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´╗┐Title: At Large
Author: Benson, Arthur Christopher, 1862-1925
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "At Large" ***

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AT LARGE

By Arthur Christopher Benson


Haec ego mecum


1908


Contents

     I.     THE SCENE
     II.    CONTENTMENT
     III.   FRIENDSHIP
     IV.    HUMOUR
     V.     TRAVEL
     VI.    SPECIALISM
     VII.   OUR LACK OF GREAT MEN
     VIII.  SHYNESS
     IX.    EQUALITY
     X.     THE DRAMATIC SENSE
     XI.    KELMSCOTT AND WILLIAM MORRIS
     XII.   A SPEECH DAY
     XIII.  LITERARY FINISH
     XIV.   A MIDSUMMER DAY'S DREAM
     XV.    SYMBOLS
     XVI.   OPTIMISM
     XVII.  JOY
     XVIII. THE LOVE OF GOD
     EPILOGUE



I. THE SCENE


Yes, of course it is an experiment! But it is made in corpore vili.
It is not irreparable, and there is no reason, more's the pity, why I
should not please myself. I will ask--it is a rhetorical question which
needs no answer--what is a hapless bachelor to do, who is professionally
occupied and tied down in a certain place for just half the year? What
is he to do with the other half? I cannot live on in my college rooms,
and I am not compelled to do so for economy. I have near relations and
many friends, at whose houses I should be made welcome. But I cannot be
like the wandering dove, who found no repose. I have a great love of my
independence and my liberty. I love my own fireside, my own chair, my
own books, my own way. It is little short of torture to have to conform
to the rules of other households, to fall in with other people's
arrangements, to throw my pen down when the gong sounds, to make myself
agreeable to fortuitous visitors, to be led whither I would not. I do
this, a very little, because I do not desire to lose touch with my kind;
but then my work is of a sort which brings me into close touch day after
day with all sorts of people, till I crave for recollection and repose;
the prospect of a round of visits is one that fairly unmans me. No doubt
it implies a certain want of vitality, but one does not increase one's
vitality by making overdrafts upon it; and then too I am a slave to my
pen, and the practice of authorship is inconsistent with paying visits.
Of course the obvious remedy is marriage; but one cannot marry from
prudence, or from a sense of duty, or even to increase the birth-rate,
which I am concerned to see is diminishing. I am, moreover, to be
perfectly frank, a transcendentalist on the subject of marriage. I know
that a happy marriage is the finest and noblest thing in the world, and
I would resign all the conveniences I possess with the utmost readiness
for it. But a great passion cannot be the result of reflection, or of
desire, or even of hope. One cannot argue oneself into it; one must be
carried away. "You have never let yourself go," says a wise and gentle
aunt, when I bemoan my unhappy fate. To which I reply that I have never
done anything else. I have lain down in streamlets, I have leapt into
silent pools, I have made believe I was in the presence of a deep
emotion, like the dear little girl in one of Reynolds's pictures, who
hugs a fat and lolling spaniel over an inch-deep trickle of water, for
fear he should be drowned. I do not say that it is not my fault. It is
my fault, my own fault, my own great fault, as we say in the Compline
confession. The fault has been an over-sensibility. I have desired close
and romantic relations so much that I have dissipated my forces; yet
when I read such a book as the love-letters of Robert Browning and
Elizabeth Barrett, I realise at once both the supreme nature of the
gift, and the hopelessness of attaining it unless it be given; but I try
to complain, as the beloved mother of Carlyle said about her health, as
little as possible.

Well, then, as I say, what is a reluctant bachelor who loves his liberty
to do with himself? I cannot abide the life of towns, though I live in a
town half the year. I like friends, and I do not care for acquaintances.
There is no conceivable reason why, in the pursuit of pleasure, I should
frequent social entertainments that do not amuse me. What have I then
done? I have done what I liked best. I have taken a big roomy house in
the quietest country I could find, I have furnished it comfortably, and
I have hitherto found no difficulty in inducing my friends, one or two
at a time, to come and share my life. I shall have something to say
about solitude presently, but meanwhile I will describe my hermitage.

The old Isle of Ely lies in the very centre of the Fens. It is a range
of low gravel hills, shaped roughly like a human hand. The river runs
at the wrist, and Ely stands just above it, at the base of the palm,
the fingers stretching out to the west. The fens themselves, vast peaty
plains, the bottoms of the old lagoons, made up of the accumulation of
centuries of rotting water-plants, stretch round it on every side; far
away you can see the low heights of Brandon, the Newmarket Downs, the
Gogmagogs behind Cambridge, the low wolds of Huntingdon. To the north
the interminable plain, through which the rivers welter and the great
levels run, stretches up to the Wash. So slight is the fall of the land
towards the sea, that the tide steals past me in the huge Hundred-foot
cut, and makes itself felt as far south as Earith Bridge, where the
Ouse comes leisurely down with its clear pools and reed-beds. At the
extremity of the southernmost of all the fingers of the Isle, a big
hamlet clusters round a great ancient church, whose blunt tower is
visible for miles above its grove of sycamores. More than twelve
centuries ago an old saint, whose name I think was Owen, though it
was Latinised by the monks into Ovinus, because he had the care of the
sheep, kept the flocks of St. Etheldreda, queen and abbess of Ely, on
these wolds. One does not know what were the visions of this rude and
ardent saint, as he paced the low heights day by day, looking over the
monstrous lakes. At night no doubt he heard the cries of the marsh-fowl
and saw the elfin lights stir on the reedy flats. Perhaps some touch of
fever kindled his visions; but he raised a tiny shrine here, and here he
laid his bones; and long after, when the monks grew rich, they raised
a great church here to the memory of the shepherd of the sheep, and
beneath it, I doubt not, he sleeps.

What is it I see from my low hills? It is an enchanted land for me, and
I lose myself in wondering how it is that no one, poet or artist, has
ever wholly found out the charm of these level plains, with their rich
black soil, their straight dykes, their great drift-roads, that run as
far as the eye can reach into the unvisited fen. In summer it is a feast
of the richest green from verge to verge; here a clump of trees stands
up, almost of the hue of indigo, surrounding a lonely shepherd's cote;
a distant church rises, a dark tower over the hamlet elms; far beyond, I
see low wolds, streaked and dappled by copse and wood; far to the south,
I see the towers and spires of Cambridge, as of some spiritual city--the
smoke rises over it on still days, hanging like a cloud; to the east lie
the dark pine-woods of Suffolk, to the north an interminable fen;
but not only is it that one sees a vast extent of sky, with great
cloud-battalions crowding up from the south, but all the colour of the
landscape is crowded into a narrow belt to the eye, which gives it an
intensity of emerald hue that I have seen nowhere else in the world.
There is a sense of deep peace about it all, the herb of the field just
rising in its place over the wide acres; the air is touched with a lazy
fragrance, as of hidden flowers; and there is a sense, too, of silent
and remote lives, of men that glide quietly to and fro in the great
pastures, going quietly about their work in a leisurely calm. In the
winter it is fairer still, if one has a taste for austerity. The trees
are leafless now; and the whole flat is lightly washed with the most
delicate and spare tints, the pasture tinted with the yellowing bent,
the pale stubble, the rich plough-land, all blending into a subdued
colour; and then, as the day declines and the plain is rimmed with a
frosty mist, the smouldering glow of the orange sunset begins to burn
clear on the horizon, the grey laminated clouds becoming ridged with
gold and purple, till the whole fades, like a shoaling sea, into the
purest green, while the cloud-banks grow black and ominous, and far-off
lights twinkle like stars in solitary farms.

Of the house itself, exteriorly, perhaps the less said the better; it
was built by an earl, to whom the estate belonged, as a shooting-box. I
have often thought that it must have been ordered from the Army and
Navy Stores. It is of yellow brick, blue-slated, and there has been a
pathetic feeling after giving it a meanly Gothic air; it is ill-placed,
shut in by trees, approached only by a very dilapidated farm-road; and
the worst of it is that a curious and picturesque house was destroyed to
build it. It stands in what was once a very pretty and charming little
park, with an ancient avenue of pollard trees, lime and elm. You can see
the old terraces of the Hall, the mounds of ruins, the fish-ponds, the
grass-grown pleasance. It is pleasantly timbered, and I have an orchard
of honest fruit-trees of my own. First of all I expect it was a Roman
fort; for the other day my gardener brought me in half of the handle of
a fine old Roman water-jar, red pottery smeared with plaster, with two
pretty laughing faces pinched lightly out under the volutes. A few days
after I felt like Polycrates of Samos, that over-fortunate tyrant, when,
walking myself in my garden, I descried and gathered up the rest of the
same handle, the fractures fitting exactly. There are traces of Roman
occupation hereabouts in mounds and earthworks. Not long ago a man
ploughing in the fen struck an old red vase up with the share, and
searching the place found a number of the same urns within the space
of a few yards, buried in the peat, as fresh as the day they were made.
There was nothing else to be found, and the place was under water till
fifty years ago; so that it must have been a boatload of pottery being
taken in to market that was swamped there, how many centuries ago! But
there have been stranger things than that found; half a mile away, where
the steep gravel hill slopes down to the fen, a man hoeing brought up
a bronze spear-head. He took it to the lord of the manor, who was
interested in curiosities. The squire hurried to the place and had it
all dug out carefully; quite a number of spear-heads were found, and a
beautiful bronze sword, with the holes where the leather straps of the
handle passed in and out. I have held this fine blade in my hands, and
it is absolutely undinted. It may be Roman, but it is probably earlier.
Nothing else was found, except some mouldering fragments of wood that
looked like spear-staves; and this, too, it seems, must have been a
boatload of warriors, perhaps some raiding party, swamped on the edge
of the lagoon with all their unused weapons, which they were presumably
unable to recover, if indeed any survived to make the attempt. Hard by
is the place where the great fight related in Hereward the Wake took
place. The Normans were encamped southwards at Willingham, where a line
of low entrenchments is still known as Belsar's Field, from Belisarius,
the Norman Duke in command. It is a quiet enough place now, and the
yellow-hammers sing sweetly and sharply in the thick thorn hedges. The
Normans made a causeway of faggots and earth across the fen, but came
at last to the old channel of the Ouse, which they could not bridge;
and here they attempted to cross in great flat-bottomed boats, but were
foiled by Hereward and his men, their boats sunk, and hundreds of stout
warriors drowned in the oozy river-bed. There still broods for me a
certain horror over the place, where the river in its confined channel
now runs quietly, by sedge and willow-herb and golden-rod, between its
high flood banks, to join the Cam to the east.

But to return to my house. It was once a monastic grange of Ely, a
farmstead with a few rooms, no doubt, where sick monks and ailing
novices were sent to get change of air and a taste of country life.
There is a bit of an old wall still bordering my garden, and a strip of
pale soil runs across the gooseberry beds, pale with dust of mortar
and chips of brick, where another old wall stood. There was a great
pigeon-house here, pulled down for the shooting-box, and the garden is
still full of old carved stones, lintels, and mullions, and capitals of
pillars, and a grotesque figure of a bearded man, with a tunic confined
round the waist by a cord, which crowns one of my rockeries. But it
is all gone now, and the pert cockneyfied house stands up among the
shrubberies and walnuts, surveying the ruins of what has been.

But I must not abuse my house, because whatever it is outside, it is
absolutely comfortable and convenient within: it is solid, well built,
spacious, sensible, reminding one of the "solid joys and lasting
treasure" that the hymn says "none but Zion's children know." And,
indeed, it is a Zion to be at ease in.

One other great charm it has: from the end of my orchard the ground
falls rapidly in a great pasture. Some six miles away, over the dark
expanse of Grunty Fen, the towers of Ely, exquisitely delicate and
beautiful, crown the ridge; on clear sunny days I can see the sun
shining on the lead roofs, and the great octagon rises with all its
fretted pinnacles. Indeed, so kind is Providence, that the huge brick
mass of the Ely water-tower, like an overgrown Temple of Vesta, blends
itself pleasantly with the cathedral, projecting from the western front
like a great Galilee.

The time to make pious pilgrimage to Ely is when the apple-orchards
are in bloom. Then the grim western tower, with its sombre windows, the
gabled roofs of the canonical houses, rise in picturesque masses over
acres of white blossom. But for me, six miles away, the cathedral is
a never-ending sight of beauty. On moist days it draws nearer, as if
carved out of a fine blue stone; on a grey day it looks more like a
fantastic crag, with pinnacles of rock. Again it will loom a ghostly
white against a thunder-laden sky. Grand and pathetic at once, for it
stands for something that we have parted with. What was the outward and
stately form of a mighty idea, a rich system, is now little more than an
aesthetic symbol. It has lost heart, somehow, and its significance
only exists for ecclesiastically or artistically minded persons; it
represents a force no longer in the front of the battle.

One other fine feature of the countryside there is, of which one never
grows tired. If one crosses over to Sutton, with its huge church, the
tower crowned with a noble octagon, and the village pleasantly perched
along a steep ridge of orchards, one can drop down to the west, past a
beautiful old farmhouse called Berristead, with an ancient chapel, built
into the homestead, among fine elms. The road leads out upon the fen,
and here run two great Levels, as straight as a line for many miles, up
which the tide pulsates day by day; between them lies a wide tract of
pasture called the Wash, which in summer is a vast grazing-ground for
herds, in rainy weather a waste of waters, like a great estuary--north
and south it runs, crossed by a few roads or black-timbered bridges, the
fen-water pouring down to the sea. It is a great place for birds this.
The other day I disturbed a brood of redshanks here, the parent birds
flying round and round, piping mournfully, almost within reach of my
hand. A little further down, not many months ago, there was observed a
great commotion in the stream, as of some big beast swimming slowly; the
level was netted, and they hauled out a great sturgeon, who had somehow
lost his way, and was trying to find a spawning-ground. There is an
ancient custom that all sturgeon, netted in English waters, belong by
right to the sovereign; but no claim was advanced in this case. The line
between Ely and March crosses the level, further north, and the huge
freight-trains go smoking and clanking over the fen all day. I often
walk along the grassy flood-bank for a mile or two, to the tiny decayed
village of Mepal, with a little ancient church, where an old courtier
lies, an Englishman, but with property near Lisbon, who was a
gentleman-in-waiting to James II. in his French exile, retired
invalided, and spent the rest of his days "between Portugal and Byall
Fen"--an odd pair of localities to be so conjoined!

And what of the life that it is possible to live in my sequestered
grange? I suppose there is not a quieter region in the whole of England.
There are but two or three squires and a few clergy in the Isle, but the
villages are large and prosperous; the people eminently friendly,
shrewd and independent, with homely names for the most part, but with a
sprinkling both of Saxon appellations, like Cutlack, which is Guthlac
a little changed, and Norman names, like Camps, inherited perhaps from
some invalided soldier who made his home there after the great fight.
There is but little communication with the outer world; on market-days a
few trains dawdle along the valley from Ely to St. Ives and back again.
They are fine, sturdy, prosperous village communities, that mind their
own business, and take their pleasure in religion and in song, like
their forefathers the fenmen, Girvii, who sang their three-part catches
with rude harmony.

Part of the charm of the place is, I confess, its loneliness. One may go
for weeks together with hardly a caller; there are no social functions,
no festivities, no gatherings. One may once in a month have a chat with
a neighbour, or take a cup of tea at a kindly parsonage. But people
tend to mind their own business, and live their own lives in their own
circle; yet there is an air of tranquil neighbourliness all about. The
inhabitants of the region respect one's taste in choosing so homely and
serene a region for a dwelling-place, and they know that whatever motive
one may have had for coming, it was not dictated by a feverish love of
society. I have never known a district--and I have lived in many parts
of England--where one was so naturally and simply accepted as a part
of the place. One is greeted in all directions with a comfortable
cordiality, and a natural sort of good-breeding; and thus the life comes
at once to have a precise quality, a character of its own. Every one
is independent, and one is expected to be independent too. There is no
suspicion of a stranger; it is merely recognised that he is in search of
a definite sort of life, and he is made frankly and unostentatiously at
home.

And so the days race away there in the middle of the mighty plain. No
plans are ever interrupted, no one questions one's going and coming as
one will, no one troubles his head about one's occupations or pursuits.
Any help or advice that one needs is courteously and readily given,
and no favours asked or expected in return. One little incident gave
me considerable amusement. There is a private footpath of my own which
leads close to my house; owing to the house having stood for some time
unoccupied, people had tended to use it as a short cut. The kindly
farmer obviated this by putting up a little notice-board, to indicate
that the path was private. A day or two afterwards it was removed and
thrown into a ditch. I was perturbed as well as surprised by this,
supposing that it showed that the notice had offended some local
susceptibility; and being very anxious to begin my tenure on neighbourly
terms, I consulted my genial landlord, who laughed, and said that there
was no one who would think of doing such a thing; and to reassure me he
added that one of his men had seen the culprit at work, and that it was
only an old horse, who had rubbed himself against the post till he had
thrown it down.

The days pass, then, in a delightful monotony; one reads, writes, sits
or paces in the garden, scours the country on still sunny afternoons.
There are many grand churches and houses within a reasonable distance,
such as the great churches near Wisbech and Lynn--West Walton, Walpole
St. Peter, Tilney, Terrington St. Clement, and a score of others--great
cruciform structures, in every conceivable style, with fine woodwork and
noble towers, each standing in the centre of a tiny rustic hamlet,
built with no idea of prudent proportion to the needs of the places they
serve, but out of pure joy and pride. There are houses like Beaupre,
a pile of fantastic brick, haunted by innumerable phantoms, with its
stately orchard closes, or the exquisite gables of Snore Hall, of rich
Tudor brickwork, with fine panelling within. There is no lack of
shrines for pilgrimage--then, too, it is not difficult to persuade some
like-minded friend to share one's solitude. And so the quiet hours
tick themselves away in an almost monastic calm, while one's book grows
insensibly day by day, as the bulrush rises on the edge of the dyke.

I do not say that it would be a life to live for the whole of a year,
and year by year. There is no stir, no eagerness, no brisk interchange
of thought about it. But for one who spends six months in a busy and
peopled place, full of duties and discussions and conflicting interests,
it is like a green pasture and waters of comfort. The danger of it, if
prolonged, would be that things would grow languid, listless, fragrant
like the Lotos-eaters' Isle; small things would assume undue importance,
small decisions would seem unduly momentous; one would tend to regard
one's own features as in a mirror and through a magnifying glass. But,
on the other hand, it is good, because it restores another kind of
proportion; it is like dipping oneself in the seclusion of a monastic
cell. Nowadays the image of the world, with all its sheets of detailed
news, all its network of communications, sets too deep a mark upon one's
spirit. We tend to believe that a man is lost unless he is overwhelmed
with occupation, unless, like the conjurer, he is keeping a dozen balls
in the air at once. Such a gymnastic teaches a man alertness, agility,
effectiveness. But it has got to be proved that one was sent into
the world to be effective, and it is not even certain that a man has
fulfilled the higher law of his being if he has made a large fortune
by business. A sagacious, shrewd, acute man of the world is sometimes
a mere nuisance; he has made his prosperous corner at the expense of
others, and he has only contrived to accumulate, behind a little fence
of his own, what was meant to be the property of all. I have known a
good many successful men, and I cannot honestly say that I think that
they are generally the better for their success. They have often learnt
self-confidence, the shadow of which is a good-natured contempt for
ineffective people; the shadow, on the other hand, which falls on the
contemplative man is an undue diffidence, an indolent depression, a
tendency to think that it does not very much matter what any one does.
But, on the other hand, the contemplative man sometimes does grasp one
very important fact--that we are sent into the world, most of us, to
learn something about God and ourselves; whereas if we spend our lives
in directing and commanding and consulting others, we get so swollen a
sense of our own importance, our own adroitness, our own effectiveness,
that we forget that we are tolerated rather than needed, it is better on
the whole to tarry the Lord's leisure, than to try impatiently to force
the hand of God, and to make amends for His apparent slothfulness. What
really makes a nation grow, and improve, and progress, is not social
legislation and organisation. That is only the sign of the rising moral
temperature; and a man who sets an example of soberness, and kindliness,
and contentment is better than a pragmatical district visitor with a
taste for rating meek persons.

It may be asked, then, do I set myself up as an example in this
matter? God forbid! I live thus because I like it, and not from any
philosophical or philanthropical standpoint. But if more men were
to follow their instincts in the matter, instead of being misled
and bewildered by the conventional view that attaches virtue to
perspiration, and national vigour to the multiplication of unnecessary
business, it would be a good thing for the community. What I claim is
that a species of mental and moral equilibrium is best attained by a
careful proportion of activity and quietude. What happens in the case of
the majority of people is that they are so much occupied in the process
of acquisition that they have no time to sort or dispose their stores;
and thus life, which ought to be a thing complete in itself, and ought
to be spent, partly in gathering materials, and partly in drawing
inferences, is apt to be a hurried accumulation lasting to the edge of
the tomb. We are put into the world, I cannot help feeling, to BE rather
than to DO. We excuse our thirst for action by pretending to ourselves
that our own doing may minister to the being of others; but all that it
often effects is to inoculate others with the same restless and feverish
bacteria.

And anyhow, as I said, it is but an experiment. I can terminate it
whenever I have the wish to do so. Even if it is a failure, it will at
all events have been an experiment, and others may learn wisdom by my
mistake; because it must be borne in mind that a failure in a deliberate
experiment in life is often more fruitful than a conventional
success. People as a rule are so cautious; and it is of course highly
disagreeable to run a risk, and to pay the penalty. Life is too short,
one feels, to risk making serious mistakes; but, on the other hand,
the cautious man often has the catastrophe, without even having had
the pleasure of a run for his money. Jowett, the high priest of worldly
wisdom, laid down as a maxim, "Never resign"; but I have found myself
that there is no pleasure comparable to disentangling oneself from
uncongenial surroundings, unless it be the pleasure of making mild
experiments and trying unconventional schemes.



II. CONTENTMENT


I have attempted of late, in more than one book, to depict a certain
kind of tranquil life, a life of reflection rather than of action, of
contemplation rather than of business; and I have tried to do this
from different points of view, though the essence has been the same. I
endeavoured at first to do it anonymously, because I have no desire to
recommend these ideas as being my own theories. The personal background
rather detracts from than adds to the value of the thoughts, because
people can compare my theories with my practice, and show how lamentably
I fail to carry them out. But time after time I have been pulled
reluctantly out of my burrow, by what I still consider a wholly
misguided zeal for publicity, till I have decided that I will lurk no
longer. It was in this frame of mind that I published, under my own
name, a book called Beside Still Waters, a harmless enough volume, I
thought, which was meant to be a deliberate summary or manifesto of
these ideas. It depicted a young man who, after a reasonable experience
of practical life, resolved to retire into the shade, who in that
position indulged profusely in leisurely reverie. The book was carefully
enough written, and I have been a good deal surprised to find that it
has met with considerable disapproval, and even derision, on the part
of many reviewers. It has been called morbid and indolent, and decadent,
and half a hundred more ugly adjectives. Now I do not for an instant
question the right of a single one of these conscientious persons to
form whatever opinion they like about my book, and to express it in any
terms they like; they say, and obviously feel, that the thought of the
book is essentially thin, and that the vein in which it is written is
offensively egotistical. I do not dispute the possibility of their being
perfectly right. An artist who exhibits his paintings, or a writer who
publishes his books, challenges the criticisms of the public; and I am
quite sure that the reviewers who frankly disliked my book, and said
so plainly, thought that they were doing their duty to the public, and
warning them against teaching which they believed to be insidious
and even immoral. I honour them for doing this, and I applaud them,
especially if they did violence to their own feelings of courtesy and
urbanity in doing so. Then there were some good-natured reviewers
who practically said that the book was simply a collection of amiable
platitudes; but that if the public liked to read such stuff, they were
quite at liberty to do so. I admire these reviewers for a different
reason, partly for their tolerant permission to the public to read what
they choose, and still more because I like to think that there are so
many intelligent people in the world who are wearisomely familiar with
ideas which have only slowly and gradually dawned upon myself. I have
no intention of trying to refute or convince my critics, and I beg them
with all my heart to say what they think about my books, because only by
the frank interchange of ideas can we arrive at the truth.

But what I am going to try to do in this chapter is to examine the
theory by virtue of which my book is condemned, and I am going to try
to give the fullest weight to the considerations urged against it. I
am sure there is something in what the critics say, but I believe that
where we differ is in this. The critics who disapprove of my book seem
to me to think that all men are cast in the same mould, and that the
principles which hold good for some necessarily hold good for all. What
I like best about their criticisms is that they are made in a spirit of
moral earnestness and ethical seriousness. I am a serious man myself,
and I rejoice to see others serious. The point of view which they
seem to recommend is the point of view of a certain kind of practical
strenuousness, the gospel of push, if I may so call it. They seem to
hold that people ought to be discontented with what they are, that they
ought to try to better themselves, that they ought to be active,
and what they call normal; that when they have done their work as
energetically as possible, they should amuse themselves energetically
too, take hard exercise, shout and play,


     "Pleased as the Indian boy to run
      And shoot his arrows in the sun,"


and that then they should recreate themselves like Homeric heroes,
eating and drinking, listening comfortably to the minstrel, and take
their fill of love in a full-blooded way.

That is, I think, a very good theory of life for some people, though I
think it is a little barbarous; it is Spartan rather than Athenian.

Some of my critics take a higher kind of ground, and say that I want to
minimise and melt down the old stern beliefs and principles of morality
into a kind of nebulous emotion. They remind me a little of an old
country squire of whom I have heard, of the John Bull type, whose
younger son, a melancholy and sentimental youth, joined the Church of
Rome. His father was determined that this should not separate them, and
asked him to come home and talk it over. He told his eldest son that
he was going to remonstrate with the erring youth in a simple and
affectionate way. The eldest son said that he hoped his father would do
it tactfully and gently, as his brother was highly sensitive, to which
his father replied that he had thought over what he meant to say, and
was going to be very reasonable. The young man arrived, and was ushered
into the study by his eldest brother. "Well," said the squire, "very
glad to see you, Harry; but do you mean to tell me that your mother's
religion is not good enough for a damned ass like you?"

Now far from desiring to minimise faith in God and the Unseen, I think
it is the thing of which the world is more in need than anything else.
What has made the path of faith a steep one to tread is partly that it
has got terribly encumbered with ecclesiastical traditions; it has been
mended, like the Slough of Despond, with cartloads of texts and insecure
definitions. And partly too the old simple undisturbed faith in the
absolute truth and authority of the Bible has given way. It is admitted
that the Bible contains a considerable admixture of the legendary
element; and it requires a strong intellectual and moral grip to build
one's faith upon a collection of writings, some of which, at all events,
are not now regarded as being historically and literally true. "If I
cannot believe it all," says the simple bewildered soul, "how can I
be certain that any of it is indubitably true?" Only the patient
and desirous spirit can decide; but whatever else fades, the perfect
insight, the Divine message of the Son of Man cannot fade; the dimmer
that the historical setting becomes, the brighter shine the parables
and the sayings, so far beyond the power of His followers to have
originated, so utterly satisfying to our deepest needs. What I desire to
say with all my heart is that we pilgrims need not be dismayed because
the golden clue dips into darkness and mist; it emerges as bright as
ever upon the upward slope of the valley. If one disregards all that is
uncertain, all that cannot be held to be securely proved in the sacred
writings, there still remain the essential facts of the Christian
revelation, and more deep and fruitful principles than a man can
keep and make his own in the course of a lifetime, however purely and
faithfully he lives and strives. To myself the doubtful matters are
things absolutely immaterial, like the debris of the mine, while the
precious ore gleams and sparkles in every boulder.

What, in effect, these critics say is that a man must not discuss
religion unless he is an expert in theology. When I try, as I have once
or twice tried, to criticise some current conception of a Christian
dogma, the theological reviewer, with a titter that resembles the titter
of Miss Squeers in Nicholas Nickleby, says that a writer who presumes
to discuss such questions ought to be better acquainted with the modern
developments of theology. To that I demur, because I am not attempting
to discuss theology, but current conceptions of theology. If the
advance in theology has been so enormous, then all I can say is that the
theologians fail to bring home the knowledge of that progress to the man
in the street. To use a simple parable, what one feels about many modern
theological statements is what the eloquent bagman said in praise of the
Yorkshire ham: "Before you know where you are, there--it's wanished!"
This is not so in science; science advances, and the ordinary man knows
more or less what is going on; he understands what is meant by the
development of species, he has an inkling of what radio-activity means,
and so forth; but this is because science is making discoveries, while
theological discoveries are mainly of a liberal and negative kind, a
modification of old axioms, a loosening of old definitions. Theology has
made no discoveries about the nature of God, or the nature of the soul;
the problem of free will and necessity is as dark as ever, except that
scientific discovery tends to show more and more that an immutable law
regulates the smallest details of life. I honour, with all my heart, the
critics who have approached the Bible in the same spirit in which they
approach other literature; but the only definite result has been to make
what was considered a matter of blind faith more a matter of opinion.
But to attempt to scare men away from discussing religious topics, by
saying that it is only a matter for experts, is to act in the spirit
of the Inquisition. It is like saying to a man that he must not discuss
questions of diet and exercise because he is not acquainted with the
Pharmacopoeia, or that no one may argue on matters of current politics
unless he is a trained historian. Religion is, or ought to be, a matter
of vital and daily concern for every one of us; if our moral progress
and our spiritual prospects are affected by what we believe, theologians
ought to be grateful to any one who will discuss religious ideas
from the current point of view, if it only leads them to clear up
misconceptions that may prevail. If I needed to justify myself further,
I would only add that since I began to write on such subjects I have
received a large number of letters from unknown people, who seem to be
grateful to any one who will attempt to speak frankly on these matters,
with the earnest desire, which I can honestly say has never been absent
from my mind, to elucidate and confirm a belief in simple and essential
religious principles.

And now I would go on to say a few words as to the larger object which I
have had in view. My aim has been to show how it is possible for people
living quiet and humdrum lives, without any opportunities of gratifying
ambition or for taking a leading part on the stage of the world, to make
the most of simple conditions, and to live lives of dignity and joy.
My own belief is that what is commonly called success has an insidious
power of poisoning the clear springs of life; because people who grow
to depend upon the stimulus of success sink into dreariness and dulness
when that stimulus is withdrawn. Here my critics have found fault with
me for not being more strenuous, more virile, more energetic. It is
strange to me that my object can have been so singularly misunderstood.
I believe, with all my heart, that happiness depends upon strenuous
energy; but I think that this energy ought to be expended upon work, and
everyday life, and relations with others, and the accessible pleasures
of literature and art. The gospel that I detest is the gospel of
success, the teaching that every one ought to be discontented with his
setting, that a man ought to get to the front, clear a space round him,
eat, drink, make love, cry, strive, and fight. It is all to be at the
expense of feebler people. That is a detestable ideal, because it is
the gospel of tyranny rather than the gospel of equality. It is obvious,
too, that such success depends upon a man being stronger than his
fellows, and is only made possible by shoving and hectoring, and
bullying the weak. The preaching of this violent gospel has done us
already grievous harm; it is this which has tended to depopulate country
districts, to make people averse to discharging all honest subordinate
tasks, to make men and women overvalue excitement and amusement. The
result of it is the lowest kind of democratic sentiment, which says,
"Every one is as good as every one else, and I am a little better," and
the jealous spirit, which says, "If I cannot be prominent, I will do
my best that no one else shall be." Out of it develops the demon of
municipal politics, which makes a man strive for a place, in the hope
being able to order things for which others have to pay. It is this
teaching which makes power seem desirable for the sake of personal
advantages, and with no care for responsibility. This spirit seems to
me an utterly vile and detestable spirit. It tends to disguise its rank
individualism under a pretence of desiring to improve social conditions.
I do not mean for a moment to say that all social reformers are of
this type; the clean-handed social reformer, who desires no personal
advantage, and whose influence is a matter of anxious care, is one
of the noblest of men; but now that schemes of social reform are
fashionable, there are a number of blatant people who them for purposes
of personal advancement.

What I rather desire is to encourage a very different kind of
individualism, the individualism of the man who realises that the hope
of the race depends upon the quality of the life, upon the number of
people who live quiet, active, gentle, kindly, faithful lives, enjoying
their work and turning for recreation to the nobler and simpler sources
of pleasure--the love of nature, poetry, literature, and art. Of course
the difficulty is that we do not, most of us, find our pleasures in
these latter things, but in the excitement and amusement of social life.
I mournfully admit it, and I quite see the uselessness of trying to
bring pleasures within the reach of people when they have no taste for
them; but an increasing number of people do care for such things, and
there are still more who would care for them, if only they could be
introduced to them at an impressionable age.

If it is said that this kind of simplicity is a very tame and spiritless
thing, I would answer that it has the advantage of being within the
reach of all. The reason why the pursuit of social advancement and
success is so hollow, is that the subordinate life is after all the life
that must fall to the majority of people. We cannot organise society
on the lines of the army of a lesser German state, which consisted
of twenty-four officers, covered with military decorations, and
eight privates. The successful men, whatever happens, must be a small
minority; and what I desire is that success, as it is called, should
fall quietly and inevitably on the heads of those who deserve it,
while ordinary people should put it out of their thoughts. It is no use
holding up an ideal which cannot be attained, and which the mere attempt
to attain is fruitful in disaster and discontent.

I do not at all wish to teach a gospel of dulness. I am of the opinion
of the poet who said:


     "Life is not life at all without delight,
         Nor hath it any might."


But I am quite sure that the real pleasures of the world are those which
cannot be bought for money, and which are wholly independent of success.

Every one who has watched children knows the extraordinary amount of
pleasure that they can extract out of the simplest materials. To keep
a shop in the corner of a garden, where the commodities are pebbles and
thistle-heads stored in old tin pots, and which are paid for in daisies,
will be an engrossing occupation to healthy children for a long summer
afternoon. There is no reason why that kind of zest should not be
imported into later life; and, as a matter of fact, people who practise
self-restraint, who are temperate and quiet, do retain a gracious kind
of contentment in all that they do or say, or think, to extreme old age;
it is the jaded weariness of overstrained lives that needs the stimulus
of excitement to carry them along from hour to hour. Who does not
remember the rigid asceticism of Ruskin's childhood? A bunch of keys
to play with, and a little later a box of bricks; the Bible and The
Pilgrim's Progress and Robinson Crusoe to read; a summary whipping if
he fell down and hurt himself, or if he ever cried. Yet no one
would venture to say that this austerity in any way stunted Ruskin's
development or limited his range of pleasures; it made him perhaps a
little submissive and unadventurous. But who that ever saw him, as the
most famous art-critic of the day, being mercilessly snubbed, when he
indulged in paradoxes, by the old wine-merchant, or being told to hold
his tongue by the grim old mother, and obeying cheerfully and sweetly,
would have preferred him to have been loud, contradictory, and
self-assertive? The mischief of our present system of publicity is that
we cannot enjoy our own ideas, unless we can impress people with them,
or, at all events, impress people with a sense of our enjoyment of them.
There is a noble piece of character-drawing in one of Mr. Henry
James's novels, The Portrait of a Lady, where Gilbert Osmond, a selfish
dilettante, finding that he cannot make a great success or attain a
great position, devotes himself to trying to mystify and provoke
the curiosity of the world by retiring into a refined seclusion, and
professing that it affords him an exquisite kind of enjoyment. The
hideous vulgarity of his attitude is not at first sight apparent; he
deceives the heroine, who is a considerable heiress, into thinking that
here, at last, is a man who is living a quiet and sincere life among the
things of the soul; and having obtained possession of her purse, he sets
up house in a dignified old palace in Rome, where he continues to amuse
himself by inviting distinguished persons to visit him, in order that he
may have the pleasure of excluding the lesser people who would like to
be included.

This is, of course, doing the thing upon an almost sublime scale; but
the fact remains that in an age which values notoriety above everything
except property, a great many people do suffer from the disease of not
enjoying things, unless they are aware that others envy their enjoyment.
To people of an artistic temperament this is a sore temptation, because
the essence of the artistic temperament is its egotism, and egotism,
like the Bread-and-butter fly, requires a special nutriment, the
nutriment of external admiration.

And here, I think, lies one of the pernicious results of an
over-developed system of athletics. The more games that people play, the
better; but I do not think it is wholesome to talk about them for large
spaces of leisure time, any more than it is wholesome to talk about your
work or your meals. The result of all the talk about athletics is that
the newspapers get full of them too. That is only natural. It is the
business of newspapers to find out what interests people, and to
tell them about it; but the bad side of it is that young athletes get
introduced to the pleasures of publicity, and that ambitious young
men think that athletics are a short cut to fame. To have played in a
University eleven is like accepting a peerage; you wear for the rest of
your life an agreeable and honourable social label, and I do not think
that a peerage is deserved, or should be accepted, at the age of twenty.
I do not think it is a good kind of fame which depends on a personal
performance rather than upon a man's usefulness to the human race.

The kind of contentment that I should like to see on the increase is the
contentment of a man who works hard and enjoys work, both in itself and
in the contrast it supplies to his leisure hours; and, further, whose
leisure is full of varied interests, not only definite pursuits, but an
interest in his relations with others, not only of a spectatorial kind,
but with the natural and instinctive desire to contribute to their
happiness, not in a priggish way, but from a sense of cordial
good-fellowship.

This programme may seem, as I have said, to be unambitious and prosaic,
and to have very little that is stirring about it. But my belief is that
it can be the most lively, sensitive, fruitful, and enjoyable programme
in the world, because the enjoyment of it depends upon the very stuff of
life itself, and not upon skimming the cream off and throwing away the
milk.

My critics will say that I am only appearing again from my cellar, with
my hands filled with bottled platitudes; but if they are platitudes, by
which I mean plain and obvious truths, why do we not find more people
practising them? What I mean by a platitude is a truth so obvious that
it is devoid of inspiration, and has become one of the things that every
one does so instinctively, that no reminder of them is necessary. Would
that it were so in the present case! All I can say is that I know very
few people who live their lives on these lines, and that most of the
people I know find inspiration anywhere but in the homely stuff of life.
Of course there are a good many people who take life stolidly enough,
and do not desire inspiration at all; but I do not mean that sort of
life in the least. I mean that it ought to be possible and delightful
for people to live lives full of activity and perception and kindliness
and joy, on very simple lines indeed; to take up their work day by day
with an agreeable sense of putting out their powers, to find in the
pageant of nature an infinite refreshment, and to let art and poetry
lift them up into a world of hopes and dreams and memories; and thus
life may become a meal to be eaten with appetite, with a wholesome
appreciation of its pleasant savours, rather than a meal eaten in
satiety or greediness, with a peevish repining that it is not more
elaborate and delicate.

I do not claim to live my own life on these lines. I started, as all
sensitive and pleasure-loving natures do, with an expectation of finding
life a much more exciting, amusing, and delightful thing than I have
found it. I desired to skip from peak to peak, without troubling to
descend into the valleys. But now that I have descended, partly out of
curiosity and partly out of inefficiency, no doubt, into the low-lying
vales, I have found them to be beautiful and interesting places, the
hedgerows full of flower and leaf, the thickets musical with the voices
of birds, the orchards loaded with fruit, the friendly homesteads rich
with tranquil life and abounding in quiet friendly people; and then the
very peaks themselves, past which my way occasionally conducts me, have
a beautiful solemnity of pure outline and strong upliftedness, seen from
below, which I think they tend to lose, seen from the summit; and if
I have spoken of the quieter joys, it is--I can say this with perfect
honesty--because I have been pleased with them, as a bird is pleased
with the sunshine and the berries, and sings, not that the passers-by
may admire his notes, but out of simple joy of heart; and, after all, it
is enough justification, if a pilgrim or two have stopped upon their way
to listen with a smile. That alone persuades me that one does no harm
by speaking, even if there are other passers-by who say what a tiresome
note it is, that they have heard it a hundred times before, and cannot
think why the stupid bird does not vary his song. Personally, I would
rather hear the yellow-hammer utter his sharp monotonous notes, with
the dropping cadence at the end, than that he should try to imitate the
nightingale.

However, as I have said, I am quite willing to believe that the critics
speak, or think they speak, in the interests of the public, and with a
tender concern that the public should not be bored. And I will take my
leave of them by saying, like Miss Flite, that I will ask them to accept
a blessing, and that when I receive a judgment, I shall confer estates
impartially.

But my last word shall be to my readers, and I will beg of them not to
be deceived either by experts or by critics; on the one hand, not to
be frightened away from speculating and reflecting about the possible
meanings of life by the people who say that no one under the degree of
a Bachelor of Divinity has any right to tackle the matter; and, on the
other hand, I would implore them to believe that a quiet life is not
necessarily a dull life, and that the cutting off of alcohol does not
necessarily mean a lowering of physical vitality; but rather that if
they will abstain for a little from dependence upon excitement, they
will find their lives flooded by a new kind of quality, which heightens
perception and increases joy. Of course souls will ache and ail, and
we have to bear the burden of our ancestors' weaknesses as well as
the burden of our own; but just as, in the physical region, diet
and exercise and regularity can effect more cures than the strongest
medicines, so, in the life of the spirit, self-restraint and deliberate
limitation and tranquil patience will often lead into a vigorous and
effective channel the stream that, left to itself, welters and wanders
among shapeless pools and melancholy marshes.



III. FRIENDSHIP


To make oneself beloved, says an old French proverb, this is, after
all, the best way to be useful. That is one of the deep sayings which
children think flat, and which young men, and even young women, despise;
and which a middle-aged man hears with a certain troubled surprise, and
wonders if there is not something in it after all; and which old people
discover to be true, and think with a sad regret of opportunities
missed, and of years devoted, how unprofitably, to other kinds of
usefulness! The truth is that most of us who have any ambitions at all,
do not start in life with a hope of being useful, but rather with an
intention of being ornamental. We think, like joseph in his childish
dreams, that the sun and moon and the eleven stars, to say nothing
of the sheaves, are going to make obeisance to us. We want to be
impressive, rich, beautiful, influential, admired, envied; and then, as
we move forward, the visions fade. We have to be content if, in a quiet
corner, a single sheaf gives us a nod of recognition; and as for the
eleven stars, they seem unaware of our very existence! And then we
make further discoveries; that when we have seemed to ourselves most
impressive, we have only been pretentious; that riches are only a
talisman against poverty, and even make suffering and pain and grief
more unendurable; that beauty fades into stolidity or weariness; that
influence comes mostly to people who do not pursue it, and that the
best kind of influence belongs to those who do not even know that they
possess it; that admiration is but a brilliant husk, which may or may
not contain a wholesome kernel; and as for envy, there is poison in that
cup! And then we become aware that the best crowns have fallen to those
who have not sought them, and that simple-minded and unselfish people
have won the prize which has been denied to brilliance and ambition.

That is the process which is often called disillusionment; and it is a
sad enough business for people who only look at one side of the medal,
and who brood over the fact that they have been disappointed and have
failed. For such as these, there follow the faded years of cynicism and
dreariness. But that disillusionment, that humiliation, are the freshest
and most beautiful things in the world, for people who have real
generosity of spirit, and whose vanity has been of a superficial kind;
because they thus realise that these great gifts are real and true
things, but that they must be deserved and not captured; and then
perhaps such people begin their life-work afresh, in a humble and
hopeful spirit; and if it be too late for them to do what they might
have once done, they do not waste time in futile regret, but are
grateful for ever so little love and tenderness. After all, they have
lived, they have learnt by experience; and it does not yet appear what
we shall be. Somewhere, far hence--who knows?--we shall make a better
start.

Some philosophers have devoted time and thought to tracing backwards all
our emotions to their primal origin; and it is undoubtedly true that in
the intensest and most passionate relationships of life--the love of a
man for a woman, or a mother for a child--there is a large admixture of
something physical, instinctive, and primal. But the fact also remains
that there are unnumbered relationships between all sorts of apparently
incongruous persons, of which the basis is not physical desire, or the
protective instinct, and is not built up upon any hope of gain or profit
whatsoever. All sorts of qualities may lend a hand to strengthen and
increase and confirm these bonds; but what lies at the base of all is
simply a sort of vital congeniality. The friend is the person whom one
is in need of, and by whom one is needed. Life is a sweeter, stronger,
fuller, more gracious thing for the friend's existence, whether he be
near or far: if the friend is close at hand, that is best; but if he is
far away, he is still there, to think of, to wonder about, to hear from,
to write to, to share life and experience with, to serve, to honour,
to admire, to love. But again it is a mistake to think that one makes
a friend because of his or her qualities; it has nothing to do with
qualities at all. If the friend has noble qualities, we admire them
because they are his; if he has obviously bad and even noxious faults,
how readily we condone them or overlook them! It is the person that we
want, not what he does or says, or does not do or say, but what he is:
that is eternally enough.

