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´╗┐Title: Alarms and Discursions
Author: Chesterton, G. K. (Gilbert Keith), 1874-1936
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Alarms and Discursions" ***


By G. K. Chesterton









































Introductory: On Gargoyles

Alone at some distance from the wasting walls of a disused abbey I found
half sunken in the grass the grey and goggle-eyed visage of one of those
graven monsters that made the ornamental water-spouts in the cathedrals
of the Middle Ages. It lay there, scoured by ancient rains or striped by
recent fungus, but still looking like the head of some huge dragon slain
by a primeval hero. And as I looked at it, I thought of the meaning of
the grotesque, and passed into some symbolic reverie of the three great
stages of art.


Once upon a time there lived upon an island a merry and innocent people,
mostly shepherds and tillers of the earth. They were republicans, like
all primitive and simple souls; they talked over their affairs under a
tree, and the nearest approach they had to a personal ruler was a
sort of priest or white witch who said their prayers for them. They
worshipped the sun, not idolatrously, but as the golden crown of the god
whom all such infants see almost as plainly as the sun.

Now this priest was told by his people to build a great tower, pointing
to the sky in salutation of the Sun-god; and he pondered long and
heavily before he picked his materials. For he was resolved to use
nothing that was not almost as clear and exquisite as sunshine itself;
he would use nothing that was not washed as white as the rain can wash
the heavens, nothing that did not sparkle as spotlessly as that crown of
God. He would have nothing grotesque or obscure; he would not have even
anything emphatic or even anything mysterious. He would have all the
arches as light as laughter and as candid as logic. He built the temple
in three concentric courts, which were cooler and more exquisite in
substance each than the other. For the outer wall was a hedge of white
lilies, ranked so thick that a green stalk was hardly to be seen;
and the wall within that was of crystal, which smashed the sun into a
million stars. And the wall within that, which was the tower itself, was
a tower of pure water, forced up in an everlasting fountain; and upon
the very tip and crest of that foaming spire was one big and blazing
diamond, which the water tossed up eternally and caught again as a child
catches a ball.

"Now," said the priest, "I have made a tower which is a little worthy of
the sun."


But about this time the island was caught in a swarm of pirates; and the
shepherds had to turn themselves into rude warriors and seamen; and at
first they were utterly broken down in blood and shame; and the pirates
might have taken the jewel flung up for ever from their sacred fount.
And then, after years of horror and humiliation, they gained a little
and began to conquer because they did not mind defeat. And the pride of
the pirates went sick within them after a few unexpected foils; and at
last the invasion rolled back into the empty seas and the island was
delivered. And for some reason after this men began to talk quite
differently about the temple and the sun. Some, indeed, said, "You must
not touch the temple; it is classical; it is perfect, since it admits
no imperfections." But the others answered, "In that it differs from
the sun, that shines on the evil and the good and on mud and monsters
everywhere. The temple is of the noon; it is made of white marble clouds
and sapphire sky. But the sun is not always of the noon. The sun dies
daily, every night he is crucified in blood and fire." Now the priest
had taught and fought through all the war, and his hair had grown white,
but his eyes had grown young. And he said, "I was wrong and they are
right. The sun, the symbol of our father, gives life to all those
earthly things that are full of ugliness and energy. All the
exaggerations are right, if they exaggerate the right thing. Let us
point to heaven with tusks and horns and fins and trunks and tails so
long as they all point to heaven. The ugly animals praise God as much
as the beautiful. The frog's eyes stand out of his head because he is
staring at heaven. The giraffe's neck is long because he is stretching
towards heaven. The donkey has ears to hear--let him hear."

And under the new inspiration they planned a gorgeous cathedral in the
Gothic manner, with all the animals of the earth crawling over it, and
all the possible ugly things making up one common beauty, because they
all appealed to the god. The columns of the temple were carved like the
necks of giraffes; the dome was like an ugly tortoise; and the highest
pinnacle was a monkey standing on his head with his tail pointing at the
sun. And yet the whole was beautiful, because it was lifted up in one
living and religious gesture as a man lifts his hands in prayer.


But this great plan was never properly completed. The people had brought
up on great wagons the heavy tortoise roof and the huge necks of stone,
and all the thousand and one oddities that made up that unity, the owls
and the efts and the crocodiles and the kangaroos, which hideous
by themselves might have been magnificent if reared in one definite
proportion and dedicated to the sun. For this was Gothic, this was
romantic, this was Christian art; this was the whole advance of
Shakespeare upon Sophocles. And that symbol which was to crown it all,
the ape upside down, was really Christian; for man is the ape upside

But the rich, who had grown riotous in the long peace, obstructed the
thing, and in some squabble a stone struck the priest on the head and
he lost his memory. He saw piled in front of him frogs and elephants,
monkeys and giraffes, toadstools and sharks, all the ugly things of the
universe which he had collected to do honour to God. But he forgot why
he had collected them. He could not remember the design or the object.
He piled them all wildly into one heap fifty feet high; and when he had
done it all the rich and influential went into a passion of applause and
cried, "This is real art! This is Realism! This is things as they really

That, I fancy, is the only true origin of Realism. Realism is simply
Romanticism that has lost its reason. This is so not merely in the sense
of insanity but of suicide. It has lost its reason; that is its reason
for existing. The old Greeks summoned godlike things to worship their
god. The medieval Christians summoned all things to worship theirs,
dwarfs and pelicans, monkeys and madmen. The modern realists summon all
these million creatures to worship their god; and then have no god for
them to worship. Paganism was in art a pure beauty; that was the dawn.
Christianity was a beauty created by controlling a million monsters of
ugliness; and that in my belief was the zenith and the noon. Modern
art and science practically mean having the million monsters and being
unable to control them; and I will venture to call that the disruption
and the decay. The finest lengths of the Elgin marbles consist splendid
houses going to the temple of a virgin. Christianity, with its gargoyles
and grotesques, really amounted to saying this: that a donkey could
go before all the horses of the world when it was really going to the
temple. Romance means a holy donkey going to the temple. Realism means a
lost donkey going nowhere.

The fragments of futile journalism or fleeting impression which are here
collected are very like the wrecks and riven blocks that were piled in a
heap round my imaginary priest of the sun. They are very like that grey
and gaping head of stone that I found overgrown with the grass. Yet I
will venture to make even of these trivial fragments the high boast that
I am a medievalist and not a modern. That is, I really have a notion of
why I have collected all the nonsensical things there are. I have not
the patience nor perhaps the constructive intelligence to state the
connecting link between all these chaotic papers. But it could be
stated. This row of shapeless and ungainly monsters which I now
set before the reader does not consist of separate idols cut out
capriciously in lonely valleys or various islands. These monsters are
meant for the gargoyles of a definite cathedral. I have to carve the
gargoyles, because I can carve nothing else; I leave to others the
angels and the arches and the spires. But I am very sure of the style of
the architecture, and of the consecration of the church.

The Surrender of a Cockney

Evert man, though he were born in the very belfry of Bow and spent his
infancy climbing among chimneys, has waiting for him somewhere a country
house which he has never seen; but which was built for him in the very
shape of his soul. It stands patiently waiting to be found, knee-deep in
orchards of Kent or mirrored in pools of Lincoln; and when the man sees
it he remembers it, though he has never seen it before. Even I have been
forced to confess this at last, who am a Cockney, if ever there was one,
a Cockney not only on principle, but with savage pride. I have always
maintained, quite seriously, that the Lord is not in the wind or thunder
of the waste, but if anywhere in the still small voice of Fleet Street.
I sincerely maintain that Nature-worship is more morally dangerous
than the most vulgar man-worship of the cities; since it can easily be
perverted into the worship of an impersonal mystery, carelessness, or
cruelty. Thoreau would have been a jollier fellow if he had devoted
himself to a greengrocer instead of to greens. Swinburne would have
been a better moralist if he had worshipped a fishmonger instead of
worshipping the sea. I prefer the philosophy of bricks and mortar to
the philosophy of turnips. To call a man a turnip may be playful, but is
seldom respectful. But when we wish to pay emphatic honour to a man, to
praise the firmness of his nature, the squareness of his conduct, the
strong humility with which he is interlocked with his equals in silent
mutual support, then we invoke the nobler Cockney metaphor, and call him
a brick.

But, despite all these theories, I have surrendered; I have struck my
colours at sight; at a mere glimpse through the opening of a hedge. I
shall come down to living in the country, like any common Socialist or
Simple Lifer. I shall end my days in a village, in the character of
the Village Idiot, and be a spectacle and a judgment to mankind. I have
already learnt the rustic manner of leaning upon a gate; and I was thus
gymnastically occupied at the moment when my eye caught the house that
was made for me. It stood well back from the road, and was built of a
good yellow brick; it was narrow for its height, like the tower of some
Border robber; and over the front door was carved in large letters,
"1908." That last burst of sincerity, that superb scorn of antiquarian
sentiment, overwhelmed me finally. I closed my eyes in a kind of
ecstasy. My friend (who was helping me to lean on the gate) asked me
with some curiosity what I was doing.

"My dear fellow," I said, with emotion, "I am bidding farewell to
forty-three hansom cabmen."

"Well," he said, "I suppose they would think this county rather outside
the radius."

"Oh, my friend," I cried brokenly, "how beautiful London is! Why do they
only write poetry about the country? I could turn every lyric cry into

  "'My heart leaps up when I behold
  A sky-sign in the sky,'

"as I observed in a volume which is too little read, founded on the
older English poets. You never saw my 'Golden Treasury Regilded; or, The
Classics Made Cockney'--it contained some fine lines.

  "'O Wild West End, thou breath of London's being,'

"or the reminiscence of Keats, beginning

  "'City of smuts and mellow fogfulness.';

"I have written many such lines on the beauty of London; yet I never
realized that London was really beautiful till now. Do you ask me why?
It is because I have left it for ever."

"If you will take my advice," said my friend, "you will humbly endeavour
not to be a fool. What is the sense of this mad modern notion that every
literary man must live in the country, with the pigs and the donkeys and
the squires? Chaucer and Spenser and Milton and Dryden lived in London;
Shakespeare and Dr. Johnson came to London because they had had quite
enough of the country. And as for trumpery topical journalists like you,
why, they would cut their throats in the country. You have confessed
it yourself in your own last words. You hunger and thirst after the
streets; you think London the finest place on the planet. And if by some
miracle a Bayswater omnibus could come down this green country lane you
would utter a yell of joy."

Then a light burst upon my brain, and I turned upon him with terrible

"Why, miserable aesthete," I said in a voice of thunder, "that is the
true country spirit! That is how the real rustic feels. The real rustic
does utter a yell of joy at the sight of a Bayswater omnibus. The real
rustic does think London the finest place on the planet. In the few
moments that I have stood by this stile, I have grown rooted here like
an ancient tree; I have been here for ages. Petulant Suburban, I am the
real rustic. I believe that the streets of London are paved with gold;
and I mean to see it before I die."

The evening breeze freshened among the little tossing trees of that
lane, and the purple evening clouds piled up and darkened behind my
Country Seat, the house that belonged to me, making, by contrast, its
yellow bricks gleam like gold. At last my friend said: "To cut it short,
then, you mean that you will live in the country because you won't like
it. What on earth will you do here; dig up the garden?"

"Dig!" I answered, in honourable scorn. "Dig! Do work at my Country
Seat; no, thank you. When I find a Country Seat, I sit in it. And for
your other objection, you are quite wrong. I do not dislike the country,
but I like the town more. Therefore the art of happiness certainly
suggests that I should live in the country and think about the town.
Modern nature-worship is all upside down. Trees and fields ought to be
the ordinary things; terraces and temples ought to be extraordinary. I
am on the side of the man who lives in the country and wants to go to
London. I abominate and abjure the man who lives in London and wants
to go to the country; I do it with all the more heartiness because I am
that sort of man myself. We must learn to love London again, as rustics
love it. Therefore (I quote again from the great Cockney version of The
Golden Treasury)--

  "'Therefore, ye gas-pipes, ye asbestos? stoves,
  Forbode not any severing of our loves.
  I have relinquished but your earthly sight,
  To hold you dear in a more distant way.
  I'll love the 'buses lumbering through the wet,
  Even more than when I lightly tripped as they.
  The grimy colour of the London clay
  Is lovely yet,'

"because I have found the house where I was really born; the tall and
quiet house from which I can see London afar off, as the miracle of man
that it is."

The Nightmare

A sunset of copper and gold had just broken down and gone to pieces in
the west, and grey colours were crawling over everything in earth and
heaven; also a wind was growing, a wind that laid a cold finger upon
flesh and spirit. The bushes at the back of my garden began to whisper
like conspirators; and then to wave like wild hands in signal. I was
trying to read by the last light that died on the lawn a long poem of
the decadent period, a poem about the old gods of Babylon and Egypt,
about their blazing and obscene temples, their cruel and colossal faces.

  "Or didst thou love the God of Flies who plagued
  the Hebrews and was splashed
  With wine unto the waist, or Pasht who had green
  beryls for her eyes?"

I read this poem because I had to review it for the Daily News; still
it was genuine poetry of its kind. It really gave out an atmosphere,
a fragrant and suffocating smoke that seemed really to come from the
Bondage of Egypt or the Burden of Tyre There is not much in common
(thank God) between my garden with the grey-green English sky-line
beyond it, and these mad visions of painted palaces huge, headless
idols and monstrous solitudes of red or golden sand. Nevertheless (as
I confessed to myself) I can fancy in such a stormy twilight some such
smell of death and fear. The ruined sunset really looks like one of
their ruined temples: a shattered heap of gold and green marble. A black
flapping thing detaches itself from one of the sombre trees and flutters
to another. I know not if it is owl or flittermouse; I could fancy it
was a black cherub, an infernal cherub of darkness, not with the wings
of a bird and the head of a baby, but with the head of a goblin and the
wings of a bat. I think, if there were light enough, I could sit here
and write some very creditable creepy tale, about how I went up the
crooked road beyond the church and met Something--say a dog, a dog with
one eye. Then I should meet a horse, perhaps, a horse without a rider,
the horse also would have one eye. Then the inhuman silence would be
broken; I should meet a man (need I say, a one-eyed man?) who would ask
me the way to my own house. Or perhaps tell me that it was burnt to the
ground. I could tell a very cosy little tale along some such lines. Or I
might dream of climbing for ever the tall dark trees above me. They are
so tall that I feel as if I should find at their tops the nests of the
angels; but in this mood they would be dark and dreadful angels; angels
of death.

Only, you see, this mood is all bosh. I do not believe in it in the
least. That one-eyed universe, with its one-eyed men and beasts, was
only created with one universal wink. At the top of the tragic trees I
should not find the Angel's Nest. I should only find the Mare's Nest;
the dreamy and divine nest is not there. In the Mare's Nest I shall
discover that dim, enormous opalescent egg from which is hatched the
Nightmare. For there is nothing so delightful as a nightmare--when you
know it is a nightmare.

That is the essential. That is the stern condition laid upon all
artists touching this luxury of fear. The terror must be fundamentally
frivolous. Sanity may play with insanity; but insanity must not be
allowed to play with sanity. Let such poets as the one I was reading in
the garden, by all means, be free to imagine what outrageous deities and
violent landscapes they like. By all means let them wander freely amid
their opium pinnacles and perspectives. But these huge gods, these
high cities, are toys; they must never for an instant be allowed to
be anything else. Man, a gigantic child, must play with Babylon and
Nineveh, with Isis and with Ashtaroth. By all means let him dream of the
Bondage of Egypt, so long as he is free from it. By all means let him
take up the Burden of Tyre, so long as he can take it lightly. But the
old gods must be his dolls, not his idols. His central sanctities, his
true possessions, should be Christian and simple. And just as a child
would cherish most a wooden horse or a sword that is a mere cross of
wood, so man, the great child, must cherish most the old plain things of
poetry and piety; that horse of wood that was the epic end of Ilium, or
that cross of wood that redeemed and conquered the world.

In one of Stevenson's letters there is a characteristically humorous
remark about the appalling impression produced on him in childhood
by the beasts with many eyes in the Book of Revelations: "If that was
heaven, what in the name of Davy Jones was hell like?" Now in sober
truth there is a magnificent idea in these monsters of the Apocalypse.
It is, I suppose, the idea that beings really more beautiful or more
universal than we are might appear to us frightful and even confused.
Especially they might seem to have senses at once more multiplex and
more staring; an idea very imaginatively seized in the multitude of
eyes. I like those monsters beneath the throne very much. But I like
them beneath the throne. It is when one of them goes wandering in
deserts and finds a throne for himself that evil faiths begin, and
there is (literally) the devil to pay--to pay in dancing girls or human
sacrifice. As long as those misshapen elemental powers are around the
throne, remember that the thing that they worship is the likeness of the
appearance of a man.

That is, I fancy, the true doctrine on the subject of Tales of Terror
and such things, which unless a man of letters do well and truly
believe, without doubt he will end by blowing his brains out or by
writing badly. Man, the central pillar of the world must be upright and
straight; around him all the trees and beasts and elements and devils
may crook and curl like smoke if they choose. All really imaginative
literature is only the contrast between the weird curves of Nature and
the straightness of the soul. Man may behold what ugliness he likes if
he is sure that he will not worship it; but there are some so weak that
they will worship a thing only because it is ugly. These must be chained
to the beautiful. It is not always wrong even to go, like Dante, to the
brink of the lowest promontory and look down at hell. It is when you
look up at hell that a serious miscalculation has probably been made.

Therefore I see no wrong in riding with the Nightmare to-night; she
whinnies to me from the rocking tree-tops and the roaring wind; I will
catch her and ride her through the awful air. Woods and weeds are alike
tugging at the roots in the rising tempest, as if all wished to fly
with us over the moon, like that wild amorous cow whose child was the
Moon-Calf. We will rise to that mad infinite where there is neither up
nor down, the high topsy-turveydom of the heavens. I will answer the
call of chaos and old night. I will ride on the Nightmare; but she shall
not ride on me.

The Telegraph Poles

My friend and I were walking in one of those wastes of pine-wood which
make inland seas of solitude in every part of Western Europe; which have
the true terror of a desert, since they are uniform, and so one may lose
one's way in them. Stiff, straight, and similar, stood up all around
us the pines of the wood, like the pikes of a silent mutiny. There is a
truth in talking of the variety of Nature; but I think that Nature often
shows her chief strangeness in her sameness. There is a weird rhythm in
this very repetition; it is as if the earth were resolved to repeat a
single shape until the shape shall turn terrible.

Have you ever tried the experiment of saying some plain word, such as
"dog," thirty times? By the thirtieth time it has become a word like
"snark" or "pobble." It does not become tame, it becomes wild, by
repetition. In the end a dog walks about as startling and undecipherable
as Leviathan or Croquemitaine.

It may be that this explains the repetitions in Nature, it may be for
this reason that there are so many million leaves and pebbles. Perhaps
they are not repeated so that they may grow familiar. Perhaps they are
repeated only in the hope that they may at last grow unfamiliar. Perhaps
a man is not startled at the first cat he sees, but jumps into the air
with surprise at the seventy-ninth cat. Perhaps he has to pass through
thousands of pine trees before he finds the one that is really a pine
tree. However this may be, there is something singularly thrilling, even
something urgent and intolerant, about the endless forest repetitions;
there is the hint of something like madness in that musical monotony of
the pines.

I said something like this to my friend; and he answered with sardonic
truth, "Ah, you wait till we come to a telegraph post."

My friend was right, as he occasionally is in our discussions,
especially upon points of fact. We had crossed the pine forest by one
of its paths which happened to follow the wires of the provincial
telegraphy; and though the poles occurred at long intervals they made a
difference when they came. The instant we came to the straight pole we
could see that the pines were not really straight. It was like a hundred
straight lines drawn with schoolboy pencils all brought to judgment
suddenly by one straight line drawn with a ruler. All the amateur lines
seemed to reel to right and left. A moment before I could have sworn
they stood as straight as lances; now I could see them curve and waver
everywhere, like scimitars and yataghans. Compared with the telegraph
post the pines were crooked--and alive. That lonely vertical rod at once
deformed and enfranchised the forest. It tangled it all together and yet
made it free, like any grotesque undergrowth of oak or holly.

"Yes," said my gloomy friend, answering my thoughts. "You don't know
what a wicked shameful thing straightness is if you think these trees
are straight. You never will know till your precious intellectual
civilization builds a forty-mile forest of telegraph poles."

We had started walking from our temporary home later in the day than we
intended; and the long afternoon was already lengthening itself out into
a yellow evening when we came out of the forest on to the hills above
a strange town or village, of which the lights had already begun to
glitter in the darkening valley. The change had already happened which
is the test and definition of evening. I mean that while the sky seemed
still as bright, the earth was growing blacker against it, especially
at the edges, the hills and the pine-tops. This brought out yet more
clearly the owlish secrecy of pine-woods; and my friend cast a regretful
glance at them as he came out under the sky. Then he turned to the view
in front; and, as it happened, one of the telegraph posts stood up in
front of him in the last sunlight. It was no longer crossed and softened
by the more delicate lines of pine wood; it stood up ugly, arbitrary,
and angular as any crude figure in geometry. My friend stopped, pointing
his stick at it, and all his anarchic philosophy rushed to his lips.

"Demon," he said to me briefly, "behold your work. That palace of
proud trees behind us is what the world was before you civilized men,
Christians or democrats or the rest, came to make it dull with your
dreary rules of morals and equality. In the silent fight of that forest,
tree fights speechless against tree, branch against branch. And the
upshot of that dumb battle is inequality--and beauty. Now lift up your
eyes and look at equality and ugliness. See how regularly the white
buttons are arranged on that black stick, and defend your dogmas if you

"Is that telegraph post so much a symbol of democracy?" I asked. "I
fancy that while three men have made the telegraph to get dividends,
about a thousand men have preserved the forest to cut wood. But if the
telegraph pole is hideous (as I admit) it is not due to doctrine
but rather to commercial anarchy. If any one had a doctrine about a
telegraph pole it might be carved in ivory and decked with gold. Modern
things are ugly, because modern men are careless, not because they are

"No," answered my friend with his eye on the end of a splendid and
sprawling sunset, "there is something intrinsically deadening about
the very idea of a doctrine. A straight line is always ugly. Beauty is
always crooked. These rigid posts at regular intervals are ugly because
they are carrying across the world the real message of democracy."

"At this moment," I answered, "they are probably carrying across the
world the message, 'Buy Bulgarian Rails.' They are probably the prompt
communication between some two of the wealthiest and wickedest of His
children with whom God has ever had patience. No; these telegraph
poles are ugly and detestable, they are inhuman and indecent. But their
baseness lies in their privacy, not in their publicity. That black stick
with white buttons is not the creation of the soul of a multitude. It is
the mad creation of the souls of two millionaires."

"At least you have to explain," answered my friend gravely, "how it is
that the hard democratic doctrine and the hard telegraphic outline have
appeared together; you have... But bless my soul, we must be getting
home. I had no idea it was so late. Let me see, I think this is our
way through the wood. Come, let us both curse the telegraph post for
entirely different reasons and get home before it is dark."

We did not get home before it was dark. For one reason or another we had
underestimated the swiftness of twilight and the suddenness of night,
especially in the threading of thick woods. When my friend, after the
first five minutes' march, had fallen over a log, and I, ten minutes
after, had stuck nearly to the knees in mire, we began to have some
suspicion of our direction. At last my friend said, in a low, husky

"I'm afraid we're on the wrong path. It's pitch dark."

"I thought we went the right way," I said, tentatively.

"Well," he said; and then, after a long pause, "I can't see any
telegraph poles. I've been looking for them."

"So have I," I said. "They're so straight."

We groped away for about two hours of darkness in the thick of the
fringe of trees which seemed to dance round us in derision. Here and
there, however, it was possible to trace the outline of something just
too erect and rigid to be a pine tree. By these we finally felt our way
home, arriving in a cold green twilight before dawn.

A Drama of Dolls

In a small grey town of stone in one of the great Yorkshire dales, which
is full of history, I entered a hall and saw an old puppet-play
exactly as our fathers saw it five hundred years ago. It was admirably
translated from the old German, and was the original tale of Faust. The
dolls were at once comic and convincing; but if you cannot at once laugh
at a thing and believe in it, you have no business in the Middle Ages.
Or in the world, for that matter.

The puppet-play in question belongs, I believe, to the fifteenth
century; and indeed the whole legend of Dr. Faustus has the colour of
that grotesque but somewhat gloomy time. It is very unfortunate that
we so often know a thing that is past only by its tail end. We remember
yesterday only by its sunsets. There are many instances. One is
Napoleon. We always think of him as a fat old despot, ruling Europe with
a ruthless military machine. But that, as Lord Rosebery would say,
was only "The Last Phase"; or at least the last but one. During the
strongest and most startling part of his career, the time that made him
immortal, Napoleon was a sort of boy, and not a bad sort of boy either,
bullet-headed and ambitious, but honestly in love with a woman, and
honestly enthusiastic for a cause, the cause of French justice and

Another instance is the Middle Ages, which we also remember only by the
odour of their ultimate decay. We think of the life of the Middle Ages
as a dance of death, full of devils and deadly sins, lepers and burning
heretics. But this was not the life of the Middle Ages, but the death
of the Middle Ages. It is the spirit of Louis XI and Richard III, not of
Louis IX and Edward I.

This grim but not unwholesome fable of Dr. Faustus, with its rebuke to
the mere arrogance of learning, is sound and stringent enough; but it is
not a fair sample of the mediaeval soul at its happiest and sanest. The
heart of the true Middle Ages might be found far better, for instance,
in the noble tale of Tannhauser, in which the dead staff broke into leaf
and flower to rebuke the pontiff who had declared even one human being
beyond the strength of sorrow and pardon.

But there were in the play two great human ideas which the mediaeval
mind never lost its grip on, through the heaviest nightmares of its
dissolution. They were the two great jokes of mediaevalism, as they are
the two eternal jokes of mankind. Wherever those two jokes exist
there is a little health and hope; wherever they are absent, pride and
insanity are present. The first is the idea that the poor man ought to
get the better of the rich man. The other is the idea that the husband
is afraid of the wife.

I have heard that there is a place under the knee which, when struck,
should produce a sort of jump; and that if you do not jump, you are mad.
I am sure that there are some such places in the soul. When the human
spirit does not jump with joy at either of those two old jokes, the
human spirit must be struck with incurable paralysis. There is hope
for people who have gone down into the hells of greed and economic
oppression (at least, I hope there is, for we are such a people
ourselves), but there is no hope for a people that does not exult in the
abstract idea of the peasant scoring off the prince. There is hope for
the idle and the adulterous, for the men that desert their wives and the
men that beat their wives. But there is no hope for men who do not boast
that their wives bully them.

The first idea, the idea about the man at the bottom coming out on top,
is expressed in this puppet-play in the person of Dr. Faustus' servant,
Caspar. Sentimental old Tones, regretting the feudal times, sometimes
complain that in these days Jack is as good as his master. But most of
the actual tales of the feudal times turn on the idea that Jack is much
better than his master, and certainly it is so in the case of Caspar and
Faust. The play ends with the damnation of the learned and illustrious
doctor, followed by a cheerful and animated dance by Caspar, who has
been made watchman of the city.

But there was a much keener stroke of mediaeval irony earlier in the
play. The learned doctor has been ransacking all the libraries of the
earth to find a certain rare formula, now almost unknown, by which he
can control the infernal deities. At last he procures the one precious
volume, opens it at the proper page, and leaves it on the table while
he seeks some other part of his magic equipment. The servant comes
in, reads off the formula, and immediately becomes an emperor of
the elemental spirits. He gives them a horrible time. He summons and
dismisses them alternately with the rapidity of a piston-rod working at
high speed; he keeps them flying between the doctor's house and their
own more unmentionable residences till they faint with rage and fatigue.
There is all the best of the Middle Ages in that; the idea of the great
levellers, luck and laughter; the idea of a sense of humour defying and
dominating hell.

