Si Ton n'y veille, elle ira jusqu'où?

     . . . .

     De la musique encore et toujours!
     Que ton vers soit la chose envolée
     Qu'on sent qui fuit d'une âme allée
     Vers d'autres cieux à d'autres amours.

     Que ton vers soit la bonne aventure
     Éparse au vent crispé du matin
     Qui va fleurant la menthe et le thym . . .
     Et tout le reste est littérature.

Yes; that is the sigh which goes up from one's heart, in these days
when there is so much verse and so little poetry;--"et tout le reste est

Clever imagery, humorous realism, philosophical thoughts, bizarre
fancies and strange inventions--it is all vivid, all arresting, all
remarkable, but it is only literature! This is a fine original image.
That is a fine unexpected thought. Here indeed is a rare magical
phrase. Good! We are grateful for these excellent things. But poetry?
Ah! that is another matter.

This music of which I speak is a large and subtle thing. It is not only
the music of syllables. It is the music of thoughts, of images, of
memories, of associations, of spiritual intimations and far-drawn
earth-murmurs. It is the music which is hidden in reality, in the heart
of reality; it is the music which is the secret cause why things are as
they are; the music which is their end and their beginning; it is the
old deep Pythagorean mystery; it is the music of the flowing tides,
of the drifting leaves, of the breath of the sleepers, of the passionate
pulses of the lovers; it is the music of the rhythm of the universe,
and its laws are the laws of sun and moon and night and day and
birth and death and good and evil.

Such music is itself, in a certain deep and true sense, more instinct
with the mystery of existence than any definite image or any definite
thought can possibly be. It seems to contain in it the potentiality of
all thoughts, and to stream in upon us from some Platonic
"beyond-world" where the high secret archetypes of all created forms
sleep intheir primordial simplicity.

The rhythmic cadences of such music seem, if I dare so far to put
such a matter into words, to exist independently of and previously to
the actual thoughts and images in which they are finally incarnated.

One has the sense that what the poet first feels is the obscure beauty
of this music, rising up wordless and formless from the
unfathomable wells of being, and that it is only afterwards, in a
mood of quiet recollection, that he fits the thing to its corresponding
images and thoughts and words.

The subject is really nothing. This mysterious music may be said to
have created the subject; just as the subject, when it is itself called
into existence, creates its images and words and mental atmosphere.
Except for the original out-welling of this hidden stream, pouring up
from unknown depths, there would be no thought, no image, no
words. A beautiful example of this is that poem entitled "Promenade
Sentimentale," which is one of the Paysages Tristes in the "Poèmes

It is a slight and shadowy thing, of no elaborate construction,
--simply a rendering of the impression produced upon the mind by
sunset and water; by willows and water-fowl and water-lilies. A
slight thing enough; but in some mysterious way it seems to blend
with all those vague feelings which are half memories and half
intimations of something beyond memory, which float round the
margins of all human minds.

We have seen these shadowy willows, that dying sunset; we have
heard the wail of those melancholy water-fowl; somewhere--far
from here--in some previous incarnation perhaps, or in the "dim
backward" of pre-natal dreaming. It all comes back to us as we give
ourselves up to the whispered cadences of this faint sweet music;
while those reiterated syllables about "the great water-lilies among
the rushes" fall upon us like a dirge, like a requiem, like the wistful
voice of what we have loved--once--long ago--touching us suddenly
with a pang that is well-nigh more than we can bear.

     Le couchant dardait ses rayons suprêmes
     Et le vent berçait les nénuphars blêmes;
     Les grands nénuphars entre les roseaux
     Tristement luisaient sur les calmes eaux.
     Moi, j'errais tout seul, promenant ma plaie
     Au long de l'étang, parmi la saulaie
     Où la brume vague évoquait un grand
     Fantôme laiteux se désespérant
     Et pleurant avec la voix des sarcelles
     Qui se rappelaient en battant des ailes
     Parmi la saulaie où j'errais tout seul
     Promenant ma plaie; et l'épais linceul
     Des ténèbres vint noyer les suprêmes
     Rayons du couchant dans ses ondes blêmes
     Et des nénuphars parmi les roseaux
     Des grands nénuphars sur les calmes eaux.

Verlaine is one of those great original poets the thought of whose
wistful evocations coming suddenly upon us when we are troubled
and vexed by the howl of life's wolves, becomes an incredible
mandragora of healing music.

I can remember drifting once, in one of those misty spring twilights,
when even the streets of Paris leave one restless, dissatisfied and
feverishly unquiet, into the gardens of the Luxembourg. There is a
statue there of Verlaine accentuating all the extravagance of that
extraordinary visage--the visage of a satyr-saint, a "ragamuffin
angel," a tatterdemalion scholar, an inspired derelict, a scaramouch
god,--and I recollect how, in its marble whiteness, the thing leered
and peered at me with a look that seemed to have about it all the
fragrance of all the lilac-blossoms in the world, mixed with all the
piety of all our race's children and the wantonness of all old heathen
dreams. It is like Socrates, that head; and like a gargoyle on the
tower of Notre Dame.

He ought to have been one of those slaves of Joseph of Arimathea,
who carried the body of Our Lord from the cross to the rich man's
tomb--a slave with the physiognomy of the god Pan--shedding tears,
like a broken-hearted child, over the wounded flesh of the Saviour.

There is an immense gulf--one feels it at once--between Paul
Verlaine and all other modern French writers. What with them is an
intellectual attitude, a deliberate aesthetic cult, is with him an
absolutely spontaneous emotion.

His vibrating nerves respond, in a magnetic answer and with equal
intensity, to the two great passions of the human race: its passion for
beauty and its passion for God.

His association with the much more hard and self-possessed and
sinister figure of Rimbaud was a mere incident in his life.

Rimbaud succeeded in breaking up the idyllic harmony of his
half-domestic, half-arcadian ménage, and dragging him out into the
world. But the influence over him of that formidable inhuman boy
was not a deep, organic, predestined thing touching the roots of his
being; it was an episode; an episode tragically grotesque indeed and
full of a curious interest, but leaving the main current of his genius
untouched and unchanged.

Paul Verlaine's response to the beauty of women is a thing worthy of
the most patient analysis. Probably there has never lived any human
person who has been more thrilled by the slightest caress. One is
conscious of this in every page of his work. There is a vibrant
spirituality, a nervous abandonment, about his poetry of passion,
which separates it completely from the confessions of the great

There was nothing heavy or material about Verlaine's response to
erotic appeals. His nervous organisation was so finely strung that,
when he loved, he loved with his whole nature, with body, soul and
spirit, in a sort of quivering ecstasy of spiritual lust.

One is reminded here and there of Heine; in other places--a little--of
William Blake; but even these resemblances are too vague to be
pressed at all closely.

His nature was undoubtedly child-like to a degree amounting to
positive abnormality. He hardly ever speaks of love without the
indication of a relation between himself and the object of his passion
which has in it an extraordinary resemblance to the perfectly pure
feeling of a child for its mother.

It must have been almost always towards women possessed very
strongly of the maternal instinct that he was attracted; and, in his
attraction, the irresistible ecstasy of the senses seems always
mingled with a craving to be petted, comforted, healed, soothed,
consoled, assuaged.

In poem after poem it is the tenderness, the purity, the delicacy of
women, which draws and allures him. Their more feline, more
raptorial attributes are only alluded to in the verses where he is
obviously objective and impersonal. In the excessive _gentleness_
of his eroticism Verlaine becomes, among modern poets, strangely
original; and one reads him with the added pleasure of enjoying
something that has disappeared from the love-poetry of the race for
many generations.

"By Gis and by saint Charity," as the mad girl in the play sings,
there is too much violence in modern love! One grows weary of all
this rending and tearing, of all this pantherish pouncing and
serpentine clinging. One feels a reaction against this eternal
savagery of earth-lust. It is a relief, like the coming suddenly from a
hedge of wild white roses after wandering through tropical jungles,
to pass into this tender wistful air full of the freshness of the dew of
the morning.

No wonder Verlaine fell frequently into what his conscience told
him was sin! His "sinning" has about it something so winning, so
innocent, so childish, so entirely free from the predatory mood, that
one can easily believe that his conscience was often betrayed into
slumber. And yet, when it did awaken at last, the tears of his
penitence ran down so pitifully over cheeks still wet with the tears
of his passion, that the two great emotions may be almost said to
have merged themselves in one another--the ecstasy of remorse in
the ecstasy of the sin that caused the remorse.

The way a man "makes love" is always intimately associated with
the way he approaches his gods, such as they may be; and one need
not be in the least surprised to find that Verlaine's attitude to his
Creator has a marked resemblance to his attitude to those
too-exquisite created beings whose beauty and sweet maternal
tenderness so often betrayed him. He evidently enjoys a delicious
childish emotion, almost a babyish emotion, in giving himself up
into the hands of his Maker to be soothed and petted, healed and
comforted. He calls upon his God to punish him just as a child might
call upon his mother to punish him, in the certain knowledge that his
tears will soon be kissed away by a tenderness as infinite as it is just.
God, Christ, Our Lady, pass through the pages of his poems as
through the cypress-terraces of some fantastic mediaeval picture.
The "douceur" of their sweet pitifulness towards him runs like a
quivering magnetic current through all the maddest fancies of his
wayward imagination.

"De la douceur, de la douceur, de la douceur"! Even in the least
pardonable of light loves he demands this tenderness--demands it
from some poor "fille de joie" with the same sort of tearful craving
with which he demands it from the Mother of God.

He has a pathetic mania for the consoling touch of tender, pitiful
hands. All through his poetry we have reference to such hands.
Sometimes they are only too human. Sometimes they are divine. But
whether human or divine they bring with them that magnetic gift of
healing for which, like a hurt and unhappy infant, he is always

     Les chères mains qui furent miennes
     Toutes petites, toutes belles,
     Après ces méprises mortelles
     Et toutes ces choses païennes,

     Après les rades et les grèves,
     Et les pays et les provinces,
     Royales mieux qu'au temps des princes
     Les chères mains m'ouvrent les rêves.

     . . . .

     Ment-elle, ma vision chaste,
     D'affinité spirituelle,
     De complicité maternelle,
     D'affection étroite et vaste?

     . . . .

That collection of passionate cries to God which ends with a sort of
rhapsody of pleading prayer, entitled "Sagesse," begins--and one
does not feel that it is in the least inappropriate--with

     Beauté des femmes, leur faiblesse, et ces mains pâles
     Qui font souvent le bien et peuvent tout le mal.

It is very curious to note the subtle manner in which, for all his
declarations about the Middle Ages, he is attracted irresistibly to that
wonderful artificial fairy-land, associated for us for all time with the
genius of Watteau, wherein pale roses and fountains and
yew-hedges are the background for the fatal sweetness of Columbine and
the dancing feet of Arlequino.

This Garden-of-Versailles cult, with its cold moonlight and its faint
music has become, with the sad-gay Pierrot as its tutelary deity, one
of the most appealing "motifs" in modern art.

Almost all of us have worshipped, at some time or another, at this
wistful fairy shrine, and have laid our single white rose on its marble
pavement, under the dark trees.

Yes; Verlaine may boast of his faithful loyalty to the "haute
théologie et solide morale, guidé par la folie unique de la Croix" of
that "Moyen Age énorme et délicat" which inspires his spirit. The
fact remains that none--none among all the most infatuated
frequenters of the perverse fairy-land of Watteau's exquisite
dreams--gives himself up more wantonly to the artifice within artifice,
to themask below mask, of these dancers to tambourines amid the
"boulingrins du pare aulique" of mock-classic fantasies. He gives
himself up to this Watteau cult all the more easily because he
himself has so infantile a heart. He is like a child who enters some
elaborate masked ball in his own gala dress. It is natural to him to be
perverse and wistful and tragically gay. It is natural to him to foot it
in the moonlight along with the Marquis of Carabas.

That Nuit du Walpurgis classique of his, with its "jardin de Lenôtre,
correct, ridicule et charmant," is one of the most delicate evocations
of this _genre._ One sees these strange figures, "ces spectres agités,"
as if they were passing from twilight to twilight through the silvery
mists of some pale Corot-picture, passing into thin air, into the
shadow of a shadow, into the dream of a dream, into nothingness
and oblivion; but passing gaily and wantonly--to the music of
mandolines, to the blowing of fairy horns!

     N'importe! ils vont toujours, les fébriles fantômes,
     Menant leur ronde vaste et morne, et tressautant
     Comme dans un rayon de soleil des atomes,
          Et s'évaporent a l'instant

     Humide et blême où l'aube éteint l'un après l'autre
     Les cors, en sorte qu'il ne reste absolument
     Plus rien--absolument--qu'un jardin de Lenôtre
          Correct, ridicule et charmant.

In the same vein, full of a diaphanous gaiety light as the flutter of
dragon-fly wings, is that "caprice" in his Fêtes Galantes entitled

     Scaramouche et Pucinella
     Qu'un mauvais dessein rassembla
     Gesticulent, noirs sur la lune.

     Cependant l'excellent docteur
     Bolonais cueille avec lenteur
     Des simples parmi l'herbe brune.

     Lors sa fille, piquant minois
     Sous la charmille, en tapinois
     Se glisse demi-nue, en quête

     De son beau pirate espagnol
     Dont un langoureux rossignol
     Clame la détresse a tue-tête.

Is that not worthy of an illustration by Aubrey Beardsley? And yet
has it not something more naive, more infantile, than most modern
trifles of that sort? Does not it somehow suggest Grimm's Fairy

There is one mood of Paul Verlaine, quite different from this, which
is extremely interesting if only for its introduction into poetry of a
certain impish malice which we do not as a rule associate with
poetry at all.

Such is the poem called Les Indolents, with its ribald refrain, like
the laughter of a light-footed Puck flitting across the moon-lit lawns,

     Hi! Hi! Hi! les amants bizarres!

     . . . .

     Eurent l'inexpiable tort
     D'ajourner une exquise mort.
     Hi! Hi! Hi! les amants bizarres!

Such also are those extraordinary verses under the title Colloque
Sentimental which trouble one's imagination with so penetrating a
chill of shivering disillusionment.

For some reason or other my own mind always associates these
terrible lines with a particular corner of a public garden in Halifax,
Yorkshire; where I seem to have seen two figures once; seen them
with a glacial pang of pain that was like the stab of a dagger of ice
frozen from a poisoned well.

     Dans le vieux pare solitaire et glacé
     Deux formes ont tout à l'heure passé.

     Leurs yeux sont morts et leurs lèvres sont molles
     Et l'on entend à peine leurs paroles.

     Dans le vieux pare solitaire et glacé
     Deux spectres ont évoqué le passé.

     --Qu'il était bleu, le ciel, et grand l'espoir!
     --L'espoir a fui, vaincu, vers le ciel noir.

I have omitted the bitter dialogue--as desolate and hollow in its
frozen retorts as the echoes of iron heels in a granite sepulchre--but
the whole piece has a petrified forlornness about it which somehow
reminds one of certain verses of Mr. Thomas Hardy.

One of my own favourite poems of Verlaine is one whose weird and
strange beauty will appeal, I fear, to few readers of these sketches;
but if I could put into words the indescribable power which it
exercises over my own mood I should be doing something to
mitigate its remoteness from normal feelings. It is a wild mad thing,
this poem--a fantasia upon a melancholy and terrible truth--but it has
the power of launching one's mind down long and perilous tides of

It is like a "nocturne" written by a musician who has wandered
through all the cities of Europe with a company of beggar-players,
playing masques of death to the occupants of all the cemeteries. He
names the poem Grotesques; and it comes among the verses called
Eaux-Fortes, dedicated to François Coppée.

     C'est que, sur leurs aigres guitares
     Crispant la main des libertés
     Ils nasillent des chants bizarres,
     Nostalgiques et révoltés;

     C'est enfin que dans leurs prunelles
     Rit et pleure--fastidieux--
     L'amour des choses éternelles,
     Des vieux morts et des anciens dieux!

     . . . .

     Les juins brûlent et les décembres
     Gèlent votre chair jusqu'aux os,
     Et la fièvre envahit vos membres
     Qui se déchirent aux roseaux.

     Tout vous repousse et tout vous navre
     Et quand la mort viendra pour vous
     Maigre et froide, votre cadavre
     Sera dédaigné par les loups!

I cannot resist the feeling that where the inmost essential genius of
Verlaine is to be found is neither in his religious poems nor his
love-poems; no, nor even in his singular fantasies.

I find it in certain little evasive verses, the fleeting magic of which
evaporates, under any attempt to capture or define it, like the
perfume from that broken alabaster box from which the woman
anointed the feet of the Saviour. Such a poem is that strangely
imaginative one, with a lovely silveriness of tone in its moth-like
movements, and full of a mystery, soft, soothing and gentle, like the
whisper of a child murmuring its happiness in its sleep, which is
called Impression Fausse for some delicate reason that I, alas! lack
the wit to fathom.

          Dame souris trotte
     Noire dans le gris du soir
          Dame souris trotte
          Grise dans le noir.

          On sonne la cloche,
     Dormez, les bons prisonniers,
          On sonne la cloche:
          Faut que vous dormiez,

. . . . .

          Dame souris trotte,
     Rose dans les rayons bleus,
          Dame souris trotte
          Debout, paresseux!

Perhaps of all the poems he ever wrote the one most full of his
peculiar and especial atmosphere--grey and sad and cool and deep
and unlike anything else in the world--is that entitled Réversibilities;
though here again I am out of my depths as to the full significance
of this title.

     Entends les pompes qui font
          Le cri des chats.
     Des sifflets viennent et vont
          Comme en pourchas.
     Ah, dans ces tristes décors
     Les Déjàs sont les Encors!

     O les vagues Angélus!
          (Qui viennent d'où)
     Vois s'allumer les Saluts
          Du fond d'un trou.
     Ah, dans ces mornes séjours
     Les Jamais sont les Toujours!

     Quels rêves épouvantes
          Vous grands murs blancs!
     Que de sanglots répétés,
          Fous ou dolents!
     Ah, dans ces piteux retraits
     Les Toujours sont les Jamais!

     Tu meurs doucereusement,
     Sans qu'on veille, O coeur aimant,
          Sans testament!
     Ah, dans ces deuils sans rachats
     Les Encors sont les Déjàs!

It is perhaps because his essential kingdom is not bound by the
time-limits of any century or age but has its place in that mysterious
country beyond the margins of all change, where the dim vague
feelings of humanity take to themselves shadowy and immortal
forms and whisper and murmur of what except in music can never
be uttered, that he appeals to us so much more than other recent

In that twilight-land of delicate mystery, by those pale sea-banks
dividing what we feel from what we dream, the silvery willows of
indefinable memory bow themselves more sadly, the white poplars
of faint hope shiver more tenderly, the far-off voices of past and
future mingle with a more thrilling sweetness, than in the garish
daylight of any circumscribed time or place.

In the twilight-country over which he rules, this fragile child of the
clairvoyant senses, this uncrowned king of beggars and dreams, it
may truly and indeed seem that "les jamais sont les toujours."

His poetry is the poetry of water-colours. It is water seen through
water. It is white painted upon white. It is sad with the whispers of
falling rain. It is grey with the passage of softly-sliding mists. It is
cool and fresh with the dews of morning and of evening.

Like a leaf whirling down from one of those tremulous poplar-trees
that hang over the Seine between the Pont Neuf and the Quai
Voltaire--whirling lightly and softly down, till it touches the flowing
water and is borne away--each of these delicate filmy verses of his
falls upon our consciousness; draws up from the depths its strange
indescribable response; and is lost in the shadows.

One is persuaded by the poetry of Verlaine that the loveliest things
are the most evasive things, the things which come most lightly and
pass most swiftly. One realises from his poetry that the rarest
intimations of life's profound secret are just those that can only be
expressed in hints, in gestures, in whispers, in airy touches and
fleeting signs.

One comes to understand from it that the soul of poetry is and was
and must always be no other thing than _music_--music not merely
of the superficial sound of words, but of those deeper significances
and those vaguer associations which words carry with them; music
of the hidden spirit of words, the spirit which originally called them
forth from the void and made them vehicles for the inchoate
movements of man's unuttered dreams.

Paul Verlaine--and not without reason--became a legend even while
he lived; and now that he is dead he has become more than a legend.
A legend and a symbol! Wherever the spirit of art finds itself
misunderstood, mistrusted, disavowed, disinherited; driven into the
taverns by the stupidity of those who dwell in "homes," and into the
arms of the submerged by the coldness and heartlessness of those
who walk prosperously upon the surface; the figure of this fantastic
child, this satyr-saint with the Socratic forehead, this tearful
mummer among the armies of the outcasts, will rise up and write his
prophecy upon the wall.

For the kingdom of art is as the kingdom of heaven. The clever ones,
the wise ones, the shrewd ones, the ones that make themselves
friends with Mammon, and build themselves houses of pleasure for
their habitation, shall pass away and be forgotten forever.

The justice of the gods cancels the malice of the righteous, and the
devoted gratitude of humanity tears up the contemptuous libels of
the world.

He has come into his own, as all great poets must at last, in defiance
of the puritan, in defiance of public opinion, and in spite of all
aspersion. He has come into his own; and no one who loves poetry
can afford to pass him by.

For while others may be more witty, more learned, more elaborate,
none can be more melodious. His poetry is touched with the music
that is beyond all argument. He lives by his sincerity. He lives by his

The things that pertain the deepest to humanity are not its fierce
fleshly passions, its feverish ambitions, its proud reasonings, its
tumultuous hopes. They are the things that belong to the hours when
these obsessing forces fade and ebb and sink away. They are the
things that rise up out of the twilight-margins of sleep and death; the
things that come to us on softly stepping feet, like child-mothers
with their first-born in their arms; the things that have the white
mists of dawn about them and the cool breath of evening around
them; the things that hint at something beyond passion and beyond
reason; the things that sound to us like the sound of bells heard
through clear deep water; for the secret of human life is not in its
actions or its voices or its clamorous desires, but in the intervals
between all these--when all these leave it for a moment at rest--and
in the depths of the soul itself the music becomes audible, the music
which is the silence of eternity.


The death of Remy de Gourmont is one of the greatest losses that
European literature has suffered since the death of Oscar Wilde. The
supreme critic is as rare as the supreme artist, and de Gourmont's
critical genius amounted to a miracle of clairvoyance.

He wrote of everything--from the etymological subtleties of the
French language down to the chaste reluctances of female moles. He
touched everything and he touched nothing that he did not adorn.

In America he is unfortunately far less well known than he deserves,
though an admirable translation of "A Night in the Luxembourg,"
published in Boston, and a charming and illuminating essay by Mr.
Robert Parker, have done something to remove this disgrace. As Mr.
Parker truly observes, the essence of de Gourmont's genius is to be
found in an insatiable curiosity which the absolute closing of any
vista of knowledge by the final and authoritative discovery of truth
would paralyse and petrify. He does not, as Mr. Parker justly says,
seek for truth with any hope or even any particular wish, to find it.
Truth found would be truth spoiled. He seeks it from sheer love of
the pursuit. In this respect he is precisely of the stuff out of which
great essayists are made. He is also placed in that special position
from which the illusive phenomena of this challenging world are
best caught, best analysed, and best interpreted, as we overtake them
in their dreamy passage from mystery to mystery.

The mere fact of his basic assumption that final truth in any
direction is undiscoverable--possibly undesirable also--sets him with
the wisest and sanest of all the most interesting writers. It sets him
"en rapport" with nature, too, in a very close and intimate affiliation.
It sets him at one spring at the very parting of the ways where all the
mysteries meet. Nature loves to reveal the most delicate side-lights
and the most illuminating glimpses to those who take this attitude.
Such disinterestedness brings its own reward.

To love truth for the sake of power or gain or pride or success is a
contemptible prostitution; to love it for its own sake is a tragic
foolishness. What is truth--in itself--that it should be loved? But to
love it for the pleasure of pursuing it, that is the temper dear to the
immortal gods. For this is indeed their own temper, the very way
they themselves--the shrewd undying ones--regard the dream
shadows of the great kaleidoscope.

It is a subtle and hard saying this, that truth must be played with
lightly to be freely won, but it has a profound and infinite
significance. Illuminating thoughts--thoughts with the bloom and
gloss and dew of life itself upon them--do not come to the person
who with puritanical austerity has grown lean in his wrestling. They
come when we have ceased to care whether they come or not. They
come when from the surface of the tide and under the indifferent
stars we are content to drift and listen, without distress, to the
humming waters.

As Goethe says, it is of little avail that we go forth with our screws
and our levers. Tugged at so and mauled, the magic of the universe
slips away from out of our very fingers. It is better to stroll
negligently along the highways of the world careless of everything
except "the pleasure which there is in life itself," and then, in
Goethe's own phrase, "Such thoughts will come of themselves and
cry like happy children--'Here we are.'"

There is indeed required--and herein may be found the secret of
Remy de Gourmont's evasive talent--a certain fundamental
_irresponsibility,_ if we are to become clairvoyant critics of life. As
soon as we grow responsible, or become conscious of responsibility,
something or other comes between us and the clear object of our
curiosity, blurring its outline and confusing its colours. Moral
scruples, for instance, as to how precisely this new fragment of
knowledge or this new aspect of art is likely to affect the
inclinations of the younger generation; religious scruples as to
whether this particular angle of cosmic vision will redound to the
glory of God or detract from it or diminish it; political or patriotic
scruples as to whether this particular "truth" we have come to
overtake will have a beneficial or injurious effect upon the fortunes
of our nation; domestic scruples as to whether we are justified In
emphasising some aspect of psychological discrimination that may
be dangerous to those stately and ideal illusions upon which the
more sacred of human institutions rest.

Looked at from this point of view it might seem as if it were almost
impossible for a thoroughly responsible or earnest-minded man to
become an ideal critic. Such a one keeps his mind so closely and
gravely fixed upon his ethical "point d'appui," that when he jumps
he misses the object altogether. In a certain sense every form of
responsibility is obscurantism. We are concerned with something
external to the actual thing under discussion; something to be gained
or lost or betrayed or guarded; and between the pure image of what
we are looking at and our own free souls, float a thousand distorting

The whole philosophical attitude of Remy de Gourmont is full of
interest and significance for those who are watching the deeper
movements of European thought. At one, in a limited sense, with
Bergson and William James in their protests against final or static
"truth," de Gourmont's writings, when taken as a whole, form a most
salutary and valuable counterpoise to the popular and vulgar
implications of this modern mysticism. That dangerous and
pernicious method of estimating the truth of things according to
what James calls somewhere their "cash-value" receives blow after
blow from his swift and ironic intelligence.

Things are what they are and their hidden causes are what they are,
quite apart from whether they produce a pleasant or unpleasant
effect upon individual lives. The sordid and utilitarian system of
judging the value of thoughts and ideas in proportion to their
efficiency in the world of practical exigencies does not appeal to this
rational and classical mind.

The pragmatism of William James and the instinct-doctrines of
Bergson have both been pounced upon by every kind of apologist
for supernatural religion and categorical morality; while the method
of appealing to the optimistic prejudices of shallow minds by the use
of colloquial and mystical images has of recent years been
introducing into European thought what might be called "Metaphysical

Against this tendency, a tendency peculiarly and especially
Anglo-Saxon, the ingrained _Latinity_ of de Gourmont's mind indignantly
revolts. His point of view is entirely and absolutely classical, in the
old French sense of that suggestive word and in accordance with the
great French traditions of Rabelais, Voltaire, Stendhal, Renan, and
Anatole France.

The new pseudo-philosophy, so vague, so popular, so optimistic, so
steeped in mystical morality, which one associates with the writings
of so many modern Americans and which finds a certain degree of
support in the work of Maeterlinck and Romain Rolland, leaves the
intelligence of Remy de Gourmont entirely untouched. He comes to
modern problems with the free, gay, mocking curiosity of a
twentieth century Lucian. Completely out of his vein and remote
from his method is that grave pedagogic tone which has become so
popular a note in recent ethical writing, and which, for all his slang
of the marketplace, underlies the psychological optimism of William

One has only to read a few pages of Remy de Gourmont to be
conscious that one has entered once again the large, spacious, free,
irresponsible, _heathen_ atmosphere of the great writers of antiquity.
The lapse of time since those classic ages, the superficial changes of
human manners and speech, seem abolished, seem reduced to
something that does not count at all. We have nothing here of that
self-conscious modernity of tone, that fussy desire to be original and
popular, which spoils the charm of so many vigorous writers of our
age. It is as though some pleasant companion of Plato--some wise
and gay Athenian from the side of Agathon or Phaedrus or
Charmides--were risen from his tomb by the blue Ionian seas to
discourse to us upon the eternal ironies of nature and human life
under the lime trees and chestnuts of the Luxembourg gardens. It is
as though some philosophic friend of Catullus or Propertius had
returned from an age-long holiday within the olive groves of Sirmio
to wander with clear-eyed humorous curiosity along the banks of the
Seine or among the book-stalls of the Odéon.

Like a thick miasmic cloud, as we read this great pagan critic, all the
fogs and vapours of turgid hyperborean superstition are driven away
from the face of the warm sun. Once more what is permanent and
interesting in this mad complicated comedy of human life emerges
in bold and sharp relief.

Artists, novelists, poets, journalists, occultists, abnormalists,
essayists, scientists and even theologians, are treated with that
humorous and passionate curiosity, full of a spacious sense of the
amplitude of and diversity of life's possibilities, which we associate
with the classic tradition.

Only in France is the appearance of a writer of this kind possible at
all; because France alone of all the nations, and Paris alone of all the
cities, of the modern world, has kept in complete and continuous
touch with the "open secret" of the great civilisations.