Of course, it does sometimes happen that we think we have made a friend,
and on closer acquaintance we find things in him that are alien to our
very being; but even so, such a friendship often survives, if we have
given our heart, or if affection has been bestowed upon us--affection
which we cannot doubt. Some of the richest friendships of all are
friendships between people whose whole view of life is sharply
contrasted; and then what blessed energy can be employed in defending
one's friend, in explaining him to other people, in minimising faults,
in emphasising virtues! "While the thunder lasted," says the old Indian
proverb, "two bad men were friends." That means that a common danger
will sometimes draw even malevolent people together. But, for most of
us, the only essential thing to friendship is a kind of mutual trust and
confidence. It does not even shake our faith to know that our friend may
play other people false: we feel by a kind of secret instinct that he
will not play us false; and even if it be proved incontestably that he
has played us false, why, we believe that he will not do so again, and
we have all the pleasure of forgiveness.

Who shall explain the extraordinary instinct that tells us, perhaps
after a single meeting, that this or that particular person in some
mysterious way matters to us? The person in question may have no
attractive gifts of intellect or manner or personal appearance; but
there is some strange bond between us; we seem to have shared experience
together, somehow and somewhere; he is interesting, whether he speaks or
is silent, whether he agrees or disagrees. We feel that in some secret
region he is congenial. Est mihi nescio quid quod me tibi temperat
astrum, says the old Latin poet--"There is something, I know not what,
which yokes our fortunes, yours and mine." Sometimes indeed we are
mistaken, and the momentary nearness fades and grows cold. But it is
not often so. That peculiar motion of the heart, that secret joining of
hands, is based upon something deep and vital, some spiritual kinship,
some subtle likeness.

Of course, we differ vastly in our power of attracting and feeling
attraction. I confess that, for myself, I never enter a new company
without the hope that I may discover a friend, perhaps THE friend,
sitting there with an expectant smile. That hope survives a thousand
disappointments; yet most of us tend to make fewer friends as time goes
on, partly because we have not so much emotional activity to spare,
partly because we become more cautious and discreet; and partly, too,
because we become more aware of the responsibilities which lie in
the background of a friendship, and because we tend to be more shy of
responsibility. Some of us become less romantic and more comfortable;
some of us become more diffident about what we have to give in return;
some of us begin to feel that we cannot take up new ideas--none of
them very good reasons perhaps; but still, for whatever reason, we make
friends less easily. The main reason probably is that we acquire a
point of view, and it is easier to keep to that, and fit people in who
accommodate themselves to it, than to modify the point of view with
reference to the new personalities. People who deal with life generously
and large-heartedly go on multiplying relationships to the end.

Of course, as I have said, there are infinite grades of friendship,
beginning with the friendship which is a mere camaraderie arising out of
habit and proximity; and every one ought to be capable of forming this
last relationship. The modest man, said Stevenson, finds his friendships
ready-made; by which he meant that if one is generous, tolerant, and
ungrudging, then, instead of thinking the circle in which one lives
inadequate, confined, and unsympathetic, one gets the best out of it,
and sees the lovable side of ordinary human beings. Such friendships
as these can evoke perhaps the best and simplest kind of loyalty. It
is said that in countries where oxen are used for ploughing in double
harness, there are touching instances of an ox pining away, and even
dying, if he loses his accustomed yoke-fellow. There are such human
friendships, sometimes formed on a blood relationship, such as
the friendship of a brother and a sister; and sometimes a marriage
transforms itself into this kind of camaraderie, and is a very blessed,
quiet, beautiful thing.

And then there are infinite gradations, such as the friendships of
old and young, pupils and masters, parents and children, nurses
and nurslings, employers and servants, all of them in a way unequal
friendships, but capable of evoking the deepest and purest kinds of
devotion: such famous friendships have been Carlyle's devotion to his
parents, Boswell's to Johnson, Stanley's to Arnold; till at last
one comes to the typical and essential thing known specially as
friendship--the passionate, devoted, equal bond which exists between two
people of the same age and sex; many of which friendships are formed at
school and college, and which often fade away in a sort of cordial glow,
implying no particular communion of life and thought. Marriage is often
the great divorcer of such friendships, and circumstances generally,
which sever and estrange; because, unless there is a constant
interchange of thought and ideas, increasing age tends to emphasise
differences. But there are instances of men, like Newman and FitzGerald,
who kept up a sort of romantic quality of friendship to the end.

I remember the daughter of an old clergyman of my acquaintance
telling me a pathetic and yet typical story of the end of one of these
friendships. Her father and another elderly clergyman had been devoted
friends in boyhood and youth. Circumstances led to a suspension of
intercourse, but at last, after a gap of nearly thirty years, during
which the friends had not met, it was arranged that the old comrade
should come and stay at the vicarage. As the time approached, her
father grew visibly anxious, and coupled his frequent expression of the
exquisite pleasure which the visit was going to bring him with elaborate
arrangements as to which of his family should be responsible for the
entertainment of the old comrade at every hour of the day: the daughters
were to lead him out walking in the morning, his wife was to take him
out drives in the afternoon, and he was to share the smoking-room with a
son, who was at home, in the evenings--the one object being that the
old gentleman should not have to interrupt his own routine, or bear the
burden of entertaining a guest; and he eventually contrived only to meet
him at meals, when the two old friends did not appear to have anything
particular to say to each other. When the visit was over, her father
used to allude to his guest with a half-compassionate air: "Poor Harry,
he has aged terribly--I never saw a man so changed, with such a limited
range of interests; dear fellow, he has quite lost his old humour. Well,
well! it was a great pleasure to see him here. He was very anxious
that we should go to stay with him, but I am afraid that will be rather
difficult to manage; one is so much at a loose end in a strange house,
and then one's correspondence gets into arrears. Poor old Harry! What a
lively creature he was up at Trinity, to be sure!" Thus with a sigh dust
is committed to dust.

"What passions our friendships were!" said Thackeray to FitzGerald,
speaking of University days. There is a shadow of melancholy in the
saying, because it implies that for Thackeray at all events that kind
of glow had faded out of life. Perhaps--who knows?--he had accustomed
himself, with those luminous, observant, humorous eyes, to look too deep
into the heart of man, to study too closely and too laughingly the seamy
side, the strange contrast between man's hopes and his performances, his
dreams and his deeds. Ought one to be ashamed if that kind of generous
enthusiasm, that intensity of admiration, that vividness of sympathy die
out of one's heart? Is it possible to keep alive the warmth, the colour
of youth, suffusing all the objects near it with a lively and rosy glow?
Some few people seem to find it possible, and can add to it a kind of
rich tolerance, a lavish affectionateness, which pierces even deeper,
and sees even more clearly, than the old partial idealisation. Such a
large-hearted affection is found as a rule most often in people
whose lives have brought them into intimate connection with their
fellow-creatures--in priests, doctors, teachers, who see others not
in their guarded and superficial moments, but in hours of sharp and
poignant emotion. In many cases the bounds of sympathy narrow themselves
into the family and the home--because there only are men brought into an
intimate connection with human emotion; because to many people, and to
the Anglo-Saxon race in particular, emotional situations are a strain,
and only professional duty, which is a strongly rooted instinct in
the Anglo-Saxon temperament, keeps the emotional muscles agile and
responsive.

Another thing which tends to extinguish friendships is that many of the
people who desire to form them, and who do form them, wish to have
the pleasures of friendship without the responsibilities. In the
self-abandonment of friendship we become aware of qualities and strains
in the friend which we do not wholly like. One of the most difficult
things to tolerate in a friend are faults which are similar without
being quite the same. A common quality, for instance, in the Anglo-Saxon
race, is a touch of vulgarity, which is indeed the quality that makes
them practically successful. A great many Anglo-Saxon people have a
certain snobbishness, to give it a hard name; it is probably the poison
of the feudal system lurking in our veins. We admire success unduly;
we like to be respected, to have a definite label, to know the right
people.

I remember once seeing a friendship of a rather promising kind forming
between two people, one of whom had a touch of what I may call "county"
vulgarity, by which I mean an undue recognition of "the glories of our
birth and state." It was a deep-seated fault, and emerged in a form
which is not uncommon among people of that type--namely, a tendency
to make friends with people of rank, coupled with a constant desire to
detect snobbishness in other people. There is no surer sign of innate
vulgarity than that; it proceeds, as a rule, from a dim consciousness of
the fault, combined with the natural shame of a high-minded nature
for being subject to it. In this particular case the man in question
sincerely desired to resist the fault, but he could not avoid making
himself slightly more deferential, and consequently slightly more
agreeable, to persons of position. If he had not suffered from the
fault, he would never have given the matter a thought at all.

The other partner in the friendly enterprise had a touch of a different
kind of snobbishness--the middle-class professional snobbishness,
which pays an undue regard to success, and gravitates to effective
and distinguished people. As the friendship matured, each became
unpleasantly conscious of the other's defect, while remaining
unconscious of his own. The result was a perpetual little friction on
the point. If both could have been perfectly sincere, and could have
confessed their weakness frankly, no harm would have been done. But each
was so sincerely anxious to present an unblemished soul to the other's
view, that they could not arrive at an understanding on the point; each
desired to appear more disinterested than he was; and so, after coming
together to a certain extent--both were fine natures--the presence of
grit in the machinery made itself gradually felt, and the friendship
melted away. It was a case of each desiring the unalloyed pleasure of an
admiring friendship, without accepting the responsibility of discovering
that the other was not perfection, and bearing that discovery loyally
and generously. For this is the worst of a friendship that begins in
idealisation rather than in comradeship; and this is the danger of
all people who idealise. When two such come together and feel a mutual
attraction, they display instinctively and unconsciously the best
of themselves; but melancholy discoveries supervene; and then what
generally happens is that the idealising friend is angry with the other
for disappointing his hopes, not with himself for drawing an extravagant
picture.

Such friendships have a sort of emotional sensuality about them; and to
be dismayed by later discoveries is to decline upon Rousseau's vice of
handing in his babies to the Foundling Hospital, instead of trying to
bring them up honestly; what lies at the base of it is the indolent
shirking of the responsibilities for the natural consequences of
friendship. The mistake arises from a kind of selfishness, the
selfishness that thinks more of what it wants and desires to get, than
of taking what there is soberly and gratefully.

It is often said that it is the duty and privilege of a friend to warn
his friend faithfully against his faults. I believe that this is a
wholly mistaken principle. The essence of the situation is rather a
cordial partnership, of which the basis is liberty. What I mean
by liberty is not a freedom from responsibility, but an absence of
obligation. I do not, of course, mean that one is to take all one can
get and give as little as one likes, but rather that one must respect
one's friend enough--and that is implied in the establishment of the
relation--to abstain from directing him, unless he desires and asks for
direction. The telling of faults may be safely left to hostile critics,
and to what Sheridan calls "damned good-natured" acquaintances. But the
friend must take for granted that his friend desires, in a general way,
what is good and true, even though he may pursue it on different
lines. One's duty is to encourage and believe in one's friend, not to
disapprove of and to censure him. One loves him for what he is, not for
what he might be if he would only take one's advice. The point is that
it must be all a free gift, not a mutual improvement society--unless
indeed that is the basis of the compact. After all, a man can only feel
responsible to God. One goes astray, no doubt, like a sheep that is
lost; but it is not the duty of another sheep to butt one back into the
right way, unless indeed one appeals for help. One may have pastors
and directors, but they can never be equal friends. If there is to be
superiority in friendship, the lesser must willingly crown the greater;
the greater must not ask to be crowned. The secure friendship is
that which begins in comradeship, and moves into a more generous
and emotional region. Then there is no need to demand or to question
loyalty, because the tie has been welded by many a simple deed, many a
frank word. The ideal is a perfect frankness and sincerity, which
lays bare the soul as it is, without any false shame or any fear of
misunderstanding. A friendship of this kind can be one of the purest,
brightest, and strongest things in the world. Yet how rare it is! What
far oftener happens is that two people, in a sensitive and emotional
mood, are brought together. They begin by comparing experiences, they
search their memories for beautiful and suggestive things, and each
feels, "This nature is the true complement of my own; what light it
seems to shed on my own problems; how subtle, how appreciative it is!"
Then the process of discovery begins. Instead of the fair distant city,
all spires and towers, which we discerned in the distance in a sort
of glory, we find that there are crooked lanes, muddy crossings, dull
market-places, tiresome houses. Odd misshapen figures, fretful and
wearied, plod through the streets or look out at windows; here is a
ruin, with doleful creatures moping in the shade; we overturn a stone,
and blind uncanny things writhe away from the light. We begin to reflect
that it is after all much like other places, and that our fine
romantic view of it was due to some accident of light and colour, some
transfiguring mood of our own mind; and then we set out in search of
another city which we see crowning a hill on the horizon, and leave the
dull place to its own commonplace life. But to begin with comradeship is
to explore the streets and lanes first; and then day by day, as we go
up and down in the town, we become aware of its picturesqueness and
its charm; we realise that it has an intense and eager life of its own,
which we can share as a dweller, though we cannot touch it as a visitor;
and so the wonder grows, and the patient love of home. And we have
surprises, too: we enter a door in a wall that we have not seen before,
and we are in a shrine full of fragrant incense-smoke; the fallen day
comes richly through stained windows; figures move at the altar, where
some holy rite is being celebrated. The truth is that a friendship
cannot be formed in the spirit of a tourist, who is above all in search
of the romantic and the picturesque. Sometimes, indeed, the wandering
traveller may become the patient and contented inhabitant; but it is
generally the other way, and the best friendships are most often those
that seem at first sight dully made for us by habit and proximity, and
which reveal to us by slow degrees their beauty and their worth.


         *        *        *        *        *        *


Thus far had I written, when it came into my mind that I should like to
see the reflection of my beliefs in some other mind, to submit them to
the test of what I may perhaps be forgiven for calling a spirit-level!
And so I read my essay to two wise, kindly, and gracious ladies, who
have themselves often indeed graduated in friendship, and taken the
highest honours. I will say nothing of the tender courtesy with which
they made their head-breaking balms precious; I told them that I had not
finished my essay, and that before I launched upon my last antistrophe,
I wanted inspiration. I cannot here put down the phrases they used, but
I felt that they spoke in symbols, like two initiated persons, for whom
the corn and the wine and the oil of the sacrifice stand for very
secret and beautiful mysteries; but they said in effect that I had
been depicting, and not untruly, the outer courts and corridors of
friendship. What they told me of the inner shrine I shall presently
describe; but when I asked them to say whether they could tell me
instances of the best and highest kind of friendship, existing and
increasing and perfecting itself between two men, or between a man and a
woman, not lovers or wedded, they found a great difficulty in doing so.
We sifted our common experiences of friendships, and we could find but
one or two such, and these had somewhat lost their bloom. It came then
to this: that in the emotional region, many women, but very few men, can
form the highest kind of tie; and we agreed that men tended to find what
they needed in marriage, because they were rather interested in than
dependent upon personal emotion, and because practical life, as the
years went on--the life of causes, and movements, and organisations,
and ideas, and investigations--tended to absorb the energies of men; and
that they found their emotional life in home ties; and that the man who
lived for emotional relations would tend to be thought, if not to be, a
sentimentalist; but that the real secret lay with women, and with men
of perhaps a feminine fibre. And all this was transfused by a kind of
tender pity, without any touch of complacency or superiority, such as a
mother might have for the whispered hopes of a child who is lost in tiny
material dreams. But I gathered that there was a region in which the
heart could be entirely absorbed in a deep and beautiful admiration
for some other soul, and rejoice whole-heartedly in its nobleness and
greatness; so that no question of gaining anything, or even of being
helped to anything, came in, any more than one who has long been pent in
shadow and gloom and illness, and comes out for the first time into
the sun, thinks of any benefits that he may receive from the caressing
sunlight; he merely knows that it is joy and happiness and life to be
there, and to feel the warm light comfort him and make him glad; and all
this I had no difficulty in understanding, for I knew the emotion that
they spoke of, though I called it by a different name. I saw that it
was love indeed, but love infinitely purified, and with all the sense of
possession that mingles with masculine love subtracted from it; and how
such a relation might grow and increase, until there arose a sort of
secret and vital union of spirit, more real indeed than time and space,
so that, even if this were divorced and sundered by absence, or the
clouded mind, or death itself, there could be no shadow of doubt as to
the permanence of the tie; and a glance passed between the two as they
spoke, which made me feel like one who hears an organ rolling, and
voices rising in sweet harmonies inside some building, locked and
barred, which he may not enter. I could not doubt that the music was
there, while I knew that for some dulness or belatedness I was myself
shut out; not, indeed, that I doubted of the truth of what was said, but
I was in the position of the old saint who said that he believed, and
prayed to One to help his unbelief. For I saw that though I projected
the lines of my own experience infinitely, adding loyalty to loyalty,
and admiration to admiration, it was all on a different plane. This
interfusion of personality, this vital union of soul, I could not doubt
it! but it made me feel my own essential isolation still more deeply,
as when the streaming sunlight strikes warmth and glow out of the fire,
revealing crumbling ashes where a moment before had been a heart of
flame.


     "Ah te meae si partem animae rapit
      Maturior vis, quid moror altera?"--


"Ah, if the violence of fate snatch thee from me, thou half of my soul,
how can I, the other half, still linger here?" So wrote the old cynical,
worldly, Latin poet of his friend--that poet whom, for all his deftness
and grace, we are apt to accuse of a certain mundane heartlessness,
though once or twice there flickers up a sharp flame from the
comfortable warmth of the pile. Had he the secret hidden in his heart
all the time? If one could dream of a nearness like that, which doubts
nothing, and questions nothing, but which teaches the soul to move in as
unconscious a unison with another soul as one's two eyes move, so that
the brain cannot distinguish between the impressions of each, would not
that be worth the loss of all that we hold most sweet? We pay a price
for our qualities; the thistle cannot become the vine, or the oak the
rose, by admiration or desire. But we need not doubt of the divine
alchemy that gives good gifts to others, and denies them to ourselves.
And thus I can gratefully own that there are indeed these high mysteries
of friendship, and I can be glad to discern them afar off, as the
dweller on the high moorland, in the wind-swept farm, can see, far away
in the woodland valley, the smoke go up from happy cottage-chimneys,
nestled in leaves, and the spire point a hopeful finger up to heaven.
Life would be a poorer thing if we had all that we desired, and it is
permitted to hope that if we are faithful with our few things, we may be
made rulers over many things!



IV. HUMOUR


There is a pleasant story of a Cambridge undergraduate finding it
necessary to expound the four allegorical figures that crown the parapet
of Trinity Library. They are the Learned Muses, as a matter of fact.
"What are those figures, Jack?" said an ardent sister, labouring under
the false feminine impression that men like explaining things. "Those,"
said Jack, observing them for the first time in his life--"those are
Faith, Hope, and Charity, of course." "Oh! but there are FOUR of them,"
said the irrepressible fair one. "What is the other?" Jack, not to
be dismayed, gave a hasty glance; and, observing what may be called
philosophical instruments in the hands of the statue, said firmly, "that
is Geography." It made a charming quaternion.

I have often felt myself that the time has come to raise another figure
to the hierarchy of Christian Graces. Faith, Hope, and Charity, were
sufficient in a more elementary and barbarous age; but, now that
the world has broadened somewhat, I think an addition to the trio is
demanded. A man may be faithful, hopeful, and charitable, and yet leave
much to be desired. He may be useful, no doubt, with that equipment, but
he may also be both tiresome, and even absurd. The fourth quality that I
should like to see raised to the highest rank among Christian graces is
the Grace of Humour.

I do not think that Humour has ever enjoyed its due repute in the
ethical scale. The possession of it saves a man from priggishness; and
the possession of faith, hope, and charity does not. Indeed, not only
do these three virtues not save a man from priggishness--they sometimes
even plunge him in irreclaimable depths of superiority. I suppose that
when Christianity was first making itself felt in the world, the one
quality needful was a deep-seated and enthusiastic earnestness. There is
nothing that makes life so enjoyable as being in earnest. It is not
the light, laughter-loving, jocose people who have the best time in the
world. They have a chequered career. They skip at times upon the hills
of merriment, but they also descend gloomily at other times into the
valleys of dreariness. But the man who is in earnest is generally
neither merry nor dreary. He has not time to be either. The early
Christians, engaged in leavening the world, had no time for levity or
listlessness. A pioneer cannot be humorous. But now that the world is
leavened and Christian principles are theoretically, if not practically,
taken for granted, a new range of qualities comes in sight. By humour
I do not mean a taste for irresponsible merriment; for though humour is
not a necessarily melancholy thing, in this imperfect world the humorist
sighs as often as he smiles. What I mean by it is a keen perception of
the rich incongruities and absurdities of life, its undue solemnity, its
guileless pretentiousness. To be true humour, it must not be at all a
cynical thing--as soon as it becomes cynical, it loses all its natural
grace; it is an essentially tender-hearted quality, apt to find excuse,
ready to condone, eager to forgive. The possessor of it can never be
ridiculous, or heavy, or superior. Wit, of course, is a very small
province of humour: wit is to humour what lightning is to the electric
fluid--a vivid, bright, crackling symptom of it in certain conditions;
but a man may be deeply and essentially humorous, and never say a witty
thing in his life. To be witty, one has to be fanciful, intellectual,
deft, light-hearted; and the humorist need be none of these things.

In religion, the absence of a due sense of humour has been the cause of
some of our worst disasters. All rational people know that what has done
most to depress and discount religion is ecclesiasticism. The spirit of
ecclesiasticism is the spirit that confuses proportions, that loves what
is unimportant, that hides great principles under minute rules, that
sacrifices simplicity to complexity, that adores dogma, and definition,
and labels of every kind, that substitutes the letter for the spirit.
The greatest misfortune that can befall religion is that it should
become logical, that it should evolve a reasoned system from
insufficient data; but humour abhors logic, and cannot pin its faith on
insecure deductions. The heaviest burden which religion can have to
bear is the burden of tradition, and humour is the determined foe of
everything that is conventional and traditional. The Pharisaical spirit
loves precedent and authority; the humorous spirit loves all that is
swift and shifting and subversive and fresh. One of the reasons why the
orthodox heaven is so depressing a place is that there seems to be no
room in it for laughter; it is all harmony and meekness, sanctified by
nothing but the gravest of smiles. What wonder that humanity is dejected
at the thought of an existence from which all possibility of innocent
absurdity and kindly mirth is subtracted--the only things which have
persistently lightened and beguiled the earthly pilgrimage! That is why
the death of a humorous person has so deep an added tinge of melancholy
about it, because it is apt to seem indecorous to think of what was his
most congenial and charming trait still finding scope for its exercise.
We are never likely to be able to tolerate the thought of Death, while
we continue to think of it as a thing which will rob humanity of some of
its richest and most salient characteristics.

Even the ghastly humour of Milton is a shade better than this. It will
be remembered that he makes the archangel say to Adam that astronomy
has been made by the Creator a complicated subject, in order that the
bewilderment of scientific men may be a matter of entertainment to Him!


               "He His fabric of the Heavens
     Hath left to their disputes, perhaps to move
     His laughter at their quaint opinions wide."


Or, again, we may remember the harsh contortions of dry cachinnation
indulged in by the rebel spirits, when they have succeeded in toppling
over with their artillery the armed hosts of Seraphim. Milton certainly
did not intend to subtract all humour from the celestial regions. The
only pity was that he had not himself emerged beyond the childish stage,
which finds its deepest amusement in the disasters and catastrophes of
stately persons.

It may be asked whether we have any warrant in the Gospel for the
Christian exercise of humour. I have no doubt of it myself. The image of
the children in the market-place who cannot get their peevish companions
to join in games, whether merry or mournful, as illustrating the
attitude of the Pharisees who blamed John the Baptist for asceticism and
Christ for sociability, is a touch of real humour; and the story of the
importunate widow with the unjust judge, who betrayed so naively his
principle of judicial action by saying "Though I fear not God, neither
regard men, yet will I avenge this widow, lest by her continual coming
she weary me," must--I cannot believe otherwise--have been intended to
provoke the hearers' mirth. There is not, of course, any superabundance
of such instances, but Christ's reporters were not likely to be on the
look-out for sayings of this type. Yet I find it impossible to believe
that One who touched all the stops of the human heart, and whose stories
are among the most beautiful and vivid things ever said in the world,
can have exercised His unequalled power over human nature without
allowing His hearers to be charmed by many humorous and incisive
touches, as well as by more poetical and emotional images. No one has
ever swayed the human mind in so unique a fashion, without holding in
his hand all the strings that move and stir the faculties of delighted
apprehension; and of these faculties humour is one of the foremost.
The amazing lightness of Christ's touch upon life, the way in which His
words plumbed the depths of personality, make me feel abundantly sure
that there was no dreary sense of overwhelming seriousness in His
relations with His friends and disciples. Believing as we do that He was
Perfect Man, we surely cannot conceive of one of the sweetest and most
enlivening of all human qualities as being foreign to His character.

Otherwise there is little trace of humour in the New Testament. St.
Paul, one would think, would have had little sympathy with humorists. He
was too fiery, too militant, too much preoccupied with the working out
of his ideas, to have the leisure or the inclination to take stock of
humanity. Indeed I have sometimes thought that if he had had some touch
of the quality, he might have given a different bias to the faith; his
application of the method which he had inherited from the Jewish school
of theology, coupled with his own fervid rhetoric, was the first step,
I have often thought, in disengaging the Christian development from the
simplicity and emotion of the first unclouded message, in transferring
the faith from the region of pure conduct and sweet tolerance into a
province of fierce definition and intellectual interpretation.

I think it was Goethe who said that Greek was the sheath into which
the dagger of the human mind fitted best; and it is true that one finds
among the Greeks the brightest efflorescence of the human mind. Who
shall account for that extraordinary and fragrant flower, the flower of
Greek culture, so perfect in curve and colour, in proportion and scent,
opening so suddenly, in such a strange isolation, so long ago, upon the
human stock? The Greeks had the wonderful combination of childish zest
side by side with mature taste; charis, as they called it--a perfect
charm, an instinctive grace--was the mark of their spirit. And we should
naturally expect to find, in their literature, the same sublimation of
humour that we find in their other qualities. Unfortunately the greater
number of their comedies are lost. Of Menander we have but a few tiny
fragments, as it were, of a delectable vase; but in Aristophanes there
is a delicious levity, an incomparable prodigality of laughter-moving
absurdities, which has possibly never been equalled. Side by side
with that is the tender and charming irony of Plato, who is even more
humorous, if less witty, than Aristophanes. But the Greeks seem to have
been alone in their application of humour to literature. In the older
world literature tended to be rather a serious, pensive, stately thing,
concerned with human destiny and artistic beauty. One searches in vain
for humour in the energetic and ardent Roman mind. Their very comedies
were mostly adaptations from the Greek. I have never myself been able to
discern the humour of Terence or Plautus to any great extent. The humour
of the latter is of a brutal and harsh kind; and it has always been a
marvel to me that Luther said that the two books he would take to be his
companions on a desert island would be Plautus and the Bible. Horace and
Martial have a certain deft appreciation of human weakness, but it is
of the nature of smartness rather than of true humour--the wit of the
satirist rather; and then the curtain falls on the older world. When
humour next makes its appearance, in France and England pre-eminently,
we realise that we are in the presence of a far larger and finer
quality; and now we have, so to speak, whole bins full of liquors,
of various brands and qualities, from the mirthful absurdities of the
English, the pawky gravity of the Scotch, to the dry and sparkling
beverage of the American. To give an historical sketch of the growth and
development of modern Humour would be a task that might well claim
the energies of some literary man; it seems to me surprising that some
German philosopher has not attempted a scientific classification of the
subject. It would perhaps be best done by a man without appreciation of
humour, because only then could one hope to escape being at the mercy
of preferences; it would have to be studied purely as a phenomenon,
a symptom of the mind; and nothing but an overwhelming love of
classification would carry a student past the sense of its unimportance.
But here I would rather attempt not to find a formula or a definition
for humour, but to discover what it is, like argon, by eliminating other
characteristics, until the evasive quality alone remains.

It lies deep in nature. The peevish mouth and the fallen eye of the
plaice, the helpless rotundity of the sunfish, the mournful gape and
rolling glance of the goldfish, the furious and ineffective mien of
the barndoor fowl, the wild grotesqueness of the babyroussa and the
wart-hog, the crafty solemn eye of the parrot,--if such things as these
do not testify to a sense of humour in the Creative Spirit, it is hard
to account for the fact that in man a perception is implanted which
should find such sights pleasurably entertaining from infancy upwards.
I suppose the root of the matter is that, insensibly comparing these
facial attributes with the expression of humanity, one credits the
animals above described with the emotions which they do not necessarily
feel; yet even so it is hard to analyse, because grotesque exaggerations
of human features, which are perfectly normal and natural, seem
calculated to move the amusement of humanity quite instinctively. A
child is apt to be alarmed at first by what is grotesque, and, when once
reassured, to find in it a matter of delight. Perhaps the mistake we
make is to credit the Creative Spirit with human emotions; but, on the
other hand, it is difficult to see how complex emotions, not connected
with any material needs and impulses, can be found existing in
organisms, unless the same emotions exist in the mind of their Creator.
If the thrush bursts into song on the bare bush at evening, if the
child smiles to see the bulging hairy cactus, there must be, I think,
something joyful and smiling at the heart, the inmost cell of nature,
loving beauty and laughter; indeed, beauty and mirth must be the natural
signs of health and content. And then there strike in upon the mind two
thoughts. Is, perhaps, the basis of humour a kind of selfish security?
Does one primarily laugh at all that is odd, grotesque, broken, ill at
ease, fantastic, because such things heighten the sense of one's own
health and security? I do not mean that this is the flower of modern
humour; but is it not, perhaps, the root? Is not the basis of laughter
perhaps the purely childish and selfish impulse to delight, not in
the sufferings of others, but in the sense which all distorted things
minister to one--that one is temporarily, at least, more blest than
they? A child does not laugh for pure happiness--when it is happiest, it
is most grave and solemn; but when the sense of its health and soundness
is brought home to it poignantly, then it laughs aloud, just as
it laughs at the pleasant pain of being tickled, because the tiny
uneasiness throws into relief its sense of secure well-being.

And the further thought--a deep and strange one--is this: We see how all
mortal things have a certain curve or cycle of life--youth, maturity,
age. May not that law of being run deeper still? we think of nature
being ever strong, ever young, ever joyful; but may not the very shadow
of sorrow and suffering in the world be the sign that nature too grows
old and weary? May there have been a dim age, far back beyond history or
fable or scientific record, when she, too, was young and light-hearted?
The sorrows of the world are at present not like the sorrows of age, but
the sorrows of maturity. There is no decrepitude in the world: its heart
is restless, vivid, and hopeful yet; its melancholy is as the melancholy
of youth--a melancholy deeply tinged with beauty; it is full of
boundless visions and eager dreams; though it is thwarted, it believes
in its ultimate triumph; and the growth of humour in the world may be
just the shadow of hard fact falling upon the generous vision, for that
is where humour resides; youth believes glowingly that all things
are possible, but maturity sees that to hope is not to execute, and
acquiesces smilingly in the incongruity between the programme and the
performance.

Humour resides in the perception of limitation, in discerning how often
the conventional principle is belied by the actual practice. The old
world was full of a youthful sense of its own importance; it held that
all things were created for man--that the flower was designed to yield
him colour and fragrance, that the beast of the earth was made to give
him food and sport. This philosophy was summed up in the phrase that man
was the measure of all things; but now we have learnt that man is but
the most elaborate of created organisms, and that just as there was a
time when man did not exist, so there may be a time to come when beings
infinitely more elaborate may look back to man as we look back to
trilobites--those strange creatures, like huge wood-lice, that were
in their day the glory and crown of creation. Perhaps our dreams of
supremacy and finality may be in reality the absurdest things in the
world for their pomposity and pretentiousness. Who can say?

But to retrace our steps awhile. It seems that the essence of humour
is a certain perception of incongruity. Let us take a single instance.
There is a story of a drunken man who was observed to feel his way
several times all round the railings of a London square, with the
intention apparently of finding some way of getting in. At last he sat
down, covered his face with his hands, and burst into tears, saying,
with deep pathos, "I am shut in!" In a sense it was true: if the rest
of the world was his prison, and the garden of the square represented
liberty, he was undoubtedly incarcerated. Or, again, take the story
of the Scotchman returning from a convivial occasion, who had jumped
carefully over the shadows of the lamp-posts, but on coming to the
shadow of the church-tower, ruefully took off his boots and stockings,
and turned his trousers up, saying, "I'll ha'e to wade." The reason
why the stories of drunken persons are often so indescribably humorous,
though, no doubt, highly deplorable in a Christian country, is that the
victim loses all sense of probability and proportion, and laments
unduly over an altogether imaginary difficulty. The appreciation of such
situations is in reality the same as the common and barbarous form of
humour, of which we have already spoken, which consists in being amused
at the disasters which befall others. The stage that is but slightly
removed from the lowest stage is the theory of practical jokes, the
humour of which is the pleasure of observing the actions of a person
in a disagreeable predicament which is not so serious as the victim
supposes. And thus we get to the region illustrated by the two stories
I have told, where the humour lies in the observation of one in a
predicament that appears to be of a tragic character, when the
tragic element is purely imaginary. And so we pass into the region of
intellectual humour, which may be roughly illustrated by such sayings as
that of George Sand that nothing is such a restorative as rhetoric,
or the claim advanced by a patriot that Shakespeare was undoubtedly a
Scotchman, on the ground that his talents would justify the supposition.
The humour of George Sand's epigram depends upon the perception that
rhetoric, which ought to be based upon a profound conviction, an
overwhelming passion, an intense enthusiasm, is often little more than
the abandonment of a personality to a mood of intoxicating ebullience;
while the humour of the Shakespeare story lies in a sense of the way in
which a national predilection will override all reasonable evidence.

It will be recognised how much of our humour depends upon our keen
perception of the weaknesses and imperfections of other nationalities. A
great statesman once said that if a Scotchman applied for a post and
was unsuccessful, his one object became to secure the post for another
Scotchman; while if an Irishman made an unsuccessful application, his
only aim was to prevent any other Irishman from obtaining the post. That
is a humorous way of contrasting the jealous patriotism of the Scot with
the passionate individualism of the Celt. The curious factor of this
species of humour is that we are entirely unable to recognise the
typicality of the caricatures which other nations draw of ourselves. A
German fails to recognise the English idea of the German as a man who,
after a meal of gigantic proportions and incredible potations, among the
smoke of endless cigars, will discuss the terminology of the absolute,
and burst into tears over a verse of poetry or a strain of music.
Similarly the Englishman cannot divine what is meant by the Englishman
of the French stage, with his long whiskers, his stiff pepper-and-salt
clothes, walking arm-in-arm with a raw-boned wife, short-skirted and
long-toothed, with a bevy of short-skirted and long-toothed daughters
walking behind.

But if it requires a robust humorist to perceive the absurdity of his
own nation, what intensity of humour is required for a man to see the
absurdity of himself! To acquiesce in appearing ridiculous is the height
of philosophy. We are glad enough to amuse other people intentionally,
but how many men does one know who do not resent amusing other people
unintentionally? Yet if one were a true philanthropist, how delighted we
ought to be to afford to others a constant feast of innocent and joyful
contemplation.

But the fact which emerges from all these considerations is the fact
that we do not give humour its place of due dignity in the moral and
emotional scale. The truth is that we in England have fallen into a
certain groove of humour of late, the humour of paradox. The formula
which lies at the base of our present output of humour is the formula,
"Whatever is, is wrong." The method has been over-organised, and the
result is that humour can be manufactured in unlimited quantities. The
type of such humour is the saying of the humorist that he went about
the world with one dread constantly hanging over him--"the dread of not
being misunderstood." I would not for a moment deny the quality of such
humour, but it grows vapid and monotonous. It is painful to observe the
clever young man of the present day, instead of aiming at the expression
of things beautiful and emotional, which he is often well equipped to
produce, with all the charm of freshness and indiscretion, turn aside
to smart writing of a cynical type, because he cannot bear to be thought
immature. He wants to see the effect of his cleverness, and the envious
smile of the slower-witted is dearer to him than the secret kindling of
a sympathetic mind. Real humour is a broader and a deeper thing, and it
can hardly be attained until a man has had some acquaintance with the
larger world; and that very experience, in natures that are emotional
rather than patient, often tends to extinguish humour, because of the
knowledge that life is really rather too sad and serious a business
to afford amusement. The man who becomes a humorist is the man who
contrives to retain a certain childlike zest and freshness of mind side
by side with a large and tender tolerance. This state of mind is not one
to be diligently sought after. The humorist nascitur non fit. One sees
young men of irresponsible levity drawn into the interest of a cause or
a profession, and we say sadly of them that they have lost their sense
of humour. They are probably both happier and more useful for having
lost it. The humorist is seldom an apostle or a leader. But one does
occasionally find a man of real genius who adds to a deep and vital
seriousness a delightful perception of the superficial absurdities of
life; who is like a river, at once strong and silent beneath, with
sunny ripples and bright water-breaks upon the surface. Most men must be
content to flow turbid and sullen, turning the mills of life or bearing
its barges; others may dash and flicker through existence, like a
shallow stream. Perhaps, indeed, it may be said that to be a real
humorist there must be a touch of hardness somewhere, a bony carapace,
because we seldom see one of very strong and ardent emotions who is a
true humorist; and this is, I suppose, the reason why women, as a rule,
are so far less humorous than men. We have to pay a price for our good
qualities; and though I had rather be strong, affectionate, loyal,
noble-minded, than be the best humorist in the world, yet if a gift
of humour be added to these graces, you have a combination that is
absolutely irresistible, because you have a perfect sense of proportion
that never allows emotion to degenerate into gush, or virtue into
rigidity; and thus I say that humour is a kind of divine and crowning
grace in a character, because it means an artistic sense of proportion,
a true and vital tolerance, a power of infinite forgiveness.



V. TRAVEL


There are many motives that impel us to travel, to change our sky, as
Horace calls it--good motives and bad, selfish and unselfish, noble
and ignoble. With some people it is pure restlessness; the tedium of
ordinary life weighs on them, and travel, they think, will distract
them; people travel for the sake of health, or for business reasons, or
to accompany some one else, or because other people travel. And these
motives are neither good nor bad, they are simply sufficient. Some
people travel to enlarge their minds, or to write a book; and the worst
of travelling for such reasons is that it so often implants in the
traveller, when he returns, a desperate desire to enlarge other
people's minds too. Unhappily, it needs an extraordinary gift of vivid
description and a tactful art of selection to make the reflections of
one's travels interesting to other people. It is a great misfortune for
biographers that there are abundance of people who are stirred, partly
by unwonted leisure and partly by awakened interest, to keep a diary
only when they are abroad. These extracts from diaries of foreign
travel, which generally pour their muddy stream into a biography on the
threshold of the hero's manhood, are things to be resolutely skipped.
What one desires in a biography is to see the ordinary texture of a
man's life, an account of his working days, his normal hours; and to
most people the normal current of their lives appears so commonplace and
uninteresting that they keep no record of it; while they often keep
an elaborate record of their impressions of foreign travel, which
are generally superficial and picturesque, and remarkably like the
impressions of all other intelligent people. A friend of mine returned
the other day from an American tour, and told me that he received
a severe rebuke, out of the mouth of a babe, which cured him of
expatiating on his experiences. He lunched with his brother soon after
his return, and was holding forth with a consciousness of brilliant
descriptive emphasis, when his eldest nephew, aged eight, towards the
end of the meal, laid down his spoon and fork, and said piteously to
his mother, "Mummy, I MUST talk; it does make me so tired to hear Uncle
going on like that." A still more effective rebuke was administered by a
clever lady of my acquaintance to a cousin of hers, a young lady who
had just returned from India, and was very full of her experiences.
The cousin had devoted herself during breakfast to giving a lively
description of social life in India, and was preparing to spend the
morning in continuing her lecture, when the elder lady slipped out of
the room, and returned with some sermon-paper, a blotting-book, and a
pen. "Maud," she said, "this is too good to be lost: you must write it
all down, every word!" The projected manuscript did not come to very
much, but the lesson was not thrown away.

Perhaps, for most people, the best results of travel are that they
return with a sense of grateful security to the familiar scene: the
monotonous current of life has been enlivened, the old relationships
have gained a new value, the old gossip is taken up with a comfortable
zest; the old rooms are the best, after all; the homely language is
better than the outlandish tongue; it is a comfort to have done with
squeezing the sponge and cramming the trunk: it is good to be at home.

But to people of more cultivated and intellectual tastes there is an
abundance of good reasons for the pursuit of impressions. It is worth
a little fatigue to see the spring sun lie softly upon the unfamiliar
foliage, to see the delicate tints of the purple-flowered Judas-tree,
the bright colours of Southern houses, the old high-shouldered chateau
blinking among its wooded parterres; it is pleasant to see mysterious
rites conducted at tabernacled altars, under dark arches, and to
smell the "thick, strong, stupefying incense-smoke"; to see well-known
pictures in their native setting, to hear the warm waves of the canal
lapping on palace-stairs, with the exquisite moulded cornice overhead.
It gives one a strange thrill to stand in places rich with dim
associations, to stand by the tombs of heroes and saints, to see the
scenes made familiar by art or history, the homes of famous men. Such
travel is full of weariness and disappointment. The place one had
desired half a lifetime to behold turns out to be much like other
places, devoid of inspiration. A tiresome companion casts dreariness
as from an inky cloud upon the mind. Do I not remember visiting the
Palatine with a friend bursting with archaeological information, who led
us from room to room, and identified all by means of a folding plan, to
find at the conclusion that he had begun at the wrong end, and that even
the central room was not identified correctly, because the number of
rooms was even, and not odd?

But, for all that, there come blessed unutterable moments, when the mood
and the scene and the companion are all attuned in a soft harmony. Such
moments come back to me as I write. I see the mouldering brickwork of
a crumbling tomb all overgrown with grasses and snapdragons, far out in
the Campagna; or feel the plunge of the boat through the reed-beds of
the Anapo, as we slid into the silent pool of blue water in the heart of
the marsh, where the sand danced at the bottom, and the springs bubbled
up, while a great bittern flew booming away from a reedy pool hard by.
Such things are worth paying a heavy price for, because they bring a
sort of aerial distance into the mind, they touch the spirit with a
hope that the desire for beauty and perfection is not, after all, wholly
unrealisable, but that there is a sort of treasure to be found even upon
earth, if one diligently goes in search of it.

Of one thing, however, I am quite certain, and that is that travel
should not be a feverish garnering of impressions, but a delicious and
leisurely plunge into a different atmosphere. It is better to visit few
places, and to become at home in each, than to race from place to place,
guide-book in hand. A beautiful scene does not yield up its secrets to
the eye of the collector. What one wants is not definite impressions but
indefinite influences. It is of little use to enter a church, unless one
tries to worship there, because the essence of the place is worship, and
only through worship can the secret of the shrine be apprehended. It
is of little use to survey a landscape, unless one has an overpowering
desire to spend the remainder of one's days there; because it is the
life of the place, and not the sight of it, in which one desires to have
a part. Above all, one must not let one's memories sleep as in a dusty
lumber-room of the mind. In a quiet firelit hour one must draw near, and
scrutinise them afresh, and ask oneself what remains. As I write, I open
the door of my treasury and look round. What comes up before me? I see
an opalescent sky, and the great soft blue rollers of a sapphire sea. I
am journeying, it seems, in no mortal boat, though it was a commonplace
vessel enough at the time, twenty years ago, and singularly destitute of
bodily provision. What is that over the sea's rim, where the tremulous,
shifting, blue line of billows shimmers and fluctuates? A long, low
promontory, and in the centre, over white clustered houses and masts
of shipping, rises a white dome like the shrine of some celestial city.
That is Cadiz for me. I dare say the picture is all wrong, and I shall
be told that Cadiz has a tower and is full of factory chimneys; but
for me the dome, ghostly white, rises as though moulded out of a single
pearl, upon the shifting edges of the haze. Whatever I have seen in my
life, that at least is immortal.