One of the best points in the play as performed in this Yorkshire town
was that the servant Caspar was made to talk Yorkshire, instead of the
German rustic dialect which he talked in the original. That also smacks
of the good air of that epoch. In those old pictures and poems they
always made things living by making them local. Thus, queerly enough,
the one touch that was not in the old mediaeval version was the most
mediaeval touch of all.

That other ancient and Christian jest, that a wife is a holy terror,
occurs in the last scene, where the doctor (who wears a fur coat
throughout, to make him seem more offensively rich and refined) is
attempting to escape from the avenging demons, and meets his old servant
in the street. The servant obligingly points out a house with a blue
door, and strongly recommends Dr. Faustus to take refuge in it. "My old
woman lives there," he says, "and the devils are more afraid of her
than you are of them." Faustus does not take this advice, but goes on
meditating and reflecting (which had been his mistake all along) until
the clock strikes twelve, and dreadful voices talk Latin in heaven.
So Faustus, in his fur coat, is carried away by little black imps; and
serve him right for being an Intellectual.

The Man and His Newspaper

At a little station, which I decline to specify, somewhere between
Oxford and Guildford, I missed a connection or miscalculated a route
in such manner that I was left stranded for rather more than an hour.
I adore waiting at railway stations, but this was not a very sumptuous
specimen. There was nothing on the platform except a chocolate automatic
machine, which eagerly absorbed pennies but produced no corresponding
chocolate, and a small paper-stall with a few remaining copies of a
cheap imperial organ which we will call the Daily Wire. It does not
matter which imperial organ it was, as they all say the same thing.

Though I knew it quite well already, I read it with gravity as I
strolled out of the station and up the country road. It opened with the
striking phrase that the Radicals were setting class against class. It
went on to remark that nothing had contributed more to make our Empire
happy and enviable, to create that obvious list of glories which you can
supply for yourself, the prosperity of all classes in our great cities,
our populous and growing villages, the success of our rule in Ireland,
etc., etc., than the sound Anglo-Saxon readiness of all classes in the
State "to work heartily hand-in-hand." It was this alone, the paper
assured me, that had saved us from the horrors of the French Revolution.
"It is easy for the Radicals," it went on very solemnly, "to make jokes
about the dukes. Very few of these revolutionary gentlemen have given
to the poor one half of the earnest thought, tireless unselfishness, and
truly Christian patience that are given to them by the great landlords
of this country. We are very sure that the English people, with their
sturdy common sense, will prefer to be in the hands of English gentlemen
rather than in the miry claws of Socialistic buccaneers."

Just when I had reached this point I nearly ran into a man. Despite the
populousness and growth of our villages, he appeared to be the only man
for miles, but the road up which I had wandered turned and narrowed with
equal abruptness, and I nearly knocked him off the gate on which he
was leaning. I pulled up to apologize, and since he seemed ready for
society, and even pathetically pleased with it, I tossed the Daily
Wire over a hedge and fell into speech with him. He wore a wreck of
respectable clothes, and his face had that plebeian refinement which one
sees in small tailors and watchmakers, in poor men of sedentary trades.
Behind him a twisted group of winter trees stood up as gaunt and
tattered as himself, but I do not think that the tragedy that he
symbolized was a mere fancy from the spectral wood. There was a fixed
look in his face which told that he was one of those who in keeping body
and soul together have difficulties not only with the body, but also
with the soul.

He was a Cockney by birth, and retained the touching accent of those
streets from which I am an exile; but he had lived nearly all his life
in this countryside; and he began to tell me the affairs of it in that
formless, tail-foremost way in which the poor gossip about their great
neighbours. Names kept coming and going in the narrative like charms or
spells, unaccompanied by any biographical explanation. In particular
the name of somebody called Sir Joseph multiplied itself with the
omnipresence of a deity. I took Sir Joseph to be the principal landowner
of the district; and as the confused picture unfolded itself, I began to
form a definite and by no means pleasing picture of Sir Joseph. He was
spoken of in a strange way, frigid and yet familiar, as a child might
speak of a stepmother or an unavoidable nurse; something intimate, but
by no means tender; something that was waiting for you by your own bed
and board; that told you to do this and forbade you to do that, with a
caprice that was cold and yet somehow personal. It did not appear that
Sir Joseph was popular, but he was "a household word." He was not
so much a public man as a sort of private god or omnipotence. The
particular man to whom I spoke said he had "been in trouble," and that
Sir Joseph had been "pretty hard on him."

And under that grey and silver cloudland, with a background of those
frost-bitten and wind-tortured trees, the little Londoner told me a tale
which, true or false, was as heartrending as Romeo and Juliet.

He had slowly built up in the village a small business as a
photographer, and he was engaged to a girl at one of the lodges, whom he
loved with passion. "I'm the sort that 'ad better marry," he said;
and for all his frail figure I knew what he meant. But Sir Joseph,
and especially Sir Joseph's wife, did not want a photographer in
the village; it made the girls vain, or perhaps they disliked this
particular photographer. He worked and worked until he had just enough
to marry on honestly; and almost on the eve of his wedding the lease
expired, and Sir Joseph appeared in all his glory. He refused to
renew the lease; and the man went wildly elsewhere. But Sir Joseph was
ubiquitous; and the whole of that place was barred against him. In all
that country he could not find a shed to which to bring home his bride.
The man appealed and explained; but he was disliked as a demagogue, as
well as a photographer. Then it was as if a black cloud came across the
winter sky; for I knew what was coming. I forget even in what words
he told of Nature maddened and set free. But I still see, as in a
photograph, the grey muscles of the winter trees standing out like tight
ropes, as if all Nature were on the rack.

"She 'ad to go away," he said.

"Wouldn't her parents," I began, and hesitated on the word "forgive."

"Oh, her people forgave her," he said. "But Her Ladyship..."

"Her Ladyship made the sun and moon and stars," I said, impatiently. "So
of course she can come between a mother and the child of her body."

"Well, it does seem a bit 'ard..." he began with a break in his voice.

"But, good Lord, man," I cried, "it isn't a matter of hardness! It's a
matter of impious and indecent wickedness. If your Sir Joseph knew
the passions he was playing with, he did you a wrong for which in many
Christian countries he would have a knife in him."

The man continued to look across the frozen fields with a frown. He
certainly told his tale with real resentment, whether it was true or
false, or only exaggerated. He was certainly sullen and injured; but he
did not seem to think of any avenue of escape. At last he said:

"Well, it's a bad world; let's 'ope there's a better one."

"Amen," I said. "But when I think of Sir Joseph, I understand how men
have hoped there was a worse one."

Then we were silent for a long time and felt the cold of the day
crawling up, and at last I said, abruptly:

"The other day at a Budget meeting, I heard."

He took his elbows off the stile and seemed to change from head to foot
like a man coming out of sleep with a yawn. He said in a totally
new voice, louder but much more careless, "Ah yes, sir,... this 'ere
Budget... the Radicals are doing a lot of 'arm."

I listened intently, and he went on. He said with a sort of careful
precision, "Settin' class against class; that's what I call it. Why,
what's made our Empire except the readiness of all classes to work
'eartily 'and-in-'and."

He walked a little up and down the lane and stamped with the cold.
Then he said, "What I say is, what else kept us from the 'errors of the
French Revolution?"

My memory is good, and I waited in tense eagerness for the phrase that
came next. "They may laugh at Dukes; I'd like to see them 'alf as kind
and Christian and patient as lots of the landlords are. Let me tell you,
sir," he said, facing round at me with the final air of one launching a
paradox. "The English people 'ave some common sense, and they'd rather
be in the 'ands of gentlemen than in the claws of a lot of Socialist

I had an indescribable sense that I ought to applaud, as if I were a
public meeting. The insane separation in the man's soul between his
experience and his ready-made theory was but a type of what covers a
quarter of England. As he turned away, I saw the Daily Wire sticking
out of his shabby pocket. He bade me farewell in quite a blaze of
catchwords, and went stumping up the road. I saw his figure grow smaller
and smaller in the great green landscape; even as the Free Man has grown
smaller and smaller in the English countryside.

The Appetite of Earth

I was walking the other day in a kitchen garden, which I find has
somehow got attached to my premises, and I was wondering why I liked it.
After a prolonged spiritual self-analysis I came to the conclusion that
I like a kitchen garden because it contains things to eat. I do not mean
that a kitchen garden is ugly; a kitchen garden is often very beautiful.
The mixture of green and purple on some monstrous cabbage is much
subtler and grander than the mere freakish and theatrical splashing
of yellow and violet on a pansy. Few of the flowers merely meant for
ornament are so ethereal as a potato. A kitchen garden is as beautiful
as an orchard; but why is it that the word "orchard" sounds as beautiful
as the word "flower-garden," and yet also sounds more satisfactory? I
suggest again my extraordinarily dark and delicate discovery: that it
contains things to eat.

The cabbage is a solid; it can be approached from all sides at once; it
can be realized by all senses at once. Compared with that the sunflower,
which can only be seen, is a mere pattern, a thing painted on a flat
wall. Now, it is this sense of the solidity of things that can only be
uttered by the metaphor of eating. To express the cubic content of a
turnip, you must be all round it at once. The only way to get all round
a turnip at once is to eat the turnip. I think any poetic mind that has
loved solidity, the thickness of trees, the squareness of stones, the
firmness of clay, must have sometimes wished that they were things
to eat. If only brown peat tasted as good as it looks; if only white
firwood were digestible! We talk rightly of giving stones for bread: but
there are in the Geological Museum certain rich crimson marbles,
certain split stones of blue and green, that make me wish my teeth were

Somebody staring into the sky with the same ethereal appetite declared
that the moon was made of green cheese. I never could conscientiously
accept the full doctrine. I am Modernist in this matter. That the moon
is made of cheese I have believed from childhood; and in the course of
every month a giant (of my acquaintance) bites a big round piece out of
it. This seems to me a doctrine that is above reason, but not contrary
to it. But that the cheese is green seems to be in some degree actually
contradicted by the senses and the reason; first because if the moon
were made of green cheese it would be inhabited; and second because if
it were made of green cheese it would be green. A blue moon is said to
be an unusual sight; but I cannot think that a green one is much more
common. In fact, I think I have seen the moon looking like every other
sort of cheese except a green cheese. I have seen it look exactly like a
cream cheese: a circle of warm white upon a warm faint violet sky above
a cornfield in Kent. I have seen it look very like a Dutch cheese,
rising a dull red copper disk amid masts and dark waters at Honfleur.
I have seen it look like an ordinary sensible Cheddar cheese in an
ordinary sensible Prussian blue sky; and I have once seen it so naked
and ruinous-looking, so strangely lit up, that it looked like a Gruyere
cheese, that awful volcanic cheese that has horrible holes in it, as
if it had come in boiling unnatural milk from mysterious and unearthly
cattle. But I have never yet seen the lunar cheese green; and I
incline to the opinion that the moon is not old enough. The moon, like
everything else, will ripen by the end of the world; and in the last
days we shall see it taking on those volcanic sunset colours, and
leaping with that enormous and fantastic life.

But this is a parenthesis; and one perhaps slightly lacking in prosaic
actuality. Whatever may be the value of the above speculations, the
phrase about the moon and green cheese remains a good example of this
imagery of eating and drinking on a large scale. The same huge fancy
is in the phrase "if all the trees were bread and cheese," which I have
cited elsewhere in this connection; and in that noble nightmare of a
Scandinavian legend, in which Thor drinks the deep sea nearly dry out
of a horn. In an essay like the present (first intended as a paper to
be read before the Royal Society) one cannot be too exact; and I will
concede that my theory of the gradual vire-scence of our satellite is
to be regarded rather as an alternative theory than as a law finally
demonstrated and universally accepted by the scientific world. It is a
hypothesis that holds the field, as the scientists say of a theory when
there is no evidence for it so far.

But the reader need be under no apprehension that I have suddenly gone
mad, and shall start biting large pieces out of the trunks of trees;
or seriously altering (by large semicircular mouthfuls) the exquisite
outline of the mountains. This feeling for expressing a fresh solidity
by the image of eating is really a very old one. So far from being a
paradox of perversity, it is one of the oldest commonplaces of religion.
If any one wandering about wants to have a good trick or test for
separating the wrong idealism from the right, I will give him one on the
spot. It is a mark of false religion that it is always trying to
express concrete facts as abstract; it calls sex affinity; it calls wine
alcohol; it calls brute starvation the economic problem. The test of
true religion is that its energy drives exactly the other way; it is
always trying to make men feel truths as facts; always trying to make
abstract things as plain and solid as concrete things; always trying to
make men, not merely admit the truth, but see, smell, handle, hear,
and devour the truth. All great spiritual scriptures are full of the
invitation not to test, but to taste; not to examine, but to eat. Their
phrases are full of living water and heavenly bread, mysterious manna
and dreadful wine. Worldliness, and the polite society of the world, has
despised this instinct of eating; but religion has never despised it.
When we look at a firm, fat, white cliff of chalk at Dover, I do not
suggest that we should desire to eat it; that would be highly abnormal.
But I really mean that we should think it good to eat; good for some
one else to eat. For, indeed, some one else is eating it; the grass that
grows upon its top is devouring it silently, but, doubtless, with an
uproarious appetite.

Simmons and the Social Tie

It is a platitude, and none the less true for that, that we need to
have an ideal in our minds with which to test all realities. But it is
equally true, and less noted, that we need a reality with which to test
ideals. Thus I have selected Mrs. Buttons, a charwoman in Battersea, as
the touchstone of all modern theories about the mass of women. Her name
is not Buttons; she is not in the least a contemptible nor entirely a
comic figure. She has a powerful stoop and an ugly, attractive face, a
little like that of Huxley--without the whiskers, of course. The courage
with which she supports the most brutal bad luck has something quite
creepy about it. Her irony is incessant and inventive; her practical
charity very large; and she is wholly unaware of the philosophical use
to which I put her.

But when I hear the modern generalization about her sex on all sides I
simply substitute her name, and see how the thing sounds then. When on
the one side the mere sentimentalist says, "Let woman be content to
be dainty and exquisite, a protected piece of social art and domestic
ornament," then I merely repeat it to myself in the "other form," "Let
Mrs. Buttons be content to be dainty and exquisite, a protected piece of
social art, etc." It is extraordinary what a difference the substitution
seems to make. And on the other hand, when some of the Suffragettes say
in their pamphlets and speeches, "Woman, leaping to life at the trumpet
call of Ibsen and Shaw, drops her tawdry luxuries and demands to grasp
the sceptre of empire and the firebrand of speculative thought"--in
order to understand such a sentence I say it over again in the amended
form: "Mrs. Buttons, leaping to life at the trumpet call of Ibsen and
Shaw, drops her tawdry luxuries and demands to grasp the sceptre of
empire and the firebrand of speculative thought." Somehow it sounds
quite different. And yet when you say Woman I suppose you mean the
average woman; and if most women are as capable and critical and morally
sound as Mrs. Buttons, it is as much as we can expect, and a great deal
more than we deserve.

But this study is not about Mrs. Buttons; she would require many
studies. I will take a less impressive case of my principle, the
principle of keeping in the mind an actual personality when we are
talking about types or tendencies or generalized ideals. Take, for
example, the question of the education of boys. Almost every post
brings me pamphlets expounding some advanced and suggestive scheme of
education; the pupils are to be taught separate; the sexes are to
be taught together; there should be no prizes; there should be no
punishments; the master should lift the boys to his level; the master
should descend to their level; we should encourage the heartiest
comradeship among boys, and also the tenderest spiritual intimacy with
masters; toil must be pleasant and holidays must be instructive; with
all these things I am daily impressed and somewhat bewildered. But on
the great Buttons' principle I keep in my mind and apply to all these
ideals one still vivid fact; the face and character of a particular
schoolboy whom I once knew. I am not taking a mere individual oddity, as
you will hear. He was exceptional, and yet the reverse of eccentric;
he was (in a quite sober and strict sense of the words) exceptionally
average. He was the incarnation and the exaggeration of a certain spirit
which is the common spirit of boys, but which nowhere else became so
obvious and outrageous. And because he was an incarnation he was, in his
way, a tragedy.

I will call him Simmons. He was a tall, healthy figure, strong, but a
little slouching, and there was in his walk something between a slight
swagger and a seaman's roll; he commonly had his hands in his pockets.
His hair was dark, straight, and undistinguished; and his face, if one
saw it after his figure, was something of a surprise. For while the form
might be called big and braggart, the face might have been called weak,
and was certainly worried. It was a hesitating face, which seemed to
blink doubtfully in the daylight. He had even the look of one who has
received a buffet that he cannot return. In all occupations he was the
average boy; just sufficiently good at sports, just sufficiently bad at
work to be universally satisfactory. But he was prominent in nothing,
for prominence was to him a thing like bodily pain. He could not endure,
without discomfort amounting to desperation, that any boy should be
noticed or sensationally separated from the long line of boys; for him,
to be distinguished was to be disgraced.

Those who interpret schoolboys as merely wooden and barbarous, unmoved
by anything but a savage seriousness about tuck or cricket, make the
mistake of forgetting how much of the schoolboy life is public and
ceremonial, having reference to an ideal; or, if you like, to an
affectation. Boys, like dogs, have a sort of romantic ritual which is
not always their real selves. And this romantic ritual is generally the
ritual of not being romantic; the pretence of being much more
masculine and materialistic than they are. Boys in themselves are very
sentimental. The most sentimental thing in the world is to hide your
feelings; it is making too much of them. Stoicism is the direct product
of sentimentalism; and schoolboys are sentimental individually, but
stoical collectively.

For example, there were numbers of boys at my school besides myself
who took a private pleasure in poetry; but red-hot iron would not have
induced most of us to admit this to the masters, or to repeat poetry
with the faintest inflection of rhythm or intelligence. That would have
been anti-social egoism; we called it "showing off." I myself remember
running to school (an extraordinary thing to do) with mere internal
ecstasy in repeating lines of Walter Scott about the taunts of Marmion
or the boasts of Roderick Dhu, and then repeating the same lines in
class with the colourless decorum of a hurdy-gurdy. We all wished to be
invisible in our uniformity; a mere pattern of Eton collars and coats.

But Simmons went even further. He felt it as an insult to brotherly
equality if any task or knowledge out of the ordinary track was
discovered even by accident. If a boy had learnt German in infancy; or
if a boy knew some terms in music; or if a boy was forced to confess
feebly that he had read "The Mill on the Floss"--then Simmons was in a
perspiration of discomfort. He felt no personal anger, still less any
petty jealousy, what he felt was an honourable and generous shame. He
hated it as a lady hates coarseness in a pantomime; it made him want to
hide himself. Just that feeling of impersonal ignominy which most of us
have when some one betrays indecent ignorance, Simmons had when some one
betrayed special knowledge. He writhed and went red in the face; he used
to put up the lid of his desk to hide his blushes for human dignity,
and from behind this barrier would whisper protests which had the hoarse
emphasis of pain. "O, shut up, I say... O, I say, shut up.... O, shut
it, can't you?" Once when a little boy admitted that he had heard of the
Highland claymore, Simmons literally hid his head inside his desk and
dropped the lid upon it in desperation; and when I was for a moment
transferred from the bottom of the form for knowing the name of Cardinal
Newman, I thought he would have rushed from the room.

His psychological eccentricity increased; if one can call that an
eccentricity which was a wild worship of the ordinary. At last he grew
so sensitive that he could not even bear any question answered correctly
without grief. He felt there was a touch of disloyalty, of unfraternal
individualism, even about knowing the right answer to a sum. If asked
the date of the battle of Hastings, he considered it due to social tact
and general good feeling to answer 1067. This chivalrous exaggeration
led to bad feeling between him and the school authority, which ended
in a rupture unexpectedly violent in the case of so good-humoured a
creature. He fled from the school, and it was discovered upon inquiry
that he had fled from his home also.

I never expected to see him again; yet it is one of the two or three
odd coincidences of my life that I did see him. At some public sports or
recreation ground I saw a group of rather objectless youths, one of whom
was wearing the dashing uniform of a private in the Lancers. Inside that
uniform was the tall figure, shy face, and dark, stiff hair of Simmons.
He had gone to the one place where every one is dressed alike--a
regiment. I know nothing more; perhaps he was killed in Africa. But when
England was full of flags and false triumphs, when everybody was talking
manly trash about the whelps of the lion and the brave boys in red, I
often heard a voice echoing in the under-caverns of my memory, "Shut
up... O, shut up... O, I say, shut it."


My forthcoming work in five volumes, "The Neglect of Cheese in European
Literature" is a work of such unprecedented and laborious detail that it
is doubtful if I shall live to finish it. Some overflowings from such
a fountain of information may therefore be permitted to springle these
pages. I cannot yet wholly explain the neglect to which I refer. Poets
have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese. Virgil, if I
remember right, refers to it several times, but with too much Roman
restraint. He does not let himself go on cheese. The only other poet
I can think of just now who seems to have had some sensibility on the
point was the nameless author of the nursery rhyme which says: "If all
the trees were bread and cheese"--which is, indeed a rich and gigantic
vision of the higher gluttony. If all the trees were bread and cheese
there would be considerable deforestation in any part of England where
I was living. Wild and wide woodlands would reel and fade before me
as rapidly as they ran after Orpheus. Except Virgil and this anonymous
rhymer, I can recall no verse about cheese. Yet it has every quality
which we require in exalted poetry. It is a short, strong word; it
rhymes to "breeze" and "seas" (an essential point); that it is emphatic
in sound is admitted even by the civilization of the modern cities. For
their citizens, with no apparent intention except emphasis, will often
say, "Cheese it!" or even "Quite the cheese." The substance itself is
imaginative. It is ancient--sometimes in the individual case, always
in the type and custom. It is simple, being directly derived from milk,
which is one of the ancestral drinks, not lightly to be corrupted with
soda-water. You know, I hope (though I myself have only just thought
of it), that the four rivers of Eden were milk, water, wine, and ale.
Aerated waters only appeared after the Fall.

But cheese has another quality, which is also the very soul of song.
Once in endeavouring to lecture in several places at once, I made an
eccentric journey across England, a journey of so irregular and even
illogical shape that it necessitated my having lunch on four successive
days in four roadside inns in four different counties. In each inn they
had nothing but bread and cheese; nor can I imagine why a man should
want more than bread and cheese, if he can get enough of it. In each inn
the cheese was good; and in each inn it was different. There was a noble
Wensleydale cheese in Yorkshire, a Cheshire cheese in Cheshire, and so
on. Now, it is just here that true poetic civilization differs from that
paltry and mechanical civilization which holds us all in bondage. Bad
customs are universal and rigid, like modern militarism. Good customs
are universal and varied, like native chivalry and self-defence. Both
the good and bad civilization cover us as with a canopy, and protect us
from all that is outside. But a good civilization spreads over us
freely like a tree, varying and yielding because it is alive. A
bad civilization stands up and sticks out above us like an
umbrella--artificial, mathematical in shape; not merely universal, but
uniform. So it is with the contrast between the substances that vary and
the substances that are the same wherever they penetrate. By a wise doom
of heaven men were commanded to eat cheese, but not the same cheese.
Being really universal it varies from valley to valley. But if, let us
say, we compare cheese with soap (that vastly inferior substance), we
shall see that soap tends more and more to be merely Smith's Soap or
Brown's Soap, sent automatically all over the world. If the Red Indians
have soap it is Smith's Soap. If the Grand Lama has soap it is Brown's
soap. There is nothing subtly and strangely Buddhist, nothing tenderly
Tibetan, about his soap. I fancy the Grand Lama does not eat cheese (he
is not worthy), but if he does it is probably a local cheese, having
some real relation to his life and outlook. Safety matches, tinned
foods, patent medicines are sent all over the world; but they are not
produced all over the world. Therefore there is in them a mere dead
identity, never that soft play of slight variation which exists in
things produced everywhere out of the soil, in the milk of the kine,
or the fruits of the orchard. You can get a whisky and soda at every
outpost of the Empire: that is why so many Empire-builders go mad. But
you are not tasting or touching any environment, as in the cider of
Devonshire or the grapes of the Rhine. You are not approaching Nature in
one of her myriad tints of mood, as in the holy act of eating cheese.

When I had done my pilgrimage in the four wayside public-houses I
reached one of the great northern cities, and there I proceeded, with
great rapidity and complete inconsistency, to a large and elaborate
restaurant, where I knew I could get many other things besides bread and
cheese. I could get that also, however; or at least I expected to get
it; but I was sharply reminded that I had entered Babylon, and left
England behind. The waiter brought me cheese, indeed, but cheese cut up
into contemptibly small pieces; and it is the awful fact that, instead
of Christian bread, he brought me biscuits. Biscuits--to one who had
eaten the cheese of four great countrysides! Biscuits--to one who had
proved anew for himself the sanctity of the ancient wedding between
cheese and bread! I addressed the waiter in warm and moving terms. I
asked him who he was that he should put asunder those whom Humanity had
joined. I asked him if he did not feel, as an artist, that a solid but
yielding substance like cheese went naturally with a solid, yielding
substance like bread; to eat it off biscuits is like eating it off
slates. I asked him if, when he said his prayers, he was so supercilious
as to pray for his daily biscuits. He gave me generally to understand
that he was only obeying a custom of Modern Society. I have therefore
resolved to raise my voice, not against the waiter, but against Modern
Society, for this huge and unparalleled modern wrong.

The Red Town

When a man says that democracy is false because most people are stupid,
there are several courses which the philosopher may pursue. The most
obvious is to hit him smartly and with precision on the exact tip of the
nose. But if you have scruples (moral or physical) about this course,
you may proceed to employ Reason, which in this case has all the savage
solidity of a blow with the fist. It is stupid to say that "most people"
are stupid. It is like saying "most people are tall," when it is obvious
that "tall" can only mean taller than most people. It is absurd to
denounce the majority of mankind as below the average of mankind.

Should the man have been hammered on the nose and brained with logic,
and should he still remain cold, a third course opens: lead him by the
hand (himself half-willing) towards some sunlit and yet secret meadow
and ask him who made the names of the common wild flowers. They were
ordinary people, so far as any one knows, who gave to one flower the
name of the Star of Bethlehem and to another and much commoner flower
the tremendous title of the Eye of Day. If you cling to the snobbish
notion that common people are prosaic, ask any common person for the
local names of the flowers, names which vary not only from county to
county, but even from dale to dale.

But, curiously enough, the case is much stronger than this. It will be
said that this poetry is peculiar to the country populace, and that
the dim democracies of our modern towns at least have lost it. For some
extraordinary reason they have not lost it. Ordinary London slang is
full of witty things said by nobody in particular. True, the creed
of our cruel cities is not so sane and just as the creed of the old
countryside; but the people are just as clever in giving names to their
sins in the city as in giving names to their joys in the wilderness.
One could not better sum up Christianity than by calling a small white
insignificant flower "The Star of Bethlehem." But then, again, one could
not better sum up the philosophy deduced from Darwinism than in the one
verbal picture of "having your monkey up."

Who first invented these violent felicities of language? Who first spoke
of a man "being off his head"? The obvious comment on a lunatic is that
his head is off him; yet the other phrase is far more fantastically
exact. There is about every madman a singular sensation that his body
has walked off and left the important part of him behind.

But the cases of this popular perfection in phrase are even stronger
when they are more vulgar. What concentrated irony and imagination there
is for instance, in the metaphor which describes a man doing a midnight
flitting as "shooting the moon"? It expresses everything about the run
away: his eccentric occupation, his improbable explanations, his furtive
air as of a hunter, his constant glances at the blank clock in the sky.

No; the English democracy is weak enough about a number of things; for
instance, it is weak in politics. But there is no doubt that democracy
is wonderfully strong in literature. Very few books that the cultured
class has produced of late have been such good literature as the
expression "painting the town red."