There is no writer more required in America at this moment than
Remy de Gourmont, and for that very reason no writer less likely to
be received. Curiously enough, in spite of the huge influx of
foreigners into the harbour reigned over by the Statue of Liberty, not
even England itself is more enslaved by the dark fogs of puritanical
superstition than the United States; for there is no place in the world
where the brutal ignorance and complacent self-righteousness of the
commercial middle classes rampage and revel and trample upon
distinction and refinement more savagely than in America. The
blame for this must fall entirely upon the English race and upon the
descendants of the Puritans. Perhaps a time will come when all these
Jews and Slavs and Italians will assert their _intellectual_ as they are
beginning to assert their _economic,_ independence, and then no
doubt led by the cities of the West--the ones furthest from
Boston--there will be a Renaissance of European intelligence in this great
daughter of Europe such as will astonish even Paris itself. But this
event, as Sir Thomas More says so sadly of his Utopia, is rather to
be hoped for than expected.

One hears so often from the mouths of middle-class apologists for
the modern industrial system expressions of fear as to the loss of
what they call "initiative" under any conceivable socialistic state.
One is inclined to ask "initiative towards what"? Towards growing
unscrupulously rich, it must be supposed; certainly not towards
intellectual experiments and enterprises; for no possible
revolutionary regime could be less sympathetic to these things than
the one under which we live at present.

The Puritan rulers of America are very anxious to "educate"
foreigners in the free "institutions" of their new home. One can only
pray that the persons submitted to this process will find some
opportunity of adding to their "education" some cursory
acquaintance with their own classics; so that when the hour arrives
and we wake to find ourselves under the rule of trade-unions or
socialistic bureaucrats, our new authorities will know at least
something of the "institution," as Walt Whitman somewhere calls it,
of intellectual toleration.

Remy de Gourmont himself is very far from being a socialist. He
has imbibed with certain important differences, due to his
incorrigible Latin temperament, many of the doctrines of Nietzsche;
but Nietzsche himself could hardly be more inimical to any kind of
mob-rule than this exponent of "subjective idealism."

Remy de Gourmont does not interest himself greatly in political
changes. He does not interest himself in political revolutions. Like
Goethe, he considers the intellectual freedom of the artist and
philosopher best secured under a government that is stable and
lasting; better still under a government that confines itself rigidly to
its own sphere and leaves manners and morals to the taste of the
individual; best of all under that Utopian absence of any government,
whether of the many or of the few, whereof all free spirits dream.

Remy de Gourmont has written one immortal philosophical romance
in "A Night in the Luxembourg." He has written some exquisite
poetry full of a voluptuous and ironic charm; full of that remoteness
from sordid reality which befits a lonely and epicurean spirit, a spirit
pursuing its own way on the shadowy side of all human roads where
the old men dream their most interesting dreams and the young
maidens dance their most unreserved dances.

He has written many graceful and lovely prose poems--one hesitates
to call them "short stories"--in which the reader is transported away
beyond all modern surroundings into that delicate dream world so
dear to lovers of Watteau and Poussin, where the nymphs of Arcadia
gather, wondering and wistful, about the feet of wandering saints,
and where the symbols of Dionysian orgies blend with the symbols
of the redemption of humanity.

He has written admirable and unsurpassed criticism upon almost all
the contemporary figures of French literature--criticism which in
many cases contains a wisdom and a delicacy of feeling quite
beyond the reach of the particular figure that preoccupies him at the
moment. He has done all this and done it as no one else in Europe
could have done it. But in the last resort it does not seem as though
his reputation would rest either upon his poetry or his prose poetry
or even perhaps upon his "masks," as he calls them, of personal

It rather seems as though his best work--putting "A Night in the
Luxembourg" aside--were to be found in that long series of
psychological studies which he entitles "Promenades Litteraires,"
"Promenades Philosophiques" and "Epilogues." If we add to these
the volumes called "La culture des Idées," "Le chemin de Velours,"
and "Le Problème du style" we have a body of philosophical
analysis and speculation the value of which it would be impossible
to overrate in the present condition of European thought.

What we have offered to us in these illuminating essays is nothing
less than an inestimable mass of interpretative suggestion, dealing
with every kind of topic under the sun and throwing light upon
every species of open question and every degree of human mystery.

When one endeavours to distil from all this erudite mass of
criticism--of "criticism of life" in the true sense of that phrase--the
fundamental and quintessential aspects of thought, one finds the
attempt a much easier one than might be expected from the variety,
and in many cases from the occasional and transitory nature, of the
subjects discussed. It is this particular tone and temper of mind
diffused at large through a discussion of so immense a variety of
topics that in the last resort one feels is the man's real contribution to
the art of living upon the earth. And when in pursuing the
transformations of his protean intelligence through one critical
metamorphosis after another we finally catch him in his native and
original form, it is this form, with the features of the real Remy de
Gourmont, which will remain in our mind when many of its
incidental embodiments have ceased to interest us.

The man in his essential quality is precisely what our generation and
our race requires as its antipodal corrective. He is the precise
opposite of everything most characteristic of our puritan-souled and
commercial-minded Democracy. He is all that we are not--and we
are all that he is not.

For an average mind evolved by our system and subjected to our
influence--the mind and influence of modern English-speaking
America--the writings of Remy de Gourmont would be, if apprehended
in any true measure according to their real content and
significance, the most extreme intellectual and moral outrage that
could be inflicted upon us. Properly understood, or even
superficially understood, they would wound and shock and stagger
and perplex every one of our most sacred prejudices. They would
conflict with the whole method and aim of the education which we
have received, an education of which the professed object is to fit us
for an active, successful and energetic life in the sphere of industrial
or commercial or technical enterprises, and to make of us moral,
socially-minded, conventional and normal persons. Our education, I
mean our American education--for they still teach the classics in a
few schools in England--is, in true pragmatic manner, subordinate to
what is called one's "life work"; to the turning, as profitably to
ourselves as possible, of some well-oiled wheel in the industrial

Such an education, though it may produce brilliant brokers and
inspired financiers, with an efflorescence of preachers and base-ball
players, certainly cannot produce "humanists" of the old, wise
Epicurean type.

But it is not only our education which is at fault. Our whole spiritual
atmosphere is alien and antagonistic to the spiritual atmosphere of
Remy de Gourmont. He is serious where we are flippant, and we are
serious where he is ironical.

Any young person among us who imbibed the mental and moral
attitude of Remy de Gourmont would cause dismay and consternation
in the hearts of his friends. He would probably have a library.
He might even read Paul Claudel.

I speak lightly enough, but the point at issue is not a light one. It is
indeed nothing less than a parting of the ways between two
civilisations, or, shall we say, between a civilisation which has not
lost touch with Athens and Rome and a commercial barbarism
buttressed up with "modern improvements."

Remy de Gourmont's genius is in its essence an aristocratic one. He
has the reserve of the aristocrat; the aristocratic contempt for the
judgment of the common herd; the aristocrat's haughty indifference
to public opinion. Writing easily, urbanely, plausibly upon every
aspect of human life, he continues the great literary tradition of the
beautifully and appropriately named _"humanism"_ of the "Revival
of Letters."

As Mr. Parker hints, he is one of those who refuse to bow to the
intolerable mandate of the dry and sapless spirit of "specialisation."
He refuses to leave art to the artist, science to the scientist, religion
to the theologian, or the delicate art of natural casuistry to the
professional moralist. In the true humanistic temper he claims the
right to deal with all these matters, and to deal with them lightly,
freely, unscrupulously, irresponsibly, and with no "arrière pensée"
but the simple pleasure of the discussion.

He makes us forget Herbert Spencer and makes us think of Plato. He
is the wise sophist of our own age, unspoiled by any Socratic
"conceptualism," and ready, like Protagoras, to show us how man is
the measure of all things and how the individual is the measure of
man. The ardour of his intellectual curiosity burns with a clear
smokeless flame. He brings back to the touchstone of a sort of
distinguished common sense, free from every species of superstition,
all those great metaphysical and moral problems which have been
too often monopolised by the acrid and technical pedantry of the

He reminds one of the old-fashioned "gentleman of leisure" of the
eighteenth century, writing shrewdly and wisely upon every
question relating to human life, from punctuation and grammar to
the manner in which the monks of the Thebaid worshipped God. His
attitude is always that of the great amateur, never of the little
professional. He writes with suggestive imagination, not with
exhaustive authority. He takes up one subject after another that has
been, so to speak, closed and locked to the ordinary layman, and
opens it up again with some original thrust of wholesome scepticism,
and makes it flexible and porous. He indicates change and
fluctuation and malleableness and the organic capriciousness of life,
where the professors have shut themselves up in logical dilemmas.
When it comes to the matter of his actual approach to these things it
will be found that he plunges his hand boldly into the flowing
stream, in the way of a true essayist dispensing with all the tedious
logical paraphernalia of a writer of "serious treatises."

His genius is not only aristocratic in quality; it is essentially what
might be called, in a liberal use of the term, the genius of a

Remy de Gourmont's ultimate contribution to the art of criticism is
the disentangling, from among the more purely rational vehicles of
thought, of what we might regard as the sensual or sensuous
elements of human receptivity. No one can read his writings with
any degree of intelligence without becoming aware that, in his way
of handling life, ideas become sensations and sensations become

More than any critic that ever lived, Remy de Gourmont has the
power of interesting us in his psychological discoveries with that
sort of thrilling vibrating interest which is almost like a physical

The thing to note in regard to this evocation of a pleasurable shock
of mental excitement is that in his case it does not seem produced so
much by the sonority or euphonious fall of the actual words--as in
the case of Oscar Wilde--or even by the subtler spiritual harmony of
rhythmically arranged thought--as in the case of Walter Pater--as by
the use of words to liberate and set free the underlying sensation
which gives body to the idea, or, if you will, the underlying idea
which gives soul to the sensation.

In reading him we seldom pause, as we do with Wilde or Pater, to
caress with the tip of our intellectual tongue the insidious bloom and
gloss and magical effluence of the actual phrases he uses. His
phrases seem, so to speak, to clear themselves out of the way--to
efface themselves and to retire in order that the sensational thought
beneath them may leap forward unimpeded.

Words become indeed to this great student of the subtleties of
human language mere talismans and entrance keys, by means of
which we enter into the purlieus of that psychological borderland
existing half way between the moving waters of sensibility and the
human shores of mental appreciation. Playing this part in his work it
becomes necessary that his words should divest themselves, as far as
it is humanly possible for them to do so without losing their
intelligible symbolic value, of all merely logical and abstract
connotation. It is necessary that his words should be light-footed and
airily winged, swift, sharp and sudden, so that they may throw the
attention of the reader away from themselves upon the actual
psychic and psychological thrill produced by each new and exciting
idea. They must be fluid and flexible, these words of his, free from
rigid or traditional fetters, and prepared at a moment's notice to take
new colour and shape from some unexpected and original thought
looming up in the twilight below.

They must be quick to turn green, blue, purple, violet--these
words--like the flowing waters of some sunlit sea, in order that the
mysterious reflections of the wonderful opalescent fish, swimming
to and fro in the dim depths, may reach the surface unimpeded by
any shadows.

But the chief point about the style of Remy de Gourmont is that it
precisely reflects his main fundamental principle, the principle that
ideas should strike us with the pleasurable shock of sensations, and
that sensations should be porous to and penetrated by ideas.

"En littérature, comme en tout, il faut que cesse la regne des mots
abstraits. Une ouvre d'art n'existe que par l'émotion qu'elle nous
donne; il suffira de determiner et de caracteriser la nature de cette
émotion; cela ira de la métaphysique à la sensualité, de l'idée pure au
plaisir physique."

"La métaphysique à la sensualité; l'idée pure au plaisir physique"; it
would be impossible to put more clearly than in those words the
purpose and aim of this great writer's work.

Contemptuously aloof from the idols of the market-place,
contemptuously indifferent to the tyranny of public opinion, with the
fixed principle in his mind--almost his only fixed principle--that the
majority is always wrong, Remy de Gourmont goes upon his way;
passionately tasting, like a great satin-bodied humming bird, every
exquisite flower in the garden of human ideas. The wings of his
thoughts, as he hovers, beat so quickly as to be almost invisible; and
thus it is that in reading him--great scholar of style as he is--we do
not think of his words but only of his thought, or rather only of the
sensation which his thought evokes.

When it comes to the actual philosophy of Remy de Gourmont we
indeed arrive at something which may well cause our Puritan
obscurants to open their mouths with amazement. He is perhaps the
only perfectly frank and unmitigated "hedonist" which European
literature at this hour offers.

He advocates pleasure as the legitimate and sole end of man's
endeavours and aspirations upon this earth. Pleasure imaginatively
dealt with indeed, and transformed from a purely physical into a
cerebral emotion; but pleasure frankly, candidly, shamelessly
accepted at its natural and obvious value.

Here, then, comes at last upon the scene a writer as free from the
moralistic aftermath of two thousand years of criminalising of
human instincts as he is free from the supernatural dogmas that have
given support to this darkening of the sunshine.

Nietzsche, of course, was before him with his formidable
philosophic hammer; but Nietzsche himself was by temperament too
spiritual, too cold, too aloof from the common instincts of humanity
to do more than hew out an opening through the gloomy thickets of
the ascetic forest. He was himself too entirely intellectual, too high
and icy and austere and imaginative ever to bring the actual feet of
the dancers, and the lutes and flutes of the wanton singers into the
sunlit path to which he pointed the way.

His cruel praise of the more predatory and rapacious among the
emancipated spirits gives, too, a somewhat harsh and sinister aspect
to the whole thing. The natural innocence of genuine pagan delight
draws back instinctively from the savage excesses of the
Nietzschean "blond beast." The poor fauns and dryads of the free
ancient world hesitate trembling and frightened on the very
threshold of their liberty when this great Zarathustra offers them a
choice between frozen Alpine peaks of heroic desolation and
bloodstained jungles frequented by Borgian tigers.

In his own heart Nietzsche was much more of a mediaeval saint than
a predatory "higher man," but the natural human instinct of any sane
and sun-loving pagan may well shrink back dismayed from any
contact with this savage "will to power," which, while destroying the
quiet cloistered gardens of monastic seclusion, hurls us into the path
of these new tyrants. The less rigorous "religious orders" of the faith
of Christendom would seem to offer to these poor dismayed
"revenants" from the ancient world a much quieter and happier
habitation than the mountain tops where blows the frozen wind of
"Eternal Recurrence," or the smouldering desert sands where stalk
the tawny lions of the "higher morality." The "Rule of Benedict"
would in this sense be a refuge for the timorous unbaptised, and the
"Weeds of Dominic" a protection for the gentle infidel.

After reading Remy de Gourmont, with his wise, friendly ironic
interest in every kind of human emotion, one is inclined to feel that,
after all, in the large and tolerant courts of some less zealous
traditional "order" there might be more pleasant air to breathe, more
peaceful sunshine, more fresh and dewy rose-gardens, than in a
world dominated by the Eagle and the Serpent of the Zarathustrian

Remy de Gourmont would free us from the rule of dogmatist and
moralist, but he would free us from these without plunging us into a
yet sterner ascesis. The tone and temper advocated by him is one
eminently sane, peaceful, quiet, friendly and gay. He does not free
us from a dark responsibility to God to plunge us under the yoke of
a darker responsibility to posterity. He would free us from every
kind of responsibility. He would reduce our life to a beautiful
unrestricted "Abbey of Thelema," over the gates of which the great
Pantagruelian motto "Fay ce que vouldray" would be written in
letters of gold.

What one is brought to feel in reading Remy de Gourmont is that the
liberty of the individual to follow his intellectual and psychological
tastes unimpeded by any sort of external authority is much more
important for civilisation at large and much more conducive to the
interests of posterity than any inflexible rules, whether they be laid
upon us by ecclesiastical tradition, by puritanical heretics or by
prophetic supermen.

It is really _liberty_--first and last--in the full beautiful meaning of
that great human word, that Remy de Gourmont claims for us;
though he is perfectly aware that such liberty can never be enjoyed
except by those whose genuine intellectual emancipation renders
them fit to enjoy it. It is always for the liberty of _man_ as an
individual, never for _men_ as a herd, that he contends; as his
favourite phrase, "subjective idealism," constantly insists.

And, above all, it is perfect and untrammelled liberty for the artist
that he demands. One of his most suggestive and interesting essays
is upon the topic of the influence of the "young girl" upon
contemporary literature.

This is indeed carrying the war into the enemy's camp; for if the
"young girl" has interfered with the freedom of the artist in France,
what has she done in England and America? "What are they doing
here?" cried Goethe once, teased and fretted by the presence of this
restricting influence. "Why don't they keep them in their convents?"

And it is this very cry, the cry of the impatient artist longing to deal
freely and largely with every mortal aspect of human life, that Remy
de Gourmont echoes.

It is indeed a serious and difficult problem; and it is one of the
problems thrust inevitably upon us by the spread of education and
the consequent cheapening and vulgarising of education under the
influence of democracy.

But it can have only one answer, the great and memorable answer
given to all scrupulous protectors of virtue by John Milton in his
"Areopagitica." It is better that this or the other person should come
to harm by the bad use of a good book than that the life-blood of an
immortal spirit, embalmed in any beautiful work of art, should be
wasted upon the dust and never reach the verdict of posterity.

What are they doing here, these difficult young persons and their
still more difficult guardians? This--this sacred Elysian garden of the
great humanistic tradition of classic wisdom and classic art--must
not be invaded by clamorous babes and agitated elders, must not be
profaned either by the plaudits or the strictures of the unlettered mob.
Somewhere in human life, and where should it be if not in the
cloistered seclusion of noble literature?--there must be an escape
from the importunities of such people and from the responsibilities
of the ignorance they so jealously guard.

In the days when men wrote for men--and for women of the calibre
of Aspasia or Margaret of Navarre--this problem did not emerge. It
was not wise perhaps at Athens to abuse Cleon, though--heaven
knows--that was often enough done; nor in Rome to satirise Caesar,
though that too was now and again most prosperously achieved! It
was dangerous in the time of Rabelais to throw doubt on the
authority of the church. But this new tyranny, this new oppression of
letters, this unfortunate cult of the susceptible "young person," is far
more deadly to the interests of civilisation than any interference by
church or state. There was always to be found some wise and
classic-minded cardinal to whom one could appeal, some dilettante
Maecenas to whom one might dedicate one's work.

But now the flood-gates are open; the dam is up; and the great tide
of unmitigated philistinism, hounded on by dreadful protectors of
dreadful "young persons," invades the very citadel of civilisation
itself, and pours its terrible "pure" scum and its popular sentimental
mud over the altars of the defenceless immortals. No one asks that
these tyrannical young people and their anxious guardians should
read the classics or should read the works of such far-descended
inheritors of the classical tradition who, like Remy de Gourmont,
seek to keep the sacred fire alight. Let them hold their hands off! Let
them go back to their schools and their presbyteries.

Democracy may be a great improvement upon the past, just as
modern religion may be an improvement upon ancient religion. But
one thing democracy must not be allowed to do; it must not be
allowed to substitute the rule of a puritanical middle-class, led by
pietistic sentimentalists, for the despotism of a Caesar or a Sforza or
a Malatesta in the sphere of the intellect. The intellect of the race
must be held sacred, must be held intact; and its artists and writers
permitted to go their way and follow their "subjective idealism" as
they please, without let or hindrance.

What would be the use of persecuting genius into absolute sterility if
after years and years of suppression human instincts were left the
same, only with no subtle criticism or free creative art to give them
beauty, refinement, interpretation and the magic of a noble style?

Remy de Gourmont, like all the profoundest intelligences of our race,
like the great Goethe himself, is a spiritual anarchist.

Standing apart from popular idols and popular catch-words he
converses with the great withdrawn souls of his own and previous
ages, and hands on to posterity the large, free, urbane atmosphere of
humanistic wisdom.

On the whole perhaps it would be well to keep his writings out of
the New World. They might stir up pessimistic feelings. They might
make us dissatisfied with lecture rooms and moving picture shows.
They might undermine our interest in politics.

"La métaphysique à la sensualité--l'idée pure au plaisir physique!"
Such language has indeed a dangerous sound.

To be obsessed by a passionate and insatiable curiosity with regard
to every sensation known to human senses; to be anxious to give this
curiosity complete scope, so that nothing, literally nothing, shall
escape it; to be endowed with the power of putting the results of
these investigations into clear fascinating words, words that allure us
into passing through them and beyond and behind them into the
sensation of intellectual discovery which they conceal; this indeed,
in our democratic age, is to be a very dubious, a very questionable

For this shameless advocate of pleasure as the legitimate aim of the
human race, sex and everything connected with sex comes naturally
to be of paramount interest. Sex in every conceivable aspect, and
religion in its best aspect--that is to say in its ritualistic one--are the
things round which the cerebral passion of this versatile humanist
hovers most continually.

In his prose poems and in his poetry these two interests are
continually appearing, and, more often than not, they appear
together fatally and indissolubly united.

"The Book of Litanies" is the title, for instance, he is pleased to give
to one of his most characteristic experiments in verse; the one that
contains that amazing poem addressed to the rose, with its
melancholy and sinister refrain which troubles the memory like a
swift wicked look from a beautiful countenance that ought to be
pure and cold in death.

And how lovely and significant are those words "The Pilgrim of
Silence," which is the name he seems to select for his own
wandering and insatiable soul.

The Pilgrim of Silence! Pilgrim moving, aloof from the clamours of
men, from garden to garden of melancholy and sweet mystery;
pilgrim passing night by night along moon-lit parterres of
impossible roses; pilgrim seeking "wild sea-banks" where
strange-leaved glaucous plants whisper their secrets to the sharp salt
wind; pilgrim of silence, for whom the gentlest murmur of the troubled
senses of feverish humanity has its absorbing interest, every quiver
of those burning eyelids its secret intimation, every sigh of that
tremulous breast its burden of delicate confession; pilgrim of silence
moving aloof from the howls of the mob and the raucous voices of
the preachers, moving from garden to garden, from sea-shore to
sea-shore; cannot even you--oh pilgrim of the long, long quest--give us
the word, the clue, the signal, that shall answer the riddle of our days,
and make the twilight of our destiny roll back? Pilgrim of silence,
have you only silence to offer us at the last, after all your litanies to
all the gods living and dead? Is silence your last word too?

Thus we can imagine Simone, the tender companion of our
wanderer, questioning him as they walk together over the dead
memories of all the generations.

Ah yes! Simone may question her pilgrim--her pilgrim of silence
--even as, in his own "Nuit au Luxembourg," the youth to whom our
Lord discoursed so strangely, questioned the Master as to the
ultimate mystery and received so ambiguous a response.

And Simone likewise shall receive her answer, as we all--whether
we be descendants of the Puritans, crossing Boston Common, or
aliens of the sweat-shops of New York, crossing Washington Square,
or unemployed in Hyde Park, or nursery-maids in the Jardin des
Plantes--shall receive ours, as we walk over the dead leaves of the

     Simone, aimes-tu le bruit des pas sur les feuilles mortes?

     Quand le pied les écrase, elles pleurent comme des âmes,
     Elle font un bruit d'ailes ou de robes de femme.

     Simone, aimes-tu le bruit des pas sur les feuilles mortes?

     Viens; nous serons un jour de pauvres feuilles mortes.
     Viens; déjà la nuit tombe et le vent nous emporte.

     Simone, aimes-tu le bruit des pas sur les feuilles mortes?

"Le bruit des pas sur les feuilles mortes"--such indeed must be, at
the last, the wisdom of this great harvester of human passions and

"Feuilles mortes," and the sound of feet that go by; that go by and
return not again!

Remy de Gourmont leaves in us a bitter after-sense that we have not
altogether, or perhaps even nearly, sounded the stops of his mystery.
"The rest is silence" not only because he is dead, but because it
seems as if he mocked at us--he the Protean critic--until his last hour.

His remote epicurean life--the life of a passionate scholar of the
Renaissance--baffles and evades our curiosity.

To analyse Remy de Gourmont one would have to be a Remy de

He is full of inconsistencies. Proudly individualistic, an intellectual
anarchist free from every scruple, he displays an objective patience
almost worthy of Goethe himself in his elaborate investigations into
the mysteries of life and the mysteries of the art that expresses life.

Furiously enamoured of thrilling aesthetic sensations he can yet
wander, as those who know his "Promenades" can testify, through
all manner of intricate and technical details.

Capable in his poetry and prose-poems of giving himself up to every
sort of ambiguous and abnormal caprice, he is yet in his calmer
hours able to fall back upon a sane, serene and sun-lit wisdom,
tolerant towards the superstitions of humanity, and full of the magic
of the universe. Never for a single moment in all of his writings are
we allowed to forget the essential wonder and mystery of sex. Sex,
in all its caprices and eccentricities, in all its psychological masks
and ritualistic symbols, interests him ultimately more than anything
else. It is this which inspires even his critical work with a sort of
physiological thrill, as though the encounter with a new creative
intelligence were an encounter between lover and beloved.

Remy de Gourmont would have sex and sex-emotions put frankly
into the fore-ground of everything, as far as art and letters are
concerned. He would take the timid hyperborean Muse of the
modern world and bathe her once more in the sun-lit waters of the
Heliconian Spring. He would paganize, Latinize and Mediterraneanize
the genius of Europe.

Much of his writing will fall into oblivion. It is too occasional, too
topical, too fretted by the necessity of clearing away the half-gods so
that the gods may arrive. But certain of his books will live forever;
assured of that smiling and amiable immortality, beyond the reach of
all vulgar malice, which the high invisible ones give to those who
have learnt the sacramental secret that; only through the senses do
we understand the soul, and only through the soul do we understand
the senses.


The strange and mysterious figure of William Blake seems
continually to appear at the end of almost every vista of intellectual
and aesthetic interest down which we move in these latter days.

The man's genius must have been of a unique kind; for while writers
like Wordsworth and Byron seem now to have stiffened into
dignified statues of venerated and achieved pre-eminence, he--the
contemporary of William Cowper--exercises now, half way through
the second decade of the twentieth century, an influence as fresh, as
living, as organic, as palpable, as that of authors who have only just
fallen upon silence.

His so-called "Prophetic Books" may be obscure and arbitrary in
their fantastic mythology. I shall leave the interpretation of these
works to those who are more versed in the occult sciences than I am,
or than I should greatly care to be; but a prophet in the most true
sense of that distinguished word, Blake certainly was--and to prove
it one need not touch these Apocalyptic oracles.

Writing while Cowper was composing evangelical hymns under the
influence of the Rev. Dr. Newton, and while Burns was celebrating
his Highland Mary, Blake anticipates many of the profoundest
thoughts of Nietzsche, and opens the "charmed magic casements"
upon these perilous fairy seas, voyaged over by Verlaine and
Hauptmann and Maeterlinck and Mallarmé.

When one considers the fact that he was actually writing poems and
engraving pictures before the eighteenth century closed and before
Edgar Allan Poe was born, it is nothing short of staggering to realise
how, not only in literature but in art, his astounding genius
dominates our modern taste.

It might almost seem as if every single one of the poets and painters
of our age--all these imagists and post-impressionists and symbolists
and the rest--had done nothing during the sensitive years of their life
but brood over the work of William Blake. Even in music, even in
dancing--certainly in the symbolic dancing of Isadora Duncan--even
in the stage decorations of our Little Theatres, one traces the
mystical impulse he set in motion, and the austere lineaments, not
exactly classical or mediaeval, but partaking of the nature of both, of
his elemental evocations.

It were, of course, not really possible to suppose that all these
people--all the most imaginative and interesting artists of our
day--definitely subjected themselves to the influence of William Blake.
The more rational way of accounting for the extraordinary
resemblance is to conceive that Blake, by some premonitory
inspiration of the world-spirit "brooding upon things to come,"
anticipated in an age more emotionally alien to our own than that of
Apuleius or of St. Anselm, the very "body and pressure" of the
dreams that were to dominate the earth.

When one considers how between the age of Blake and the one in
which we now live, extend no less than three great epochs of
intellectual taste, the thing becomes almost as strange as one of his
own imaginations.

The age of Sir Walter Scott and Jane Austen, of Wordsworth and
Byron, followed immediately upon his. Then we have the age of
Thackeray and Tennyson and the great Mid-Victorians. Then finally
at the end of the nineteenth century we have the epoch dominated in
art by Aubrey Beardsley, and in literature by Swinburne and Oscar

Now in our own age--an age that feels as though Wilde himself were
growing a little old-fashioned--we find ourselves returning to
William Blake and discovering him to be more entirely in harmony
with the instincts of our most secret souls than any single genius we
could name actually working in our midst. It is as though to find our
completest expression, the passionate and mystical soul of our
materialistic age were driven back to an author who lived a hundred
years ago. This phenomenon is by no means unknown in the history
of the pilgrimage of the human spirit; but it has never presented
itself in so emphatic a form as in the case of this extraordinary

In the early ages of the world, the result without doubt would be
some weird deification of the clairvoyant prophet. William Blake
would become a myth, a legend, an avatar of the divine Being, a
Buddha, a Zoroaster, a wandering Dionysus. As it is, we are forced
to confine ourselves to the fascinating pleasure of watching in
individual cases, this or that modern soul, "touched to fine issues,"
meeting for the first time, as it may often happen, this
century-buried incarnation of their own most evasive dreams.

I myself, who now jot down these fragmentary notes upon him, had
the privilege once of witnessing the illumination--I can call it by no
other name--produced upon the mind of the greatest novelist of
America and the most incorrigibly realistic, by a chance encounter
with the "Songs of Innocence."

One of the most obvious characteristics of our age is its cult of
children. Here--in the passion of this cult--we separate ourselves
altogether, both from our mediaeval ancestors who confined their
devotion to the divine child, and from the classical ages, who kept
children altogether in the background.