Or again the scene shifts, and now I stumble to the deck of another
little steamer, very insufficiently habited, in the sharp freshness
of the dawn of a spring morning. The waves are different here--not the
great steely league-long rollers of the Atlantic, but the sharp azure
waves, marching in rhythmic order, of the Mediterranean; what is the
land, with grassy downs and folded valleys falling to grey cliffs, upon
which the brisk waves whiten and leap? That is Sicily; and the thought
of Theocritus, with the shepherd-boy singing light-heartedly upon the
headland a song of sweet days and little eager joys, comes into my heart
like wine, and brings a sharp touch of tears into the eyes. Theocritus!
How little I thought, as I read the ugly brown volume with its yellow
paper, in the dusty schoolroom at Eton ten years before, that it was
going to mean that to me, sweetly as even then, in a moment torn from
the noisy tide of schoolboy life, came the pretty echoes of the song
into a little fanciful and restless mind! But now, as I saw those
deserted limestone crags, that endless sheep-wold, with no sign of a
habitation, rising and falling far into the distance, with the fresh
sea-breeze upon my cheek--there came upon me that tender sorrow for all
the beautiful days that are dead, the days when the shepherds walked
together, exulting in youth and warmth and good-fellowship and song, to
the village festival, and met the wandering minstrel, with his coat of
skin and his kind, ironical smile, who gave them, after their halting
lays, a touch of the old true melody from a master's hand. What do all
those old and sweet dreams mean for me, the sunlight that breaks on the
stream of human souls, flowing all together, alike through dark rocks
where the water chafes and thunders, and spreading out into tranquil
shining reaches, where the herons stand half asleep? What does that
strange drift of kindred spirits, moving from the unknown to the
unknown, mean for me? I only know that it brings into my mind a strange
yearning, and a desire of almost unearthly sweetness for all that is
delicate and beautiful and full of charm, together with a sombre pity
for the falling mist of tears, the hard discipline of the world, the
cries of anguish, as life lapses from the steep into the silent tide of
death.

Or, again, I seem once more to sit in the balcony of a house that looks
out towards Vesuvius. It is late; the sky is clouded, the air is still;
a grateful coolness comes up from acre after acre of gardens climbing
the steep slope; a fluttering breeze, that seems to have lost his way
in the dusk, comes timidly and whimsically past, like Ariel, singing
as soft as a far-off falling sea in the great pine overhead, making a
little sudden flutter in the dry leaves of the thick creeper; like Ariel
comes that dainty spirit of the air, laden with balmy scents and cool
dew. A few lights twinkle in the plain below. Opposite, the sky has an
added blackness, an impenetrability of shade; but what is the strange
red eye of light that hangs between earth and heaven? And, stranger
still, what is that phantasmal gleam of a lip of crags high in the air,
and that mysterious, moving, shifting light, like a pale flame,
above it? The gloomy spot is a rent in the side of Vesuvius where the
smouldering heat has burnt through the crust, and where a day or two
before I saw a viscid stream of molten liquor, with the flames playing
over it, creeping, creeping through the tunnelled ashes; and in the
light above is the lip of Vesuvius itself, with its restless furnace at
work, casting up a billowy swell of white oily smoke, while the glare of
the fiery pit lights up the underside of the rising vapours. A ghastly
manifestation, that, of sleepless and stern forces, ever at work upon
some eternal and bewildering task; and yet so strangely made am I, that
these fierce signal-fires, seen afar, but blend with the scents of the
musky alleys for me into a thrill of unutterable wonder.

There are hundreds of such pictures stored in my mind, each stamped upon
some sensitive particle of the brain, that cannot be obliterated, and
each of which the mind can recall at will. And that, too, is a fact of
surpassing wonder: what is the delicate instrument that registers, with
no seeming volition, these amazing pictures, and preserves them thus
with so fantastic a care, retouching them, fashioning them anew,
detaching from the picture every sordid detail, till each is as a lyric,
inexpressible, exquisite, too fine for words to touch?

Now it is useless to dictate to others the aims and methods of travel:
each must follow his own taste. To myself the acquisition of knowledge
and information is in these matters an entirely negligible thing. To me
the one and supreme object is the gathering of a gallery of pictures;
and yet that is not a definite object either, for the whimsical and
stubborn spirit refuses to be bound by any regulations in the matter.
It will garner up with the most poignant care a single vignette, a
tiny detail. I see, as I write, the vision of a great golden-grey
carp swimming lazily in the clear pool of Arethusa, the carpet of
mesembryanthemum that, for some fancy of its own, chose to involve the
whole of a railway viaduct with its flaunting magenta flowers and its
fleshy leaves. I see the edge of the sea, near Syracuse, rimmed with a
line of the intensest yellow, and I hear the voice of a guide explaining
that it was caused by the breaking up of a stranded orange-boat, so that
the waves for many hundred yards threw up on the beach a wrack of fruit;
yet the same wilful and perverse mind will stand impenetrably dumb and
blind before the noblest and sweetest prospect, and decline to receive
any impression at all. What is perhaps the oddest characteristic of the
tricksy spirit is that it often chooses moments of intense discomfort
and fatigue to master some scene, and take its indelible picture. I
suppose that the reason of this is that the mind makes, at such moments,
a vigorous effort to protest against the tyranny of the vile body, and
to distract itself from instant cares.

But another man may travel for archaeological or even statistical
reasons. He may wish, like Ulysses, to study "manners, councils,
customs, governments." He may be preoccupied with questions of
architectural style or periods of sculpture. I have a friend who takes
up at intervals the study of the pictures of a particular master, and
will take endless trouble and undergo incredible discomfort, in order
to see the vilest daubs, if only he can make his list complete, and say
that he has seen all the reputed works of the master. This instinct
is, I believe, nothing but the survival of the childish instinct for
collecting, and though I can reluctantly admire any man who spares no
trouble to gain an end, the motive is dark and unintelligible to me.

There are some travellers, like Dean Stanley, who drift from the
appreciation of natural scenery into the pursuit of historical
associations. The story of Stanley as a boy, when he had his first sight
of the snowy Alps on the horizon, always delights me. He danced about
saying, "Oh, what shall I do, what shall I do?" But, in later days,
Stanley would not go a mile to see a view, while he would travel all
night to see a few stones of a ruin, jutting out of a farmyard wall, if
only there was some human and historical tradition connected with the
place. I do not myself understand that. I should not wish to see Etna
merely because Empedocles is supposed to have jumped down the crater,
nor the site of Jericho because the walls fell down at the trumpets
of the host. The only interest to me in an historical scene is that
it should be in such a condition as that one can to a certain extent
reconstruct the original drama, and be sure that one's eyes rest upon
very much the same scene as the actors saw. The reason why Syracuse
moved me by its acquired beauty, and not for its historical
associations, was because I felt convinced that Thucydides, who gives so
picturesque a description of the sea-fight, can never have set eyes on
the place, and must have embroidered his account from scanty hearsay.
But, on the other hand, there are few things in the world more
profoundly moving than to see a place where great thoughts have been
conceived and great books written, when one is able to feel that the
scene is hardly changed. The other day, as I passed before the
sacred gate of Rydal Mount, I took my hat off my head with a sense of
indescribable reverence. My companion asked me laughingly why I did so.
"Why?" I said. "From natural piety, of course! I know every detail here
as well as if I had lived here, and I have walked in thought a hundred
times with the poet, to and fro in the laurelled walks of the garden, up
the green shoulder of Nab Scar, and sat in the little parlour, while
the fire leapt on the hearth, and heard him 'booing' his verses, to be
copied by some friendly hand."

I thrill to see the stately rooms of Abbotsford, with all their sham
feudal decorations, the little staircase by which Scott stole away
to his solitary work, the folded clothes, the shapeless hat, the ugly
shoes, laid away in the glass case; the plantations where he walked with
his shrewd bailiff, the place where he stopped so often on the shoulder
of the slope, to look at the Eildon Hills, the rooms where he sat, a
broken and bereaved man, yet with so gallant a spirit, to wrestle with
sorrow and adversity. I wept, I am not ashamed to say, at Abbotsford, at
the sight of the stately Tweed rolling his silvery flood past lawns and
shrubberies, to think of that kindly, brave, and honourable heart, and
his passionate love of all the goodly and cheerful joys of life and
earth.

Or, again, it was a solemn day for me to pass from the humble tenement
where Coleridge lived, at Nether Stowey, before the cloud of sad habit
had darkened his horizon, and turned him away from the wells of poetry
into the deserts of metaphysical speculation, to find, if he could, some
medicine for his tortured spirit. I walked with a holy awe along the
leafy lanes to Alfoxden, where the beautiful house nestles in the
green combe among its oaks, thinking how here, and here, Wordsworth and
Coleridge had walked together in the glad days of youth, and planned,
in obscurity and secluded joy, the fresh and lovely lyrics of their
matin-prime.

I turn, I confess, more eagerly to scenes like these than to scenes of
historical and political tradition, because there hangs for me a glory
about the scene of the conception and genesis of beautiful imaginative
work that is unlike any glory that the earth holds. The natural joy of
the youthful spirit receiving the impact of mighty thoughts, of poignant
impressions, has for me a liberty and a grace which no historical or
political associations could ever possess. I could not glow to see
the room in which a statesman worked out the details of a Bill for the
extension of the franchise, or a modification of the duties upon imports
and exports, though I respect the growing powers of democracy and the
extinction of privilege and monopoly; but these measures are dimmed and
tainted with intrigue and manoeuvre and statecraft. I do not deny their
importance, their worth, their nobleness. But not by committees and
legislation does humanity triumph. In the vanguard go the blessed
adventurous spirits that quicken the moral temperature, and uplift the
banner of simplicity and sincerity. The host marches heavily behind, and
the commissariat rolls grumbling in the rear of all; and though my place
may be with the work-a-day herd, I will send my fancy afar among the
leafy valleys and the far-off hills of hope.

But I would not here quarrel with the taste of any man. If a mortal
chooses to travel in search of comfortable rooms, new cookery and wines,
the livelier gossip of unknown people, in heaven's name let him do so.
If another wishes to study economic conditions, standards of life,
rates of wages, he has my gracious leave for his pilgrimage. If another
desires to amass historical and archaeological facts, measurements
of hypaethral temples, modes of burial, folk-lore, fortification,
God forbid that I should throw cold water on the quest. But the only
traveller whom I recognise as a kindred spirit is the man who goes in
search of impressions and effects, of tone and atmosphere, of rare and
curious beauty, of uplifting association. Nothing that has ever moved
the interest, or the anxiety, or the care, or the wonder, of human
beings can ever wholly lose its charm. I have felt my skin prickle and
creep at the sight of that amazing thing in the Dublin museum, a section
dug bodily out of a claypit, and showing the rough-hewn stones of a
cist, deep in the earth, the gravel over it and around it, the roots
of the withered grass forming a crust many feet above, and, inside the
cist, the rude urn, reversed over a heap of charred ashes; it was not
the curiosity of the sight that moved me, but the thought of the old
dark life revealed, the dim and savage world, that was yet shot through
and pierced, even as now, with sorrow for death, and care for the
beloved ashes of a friend and chieftain. Such a sight sets a viewless
network of emotion, which seems to interlace far back into the ages,
all pulsating and stirring. One sees in a flash that humanity lived,
carelessly and brutally perhaps, as we too live, and were confronted, as
we are confronted, with the horror of the gap, the intolerable
mystery of life lapsing into the dark. Ah, the relentless record, the
impenetrable mystery! I care very little, I fear, for the historical
development of funereal rites, and hardly more for the light that such
things throw on the evolution of society. I leave that gratefully enough
to the philosophers. What I care for is the touch of nature that shows
me my ancient brethren of the dim past--who would have mocked and
ridiculed me, I doubt not, if I had fallen into their hands, and killed
me as carelessly as one throws aside the rind of a squeezed fruit--yet
I am one of them, and perhaps even something of their blood flows in my
veins yet.

As I grow older, I tend to travel less and less, and I do not care if
I never cross the Channel again. Is there a right and a wrong in the
matter, an advisability or an inadvisability, an expediency or an
inexpediency? I do not think so. Travelling is a pleasure, if it is
anything, and a pleasure pursued from a sense of duty is a very fatuous
thing. I have no good reason to give, only an accumulation of small
reasons. Dr. Johnson once said that any number of insufficient reasons
did not make a sufficient one, just as a number of rabbits did not make
a horse. A lively but misleading illustration: he might as well have
said that any number of sovereigns did not make a cheque for a hundred
pounds. I suppose that I do not like the trouble, to start with; and
then I do not like being adrift from my own beloved country. Then
I cannot converse in any foreign language, and half the pleasure of
travelling comes from being able to lay oneself alongside of a new point
of view. Then, too, I realise, as I grow older, how little I have really
seen of my own incomparably beautiful and delightful land, so that, like
the hero of Newman's hymn,


                 "I do not ask to see
     The distant scene; one step enough for me."


And, lastly, I have a reason which will perhaps seem a far-fetched one.
Travel is essentially a distraction, and I do not want to be distracted
any more. One of the mistakes that people make, in these Western
latitudes, is to be possessed by an inordinate desire to drown thought.
The aim of many men whom I know seems to me to be occupied in some
absolutely definite way, so that they may be as far as possible
unaware of their own existence. Anything to avoid reflection! A normal
Englishman does not care very much what the work and value of his
occupation is, as long as he is occupied; and I am not at all sure that
we came into the world to be occupied. Christ, in the Gospel story,
rebuked the busy Martha for her bustling anxieties, her elaborate
attentions to her guests, and praised the leisurely Mary for desiring to
sit and hear Him talk. Socrates spent his life in conversation. I do not
say that contemplation is a duty, but I cannot help thinking that we
are not forbidden to scrutinise life, to wonder what it is all about, to
study its problems, to apprehend its beauty and significance. We admire
a man who goes on making money long after he has made far more than he
needs; we think a life honourably spent in editing Greek books. Socrates
in one of Plato's dialogues quotes the opinion of a philosopher to the
effect that when a man has made enough to live upon, he should begin
to practise virtue. "I think he should begin even earlier," says the
interlocutor; and I am wholly in agreement with him. Travel is one of
the expedients to which busy men resort, in order that they may forget
their existence. I do not venture to think this exactly culpable, but I
feel sure that it is a pity that people do not do less and think more.
If a man asks what good comes from thinking, I can only retort by asking
what good comes from the multiplication of unnecessary activity. I am
quite as much at a loss as any one else to say what is the object of
life, but I do not feel any doubt that we are not sent into the world
to be in a fuss. Like the lobster in The Water-Babies, I cry, "Let me
alone; I want to think!" because I believe that that occupation is at
least as profitable as many others.

And then, too, without travelling more than a few miles from my door,
I can see things fully as enchanting as I can see by ranging Europe. I
went to-day along a well-known road; just where the descent begins to
fall into a quiet valley, there stands a windmill--not one of the ugly
black circular towers that one sometimes sees, but one of the old crazy
boarded sort, standing on a kind of stalk; out of the little
loopholes of the mill the flour had dusted itself prettily over the
weather-boarding. From a mysterious hatch half-way up leaned the miller,
drawing up a sack of grain with a little pulley. There is nothing so
enchanting as to see a man leaning out of a dark doorway high up in
the air. He drew the sack in, he closed the panel. The sails whirled,
flapping and creaking; and I loved to think of him in the dusty gloom,
with the gear grumbling among the rafters, tipping the golden grain into
its funnel, while the rattling hopper below poured out its soft stream
of flour. Beyond the mill, the ground sank to a valley; the roofs
clustered round a great church tower, the belfry windows blinking
solemnly. Hard by the ancient Hall peeped out from its avenue of elms.
That was a picture as sweet as anything I have ever seen abroad,
as perfect a piece of art as could be framed, and more perfect than
anything that could be painted, because it was a piece out of the old
kindly, quiet life of the world. One ought to learn, as the years flow
on, to love such scenes as that, and not to need to have the blood and
the brain stirred by romantic prospects, peaked hills, well-furnished
galleries, magnificent buildings: mutare animum, that is the secret, to
grow more hopeful, more alive to delicate beauties, more tender, less
exacting. Nothing, it is true, can give us peace; but we get nearer it
by loving the familiar scene, the old homestead, the tiny valley,
the wayside copse, than we do by racing over Europe on the track
of Giorgione, or over Asia in pursuit of local colour. After all,
everything has its appointed time. It is good to range in youth, to rub
elbows with humanity, and then, as the days go on, to take stock, to
remember, to wonder, "To be content with little, to serve beauty well."



VI. SPECIALISM


It is a very curious thing to reflect how often an old platitude or
axiom retains its vitality, long after the conditions which gave it
birth have altered, and it no longer represents a truth. It would
not matter if such platitudes only lived on dustily in vapid and
ill-furnished minds, like the vases of milky-green opaque glass
decorated with golden stars, that were the joy of Early Victorian
chimney-pieces, and now hold spills in the second-best spare bedroom.
But like the psalmist's enemies, platitudes live and are mighty. They
remain, and, alas! they have the force of arguments in the minds
of sturdy unreflective men, who describe themselves as plain,
straightforward people, and whose opinions carry weight in a community
whose feelings are swayed by the statements of successful men rather
than by the conclusions of reasonable men.

One of these pernicious platitudes is the statement that every one ought
to know something about everything and everything about something. It
has a speciously epigrammatic air about it, dazzling enough to persuade
the common-sense person that it is an intellectual judgment.

As a matter of fact, under present conditions, it represents an
impossible and even undesirable ideal. A man who tried to know something
about everything would end in knowing very little about anything; and
the most exhaustive programme that could be laid down for the most
erudite of savants nowadays would be that he should know anything about
anything, while the most resolute of specialists must be content with
knowing something about something.

A well-informed friend told me, the other day, the name and date of
a man who, he said, could be described as the last person who knew
practically everything at his date that was worth knowing. I have
forgotten both the name and the date and the friend who told me, but I
believe that the learned man in question was a cardinal in the sixteenth
century. At the present time, the problem of the accumulation of
knowledge and the multiplication of books is a very serious one indeed.
It is, however, morbid to allow it to trouble the mind. Like all
insoluble problems, it will settle itself in a way so obvious that the
people who solve it will wonder that any one could ever have doubted
what the solution would be, just as the problem of the depletion of the
world's stock of coal will no doubt be solved in some perfectly simple
fashion.

The dictum in question is generally quoted as an educational formula in
favour of giving every one what is called a sound general education.
And it is probably one of the contributory causes which account for the
present chaos of curricula. All subjects are held to be so important,
and each subject is thought by its professors to be so peculiarly
adapted for educational stimulus, that a resolute selection of subjects,
which is the only remedy, is not attempted; and accordingly the victim
of educational theories is in the predicament of the man described by
Dr. Johnson who could not make up his mind which leg of his breeches
he would put his foot into first. Meanwhile, said the Doctor, with a
directness of speech which requires to be palliated, the process of
investiture is suspended.

But the practical result of the dilemma is the rise of specialism. The
savant is dead and the specialist rules. It is interesting to try to
trace the effect of this revolution upon our national culture.

Now, I have no desire whatever to take up the cudgels against the
specialists: they are a harmless and necessary race, so long as they are
aware of their limitations. But the tyranny of an oligarchy is the
worst kind of tyranny, because it means the triumph of an average over
individuals, whereas the worst that can be said of a despotism is that
it is the triumph of an individual over an average. The tyranny of the
specialistic oligarchy is making itself felt to-day, and I should like
to fortify the revolutionary spirit of liberty, whose boast it is
to detest tyranny in all its forms, whether it is the tyranny of an
enlightened despot, or the tyranny of a virtuous oligarchy, or the
tyranny of an intelligent democracy.

The first evil which results from the rule of the specialist is the
destruction of the AMATEUR. So real a fact is the tyranny of the
specialist that the very word "amateur," which means a leisurely lover
of fine things, is beginning to be distorted into meaning an inefficient
performer. As an instance of its correct and idiomatic use, I often
think of the delightful landlord whom Stevenson encountered somewhere,
and upon whom he pressed some Burgundy which he had with him. The
generous host courteously refused a second glass, saying, "You see I
am an amateur of these things, and I am capable of leaving you
not sufficient." Now, I shall concern myself here principally with
literature, because, in England at all events, literature plays the
largest part in general culture. It may be said that we owe some of the
best literature we have to amateurs. To contrast a few names, taken at
random, Shakespeare, Dryden, Pope, Dr. Johnson, De Quincey, Tennyson,
and Carlyle were professionals, it is true; but, on the other hand,
Milton, Gray, Boswell, Walter Scott, Charles Lamb, Shelley, Browning,
and Ruskin were amateurs. It is not a question of how much a man writes
or publishes, it is a question of the spirit in which a man writes.
Walter Scott became a professional in the last years of his life, and
for the noblest of reasons; but he also became a bad writer. A good pair
to contrast are Southey and Coleridge. They began as amateurs. Southey
became a professional writer, and his sun set in the mists of valuable
information. Coleridge, as an amateur, enriched the language with a
few priceless poems, and then got involved in the morass of dialectical
metaphysics. The point is whether a man writes simply because he cannot
help it, or whether he writes to make an income. The latter motive does
not by any means prevent his doing first-rate artistic work--indeed,
there are certain persons who seem to have required the stimulus of
necessity to make them break through an initial indolence of nature.
When Johnson found fault with Gray for having times of the year when
he wrote more easily, from the vernal to the autumnal equinox, he added
that a man could write at any time if he set himself doggedly to
it. True, no doubt! But to write doggedly is not to court favourable
conditions for artistic work. It may be a finer sight for a moralist to
see a man performing an appointed task heavily and faithfully, with grim
tenacity, than it is to see an artist in a frenzy of delight dashing
down an overpowering impression of beauty; but what has always hampered
the British appreciation of literature is that we cannot disentangle the
moral element from it: we are interested in morals, not in art, and we
require a dash of optimistic piety in all writing that we propose to
enjoy.

The real question is whether, if a man sets himself doggedly to work,
the appetite comes with eating, and whether the caged bird begins to
flutter its wings and to send out the song that it learnt in the green
heart of the wood. When Byron said that easy writing made damned hard
reading, he meant that careless conception and hasty workmanship tend
to blur the pattern and the colour of work. The fault of the amateur is
that he can make the coat, but he cannot be bothered to make it fit. But
it is not by any means true that hard writing makes easy reading. The
spirit of the amateur is the spirit of the lover, who trembles at the
thought that the delicate creature he loves may learn to love him in
return, if he can but praise her worthily. The professional spirit is
the spirit in which a man carefully and courteously woos an elderly
spinster for the sake of her comfortable fortune. The amateur has an
irresponsible joy in his work; he is like the golfer who dreams
of mighty drives, and practises "putting" on his back lawn: the
professional writer gives his solid hours to his work in a conscientious
spirit, and is glad in hours of freedom to put the tiresome business
away. Yet neither the amateur nor the professional can hope to capture
the spirit of art by joy or faithfulness. It is a kind of divine
felicity, when all is said and done, the kindly gift of God.

Now into this free wild world of art and literature and music comes
the specialist and pegs out his claim, fencing out the amateur, who is
essentially a rambler, from a hundred eligible situations. In literature
this is particularly the case: the amateur is told by the historian that
he must not intrude upon history; that history is a science, and not
a province of literature; that the time has not come to draw any
conclusions or to summarise any tendencies; that picturesque narrative
is an offence against the spirit of Truth; that no one is as black or as
white as he is painted; and that to trifle with history is to commit a
sin compounded of the sin of Ananias and Simon Magus. The amateur runs
off, his hands over his ears, and henceforth hardly dares even to
read history, to say nothing of writing it. Perhaps I draw too harsh
a picture, but the truth is that I did, as a very young man, with no
training except that provided by a sketchy knowledge of the classics,
once attempt to write an historical biography. I shudder to think of
my method and equipment; I skipped the dull parts, I left all tiresome
documents unread. It was a sad farrago of enthusiasm and levity and
heady writing. But Jove's thunder rolled and the bolt fell. A just
man, whom I have never quite forgiven, to tell the truth, told me with
unnecessary rigour and acrimony that I had made a pitiable exhibition
of myself. But I have thanked God ever since, for I turned to literature
pure and simple.

Then, too, it is the same with art-criticism; here the amateur again,
who, poor fool, is on the look-out for what is beautiful, is told that
he must not meddle with art unless he does it seriously, which
means that he must devote himself mainly to the study of inferior
masterpieces, and schools, and tendencies. In literature it is the same;
he must not devote himself to reading and loving great books, he must
disentangle influences; he must discern the historical importance of
writers, worthless in themselves, who form important links. In theology
and in philosophy it is much the same: he must not read the Bible and
say what he feels about it; he must unravel Rabbinical and Talmudic
tendencies; he must acquaint himself with the heretical leanings of a
certain era, and the shadow cast upon the page by apocryphal tradition.
In philosophy he is still worse off, because he must plumb the depths of
metaphysical jargon and master the criticism of methods.

Now, this is in a degree both right and necessary, because the blind
must not attempt to lead the blind; but it is treating the whole thing
in too strictly scientific a spirit for all that. The misery of it is
that the work of the specialist in all these regions tends to set a
hedge about the law; it tends to accumulate and perpetuate a vast amount
of inferior work. The result of it is, in literature, for instance,
that an immense amount of second-rate and third-rate books go on being
reprinted; and instead of the principle of selection being applied to
great authors, and their inferior writings being allowed to lapse into
oblivion, they go on being re-issued, not because they have any
direct value for the human spirit, but because they have a scientific
importance from the point of view of development. Yet for the ordinary
human being it is far more important that he should read great
masterpieces in a spirit of lively and enthusiastic sympathy than
that he should wade into them through a mass of archaeological and
philological detail. As a boy I used to have to prepare, on occasions,
a play of Shakespeare for a holiday task. I have regarded certain plays
with a kind of horror ever since, because one ended by learning up the
introduction, which concerned itself with the origin of the play, and
the notes which illustrated the meaning of such words as "kerns and
gallowglasses," and left the action and the poetry and the emotion
of the play to take care of themselves. This was due partly to the
blighting influence of examination-papers set by men of sterile,
conscientious brains, but partly to the terrible value set by British
minds upon correct information. The truth really is that if one begins
by caring for a work of art, one also cares to understand the medium
through which it is conveyed; but if one begins by studying the medium
first, one is apt to end by loathing the masterpiece, because of the
dusty apparatus that it seems liable to collect about itself.

The result of the influence of the specialist upon literature is that
the amateur, hustled from any region where the historical and scientific
method can be applied, turns his attention to the field of pure
imagination, where he cannot be interfered with. And this, I believe, is
one of the reasons why belles-lettres in the more precise sense tend to
be deserted in favour of fiction. Sympathetic and imaginative criticism
is so apt to be stamped upon by the erudite, who cry out so lamentably
over errors and minute slips, that the novel seems to be the only safe
vantage-ground in which the amateur may disport himself.

But if the specialist is to the amateur what the hawk is to the dove,
let us go further, and in a spirit of love, like Mr. Chadband, inquire
what is the effect of specialism on the mind of the specialist. I
have had the opportunity of meeting many specialists, and I say
unhesitatingly that the effect largely depends upon the natural
temperament of the individual. As a general rule, the great specialist
is a wise, kindly, humble, delightful man. He perceives that though he
has spent his whole life upon a subject or a fraction of a subject, he
knows hardly anything about it compared to what there is to know. The
track of knowledge glimmers far ahead of him, rising and falling like a
road over solitary downs. He knows that it will not be given to him to
advance very far upon the path, and he half envies those who shall come
after, to whom many things that are dark mysteries to himself will be
clear and plain. But he sees, too, how the dim avenues of knowledge
reach out in every direction, interlacing and combining, and when he
contrasts the tiny powers of the most subtle brain with all the wide
range of law--for the knowledge which is to be, not invented, but
simply discovered, is all assuredly there, secret and complex as it
seems--there is but little room for complacency or pride. Indeed,
I think that a great savant, as a rule, feels that instead of being
separated by his store of knowledge, as by a wide space that he has
crossed, from smaller minds, he is brought closer to the ignorant by the
presence of the vast unknown. Instead of feeling that he has soared like
a rocket away from the ground, he thinks of himself rather as a flower
might think whose head was an inch or two higher than a great company
of similar flowers; he has perhaps a wider view; he sees the bounding
hedgerow, the distant line of hills, whereas the humbler flower sees
little but a forest of stems and blooms, with the light falling dimly
between. And a great savant, too, is far more ready to credit other
people with a wider knowledge than they possess. It is the lesser kind
of savant, the man of one book, of one province, of one period, who is
inclined to think that he is differentiated from the crowd. The great
man is far too much preoccupied with real progress to waste time and
energy in showing up the mistakes of others. It is the lesser kind of
savant, jealous of his own reputation, anxious to show his superiority,
who loves to censure and deride the feebler brother. If one ever sees a
relentless and pitiless review of a book--an exposure, as it is called,
by one specialist of another's work--one may be fairly certain that the
critic is a minute kind of person. Again, the great specialist is never
anxious to obtrude his subject; he is rather anxious to hear what is
going on in other regions of mental activity, regions which he would
like to explore but cannot. It is the lesser light that desires to
dazzle and bewilder his company, to tyrannise, to show off. It is the
most difficult thing to get a great savant to talk about his subject,
though, if he is kind and patient, will answer unintelligent questions,
and help a feeble mind along, it is one of the most delightful things
in the world. I seized the opportunity some little while ago, on finding
myself sitting next to a great physicist, of asking him a series of
fumbling questions on the subject of modern theories of matter; for an
hour I stumbled like a child, supported by a strong hand, in a dim and
unfamiliar world, among the mysterious essences of things. I should like
to try to reproduce it here, but I have no doubt I should reproduce it
all wrong. Still, it was deeply inspiring to look out into chaos, to
hear the rush and motion of atoms, moving in vast vortices, to learn
that inside the hardest and most impenetrable of substances there was
probably a feverish intensity of inner motion. I do not know that I
acquired any precise knowledge, but I drank deep draughts of wonder
and awe. The great man, with his amused and weary smile, was infinitely
gentle, and left me, I will say, far more conscious of the beauty and
the holiness of knowledge. I said something to him about the sense of
power that such knowledge must give. "Ah!" he said, "much of what I have
told you is not proved, it is only suspected. We are very much in the
dark about these things yet. Probably if a physicist of a hundred years
hence could overhear me, he would be amazed to think that a sensible man
could make such puerile statements. Power--no, it is not that! It rather
makes one realise one's feebleness in being so uncertain about things
that are absolutely certain and precise in themselves, if we could
but see the truth. It is much more like the apostle who said, 'Lord, I
believe; help Thou my unbelief.' The thing one wonders at is the courage
of the men who dare to think they KNOW."

In one region I own that I dread and dislike the tyranny of the
specialist, and that is the region of metaphysical and religious
speculation. People who indulge themselves in this form of speculation
are apt to be told by theologians and metaphysicians that they ought
to acquaint themselves with the trend of theological and metaphysical
criticism. It seems to me like telling people that they must not ascend
mountains unless they are accompanied by guides, and have studied the
history of previous ascents. "Yes," the professional says, "that is just
what I mean; it is mere foolhardiness to attempt these arduous places
unless you know exactly what you are about."

To that I reply that no one is bound to go up hills, but that every
one who reflects at all is confronted by religious and philosophical
problems. We all have to live, and we are all more or less experts in
life. When one considers the infinite importance to every human spirit
of these problems, and when one further considers how very little
theologians and philosophers have ever effected in the direction of
enlightening us as to the object of life, the problem of pain and evil,
the preservation of identity after death, the question of necessity and
free-will, surely, to attempt to silence people on these matters because
they have not had a technical training is nothing more than an attempt
wilfully to suppress evidence on these points? The only way in which it
may be possible to arrive at the solution of these things is to know
how they appeal to and affect normal minds. I would rather hear the
experience of a life-long sufferer on the problem of pain, or of a
faithful lover on the mystery of love, or of a poet on the influence of
natural beauty, or of an unselfish and humble saint on the question of
faith in the unseen, than the evidence of the most subtle theologian or
metaphysician in the world. Many of us, if we are specialists in nothing
else, are specialists in life; we have arrived at a point of view; some
particular aspect of things has come home to us with a special force;
and what really enriches the hope and faith of the world is the
experience of candid and sincere persons. The specialist has often
had no time or opportunity to observe life; all he has observed is the
thought of other secluded persons, persons whose view has been both
narrow and conventional, because they have not had the opportunity of
correcting their traditional preconceptions by life itself.

I call, with all the earnestness that I can muster, upon all
intelligent, observant, speculative people, who have felt the problems
of life weigh heavily upon them, not to be dismayed by the disapproval
of technical students, but to come forward and tell us what conclusions
they have formed. The work of the trained specialist is essentially, in
religion and philosophy, a negative work. He can show us how erroneous
beliefs, which coloured the minds of men at certain ages and eras,
grew up. He can show us what can be disregarded, as being only the
conventional belief of the time; he can indicate, for instance, how a
false conception of supernatural interference with natural law grew up
in an age when, for want of trained knowledge, facts seemed fortuitous
occurrences which were really conditioned by natural laws. The poet
and the idealist make and cast abroad the great vital ideas, which the
specialist picks up and analyses. But we must not stop at analysis; we
want positive progress as well. We want people to tell us, candidly and
simply, how their own soul grew, how it cast off conventional beliefs,
how it justified itself in being hopeful or the reverse. There never was
a time when more freedom of thought and expression was conceded to the
individual. A man is no longer socially banned for being heretical,
schismatic, or liberal-minded. I want people to say frankly what real
part spiritual agencies or religious ideas have played in their lives,
whether such agencies and ideas have modified their conduct, or have
been modified by their inclinations and habits. I long to know a
thousand things about my fellow-men--how they bear pain, how they
confront the prospect of death, the hopes by which they live, the fears
that overshadow them, the stuff of their lives, the influence of their
emotions. It has long been thought, and it is still thought by many
narrow precisians, indelicate and egotistical to do this. And the result
is that we can find in books all the things that do not matter, while
the thoughts that are of deep and vital interest are withheld.

Such books as Montaigne's Essays, Rousseau's Confessions, Mrs. Carlyle's
Letters, Mrs. Oliphant's Memoirs, the Autobiography of B. R. Haydon, to
name but a few books that come into my mind, are the sort of books that
I crave for, because they are books in which one sees right into the
heart and soul of another. Men can confess to a book what they cannot
confess to a friend. Why should it be necessary to veil this essence
of humanity in the dreary melodrama, the trite incident of a novel or
a play? Things in life do not happen as they happen in novels or plays.
Oliver Twist, in real life, does not get accidentally adopted by his
grandfather's oldest friend, and commit his sole burglary in the
house of his aunt. We do not want life to be transplanted into trim
garden-plots; we want to see it at home, as it grows in all its native
wildness, on the one hand; and to know the idea, the theory, the
principle that underlie it on the other. How few of us there are who
MAKE our lives into anything! We accept our limitations, we drift with
them, while we indignantly assert the freedom of the will. The best
sermon in the world is to hear of one who has struggled with life, bent
or trained it to his will, plucked or rejected its fruit, but all upon
some principle. It matters little what we do; it matters enormously how
we do it. Considering how much has been said, and sung, and written, and
recorded, and prated, and imagined, it is strange to think how little
is ever told us directly about life; we see it in glimpses and flashes,
through half-open doors, or as one sees it from a train gliding into
a great town, and looks into back windows and yards sheltered from the
street. We philosophise, most of us, about anything but life; and one
of the reasons why published sermons have such vast sales is because,
however clumsily and conventionally, it is with life that they try to
deal.

This kind of specialising is not recognised as a technical form of it at
all, and yet how far nearer and closer and more urgent it is for us than
any other kind. I have a hope that we are at the beginning of an era of
plain-speaking in these matters. Too often, with the literary standard
of decorum which prevails, such self-revelations are brushed aside as
morbid, introspective, egotistical. They are no more so than any other
kind of investigation, for all investigation is conditioned by the
personality of the investigator. All that is needed is that an observer
of life should be perfectly candid and sincere, that he should not
speak in a spirit of vanity or self-glorification, that he should try to
disentangle what are the real motives that make him act or refrain from
acting.

As an instance of what I mean by confession of the frankest order,
dealing in this case not only with literature but also with morality,
let me take the sorrowful words which Ruskin wrote in his Praeterita, as
a wearied and saddened man, when there was no longer any need for him
to pretend anything, or to involve any of his own thoughts or beliefs in
any sort of disguise. He took up Shakespeare at Macugnaga, in 1840, and
he asks why the loveliest of Shakespeare's plays should be "all mixed
and encumbered with languid and common work--to one's best hope
spurious certainly, so far as original, idle and disgraceful--and all
so inextricably and mysteriously that the writer himself is not only
unknowable, but inconceivable; and his wisdom so useless, that at this
time of being and speaking, among active and purposeful Englishmen,
I know not one who shows a trace of ever having felt a passion of
Shakespeare's, or learnt a lesson from him."

That is of course the sad cry of one who is interested in life
primarily, and in art only so far as it can minister to life. It may be
strained and exaggerated, but how far more vital a saying than to
expand in voluble and vapid enthusiasm over the insight and nobleness
of Shakespeare, if one has not really felt one's life modified by that
mysterious mind!

Of course such self-revelation as I speak of will necessarily fall into
the hands of unquiet, dissatisfied, melancholy people. If life is a
common-place and pleasant sort of business, there is nothing particular
to say or to think about it. But for all those--and they are many--who
feel that life misses, by some blind, inevitable movement, being the
gracious and beautiful thing it seems framed to be, how can such as
these hold their peace? And how, except by facing it all, and looking
patiently and bravely at it, can we find a remedy for its sore
sicknesses? That method has been used, and used with success in every
other kind of investigation, and we must investigate life too, even
if it turns out to be all a kind of Mendelism, moved and swayed by
absolutely fixed laws, which take no account of what we sorrowfully
desire.

Let us, then, gather up our threads a little. Let us first confront the
fact that, under present conditions, in the face of the mass of records
and books and accumulated traditions, arts and sciences must make
progress little by little, line by line, in skilled technical hands.
Fine achievement in every region becomes more difficult every day,
because there is so much that is finished and perfected behind us; and
if the conditions of our lives call us to some strictly limited path,
let us advance wisely and humbly, step by step, without pride or vanity.
But let us not forget, in the face of the frigidities of knowledge,
that if they are the mechanism of life, emotion and hope and love and
admiration are the steam. Knowledge is only valuable in so far as it
makes the force of life effective and vigorous. And thus if we have
breasted the strange current of life, or even if we have been ourselves
overpowered and swept away by it, let us try, in whatever region we
have the power, to let that experience have some value for ourselves
and others. If we can say it or write it, so much the better. There
are thousands of people moving through the world who are wearied and
bewildered, and who are looking out for any message of hope and joy that
may give them courage to struggle on; but if we cannot do that, we can
at least live life temperately and cheerfully and sincerely: if we have
bungled, if we have slipped, we can do something to help others not to
go light-heartedly down the miry path; we can raise them up if they
have fallen, we can cleanse the stains, or we can at least give them the
comfort of feeling that they are not sadly and insupportably alone.



VII. OUR LACK OF GREAT MEN


It is often mournfully reiterated that the present age is not an age
of great men, and I have sometimes wondered if it is true. In the
first place I do not feel sure that an age is the best judge of its own
greatness; a great age is generally more interested in doing the things
which afterwards cause it to be considered great, than in wondering
whether it is great. Perhaps the fact that we are on the look-out for
great men, and complaining because we cannot find them, is the best
proof of our second-rateness; I do not imagine that the Elizabethan
writers were much concerned with thinking whether they were great or
not; they were much more occupied in having a splendid time, and in
saying as eagerly as they could all the delightful thoughts which came
crowding to the utterance, than in pondering whether they were worthy
of admiration. In the annals of the Renaissance one gets almost weary of
the records of brilliant persons, like Leo Battista Alberti and Leonardo
da Vinci, who were architects, sculptors, painters, musicians, athletes,
and writers all in one; who could make crowds weep by twanging a lute,
ride the most vicious horses, take standing jumps over the heads of tall
men, and who were, moreover, so impressionable that books were to them
as jewels and flowers, and who "grew faint at the sight of sunsets and
stately persons." Such as these, we may depend upon it, had little time
to give to considering their own effect upon posterity. When the sun
rules the day, there is no question about his supremacy; it is when we
are concerned with scanning the sky for lesser lights to rule the night
that we are wasting time. To go about searching for somebody to inspire
one testifies, no doubt, to a certain lack of fire and initiative. But,
on the other hand, there have been many great men whose greatness their
contemporaries did not recognise. We tend at the present time to honour
achievements when they have begun to grow a little mouldy; we seldom
accord ungrudging admiration to a prophet when he is at his best.
Moreover, in an age like the present, when the general average of
accomplishment is remarkably high, it is more difficult to detect
greatness. It is easier to see big trees when they stand out over a
copse than when they are lost in the depths of the forest.

Now there are two modes and methods of being great; one is by largeness,
the other by intensity. A great man can be cast in a big, magnanimous
mould, without any very special accomplishments or abilities; it may
be very difficult to praise any of his faculties very highly, but he
is there. Such men are the natural leaders of mankind; they effect
what they effect not by any subtlety or ingenuity. They see in a wide,
general way what they want, they gather friends and followers and
helpers round them, and put the right man on at the right piece of work.
They perform what they perform by a kind of voluminous force, which
carries other personalities away; for lesser natures, as a rule, do not
like supreme responsibility; they enjoy what is to ordinary people
the greatest luxury in the world, namely, the being sympathetically
commandeered, and duly valued. Inspiration and leadership are not common
gifts, and there are abundance of capable people who cannot strike out
a novel line of their own, but can do excellent work if they can be
inspired and led. I was once for a short time brought into close contact
with a man of this kind; it was impossible to put down on paper or to
explain to those who did not know him what his claim to greatness was. I
remember being asked by an incredulous outsider where his greatness
lay, and I could not name a single conspicuous quality that my hero
possessed. But he dominated his circle for all that, and many of them
were men of far greater intellectual force than himself. He had his
own way; if he asked one to do a particular thing, one felt proud to
be entrusted with it, and amply rewarded by a word of approval. It
was possible to take a different view from the view which he took of a
matter or a situation, but it was impossible to express one's dissent
in his presence. A few halting, fumbling words of his were more weighty
than many a facile and voluble oration. Personally I often mistrusted
his judgment, but I followed him with an eager delight. With such men
as these, posterity is often at a loss to know why they impressed their
contemporaries, or why they continue to be spoken of with reverence and
enthusiasm. The secret is that it is a kind of moral and magnetic
force, and the lamentable part of it is that such men, if they are not
enlightened and wise, may do more harm than good, because they tend to
stereotype what ought to be changed and renewed.

That is one way of greatness; a sort of big, blunt force that overwhelms
and uplifts, like a great sea-roller, yielding at a hundred small
points, yet crowding onwards in soft volume and ponderous weight.