Oddly enough, this last Cockney epigram clings to my memory. For as I
was walking a little while ago round a corner near Victoria I realized
for the first time that a familiar lamp-post was painted all over with
a bright vermilion just as if it were trying (in spite of the obvious
bodily disqualification) to pretend that it was a pillar-box. I have
since heard official explanations of these startling and scarlet
objects. But my first fancy was that some dissipated gentleman on his
way home at four o'clock in the morning had attempted to paint the town
red and got only as far as one lamp-post.

I began to make a fairy tale about the man; and, indeed, this phrase
contains both a fairy tale and a philosophy; it really states almost the
whole truth about those pure outbreaks of pagan enjoyment to which all
healthy men have often been tempted. It expresses the desire to have
levity on a large scale which is the essence of such a mood. The rowdy
young man is not content to paint his tutor's door green: he would like
to paint the whole city scarlet. The word which to us best recalls
such gigantesque idiocy is the word "mafficking." The slaves of that
saturnalia were not only painting the town red; they thought that they
were painting the map red--that they were painting the world red. But,
indeed, this Imperial debauch has in it something worse than the
mere larkiness which is my present topic; it has an element of real
self-flattery and of sin. The Jingo who wants to admire himself is
worse than the blackguard who only wants to enjoy himself. In a very old
ninth-century illumination which I have seen, depicting the war of the
rebel angels in heaven, Satan is represented as distributing to his
followers peacock feathers--the symbols of an evil pride. Satan also
distributed peacock feathers to his followers on Mafeking Night...

But taking the case of ordinary pagan recklessness and pleasure seeking,
it is, as we have said, well expressed in this image. First, because
it conveys this notion of filling the world with one private folly; and
secondly, because of the profound idea involved in the choice of colour.
Red is the most joyful and dreadful thing in the physical universe; it
is the fiercest note, it is the highest light, it is the place where
the walls of this world of ours wear thinnest and something beyond burns
through. It glows in the blood which sustains and in the fire which
destroys us, in the roses of our romance and in the awful cup of our
religion. It stands for all passionate happiness, as in faith or in
first love.

Now, the profligate is he who wishes to spread this crimson of conscious
joy over everything; to have excitement at every moment; to paint
everything red. He bursts a thousand barrels of wine to incarnadine the
streets; and sometimes (in his last madness) he will butcher beasts
and men to dip his gigantic brushes in their blood. For it marks
the sacredness of red in nature, that it is secret even when it is
ubiquitous, like blood in the human body, which is omnipresent, yet
invisible. As long as blood lives it is hidden; it is only dead blood
that we see. But the earlier parts of the rake's progress are very
natural and amusing. Painting the town red is a delightful thing until
it is done. It would be splendid to see the cross of St. Paul's as red
as the cross of St. George, and the gallons of red paint running down
the dome or dripping from the Nelson Column. But when it is done, when
you have painted the town red, an extraordinary thing happens. You
cannot see any red at all.

I can see, as in a sort of vision, the successful artist standing in the
midst of that frightful city, hung on all sides with the scarlet of his
shame. And then, when everything is red, he will long for a red rose
in a green hedge and long in vain; he will dream of a red leaf and be
unable even to imagine it. He has desecrated the divine colour, and he
can no longer see it, though it is all around. I see him, a single black
figure against the red-hot hell that he has kindled, where spires and
turrets stand up like immobile flames: he is stiffened in a sort of
agony of prayer. Then the mercy of Heaven is loosened, and I see one or
two flakes of snow very slowly begin to fall.

The Furrows

As I see the corn grow green all about my neighbourhood, there rushes on
me for no reason in particular a memory of the winter. I say "rushes,"
for that is the very word for the old sweeping lines of the ploughed
fields. From some accidental turn of a train-journey or a walking tour,
I saw suddenly the fierce rush of the furrows. The furrows are like
arrows; they fly along an arc of sky. They are like leaping animals;
they vault an inviolable hill and roll down the other side. They are
like battering battalions; they rush over a hill with flying squadrons
and carry it with a cavalry charge. They have all the air of Arabs
sweeping a desert, of rockets sweeping the sky, of torrents sweeping a
watercourse. Nothing ever seemed so living as those brown lines as they
shot sheer from the height of a ridge down to their still whirl of the
valley. They were swifter than arrows, fiercer than Arabs, more riotous
and rejoicing than rockets. And yet they were only thin straight lines
drawn with difficulty, like a diagram, by painful and patient men. The
men that ploughed tried to plough straight; they had no notion of giving
great sweeps and swirls to the eye. Those cataracts of cloven earth;
they were done by the grace of God. I had always rejoiced in them; but I
had never found any reason for my joy. There are some very clever people
who cannot enjoy the joy unless they understand it. There are other and
even cleverer people who say that they lose the joy the moment they do
understand it. Thank God I was never clever, and I could always enjoy
things when I understood them and when I didn't. I can enjoy the
orthodox Tory, though I could never understand him. I can also enjoy the
orthodox Liberal, though I understand him only too well.

But the splendour of furrowed fields is this: that like all brave things
they are made straight, and therefore they bend. In everything that bows
gracefully there must be an effort at stiffness. Bows arc beautiful when
they bend only because they try to remain rigid; and sword-blades
can curl like silver ribbons only because they are certain to spring
straight again. But the same is true of every tough curve of the
tree-trunk, of every strong-backed bend of the bough; there is hardly
any such thing in Nature as a mere droop of weakness. Rigidity yielding
a little, like justice swayed by mercy, is the whole beauty of the
earth. The cosmos is a diagram just bent beautifully out of shape.
Everything tries to be straight; and everything just fortunately fails.

The foil may curve in the lunge, but there is nothing beautiful about
beginning the battle with a crooked foil. So the strict aim, the strong
doctrine, may give a little in the actual fight with facts: but that is
no reason for beginning with a weak doctrine or a twisted aim. Do not be
an opportunist; try to be theoretic at all the opportunities; fate can
be trusted to do all the opportunist part of it. Do not try to bend,
any more than the trees try to bend. Try to grow straight, and life will
bend you.

Alas! I am giving the moral before the fable; and yet I hardly think
that otherwise you could see all that I mean in that enormous vision
of the ploughed hills. These great furrowed slopes are the oldest
architecture of man: the oldest astronomy was his guide, the oldest
botany his object. And for geometry, the mere word proves my case.

But when I looked at those torrents of ploughed parallels, that great
rush of rigid lines, I seemed to see the whole huge achievement of
democracy, Here was mere equality: but equality seen in bulk is more
superb than any supremacy. Equality free and flying, equality rushing
over hill and dale, equality charging the world--that was the meaning
of those military furrows, military in their identity, military in their
energy. They sculptured hill and dale with strong curves merely because
they did not mean to curve at all. They made the strong lines of
landscape with their stiffly driven swords of the soil. It is not only
nonsense, but blasphemy, to say that man has spoilt the country. Man has
created the country; it was his business, as the image of God. No hill,
covered with common scrub or patches of purple heath, could have been so
sublimely hilly as that ridge up to which the ranked furrows rose like
aspiring angels. No valley, confused with needless cottages and
towns, can have been so utterly valleyish as that abyss into which the
down-rushing furrows raged like demons into the swirling pit.

It is the hard lines of discipline and equality that mark out a
landscape and give it all its mould and meaning. It is just because the
lines of the furrow arc ugly and even that the landscape is living and
superb. As I think I have remarked elsewhere, the Republic is founded on
the plough.

The Philosophy of Sight-seeing

It would be really interesting to know exactly why an intelligent
person--by which I mean a person with any sort of intelligence--can and
does dislike sight-seeing. Why does the idea of a char-a-banc full of
tourists going to see the birth-place of Nelson or the death-scene of
Simon de Montfort strike a strange chill to the soul? I can tell quite
easily what this dim aversion to tourists and their antiquities does not
arise from--at least, in my case. Whatever my other vices (and they are,
of course, of a lurid cast), I can lay my hand on my heart and say that
it does not arise from a paltry contempt for the antiquities, nor yet
from the still more paltry contempt for the tourists. If there is one
thing more dwarfish and pitiful than irreverence for the past, it
is irreverence for the present, for the passionate and many-coloured
procession of life, which includes the char-a-banc among its many
chariots and triumphal cars. I know nothing so vulgar as that contempt
for vulgarity which sneers at the clerks on a Bank Holiday or the
Cockneys on Margate sands. The man who notices nothing about the clerk
except his Cockney accent would have noticed nothing about Simon de
Montfort except his French accent. The man who jeers at Jones for having
dropped an "h" might have jeered at Nelson for having dropped an arm.
Scorn springs easily to the essentially vulgar-minded, and it is as easy
to gibe at Montfort as a foreigner or at Nelson as a cripple, as to gibe
at the struggling speech and the maimed bodies of the mass of our comic
and tragic race. If I shrink faintly from this affair of tourists and
tombs, it is certainly not because I am so profane as to think lightly
either of the tombs or the tourists. I reverence those great men who
had the courage to die; I reverence also these little men who have the
courage to live.

Even if this be conceded, another suggestion may be made. It may be said
that antiquities and commonplace crowds are indeed good things, like
violets and geraniums; but they do not go together. A billycock is a
beautiful object (it may be eagerly urged), but it is not in the same
style of architecture as Ely Cathedral; it is a dome, a small rococo
dome in the Renaissance manner, and does not go with the pointed arches
that assault heaven like spears. A char-a-banc is lovely (it may be
said) if placed upon a pedestal and worshipped for its own sweet
sake; but it does not harmonize with the curve and outline of the old
three-decker on which Nelson died; its beauty is quite of another sort.
Therefore (we will suppose our sage to argue) antiquity and democracy
should be kept separate, as inconsistent things. Things may be
inconsistent in time and space which are by no means inconsistent in
essential value and idea. Thus the Catholic Church has water for the
new-born and oil for the dying: but she never mixes oil and water.

This explanation is plausible; but I do not find it adequate. The first
objection is that the same smell of bathos haunts the soul in the
case of all deliberate and elaborate visits to "beauty spots," even
by persons of the most elegant position or the most protected privacy.
Specially visiting the Coliseum by moonlight always struck me as being
as vulgar as visiting it by limelight. One millionaire standing on the
top of Mont Blanc, one millionaire standing in the desert by the Sphinx,
one millionaire standing in the middle of Stonehenge, is just as comic
as one millionaire is anywhere else; and that is saying a good deal. On
the other hand, if the billycock had come privately and naturally into
Ely Cathedral, no enthusiast for Gothic harmony would think of objecting
to the billycock--so long, of course, as it was not worn on the head.
But there is indeed a much deeper objection to this theory of the two
incompatible excellences of antiquity and popularity. For the truth
is that it has been almost entirely the antiquities that have normally
interested the populace; and it has been almost entirely the populace
who have systematically preserved the antiquities. The Oldest Inhabitant
has always been a clodhopper; I have never heard of his being a
gentleman. It is the peasants who preserve all traditions of the sites
of battles or the building of churches. It is they who remember, so far
as any one remembers, the glimpses of fairies or the graver wonders of
saints. In the classes above them the supernatural has been slain by the
supercilious. That is a true and tremendous text in Scripture which says
that "where there is no vision the people perish." But it is equally
true in practice that where there is no people the visions perish.

The idea must be abandoned, then, that this feeling of faint dislike
towards popular sight-seeing is due to any inherent incompatibility
between the idea of special shrines and trophies and the idea of large
masses of ordinary men. On the contrary, these two elements of sanctity
and democracy have been specially connected and allied throughout
history. The shrines and trophies were often put up by ordinary men.
They were always put up for ordinary men. To whatever things the
fastidious modern artist may choose to apply his theory of specialist
judgment, and an aristocracy of taste, he must necessarily find it
difficult really to apply it to such historic and monumental art.
Obviously, a public building is meant to impress the public. The most
aristocratic tomb is a democratic tomb, because it exists to be seen;
the only aristocratic thing is the decaying corpse, not the undecaying
marble; and if the man wanted to be thoroughly aristocratic, he should
be buried in his own back-garden. The chapel of the most narrow and
exclusive sect is universal outside, even if it is limited inside, its
walls and windows confront all points of the compass and all quarters of
the cosmos. It may be small as a dwelling-place, but it is universal
as a monument; if its sectarians had really wished to be private they
should have met in a private house. Whenever and wherever we erect a
national or municipal hall, pillar, or statue, we are speaking to the
crowd like a demagogue.

The statue of every statesman offers itself for election as much as the
statesman himself. Every epitaph on a church slab is put up for the mob
as much as a placard in a General Election. And if we follow this track
of reflection we shall, I think, really find why it is that modern
sight-seeing jars on something in us, something that is not a caddish
contempt for graves nor an equally caddish contempt for cads. For, after
all, there is many a--churchyard which consists mostly of dead cads; but
that does not make it less sacred or less sad.

The real explanation, I fancy, is this: that these cathedrals and
columns of triumph were meant, not for people more cultured and
self-conscious than modern tourists, but for people much rougher and
more casual. Those leaps of live stone like frozen fountains, were so
placed and poised as to catch the eye of ordinary inconsiderate men
going about their daily business; and when they are so seen they
are never forgotten. The true way of reviving the magic of our great
minsters and historic sepulchres is not the one which Ruskin was always
recommending. It is not to be more careful of historic buildings. Nay,
it is rather to be more careless of them. Buy a bicycle in Maidstone to
visit an aunt in Dover, and you will see Canterbury Cathedral as it was
built to be seen. Go through London only as the shortest way between
Croydon and Hampstead, and the Nelson Column will (for the first time in
your life) remind you of Nelson. You will appreciate Hereford Cathedral
if you have come for cider, not if you have come for architecture. You
will really see the Place Vendome if you have come on business, not
if you have come for art. For it was for the simple and laborious
generations of men, practical, troubled about many things, that our
fathers reared those portents. There is, indeed, another element, not
unimportant: the fact that people have gone to cathedrals to pray. But
in discussing modern artistic cathedral-lovers, we need not consider

A Criminal Head

When men of science (or, more often, men who talk about science) speak
of studying history or human society scientifically they always forget
that there are two quite distinct questions involved. It may be that
certain facts of the body go with certain facts of the soul, but it
by no means follows that a grasp of such facts of the body goes with
a grasp of the things of the soul. A man may show very learnedly that
certain mixtures of race make a happy community, but he may be quite
wrong (he generally is) about what communities are happy. A man may
explain scientifically how a certain physical type involves a really bad
man, but he may be quite wrong (he generally is) about which sort of man
is really bad. Thus his whole argument is useless, for he understands
only one half of the equation.

The drearier kind of don may come to me and say, "Celts are
unsuccessful; look at Irishmen, for instance." To which I should reply,
"You may know all about Celts; but it is obvious that you know nothing
about Irishmen. The Irish are not in the least unsuccessful, unless it
is unsuccessful to wander from their own country over a great part of
the earth, in which case the English are unsuccessful too." A man with
a bumpy head may say to me (as a kind of New Year greeting), "Fools have
microcephalous skulls," or what not. To which I shall reply, "In order
to be certain of that, you must be a good judge both of the physical
and of the mental fact. It is not enough that you should know a
microcephalous skull when you see it. It is also necessary that you
should know a fool when you see him; and I have a suspicion that you
do not know a fool when you see him, even after the most lifelong and
intimate of all forms of acquaintanceship."

The trouble with most sociologists, criminologists, etc., is that while
their knowledge of their own details is exhaustive and subtle, their
knowledge of man and society, to which these are to be applied, is quite
exceptionally superficial and silly. They know everything about biology,
but almost nothing about life. Their ideas of history, for instance,
are simply cheap and uneducated. Thus some famous and foolish professor
measured the skull of Charlotte Corday to ascertain the criminal type;
he had not historical knowledge enough to know that if there is any
"criminal type," certainly Charlotte Corday had not got it. The skull, I
believe, afterwards turned out not to be Charlotte Corday's at all; but
that is another story. The point is that the poor old man was trying to
match Charlotte Corday's mind with her skull without knowing anything
whatever about her mind.

But I came yesterday upon a yet more crude and startling example.

In a popular magazine there is one of the usual articles about
criminology; about whether wicked men could be made good if their heads
were taken to pieces. As by far the wickedest men I know of are much too
rich and powerful ever to submit to the process, the speculation leaves
me cold. I always notice with pain, however, a curious absence of the
portraits of living millionaires from such galleries of awful examples;
most of the portraits in which we are called upon to remark the line
of the nose or the curve of the forehead appear to be the portraits of
ordinary sad men, who stole because they were hungry or killed because
they were in a rage. The physical peculiarity seems to vary infinitely;
sometimes it is the remarkable square head, sometimes it is the
unmistakable round head; sometimes the learned draw attention to the
abnormal development, sometimes to the striking deficiency of the back
of the head. I have tried to discover what is the invariable factor,
the one permanent mark of the scientific criminal type; after exhaustive
classification I have to come to the conclusion that it consists in
being poor.

But it was among the pictures in this article that I received the final
shock; the enlightenment which has left me in lasting possession of the
fact that criminologists are generally more ignorant than criminals.
Among the starved and bitter, but quite human, faces was one head, neat
but old-fashioned, with the powder of the 18th century and a certain
almost pert primness in the dress which marked the conventions of the
upper middle-class about 1790. The face was lean and lifted stiffly up,
the eyes stared forward with a frightful sincerity, the lip was firm
with a heroic firmness; all the more pathetic because of a certain
delicacy and deficiency of male force, Without knowing who it was, one
could have guessed that it was a man in the manner of Shakespeare's
Brutus, a man of piercingly pure intentions, prone to use government
as a mere machine for morality, very sensitive to the charge of
inconsistency and a little too proud of his own clean and honourable
life. I say I should have known this almost from the face alone, even if
I had not known who it was.

But I did know who it was. It was Robespierre. And underneath the
portrait of this pale and too eager moralist were written these
remarkable words: "Deficiency of ethical instincts," followed by
something to the effect that he knew no mercy (which is certainly
untrue), and by some nonsense about a retreating forehead, a peculiarity
which he shared with Louis XVI and with half the people of his time and

Then it was that I measured the staggering distance between the
knowledge and the ignorance of science. Then I knew that all criminology
might be worse than worthless, because of its utter ignorance of that
human material of which it is supposed to be speaking. The man who could
say that Robespierre was deficient in ethical instincts is a man utterly
to be disregarded in all calculations of ethics. He might as well say
that John Bunyan was deficient in ethical instincts. You may say that
Robespierre was morbid and unbalanced, and you may say the same of
Bunyan. But if these two men were morbid and unbalanced they were morbid
and unbalanced by feeling too much about morality, not by feeling too
little. You may say if you like that Robespierre was (in a negative sort
of way) mad. But if he was mad he was mad on ethics. He and a company of
keen and pugnacious men, intellectually impatient of unreason and
wrong, resolved that Europe should not be choked up in every channel
by oligarchies and state secrets that already stank. The work was the
greatest that was ever given to men to do except that which Christianity
did in dragging Europe out of the abyss of barbarism after the Dark
Ages. But they did it, and no one else could have done it.

Certainly we could not do it. We are not ready to fight all Europe on a
point of justice. We are not ready to fling our most powerful class
as mere refuse to the foreigner; we are not ready to shatter the great
estates at a stroke; we are not ready to trust ourselves in an
awful moment of utter dissolution in order to make all things seem
intelligible and all men feel honourable henceforth. We are not strong
enough to be as strong as Danton. We are not strong enough to be as weak
as Robespierre. There is only one thing, it seems, that we can do. Like
a mob of children, we can play games upon this ancient battlefield;
we can pull up the bones and skulls of the tyrants and martyrs of
that unimaginable war; and we can chatter to each other childishly and
innocently about skulls that are imbecile and heads that are criminal.
I do not know whose heads are criminal, but I think I know whose are

The Wrath of the Roses

The position of the rose among flowers is like that of the dog among
animals. It is so much that both are domesticated as that have some dim
feeling that they were always domesticated. There are wild roses and
there are wild dogs. I do not know the wild dogs; wild roses are very
nice. But nobody ever thinks of either of them if the name is abruptly
mentioned in a gossip or a poem. On the other hand, there are tame
tigers and tame cobras, but if one says, "I have a cobra in my pocket,"
or "There is a tiger in the music-room," the adjective "tame" has to be
somewhat hastily added. If one speaks of beasts one thinks first of wild
beasts; if of flowers one thinks first of wild flowers.

But there are two great exceptions; caught so completely into the
wheel of man's civilization, entangled so unalterably with his ancient
emotions and images, that the artificial product seems more natural
than the natural. The dog is not a part of natural history, but of
human history; and the real rose grows in a garden. All must regard the
elephant as something tremendous, but tamed; and many, especially in our
great cultured centres, regard every bull as presumably a mad bull.
In the same way we think of most garden trees and plants as fierce
creatures of the forest or morass taught at last to endure the curb.

But with the dog and the rose this instinctive principle is reversed.
With them we think of the artificial as the archetype; the earth-born as
the erratic exception. We think vaguely of the wild dog as if he had run
away, like the stray cat. And we cannot help fancying that the wonderful
wild rose of our hedges has escaped by jumping over the hedge. Perhaps
they fled together, the dog and the rose: a singular and (on the whole)
an imprudent elopement. Perhaps the treacherous dog crept from the
kennel, and the rebellious rose from the flower-bed, and they fought
their way out in company, one with teeth and the other with thorns.
Possibly this is why my dog becomes a wild dog when he sees roses, and
kicks them anywhere. Possibly this is why the wild rose is called a
dog-rose. Possibly not.

But there is this degree of dim barbaric truth in the quaint old-world
legend that I have just invented. That in these two cases the civilized
product is felt to be the fiercer, nay, even the wilder. Nobody seems to
be afraid of a wild dog: he is classed among the jackals and the servile
beasts. The terrible cave canem is written over man's creation. When we
read "Beware of the Dog," it means beware of the tame dog: for it is the
tame dog that is terrible. He is terrible in proportion as he is tame:
it is his loyalty and his virtues that are awful to the stranger, even
the stranger within your gates; still more to the stranger halfway over
your gates. He is alarmed at such deafening and furious docility; he
flees from that great monster of mildness.

Well, I have much the same feeling when I look at the roses ranked red
and thick and resolute round a garden; they seem to me bold and even
blustering. I hasten to say that I know even less about my own garden
than about anybody else's garden. I know nothing about roses, not even
their names. I know only the name Rose; and Rose is (in every sense
of the word) a Christian name. It is Christian in the one absolute
and primordial sense of Christian--that it comes down from the age
of pagans. The rose can be seen, and even smelt, in Greek, Latin,
Provencal, Gothic, Renascence, and Puritan poems. Beyond this mere word
Rose, which (like wine and other noble words) is the same in all the
tongues of white men, I know literally nothing. I have heard the more
evident and advertised names. I know there is a flower which calls
itself the Glory of Dijon--which I had supposed to be its cathedral. In
any case, to have produced a rose and a cathedral is to have produced
not only two very glorious and humane things, but also (as I maintain)
two very soldierly and defiant things. I also know there is a rose
called Marechal Niel--note once more the military ring.

And when I was walking round my garden the other day I spoke to my
gardener (an enterprise of no little valour) and asked him the name of
a strange dark rose that had somehow oddly taken my fancy. It was almost
as if it reminded me of some turbid element in history and the soul. Its
red was not only swarthy, but smoky; there was something congested and
wrathful about its colour. It was at once theatrical and sulky. The
gardener told me it was called Victor Hugo.

Therefore it is that I feel all roses to have some secret power about
them; even their names may mean something in connexion with themselves,
in which they differ from nearly all the sons of men. But the rose
itself is royal and dangerous; long as it has remained in the rich house
of civilization, it has never laid off its armour. A rose always looks
like a mediaeval gentleman of Italy, with a cloak of crimson and a
sword: for the thorn is the sword of the rose.

And there is this real moral in the matter; that we have to remember
that civilization as it goes on ought not perhaps to grow more
fighting--but ought to grow more ready to fight. The more valuable and
reposeful is the order we have to guard, the more vivid should be our
ultimate sense of vigilance and potential violence. And when I walk
round a summer garden, I can understand how those high mad lords at
the end of the Middle Ages, just before their swords clashed, caught at
roses for their instinctive emblems of empire and rivalry. For to me any
such garden is full of the wars of the roses.

The Gold of Glastonbury

One silver morning I walked into a small grey town of stone, like twenty
other grey western towns, which happened to be called Glastonbury; and
saw the magic thorn of near two thousand years growing in the open air
as casually as any bush in my garden.

In Glastonbury, as in all noble and humane things, the myth is more
important than the history. One cannot say anything stronger of the
strange old tale of St. Joseph and the Thorn than that it dwarfs St.
Dunstan. Standing among the actual stones and shrubs one thinks of the
first century and not of the tenth; one's mind goes back beyond the
Saxons and beyond the greatest statesman of the Dark Ages. The tale that
Joseph of Arimathea came to Britain is presumably a mere legend. But
it is not by any means so incredible or preposterous a legend as many
modern people suppose. The popular notion is that the thing is quite
comic and inconceivable; as if one said that Wat Tyler went to Chicago,
or that John Bunyan discovered the North Pole. We think of Palestine as
little, localized and very private, of Christ's followers as poor folk,
astricti globis, rooted to their towns or trades; and we think of vast
routes of travel and constant world-communications as things of recent
and scientific origin. But this is wrong; at least, the last part of it
is. It is part of that large and placid lie that the rationalists
tell when they say that Christianity arose in ignorance and barbarism.
Christianity arose in the thick of a brilliant and bustling cosmopolitan
civilization. Long sea-voyages were not so quick, but were quite as
incessant as to-day; and though in the nature of things Christ had not
many rich followers, it is not unnatural to suppose that He had some.
And a Joseph of Arimathea may easily have been a Roman citizen with a
yacht that could visit Britain. The same fallacy is employed with
the same partisan motive in the case of the Gospel of St. John;
which critics say could not have been written by one of the first few
Christians because of its Greek transcendentalism and its Platonic tone.
I am no judge of the philology, but every human being is a divinely
appointed judge of the philosophy: and the Platonic tone seems to me to
prove nothing at all. Palestine was not a secluded valley of barbarians;
it was an open province of a polyglot empire, overrun with all sorts of
people of all kinds of education. To take a rough parallel: suppose some
great prophet arose among the Boers in South Africa. The prophet himself
might be a simple or unlettered man. But no one who knows the modern
world would be surprised if one of his closest followers were a
Professor from Heidelberg or an M.A. from Oxford.

All this is not urged here with any notion of proving that the tale of
the thorn is not a myth; as I have said, it probably is a myth. It is
urged with the much more important object of pointing out the proper
attitude towards such myths.. The proper attitude is one of doubt
and hope and of a kind of light mystery. The tale is certainly not
impossible; as it is certainly not certain. And through all the ages
since the Roman Empire men have fed their healthy fancies and their
historical imagination upon the very twilight condition of such tales.
But to-day real agnosticism has declined along with real theology.
People cannot leave a creed alone; though it is the essence of a creed
to be clear. But neither can they leave a legend alone; though it is
the essence of a legend to be vague. That sane half scepticism which was
found in all rustics, in all ghost tales and fairy tales, seems to be
a lost secret. Modern people must make scientifically certain that St.
Joseph did or did not go to Glastonbury, despite the fact that it is
now quite impossible to find out; and that it does not, in a religious
sense, very much matter. But it is essential to feel that he may have
gone to Glastonbury: all songs, arts, and dedications branching and
blossoming like the thorn, are rooted in some such sacred doubt. Taken
thus, not heavily like a problem but lightly like an old tale, the thing
does lead one along the road of very strange realities, and the thorn is
found growing in the heart of a very secret maze of the soul. Something
is really present in the place; some closer contact with the thing which
covers Europe but is still a secret. Somehow the grey town and the green
bush touch across the world the strange small country of the garden and
the grave; there is verily some communion between the thorn tree and the
crown of thorns.