"When I became a man," says the apostle, "I put away childish
things," and this "putting away of childish things" has always been a
special note of the temper and attitude of orthodox Protestants for
whom these other Biblical words, spoken by a greater than St. Paul,
about "becoming as little children," must seem a sort of pious

When one considers how this thrice accursed weight of Protestant
Puritanism, the most odious and inhuman of all the perverted
superstitions that have darkened man's history, a superstition which,
though slowly dying, is not yet, owing to its joyless use as a
"business asset," altogether dead, has, ever since it was spawned in
Scotland and Geneva, made cruel war upon every childish instinct in
us and oppressed with unspeakable dreariness the lives of
generations of children, it must be regarded as one of the happiest
signs of the times that the double renaissance of Catholic Faith and
Pagan Freedom now abroad among us, has brought the "Child in the
House" into the clear sunlight of an almost religious appreciation.

Let me not, however, be misunderstood. It would be a grievous and
ludicrous mistake to associate the child-cult which runs like a thread
of filmy star-light through the work of William Blake with the
somewhat strained and fantastic attitude of child-worship which
inspires such poetry as Francis Thompson's "Love in Dian's Lap,"
and gives a ridiculous and affected air to so many of our little ones
themselves. The child of Blake's imagination is the immortal and
undying child to be found in the heart of every man and every
woman. It is the child spoken of in some of his most beautiful
passages, by Nietzsche himself--the child who will come at the last,
when the days of the Camel and the days of the Lion are over, and
inaugurate the beginning of the "Great Noon."

     "And there the lion's ruddy eyes
     Shall flow with tears of gold
     And pitying the tender cries
     And walking round the fold,
     Saying, 'Wrath by his weakness
     And by his health sickness
     Are driven away
     From our immortal day.'"

Using boldly and freely, and with far more genuine worship than
many orthodox believers, the figure and idea of Christ; it is not
exactly the Christ we know in traditional Catholic piety, to whom in
association with this image of the man-child, Blake's mind is
constantly turning.

With a noble blasphemy--dearer, one may hope, to God, than the
slavishness of many evangelical pietists--he treats the Christian
legend with the same sort of freedom that the old Greek poets used
in dealing with the gods of Nature.

The figure of Christ becomes under his hands, as we feel sometimes
it does under the hands of the great painters of the Renaissance, a
god among other gods; a power among other powers, but one
possessed of a secret drawn from the hidden depths of the universe,
which in the end is destined to prevail. So far does Blake stray from
the barriers of traditional reverence, that we find him boldly
associating this Christ of his--this man-child who is to redeem the
race--with a temper the very opposite of an ascetic one.

What makes his philosophy so interesting and original is the fact
that he entirely disentangles the phenomena of sexual love from any
notion or idea of sin or shame. The man-child whose pitiful heart
and whose tenderness toward the weak and unhappy are drawn from
the Christ-Story, takes almost the form of a Pagan Eros--the
full-grown, soft-limbed Eros of later Greek fancy--when the question of
restraint or renunciation or ascetic chastity is brought forward.

What Blake has really done, be it said with all reverence, and far
from profane ears--is to steal the Christ-child out of his cradle in the
church of his worshippers and carry him into the chambers of the
East, the chambers of the Sun, into the "Green fields and happy
groves" of primitive Arcadian innocence, where the feet of the
dancers are light upon the dew of the morning, and where the
children of passion and of pleasure sport and play, as they did in the
Golden Age.

In that wonderful picture of his representing the sons of God
"shouting together" in the primal joy of creation, one has a vision of
the large and noble harmony he strove after between an emancipated
flesh and a free spirit. William Blake, in his Adamic innocence of
"sin," has something in him that suggests Walt Whitman, but unlike
Whitman he prefers to use the figure of Christ rather than any vague
"ensemble" of nature-forces to symbolise the triumphant nuptials of
soul and body.

Sometimes in his strange verses one has the impression that one is
reading the fragmentary and broken utterances of some great ancient
poet-philosopher--some Pythagoras or Empedocles--through whose
gnomic oracles runs the rhythm of the winds and tides, and for
whose ears the stars in their courses have a far-flung harmony.

He often seems to make use of the Bible and Biblical usages, very
much as the ancient poets made use of Hesiod or of Homer, treating
such writings with reverence, but subordinating what is borrowed
from them to new and original purpose.

     "Hear the voice of the Bard,
     Who present, past and future sees,
     Whose ears have heard
     The Holy Word
     That walked among the ancient trees.

     "Calling the lapsed soul
     And weeping in the evening dew,
     That might control The starry pole
     And fallen, fallen light renew!

     "O Earth, O Earth, return!
     Arise from out the dewy grass!
          Night is worn
          And the Morn
     Rises from the slumbrous mass.

     "Turn away no more;
     Why wilt thou turn away?
          The starry floor
          The watery shore
     Is given thee till break of day."

If I were asked to name a writer whose work conveys to one's mind,
free of any admixture of rhetoric or of any alloy of cleverness,
thevery impact and shock of pure inspired genius, I would
unhesitatingly name William Blake. One is strangely conscious in
reading him of the presence of some great unuttered power--some
vast demiurgic secret--struggling like a buried Titan just below the
surface of his mind, and never quite finding vocal expression.

Dim shapes--vast inchoate shadows--like dreams of forgotten worlds
and shadows of worlds as yet unborn, seem to pass backwards and
forwards over the brooding waters of his spirit. There is no poet
perhaps who gives such an impression of primordial creative
force--force hewing at the roots of the world and weeping and laughing
from sheer pleasure at the touch of that dream stuff whereof life is
made. Above his head, as he laughs and weeps and sings, the
branches of the trees of the forest of night stir and rustle under the
immense spaces, and, floating above them, the planets and the stars
flicker down upon him with friendly mysterious joy.

No poet gives one the impression of greater strength than William
Blake; and this is emphasised by the very simplicity and
childishness of his style. Only out of the strength of a lion could
come such honeyed gentleness. And if he is one of the strongest
among poets he is also one of the happiest.

Genuine happiness--happiness that is at the same time intellectual
and spontaneous--is far rarer in poetry than one might suppose. Such
happiness has nothing necessarily to do with an optimistic
philosophy or even with faith in God. It has nothing at all to do with
physical well-being or the mere animal sensations of eating and
drinking and philandering. It is a thing of more mysterious import
and of deeper issues than these. It may come lightly and go lightly,
but the rhythm of eternity is in the beating of its wings, and deep
calls to deep in the throbbing of its pulses.

As Blake himself puts it--

     "He who bends to himself a joy
     Does the winged life destroy;
     But he who kisses the joy as it flies
     Lives in Eternity's sun-rise."

In the welling up, out of the world's depths, of happiness like this,
there is a sense of calm, of serenity, of immortal repose and
full-brimmed ecstasy. It is the "energy without disturbance" which
Aristotle indicates as the secret of the life of the eternal Being
himself. It is beyond the ordinary pleasures of sex, as it is beyond
the ordinary difference between good and evil. It is human and yet
inhuman. It is the happiness of da Vinci, of Spinoza, of Goethe. It is
the happiness towards which Nietzsche all his life long struggled
desperately, and struggled in vain.

One touches the fringe of the very mystery of human symbols--of
the uttermost secret of _words_ in their power to express the soul of
a writer--when one attempts to analyse the child-like simplicity of
William Blake's style. How is it that he manages with so small, so
limited a vocabulary, to capture the very "music of the spheres"? We
all have the same words at our command; we all have the same
rhymes; where then lies this strange power that can give the simplest
syllables so original, so personal, a shape?

     "What the hammer? What the chain?
     In what furnace was thy brain?
     What the anvil? What dread grasp
     Dare its deadly terrors clasp?"

Just because his materials are so simple and so few--and this applies
to his plastic art as well as to his poetry--we are brought to pause
more sharply and startlingly in his case than that of almost any other,
before the primordial mystery of human expression and its
malleableness under the impact of personality. Probably no poet
ever lived who expressed his meaning by the use of such a limited
number of words, or of words so simple and childish. It is as though
William Blake had actually transformed himself into some living
incarnation of his own Virgilian child-saviour, and were stammering
his oracles to mankind through divine baby-lips.

What matter? It is the one and the same Urbs Beata, Calliopolis,
Utopia, New Rome, New Atlantis, which these child-like syllables
announce, trumpet heralded by the angels of the Revelation, chanted
by the high-souled Mantuan, sung by David the King, or shouted
"over the roofs of the world" by Walt Whitman.

It is the same mystery, the same hope for the human race.

     "I will not cease from mental strife
     Nor shall my sword sink from my hand
     Till I have built Jerusalem
     In England's green and pleasant Land!"

One of the most curious and interesting things in Blake's work is the
value he places upon tears. All his noble mythological figures,
gathering in verse after verse, for the great battle against brutality
and materialism, come "weeping" to the help of their outraged little
ones. Gods and beasts, lions and lambs, Christ and Lucifer, fairies
and angels, all come "weeping" into the struggle with the forces of
stupidity and tyranny.

He seems to imply that to have lost the power of shedding tears is to
have dehumanized oneself and put oneself outside the pale. "A tear
is an intellectual thing," and those who still have the power of
"weeping" have not quite lost the key to the wisdom of the eternal
gods. It is not only the mysterious and foreordained congruity of
rhyme that leads him to associate in poem after poem--until for the
vulgar mind, the repetition becomes almost ludicrous--this symbolic
"weeping" with the sweet sleep which it guards and which it brings.

The poet of the veiled child at the heart of the world is naturally a
poet of the mystery of tears and the mystery of sleep. And William
Blake becomes all this without the least tincture of sentimentality.
That is where his genius is most characteristic and admirable. He
can come chanting his strange gnomic tunes upon tears and upon
sleep, upon the loveliness of children, upon life and death, upon the
wonder of dews and clouds and rain and the soft petals of flowers
which these nourish, without--even for one moment--falling into
sentiment or pathos.

All through his strange and turbulent life he was possessed of the
power of splendid and terrible anger. His invectives and
vituperations bite and flay like steel whips. The "buyers and sellers"
in the temple of his Lord are made to skip and dance. He was afraid
of no man living--nor of any man's god.

Working with his own hands, composing his poems, illustrating
them, engraving them, printing them, and binding them in his own
workshop, he was in a position to make Gargantuan sport of the
"great" and the "little" vulgar.

He went his own way and lived as he pleased; having something
about him of that shrewd, humorous, imperturbable "insouciance"
which served Walt Whitman so well, and which is so much wiser,
kindlier and more human a shield for an artist's freedom, than the
sarcasms of a Whistler or the insolence of a Wilde.

Careless and nonchalant, he "travelled the open road," and gave all
obscurantists and oppressors to ten million cart-loads of horned

It is my privilege to live, on the South Coast, not so many miles
from that village of Felpham where he once saw in his child-like
fantasies, a fairy's funeral. That funeral must have been followed
after Blake's death by many others; for there are no fairies in
Felpham now. But Blake's cottage is there still--to be seen by any
who care to see it--and the sands by the sea's edge are the "yellow
sands," flecked with white foam and bright green sea-weed of
Ariel's song; and on the sea-banks above grow tufts of Homeric

It is astonishing to think that while the laconic George Crabbe,
"Nature's sternest painter," was writing his rough couplets in the
metre of Alexander Pope, and while Doctor Johnson was still
tapping the posts of his London streets, as he went his way to buy
oysters for his cat, William Blake--in mind and imagination a
contemporary of Nietzsche and Whitman--should have been
asserting the artist's right (why should we not say the individual's
right, artist or no artist?) to live as he pleases, according to the
morals, manners, tastes, inclination and caprices, of his own
absolute humour and fancy.

This was more than one hundred years ago. What would William
Blake think of our new world,--would it seem to him to resemble his
New Jerusalem of child-like happiness and liberty?--our world
where young ladies are fined five dollars if they go into the sea
without their stockings? Well! at Felpham they do not tease them
with stockings.

What makes the genius of William Blake so salutary a revolutionary
influence is the fact that while contending so savagely against
puritanical stupidity, he himself preserves to the end, his
guilelessness and purity of heart.

There are admirable writers and philosophers, whose work on behalf
of the liberation of humanity is rendered less disinterested by the
fact that they are fighting for their personal inclinations rather than
for the happiness of the world at large. This could never be said of
William Blake. A more unselfish devotion to the spiritual interests
of the race than that which inspired him from beginning to end could
hardly be imagined. But he held it as axiomatic that the spiritual
interests of the race can only be genuinely served by means of the
intellectual and moral freedom of the individual. And certainly in his
own work we have a beautiful and anarchical freedom.

No writer or artist ever succeeded in expressing more completely the
texture and colour of his thoughts. Those strange flowing-haired old
men who reappear so often in his engravings, like the "splendid and
savage old men" of Walt Whitman's fancy, seem to incorporate the
very swing and sweep of his elemental earth-wrestling; while those
long-limbed youths and maidens, almost suggestive of El Greco in
the way their bodies are made, yearn and leap upwards towards the
clear air and the cloudless blue sky, in a passion of tumultuous
escape, in an ecstasy of resurrection.

It is extraordinary how Blake's peculiar use of very simple rhymes,
with the same words repeated over and over again, enhances the
power of his poetry--it does more than enhance it--it is the body of
its soul. One approaches here the very mystery of style, in the poetic
medium, and some of its deepest secrets. Just as that "metaphysic in
sensuality" which is the dominant impulse in the genius of Remy de
Gourmont expresses itself in constant echoes and reiterated
liturgical repetitions--such as his famous "fleur hypocrite, fleur du
silence"--until one feels that the "refrain" in poetry has become, in
an especial sense, his predominant note, so these constantly
recurring rhymes in the work of Blake, coming at the end of very
short lines, convey, as nothing else could do, the child-like quality
of the spirit transfused through them. They are childlike; and yet
they could not have been written by any one but a grown man, and a
man of formidable strength and character.

The psychology of the situation is doubtless the same as that which
we remark in certain very modern artists--the ones whose work is
most of all bewildering to those who, in their utter inability to
become as "little children," are as completely shut out from the
kingdom of art as they are from the kingdom of heaven.

The curious spell which these simple and in some cases infantile
rhymes cast over us, ought to compel the more fanatical adherents of
"free verse" to rearrange their ideas. Those who, without any
prejudice one way or the other, are only anxious to enjoy to the full
every subtle pleasure which the technique of art is able to give,
cannot help finding in the unexpected thrill produced by these sweet,
soft vibrations of verbal melody--like the sound of a golden bell
rung far down under the humming waters--a direct revelation of the
tender, strong soul behind them, for whose hidden passion they find
a voice.

After all, it is in the final impression produced upon our senses and
intellect by a great artist, and not in any particular quality of a
particular work of art, that--unless we are pedantic virtuosos--we
weigh and judge what we have gained. And what we have gained by
William Blake cannot be over-estimated.

His poems seem to associate themselves with a thousand evanescent
memories of days when we have been happy beyond the power of
calamity or disappointment. They associate themselves with those
half-physical, half-spiritual trances--when, suddenly in the outskirts
of a great city perhaps, or on the banks of some inland river, we
have remembered the long line of breaking surf, and the murmurs
and the scents of the sea. They associate themselves with the dreamy
indescribable moments when crossing the wet grass of secluded
misty meadows, passing the drowsy cattle and the large cool early
morning shadows thrown by the trees, we have suddenly come upon
cuckoo flowers or marigolds, every petal of which seems burdened
with a mystery almost intolerably sweet.

Like the delicate pictures of early Italian art, the poems of Blake
indicate and suggest rather than exhaust or satiate. One is never
oppressed by too heavy a weight of natural beauty. A single tree
against the sky--a single shadow upon the pathway--a single petal
fallen on the grass; these are enough to transport us to those fields of
light and "chambers of the sun" where the mystic dance of creation
still goes on; these are enough to lead us to the hushed
dew-drenched lawns where the Lord God walks in the garden "in the cool
of the day."

One associates the poetry of William Blake, not with the mountain
peaks and gorgeous foliage and rushing torrents of a landscape that
clamours to be admired and would fain overpower us with its
picturesque appeal, but with the quietest, gentlest, softest, least
assuming background to that "going forth" to our work, "and our
labour until the evening," which is the normal destiny of man.

The pleasant fields of Felpham with their hawthorne hedges, the
little woods of Hertfordshire or Surrey with their patches of
bluebells, were all that he needed to set him among the company of
the eternal gods.

For this is the prerogative of imagination, that it can reconcile us to
life where life is simplest and least adorned; and this is the
reluctance and timidity of imagination that it shrinks away into
twilight and folds its wings, when the pressure of reality is too heavy,
and the materials of beauty too oppressive and tyrannous.


It is in a certain sense a lamentable indictment upon the
sheepishness and inertness of the average crowd that a figure like
that of Byron should have been so exceptional in his own day and
should be so exceptional still. For, godlike rascal as he was, he was
made of quite normal stuff.

There was nothing about him of that rare magical quality which
separates such poets as Shelley or Edgar Allan Poe or Paul Verlaine
from the mass of ordinary people. The Byronic type, as it is called,
has acquired a certain legendary glamour; but it is nothing, when we
come really to analyse it, but the universal type of vain, impetuous,
passionate youth, asserting itself with royal and resplendent
insolence in defiance of the cautious discretion of middle-aged

Youth is essentially Byronic when it is natural and fearless and
strong; and it is a melancholy admission of something timid and
sluggish in us all that we should speak "with bated breath and
whispering humbleness" of this brilliant figure. A little more
courage, a little less false modesty, a little more sincerity, and the
lambs of our democratic age would all show something of that
leonine splendour.

There is nothing in Byron so far above the commonplace that he is
out of the reach of average humanity. He is made of the same clay as
we all are made of. His vanity is our vanity, his pride our pride, his
vices our vices.

We are on the common earth with him; on the natural ground of our
normal human infirmities; and if he puts us to shame it is only
because he has the physical force and the moral courage to be
himself more audaciously and frankly than we dare to be.

His genius is no rare hot-house flower. It is no wild and delicate
plant growing in a remote and inhuman soil. It is simply the
intensification, to a point of fine poetic fury, of emotions and
attitudes and gestures which we all share under the pressure of the
spirit of youth.

It is for this reason--for the reason that he expressed so completely
in his wayward and imperious manner the natural feelings of normal
youthfulness--that he became in his own day so legendary and
symbolic a personage, and that he has become in ours a sort of
flaming myth. He would never have become all this; he would never
have stirred the fancy of the masses of people as he has; if there
were not in his temperament something essentially simple, human,
and within the comprehension of quite ordinary minds.

It might indeed be maintained that what Oscar Wilde is to the rarer
and more perverse minority, Byron is to the solid majority of
downright simple philistines.

The average British or American "plain blunt man" regards, and
always will regard, such writers as Shelley and Poe and Verlaine
and Wilde with a certain uneasy suspicion. These great poets must
always seem to him a little weird and morbid and apart from
common flesh and blood. He will be tempted to the end to use in
reference to them the ambiguous word "degenerate." They strike
him as alien and remote. They seem to have no part or lot in the
world in which he lives. He suspects them of being ingrained
immoralists and free-lovers. Their names convey to his mind
something very sinister, something dangerous to the foundations of

But the idea of Byron brings with it quite different associations. The
sins of Byron seem only a splendid and poetic apotheosis of
such aperson's own sins. The rebelliousness of Byron seems a
rebelliousness not so much deliberate and intellectual as instinctive
and impulsive. It seems a normal revolt against normal restrictions.
The ordinary man understands it and condones it, remembering the
fires of his own youth.

Besides, Byron was a lord.

Goethe declared to Eckermann that what irritated many people
against Byron was the power and pride of his personality--the fact
that his personality stood out in so splendid and emphatic a way.

Goethe was right. The brilliance of Byron's personality is a thing
which causes curious annoyance to certain types of mind. But these
minds are not the normal ones of common intelligence. They are
minds possessed of the sort of intellectual temper naturally
antagonistic to reckless youth. They are the Carlyles and the
Merediths of that spiritual and philosophical vision to which the
impassioned normality of Byron with his school-boy ribaldry must
always appear ridiculous.

I believe it will be found that those to whom the idea of Byron's
brilliant and wayward personality brings exquisite pleasure are, in
the first place, quite simple minds, and, in the second place, minds
of a disillusioned and un-ethical order who have grown weary of
"deep spiritual thinkers," and are ready to enjoy, as a refreshing
return to the primitive emotions, this romantic swashbucklerism
which proves so annoying to earnest modern thought.

How like a sudden reverberation of the old immortal spirit of
romance, the breath of whose saddest melancholy seems sweeter
than our happiness, is that clear-toned song of passion's exhaustion
which begins

     "We'll go no more a-roving
     By the light of the moon"

and which contains that magnificent verse,

     "For the sword outwears the sheath,
     And the soul wears out the breast,
     And the heart must pause to breathe,
     And love itself have rest."

It is extraordinary the effect which poetry of this kind has upon us
when we come upon it suddenly, after a long interval, in the
crowded pages, say, of some little anthology.

I think the pleasure which it gives us is due to the fact that it is so
entirely sane and normal and natural; so solidly and massively
within the circle of our average apprehension; so expressive of what
the common flesh and blood of our elemental humanity have come
to feel as permanent in their passions and reactions. It gives us a
thrilling shock of surprise when we come upon it unexpectedly--this
kind of thing; the more so because the poetry we have grown
accustomed to, in our generation, is so different from this; so
mystical and subjective, so remote from the crowd, so dim with the
trailing mists of fanciful ambiguity.

It is very unfortunate that one "learned by heart," as a child, so much
of Byron's finest poetry.

I cannot imagine a more exciting experience than a sudden
discovery at this present hour, with a mind quite new and fresh to its
resounding grandeur, of that poem, in the Hebrew Melodies, about

     "And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea
     When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee."

Have not those lines the very wonder and terror and largeness of
ancient wars?

     "And there lay the steed with his nostril all wide,
     And thro' it there rolled not the breath of his pride,
     And the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf
     And cold as the spray of the rock-beating surf!"

Our modern poets dare not touch the sublime naïveté of poetry like
that! Their impressionist, imagist, futurist theories make them too
self-conscious. They say to themselves--"Is that word a 'cliché' word?
Has that phrase been used several times before? Have I been
carefully and precisely _original_ in this? Is that image clear-cut
enough? Have I reverted to the 'magic' of Verlaine and Mallarmé
and Mr. Yeats? Do I suggest the 'cosmic emotion' of Walt

It is this terror of what they call "cliché words" which utterly
prevents them from writing poetry which goes straight to our heart
like Byron's; poetry which refreshes our jaded epicurean senses with
a fine renaissance of youth.

Their art destroys them. Their art enslaves them. Their art lames and
cripples them with a thousand meticulous scruples.

Think what it would be, in this age, suddenly to come upon a poet
who could write largely and carelessly, and with a flaming divine
fire, about the huge transactions of life; about love and war and the
great throbbing pulses of the world's historic events! They cannot do
it--our poets--they cannot do it; and the reason of their inability is
their over-intellectuality, their heavily burdened artistic conscience.
They are sedentary people, too, most unhealthily sedentary,
ourmoderns who write verse; sedentary young people, whose
environment is the self-conscious Bohemia of artificial Latin
Quarters. They are too clever, too artistic, too egotistic. They are too
afraid of one another; too conscious of the derisive flapping of the
goose-wings of the literary journal! They are not proud enough in
their personal individuality to send the critics to the devil and go
their way with a large contempt. They set themselves to propitiate
the critics by the wit of technical novelty and to propitiate their
fellow craftsmen by avoiding the inspiration of the past.

They do not write poetry for the pleasure of writing it. They write
poetry in order that they may be called poets. They aim at originality
instead of sweeping boldly ahead and being content to be
themselves as God made them.

I am strongly of opinion that much of the admiration lavished on
these versifiers is not due to our enjoyment of the poetry which they
write--not, I mean, of the sheer poetic elements in it--but to our
interest in the queer words they dig up out of the archives of
philological bric-à-brac, to our astonishment at their erotic
extravagances, to our satisfaction at being reminded of all the
superior shibboleths of artistic slang, the use of which and the
understanding of which prove us to be true initiates in the "creative
world" and no poor forlorn snakes of outworn tradition.

Our modern poets cannot get our modern artists out of their heads.
The insidious talk of these sly artists confuses the simplicity of their
natural minds. They are dominated by art; whereas the real sister of
the muse of poetry is not "art" at all, but music.

They do not see, these people, that the very carelessness of a great
poet like Byron is the inevitable concomitant of his genius; I would
go so far as to call his carelessness the mother of his genius and its
guardian angel.

I cannot help thinking, too, that if the artistic self-consciousness of
our generation spoils its free human pleasure in great poetry, the
theories of the academic historians of literature do all they can to
make us leave the poetry of the past in its deep grave. It seems to me
that of all futile and uninteresting things what is called "the study of
literature" is the very worst.

To meddle with such a preposterous matter at all damns a person, in
my thinking, as a supreme fool. And yet this is, par excellence, the
sort of tediousness in which devotees of culture complacently
wallow. As if it mattered where Byron slips in "the great
Renaissance of Wonder"; or where Rossetti drifts by, in the
portentous "Pre-Raphaelite Movement"!

It is strange to me how boys and girls, brought up upon this "study
of literature," can ever endure to see the look of a line of poetry
again! Most of them, it seems, _can_ hardly bear that shock; and be
it far from me to blame them. I should surmise that the mere names
of Wordsworth, Byron, Shelley, etc., would fall upon their ears with
a dreariness of memory like the tolling of chapel-bells.

They are queer birds, too, these writers of commentaries upon

At one time in my life I myself absorbed such "critical literature"
with a morbid avidity, as if it had been a drug; and a drug it is--a
drug dulling one to all fine and fresh sensations--a drug from the
effects of which I am only now, at this late hour, beginning slowly
to recover. They set one upon a completely wrong track, bringing
forward what is unessential and throwing what is essential into
thebackground. Dear heavens! how well I recall those grey
discriminations. Wordsworth was the fellow who hit upon the idea
of the _anima mundi._ Shelley's "philosophy of life" differed from
Wordsworth's in that _his_ universal spirit was a thing of pure Love,
whereas the other's was a matter of pure Thought.

Pure Love! Pure Thought! Was there ever such petrifying of the
evasive flame? "Words! Words! Words!" I suspect that the book the
sweet Prince was reading when he met Polonius in the passage was
a book of essays on the poets.

The worst of this historical-comical-philosophical way of going to
work is that it leaves one with the feeling that poetry is a sort of
intellectual game, entirely removed from the jostling pressure of
actual life, and that poets when once dead are shoved into their
academic pigeon-holes to be labelled like things under glass cases.
The person who can rattle off such descriptive labels the quickest is
the person of culture. Thus history swallows up poetry; thus the
"comparative method" swallows up history; and the whole business
is snatched away from the magical flow of real life and turned into
the dreariness of a mausoleum. How refreshing, how salutary, to
turn from all thoughts as to what Byron's "place in literature" was to
such thrilling poetry as

     "She walks in beauty like the night
     Of cloudless climes and starry skies,
     And all that's best of dark and bright
     Meet in her aspect and her eyes--"

or to such sonorous lines full of the reverberating echoes of pent-up
passion as those which begin

     "There is none of Beauty's daughters."

One has only to recall the way these simple careless outbursts have
burned themselves in upon one's lips, when one's feelings were
stirred to the old tune, to realise how great a poet Byron was.

     "Fare thee well and, if forever,
     Still forever fare thee well!"

Can such things ever grow "stale and rung-upon," however much the
chilly hand of a pedantic psychology seeks to brush the bloom away
from the wings of the bird of paradise?

Those poems to the mysterious Thyrza, can any modern eroticism
equal them, for large and troubled abandonment; natural as gasping
human speech and musical as the murmur of deep waters?

Byron is frankly and outrageously the poet of _sentiment._ This is
good. This is what one craves for in vain in modern verse. The
infernal seriousness of our grave youngsters and their precious
psychological irony make them terrified of any approach to
sentiment. They leave such matters with supreme contempt to the
poor little devils who write verses for the local newspapers. They
are too clever to descend to sentiment. It is their affair to show us
the absurdity of sentiment.

And yet the world is full of this thing. It has the rising sap of a
thousand springs in its heart. It has the "big rain" of the suppressed
tears of a hundred generations in its sobbing music.

It is easy to say that Byron's sentiment was a pose.

The precise opposite of this is the truth. It is our poetic cleverness,
our subjective imagery and cosmic irony, which is the pose; not his
frank and boyish expression of direct emotion.

We write poetry for the sake of writing poetry. He wrote to give
vent to the passions of his heart.

We compose a theme upon "love" and dedicate it to any suitable
young woman the colour of whose eyes suits the turn of our
metaphors. He loved first and wrote poetry afterwards--as the
occasion demanded.

That is why his love-poetry is so full of vibrant sincerity, so rich in
blood, so natural, so careless, so sentimental.

That is why there is a sort of conversational ease about his
love-poetry, and here and there lapses into what, to an artistic sense,
might seem bathos, absurdity, or rhetoric. Lovers are always a little
absurd; and the fear of absurdity is not a sign of deep feeling but of
the absence of all feeling.

Every one of Byron's most magnificent love-lyrics has its actual
circumstantial cause and impulse in the adventures of his life. He
does not spin out vague wordy platonic rhapsodies upon love-in-general.
He addresses a particular person, just as Burns did--just as
Shakespeare did--and his poems are, so to speak, thrilled with the
excitement of the great moment's tumultuous pulses, scalded with
the heat of its passionate tears.