Two interesting examples of this impressive and indescribable greatness
seem to have been Arthur Hallam and the late Mr. W. E. Henley. In the
case of Arthur Hallam, the eulogies which his friends pronounced upon
him seem couched in terms of an intemperate extravagance. The fact that
the most splendid panegyrics upon him were uttered by men of high
genius is not in itself more conclusive than if such panegyrics had been
conceived by men of lesser quality, because the greater that a man is
the more readily does he perceive and more magniloquently acknowledge
greatness. Apart from In Memoriam, Tennyson's recorded utterances about
Arthur Hallam are expressed in terms of almost hyperbolical laudation.
I once was fortunate enough to have the opportunity of asking Mr.
Gladstone about Arthur Hallam. Mr. Gladstone had been his close friend
at Eton and his constant companion. His eye flashed, his voice gathered
volume, and with a fine gesture of his hand he said that he could only
deliberately affirm that physically, intellectually, and morally, Arthur
Hallam approached more nearly to an ideal of human perfection than
any one whom he had ever seen. And yet the picture of Hallam at Eton
represents a young man of an apparently solid and commonplace type, with
a fresh colour, and almost wholly destitute of distinction or charm;
while his extant fragments of prose and poetry are heavy, verbose, and
elaborate, and without any memorable quality. It appears indeed as if
he had exercised a sort of hypnotic influence upon his contemporaries.
Neither does he seem to have produced a very gracious impression upon
outsiders who happened to meet him. There is a curious anecdote told
by some one who met Arthur Hallam travelling with his father on the
Continent only a short time before his sudden death. The narrator says
that he saw with a certain satisfaction how mercilessly the young
man criticised and exposed his father's statements, remembering how
merciless the father had often been in dealing summarily with the
arguments and statements of his own contemporaries. One asks oneself in
vain what the magnetic charm of his presence and temperament can have
been. It was undoubtedly there, and yet it seems wholly irrecoverable.
The same is true, in a different region, with the late Mr. W. E. Henley.
His literary performances, with the exception of some half-a-dozen
poetical pieces, have no great permanent value. His criticisms were
vehement and complacent, but represent no great delicacy of analysis
nor breadth of view. His treatment of Stevenson, considering the
circumstances of the case, was ungenerous and irritable. Yet those
who were brought into close contact with Henley recognised something
magnanimous, noble, and fiery about him, which evoked a passionate
devotion. I remember shortly before his death reading an appreciation
of his work by a faithful admirer, who described him as "another Dr.
Johnson," and speaking of his critical judgment, said, "Mr. Henley is
pontifical in his wrath; it pleased him, for example, to deny to De
Quincey the title to write English prose." That a criticism so arrogant,
so saugrenu, should be re-echoed with such devoted commendation is a
proof that the writer's independent judgment was simply swept away by
Henley's personality; and in both these cases one is merely brought face
to face with the fact that though men can earn the admiration of the
world by effective performance, the most spontaneous and enduring
gratitude is given to individuality.

The other way of greatness is the way of intensity, that focuses all
its impact at some brilliant point, like a rapier-thrust or a flash of
lightning. Men with this kind of greatness have generally some supreme
and dazzling accomplishment, and the rest of their nature is often
sacrificed to one radiant faculty. Their power, in some one single
direction, is absolutely distinct and unquestioned; and these are the
men who, if they can gather up and express the forces of some vague and
widespread tendency, some blind and instinctive movement of men's minds,
form as it were the cutting edge of a weapon. They do not supply the
force, but they concentrate it; and it is men of this type who are often
credited with the bringing about of some profound and revolutionary
change, because they summarise and define some huge force that is
abroad. Not to travel far for instances, such a man was Rousseau. The
air of his period was full of sentiments and emotions and ideas; he was
not himself a man of force; he was a dreamer and a poet; but he had
the matchless gift of ardent expression, and he was able to say
both trenchantly and attractively exactly what every one was vaguely
meditating.

Now let us take some of the chief departments of human effort, some of
the provinces in which men attain supreme fame, and consider what
kinds of greatness we should expect the present day to evoke. In the
department of warfare, we have had few opportunities of late to discover
high strategical genius. Our navy has been practically unemployed,
and the South African war was just the sort of campaign to reveal the
deficiencies of an elaborate and not very practical peace establishment.
Though it solidified a few reputations and pricked the bubble of some
few others, it certainly did not reveal any subtle adaptability in our
generals. It was Lord North, I think, who, when discussing with his
Cabinet a list of names of officers suggested for the conduct of a
campaign, said, "I do not know what effect these names produce upon you,
gentlemen, but I confess they make me tremble." The South African war
can hardly be said to have revealed that we have many generals who
closely corresponded to Wordsworth's description of the Happy Warrior,
but rather induced the tremulousness which Lord North experienced.
Still, if, in the strategical region, our solitary recent campaign
rather tends to prove a deficiency of men of supreme gifts, it at all
events proved a considerable degree of competence and devotion. I could
not go so far as a recent writer who regretted the termination of the
Boer War because it interrupted the evolution of tactical science, but
it is undoubtedly true that the growing aversion to war, the intense
dislike to the sacrifice of human life, creates an atmosphere
unfavourable to the development of high military genius; because great
military reputations in times past have generally been acquired by men
who had no such scruples, but who treated the material of their armies
as pawns to be freely sacrificed to the attainment of victory.

Then there is the region of statesmanship; and here it is abundantly
clear that the social conditions of the day, the democratic current
which runs with increasing spirit in political channels, is unfavourable
to the development of individual genius. The prize falls to the
sagacious opportunist; the statesman is less and less of a navigator,
and more and more of a pilot, in times when popular feeling is
conciliated and interpreted rather than inspired and guided. To be
far-seeing and daring is a disadvantage; the most approved leader is the
man who can harmonise discordant sections, and steer round obvious
and pressing difficulties. Geniality and bonhomie are more valuable
qualities than prescience or nobility of aim. The more representative
that government becomes, the more does originality give place to
malleability. The more fluid that the conceptions of a statesman are,
the greater that his adaptability is, the more acceptable he becomes.
Since Lord Beaconsfield, with all his trenchant mystery, and Mr.
Gladstone, with his voluble candour, there have been no figures of
unquestioned supremacy on the political stage. Even so, the effect in
both cases was to a great extent the effect of personality. The further
that these two men retire into the past, the more that they are
judged by the written record, the more does the tawdriness of Lord
Beaconsfield's mind, his absence of sincere convictions appear, as well
as the pedestrianism of Mr. Gladstone's mind, and his lack of critical
perception. I have heard Mr. Gladstone speak, and on one occasion I had
the task of reporting for a daily paper a private oration on a literary
subject. I was thrilled to the very marrow of my being by the address.
The parchment pallor of the orator, his glowing and blazing eyes, his
leonine air, the voice that seemed to have a sort of physical effect
on the nerves, his great sweeping gestures, all held the audience
spellbound. I felt at the time that I had never before realised the
supreme and vital importance of the subject on which he spoke. But when
I tried to reconstruct from the ashes of my industrious notes the
mental conflagration which I had witnessed, I was at a complete loss
to understand what had happened. The records were not only dull, they
seemed essentially trivial, and almost overwhelmingly unimportant. But
the magic had been there. Apart from the substance, the performance had
been literally enchanting. I do not honestly believe that Mr. Gladstone
was a man of great intellectual force, or even of very deep emotions.
He was a man of extraordinarily vigorous and robust brain, and he was a
supreme oratorical artist.

There is intellect, charm, humour in abundance in the parliamentary
forces; there was probably never a time when there were so many able and
ambitious men to be found in the rank and file of parliamentarians.
But that is not enough. There is no supremely impressive and commanding
figure on the stage; greatness seems to be distributed rather than
concentrated; but probably neither this, nor political conditions, would
prevent the generous recognition of supreme genius, if it were there to
recognise.

In art and literature, I am inclined to believe that we shall look back
to the Victorian era as a time of great activity and high performance.
The two tendencies here which militate against the appearance of the
greatest figures are, in the first place, the great accumulations of art
and literature, and in the second place the democratic desire to share
those treasures. The accumulation of pictures, music, and books makes
it undoubtedly very hard for a new artist, in whatever region, to gain
prestige. There is so much that is undoubtedly great and good for a
student of art and literature to make acquaintance with, that we are apt
to be content with the old vintages. The result is that there are a
good many artists who in a time of less productivity would have made
themselves an enduring reputation, and who now must be content to be
recognised only by a few. The difficulty can, I think, only be met by
some principle of selection being more rigidly applied. We shall have
to be content to skim the cream of the old as well as of the new, and
to allow the second-rate work of first-rate performers to sink into
oblivion. But at the same time there might be a great future before
any artist who could discover a new medium of utterance. It seems at
present, to take literature, as if every form of human expression had
been exploited. We have the lyric, the epic, the satire, the narrative,
the letter, the diary, conversation, all embalmed in art. But there is
probably some other medium possible which will become perfectly
obvious the moment it is seized upon and used. To take an instance from
pictorial art. At present, colour is only used in a genre manner, to
clothe some dramatic motive. But there seems no prima facie reason why
colour should not be used symphonically like music. In music we obtain
pleasure from an orderly sequence of vibrations, and there seems no real
reason why the eye should not be charmed with colour-sequences just as
the ear is charmed with sound-sequences. So in literature it would
seem as though we might get closer still to the expression of mere
personality, by the medium of some sublimated form of reverie, the
thought blended and tinged in the subtlest gradations, without the
clumsy necessity of sacrificing the sequence of thought to the barbarous
devices of metre and rhyme, or to the still more childish devices of
incident and drama. Flaubert, it will be remembered, looked forward to a
time when a writer would not require a subject at all, but would express
emotion and thought directly rather than pictorially. To utter the
unuttered thought--that is really the problem of literature in the
future; and if a writer could be found to free himself from all
stereotyped forms of expression, and to give utterance to the strange
texture of thought and fancy, which differentiates each single
personality so distinctly, so integrally, from other personalities, and
which we cannot communicate to our dearest and nearest, he might enter
upon a new province of art.

But the second tendency which at the present moment dominates writers
is, as I have said, the rising democratic interest in the things of the
mind. This is at present a very inchoate and uncultivated interest:
but in days of cheap publication and large audiences it dominates
many writers disastrously. The temptation is a grievous one--to take
advantage of a market--not to produce what is absolutely the best, but
what is popular and effective. It is not a wholly ignoble temptation. It
is not only the temptation of wealth, though in an age of comfort, which
values social respectability so highly, wealth is a great temptation.
But the temptation is rather to gauge success by the power of appeal. If
a man has ideas at all, he is naturally anxious to make them felt; and
if he can do it best by spreading his ideas rather thinly, by making
them attractive to enthusiastic people of inferior intellectual grip,
he feels he is doing a noble work. The truth is that in literature the
democracy desires not ideas but morality. All the best-known writers
of the Victorian age have been optimistic moralists, Browning, Ruskin,
Carlyle, Tennyson. They have been admired because they concealed their
essential conventionality under a slight perfume of unorthodoxy. They
all in reality pandered to the complacency of the age, in a way in which
Byron, Wordsworth, Shelley, and Keats did not pander. The democracy
loves to be assured that it is generous, high-minded, and sensible.
It is in reality timid, narrow-minded, and Pharisaical. It hates
independence and originality, and loves to believe that it adores both.
It loves Mr. Kipling because he assures them that vulgarity is not a
sin; it loves Mr. Bernard Shaw because he persuades them that they are
cleverer than they imagined. The fact is that great men, in literature
at all events, must be content, at the present time, to be unrecognised
and unacclaimed. They must be content to be of the happy company of whom
Mr. Swinburne writes:--


  "In the garden of death, where the singers, whose names are deathless,
            One with another make music unheard of men."


Then there is the region of Science, and here I am not qualified
to speak, because I know no science, and have not even taught it, as Mr.
Arthur Sidgwick said. I do not really know what constitutes greatness
in science. I suppose that the great man of science is the man who to a
power of endlessly patient investigation joins a splendid imaginative,
or perhaps deductive power, like Newton or Darwin. But we who stand at
the threshold of the scientific era are perhaps too near the light, and
too much dazzled by the results of scientific discovery to say who is
great and who is not great. I have met several distinguished men of
science, and I have thought some of them to be men of obviously
high intellectual gifts, and some of them men of inert and secretive
temperaments. But that is only natural, for to be great in other
departments generally implies a certain knowledge of the world, or at
all events of the thought of the world; whereas the great man of
science may be moving in regions of thought that may be absolutely
incommunicable to the ordinary person. But I do not suppose that
scientific greatness is a thing which can be measured by the importance
of the practical results of a discovery. I mean that a man may hit upon
some process, or some treatment of disease, which may be of incalculable
benefit to humanity, and yet not be really a great man of science, only
a fortunate discoverer, and incidentally a great benefactor to humanity.
The unknown discoverers of things like the screw or the wheel, persons
lost in the mists of antiquity, could not, I suppose, be ranked as great
men of science. The great man of science is the man who can draw
some stupendous inference, which revolutionises thought and sets men
hopefully at work on some problem which does not so much add to the
convenience of humanity as define the laws of nature. We are still
surrounded by innumerable and awful mysteries of life and being; the
evidence which will lead to their solution is probably in our hands and
plain enough, if any one could but see the bearing of facts which are
known to the simplest child. There is little doubt, I suppose, that
the greatest reputations of recent years have been made in science; and
perhaps when our present age has globed itself into a cycle, we shall be
amazed at the complaint that the present era is lacking in great men. We
are busy in looking for greatness in so many directions, and we are apt
to suppose, from long use, that greatness is so inseparably connected
with some form of human expression, whether it be the utterance of
thought, or the marshalling of armies, that we may be overlooking a more
stable form of greatness, which will be patent to those that come
after. My own belief is that the condition of science at the present day
answers best to the conditions which we have learnt to recognise in
the past as the fruitful soil of greatness. I mean that when we put our
finger, in the past, on some period which seems to have been producing
great work in a great way, we generally find it in some knot or school
of people, intensely absorbed in what they were doing, and doing it with
a whole-hearted enjoyment, loving the work more than the rewards of
it, and indifferent to the pursuit of fame. Such it seems to me is the
condition of science at the present time, and it is in science, I am
inclined to think, that our heroes are probably to be found.

I do not, then, feel at all sure that we are lacking in great men,
though it must be admitted that we are lacking in men whose supremacy is
recognised. I suppose we mean by a great man one who in some region of
human performance is confessedly pre-eminent; and he must further have
a theory of his own, and a power of pursuing that theory in the face
of depreciation and even hostility. I do not think that great men have
often been indifferent to criticism. Often, indeed, by virtue of a
greater sensitiveness and a keener perception, they have been profoundly
affected by unpopularity and the sense of being misunderstood. Carlyle,
Tennyson, Ruskin, for instance, were men of almost morbid sensibility,
and lived in sadness; and, on the other hand, there are few great men
who have not been affected for the worse by premature success. The best
soil for greatness to grow up in would seem to be an early isolation,
sustained against the disregard of the world by the affection and
admiration of a few kindred minds. Then when the great man has learned
his method and his message, and learned too not to over-value the
popular verdict, success may mature and mellow his powers. Yet of how
many great men can this be said? As a rule, indeed, a great man's best
work has been done in solitude and disfavour, and he has attained his
sunshine when he can no longer do his best work.

The question is whether the modern conditions of life are unfavourable
to greatness; and I think that it must be confessed that they are. In
the first place, we all know so much too about each other, and there
is so eager a personal curiosity abroad, a curiosity about the
smallest details of the life of any one who seems to have any power of
performance, that it encourages men to over-confidence, egotism,
and mannerism. Again, the world is so much in love with novelty and
sensation of all kinds, that facile successes are easily made and as
easily obliterated. What so many people admire is not greatness, but the
realisation of greatness and its tangible rewards. The result of this is
that men who show any faculty for impressing the world are exploited and
caressed, are played with as a toy, and as a toy neglected. And then,
too, the age is deeply permeated by social ambitions. Men love to be
labelled, ticketed, decorated, differentiated from the crowd. Newspapers
pander to this taste; and then the ease and rapidity of movement tempt
men to a restless variety of experience, of travel, of society, of
change, which is alien to the settled and sober temper in which great
designs are matured. There is a story, not uncharacteristic, of modern
social life, of a hostess who loved to assemble about her, in the style
of Mrs. Leo Hunter, notabilities small and great, who was reduced to
presenting a young man who made his appearance at one of her gatherings
as "Mr. ----, whose uncle, you will remember, was so terribly mangled
in the railway accident at S----." It is this feverish desire to be
distinguished at any price which has its counterpart in the feverish
desire to find objects of admiration. Not so can solid greatness be
achieved.

The plain truth is that no one can become great by taking thought, and
still less by desiring greatness. It is not an attainable thing; fame
only is attainable. A man must be great in his own quiet way, and the
greater he is, the less likely is he to concern himself with fame. It is
useless to try and copy some one else's greatness; that is like trying
to look like some one else's portrait, even if it be a portrait by
Velasquez. Not that modesty is inseparable from greatness; there are
abundance of great men who have been childishly and grotesquely vain;
but in such cases it has been a greatness of performance, a marvellous
faculty, not a greatness of soul. Hazlitt says somewhere that modesty is
the lowest of the virtues, and a real confession of the deficiency
which it indicates. He adds that a man who underrates himself is justly
undervalued by others. This is a cynical and a vulgar maxim. It is true
that a great man must have a due sense of the dignity and importance
of his work; but if he is truly great, he will have also a sense of
relation and proportion, and not forget the minuteness of any individual
atom. If he has a real greatness of soul, he will not be apt to compare
himself with others, and he will be inclined to an even over-generous
estimate of the value of the work of others. In no respect was the
greatness of D. G. Rossetti more exemplified than in his almost
extravagant appreciation of the work of his friends; and it was to this
royalty of temperament that he largely owed his personal supremacy.

I would believe then that the lack of conspicuous greatness is due
at this time to the overabundant vitality and eagerness of the world,
rather than to any languor or listlessness of spirit. The rise of the
decadent school in art and literature is not the least sign of any
indolent or corrupt deterioration. It rather shows a desperate appetite
for testing sensation, a fierce hunger for emotional experience, a
feverish ambition to impress a point-of-view. It is all part of a revolt
against settled ways and conventional theories. I do not mean that
we can expect to find greatness in this direction, for greatness is
essentially well-balanced, calm, deliberate, and decadence is a sign of
a neurotic and over-vitalised activity.

Our best hope is that this excessive restlessness of spirit will produce
a revolt against itself. The essence of greatness is unconventionality,
and restlessness is now becoming conventional. In education, in art,
in literature, in politics, in social life, we lose ourselves in
denunciations of the dreamer and the loafer. We cannot bear to see a
slowly-moving, deliberate, self-contained spirit, advancing quietly on
its discerned path. Instead of being content to perform faithfully and
conscientiously our allotted task, which is the way in which we can best
help the world, we demand that every one should want to do good, to
be responsible for some one else, to exhort, urge, beckon, restrain,
manage. That is all utterly false and hectic. Our aim should be patience
rather than effectiveness, sincerity rather than adaptability, to learn
rather than to teach, to ponder rather than to persuade, to know the
truth rather than to create illusion, however comforting, however
delightful such illusion may be.



VIII. SHYNESS


I have no doubt that shyness is one of the old, primitive, aboriginal
qualities that lurk in human nature--one of the crude elements that
ought to have been uprooted by civilisation, and security, and progress,
and enlightened ideals, but which have not been uprooted, and are only
being slowly eliminated. It is seen, as all aboriginal qualities are
seen, at its barest among children, who often reflect the youth of the
world, and are like little wild animals or infant savages, in spite of
all the frenzied idealisation that childhood receives from well-dressed
and amiable people.

Shyness is thus like those little bits of woods and copses which one
finds in a country-side that has long been subdued and replenished,
turned into arable land and pasture, with all the wildness and the
irregularity ploughed and combed out of it; but still one comes upon
some piece of dingle, where there is perhaps an awkward tilt in the
ground, or some ancient excavation, or where a stream-head has cut out a
steep channel, and there one finds a scrap of the old forest, a rood or
two that has never been anything but woodland. So with shyness; many
of our old, savage qualities have been smoothed out, or glazed over,
by education and inheritance, and only emerge in moments of passion and
emotion. But shyness is no doubt the old suspicion of the stranger, the
belief that his motives are likely to be predatory and sinister; it is
the tendency to bob the head down into the brushwood, or to sneak behind
the tree-bole on his approach. One sees a little child, washed
and brushed and delicately apparelled, with silken locks and clear
complexion, brought into a drawing-room to be admired; one sees the
terror come upon her; she knows by experience that she has nothing to
expect but attention, and admiration, and petting; but you will see her
suddenly cover her face with a tiny hand, relapse into dismal silence,
even burst into tears and refuse to be comforted, till she is safely
entrenched upon some familiar knee.

I have a breezy, boisterous, cheerful friend, of transparent simplicity
and goodness, who has never known the least touch of shyness from his
cradle, who always says, if the subject is introduced, that shyness
is all mere self-consciousness, and that it comes from thinking about
oneself. That is true, in a limited degree; but the diagnosis is no
remedy for the disease, because shyness is as much a disease as a cold
in the head, and no amount of effort can prevent the attacks of the
complaint; the only remedy is either to avoid the occasions of the
attacks,--and that is impossible, unless one is to abjure the society
of other people for good and all;--or else to practise resolutely the
hardening process of frequenting society, until one gets a sort of
courage out of familiarity. Yet even so, who that has ever really
suffered from shyness does not feel his heart sink as he drives up in
a brougham to the door of some strange house, and sees a grave butler
advancing out of an unknown corridor, with figures flitting to and fro
in the background; what shy person is there who at such a moment would
not give a considerable sum to be able to go back to the station and
take the first train home? Or who again, as he gives his name to a
servant in some brightly-lighted hall, and advances, with a hurried
glance at his toilet, into a roomful of well-dressed people, buzzing
with what Rossetti calls a "din of doubtful talk," would not prefer to
sink into the earth like Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, and be reckoned no
more among the living?

It is recorded in Tennyson's Life that he used to recommend to a younger
brother the thought of the stellar spaces, swarming with constellations
and traversed by planets at ineffable distances, as a cure for shyness;
and a lady of my acquaintance used to endeavour as a girl to stay her
failing heart on the thought of Eternity at such moments. It is all
in vain; at the urgent moment one cares very little about the stellar
motions, or the dim vistas of futurity, and very much indeed about the
cut of one's coat, and the appearance of one's collar, and the glances
of one's enemies; the doctrines of the Church, and the prospects of
ultimate salvation, are things very light in the scales in comparison
with the pressing necessities of the crisis, and the desperate need to
appear wholly unconcerned!

The wild and fierce shyness of childhood is superseded in most sensitive
people, as life goes on, by a very different feeling--the shyness
of adolescence, of which the essence, as has been well said, is "a
shamefaced pride." The shyness of early youth is a thing which springs
from an intense desire to delight, and impress, and interest other
people, from wanting to play a far larger and brighter part in the lives
of every one else than any one in the world plays in any one else's
life. Who does not recognise, with a feeling that is half contempt and
half compassion, the sight of the eager pretentiousness of youth, the
intense shame of confessing ignorance on any point, the deep desire
to appear to have a stake in the world, and a well-defined, respected
position? I met the other day a young man, of no particular force or
distinction, who was standing in a corner at a big social gathering,
bursting with terror and importance combined. He was inspired, I would
fain believe, by discerning a vague benevolence in my air and demeanour,
to fix his attention on me. He had been staying at a house where there
had been some important guests, and by some incredibly rapid
transition of eloquence he was saying to me in a minute or two, "The
Commander-in-Chief said to me the other day," and "The Archbishop
pointed out to me a few days ago," giving, as personal confidences,
scraps of conversation which he had no doubt overheard as an unwelcome
adjunct to a crowded smoking-room, with the busy and genial elders
wondering when the boys would have the grace to go to bed. My heart bled
for him as I saw the reflection of my own pushing and pretentious youth,
and I only desired that the curse should not fall upon him which has
so often fallen upon myself, to recall ineffaceably, with a blush that
still mantles my cheek in the silence and seclusion of my bedroom, in
a wakeful hour, the thought of some such piece of transparent and
ridiculous self-importance, shamefully uttered by myself, in a transport
of ambitious vanity, long years ago. How out of proportion to the
offence is the avenging phantom of memory which dogs one through the
years for such stupidities! I remember that as a youthful undergraduate
I went to stay in the house of an old family friend in the neighbourhood
of Cambridge. The only other male guest was a grim and crusty don, sharp
and trenchant in speech, and with a determination to keep young men in
their place. At Cambridge he would have taken no notice whatever of
me; but there, on alien ground, with some lurking impulse of far-off
civility, he said to me when the ladies retired, "I am going to have a
cigar; you know your way to the smoking-room?" I did not myself smoke
in those days, so foolish was I and innocent; but recalling, I suppose,
some similar remark made by an elderly and genial non-smoker under the
same circumstances, I said pompously--I can hardly bring myself even now
to write the words--"I don't smoke, but I will come and sit with you
for the pleasure of a talk." He gave a derisive snort, looked at me and
said, "What! not allowed to smoke yet? Pray don't trouble to come on
my account." It was not a genial speech, and it made me feel, as it was
intended to do, insupportably silly. I did not make matters better,
I recollect, on the following day, when on returning to Cambridge
I offered to carry his bag up from the station, for he insisted on
walking. He refused testily, and no doubt thought me, as in fact I was,
a very spiritless young man.

I remember, too, another incident of the same kind, happening about the
same time. I was invited by a fellow-undergraduate to come to tea in his
rooms, and to meet his people. After tea, in the lightness of his heart,
my friend performed some singular antics, such as standing on his head
like a clown, and falling over the back of his sofa, alighting on his
feet. I, who would not have executed such gambols for the world in the
presence of the fairer sex, but anxious in an elderly way to express my
sympathy with the performer, said, with what was meant to be a polite
admiration: "I can't think how you do that!" Upon which a shrewd
and trenchant maiden-aunt who was present, and was delighting in the
exuberance of her nephew, said to me briskly, "Mr. Benson, have you
never been young?" I should be ashamed to say how often since I have
arranged a neat repartee to that annoying question. At the same time
I think that the behaviour both of the don and the aunt was distinctly
unjust and unadvisable. I am sure that the one way to train young people
out of the miseries of shyness is for older people never to snub them
in public, or make them appear in the light of a fool. Such snubs fall
plentifully and naturally from contemporaries. An elder person is quite
within his rights in inflicting a grave and serious remonstrance in
private. I do not believe that young people ever resent that, if at the
same time they are allowed to defend themselves and state their case.
But a merciless elder who inflicts a public mortification is terribly
unassailable and impregnable. For the shy person, who is desperately
anxious to bear a sympathetic part, is quite incapable of retort; and
that is why such assaults are unpardonable, because they are the merest
bullying.

The nicest people that I have known in life have been the people
of kindly and sensible natures, who have been thoroughly spoilt as
children, encouraged to talk, led to expect not only toleration, but
active kindness and sympathy from all. The worst of it is that such
kindness is generally reserved for pretty and engaging children, and it
is the awkward, unpleasing, ungainly child who gets the slaps in public.
But, as in Tennyson-Turner's pretty poem of "Letty's Globe," a child's
hand should be "welcome at all frontiers." Only deliberate rudeness and
insolence on the part of children should be publicly rebuked; and as a
matter of fact both rudeness and insolence are far oftener the result of
shyness than is easily supposed.

After the shyness of adolescence there often follows a further stage.
The shy person has learnt a certain wisdom; he becomes aware how easily
he detects pretentiousness in other people, and realises that there is
nothing to be gained by claiming a width of experience which he does not
possess, and that the being unmasked is even more painful than feeling
deficient and ill-equipped. Then too he learns to suspect that when
he has tried to be impressive, he has often only succeeded in being
priggish; and the result is that he falls into a kind of speechlessness,
comforting himself, as he sits mute and awkward, unduly elongated, and
with unaccountable projections of limb and feature, that if only other
people were a little less self-absorbed, had the gift of perceiving
hidden worth and real character, and could pierce a little below the
surface, they would realise what reserves of force and tenderness lay
beneath the heavy shapelessness of which he is still conscious. Then is
the time for the shy person to apply himself to social gymnastics. He
is not required to be voluble; but if he will practise bearing a hand,
seeing what other people need and like, carrying on their line of
thought, constructing small conversational bridges, asking the right
questions, perhaps simulating an interest in the pursuits of others
which he does not naturally feel, he may unloose the burden from his
back. Then is the time to practise a sympathetic smile, or better still
to allow oneself to indicate and even express the sympathy one feels;
and the experimentalist will soon become aware how welcome such
unobtrusive sympathy is. He will be amazed at first to find that,
instead of being tolerated, he will be confided in; he will be regarded
as a pleasant adjunct to a party, and he will soon have the even
pleasanter experience of finding that his own opinions and adventures,
if they are not used to cap and surpass the opinions and adventures of
others, but to elicit them, will be duly valued. Yet, alas, a good many
shy people never reach that stage, but take refuge in a critical and
fastidious attitude. I had an elderly relative of this kind--who
does not know the type?--who was a man of wide interests and accurate
information, but a perfect terror in the domestic circle. He was too
shy to mingle in general talk, but sat with an air of acute observation,
with a dry smile playing over his face; later on, when the circle
diminished, it pleased him to retail the incautious statements made by
various members of the party, and correct them with much acerbity.
There are few things more terrific than a man who is both speechless and
distinguished. I have known several such, and their presence lies like a
blight over the most cheerful party. It is unhappily often the case that
shyness is apt to exist side by side with considerable ability, and a
shy man of this type regards distinction as a kind of defensive armour,
which may justify him in applying to others the contempt which he has
himself been conscious of incurring. One of the most disagreeable men I
know is a man of great ability, who was bullied in his youth. The result
upon him has been that he tends to believe that most people are inspired
by a vague malevolence, and he uses his ability and his memory, not to
add to the pleasure of a party, but to make his own power felt. I have
seen this particular man pass from an ungainly speechlessness into
brutal onslaughts on inoffensive persons; and it is one of the most
unpleasant transformations in the world. On the other hand, the modest
and amiable man of distinction is one of the most agreeable figures it
is possible to encounter. He is kind and deferential, and the indulgent
deference of a distinguished man is worth its weight in gold.

I was lately told a delightful story of a great statesman staying with
a humble and anxious host, who had invited a party of simple and
unimportant people to meet the great man. The statesman came in late
for dinner, and was introduced to the party; he made a series of
old-fashioned bows in all directions, but no one felt in a position
to offer any observations. The great man, at the conclusion of the
ceremony, turned to his host, and said, in tones that had often
thrilled a listening senate: "What very convenient jugs you have in your
bedrooms! They pour well!" The social frost broke up; the company were
delighted to find that the great man was interested in mundane matters
of a kind on which every one might be permitted to have an opinion, and
the conversation, starting from the humblest conveniences of daily
life, melted insensibly into more liberal subjects. The fact is that,
in ordinary life, kindness and simplicity are valued far more than
brilliance; and the best brilliance is that which throws a novel and
lambent light upon ordinary topics, rather than the brilliance which
disports itself in unfamiliar and exalted regions. The hero only ceases
to be a hero to his valet if he is too lofty-minded to enter into the
workings of his valet's mind, and cannot duly appraise the quality of
his services.

And then, too, to go back a little, there are certain defects, after
all, which are appropriate at different times of life. A certain
degree of shyness and even awkwardness is not at all a disagreeable
thing--indeed it is rather a desirable quality--in the young. A
perfectly self-possessed and voluble young man arouses in one a vague
sense of hostility, unless it is accompanied by great modesty and
ingenuousness. The artless prattler, who, in his teens, has an opinion
on all subjects, and considers that opinion worth expressing, is
pleasant enough, and saves one some embarrassment; but such people,
alas, too often degenerate into the bores of later life. If a man's
opinion is eventually going to be worth anything, he ought, I think, to
pass through a tumultuous and even prickly stage, when he believes that
he has an opinion, but cannot find the aplomb to formulate it. He ought
to be feeling his way, to be in a vague condition of revolt against what
is conventional. This is likely to be true not only in his dealings
with his elders, but also in his dealings with his contemporaries. Young
people are apt to regard a youthful doctrinaire, who has an opinion on
everything, with sincere abhorrence. He bores them, and to the young
boredom is not a condition of passive suffering, it is an acute form of
torture. Moreover, the stock of opinions which a young man holds are apt
to be parrot-cries repeated without any coherence from talks overheard
and books skimmed. But in a modest and ingenuous youth, filled to the
brim with eager interest and alert curiosity, a certain deference is
an adorable thing, one of the most delicate of graces; and it is a
delightful task for an older person, who feels the sense of youthful
charm, to melt stiffness away by kindly irony and gentle provocation,
as Socrates did with his sweet-natured and modest boy-friends, so many
centuries ago.

The aplomb of the young generally means complacency; but one who is
young and shy, and yet has the grace to think about the convenience and
pleasure of others, can be the most perfect companion in the world. One
has then a sense of the brave and unsophisticated freshness of youth,
that believes all things and hopes all things, the bloom of which has
not been rubbed away by the rough touch of the world. It is only when
that shyness is prolonged beyond the appropriate years, when it leaves
a well-grown and hard-featured man gasping and incoherent, jerky and
ungracious, that it is a painful and disconcerting deformity. The only
real shadow of early shyness is the quite disproportionate amount of
unhappiness that conscious gaucherie brings with it. Two incidents
connected with a ceremony most fruitful in nervousness come back to my
mind.

When I was an Eton boy, I was staying with a country squire, a most
courteous old gentleman with a high temper. The first morning, I
contrived to come down a minute or two late for prayers. There was
no chair for me. The Squire suspended his reading of the Bible with a
deadly sort of resignation, and made a gesture to the portly butler.
That functionary rose from his own chair, and with loudly creaking boots
carried it across the room for my acceptance. I sat down, covered with
confusion. The butler returned; and two footmen, who were sitting on a
little form, made reluctant room for him. The butler sat down on one end
of the form, unfortunately before his equipoise, the second footman, had
taken his place at the other end. The result was that the form tipped
up, and a cataract of flunkies poured down upon the floor. There was
a ghastly silence; then the Gadarene herd slowly recovered itself,
and resumed its place. The Squire read the chapter in an accent of
suppressed fury, while the remainder of the party, with handkerchiefs
pressed to their faces, made the most unaccountable sounds and motions
for the rest of the proceeding. I was really comparatively guiltless,
but the shadow of that horrid event sensibly clouded the whole of my
visit.

I was only a spectator of the other event. We had assembled for prayers
in the dimly-lighted hall of the house of a church dignitary, and the
chapter had begun, when a man of almost murderous shyness, who was
a guest, opened his bedroom door and came down the stairs. Our host
suspended his reading. The unhappy man came down, but, instead of
slinking to his place, went and stood in front of the fire, under the
impression that the proceedings had not taken shape, and addressed some
remarks upon the weather to his hostess. In the middle of one of his
sentences, he suddenly divined the situation, on seeing the row of
servants sitting in a thievish corner of the hall. He took his seat with
the air of a man driving to the guillotine, and I do not think I ever
saw any one so much upset as he was for the remainder of his stay. Of
course it may be said that a sense of humour should have saved a man
from such a collapse of moral force, but a sense of humour requires to
be very strong to save a man from the sense of having made a conspicuous
fool of himself.

I would add one more small reminiscence, of an event from which I can
hardly say with honesty that I have yet quite recovered, although it
took place nearly thirty years ago. I went, as a schoolboy, with my
parents, to stay at a very big country house, the kind of place to which
I was little used, where the advent of a stately footman to take away
my clothes in the morning used to fill me with misery. The first evening
there was a big dinner-party. I found myself sitting next my delightful
and kindly hostess, my father being on the other side of her. All went
well till dessert, when an amiable, long-haired spaniel came to my side
to beg of me. I had nothing but grapes on my plate, and purely out
of compliment I offered him one. He at once took it in his mouth,
and hurried to a fine white fur rug in front of the hearth, where he
indulged in some unaccountable convulsions, rolling himself about and
growling in an ecstasy of delight. My host, an irascible man, looked
round, and then said: "Who the devil has given that dog a grape?" He
added to my father, by way of explanation, "The fact is that if he can
get hold of a grape, he rolls it on that rug, and it is no end of a
nuisance to get the stain out." I sat crimson with guilt, and was just
about to falter out a confession, when my hostess looked up, and, seeing
what had happened, said, "It was me, Frank--I forgot for the moment what
I was doing." My gratitude for this angelic intervention was so great
that I had not even the gallantry to own up, and could only repay my
protectress with an intense and lasting devotion. I have no doubt that
she explained matters afterwards to our host; and I contrived to murmur
my thanks later in the evening. But the shock had been a terrible one,
and taught me not only wisdom, but the Christian duty of intervening, if
I could, to save the shy from their sins and sufferings.


     "Taught by the Power that pities me,
       I learn to pity them."


But the consideration that emerges from these reminiscences is the
somewhat bewildering one, that shyness is a thing which seems to be
punished, both by immediate discomfort and by subsequent fantastic
remorse, far more heavily than infinitely more serious moral lapses.
The repentance that follows sin can hardly be more poignant than the
agonising sense of guilt which steals over the waking consciousness
on the morning that follows some such social lapse. In fact it must
be confessed that most of us dislike appearing fools far more than we
dislike feeling knaves; so that one wonders whether one does not dread
the ridicule and disapproval of society more than one dreads the sense
of a lapse from morality; the philosophical outcome of which would seem
to be that the verdict of society upon our actions is at the base of
morality. We may feel assured that the result of moral lapses will
ultimately be that we shall have to face the wrath of our Creator;
but one hopes that side by side with justice will be found a merciful
allowance for the force of temptation. But the final judgment is in any
case not imminent, while the result of a social lapse is that we have to
continue to face a disapproving and even a contemptuous circle, who will
remember our failure with malicious pleasure, and whose sense of justice
will not be tempered by any appreciable degree of mercy. Here again is
a discouraging circumstance, that when we call to mind some similarly
compromising and grotesque adventure in the life of one of our friends,
in spite of the fact that we well know the distress that the incident
must have caused him, we still continue to hug, and even to repeat, our
recollection of the occasion with a rich sense of joy. Is it that we
do not really desire the peace and joy of others? It would seem so. How
many of us are not conscious of feeling extremely friendly and helpful
when our friend is in sorrow, or difficulty, or discredit, and yet of
having no taste for standing by and applauding when our friend is joyful
and successful! There is nothing, it seems, that we can render to our
friend in the latter case, except the praise of which he has already had
enough!

It seems then that the process of anatomising the nature and philosophy
of shyness only ends in stripping off, one by one, as from an onion, the
decent integuments of the human spirit, and revealing it every moment
more and more in its native rankness. Let me forbear, consoling myself
with the thought that the qualities of human beings are not meant to be
taken up one by one, like coins from a tray, and scrutinised; but that
what matters is the general effect, the blending, the grouping, the
mellowed surface, the warped line. I was only yesterday in an
old church, where I saw an ancient font-cover--a sort of carved
extinguisher--and some dark panels of a rood-screen. They had been, both
cover and panels, coarsely and brightly painted and gilt; and, horrible
to reflect, it flashed upon me that they must have once been both
glaring and vulgar. Yet to-day the dim richness of the effect, the
dints, the scaling-off of the flakes, the fading of the pigment, the
dulling of the gold, were incomparable; and I began to wonder if perhaps
that was not what happened to us in life; and that though we foolishly
regretted the tarnishing of the bright surfaces of soul and body with
our passions and tempers and awkwardnesses and feeblenesses, yet perhaps
it was, after all, that we were taking on an unsuspected beauty, and
making ourselves fit, some far-off day, for the Communion of Saints!



IX. EQUALITY


It is often said that the Anglo-Saxon races suffer from a lack of
ideals, that they do not hold enough things sacred. But there is
assuredly one thing which the most elementary and barbarous Anglo-Saxon
holds sacred, beyond creed and Decalogue and fairplay and morality, and
that is property. At inquests, for instance, it may be noted how often
inquiries are solicitously made, not whether the deceased had religious
difficulties or was disappointed in love, but whether he had any
financial worries. We hold our own property to be very sacred indeed,
and our respect for other men's rights in the matter is based on the
fact that we wish our own rights to be respected. If I were asked what
other ideals were held widely sacred in England and America I should
find it very difficult to reply. I think that there is a good deal of
interest taken in America in education and culture; whereas in England I
do not believe that there is very much interest taken in either; almost
the only thing which is valued in England, romantically, and with a kind
of enthusiasm, besides property, is social distinction; the democracy
in England is sometimes said to be indignant at the existence of so
much social privilege; the word "class" is said to be abhorrent to the
democrat; but the only classes that he detests are the classes above him
in the social scale, and the democrat is extremely indignant if he is
assigned to a social station which he considers to be below his own. I
have met democrats who despise and contemn the social tradition of the
so-called upper classes, but I have never met a democrat who is not much
more infuriated if it is supposed that he has not social traditions of
his own vastly superior to the social traditions of the lowest grade of
precarious mendicity. The reason why socialism has never had any great
hold in England is because equality is only a word, and in no sense a
real sentiment in England. The reason why members of the lowest class
in England are not as a rule convinced socialists is because their one
ambition is to become members of the middle-class, and to have property
of their own; and while the sense of personal possession is so strong as
it is, no socialism worthy of the name has a chance. It is possible
for any intelligent, virtuous, and capable member of the lower class to
transfer himself to the middle class; and once there he does not
favour any system of social equality. Socialism can never prevail as a
political system, until we get a majority of disinterested men, who do
not want to purchase freedom from daily work by acquiring property,
and who desire the responsibility rather than the influence of
administrative office. But administrative office is looked upon in
England as an important if indirect factor in acquiring status and
personal property for oneself and one's friends.

I am myself a sincere believer in socialism; that is to say, I do not
question the right of society to deprive me of my private property if
it chooses to do so. It does choose to do so to a certain extent through
the medium of the income-tax. Such property as I possess has, I think
it as well to state, been entirely acquired by my own exertions. I
have never inherited a penny, or received any money except what I have
earned. I am quite willing to admit that my work was more highly paid
than it deserved; but I shall continue to cling tenaciously to that
property until I am convinced that it will be applied for the benefit
of every one; I should not think it just if it was taken from me for the
benefit of the idle and incompetent; and I should be reluctant to part
with it unless I felt sure that it would pass into the hands of those
who are as just-minded and disinterested as myself, and be fairly
administered. I should not think it just if it were taken from me by
people who intended to misuse it, as I have misused it, for their own
personal gratification.

It was made a matter of merriment in the case of William Morris that
he preached the doctrines of socialism while he was a prosperous
manufacturer; but I see that he was perfectly consistent. There is no
justice, for instance, about the principle of disarmament, unless all
nations loyally disarm at the same time. A person cannot be called upon
to strip himself of his personal property for disinterested reasons, if
he feels that he is surrounded by people who would use the spoils
for their own interest. The process must be carried out by a sincere
majority, who may then coerce the selfish minority. I have no conception
what I should do with my money if I determined that I ought not to
possess it. It ought not to be applied to any public purpose, because
under a socialist regime all public institutions would be supported by
the public, and they ought not to depend upon private generosity. Still
less do I think that it ought to be divided among individuals, because,
if they were disinterested persons, they ought to refuse to accept
it. The only good reason I should have for disencumbering myself of my
possessions would be that I might set a good example of the simple life,
by working hard for a livelihood, which is exactly what I do; and my
only misfortune is that my earnings and the interest of my accumulated
earnings produce a sum which is far larger than the average man ought
to possess. Thus the difficulty is a very real one. Moreover the evil of
personal property is that it tends to emphasise class-distinctions and
to give the possessors of it a sense of undue superiority. Now I am
democratic enough to maintain that I have no sense whatever of personal
superiority. I do not allow my possession of property to give me a life
of vacuous amusement, for the simple reason that my work amuses me far
more than any other form of occupation, If it is asked why I tend to
live by preference among what may be called my social equals, I reply
that the only people one is at ease with are the people whose social
traditions are the same as one's own, for the simple reason that one
does not then have to think about social traditions at all. I do not
think my social traditions are better than the social traditions of any
other stratum of society, whether it be described as above or below
my own; all I would say is that they are different from the social
traditions of other strata, and I much prefer to live without having to
consider such matters at all. The manners of the upper middle-class to
which scientifically I belong, are different from the manners of the
upper, lower-middle, and lower class, and I feel out of my element in
the upper class, just as I feel out of my element in the lower class. Of
course if I were perfectly simple-minded and sincere, this would not
be so; but, as it is, I am at ease with professional persons of my
own standing; I understand their point-of-view without any need of
explanation; in any class but my own, I am aware of the constant strain
of trying to grasp another point-of-view; and to speak frankly, it is
not worth the trouble. I do not at all desire to migrate out of my own
class, and I have never been able to sympathise with people who did. The
motive for doing so is not generally a good one, though it is of course
possible to conceive a high-minded aristocrat who from motives based
upon our common humanity might desire to apprehend the point-of-view of
an artisan, or a high-minded artisan who for the same motive desired to
apprehend the point-of-view of an earl. But one requires to feel sure
that this is based upon a strong sense of charity and responsibility,
and I can only say that I have not found that the desire to migrate into
a different class is generally based upon these qualities.