A man never knows what tiny thing will startle him to such ancestral and
impersonal tears. Piles of superb masonry will often pass like a common
panorama; and on this grey and silver morning the ruined towers of the
cathedral stood about me somewhat vaguely like grey clouds. But down in
a hollow where the local antiquaries are making a fruitful excavation, a
magnificent old ruffian with a pickaxe (whom I believe to have been St.
Joseph of Arimathea) showed me a fragment of the old vaulted roof which
he had found in the earth; and on the whitish grey stone there was just
a faint brush of gold. There seemed a piercing and swordlike pathos, an
unexpected fragrance of all forgotten or desecrated things, in the bare
survival of that poor little pigment upon the imperishable rock. To the
strong shapes of the Roman and the Gothic I had grown accustomed; but
that weak touch of colour was at once tawdry and tender, like some
popular keepsake. Then I knew that all my fathers were men like me;
for the columns and arches were grave, and told of the gravity of the
builders; but here was one touch of their gaiety. I almost expected it
to fade from the stone as I stared. It was as if men had been able to
preserve a fragment of a sunset.

And then I remembered how the artistic critics have always praised the
grave tints and the grim shadows of the crumbling cloisters and abbey
towers, and how they themselves often dress up like Gothic ruins in the
sombre tones of dim grey walls or dark green ivy. I remembered how they
hated almost all primary things, but especially primary colours. I knew
they were appreciating much more delicately and truly than I the sublime
skeleton and the mighty fungoids of the dead Glastonbury. But I stood
for an instant alive in the living Glastonbury, gay with gold and
coloured like the toy-book of a child.

The Futurists

It was a warm golden evening, fit for October, and I was watching (with
regret) a lot of little black pigs being turned out of my garden, when
the postman handed to me, with a perfunctory haste which doubtless
masked his emotion, the Declaration of Futurism. If you ask me what
Futurism is, I cannot tell you; even the Futurists themselves seem a
little doubtful; perhaps they are waiting for the future to find out.
But if you ask me what its Declaration is, I answer eagerly; for I
can tell you quite a lot about that. It is written by an Italian
named Marinetti, in a magazine which is called Poesia. It is headed
"Declaration of Futurism" in enormous letters; it is divided off with
little numbers; and it starts straight away like this: "1. We intend to
glorify the love of danger, the custom of energy, the strengt of daring.
2. The essential elements of our poetry will be courage, audacity, and
revolt. 3. Literature having up to now glorified thoughtful immobility,
ecstasy, and slumber, we wish to exalt the aggressive movement, the
feverish insomnia, running, the perilous leap, the cuff and the blow."
While I am quite willing to exalt the cuff within reason, it scarcely
seems such an entirely new subject for literature as the Futurists
imagine. It seems to me that even through the slumber which fills the
Siege of Troy, the Song of Roland, and the Orlando Furioso, and in spite
of the thoughtful immobility which marks "Pantagruel," "Henry V," and
the Ballad of Chevy Chase, there are occasional gleams of an admiration
for courage, a readiness to glorify the love of danger, and even the
"strengt of daring," I seem to remember, slightly differently spelt,
somewhere in literature.

The distinction, however, seems to be that the warriors of the past went
in for tournaments, which were at least dangerous for themselves, while
the Futurists go in for motor-cars, which are mainly alarming for
other people. It is the Futurist in his motor who does the "aggressive
movement," but it is the pedestrians who go in for the "running" and the
"perilous leap." Section No. 4 says, "We declare that the splendour of
the world has been enriched with a new form of beauty, the beauty of
speed. A race-automobile adorned with great pipes like serpents
with explosive breath.... A race-automobile which seems to rush over
exploding powder is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace." It
is also much easier, if you have the money. It is quite clear, however,
that you cannot be a Futurist at all unless you are frightfully rich.
Then follows this lucid and soul-stirring sentence: "5. We will sing
the praises of man holding the flywheel of which the ideal steering-post
traverses the earth impelled itself around the circuit of its own
orbit." What a jolly song it would be--so hearty, and with such a simple
swing in it! I can imagine the Futurists round the fire in a tavern
trolling out in chorus some ballad with that incomparable refrain;
shouting over their swaying flagons some such words as these:

  A notion came into my head as new as it was bright
  That poems might be written on the subject of a fight;
  No praise was given to Lancelot, Achilles, Nap or Corbett,
  But we will sing the praises of man holding the flywheel of which the ideal
steering-post traverses the earth impelled itself around the circuit of
its own orbit.

Then lest it should be supposed that Futurism would be so weak as to
permit any democratic restraints upon the violence and levity of the
luxurious classes, there would be a special verse in honour of the
motors also:

  My fathers scaled the mountains in their pilgrimages far,
  But I feel full of energy while sitting in a car;
  And petrol is the perfect wine, I lick it and absorb it,
  So we will sing the praises of man holding the flywheel of which the ideal
steering-post traverses the earth impelled itself around the circuit of
its own orbit.

Yes, it would be a rollicking catch. I wish there were space to finish
the song, or to detail all the other sections in the Declaration.
Suffice it to say that Futurism has a gratifying dislike both of
Liberal politics and Christian morals; I say gratifying because, however
unfortunately the cross and the cap of liberty have quarrelled, they are
always united in the feeble hatred of such silly megalomaniacs as these.
They will "glorify war--the only true hygiene of the world--militarism,
patriotism, the destructive gesture of Anarchism, the beautiful ideas
which kill, and the scorn of woman." They will "destroy museums,
libraries, and fight against moralism, feminism, and all utilitarian
cowardice." The proclamation ends with an extraordinary passage which I
cannot understand at all, all about something that is going to happen to
Mr. Marinetti when he is forty. As far as I can make out he will then be
killed by other poets, who will be overwhelmed with love and admiration
for him. "They will come against us from far away, from everywhere,
leaping on the cadence of their first poems, clawing the air with
crooked fingers and scenting at the Academy gates the good smell of our
decaying minds." Well, it is satisfactory to be told, however obscurely,
that this sort of thing is coming to an end some day, to be replaced by
some other tomfoolery. And though I commonly refrain from clawing the
air with crooked fingers, I can assure Mr. Marinetti that this omission
does not disqualify me, and that I scent the good smell of his decaying
mind all right.

I think the only other point of Futurism is contained in this sentence:
"It is in Italy that we hurl this overthrowing and inflammatory
Declaration, with which to-day we found Futurism, for we will free Italy
from her numberless museums which cover her with countless cemeteries."
I think that rather sums it up. The best way, one would think, of
freeing oneself from a museum would be not to go there. Mr. Marinetti's
fathers and grandfathers freed Italy from prisons and torture chambers,
places where people were held by force. They, being in the bondage of
"moralism," attacked Governments as unjust, real Governments, with
real guns. Such was their utilitarian cowardice that they would die
in hundreds upon the bayonets of Austria. I can well imagine why Mr.
Marinetti in his motor-car does not wish to look back at the past. If
there was one thing that could make him look smaller even than before it
is that roll of dead men's drums and that dream of Garibaldi going by.
The old Radical ghosts go by, more real than the living men, to assault
I know not what ramparted city in hell. And meanwhile the Futurist
stands outside a museum in a warlike attitude, and defiantly tells the
official at the turnstile that he will never, never come in.

There is a certain solid use in fools. It is not so much that they rush
in where angels fear to tread, but rather that they let out what devils
intend to do. Some perversion of folly will float about nameless
and pervade a whole society; then some lunatic gives it a name, and
henceforth it is harmless. With all really evil things, when the
danger has appeared the danger is over. Now it may be hoped that the
self-indulgent sprawlers of Poesia have put a name once and for all to
their philosophy. In the case of their philosophy, to put a name to it
is to put an end to it. Yet their philosophy has been very widespread in
our time; it could hardly have been pointed and finished except by this
perfect folly. The creed of which (please God) this is the flower
and finish consists ultimately in this statement: that it is bold
and spirited to appeal to the future. Now, it is entirely weak and
half-witted to appeal to the future. A brave man ought to ask for what
he wants, not for what he expects to get. A brave man who wants Atheism
in the future calls himself an Atheist; a brave man who wants Socialism,
a Socialist; a brave man who wants Catholicism, a Catholic. But a
weak-minded man who does not know what he wants in the future calls
himself a Futurist.

They have driven all the pigs away. Oh that they had driven away the
prigs, and left the pigs! The sky begins to droop with darkness and all
birds and blossoms to descend unfaltering into the healthy underworld
where things slumber and grow. There was just one true phrase of Mr.
Marinetti's about himself: "the feverish insomnia." The whole universe
is pouring headlong to the happiness of the night. It is only the madman
who has not the courage to sleep.


The Duc de Chambertin-Pommard was a small but lively relic of a really
aristocratic family, the members of which were nearly all Atheists up to
the time of the French Revolution, but since that event (beneficial
in such various ways) had been very devout. He was a Royalist, a
Nationalist, and a perfectly sincere patriot in that particular style
which consists of ceaselessly asserting that one's country is not so
much in danger as already destroyed. He wrote cheery little articles for
the Royalist Press entitled "The End of France" or "The Last Cry,"
or what not, and he gave the final touches to a picture of the Kaiser
riding across a pavement of prostrate Parisians with a glow of patriotic
exultation. He was quite poor, and even his relations had no money. He
walked briskly to all his meals at a little open cafe, and he looked
just like everybody else.

Living in a country where aristocracy does not exist, he had a high
opinion of it. He would yearn for the swords and the stately manners of
the Pommards before the Revolution--most of whom had been (in theory)
Republicans. But he turned with a more practical eagerness to the one
country in Europe where the tricolour has never flown and men have never
been roughly equalized before the State. The beacon and comfort of
his life was England, which all Europe sees clearly as the one pure
aristocracy that remains. He had, moreover, a mild taste for sport and
kept an English bulldog, and he believed the English to be a race of
bulldogs, of heroic squires, and hearty yeomen vassals, because he read
all this in English Conservative papers, written by exhausted little
Levantine clerks. But his reading was naturally for the most part in the
French Conservative papers (though he knew English well), and it was in
these that he first heard of the horrible Budget. There he read of the
confiscatory revolution planned by the Lord Chancellor of the Exchequer,
the sinister Georges Lloyd. He also read how chivalrously Prince Arthur
Balfour of Burleigh had defied that demagogue, assisted by Austen the
Lord Chamberlain and the gay and witty Walter Lang. And being a brisk
partisan and a capable journalist, he decided to pay England a special
visit and report to his paper upon the struggle.

He drove for an eternity in an open fly through beautiful woods, with a
letter of introduction in his pocket to one duke, who was to introduce
him to another duke. The endless and numberless avenues of bewildering
pine woods gave him a queer feeling that he was driving through the
countless corridors of a dream. Yet the vast silence and freshness
healed his irritation at modern ugliness and unrest. It seemed a
background fit for the return of chivalry. In such a forest a king and
all his court might lose themselves hunting or a knight errant might
perish with no companion but God. The castle itself when he reached it
was somewhat smaller than he had expected, but he was delighted with
its romantic and castellated outline. He was just about to alight when
somebody opened two enormous gates at the side and the vehicle drove
briskly through.

"That is not the house?" he inquired politely of the driver.

"No, sir," said the driver, controlling the corners of his mouth. "The
lodge, sir."

"Indeed," said the Duc de Chambertin-Pommard, "that is where the Duke's
land begins?"

"Oh no, sir," said the man, quite in distress. "We've been in his
Grace's land all day."

The Frenchman thanked him and leant back in the carriage, feeling as if
everything were incredibly huge and vast, like Gulliver in the country
of the Brobdingnags.

He got out in front of a long facade of a somewhat severe building, and
a little careless man in a shooting jacket and knickerbockers ran down
the steps. He had a weak, fair moustache and dull, blue, babyish eyes;
his features were insignificant, but his manner extremely pleasant
and hospitable, This was the Duke of Aylesbury, perhaps the largest
landowner in Europe, and known only as a horsebreeder until he began
to write abrupt little letters about the Budget. He led the French Duke
upstairs, talking trivialties in a hearty way, and there presented
him to another and more important English oligarch, who got up from a
writing-desk with a slightly senile jerk. He had a gleaming bald head
and glasses; the lower part of his face was masked with a short,
dark beard, which did not conceal a beaming smile, not unmixed with
sharpness. He stooped a little as he ran, like some sedentary head clerk
or cashier; and even without the cheque-book and papers on his desk
would have given the impression of a merchant or man of business. He was
dressed in a light grey check jacket. He was the Duke of Windsor, the
great Unionist statesman. Between these two loose, amiable men, the
little Gaul stood erect in his black frock coat, with the monstrous
gravity of French ceremonial good manners. This stiffness led the Duke
of Windsor to put him at his ease (like a tenant), and he said, rubbing
his hands:

"I was delighted with your letter... delighted. I shall be very pleased
if I can give you--er--any details."

"My visit," said the Frenchman, "scarcely suffices for the scientific
exhaustion of detail. I seek only the idea. The idea, that is always the
immediate thing."

"Quite so," said the other rapidly; "quite so... the idea."

Feeling somehow that it was his turn (the English Duke having done all
that could be required of him) Pommard had to say: "I mean the idea
of aristocracy. I regard this as the last great battle for the idea.
Aristocracy, like any other thing, must justify itself to mankind.
Aristocracy is good because it preserves a picture of human dignity in
a world where that dignity is often obscured by servile necessities.
Aristocracy alone can keep a certain high reticence of soul and body, a
certain noble distance between the sexes."

The Duke of Aylesbury, who had a clouded recollection of having squirted
soda-water down the neck of a Countess on the previous evening, looked
somewhat gloomy, as if lamenting the theoretic spirit of the Latin race.
The elder Duke laughed heartily, and said: "Well, well, you know; we
English are horribly practical. With us the great question is the land.
Out here in the country ... do you know this part?"

"Yes, yes," cried the Frenchmen eagerly. "I See what you mean. The
country! the old rustic life of humanity! A holy war upon the bloated
and filthy towns. What right have these anarchists to attack your
busy and prosperous countrysides? Have they not thriven under your
management? Are not the English villages always growing larger and gayer
under the enthusiastic leadership of their encouraging squires? Have you
not the Maypole? Have you not Merry England?"

The Duke of Aylesbury made a noise in his throat, and then said very
indistinctly: "They all go to London."

"All go to London?" repeated Pommard, with a blank stare. "Why?"

This time nobody answered, and Pommard had to attack again.

"The spirit of aristocracy is essentially opposed to the greed of the
industrial cities. Yet in France there are actually one or two nobles so
vile as to drive coal and gas trades, and drive them hard." The Duke of
Windsor looked at the carpet. The Duke of Aylesbury went and looked
out of the window. At length the latter said: "That's rather stiff, you
know. One has to look after one's own business in town as well."

"Do not say it," cried the little Frenchman, starting up. "I tell you
all Europe is one fight between business and honour. If we do not fight
for honour, who will? What other right have we poor two-legged sinners
to titles and quartered shields except that we staggeringly support some
idea of giving things which cannot be demanded and avoiding things which
cannot be punished? Our only claim is to be a wall across Christendom
against the Jew pedlars and pawnbrokers, against the Goldsteins and

The Duke of Aylesbury swung round with his hands in his pockets.

"Oh, I say," he said, "you've been readin' Lloyd George. Nobody but
dirty Radicals can say a word against Goldstein."

"I certainly cannot permit," said the elder Duke, rising rather shakily,
"the respected name of Lord Goldstein--"

He intended to be impressive, but there was something in the Frenchman's
eye that is not so easily impressed; there shone there that steel which
is the mind of France.

"Gentlemen," he said, "I think I have all the details now. You have
ruled England for four hundred years. By your own account you have not
made the countryside endurable to men. By your own account you have
helped the victory of vulgarity and smoke. And by your own account you
are hand and glove with those very money-grubbers and adventurers whom
gentlemen have no other business but to keep at bay. I do not know what
your people will do; but my people would kill you."

Some seconds afterwards he had left the Duke's house, and some hours
afterwards the Duke's estate.

The Glory of Grey

I suppose that, taking this summer as a whole, people will not call it
an appropriate time for praising the English climate. But for my part I
will praise the English climate till I die--even if I die of the English
climate. There is no weather so good as English weather. Nay, in a real
sense there is no weather at all anywhere but in England. In France you
have much sun and some rain; in Italy you have hot winds and cold winds;
in Scotland and Ireland you have rain, either thick or thin; in America
you have hells of heat and cold, and in the Tropics you have sunstrokes
varied by thunderbolts. But all these you have on a broad and brutal
scale, and you settle down into contentment or despair. Only in our own
romantic country do you have the strictly romantic thing called Weather;
beautiful and changing as a woman. The great English landscape painters
(neglected now like everything that is English) have this salient
distinction: that the Weather is not the atmosphere of their pictures;
it is the subject of their pictures. They paint portraits of the
Weather. The Weather sat to Constable. The Weather posed for Turner, and
a deuce of a pose it was. This cannot truly be said of the greatest of
their continental models or rivals. Poussin and Claude painted objects,
ancient cities or perfect Arcadian shepherds through a clear medium
of the climate. But in the English painters Weather is the hero; with
Turner an Adelphi hero, taunting, flashing and fighting, melodramatic
but really magnificent. The English climate, a tall and terrible
protagonist, robed in rain and thunder and snow and sunlight, fills the
whole canvas and the whole foreground. I admit the superiority of many
other French things besides French art. But I will not yield an inch on
the superiority of English weather and weather-painting. Why, the French
have not even got a word for Weather: and you must ask for the weather
in French as if you were asking for the time in English.

Then, again, variety of climate should always go with stability of
abode. The weather in the desert is monotonous; and as a natural
consequence the Arabs wander about, hoping it may be different
somewhere. But an Englishman's house is not only his castle; it is
his fairy castle. Clouds and colours of every varied dawn and eve are
perpetually touching and turning it from clay to gold, or from gold to
ivory. There is a line of woodland beyond a corner of my garden which
is literally different on every one of the three hundred and sixty-five
days. Sometimes it seems as near as a hedge, and sometimes as far as a
faint and fiery evening cloud. The same principle (by the way) applies
to the difficult problem of wives. Variability is one of the virtues
of a woman. It avoids the crude requirement of polygamy. So long as you
have one good wife you are sure to have a spiritual harem.

Now, among the heresies that are spoken in this matter is the habit of
calling a grey day a "colourless" day. Grey is a colour, and can be a
very powerful and pleasing colour. There is also an insulting style of
speech about "one grey day just like another" You might as well talk
about one green tree just like another. A grey clouded sky is indeed a
canopy between us and the sun; so is a green tree, if it comes to that.
But the grey umbrellas differ as much as the green in their style and
shape, in their tint and tilt. One day may be grey like steel, and
another grey like dove's plumage. One may seem grey like the deathly
frost, and another grey like the smoke of substantial kitchens. No
things could seem further apart than the doubt of grey and the decision
of scarlet. Yet grey and red can mingle, as they do in the morning
clouds: and also in a sort of warm smoky stone of which they build the
little towns in the west country. In those towns even the houses that
are wholly grey have a glow in them; as if their secret firesides were
such furnaces of hospitality as faintly to transfuse the walls like
walls of cloud. And wandering in those westland parts I did once really
find a sign-post pointing up a steep crooked path to a town that was
called Clouds. I did not climb up to it; I feared that either the town
would not be good enough for the name, or I should not be good enough
for the town. Anyhow, the little hamlets of the warm grey stone have
a geniality which is not achieved by all the artistic scarlet of the
suburbs; as if it were better to warm one's hands at the ashes of
Glastonbury than at the painted flames of Croydon.

Again, the enemies of grey (those astute, daring and evil-minded men)
are fond of bringing forward the argument that colours suffer in grey
weather, and that strong sunlight is necessary to all the hues of
heaven and earth. Here again there are two words to be said; and it is
essential to distinguish. It is true that sun is needed to burnish and
bring into bloom the tertiary and dubious colours; the colour of peat,
pea-soup, Impressionist sketches, brown velvet coats, olives, grey and
blue slates, the complexions of vegetarians, the tints of volcanic rock,
chocolate, cocoa, mud, soot, slime, old boots; the delicate shades of
these do need the sunlight to bring out the faint beauty that often
clings to them. But if you have a healthy negro taste in colour, if you
choke your garden with poppies and geraniums, if you paint your house
sky-blue and scarlet, if you wear, let us say, a golden top-hat and a
crimson frock-coat, you will not only be visible on the greyest day,
but you will notice that your costume and environment produce a certain
singular effect. You will find, I mean, that rich colours actually look
more luminous on a grey day, because they are seen against a sombre
background and seem to be burning with a lustre of their own. Against
a dark sky all flowers look like fireworks. There is something strange
about them, at once vivid and secret, like flowers traced in fire in the
phantasmal garden of a witch. A bright blue sky is necessarily the
high light of the picture; and its brightness kills all the bright blue
flowers. But on a grey day the larkspur looks like fallen heaven; the
red daisies are really the red lost eyes of day; and the sunflower is
the vice-regent of the sun.

Lastly, there is this value about the colour that men call colourless;
that it suggests in some way the mixed and troubled average of
existence, especially in its quality of strife and expectation and
promise. Grey is a colour that always seems on the eve of changing to
some other colour; of brightening into blue or blanching into white or
bursting into green and gold. So we may be perpetually reminded of the
indefinite hope that is in doubt itself; and when there is grey weather
in our hills or grey hairs in our heads, perhaps they may still remind
us of the morning.

The Anarchist

I have now lived for about two months in the country, and have gathered
the last rich autumnal fruit of a rural life, which is a strong desire
to see London. Artists living in my neighbourhood talk rapturously of
the rolling liberty of the landscape, the living peace of woods. But
I say to them (with a slight Buckinghamshire accent), "Ah, that is how
Cockneys feel. For us real old country people the country is reality; it
is the town that is romance. Nature is as plain as one of her pigs,
as commonplace, as comic, and as healthy. But civilization is full of
poetry, even if it be sometimes an evil poetry. The streets of London
are paved with gold; that is, with the very poetry of avarice." With
these typically bucolic words I touch my hat and go ambling away on a
stick, with a stiffness of gait proper to the Oldest Inhabitant; while
in my more animated moments I am taken for the Village Idiot. Exchanging
heavy but courteous salutations with other gaffers, I reach the station,
where I ask for a ticket for London where the king lives. Such a
journey, mingled of provincial fascination and fear, did I successfully
perform only a few days ago; and alone and helpless in the capital,
found myself in the tangle of roads around the Marble Arch.

A faint prejudice may possess the mind that I have slightly exaggerated
my rusticity and remoteness. And yet it is true as I came to that corner
of the Park that, for some unreasonable reason of mood, I saw all London
as a strange city and the civilization itself as one enormous whim. The
Marble Arch itself, in its new insular position, with traffic turning
dizzily all about it, struck me as a placid monstrosity. What could be
wilder than to have a huge arched gateway, with people going everywhere
except under it? If I took down my front door and stood it up all by
itself in the middle of my back garden, my village neighbours (in their
simplicity) would probably stare. Yet the Marble Arch is now precisely
that; an elaborate entrance and the only place by which no one can
enter. By the new arrangement its last weak pretence to be a gate has
been taken away. The cabman still cannot drive through it, but he can
have the delights of riding round it, and even (on foggy nights) the
rapture of running into it. It has been raised from the rank of a
fiction to the dignity of an obstacle.

As I began to walk across a corner of the Park, this sense of what is
strange in cities began to mingle with some sense of what is stern as
well as strange. It was one of those queer-coloured winter days when a
watery sky changes to pink and grey and green, like an enormous opal.
The trees stood up grey and angular, as if in attitudes of agony; and
here and there on benches under the trees sat men as grey and angular
as they. It was cold even for me, who had eaten a large breakfast and
purposed to eat a perfectly Gargantuan lunch; it was colder for the men
under the trees. And to eastward through the opalescent haze, the warmer
whites and yellows of the houses in Park-lane shone as unsubstantially
as if the clouds themselves had taken on the shape of mansions to mock
the men who sat there in the cold. But the mansions were real--like the

No one worth calling a man allows his moods to change his convictions;
but it is by moods that we understand other men's convictions. The bigot
is not he who knows he is right; every sane man knows he is right. The
bigot is he whose emotions and imagination are too cold and weak to feel
how it is that other men go wrong. At that moment I felt vividly how men
might go wrong, even unto dynamite. If one of those huddled men under
the trees had stood up and asked for rivers of blood, it would have been
erroneous--but not irrelevant. It would have been appropriate and in the
picture; that lurid grey picture of insolence on one side and impotence
on the other. It may be true (on the whole it is) that this social
machine we have made is better than anarchy. Still, it is a machine; and
we have made it. It does hold those poor men helpless: and it does lift
those rich men high... and such men--good Lord! By the time I flung
myself on a bench beside another man I was half inclined to try anarchy
for a change.

The other was of more prosperous appearance than most of the men on such
seats; still, he was not what one calls a gentleman, and had probably
worked at some time like a human being. He was a small, sharp-faced man,
with grave, staring eyes, and a beard somewhat foreign. His clothes
were black; respectable and yet casual; those of a man who dressed
conventionally because it was a bore to dress unconventionally--as it
is. Attracted by this and other things, and wanting an outburst for my
bitter social feelings, I tempted him into speech, first about the
cold, and then about the General Election. To this the respectable man

"Well, I don't belong to any party myself. I'm an Anarchist."

I looked up and almost expected fire from heaven. This coincidence was
like the end of the world. I had sat down feeling that somehow or other
Park-lane must be pulled down; and I had sat down beside the man who
wanted to pull it down. I bowed in silence for an instant under the
approaching apocalypse; and in that instant the man turned sharply and
started talking like a torrent.

"Understand me," he said. "Ordinary people think an Anarchist means a
man with a bomb in his pocket. Herbert Spencer was an Anarchist. But
for that fatal admission of his on page 793, he would be a complete
Anarchist. Otherwise, he agrees wholly with Pidge."

This was uttered with such blinding rapidity of syllabification as to
be a better test of teetotalism than the Scotch one of saying "Biblical
criticism" six times. I attempted to speak, but he began again with the
same rippling rapidity.

"You will say that Pidge also admits government in that tenth chapter
so easily misunderstood. Bolger has attacked Pidge on those lines. But
Bolger has no scientific training. Bolger is a psychometrist, but no
sociologist. To any one who has combined a study of Pidge with the
earlier and better discoveries of Kruxy, the fallacy is quite clear.
Bolger confounds social coercion with coercional social action."

His rapid rattling mouth shut quite tight suddenly, and he looked
steadily and triumphantly at me, with his head on one side. I opened my
mouth, and the mere motion seemed to sting him to fresh verbal leaps.

"Yes," he said, "that's all very well. The Finland Group has accepted
Bolger. But," he said, suddenly lifting a long finger as if to stop me,
"but--Pidge has replied. His pamphlet is published. He has proved that
Potential Social Rebuke is not a weapon of the true Anarchist. He has
shown that just as religious authority and political authority have
gone, so must emotional authority and psychological authority. He has

I stood up in a sort of daze. "I think you remarked," I said
feebly, "that the mere common populace do not quite understand
Anarchism"--"Quite so," he said with burning swiftness; "as I said, they
think any Anarchist is a man with a bomb, whereas--"

"But great heavens, man!" I said; "it's the man with the bomb that
I understand! I wish you had half his sense. What do I care how many
German dons tie themselves in knots about how this society began? My
only interest is about how soon it will end. Do you see those fat white
houses over in Park-lane, where your masters live?"

He assented and muttered something about concentrations of capital.

"Well," I said, "if the time ever comes when we all storm those
houses, will you tell me one thing? Tell me how we shall do it
without authority? Tell me how you will have an army of revolt without

For the first instant he was doubtful; and I had bidden him farewell,
and crossed the street again, when I saw him open his mouth and begin to
run after me. He had remembered something out of Pidge.

I escaped, however, and as I leapt on an omnibus I saw again the
enormous emblem of the Marble Arch. I saw that massive symbol of the
modern mind: a door with no house to it; the gigantic gate of Nowhere.