These moments pass, of course. One need not be derisively cynical
over that. Infatuation succeeds infatuation. Dream succeeds dream.
The loyalty of a life-long love was not his. His life ended indeed
before youth's desperate experiments were over, before the reaction
set in. But the sterner mood had begun.

     "Tread these reviving passions down,
     Unworthy manhood. Unto thee
     Indifferent should the smile or frown
          Of Beauty be."

And the lines end--his last--with that stoical resignation in the
presence of a soldier's fate which gives to the close of his
adventurous enterprise on behalf of an oppressed Hellenic world
such a gallant dignity.

     "Then look around and choose thy ground,
          And take thy rest."

If these proud personal touches, of which there are so many
scattered through his work, offend our artistic modern sense we
must remember that the same tone, the same individual confession
of quite personal emotion, is to be found in Dante and Milton and

The itching mock-modesty of the intellectual altruist, ashamed to
commit himself to the personal note, is not an indication of a great
nature. It is rather a sign of a fussy self-consciousness under the eyes
of impertinent criticism.

What drives the modern philosopher to jeer at Byron is really a sort
of envy of his splendid and irresponsible personality, that
personality whose demonic energy is so radiant with the beautiful
glamour of youth.

And what superb strength and high romance there are in certain of
his verses when the magnificent anger of the moment has its way
with him!

     Fill high the bowl with Samian wine!
     On Suli's rock and Parga's shore
     Exists the remnant of a line
     Such as our Doric mothers bore--

No one can help confessing that poetry of this kind, "simple,
sensuous and passionate"--to use the great Miltonic definition--possesses,
for all its undeniable _rhetoric,_ a large and high poetic value.

And at its best, the poetry of Byron is not mere rhetoric. Rhetoric
undoubtedly is there. His mind was constantly, like most simple
minds when touched to large issues, betrayed by the sweet treachery
of rhetoric; but I feel confident that any really subtle critic of the
delicate differences between one poetic vein and another, must feel,
though he might not be able to express the fineness of the distinction,
that there is something here--some breath, some tone, some air,
some atmosphere, some royal and golden gesture--which is
altogether beyond the reach of all mere eloquence, and sealed with
the indescribable seal of poetry.

This real poetic element in Byron--I refer to something over and
above his plangent rhetoric--arrests us with all the greater shock of
sudden possession, for the very reason that it is so carelessly, so
inartistically, so recklessly flung out.

He differs in this, more than in anything else, from our own poetic
contemporaries. Our clever young poets know their business so
appallingly well. They know all about the theories of poetry: they
know what is to be said for Free Verse, for Imagism, for
Post-Impressionism: they know how the unrhymed Greek chorus lends
itself to the lyrical exigencies of certain moods: they know how
wonderful the Japanese are, and how interesting certain Indian
cadences may be: they know the importance of expressing the Ideal
of Democracy, of Femininity, of Evolution, of Internationalism.
There really is nothing in the whole field of poetic criticism which
they do not know--except the way to persuade the gods to give us
genius, when genius has been refused!

Byron, on the contrary, knows absolutely nothing of any of these
things. "When he thinks he is a child"; when he criticises he is a
child; when he philosophises, theorises, _mysticizes,_ he is a
hopeless child. A vast amount of his poetry, for all its swing and
dash and rush, might have been written by a lamentably inferior

We come across such stuff to-day; not among the literary circles, but
in the poets' corners of provincial magazines. What is called
"Byronic sentiment," so derided now by the clever young
psychologists who terrorise our literature, has become the refuge of
timid old-fashioned people, quite bewildered and staggered by new

I sympathise with such old-fashioned people. The pathetic
earnestness of an elderly commercial traveller I once met on the
Père Marquette Railway who assured me that Byron was "some
poet" remains in my mind as a much more touching tribute to the
lordly roué than all the praise of your Arnolds and Swinburnes.

He is indeed "some poet." He is the poet for people who feel the
magic of music and the grandeur of imagination, without being able
to lay their finger on the more recondite nuances of "creative work,"
without so much as ever having heard of "imagism."

I have spent whole evenings in passionate readings of "Childe
Harold" and the "Poems to Thyrza" with gentle Quaker ladies and
demure old maids descended from the Pilgrim Fathers, and I have
always left such Apollonian prayer-meetings with a mind purged
from the cant of cleverness; washed and refreshed in the authentic
springs of the Muses.

So few lords--when you come to think of it--write poetry at all, that
it is interesting to note the effect of aristocratic blood upon the style
of a writer.

Personally I think its chief effect is to produce a certain
magnanimous indifference to the meticulous niceties of the art. We
say "drunk as a lord"; well--it is something to see what a person will
do, who is descended from Robert Bruce's Douglas, when it is a
question of this more heavenly intoxication. Aristocratic blood
shows itself in poetry by a kind of unscrupulous contempt for
gravity. It refuses to take seriously the art which it practises.

It plays the part of the grand amateur. It is free from bourgeois
earnestness. It is this, I suppose, which is so irritating to the
professional critic. If you can write poetry, so to speak, with your
left hand, in intervals of war and love and adventure, between
rescuing girls from sacks destined for the waters of the Bosphorus
and swimming the length of the Venetian Grand Canal and
recruiting people to fight for Hellenic freedom, you are doing
something that ought not to be allowed. If other men of action, if
other sportsmen and pleasure-seekers and travellers and wandering
free-lances were able to sit down in any cosmopolitan cafe in Cairo
or Stamboul and knock off immortal verses in the style of Byron
--verses with no "philosophy" for us to expound, no technique for us
to analyse, no "message" for us to interpret, no aesthetic subtleties
for us to unravel, no mystical orientation for us to track out, what is
there left for a poor sedentary critic to do? Our occupation is gone.
We must either enjoy romance for its own sake in a frank, honest,
simple manner; confessing that Byron was "some poet" and letting it
go at that; or we must explain to the world, as many of us do, that
Byron was a thoroughly bad writer. A third way of dealing with this
unconscionable boy, who scoffed at Wordsworth and Southey and
insisted that Pope was a great genius, is the way some poor
camp-followers of the Moral Ideal have been driven to follow; the way,
namely, of making him out to be a great leader in the war of the
liberation of humanity, and a great interpreter of the wild magic of

I must confess I cannot see Byron in either of these lights. He scoffs
at kings and priests, certainly; he scoffs at Napoleon; he scoffs at the
pompous self-righteousness of his own race; he scoffs at religion
and sex and morality in that humorous, careless, indifferent
"public-school" way which is so salutary and refreshing; but when you ask
for any serious devotion to the cause of Liberty, for any definite
Utopian outlines of what is to be built up in the world's future, you
get little or nothing, except resounding generalities and conventional

Nor are those critics very wise who insist on laying stress upon
Byron's contributions to the interpretation of Nature.

He could write "How the big rain comes dancing to the earth!" and
his flashing, fitful, sun-smouldering pictures of European rivers and
plains and hills and historic cities have their large and generous

But beyond this essentially human and romantic, attitude to Nature
there is just nothing at all.

     "Roll on, thou deep and dark-blue Ocean, roll!"

I confess I caught a keener thrill of pleasure from that all-too-famous
line when I suddenly heard it uttered by one of those garrulous
ghosts in Mr. Masters's Spoon River cemetery, than I ever
did when in childhood they made me learn it.

But, for all that, though it is not an easy thing to put into words,
there is a certain grandiose and sonorous beauty, fresh and free and
utterly unaffected, about these verses, and many others in "Childe

As for those long plays of Byron's, and those still longer narrative
poems, nothing will induce me to read a line of them again. They
have a singularly dusty smell to me; and when I think of them even,
I suffer just such a withering sensation of ineffable boredom as I
used to experience waiting in a certain ante-room in Tunbridge
Wells where lived an aged retired general. I associate them with
illustrated travels in Palestine.

How Goethe could read "Manfred" with any pleasure passes my
comprehension. "Cain" has a certain charm, I admit; but of all forms
of all literature the thing which is called Poetic Drama seems to me
the most dreary. If poets cannot write for the stage they had better
confine themselves to honest straightforward odes and lyrics.

But it is no use complaining. There is a sort of fate which drives
people into this arid path. I sometimes feel as though both
Imagination and Humour fled away from the earth when a modern
poet takes pen to compose Poetic Drama!

The thing is a refuge for those to whom the gods have given a
"talent for literature," and have stopped with that gift. The Poetic
Drama flourishes in Anglo-Saxon Democracies. It lends itself to the
babbling of extreme youth and to the pompous moralising of
extreme middle-age.

The odious thing is an essentially modern creation; created, as it is,
out of thin vapour, and moulded by melancholy rules of thumb.
Drama was Religion to the Greeks, and in the old Elizabethan days
great playwrights wrote great poetry.

I suppose if, by some fairy-miracle, _sheep_--the most modern of
animals--were suddenly endowed with the privileges of culture, they
would browse upon nothing else than Poetic Drama, from All Fools'
Day to Candlemas.

But even Manfred cannot be blamed for this withering sterility, this
dead-sea of ineptitude. There must be some form of literature found,
loose and lax enough to express the Moral Idealism of the
second-rate mind; and Poetic Drama lends itself beautifully to this.

Putting aside a few descriptive passages in "Childe Harold" and
some score of superb lyrics sprinkled through the whole of the
volume, what really is there in Byron at this hour--beyond the
irresistible _idea_ of his slashing and crimson-blooded figure--to
arrest us and hold us, who can read over and over again Christopher
Marlowe and John Keats? Very little--singularly little--almost

Nothing--except "Don Juan"! This indeed is something of a poem.
This indeed has the old authentic fire about it and the sweet devilry
of reckless youth.

How does one account for the power and authority over certain
minds exercised by this surprising production? I do not think it is
exactly the wit in it. The wit is often entirely superficial--a mere
tricky playing with light resemblances and wordy jingles. I do not
feel as though it were the humour in it; for Byron is not really a
humorist at all. I think it is something deeper than the mere
juxtaposition of burlesque-show jests with Sunday-evening
sentimentality. I think it is the downright lashing out, left and right,
up and down, of a powerful reckless spirit able "to lash out" for the
mere pleasure of doing so. I think it is the pleasure we get from the
spectacle of mere splendid energy and devil-may-care animal spirits
let loose to run amuck as they please; while genius, like a lovely
camp-follower tossed to and fro from hand to hand, throws a
redeeming enchantment over the most ribald proceedings.

The people--I speak now of intelligent people--who love Don Juan,
are those who, while timid and shrinking themselves, love to
contemplate emphatic gestures, scandalous advances, Rabelaisian
foolings, clownish tricks; those who love to watch the mad
hurly-burly of life and see the resplendent fire-works go bang; those who
love all huge jests, vituperative cursings, moonlit philanderings,
scoffing mockeries, honest scurrilities, great rolling barrels of
vulgarity, tuns and vats of ribaldry, and lovely, tender,
gondola-songs upon sleeping waters.

The pleasure which such persons derive from Byron is the pleasure
which the civilised Greeks derived from Aristophanes, the pleasure
of seeing everything which we are wont to treat reverently treated
irreverently, the pleasure, most especially, of seeing the pompous
great ones of the world made to dance and skip like drunk puppets.
The literary temperament is so fatally inclined to fall into a sort of
aesthetic gravity, taking its "philosophy" and its "art" with such
portentous self-respect, that it is extremely pleasant when a reckless
young Alcibiades of a Byron breaks into the enchanted circle and
clears the air with a few resounding blasts from his profane bassoon.

What happens really in this pantomimic history of Don Juan, with
its huge nonchalance and audacious cynicism, is the invasion of the
literary field by the godless rabble, the rabble who take no stock of
the preserves of art, and go picnicking and rollicking and scattering
their beer-bottles and their orange-peel in the very glades of the
immortals. It is in fact the invasion of Parnassus by a horde of most
unmitigated proletarians. But these sweet scamps are led by a real
lord, a lord who, like most lords, is ready to out-philistine the
philistines and out-blaspheme the blasphemers.

Don Juan would be a hotch-potch of indecency and sentimentality, if
it were not for the presence of genius there, of genius which, like a
lovely flood of shining sunlight, irradiates the whole thing.

It is nonsense to talk of the "Byronic pose" either with regard to the
outrageousness of his cynical wit or with regard to his sentimental

Blasphemous wit and Satanic sentiment are the natural reactions of
all healthy youthfulness in the presence of the sickening contrasts
and diabolic ironies of life.

Such a mood is not by any means a sign of degeneracy. Byron was
as far from being a degenerate as he was far from being a saint. It is
a sign of sturdy sanity and vigorous strength.

Not to relish the gay brutality of Byron is an indication of something
degenerate in ourselves. There is a certain type of person--perhaps
the most prurient and disagreeable of all human animals--who is
accustomed to indulge in a kind of holy leer of disgust when
"brought up sharp" by the Aristophanic lapses of gay and graceless
youth. Such a person's mind would be a fruitful study for Herr Freud;
but the thought of its simmering cauldron of furtive naughtiness is
not a pleasant thing to dwell on, for any but pathological

After reading Don Juan one is compelled to recognise that Byron's
mind must have been abnormally sane and sound. No one who jests
quite at this rate could possibly be a bad man. The bad men--a word
to the wise--are those from whose mouth the gay wantonness of the
youth of the world is condemned as evil. Such persons ought to be
sent for a rest-cure to Cairo or Morocco or Pekin.

The innocence of youth should be protected from a morality which
is far more morbid than the maddest Dionysian revel.

It is, to confess it freely, not the satyrishness of Byron at all, but his
hard brutality, which, for myself, I find difficult to enjoy.

I seem to require something more mellow, more ironical, more
subtle, more humane, in my literature of irreverence. But no doubt
this is a racial prejudice. Some obstinate drop of Latin--or, for all I
know,--Carthaginian blood in me, makes me reluctant to give myself
up to the tough, sane, sturdy brutality of your Anglo-Scot.

I can relish every word of Rabelais and I am not in the least
dismayed by Heine's impishness, but I have always found Fielding's
and Smollett's grosser scenes difficult mouthfuls to swallow.

They tell me there is a magnanimous generosity and a large earthy
sanity about these humorists. But to me there is too much horse-play,
too much ruffianism and "bully-ragging." And something of the
same quality offends me in Byron. I lack the steadiness of nerves to
deal with a coarseness which hits you across the head, much as the
old English clowns hit one another with strings of sausages.

But because I suffer from this psychological limitation; because I
prefer Sterne to Fielding, and Lamb to Dickens; I should condemn
myself as an un-catholic fanatic if I presumed to turn my personal
lack of youthful aplomb and gallant insouciance into a grave artistic

Live and let live! That must be our motto in literary criticism as it is
our motto in other things. I am not going to let myself call Byron a
blackguard because of something a little hard and insensitive in him
which happens to get upon my own nerves. He was a fine genius. He
wrote noble verses. He has a beautiful face.

Women are, as a rule, less sensitive than men in these matters of
sexual brutality. It may be that they have learned by bitter
experience that the Byrons of this world are not their worst enemies.
Or perhaps they feel towards them a certain maternal tenderness;
condoning, as mothers will do, with an understanding beyond the
comprehension of any neurotic critic, these roughnesses and
insensitivenesses in their darlings.

Yes--let us leave the reputation of this great man, as far as his sexual
lapses are concerned, to the commonsense and tact of women.

He was the kind of man that women naturally love. Perhaps we who
criticise him are not altogether forgetful of that fact when we put our
finger upon his aristocratic selfishness and his garish brilliance.

And perhaps the women are right.

It is pleasant at any rate to think so; pleasant to think that one's
refined and gentle aunts, living noble lives in cathedral close and
country vicarage, still regard this great wayward poet as a dear spoilt
child and feel nothing of that instinctive suspicion of him which they
feel toward so many "Byrons de nos jours."

When I recall the peculiarly tender look that came into the face of
one beautiful old lady--a true "grande dame" of the old-fashioned
generation--to whom I mentioned his name, and associate it with the
look of weary distaste with which she listened to my discourses
upon more modern and more subtle rebels, I am tempted to conclude
that what womanly women really admire in a man is a certain
energy of action, a certain drastic force, brilliance and hardness,
which is the very opposite of the nervous sensitiveness and receptive
weakness which is the characteristic of most of us men of letters. I
am tempted to go so far as to maintain that a profound atavistic
instinct in normal women makes them really contemptuous in their
hearts of any purely aesthetic or intellectual type. They prefer poets
who are also men of action and men of the world. They prefer poets
who "when they think are children." It is not hardness or selfishness
or brutality which really alarms them. It is intellect, it is subtlety, it
is, above all, _irony._ Byron's unique achievement as a poet is to
have flung into poetry the essential brutality and the essential
sentiment of the typical male animal, and, in so far as he has done
this, all his large carelessness, all his cheap and superficial rhetoric,
all his scornful cynicism, cannot hide from us something primitive
and appealing about him which harmonises well enough with his
beautiful face and his dramatic career.

Perhaps, as a matter of fact, our literary point of view in these later
days has been at once over-subtilized and underfed. Perhaps we
have grown morbidly fastidious in the matter of delicacies of style,
and shrinkingly averse to the slashing energy of hard-hitting,
action-loving, self-assertive worldliness.

It may be so; and yet, I am not sure. I can find it in me to dally with
the morbid and very modern fancy that, after all, Byron has been a
good deal overrated; that, after all, when we forget his personality
and think only of his actual work, he cannot be compared for a
moment, as an original genius, with such persons--so much less
appealing to the world-obsessed feminine mind--as William Blake
or Paul Verlaine!

Yes; let the truth be blurted out--even though it be a confession
causing suffering to one's pride--and the truth is that I, for one,
though I can sit down and read Matthew Arnold and Remy de
Gourmont and Paul Verlaine, for hours and hours, and though it is
only because I have them all so thoroughly by heart that I don't read
the great Odes of Keats any more, shall _never again,_ not even for
the space of a quarter of an hour, not even as a psychological
experiment, turn over the pages of a volume of Byron's Poetical

I think I discern what this reluctance means. It means that primarily
and intrinsically what Byron did for the world was to bring into
prominence and render beautiful and appealing a certain fierce
rebellion against unctuous domesticity and solemn puritanism. His
political propagandism of Liberty amounts to nothing now. What
amounts to a great deal is that he magnificently and in an engaging,
though somewhat brutal manner, broke the rules of a bourgeois
social code.

As a meteoric rebel against the degrading servility of what we have
come to call the "Nonconformist Conscience" Byron must always
have his place in the tragically slow emancipation of the human
spirit. The reluctance of an ordinary sensitive modern person,
genuinely devoted to poetry, to spend any more time with Byron's
verses than what those great familiar lyrics printed in all the
anthologies exact, is merely a proof that he is not the poet that
Shelley, for instance, is.

It is a melancholy commentary upon the "immortality of genius" and
that "perishing only with the English language" of which
conventional orators make so much, that the case should be so; but it
is more important to be honest in the admission of our real feelings
than to flatter the pride of the human race.

The world moves on. Manners, customs, habits, moralities, ideals,
all change with changing of the times.

_Style alone,_ the imaginative rendering in monumental words of
the most personal secrets of our individuality, gives undying interest
to what men write. Sappho and Catullus, Villon and Marlowe, are as
vivid and fresh to-day as are Walter de la Mare or Edgar Lee

If Byron can only thrill us with half-a-dozen little songs his
glory-loving ghost ought to be quite content.

To last in any form at all, as the generations pass and the face of the
planet alters, is a great and lucky accident. To last so that men not
only read you but love you when a century's dust covers your ashes
is a high and royal privilege.

To leave a name which, whether men read your work or not,
whether men love your memory or not, still conjures up an image of
strength and joy and courage and beauty, is a great reward.

To leave a name which must be associated for all time with the
human struggle to free itself from false idealism and false morality
is something beyond any reward. It is to have entered into the
creative forces of Nature herself. It is to have become a fatality. It is
to have merged your human, individual, personal voice with the
voices of _the elements which are beyond the elements._ It is to
have become an eternally living portion of that unutterable central
flame which, though the smoke of its burning may roll back upon us
and darken our path, is forever recreating the world.

Much of Byron's work, while he lived, was of necessity destructive.
Such destruction is part of the secret of life. In the world of moral
ideals destroyers have their place side by side with creators. The
destroyers of human thoughts are the winged ministers of the
thoughts of Nature. Out of the graves of ideals something rises
which is beyond any ideal. We are tossed to and fro, poets and men
of action alike, by powers whose intentions are dark, by unknown
forces whose faces no man may ever see. From darkness to darkness
we stagger across a twilight-stage.

With no beginning that we can imagine, with no end that we can
conceive, the mad procession moves forward. Only sometimes, at
moments far, far apart, and in strange places, do we seem to catch
the emergence, out of the storm in which we struggle, of something
that no poet nor artist nor any other human voice has ever uttered,
something that is as far beyond our virtue as it is beyond our evil,
something terrible, beautiful, irrational, _mad_--which is the secret
of the universe!


The name of Emily Brontë--why does it produce in one's mind so
strange and startling a feeling, unlike that produced by any other
famous writer?

It is not easy to answer such a question. Certain great souls seem to
gather to themselves, as their work accumulates its destined
momentum in its voyage down the years, a power of arousing our
imagination to issues that seem larger than those which can naturally
be explained as proceeding inevitably from their tangible work.

Our imagination is roused and our deepest soul stirred by the
mention of such names without any palpable accompaniment of
logical analysis, without any well-weighed or rational justification.

Such names touch some response in us which goes deeper than our
critical faculties, however desperately they may struggle. Instinct
takes the place of reason; and our soul, as if answering the appeal of
some translunar chord of subliminal music, vibrates in response to a
mood that baffles all analysis.

We all know the work of Emily's sister Charlotte; we know it and
can return to it at will, fathoming easily and at leisure the fine
qualities of it and its impassioned and romantic effect upon us.

But though we may have read over and over again that one amazing
story--"Wuthering Heights"--and that handful of unforgettable
poems which are all that Emily Brontë has bequeathed to the world,
which of us can say that the full significance of these things has
been ransacked and combed out by our conscious reason; which of
us can say that we understand to the full all the mysterious stir and
ferment, all the far-reaching and magical reactions, which such
things have produced within us?

Who can put into words the secret of this extraordinary girl? Who
can define, in the suave and plausible language of academic culture,
the flitting shadows thrown from deep to deep in the unfathomable
genius of her vision?

Perhaps not since Sappho has there been such a person. Certainly
she makes the ghosts of de Staël and Georges Sand, of Eliot and Mrs.
Browning, look singularly homely and sentimental.

I am inclined to think that the huge mystery of Emily Brontë's power
lies in the fact that she expresses in her work--just as the Lesbian,
did--the very soul of womanhood. It is not an easy thing to achieve,
this. Women writers, clever and lively and subtle, abound in our
time, as they have abounded in times past; but for some inscrutable
reason they lack the demonic energy, the occult spiritual force, the
instinctive fire, wherewith to give expression to the ultimate mystery
of their own sex.

I am inclined to think that, of all poets, Walt Whitman is the only
one who has drawn his reckless and chaotic inspiration straight from
the uttermost spiritual depths of the sex-instincts of the male animal;
and Emily Brontë has done for her sex what Walt Whitman did for

It is a strange and startling commentary upon the real significance of
our sexual impulses that, when it comes to the final issue, it is not
the beautiful ruffianism of a Byron, full of normal sex-instinct
though that may be, or the eloquent sentiment of a Georges Sand,
penetrated with passionate sensuality as that is, which really touch
the indefinable secret. Emily Brontë, like Walt Whitman, sweeps us,
by sheer force of inspired genius, into a realm where the mere
_animalism_ of sexuality, its voluptuousness, its lust, its lechery, are
absolutely merged, lost, forgotten; fused by that burning flame of
spiritual passion into something which is beyond all earthly desire.

Emily Brontë--and this is indicative of the difference between
woman and man--goes even further than Walt Whitman in the
spiritualising of this flame. In Whitman there is, as we all know, a
vast mass of work, wherein, true and magical though it is, the
earthly and bodily elements of the great passion are given enormous
emphasis. It is only at rare moments--as happens with ordinary men
in the normal experience of the world--that he is swept away beyond
the reach of lust and voluptuousness. But Emily Brontë seems to
dwell by natural predilection upon these high summits and in these
unsounded depths. The flame of the passion in her burns at such
quivering vibrant pressure that the fuel of it--the debris and rubble of
our earth-instincts--is entirely absorbed and devoured. In her work
the fire of life licks up, with its consuming tongue, every vestige of
materiality in the thing upon which it feeds, and the lofty tremulous
spires of its radiant burning ascend into the illimitable void.

It is of extraordinary interest, as a mere psychological phenomenon,
to note the fact that when the passion of sex is driven forward by the
flame of its conquering impulse beyond a certain point it becomes
itself transmuted and loses the earthy texture of its original character.

Sex-passion when carried to a certain pitch of intensity loses its
sexuality. It becomes pure flame; immaterial, unearthly, and with no
sensual dross left in it.

It may even be said, by an enormous paradox, to become sexless.
And this is precisely what one feels about the work of Emily Brontë.
Sex-passion in her has been driven so far that it has come round "full
circle" and has become sexless passion. It has become passion
disembodied, passion absolute, passion divested of all human
weakness. The "muddy vesture of decay" which "grossly closes in"
our diviner principle has been burnt up and absorbed. It has been
reduced to nothing; and in its place quivers up to heaven the clear
white flame of the secret fountain of life.

But there is more in the matter than that. Emily Brontë's genius, by
its abandonment to the passion of which I have been speaking, does
not only burn up and destroy all the elements of clay in what, so to
speak, is above the earth and on its surface; but it also, burning
downwards, destroys and annihilates all dubious and obscure
materials which surround the original and primordial human will.
Round and about this lonely and inalienable will it makes a scorched
and blackened plain of ashes and cinders. Ambiguous feelings are
turned to ashes there; and so are doubts, hesitations, timidities,
trepidations, cowardices. The aboriginal will of man, of the
unconquerable individual, stands alone there in the twilight, under
the grey desolate rain of the outer spaces. Four-square it stands,
upon adamantine foundations, and nothing in heaven or earth is able
to shake it or disquiet it.

It is this isolation, in desolate and forlorn integrity, of the individual
human will, which is the deepest element in Emily Brontë's genius.
Upon this all depends, and to this all returns. Between the will and
the spirit deep and strange nuptials are celebrated; and from the
immortality of the spirit a certain breath of life passes over into the
mortality of the will, drawing it up into the celestial and invisible
region which is beyond chance and change.

From this abysmal fusion of the "creator spiritus" with the human
will rises that adamantine courage with which Emily Brontë was
able to face the jagged edges of that crushing wheel of destiny
which the malign powers of nature drive remorselessly over our
poor flesh and blood. The uttermost spirit of the universe became in
this manner _her_ spirit, and the integral identity of the soul within
her breast hardened into an undying resistance to all that would
undermine it.

Thus she was able to endure tragedy upon tragedy without flinching.
Thus she was able to assert herself against the power of pain as one
wrestling invincibly with an exhausted giant.

Calamity after calamity fell upon her house, and the stark desolation
of those melancholy Yorkshire hills became a suitable and
congruous background for the loneliness of her strange life; but
against all the pain which came upon her, against all the aching
pangs of remorseless fate, this indomitable girl held grimly to her
supreme vision.

No poet, no novelist who has ever lived has been so profoundly
affected by the conditions of his life as was this invincible woman.
But the conditions of her life--the scenery of sombre terror which
surrounded her--only touched and affected the outward colour and
rhythm of her unique style. In her deepest soul, in the courage of her
tremendous vision, she possessed something that was not bounded
by Yorkshire hills, or any other hills; something that was inhuman,
eternal and universal, something that was outside the power of both
time and space.

By that singular and forlorn scenery--the scenery of the Yorkshire
moors round about her home--she was, however, in the more
flexible portion of her curious nature inveterately influenced. She
does not precisely describe this scenery--not at any rate at any
length--either in her poems or in "Wuthering Heights"; but it sank so
deeply into her that whatever she wrote was affected by it and bears
its desolate and imaginative imprint.

It is impossible to read Emily Brontë anywhere without being
transported to those Yorkshire moors. One smells the smell of
burning furze, one tastes the resinous breath of pine-trees, one feels
beneath one's feet the tough fibrous stalks of the ling and the
resistant stems and crumpled leaves of the bracken.

Dark against that pallid greenish light of a dead sunset, which is
more than anything else characteristic of those unharvested fells,
one can perceive always, as one reads her, the sombre form of some
gigantic Scotch-fir stretching out its arms across the sky; while a
flight of rooks, like enormous black leaves drifting on the wind, sail
away into the sunset at our approach.

One is conscious, as one reads her, of lonely marsh-pools turning
empty faces towards a grey heaven, while drop by drop upon their
murky waters the autumn rain falls, sadly, wearily, without aim or

And most of all is one made aware of the terrible desolation
--desolation only rendered more desolate by the presence of
humanity--of those half-ruined farm-houses, approached by windy
paths or deep-cut lanes, which seem to rise, like huge fungoid things,
here and there over that sad land.

It is difficult to conceive they have not sprung--these dwellings of
these Earnshaws and Lintons--actually out of the very soil, in slow
organic growth leading to slow organic decay. One cannot conceive
the human hands which _built_ them; any more than one can
conceive the human hands which planted those sombre hedges
which have now become so completely part of the scenery that one
thinks of them as quite as aboriginal to the place as the pine-trees or
the gorse-bushes.

Of all shapes of all trees I think the shape of an old and twisted
thorn-tree harmonises best with one's impression of the "milieu" of
Emily Brontë's single tragic story; a thorn-tree distorted by the wind
blowing from one particular quarter, and with its trunk blackened
and hollowed; and in the hollow of it a little pool of rain-water and a
few dead soaked leaves.