The question is, what ought a man who believes sincerely in the
principle of equality to do in the matter, if he is situated as I am
situated? What I admire and desire in life is friendly contact with my
fellows, interesting work, leisure for following the pursuits I enjoy,
such as art and literature. I honestly confess that I am not interested
in what are called Social Problems, or rather I am not at all interested
in the sort of people who study them. Such problems have hardly reached
the vital stage; they are in the highly technical stage, and are mixed
up with such things as political economy, politics, organisation, and
so forth, which, to be perfectly frank, are to me blighting and dreary
objects of study. I honour profoundly the people who engage in such
pursuits; but life is not long enough to take up work, however valuable,
from a sense of duty, if one realises one's own unfitness for such
labours. I wish with all my heart that all classes cared equally for
the things which I love. I should like to be able to talk frankly and
unaffectedly about books, and interesting people, and the beauties of
nature, and abstract topics of a mild kind, with any one I happened to
meet. But, as a rule, to speak frankly, I find that people of what I
must call the lower class are not interested in these things; people in
what I will call the upper class are faintly interested, in a horrible
and condescending way, in them--which is worse than no interest at all.
A good many people in my own class are impatient of them, and think
of them as harmless recreations; I fall back upon a few like-minded
friends, with whom I can talk easily and unreservedly of such
things, without being thought priggish or donnish or dilettanteish or
unintelligible. The subjects in which I find the majority of people
interested are personal gossip, money, success, business, politics.
I love personal gossip, but that can only be enjoyed in a circle well
acquainted with each other's faults and foibles; and I do not sincerely
care for talking about the other matters I have mentioned. Hitherto I
have always had a certain amount of educational responsibility, and that
has furnished an abundance of material for pleasant talk and interesting
thoughts; but then I have always suffered from the Anglo-Saxon failing
of disliking responsibility except in the case of those for whom one's
efforts are definitely pledged on strict business principles. I cannot
deliberately assume a sense of responsibility towards people in general;
to do that implies a sense of the value of one's own influence and
example, which I have never possessed; and, indeed, I have always
heartily disliked the manifestation of it in others. Indeed, I firmly
believe that the best and most fruitful part of a man's influence, is
the influence of which he is wholly unconscious; and I am quite sure
that no one who has a strong sense of responsibility to the world in
general can advance the cause of equality, because such a sense implies
at all events a consciousness of moral superiority. Moreover, my
educational experience leads me to believe that one cannot do much
to form character. The most one can do is to guard the young against
pernicious influences, and do one's best to recommend one's own
disinterested enthusiasms. One cannot turn a violet into a rose by any
horticultural effort; one can only see that the violet or the rose has
the best chance of what is horribly called self-effectuation.

My own belief is that these great ideas like Equality and Justice are
things which, like poetry, are born and cannot be made. That a number of
earnest people should be thinking about them shows that they are in
the air; but the interest felt in them is the sign and not the cause
of their increase. I believe that one must go forwards, trying to avoid
anything that is consciously harsh or pompous or selfish or base, and
the great ideas will take care of themselves.

The two great obvious difficulties which seem to me to lie at the root
of all schemes for producing a system of social equality are first the
radical inequality of character, temperament, and equipment in human
beings. No system can ever hope to be a practical system unless we can
eliminate the possibility of children being born, some of them perfectly
qualified for life and citizenship, and others hopelessly disqualified.
If such differences were the result of environment it would be a
remediable thing. But one can have a strong, vigorous, naturally
temperate child born and brought up under the meanest and most
sordid conditions, and, on the other hand, a thoroughly worthless and
detestable person may be the child of high-minded, well-educated people,
with every social advantage. My work as a practical educationalist
enforced this upon me. One would find a boy, born under circumstances
as favourable for the production of virtue and energy as any socialistic
system could provide, who was really only fitted for the lowest kind
of mechanical work, and whose instincts were utterly gross. Even if the
State could practise a kind of refined Mendelism, it would be impossible
to guard against the influences of heredity. If one traces back the
hereditary influences of a child for ten generations, it will be found
that he has upwards of two thousand progenitors, any one of whom may
give him a bias.

And secondly, I cannot see that any system of socialism is consistent
with the system of the family. The parents in a socialistic state
can only be looked upon as brood stock, and the nurture of the rising
generation must be committed to some State organisation, if one is to
secure an equality of environing influences. Of course, this is done to
a certain extent by the boarding-schools of the upper classes; and here
again my experience has shown me that the system, though a good one for
the majority, is not the best system invariably for types with marked
originality--the very type that one most desires to propagate.

These are, of course, very crude and elementary objections to the
socialistic scheme; all that I say is that until these difficulties seem
more capable of solution, I cannot throw myself with any interest into
the speculation; I cannot continue in the path of logical deduction,
while the postulates and axioms remain so unsound.

What then can a man who has resources that he cannot wisely dispose of,
and happiness that he cannot impart to others, but yet who would only
too gladly share his gladness with the world, do to advance the cause
of the general weal? Must he plunge into activities for which he has no
aptitude or inclination, and which have as their aim objects for which
he does not think that the world is ripe? Every one will remember the
figure of Mrs. Pardiggle in Bleak House, that raw-boned lady who enjoyed
hard work, and did not know what it was to be tired, who went about
rating inefficient people, and "boned" her children's pocket-money for
charitable objects. It seems to me that many of the people who work at
social reforms do so because, like Mrs. Pardiggle, they enjoy hard work
and love ordering other people about. In a society wisely and rationally
organised, there would be no room for Mrs. Pardiggle at all; the
question is whether things must first pass through the Pardiggle stage.
I do not in my heart believe it. Mrs. Pardiggle seems to me to be not
part of the cure of the disease, but rather one of the ugliest of its
symptoms. I think that she is on the wrong tack altogether, and leading
other people astray. I do know some would-be social reformers, whom I
respect and commiserate with all my heart, who see what is amiss, and
have no idea how to mend it, and who lose themselves, like Hamlet, in a
sort of hopeless melancholy about it all, with a deep-seated desire to
give others a kind of happiness which they ought to desire, but which,
as a matter of fact, they do not desire. Such men are often those upon
whom early youth broke, like a fresh wave, with an incomparable sense of
rapture, in the thought of all the beauty and loveliness of nature and
art; and who lived for a little in a Paradise of delicious experiences
and fine emotions, believing that there must be some strange mistake,
and that every one must in reality desire what seemed so utterly
desirable; and then, as life went on, there fell upon these the shadow
of the harsh facts of life; the knowledge that the majority of the human
race had no part or lot in such visions, but loved rather food and
drink and comfort and money and rude mirth; who did not care a pin what
happened to other people, or how frail and suffering beings spent their
lives, so long as they themselves were healthy and jolly. Then that
shadow deepens and thickens, until the sad dreamers do one of two
things--either immure themselves in a tiny scented garden of their own,
and try to drown the insistent noises without; or, on the other hand, if
they are of the nobler sort, lose heart and hope, and even forfeit their
own delight in things that are sweet and generous and pleasant and pure.
A mournful and inextricable dilemma!

Perhaps one or two of such visionaries, who are made of sterner stuff,
have deliberately embarked, hopefully and courageously, upon the
Pardiggle path; they have tried absurd experiments, like Ruskin, in
road-making and the formation of Guilds; they have taken to journalism
and committees like William Morris. But they have been baffled. I do not
mean to say that such lives of splendid renunciation may not have a deep
moral effect; but, on the other hand, it is little gain to humanity if
a richly-endowed spirit deserts a piece of work that he can do, to toil
unsuccessfully at a piece of work that cannot yet be done at all.

I myself believe that when Society is capable of using property and the
better pleasures, it will arise and take them quietly and firmly: and
as for the fine spirits who would try to organise things before they are
even sorted, well, they have done a noble, ineffectual thing, because
they could not do otherwise; and their desire to mend what is amiss
is at all events a sign that the impulse is there, that the sun has
brightened upon the peaks before it could warm the valleys.

I was reading to-day The Irrational Knot, an early book by Mr.
Bernard Shaw, whom I whole-heartedly admire because of his courage and
good-humour and energy. That book represents a type of the New Man, such
as I suppose Mr. Shaw would have us all to be; the book, in spite of
its radiant wit, is a melancholy one, because the novelist penetrates
so clearly past the disguises of humanity, and takes delight in dragging
the mean, ugly, shuddering, naked creature into the open. The New Man
himself is entirely vigorous, cheerful, affectionate, sensible, and
robust. He is afraid of nothing and shocked by nothing. I think it
would have been better if he had been a little more shocked, not in
a conventional way, but at the hideous lapses and failures of even
generous and frank people. He is too hard and confident to be an
apostle. He does not lead the flock like a shepherd, but helps them
along, like Father-o'-Flynn, with his stick. I would have gone to
Conolly, the hero of the book, to get me out of a difficulty, but I
could not have confided to him what I really held sacred. Moreover the
view of money, as the one essential world-force, so frankly confessed
in the book, puzzled me. I do not think that money is ever more than a
weapon in the hands of a man, or a convenient screening wall, and the
New Man ought to have neither weapons nor walls, except his vigour and
serenity of spirit. Again the New Man is too fond of saying what
he thinks, and doing what he chooses; and, in the new earth, that
independent instinct will surely be tempered by a sense, every bit as
instinctive, of the rights of other people. But I suppose Mr. Shaw's
point is that if you cannot mend the world, you had better make it serve
you, as in its folly and debility it will, if you bully it enough. I
suppose that Mr. Shaw would say that the brutality of his hero is the
shadow thrown on him by the vileness of the world, and that if we were
all alike courageous and industrious and good-humoured, that shadow
would disappear.

And this, I suppose, is after all the secret; that the world is not
going to be mended from without, but is mending itself from within;
and thus that the best kind of socialism is really the highest
individualism, in which a man leaves legislation to follow and express,
as it assuredly does, the growth of emotion, and sets himself, in his
own corner, to be as quiet and disinterested and kindly as he can,
choosing what is honest and pure, and rejecting what is base and vile;
and this is after all the socialism of Christ; only we are all in such
a hurry, and think it more effective to clap a ruffian into gaol than
to suffer his violence--the result of which process is to make men
sympathise with the ruffian--while, if we endure his violence, we touch
a spring in the hearts of ruffian and spectators alike, which is more
fruitful of good than the criminal's infuriated seclusion, and his just
quarrel with the world. Of course the real way is that we should each
of us abandon our own desires for private ease and convenience, in the
light of the hope that those who come after will be easier and happier;
whereas the Pardiggle reformer literally enjoys the presence of the
refuse, because his broom has something to sweep away.

And the strangest thing of all is that we move forward, in a bewildered
company, knowing that our every act and word is the resultant of ancient
forces, not one of which we can change or modify in the least degree,
while we live under the instinctive delusion, which survives the
severest logic, that we can always and at every moment do to a certain
extent what we choose to do. What the truth is that connects and
underlies these two phenomena, we have not the least conception; but
meanwhile each remains perfectly obvious and apparently true. To myself,
the logical belief is infinitely the more hopeful and sustaining of the
two; for if the movement of progress is in the hands of God, we are at
all events taking our mysterious and wonderful part in a great dream
that is being evolved, far more vast and amazing than we can comprehend;
whereas if I felt that it was left to ourselves to choose, and
that, hampered as we feel ourselves to be by innumerable chains of
circumstance, we could yet indeed originate action and impede the
underlying Will, I should relapse into despair before a problem full of
sickening complexities and admitted failures. Meanwhile, I do what I am
given to do; I perceive what I am allowed to perceive; I suffer what is
appointed for me to suffer; but all with a hope that I may yet see the
dawn break upon the sunlit sea, beyond the dark hills of time.



X. THE DRAMATIC SENSE


The other day I was walking along a road at Cambridge, engulfed in a
torrent of cloth-capped and coated young men all flowing one way--going
to see or, as it is now called, to "watch" a match. We met a little
girl walking with her governess in the opposite direction. There was a
baleful light of intellect in the child's eye, and a preponderance of
forehead combined with a certain lankness of hair betrayed, I fancy,
an ingenuous academical origin. The girl was looking round her with an
unholy sense of superiority, and as we passed she said to her governess
in a clear-cut, complacent tone, "We're quite exceptional, aren't we?"
To which the governess replied briskly, "Laura, don't be ridiculous!"
To which exhortation Laura replied with self-satisfied pertinacity, "No,
but we ARE exceptional, aren't we?"

Ah, Miss Laura, I thought to myself, you are one of those people with
a dramatic sense of your own importance. It will probably make you very
happy, and an absolutely insufferable person! I have little doubt that
the tiny prig was saying to herself, "I dare say that all these men are
wondering who is the clever-looking little girl who is walking in the
opposite direction to the match, and has probably something better to
do than look on at matches." It is a great question whether one ought to
wish people to nourish illusions about themselves, or whether one ought
to desire such illusions to be dispelled. They certainly add immensely
to people's happiness, but on the other hand, if life is an educative
progress, and if the aim of human beings is or ought to be the
attainment of moral perfection, then the sooner that these illusions are
dispelled the better. It is one of the many questions which depend upon
the great fact as to whether our identity is prolonged after death. If
identity is not prolonged, then one would wish people to maintain every
illusion which makes life happier; and there is certainly no illusion
which brings people such supreme and unfailing contentment as the sense
of their own significance in the world. This illusion rises superior to
all failures and disappointments. It makes the smallest and simplest act
seem momentous. The world for such persons is merely a theatre of gazers
in which they discharge their part appropriately and successfully. I
know several people who have the sense very strongly, who are conscious
from morning till night, in all that they do or say, of an admiring
audience; and who, even if their circle is wholly indifferent, find food
for delight in the consciousness of how skilfully and satisfactorily
they discharge their duties. I remember once hearing a worthy clergyman,
of no particular force, begin a speech at a missionary meeting by saying
that people had often asked him what was the secret of his smile; and
that he had always replied that he was unaware that his smile had any
special quality; but that if it indeed was so, and it would be idle
to pretend that a good many people had not noticed it, it was that he
imported a resolute cheerfulness into all that he did. The man, as I
have said, was not in any way distinguished, but there can be no doubt
that the thought of his heavenly smile was a very sustaining one,
and that the sense of responsibility that the possession of such a
characteristic gave him, undoubtedly made him endeavour to smile like
the Cheshire Cat, when he did not feel particularly cheerful.

It is not, however, common to find people make such a frank and candid
confession of their superiority. The feeling is generally kept for more
or less private consumption. The underlying self-satisfaction generally
manifests itself, for instance, with people who have no real illusions,
say, about their personal appearance, in leading them to feel, after a
chance glance at themselves in a mirror, that they really do not look
so bad in certain lights. A dull preacher will repeat to himself, with
a private relish, a sentence out of a very commonplace discourse of his
own, and think that that was really an original thought, and that
he gave it an impressive emphasis; or a student will make a very
unimportant discovery, press it upon the attention of some great
authority on the subject, extort a half-hearted assent, and will then go
about saying, "I mentioned my discovery to Professor A----; he was
quite excited about it, and urged the immediate publication of it." Or
a commonplace woman will give a tea-party, and plume herself upon the
eclat with which it went off. The materials are ready to hand in any
life; the quality is not the same as priggishness, though it is closely
akin to it; it no doubt exists in the minds of many really successful
people, and if it is not flagrantly betrayed, it is often an important
constituent of their success. But the happy part of it is that the
dramatic sense is often freely bestowed upon the most inconspicuous and
unintelligent persons, and fills their lives with a consciousness of
romance and joy. It concerns itself mostly with public appearances, upon
however minute a scale, and thus it is a rich source of consolation and
self-congratulation. Even if it falls upon one who has no social gifts
whatever, whose circle of friends tends to diminish as life goes on,
whose invitations tend to decrease, it still frequently survives in a
consciousness of being profoundly interesting, and consoles itself by
believing that under different circumstances and in a more perceptive
society the fact would have received a wider recognition.

But, after all, as with many things, much depends upon the way that
illusions are cherished. When this dramatic sense is bestowed upon a
heavy-handed, imperceptive, egotistical person, it becomes a terrible
affliction to other people, unless indeed the onlooker possesses the
humorous spectatorial curiosity; when it becomes a matter of delight to
find a person behaving characteristically, striking the hour punctually,
and being, as Mr. Bennet thought of Mr. Collins, fully as absurd as one
had hoped. It then becomes a pleasure, and not necessarily an unkind
one, because it gives the deepest satisfaction to the victim, to tickle
the egotist as one might tickle a trout, to draw him on by innocent
questions, to induce him to unfold and wave his flag high in the air.
I had once a worthy acquaintance whose occasional visits were to me a
source of infinite pleasure--and I may add that I have no doubt that
they gave him a pleasure quite as acute--because he only required the
simplest fly to be dropped on the pool, when he came heavily to the
top and swallowed it. I have heard him deplore the vast size of his
correspondence, the endless claims made upon him for counsel. I have
heard him say with a fatuous smile that there were literally hundreds of
people who day by day brought their pitcher of self-pity to be filled
at his pump of sympathy: that he wished he could have a little rest, but
that he supposed that it was a plain duty for him to minister thus to
human needs, though it took it out of him terribly. I suppose that some
sort of experience must have lain behind this confession, for my friend
was a decidedly moral man, and would not tell a deliberate untruth; the
only difficulty was that I could not conceive where he kept his stores
of sympathy, because I had never heard him speak of any subject except
himself, and I suppose that his method of consolation, if he was
consulted, was to relate some striking instance out of his own
experience in which grace triumphed over nature.

Sometimes, again, the dramatic sense takes the form of an exaggerated
self-depreciation. I was reading the other day the life of a very
devoted clergyman, who said on his death-bed to one standing by him, "If
anything is done in memory of me, let a plain slab be placed on my grave
with my initials and the date, and the words, 'the unworthy priest of
this parish'--that must be all."

The man's modesty was absolutely sincere; yet what a strange confusion
of modesty and vanity after all! If the humility had been PERFECTLY
unaffected, he would have felt that the man who really merited such
a description deserved no memorial at all; or again, if he had had no
sense of credit, he would have left the choice of a memorial to any who
might wish to commemorate him. If one analyses the feeling underneath
the words, it will be seen to consist of a desire to be remembered,
a hope almost amounting to a belief that his work was worthy of
commemoration, coupled with a sincere desire not to exaggerate its
value. And yet silence would have attested his humility far more
effectually than any calculated speech!

The dramatic sense is not a thing which necessarily increases as life
goes on; some people have it from the very beginning. I have an elderly
friend who is engaged on a very special sort of scientific research of
a wholly unimportant kind. He is just as incapable as my sympathetic
friend of talking about anything except his own interests; "You don't
mind my speaking about my work?" he says with a brilliant smile; "you
see it means so much to me." And then, after explaining some highly
technical detail, he will add: "Of course this seems to you very minute,
but it is work that has got to be done by some one; it is only laying a
little stone in the temple of science. Of course I often feel I should
like to spread my wings and take a wider flight, but I do seem to have
a special faculty for this kind of work, and I suppose it is my duty
to stick to it." And he will pass his hand wearily over his brow, and
expound another technical detail. He apologises ceaselessly for dwelling
on his own work; but in no place or company have I ever heard him do
otherwise; and he is certainly one of the happiest people I know.

But, on the other hand, it is a rather charming quality to find in
combination with a certain balance of mind. Unless a man is interesting
to himself he cannot easily be interesting to others; there is a
youthful and ingenuous sense of romance and drama which can exist side
by side with both modesty and sympathy, somewhat akin to the habit
common to imaginative children of telling themselves long stories in
which they are the heroes of the tale. But people who have this faculty
are generally mildly ashamed of it; they do not believe that their
fantastic adventures are likely to happen. They only think how pleasant
it would be if things arranged themselves so. It all depends whether
such dramatisation is looked upon in the light of an amusement, or
whether it is applied in a heavy-handed manner to real life. Imaginative
children, who have true sympathy and affection as well, generally end by
finding the real world, as they grow up into it, such an astonishing and
interesting place, that their horizon extends, and they apply to other
people, to their relationships and meetings, the zest and interest that
they formerly applied only to themselves. The kind of temperament that
falls a helpless victim to dramatic egotism is generally the priggish
and self-satisfied man, who has a fervent belief in his own influence,
and the duty of exercising it on others. Most of us, one may say
gratefully, are kept humble by our failures and even by our sins. If the
path of the transgressor is hard, the path of the righteous man is
often harder. If a man is born free from grosser temptations, vigorous,
active, robust, the chances are ten to one that he falls into the snare
of self-righteousness and moral complacency. He passes judgment
on others, he compares himself favourably with them. A spice of
unpopularity gives him a still more fatal bias, because he thinks that
he is persecuted for his goodness, when he is only disliked for his
superiority. He becomes content to warn people, and if they reject his
advice and get into difficulties, he is not wholly ill-pleased. Whereas
the diffident person, who tremblingly assumes the responsibility for
some one else's life, is beset by miserable regrets if his penitent
escapes him, and attributes it to his own mismanagement. The truth is
that moral indignation is a luxury that very few people can afford to
indulge in. And if it is true that a rich man can with difficulty enter
the kingdom of heaven, it is also true that the dramatic man finds it
still more difficult. He is impervious to criticism, because he bears
it with meekness. He has so good a conscience that he cannot believe
himself in the wrong. If he makes an egregious blunder, he says
to himself with infinite solemnity that it is right that his
self-satisfaction should be tenderly purged away, and glories in his own
humility. A far wholesomer frame of mind is that of the philosopher
who said, when complimented on the mellowness that advancing years had
brought him, that he still reserved to himself the right of damning
things in general. Because the truth is that the things which really
discipline us are the painful, dreary, intolerable things of life, the
results of one's own meanness, stupidity, and weakness, or the black
catastrophes which sometimes overwhelm us, and not the things which we
piously and cheerfully accept as ministering to our consciousness of
worth and virtue.

If I say that the dramatic failing is apt to be more common among the
clergy than among ordinary mortals, it is because the clerical vocation
is one that tempts men who have this temperament strongly developed
to enter it, and afterwards provides a good deal of sustenance to the
particular form of vanity that lies behind the temptation. The
dramatic sense loves public appearances and trappings, processions and
ceremonies. The instinctive dramatist, who is also a clergyman, tends
to think of himself as moving to his place in the sanctuary in a solemn
progress, with a worn spiritual aspect, robed as a son of Aaron. He
likes to picture himself as standing in the pulpit pale with emotion,
his eye gathering fire as he bears witness to the truth or testifies
against sin. He likes to believe that his words and intonations have
a thrilling quality, a fire or a delicacy, as the case may be, which
scorch or penetrate the sin-burdened heart. It may be thought that this
criticism is unduly severe; I do not for a moment say that the attitude
is universal, but it is commoner, I am sure, than one would like
to believe; and neither do I say that it is inconsistent with deep
earnestness and vital seriousness. I would go further, and maintain that
such a dramatic consciousness is a valuable quality for men who have to
sustain at all a spectacular part. It very often lends impressiveness to
a man, and convinces those who hear and see him of his sincerity; while
a man who thinks nothing of appearances often fails to convince his
audience that he cares more for his message than for the fact that he is
the mouthpiece of it. I find it very difficult to say whether it is
well for people who cherish such illusions about their personal
impressiveness to get rid of such illusions, when personal
impressiveness is a real factor in their success. To do a thing really
well it is essential to have a substantial confidence in one's aptitude
for the task. And undoubtedly diffidence and humility, however sincere,
are a bad outfit for a man in a public position. I am inclined to think
that self-confidence, and a certain degree of self-satisfaction, are
valuable assets, so long as a man believes primarily in the importance
of what he has to say and do, and only secondarily in his own power of,
and fitness for, saying and doing it.

There is an interesting story--I do not vouch for the truth of it--that
used to be told of Cardinal Manning, who undoubtedly had a strong sense
of dramatic effect. He was putting on his robes one evening in the
sacristy of the Cathedral at Westminster, when a noise was heard at the
door, as of one who was determined on forcing an entrance in spite of
the remonstrances of the attendants. In a moment a big, strongly-built
person, looking like a prosperous man of business, labouring under a
vehement and passionate emotion, came quickly in, looked about him, and
advancing to Manning, poured out a series of indignant reproaches. "You
have got hold of my boy," he said, "with your hypocritical and sneaking
methods; you have made him a Roman Catholic; you have ruined the
happiness and peace of our home; you have broken his mother's heart,
and overwhelmed us in misery." He went on in this strain at some length.
Manning, who was standing in his cassock, drew himself up in an attitude
of majestic dignity, and waited until the intruder's eloquence had
exhausted itself, and had ended with threatening gestures. Some of those
present would have intervened, but Manning with an air of command waved
them back, and then, pointing his hand at the man, he said: "Now, sir,
I have allowed you to have your say, and you shall hear me in reply. You
have traduced Holy Church, you have broken in upon the Sanctuary, you
have uttered vile and abominable slanders against the Faith; and I tell
you," he added, pausing for an instant with flashing eyes and marble
visage, "I tell you that within three months you will be a Catholic
yourself." He then turned sharply on his heel and went on with his
preparations. The man was utterly discomfited; he made as though
he would speak, but was unable to find words; he looked round, and
eventually slunk out of the sacristy in silence.

One of those present ventured to ask Manning afterwards about the
strange scene. "Had the Cardinal," he inquired, "any sudden premonition
that the man himself would adopt the Faith in so short a time?" Manning
smiled indulgently, putting his hand on the other's shoulder, and said:
"Ah, my dear friend, who shall say? You see, it was a very awkward
moment, and I had to deal with the situation as I best could."

That was an instance of supreme presence of mind and great dramatic
force; but one is not sure whether it was a wholly apostolical method of
handling the position.

But to transfer the question from the ecclesiastical region into the
region of common life, it is undoubtedly true that if a man or a woman
has a strong sense of moral issues, a deep feeling of responsibility
and sympathy, an anxious desire to help things forward, then a dramatic
sense of the value of manner, speech, gesture, and demeanour is a highly
effective instrument. It is often said that people who wield a great
personal influence have the gift of making the individual with whom they
are dealing feel that his case is the most interesting and important
with which they have ever come in contact, and of inspiring and
maintaining a special kind of relationship between themselves and their
petitioner. That is no doubt a very encouraging thing for the applicant
to feel, even though he is sensible enough to realise that his case is
only one among many with which his adviser is dealing, and probably
not the most significant. Upon such a quality as this the success of
statesmen, lawyers, physicians largely depends. But where the dramatic
sense is combined with egotism, selfishness, and indifference to the
claims of others, it is a terrible inheritance. It ministers, as I have
said before, to its possessor's self-satisfaction; but on the other hand
it is a failing which goes so deep and which permeates so intimately the
whole moral nature, that its cure is almost impossible without the gift
of what the Scripture calls "a new heart." Such self-complacency is a
fearful shield against criticism, and particularly so because it gives
as a rule so few opportunities for any outside person, however intimate,
to expose the obliquity of such a temperament. The dramatic egotist is
careful as a rule not to let his egotism appear, but to profess to be,
and even to believe that he is, guided by the highest motives in all his
actions and words. A candid remonstrance is met by a calm tolerance, and
by the reply that the critic does not understand the situation, and
is trying to hinder rather than to help the development of beneficent
designs.

I used to know a man of this type, who was insatiably greedy of
influence and recognition. It is true that he was ready to help other
people with money or advice. He was wealthy, and of a good position; and
he would take a great deal of trouble to obtain appointments for friends
who appealed to him, or to unravel a difficult situation; though the
object of his diligence was not to help his applicants, but to obtain
credit and power for himself. He did not desire that they should be
helped, but that they should depend upon him for help. Nothing could
undeceive him as to his own motive, because he gave his time and his
money freely; yet the result was that most of the people whom he helped
tended to resent it in the end, because he demanded services in return,
and was jealous of any other interference. Chateaubriand says that it is
not true gratitude to wish to repay favours promptly and still less is
it true benevolence to wish to retain a hold over those whom one has
benefited.

Sometimes indeed the two strains are almost inextricably intertwined,
real and vital sympathy with others, combined with an overwhelming
sense of personal significance; and then the problem is an inconceivably
complicated one. For I suppose it must be frankly confessed that the
basis of the dramatic sense is not a very wholesome one; it is, of
course, a strong form of individualism. But while it is true that we
suffer from taking ourselves too seriously, it is also possible to
suffer from not taking ourselves seriously enough. If effectiveness is
the end of life, there is no question that a strong sense of what we
like to call responsibility, which is generally nothing more than a
sense of one's own importance, decorously framed and glazed, is
an immense factor in success. I myself cherish the heresy that
effectiveness is very far from being the end of life, and that the only
effectiveness that is worth anything is unintentional effectiveness. I
believe that a man or woman who is humble and sincere, who loves and is
loved, is higher on the steps of heaven than the adroitest lobbyist; but
it may be that the world's criterion of what it admires and respects is
the right one; and indeed it is hard to see how so strong an instinct is
implanted in the human race, the instinct to value strength and success
above everything, unless it is put there by our Maker. At the same time
one cherishes the hope that there is a better criterion somewhere, in
the Divine Mind, in the fruitful future; the criterion that it is not
what a man actually effects that matters, but what he makes of the
resources that are given him to work with.

The effectiveness of the dramatic sense is beyond question. One can see
a supreme instance of it in the case of the Christian Science movement,
in which a woman of strong personality, by lighting upon an idea latent
in a large number of minds, an idea moreover of real and practical
vitality, and by putting it in a form which has all the definiteness
required by brains of a hazy and emotional order, has contrived to
effect an immense amount of good, besides amassing a colossal
fortune, and assuming almost Divine pretensions, without being widely
discredited. The human race is, speaking generally, so anxious for any
leading that it can get, that if a man or woman can persuade themselves
that they have a mission to humanity, and maintain a pontifical air,
they will generally be able to attract a band of devoted adherents,
whose faith, rising superior to both intelligence and common-sense,
will endorse almost any claim that the prophet or prophetess likes to
advance.

But the danger for the prophet himself is great. Arrogance, complacency,
self-confidence, all the Pharisaical vices flourish briskly in such a
soil. He loses all sense of proportion, all sense of dependence. Instead
of being a humble learner in a mysterious world, he expects to find
everything made after the pattern revealed to him in the Mount. The good
that he does may be permanent and fruitful; but in some dark valley of
humiliation and despair he will have to learn that God tolerates us and
uses us; He does not need us, "He delighteth not in any man's legs," as
the Psalmist said with homely vigour. To save others and be oneself
a castaway is the terrible fate of which St. Paul saw so clearly the
possibility; and thus any one who is conscious of the dramatic sense,
or even dimly suspects that it is there, ought to pray very humbly to
be delivered from it, as he would from any other darling bosom-sin. He
ought to eschew diplomacy and practise frankness, he ought to welcome
failure and to rejoice when he makes humiliating mistakes. He ought
to be grateful even for palpable faults and weaknesses and sins and
physical disabilities. For if we have the hope that God is educating us,
is moulding a fair statue out of the frail and sordid clay, such a
faith forbids us to reject any experience, however disagreeable, however
painful, however self-revealing it may be, as of no import; and thus we
can grow into a truer sense of proportion, till at last we may come


                      "to learn that Man
     Is small, and not forget that Man is great."



XI. KELMSCOTT AND WILLIAM MORRIS


I had been at Fairford that still, fresh, April morning, and had enjoyed
the sunny little piazza, with its pretty characteristic varieties of
pleasant stone-built houses, solid Georgian fronts interspersed with
mullioned gables. But the church! That is a marvellous place; its
massive lantern-tower, with solid, softly-moulded outlines--for the
sandy oolite admits little fineness of detail--all weathered to a
beautiful orange-grey tint, has a mild dignity of its own. Inside it is
a treasure of mediaevalism. The screens, the woodwork, the monuments,
all rich, dignified, and spacious. And the glass! Next to King's College
Chapel, I suppose, it is the noblest series of windows in England, and
the colour of it is incomparable. Azure and crimson, green and orange,
yet all with a firm economy of effect, the robes of the saints set and
imbedded in a fine intricacy of white tabernacle-work. As to the design,
I hardly knew whether to smile or weep. The splendid, ugly faces of the
saints, depicted, whether designedly or artlessly I cannot guess, as men
of simple passions and homely experience, moved me greatly, so unlike
the mild, polite, porcelain visages of even the best modern glass. But
the windows are as thick with demons as a hive with bees; and oh! the
irresponsible levity displayed in these merry, grotesque, long-nosed
creatures, some flame-coloured and long-tailed, some green and scaly,
some plated like the armadillo, all going about their merciless work
with infinite gusto and glee! Here one picked at the white breast of a
languid, tortured woman who lay bathed in flame; one with a glowing
hook thrust a lamentable big-paunched wretch down into a bath of molten
liquor; one with pleased intentness turned the handle of a churn, from
the top of which protruded the head of a fair-haired boy, all distorted
with pain and terror. What could have been in the mind of the designer
of these hateful scenes? It is impossible to acquit him of a strong
sense of the humorous. Did he believe that such things were actually in
progress in some infernal cavern, seven times heated? I fear it may have
been so. And what of the effect upon the minds of the village folk
who saw them day by day? It would have depressed, one would think, an
imaginative girl or boy into madness, to dream of such things as being
countenanced by God for the heathen and the unbaptized, as well as for
the cruel and sinful. If the vile work had been represented as being
done by cloudy, sombre, relentless creatures, it would have been more
tolerable. But these fantastic imps, as lively as grigs and full to
the brim of wicked laughter, are certainly enjoying themselves with an
extremity of delight of which no trace is to be seen in the mournful
and heavily lined faces of the faithful. Autres temps, autres moeurs!
Perhaps the simple, coarse mental palates of the village folk were none
the worse for this realistic treatment of sin. One wonders what the
saintly and refined Keble, who spent many years of his life as his
father's curate here, thought of it all. Probably his submissive and
deferential mind accepted it as in some ecclesiastical sense symbolical
of the merciless hatred of God for the desperate corruption of humanity.
It gave me little pleasure to connect the personality of Keble with the
place, patient, sweet-natured, mystical, serviceable as he was. It seems
hard to breathe in the austere air of a mind like Keble's, where the
wind of the spirit blows chill down the narrow path, fenced in by the
high, uncompromising walls of ecclesiastical tradition on the one hand,
and stern Puritanism on the other. An artificial type, one is tempted to
say!--and yet one ought never, I suppose, so to describe any flower that
has blossomed fragrantly upon the human stock; any system that seems to
extend a natural and instinctive appeal to certain definite classes of
human temperament.

I sped pleasantly enough along the low, rich pastures, thick with
hedgerow elms, to Lechlade, another pretty town with an infinite variety
of habitations. Here again is a fine ancient church with a comely spire,
"a pretty pyramis of stone," as the old Itinerary says, overlooking a
charming gabled house, among walled and terraced gardens, with stone
balls on the corner-posts and a quaint pavilion, the river running
below; and so on to a bridge over the yet slender Thames, where the
river water spouted clear and fragrant into a wide pool; and across the
flat meadows, bright with kingcups, the spire of Lechlade towered over
the clustered house-roofs to the west.

Then further still by a lonely ill-laid road. And thus, with a mind
pleasantly attuned to beauty and a quickening pulse, I drew near to
Kelmscott. The great alluvial flat, broadening on either hand, with low
wooded heights, "not ill-designed," as Morris said, to the south. Then
came a winding cross-track, and presently I drew near to a straggling
village, every house of which had some charm and quality of style, with
here and there a high gabled dovecot, and its wooden cupola, standing up
among solid barns and stacks. Here was a tiny and inconspicuous church,
with a small stone belfry; and then the road pushed on, to die away
among the fields. But there, at the very end of the village, stood the
house of which we were in search; and it was with a touch of awe, with a
quickening heart, that I drew near to a place of such sweet and gracious
memories, a place so dear to more than one of the heroes of art.

One comes to the goal of an artistic pilgrimage with a certain sacred
terror; either the place is disappointing, or it is utterly unlike what
one anticipates. I knew Kelmscott so well from Rossetti's letters, from
Morris's own splendid and loving description, from pictures, from the
tales of other pilgrims, that I felt I could not be disappointed; and I
was not. It was not only just like what I had pictured it to be, but
it had a delicate and natural grace of its own as well. The house was
larger and more beautiful, the garden smaller and not less beautiful,
than I had imagined. I had not thought it was so shy, so rustic a place.
It is very difficult to get any clear view of the Manor. By the road are
cottages, and a big building, half storehouse, half wheelwright's shop,
to serve the homely needs of the farm. Through the open door one could
see a bench with tools; and planks, staves, spokes, waggon-tilts,
faggots, were all stacked in a pleasant confusion. Then came a walled
kitchen-garden, with some big shrubs, bay and laurustinus, rising
plumply within; beyond which the grey house, spread thin with plaster,
held up its gables and chimneys over a stone-tiled roof. To the left,
big barns and byres--a farm-man leading in a young bull with a pole at
the nose-ring; beyond that, open fields, with a dyke and a flood-wall of
earth, grown over with nettles, withered sedges in the watercourse,
and elms in which the rooks were clamorously building. We met with the
ready, simple Berkshire courtesy; we were referred to a gardener who was
in charge. To speak with him, we walked round to the other side of the
house, to an open space of grass, where the fowls picked merrily, and
the old farm-lumber, broken coops, disused ploughs, lay comfortably
about. "How I love tidiness!" wrote Morris once. Yet I did not feel that
he would have done other than love all this natural and simple litter of
the busy farmstead.

Here the venerable house appeared more stately still. Through an open
door in a wall we caught a sight of the old standards of an orchard, and
borders with the spikes of spring-flowers pushing through the mould. The
gardener was digging in the gravelly soil. He received us with a grave
and kindly air; but when we asked if we could look into the house,
he said, with a sturdy faithfulness, that his orders were that no one
should see it, and continued his digging without heeding us further.

Somewhat abashed we retraced our steps; we got one glimpse of the fine
indented front, with its shapely wings and projections. I should like
to have seen the great parlour, and the tapestry-room with the story of
Samson that bothered Rossetti so over his work. I should like to have
seen the big oak bed, with its hangings embroidered with one of Morris's
sweetest lyrics:


     "The wind's on the wold,
      And the night is a-cold."


I should like to have seen the tapestry-chamber, and the room where
Morris, who so frankly relished the healthy savour of meat and drink,
ate his joyful meals, and the peacock yew-tree that he found in his days
of failing strength too hard a task to clip. I should like to have
seen all this, I say; and yet I am not sure that tables and chairs,
upholsteries and pictures, would not have come in between me and the
sacred spirit of the place.

So I turned to the church. Plain and homely as its exterior is, inside
it is touched with the true mediaeval spirit, like the "old febel
chapel" of the Mort d'Arthur. Its bare walls, its half-obliterated
frescoes, its sturdy pillars, gave it an ancient, simple air. But I did
not, to my grief, see the grave of Morris, though I saw in fancy the
coffin brought from Lechlade in the bright farm-waggon, on that day of
pitiless rain. For there was going on in the churchyard the only thing I
saw that day that seemed to me to strike a false note; a silly posing
of village girls, self-conscious and overdressed, before the camera of a
photographer--a playing at aesthetics, bringing into the village life
a touch of unwholesome vanity and the vulgar affectation of the world.
That is the ugly shadow of fame; it makes conventional people curious
about the details of a great man's life and surroundings, without
initiating them into any sympathy with his ideals and motives. The price
that the real worshippers pay for their inspiration is the slavering
idolatry of the unintelligent; and I withdrew in a mournful wonder from
the place, wishing I could set an invisible fence round the scene, a
fence which none should pass but the few who had the secret and the key
in their hearts.

And here, for the pleasure of copying the sweet words, let me transcribe
a few sentences from Morris's own description of the house itself:


"A house that I love with a reasonable love, I think; for though my
words may give you no idea of any special charm about it, yet I assure
you that the charm is there; so much has the old house grown up out of
the soil and the lives of those that lived on it: some thin thread of
tradition, a half-anxious sense of the delight of meadow and acre
and wood and river; a certain amount (not too much, let us hope) of
common-sense, a liking for making materials serve one's turn, and
perhaps at bottom some little grain of sentiment--this, I think, was
what went to the making of the old house."


And again:


"My feet moved along the road they knew. The raised way led us into a
little field, bounded by a backwater of the river on one side; on the
right hand we could see a cluster of small houses and barns, and before
us a grey stone barn and a wall partly overgrown with ivy, over which
a few grey gables showed. The village road ended in the shallow of the
backwater. We crossed the road, and my hand raised the latch of a door
in the wall, and we stood presently on a stone path which led up to the
old house. The garden between the wall and the house was redolent of
the June flowers, and the roses were rolling over one another with that
delicious superabundance of small well-tended gardens which at first
sight takes away all thought save that of beauty. The blackbirds were
singing their loudest, the doves were cooing on the roof-ridge, the
rooks in the high elm trees beyond were garrulous among the young
leaves, and the swifts wheeled whirring about the gables. And the house
itself was a fit guardian for all the beauty of this heart of summer.

"O me! O me! How I love the earth, and the seasons, and weather, and
all things that deal with it, and all that grows out of it--as this has
done! The earth and the growth of it and the life of it! If I could but
say or show how I love it!"


The pure lyrical beauty of these passages makes one out of conceit
with one's own clumsy sentences. But still, I will say how all that
afternoon, among the quiet fields, with the white clouds rolling up
over the lip of the wolds, I was haunted with the thought of that burly
figure; the great head with its curly hair and beard; the eyes that
seemed so guarded and unobservant, and that yet saw and noted every
smallest detail; the big clumsy hands, apt for such delicacy of work; to
see him in his rough blue suit, his easy rolling gait, wandering about,
stooping to look at the flowers in the beds, or glancing up at the
sky, or sauntering off to fish in the stream, or writing swiftly in
the parlour, or working at his loom; so bluff, so kindly, so blunt in
address, so unaffected, loving all that he saw, the tide of full-blooded
and restless life running so vigorously in his veins; or, further
back, Rossetti, with his wide eyes, half bright, half languorous,
pale, haunted with impossible dreams, pacing, rapt in feverish thought,
through the lonely fields. The ghosts of heroes! And whether it was that
my own memories and affections and visions stirred my brain, or that
some tide of the spirit still sets from the undiscovered shores to the
scenes of life and love, I know not, but the place seemed thronged with
unseen presences and viewless mysteries of hope. Doubtless, loving as
we do the precise forms of earthly beauty, the wide green pastures, the
tender grace of age on gable and wall, the springing of sweet flowers,
the clear gush of the stream, we are really in love with some deeper
and holier thing; yet even about the symbols themselves there lingers a
consecrating power; and that influence was present with me to-day, as
I went homewards in the westering light, with the shadows of house and
tree lengthening across the grass in the still afternoon.

Heroes, I said? Well, I will not here speak of Rossetti, though his
impassioned heart and wayward dreams were made holy, I think, through
suffering: he has purged his fault. But I cannot deny the name of hero
to Morris. Let me put into words what was happening to him at the very
time at which he had made this sweet place his home. He had already
done as much in those early years as many men do in a lifetime. He
had written great poems, he had loved and wedded, he had made abundant
friends, his wealth was growing fast; he loved every detail of his
work, designing, weaving, dyeing; he had a band of devoted workers and
craftsmen under him. He could defy the world; he cared nothing at all
for society or honours. He had magnificent vitality, a physique which
afforded him every kind of wholesome momentary enjoyment.