How I found the Superman

Readers of Mr. Bernard Shaw and other modern writers may be interested
to know that the Superman has been found. I found him; he lives in
South Croydon. My success will be a great blow to Mr. Shaw, who has been
following quite a false scent, and is now looking for the creature in
Blackpool; and as for Mr. Wells's notion of generating him out of gases
in a private laboratory, I always thought it doomed to failure. I assure
Mr. Wells that the Superman at Croydon was born in the ordinary way,
though he himself, of course, is anything but ordinary.

Nor are his parents unworthy of the wonderful being whom they have given
to the world. The name of Lady Hypatia Smythe-Browne (now Lady Hypatia
Hagg) will never be forgotten in the East End, where she did such
splendid social work. Her constant cry of "Save the children!" referred
to the cruel neglect of children's eyesight involved in allowing them
to play with crudely painted toys. She quoted unanswerable statistics
to prove that children allowed to look at violet and vermilion often
suffered from failing eyesight in their extreme old age; and it
was owing to her ceaseless crusade that the pestilence of the
Monkey-on-the-Stick was almost swept from Hoxton. The devoted worker
would tramp the streets untiringly, taking away the toys from all the
poor children, who were often moved to tears by her kindness. Her
good work was interrupted, partly by a new interest in the creed
of Zoroaster, and partly by a savage blow from an umbrella. It was
inflicted by a dissolute Irish apple-woman, who, on returning from some
orgy to her ill-kept apartment, found Lady Hypatia in the bedroom taking
down an oleograph, which, to say the least of it, could not really
elevate the mind. At this the ignorant and partly intoxicated Celt dealt
the social reformer a severe blow, adding to it an absurd accusation of
theft. The lady's exquisitely balanced mind received a shock, and it was
during a short mental illness that she married Dr. Hagg.

Of Dr. Hagg himself I hope there is no need to speak. Any one even
slightly acquainted with those daring experiments in Neo-Individualist
Eugenics, which are now the one absorbing interest of the English
democracy, must know his name and often commend it to the personal
protection of an impersonal power. Early in life he brought to bear that
ruthless insight into the history of religions which he had gained in
boyhood as an electrical engineer. Later he became one of our greatest
geologists; and achieved that bold and bright outlook upon the future of
Socialism which only geology can give. At first there seemed something
like a rift, a faint, but perceptible, fissure, between his views and
those of his aristocratic wife. For she was in favour (to use her own
powerful epigram) of protecting the poor against themselves; while he
declared pitilessly, in a new and striking metaphor, that the weakest
must go to the wall. Eventually, however, the married pair perceived
an essential union in the unmistakably modern character of both their
views, and in this enlightening and intelligible formula their souls
found peace. The result is that this union of the two highest types of
our civilization, the fashionable lady and the all but vulgar medical
man, has been blessed by the birth of the Superman, that being whom all
the labourers in Battersea are so eagerly expecting night and day.

I found the house of Dr. and Lady Hypatia Hagg without much difficulty;
it is situated in one of the last straggling streets of Croydon,
and overlooked by a line of poplars. I reached the door towards the
twilight, and it was natural that I should fancifully see something dark
and monstrous in the dim bulk of that house which contained the creature
who was more marvellous than the children of men. When I entered the
house I was received with exquisite courtesy by Lady Hypatia and her
husband; but I found much greater difficulty in actually seeing the
Superman, who is now about fifteen years old, and is kept by himself in
a quiet room. Even my conversation with the father and mother did not
quite clear up the character of this mysterious being. Lady Hypatia,
who has a pale and poignant face, and is clad in those impalpable and
pathetic greys and greens with which she has brightened so many homes in
Hoxton, did not appear to talk of her offspring with any of the vulgar
vanity of an ordinary human mother. I took a bold step and asked if the
Superman was nice looking.

"He creates his own standard, you see," she replied, with a slight sigh.
"Upon that plane he is more than Apollo. Seen from our lower plane, of
course--" And she sighed again.

I had a horrible impulse, and said suddenly, "Has he got any hair?"

There was a long and painful silence, and then Dr. Hagg said smoothly:
"Everything upon that plane is different; what he has got is not...
well, not, of course, what we call hair... but--"

"Don't you think," said his wife, very softly, "don't you think that
really, for the sake of argument, when talking to the mere public, one
might call it hair?"

"Perhaps you are right," said the doctor after a few moments'
reflection. "In connexion with hair like that one must speak in

"Well, what on earth is it," I asked in some irritation, "if it isn't
hair? Is it feathers?"

"Not feathers, as we understand feathers," answered Hagg in an awful

I got up in some irritation. "Can I see him, at any rate?" I asked.
"I am a journalist, and have no earthly motives except curiosity and
personal vanity. I should like to say that I had shaken hands with the

The husband and wife had both got heavily to their feet, and stood,
embarrassed. "Well, of course, you know," said Lady Hypatia, with the
really charming smile of the aristocratic hostess. "You know he can't
exactly shake hands... not hands, you know.... The structure, of

I broke out of all social bounds, and rushed at the door of the room
which I thought to contain the incredible creature. I burst it open; the
room was pitch dark. But from in front of me came a small sad yelp, and
from behind me a double shriek.

"You have done it, now!" cried Dr. Hagg, burying his bald brow in his
hands. "You have let in a draught on him; and he is dead."

As I walked away from Croydon that night I saw men in black carrying
out a coffin that was not of any human shape. The wind wailed above me,
whirling the poplars, so that they drooped and nodded like the plumes of
some cosmic funeral. "It is, indeed," said Dr. Hagg, "the whole universe
weeping over the frustration of its most magnificent birth." But I
thought that there was a hoot of laughter in the high wail of the wind.

The New House

Within a stone's throw of my house they are building another house. I am
glad they are building it, and I am glad it is within a stone's throw;
quite well within it, with a good catapult. Nevertheless, I have not
yet cast the first stone at the new house--not being, strictly speaking,
guiltless myself in the matter of new houses. And, indeed, in such
cases there is a strong protest to be made. The whole curse of the last
century has been what is called the Swing of the Pendulum; that is the
idea that Man must go alternately from one extreme to the other. It is a
shameful and even shocking fancy; it is the denial of the whole dignity
of mankind. When Man is alive he stands still. It is only when he is
dead that he swings. But whenever one meets modern thinkers (as one
often does) progressing towards a madhouse, one always finds, on
inquiry, that they have just had a splendid escape from another
madhouse. Thus, hundreds of people become Socialists, not because they
have tried Socialism and found it nice, but because they have tried
Individualism and found it particularly nasty. Thus, many embrace
Christian Science solely because they are quite sick of heathen science;
they are so tired of believing that everything is matter that they will
even take refuge in the revolting fable that everything is mind. Man
ought to march somewhere. But modern man (in his sick reaction) is ready
to march nowhere--so long as it is the Other End of Nowhere.

The case of building houses is a strong instance of this. Early in
the nineteenth century our civilization chose to abandon the Greek and
medieval idea of a town, with walls, limited and defined, with a temple
for faith and a market-place for politics; and it chose to let the city
grow like a jungle with blind cruelty and bestial unconsciousness; so
that London and Liverpool are the great cities we now see. Well, people
have reacted against that; they have grown tired of living in a city
which is as dark and barbaric as a forest only not as beautiful, and
there has been an exodus into the country of those who could afford it,
and some I could name who can't. Now, as soon as this quite rational
recoil occurred, it flew at once to the opposite extreme. People went
about with beaming faces, boasting that they were twenty-three miles
from a station. Rubbing their hands, they exclaimed in rollicking
asides that their butcher only called once a month, and that their baker
started out with fresh hot loaves which were quite stale before they
reached the table. A man would praise his little house in a quiet
valley, but gloomily admit (with a slight shake of the head) that a
human habitation on the distant horizon was faintly discernible on
a clear day. Rival ruralists would quarrel about which had the most
completely inconvenient postal service; and there were many jealous
heartburnings if one friend found out any uncomfortable situation which
the other friend had thoughtlessly overlooked.

In the feverish summer of this fanaticism there arose the phrase that
this or that part of England is being "built over." Now, there is not
the slightest objection, in itself, to England being built over by men,
any more than there is to its being (as it is already) built over by
birds, or by squirrels, or by spiders. But if birds' nests were so thick
on a tree that one could see nothing but nests and no leaves at all,
I should say that bird civilization was becoming a bit decadent. If
whenever I tried to walk down the road I found the whole thoroughfare
one crawling carpet of spiders, closely interlocked, I should feel
a distress verging on distaste. If one were at every turn crowded,
elbowed, overlooked, overcharged, sweated, rack-rented, swindled,
and sold up by avaricious and arrogant squirrels, one might at last
remonstrate. But the great towns have grown intolerable solely because
of such suffocating vulgarities and tyrannies. It is not humanity that
disgusts us in the huge cities; it is inhumanity. It is not that there
are human beings; but that they are not treated as such. We do not, I
hope, dislike men and women; we only dislike their being made into a
sort of jam: crushed together so that they are not merely powerless but
shapeless. It is not the presence of people that makes London appalling.
It is merely the absence of The People.

Therefore, I dance with joy to think that my part of England is being
built over, so long as it is being built over in a human way at human
intervals and in a human proportion. So long, in short, as I am not
myself built over, like a pagan slave buried in the foundations of a
temple, or an American clerk in a star-striking pagoda of flats, I am
delighted to see the faces and the homes of a race of bipeds, to which
I am not only attracted by a strange affection, but to which also (by a
touching coincidence) I actually happen to belong. I am not one desiring
deserts. I am not Timon of Athens; if my town were Athens I would stay
in it. I am not Simeon Stylites; except in the mournful sense that every
Saturday I find myself on the top of a newspaper column. I am not in
the desert repenting of some monstrous sins; at least, I am repenting of
them all right, but not in the desert. I do not want the nearest human
house to be too distant to see; that is my objection to the wilderness.
But neither do I want the nearest human house to be too close to see;
that is my objection to the modern city. I love my fellow-man; I do not
want him so far off that I can only observe anything of him through a
telescope, nor do I want him so close that I can examine parts of him
with a microscope. I want him within a stone's throw of me; so that
whenever it is really necessary, I may throw the stone.

Perhaps, after all, it may not be a stone. Perhaps, after all, it may be
a bouquet, or a snowball, or a firework, or a Free Trade Loaf; perhaps
they will ask for a stone and I shall give them bread. But it is
essential that they should be within reach: how can I love my neighbour
as myself if he gets out of range for snowballs? There should be no
institution out of the reach of an indignant or admiring humanity. I
could hit the nearest house quite well with the catapult; but the
truth is that the catapult belongs to a little boy I know, and, with
characteristic youthful 'selfishness, he has taken it away.

The Wings of Stone

The preceding essay is about a half-built house upon my private horizon;
I wrote it sitting in a garden-chair; and as, though it was a week
ago, I have scarcely moved since then (to speak of), I do not see why
I should not go on writing about it. Strictly speaking, I have moved; I
have even walked across a field--a field of turf all fiery in our early
summer sunlight--and studied the early angular red skeleton which has
turned golden in the sun. It is odd that the skeleton of a house is
cheerful when the skeleton of a man is mournful, since we only see it
after the man is destroyed. At least, we think the skeleton is mournful;
the skeleton himself does not seem to think so. Anyhow, there is
something strangely primary and poetic about this sight of the
scaffolding and main lines of a human building; it is a pity there is
no scaffolding round a human baby. One seems to see domestic life as
the daring and ambitious thing that it is, when one looks at those open
staircases and empty chambers, those spirals of wind and open halls of
sky. Ibsen said that the art of domestic drama was merely to knock one
wall out of the four walls of a drawing-room. I find the drawing-room
even more impressive when all four walls are knocked out.

I have never understood what people mean by domesticity being tame; it
seems to me one of the wildest of adventures. But if you wish to see
how high and harsh and fantastic an adventure it is, consider only the
actual structure of a house itself. A man may march up in a rather bored
way to bed; but at least he is mounting to a height from which he could
kill himself. Every rich, silent, padded staircase, with banisters of
oak, stair-rods of brass, and busts and settees on every landing, every
such staircase is truly only an awful and naked ladder running up into
the Infinite to a deadly height. The millionaire who stumps up inside
the house is really doing the same thing as the tiler or roof-mender who
climbs up outside the house; they are both mounting up into the void.
They are both making an escalade of the intense inane. Each is a sort
of domestic mountaineer; he is reaching a point from which mere idle
falling will kill a man; and life is always worth living while men feel
that they may die.

I cannot understand people at present making such a fuss about flying
ships and aviation, when men ever since Stonehenge and the Pyramids
have done something so much more wild than flying. A grasshopper can go
astonishingly high up in the air, his biological limitation and weakness
is that he cannot stop there. Hosts of unclean birds and crapulous
insects can pass through the sky, but they cannot pass any communication
between it and the earth. But the army of man has advanced vertically
into infinity, and not been cut off. It can establish outposts in the
ether, and yet keep open behind it its erect and insolent road. It would
be grand (as in Jules Verne) to fire a cannon-ball at the moon; but
would it not be grander to build a railway to the moon? Yet every
building of brick or wood is a hint of that high railroad; every chimney
points to some star, and every tower is a Tower of Babel. Man rising on
these awful and unbroken wings of stone seems to me more majestic and
more mystic than man fluttering for an instant on wings of canvas and
sticks of steel. How sublime and, indeed, almost dizzy is the thought of
these veiled ladders on which we all live, like climbing monkeys! Many a
black-coated clerk in a flat may comfort himself for his sombre garb by
reflecting that he is like some lonely rook in an immemorial elm. Many
a wealthy bachelor on the top floor of a pile of mansions should look
forth at morning and try (if possible) to feel like an eagle whose
nest just clings to the edge of some awful cliff. How sad that the
word "giddy" is used to imply wantonness or levity! It should be a high
compliment to a man's exalted spirituality and the imagination to say he
is a little giddy.

I strolled slowly back across the stretch of turf by the sunset, a field
of the cloth of gold. As I drew near my own house, its huge size began
to horrify me; and when I came to the porch of it I discovered with an
incredulity as strong as despair that my house was actually bigger than
myself. A minute or two before there might well have seemed to be a
monstrous and mythical competition about which of the two should swallow
the other. But I was Jonah; my house was the huge and hungry fish; and
even as its jaws darkened and closed about me I had again this dreadful
fancy touching the dizzy altitude of all the works of man. I climbed the
stairs stubbornly, planting each foot with savage care, as if ascending
a glacier. When I got to a landing I was wildly relieved, and waved my
hat. The very word "landing" has about it the wild sound of some one
washed up by the sea. I climbed each flight like a ladder in naked sky.
The walls all round me failed and faded into infinity; I went up the
ladder to my bedroom as Montrose went up the ladder to the gallows; sic
itur ad astro. Do you think this is a little fantastic--even a little
fearful and nervous? Believe me, it is only one of the wild and
wonderful things that one can learn by stopping at home.

The Three Kinds of Men

Roughly speaking, there are three kinds of people in this world. The
first kind of people are People; they are the largest and probably the
most valuable class. We owe to this class the chairs we sit down on,
the clothes we wear, the houses we live in; and, indeed (when we come
to think of it), we probably belong to this class ourselves. The second
class may be called for convenience the Poets; they are often a nuisance
to their families, but, generally speaking, a blessing to mankind.
The third class is that of the Professors or Intellectuals; sometimes
described as the thoughtful people; and these are a blight and a
desolation both to their families and also to mankind. Of course, the
classification sometimes overlaps, like all classification. Some good
people are almost poets and some bad poets are almost professors. But
the division follows lines of real psychological cleavage. I do not
offer it lightly. It has been the fruit of more than eighteen minutes of
earnest reflection and research.

The class called People (to which you and I, with no little pride,
attach ourselves) has certain casual, yet profound, assumptions, which
are called "commonplaces," as that children are charming, or that
twilight is sad and sentimental, or that one man fighting three is a
fine sight. Now, these feelings are not crude; they are not even simple.
The charm of children is very subtle; it is even complex, to the extent
of being almost contradictory. It is, at its very plainest, mingled of
a regard for hilarity and a regard for helplessness. The sentiment of
twilight, in the vulgarest drawing-room song or the coarsest pair of
sweethearts, is, so far as it goes, a subtle sentiment. It is strangely
balanced between pain and pleasure; it might also be called pleasure
tempting pain. The plunge of impatient chivalry by which we all admire a
man fighting odds is not at all easy to define separately, it means
many things, pity, dramatic surprise, a desire for justice, a delight in
experiment and the indeterminate. The ideas of the mob are really very
subtle ideas; but the mob does not express them subtly. In fact, it does
not express them at all, except on those occasions (now only too rare)
when it indulges in insurrection and massacre.

Now, this accounts for the otherwise unreasonable fact of the existence
of Poets. Poets are those who share these popular sentiments, but can so
express them that they prove themselves the strange and delicate things
that they really are. Poets draw out the shy refinement of the rabble.
Where the common man covers the queerest emotions by saying, "Rum
little kid," Victor Hugo will write "L'art d'etre grand-pere"; where the
stockbroker will only say abruptly, "Evenings closing in now," Mr.
Yeats will write "Into the twilight"; where the navvy can only mutter
something about pluck and being "precious game," Homer will show you the
hero in rags in his own hall defying the princes at their banquet. The
Poets carry the popular sentiments to a keener and more splendid pitch;
but let it always be remembered that it is the popular sentiments
that they are carrying. No man ever wrote any good poetry to show that
childhood was shocking, or that twilight was gay and farcical, or that a
man was contemptible because he had crossed his single sword with three.
The people who maintain this are the Professors, or Prigs.

The Poets are those who rise above the people by understanding them. Of
course, most of the Poets wrote in prose--Rabelais, for instance, and
Dickens. The Prigs rise above the people by refusing to understand them:
by saying that all their dim, strange preferences are prejudices and
superstitions. The Prigs make the people feel stupid; the Poets make the
people feel wiser than they could have imagined that they were. There
are many weird elements in this situation. The oddest of all perhaps is
the fate of the two factors in practical politics. The Poets who embrace
and admire the people are often pelted with stones and crucified. The
Prigs who despise the people are often loaded with lands and crowned. In
the House of Commons, for instance, there are quite a number of prigs,
but comparatively few poets. There are no People there at all.

By poets, as I have said, I do not mean people who write poetry, or
indeed people who write anything. I mean such people as, having culture
and imagination, use them to understand and share the feelings of their
fellows; as against those who use them to rise to what they call a
higher plane. Crudely, the poet differs from the mob by his sensibility;
the professor differs from the mob by his insensibility. He has not
sufficient finesse and sensitiveness to sympathize with the mob.
His only notion is coarsely to contradict it, to cut across it, in
accordance with some egotistical plan of his own; to tell himself that,
whatever the ignorant say, they are probably wrong. He forgets that
ignorance often has the exquisite intuitions of innocence.

Let me take one example which may mark out the outline of the
contention. Open the nearest comic paper and let your eye rest lovingly
upon a joke about a mother-in-law. Now, the joke, as presented for the
populace, will probably be a simple joke; the old lady will be tall and
stout, the hen-pecked husband will be small and cowering. But for all
that, a mother-in-law is not a simple idea. She is a very subtle idea.
The problem is not that she is big and arrogant; she is frequently
little and quite extraordinarily nice. The problem of the mother-in-law
is that she is like the twilight: half one thing and half another. Now,
this twilight truth, this fine and even tender embarrassment, might be
rendered, as it really is, by a poet, only here the poet would have to
be some very penetrating and sincere novelist, like George Meredith,
or Mr. H. G. Wells, whose "Ann Veronica" I have just been reading with
delight. I would trust the fine poets and novelists because they follow
the fairy clue given them in Comic Cuts. But suppose the Professor
appears, and suppose he says (as he almost certainly will), "A
mother-in-law is merely a fellow-citizen. Considerations of sex should
not interfere with comradeship. Regard for age should not influence
the intellect. A mother-in-law is merely Another Mind. We should free
ourselves from these tribal hierarchies and degrees." Now, when the
Professor says this (as he always does), I say to him, "Sir, you are
coarser than Comic Cuts. You are more vulgar and blundering than the
most elephantine music-hall artiste. You are blinder and grosser than
the mob. These vulgar knockabouts have, at least, got hold of a social
shade and real mental distinction, though they can only express it
clumsily. You are so clumsy that you cannot get hold of it at all. If
you really cannot see that the bridegroom's mother and the bride have
any reason for constraint or diffidence, then you are neither polite nor
humane: you have no sympathy in you for the deep and doubtful hearts of
human folk." It is better even to put the difficulty as the vulgar put
it than to be pertly unconscious of the difficulty altogether.

The same question might be considered well enough in the old proverb
that two is company and three is none. This proverb is the truth put
popularly: that is, it is the truth put wrong. Certainly it is untrue
that three is no company. Three is splendid company: three is the ideal
number for pure comradeship: as in the Three Musketeers. But if you
reject the proverb altogether; if you say that two and three are the
same sort of company; if you cannot see that there is a wider abyss
between two and three than between three and three million--then I
regret to inform you that you belong to the Third Class of human beings;
that you shall have no company either of two or three, but shall be
alone in a howling desert till you die.

The Steward of the Chiltern Hundreds

The other day on a stray spur of the Chiltern Hills I climbed up upon
one of those high, abrupt, windy churchyards from which the dead seem
to look down upon all the living. It was a mountain of ghosts as Olympus
was a mountain of gods. In that church lay the bones of great Puritan
lords, of a time when most of the power of England was Puritan, even of
the Established Church. And below these uplifted bones lay the huge
and hollow valleys of the English countryside, where the motors went by
every now and then like meteors, where stood out in white squares and
oblongs in the chequered forest many of the country seats even of
those same families now dulled with wealth or decayed with Toryism. And
looking over that deep green prospect on that luminous yellow evening, a
lovely and austere thought came into my mind, a thought as beautiful as
the green wood and as grave as the tombs. The thought was this: that
I should like to go into Parliament, quarrel with my party, accept the
Stewardship of the Chiltern Hundreds, and then refuse to give it up.

We are so proud in England of our crazy constitutional anomalies that
I fancy that very few readers indeed will need to be told about the
Steward of the Chiltern Hundreds. But in case there should be here or
there one happy man who has never heard of such twisted tomfooleries,
I will rapidly remind you what this legal fiction is. As it is quite a
voluntary, sometimes even an eager, affair to get into Parliament, you
would naturally suppose that it would be also a voluntary matter to get
out again. You would think your fellow-members would be indifferent, or
even relieved to see you go; especially as (by another exercise of the
shrewd, illogical old English common sense) they have carefully built
the room too small for the people who have to sit in it. But not so,
my pippins, as it says in the "Iliad." If you are merely a member of
Parliament (Lord knows why) you can't resign. But if you are a Minister
of the Crown (Lord knows why) you can. It is necessary to get into the
Ministry in order to get out of the House; and they have to give you
some office that doesn't exist or that nobody else wants and thus
unlock the door. So you go to the Prime Minister, concealing your air of
fatigue, and say, "It has been the ambition of my life to be Steward of
the Chiltern Hundreds." The Prime Minister then replies, "I can imagine
no man more fitted both morally and mentally for that high office." He
then gives it you, and you hurriedly leave, reflecting how the republics
of the Continent reel anarchically to and fro for lack of a little solid
English directness and simplicity.

Now, the thought that struck me like a thunderbolt as I sat on the
Chiltern slope was that I would like to get the Prime Minister to give
me the Chiltern Hundreds, and then startle and disturb him by showing
the utmost interest in my work. I should profess a general knowledge of
my duties, but wish to be instructed in the details. I should ask to see
the Under-Steward and the Under-Under-Steward, and all the fine staff
of experienced permanent officials who are the glory of this department.
And, indeed, my enthusiasm would not be wholly unreal. For as far as I
can recollect the original duties of a Steward of the Chiltern Hundreds
were to put down the outlaws and brigands in that part of the world.
Well, there are a great many outlaws and brigands in that part of the
world still, and though their methods have so largely altered as to
require a corresponding alteration in the tactics of the Steward, I do
not see why an energetic and public-spirited Steward should not nab them

For the robbers have not vanished from the old high forests to the west
of the great city. The thieves have not vanished; they have grown so
large that they are invisible. You do not see the word "Asia" written
across a map of that neighbourhood; nor do you see the word "Thief"
written across the countrysides of England; though it is really written
in equally large letters. I know men governing despotically great
stretches of that country, whose every step in life has been such that a
slip would have sent them to Dartmoor; but they trod along the high
hard wall between right and wrong, the wall as sharp as a swordedge, as
softly and craftily and lightly as a cat. The vastness of their silent
violence itself obscured what they were at; if they seem to stand for
the rights of property it is really because they have so often invaded
them. And if they do not break the laws, it is only because they make

But after all we only need a Steward of the Chiltern Hundreds who really
understands cats and thieves. Men hunt one animal differently from
another; and the rich could catch swindlers as dexterously as they catch
otters or antlered deer if they were really at all keen upon doing it.
But then they never have an uncle with antlers; nor a personal friend
who is an otter. When some of the great lords that lie in the churchyard
behind me went out against their foes in those deep woods beneath I
wager that they had bows against the bows of the outlaws, and spears
against the spears of the robber knights. They knew what they were
about; they fought the evildoers of their age with the weapons of
their age. If the same common sense were applied to commercial law, in
forty-eight hours it would be all over with the American Trusts and
the African forward finance. But it will not be done: for the governing
class either does not care, or cares very much, for the criminals,
and as for me, I had a delusive opportunity of being Constable of
Beaconsfield (with grossly inadequate powers), but I fear I shall never
really be Steward of the Chiltern Hundreds.

The Field of Blood

In my daily paper this morning I read the following interesting
paragraphs, which take my mind back to an England which I do not
remember and which, therefore (perhaps), I admire.

"Nearly sixty years ago--on 4 September, 1850--the Austrian General
Haynau, who had gained an unenviable fame throughout the world by his
ferocious methods in suppressing the Hungarian revolution in 1849, while
on a visit to this country, was belaboured in the streets of London by
the draymen of Messrs. Barclay, Perkins and Co., whose brewery he had
just inspected in company of an adjutant. Popular delight was so
great that the Government of the time did not dare to prosecute the
assailants, and the General--the 'women-flogger,' as he was called by
the people--had to leave these shores without remedy.

"He returned to his own country and settled upon his estate at Szekeres,
which is close to the commune above-mentioned. By his will the estate
passed to his daughter, after whose death it was to be presented to the
commune. This daughter has just died, but the Communal Council, after
much deliberation, has declined to accept the gift, and ordered that
the estate should be left to fall out of cultivation, and be called the
'Bloody Meadow.'"

Now that is an example of how things happen under an honest democratical
impulse. I do not dwell specially on the earlier part of the story,
though the earlier part of the story is astonishingly interesting.
It recalls the days when Englishmen were potential lighters; that is,
potential rebels. It is not for lack of agonies of intellectual anger:
the Sultan and the late King Leopold have been denounced as heartily as
General Haynau. But I doubt if they would have been physically thrashed
in the London streets.

It is not the tyrants that are lacking, but the draymen. Nevertheless,
it is not upon the historic heroes of Barclay, Perkins and Co. that
I build all my hope. Fine as it was, it was not a full and perfect
revolution. A brewer's drayman beating an eminent European General
with a stick, though a singularly bright and pleasing vision, is not
a complete one. Only when the brewer's drayman beats the brewer with
a stick shall we see the clear and radiant sunrise of British
self-government. The fun will really start when we begin to thump the
oppressors of England as well as the oppressors of Hungary. It is,
however, a definite decline in the spiritual character of draymen that
now they can thump neither one nor the other.

But, as I have already suggested, my real quarrel is not about the first
part of the extract, but about the second. Whether or no the draymen
of Barclay and Perkins have degenerated, the Commune which includes
Szekeres has not degenerated. By the way, the Commune which includes
Szekeres is called Kissekeres; I trust that this frank avowal will
excuse me from the necessity of mentioning either of these places again
by name. The Commune is still capable of performing direct democratic
actions, if necessary, with a stick.