The extraordinary thing is that she can produce these impressions
incidentally, and, as it were, unconsciously. They are so blent with
her spirit, these things, that they convey themselves to one's mind
indirectly and through a medium far more subtle than any eloquent

I cannot think of Emily Brontë's work without thinking of a certain
tree I once saw against a pallid sky. A long way from Yorkshire it
was where I saw this tree, and there were no limestone boulders
scattered at its feet; but something in the impression it produced
upon me--an impression I shall not lightly forget--weaves itself
strangely in with all I feel about her, so that the peculiar look of
wintry boughs, sad and silent against a fading west, accompanied by
that natural human longing of people who are tired to be safely
buried under the friendly earth and "free among the dead," has come
to be most indelibly and deeply associated with her tragic figure.

Those who know those Yorkshire moors know the mysterious way
in which the quiet country lanes suddenly emerge upon wide and
desolate expanses; know how they lead us on, past ruined factories
and deserted quarries, up the barren slopes of forlorn hills; know
how, as one sees in front of one the long white road vanishing over
the hill-top and losing itself in the grey sky, there comes across one's
mind a strange, sad, exquisite feeling unlike any other feeling in the
world; and we who love Emily Brontë know that this is the feeling,
the mood, the atmosphere of the soul, into which her writings throw

The power of her great single story, "Wuthering Heights," is in a
primary sense the power of romance, and none can care for this
book for whom romance means nothing.

What is romance? I think it is the instinctive recognition of a certain
poetic glamour which an especial kind of grouping of persons and
things--of persons and things seen under a particular light--is able to
produce. It does not always accompany the expression of passionate
emotion or the narration of thrilling incidents. These may arrest and
entertain us when there is no romance, in my sense at any rate of
that great word, overshadowing the picture.

I think this quality of romance can only be evoked when the
background of the story is heavily laden with old, rich, dim, pathetic,
human associations. I think it can only emerge when there is an
implication of thickly mingled traditions, full of sombre and terrible
and beautiful suggestiveness, stimulating to the imagination like a
draught of heavy red wine. I think there must be, in a story of which
the flavour has the true romantic magic, something darkly and
inexplicably fatal. I think it is necessary that one should hear the
rush of the flight of the Valkyries and the wailing upon the wind of
the voices of the Eumenides.

Fate--in such a story--must assume a half-human, half-personal
shape, and must brood, obscurely and sombrely, over the incidents
and the characters.

The characters themselves must be swayed and dominated by Fate;
and not only by Fate. They must be penetrated through and through
by the scenery which surrounds them and by the traditions, old and
dark and superstitious and malign, of some particular spot upon the
earth's surface.

The scenery which is the background of a tale which has the true
romantic quality must gather itself together and concentrate itself in
some kind of symbolic unity; and this symbolic unity--wherein the
various elements of grandeur and mystery are merged--must present
itself as something almost personal and as a dynamic "motif" in the
development of the plot.

There can be no romance without some sort of appeal to that
long-inherited and atavistic feeling in ordinary human hearts which is
responsive to the spell and influence of old, unhappy, lovely, ancient
things; things faded and falling, but with the mellowness of the
centuries upon their faces.

In other words, nothing can be romantic which is _new._ Romance
implies, above everything else, a long association with the human
feelings of many generations. It implies an appeal to that
background of our minds which is stirred to reciprocity by
suggestions dealing with those old, dark, mysterious memories
which belong, not so much to us as individuals, as to us as links in a
great chain.

There are certain emotions in all of us which go much further and
deeper than our mere personal feelings. Such are the emotions
roused in us by contact with the mysterious forces of life and death
and birth and the movements of the seasons; with the rising and
setting of the sun, and the primordial labour of tilling the earth and
gathering in the harvest. These things have been so long associated
with our human hopes and fears, with the nerves and fibres of our
inmost being, that any powerful presentment of them brings to the
surface the accumulated feelings of hundreds of centuries.

New problems, new adventures, new social groupings, new
philosophical catchwords, may all have their vivid and exciting
interest. They cannot carry with them that sad, sweet breath of
planetary romance which touches what might be called the
"imagination of the race" in individual men and women.

"Wuthering Heights" is a great book, not only because of the
intensity of the passions in it, but because these passions are
penetrated so profoundly with the long, bitter, tragic, human
associations of persons who have lived for generations upon the
same spot and have behind them the weight of the burden of the
sorrows of the dead.

It is a great book because the romance of it emerges into undisturbed
amplitude of space, and asserts itself in large, grand, primitive forms
unfretted by teasing irrelevancies.

The genius of a romantic novelist--indeed, the genius of all writers
primarily concerned with the mystery of human character--consists
in letting the basic differences between man and man, between man
and woman, rise up, unimpeded by frivolous detail, from the
fathomless depths of life itself.

The solitude in which Emily Brontë lived, and the austere simplicity
of her granite-moulded character, made it possible for her to
envisage life in larger, simpler, less blurred outlines than most of us
are able to do. Thus her art has something of that mysterious and
awe-inspiring simplicity that characterises the work of Michelangelo
or William Blake.

No one who has ever read "Wuthering Heights" can forget the place
and the time when he read it. As I write its name now, every reader
of this page will recall, with a sudden heavy sigh at the passing of
youth, the moment when the sweet tragic power of its deadly genius
first took him by the throat.

For me the shadow of an old bowed acacia-tree, held together by
iron bands, was over the history of Heathcliff; but the forms and
shapes of that mad drama gathered to themselves the lineaments of
all my wildest dreams.

I can well remember, too, how on a certain long straight road
between Heathfield and Burwash, the eastern district of Sussex, my
companion--the last of our English theologians--turned suddenly
from his exposition of St. Thomas, and began quoting, as the white
dust rose round us at the passing of a flock of sheep, the "vain are
the thousand creeds--unutterably vain!" of that grand and absolute
defiance, that last challenge of the unconquerable soul, which ends
with the sublime cry to the eternal spark of godhead in us all--

     "Thou, thou art being and breath;
     And what thou art can never be destroyed!"

The art of Emily Brontë--if it can be called art, this spontaneous
projection, in a shape rugged and savage, torn with the storms of
fate, of her inmost identity--can be appreciated best if we realise
with what skill we are plunged into the dark stream of the destiny of
these people through the mediatory intervention of a comparative
stranger. By this method, and also by the crafty manner in which she
makes the old devoted servant of the house of Earnshaw utter a sort
of Sophoclean commentary upon the events which take place, we
are permitted to feel the magnitude of the thing in true relief and

By these devices we have borne in upon us, as in no other way could
be done, the convincing sense which we require, to give weight and
mass to the story, of the real continuity of life in those savage places.

By this method of narration we have the illusion of being suddenly
initiated into a stream of events which are not merely imaginary. We
have the illusion that these Earnshaws and Lintons are really,
actually, palpably, undeniably, living--living somewhere, in their
terrible isolation, as they have always lived--and that it is only by
some lucky chance of casual discovery that we have been plunged
into the mystery of their days.

One cannot help feeling aware, as we follow the story of Heathcliff,
how Emily Brontë has torn and rent at her own soul in the creation
of this appalling figure. Heathcliff, without father or mother, without
even a Christian name, becomes for us a sort of personal
embodiment of the suppressed fury of Emily Brontë's own soul. The
cautious prudence and hypocritical reserves of the discreet world of
timid, kindly, compromising human beings has got upon the nerves
of this formidable girl, and, as she goes tearing and rending at all the
masks which cover our loves and our hates, she seems to utter wild
discordant cries, cries like those of some she-wolf rushing through
the herd of normal human sheep.

Heathcliff and Cathy, what a pair they are! What terrifying lovers!
They seem to have arisen from some remote unfathomed past of the
world's earlier and less civilised passions. And yet, one occasionally
catches, as one goes through the world, the Heathcliff look upon the
face of a man and the Cathy look upon the face of a woman.

In a writer of less genius than Emily Brontë Heathcliff would never
have found his match; would never have found his mate, his equal,
his twin-soul.

It needed the imagination of one who had both Heathcliff and Cathy
in her to dig them both out of the same granite rock, covered with
yellow gorse and purple ling, and to hurl them into one another's

From the moment when they inscribed their initials upon the walls
of that melancholy room, to the moment when, with a howl like a
madman, Heathcliff drags her from her grave, their affiliation is
desperate and absolute.

This is a love which passes far beyond all sensuality, far beyond all
voluptuous pleasure. They get little good of their love, these
two--little solace and small comfort.

But one cannot conceive their wishing to change their lot with any
happier lovers. They are what they are, and they are prepared to
endure what fate shall send them.

When Cathy admits to the old servant that she intends to marry
Linton because Heathcliff was unworthy of her and would drag her
down, "I love Linton," she says--"but _I am_ Heathcliff!" And this
_"I am_ Heathcliff" rings in our ears as the final challenge to a
chaotic pluralistic world full of cynical disillusionment, of the
desperate spirit of which Emily Brontë was made.

The wild madness of such love--passing the love of men and
women--may seem to many readers the mere folly of an insane

Emily Brontë--as she was bound to do--tosses them forth, that
inhuman pair, upon the voyaging homeless wind; tosses them forth,
free of their desperation, to wander at large, ghosts of their own
undying passions, over the face of the rainswept moors. But to most
quiet and sceptical souls such an issue of the drama contradicts the
laws of nature. To most patient slaves of destiny the end of the ashes
of these fierce flames is to mingle placidly with the dark earth of
those misty hills and find their release in nothing more tragic than
the giving to the roots of the heather and the bracken a richer soil
wherein to grow.

None of us know! None of us can ever know! It is enough that in
this extraordinary story the wild strange link which once and again
in the history of a generation binds so strangely two persons together,
almost as though their association were the result of some aeon-old
everlasting Recurrence, is once more thrown into tragic relief and
given the tender beauty of an austere imagination.

Not every one can feel the spell of Emily Brontë or care for her
work. To some she must always remain too ungracious, too savage,
too uncompromising. But for those who have come to care for her,
she is a wonderful and a lovely figure; a figure whose full
significance has not even yet been sounded, a figure with whom we
must come more and more to associate that liberation of what we
call love from the mere animalism of sexual passion, which we feel
sometimes, and in our rarer moments, to be one of the richest
triumphs of the spirit over the flesh.

It may be that Emily Brontë is right. It may be that a point can be
reached--perhaps is already being reached in the lives of certain
individuals--where sexual passion is thus surpassed and transcended
by the burning of a flame more intense than any which lust can

It may be that the human race, as time goes on, will follow closer
and closer this ferocious and spiritual girl in tearing aside the
compromises of our hesitating timidity and plunging into the
ice-cold waters of passions so keen and translunar as to have become
chaste. It may be so--and, on the other hand, it may be that the old
sly earth-gods will hold their indelible sway over us until the
"baseless fabric" of this vision leaves "not a rack behind"! In any
case, for our present purpose, the reading of Emily Brontë
strengthens us in our recognition that the only wisdom of life
consists in leaving all the doors of the universe open.

Cursed be they who close any doors! Let that be our literary as it is
our philosophical motto.

Little have we gained from books, little from our passionate
following in the steps of the great masters, if, after all, we only
return once more to the narrow prejudices of our obstinate personal

From ourselves we cannot escape; but we can, unfortunately, hide
ourselves from ourselves. We can hide ourselves "full-fathom-five"
under our convictions and our principles. We can hide ourselves
under our theories and our philosophies. It is only now and again,
when, by some sudden devastating flash, some terrific burst of the
thunder of the great gods, the real lineaments of what we are show
up clearly for a moment in the dark mirror of our shaken

It is well not to let the memory of those moments pass altogether

The reading of the great authors will have been a mere epicurean
pastime if it has not made us recognise that what is important in our
life is something that belongs more closely to us than any opinion
we have inherited or any theory we have gained or any principle we
have struggled for.

It will have been wasted if it has not made us recognise that in the
moments when these outward things fall away, and the true self,
beyond the power of these outward things, looks forth defiantly,
tenderly, pitifully upon this huge strange world, there are intimations
and whispers of something beyond all that the philosophers have
ever dreamed, hidden in the reservoirs of being and ready to touch
us with their breath.

Our reading of these noble writings will have been no more than a
gracious entertainment if we have not come to see that the enormous
differences of their verdicts prove conclusively that no one theory,
no one principle, can cover the tremendous field. But such reading
will have had but a poor effect if because of this radical opposition
in the voices reaching us we give up our interest in the great quest.

For it is upon our retaining our interest that the birthright of our
humanity depends.

We shall never find what we seek; that is certain enough. We should
be gods, not men, if we found it. But we should be less than men,
and beasts--if we gave up the interest of the search, the tremulous
vibrating interest, which, like little waves of ether, hovers over the
cross-roads where all the great ways part.

Something outside ourselves drives us on to seek it--this evasive
solution of a riddle that seems eternal--and when, weary with the
effort of refusing this or the other premature solution, weary with
the effort of suspending our judgment and standing erect at that
parting of the ways, we long in our hearts to drift at leisure down
one of the many soothing streams, it is only the knowledge that it is
not our intrinsic inmost self that so collapses and yields up the high
prerogative of doubt, but some lesser self in us, some tired
superficial self, which keeps us back from that betrayal.

The courage with which Emily Brontë faced life, the equanimity
with which she faced death, were in her case closely associated with
the quiet desolate landscape which surrounded her.

As my American poet says, it is only in the country that we can look
upon these fatal necessities and see them as they are. To be born and
to die fall into their place when we are living where the smell of the
earth can reach us.

There will always be a difference between those who come from the
country and those who come from the town; and if a time ever
arrives when the cities of men so cover the earth that there will be
room no longer for any country-bred persons in our midst,
something will in that hour pass away forever from art and literature,
and, I suspect, from philosophy too.

For you cannot acquire this quality by any pleasant trips through
picturesque scenery. It is either in you or it is not in you. You either
have the slow, tenacious, humorous, patient, imaginative instincts of
the country-born; or you have the smart, quick, clever, witty,
fanciful, lively, receptive, caustic turn of mind of those bred in the
great cities.

We all come to the town, "some in rags and some in jags and some
in velvet gowns"; but the country-born always recognises the
country-born, and there is a natural affinity between them.

I suspect that those who have behind them no local, provincial
traditions will find it difficult to understand Emily Brontë.

She did not deal in elaborate description; but the earth-mould smells
sweet, and the roots of the reeds of the pond-rushes show wavering
and dim in the dark water, and "through the hawthorn blows the cold
wind," and the white moon drifts over the sombre furze-covered
hills; and all these things have passed into her style and have formed
her style, and all these things are behind the tenacity with which she
endures life, and behind the immense mysterious hope with which,
while regarding all human creeds as "unutterably vain," she falls
back so fiercely upon that "amor intellectualis Dei" which is the
burning fire in her own soul.

     --"Thou, thou art being and breath;
     And what thou art can never be destroyed!"


The inherent genius of a writer is usually a deeper and more
ingrained thing than the obvious qualities for which the world
commends him, and this is true in a very profound sense in Conrad's

We have only touched the fringe of the matter when we say that he
has possessed himself of the secret of the sea more completely than
any who write in English except Shakespeare and Swinburne.

We have only touched the fringe of the matter when we say he has
sounded the ambiguous stops of that mysterious instrument, the
heart of the white man exiled from his kind in the darkness of
tropical solitudes.

These things are of immense interest, but the essence of Conrad's
genius lies behind and beyond them; lies, in fact, if I am not
mistaken, in a region where he has hardly a single rival.

This region is nothing more nor less than that strange margin of our
minds, where memories gather which are deeper than memories, and
where emotions float by and waver and hover and alight, like wild
marsh-birds upon desolate sea-banks.

Conrad's genius, like the genius of all great writers who appeal to
what is common and universal in us, to what unites the clever and
the simple, the experienced and the inexperienced, is revealed in
something much less accidental and arbitrary than the selection of
any striking background, however significant, of ocean-mystery or
jungle solitude.

The margin of the mind! Margin, mid-way between the known and
the unknown! Do not the obscure images, called up by the feelings
such words suggest, indicate far more intimately than any
description of tropical rivers or Malay seas, the sort of spiritual
atmosphere in which he darkly gives us many strange clues?

I seem to see this shadowy borderland, lying on the extreme "bank
and shoal" of our human consciousness, as a place like that across
which Childe Roland moved when he came to the "dark tower."

I seem to visualise it as a sort of dim marshland, full of waving reeds
and deep black pools. I seem to see it as a place where patches of
dead grass whistle in a melancholy wind, and where half-buried
trunks of rain-soaked trees lift distorted and menacing arms.

Others may image it in a different way, perhaps with happier
symbols; but the region I have in my mind, crossed by the obscure
shapes of dimly beckoning memories, is common to us all.

You can, if you like, call this region of faint rumours and misty
intimations the proper sphere and true hunting-ground of the new
psychology. As a matter of fact, psychologists rarely approach it
with any clairvoyant intelligence. And the reason of that is, it is
much further removed from the material reactions of the nerves and
the senses than the favourite soil of these people's explorations.

So thin and shadowy indeed is the link between the vague feelings
which flit to and fro in this region and any actual sensual impression,
that it almost seems as though this subconscious borderland were in
contact with some animistic inner world--not exactly a supernatural
world, but a world removed several stages back from the material
one wherein our nerves and our senses function; a world wherein we
might be permitted to fancy the platonic archetypes dwelling,
archetypes of all material forms; or, if you will, the inherent "souls"
of such forms, living their own strange inner life upon a plane of
existence beyond our rational apprehension.

It is certain that there are many moments in the most naive people's
experience when, as they walk in solitude along some common
highway, the shape of a certain tree or the look of a certain hovel, or
the indescribable melancholy of a certain road-side pool, or the way
the light happens to fall upon a heap of dead leaves, or the particular
manner in which some knotted and twisted root protrudes itself from
the bank, awakes quite suddenly, in this margin of the mind of
which I speak, the strangest and subtlest feelings.

It is as though something in the material thing before us--some
inexplicable "soul" of the inanimate--rushed forth to meet our soul,
as if it had been _waiting_ for us for long, long years.

I am moving, in this matter of the essential secret of Conrad,
through a vague and obscure twilight. It is not easy to express these
things; but what I have in my thoughts is certainly no mere fancy of
mystical idealism, but a quite definite and actual experience, or
series of experiences, in the "great valley" of the mind.

When Almayer, for instance, stares hopelessly and blankly at a
floating log in his gloomy river; when the honest fellow in "Chance"
who is relating the story watches the mud of the road outside the
hotel where Captain Anthony and Flora de Barral are making their
desperate arrangements; you get the sort of subconscious
"expectancy" which is part of this strange phenomenon, and that
curious sudden thrill, "I have been here before! I have seen and
heard all this before!" which gives to so many scenes in Conrad that
undertone of unfathomable mystery which is so true an aspect of life.

So often are we conscious of it as we read him! We are conscious of
it--to give another instance--when Heyst and Lena are talking
together in the loneliness of their island of escape, before the unseen
enemies descend on them.

The same insight in him and the same extraordinary power of
making words malleable to his purpose in dealing with these hidden
things may be remarked in all those scenes in his books where men
and women are drawn together by love.

Conrad takes no interest in social problems. His interest is only
stirred by what is permanent and undying in the relations between
men and women. These extraordinary scenes, where Gould and his
wife, where Antonia Avellanos and her friend, where Willem and
Aissa, where Nina and her Malay chief, where Flora and Anthony,
Heyst and Lena, and many other lovers, meet and peer into the
secret depths of one another's beings, are all scenes possessing that
universal human element which no change or reform or revolution
or improvement can touch or alter.

Without any theory about their "emancipation," Conrad has
achieved for women, in these stories of his, an extraordinary
triumph. Well does he name his latest book "Victory." The victory
of women over force, over cunning, over stupidity, over brutality, is
one of the main threads running through all his work.

And what women they are! I do not recall any that resemble them in
all literature.

Less passionate than the women of Dostoievsky, less sentimental
than the women of Balzac, less sensual than the women of de
Maupassant, Conrad's women have a quality entirely their own, a
quality which holds us spell-bound. It is much easier to feel this
quality than to describe it. Something of the same element--and it is
a thing the positivity of which we have to search out among many
crafty negations--may be discerned in some of the women of
Shakespeare and, in a lesser degree, in one or two of the young girls
in the stories of Turgenief.

I think the secret of it is to be looked for in the amazing poise and
self-possession of these women; a self-possession which is indicated
in their moments of withdrawn and reserved silence.

They seem at these times to sink down into the very depths of their
femininity, into the depths of some strange sex-secret of which they
are themselves only dreamily conscious.

They seem to withdraw themselves from their own love, from their
own drama, from their own personality, and to lie back upon life,
upon the universal mystery of life and womanhood. This they do
without, it might seem, knowing what they are doing.

They all, in these strange world-deep silences of theirs, carry upon
their intent and sibylline faces something of that mysterious charm
--expectant, consecrated, and holy--which the early painters have
caught the shadow of in their pictures of the Annunciation.

There is something about them which makes us vaguely dream of
the far-distant youth of the world; something that recalls the
symbolic and poetic figures of Biblical and Mythological legend.

They tease and baffle us with the mystery of their emotions, with the
magical and evasive depths of the feminine secret in them. They
make us think of Rebecca at the well and Ruth in the corn-field; of
Andromache on the walls of Troy and of Calypso, Brunhilda,
Gwenevere, Iphigeneia, Medea, Salome, Lilith.

And all this is achieved by the most subtle and yet by the most
simple means. It is brought about partly by an art of description
which is unique among English novelists, an art of description
which by a few fastidious and delicate touches can make the bodily
appearance indicative of the hidden soul; and partly by the cunning
insertion of long, treacherous, pregnant silences which reveal in
some occult indirect manner the very integral quality of the soul thus

The more voluble women of other novelists seem, even while they
are expressing their most violent emotions, rather to blur and
confuse the mysterious depths of their sex-life than to reveal it.
Conrad's women, in a few broken words, in a stammered sentence,
in a significant silence, have the power of revealing something more
than the tragic emotion of one person. They have the power of
revealing what might be called the subliminal sex-consciousness of
the race itself. They have the power of merging the individuality of
the particular speaker into something deeper and larger and wider,
into something universal.

Reserve is the grand device by means of which this subconscious
element is made evident, is hinted at and glimpsed so magically.
When everything is expressed, nothing is expressed. A look, a
gesture, a sigh, a whisper, in Conrad, is more significant of the
ocean-deep mysteries of the soul than pages of eloquent psychology.

The deepest psychology--that is what one comes at last to feel--can
only be expressed indirectly and by means of movements, pictures,
symbols, signs. It can be revealed in words; but the words revealing
it must ostensibly be concerned with something else.

For it is with the deepest things in human life as with the deepest
things in nature; their way must be prepared for them, the mind must
be alert to receive them, but they must not be snatched at in any
direct attack. They will come; suddenly, sharply, crushingly, or
softly as feathers on the wind; but they will only come if we turn
away our faces. They will only come if we treat them with the
reverence with which the ancients treated the mysterious fates,
calling them "The Eumenides"; or the ultimate secret of the universe,
calling it Demogorgon; with the reverence which wears the mask of

The reason why Conrad holds us all--old and young, subtle and
simple--with so irresistible a spell, is because he has a clairvoyant
intuition for the things which make up the hidden substratum of all
our human days--the things which cause us those moments of sharp
sweet happiness which come and go on sudden mysterious wings.

His style is a rare achievement; and it is so because he treats the
language he uses with such scrupulous and austere reverence.

The mere fact that English was a foreign tongue to him seems to
have intensified this quality; as though the hardness and steepness of
its challenge forced the latent scholarship in him to stiffen its fibres
to encounter it.

When he writes of ships he does not tease us with the pedantry of
technical terms. He undertakes the much more human and the much
more difficult task of conveying to us the thousand and one vague
and delicate associations which bind the souls of seafarers to the
vessels that carry them.

His fine imaginative mind--loving with a large receptive wisdom all
the quaint idiosyncrasy of lonely and reserved people--naturally
turns with a certain scornful contempt from modern steamships.
That bastard romance, full of vulgar acclamation over mechanical
achievements, which makes so much of the mere size and speed of a
trans-Atlantic liner, is waved aside contemptuously by Conrad.

Like all great imaginative spirits, he realizes that for any inanimate
object to wear the rich magic of the deep poetic things, it is
necessary for it to have existed in the world long enough to have
become intimately associated with the hopes and fears, the fancies
and terrors, of many generations.

It is simply and solely their newness to human experience which
makes it impossible for any of these modern inventions, however
striking and sensational, to affect our imagination with the sense of
intrinsic beauty in the way a sailing-ship does.

And it is not only--as one soon comes to feel in reading Conrad--that
these old-fashioned ships, with their legendary associations carrying
one back over the centuries, are beautiful in themselves. They
diffuse the beauty of their identity through every detail of the lives
of those who are connected with them. They bring the mystery and
terror of the sea into every harbour where they anchor and into every

No great modern landing-stage for huge liners, from which the
feverish crowds of fashionable tourists or bewildered immigrants
disembark, can compare in poetic and imaginative suggestiveness,
with any ramshackle dock, east or west, where brigs and schooners
and trawlers put in; and real sailors--sailors who _sail_ their
ships--enter the little smoky taverns or drift homeward down the narrow

The shallow, popular, journalistic writers whose vulgar superficial
minds are impressed by the mere portentousness of machinery, are
only making once more the old familiar blunder of mistaking size
for dignity, and brutal energy for noble strength.

Conrad has done well in his treatment of ships and sailors to reduce
these startling modern inventions to their proper place of emotional
insignificance compared with the true seafaring tradition. What one
thinks of when any allusion is made to a ship in Conrad's works is
always a sailing-ship, a merchant ship, a ship about which from the
very beginning there is something human, mellow, rich, traditional,
idiosyncratic, characteristic, full of imaginative wistfulness and with
an integral soul.

One always feels that a ship in Conrad has a _figure-head;_ and is it
possible to imagine a White Star liner, or a North German Lloyd
steamer, with such an honourable and beautiful adornment? Liners
are things entirely without souls. One only knows them apart by
their paint, their tonnage, or the name of the particular set of
financiers who monopolise them.

"Floating hotels" is the proud and inspiring term with which the
awed journalistic mind contemplates these wonders.

Well! In Conrad's books we are not teased with "floating hotels." If
a certain type of machine-loving person derives satisfaction from
thinking how wonderfully these monsters have conquered the sea,
let it be remembered that the sea has its _poetic_ revenge upon them
by absolutely concealing from those who travel in this way the real
magic of its secret.

No one knows the sea--that, at any rate, Conrad makes quite
clear--who has not voyaged over its waves in a sailing vessel.

Of the books which Mr. Conrad has so far written--one hopes that
for many years each new Spring will bring a new work from his
pen--my own favourites are "Chance" and "Lord Jim," and, after
those two, "Victory."

I think the figure of Flora de Barral in "Chance" is one of the most
arresting figures in all fiction. I cannot get that girl out of my mind.
Her pale flesh, her peculiarly dark-tinted blue eyes, her white cheeks
and scarlet mouth; above all, her broken pride, her deep humiliation,
her shadowy and abysmal reserve--haunt me like a figure seen and
loved in some previous incarnation.

I like to fancy that in the case of Flora, as in the case of Antonia and
Nina and Lena and Aissa, Conrad has been enabled to convey, by
means of an art far subtler than appears on the surface, a strange
revival, in the case of every person who reads the book, of the
intangible memories of the sweetness and mystery of such a person's
first love.

I believe half the secret of this wonderful art of his, by which we are
thus reminded of our first love, is the absolute elimination of the
_sensual_ from these evasive portraits. And not only of the sensual;
of the sentimental as well. In the average popular books about love
we have nowadays a sickening revel of sentimentality. Then again,
as opposed to this vulgar sentimentality, with its false idealisation of
women, we have the realistic sensuality of the younger cleverer
writers playing upon every kind of neurotic obsession. I think the
greatness of Conrad is to be found in the fact that he refuses to
sacrifice the mysterious truth of passion either to sentiment or to
sensuality. He keeps this great clear well of natural human feeling
free from both these turbid and morbid streams.

A very curious psychological blunder made by many of our younger
writers is the attributing to women of the particular kind of sex
emotion which belongs essentially to men, an emotion penetrated by
lust and darkened by feverish restlessness. From this blunder Conrad
is most strangely free. His women love like women, not like vicious
boys with the faces of women. They love like women and they hate
like women; and they are most especially and most entirely
womanlike in the extreme difficulty they evidently always
experience in the defining with any clearness--even to themselves
--of their own emotions.

It is just this mysterious inability to define their own emotions which
renders women at once so annoying and so attractive; and the mere
presence of something in them which refuses definition is a proof
that they are beyond both sentiment and sensuality. For sentiment
and sensuality lend themselves very willingly to the most exact and
logical analysis. Sensualists love nothing better than the epicurean
pleasure of dissecting their own emotions as soon as they are once
assured of a discreet and sympathetic listener. The same is doubly
true of sentimentalists. The women of Conrad--like the women of
Shakespeare--while they may be garrulous enough and witty enough
on other matters, grow tongue-tied and dumb when their great
emotions call for overt expression.

It seems to me quite a natural thing that the writer who, of all others,
has caught the mystery of ships should be the writer who, of all
moderns, has caught the mystery of women. Women are very like
ships: ships sailing over waters of whose depths they themselves
know nothing; ships upon whose masts strange wild birds--thoughts
wandering from island to island of remote enchantment--settle for a
moment and then fly off forever; ships that can ride the maddest and
most tragical storms in safety; ships that some hidden rock,
unmarked on any earthly chart, may sink to the bottom without
warning and without mercy!