In the middle of all this happy activity a cloud came over his mind,
blotting out the sunshine. Partly, perhaps, private sorrows had
something to do with it; partly, perhaps, a weakening of physical fibre,
after a life of enormous productivity and restless energy, made itself
felt. But these were only incidental causes. What began to weigh upon
him was the thought of all the toiling thousands of humanity, whose
lives of labour precluded them from the enjoyment of all or nearly all
of the beautiful things that were to him the very essence of life;
and, what was worse still, he perceived that the very faculty of higher
enjoyment was lacking, the instinct for beauty having been atrophied
and almost eradicated by sad inheritance, He saw that not only did the
workers not feel the joyful love of art and natural beauty, but that
they could not have enjoyed such pleasures, even if they were to be
brought near to them; and then came the further and darker thought, that
modern art was, after all, a hollow and a soulless thing. He saw around
him beautiful old houses like his own, old churches which spoke of a
high natural instinct for fineness of form and detail. These things
seemed to stand for a widespread and lively joy in simple beauty which
seemed to have vanished out of the world. In ancient times it was
natural to the old builders if they had, say, a barn to build, to make
it strong and seemly and graceful; to buttress it with stone, to bestow
care and thought upon coign and window-ledge and dripstone, to prop the
roof on firm and shapely beams, and to cover it with honest stone tiles,
each one of which had an individuality of its own. But now he saw that
if people built naturally, they ran up flimsy walls of brick, tied them
together with iron rods, and put a curved roof of galvanised iron on the
top. It was bad enough that it should be built so, but what was worse
still was that no one saw or heeded the difference; they thought the
new style was more convenient, and the question of beauty never entered
their minds at all. They remorselessly pulled down, or patched meanly
and sordidly, the old work. And thus he began to feel that modern
art was an essentially artificial thing, a luxury existing for a few
leisurely people, and no longer based on a deep universal instinct.
He thought that art was wounded to death by competition and hurry and
vulgarity and materialism, and that it must die down altogether before a
sweet natural product could arise from the stump.

Then, too, Morris was not an individualist; he cared, one may think,
about things more than people. A friend of his once complained that, if
he were to die, Morris would no doubt grieve for him and even miss him,
but that it would make no gap in his life, nor interrupt his energy of
work. He cared for movements, for classes, for groups of men, more than
he cared for persons. And thus the idea came to him, in a mournful year
of reflection, that it was not only a mistake, but of the nature of sin,
to isolate himself in a little Paradise of art of his own making, and to
allow the great noisy, ugly, bewildered world to go on its way. It was
a noble grief. The thought of the bare, uncheered, hopeless lives of the
poor came to weigh on him like an obsession, and he began to turn over
in his mind what he could do to unravel the knotted skein.


"I am rather in a discouraged mood," he wrote on New Year's Day 1880,
"and the whole thing seems almost too tangled to see through and too
heavy to move." And again:

"I have of late been somewhat melancholy (rather too strong a word, but
I don't know another); not so much so as not to enjoy life in a way, but
just so much as a man of middle age who has met with rubs (though less
than his share of them) may sometimes be allowed to be. When one is just
so much subdued one is apt to turn more specially from thinking of one's
own affairs to more worthy matters; and my mind is very full of the
great change which I hope is slowly coming over the world."


And so he plunged into Socialism. He gave up his poetry and much of his
congenial work. He attended meetings and committees; he wrote leaflets
and pamphlets; he lavished money; he took to giving lectures and
addresses; he exposed himself to misunderstandings and insults. He spoke
in rain at street corners to indifferent loungers; he pushed a little
cart about the squares selling Socialist literature; he had collisions
with the police; he was summoned before magistrates: the "poetic
upholsterer," as he was called, became an object of bewildered contempt
to friends and foes alike. The work was not congenial to him, but he
did it well, developing infinite tolerance and good-humour, and even
tactfulness, in his relations with other men. The exposure to the
weather, the strain, the neglect of his own physical needs, brought on,
undoubtedly, the illness of which he eventually died; and worst of all
was the growing shadow of discouragement, which made him gradually aware
that the times were not ripe, and that even if the people could seize
the power they desired, they could not use it. He became aware that the
worker's idea of rising in the social scale was not the idea of gaining
security, leisure, independence, and love of honest work, but the hope
of migrating to the middle class, and becoming a capitalist on a small
scale. That was the last thing that Morris desired. Most of all he felt
the charge of inconsistency that was dinned into his ears. It was held
ridiculous that a wealthy capitalist and a large employer of labour,
living, if not in luxury, at least in considerable stateliness, should
profess Socialist ideas without attempting to disencumber himself of his
wealth. He wrote in answer to a loving remonstrance:


"You see, my dear, I can't help it. The ideas which have taken hold of
me will not let me rest; nor can I see anything else worth thinking
of. How can it be otherwise, when to me society, which to many seems
an orderly arrangement for allowing decent people to get through their
lives creditably and with some pleasure, seems mere cannibalism; nay,
worse (for there ought to be hope in that), is grown so corrupt, so
steeped in hypocrisy and lies, that one turns from one stratum of it to
another with hopeless loathing.... Meantime, what a little ruffles me
is this, that if I do a little fail in my duty some of my friends will
praise me for failing instead of blaming me."


And then at last, after every sordid circumstance of intrigue and
squabble and jealousy, one after another of the organisations he joined
broke down. Half gratefully and half mournfully he disengaged himself,
not because he did not believe in his principles, but because he saw
that the difficulties were insuperable. He came back to the old life; he
flung himself with renewed ardour into art and craftsmanship. He began
to write the beautiful and romantic prose tales, with their enchanting
titles, which are, perhaps, his most characteristic work. He learnt by
slow degrees that a clean sweep of an evil system cannot be made in a
period or a lifetime by an individual, however serious or strenuous
he may be; he began to perceive that, if society is to put ideas in
practice, the ideas must first be there, clearly defined and widely
apprehended; and that it is useless to urge men to a life of which they
have no conception and for which they have no desire. He had always
held it to be a sacred duty for people to live, if possible, in whatever
simplicity, among beautiful things; and it may be said that no one man
in one generation has ever effected so much in this direction. He
has, indeed, leavened and educated taste; he has destroyed a vile and
hypocritical tradition of domestic art; by his writings he has opened a
door for countless minds into a remote and fragrant region of unspoilt
romance; and, still more than this, he remains an example of one who
made a great and triumphant resignation of all that he held most
dear, for the sake of doing what he thought to be right. He was not an
ascetic, giving up what is half an incumbrance and half a terror; nor
was he naturally a melancholy and detached person; but he gave up
work which he loved passionately, and a life which he lived in a
full-blooded, generous way, that he might try to share his blessings
with others, out of a supreme pity for those less richly endowed than
himself.

How, then, should not this corner of the world, which he loved so
dearly, speak to the spirit with a voice and an accent far louder and
more urgent than its own tranquil habit of sunny peace and green-shaded
sweetness! "You know my faith," wrote Morris from Kelmscott in a
bewildered hour, "and how I feel I have no sort of right to revenge
myself for any of my private troubles on the kind earth; and here I feel
her kindness very specially, and am bound not to meet it with a long
face." Noble and high-hearted words! for he of all men seemed made by
nature to enjoy security and beauty and the joys of living, if ever man
was so made. His very lack of personal sensitiveness, his unaptness to
be moved by the pathetic appeal of the individual, might have been made
a shield for his own peace; but he laid that shield down, and bared
his breast to the sharp arrows; and in his noble madness to redress the
wrongs of the world he was, perhaps, more like one of his great generous
knights than he himself ever suspected.

This, then, I think is the reason why this place--a grey grange at the
end of a country lane, among water meadows--has so ample a call for the
spirit. A place of which Morris wrote, "The scale of everything of the
smallest, but so sweet, so unusual even; it was like the background
of an innocent fairy-story." Yes, it might have been that! Many of the
simplest and quietest of lives had been lived there, no doubt, before
Morris came that way. But with him came a realisation of its virtues, a
perception that in its smallness and sweetness it yet held imprisoned,
like the gem that sits on the smallest finger of a hand, an ocean of
light and colour. The two things that lend strength to life are, in the
first place, an appreciation of its quality, a perception of its intense
and awful significance--the thought that we here hold in our hands,
if we could but piece it all together, the elements and portions of a
mighty, an overwhelming problem. The fragments of that mighty mystery
are sorrow, sin, suffering, joy, hope, life, death. Things of their
nature sharply opposed, and yet that are, doubtless, somehow and
somewhere, united and composed and reconciled. It is at this sad point
that many men and most artists stop short. They see what they love and
desire; they emphasise this and rest upon it; and when the surge of
suffering buffets them away, they drown, bewildered, struggling for
breath, complaining.

But for the true man it is otherwise. He is penetrated with the desire
that all should share his joy and be emboldened by it. It casts a cold
shadow over the sunshine, it mars the scent of the roses, it wails
across the cooing of the doves--the sense that others suffer and toil
unhelped; and still more grievous to him is the thought that, were these
duller natures set free from the galling yoke, their mirth would be evil
and hideous, they would have no inkling of the sweeter and the purer
joy. And then, if he be wise, he tries his hardest, in slow and wearied
hours, to comfort, to interpret, to explain; in much heaviness and
dejection he labours, while all the time, though he knows it not, the
sweet ripple of his thoughts spreads across the stagnant pool. He may be
flouted, contemned, insulted, but he heeds it not; while all the strands
of the great mystery, dark and bright alike, work themselves, delicately
and surely, into the picture of his life, and the picture of other lives
as well. Larger and richer grows the great design, till it is set in
some wide hall or corridor of the House of Life; and the figure of
the toil-worn knight, with armour dinted and brow dimmed with dust
and sweat, kneeling at the shrine, makes the very silence of the place
beautiful; while those that go to and fro rejoice, not in the suffering
and weariness, not in the worn face and the thin, sun-browned hands, but
in the thought that he loved all things well; that his joy was pure and
high, that his clear eyes pierced the dull mist that wreathed cold field
and dripping wood, and that, when he sank, outworn and languid after the
day's long toil, the jocund trumpets broke out from the high-walled town
in a triumphant concert, because he had done worthily, and should now
see greater things than these.



XII. A SPEECH-DAY


In the course of the summer it was my lot to attend the Speech-Day
festivities of a certain school--indeed, I attended at more than one
such gathering, vocatus atque non vocatus, as Horace says. They are not
the sort of entertainments I should choose for pleasure; one feels
too much like a sheep, driven from pen to pen, kindly and courteously
driven, but still driven. One is fed rather than eats. One meets a
number of charming and interesting people, and one has no time to
talk to them. But I am always glad to have gone, and one carries away
pleasant memories of kindness and courtesy, of youth and hope.

This particular occasion was so very typical that I am going to try and
gather up my impressions and ideas. It was an old school and a famous
school, though not one of the most famous. The buildings large and
effective, full of modern and up-to-date improvements, with a mellow
core of antiquity, in the shape of a venerable little courtyard in
the centre. There were green lawns and pleasant gardens and umbrageous
trees; and it was a beautiful day, too, sunny and fresh, so that one was
neither baked nor boiled. The first item was a luncheon, at which I
sate between two very pleasant strangers and exchanged cautious views
on education. We agreed that the value of the classics as a staple of
mental training was perhaps a little overrated, and that possibly too
much attention was nowadays given to athletics; but that after all the
public-school system was the backbone of the country, and taught boys
how to behave like gentlemen, and how to govern subject races. We
agreed that they were ideal training-grounds for character, and that our
public-schools were the envy of the civilised world. In such profound
and suggestive interchange of ideas the time sped rapidly away.

Then we were gathered into a big hall. It was pleasant to see proud
parents and charming sisters, wearing their best, clustered excitedly
round some sturdy and well-brushed young hero, the hope of the race;
pleasant to see frock-coated masters, beaming with professional
benevolence, elderly gentlemen smilingly recalling tales of youthful
prowess, which had grown quite epical in the lapse of time; it was
inspiriting to feel one of a big company of people, all bent on being
for once as good-humoured and cheerful as possible, and all inspired by
a vague desire to improve the occasion.

The prizes were given away to the accompaniment of a rolling thunder
of applause; we had familiar and ingenuous recitations from youthful
orators, who desired friends, Romans, and countrymen to lend them their
ears, or accepted the atrocious accusation of being a young man;
and then a Bishop, who had been a schoolmaster himself, delivered an
address. It was delightful to see and hear the good man expatiate. I did
not believe much in what he said, nor could I reasonably endorse many
of his statements; but he did it all so genially and naturally that one
felt almost ashamed to question the matter of his discourse. Yet I could
not help wondering why it is thought advisable always to say exactly the
same things on these occasions. The good man began by asserting that
the boys would never be so happy or so important again in their lives as
they were at school, and that all grown-up people were envying them. I
don't know whether any one believed that; I am sure the boys did not,
if I can judge by what my own feelings used to be on such occasions.
Personally I used to think my school a very decent sort of place, but I
looked forward with excitement and interest to the liberty and life of
the larger world; and though perhaps in a way we elders envied the boys
for having the chances before them that we had so many of us neglected
to seize, I don't suppose that with the parable of Vice Versa before us
we would really have changed places with them. Would any one ever return
willingly to discipline and barrack-life? [Yes--ed.] Would any one under
discipline refuse independence if it were offered him on easy terms? I
doubt it!

Then the Bishop went on to talk about educational things; and he said
with much emphasis that in spite of all that was said about modern
education, we most of us realised as we grew older that all culture was
really based upon the Greek and Latin classics. We all stamped on the
ground and cheered at that, I as lustily as the rest, though I am quite
sure it is not true. All that the Bishop really meant was that such
culture as he himself possessed had been based on the classics. Now the
Bishop is a robust, genial, and sensible man, but he is not a strictly
cultured man. He is only sketchily varnished with culture. He thinks
that German literature is nebulous, and French literature immoral.
I don't suppose he ever reads an English book, except perhaps an
ecclesiastical biography; he would say that he had no time to read a
novel; probably he glances at the Christian Year on Sundays, and peruses
a Waverley novel if he is kept in bed by a cold. Yet he considers
himself, and would be generally considered, a well-educated man. I
believe myself that the reason why we as a nation love good literature
so little is because we are starved at an impressionable age on a diet
of classics; and to persist in regarding the classics as the high-water
mark of the human intellect seems to me to argue a melancholy want
of faith in the progress of the race. However, for the moment we all
believed ourselves to be men of a high culture, soundly based on the
corner-stone of Latin and Greek. Then the Bishop went on to speak of
athletics with a solemn earnestness, and he said, with deep conviction,
that experience had taught him that whatever was worth doing was worth
doing well. He did not argue the point as to whether all games were
worth playing, or whether by filling up all the spare time of boys
with them, by crowning successful athletes with glory and worship, by
engaging masters who will talk with profound seriousness about bowling
and batting, rowing and football, one might not be developing a
perfectly false sense of proportion. He told the boys to play games
with all their might, and he left on their minds the impression that
athletics were certainly things to be ranked among the Christian
graces. Of course he sincerely believed in them himself. He would have
maintained that they developed manliness and vigour, and discouraged
loafing and uncleanness. I am not at all sure myself that games as at
present organised do minister directly to virtue. The popularity of the
athlete is a dangerous thing if he is not virtuously inclined; while
the excessive organisation of games discourages individuality, and
emphasises a very false standard of success in the minds of many boys.
But the Bishop was not invited that he might say unconventional things.
He was asked on purpose to bless things as they were, and he blessed
them with all his might.

Then he went on to say that the real point after all was character and
conduct; that intellect was a gift of God, and that conspicuous athletic
capacity was a gift--he did not like to say of God, so he said of
Providence; but that in one respect we were all equal, and that was in
our capacity for moral effort; and that the boy who came to the front
was not always the distinguished scholar or the famous athlete, but the
industrious, trustworthy, kindly, generous, public-spirited boy. This he
said with deep emotion, as though it were rather a daring and unexpected
statement, but discerned by a vigilant candour; and all this with the
air that he was testifying faithfully to the true values of life, and
sweeping aside with a courageous hand the false glow and glamour of
the world. We did not like to applaud at this, but we made a subdued
drumming with our heels, and uttered a sort of murmurous assent to a
noble and far from obvious proposition.

But here again I felt that the thing was somehow not quite as
high-minded as it seemed. The goal designated was, after all, the goal
of success. It was not suggested that the unrewarded and self-denying
life was perhaps the noblest. The point was to come to the front
somehow, and it was only indicating a sort of waiting game for the boys
who were conscious neither of intellectual nor athletic capacity. It was
a sort of false socialism, this pretence of moral equality, a kind of
consolation prize that was thus emphasised. And I felt that here again
the assumption was an untrue one. That is the worst of life, if one
examines it closely, that it is by no means wholly run on moral lines.
It is strength that is rewarded, rather than good desires. The Bishop
seemed to have forgotten the ancient maxim that prosperity is the
blessing of the Old Testament, and affliction the blessing of the
New. These qualities that were going to produce ultimate
success--conscientiousness, generosity, modesty, public spirit--they
are, after all, as much gifts as any other gifts of intellect and bodily
skill. How often has one seen boys who are immodest, idle, frivolous,
mean-spirited, and ungenerous attain to the opposite virtues? Not often,
I confess. Who does not know of abundant instances of boys who have
been selfish, worthless, grasping, unprincipled, who have yet achieved
success intellectually and athletically, and have also done well for
themselves, amassed money, and obtained positions for themselves in
after life. Looking back on my own school days, I cannot honestly say
that the prizes of life have fallen to the pure-minded, affectionate,
high-principled boys. The boys I remember who have achieved conspicuous
success in the world have been hard-hearted, prudent, honourable
characters with a certain superficial bonhomie, who by a natural
instinct did the things that paid. Stripped of its rhetoric, the
Bishop's address resolved itself into a panegyric of success, and
the morality of it was that if you could not achieve intellectual
and athletic prominence, you might get a certain degree of credit by
unostentatious virtue. What I felt was that somehow the goal proposed
was--dare I hint it?--a vulgar one; that it was a glorification of
prudence and good-humoured self-interest; and yet if the Bishop had
preached the gospel of disinterestedness and quiet faithfulness and
devotion, he would have had few enthusiastic hearers. If he had said
that an awkward and surly manner, no matter what virtues it concealed,
was the greatest bar to ultimate mundane success, it would have been
quite true, though perhaps not particularly edifying. But what I desired
was not startling paradox or cynical comment, but something more really
manly, more just, more unconventional, more ardent, more disinterested.
The boys were not exhorted to care for beautiful things for the sake of
their beauty; but to care for attractive things for the sake of their
acceptability.

And yet in a way it did us all good to listen to the great man. He was
so big and kindly and fatherly and ingenuous; he had made virtue pay; I
do not suppose he had ever had a low or an impure or a spiteful thought;
but his path had been easy from the first; he was a scholar and an
athlete, and he had never pursued success, for the simple reason that it
had fallen from heaven like manna round about his dwelling, with perhaps
a few dozen quails as well! Boys, parents, masters, young and old alike,
were assembled that day to worship success, and the Bishop prophesied
good concerning them. It entered no one's head that success, in its
simplest analysis, means thrusting some one else aside from a place
which he desires to fill. But why on such a day should one think of the
feelings of others? we were all bent on virtuously gratifying our own
desires. The boys who were left out were the weak and the timid, the
ailing and the erring, the awkward and the unpopular, the clumsy and the
stupid; they were not bidden to take courage, they were rather bidden
to envy the unattainable, and to submit with such grace as they could
muster. But we pushed all such vague and unsatisfactory thoughts in the
background; we sounded the clarion and filled the fife, and were at case
in Zion, while we worshipped the great, brave, glittering world.

What I desired was that, in the height of our jubilant self-gratulation,
some sweet and gracious figure, full of heavenly wisdom, could have
twitched the gaudy curtain aside for a moment and shown us other things
than these; who could have assured us that we all, however stupid and
dreary and awkward and indolent, however vexed with low dreams and ugly
temptations, yet had our share and place in the rich inheritance of
life; and that even if it was to be all a record of dull failure,
commonplace sinfulness cheered by no joyful triumph, no friendly
smile--yet if we fought the fault and did the dull task faithfully,
and desired to be but a little better, a little stronger, a little more
unselfish, that the pilgrimage with all its sandy tracts and terrifying
spectres would not be traversed in vain; and then I think we might have
been brought together with a sense of sweeter and truer unity, and might
have thought of life as a thing to be shared, and joy as a thing to be
lavished, and not have rather conceived of the world as a place full
of fine things, of which we were all to gather sedulously as many as we
could grasp and retain.

Or even if the good Bishop had taken a simpler line and told the boys
some old story, like the story of Polycrates of Samos, I should have
been more comfortable. Polycrates was the tyrant with whom everything
went well that he set his hand to, so that to avoid the punishment of
undue prosperity he threw his great signet-ring into the sea; but when
he was served a day or two later with a slice of fish at his banquet,
there was the ring sticking in its ribs. The Bishop might have said that
this should teach us not to try and seize all the good things we could,
and that the reason of it was not, as the old Greeks thought, that the
gods envied the prosperity of mortals, but that our prosperity was often
dashed very wisely and tenderly from our lips, because one of the worst
foes that a man can have, one of the most blinding and bewildering of
faults, is the sense of self-sufficiency and security. That would not
have spoilt the pleasure of those brisk boys, but would have given them
something wholesome to take away and think about, like the prophet's
roll that was sweet in the mouth and bitter in the belly.

It may be thought that I have thus dilated on the Bishop's address for
the sole purpose of showing what a much better address I could have
made. That is not the case at all. I could not have done the thing at
all to start with, and, given both the nerve and the presence and the
practice of the man, I could not have done it a quarter as well, because
he was in tune with his audience and I should not have been. That was
to me part of the tragedy. The Bishop's voice fell heavily and steadily,
like a stream of water from a great iron pipe that fills a reservoir.
The audience, too, were all in the most elementary mood. Boys of course
frankly desire success without any disguise. And parents less frankly
but no less hungrily, in an almost tigerish way, desire it for their
children. The intensity of belief felt by a parent in a stupid or even
vicious boy would be one of the most pathetic things I know, if it were
not also one of the primal forces of the world.

And thus the tide being high the Bishop went into harbour at the top of
the flood. I don't even complain of the nature of the address; it was
frankly worldly, such as might have been given by a Sadducee in the
time of Christ. But the interesting thing about it was that most of
the people present believed it to be an ethical and even a religious
address. It was the ethic of a professional bowler and the religion of
a banker. If a boy had been for all intents and purposes a professional
bowler to the age of twenty-three, and a professional banker afterwards,
he would almost exactly have fulfilled the Bishop's ideal. I do not
think it is a bad ideal either. I only say that it is not an exalted
ideal, and it is not a Christian ideal. It is the world in disguise,
the wolf in sheep's clothing over again. We were taken in. We said to
ourselves, "This is an animal certainly clothed as a sheep--and we must
remember the old proverb and be careful." But as the Bishop's address
proceeded, and the fragrant oil fell down to the skirts of our clothing,
we said, "There is certainly a sheep inside."

Then a choir of strong, rough, boyish voices sang an old glee or
two--"Glorious Apollo" and "Hail smiling Morn," and a school song about
the old place that made some of us bite our lips and furtively brush
away an unexpected and inexplicable moisture from our eyes, at the
thought of the fine fellows we had ourselves sat side by side with
thirty and forty years ago, now scattered to all ends of the earth, and
some of them gone from the here to the everywhere, as the poet says. And
then we adjourned to see the School Corps inspected--such solemn little
soldiers, marching past in their serviceable uniforms, the line rising
and falling with the inequalities of the ground, and bowing out a good
deal in the centre, at the very moment that the good-natured old Colonel
was careful to look the other way. Then there was a leisurely game
of cricket, with a lot of very old boys playing with really amazing
agility; and then I fell in with an old acquaintance, and we strolled
about together, and got a friendly master to show us over the
schoolrooms and one of the houses, and admired the excellent
arrangements, and peeped into some studies crowded with pleasant
boyish litter, and talked to some of the boys with an attempt at light
juvenility, and enjoyed ourselves in a thoroughly absurd and leisurely
fashion. And then I was left alone, and walking about, abandoned myself
to sentiment pure and simple; it was hard to analyse that feeling which
was stirred by the sight of all those fresh-faced boys, flowing like
a stream through the old buildings, and just leaving their own little
mark, for good or evil, on the place--a painted name on an Honours
board, initials cut in desk or panel, a memory or two, how soon to
grow dim in the minds of the new generation, who would be so full of
themselves and of the present, turning the sweet-scented manuscript of
youth with such eager fingers, that they could give but little thought
to the future and none at all to the past. And then one remembered,
with a curious sense of wistful pain, how rapidly the cards of life were
being dealt out to one, and how long it was since one had played the
card of youth so heedlessly and joyfully away; that at least could not
return. And then there came the thought of all the hope and love that
centred upon these children, and all the possibilities which lay before
them. And I began to think of my own contemporaries and of how little
on the whole they had done; it was not fair perhaps to say that most
of them had made a mess of their lives, because they were honest,
honourable citizens many of them. It was not the poor thing called
success that I was thinking of, but a sort of high-hearted and generous
dealing with life, making the most of one's faculties and qualities,
diffusing a glow of love and enthusiasm and brave zest about one--how
few of us had done that! We had grown indolent and money-loving and
commonplace. Some of those we looked to to redeem and glorify the world
had failed most miserably, through unchecked faults of temperament. Some
had declined with a sort of unambitious comfort, some had fallen
into the trough of Toryism, and spent their time in holding fast to
conventional and established things; one or two had flown like Icarus so
near the sun that their waxen wings had failed them; and yet some of us
had missed greatness by so little. Was it to be always so? Was it always
to be a battle against hopeless odds? Was defeat, earlier or later,
inevitable? The tamest defeat of all was to lapse smoothly into easy
conventional ways, to adopt the standards of the world, and rake
together contentedly and seriously the straws and dirt of the street.
If that was to be the destiny of most, why were we haunted in youth with
the sight of that cloudy, gleaming crown within our reach, that sense
of romance, that phantom of nobleness? What was the significance of the
aspirations that made the heart beat high on fresh sunlit mornings,
the dim and beautiful hopes that came beckoning as we looked from our
windows in a sunset hour, with the sky flushing red behind the old
towers, the sense of illimitable power, of stainless honour, that came
so bravely, when the organ bore the voices aloft in the lighted chapel
at evensong? Was all that not a real inspiration at all, but a mere
accident of boyish vigour? No, it was not a delusion--that was life as
it was meant to be lived, and the best victory was to keep that hope
alive in the heart amid a hundred failures, a thousand cares.

As I walked thus full of fancies, the boys singly or in groups kept
passing me, smiling, full of delighted excitement and chatter, all
intent on themselves and their companions. I heard scraps of their
talk, inconsequent names, accompanied with downright praise or blame,
unintelligible exploits, happy nonsense. How odd it is to note that when
we Anglo-Saxons are at our happiest and most cheerful, we expend so much
of our steam in frank derision of each other! Yet though I can hardly
remember a single conversation of my school days, the thought of
my friendships and alliances is all gilt with a sense of delightful
eagerness. Now that I am a writer of books, it matters even more how I
say a thing than what I say. But then it was the other way. It was what
we felt that mattered, and talk was but the sparkling outflow of trivial
thought. What heroes we made of sturdy, unemphatic boys, how we repeated
each other's jokes, what merciless critics we were of each other, how
little allowance we made for weakness or oddity, how easily we condoned
all faults in one who was good-humoured and strong! How the little web
of intrigue and gossip, of likes and dislikes, wove and unwove
itself! What hopeless Tories we were! How we stood upon our rights and
privileges! I have few illusions as to the innocence or the justice
or the generosity of boyhood; what boys really admire are grace and
effectiveness and readiness. And yet, looking back, one has parted
with something, a sort of zest and intensity that one would fain
have retained. I felt that I would have given much to be able to have
communicated a few of the hard lessons of experience that I have learnt
by my errors and mistakes, to these jolly youngsters; but there again
comes in the pathos of boyhood, that one can make no one a present of
experience, and that virtue cannot be communicated, or it ceases to be
virtue. They were bound, all those ingenuous creatures, to make their
own blunders, and one could not save them a single one, for all one's
hankering to help. That is of course the secret, that we are here for
the sake of experience, and not for the sake of easy happiness. Yet one
would keep the hearts of these boys pure and untarnished and strong, if
one could, though even as one walked among them one could see faces on
which temptation and sin had already written itself in legible signs.

The cricket drew to an end; the shadows began to lengthen on the turf.
The mimic warriors were disbanded. The tea-tables made their appearance
under the elms, where one was welcomed and waited upon by cheerful
matrons and neat maidservants, and delightfully zealous and inefficient
boys. One had but to express a preference to have half-a-dozen
plates pressed upon one by smiling Ganymedes. If schools cannot alter
character, they certainly can communicate to our cheerful English boys
the most delightful manners in the world, so unembarrassed,
courteous, easy, graceful, without the least touch of exaggeration or
self-consciousness. I suppose one has insular prejudices, for we are
certainly not looked upon as models of courtesy or consideration by our
Continental neighbours. I suppose we reserve our best for ourselves.
I expressed a wish to look at some of the new buildings, and a young
gentleman of prepossessing exterior became my unaffected cicerone. He
was not one who dealt in adjectives; his highest epithet of praise was
"pretty decent," but one detected an honest and unquestioning pride in
the place for all that.

Perhaps the best point of all about these schools of ours, is that the
aspect of the place and the tone of the dwellers in it does not vary
appreciably on days of festival and on working days. The beauty of it is
a little focused and smartened, but that is all. There is no covering up
of deficiencies or hiding desolation out of sight. If one goes down to
a public-school on an ordinary day, one finds the same brave life, the
same unembarrassed courtesy prevailing. There is no sense of being taken
by surprise; the life is all open to inspection on any day and at any
hour. We do not reserve ourselves for occasions in England. The meat
cuts wholesomely and pleasantly wherever it is sampled.

The disadvantage of this is that we are misjudged by foreigners because
we are seen, not at our best, but as we are. We do not feel the need of
recommending ourselves to the favourable consideration of others;
not that that is a virtue, it is rather the shadow of complacency and
patriotism.

But at last a feeling begins to arise in the minds both of hosts
and guests that the play is played out for the day, that the little
festivity is over. On the part of our hosts that feeling manifests
itself in a tendency to press departing guests to stay a little longer.
An old acquaintance of mine, a shy man, once gave a large garden-party
and had a band to play. He did his best for a time and times and
half-a-time; but at last he began to feel that the strain was becoming
intolerable. With desperate ingenuity he sought out the band-master,
told him to leave out the rest of the programme, and play "God Save the
King,"--the result being a furious exodus of his guests. Today no such
device is needed. We melt away, leaving our kind entertainers to the
pleasant weariness that comes of sustained geniality, and to the sense
that three hundred and sixty-four days have to elapse before the next
similar festival.

And, for myself, I carry away with me a gracious memory of a day
thrilled by a variety of conflicting and profound emotions; and if I
feel that perhaps life would be both easier and simpler, if we could
throw off a little more of our conventional panoply of thought, could
face our problems with a little more candour and directness, yet I
have had a glimpse of a community living an eager, full, vigorous life,
guarded by sufficient discipline to keep the members of it wholesomely
and honourably obedient, and yet conceding as much personal liberty of
thought and action as the general interest of the body can admit. I have
seen a place full of high possibilities and hopes, bestowing a treasure
of bright memories of work, of play, of friendship, upon the majority of
its members, and upholding a Spartan ideal of personal subordination to
the common weal, an ideal not enforced by law so much as sustained by
honour, an institution which, if it does not encourage originality, is
yet a sound reflection of national tendencies, and one in which the
men who work it devote themselves unaffectedly and ungrudgingly to
the interests of the place, without sentiment perhaps, but without
ostentation or priggishness. A place indeed to which one would wish
perhaps to add a certain intellectual stimulus, a mental liberty, yet
from which there is little that one would desire to take away. For if
one would like to see our schools strengthened, amplified and expanded,
yet one would wish the process to continue on the existing lines, and
not on a different method. So, in our zeal for cultivating the further
hope, let us who would fain see a purer standard of morals, a more
vigorous intellectual life prevail in our schools, not overlook the
marvellous progress that is daily and hourly being made, and keep the
taint of fretful ingratitude out of our designs; and meanwhile let
us, in the spirit of the old Psalm, wish Jerusalem prosperity "for our
brethren and companions' sakes."



XIII. LITERARY FINISH


I had two literary men staying with me a week ago, both of them
accomplished writers, and interested in their art, not professionally
and technically only, but ardently and enthusiastically. I here label
them respectively Musgrave and Herries. Musgrave is a veteran writer,
a man of fifty, who makes a considerable income by writing, and
has succeeded in many departments--biography, criticism, poetry,
essay-writing; he lacks, however, the creative and imaginative gift; his
observation is acute, and his humour considerable; but he cannot infer
and deduce; he cannot carry a situation further than he can see it.
Herries on the other hand is a much younger man, with an interest in
human beings that is emotional rather than spectacular; while Musgrave
is interested mainly in the present, Herries lives in the past or the
future. Musgrave sees what people do and how they behave, while Herries
is for ever thinking how they must have behaved to produce their
present conditions, or how they would be likely to act under different
conditions. Musgrave's one object is to discover what he calls the
truth; Herries thrives and battens upon illusions. Musgrave is fond
of the details of life, loves food and drink, conviviality and social
engagements, new people and unfamiliar places--Herries is quite
indifferent to the garniture of life, lives in great personal
discomfort, dislikes mixed assemblies and chatter, and has a fastidious
dislike of the present, whatever it is, from a sense that possibilities
are so much richer than performances. Musgrave admits that he has been
more successful as a writer than he deserves; Herries is likely, I
think, to disappoint the hopes of his friends, and will not do justice
to his extraordinary gifts, from a certain dreaminess and lack of
vitality. Musgrave loves the act of writing, and is always full to the
brim of matter. Herries dislikes composition, and is yet drawn to it by
a sense of fearful responsibility. Neither have, fortunately, the least
artistic jealousy. Herries regards a man like Musgrave with a sort of
incredulous stupefaction, as a stream of inexplicable volume. Herries
has to Musgrave all the interest of a very delicate and beautiful type,
whose fastidiousness he can almost envy. As a rule, literary men will
not discuss their art among themselves; they have generally arrived at
a sort of method of their own, which may not be ideal, but which is the
best practical solution for themselves, and they would rather not be
disquieted about it; literary talk, too, tends to partake of the
nature of shop, and busy men, as a rule, like to talk the shop of their
recreations rather than the shop of their employment. But Musgrave will
discuss anything; and as for Herries, writing is not an occupation, so
much as a divine vocation which he regards with a holy awe.

The discussion began at dinner, and I was amused to see how it affected
the two men. Musgrave, by an incredible mental agility, contrived to
continue to take a critical interest in the meal and the argument at
the same time; Herries thrust away an unfinished plate, refused what
was offered to him, pushed his glasses about as if they were
chessmen, filled the nearest with water at intervals--he is a rigid
teetotaller--and drank out of them alternately with an abstracted air.

The point was the question of literary finish, and the degree to which
it can or ought to be practised. Herries is of the school of Flaubert,
and holds that there may be several ways of saying a thing, but only one
best way, and that it is alike the duty and the goal of the writer to
find that way. This he enunciated with some firmness.

"No," said Musgrave, "I think that is only a theory, and breaks down, as
all theories do, when it is put in practice: look at all the really big
writers: look at Shakespeare--to me his work gives the impression of
being both hasty and uncorrected. If he says a thing in one way, and
while he is doing it thinks of a more telling form of expression, he
doesn't erase the first statement; he merely says it over again more
effectively. He is full of lapses and inappropriate passages--and it is
that very thing which gives him such an air of reality."

"Well, there is a good deal in that," said Herries, "but I do not see
how you are going to prove that it is not deliberate. Shakespeare wrote
like that in his plays, breathlessly and eagerly, because that was the
aim he had in view; if he makes one of his people say a thing tamely,
and then more pointedly, it is because it is exactly what people do in
real life, and Shakespeare was thinking with their mind for the time
being. He is behind the person he has made, moving his arms, looking
through his eyes, breathing through his mouth; and just as life itself
is hurried and inconsequent, so the perfection of art is, not to be
hurried and inconsequent, but to give one the impression of being so. I
don't believe he left his work uncorrected out of mere impatience. Look
at the way he wrote when he was writing in a different manner--look at
the Sonnets, for instance--there is plenty of calculated art there!"

"Yes," I said, "there is art there, but I don't think it is very
deliberate art. I don't believe they were written SLOWLY. Of course
one can hardly be breathless in a sonnet. The rhymes are all stretched
across the ground, like wires, and one has to pick one's way among
them."

"Well, take another instance," said Musgrave. "Look at Scott. He speaks
himself of his 'hurried frankness of execution.' His proof-sheets are
the most extraordinary things, full of impossible sentences, lapses
of grammar, and so forth. He did not do much correcting himself, but I
believe I am right in saying that his publishers did, and spent hours in
reducing the chaos to order."

"Oh, of course I don't deny," said Herries, "that volume and vitality
are what matters most. Scott's imagination was at once prodigious and
profound. He seems to me to have said to his creations, 'Let the young
men now arise and play before us.' But I don't think his art was the
better for his carelessness. Great and noble as the result was, I think
it would have been greater if he had taken more pains. Of course
one regards men of genius like Scott and Shakespeare with a kind of
terror--one can forgive them anything; but it is because they do by a
sort of prodigal instinct what most people have to do by painful
effort. If one's imagination has the poignant rightness of Scott's or
Shakespeare's, one's hurried work is better than most people's finished
work. But people of lesser force and power, if they get their stitches
wrong, have to unpick them and do it all over again. Sometimes I have
an uneasy sense, when I am writing, that my characters are feeling as if
their clothes do not fit. Then they have to be undressed, so to speak,
that one may see where the garments gall them. Now, take a book like
Madame Bovary, painfully and laboriously constructed--it seems obvious
enough, yet the more one reads it the more one becomes aware how every
stroke and detail tell. What almost appals me about that book is the way
in which the end is foreseen in the beginning, the way in which Flaubert
seems to have carried the whole thing in his head all the time, to have
known exactly where he was going and how fast he was going."

"That is perfectly true," I said. "But take an instance of another of
Flaubert's books, Bouvard et Pecuchet, where the same method is pursued
with what I can only call deplorable results. Every detail is perfect of
its kind. The two grotesque creatures take up one pursuit after another,
agriculture, education, antiquities, horticulture, distilling perfumes,
making jam. In each they make exactly the absurd mistakes that such
people would have made; but one loses all sense of reality, because one
feels that they would not have taken up so many things; it is only a
collection of typical absurdities. Given the men and the particular
pursuit, it is all natural enough, but one wearies of the same process
being applied an impossible number of times, just as Flaubert was often
so intolerable in real life, because he ran a joke to death, and never
knew when to put it down. The result in Bouvard et Pecuchet is a lack of
proportion and subordination. It is like one of the early Pre-Raphaelite
pictures, in which every detail is painted with minute perfection. It
was all there, no doubt, and it was all exactly like that; but that is
not how the human eye apprehends a scene. The human mind takes a central
point, and groups the accessories round it. In art, I think everything
depends upon centralisation. Two lovers part, and the birds' faint chirp
from the leafless tree, the smouldering rim of the sunset over misty
fields, are true and symbolical parts of the scene; but if you deal in
botany and ornithology and meteorology at such a moment, you cloud and
dim the central point--you digress when you ought only to emphasise."

"Oh yes," said Herries with a sigh, "that is all right enough--it all
depends upon proportion; and the worst of all these discussions on
points of art is that each person has to find his own standard--one
can't accept other people's standards. To me Bouvard et Pecuchet is
a piece of almost flawless art--it is there--it lives and breathes. I
don't like it all, of course, but I don't doubt that it happened so.
There must be an absolute rightness behind all supreme writing. Art must
have laws as real and immutable and elaborate as those of science and
metaphysics and religion--that is the central article of my creed."

"But the worst of that theory is," I said, "that one lays down canons
of taste, which are very neat and pretty; and then there comes some
new writer of genius, knocks all the old canons into fragments, and
establishes a new law. Canons of art seem to me sometimes nothing more
than classifications of the way that genius works. I find it very hard
to believe that there is a pattern, so to speak, for the snuffers and
the candlesticks, revealed to Moses in the mount. It was Moses' idea of
a pair of snuffers, when all is said."

"I entirely agree," said Musgrave; "the only ultimate basis of all
criticism is, 'I like it because I like it'--and the connoisseurs of any
age are merely the people who have the faculty of agreeing, I won't say
with the majority, but with the majority of competent critics."

"No, no," said Herries, raising his mournful eyes to Musgrave's face,
"don't talk like that! You take my faith away from me. Surely there must
be some central canon of morality in art, just as there is in ethics.
For instance, in ethics, is it conceivable that cruelty might become
right, if only enough people thought it was right? Is there no absolute
principle at all? In art, what about the great pictures and the great
poems, which have approved themselves to the best minds in generation
after generation? Their rightness and their beauty are only attested by
critics, they are surely not created by them? My view is that there
is an absolute law of beauty, and that we grow nearer to it by slow
degrees. Sometimes, as with the Greeks, people got very near to it
indeed. Is it conceivable, for instance, that men could ever come to
regard the Venus of Milo as ugly?"

"Why yes," said Musgrave, laughing, "I suppose that if humanity
developed on different lines, and a new type of beauty became desirable,
we might come to look upon the Venus of Milo as a barbarous and savage
kind of object, a dreadful parody of what we had become, like a female
chimpanzee. To a male chimpanzee, the wrinkled brow, the long upper lip,
the deeply indented lines from nose to mouth, of a female chimpanzee in
the prime of adolescence, is, I suppose, almost intolerably dazzling and
adorable--beauty can only be a relative thing, when all is said."

"We are drifting away from our point," I said. "The question really is
whether, as art expands, the principles become fewer or more numerous.
My own belief is that the principles do become fewer, but the varieties
of expression more numerous. Keats tried to sum it up by saying, 'Beauty
is Truth, Truth Beauty'; but it is not a successful maxim, because, as a
peevish philosopher said, 'Why in that case have two words for the same
thing?'"

"But it is true, in a sense, for all that," said Herries. "What we HAVE
learnt is that the subject is of very little importance in art--it is
the expression that matters. Genre pictures, plots of novels, incidents
of plays--they are all rather elementary things. Flaubert looked forward
to a time in art when there should be no subjects at all, when art
should aspire to the condition of music, and express the intangible."

"I confess," said Musgrave, laughing, "that that statement conveys
nothing to me. A painter, on that line, would depict nothing, but simply
produce a sort of harmony of colour. A picture would become simply
a texture of colour-vibrations. My own view is rather that it is a
question of accurate observation, followed by an extreme delicacy and
suggestiveness of expression. Some people would say that it was all a
question of reality; and that the point is that the writer shall suggest
a reality to his reader, even though the picture he evoked in the
reader's mind was not the same as the picture in his own mind--but that
is to me pure symbolism."

"Exactly," said Herries, "and the more symbolical that art becomes, the
purer it becomes--that is precisely what I am aiming at."

"Well," I said, "that gives me an opportunity of making a confession.
I have never really been able to understand what technical symbolism
in art is. A symbol in the plain sense is something which recalls
or suggests to you something else; and thus the whole of art is pure
symbolism. The flick of colour gives you a distant woodland, the phrase
gives you a scene or an emotion. Five printed words upon a page make one
suffer or rejoice imaginatively; and my idea of the most perfect art is
not the art which gives one a sense of laborious finish, but the art
in which you never think of the finish at all, but only of the thing
described. The end of effort is to conceal effort, as the old adage
says. Some people, I suppose, attain it through a series of misses; but
the best art of all goes straight to the heart of the thing."

"Yes," said Musgrave, "my own feeling is that the mistake is to consider
it can only be done in one way. Each person has his own way; but I agree
in thinking that the best art is the most effortless."

"From the point of view of the onlooker, perhaps," said Herries, "but
not from the point of view of the craftsman. The pleasure of art, for
the craftsman, is to see what the difficulty was, and to discern how the
artist triumphed over it. Think of the delightful individual roughness
of old work as opposed to modern machine-made things. There is an
appropriate irregularity, according to the medium employed. The
workmanship of a gem is not the same as that of a building; the essence
of the gem is to be flawless; but in the building there is a pleasure in
the tool-dints, like the pleasure of the rake-marks on the gravel
path. Of course music must be flawless too--firm, resolute, inevitable,
because the medium demands it; but in a big picture--why, the other day
I saw a great oil-painting, a noble piece of art--I came upon it in
the Academy, by a side door close upon it. The background was a great
tangled mass of raw crude smears, more like coloured rags patched
together than paint; but a few paces off, the whole melted into a great
river-valley, with deep water-meadows of summer grass and big clumps
of trees. That is the perfect combination. The man knew exactly what he
wanted--he got his effect--the structure was complete, and yet there
was the added pleasure of seeing how he achieved it. That is the kind of
finish I desire."