I say with a stick, not with sticks, for that is the whole argument
about democracy. A people is a soul; and if you want to know what a soul
is, I can only answer that it is something that can sin and that can
sacrifice itself. A people can commit theft; a people can confess theft;
a people can repent of theft. That is the idea of the republic. Now,
most modern people have got into their heads the idea that democracies
are dull, drifting things, a mere black swarm or slide of clerks to
their accustomed doom. In most modern novels and essays it is insisted
(by way of contrast) that a walking gentleman may have ad-ventures as he
walks. It is insisted that an aristocrat can commit crimes, because an
aristocrat always cultivates liberty. But, in truth, a people can have
adventures, as Israel did crawling through the desert to the promised
land. A people can do heroic deeds; a people can commit crimes; the
French people did both in the Revolution; the Irish people have done
both in their much purer and more honourable progress.

But the real answer to this aristocratic argument which seeks to
identify democracy with a drab utilitarianism may be found in action
such as that of the Hungarian Commune--whose name I decline to repeat.
This Commune did just one of those acts that prove that a separate
people has a separate personality; it threw something away. A man can
throw a bank note into the fire. A man can fling a sack of corn into the
river. The bank-note may be burnt as a satisfaction of some scruple; the
corn may be destroyed as a sacrifice to some god. But whenever there is
sacrifice we know there is a single will. Men may be disputatious and
doubtful, may divide by very narrow majorities in their debate about
how to gain wealth. But men have to be uncommonly unanimous in order to
refuse wealth. It wants a very complete committee to burn a bank note in
the office grate. It needs a highly religious tribe really to throw
corn into the river. This self-denial is the test and definition of

I wish I could feel certain that any English County Council or Parish
Council would be single enough to make that strong gesture of a romantic
refusal; could say, "No rents shall be raised from this spot; no grain
shall grow in this spot; no good shall come of this spot; it shall
remain sterile for a sign." But I am afraid they might answer, like the
eminent sociologist in the story, that it was "wiste of spice."

The Strangeness of Luxury

It is an English misfortune that what is called "public spirit" is so
often a very private spirit; the legitimate but strictly individual
ideals of this or that person who happens to have the power to carry
them out. When these private principles are held by very rich people,
the result is often the blackest and most repulsive kind of despotism,
which is benevolent despotism. Obviously it is the public which ought
to have public spirit. But in this country and at this epoch this is
exactly what it has not got. We shall have a public washhouse and a
public kitchen long before we have a public spirit; in fact, if we had a
public spirit we might very probably do without the other things. But if
England were properly and naturally governed by the English, one of the
first results would probably be this: that our standard of excess or
defect in property would be changed from that of the plutocrat to that
of the moderately needy man. That is, that while property might be
strictly respected, everything that is necessary to a clerk would be
felt and considered on quite a different plane from anything which is a
very great luxury to a clerk. This sane distinction of sentiment is
not instinctive at present, because our standard of life is that of the
governing class, which is eternally turning luxuries into necessities
as fast as pork is turned into sausages; and which cannot remember the
beginning of its needs and cannot get to the end of its novelties.

Take, for the sake of argument, the case of the motor. Doubtless the
duke now feels it as necessary to have a motor as to have a roof, and in
a little while he may feel it equally necessary to have a flying ship.
But this does not prove (as the reactionary sceptics always argue) that
a motor really is just as necessary as a roof. It only proves that a man
can get used to an artificial life: it does not prove that there is no
natural life for him to get used to. In the broad bird's-eye view of
common sense there abides a huge disproportion between the need for a
roof and the need for an aeroplane; and no rush of inventions can ever
alter it. The only difference is that things are now judged by the
abnormal needs, when they might be judged merely by the normal needs.
The best aristocrat sees the situation from an aeroplane. The good
citizen, in his loftiest moments, goes no further than seeing it from
the roof.

It is not true that luxury is merely relative. It is not true that it
is only an expensive novelty which we may afterwards come to think a
necessity. Luxury has a firm philosophical meaning; and where there is
a real public spirit luxury is generally allowed for, sometimes rebuked,
but always recognized instantly. To the healthy soul there is something
in the very nature of certain pleasures which warns us that they
are exceptions, and that if they become rules they will become very
tyrannical rules.

Take a harassed seamstress out of the Harrow Road and give her one
lightning hour in a motorcar, and she will probably feel it as
splendid, but strange, rare, and even terrible. But this is not (as the
relativists say) merely because she has never been in a car before. She
has never been in the middle of a Somerset cowslip meadow before; but if
you put her there she does not think it terrifying or extraordinary,
but merely pleasant and free and a little lonely. She does not think the
motor monstrous because it is new. She thinks it monstrous because she
has eyes in her head; she thinks it monstrous because it is monstrous.
That is, her mothers and grandmothers, and the whole race by whose life
she lives, have had, as a matter of fact, a roughly recognizable mode of
living; sitting in a green field was a part of it; travelling as quick
as a cannon ball was not. And we should not look down on the seamstress
because she mechanically emits a short sharp scream whenever the motor
begins to move. On the contrary, we ought to look up to the seamstress,
and regard her cry as a kind of mystic omen or revelation of nature, as
the old Goths used to consider the howls emitted by chance females when
annoyed. For that ritual yell is really a mark of moral health--of swift
response to the stimulations and changes of life. The seamstress is
wiser than all the learned ladies, precisely because she can still feel
that a motor is a different sort of thing from a meadow. By the accident
of her economic imprisonment it is even possible that she may have
seen more of the former than the latter. But this has not shaken her
cyclopean sagacity as to which is the natural thing and which the
artificial. If not for her, at least for humanity as a whole, there
is little doubt about which is the more normally attainable. It is
considerably cheaper to sit in a meadow and see motors go by than to sit
in a motor and see meadows go by.

To me personally, at least, it would never seem needful to own a motor,
any more than to own an avalanche. An avalanche, if you have luck, I am
told, is a very swift, successful, and thrilling way of coming down a
hill. It is distinctly more stirring, say, than a glacier, which moves
an inch in a hundred years. But I do not divide these pleasures either
by excitement or convenience, but by the nature of the thing itself. It
seems human to have a horse or bicycle, because it seems human to potter
about; and men cannot work horses, nor can bicycles work men, enormously
far afield of their ordinary haunts and affairs.

But about motoring there is something magical, like going to the moon;
and I say the thing should be kept exceptional and felt as something
breathless and bizarre. My ideal hero would own his horse, but would
have the moral courage to hire his motor. Fairy tales are the only sound
guidebooks to life; I like the Fairy Prince to ride on a white pony
out of his father's stables, which are of ivory and gold. But if in the
course of his adventures he finds it necessary to travel on a flaming
dragon, I think he ought to give the dragon back to the witch at the end
of the story. It is a mistake to have dragons about the place.

For there is truly an air of something weird about luxury; and it is by
this that healthy human nature has always smelt and suspected it. All
romances that deal in extreme luxury, from the "Arabian Nights" to the
novels of Ouida and Disraeli, have, it may be noted, a singular air of
dream and occasionally of nightmare. In such imaginative debauches there
is something as occasional as intoxication; if that is still counted
occasional. Life in those preposterous palaces would be an agony of
dullness; it is clear we are meant to visit them only as in a flying
vision. And what is true of the old freaks of wealth, flavour and fierce
colour and smell, I would say also of the new freak of wealth, which is
speed. I should say to the duke, when I entered his house at the head of
an armed mob, "I do not object to your having exceptional pleasures, if
you have them exceptionally. I do not mind your enjoying the strange and
alien energies of science, if you feel them strange and alien, and not
your own. But in condemning you (under the Seventeenth Section of the
Eighth Decree of the Republic) to hire a motor-car twice a year at
Margate, I am not the enemy of your luxuries, but, rather, the protector
of them."

That is what I should say to the duke. As to what the duke would say to
me, that is another matter, and may well be deferred.

The Triumph of the Donkey

Doubtless the unsympathetic might state my doctrine that one should not
own a motor like a horse, but rather use it like a flying dragon in the
simpler form that I will always go motoring in somebody else's car. My
favourite modern philosopher (Mr. W. W. Jacobs) describes a similar case
of spiritual delicacy misunderstood. I have not the book at hand, but
I think that Job Brown was reproaching Bill Chambers for wasteful
drunkenness, and Henery Walker spoke up for Bill, and said he scarcely
ever had a glass but what somebody else paid for it, and there was
"unpleasantness all round then."

Being less sensitive than Bill Chambers (or whoever it was) I will
risk this rude perversion of my meaning, and concede that I was in a
motor-car yesterday, and the motor-car most certainly was not my own,
and the journey, though it contained nothing that is specially unusual
on such journeys, had running through it a strain of the grotesque which
was at once wholesome and humiliating. The symbol of that influence was
that ancient symbol of the humble and humorous--a donkey.

When first I saw the donkey I saw him in the sunlight as the unearthly
gargoyle that he is. My friend had met me in his car (I repeat firmly,
in his car) at the little painted station in the middle of the warm wet
woods and hop-fields of that western country. He proposed to drive me
first to his house beyond the village before starting for a longer spin
of adventure, and we rattled through those rich green lanes which have
in them something singularly analogous to fairy tales: whether the lanes
produced the fairies or (as I believe) the fairies produced the lanes.
All around in the glimmering hop-yards stood those little hop-kilns like
stunted and slanting spires. They look like dwarfish churches--in fact,
rather like many modern churches I could mention, churches all of them
small and each of them a little crooked. In this elfin atmosphere we
swung round a sharp corner and half-way up a steep, white hill, and
saw what looked at first like a tall, black monster against the sun. It
appeared to be a dark and dreadful woman walking on wheels and waving
long ears like a bat's. A second glance told me that she was not the
local witch in a state of transition; she was only one of the million
tricks of perspective. She stood up in a small wheeled cart drawn by a
donkey; the donkey's ears were just set behind her head, and the whole
was black against the light.

Perspective is really the comic element in everything. It has a pompous
Latin name, but it is incurably Gothic and grotesque. One simple proof
of this is that it is always left out of all dignified and decorative
art. There is no perspective in the Elgin Marbles, and even the
essentially angular angels in mediaeval stained glass almost always (as
it says in "Patience") contrive to look both angular and flat. There is
something intrinsically disproportionate and outrageous in the idea of
the distant objects dwindling and growing dwarfish, the closer objects
swelling enormous and intolerable. There is something frantic in the
notion that one's own father by walking a little way can be changed by a
blast of magic to a pigmy. There is something farcical in the fancy that
Nature keeps one's uncle in an infinite number of sizes, according to
where he is to stand. All soldiers in retreat turn into tin soldiers;
all bears in rout into toy bears; as if on the ultimate horizon of
the world everything was sardonically doomed to stand up laughable and
little against heaven.

It was for this reason that the old woman and her donkey struck us
first when seen from behind as one black grotesque. I afterwards had
the chance of seeing the old woman, the cart, and the donkey fairly,
in flank and in all their length. I saw the old woman and the donkey
PASSANT, as they might have appeared heraldically on the shield of some
heroic family. I saw the old woman and the donkey dignified, decorative,
and flat, as they might have marched across the Elgin Marbles. Seen thus
under an equal light, there was nothing specially ugly about them; the
cart was long and sufficiently comfortable; the donkey was stolid
and sufficiently respectable; the old woman was lean but sufficiently
strong, and even smiling in a sour, rustic manner. But seen from behind
they looked like one black monstrous animal; the dark donkey cars seemed
like dreadful wings, and the tall dark back of the woman, erect like a
tree, seemed to grow taller and taller until one could almost scream.

Then we went by her with a blasting roar like a railway train, and fled
far from her over the brow of the hill to my friend's home.

There we paused only for my friend to stock the car with some kind of
picnic paraphernalia, and so started again, as it happened, by the way
we had come. Thus it fell that we went shattering down that short, sharp
hill again before the poor old woman and her donkey had managed to crawl
to the top of it; and seeing them under a different light, I saw them
very differently. Black against the sun, they had seemed comic; but
bright against greenwood and grey cloud, they were not comic but tragic;
for there are not a few things that seem fantastic in the twilight,
and in the sunlight are sad. I saw that she had a grand, gaunt mask of
ancient honour and endurance, and wide eyes sharpened to two shining
points, as if looking for that small hope on the horizon of human life.
I also saw that her cart contained carrots.

"Don't you feel, broadly speaking, a beast," I asked my friend, "when
you go so easily and so fast?" For we had crashed by so that the crazy
cart must have thrilled in every stick of it.

My friend was a good man, and said, "Yes. But I don't think it would do
her any good if I went slower."

"No," I assented after reflection. "Perhaps the only pleasure we can
give to her or any one else is to get out of their sight very soon."

My friend availed himself of this advice in no niggard spirit; I felt as
if we were fleeing for our lives in throttling fear after some frightful
atrocity. In truth, there is only one difference left between the
secrecy of the two social classes: the poor hide themselves in darkness
and the rich hide themselves in distance. They both hide.

As we shot like a lost boat over a cataract down into a whirlpool of
white roads far below, I saw afar a black dot crawling like an insect.
I looked again: I could hardly believe it. There was the slow old woman,
with her slow old donkey, still toiling along the main road. I asked my
friend to slacken, but when he said of the car, "She's wanting to go," I
knew it was all up with him. For when you have called a thing female you
have yielded to it utterly. We passed the old woman with a shock that
must have shaken the earth: if her head did not reel and her heart
quail, I know not what they were made of. And when we had fled
perilously on in the gathering dark, spurning hamlets behind us, I
suddenly called out, "Why, what asses we are! Why, it's She that is
brave--she and the donkey. We are safe enough; we are artillery and
plate-armour: and she stands up to us with matchwood and a snail! If you
had grown old in a quiet valley, and people began firing cannon-balls as
big as cabs at you in your seventieth year, wouldn't you jump--and she
never moved an eyelid. Oh! we go very fast and very far, no doubt--"

As I spoke came a curious noise, and my friend, instead of going fast,
began to go very slow; then he stopped; then he got out. Then he said,
"And I left the Stepney behind."

The grey moths came out of the wood and the yellow stars came out to
crown it, as my friend, with the lucidity of despair, explained to me
(on the soundest scientific principles, of course) that nothing would be
any good at all. We must sleep the night in the lane, except in the very
unlikely event of some one coming by to carry a message to some town.
Twice I thought I heard some tiny sound of such approach, and it died
away like wind in the trees, and the motorist was already asleep when
I heard it renewed and realized. Something certainly was approaching.
I ran up the road--and there it was. Yes, It--and She. Thrice had she
come, once comic and once tragic and once heroic. And when she came
again it was as if in pardon on a pure errand of prosaic pity and
relief. I am quite serious. I do not want you to laugh. It is not the
first time a donkey has been received seriously, nor one riding a donkey
with respect.

The Wheel

In a quiet and rustic though fairly famous church in my neighbourhood
there is a window supposed to represent an Angel on a Bicycle. It does
definitely and indisputably represent a nude youth sitting on a wheel;
but there is enough complication in the wheel and sanctity (I suppose)
in the youth to warrant this working description. It is a thing of
florid Renascence outline, and belongs to the highly pagan period which
introduced all sorts of objects into ornament: personally I can believe
in the bicycle more than in the angel. Men, they say, are now imitating
angels; in their flying-machines, that is: not in any other respect that
I have heard of. So perhaps the angel on the bicycle (if he is an angel
and if it is a bicycle) was avenging himself by imitating man. If so, he
showed that high order of intellect which is attributed to angels in the
mediaeval books, though not always (perhaps) in the mediaeval pictures.

For wheels are the mark of a man quite as much as wings are the mark of
an angel. Wheels are the things that are as old as mankind and yet are
strictly peculiar to man, that are prehistoric but not pre-human.

A distinguished psychologist, who is well acquainted with physiology,
has told me that parts of himself are certainly levers, while other
parts are probably pulleys, but that after feeling himself carefully all
over, he cannot find a wheel anywhere. The wheel, as a mode of movement,
is a purely human thing. On the ancient escutcheon of Adam (which,
like much of the rest of his costume, has not yet been discovered) the
heraldic emblem was a wheel--passant. As a mode of progress, I say, it
is unique. Many modern philosophers, like my friend before mentioned,
are ready to find links between man and beast, and to show that man has
been in all things the blind slave of his mother earth. Some, of a
very different kind, are even eager to show it; especially if it can be
twisted to the discredit of religion. But even the most eager scientists
have often admitted in my hearing that they would be surprised if some
kind of cow approached them moving solemnly on four wheels. Wings, fins,
flappers, claws, hoofs, webs, trotters, with all these the fantastic
families of the earth come against us and close around us, fluttering
and flapping and rustling and galloping and lumbering and thundering;
but there is no sound of wheels.

I remember dimly, if, indeed, I remember aright, that in some of those
dark prophetic pages of Scripture, that seem of cloudy purple and dusky
gold, there is a passage in which the seer beholds a violent dream
of wheels. Perhaps this was indeed the symbolic declaration of the
spiritual supremacy of man. Whatever the birds may do above or the
fishes beneath his ship, man is the only thing to steer; the only thing
to be conceived as steering. He may make the birds his friends, if he
can. He may make the fishes his gods, if he chooses. But most certainly
he will not believe a bird at the masthead; and it is hardly likely
that he will even permit a fish at the helm. He is, as Swinburne says,
helmsman and chief: he is literally the Man at the Wheel.

The wheel is an animal that is always standing on its head; only "it
does it so rapidly that no philosopher has ever found out which is its
head." Or if the phrase be felt as more exact, it is an animal that is
always turning head over heels and progressing by this principle. Some
fish, I think, turn head over heels (supposing them, for the sake of
argument, to have heels); I have a dog who nearly did it; and I did
it once myself when I was very small. It was an accident, and, as
delightful novelist, Mr. De Morgan, would say, it never can happen
again. Since then no one has accused me of being upside down except
mentally: and I rather think that there is something to be said for
that; especially as typified by the rotary symbol. A wheel is the
sublime paradox; one part of it is always going forward and the other
part always going back. Now this, as it happens, is highly similar to
the proper condition of any human soul or any political state. Every
sane soul or state looks at once backwards and forwards; and even goes
backwards to come on.

For those interested in revolt (as I am) I only say meekly that one
cannot have a Revolution without revolving. The wheel, being a logical
thing, has reference to what is behind as well as what is before. It has
(as every society should have) a part that perpetually leaps helplessly
at the sky and a part that perpetually bows down its head into the dust.
Why should people be so scornful of us who stand on our heads? Bowing
down one's head in the dust is a very good thing, the humble beginning
of all happiness. When we have bowed our heads in the dust for a little
time the happiness comes; and then (leaving our heads' in the humble and
reverent position) we kick up our heels behind in the air. That is
the true origin of standing on one's head; and the ultimate defence
of paradox. The wheel humbles itself to be exalted; only it does it a
little quicker than I do.

Five Hundred and Fifty-five

Life is full of a ceaseless shower of small coincidences: too small to
be worth mentioning except for a special purpose, often too trifling
even to be noticed, any more than we notice one snowflake falling on
another. It is this that lends a frightful plausibility to all false
doctrines and evil fads. There are always such crowds of accidental
arguments for anything. If I said suddenly that historical truth is
generally told by red-haired men, I have no doubt that ten minutes'
reflection (in which I decline to indulge) would provide me with a
handsome list of instances in support of it. I remember a riotous
argument about Bacon and Shakespeare in which I offered quite at random
to show that Lord Rosebery had written the works of Mr. W. B. Yeats. No
sooner had I said the words than a torrent of coincidences rushed upon
my mind. I pointed out, for instance, that Mr. Yeats's chief work was
"The Secret Rose." This may easily be paraphrased as "The Quiet or
Modest Rose"; and so, of course, as the Primrose. A second after I saw
the same suggestion in the combination of "rose" and "bury." If I had
pursued the matter, who knows but I might have been a raving maniac by
this time.

We trip over these trivial repetitions and exactitudes at every turn,
only they are too trivial even for conversation. A man named Williams
did walk into a strange house and murder a man named Williamson; it
sounds like a sort of infanticide. A journalist of my acquaintance
did move quite unconsciously from a place called Overstrand to a place
called Overroads. When he had made this escape he was very properly
pursued by a voting card from Battersea, on which a political agent
named Burn asked him to vote for a political candidate named Burns. And
when he did so another coincidence happened to him: rather a spiritual
than a material coincidence; a mystical thing, a matter of a magic

For a sufficient number of reasons, the man I know went up to vote in
Battersea in a drifting and even dubious frame of mind. As the train
slid through swampy woods and sullen skies there came into his empty
mind those idle and yet awful questions which come when the mind is
empty. Fools make cosmic systems out of them; knaves make profane poems
out of them; men try to crush them like an ugly lust. Religion is
only the responsible reinforcement of common courage and common sense.
Religion only sets up the normal mood of health against the hundred
moods of disease.

But there is this about such ghastly empty enigmas, that they always
have an answer to the obvious answer, the reply offered by daily reason.
Suppose a man's children have gone swimming; suppose he is suddenly
throttled by the senseless--fear that they are drowned. The obvious
answer is, "Only one man in a thousand has his children drowned." But
a deeper voice (deeper, being as deep as hell) answers, "And why should
not you--be the thousandth man?" What is true of tragic doubt is true
also of trivial doubt. The voter's guardian devil said to him, "If you
don't vote to-day you can do fifteen things which will quite certainly
do some good somewhere, please a friend, please a child, please a
maddened publisher. And what good do you expect to do by voting? You
don't think your man will get in by one vote, do you?" To this he knew
the answer of common sense, "But if everybody said that, nobody would
get in at all." And then there came that deeper voice from Hades, "But
you are not settling what everybody shall do, but what one person on one
occasion shall do. If this afternoon you went your way about more solid
things, how would it matter and who would ever know?" Yet somehow the
voter drove on blindly through the blackening London roads, and found
somewhere a tedious polling station and recorded his tiny vote.

The politician for whom the voter had voted got in by five hundred and
fifty-five votes. The voter read this next morning at breakfast,
being in a more cheery and expansive mood, and found something very
fascinating not merely in the fact of the majority, but even in the form
of it. There was something symbolic about the three exact figures; one
felt it might be a sort of motto or cipher. In the great book of seals
and cloudy symbols there is just such a thundering repetition. Six
hundred and sixty-six was the Mark of the Beast. Five hundred and
fifty-five is the Mark of the Man; the triumphant tribune and citizen. A
number so symmetrical as that really rises out of the region of science
into the region of art. It is a pattern, like the egg-and-dart ornament
or the Greek key. One might edge a wall-paper or fringe a robe with
a recurring decimal. And while the voter luxuriated in this light
exactitude of the numbers, a thought crossed his mind and he almost
leapt to his feet. "Why, good heavens!" he cried. "I won that
election; and it was won by one vote! But for me it would have been the
despicable, broken-backed, disjointed, inharmonious figure five hundred
and fifty-four. The whole artistic point would have vanished. The Mark
of the Man would have disappeared from history. It was I who with a
masterful hand seized the chisel and carved the hieroglyph--complete and
perfect. I clutched the trembling hand of Destiny when it was about to
make a dull square four and forced it to make a nice curly five.
Why, but for me the Cosmos would have lost a coincidence!" After this
outburst the voter sat down and finished his breakfast.


Perhaps you do not know where Ethandune is. Nor do I; nor does anybody.
That is where the somewhat sombre fun begins. I cannot even tell you for
certain whether it is the name of a forest or a town or a hill. I can
only say that in any case it is of the kind that floats and is unfixed.
If it is a forest, it is one of those forests that march with a million
legs, like the walking trees that were the doom of Macbeth. If it is a
town, it is one of those towns that vanish, like a city of tents. If it
is a hill, it is a flying hill, like the mountain to which faith lends
wings. Over a vast dim region of England this dark name of Ethandune
floats like an eagle doubtful where to swoop and strike, and, indeed,
there were birds of prey enough over Ethandune, wherever it was. But now
Ethandune itself has grown as dark and drifting as the black drifts of
the birds.

And yet without this word that you cannot fit with a meaning and hardly
with a memory, you would be sitting in a very different chair at this
moment and looking at a very different tablecloth. As a practical modern
phrase I do not commend it; if my private critics and correspondents
in whom I delight should happen to address me "G. K. Chesterton, Poste
Restante, Ethandune," I fear their letters would not come to hand. If
two hurried commercial travellers should agree to discuss a business
matter at Ethandune from 5 to 5.15, I am afraid they would grow old in
the district as white-haired wanderers. To put it plainly, Ethandune is
anywhere and nowhere in the western hills; it is an English mirage. And
yet but for this doubtful thing you would have probably no Daily News on
Saturday and certainly no church on Sunday. I do not say that either of
these two things is a benefit; but I do say that they are customs, and
that you would not possess them except through this mystery. You would
not have Christmas puddings, nor (probably) any puddings; you would
not have Easter eggs, probably not poached eggs, I strongly suspect not
scrambled eggs, and the best historians are decidedly doubtful about
curried eggs. To cut a long story short (the longest of all
stories), you would not have any civilization, far less any Christian
civilization. And if in some moment of gentle curiosity you wish to know
why you are the polished sparkling, rounded, and wholly satisfactory
citizen which you obviously are, then I can give you no more definite
answer geographical or historical; but only toll in your ears the tone
of the uncaptured name--Ethandune.

I will try to state quite sensibly why it is as important as it is. And
yet even that is not easy. If I were to state the mere fact from the
history books, numbers of people would think it equally trivial and
remote, like some war of the Picts and Scots. The points perhaps might
be put in this way. There is a certain spirit in the world which breaks
everything off short. There may be magnificence in the smashing; but the
thing is smashed. There may be a certain splendour; but the splendour is
sterile: it abolishes all future splendours. I mean (to take a working
example), York Minster covered with flames might happen to be quite
as beautiful as York Minster covered with carvings. But the carvings
produce more carvings. The flames produce nothing but a little black
heap. When any act has this cul-de-sac quality it matters little whether
it is done by a book or a sword, by a clumsy battle-axe or a chemical
bomb. The case is the same with ideas. The pessimist may be a proud
figure when he curses all the stars; the optimist may be an even prouder
figure when he blesses them all. But the real test is not in the
energy, but in the effect. When the optimist has said, "All things
are interesting," we are left free; we can be interested as much or
as little as we please. But when the pessimist says, "No things are
interesting," it may be a very witty remark: but it is the last witty
remark that can be made on the subject. He has burnt his cathedral; he
has had his blaze and the rest is ashes. The sceptics, like bees, give
their one sting and die. The pessimist must be wrong, because he says
the last word.

Now, this spirit that denies and that destroys had at one period of
history a dreadful epoch of military superiority. They did burn York
Minster, or at least, places of the same kind. Roughly speaking, from
the seventh century to the tenth, a dense tide of darkness, of chaos and
brainless cruelty, poured on these islands and on the western coasts
of the Continent, which well-nigh cut them off from all the white man's
culture for ever. And this is the final human test; that the varied
chiefs of that vague age were remembered or forgotten according to how
they had resisted this almost cosmic raid. Nobody thought of the modern
nonsense about races; everybody thought of the human race and its
highest achievements. Arthur was a Celt, and may have been a fabulous
Celt; but he was a fable on the right side. Charlemagne may have been a
Gaul or a Goth, but he was not a barbarian; he fought for the tradition
against the barbarians, the nihilists. And for this reason also, for
this reason, in the last resort, only, we call the saddest and in some
ways the least successful of the Wessex kings by the title of Alfred
the Great. Alfred was defeated by the barbarians again and again, he
defeated the barbarians again and again; but his victories were almost
as vain as his defeats. Fortunately he did not believe in the Time
Spirit or the Trend of Things or any such modern rubbish, and therefore
kept pegging away. But while his failures and his fruitless successes
have names still in use (such as Wilton, Basing, and Ashdown), that
last epic battle which really broke the barbarian has remained without
a modern place or name. Except that it was near Chippenham, where
the Danes gave up their swords and were baptized, no one can pick out
certainly the place where you and I were saved from being savages for

But the other day under a wild sunset and moonrise I passed the place
which is best reputed as Ethandune, a high, grim upland, partly bare
and partly shaggy; like that savage and sacred spot in those great
imaginative lines about the demon lover and the waning moon. The
darkness, the red wreck of sunset, the yellow and lurid moon, the long
fantastic shadows, actually created that sense of monstrous incident
which is the dramatic side of landscape. The bare grey slopes seemed to
rush downhill like routed hosts; the dark clouds drove across like riven
banners; and the moon was like a golden dragon, like the Golden Dragon
of Wessex.