Conrad reveals to us the significant fact that what the deepest love
of women suffers from--the kind of storm which shakes it and
troubles it--is not sensuality of any sort but a species of blind and
fatal fury, hardly conscious of any definite cause, but directed
desperately and passionately against the very object of this love
itself. Conrad seems to indicate, if I read him correctly, that this mad,
wild, desperate fury with which women hurl themselves against
what they love best in a blind desire to hurt it, is nothing less than a
savage protest against that deep and inviolable gulf which isolates
every human being from every other human being.

Such a gulf men--in a measure--pass, or dream they pass, on the
swift torrent of animal desire; but women are more clairvoyant in
these things, and their love being more diffused, and, in a sense,
more spiritual, is not so easily satisfied by mere physical possession.

They want to possess more. They want to possess body, soul and
spirit. They want to share every thought of their beloved, every
instinct, every wish, every ambition, every vision, every remotest

That they are forbidden this complete reciprocity by a profound law
of nature excites their savage fury, and they blindly wreak their
anger upon the innocent cause of their bewildered un-happiness.

It is their maternal instinct which thus desires to take complete and
absolute possession of the object of their love. The maternal instinct
is always--as Conrad makes quite clear--at the bottom of the
love-passion in the most normal types of women; and the maternal
instinct is driven on by a mad relentless force to seek to destroy
every vestige of separate independence, bodily, mental or spiritual,
in the person it pursues.

Conrad shows with extraordinary subtlety how this basic craving in
women, resulting in this irrational and, apparently, inexplicable
anger, is invariably driven to cover its tracks by every kind of
cunning subterfuge.

This loving anger of women will blaze up into flame at a thousand
quite trivial causes. It may take the form of jealousy; but it is in
reality much deeper than jealousy. It may take the form of protest
against man's stupidity, man's greed, man's vanity, man's lust, man's
thick-skinned selfishness; but it is in reality a protest against the law
of nature which makes it impossible for a woman to share this
stupidity, this vanity, this lust, this greed, and which holds her so
cruelly confined to a selfishness which is her own and quite different
from the selfishness of man.

One would only have to carry the psychological imagination of
Conrad a very little further to recognise the fact that while man is
inherently and completely satisfied with the difference between man
and woman; satisfied with it and deriving his most thrilling pleasure
from it; woman is always feverishly and frantically endeavouring to
overcome and overreach this difference, endeavouring, in fact, to
feel her way into every nerve and fibre of man's sensibility, so that
he shall have nothing left that is a secret from her. That he should
have any such secrets--that such secrets should be an inalienable and
inevitable part of his essential difference from herself--excites in her
unmitigated fury; and this is the hidden cause of those mysterious
outbursts of apparently quite irrational anger which have fallen upon
all lovers of women since the beginning of the world.

Man wishes woman to remain different from himself. It interests
him that she should be different. He loves her for being different.
His sensuality and his sentiment feed upon this difference and
delight to accentuate it. Women seem in some subtle way to resent
the division of the race into two sexes and to be always
endeavouring to get rid of this division by possessing themselves of
every thought and feeling and mood and gesture of the man they
love. And when confronted by the impassable gulf, which love itself
is incapable of bridging, a blind mad anger, like the anger of a
creative deity balked of his purpose, possesses them body and soul.

Mr. Wilson Follet in his superb brochure upon Conrad, written in a
manner so profoundly influenced by Henry James that as one reads
it one feels that Henry James himself, writing upon Conrad, could
not possibly have done better, lays great stress upon Conrad's
complicated and elaborate manner of building up his stories.

Mr. Follet points out, for instance, how in "Chance" we have one
layer of personal receptivity after another; each one, as in a sort of
rich palimpsest of overlaid impressions, making the material under
our hands thicker, fuller, more significant, more symbolic, more
underscored and overscored with interesting personal values.

This is perfectly true, and it is a fine arresting method and worthy of
all attention.

But for myself I am not in the least ashamed to say that I prefer the
art of Conrad at those moments when the narrative becomes quite
direct and when there is no waylaying medium, however interesting,
between our magnetised minds and the clear straightforward story.

I like his manner best, and I do not scruple to admit it, when his
Almayers and Ninas, his Anthonys and Floras, his Heysts and Lenas,
are brought face to face in clear uncomplicated visualisation. I think
he is always at his best when two passionate and troubled
natures--not necessarily those of a man and woman; sometimes those of a
man and man, like Lingard and Willem--are brought together in
direct and tragic conflict. At such moments as these we get that true
authentic thrill of immemorial romance--romance as old as the first
stories ever told or sung--of the encounter of protagonist and
antagonist; and from the hidden depths of life rise up, clear and
terrible and strong, the austere voices of the adamantine fates.

But though he is at his greatest in these direct uncomplicated
passionate scenes, I am quite at one with Mr. Wilson Follet in
treasuring up as of incalculable value in the final effect of his art all
those elaborate by-issues and thickly woven implications which give
to the main threads of his dramas so rich, so suggestive, so mellow a

Except for a few insignificant passages when that sly old mariner
Marlowe, of whom Conrad seems perhaps unduly fond, lights his
pipe and passes the beer and utters breezy and bracing sentiments, I
can enjoy with unmitigated delight all the convolutions and
overlappings of his inverted method of narration--of those rambling
"advances," as Mr. Follet calls them, to already consummated
"conclusions." In the few occasional passages where Marlowe
assumes a moralising tone and becomes bracing and strenuous I
fancy I detect the influence of certain muscular, healthy-minded,
worthy men, among our modern writers, who I daresay appeal to the
Slavonic soul of this great Pole as something quite wonderfully and
pathetically English.

With these exceptions I am unwavering in my adherence to his
curious and intricate method. I love the way he pours his main
narrative, like so much fruity port-wine, first through the sieve of
one quaint person's mind and then of another; each one adding some
new flavour, some new vein of body or bouquet or taste, to the
original stream, until it becomes thick with all the juices of all the
living fermentations in the world.

I think the pleasure I derive from Conrad is largely due to the fact
that while he liberates us with a magnificent jerk from the tiresome
monotonous sedentary life of ordinary civilised people, he does so
without assuming that banal and bullying air of the adventurous
swashbuckler, which is so exhausting; without letting his intellectual
interests be swamped by these physiological violences and by these
wanderings into savage regions.

Most of our English writers, so it appears to me, who leave the quiet
haunts of unadventurous people and set off for remote continents,
leave behind them, when they embark, all the fineness and subtlety
of their intelligence, and become drastic and crude and journalistic
and vulgar. They pile up local colour till your brain reels, and they
assume a sort of man-of-the-wide-world "knowingness" which is
extremely unpleasant.

Conrad may follow his tropical rivers into the dim dark heart of his
Malay jungles, but he never forgets to carry with him his
sensitiveness, his metaphysical subtlety, his delicate and elaborate

What gives one such extraordinary pleasure in his books is the fact
that while he is writing of frontier-explorers and backwoods-peddlers,
of ivory-traffickers and marooned seafarers, he never forgets that
he is a philosopher and a psychologist.

This is the kind of writer one has been secretly craving for, for years
and years; a writer who can liberate us from the outworn restrictions
of civilised life, a writer who can initiate us into all the magical
mysteries of dark continents and secret southern islands, without
teasing us with the harsh sterilities of a brain devoid of all finer

This is the sort of writer one hardly dared to hope could ever appear;
a writer capable of describing sheer physical beauty and savage
elemental strength while remaining a subtle European philosopher. I
suppose it would be impossible for a writer of English blood to
attain such a distinction--to be as crafty as a Henry James, moving
on velvety feline paws through the drawing-rooms of London and
the gardens of Paris; and yet to be leading us through the shadows of
primordial forests, cheek by jowl with monstrous idolatries and
heathen passions.

But what renders the work of Conrad so extraordinarily rich in
human value is not only that he can remain a philosopher in the
deserted outposts of South-Pacific Islands, but that he can remain a
tender and mellow lover of the innumerable little things, little stray
memories and associations, which bind every wanderer from Europe,
however far he may voyage, to the familiar places he has left behind
in the land of his birth.

Here he is a true Slav, a true continental European. Here he is rather
Russian--or French, shall I say--than an adopted child of Britain; for
the colonising instinct of the British race renders its sentimental
devotion to the country of its engendering less burdened with the
passionate intimate sorrows of the exile than the nostalgia of the
other races.

Conrad has indeed to a very high degree that tender imaginative
feeling for the little casual associations of a person's birthplace in
town or country, which seems to be a peculiar inheritance of the
Slavonic and Latin races, and which for all their sentimental play
with the word "home" is not really natural to the tougher-minded
Englishman or Scotchman.

One is conscious, all the while one reads of these luckless wanderers
in forlorn places, of the very smell of the lanes and the very look of
the fields and the actual sounds and stir of the quaint narrow streets
and the warm interiors of little friendly taverns by wharfside and by
harbour-mouth, of the far-off European homes where these people
were born.

No modern English writer, except the great, the unequalled Mr.
Hardy, has the power which Conrad has, of conveying to the mind
that close indescribable intimacy between humanity's passions and
the little inanimate things which have surrounded us from childhood.

Conrad can convey this "home-feeling," this warm secure turning of
the human animal to the lair which it has made for itself, even into
the heart of the tempestuous ocean. He can give us that curious
half-psychic and half-physical thrill of being in mellow harmony with
our material surroundings, even in the little cabin of some
weather-battered captain of a storm-tossed merchant-ship; and not a
sailor, in his books, and not a single ship in which his sailors voyage,
but has a sort of dim background of long rests from toil in ancient
harbourback-waters where the cobblestones on the wharf-edge are thick
with weeds and moss, and where the November rain beats mistily
and greyly, as in Russia and in England, upon the tiled roofs and the
lamplit streets.

It is nothing less than just this human imagination in him, brooding
so carefully over the intimate and sacred relations between our frail
mortality and its material surroundings, that makes it possible for
him to treat with such delicate reverence the ways and customs, the
usages and legendary pieties, of the various half-savage tribes
among whom his exiled Europeans wander.

I am not ashamed to admit that I find the emphasis laid in Conrad's
books upon sheer physical violence a little hurtful to my pleasure in
reading him. What is the cause of this mania for violence? It surely
detracts from the charm of his writing, and it is difficult to see, from
any psychological point of view, where the artistic necessity of it
lies. I do not feel that the thing is an erotic perversion. There is a
downright brutality in it which militates against any subtly
voluptuous explanation. Can it be that he is simply and solely
appealing here to what he is led to believe is the taste of his
Anglo-Saxon readers? No--that, surely, were unworthy of him. That surely
must be considered unthinkable! Is it that, being himself of an
abnormally nervous and sensitive temperament, he forces himself by
a kind of intellectual asceticism to rush upon the pricks of a
physiological brutality as the sort of penance a conscientious writer
has to pay; has to pay to the merciless cruelty of truth?

No; that does not seem to me quite to cover the case. It is an obscure
matter, and I think, in our search for the true solution, we may easily
stumble upon very interesting and deeply hidden aspects, not only of
Conrad's temperament, but of the temperament of a great many
artists and scholars. In all artistic work there is so much that goes on
in the darkness, so much secret exploitation of the hidden forces of
one's nature, that it is extremely difficult to put one's finger upon the
real cause of any particular flaming outbreak.

I have observed this sudden and tempestuous "obsession of
violence" in the moods of certain highly-strung and exquisitely
wrought-upon women; and it is possible that the heavy, dull, thick,
self-complacent brutality of Nature and average human nature is
itself so hurting and rending a thing to the poignant susceptibilities
of a noble spirit, that, out of a kind of desperate revenge upon it, it
goes to the extreme limit itself and, so to speak, out-Tamberlaines
Tamberlaine in bloody massacre.

What, however, really arrests and holds us in Conrad is not the
melodramatic violence of these tempestuous scenes, but the remote
psychological impulses at work behind them.

Where, in my opinion, he is supremely great, apart from his
world-deep revelations of direct human feeling, is in his imaginative
fusion of some particular spiritual or material motif through the whole
fabric of a story.

Thus the desolate "hope against hope" of poor Almayer becomes a
thing of almost bodily presence in that book; a thing built up,
fragment by fragment, piece by piece, out of the very forlornness of
his surroundings, out of the débris and litter of his half-ruined
dwelling, out of the rotting branches of the dim misty forest, out of
the stakes and piles of his broken-down wharf, out of the livid mud
of his melancholy river.

Thus the sombre and tragic philosophy of Heyst's father--that
fatalism which is beyond hope and beyond pity--overshadows, like a
ghastly image of doom seated upon a remote throne in the chill
twilight of some far Ultima Thule, all the events, so curious, so
ironic, so devastating, which happen to his lethargic and phlegmatic
son. It is this imaginative element in his work which, in the final
issue, really and truly counts. For it is a matter of small significance
whether the scene of a writer's choice be the uplands of Wessex or
the jungles of the tropics, as long as that ironic and passionate
consciousness of the astounding drama--of men and women being
the baffled and broken things they are--rises into unmitigated
relief and holds us spell-bound. And beyond and above this
overshadowing in his stories of man's fate by some particular burden
of symbolic implication, Conrad flings the passionate flame of his
imagination into the words of every single sentence.

That is why his style is a thing of such curious attraction. That is
why it has such sudden surprises for us, such sharp revelations, such
rare undertones. That is why after reading Conrad it is difficult to
return to the younger English writers of the realistic school.

One enjoys, in savouring the style of Conrad, a delicious ravishing
thrill in the mere look of the words, as we see them so carefully, so
scrupulously laid side by side, each with its own burden of
intellectual perfume, like precious vases full of incense on the steps
of a marble altar. To write as delicately, as laboriously, as
exquisitely as this, upon the stark, rough, raw materials of murder
and suicide and madness and avarice and terror and desperation; to
write as elaborately and richly as this, when dealing with the wild
secrets of drunken sailors and the mad revenges of half-bestial
savages, is great mastery. And it is more than mastery. It is a
spiritual triumph. It is a proof that the soul of man, confronting the
worst terrors that can come upon it, is still capable of turning all
things into grist for its mill.

For Conrad, while he finds nothing except meaningless and
purposeless chance in the ways of Nature, is inspired by a splendid
tenacity of courage in resisting any desperate betrayal of human joy.

Like that amazing character in "Lord Jim," who collects butterflies
and keeps his affections simple and sweet in the presence of tragedy
upon tragedy, he seems to indicate to us, in these stark and woeful
stories, that since there is no help in heaven or earth for the
persecuted child of man, it is the more necessary that in defiance of
the elements, in defiance of chance, yea! in defiance of fate itself,
man should sink into his own soul and find in the strength of his
own isolated and exiled spirit a courage equal to all that can be laid
upon it. Even this would be but a barren comfort if what we found
when we sank down thus into ourselves were courage, and courage
only. What one comes to feel from the reading of Conrad is that
there is nothing in the world which has enduring value--nothing in
the world which gives the mad convoluted hurly-burly any kind of
dignity or beauty--except only love. And love like this, which is the
forlorn hope of the race, is as far from lust as it is far from sentiment
or indolent pity. It is the "high old Roman virtue." It is the spirit of
comradeship defiant still, under the tottering pillars of a shaken earth.

     "Man must abide his going hence, even as his coming hither.
          Ripeness is all."

     . . . . .

     "Upon such sacrifices, my Cordelia,
     The gods themselves throw incense."


The greatness of a writer can be estimated by the gap which would
yawn in our interpretation of life if we conceived for a moment the
expurgation of his whole body of work from our minds.

And what a hole there would be, what a jagged, bleeding, horrible
hole, if the books of Henry James--and it is a continuous satisfaction
to a lover of literature to think how many of them there are--were
flung upon oblivion.

How often as the days of our life drift by, growing constantly more
crowded and difficult, do we find ourselves exclaiming, "Only
Henry James could describe this! What a situation for Henry

The man has come to get himself associated more--oh, far more
--than any other writer of our day, with the actual stir and pressure of
environment in which we habitually move. I say "we." By this I
mean the great mass of educated people in Europe, England and
America. Of the "Masses," as they are called; of the persons by
whose labours our middle-class and upper-class life, with its
comparative leisure and comfort, is made possible, Henry James has
little to say.

He never or very rarely deals, as Balzac and de Maupassant and
Hardy do, with the farmers and farm labourers on the land. He never
or very rarely deals with the slums of our great cities, as did Dickens
and Victor Hugo. He confines himself more rigorously than any
other novelist of equal power to the ways and manners and
entanglements of people who are "in society," or who could be in
society if they wanted to, or are on the verge and edge of society.

When the "lower classes"--I use the convenient term; doubtless in
the eyes of celestial hierarchies the situation is reversed--enter at all
into the circle of Mr. James' consciousness, they enter, either as
interesting anarchists, like young Hyacinth, or as servants.
Servants--especially butlers and valets--play a considerable part, and so
do poor relations and impecunious dependents. For these latter of both
sexes the great urbane author has a peculiar and tender consideration.
It is not in the least that he is snobbish. Of that personal uneasiness
in the presence of worldly greatness so unpleasantly prominent in
Thackeray there is absolutely nothing. It is only that, conscientious
artist as he is, he is unwilling to risk any sort of aesthetic "faux pas"
by adventuring outside his natural sphere, the sphere to which he
was born. Of gentlefolk who are poor and of artists and writers who
are poor there are innumerable types strewn throughout his works.

It were quite unfair to say that he only writes of the idle rich. What
he actually does is--as I have said--to write of our upper middle
class life, with its aristocrats at the top and its luckless governesses
and tutors and journalists at the bottom; as we, who are in it, know it
and feel it and suffer from it, every day of our existence.

And, curiously enough, this is a very rare achievement. Of course
there is a horde of second-rate writers, cheap hucksters of glittering
sentimental wares for the half-educated, who write voluminously of
the life of which I am speaking. There are others, more cultivated
but endowed with less vivacity, who crowd their pages with grave
personages from what are called "liberal professions." But the more
imaginative writers of our day are not to be looked for in the
drawing-rooms of their wives and daughters.

Mr. Hardy confines himself to the meadows of Blackmoor and the
highways and hedges of Dorset Uplands. Mr. Conrad sails down
tropical rivers and among the islands of Southern seas. The
American Mr. Dreiser ploughs his earth-upheaving path through the
workshops of Chicago and the warehouses of Manhattan.

It is Henry James and Henry James alone, who unravels for us the
tangled skein of our actual normal-abnormal life, as the destinies
twist and knot it in the civilised chambers of our natural sojourning.

The curious thing is that even among our younger and most modern
writers, no one, except John Galsworthy, really deals with the sort of
life that I have in mind when I speak of the European "upper
classes"; and one knows how Mr. Galsworthy's noble and chivalrous
interest in social questions militates against the intellectual
detachment of his curiosity.

The cleverer authors among our younger school almost invariably
restrict their scope to what one feels are autobiographical histories
of their own wanderings through the pseudo-Latin quarters of
London and Paris. They flood their pages with struggling artists,
emancipated seamstresses, demi-mondaine actresses, social
reformers, and all the rag-tag and bob-tail of suburban semi-culture;
whereas in some mysterious way--probably by reason of their not
possessing imaginations strong enough to sweep them out of the
circle of their own experiences--the more normal tide of ordinary
"upper-class" civilisation passes them untouched.

It is imagination which is lacking, imagination which, as in the case
of Balzac and Dostoievsky, can carry a writer beyond the sphere of
his own personal adventures, into the great tides and currents of the
human comedy, and into the larger air of the permanent life-forces.
It is the universal element which one misses in these clever and
interesting books, that universal element which in the work of Henry
James is never absent, however slight and frivolous his immediate
subject or however commonplace and conventional his characters.

Is it, after all, not they,--these younger philosophical realists--but he,
the great urbane humanist, who restricts his scope, narrowing it
down to oft-repeated types and familiar scenes, which, as the world
swings forward, seem to present themselves over and over again as
an integral and classic embodiment of the permanent forces of life?
It might seem so sometimes; especially when one considers how
little new or startling "action" there is in Henry James, how few
romantic or outstanding figures there are to arrest us with the shock
of sensational surprise. Or is it, when we get to the bottom of the
difference--this difference which separates Henry James from the
bulk of our younger novelists--not a matter of subject at all, but
purely a matter of method and mental atmosphere?

May it not, perhaps, turn out that all those younger men are
preoccupied with some purely personal philosophy of life, some
definite scheme of things--like the pattern idea in "Human
Bondage"--to which they are anxious to sacrifice their experiences
and subordinate their imaginations? Are they not all, as a matter of
fact, interested more deeply in hitting home some original
philosophical nail, than in letting the vast human tragedy strike them
out of a clear sky? But it matters little which way it is. The fact that
concerns us now is to note that Henry James has still no rival, nor
anything approaching a rival, in his universal treatment of European
Society. None, even among our most cynical and disillusioned
younger writers, are able to get as completely rid as he of any "a
priori" system or able to envisage, as he did, in passionate colourless
curiosity, the panorama of human characters drawn out along the
common road of ordinary civilised life.

Putting Flaubert aside, Henry James is the only one of the great
modern novelists to be absolutely free from any philosophical
system. Tolstoy, Dostoievsky, Balzac, Hardy, de Maupassant,
D'Annunzio--they all have their metaphysical or anti-metaphysical
bias, their gesture of faith or denial.

Even Flaubert himself makes a kind of philosophic attitude out of
his loathing for the common-place. Henry James alone confronts the
universe with only one passion, with only one purpose, with only
one obsession--the passion and the purpose of satisfying his
insatiable curiosity upon the procession of human motives and the
stream of human psychological reactions, which pass him by in their
eternal flux.

This cold, calm, detached intellectual curiosity, free from any moral
alloy, renders him an extraordinary and unique figure; a figure that
would be almost inhuman, if it were not that the fury of his research
is softened and mitigated by a deep and tender pity for every sort
and condition of frail human creature subjected to his unwearied

This is one of the basic contradictions of Mr. James' fascinating
personality, that he is able to retain the clear and Olympian
detachment of his purely aesthetic curiosity and yet to betray a
tenderness--why should one not say, in the best meaning of that
excellent word, a goodness of heart?--in his relations with his
characters, and with us, his unknown readers, who so easily might
be his characters.

It is one of the profoundest secrets of art itself, this contradiction,
and it reveals the fact that however carefully a great spirit may
divest itself of philosophy and system there is a residuum of
personal character left behind--of personal predilection and
taste--which all the artistic objectivity in the world cannot overcome.

I am myself inclined to think that it is this very tenderness and
friendliness in Henry James, this natural amiability of disposition
which all his detachment and curiosity cannot kill, that makes him
so much more attractive a figure than the sombre Flaubert whose
passion for literary objectivism is touched by no such charm.

It is a matter of great interest to watch the little tricks and devices of
a genius of this kind preparing the ground, as one might put it, for
the peculiar harvest of impressions.

What Henry James aims at is a clear field for the psychological
emotions of people who have, so to speak, time and leisure to
indulge themselves in all the secondary reactions and subtle
ramifications of their peculiar feelings.

The crude and intrusive details of any business or profession, the
energy-absorbing toil of manual or otherwise exhausting labour,
prevent, quite naturally, any constant preoccupation with one's
emotional experiences. A Maxim Gorky or a Thomas Hardy will
turn the technical labours of his emotionally-stricken people into
tragic accomplices of the human drama, making field or factory, as
it may happen, dumb but significant participators in the fatal issue.
But in their case, and in the case of so many other powerful modern
writers, the emotions required are simple and direct, such as
harmonise well with the work of men's hands and the old eternal
struggle with the elements.

It may be said, and with a great deal of plausibility, that this natural
and simple toil adds a dignity and a grandeur to human emotions
which must necessarily vanish with the vanishing of its heavy
burdens. It may be said that the mere existence of an upper class
more or less liberated from such labours and permitted the leisure to
make so much of its passing sensations, is itself a grievous
indictment of our present system. This also is a contention full of
convincing force.

Oscar Wilde himself--the most sophisticated of hedonists--declares
in his "Soul of Man" that the inequality of the present system, when
one considers aesthetic values alone, is as injurious to the rich as it
is pernicious to the poor. Almost every one of the great modern
writers, not excluding even the courtly Turgenief, utters bitter and
eloquent protests against the injustice of this difference.

Nietzsche alone maintains the necessity of a slave caste in order that
the masters of civilisation may live largely, freely, nobly, as did the
ancient aristocracies of the classic ages, without contact with the
burden and tediousness of labour. And in this--in his habitual and
arbitrary neglect of the toiling masses--Henry James is more in
harmony with the Nietzschean doctrine than any other great novelist
of our age. He is indeed, the only one--except perhaps Paul Bourget,
and Bourget cannot in any sense be regarded as his intellectual
equal--who relentlessly and unscrupulously rules out of his work
every aspect of "the spirit of the revolution."

There is something almost terrifying and inhuman about this
imperturbable stolidity of indifference to the sufferings and
aspirations of the many too many. One could imagine any
intellectual proletarian rising up from his perusal of these
voluminous books with a howl of indignation against their urbane
and incorrigible author.

I do not blush to confess that I have myself sometimes shared this
righteous astonishment. Is it possible that the aloofness of this
tenderhearted man from the burden of his age, is due to his
American antecedents?

Rich people in America are far less responsible in their attitude
towards the working classes, and far less troubled by pricks of
conscience than in older countries, where some remote traces of the
feudal system still do something towards bridging the gulf between
class and class.

One must remember too that, after all, Henry James is a great
_déraciné,_ a passionate pilgrim from the new world making
amorous advances toward the old. It is always difficult, in a country
which is not one's own, to feel the sting of conscience with regard to
social injustices as sharply as one feels it at home. Travelling in
Egypt or Morocco, one seems to take it carelessly for granted that
there should be scenes of miserable poverty sprinkled around the
picturesque objects of our aesthetic tour.

Well! England and France and Italy are to Henry James like Egypt
and Morocco; and as long as he finds us picturesquely and
charmingly ourselves; set that is, in our proper setting, and with the
picturesque background of local colour behind us--he naturally does
not feel it incumbent upon him to worry himself very greatly over
our social inequalities.

But there is probably more in it than that. These things--the presence
or the absence of the revolutionary conscience--are matters, when
one gets to the bottom of it, of individual temperament, and James,
the kindest and most charitable of men in his personal life, was
simply untouched by that particular spark of "saeva indignatio."

It was not out of stupidity or any lack of sensitiveness that he let it
alone. Perhaps--who can tell?--he, like Nietzsche's Zarathustra,
overcame "the temptation of pity," and deliberately turned aside
from the "ugliest man's" cries.

One feels in one's more ardent moments, when the wish to smite this
accursed economic system some shattering blow becomes red-hot, a
little chilled, it must be confessed, when one recalls that immense
brow, heavy with brooding intellect, and those dreamy, full-orbed
Shakespearian eyes. Was the man, one is tempted to wonder then,
too great, too lonely, too wise, to believe in any beautiful desperate
change in the tragic "pathos of distance" between man and man?
Was indeed the whole mortal business of human life a sort of grand
tour of "Egypt and Morocco" to him; a mere long-drawn-out search
after aesthetic sensations and a patient satisfying of Olympian

No novelist that has ever lived "shows his hand" so little, in the
sense of coming before the foot-lights and making gestures to the
crowd; but in a deeper implication, none shows it more constantly.

To have a style so marked and sealed, so stamped and dyed for one's
own in the integral way James has it, a style so personal and unique
that its peculiar flavour rises from every single sentence on the page,
is indeed, in a deep sense, to betray one's hidden soul to the world.

This, at any rate, is the only kind of betrayal that we--the general
public--are permitted to surprise him in; unless one counts as a
personal revelation the grave portentous solemnity of his technical
prefaces. Like that amiable girl in Wilhelm Meister who, when
asked whether she had ever loved, replied "Never--or always!"
Henry James may be said to have never "coined his soul" or always
to have coined it.

This style of his--so dyed and ingrained with personality--becomes
in his later books, a stumbling-block to many readers; to the readers
who want their "story" and have no wish to be teased and distracted
"en route." Certainly his style thickens and gathers in fuller intensity
as well as diffuses itself in wider atmospheric attenuation as his later
manner grows upon him. The thing becomes at once richer and more
evasive. But this implies no violent or sudden change, such as might
excite suspicion of any arbitrary "tour-de-force." The characteristic
elements are there from the beginning. They are only emphasized
and drawn out to their logical issues by the process of his

From the very start he possesses a style which has its own flavour. It
is only that the perfume of it diffuses itself more insidiously, in
proportion as its petals, so to speak, warmed by the sun of maturer
experience and subtler imagination, open to the air.

The result of this natural and organic development is precisely what
one would have anticipated. Lovers of simple story-telling prefer the
earlier work with its Daisy Miller, Roderick Hudson, and The
Portrait of a Lady.

Virtuosos of rare psychological achievements and of strange
aesthetic experiments prefer his very latest writings, including such
a difficult and complicated book as "The Golden Bowl" or the short
stories in "The Finer Grain."

On the other hand, those among us who are concerned with sheer
beauty of form apart both from exciting subjects and psychological
curiosities, hold by the intermediate period--the period extending, let
us say, from the beginning of the last five years of the Nineteenth to
the end of the first five years of the Twentieth century.

As a matter of fact, "The Golden Bowl," one of his most elaborate
and exhaustive masterpieces, was published in November, 1904; and
"The Sacred Fount," perhaps the most difficult as it is certainly one
of the most characteristic of all his stories, appeared very much
earlier. But taking his works as a whole, that epoch--from 1895 to
1905--may be regarded as his apogee, as his "Great Noon."

"The Awkward Age," for instance, the book of all others for which
initiated admirers have an insistent devotion, appeared in 1899,
while the collection of stories entitled "The Better Sort," which
includes that masterpiece of tenderhearted malice "The Beldonald
Holbein," came out in 1903.