"Yes, of course," said Musgrave, "we should all agree about that; but my
feeling would be that the way to do it is for the artist to fill himself
to the brim with the subject, and to let it burst out. I do not at all
believe in the painful pinching and pulling together of a particular bit
of work. That sort of process is excellent practice, but it seems to me
like the receipt in one of Edwin Lear's Nonsense Books for making some
noisome dish, into which all sorts of ingredients of a loathsome kind
were to be put; and the directions end with the words: 'Serve up in a
cloth, and throw all out of the window as soon as possible.' It is an
excellent thing to take all the trouble, if you throw it away when it is
done; you will do your next piece of real work all the better; but for
a piece of work to have the best kind of vitality, it must flow, I
believe, easily and sweetly from the teeming mind. Take such a book as
Newman's Apologia, written in a few weeks, a piece of perfect art--but
then it was written in tears."

"But on the other hand," said I, "look at Ariosto's Orlando; it took ten
years to write and sixteen more to correct--and there is not a forced or
a languid line in the whole of it."

"Yes," said Musgrave, "it is true, of course, that people must do things
in their own way. But, on the whole, the best work is done in speed
and glow, and derives from that swift handling a unity, a curve,
that nothing else can give. What matters is to have a clear sense
of structure, and that, at all events, cannot be secured by poky and
fretful treatment. That is where intellectual grasp comes in. But, even
so, it all depends upon what one likes, and I confess that I like large
handling better than perfection of detail."

"I believe," I said, "that we really all agree. We all believe in
largeness and vitality as the essential qualities. But in the lesser
kinds of art there is a delicacy and a perfection which are appropriate.
An attention to minutiae which the graving of a gem or the making of a
sonnet demands is out of place in a cathedral or an epic. We none of us
would approve of hasty, slovenly, clumsy work anywhere; all that is to
be demanded is that such irregularity as can be detected should not be
inappropriate irregularity. What we disagree about is only the precise
amount of finish which is appropriate to the particular work. Musgrave
would hold, in the case of Flaubert, that he was, in his novels, trying
to give to the cathedral the finish of the gem, and polishing a colossal
statue as though it were a tiny statuette."

"Yes," said Herries mournfully, "I suppose that is right; though when
I read of Flaubert spending hours of torture in the search for a single
epithet, I do not feel that the sacrifice was made in vain if only the
result was achieved."

"But I," said Musgrave, "grudge the time so spent. I would rather have
more less-finished work than little exquisite work--though I suppose
that we shall come to the latter sometime, when the treasures of art
have accumulated even more hopelessly than now, and when nothing but
perfect work will have a chance of recognition. Then perhaps a man
will spend thirty years in writing a short story, and twenty more in
polishing it! But at present there is much that is unsaid which may
well be said, and I confess that I do not hanker after this careful and
troubled work. It reminds me of the terrible story of the Chinaman who
spent fifty years in painting a vase which cracked in the furnace. It
seems to me like the worst kind of waste."

"And I, on the other hand," said Herries gravely, "think that such a
life is almost as noble a one as I can well conceive."

His words sounded to me like a kind of pontifical blessing pronounced
at the end of a liturgical service; and, dinner now being over, we
adjourned to the library. Then Musgrave entertained us with an
account of a squabble he had lately had with a certain editor, who had
commissioned him to write a set of papers on literary subjects, and then
had objected to his treatment. Musgrave had trailed his coat before
the unhappy man, laid traps for him by dint of asking him ingenuous
questions, had written an article elaborately constructed to parody
derisively the editor's point of view, had meekly submitted it as one
of the series, and then, when the harried wretch again objected, had
confronted him with illustrative extracts from his own letters. It was a
mirthful if not a wholly good-natured performance. Herries had listened
with ill-concealed disgust, and excused himself at the end of the
recital on the plea of work.

As the door closed behind him, Musgrave said with a wink, "I am afraid
my story has rather disgusted our young transcendentalist. He has no
pleasure in a wholesome row; he thinks the whole thing vulgar--and I
believe he is probably right; but I can't live on his level, though I am
sure it is very fine and all that."

"But what do you really think of his work?" I said. "It is very
promising, isn't it?"

"Yes," said Musgrave reflectively, "that is just what it is--he has got
a really fine literary gift; but he is too uncompromising. Idealism in
art is a deuced fine thing, and every now and then there comes a man
who can keep it up, and can afford to do so. But what Herries does
not understand is that there are two sides to art--the theory and the
practice. It is just the same with a lot of things--education, for
instance, and religion. But the danger is that the theorists become
pedantic. They get entirely absorbed in questions of form, and the plain
truth is that however good your form is, you have got to get hold of
your matter too. The point after all is the application of art to life,
and you have got to condescend. Things of which the ultimate end is to
affect human beings must take human beings into account. If you aim at
appealing only to other craftsmen, it becomes an erudite business: you
become like a carpenter who makes things which are of no use except to
win the admiration of other carpenters. Of course it may be worth doing
if you are content with indicating a treatment which other people can
apply and popularise. But if you isolate art into a theory which has no
application to life, you are a savant and not an artist. You can't be
an artist without being a man, and therefore I hold that humanity comes
first. I don't mean that one need be vulgar. Of course I am a mere
professional, and my primary aim is to earn an honest livelihood.
I frankly confess that I don't pose, even to myself, as a public
benefactor. But Herries does not care either about an income, or about
touching other people. Of course I should like to raise the standard.
I should like to see ordinary people capable of perceiving what is good
art, and not so wholly at the mercy of conventional and melodramatic
art. But Herries does not care twopence about that. He is like the
Calvinist who is sure of his own salvation, has his doubts about the
minister, and thinks every one else irreparably damned. As I say, it is
a lofty sort of ideal, but it is not a good sign when that sort of thing
begins. The best art of the world--let us say Homer, Virgil, Dante,
Shakespeare--was contributed by people who probably did not think about
it as art at all. Fancy Homer going in for questions of form! It is
always, I believe, a sign of decadence when formalism begins. It is just
like religion, which starts with a teacher who has an overwhelming sense
of the beauty of holiness; and then that degenerates into theology.
These young men are to art what the theologians are to religion.
They lose sight of the object of the whole thing in codification and
definition. My own idea of a great artist is a man who finds beauty so
hopelessly attractive and desirable that he can't restrain his speech.
It all has to come out; he cannot hold his peace. And then a number of
people begin to see that it was what they had been vaguely admiring and
desiring all the time; and then a few highly intellectual people think
that they can analyse it, and produce the same effects by applying their
analysis. It can't be done so; art must have a life of its own."

"Yes," I said, "I think you are right. Herries is ascetic and
eremitical--a beautiful thing in many ways; but there is no transmission
of life in such art; it is a sterile thing after all, a seedless
flower."

"Let us express the vulgar hope," said Musgrave, "that he may fall in
love; that will bring him to his moorings! And now," he added, "we will
go to the music-room and I will see if I cannot tempt the shy bird from
his roost." And so we did--Musgrave is an excellent musician. We flung
the windows open; he embarked upon a great Bach "Toccata"; and before
many bars were over, our idealist crept softly into the room, with an
air of apologetic forgiveness.



XIV. A MIDSUMMER DAY'S DREAM


I suppose that every one knows by experience how certain days in one's
life have a power of standing out in the memory, even in a tract of
pleasant days, all lit by a particular brightness of joy. One does not
always know at the time that the day is going to be so crowned; but the
weeks pass on, and the one little space of sunlight, between dawn and
eve, has orbed itself


           "into the perfect star
     We saw not, when we moved therein."


The thing that in my own case most tends to produce this "grace
of congruity," as the schoolmen say, is the presence of the right
companion, and it is no less important that he should be in the right
mood. Sometimes the right companion is tiresome when he should be
gracious, or boisterous when he should be quiet; but when he is in the
right mood, he is like a familiar and sympathetic guide on a mountain
peak. He helps one at the right point; his desire to push on or to stop
coincides with one's own; he is not a hired assistant, but a brotherly
comrade. On the day that I am thinking of I had just such a companion.
He was cheerful, accessible, good-humoured. He followed when I wanted
to lead, he led when I was glad to follow. He was not ashamed of
being unaffectedly emotional, and he was not vaporous or quixotically
sentimental. He did not want to argue, or to hunt an idea to death; and
we had the supreme delight of long silences, during which our thoughts
led us to the same point, the truest test that there is some subtle
electrical affinity at work, moving viewlessly between heart and brain.

What no doubt heightened the pleasure for me was that I had been passing
through a somewhat dreary period. Things had been going wrong, had tied
themselves into knots. Several people whose fortunes had been bound
up with my own had been acting perversely and unreasonably--at least I
chose to think so. My own work had come to a standstill. I had pushed
on perhaps too fast, and I had got into a bare sort of moorland tract of
life, and could not discern the path in the heather. There did not
seem any particular task for me to undertake; the people whom it was
my business to help, if I could, seemed unaccountably and aggravatingly
prosperous and independent. Not only did no one seem to want my opinion,
but I did not feel that I had any opinions worth delivering. Who
does not know the frame of mind? When life seems rather an objectless
business, and one is tempted just to let things slide; when energy
is depleted, and the springs of hope are low; when one feels like
the family in one of Mrs. Walford's books, who all go out to dinner
together, and of whom the only fact that is related is that "nobody
wanted them." So fared it with my soul.

But that morning, somehow, the delicious sense had returned, of its own
accord, of a beautiful quality in common things. I had sought it in vain
for weeks; it had behaved as a cat behaves, the perverse, soft, pretty,
indifferent creature. It had stared blankly at my beckoning hand; it had
gambolled away into the bushes when I strove to capture it, and looked
out at me when I desisted with innocent grey eyes; and now it had
suddenly returned uncalled, to caress me as though I had been a
long-lost friend, diligently and anxiously sought for in vain. That
morning the very scent of breakfast being prepared came to my nostrils
like the smoke of a sacrifice in my honour; the shape and hue of the
flowers were full of gracious mystery; the green pasture seemed a
place where a middle-aged man might almost venture to dance. The sharp
chirping of the birds in the shrubbery seemed a concert arranged for my
ear. We were soon astir. Like Wordsworth we said that this one day
we would give to idleness, though the profane might ask to what that
leisurely poet consecrated the rest of his days.

We found ourselves deposited, by a brisk train--the very stoker seemed
to be engaged in the joyful conspiracy--at the little town of St. Ives.
I should like to expatiate upon the charms of St. Ives, its clear,
broad, rush-fringed river, its quaint brick houses, with their little
wharf-gardens, where the trailing nasturtium mirrors itself in the slow
flood, its embayed bridge, with the ancient chapel buttressed over the
stream--but I must hold my hand; I must not linger over the beauties of
the City of Destruction, which I have every reason to believe was a very
picturesque place, when our hearts were set on pilgrimage. Suffice it
to say that we walked along a pretty riverside causeway, under enlacing
limes, past the fine church, under the hanging woods of Houghton
Hill--and here we found a mill, a big, timbered place, with a tiled
roof, odd galleries and projecting pent-houses, all pleasantly dusted
with flour, where a great wheel turned dripping in a fern-clad cavern
of its own, with the scent of the weedy river-water blown back from
the plunging leat. Oh, the joyful place of streams! River and leat and
back-water here ran clear among willow-clad islands, all fringed deep
with meadow-sweet and comfrey and butterbur and melilot. The sun shone
overhead among big, white, racing clouds; the fish poised in mysterious
pools among trailing water-weeds; and there was soon no room in my heart
for anything but the joy of earth and the beauty of it. What did the
weary days before and behind matter? What did casuistry and determinism
and fate and the purpose of life concern us then, my friend and me? As
little as they concerned the gnats that danced so busily in the golden
light, at the corner where the alder dipped her red rootlets to drink
the brimming stream.

There we chartered a boat, and all that hot forenoon rowed lazily on,
the oars grunting and dripping, the rudder clicking softly through
avenues of reeds and water-plants, from reach to reach, from pool to
pool. Here we had a glimpse of the wide-watered valley rich in grass,
here of silent woods, up-piled in the distance, over which quivered the
hot summer air. Here a herd of cattle stood knee-deep in the shallow
water, lazily twitching their tails and snuffing at the stream. The
birds were silent now in the glowing noon; only the reeds shivered and
bowed. There, beside a lock with its big, battered timbers, the water
poured green and translucent through a half-shut sluice. Now and then
the springs of thought brimmed over in a few quiet words, that came and
passed like a breaking bubble--but for the most part we were silent,
content to converse with nod or smile. And so we came at last to our
goal; a house embowered in leaves, a churchyard beside the water, and
a church that seemed to have almost crept to the brink to see itself
mirrored in the stream. The place mortals call Hemingford Grey, but
it had a new name for me that day which I cannot even spell--for the
perennial difficulty that survives a hundred disenchantments, is to
feel that a romantic hamlet seen thus on a day of pilgrimage, with its
clustering roofs and chimneys, its waterside lawns, is a real place at
all. I suppose that people there live dull and simple lives enough,
buy and sell, gossip and back-bite, wed and die; but for the pilgrim it
seems an enchanted place, where there can be no care or sorrow, nothing
hard, or unlovely, or unclean, but a sort of fairy-land, where men seem
to be living the true and beautiful life of the soul, of which we are
always in search, but which seems to be so strangely hidden away. It
must have been for me and my friend that the wise and kindly artist
who lives there in a paradise of flowers had filled his trellises with
climbing roses, and bidden the tall larkspurs raise their azure spires
in the air. How else had he brought it all to such perfection for that
golden hour? Perhaps he did not even guess that he had done it all for
my sake, which made it so much more gracious a gift. And then we learned
too from a little red-bound volume which I had thought before was a
guide-book, but which turned out to-day to be a volume of the Book of
Life, that the whole place was alive with the calling of old voices. At
the little church there across the meadows the portly, tender-hearted,
generous Charles James Fox had wedded his bride. Here, in the pool
below, Cowper's dog had dragged out for him the yellow water-lily that
he could not reach; and in the church itself was a little slab where two
tiny maidens sleep, the sisters of the famous Miss Gunnings, who set
all hearts ablaze by their beauty, who married dukes and earls, and had
spent their sweet youth in a little ruined manor-house hard by. I wonder
whether after all the two little girls, who died in the time of roses,
had not the better part; and whether the great Duchess, who showed
herself so haughty to poor Boswell, when he led his great dancing Bear
through the grim North, did not think sometimes in her state of the
childish sisters with whom she had played, before they came to be laid
in the cool chancel beside the slow stream.

And then we sate down for a little on the churchyard wall, and watched
the water-grasses trail and the fish poise. In that sweet corner of the
churchyard, at a certain season of the year, grow white violets; they
had dropped their blooms long ago; but they were just as much alive as
when they were speaking aloud to the world with scent and colour; I can
never think of flowers and trees as not in a sense conscious; I believe
all life to be conscious of itself, and I am sure that the flowering
time is the happy time for flowers as much as it is for artists.

Close to us here was a wall, with a big, solid Georgian house peeping
over, blinking with its open windows and sun-blinds on to a smooth,
shaded lawn, full of green glooms and leafy shelters. Why did it all
give one such a sense of happiness and peace, even though one had no
share in it, even though one knew that one would be treated as a rude
and illegal intruder if one stepped across and used it as one's own?

This is a difficult thing to analyse. It all lies in the imagination;
one thinks of a long perspective of sunny afternoons, of leisurely
people sitting out in chairs under the big sycamore, reading perhaps,
or talking quietly, or closing the book to think, the memory re-telling
some old and pretty tale; and then perhaps some graceful girl comes out
of the house with a world of hopes and innocent desires in her wide-open
eyes; or a tall and limber boy saunters out bare-headed and flannelled,
conscious of life and health, and steps down to the punt that lies
swinging at its chain--one hears it rattle as it is untied and flung
into the prow; and then the dripping pole is plunged and raised, and the
punt goes gliding away, through zones of glimmering light and shadow,
to the bathing-pool. All that comes into one's mind; one takes life, and
subtracts from it all care and anxiety, all the shadow of failure and
suffering, sees it as it might be, and finds it good. That is the first
element of the charm. And then there comes into the picture a further
and more reflective charm, that which Tennyson called the passion of the
past; the thought that all this beautiful life is slipping away, even
as it forms itself, that one cannot stay it for an instant, but that the
shadow creeps across the dial, and the church-clock tells the hours of
the waning day. It is a mistake to think that such a sense comes of age
and experience; it is rather the other way, for never is the regretful
sense of the fleeting quality of things realised with greater poignancy
than when one is young. When one grows older one begins to expect a good
deal of dissatisfaction and anxiety to be mingled with it all, one finds
the old Horatian maxim becoming true:


     "Vitae summa brevis nos spem vitat inchoare longam,"


and one learns to be grateful for the sunny hour; but when one is young,
one feels so capable of enjoying it all, so impatient of shadow and
rain, that one cannot bear that the sweet wine of life should be
diluted.

That is, I believe, the analysis of the charm of such a scene; the
possibility of joy, and permanence, tinged with the pathos that it
has no continuance, but rises and falls and fades like a ripple in the
stream.

The disillusionment of experience is a very different thing from the
pathos of youth; for in youth the very sense of pathos is in itself an
added luxury of joy, giving it a delicate beauty which, if it were not
so evanescent, it could not possess.

But then comes the real trouble, the heavy anxiety, the illness, the
loss; and those things, which looked so romantic in the pages of poets
and the scenes of story-writers, turn out not to be romantic at all,
but frankly and plainly disagreeable and intolerable things. The boy
who swept down the shining reaches with long, deft strokes becomes a
man--money runs short, his children give him anxiety, his wife becomes
ailing and fretful, he has a serious illness; and when after a day of
pain he limps out in the afternoon to the shadow of the old plane-tree,
he must be a very wise and tranquil and patient man, if he can still
feel to the full the sweet influences of the place, and be still
absorbed and comforted by them.

And here lies the weakness of the epicurean and artistic attitude, that
it assorts so ill with the harder and grimmer facts of life. Life has
a habit of twitching away the artistic chair with all its cushions from
under one, with a rude suddenness, so that one has, if one is wise, to
learn a mental agility and to avoid the temptation of drowsing in the
land where it is always afternoon. The real attitude is to be able to
play a robust and manful part in the world, and yet to be able to banish
the thought of the bank-book and the ledger from the mind, and to submit
oneself to the sweet influences of summer and sun.


     "He who of such delights can judge, and spare
      To interpose them oft is not unwise."


So sang the old Puritan poet; and there is a large wisdom in the word
OFT which I have abundantly envied, being myself an anxious-minded man!

The solution is BALANCE--not to think that the repose of art is all,
and yet on the other hand not to believe that life is always jogging
and hustling one. The way in which one can test one's progress is by
considering whether activities and tiresome engagements are beginning to
fret one unduly, for if so one is becoming a hedonist; and on the other
hand by being careful to observe whether one becomes incapable of taking
a holiday; if one becomes bored and restless and hipped in a cessation
of activities, then one is suffering from the disease of Martha in the
Gospel story; and of the two sisters we may remember that Martha was the
one who incurred a public rebuke.

What one has to try to perceive is that life is designed not wholly for
discomfort, or wholly for ease, but that we are here as learners, one
and all. Sometimes the lesson comes whispering through the leaves of the
plane-tree, with the scent of violets in the air; sometimes it comes in
the words and glances of a happy circle full of eager talk, sometimes
through the pages of a wise book, and sometimes in grim hours, when
one tosses sleepless on one's bed under the pressure of an intolerable
thought--but in each and every case we do best when we receive the
lesson as willingly and large-heartedly as we can.

Perhaps, in some of my writings, those who have read them have thought
that I have unduly emphasised the brighter, sweeter, more tranquil side
of life. I have done so deliberately, because I believe that we should
follow innocent joy as far as we can. But it is not because I am unaware
of the other side. I do not think that any of the windings of the dark
wood of which Dante speaks are unknown to me, and there are few tracts
of dreariness that I have not trodden reluctantly. I have had physical
health and much seeming prosperity; but to be acutely sensitive to the
pleasures of happiness and peace is generally to be morbidly sensitive
to the burden of cares. Unhappiness is a subjective thing. As Mrs.
Gummidge so truly said, when she was reminded that other people had
their troubles, "I feel them more." And if I have upheld the duty of
seeking peace, it has been like a preacher who preaches most urgently
against his own bosom-sins. But I am sure of this, that however
impatiently one mourns one's fault and desires to be different, the
secret of growth lies in that very sorrow, perhaps in the seeming
impotence of that sorrow. What one must desire is to learn the truth,
however much one may shudder at it; and the longer that one persists in
one's illusions, the longer is one's learning-time. Is it not a bitter
comfort to know that the truth is there, and that what we believe or do
not believe about it makes no difference at all? Yes, I think it is
a comfort; at all events upon that foundation alone is it possible to
rest.

How far one drifts in thought away from the sweet scene which grows
sweeter every hour. The heat of the day is over now; the breeze curls
on the stream, the shadow of the tower falls far across the water. My
companion rises and smiles, thinking me lost in indolent content; he
hardly guesses how far I have been voyaging


     "On strange seas of thought alone."


Does he guess that as I look back over my life, pain has so far
preponderated over happiness that I would not, if I could, live it
again, and that I would not in truth, if I could choose, have lived it
at all? And yet, even so, I recognise that I am glad not to have the
choice, for it would be made in an indolent and timid spirit, and I do
indeed believe that the end is not yet, and that the hour will assuredly
come when I shall rejoice to have lived, and see the meaning even of my
fears.

And then we retrace our way, and like the Lady of Shalott step down into
the boat, to glide along the darkling water-way in the westering light.
Why cannot I speak to my friend of such dark things as these? It would
be better perhaps if I could, and yet no hand can help us to bear our
own burden.

But the dusk comes slowly on, merging reed and pasture and gliding
stream in one indistinguishable shade; the trees stand out black against
the sunset, thickening to an emerald green. A star comes out over the
dark hill, the lights begin to peep out in the windows of the clustering
town as we draw nearer. As we glide beneath the dark houses, with their
gables and chimneys dark against the glowing sky, how everything that
is dull and trivial and homely is blotted out by the twilight, leaving
nothing but a sense of romantic beauty of mysterious peace! The little
town becomes an enchanted city full of heroic folk; the figure that
leans silently over the bridge to see us pass, to what high-hearted
business is he vowed, burgher or angel? A spell is woven of shadow and
falling light, and of chimes floating over meadow and stream. Yet
this sense of something remotely and unutterably beautiful, this
transfiguration of life, is as real and vital an experience as the
daily, dreary toil, and to be welcomed as such. Nay, more! it is better,
because it gives one a deepened sense of value, of significance, of
eternal greatness, to which we must cling as firmly as we may, because
it is there that the final secret lies; not in the poor struggles, the
anxious delays, which are but the incidents of the voyage, and not the
serene life of haven and home.



XV. SYMBOLS


The present time is an era when intellectual persons are ashamed of
being credulous. It is the perfectly natural and desirable result of
the working of the scientific spirit. Everything is relentlessly
investigated, the enormous structure of natural law is being discovered
to underlie all the most surprising, delicate, and apparently fortuitous
processes, and no one can venture to forecast where the systematisation
will end. The result is a great inrush of bracing and invigorating
candour. It is not that our liberty of reflection and action is
increased. It is rather increasingly limited. But at least we are
growing to discern where our boundaries are, and it is deeply refreshing
to find that the boundaries erected by humanity are much closer and more
cramping than the boundaries determined by God. We are no longer bound
by human authority, by subjective theories, by petty tradition. We
are no longer required to tremble before thaumaturgy and conjuring and
occultism. It is true that science has hitherto confined itself mainly
to the investigation of concrete phenomena; but the same process is sure
to be applied to metaphysics, to sociology, to psychology; and the day
will assuredly come when the human race will analyse the laws which
govern progress, which regulate the exact development of religion and
morality.

The demolition of credulity is, as I have said, a wholly desirable and
beneficial thing. Most intelligent people have found some happiness in
learning that the dealings of God--that is, the creative and originative
power behind the universe--are at all events not whimsical, however
unintelligible they may be. No one at all events is now required to
reconcile with his religious faith a detailed belief in the Mosaic
cosmogony, or to accept the fact that a Hebrew prophet was enabled to
summon bears from a wood to tear to pieces some unhappy boys who found
food for mirth in his personal appearance. That is a pure gain. But
side by side with this entirely wholesome process, there are a good
many people who have thrown overboard, together with their credulity, a
quality of a far higher and nobler kind, which may be called faith. Men
who have seen many mysteries explained, and many dark riddles solved in
nature, have fallen into what is called materialism, from the mistaken
idea that the explanation of material phenomena will hold good for
the discernment of abstract phenomena. Yet any one who approaches the
results of scientific investigation in a philosophical and a poetical
spirit, sees clearly enough that nothing has been attempted but
analysis, and that the mystery which surrounds us is only thrust a
little further off, while the darkness is as impenetrable and profound
as ever. All that we have learnt is how natural law works; we have
not come near to learning why it works as it does. All we have really
acquired is a knowledge that the audacious and unsatisfactory theories,
such, for instance, as the old-fashioned scheme of redemption, by which
men have attempted with a pathetic hopefulness to justify the ways
of God to man, are, and are bound to be, despairingly incomplete. The
danger of the scientific spirit is not that it is too agnostic, but that
it is not agnostic enough: it professes to account for everything when
it only has a very few of the data in its grasp. The materialistic
philosophy tends to be a tyranny which menaces liberty of thought. Every
one has a right to deduce what theory he can from his own experience.
The one thing that we have no sort of right to do is to enforce that
theory upon people whose experience does not confirm it. We may invite
them to act upon our assumptions, but we must not blame them if they end
by considering them to be baseless. I was talking the other day to an
ardent Roman Catholic, who described by a parable the light in which he
viewed the authority of the Church. He said that it was as if he were
half-way up a hill, prevented from looking over into a hidden valley by
the slope of the ground. On the hill-top, he said, might be supposed to
stand people in whose good faith and accuracy of vision he had complete
confidence. If they described to him what they saw in the valley beyond,
he would not dream of mistrusting them. But the analogy breaks down at
every point, because the essence of it is that every one who reached
the hill-top would inevitably see the same scene. Yet in the case of
religion, the hill-top is crowded by people, whose good faith is
equally incontestable, but whose descriptions of what lies beyond are at
hopeless variance. Moreover all alike confess that the impressions they
derive are outside the possibility of scientific or intellectual tests,
and that it is all a matter of inference depending upon a subjective
consent in the mind of the discerner to accept what is incapable of
proof. The strength of the scientific position is that the scientific
observer is in the presence of phenomena confirmed by innumerable
investigations, and that, up to a certain point, the operation of a
law has been ascertained, which no reasonable man has any excuse for
doubting. Whenever that law conflicts with religious assumptions, which
in any case cannot be proved to be more than subjective assumptions,
the unverifiable theory must go down before the verifiable. Religion may
assume, for instance, that life is an educative process; but that theory
cannot be considered proved in the presence of the fact that many
human beings close their eyes upon the world before they are capable of
exercising any moral or intellectual choice whatever.

It may prove, upon investigation, that all religious theories and all
creeds are nothing more than the desperate and pathetic attempts of
humanity, conscious of an instinctive horror of suffering, and of an
inalienable sense of their right to happiness, to provide a solution for
the appalling fact that many human beings seem created only to suffer
and to be unhappy. The mystery is a very dark one; and philosophy is
still not within reach of explaining how it is that a sense of justice
should be implanted in man by the Power that appears so often to violate
that conception of justice.

The fact is that the progress of science has created an immense demand
for the quality of faith and hopefulness, by revealing so much that is
pessimistic in the operation of natural law. If we are to live with any
measure of contentment or tranquillity, we must acquire a confidence
that God has not, as science tends to indicate, made all men for nought.
We must, if we can, acquire some sort of hope that it is not in mere
wantonness and indifference that He confronts us with the necessity for
bearing the things that He has made us most to dread. It may be easy
enough for robust, vigorous, contented persons to believe that God means
us well; but the only solution that is worth anything is a solution that
shall give us courage, patience, and even joy, at times when everything
about us seems to speak of cruelty and terror and injustice. One of
the things that has ministered comfort in large measure to souls so
afflicted is the power of tracing a certain beauty and graciousness
in the phenomena that surround us. Who is there who in moments of
bewildered sorrow has not read a hint of some vast lovingness, moving
dimly in the background of things, in the touch of familiar hands or in
the glances of dear eyes? Surely, they have said to themselves, if love
is the deepest, strongest, and most lasting force in the world, the same
quality must be hidden deepest in the Heart of God. This is the unique
strength of the Christian revelation, the thought of the Fatherhood of
God, and His tender care for all that he has made. Again, who is there
who in depression and anxiety has not had his load somewhat lightened
by the sight of the fresh green of spring foliage against a blue sky, by
the colour and scent of flowers, by the sweet melody of musical chords?
The aching spirit has said, "They are there--beauty, and peace, and
joy--if I could but find the way to them." Who has not had his fear of
death alleviated by the happy end of some beloved life, when the dear
one has made, as it were, solemn haste to be gone, falling gently into
slumber? Who is there, who, speeding homewards in the sunset, has seen
the dusky orange veil of flying light drawn softly westward over misty
fields, where the old house stands up darkling among the glimmering
pastures, and has not felt the presence of some sweet secret waiting for
him beyond the gates of life and death? All these things are symbols,
because the emotions they arouse are veritably there, as indisputable a
phenomenon as any fact which science has analysed. The miserable mistake
that many intellectual people make is to disregard what they would call
vague emotions in the presence of scientific truth. Yet such emotions
have a far more intimate concern for us than the dim sociology of bees,
or the concentric forces of the stars. Our emotions are far more true
and vivid experiences for us than indisputable laws of nature which
never cut the line of our life at all. We may wish, perhaps, that the
laws of such emotions were analysed and systematised too, for it is a
very timid and faltering spirit that thinks that definiteness is the
same as profanation. We may depend upon it that the deeper we can probe
into such secrets, the richer will our conceptions of life and God
become.

The mistake that is so often made by religious organisations, which
depend so largely upon symbolism, is the terrible limiting of this
symbolism to traditional ceremonies and venerable ritual. It has been
said that religion is the only form of poetry accessible to the poor;
and it is true in the sense that anything which hallows and quickens the
most normal and simple experiences of lives divorced from intellectual
and artistic influences is a very real and true kind of symbolism. It
may be well to give people such symbolism as they can understand, and
the best symbols of all are those that deal with the commonest emotions.
But it is a lean wisdom that emphasises a limited range of emotions at
the expense of a larger range; and the spirit which limits the sacred
influences of religion to particular buildings and particular rites is
very far removed from the spirit of Him who said that neither at Gerizim
nor in Jerusalem was the Father to be worshipped, but in spirit and in
truth. At the same time the natural impatience of one who discerns a
symbolism all about him, in tree and flower, in sunshine and rain, and
who hates to see the range restricted, is a feeling that a wise and
tolerant man ought to resist. It is ill to break the pitcher because
the well is at hand! One does not make a narrow soul broader by breaking
down its boundaries, but by revealing the beauty of the further horizon.
Even the false feeling of compassion must be resisted. A child is more
encouraged by listening patiently to its tale of tiny exploits, than by
casting ridicule upon them.

But on the other hand it is a wholly false timidity for one who has been
brought up to love and reverence the narrower range of symbols, to choke
and stifle the desires that stir in his heart for the wider range, out
of deference to authority and custom. One must not discard a cramping
garment until one has a freer one to take its place; but to continue
in the confining robe with the larger lying ready to one's hand, from
a sense of false pathos and unreasonable loyalty, is a piece of
foolishness.

There are, I believe, hundreds of men and women now alive, who have
outgrown their traditional faith, through no fault of their own; but who
out of terror at the vague menaces of interested and Pharisaical persons
do not dare to break away. One must of course weigh carefully whether
one values comfort or liberty most. But what I would say is that it is
of the essence of a faith to be elastic, to be capable of development,
to be able to embrace the forward movement of thought. Now so far am I
from wishing to suggest that we have outgrown Christianity, that I would
assert that we have not yet mastered its simplest principles. I believe
with all my soul that it is still able to embrace the most daring
scientific speculations, for the simple reason that it is hardly
concerned with them at all. Where religious faith conflicts with science
is in the tenacity with which it holds to the literal truth of the
miraculous occurrences related in the Scriptures. Some of these present
no difficulty, some appear to be scientifically incredible. Yet these
latter seem to me to be but the perfectly natural contemporary setting
of the faith, and not to be of the essence of Christianity at all.
Miracles, whether they are true or not, are at all events unverifiable,
and no creed that claims to depend upon the acceptance of unverifiable
events can have any vitality. But the personality, the force, the
perception of Christ Himself emerges with absolute distinctness from the
surrounding details. We may not be in a position to check exactly what
He said and what He did not say, but just as no reasonable man can hold
that He was merely an imaginative conception invented by people who
obviously did not understand Him, so the general drift of His teaching
is absolutely clear and convincing.

What I would have those do who can profess themselves sincerely
convinced Christians, in spite of the uncertainty of many of the
recorded details, is to adopt a simple compromise; to claim their part
in the inheritance of Christ, and the symbols of His mysteries, but not
to feel themselves bound by any ecclesiastical tradition. No one can
forbid, by peevish regulations, direct access to the spirit of Christ
and to the love of God. Christ's teaching was a purely individualistic
teaching, based upon conduct and emotion, and half the difficulties of
the position lie in His sanction and guidance having been claimed for
what is only a human attempt to organise a society with a due deference
for the secular spirit, its aims and ambitions. The sincere Christian
should, I believe, gratefully receive the simple and sweet symbols of
unity and forgiveness; but he should make his own a far higher and
wider range of symbols, the symbols of natural beauty and art and
literature--all the passionate dreams of peace and emotion that have
thrilled the yearning hearts of men. Wherever those emotions have led
men along selfish, cruel, sensual paths, they must be distrusted, just
as we must distrust the religious emotions which have sanctioned such
divergences from the spirit of Christ. We must believe that the essence
of religion is to make us alive to the love of God, in whatever writing
of light and air, of form and fragrance it is revealed; and we must
further believe that religion is meant to guide and quicken the tender,
compassionate, brotherly emotions, by which we lean to each other in
this world where so much is dark. But to denounce the narrower forms
of religion, or to abstain from them, is utterly alien to the spirit
of Christ. He obeyed and reverenced the law, though He knew that the
expanding spirit of His own teaching would break it in pieces. Of
course, since liberty is the spirit of the Gospel, a liberty conditioned
by the sense of equality, there may be occasions when a man is bound to
resist what appears to him to be a moral or an intellectual tyranny. But
short of that, the only thing of which one must beware is a conscious
insincerity; and the limits of that a man must determine for himself.
There are occasions when consideration for the feelings of others seems
to conflict with one's own sense of sincerity; but I think that one
is seldom wrong in preferring consideration for others to the personal
indulgence of one's own apparent sincerity.

Peace and gentleness always prevail in the end over vehemence and
violence, and a peaceful revolution brings about happier results for
a country, as we have good reason to know, than a revolution of force.
Even now the narrower religious systems prevail more in virtue of the
gentleness and goodwill and persuasion of their ministers than through
the spiritual terrors that they wield--the thunders are divorced from
the lightning.

Thus may the victories of faith be won, not by noise and strife, but by
the silent motion of a resistless tide. Even now it creeps softly
over the sand and brims the stagnant pools with the freshening and
invigorating brine.

But in the worship of the symbol there is one deep danger; and that
is that if one rests upon it, if one makes one's home in the palace of
beauty or philosophy or religion, one has failed in the quest. It is the
pursuit not of the unattained but of the unattainable to which we are
vowed. Nothing but the unattainable can draw us onward. It is rest that
is forbidden. We are pilgrims yet; and if, intoxicated and bemused by
beauty or emotion or religion, we make our dwelling there, it is as
though we slept in the enchanted ground. Enough is given us, and no
more, to keep us moving forwards. To be satisfied is to slumber. The
melancholy that follows hard in the footsteps of art, the sadness
haunting the bravest music, the aching, troubled longing that creeps
into the mind at the sight of the fairest scene, is but the warning
presence of the guide that travels with us and fears that we may linger.
Who has not seen across a rising ground the gables of the old house,
the church tower, dark among the bare boughs of the rookery in a smiling
sunset, and half lost himself at the thought of the impossibly beautiful
life that might be lived there? To-day, just when the western sun began
to tinge the floating clouds with purple and gold, I saw by the roadside
an old labourer, fork on back, plodding heavily across a ploughland all
stippled with lines of growing wheat. Hard by a windmill whirled its
clattering arms. How I longed for something that would render permanent
the scene, sight, and sound alike. It told me somehow that the end
was not yet. What did it stand for? I hardly know; for life, slow and
haggard with toil, hard-won sustenance, all overhung with the crimson
glories of waning light, the wet road itself catching the golden hues of
heaven. A little later, passing by the great pauper asylum that stands
up so naked among the bare fields, I looked over a hedge, and there,
behind the engine-house with its heaps of scoriae and rubbish, lay a
little trim ugly burial-ground, with a dismal mortuary, upon which
some pathetic and tawdry taste had been spent. There in rows lay
the mouldering bones of the failures of life and old sin; not even a
headstone over each with a word of hope, nothing but a number on a tin
tablet. Nothing more incredibly sordid could be devised. One thought of
the sad rite, the melancholy priest, the handful of relatives glad at
heart that the poor broken life was over and the wretched associations
at an end. Yet even that sight too warned one not to linger, and that
the end was not yet. Presently, in the gathering twilight, I was making
my way through the streets of the city. The dusk had obliterated all
that was mean and dreary. Nothing but the irregular housefronts stood up
against the still sky, the lighted windows giving the sense of home and
ease. A quiet bell rang for vespers in a church tower, and as I passed
I heard an organ roll within. It all seemed a sweetly framed message to
the soul, a symbol of joy and peace.

But then I reflected that the danger was of selecting, out of the
symbols that crowded around one on every side, merely those that
ministered to one's own satisfaction and contentment. The sad horror of
that other place, the little bare place of desolate graves--that must be
a symbol as well, that must stand as a witness of some part of the awful
mind of God, of the strange flaw or rent that seems to run through His
world. It may be more comfortable, more luxurious to detach the symbol
that testifies to the satisfaction of our needs; but not thus do we draw
near to truth and God. And then I thought that perhaps it was best, when
we are secure and careless and joyful, to look at times steadily into
the dark abyss of the world, not in the spirit of morbidity, not with
the sense of the macabre--the skeleton behind the rich robe, death at
the monarch's shoulder; but to remind ourselves, faithfully and wisely,
that for us too the shadow waits; and then that in our moments of
dreariness and heaviness we should do well to seek for symbols of our
peace, not thrusting them peevishly aside as only serving to remind us
of what we have lost and forfeited, but dwelling on them patiently and
hopefully, with a tender onlooking to the gracious horizon with all
its golden lights and purple shadows. And thus not in a mercantile
mood trafficking for our delight in the mysteries of life--for not by
prudence can we draw near to God--but in a childlike mood, valuing the
kindly word, the smile that lights up the narrow room and enriches
the austere fare, and paying no heed at all to the jealousies and the
covetous ingathering that turns the temple of the Father into a house of
merchandise.

For here, deepest of all, lies the worth of the symbol; that this life
of ours is not a little fretful space of days, rounded with a sleep, but
an integral part of an inconceivably vast design, flooding through and
behind the star-strewn heavens; that there is no sequence of events as
we conceive, that acts are not done or words said, once and for all, and
then laid away in the darkness; but that it is all an ever-living thing,
in which the things that we call old are as much present in the mind of
God as the things that shall be millions of centuries hence. There is no
uncertainty with Him, no doubt as to what shall be hereafter; and if we
once come near to that truth, we can draw from it, in our darkest hours,
a refreshment that cannot fail; for the saddest thought in the mind of
man is the thought that these things could have been, could be other
than they are; and if we once can bring home to ourselves the knowledge
that God is unchanged and unchangeable, our faithless doubts, our
melancholy regrets melt in the light of truth, as the hoar-frost fades
upon the grass in the rising sun, when every globed dewdrop flashes like
a jewel in the radiance of the fiery dawn.



XVI. OPTIMISM


We Anglo-Saxons are mostly optimists at heart; we love to have things
comfortable, and to pretend that they are comfortable when they
obviously are not. The brisk Anglo-Saxon, if he cannot reach the grapes,
does not say that the grapes are sour, but protests that he does not
really care about grapes. A story is told of a great English proconsul
who desired to get a loan from the Treasury of the Government over which
he practically, though not nominally, presided. He went to the Financial
Secretary and said: "Look here, T----, you must get me a loan for a
business I have very much at heart." The secretary whistled, and then
said: "Well, I will try; but it is not the least use." "Oh, you
will manage it somehow," said the proconsul, "and I may tell you
confidentially it is absolutely essential." The following morning the
secretary came to report: "I told you it was no use, sir, and it wasn't;
the Board would not hear of it." "Damnation!" said the proconsul, and
went on writing. A week after he met the secretary, who felt a little
shy. "By the way, T----," said the great man, "I have been thinking over
that matter of the loan, and it was a mercy you were not successful;
it would have been a hopeless precedent, and we are much better without
it."

That is the true Anglo-Saxon spirit of optimism. The most truly British
person I know is a man who will move heaven and earth to secure a post
or to compass an end; but when he fails, as he does not often fail, he
says genially that he is more thankful than he can say; it would have
been ruin to him if he had been successful. The same quality runs
through our philosophy and our religion. Who but an Anglo-Saxon would
have invented the robust theory, to account for the fact that prayers
are often not granted, that prayers are always directly answered whether
you attain your desire or not? The Greeks prayed that the gods would
grant them what was good even if they did not desire it, and withhold
what was evil even if they did desire it. The shrewd Roman said: "The
gods will give us what is most appropriate; man is dearer to them than
to himself." But the faithful Anglo-Saxon maintains that his prayer is
none the less answered even if it be denied, and that it is made up to
him in some roundabout way. It is inconceivable to the Anglo-Saxon that
there may be a strain of sadness and melancholy in the very mind of
God; he cannot understand that there can be any beauty in sorrow. To the
Celt, sorrow itself is dear and beautiful, and the mournful wailing
of winds, the tears of the lowering cloud, afford him sweet and even
luxurious sensations. The memory of grief is one of the good things
that remains to him, as life draws to its close; for love is to him
the sister of grief rather than the mother of joy. But this is to
the Anglo-Saxon mind a morbid thing. The hours in which sorrow has
overclouded him are wasted, desolated hours, to be forgotten and
obliterated as soon as possible. There is nothing sacred about them;
they are sad and stony tracts over which he has made haste to cross, and
the only use of them is to heighten the sense of security and joy. And
thus the sort of sayings that satisfy and sustain the Anglo-Saxon mind
are such irrepressible outbursts of poets as "God's in His heaven;
all's right with the world"--the latter part of which is flagrantly
contradicted by experience; and, as for the former part, if it be true,
it lends no comfort to the man who tries to find his God in the world.
Again, when Browning says that the world "means intensely and means
good," he is but pouring oil upon the darting flame of optimism, because
there are many people to whom the world has no particular meaning, and
few who can re-echo the statement that it means good. That some rich
surprise, in spite of palpable and hourly experience to the contrary,
may possibly await us, is the most that some of us dare to hope.

My own experience, the older I grow, and the more I see of life, is that
I feel it to be a much more bewildering and even terrifying thing than
I used to think it. To use a metaphor, instead of its being a patient
educational process, which I would give all that I possessed to be able
sincerely to believe it to be, it seems to me arranged far more upon
the principle of a game of cricket--which I have always held to be, in
theory, the most unjust and fortuitous of games. You step to the wicket,
you have only a single chance; the boldest and most patient man may make
one mistake at the outset, and his innings is over; the timid tremulous
player may by undeserved good luck contrive to keep his wicket up,
till his heart has got into the right place, and his eye has wriggled
straight, and he is set.