As we crossed a tilt of the torn heath I saw suddenly between myself and
the moon a black shapeless pile higher than a house. The atmosphere
was so intense that I really thought of a pile of dead Danes, with some
phantom conqueror on the top of it. Fortunately I was crossing these
wastes with a friend who knew more history than I; and he told me
that this was a barrow older than Alfred, older than the Romans, older
perhaps than the Britons; and no man knew whether it was a wall or a
trophy or a tomb. Ethandune is still a drifting name; but it gave me a
queer emotion to think that, sword in hand, as the Danes poured with
the torrents of their blood down to Chippenham, the great king may have
lifted up his head and looked at that oppressive shape, suggestive of
something and yet suggestive of nothing; may have looked at it as we
did, and understood it as little as we.

The Flat Freak

Some time ago a Sub-Tropical Dinner was given by some South African
millionaire. I forget his name; and so, very likely, does he. The humour
of this was so subtle and haunting that it has been imitated by another
millionaire, who has given a North Pole Dinner in a grand hotel, on
which he managed to spend gigantic sums of money. I do not know how he
did it; perhaps they had silver for snow and great sapphires for lumps
of ice. Anyhow, it seems to have cost rather more to bring the Pole to
London than to take Peary to the Pole. All this, one would say, does not
concern us. We do not want to go to the Pole--or to the hotel. I, for
one, cannot imagine which would be the more dreary and disgusting--the
real North Pole or the sham one. But as a mere matter of psychology
(that merry pastime) there is a question that is not unentertaining.

Why is it that all this scheme of ice and snow leaves us cold? Why is
it that you and I feel that we would (on the whole) rather spend the
evening with two or three stable boys in a pot-house than take part
in that pallid and Arctic joke? Why does the modern millionaire's
jest--bore a man to death with the mere thought of it? That it does bore
a man to death I take for granted, and shall do so until somebody writes
to me in cold ink and tells me that he really thinks it funny.

Now, it is not a sufficient explanation to say that the joke is silly.
All jokes are silly; that is what they are for. If you ask some sincere
and elemental person, a woman, for instance, what she thinks of a good
sentence from Dickens, she will say that it is "too silly." When Mr.
Weller, senior, assured Mr. Weller, junior, that "circumvented" was "a
more tenderer word" than "circumscribed," the remark was at least as
silly as it was sublime. It is vain, then, to object to "senseless
jokes." The very definition of a joke is that it need have no sense;
except that one wild and supernatural sense which we call the sense of
humour. Humour is meant, in a literal sense, to make game of man; that
is, to dethrone him from his official dignity and hunt him like game.
It is meant to remind us human beings that we have things about us as
ungainly and ludicrous as the nose of the elephant or the neck of the
giraffe. If laughter does not touch a sort of fundamental folly, it
does not do its duty in bringing us back to an enormous and original
simplicity. Nothing has been worse than the modern notion that a clever
man can make a joke without taking part in it; without sharing in the
general absurdity that such a situation creates. It is unpardonable
conceit not to laugh at your own jokes. Joking is undignified; that is
why it is so good for one's soul. Do not fancy you can be a detached wit
and avoid being a buffoon; you cannot. If you are the Court Jester you
must be the Court Fool.

Whatever it is, therefore, that wearies us in these wealthy jokes
(like the North Pole Dinner) it is not merely that men make fools of
themselves. When Dickens described Mr. Chuckster, Dickens was, strictly
speaking, making a fool of himself; for he was making a fool out of
himself. And every kind of real lark, from acting a charade to making
a pun, does consist in restraining one's nine hundred and ninety-nine
serious selves and letting the fool loose. The dullness of the
millionaire joke is much deeper. It is not silly at all; it is solely
stupid. It does not consist of ingenuity limited, but merely of inanity
expanded. There is considerable difference between a wit making a fool
of himself and a fool making a wit of himself.

The true explanation, I fancy, may be stated thus. We can all remember
it in the case of the really inspiriting parties and fooleries of our
youth. The only real fun is to have limited materials and a good idea.
This explains the perennial popularity of impromptu private theatricals.
These fascinate because they give such a scope for invention and variety
with the most domestic restriction of machinery. A tea-cosy may have to
do for an Admiral's cocked hat; it all depends on whether the amateur
actor can swear like an Admiral. A hearth-rug may have to do for a
bear's fur; it all depends on whether the wearer is a polished and
versatile man of the world and can grunt like a bear. A clergyman's hat
(to my own private and certain knowledge) can be punched and thumped
into the exact shape of a policeman's helmet; it all depends on the
clergyman. I mean it depends on his permission; his imprimatur; his
nihil obstat. Clergymen can be policemen; rugs can rage like wild
animals; tea-cosies can smell of the sea; if only there is at the back
of them all one bright and amusing idea. What is really funny about
Christmas charades in any average home is that there is a contrast
between commonplace resources and one comic idea. What is deadly dull
about the millionaire-banquets is that there is a contrast between
colossal resources and no idea.

That is the abyss of inanity in such feasts--it may be literally called
a yawning abyss. The abyss is the vast chasm between the money power
employed and the thing it is employed on. To make a big joke out of a
broomstick, a barrow and an old hat--that is great. But to make a small
joke out of mountains of emeralds and tons of gold--surely that is
humiliating! The North Pole is not a very good joke to start with. An
icicle hanging on one's nose is a simple sort of humour in any case. If
a set of spontaneous mummers got the effect cleverly with cut crystals
from the early Victorian chandelier there might really be something
suddenly funny in it. But what should we say of hanging diamonds on a
hundred human noses merely to make that precious joke about icicles?

What can be more abject than the union of elaborate and recherche
arrangements with an old and obvious point? The clown with the red-hot
poker and the string of sausages is all very well in his way. But think
of a string of pate de foie gras sausages at a guinea a piece! Think of
a red-hot poker cut out of a single ruby! Imagine such fantasticalities
of expense with such a tameness and staleness of design.

We may even admit the practical joke if it is domestic and simple. We
may concede that apple-pie beds and butter-slides are sometimes useful
things for the education of pompous persons living the Higher Life. But
imagine a man making a butter-slide and telling everybody it was made
with the most expensive butter. Picture an apple-pie bed of purple
and cloth of gold. It is not hard to see that such schemes would lead
simultaneously to a double boredom; weariness of the costly and complex
method and of the meagre and trivial thought. This is the true analysis,
I think of that chill of tedium that strikes to the soul of any
intelligent man when he hears of such elephantine pranks. That is why we
feel that Freak Dinners would not even be freakish. That is why we feel
that expensive Arctic feasts would probably be a frost.

If it be said that such things do no harm, I hasten, in one sense, at
least, to agree. Far from it; they do good. They do good in the most
vital matter of modern times; for they prove and print in huge letters
the truth which our society must learn or perish. They prove that wealth
in society as now constituted does not tend to get into the hands of
the thrifty or the capable, but actually tends to get into the hands of
wastrels and imbeciles. And it proves that the wealthy class of to-day
is quite as ignorant about how to enjoy itself as about how to rule
other people. That it cannot make its government govern or its education
educate we may take as a trifling weakness of oligarchy; but pleasure
we do look to see in such a class; and it has surely come to its
decrepitude when it cannot make its pleasures please.

The Garden of the Sea

One sometimes hears from persons of the chillier type of culture the
remark that plain country people do not appreciate the beauty of
the country. This is an error rooted in the intellectual pride of
mediocrity; and is one of the many examples of a truth in the idea
that extremes meet. Thus, to appreciate the virtues of the mob one must
either be on a level with it (as I am) or be really high up, like the
saints. It is roughly the same with aesthetics; slang and rude dialect
can be relished by a really literary taste, but not by a merely bookish
taste. And when these cultivated cranks say that rustics do not talk of
Nature in an appreciative way, they really mean that they do not talk
in a bookish way. They do not talk bookishly about clouds or stones,
or pigs or slugs, or horses or anything you please. They talk piggishly
about pigs; and sluggishly, I suppose, about slugs; and are refreshingly
horsy about horses. They speak in a stony way of stones; they speak in
a cloudy way of clouds; and this is surely the right way. And if by any
chance a simple intelligent person from the country comes in contact
with any aspect of Nature unfamiliar and arresting, such a person's
comment is always worth remark. It is sometimes an epigram, and at worst
it is never a quotation.

Consider, for instance, what wastes of wordy imitation and ambiguity the
ordinary educated person in the big towns could pour out on the subject
of the sea. A country girl I know in the county of Buckingham had never
seen the sea in her life until the other day. When she was asked what
she thought of it she said it was like cauliflowers. Now that is a
piece of pure literature--vivid, entirely independent and original,
and perfectly true. I had always been haunted with an analogous kinship
which I could never locate; cabbages always remind me of the sea and
the sea always reminds me of cabbages. It is partly, perhaps, the veined
mingling of violet and green, as in the sea a purple that is almost dark
red may mix with a green that is almost yellow, and still be the blue
sea as a whole. But it is more the grand curves of the cabbage that
curl over cavernously like waves, and it is partly again that dreamy
repetition, as of a pattern, that made two great poets, Eschylus and
Shakespeare, use a word like "multitudinous" of the ocean. But just
where my fancy halted the Buckinghamshire young woman rushed (so to
speak) to my imaginative rescue. Cauliflowers are twenty times better
than cabbages, for they show the wave breaking as well as curling, and
the efflorescence of the branching foam, blind bubbling, and opaque.
Moreover, the strong lines of life are suggested; the arches of the
rushing waves have all the rigid energy of green stalks, as if the whole
sea were one great green plant with one immense white flower rooted in
the abyss.

Now, a large number of delicate and superior persons would refuse to see
the force in that kitchen garden comparison, because it is not connected
with any of the ordinary maritime sentiments as stated in books and
songs. The aesthetic amateur would say that he knew what large and
philosophical thoughts he ought to have by the boundless deep. He would
say that he was not a greengrocer who would think first of greens. To
which I should reply, like Hamlet, apropos of a parallel profession, "I
would you were so honest a man." The mention of "Hamlet" reminds me, by
the way, that besides the girl who had never seen the sea, I knew a girl
who had never seen a stage-play. She was taken to "Hamlet," and she said
it was very sad. There is another case of going to the primordial point
which is overlaid by learning and secondary impressions. We are so used
to thinking of "Hamlet" as a problem that we sometimes quite forget that
it is a tragedy, just as we are so used to thinking of the sea as vast
and vague, that we scarcely notice when it is white and green.

But there is another quarrel involved in which the young gentleman
of culture comes into violent collision with the young lady of the
cauliflowers. The first essential of the merely bookish view of the sea
is that it is boundless, and gives a sentiment of infinity. Now it is
quite certain, I think, that the cauliflower simile was partly created
by exactly the opposite impression, the impression of boundary and of
barrier. The girl thought of it as a field of vegetables, even as a yard
of vegetables. The girl was right. The ocean only suggests infinity when
you cannot see it; a sea mist may seem endless, but not a sea. So far
from being vague and vanishing, the sea is the one hard straight line in
Nature. It is the one plain limit; the only thing that God has made that
really looks like a wall. Compared to the sea, not only sun and cloud
are chaotic and doubtful, but solid mountains and standing forests may
be said to melt and fade and flee in the presence of that lonely iron
line. The old naval phrase, that the seas are England's bulwarks, is not
a frigid and artificial metaphor; it came into the head of some genuine
sea-dog, when he was genuinely looking at the sea. For the edge of the
sea is like the edge of a sword; it is sharp, military, and decisive; it
really looks like a bolt or bar, and not like a mere expansion. It hangs
in heaven, grey, or green, or blue, changing in colour, but changeless
in form, behind all the slippery contours of the land and all the savage
softness of the forests, like the scales of God held even. It hangs, a
perpetual reminder of that divine reason and justice which abides behind
all compromises and all legitimate variety; the one straight line; the
limit of the intellect; the dark and ultimate dogma of the world.

The Sentimentalist

"Sentimentalism is the most broken reed on which righteousness can
lean"; these were, I think, the exact words of a distinguished American
visitor at the Guildhall, and may Heaven forgive me if I do him a wrong.
It was spoken in illustration of the folly of supporting Egyptian and
other Oriental nationalism, and it has tempted me to some reflections on
the first word of the sentence.

The Sentimentalist, roughly speaking, is the man who wants to eat his
cake and have it. He has no sense of honour about ideas; he will not see
that one must pay for an idea as for anything else. He will not see
that any worthy idea, like any honest woman, can only be won on its own
terms, and with its logical chain of loyalty. One idea attracts him;
another idea really inspires him; a third idea flatters him; a fourth
idea pays him. He will have them all at once in one wild intellectual
harem, no matter how much they quarrel and contradict each other. The
Sentimentalist is a philosophic profligate, who tries to capture every
mental beauty without reference to its rival beauties; who will not even
be off with the old love before he is on with the new. Thus if a man
were to say, "I love this woman, but I may some day find my affinity in
some other woman," he would be a Sentimentalist. He would be saying, "I
will eat my wedding-cake and keep it." Or if a man should say, "I am
a Republican, believing in the equality of citizens; but when the
Government has given me my peerage I can do infinite good as a
kind landlord and a wise legislator"; then that man would be a
Sentimentalist. He would be trying to keep at the same time the classic
austerity of equality and also the vulgar excitement of an aristocrat.
Or if a man should say, "I am in favour of religious equality; but I
must preserve the Protestant Succession," he would be a Sentimentalist
of a grosser and more improbable kind.

This is the essence of the Sentimentalist: that he seeks to enjoy every
idea without its sequence, and every pleasure without its consequence.

Now it would really be hard to find a worse case of this inconsequent
sentimentalism than the theory of the British Empire advanced by Mr.
Roosevelt himself in his attack on Sentimentalists. For the Imperial
theory, the Roosevelt and Kipling theory, of our relation to Eastern
races is simply one of eating the Oriental cake (I suppose a Sultana
Cake) and at the same time leaving it alone.

Now there are two sane attitudes of a European statesman towards Eastern
peoples, and there are only two.

First, he may simply say that the less we have to do with them the
better; that whether they are lower than us or higher they are so
catastrophically different that the more we go our way and they go
theirs the better for all parties concerned. I will confess to some
tenderness for this view. There is much to be said for letting that calm
immemorial life of slave and sultan, temple and palm tree flow on as it
has always flowed. The best reason of all, the reason that affects me
most finally, is that if we left the rest of the world alone we might
have some time for attending to our own affairs, which are urgent to
the point of excruciation. All history points to this; that intensive
cultivation in the long run triumphs over the widest extensive
cultivation; or, in other words, that making one's own field superior is
far more effective than reducing other people's fields to inferiority.
If you cultivate your own garden and grow a specially large cabbage,
people will probably come to see it. Whereas the life of one selling
small cabbages round the whole district is often forlorn.

Now, the Imperial Pioneer is essentially a commercial traveller; and
a commercial traveller is essentially a person who goes to see people
because they don't want to see him. As long as empires go about urging
their ideas on others, I always have a notion that the ideas are no
good. If they were really so splendid, they would make the country
preaching them a wonder of the world. That is the true ideal; a great
nation ought not to be a hammer, but a magnet. Men went to the mediaeval
Sorbonne because it was worth going to. Men went to old Japan because
only there could they find the unique and exquisite old Japanese art.
Nobody will ever go to modern Japan (nobody worth bothering about, I
mean), because modern Japan has made the huge mistake of going to the
other people: becoming a common empire. The mountain has condescended to
Mahomet; and henceforth Mahomet will whistle for it when he wants it.

That is my political theory: that we should make England worth copying
instead of telling everybody to copy her.

But it is not the only possible theory. There is another view of our
relations to such places as Egypt and India which is entirely tenable.
It may be said, "We Europeans are the heirs of the Roman Empire; when
all is said we have the largest freedom, the most exact science, the
most solid romance. We have a deep though undefined obligation to
give as we have received from God; because the tribes of men are truly
thirsting for these things as for water. All men really want clear
laws: we can give clear laws. All men really want hygiene: we can
give hygiene. We are not merely imposing Western ideas. We are simply
fulfilling human ideas--for the first time."

On this line, I think, it is possible to justify the forts of Africa and
the railroads of Asia; but on this line we must go much further. If it
is our duty to give our best, there can be no doubt about what is our
best. The greatest thing our Europe has made is the Citizen: the idea
of the average man, free and full of honour, voluntarily invoking on his
own sin the just vengeance of his city. All else we have done is mere
machinery for that: railways exist only to carry the Citizen; forts only
to defend him; electricity only to light him, medicine only to heal him.
Popularism, the idea of the people alive and patiently feeding history,
that we cannot give; for it exists everywhere, East and West. But
democracy, the idea of the people fighting and governing--that is the
only thing we have to give.

Those are the two roads. But between them weakly wavers the
Sentimentalist--that is, the Imperialist of the Roosevelt school. He
wants to have it both ways, to have the splendours of success without
the perils. Europe may enslave Asia, because it is flattering: but
Europe must not free Asia, because that is responsible. It tickles
his Imperial taste that Hindoos should have European hats: it is too
dangerous if they have European heads. He cannot leave Asia Asiatic: yet
he dare not contemplate Asia as European. Therefore he proposes to have
in Egypt railway signals, but not flags; despatch boxes, but not ballot

In short, the Sentimentalist decides to spread the body of Europe
without the soul.

The White Horses

It is within my experience, which is very brief and occasional in this
matter, that it is not really at all easy to talk in a motor-car. This
is fortunate; first, because, as a whole, it prevents me from motoring;
and second because, at any given moment, it prevents me from talking.
The difficulty is not wholly due to the physical conditions, though
these are distinctly unconversational. FitzGerald's Omar, being a
pessimist, was probably rich, and being a lazy fellow, was almost
certainly a motorist. If any doubt could exist on the point, it is
enough to say that, in speaking of the foolish profits, Omar has defined
the difficulties of colloquial motoring with a precision which cannot
be accidental. "Their words to wind are scattered; and their mouths are
stopped with dust." From this follows not (as many of the cut-and-dried
philosophers would say) a savage silence and mutual hostility, but
rather one of those rich silences that make the mass and bulk of all
friendship; the silence of men rowing the same boat or fighting in the
same battle-line.

It happened that the other day I hired a motor-car, because I wanted to
visit in very rapid succession the battle-places and hiding-places
of Alfred the Great; and for a thing of this sort a motor is really
appropriate. It is not by any means the best way of seeing the beauty
of the country; you see beauty better by walking, and best of all by
sitting still. But it is a good method in any enterprise that involves a
parody of the military or governmental quality--anything which needs
to know quickly the whole contour of a county or the rough, relative
position of men and towns. On such a journey, like jagged lightning,
I sat from morning till night by the side of the chauffeur; and we
scarcely exchanged a word to the hour. But by the time the yellow stars
came out in the villages and the white stars in the skies, I think I
understood his character; and I fear he understood mine.

He was a Cheshire man with a sour, patient, and humorous face; he was
modest, though a north countryman, and genial, though an expert. He
spoke (when he spoke at all) with a strong northland accent; and he
evidently was new to the beautiful south country, as was clear both from
his approval and his complaints. But though he came from the north he
was agricultural and not commercial in origin; he looked at the land
rather than the towns, even if he looked at it with a somewhat more
sharp and utilitarian eye. His first remark for some hours was uttered
when we were crossing the more coarse and desolate heights of Salisbury
Plain. He remarked that he had always thought that Salisbury Plain was
a plain. This alone showed that he was new to the vicinity. But he also
said, with a critical frown, "A lot of this land ought to be good land
enough. Why don't they use it?" He was then silent for some more hours.

At an abrupt angle of the slopes that lead down from what is called
(with no little humour) Salisbury Plain, I saw suddenly, as by accident,
something I was looking for--that is, something I did not expect to see.
We are all supposed to be trying to walk into heaven; but we should be
uncommonly astonished if we suddenly walked into it. As I was leaving
Salisbury Plain (to put it roughly) I lifted up my eyes and saw the
White Horse of Britain.

One or two truly fine poets of the Tory and Protestant type, such as
Swinburne and Mr. Rudyard Kipling, have eulogized England under the
image of white horses, meaning the white-maned breakers of the Channel.
This is right and natural enough. The true philosophical Tory goes back
to ancient things because he thinks they will be anarchic things. It
would startle him very much to be told that there are white horses of
artifice in England that may be older than those wild white horses of
the elements. Yet it is truly so. Nobody knows how old are those strange
green and white hieroglyphics, those straggling quadrupeds of chalk,
that stand out on the sides of so many of the Southern Downs. They are
possibly older than Saxon and older than Roman times. They may well be
older than British, older than any recorded times. They may go back, for
all we know, to the first faint seeds of human life on this planet. Men
may have picked a horse out of the grass long before they scratched a
horse on a vase or pot, or messed and massed any horse out of clay. This
may be the oldest human art--before building or graving. And if so, it
may have first happened in another geological age, before the sea burst
through the narrow Straits of Dover. The White Horse may have begun in
Berkshire when there were no white horses at Folkestone or Newhaven.
That rude but evident white outline that I saw across the valley may
have been begun when Britain was not an island. We forget that there are
many places where art is older than nature.

We took a long detour through somewhat easier roads, till we came to a
breach or chasm in the valley, from which we saw our friend the White
Horse once more. At least, we thought it was our friend the White Horse;
but after a little inquiry we discovered to our astonishment that it was
another friend and another horse. Along the leaning flanks of the same
fair valley there was (it seemed) another white horse; as rude and as
clean, as ancient and as modern, as the first. This, at least, I thought
must be the aboriginal White Horse of Alfred, which I had always heard
associated with his name. And yet before we had driven into Wantage
and seen King Alfred's quaint grey statue in the sun, we had seen yet a
third white horse. And the third white horse was so hopelessly unlike
a horse that we were sure that it was genuine. The final and original
white horse, the white horse of the White Horse Vale, has that big,
babyish quality that truly belongs to our remotest ancestors. It really
has the prehistoric, preposterous quality of Zulu or New Zealand native
drawings. This at least was surely made by our fathers when they were
barely men; long before they were civilized men.

But why was it made? Why did barbarians take so much trouble to make a
horse nearly as big as a hamlet; a horse who could bear no hunter, who
could drag no load? What was this titanic, sub-conscious instinct for
spoiling a beautiful green slope with a very ugly white quadruped?
What (for the matter of that) is this whole hazardous fancy of humanity
ruling the earth, which may have begun with white horses, which may by
no means end with twenty horse-power cars? As I rolled away out of that
country, I was still cloudily considering how ordinary men ever came to
want to make such strange chalk horses, when my chauffeur startled me by
speaking for the first time for nearly two hours. He suddenly let go one
of the handles and pointed at a gross green bulk of down that happened
to swell above us. "That would be a good place," he said.

Naturally I referred to his last speech of some hours before; and
supposed he meant that it would be promising for agriculture. As a fact,
it was quite unpromising; and this made me suddenly understand the quiet
ardour in his eye. All of a sudden I saw what he really meant. He really
meant that this would be a splendid place to pick out another white
horse. He knew no more than I did why it was done; but he was in some
unthinkable prehistoric tradition, because he wanted to do it. He became
so acute in sensibility that he could not bear to pass any broad breezy
hill of grass on which there was not a white horse. He could hardly keep
his hands off the hills. He could hardly leave any of the living grass

Then I left off wondering why the primitive man made so many white
horses. I left off troubling in what sense the ordinary eternal man had
sought to scar or deface the hills. I was content to know that he did
want it; for I had seen him wanting it.

The Long Bow

I find myself still sitting in front of the last book by Mr. H. G.
Wells, I say stunned with admiration, my family says sleepy with
fatigue. I still feel vaguely all the things in Mr. Wells's book which
I agree with; and I still feel vividly the one thing that I deny. I deny
that biology can destroy the sense of truth, which alone can even desire
biology. No truth which I find can deny that I am seeking the truth. My
mind cannot find anything which denies my mind... But what is all this?
This is no sort of talk for a genial essay. Let us change the subject;
let us have a romance or a fable or a fairy tale.

Come, let us tell each other stories. There was once a king who was very
fond of listening to stories, like the king in the Arabian Nights.
The only difference was that, unlike that cynical Oriental, this king
believed all the stories that he heard. It is hardly necessary to add
that he lived in England. His face had not the swarthy secrecy of the
tyrant of the thousand tales; on the contrary, his eyes were as big and
innocent as two blue moons; and when his yellow beard turned totally
white he seemed to be growing younger. Above him hung still his heavy
sword and horn, to remind men that he had been a tall hunter and warrior
in his time: indeed, with that rusted sword he had wrecked armies.
But he was one of those who will never know the world, even when they
conquer it. Besides his love of this old Chaucerian pastime of the
telling of tales, he was, like many old English kings, specially
interested in the art of the bow. He gathered round him great archers of
the stature of Ulysses and Robin Hood, and to four of these he gave
the whole government of his kingdom. They did not mind governing his
kingdom; but they were sometimes a little bored with the necessity
of telling him stories. None of their stories were true; but the king
believed all of them, and this became very depressing. They created the
most preposterous romances; and could not get the credit of creating
them. Their true ambition was sent empty away. They were praised as
archers; but they desired to be praised as poets. They were trusted as
men, but they would rather have been admired as literary men.

At last, in an hour of desperation, they formed themselves into a club
or conspiracy with the object of inventing some story which even the
king could not swallow. They called it The League of the Long Bow; thus
attaching themselves by a double bond to their motherland of England,
which has been steadily celebrated since the Norman Conquest for its
heroic archery and for the extraordinary credulity of its people.

At last it seemed to the four archers that their hour had come. The king
commonly sat in a green curtained chamber, which opened by four doors,
and was surmounted by four turrets. Summoning his champions to him on an
April evening, he sent out each of them by a separate door, telling him
to return at morning with the tale of his journey. Every champion bowed
low, and, girding on great armour as for awful adventures, retired to
some part of the garden to think of a lie. They did not want to think of
a lie which would deceive the king; any lie would do that. They wanted
to think of a lie so outrageous that it would not deceive him, and that
was a serious matter.

The first archer who returned was a dark, quiet, clever fellow, very
dexterous in small matters of mechanics. He was more interested in the
science of the bow than in the sport of it. Also he would only shoot at
a mark, for he thought it cruel to kill beasts and birds, and atrocious
to kill men. When he left the king he had gone out into the wood and
tried all sorts of tiresome experiments about the bending of branches
and the impact of arrows; when even he found it tiresome he returned to
the house of the four turrets and narrated his adventure. "Well," said
the king, "what have you been shooting?" "Arrows," answered the archer.
"So I suppose," said the king smiling; "but I mean, I mean what wild
things have you shot?" "I have shot nothing but arrows," answered the
bowman obstinately. "When I went out on to the plain I saw in a crescent
the black army of the Tartars, the terrible archers whose bows are of
bended steel, and their bolts as big as javelins. They spied me afar
off, and the shower of their arrows shut out the sun and made a rattling
roof above me. You know, I think it wrong to kill a bird, or worm, or
even a Tartar. But such is the precision and rapidity of perfect science
that, with my own arrows, I split every arrow as it came against me. I
struck every flying shaft as if it were a flying bird. Therefore, Sire,
I may say truly, that I shot nothing but arrows." The king said, "I know
how clever you engineers are with your fingers." The archer said, "Oh,"
and went out.