As I have hinted, the whole question of selecting the period of a
great artist's manner which contains his most significant work is
largely a matter of taste; and the thing--as we have seen--is
complicated by all sorts of overlappings, reversions, anticipations;
but if I were myself pressed to suggest a brief list of books, which
might be found to contain the quintessential qualities both of Henry
James' attitude and his method, I should certainly include "The
Tragic Muse," "The Spoils of Poynton," "What Maisie Knew," "The
Ambassadors," "The Private Life" and "The Soft Side," whatever
else it were difficult to omit.

Putting everything he wrote together, and letting these
many-coloured opals and amethysts of intellectual imagination slide
through our passionate fingers, I would perhaps select "The Great
Good Place" as the best of all his short stories, and "The Tragic
Muse" as the best of all his longer ones.

One sometimes, at unfortunately rare intervals, comes across a
person who has really "collected" Henry James from the very
beginning. Such persons are greatly to be envied. I think perhaps,
they are the only bibliophiles for whom I have a tenderness; for they
prove themselves so much more than bibliophiles; they prove
themselves wise and prudent anticipators of the verdict of posterity.

It is impossible to enjoy the reprinted editions, in their tiresome
monotony of luxurious bindings, as delicately as one enjoyed these
first flowers of the author's genius, dewy with his authentic blessing.
I am myself proud to recall the fact that, before the nineteenth
century closed, I had secured a whole shelf of these sibylline
volumes; buying most of them--I can recall the occasion--in one
huge derelict pile from a certain friendly book-shop in Brighton; and
leaving the precious parcel, promise of more than royal delights, in
some little waiting-room on the sun-bathed Georgian front, while I
walked the beach like a Grand Vizier who has received a present
from the Sultan.

The only people who are to be more envied than those who have
collected Henry James from the beginning--and these alas! are most
of them grey-headed now--are the people who, possessed of the true
interior unction, have by some accident of obstructing circumstance
been debarred from this voluptuous pleasure until late in their
experience. What ecstasies such persons have in store for them,
what "linked sweetness long-drawn out" of sybaritish enjoyment!

But I was speaking of those secret and interesting preparations that
every great artist makes before he gets to work; those clearings of
his selected field of operations from the alien and irrelevant growths.

What Henry James requires before he can set his psychological
machinery in motion is uninterrupted leisure for the persons of his
emotional dramas. Leisure first, and after leisure a certain pleasant
congruity of background.

Henry James is indeed the author "par excellence" of a leisured
upper class who have time to think and feel, and to dwell at large
upon their thoughts and feelings, undisturbed by the spade, the
plough, the sword, the counter, the wheels of factories or the roar of
traffic. It is amusing to watch the thousand and one devices by
which he disentangles his people from the intrusive irrelevancy of
work. They are either rich themselves--and it cannot be concealed
that money, though not over-emphasised, is never quite eliminated
from the field of action--or they are dependent upon rich relatives
and friends.

It is for this reason perhaps that there are so few professional people
in his books. The absence of lawyers is quite striking; so is the
absence of doctors,--though a charming example of the latter
profession does certainly appear in "The Wings of a Dove" as the
medical attendant upon the dying girl in Venice. I cannot at this
moment recall a single clergyman or priest. Is this because these
spiritual guides of our race are too poor or too over-worked to serve
his purpose, or do we perhaps,--in this regrettable "lacuna"--stumble
upon one of the little smiling prejudices of our great conformist? He
must have met some black coats, we are compelled to suppose, in
the drawing-rooms of his country houses. Did he perhaps, like so
many of his discreet and cautious young men, "conform" without
"committing himself," in these high places?

If I were asked what types of character--among men I mean--emerge
as most characteristic of his interest and as best lending themselves
to his method, I should put my finger upon those pathetic
middle-aged persons, like Mr. Verver in "The Golden Bowl," or Mr.
Longdon in "The Awkward Age," who, full of riches and sad
experience, have retired completely from active life, only to exercise
from the depths of their sumptuous houses and secluded gardens, a
sort of fairy influence upon the fortunes of their younger friends.

In the second place, I would indicate, as characteristic of this author,
those wealthy and amiable young men who, as a general rule from
America, but sometimes from the country-houses of England,
wander at large and with genial "artistic" sympathies through the
picturesque cities of Europe, carrying their susceptible hearts and
sound moral principles into "pension" and "studio" where they are
permitted to encounter those other favourite "subjects" of this
cosmopolitan author, the wandering poverty-stricken gentlewoman
with her engaging daughters, or the ambiguous adventuress with her
shadowy past. The only persons who seem allowed to work at their
trade in Henry James, are the writers and artists. These labour
continually and with most interesting results. Indeed no great
novelist, not even Balzac himself, has written so well about authors
and painters. Paul Bourget attempts it, but there is a certain pedantic
air of a craftsman writing about craftsmen, a connoisseur writing
about connoisseurs, in his treatment of such things, which detracts
from the human interest. Paul Bourget lacks, too, that fine malice,
that sly arch humour, which saves Henry James from ever making
his artists "professional" or his writers prolix.

But if he describes fellow-labourers thus sympathetically, it must
not be forgotten that by far the most fascinating "artistic" person in
all his books, is that astonishing Gabriel Nash in "The Tragic Muse."
And the rôle of Gabriel Nash is to do nothing at all. To do nothing;
but to be perpetually and insidiously enticing others, out of the
sphere of all practical duties, responsibilities and undertakings,
to renounce everything for art. Anything more charming or
characteristic than Gabriel Nash's final departure from the scene, it
would be impossible to find. He does not depart. He "goes up"--and
"out." He melts into thin air. He dissolves like an iridescent vapour.
He is--and then again, he is not.

I sometimes seem to see the portentous Henry James himself, with
his soft plump hands, heavy forehead and drooping-lidded eyes,
flitting to and fro through the drawing-rooms of our fantastic
civilisation, like some huge feathery-winged moth-owl, murmuring,
just as Gabriel Nash used to do, wistful and whimsical protests
against all this tiresome "business of life" which distracts people
from psychology and beauty and amiable conversation!

Alas! he too has now "passed away"; vanishing as lightly and
swiftly as this other, leaving behind him as the one drastic and
spectacular action in a life of pure aesthetic creation, his definite
renunciation of the world of his engendering and his formal
reception into the more leisured atmosphere of the traditions of his

That he--of all men the most peaceful--should have taken such a step
in the mid-torrent of the war, is a clinching proof of the value which
he placed upon the sacred shrines of his passionate pilgrimage.

When we come to take up the actual threads of his peculiar style,
and to examine them one by one, we cannot fail to note certain
marked characteristics, which separate him entirely from other
writers of our age.

One of the most interesting of these is his way of handling those
innumerable colloquialisms and light "short-cuts" of speech,
which--especially in their use by super-refined people--have a grace and
charm quite their own. The literary value of the colloquialisms of
upper-class people has never, except here and there in the plays of
Oscar Wilde, been exploited as delightfully and effectively as in
Henry James.

Just as Charles Lamb will make use of Milton or Sir Thomas
Browne or the "Anatomy of Melancholy"; and endow his thefts with
an originality all his own, making them seem different in the
transposition, and in some mysterious way richer, so Henry James
will take the airy levities of his aristocratic youths and the little
provocative ejaculations of his well-bred maidens, and out of these
weave a filmy, evasive, delicate essence, light as a gossamer-seed
and bitter as coloquintida, which, mingled with his own graver and
mellower tones, becomes an absolutely new medium in the history
of human style.

The interesting thing to observe about all this is that the argot that he
makes use of is not the slang of his own America, far less is it the
more fantastic colloquialism of the English Public Schools. It is
really a sort of sublimated and apotheosized "argot," an "argot" of a
kind of platonic archetypal drawing-room; such a drawing-room as
has never existed perhaps, but to which all drawing-rooms or salons,
if you will, of elegant conversation, perpetually approximate. It is
indeed the light and airy speech, eminently natural and spontaneous,
but at the same time profoundly sophisticated, of a sort of Utopian
aristocracy, that will, in some such delicious hesitations, innuendoes
and stammerings, express their "superficiality out of profundity," in
the gay, subtle, epicurean days which are to come.

It is only offensive to tiresome realistic people, void of humour as
they are void of imagination, this sweet psychological persiflage. To
such persons it may even seem a little ridiculous that _everybody_
--from retired American Millionaires down to the quaintest of
Hertfordshire old maids--should utter their sentiments in this same
manner. But such objectors are too pig-headed and stupid to
understand the rudimentary conventions of art, or those felicitous
"illusions," which, as Charles Lamb reminds us in speaking of some
sophisticated old English actors, are a kind of pleasant challenge
from the intelligent comedian to his intelligent audience.

One very delicate and dainty device of Henry James is his trick of
placing "inverted commas" round even the most harmless of
colloquialisms. This has a curiously distinguished and refined effect.
It seems constantly to say to his readers.--"one knows very well,
_we_ know very well, how ridiculous and vulgar all this is; but there
are certain things that cannot be otherwise expressed!" It creates a
sort of scholarly "rapport"--this use of commas--between the
gentility of the author and the assumed gentility of the reader, taking
the latter into a kind of amiable partnership in ironic superiority.

I say "gentility"--but that is not exactly the word; for there is not the
remotest trace of snobbishness in Henry James. It is rather that he
indicates to a small inner circle of intellectually detached persons,
his recognition of their fastidiousness and their prejudices, and his
sly humorous consciousness of the gulf between their classical mode
of speech and the casual lapses of ordinary human conversation.

In spite of all his detachment no novelist diffuses his personal
temperament so completely through his work as Henry James does.
In this sense--in the sense of temperamental style--he is far more
personal than Balzac and incomparably more so than Turgenief.

One does not, in reading these great authors, savour the actual style
on every page, in every sentence. We have large blank spaces, so to
speak, of straightforward colourless narrative. But there are no
"blank spaces" in Henry James. Every sentence is penetrated and
heavy with the fragrance of his peculiar grace. One might almost
say--so strong is this subjective element in the great objective
aesthete--that James writes novels like an essayist, like some
epicurean Walter Pater, suddenly grown interested in common
humanity, and finding in the psychology of ordinary people a
provocation and a stimulus as insidious and suggestive as in the
lines and colours of mediaeval art. This _essayist attitude_ accounts
largely for those superior "inverted commas" which throw such a
clear space of ironic detachment round his characters and his scenes.

On the other hand, what a man he is for concealing his _opinions!_
Who can lay his finger on a single formal announcement of moral or
philosophical partizanship in Henry James? Who can catch him for a
moment declaring himself a conservative, a liberal, a Christian, a
pagan, a pantheist, a pluralist, a socialist, a reactionary, a single
taxer, a realist, a symbolist, an empiricist, a believer in ideals, a
materialist, an advocate of New Thought, an esoteric Buddhist, an
Hegelian, a Pragmatist, a Free Lover?

It would be possible to go over this formidable list of angles of
human vision, and find evidence somewhere in his books sufficient
to make him out an adherent of every one of them. Consider his use
of the supernatural for instance. Hardly any modern writer makes so
constant, so artistic a use of the machinery of the invisible world;
and yet who would have the temerity to say that Henry James
believed even so much as in ghosts?

I know nothing of Mr. James' formal religious views, or to what
pious communion, if any, that brooding forehead and disillusioned
eyes were wont to drift on days of devotion. But I cannot resist a
secret fancy that it was to some old-fashioned and not too ritualistic
Anglican church that he sometimes may have been met proceeding,
in silk hat and well-polished shoes, at the close of a long Autumn
afternoon, across the fallen leaves of Hyde Park!

There is an unction, a dreamy thrill about some of those descriptions
of town and country churches in conventional England which would
suggest that he had no secularistic aversion to these modest usages.
Perhaps, like Charles Darwin, he would have answered impertinent
questions about his faith by pointing to just such patient unexcluding
shrines of drowsy controversy-hating piety.

I cannot see him listening to modernistic rhetoric. I cannot see him
prostrated before ritualistic revivals. But I can see him sitting placid
and still, like a great well-groomed visitor in "Egypt and Morocco,"
listening pensively to some old-fashioned clergyman, whose
goodness of heart redeems the innocence of his brain; while the
mellow sunshine falls through the high windows upon the fair hair
of Nanda or Aggie, or Mamie or Nina or Maud, thinking quiet
thoughts in front of him.

It is strange how difficult it is to forget the personal appearance of
this great man when one reads his works. What a head he had; what
weight of massive brooding bulk! When one thinks of the head of
Henry James and the head of Oscar Wilde--both of them with
something that suggests the classical ages in their flesh-heavy
contours--one is inclined to agree with Shakespeare's Caesar in his
suspicion of "lean men."

Think of the harassed and rat-like physiognomy of nearly all the
younger writers of our day! Do their countenances suggest, as these
of James and Wilde, that their pens will "drop fatness"? Can one not
discern the envious eye, the serpent's tongue, the scowl of the
aggressive dissenter, the leer of the street urchin?

How excellent it is, in this modern world, to come upon the
"equinimitas" of the great ages! After all, in the confused noises of
our human arena, it is something to encounter an author who
preserves restraint and dignity and urbanity. It is something more to
encounter one who has, in the very depths of his soul, the ancient
virtue of magnanimity.

This American visitor to Europe brings back to us those "good
manners of the soul" which we were in danger of forgetting; and the
more we read the writings of Henry James, the more fully we
become aware that there is only one origin of this spiritual charm,
this aristocratic grace; and that is a sensitive and noble heart.

The movement of literature at the present time is all towards action
and adventure. This is right and proper in its place, and a good
antidote to the tedious moralising of the past generation.

The influence of Nietzsche upon the spiritual plane, and that of the
war upon the emotional plane, have thrown us violently out of the
sphere of aesthetic receptivity into the sphere of heroic and laconic

Short stories, short poems, short speeches, short questions, short
answers, short pity and short shrift, are the order of the day. Far and
far have we been tossed from the dreamy purlieus of his "great good
place," with its long sunny hours under misty trees, and its
interminable conversations upon smooth-cut lawns! The sweet
psychology of terrace-walks is scattered, and the noise of the
chariots and the horsemen breaks the magical stillness where lovers
philosophised and philosophers loved.

But let none of the strenuous gentlemen, whose abrupt ways seem
encouraged by this earthquake, congratulate themselves that
refinement and beauty and distinction and toleration have left the
world forever, for them to "bustle in." It is not for long. The sun
does not stop shining or the dew cease falling or the fountains of
rain dry up because of the cruelty of men. It is not for long. The
"humanism" of Henry James, with its "still small voice," is bound to
return. The stars in their courses fight for it. It is the pleasure of the
consciousness of life itself; of the life that, whether with Washington
Square, or Kensington Park, or the rosy campaniles of the Giudecca,
or the minarets of Sacré-Coeur, or the roofs of Montmartre, or the
herbaceous borders and shadowy terraces of English gardens, as its
background, must flow and flow and flow, with its tender
equivocations and its suppliance of wistful mystery, as long as men
and women have any leisure to love or any intelligence to analyse
their love!

He is an aristocrat, and he writes--better than any--of the aristocracy;
and yet, in the long result, is it of his well-bred levities and of his
pleasantly-housed, lightly-living people, that one comes to think? Is
it not rather of those tragic and faded figures, figures of sensitive
men and sensitive women for whom the world has no place, and of
whom few--even among artists--speak or care to speak, with
sympathy and understanding?

He has, just here, and in his own way, something of that sheer
human pity for desolate and derelict spirits which breaks forth so
savagely sometimes, and with so unexpected a passion, from amid
the brutalities and sensualities of Guy de Maupassant.

No one who has ever lived has written more tenderly or beautifully
of what Charles Lamb would call "superannuated people." Old
bachelors, living in a sort of romantic exile, among mementoes of a
remote past; old maids, living in an attenuated dream of "what might
have been," and playing heart-breaking tricks with their forlorn
fancies; no one has dealt more generously, more imaginatively with
such as these. He is a little cruel to them sometimes, but with a fine
caressing cruelty which is a far greater tribute than indifference; and
is there not, after all, a certain element of cruelty in every species of
tender love?

Though more than any one capable of discerning rare and
complicated issues, where to the vulgar mind all would seem grey
and dull and profitless, Henry James has, and it is absurd not to
admit it, a "penchant" for the abnormal and the bizarre. This element
appears more often in the short stories than the longer ones, but it is
never very far away.

I sometimes think that many of the gentle and pure-souled people
who read this amiable writer go on their way through his pages
without discerning this quiver, this ripple, this vibration, of "miching
mallecho." On softly-stepping feline feet, the great sleek panther of
psychological curiosity glides into very perverse, very dubious paths.
The exquisite tenuity and flexibility of his style, light as the flutter
of a feather through the air, enable him to wander freely and at large
where almost every other writer would trip and stumble in the mud.
It is one of the most interesting phenomena in literature, this sly,
quiet, half ironic dalliance with equivocal matters.

Henry James can say things that no one else could say, and approach
subjects that no one else could approach, simply by reason of the
grave whimsical playfulness of his manner and the extraordinary
malleableness of his evasive style. It is because his style can be as
simple and clear as sunlight, and yet as airy and impalpable as the
invisible wind, that he manages to achieve these results. He uses
little words, little harmless innocent words, but by the connotation
he gives them, and the way in which he softly flings them out, one
by one, like dandelion seeds upon swiftly-sliding water, one is being
continually startled into sharp arrested attention, as if--in the silence
that follows their utterance--somebody, as the phrase goes, "stepped
over one's grave."

How dearly one grows to love all his dainty tricks of speech! That
constant repetition of the word "wonderful"--of the word
"beautiful"--how beautifully and wonderfully he works it up into a
sort of tender chorus of little caressing cries over the astounding
tapestry woven by the invisible fates! The charming way his people
"drop" their little equivocal innocent-wicked retorts; "drop" them
and "fling them out," and "sweetly hazard" them and "wonderfully
wail" them, produces the same effect of balanced expectancy and
suspended judgment that one derives from those ambiguous "so it
might seems" of the wavering Platonic Dialogue.

The final impression left upon the mind after one closes one of these
fascinating volumes is, it must be confessed, a little sad. So much
ambiguity in human life--so much unnecessary suffering--so many
mad, blind, wilful misunderstandings! A little sad--and yet, on the
other hand, we remain fortified and sustained with a certain interior

After all, it is soon over--the whole motley farce--and, while it lasts,
nothing in it matters so very greatly, or at any rate matters enough to
disturb our amusement, our good-temper, our toleration. Nothing
matters so very greatly. And yet everything--each of us, as we try to
make our difficult meanings clear, the meanings of our hidden souls,
and each of these meanings themselves as we stammer them forth to
one another--matters so "wonderfully," so "beautifully"!

The tangled thread of our days may be knotted and twisted; but,
after all, if we have the magnanimity to let off lightly those "who
trespass against us" we have not learnt our aesthetic lesson of
regarding the whole business of life as a complicated Henry James
story, altogether in vain.

We have come to regard the world as a more or less amusing
Spectacle, without forgetting to be decently considerate of the other
shadows in the gilt-framed mirror!

Perhaps, in our final estimate of him, what emerges most definitely
as Henry James' _doctrine_ is the height and depth and breadth of
the gulf which separates those who have taste and sensitiveness
from those who have none. That is the "motif" of the "Spoils of
Poynton," and I do not know any one of all his books more instinct
with his peculiar spiritual essence.

Below every other controversy and struggle in the world is the
controversy between those who possess this secret of "The Finer
Grain" and those who have it not. There can be no reconciliation, no
truce, no "rapport" between these. At best there can be only
mitigated hostility on the one side, and ironical submission on the
other. The world is made after this fashion and after no other, and
the best policy is to follow our great artists and turn the contrast
between the two into a cause of aesthetic entertainment.

Duality rules the universe. If it were not for the fools there would be
no wisdom. If it were not for those who could never understand him,
there could be no Henry James.

One comes at any rate to see, from the exquisite success upon us of
this author's method, how futile it is, in this world whereof the
beginning and the end are dreams, to bind an artist down to tedious
and photographic reality.

People do not and perhaps never will--even in archetypal Platonic
drawing-rooms--converse with one another quite so goldenly; or tell
the amber-coloured beads of their secret psychology with quite so
felicitous an unction. What matter? It is the prerogative of fine and
great art to create, by its shaping and formative imagination, new
and impossible worlds for our enjoyment.

And the world created by Henry James is like some classic Arcadia
of psychological beauty--some universal Garden of Versailles
unprofaned by the noises of the crowd--where among the terraces
and fountains delicate Watteau-like figures move and whisper and
make love in a soft artificial fairy moonlight dimmed and tinted with
the shadows of passions and misty with the rain of tender regrets;
human figures without name or place. For who remembers the
names of these sweet phantoms or the titles of their "great good
places" in this hospitable fairy-land of the harassed sensitive ones of
the earth; where courtesy is the only law of existence and good taste
the only moral code?


The words he once used about himself--"I am a symbolic figure"
--remain to this day the most significant thing that can be said of
Oscar Wilde.

It is given to very few men of talent, this peculiar privilege--this
privilege of being greater in what might be called the _shadow of
their personality_ than in any actual literary or artistic achievement
--and Wilde possesses it in a degree second to none.

"My genius is in my life," he said on another occasion, and the
words are literally and most fatally true.

In the confused controversies of the present age it is difficult to
disentangle the main issues; but it seems certain that side by side
with political and economic divisions, there is a gulf growing wider
and wider every day between the adherents of what might be called
the Hellenic Renaissance and the inert, suspicious, unintelligent mob;
that mob the mud of whose heavy traditions is capable of breeding,
at one and the same time, the most crafty hypocrisy and the most
stupid brutality.

It would be hardly a true statement to say that the Renaissance
referred to--this modern Renaissance, not less formidable than the
historic revolt which bears that name--is an insurrection of free
spirits against Christianity. It is much rather a reversion to a humane
and classic reasonableness as opposed to mob-stupidity and
middle-class philistinism--things which only the blundering of centuries of
popular misapprehension could associate with the sublime and the
imaginative figure of Christ.

It is altogether a mistake to assume that in "De Profundis" Wilde
retracted his classic protest and bowed his head once more in the
house of Rimmon.

What he did was to salute, in the name of the aesthetic freedom he
represented, those enduring elements of human loveliness and
beauty in that figure which three hundred years of hypocritical
puritanism have proved unable to tarnish. What creates the peculiar
savagery of hatred which his name has still the power to conjure up
among the enemies of civilisation has little to do with the ambiguous
causes of his final downfall. These, of course, gave him up, bound
hand and foot, into their hands. But these, though the overt excuse of
their rancour, are far from being its real motive-force. To reach that
we must look to the nature of the formidable weapon which it was
his habit, in season and out of season, to use against this mob-rule--I
mean his sense of humour.

The stupid middle-class obscurantism, so alien to all humane
reasonableness, which, in our Anglo-Saxon communities, masquerades
under the cloak of a passionate and imaginative religion,
is more sensitive to ridicule than to any other form of attack,
and Wilde attacked it mercilessly with a ridicule that cut to the bone.

They are not by any means of equal value, these epigrams of his,
with which he defended intelligence against stupidity and classical
light against Gothic darkness.

They are not as humorous as Voltaire's. They are not as
philosophical as Goethe's. Compared with the aphorisms of these
masters they are light and frivolous. But for this very reason perhaps,
they serve the great cause--the cause of humane and enlightened
civilisation--better in our age of vulgar mob-rule than more
recondite "logoi."

They pierce the hide of the thickest and dullest; they startle and
bewilder the brains of the most crass and the most insensitive. And it
is just because they do this that Wilde is so cordially feared and
hated. It was, one cannot help feeling, the presence in him of a
shrewd vein of sheer boyish bravado, mingled--one might go even
as far as that--with a dash of incorrigible worldliness in his own
temper, that made his hits so effective and wounding.

It is interesting, with this in mind, to compare Wilde's witticisms
with those of Matthew Arnold or Bernard Shaw. The reason that
Wilde's lash cuts deeper than either of these other champions of
rational humanism, is that he goes, with more classical clearness,
straight to the root of the matter.

The author of "Thyrsis" was not himself free from a certain
melancholy hankering after "categorical imperatives," and beneath
the cap and bells of his theological fooling, Shaw is, of course, as
gravely moralistic as any puritan could wish.

Neither of these--neither the ironical schoolmaster nor the farcical
clown of our Renaissance of intelligence--could exchange ideas with
Pericles, say, or Caesar, without betraying a puritanical fussiness
that would grievously bewilder the lucid minds of those great men.

The philosophy of Wilde's aesthetic revolt against our degraded
mob-ridden conscience was borrowed from Walter Pater, but
whereas that shy and subtle spirit moved darkly and mysteriously
aside from all contact with the vulgar herd, Wilde, full of gay and
wanton pride in his sacred mission, lost no opportunity of flaunting
his classic orthodoxy in the face of the heretical mob.

Since the death of Wilde, the brunt of the battle for the spiritual
liberties of the race has been borne by the sterner and more
formidable figure of Nietzsche; but the vein of high and terrible
imagination in this great poet of the Superman sets him much closer
to the company of the saints and mystics than to that of the
instinctive children of the pagan ideal.

Oscar Wilde's name has become a sort of rallying cry to all those
writers and artists who suffer, in one degree or another, from the
persecution of the mob--of the mob goaded on to blind brutality by
the crafty incentives of those conspirators of reaction whose interest
lies in keeping the people enslaved. This has come about, in a large
measure, as much by the renown of his defects as by reason of his
fine quality.

The majority of men of talent lack the spirit and the gall to defy the
enemy on equal terms. But Wilde while possessing nobler faculties
had an undeniable vein in him of sheer youthful insolence. To the
impertinence of society he could oppose the impertinence of the
artist, and to the effrontery of the world he could offer the effrontery
of genius.

The power of personality, transcending any actual literary
achievement, is what remains in the mind when one has done
reading him, and this very faculty--of communicating to us, who
never saw him or heard him speak, the vivid impact of his
overbearing presence--is itself evidence of a rare kind of genius. It is
even a little ironical that he, above all men the punctilious and
precious literary craftsman, should ultimately dominate us not so
much by the magic of his art as by the spell of his wilful and wanton
individuality, and the situation is heightened still further by the
extraordinary variety of his works and their amazing perfection in
their different spheres.

One might easily conceive an artist capable of producing so
clean-cut and crystalline a comedy as "The Importance of Being Earnest,"
and so finished and flawless a tragedy as "Salome," disappearing
quite out of sight, in the manner so commended by Flaubert, behind
the shining objectivity of his flawless creations. But so far from
disappearing, Oscar Wilde manages to emphasise himself and his
imposing presence only the more startlingly and flagrantly, the more
the gem-like images he projects harden and glitter.

Astoundingly versatile as he was--capable of producing in "Reading
Gaol" the best tragic ballad since "The Ancient Mariner," and in
"Intentions" one of the best critical expositions of the open secret of
art ever written at all--he never permits us for a second to lose touch
with the wayward and resplendent figure, so full, for all its bravado,
of a certain disarming childishness, of his own defiant personality.

And the fact remains that, perfect in their various kinds though these
works of his are, they would never appeal to us as they do, and
Oscar Wilde would never be to us what he is, if it were not for the
predominance of this personal touch.

I sometimes catch myself wondering what my own feeling would be
as to the value of these things--of the "Soul of Man," for instance, or
"Intentions," or the Comedies, or the Poems--if the unthinkable
thing could be done, and the emergence of this irresistible figure
from behind it all could be drastically eliminated. I find myself
conscious, at these times, of a faint disturbing doubt; as though after
all, in spite of their jewel-like perfection, these wonderful and varied
achievements were not quite the real thing, were not altogether in
the "supreme manner." There seems to me--at the moments when
this doubt arises--something too self-consciously (how shall I put it?)
_artistic_ about these performances, something strained and forced
and far-fetched, which separates them from the large inevitable
utterances of classic genius.

I am ready to confess that I am not sure that this feeling is a matter
of personal predilection or whether it has the larger and graver
weight behind it of the traditional instincts of humanity, instincts out
of which spring our only permanent judgments. What I feel at any
rate is this: that there is an absence in Wilde's writings of that large
cool spaciousness, produced by the magical influence of earth and
sky and sea, of which one is always conscious in the greater masters.

"No gentleman," he is said to have remarked once, "ever looks out
of the window"; and it is precisely this "never looking out of the
window" that produces his most serious limitations.

In one respect I must acknowledge myself grateful to Wilde, even
for this very avoidance of what might be called the "magical"
element in things. His clear-cut palpable images, carved, as one so
often feels, in ebony or ivory or gold, offer an admirable relief, like
the laying of one's hand upon pieces of Hellenic statuary, after
wandering among the vague mists and "beached margents."

Certainly if all that one saw when one "looked out of the window"
were Irish fairies with dim hair drifting down pallid rivers, there
would be some reason for drawing the curtains close and toying in
the lamp-light with cameo-carved profiles of Antinous and

But nature has more to give us than the elfish fantasies, charming as
these may be, of Celtic legend--more to give us than those "brown
fauns" and "hoofed Centaurs" and milk-white peacocks, which
Wilde loves to paint with his Tiepolo-like brush. The dew of the
morning does not fall less lightly because real autumns bring it, nor
does the "wide aerial landscape" of our human wayfaring show less
fair, or its ancient antagonist the "salt estranging sea" less terrible,
because these require no legendary art to endow them with mystery.

Plausible and full of significance as these honeyed arguments in
"Intentions" are--and fruitful as they are in affording us weapons
wherewith to defend ourselves from the mob--it is still well, it is still
necessary, to place against them the great Da Vinci saying, "Nature
is the Mistress of the higher intelligences."

Wilde must be held responsible--along with others of his epoch--for
the encouragement of that deplorable modern heresy which finds in
bric-à-brac and what are called "objets d'art" a disproportionate
monopoly of the beauty and wonder of the world. One turns a little
wearily at last from the silver mirrors and purple masks. One turns
to the great winds that issue forth out of the caverns of the night.
One turns to the sun and to the rain, which fall upon the common

However! It is not a wise procedure to demand from a writer virtues
and qualities completely out of his rôle. In our particular race there
is far more danger of the beauty and significance of art--together
with all its subtler and less normal symbols--perishing under crude
and sentimental Nature-worship, than of their being granted too
large a place in our crowded house of thought.

After all, the art which Wilde assures us adds so richly to Nature, "is
an art which Nature makes." They are not lovers of what is rarest
and finest in our human civilisation who would suppress everything
which deviates from the common track.

Who has given these people--these middle-class minds with their
dull intelligences--the right to decide what is natural or unnatural in
the presence of the vast tumultuous forces, wonderful and terrible,
of the life-stream which surrounds us?

The mad smouldering lust which gives a sort of under-song of
surging passion to the sophisticated sensuality of "Salome" is as
much an evocation of Nature as the sad sweet wisdom of that
sentence in "De Profundis"--"Behind joy and laughter there may be
a temperament, coarse, hard and callous. But behind sorrow there is
always sorrow."

What, beneath all his bravado and his paradoxes, Wilde really
sought, was the enjoyment of passionate and absorbing emotion, and
no one who hungers and thirsts after this--be he "as sensual as the
brutish sting itself"--can fail in the end to touch, if only fleetingly
with his lips, the waters of that river of passion which, by a miracle
of faith if not by a supreme creation of art, Humanity has caused to
issue forth from the wounded flesh of the ideal.

It is in his "Soul of Man"--perhaps the wisest and most eloquent
revolutionary tract ever written--that Wilde frees himself most
completely from the superficial eccentricities of his aesthetic pose,
and indicates his recognition of a beauty in life, far transcending
Tyrian dyes and carved cameos and frankincense and satin-wood
and moon-stones and "Silks from Samarcand."

It is impossible to read this noble defence of the natural distinction
and high dignity of our human days when freed from the slavery of
what is called "working for a living," without feeling that the boyish
bravado of his insolent wit is based upon a deep and universal
emotion. What we note here is an affiliation in revolt between the
artist and the masses. And this affiliation indicates that the
hideousness of our industrial system is far more offensive than any
ancient despotism or slave-owning tyranny to the natural passion for
light and air and leisure and freedom in the heart of man.

That Oscar Wilde, the most extreme of individualists, the most
unscrupulous of self-asserters, the pampered darling of every kind of
sophisticated luxury, should thus lift up his voice on behalf of the
wage-earners, is an indication that a state of society which seems
proper and inevitable to dull and narrow minds is, when confronted,
not with any mere abstract theory of Justice or Political rights, but
with the natural human craving for life and beauty, found to be an
outrage and an insult.

Oscar Wilde by pointing his derisive finger at what the gross
intelligence of our commercial mob calls the "honourableness of
work" has done more to clear our minds of cant than many
revolutionary speeches.

An age which breeds a world of uninteresting people whose only
purpose in life is working for their living is condemned on the face
of it. And it is just here that the association between your artist and
your "labouring man" becomes physiologically evident. The
labourer shows quite clearly that he regards his labour as a
degradation, a burden, an interruption to life, a necessary evil.

The rôle of the capitalist-hired preacher is to condemn him for this
and to regret the departure from the scene of that imaginary and
extremely ridiculous figure, the worker who "took pleasure in his
work." If there ever have been such people, they ought, as Wilde
says, to be thoroughly ashamed of themselves. Any person who
enjoys being turned into a machine for the best part of his days and
regards it with pride, is no better than a blackleg or a scab--not a
"scab" in regard to a little company of strikers, but a "scab" in regard
to the human race; for he is one who denies that life in itself, life
with all its emotional, intellectual and imaginative possibilities, can
be endured without the gross, coarsening, dulling "anaesthetic" of
money-making toil.

This is the word that the social revolution wanted--the word so much
more to the point than discourses upon justice and equality and
charity. And it is precisely here that the wage-earners of our present
system are in harmony with the "intellectuals."

The "wage-earners," or those among them who have in them
something more than the souls of scabs, despise and loathe their
enforced labour. The artist also despises the second-rate tasks set
him by the stupidity and bad taste of his middle-class masters.

The only persons in the community who are really happy in their
life's work, as they fantastically call it, are those commercial
_ruffians_ whose brutal, self-righteous, puritanical countenances
one is swamped by--as if by a flood of suffocating mediocrity--in
the streets of all our modern cities.

Oscar Wilde is perfectly right. We are living in an age when the
world for the first time in its history is literally under the rule of
the stupidest, dullest, least intelligent and least admirable of all
the classes in the community. Wilde's "Soul of Man" is the
condemnation--let us hope the effective condemnation--of this
epoch in the journey of the race.

The odium which France--always the protector of civilisation--has
stamped upon the word "bourgeois" is no mere passing levity of an
irresponsible Latin Quarter. It is the judgment of classic taste--the
taste of the great artists and poets of all ages--upon the worst type of
person, the type most pernicious to true human happiness, that has
ever yet appeared upon the planet. And it is this type, the
commercial type, the type that loves the money-making toil it is
engaged upon, which rules over us now with an absolute authority,
and creates our religion, our morality, our pleasures, our pastimes,
our literature and our art.

Oscar Wilde must be forgiven everything in his gay impertinence
which may jar upon our more sensitive moments, when one
considers what he has done in dragging this great issue into the light
and making it clear. He shows that what we have against us is not so
much a system of society or a set of laws, as a definite and
contemptible type of human character.

Democracy may well appear the most hopeless and lamentable
failure in the government of men that history has ever known--but
this is only due to the fact that the working classes have until now
meekly and mildly received from the commercial classes their
notions as to what democracy means.

No one could suppose for a moment that such a thing as the
puritanical censorship of art and letters which now hangs, like a
leaden weight, round the neck of every writer of original power,
would be thrust upon us by the victims of sweatshops and factories.
It is thrust upon us, like everything else which is degrading and
uncivilised in our present system, by the obstinate stupidity and silly
sentiment of the self-righteous middle class, the opponents of
everything that is joyous and interesting and subtle and imaginative.
It is devoutly to be hoped that, when the revolution arrives, the
human persons who force their way to the top and guide the
volcanic eruption will be such persons as are absolutely free from
every kind of middle-class scruple.

There are among us to-day vigorous and indignant minds who find
in the ugliness and moral squalor of our situation, the unhappy
influence of Christ and his saints. They are wrong. The history of
Oscar Wilde's writings shows that they are wrong.

It is the self-satisfied moralist who stands in the way, not the mystic
or the visionary. They spoil everything they touch, these people.
They turn religion into a set of sentimental inhibitions that would
make Marcus Aurelius blush. They turn faith into pietism, sanctity
into morality, and righteousness into a reeking prurience.

After all, it is not on the strength of his opinions, wise and sound as
these may be, that Wilde's reputation rests. It rests on the beauty, in
its own way never equalled, of the style in which he wrote. His style,
as he himself points out, is one which seems to compel its readers to
utter its syllables aloud. Of that deeper and more recondite charm
which lies, in a sense, outside the sphere of vocal articulation, of that
rhythm of the very movements of thought itself which lovers of
Walter Pater catch, or dream they catch, in those elaborate delicately
modulated sentences, Wilde has little or nothing.

What he achieves is a certain crystalline lucidity, clear and pure as
the ring of glass upon glass, and with a mellifluous after-tone or
echo of vibration, which dies away upon the ear in a lingering
fall--melancholy and voluptuous, or light and tender as the hour and the
moment lead.

He is at his best, or at any rate his style shows itself at its best, not
in the utterances of those golden epigrams, the gold of which, as days
pass, comes in certain cases to look lamentably like gilt, but in his
use of those far-descended legendary images gathered up into poetry
and art again and again till they have acquired the very tone of time
itself, and a lovely magic, sudden, swift and arresting, like the odour
of "myrrh, aloes, and cassia."

The style of Wilde is one of the simplest in existence, but its
simplicity is the very apex and consummation of the artificial. He
uses Biblical language with that self-conscious preciosity--like the
movements of a person walking on tiptoe in the presence of the
dead--which is so different from the sturdy directness of Bunyan or
the restrained rhetoric of the Church of England prayers. There
come moments when this premeditated innocence of tone--this
lisping in liturgical monosyllables--irritates and annoys one. At such
times the delicate unction of his naïveté strikes one, in despite of its
gravity, as something a little comic; as though some very
sophisticated and experienced person suddenly joined in a children's
game and began singing in a plaintive tenderly pitched voice--

     "This is the way we wash our hands, wash our hands, wash our
     This is the way we wash our hands,
     On a cold and frosty morning!"

But it were absurd to press this point too far. Sophisticated though
the simplicity of Wilde is, it does actually spring with all its
ritualistic tiptoeing straight out of his natural character. He was born
artificial, and he was born with more childishness than the great
majority of children.

I like to picture him as a great Uranian baby, full of querulousness
and peevishness, and eating greedily, with a sort of guileless wonder
that anyone should scold him for it, every species of forbidden fruit
that grows in the garden of life! How infantile really, when one
thinks of it, and how humorously solemn the man's inordinate
gravity over the touch of soft fabrics and the odour of rare perfumes!
One seems to see him, a languid-limbed "revenant," with
heavy-lidded drowsy eyes and voluptuous lips, emerging all swathed and
wrapped in costly cerements out of the tomb of some Babylonian

After all, it remains a tremendous triumph of personality, the
manner in which this portly modern Antinous has taken captive our
imagination. His influence is everywhere, like an odour, like an
atmosphere, like a diffused flame. We cannot escape from him.

In those ridiculous wit-contests with Whistler, from which he
always emerged defeated, how much more generous and careless
and noble he appears than the wasp-like artist who could rap out so
smartly the appropriate retort! He seems like a great lazy king, at
such times, caught off his guard by some skipping and clever knave
of his spoilt retinue. Perhaps even now no small a portion of the
amused and astonished wonder he excites is due to the fact that he
really had, what so few of us have, a veritable passion for precious
stuffs and woven fabrics and ivory and cedar wood and beads of
amber and orchid-petals and pearl-tinted shells and lapis-lazuli and
attar of roses.

It is open to doubt whether even among artists, there are many who
share Wilde's Hellenic ecstasy in these things. This at any rate was
no pose. He posed as a man of the world. He posed as an immoralist.
He posed as a paradoxist. He posed in a thousand perverse
directions. But when it comes to the colour and texture and odour
and shape of beautiful and rare things--there, in his voluptuous
delight in these, he was undeniably sincere.

He was of course no learned virtuoso. But what does that matter?
The real artist is seldom a patient collector or an encyclopedic
authority. That is the rôle of Museum people and of compilers of
hand-books. Many thoroughly uninteresting minds know more about
Assyrian pottery and Chinese pictures than Oscar Wilde knew about
wild flowers.

Knowledge, as he teaches us himself, and it is one of the
profoundest of his doctrines, is nothing. Knowledge is external and
incidental. The important thing is that one's senses should be
passionately alive and one's imagination fearlessly far-reaching.

We can embrace all the treasures of the Herods and all the riches of
the Caesars as we lay our fingers upon a little silver coin, if the
divine flame is within us, and, if not, we may excavate a thousand
buried cities and return learned and lean and empty. Well, people
must make their own choice and go their own way. The world is
wide, and Nature has at least this in common with Heaven, that it
has many mansions.

The feverish passion for fair things which obsessed Oscar Wilde and
carried him so far is not for all the sons of men; nor even, in every
hour of their lives, for those who most ardently answer to it. That
feverishness burns itself out; that smouldering fire turns to cold
ashes. Life flows on, though Salome, daughter of Herodias, lies
crushed under the piled-up shields, and though in all the prisons of
the world "the damned grotesques make arabesques, like the wind
upon the sand."

Life flows on, and the quips and merry jests of Oscar Wilde, his
artful artlessness, his insolence, his self-pity, his loyalty and
fickleness, his sensuality and tenderness, only fill after all a small
space in the heart's chamber of those who read him and stare at his
plays and let him go.

But there are a few for whom the tragic wantonness of that strange
countenance, with the heavy eyelids and pouting mouth, means
something not easily forgotten, not easily put by.

To have seen Oscar Wilde and talked with him gives to such persons
a strange significance, an almost religious value. One looks long at
them, as if to catch some far-off reflection from the wit of the dead
man. They do not seem to us quite like the rest. They have seen
Oscar Wilde, and "They know what they have seen." For when all
has been said against him that can be said it remains that Oscar
Wilde, for good and for evil, in innocence and in excess, in
orthodoxy and in rebellion, is a "symbolic figure."

It is indeed easy enough, when one is under the spell of the golden
gaiety of his wit, to forget the essential and irresistible truth of so
many of his utterances.

That profound association between the "Sorrow that endureth
forever" and the "Pleasure that abideth for a moment," which he
symbolises under the parable of the Image of Bronze, has its place
throughout all his work.

It is a mistake to regard De Profundis as a recantation. It is a
fulfilment, a completion, a rounding off. Like a black and a scarlet
thread running through the whole tapestry of his tragic story are the
two parallel "motifs," the passion of the beauty which leads to
destruction and the passion of the beauty which leads to life.

It matters little whether he was or was not received into the Church
before he died. In the larger sense he was always within those
unexcluding walls, those spacious courts of the Ecclesia of humanity.
There was no trace in him, for all his caprices, of that puritanism of
denial which breaks the altars and shatters the idols at the bidding of
scientific iconoclasm.

What the anonymous instinct of humanity has rendered beautiful by
building into it the golden monuments of forlorn hopes and washing
it with the salt tears of desperate chances remained beautiful to him.
From the narcissus-flowers growing on the marble ledges of
Parnassus, where Apollo still weeps for the death of Hyacinth and
Pan still mourns the vanishing of Syrinx, to the passion-flowers
growing on the slopes of Calvary, he, this lover of eidola and images,
worships the white feet of the bearers of dead beauty, and finds in
the tears of all the lovers of all the lost a revivifying rain that even in
the midst of the dust of our degeneracy makes bloom once more, full
of freshness and promise, the mystical red rose of the world's desire.

The wit of his "Golden lads and girls" in those superb comedies may
soon fall a little faint and thin upon our ears. To the next generation
it may seem as faded and old-fashioned as the wit of Congreve or
Sheridan. Fashions of humour change more quickly than the
fashions of manner or of dress. The only thing that gives
immortality to human writing is the "eternal bronze" of a noble and
imaginative style. Out of such divine material, with all his
petulances and perversities, Oscar Wilde's style was hammered and
beaten. For there is only one quarry of this most precious metal, and
the same hand that shapes from it the "Sorrow that endureth forever"
must shape from it the "Pleasure that abideth for a moment," and the
identity of these two with that immortal bronze is the symbol of the
mystery of our life.

The senses that are quickened by the knowledge of this mystery are
not far from the ultimate secret. As with the thing sculptured, so
with the sculptor.

Oscar Wilde is a symbolic figure.


The conclusion of any book which has tried to throw into
momentary relief the great shadowy figures who have led and
misled humanity must necessarily be no more than a new suspension
of judgment; of judgment drawing its interest from the colour of the
mind of the individual making it, of judgment guarded from the
impertinence of judicial decision by its confessed implication of
radical subjectivity.

The conclusion of any critical essay must in large measure be lame
and halting; must indeed be a whispered warning to the reader to
take what has gone before, however ardently expressed, with that
wise pinch of true Attic salt which mitigates even a relative finality
in these high things.

One comes to feel more and more, as one reads many books, that
judicial decisions are laughable and useless in this rare atmosphere,
and that the mere utterance of such platitudinous decrees sets the
pronouncer of them outside the inner and exclusive pale.

One comes to feel more and more that all that any of us has a right
to do is to set down as patiently and tenderly as he may the
particular response, here or there, from this side or the other, as it
chances to happen, that is aroused in his own soul by those historic
works of art, which, whatever principle of selection it is that places
them in our hands, have fallen somehow across our path.

It might seem that a direct, natural and spontaneous response, of the
kind I have in my mind, to these famous works, were easy enough of
attainment. Nothing, on the contrary, is more difficult to secure or
more seldom secured.

One might almost hazard the paradox that the real art of criticism
only begins when we shake ourselves free of all books and win
access to that locked and sealed and uncut volume which is the book
of our own feelings.

The art of self-culture--one learns just that when youth's
outward-looking curiosity and passion begin to ebb--is the art of freeing
oneself from the influence of books so that one may enjoy what one
is destined to enjoy without pedantry or scruple. And yet, by the
profound law of the system of things, when one has thus freed
oneself from the tyranny of literary catchwords and the dead weight
of cultivated public opinion, one comes back to the world of books
with an added zest. It is then, and only then, that one reads with real
unscrupulousness, thinking solely of the pleasure, and nothing of the
rectitude or propriety or adequacy of what we take up.

And it is then that the great figures of the master-writers appear in
their true light; the light--that is to say--in which we, and not another,
have visualised them, felt them, and reacted from them.

It is wonderful what thrilling pleasures there are in store for us in
literature when once we have cut ourselves adrift from all this
superfluity of cultured opinion, and have given ourselves complete
leave to love what we like and hate what we like and be indifferent
to what we like, as the world swings round!

I think the secret of making an exquisite use of literature so that it
shall colour and penetrate our days is only a small part of what the
wisest epicureans among us are concerned with attaining. I think it
is one of the most precious benefits conferred on us by every new
writer that he flings us back more deeply than ever upon ourselves.
We draw out of him his vision, his peculiar atmosphere, his especial
quality of mental and emotional tone. We savour this and assimilate
it and store it up, as something which we have made our own and
which is there to fall back upon when we want it. But beyond our
enjoyment of this new increment to our treasury of feeling, we are
driven inwards once more in a kind of intellectual rivalry with the
very thing we have just acquired, and in precise proportion as it has
seemed to us exciting and original we are roused in the depths of our
mind to substitute something else for it; and this something else is
nothing less than the evocation of our own originality, called up out
of the hidden caverns of our being to claim its own creative place in
the communion between our soul and the world.

I can only speak for myself; but my own preference among writers
will always be for those whose genius consists rather in creating a
certain mental atmosphere than in hammering out isolated works of
art, rounded and complete.

For a flawless work of art is a thing for a moment, while that more
penetrating projection of an original personality which one calls a
mental or aesthetic atmosphere, is a thing that floats and flows and
drifts and wavers, far beyond the boundaries of any limited creation.
Such an atmosphere, such a vague intellectual music, in the air about
us, is the thing that really challenges the responsive spirit in
ourselves; challenges it and rouses it to take the part which it has a
right to take, the part which it alone _can_ take, in recreating the
world for us in accordance with our natural fatality.

It is only by the process of gradual disillusionment that we come at
last to recognise what we ourselves--undistracted now by any
external authority--need and require from the genius of the past. For
my own part, looking over the great names included in the foregoing
essays, I am at this moment drawn instinctively only to two among
them all--to William Blake and to Paul Verlaine; and this is an
indication to me that what my own soul requires is not philosophy or
psychology or wit or sublimity, but a certain delicate transmutation
of the little casual things that cross my way, and a certain faint, low,
sweet music, rumouring from indistinguishable horizons, and
bringing me vague rare thoughts, cool and quiet and deep and
magical, such as have no concern with the clamour and brutality of
the crowd.

The greater number of the writers who have dominated us, in the
pages that go before, belong to the Latin race, and I cannot but feel
that it is to this race that civilisation must come more and more to
return in its search for the grandeur and pathos, the humanity and
irony of that attitude of mind which serves our spirits best as we
struggle on through the confusions and bewilderments of our way.

There is a tendency observable here and there--though the genuinely
great minds who give their adherence to it are few and far between
--to speak as though the race-element in literature were a thing better
away, a thing whose place might be taken by a sort of attenuated
idealistic amalgam of all the race-elements in the world, or by
something which has no race-element in it at all--something
inter-national, inter-racial, humanitarian and cosmopolitan.

People to whom this thin thing appeals often speak quite lightly of
blending the traditions of East and West, of Saxon and Celt, of Latin
and Teuton, of Scandinavian and Slav.

They do not see that you might as well speak of blending the
temperaments of two opposite types of human personality. They do
not see that the whole interest of life depends upon these contrasts.
You cannot blend traditions in this academic way, any more than
you can blend two human souls that are diametrically different, or
two soils or climates which are mutually excluding. This ideal of a
cosmopolitan literature that shall include all the local traditions and
racial instincts is the sort of thing that appeals to the type of mind
which remains essentially dull to the high qualities of a noble style.

No; it is not cosmopolitan literature that we want. It was not of
cosmopolitan literature that Goethe was thinking when he used that
term "I am a good European," which Nietzsche found so suggestive;
it was of classical literature, of literature which, whatever its racial
quality, has not lost touch with the civilised traditions of Athens and

In art, as in everything else, we must "worship our dead"; and the
attempt to substitute a vague idealised cosmopolitanism for the
living passionate localised traditions that spring like trees and
flowers out of a particular soil, out of a soil made dear to us by the
ashes of our fathers and consecrated by a thousand pious usages, is
an attempt that can result in no great magical works.

Walt Whitman, for all his celebrations of the huge "ensemble" of the
world, remains and must always remain profoundly and entirely

When Romain Rolland, the author of "Jean Christophe,"--the book
of all books most penetrated by the spirit of race distinctions--appalled
by the atrocity of the war, calls upon us to substitute the
Ideal of Humanity for the ideas of the various tribes of men, he is
really (in re-action from the dreadful scenes around him) renouncing
those flashes of prophetic insight which gave him such living
visions of the diverse souls of the great races. Romain Rolland may
speak rhetorically of the "Ideal of Humanity" to be realised in art
and letters. The thing is a word, a name, a phrase, an illusion. What
we actually have are individuals--individual artists, individual
races--each with its own beautiful and tragical fatality.

And what is true of races is true of persons both in life and in
criticism. All that is really interesting in us springs in the first place
from the traditions of the race to which we belong, springs from the
soil that gave us birth and from our sacred dead and the usages and
customs and habits which bind us to the past; and in the second
place from what is uniquely and peculiarly personal to ourselves,
belonging to our intrinsic and integral character and refusing to be
swamped by any vague cult of "humanity in general."

To talk of literature becoming universal and planetary, becoming a
logical synthesis of the traditions of races and the visions of
individuals, is to talk of something that in its inherent nature is
contrary to the fundamental spirit of art. It implies a confusion
between the spheres of art and philosophy. The function of
philosophy is to synthesise and unite. The function of art is to
differentiate and distinguish. Philosophy and ethics are perfectly
justified in concerning themselves with a "regenerated humanity" in
which race-instincts and race-traditions are blotted out. Let them
produce such a humanity if they can! But while there are any artists
left in the world, or any lovers of art, it will always be to the old
inalienable traditions that they will turn; to the old local customs,
local pieties, local habits, local altars, and local gods.

To talk vaguely of cosmopolitan art uniting the nations, is to talk
foolishly, and it is to talk irreverently. The people who deal in such
theories are endeavouring to betray the dead of their own race and
the noble pieties and desperate courage of those who made them
what they are. It is a sacrilege, this speculation, and a sacrifice of
beauty upon the altar of a logical morality.

What one comes more and more to feel is that everything which
belongs to poetry and art belongs to the individual, to the individual
nation and the individual person. The great modern democracies,
with their cult of the average man and their suspicion of the
exceptional man, are naturally only too ready to hail as ideal and
wonderful any doctrine about literature which flatters their pride.

One of the most plausible forms of rhetorical cant is the cant about
the soul of average humanity expressing itself in art, in an art which
has sloughed off like an outworn skin all ancient race-instincts and
all individual egoism.

There has never been such art in the history of the world as this
average man's art, free from tradition and free from personal colour.

There will never be such art, unless it be the great, idealistic,
humanitarian, cosmopolitan art of the Moving Picture Show.

But the idea sounds well in popular oratory, and it has a most
soothing ointment for the souls of such artists as have neither
reverence nor imagination.

It is quite possible that for the general comfort of the race at large
--even if not for its happiness--it would be a good thing if
philosophers and moralists between them could get rid of the
imagination of races as well as the imagination of individuals.

The common crowd are naturally suspicious of imagination of any
kind, as they are suspicious of genius of any kind; and this new
doctrine of a literature largely and purely "human," wherein the
general soul of humanity may find its expression, free from the
colour of race-feeling and free from the waywardness of individual
men of genius, is just the sort of thing to flatter the unthinking mob.

Why not have art and literature harnessed once and for all to the
great rolling chariot of popular public opinion? Why not abolish all
individualism at one stroke as a thing dangerous to the public
welfare--a thing uncomfortable, undesirable, upsetting?

The same desperate, irrational, immoral imagination which inspires
races with a strange madness, inspires individuals too with a strange

Art and Literature are, after all, and there is little use denying it, the
last refuge and sanctuary, in a world ruled by machinery and
sentiment, of the free, wild, reckless, irresponsible, anarchical
imagination of such as refuse to sacrifice their own dreams for the
dreams--not less illusive--of the general herd.

We have to face the fact--bitter and melancholy though it may
be--that in our great bourgeois-dominated democracies the majority of
people would like to trample out the flame of genius altogether;
trample it out as something inimical to their peace.

Dante, Shakespeare, Goethe, Balzac, were all completely aware of
this instinctive hatred with which the mob of men regard what is
exceptional and rare. The Hamlet-spirit of the author of Coriolanus
must chuckle bitterly in that grave in Stratford-on-Avon when he
learns that the new ideal is the ideal of cosmopolitan literature
expressing the soul of the average man.

The clash is bound to come sooner or later between public opinion,
concerned to preserve the comfort of its illusions, and the art of the
individual artist playing, in noble irresponsibility, with all illusions.

It was his consciousness of this--of the natural antagonism of the
mob and its leaders to all great literature--that made Goethe draw
back so coldly and proudly from the popular tendencies of his time,
and seek refuge among the great individualistic spirits of the classic
civilisations. And what Goethe--the good European--did in his hour,
the more classical among European writers of our own day do still.

The great style--the style which is like gold and bronze in an age of
clay and rubble--remains as the only sure refuge we have from the
howling vulgarities of our generation. If books were taken from
us--the high, calm, beautiful, ironical books of classic tradition--how, in
this age, could the more sensitive among us endure to live at all?

With brutality and insanity and ruffianism, with complacency and
stupidity and sentimentalism, jostling us and hustling us on all sides,
how could we live, if it were not for the great, calm, scornful
anarchists of the soul, whose high inviolable imaginations
perpetually refresh and re-create the world?

And we who find this refuge, we who have to win our liberty every
day anew by bathing in these classic streams, we too will do well to
remember that the most precious things in life are the things that the
world can neither give nor take away.

We too--encouraged by these great individualists--have a right to
fall back upon whatever individuality may have been left to us; and,
resting upon that, sinking into the soul of that, to defy all that public
opinion and the voice of the majority may be able to do.

And we shall be wise also if we recognise, before it is too late, that
what is most intrinsic and inalienable in ourselves is just that very
portion of us which has nothing to do with our work in life, nothing
to do with our duty to the community.

We shall be wise if we recognise, before it is too late, that the thing
most sacred in us is that strange margin of unoccupied receptivity,
upon which settle, in their flight over land and sea, the beautiful
wild birds of unsolicited dreams.

We shall be wise if, before we die, we learn a little of the art of
suspending our judgment--the art of "waiting upon the spirit."

For it is only when we have suspended our judgment; it is only when
we have suspended our convictions, our principles, our ideals, our
moralities, that "the still small voice" of the music of the universe,
sad and sweet and terrible and tender, drifts in upon us, over the face
of the waters of the soul.

The essence of us, the hidden reality of us, is too rare and delicate a
thing to bear the crude weight of these sturdy opinions, these
vigorous convictions, these social ardours, without growing dulled
and hardened.

We all have to bear the burden of humanity; and the artists among us
may be thankful that the predatory curse resting upon the rich is
very seldom ours: but the burden of humanity must not be allowed
to press all joy, all originality, all waywardness, all interest, all
imagination out of our lives.

It is not for long, at best or worst, that we know what it is to be
conscious of being living children of the human race upon this
strange planet.

The days pass quickly, and the seasons and the years. From the
graves of the darlings of our souls there comes a voice and a cry. A
voice bidding us sink into our own true selves before we too are
numbered with the dead; a cry bidding us sacrifice everything before
we sacrifice the prerogative of our inmost identity, the right to feel
and think and dream as persons born into a high inheritance, the
inheritance of the mind that has the right to question all things and to
hold fast what pleases it in defiance of opinion and logic and
probability and argument.

For it is only when we suspend our judgments and leave arguing and
criticising, that the quiet gods of the moonlit shores of the world
murmur their secrets in our ears.

They come without our seeking for them, these rare intimations;
without our seeking for them, and, sometimes, without our desiring
them; but when they come they come as revelations of something
deeper in us than any mere soul of humanity. They come from a
region that is as far beyond humanity as it is beyond nature. They
come from the fairy-land of that mysterious country wherein dwell
the dreams and the fancies of those lonely ones among the sons of
men who have been possessed by imagination. They come from the
unknown land where those inhabit who are, as the Psalmist says,
"free among the dead." They come from the land which we left
when we were born, and to which we return when we die. And
whether this is a land of nothingness and oblivion none knoweth; for
none hath returned to tell us. Meanwhile we can imagine what we
will; and we can suspend our last judgment until we ourselves are

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