The second archer, who had curly hair and was pale, poetical, and rather
effeminate, had merely gone out into the garden and stared at the moon.
When the moon had become too wide, blank, and watery, even for his own
wide, blank, and watery eyes, he came in again. And when the king said
"What have you been shooting?" he answered with great volubility, "I
have shot a man; not a man from Tartary, not a man from Europe, Asia,
Africa, or America; not a man on this earth at all. I have shot the
Man in the Moon." "Shot the Man in the Moon?" repeated the king with
something like a mild surprise. "It is easy to prove it," said
the archer with hysterical haste. "Examine the moon through this
particularly powerful telescope, and you will no longer find any
traces of a man there." The king glued his big blue idiotic eye to the
telescope for about ten minutes, and then said, "You are right: as
you have often pointed out, scientific truth can only be tested by the
senses. I believe you." And the second archer went out, and being of a
more emotional temperament burst into tears.

The third archer was a savage, brooding sort of man with tangled hair
and dreamy eyes, and he came in without any preface, saying, "I have
lost all my arrows. They have turned into birds." Then as he saw that
they all stared at him, he said "Well, you know everything changes on
the earth; mud turns into marigolds, eggs turn into chickens; one can
even breed dogs into quite different shapes. Well, I shot my arrows
at the awful eagles that clash their wings round the Himalayas; great
golden eagles as big as elephants, which snap the tall trees by perching
on them. My arrows fled so far over mountain and valley that they turned
slowly into fowls in their flight. See here," and he threw down a dead
bird and laid an arrow beside it. "Can't you see they are the same
structure. The straight shaft is the backbone; the sharp point is the
beak; the feather is the rudimentary plumage. It is merely modification
and evolution." After a silence the king nodded gravely and said, "Yes;
of course everything is evolution." At this the third archer suddenly
and violently left the room, and was heard in some distant part of the
building making extraordinary noises either of sorrow or of mirth.

The fourth archer was a stunted man with a face as dead as wood,
but with wicked little eyes close together, and very much alive. His
comrades dissuaded him from going in because they said that they had
soared up into the seventh heaven of living lies, and that there was
literally nothing which the old man would not believe. The face of the
little archer became a little more wooden as he forced his way in, and
when he was inside he looked round with blinking bewilderment. "Ha, the
last," said the king heartily, "welcome back again!" There was a long
pause, and then the stunted archer said, "What do you mean by 'again'?
I have never been here before." The king stared for a few seconds, and
said, "I sent you out from this room with the four doors last night."
After another pause the little man slowly shook his head. "I never saw
you before," he said simply; "you never sent me out from anywhere.
I only saw your four turrets in the distance, and strayed in here by
accident. I was born in an island in the Greek Archipelago; I am by
profession an auctioneer, and my name is Punk." The king sat on his
throne for seven long instants like a statue; and then there awoke in
his mild and ancient eyes an awful thing; the complete conviction of
untruth. Every one has felt it who has found a child obstinately false.
He rose to his height and took down the heavy sword above him, plucked
it out naked, and then spoke. "I will believe your mad tales about the
exact machinery of arrows; for that is science. I will believe your
mad tales about traces of life in the moon; for that is science. I
will believe your mad tales about jellyfish turning into gentlemen, and
everything turning into anything; for that is science. But I will
not believe you when you tell me what I know to be untrue. I will
not believe you when you say that you did not all set forth under my
authority and out of my house. The other three may conceivably have told
the truth; but this last man has certainly lied. Therefore I will kill
him." And with that the old and gentle king ran at the man with uplifted
sword; but he was arrested by the roar of happy laughter, which told the
world that there is, after all, something which an Englishman will not

The Modern Scrooge

Mr. Vernon-Smith, of Trinity, and the Social Settlement, Tooting,
author of "A Higher London" and "The Boyg System at Work," came to the
conclusion, after looking through his select and even severe library,
that Dickens's "Christmas Carol" was a very suitable thing to be read to
charwomen. Had they been men they would have been forcibly subjected
to Browning's "Christmas Eve" with exposition, but chivalry spared
the charwomen, and Dickens was funny, and could do no harm. His fellow
worker Wimpole would read things like "Three Men in a Boat" to the poor;
but Vernon-Smith regarded this as a sacrifice of principle, or (what was
the same thing to him) of dignity. He would not encourage them in their
vulgarity; they should have nothing from him that was not literature.
Still Dickens was literature after all; not literature of a high order,
of course, not thoughtful or purposeful literature, but literature quite
fitted for charwomen on Christmas Eve.

He did not, however, let them absorb Dickens without due antidotes of
warning and criticism. He explained that Dickens was not a writer of the
first rank, since he lacked the high seriousness of Matthew Arnold.
He also feared that they would find the characters of Dickens terribly
exaggerated. But they did not, possibly because they were meeting them
every day. For among the poor there are still exaggerated characters;
they do not go to the Universities to be universified. He told the
charwomen, with progressive brightness, that a mad wicked old miser
like Scrooge would be really quite impossible now; but as each of the
charwomen had an uncle or a grandfather or a father-in-law who was
exactly like Scrooge, his cheerfulness was not shared. Indeed, the
lecture as a whole lacked something of his firm and elastic touch, and
towards the end he found himself rambling, and in a sort of abstraction,
talking to them as if they were his fellows. He caught himself saying
quite mystically that a spiritual plane (by which he meant his plane)
always looked to those on the sensual or Dickens plane, not merely
austere, but desolate. He said, quoting Bernard Shaw, that we could all
go to heaven just as we can all go to a classical concert, but if we
did it would bore us. Realizing that he was taking his flock far out of
their depth, he ended somewhat hurriedly, and was soon receiving that
generous applause which is a part of the profound ceremonialism of the
working classes. As he made his way to the door three people stopped
him, and he answered them heartily enough, but with an air of hurry
which he would not have dreamed of showing to people of his own class.
One was a little schoolmistress who told him with a sort of feverish
meekness that she was troubled because an Ethical Lecturer had said that
Dickens was not really Progressive; but she thought he was Progressive;
and surely he was Progressive. Of what being Progressive was she had
no more notion than a whale. The second person implored him for a
subscription to some soup kitchen or cheap meal; and his refined
features sharpened; for this, like literature, was a matter of principle
with him. "Quite the wrong method," he said, shaking his head and
pushing past. "Nothing any good but the Boyg system." The third
stranger, who was male, caught him on the step as he came out into the
snow and starlight; and asked him point blank for money. It was a
part of Vernon-Smith's principles that all such persons are prosperous
impostors; and like a true mystic he held to his principles in defiance
of his five senses, which told him that the night was freezing and the
man very thin and weak. "If you come to the Settlement between four and
five on Friday week," he said, "inquiries will be made." The man stepped
back into the snow with a not ungraceful gesture as of apology; he had
frosty silver hair, and his lean face, though in shadow, seemed to wear
something like a smile. As Vernon-Smith stepped briskly into the street,
the man stooped down as if to do up his bootlace. He was, however,
guiltless of any such dandyism; and as the young philanthropist stood
pulling on his gloves with some particularity, a heavy snowball was
suddenly smashed into his face. He was blind for a black instant; then
as some of the snow fell, saw faintly, as in a dim mirror of ice or
dreamy crystal, the lean man bowing with the elegance of a dancing
master, and saying amiably, "A Christmas box." When he had quite cleared
his face of snow the man had vanished.

For three burning minutes Cyril Vernon-Smith was nearer to the people
and more their brother than he had been in his whole high-stepping
pedantic existence; for if he did not love a poor man, he hated one. And
you never really regard a labourer as your equal until you can quarrel
with him. "Dirty cad!" he muttered. "Filthy fool! Mucking with snow like
a beastly baby! When will they be civilized? Why, the very state of the
street is a disgrace and a temptation to such tomfools. Why isn't all
this snow cleared away and the street made decent?"

To the eye of efficiency, there was, indeed, something to complain of
in the condition of the road. Snow was banked up on both sides in white
walls and towards the other and darker end of the street even rose into
a chaos of low colourless hills. By the time he reached them he was
nearly knee deep, and was in a far from philanthropic frame of mind.
The solitude of the little streets was as strange as their white
obstruction, and before he had ploughed his way much further he was
convinced that he had taken a wrong turning, and fallen upon some
formless suburb unvisited before. There was no light in any of the low,
dark houses; no light in anything but the blank emphatic snow. He was
modern and morbid; hellish isolation hit and held him suddenly; anything
human would have relieved the strain, if it had been only the leap of a
garotter. Then the tender human touch came indeed; for another snowball
struck him, and made a star on his back. He turned with fierce joy, and
ran after a boy escaping; ran with dizzy and violent speed, he knew not
for how long. He wanted the boy; he did not know whether he loved or
hated him. He wanted humanity; he did not know whether he loved or hated

As he ran he realized that the landscape around him was changing in
shape though not in colour. The houses seemed to dwindle and disappear
in hills of snow as if buried; the snow seemed to rise in tattered
outlines of crag and cliff and crest, but he thought nothing of all
these impossibilities until the boy turned to bay. When he did he saw
the child was queerly beautiful, with gold red hair, and a face as
serious as complete happiness. And when he spoke to the boy his own
question surprised him, for he said for the first time in his life,
"What am I doing here?" And the little boy, with very grave eyes,
answered, "I suppose you are dead."

He had (also for the first time) a doubt of his spiritual destiny. He
looked round on a towering landscape of frozen peaks and plains, and
said, "Is this hell?" And as the child stared, but did not answer, he
knew it was heaven.

All over that colossal country, white as the world round the Pole,
little boys were playing, rolling each other down dreadful slopes,
crushing each other under falling cliffs; for heaven is a place where
one can fight for ever without hurting. Smith suddenly remembered how
happy he had been as a child, rolling about on the safe sandhills around

Right above Smith's head, higher than the cross of St. Paul's, but
curving over him like the hanging blossom of a harebell, was a cavernous
crag of snow. A hundred feet below him, like a landscape seen from a
balloon, lay snowy flats as white and as far away. He saw a little
boy stagger, with many catastrophic slides, to that toppling peak; and
seizing another little boy by the leg, send him flying away down to the
distant silver plains. There he sank and vanished in the snow as if in
the sea; but coming up again like a diver rushed madly up the steep once
more, rolling before him a great gathering snowball, gigantic at last,
which he hurled back at the mountain crest, and brought both the boy and
the mountain down in one avalanche to the level of the vale. The other
boy also sank like a stone, and also rose again like a bird, but Smith
had no leisure to concern himself with this. For the collapse of that
celestial crest had left him standing solitary in the sky on a peak like
a church spire.

He could see the tiny figures of the boys in the valley below, and he
knew by their attitudes that they were eagerly telling him to jump. Then
for the first time he knew the nature of faith, as he had just known
the fierce nature of charity. Or rather for the second time, for he
remembered one moment when he had known faith before. It was n when his
father had taught him to swim, and he had believed he could float on
water not only against reason, but (what is so much harder) against
instinct. Then he had trusted water; now he must trust air.

He jumped. He went through air and then through snow with the same
blinding swiftness. But as he buried himself in solid snow like a bullet
he seemed to learn a million things and to learn them all too fast.
He knew that the whole world is a snowball, and that all the stars are
snowballs. He knew that no man will be fit for heaven till he loves
solid whiteness as a little boy loves a ball of snow.

He sank and sank and sank... and then, as usually happens in such cases,
woke up, with a start--in the street. True, he was taken up for a common
drunk, but (if you properly appreciate his conversion) you will realize
that he did not mind; since the crime of drunkenness is infinitely less
than that of spiritual pride, of which he had really been guilty.

The High Plains

By high plains I do not mean table-lands; table-lands do not interest
one very much. They seem to involve the bore of a climb without the
pleasure of a peak. Also they arc vaguely associated with Asia and those
enormous armies that eat up everything like locusts, as did the army
of Xerxes; with emperors from nowhere spreading their battalions
everywhere; with the white elephants and the painted horses, the dark
engines and the dreadful mounted bowmen of the moving empires of the
East, with all that evil insolence in short that rolled into Europe in
the youth of Nero, and after having been battered about and abandoned by
one Christian nation after another, turned up in England with Disraeli
and was christened (or rather paganed) Imperialism.

Also (it may be necessary to explain) I do not mean "high planes" such
as the Theosophists and the Higher Thought Centres talk about. They
spell theirs differently; but I will not have theirs in any spelling.
They, I know, are always expounding how this or that person is on a
lower plane, while they (the speakers) are on a higher plane: sometimes
they will almost tell you what plane, as "5994" or "Plane F, sub-plane
304." I do not mean this sort of height either. My religion says nothing
about such planes except that all men are on one plane and that by no
means a high one. There are saints indeed in my religion: but a saint
only means a man who really knows he is a sinner.

Why then should I talk of the plains as high? I do it for a rather
singular reason, which I will illustrate by a parallel. When I was at
school learning all the Greek I have ever forgotten, I was puzzled by
the phrase OINON MELAN that is "black wine," which continually occurred.
I asked what it meant, and many most interesting and convincing answers
were given. It was pointed out that we know little of the actual liquid
drunk by the Greeks; that the analogy of modern Greek wines may suggest
that it was dark and sticky, perhaps a sort of syrup always taken with
water; that archaic language about colour is always a little dubious, as
where Homer speaks of the "wine-dark sea" and so on. I was very properly
satisfied, and never thought of the matter again; until one day, having
a decanter of claret in front of me, I happened to look at it. I then
perceived that they called wine black because it is black. Very thin,
diluted, or held-up abruptly against a flame, red wine is red; but seen
in body in most normal shades and semi-lights red wine is black, and
therefore was called so.

On the same principles I call the plains high because the plains always
are high; they are always as high as we are. We talk of climbing a
mountain crest and looking down at the plain; but the phrase is an
illusion of our arrogance. It is impossible even to look down at the
plain. For the plain itself rises as we rise. It is not merely true
that the higher we climb the wider and wider is spread out below us
the wealth of the world; it is not merely that the devil or some other
respectable guide for tourists takes us to the top of an exceeding high
mountain and shows us all the kingdoms of the earth. It is more than
that, in our real feeling of it. It is that in a sense the whole
world rises with us roaring, and accompanies us to the crest like some
clanging chorus of eagles. The plains rise higher and higher like swift
grey walls piled up against invisible invaders. And however high a peak
you climb, the plain is still as high as the peak.

The mountain tops are only noble because from them we are privileged to
behold the plains. So the only value in any man being superior is that
he may have a superior admiration for the level and the common. If there
is any profit in a place craggy and precipitous it is only because from
the vale it is not easy to see all the beauty of the vale; because
when actually in the flats one cannot see their sublime and satisfying
flatness. If there is any value in being educated or eminent (which is
doubtful enough) it is only because the best instructed man may feel
most swiftly and certainly the splendour of the ignorant and the simple:
the full magnificence of that mighty human army in the plains. The
general goes up to the hill to look at his soldiers, not to look down at
his soldiers. He withdraws himself not because his regiment is too small
to be touched, but because it is too mighty to be seen. The chief climbs
with submission and goes higher with great humility; since in order to
take a bird's eye view of everything, he must become small and distant
like a bird.

The most marvellous of those mystical cavaliers who wrote intricate
and exquisite verse in England in the seventeenth century, I mean
Henry Vaughan, put the matter in one line, intrinsically immortal and
practically forgotten--

"Oh holy hope and high humility."

That adjective "high" is not only one of the sudden and stunning
inspirations of literature; it is also one of the greatest and gravest
definitions of moral science. However far aloft a man may go, he is
still looking up, not only at God (which is obvious), but in a manner
at men also: seeing more and more all that is towering and mysterious in
the dignity and destiny of the lonely house of Adam. I wrote some part
of these rambling remarks on a high ridge of rock and turf overlooking a
stretch of the central counties; the rise was slight enough in reality,
but the immediate ascent had been so steep and sudden that one could not
avoid the fancy that on reaching the summit one would look down at the
stars. But one did not look down at the stars, but rather up at the
cities; seeing as high in heaven the palace town of Alfred like a lit
sunset cloud, and away in the void spaces, like a planet in eclipse,
Salisbury. So, it may be hoped, until we die you and I will always look
up rather than down at the labours and the habitations of our race; we
will lift up our eyes to the valleys from whence cometh our help. For
from every special eminence and beyond every sublime landmark, it is
good for our souls to see only vaster and vaster visions of that dizzy
and divine level; and to behold from our crumbling turrets the tall
plains of equality.

The Chorus

One of the most marked instances of the decline of true popular sympathy
is the gradual disappearance in our time of the habit of singing
in chorus. Even when it is done nowadays it is done tentatively and
sometimes inaudibly; apparently upon some preposterous principle
(which I have never clearly grasped) that singing is an art. In the new
aristocracy of the drawing-room a lady is actually asked whether she
sings. In the old democracy of the dinner table a man was simply told to
sing, and he had to do it. I like the atmosphere of those old banquets.
I like to think of my ancestors, middle-aged or venerable gentlemen, all
sitting round a table and explaining that they would never forget old
days or friends with a rumpty-iddity-iddity, or letting it be known that
they would die for England's glory with their tooral ooral, etc. Even
the vices of that society (which 'sometimes, I fear, rendered the
narrative portions of the song almost as cryptic and inarticulate as the
chorus) were displayed with a more human softening than the same
vices in the saloon bars of our own time. I greatly prefer Mr. Richard
Swiveller to Mr. Stanley Ortheris. I prefer the man who exceeded in rosy
wine in order that the wing of friendship might never moult a feather
to the man who exceeds quite as much in whiskies and sodas, but declares
all the time that he's for number one, and that you don't catch him
paying for other men's drinks. The old men of pleasure (with their
tooral ooral) got at least some social and communal virtue out of
pleasure. The new men of pleasure (without the slightest vestige of
a tooral ooral) are simply hermits of irreligion instead of religion,
anchorites of atheism, and they might as well be drugging themselves
with hashish or opium in a wilderness.

But the chorus of the old songs had another use besides this obvious one
of asserting the popular element in the arts. The chorus of a song, even
of a comic song, has the same purpose as the chorus in a Greek tragedy.
It reconciles men to the gods. It connects this one particular tale with
the cosmos and the philosophy of common things, Thus we constantly find
in the old ballads, especially the pathetic ballads, some refrain about
the grass growing green, or the birds singing, or the woods being merry
in spring. These are windows opened in the house of tragedy; momentary
glimpses of larger and quieter scenes, of more ancient and enduring
landscapes. Many of the country songs describing crime and death have
refrains of a startling joviality like cock crow, just as if the whole
company were coming in with a shout of protest against so sombre a view
of existence. There is a long and gruesome ballad called "The Berkshire
Tragedy," about a murder committed by a jealous sister, for the
consummation of which a wicked miller is hanged, and the chorus (which
should come in a kind of burst) runs:

  "And I'll be true to my love
  If my love'll be true to me."

The very reasonable arrangement here suggested is introduced, I think,
as a kind of throw back to the normal, a reminder that even "The
Berkshire Tragedy" does not fill the whole of Berkshire. The poor
young lady is drowned, and the wicked miller (to whom we may have been
affectionately attached) is hanged; but still a ruby kindles in the
vine, and many a garden by the water blows. Not that Omar's type of
hedonistic resignation is at all the same as the breezy impatience of
the Berkshire refrain; but they are alike in so far as they gaze out
beyond the particular complication to more open plains of peace. The
chorus of the ballad looks past the drowning maiden and the miller's
gibbet, and sees the lanes full of lovers.

This use of the chorus to humanize and dilute a dark story is strongly
opposed to the modern view of art. Modern art has to be what is
called "intense." It is not easy to define being intense; but, roughly
speaking, it means saying only one thing at a time, and saying it wrong.
Modern tragic writers have to write short stories; if they wrote long
stories (as the man said of philosophy) cheerfulness would creep in.
Such stories are like stings; brief, but purely painful. And doubtless
they bore some resemblance to some lives lived under our successful
scientific civilization; lives which tend in any case to be painful, and
in many cases to be brief. But when the artistic people passed beyond
the poignant anecdote and began to write long books full of poignancy,
then the reading public began to rebel and to demand the recall of
romance. The long books about the black poverty of cities became quite
insupportable. The Berkshire tragedy had a chorus; but the London
tragedy has no chorus. Therefore people welcomed the return of
adventurous novels about alien places and times, the trenchant and
swordlike stories of Stevenson. But I am not narrowly on the side of the
romantics. I think that glimpses of the gloom of our civilization ought
to be recorded. I think that the bewilderments of the solitary and
sceptical soul ought to be preserved, if it be only for the pity (yes,
and the admiration) of a happier time. But I wish that there were some
way in which the chorus could enter. I wish that at the end of each
chapter of stiff agony or insane terror the choir of humanity could come
in with a crash of music and tell both the reader and the author that
this is not the whole of human experience. Let them go on recording hard
scenes or hideous questions, but let there be a jolly refrain.

Thus we might read: "As Honoria laid down the volume of Ibsen and went
wearily to her window, she realized that life must be to her not only
harsher, but colder than it was to the comfortable and the weak. With
her tooral ooral, etc.;" or, again: "The young curate smiled grimly as
he listened to his great-grandmother's last words. He knew only too
well that since Phogg's discovery of the hereditary hairiness of goats
religion stood on a very different basis from that which it had occupied
in his childhood. With his rumpty-iddity, rumpty-iddity;" and so on. Or
we might read: "Uriel Maybloom stared gloomily down at his sandals, as
he realized for the first time how senseless and anti-social are all
ties between man and woman; how each must go his or her way without any
attempt to arrest the head-long separation of their souls." And then
would come in one deafening chorus of everlasting humanity "But I'll be
true to my love, if my love'll be true to me."

In the records of the first majestic and yet fantastic developments
of the foundation of St. Francis of Assisi is an account of a certain
Blessed Brother Giles. I have forgotten most of it, but I remember
one fact: that certain students of theology came to ask him whether
he believed in free will, and, if so, how he could reconcile it with
necessity. On hearing the question St. Francis's follower reflected a
little while and then seized a fiddle and began capering and dancing
about the garden, playing a wild tune and generally expressing a violent
and invigorating indifference. The tune is not recorded, but it is the
eternal chorus of mankind, that modifies all the arts and mocks all the
individualisms, like the laughter and thunder of some distant sea.

A Romance of the Marshes

In books as a whole marshes are described as desolate and colourless,
great fields of clay or sedge, vast horizons of drab or grey. But this,
like many other literary associations, is a piece of poetical injustice.
Monotony has nothing to do with a place; monotony, either in its
sensation or its infliction, is simply the quality of a person. There
are no dreary sights; there are only dreary sightseers. It is a matter
of taste, that is of personality, whether marshes are monotonous; but it
is a matter of fact and science that they are not monochrome. The tops
of high mountains (I am told) are all white; the depths of primeval
caverns (I am also told) are all dark. The sea will be grey or blue
for weeks together; and the desert, I have been led to believe, is the
colour of sand. The North Pole (if we found it) would be white with
cracks of blue; and Endless Space (if we went there) would, I suppose,
be black with white spots. If any of these were counted of a monotonous
colour I could well understand it; but on the contrary, they are always
spoken of as if they had the gorgeous and chaotic colours of a cosmic
kaleidoscope. Now exactly where you can find colours like those of a
tulip garden or a stained-glass window, is in those sunken and sodden
lands which are always called dreary. Of course the great tulip gardens
did arise in Holland; which is simply one immense marsh. There is
nothing in Europe so truly tropical as marshes. Also, now I come to
think of it, there are few places so agreeably marshy as tropics. At
any rate swamp and fenlands in England are always especially rich in
gay grasses or gorgeous fungoids; and seem sometimes as glorious as
a transformation scene; but also as unsubstantial. In these splendid
scenes it is always very easy to put your foot through the scenery. You
may sink up to your armpits; but you will sink up to your armpits in
flowers. I do not deny that I myself am of a sort that sinks--except
in the matter of spirits. I saw in the west counties recently a swampy
field of great richness and promise. If I had stepped on it I have no
doubt at all that I should have vanished; that aeons hence the
complete fossil of a fat Fleet Street journalist would be found in that
compressed clay. I only claim that it would be found in some attitude of
energy, or even of joy. But the last point is the most important of all,
for as I imagined myself sinking up to the neck in what looked like a
solid green field, I suddenly remembered that this very thing must have
happened to certain interesting pirates quite a thousand years ago.

For, as it happened, the flat fenland in which I so nearly sunk was
the fenland round the Island of Athelney, which is now an island in the
fields and no longer in the waters. But on the abrupt hillock a stone
still stands to say that this was that embattled islet in the Parrett
where King Alfred held his last fort against the foreign invaders, in
that war that nearly washed us as far from civilization as the Solomon
Islands. Here he defended the island called Athelney as he afterwards
did his best to defend the island called England. For the hero always
defends an island, a thing beleaguered and surrounded, like the Troy
of Hector. And the highest and largest humanitarian can only rise to
defending the tiny island called the earth.

One approaches the island of Athelney along a low long road like an
interminable white string stretched across the flats, and lined with
those dwarfish trees that are elvish in their very dullness. At one
point of the journey (I cannot conceive why) one is arrested by a toll
gate at which one has to pay threepence. Perhaps it is a distorted
tradition of those dark ages. Perhaps Alfred, with the superior science
of comparative civilization, had calculated the economics of Denmark
down to a halfpenny. Perhaps a Dane sometimes came with twopence,
sometimes even with twopence-halfpenny, after the sack of many cities
even with twopence three farthings; but never with threepence. Whether
or no it was a permanent barrier to the barbarians it was only a
temporary barrier to me. I discovered three large and complete coppers
in various parts of my person, and I passed on along that strangely
monotonous and strangely fascinating path. It is not merely fanciful to
feel that the place expresses itself appropriately as the place
where the great Christian King hid himself from the heathen. Though
a marshland is always open it is still curiously secret. Fens, like
deserts, are large things very apt to be mislaid. These flats feared to
be overlooked in a double sense; the small trees crouched and the whole
plain seemed lying on its face, as men do when shells burst. The
little path ran fearlessly forward; but it seemed to run on all fours.
Everything in that strange countryside seemed to be lying low, as if to
avoid the incessant and rattling rain of the Danish arrows. There were
indeed hills of no inconsiderable height quite within call; but those
pools and flats of the old Parrett seemed to separate themselves like
a central and secret sea; and in the midst of them stood up the rock of
Athelney as isolate as it was to Alfred. And all across this recumbent
and almost crawling country there ran the glory of the low wet lands;
grass lustrous and living like the plumage of some universal bird; the
flowers as gorgeous as bonfires and the weeds more beautiful than the
flowers. One stooped to stroke the grass, as if the earth were all one
kind beast that could feel.

Why does no decent person write an historical novel about Alfred and his
fort in Athelney, in the marshes of the Parrett? Not a very historical
novel. Not about his Truth-telling (please) or his founding the British
Empire, or the British Navy, or the Navy League, or whichever it was
he founded. Not about the Treaty of Wedmore and whether it ought (as
an eminent historian says) to be called the Pact of Chippenham. But an
aboriginal romance for boys about the bare, bald, beatific fact that
a great hero held his fort in an island in a river. An island is fine
enough, in all conscience or piratic unconscientiousness, but an island
in a river sounds like the beginning of the greatest adventure story on
earth. "Robinson Crusoe" is really a great tale, but think of Robinson
Crusoe's feelings if he could have actually seen England and Spain from
his inaccessible isle! "Treasure Island" is a spirit of genius: but
what treasure could an island contain to compare with Alfred? And then
consider the further elements of juvenile romance in an island that was
more of an island than it looked. Athelney was masked with marshes; many
a heavy harnessed Viking may have started bounding across a meadow only
to find himself submerged in a sea. I feel the full fictitious splendour
spreading round me; I see glimpses of a great romance that will never be
written. I see a sudden shaft quivering in one of the short trees. I see
a red-haired man wading madly among the tall gold flowers of the marsh,
leaping onward and lurching lower. I see another shaft stand quivering
in his throat. I cannot see any more, because, as I have delicately
suggested, I am a heavy man. This mysterious marshland does not sustain
me, and I sink into its depths with a bubbling groan.

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Alarms and Discursions" ***

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