That is the first horrible fact about life--that carelessness is often
not penalised at all, whereas sometimes it is instantly and fiercely
penalised. One boy at school may break every law, human and divine, and
go out into the world unblemished. Another timid and good-natured child
may make a false step, and be sent off into life with a permanent
cloud over him. School life often emphasises the injustice of the world
instead of trying to counteract it. Schoolmasters tend to hustle the
weak rather than to curb the strong.

And then we pass into the larger world, and what do we see? A sad
confusion everywhere. We see an innocent and beautiful girl struck down
by a long and painful disease--a punishment perhaps appropriate to some
robust and hoary sinner, who has gathered forbidden fruit with both his
hands, and the juices of which go down to the skirts of his clothing;
or a brave and virtuous man, with a wife and children dependent on him,
needed if ever man was, kind, beneficent, strong, is struck down out of
life in a moment. On the other hand, we see a mean and cautious sinner,
with no touch of unselfishness and affection, guarded and secured in
material contentment. Let any one run over in his mind the memories of
his own circle, fill up the gaps, and ask himself bravely and frankly
whether he can trace a wise and honest and beneficent design all
through. He may try to console himself by saying that the disasters of
good people, after all, are the exceptions, and that, as a rule, courage
and purity of heart are rewarded, while cowardice and filthiness are
punished. But what room is there for exceptions in a world governed by
God Whom we must believe to be all-powerful, all-just, and all-loving?
It is the wilful sin of man, says the moralist, that has brought these
hard things upon him. But that is no answer, for the dark shadow lies
as sombrely over irresponsible nature, which groans over undeserved
suffering. And then, to make the shadow darker still, we have all the
same love of life, the same inalienable sense of our right to happiness,
the same inheritance of love. If we could but see that in the end pain
and loss would be blest, there is nothing that we would not gladly bear.
Yet that sight, too, is denied us.

And yet we live and laugh and hope, and forget. We take our fill of
tranquil days and pleasant companies, though for some of us the thought
that it is all passing, passing, even while we lean towards it smiling,
touches the very sunlight with pain. "How morbid, how self-tormenting!"
says the prudent friend, if such thoughts escape us. "Why not enjoy the
delight and bear the pain? That is life; we cannot alter it." But not on
such terms, can I, for one, live. To know, to have some assurance--that
is the one and only thing that matters at all. For if I once believed
that God were careless, or indifferent, or impotent, I would fly from
life as an accursed thing; whereas I would give all the peace, and
joy, and contentment, that may yet await me upon earth, and take up
cheerfully the heaviest burden that could be devised of darkness and
pain, if I could be sure of an after-life that will give us all the
unclouded serenity, and strength, and love, for which we crave every
moment. Sometimes, in a time of strength and calm weather, when the
sun is bright and the friend I love is with me, and the scent of
the hyacinths blows from the wood, I have no doubt of the love and
tenderness of God; and, again, when I wake in the dreadful dawn to the
sharp horror of the thought that one I love is suffering and crying out
in pain and drifting on to death, the beauty of the world, the familiar
scene, is full of a hateful and atrocious insolence of grace and
sweetness; and then I feel that we are all perhaps in the grip of some
relentless and inscrutable law that has no care for our happiness
or peace at all, and works blindly and furiously in the darkness,
bespattering some with woe and others with joy. Those are the blackest
and most horrible moments of life; and yet even so we live on.

As I write at my ease I see the velvety grass green on the rich pasture;
the tall spires of the chestnut perch, and poise, and sway in the sun; a
thrush sings hidden in the orchard; it is all caressingly, enchantingly
beautiful, and I am well content to be alive. Looking backwards, I
discern that I have had my share, and more than my share, of good
things. But they are over; they are mine no longer. And even as I think
the thought, the old church clock across the fields tells out another
hour that is fallen softly into the glimmering past. If I could discern
any strength or patience won from hours of pain and sorrow it would be
easier; but the memory of pain makes me dread pain the more, the thought
of past sorrow makes future sorrow still more black. I would rather have
strength than tranquillity, when all is done; but life has rather taught
me my weakness, and struck the garland out of my reluctant hand.

To-day I have been riding quietly among fields deep with buttercups and
fringed by clear, slow streams. The trees are in full spring leaf, only
the oaks and walnuts a little belated, unfurling their rusty-red fronds.
A waft of rich scent comes from a hawthorn hedge where a hidden cuckoo
flutes, or just where the lane turns by the old water-mill, which throbs
and grumbles with the moving gear, a great lilac-bush leans out of a
garden and fills the air with perfume. Yet, as I go, I am filled with
a heavy anxiety, which plays with my sick heart as a cat plays with a
mouse, letting it run a little in the sun, and then pouncing upon it in
terror and dismay. The beautiful sounds and sights round me--the sight
of the quiet, leisurely people I meet--ought, one would think, to soothe
and calm the unquiet heart. But they do not; they rather seem to mock
and flout me with a savage insolence of careless welfare. My thoughts go
back, I do not know why, to an old house where I spent many happy days,
now in the hands of strangers. I remember sitting, one of a silent and
happy party, on a terrace in the dusk of a warm summer night, and how
one of those present called to the owls that were hooting in the hanging
wood above the house, so that they drew near in answer to the call,
flying noiselessly, and suddenly uttering their plaintive notes from
the heart of the great chestnut on the lawn. Below I can see the dewy
glimmering fields, the lights of the little port, the pale sea-line. It
seems now all impossibly beautiful and tranquil; but I know that even
then it was often marred by disappointments, and troubles, and fears.
Little anxieties that have all melted softly into the past, that were
easily enough borne, when it came to the point, yet, looming up as they
did in the future, filled the days with the shadow of fear. That is the
phantom that one ought to lay, if it can be laid. And is there
hidden somewhere any well of healing, any pure source of strength and
refreshment, from which we can drink and be calm and brave? That is a
question which each has to answer tor himself. For myself, I can only
say that strength is sometimes given, sometimes denied. How foolish to
be anxious! Yes, but how inevitable! If the beauty and the joy of the
world gave one assurance in dark hours that all was certainly well, the
pilgrimage would be an easy one. But can one be optimistic by resolving
to be? One can of course control oneself, one can let no murmur of pain
escape one, one can even enunciate deep and courageous maxims, because
one would not trouble the peace of others, waiting patiently till the
golden mood returns. But what if the desolate conviction forces itself
upon the mind that sorrow is the truer thing? What if one tests one's
own experience, and sees that, under the pressure of sorrow, one after
another of the world's lights are extinguished, health, and peace, and
beauty, and delight, till one asks oneself whether sorrow is not perhaps
the truest and most actual thing of all? That is the ghastliest of
moments, when everything drops from us but fear and horror, when we
think that we have indeed found truth at last, and that the answer to
Pilate's bitter question is that pain is the nearest thing to truth
because it is the strongest. If I felt that, says the reluctant heart,
I should abandon myself to despair. No, says sterner reason, you would
bear it because you cannot escape from it. Into whatever depths of
despair you fell, you would still be upheld by the law that bids you be.

Where, then, is the hope to be found? It is here. One is tempted to
think of God through human analogies and symbols. We think of Him as of
a potter moulding the clay to his will; as of a statesman that sways a
state; as of an artist that traces a fair design. But all similitudes
and comparisons break down, for no man can create anything; he can but
modify matter to his ends, and when he fails, it is because of some
natural law that cuts across his design and thwarts him relentlessly.
But the essence of God's omnipotence is that both law and matter are His
and originate from Him; so that, if a single fibre of what we know to be
evil can be found in the world, either God is responsible for that, or
He is dealing with something He did not originate and cannot overcome.
Nothing can extricate us from this dilemma, except the belief that what
we think evil is not really evil at all, but hidden good; and thus we
have firm ground under our feet at last, and can begin to climb out of
the abyss. And then we feel in our own hearts how indomitable is our
sense of our right to happiness, how unconquerable our hope; how swiftly
we forget unhappiness; how firmly we remember joy; and then we see that
the one absolutely permanent and vital power in the world is the power
of love, which wins victories over every evil we can name; and if it
is so plain that love is the one essential and triumphant force in the
world, it must be the very heartbeat of God; till we feel that when soon
or late the day comes for us, when our swimming eyes discern ever more
faintly the awestruck pitying faces round us, and the senses give up
their powers one by one, and the tides of death creep on us, and the
daylight dies--that even so we shall find that love awaiting us in
the region to which the noblest and bravest and purest, as well as the
vilest and most timid and most soiled have gone.

This, then, is the only optimism that is worth the name; not the feeble
optimism that brushes away the darker side of life impatiently and
fretfully, but the optimism that dares to look boldly into the fiercest
miseries of the human spirit, and to come back, as Perseus came, pale
and smoke-stained, from the dim underworld, and say that there is yet
hope brightening on the verge of the gloom.

What one desires, then, is an optimism which arises from taking a wide
view of things as they are, and taking the worst side into account,
not an optimism which is only made possible by wearing blinkers. I was
reading a day or two ago a suggestive and brilliant book by one of our
most prolific critics, Mr. Chesterton, on the subject of Dickens. Mr.
Chesterton is of opinion that our modern tendency to pessimism results
from our inveterate realism. Contrasting modern fictions with the old
heroic stories, he says that we take some indecisive clerk for the
subject of a story, and call the weak-kneed cad "the hero." He seems
to think that we ought to take a larger and more robust view of human
possibilities, and keep our eyes steadily fixed upon more vigorous
and generous characters. But the result of this is the ugly and
unphilosophical kind of optimism after all, that calls upon God to
despise the work of His own hands, that turns upon all that is feeble
and unsightly and vulgar with anger and disdain, like the man in the
parable who took advantage of his being forgiven a great debt to exact
a tiny one. The tragedy is that the knock-kneed clerk is all in all to
himself. In clear-sighted and imaginative moments, he may realise in a
sudden flash of horrible insight that he is so far from being what he
would desire to be, so unheroic, so loosely strung, so deplorable--and
yet that he can do so little to bridge the gap. The only method of
manufacturing heroes is to encourage people to believe in themselves and
their possibilities, to assure them that they are indeed dear to
God; not to reveal relentlessly to them their essential lowness and
shabbiness. It is not the clerk's fault that his mind is sordid and
weak, and that his knees knock together; and no optimism is worth the
name that has not a glorious message for the vilest. Or, again, it is
possible to arrive at a working optimism by taking a very dismal view of
everything. There is a story of an old Calvinist minister whose daughter
lay dying, far away, of a painful disease, who wrote her a letter of
consolation, closing with the words, "Remember, dear daughter, that all
short of Hell is mercy." Of course if one can take so richly decisive a
view of the Creator's purpose for His creatures, and look upon Hell
as the normal destination from which a few, by the overpowering
condescension of God, are saved and separated, one might find matter
of joy in discovering one soul in a thousand who was judged worthy of
salvation. But this again is a clouded view, because it takes no account
of the profound and universal preference for happiness in the human
heart, and erects the horrible ideal of a Creator who deliberately
condemns the vast mass of His creatures to a fate which He has no less
deliberately created them to abhor and dread.

Our main temptation after all lies in the fact that we are so impatient
of any delay or any uneasiness. We are like the child who, when first
confronted with suffering, cannot bear to believe in its existence, and
who, if it is prolonged, cannot believe in the existence of anything
else. What we have rather to do is to face the problem strongly and
courageously, to take into account the worst and feeblest possibilities
of our nature, and yet not to overlook the fact that the worst and
lowest specimen of humanity has a dim inkling of something higher and
happier, to which he would attain if he knew how.

I had a little object-lesson a few days ago in the subject. It was a
Bank Holiday, and I walked pensively about the outskirts of a big town.
The streets were crowded with people of all sorts and sizes. I confess
that a profound melancholy was induced in me by the spectacle of the
young of both sexes. They were enjoying themselves, it is true, with all
their might; and I could not help wondering why, as a rule, they should
enjoy themselves so offensively. The girls walked about, tittering
and ogling, the young men were noisy, selfish, ill-mannered, enjoying
nothing so much as the discomfiture of any passer-by. They pushed each
other into ditches, they tripped up a friend who passed on a bicycle,
and all roared in concert at the rueful way in which he surveyed a muddy
coat and torn trousers. There seemed to be not the slightest idea among
them of contributing to each other's pleasure. The point was to be
amused at the expense of another, and to be securely obstreperous.

But among these there were lovers walking, faint and pale with mutual
admiration; a young couple led along a hideous over-dressed child,
and had no eyes for anything except its clumsy movements and fatuous
questions. Or an elderly couple strolled along, pleased and contented,
with a married son and daughter. The cure of the vile mirth of youth
seemed after all to be love and the anxious care of other lives.

And thus indeed a gentle optimism did emerge, after all, from the
tangle. I felt that it was strange that there should be so much to breed
dissatisfaction. I struck out of the town, and soon was passing a mill
in broad water-meadows, overhung by great elms; the grass was golden
with buttercups, the foliage was rich upon the trees. The water bubbled
pleasantly in the great pool, and an old house thrust a pretty gable out
over lilacs clubbed with purple bloom. The beauty of the place was put
to my lips, like a cup of the waters of comfort. The sadness was the
drift of human life out of sweet places such as this, into the town
that overflowed the meadows with its avenues of mean houses, where the
railway station, with its rows of stained trucks, its cindery floor, its
smoking engines, buzzed and roared with life.

But the pessimism of one who sees the simple life fading out, the
ancient quietude invaded, the country caught in the feelers of the
town, is not a real pessimism at all, or rather it is a pessimism
which results from a deficiency of imagination, and is only a matter of
personal taste, perhaps of personal belatedness. Twelve generations of
my own family lived and died as Yorkshire yeomen-farmers, and my own
preference is probably a matter of instinctive inheritance. The point is
not what a few philosophers happen to like, but what humanity likes, and
what it is happiest in liking. I should have but small confidence in the
Power that rules the world, if I did not believe that the vast social
development of Europe, its civilisation, its network of communications,
its bustle, its tenser living, its love of social excitement was not
all part of a great design. I do not believe that humanity is perversely
astray, hurrying to destruction. I believe rather that it is working
out the possibilities that lie within it; and if human beings had been
framed to live quiet pastoral lives, they would be living them still.
The one question for the would-be optimist is whether humanity is
growing nobler, wiser, more unselfish; and of that I have no doubt
whatever. The sense of equality, of the rights of the weak, compassion,
brotherliness, benevolence, are living ideas, throbbing with life; the
growth of the power of democracy, much as it may tend to inconvenience
one personally, is an entirely hopeful and desirable thing; and if a
man is disposed to pessimism, he ought to ask himself seriously to what
extent his pessimism is conditioned by his own individual prospect of
happiness. It is quite possible to conceive of a man without any hope of
personal immortality, or the continuance of individual identity, whose
future might be clouded, say, by his being the victim of a painful and
incurable disease, and who yet might be a thoroughgoing optimist with
regard to the future of humanity. Nothing in the world could be so
indicative of the rise in the moral and emotional temperature of the
world as the fact that men are increasingly disposed to sacrifice their
own ambitions and their own comfort for the sake of others, and are
willing to suffer, if the happiness of the race may be increased; and
much of the pessimism that prevails is the pessimism of egotists and
individualists, who feel no interest in the rising tide, because it does
not promise to themselves any increase in personal satisfaction. No
man can possibly hold the continuance of personal identity to be an
indisputable fact, because there is no sort of direct evidence on the
subject; and indeed all the evidence that exists is rather against the
belief than for it. The belief is in reality based upon nothing but
instinct and desire, and the impossibility of conceiving of life as
existing apart from one's own perception. But even if a man cannot hold
that it is in any sense a certainty, he may cherish a hope that it is
true, and he may be generously and sincerely grateful for having been
allowed to taste, through the medium of personal consciousness, the
marvellous experience of the beauty and interest of life, its emotions,
its relationships, its infinite yearnings, even though the curtain may
descend upon his own consciousness of it, and he himself may become as
though he had never been, his vitality blended afresh in the vitality
of the world, just as the body of his life, so near to him, so seemingly
his own, will undoubtedly be fused and blent afresh in the sum of
matter. A man, even though racked with pain and tortured with anxiety,
may deliberately and resolutely throw himself into sympathy with
the mighty will of God, and cherish this noble and awe-inspiring
thought--the thought of the onward march of humanity; righting wrongs,
amending errors, fighting patiently against pain and evil, until
perhaps, far-off and incredibly remote, our successors and descendants,
linked indeed with us in body and soul alike, may enjoy that peace
and tranquillity, that harmony of soul, which we ourselves can only
momentarily and transitorily obtain.



XVII. JOY


Dr. Arnold somewhere says that the schoolmaster's experience of being
continually in the presence of the hard mechanical high spirits of
boyhood is an essentially depressing thing. It seemed to him depressing,
just because that happiness was so purely incidental to youth and
health, and did not proceed from any sense of principle, any reserve of
emotion, any self-restraint, any activity of sympathy. I confess that
in my own experience as a schoolmaster the particular phenomenon was
sometimes a depressing thing and sometimes a relief. It was depressing
when one was overshadowed by a fretful anxiety or a real sorrow, because
no appeal to it seemed possible: it had a heartless quality. But again
it was a relief when it distracted one from the pressure of a troubled
thought, as when, in the Idylls of the King, the sorrowful queen
was comforted by the little maiden "who pleased her with a babbling
heedlessness, which often lured her from herself."

One felt that one had no right to let the sense of anxiety overshadow
the natural cheerfulness of boyhood, and then one made the effort to
detach oneself from one's preoccupations, with the result that they
presently weighed less heavily upon the heart.

The blessing would be if one could find in experience a quality of
joy which should be independent of natural high spirits altogether, a
cheerful tranquillity of outlook, which should become almost instinctive
through practice, a mood which one could at all events evoke in such a
way as to serve as a shield and screen to one's own private troubles,
or which at least would prevent one from allowing the shadow of our
discontent from falling over others. But it must be to a certain
extent temperamental. Just as high animal spirits in some people are
irrepressible, and bubble up even under the menace of irreparable
calamity, so gloom of spirit is a very contagious thing, very difficult
to dissimulate. Perhaps the best practical thing for a naturally
melancholy person to try and do, is to treat his own low spirits,
as Charles Lamb did, ironically and humorously; and if he must spin
conversation incessantly, as Dr. Johnson said, out of his own bowels,
to make sure that it is the best thread possible, and of a gossamer
quality.

The temperamental fact upon which the possibility of such a
philosophical cheerfulness is based is after all an ultimate
hopefulness. Some people have a remarkable staying power, a power of
looking through and over present troubles, and consoling themselves with
pleasant visions of futurity. This is commoner with women than with men,
because women derive a greater happiness from the happiness of those
about them than men do. A woman as a rule would prefer that the people
who surround her should be cheerful, even if she were not cheerful
herself; whereas a man is often not ill-pleased that his moods should be
felt by his circle, and regards it as rather an insult that other
people should be joyful when he is ill-at-ease. Some people, too, have
a stronger dramatic sense than others, and take an artistic pleasure
in playing a part. I knew a man who was a great invalid and a frequent
sufferer, who took a great pleasure in appearing in public functions. He
would drag himself from his bed to make a public appearance of any kind.
I think that he consoled himself by believing that he did so from a
strong and sustaining sense of duty; but I believe that the pleasure of
the thing was really at the root of his effort, as it is at the root of
most of the duties we faithfully perform. I do not mean that he had
a strong natural vanity, though his enemies accused him of it. But
publicity was naturally congenial to him, and the only sign, as a rule,
that he was suffering, when he made such an appearance, was a greater
deliberation of movement, and a ghastly fixity of smile. As to the
latter phenomenon, a man with the dramatic sense strongly developed,
will no doubt take a positive pleasure in trying to obliterate from his
face and manner all traces of his private discomfort. Such stoicism is
a fine quality in its way, but the quality that I am in search of is an
even finer one than that. My friend's efforts were ultimately based on
a sort of egotism, a profound conviction that a public part suited him,
and that he performed it well. What one rather desires to attain is
a more sympathetic quality, an interest in other people so vital and
inspiring that one's own personal sufferings are light in the scale when
weighed against the enjoyment of others. It is not impossible to develop
this in the face of considerable bodily suffering. One of the most
inveterately cheerful people I have ever known was a man who suffered
from a painful and irritating complaint, but whose geniality and
good-will were so strong that they not only overpowered his malaise, but
actually afforded him considerable relief. Some people who suffer can
only suffer in solitude. They have to devote the whole of their nervous
energies to the task of endurance; but others find society an agreeable
distraction, and fly to it as an escape from discomfort. I suppose that
every one has experienced at times that extraordinary rebellion, so to
speak, of cheerfulness against an attack of physical pain. There have
been days when I have suffered from some small but acutely disagreeable
ailment, and yet found my cheerfulness not only not dimmed but
apparently enhanced by the physical suffering. Of course there are
maladies even of a serious kind of which one of the symptoms is a great
mental depression, but there are other maladies which seem actually to
produce an instinctive hopefulness.

But the question is whether it is possible, by sustained effort, to
behave independently of one's mood, and what motive is strong enough
to make one detach oneself resolutely from discomforts and woes. Good
manners provide perhaps the most practical assistance. The people who
are brought up with a tradition of highbred courtesy, and who learn
almost instinctively to repress their own individuality, can generally
triumph over their moods. Perhaps in their expansive moments they lose
a little spontaneity in the process; they are cheerful rather than
buoyant, gentle rather than pungent. But the result is that when the
mood shifts into depression, they are still imperturbably courteous and
considerate. A near relation of a great public man, who suffered greatly
from mental depression, has told me that some of the most painful
minutes he has ever been witness of were, when the great man, after
behaving on some occasion of social festivity with an admirable and
sustained gaiety, fell for a moment into irreclaimable and hopeless
gloom and fatigue, and then again, by a resolute effort, became
strenuously considerate and patient in the privacy of the family circle.

Some people achieve the same mastery over mood by an intensity of
religious conviction. But the worst of that particular triumph is that
an attitude of chastened religious patience is, not unusually, a rather
depressing thing. It is so restrained, so pious, that it tends to
deprive life of natural and unaffected joy. If it is patient and
submissive in affliction, it is also tame and mild in cheerful
surroundings. It issues too frequently in a kind of holy tolerance
of youthful ebullience and vivid emotions. It results in the kind of
character that is known as saintly, and is generally accompanied by
a strong deficiency in the matter of humour. Life is regarded as too
serious a business to be played with, and the delight in trifles,
which is one of the surest signs of healthy energy, becomes ashamed and
abashed in its presence. The atmosphere that it creates is oppressive,
remote, ungenial. "I declare that Uncle John is intolerable, except when
there is a death in the family--and then he is insupportable," said a
youthful nephew of a virtuous clergyman of this type in my presence the
other day, adding, after reflection, "He seems to think that to die is
the only really satisfactory thing that any one ever does." That is the
worst of carrying out the precept, "Set your affections on things above,
not on things of the earth," too literally. It is not so good a precept,
after all, as "If a man love not his brother, whom he hath seen, how
shall he love God, Whom he hath not seen?" It is somehow an incomplete
philosophy to despise the only definite existence we are certain of
possessing. One desires a richer thing than that, a philosophy that ends
in temperance, rather than in a harsh asceticism.

The handling of life that seems the most desirable is the method which
the Platonic Socrates employed. Perhaps he was an ideal figure; but
yet there are few figures more real. There we have an elderly man of
incomparable ugliness, who is yet delightfully and perennially youthful,
bubbling over with interest, affection, courtesy, humour, admiration.
With what a delicious mixture of irony and tenderness he treats the
young men who surround him! When some lively sparks made up their minds
to do what we now call "rag" him, dressed themselves up as Furies, and
ran out upon him as he turned a dark corner on his way home, Socrates
was not in the least degree disturbed, but discoursed with them readily
on many matters and particularly on temperance; when at the banquet the
topers disappear, one by one, under the table, Socrates, who, besides
taking his due share of the wine, had filled and drunk the contents of
the wine-cooler, is found cheerfully sitting, crowned with roses, among
the expiring lamps, in the grey of the morning, discussing the higher
mathematics. He is never sick or sorry; he is poor and has a scolding
wife; he fasts or eats as circumstances dictate; he never does anything
in particular, but he has always infinite leisure to have his talk
out. Is he drawn for military service? he goes off, with an entire
indifference to the hardships of the campaign. When the force is routed,
he stalks deliberately off the field, looking round him like a great
bird, with the kind of air that makes pursuers let people alone, as
Alcibiades said. And when the final catastrophe draws near, he defends
himself under a capital charge with infinite good-humour; he has cared
nothing for slander and misrepresentation all his life, and why should
he begin now? In the last inspired scene, he is the only man of the
group who keeps his courteous tranquillity to the end; he had been
sent into the world, he had lived his life, why should he fear to
be dismissed? It matters little, in the presence of this august
imagination, if the real Socrates was a rude and prosy person, who came
by his death simply because the lively Athenians could tolerate anything
but a bore!

The Socratic attitude is better than the high-bred attitude; it is
better than the stoical attitude; it is even better than the pious
attitude, because it depends upon living life to the uttermost, rather
than upon detaching oneself from what one considers rather a poor
business. The attitude of Socrates is based upon courage, generosity,
simplicity. He knows that it is with fear that we weight our melancholy
sensibilities, that it is with meanness and coldness that we poison
life, that it is with complicated conventional duties that we fetter our
weakness. Socrates has no personal ambitions, and thus he is rid of all
envy and uncharitableness; he sees the world as it is, a very bright and
brave place, teeming with interesting ideas and undetermined problems.
Where Christianity has advanced upon this--for it has advanced
splendidly and securely--is in interpreting life less intellectually.
The intellectual side of life is what Socrates adores; the Christian
faith is applicable to a far wider circle of homely lives. Yet
Christianity too, in spite of ecclesiasticism, teems with ideas. Its
essence is an unprejudiced freedom of soul. Its problems are problems
of character which the simplest child can appreciate. But Christianity,
too, is built upon a basis of joy. "Freely ye have received, freely
give," is its essential maxim.

The secret then is to enjoy; but the enjoyment must not be that of the
spoiler who carries away all that he can, and buries it in his tent; but
the joy of relationship, the joy of conspiring together to be happy, the
joy of consoling and sympathising and sharing, because we have received
so much. Of course there remain the limitations of temperament, the
difficulty of preventing our own acrid humours from overflowing into
other lives; but this cannot be overcome by repression; it can only
be overcome by tenderness. There are very few people who have not the
elements of this in their character. I can count upon my fingers the
malevolent men I know, who prefer making others uncomfortable to trying
to make them glad; and all these men have been bullied in their youth,
and are unconsciously protecting themselves against bullying still. We
grow selfish, no doubt, for want of practice; ill-health makes villains
of some of us. But we can learn, if we desire it, to keep our gruffness
for our own consumption, and a very few experiments will soon convince
us that there are few pleasures in the world so reasonable and so cheap,
as the pleasure of giving pleasure.

But, after all, the resolute cheerfulness that can be to a certain
extent captured and secured by an effort of the will, though it is
perhaps a more useful quality than natural joy, and no doubt ranks
together in the moral scale, is not to be compared with a certain
unreasoning, incommunicable rapture which sometimes, without conscious
effort or desire, descends upon the spirit, like sunshine after rain.
Let me quote a recent experience of my own which may illustrate it.

A few days ago, I had a busy tiresome morning hammering into shape a
stupid prosaic passage, of no suggestiveness; a mere statement, the only
beauty of which could be that it should be absolutely lucid; and this
beauty it resolutely refused to assume. Then the agent called to see me,
and we talked business of a dull kind. Then I walked a little way among
fields; and when I was in a pleasant flat piece of ground, full of
thickets, where the stream makes a bold loop among willows and alders,
the sun set behind a great bastion of clouds that looked like a huge
fortification. It had been one of those days of cloudless skies, all
flooded with the pale cold honey-coloured light of the winter sun, until
a sense almost of spring came into the air; and in a sheltered place I
found a little golden hawk-weed in full flower.

It had not been a satisfactory day at all to me. The statement that I
had toiled so hard all the morning to make clear was not particularly
worth making; it could effect but little at best, and I had worked at
it in a British doggedness of spirit, regardless of its value and only
because I was determined not to be beaten by it.

But for all that I came home in a rare and delightful frame of mind, as
if I had heard a brief and delicate passage of music, a conspiracy
of sweet sounds and rich tones; or as if I had passed through a sweet
scent, such as blows from a clover-field in summer. There was no
definite thought to disentangle: it was rather as if I had had a glimpse
of the land which lies east of the sun and west of the moon, had seen
the towers of a castle rise over a wood of oaks; met a company of
serious people in comely apparel riding blithely on the turf of a forest
road, who had waved me a greeting, and left me wondering out of what
rich kind of scene they had stepped to bless me. It left me feeling
as though there were some beautiful life, very near me, all around me,
behind the mirror, outside of the door, beyond the garden-hedges, if I
could but learn the spell which would open it to me; left me pleasantly
and happily athirst for a life of gracious influences and of an unknown
and perfect peace; such as creeps over the mind for the moment at the
sight of a deep woodland at sunset, when the forest is veiled in the
softest of blue mist; or at the sound of some creeping sea, beating
softly all night on a level sand; or at the prospect of a winter sun
going down into smoky orange vapours over a wide expanse of pastoral
country; or at the soft close of some solemn music--when peace seems not
only desirable beyond all things but attainable too.

How can one account for this sudden and joyful visitation? I am going to
try and set down what I believe to be the explanation, if I can
reduce to words a thought which is perfectly clear to me, however
transcendental it may seem.

Well, at such a moment as this, one feels just as one may feel when from
the streets of a dark and crowded city, with the cold shadow of a
cloud passing over it, one sees the green head of a mountain over the
housetops, all alone with the wind and the sun, with its crag-bastions,
its terraces and winding turf ways.

The peace that thus blesses one is not, I think, a merely subjective
mood, an imagined thing. It is, I believe, a real and actual thing which
is there. One's consciousness does not create its impressions, one does
not make for oneself the moral and artistic ideas that visit one; one
perceives them. Education is not a process of invention--it is a process
of discovery; a process of learning the names given to things that are
all present in one's own mind. One knows things long before one knows
the names for them, by instinct and by intuition; and one's own mind is
simply a part of a large and immortal life, which for a time is fenced
by a little barrier of identity, just as a tiny pool of sea-water on a
sea-beach is for a few hours separated from the great tide to which it
belongs. All our regrets, remorses, anxieties, troubles arise from our
not realising that we are but a part of this greater and wider life,
from our delusion that we are alone and apart instead of, as is the
case, one with the great ocean of life and joy.

Sometimes, I know not why and how, we are for a moment or two in touch
with the larger life--to some it comes in religion, to some in love,
to some in art. Perhaps a wave of the onward sweeping tide beats for
an instant into the little pool we call our own, stirring the fringing
weed, bubbling sharply and freshly upon the sleeping sand.

The sad mistake we make is, when such a moment comes, to feel as though
it were only the stirring of our own feeble imagination. What we ought
rather to do is by every effort we can make to welcome and comprehend
this dawning of the larger life upon us; not to sink back peevishly into
our own limits and timidly to deplore them, but resolutely to open the
door again and again--for the door can be opened--to the light of the
great sun that lies so broadly about us. Every now and then we have some
startling experience which reveals to us our essential union with other
individuals. We have many of us had experiences which seem to indicate
that there is at times a direct communication with other minds,
independent of speech or writing; and even if we have not had such
experiences, it has been scientifically demonstrated that such things
can occur. Telepathy, as it is clumsily called, which is nothing more
than this direct communication of mind, is a thing which has been
demonstrated in a way which no reasonable person can reject. We may call
it abnormal if we like, and it is true that we do not as yet know
under what conditions it exists; but it is as much there as electrical
communication, and just as the electrician does not create the viewless
ripples which his delicate instruments can catch and record, but merely
makes it a matter of mechanics to detect them, so the ripple of human
intercommunication is undoubtedly there; and when we have discovered
what its laws are, we shall probably find that it underlies many things,
such as enthusiasms, movements, the spirit of a community, patriotism,
martial ardour, which now appear to us to be isolated and mysterious
phenomena.

But there is a larger thing than even that behind. In humanity we have
merely a certain portion of this large life, which may spread for all we
know beyond the visible universe, globed and bounded, like the spray
of a fountain, into little separate individualities. Some of the
urgent inexplicable emotions which visit us from time to time, immense,
far-reaching, mysterious, are, I believe with all my heart, the
pulsations of this vast life outside us, stirring for an instant the
silence of our sleeping spirit. It is possible, I cannot help feeling,
that those people live the best of all possible lives who devote
themselves to receiving these pulsations. It may well be that in
following anxiously the movement of the world, in giving ourselves to
politics or business, or technical religion, or material cares, we are
but delaying the day of our freedom by throwing ourselves intently into
our limitations, and forgetting the wider life. It may be that the life
which Christ seems to have suggested as the type of Christian life--the
life of constant prayer, simple and kindly relations, indifference to
worldly conditions, absence of ambitions, fearlessness, sincerity--may
be the life in which we can best draw near to the larger spirit--for
Christ spoke as one who knew some prodigious secret, as one in whose
soul the larger life leapt and plunged like fresh sea-billows; who was
incapable of sin and even of temptation, because His soul had free
and open contact with the all-pervading spirit, and to whom the human
limitations were no barrier at all.

We do not know as yet the mechanical means, so to speak, by which the
connection can be established, the door set wide. But we can at least
open our soul to every breathing of divine influences; and when the
great wind rises and thunders in our spirits, we can see that no claim
of business, or weakness, or comfort, or convention shall hinder us from
admitting it.

And thus when one of these sweet, high, uplifting thoughts draws near
and visits us, we can but say, as the child Samuel said in the dim-lit
temple, "Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth." The music comes upon the
air, in faint and tremulous gusts; it dies away across the garden, over
the far hill-side, into the cloudless sky; but we have heard; we are not
the same; we are transfigured.

Why then, lastly, it may be asked, do these experiences befall us so
faintly, so secretly, so seldom; if it is the true life that beats so
urgently into our souls, why are we often so careful and disquieted, why
do we fare such long spaces without the heavenly vision, why do we see,
or seem to see, so many of our fellows to whom such things come rarely
or not at all? I cannot answer that; yet I feel that the life is there;
and I can but fall back upon the gentle words of the old saint, who
wrote: "I know not how it is, but the more the realities of heaven are
clothed with obscurity, the more they delight and attract; and nothing
so much heightens longing as such tender refusal."



XVIII. THE LOVE OF GOD


How strange it is that what is often the latest reward of the toiler
after holiness, the extreme solace of the outwearied saint, should be
too often made the first irksome article of a childish creed! To tell
a child that it is a duty to love God better than father or mother,
sisters and brothers, better than play, or stories, or food, or toys,
what a monstrous thing is that! It is one of the things that make
religion into a dreary and darkling shadow, that haunts the path of the
innocent. The child's love is all for tangible, audible, and visible
things. Love for him means kind words and smiling looks, ready comfort
and lavished kisses; the child does not even love things for being
beautiful, but for being what they ARE--curious, characteristic,
interesting. He loves the odd frowsy smell of the shut-up attic, the
bright ugly ornaments of the chimney-piece, the dirt of the street. He
has no sense of critical taste. Besides, words mean so little to him, or
even bear quaint, fantastic associations, which no one can divine, and
which he himself is unable to express; he has no notion of an abstract,
essential, spiritual thing, apart from what is actual to his senses. And
then into this little concrete mind, so full of small definite images,
so faltering and frail, is thrust this vast, remote notion--that he is
bound to love something hidden and terrible, something that looks at
him from the blank sky when he is alone among the garden beds, something
which haunts empty rooms and the dark brake of the woodland. Moreover,
a child, with its preternatural sensitiveness to pain, its bewildered
terror of punishment, learns, side by side with this, that the God Whom
he is to love thus tenderly is the God Who lays about Him so fiercely
in the Old Testament, slaying the innocent with the guilty, merciless,
harsh, inflicting the irreparable stroke of death, where a man would
be concerned with desiring amendment more than vengeance. The simple
questions with which the man Friday poses Robinson Crusoe, and to which
he receives so ponderous an answer, are the questions which naturally
arise in the mind of any thoughtful child. Why, if God be so kind and
loving, does He not make an end of evil at once? Yet, because such
questions are unanswerable by the wisest, the child is, for the
convenience of his education, made to feel that he is wicked if he
questions what he is taught. How many children will persevere in the
innocent scepticism which is so natural and so desirable, under a sense
of disapproval? One of my own earliest experiences in the ugly path of
religious gloom was that I recognised quite clearly to myself that I did
not love God at all. I did not know Him, I had no reason to think
Him kind; He was angry with me, I gathered, if I was ill-tempered or
untruthful. I was well enough aware by childish instinct that my mother
did not cease to love me when I was naughty, but I could not tell about
God. And yet I knew that, with His terrible power of knowing everything,
He was well aware that I did not love Him. It was best to forget about
Him as much as possible, for it spoiled one's pleasure to think about
it. All the little amusements and idle businesses that were so dear to
me, He probably disapproved of them all, and was only satisfied when I
was safe at my lessons or immured in church. Sunday was the sort of day
He liked, and how I detested it!--the toys put away, little ugly books
about the Holy Land to read, an air of deep dreariness about it all.
Thus does religion become a weariness from the outset.

How slowly, and after what strange experience, by what infinite delay of
deduction, does the love of God dawn upon the soul! Even then how faint
and subtle an essence it is! In deep anxiety, under unbearable strain,
in the grip of a dilemma of which either issue seems intolerable, in
weariness of life, in hours of flagging vitality, the mighty tide begins
to flow strongly and tranquilly into the soul. One did not make oneself;
one did not make one's sorrows, even when they arose from one's own
weakness and perversity. There was a meaning, a significance about it
all; one was indeed on pilgrimage; and then comes the running to the
Father's knee, and the casting oneself in utter broken weakness upon the
one Heart that understands perfectly and utterly, and which does, which
must, desire the best and truest. "Give me courage, hope, confidence,"
says the desolate soul.


     "I can endure Thy bitterest decrees,
      If CERTAIN of Thy Love."


How would one amend all this if one had the power? Alas! it could only
be by silencing all stupid and clumsy people, all rigid parents, all
diplomatic priests, all the horrible natures who lick their lips with
a fierce zest over the pains that befall the men with whom they do not
agree. I would teach a child, in defiance even of reason, that God is
the one Power that loves and understands him through thick and thin;
that He punishes with anguish and sorrow; that He exults in forgiveness
and mercy; that He rejoices in innocent happiness; that He loves
courage, and brightness, and kindness, and cheerful self-sacrifice; that
things mean, and vile, and impure, and cruel, are things that He does
not love to punish, but sad and soiling stains that He beholds with
shame and tears. This, it seems to me, is the Gospel teaching about God,
impossible only because of the hardness of our hearts. But if it were
possible, a child might grow to feel about sin, not that it was a
horrible and unpardonable failure, a thing to afflict oneself drearily
about, but that it was rather a thing which, when once spurned, however
humiliating, could minister to progress, in a way in which untroubled
happiness could not operate--to be forgotten, perhaps, but certainly to
be forgiven; a privilege rather than a hindrance, a gate rather than a
barrier; a shadow upon the path, out of which one would pass, with such
speed as one might, into the blitheness of the free air and the warm
sun. I remember a terrible lecture which I heard as a little bewildered
boy at school, anxious to do right, terrified of oppression, and
coldness, and evil alike; given by a worthy Evangelical clergyman, with
large spectacles, and a hollow voice, and a great relish for spiritual
terrors. The subject was "the exceeding sinfulness of sin," a
proposition which I now see to be as true as if one lectured on the
exceeding carnality of flesh. But the lecture spoke of the horrible
and filthy corruption of the human heart, its determined delight in
wallowing in evil, its desperate wickedness. I believed it, dully and
hopelessly, as a boy believes what is told him by a voluble elderly
person of obvious respectability. But what a detestable theory of life,
what an ugly picture of Divine incompetence!

Of course there are abundance of facts in the world which look
like anything but love;--the ruthless and merciless punishment of
carelessness and ignorance, the dark laws of heredity, the wastefulness
and cruelty of disease, the dismal acquiescence of stupid, healthy,
virtuous persons, without sympathy or imagination, in the hardships
which they were strong enough to bear unscathed. One of the prime
terrors of religion is the thought of the heavy-handed, unintelligent,
tiresome men who would make it a monopoly if they could, and bear
it triumphantly away from the hands of modest, humble, quiet, and
tender-hearted people, chiding them as nebulous optimists.

Who are the people in this short life of ours whom one remembers with
deep and abiding gratitude? Not those who have rebuked, and punished,
and satirised, and humiliated us, striking down the stricken, and
flattening the prostrate--but the people who have been patient with us,
and kind, who have believed in us, and comforted us, and welcomed us,
and forgiven us everything; who have given us largely of their love, who
have lent without requiring payment, who have given us emotional rather
than prudential reasons, who have cared for us, not as a duty but by
some divine instinct, who have made endless excuses for us, believing
that the true self was there and would emerge, who have pardoned our
misdeeds and forgotten our meannesses.

This is what I would believe of God--that He is not our censorious and
severe critic, but our champion and lover, not loving us in spite of
what we are, but because of what we are; Who in the days of our strength
rejoices in our joy, and does not wish to overshadow it, like the
conscientious human mentor, with considerations that we must yet be
withered like grass; and Who, when the youthful ebullience dies away,
and the spring grows weak, and we wonder why the zest has died out of
simple pleasures, out of agreeable noise and stir, is still with us,
reminding us that the wisdom we are painfully and surely gaining is a
deeper and more lasting quality than even the hot impulses of youth.

Once in my life have I conceived what might have been, if I had had the
skill to paint it, an immortal picture. It was thus. I was attending a
Christmas morning service in a big parish church. I was in a pew facing
east; close to me, in a transept, in a pew facing sideways, there sat a
little old woman, who had hurried in just before the service began. She
was a widow, living, I afterwards learnt, in an almshouse hard by.
She was old and feeble, very poor, and her life had been a series of
calamities, relieved upon a background of the hardest and humblest
drudgery. She had lost her husband years ago by a painful and terrible
illness. She had lost her children one by one; she was alone in the
world, save for a few distant and indifferent relatives. To get into the
almshouse had been for her a stroke of incredible and inconceivable good
fortune. She had a single room, with a tiny kitchen off it. She had
very little to say for herself; she could hardly read. No one took any
particular interest in her; but she was a kindly, gallant, unselfish old
soul, always ready to bear a hand, full of gratitude for the kindnesses
she had received--and God alone knows how few they had been.

She had a small, ugly, homely face, withered and gnarled hands; and she
was dressed that day in a little old bonnet of unheard-of age, and in
dingy, frowsy black clothes, shiny and creased, that came out of their
box perhaps half-a-dozen times a year.

But this morning she was in a festal mood. She had tidied up her little
room; she was going to have a bit of meat for dinner, given her by a
neighbour. She had been sent a Christmas card that morning, and had
pored over it with delight. She liked the stir and company of the
church, and the cheerful air of the holly-berries. She held her book up
before her, though I do not suppose she was even at the right page. She
kept up a little faint cracked singing in her thin old voice; but when
they came to the hymn "Hark, the herald angels sing," which she had
always known from childhood, she lifted up her head and sang more
courageously:


     "Join the triumph of the skies!
      With the angelic host proclaim,
      Christ is born in Bethlehem!"


It was then that I had my vision. I do not know why, but at the sight of
the wrinkled face and the sound of the plaintive uplifted voice, singing
such words, a sudden mist of tears came over my eyes. Then I saw that
close behind the old dame there stood a very young and beautiful man. I
could see the fresh curling hair thrown back from the clear brow. He was
clothed in a dim robe, of an opalescent hue and misty texture, and his
hands were clasped together. It seemed that he sang too; but his eyes
were bent upon the old woman with a look, half of tender amusement, and
half of unutterable lovingness. The angelic host! This was one of that
bright company indeed, going about the Father's business, bringing a
joyful peace into the hearts of those among whom he moved. And of all
the worshippers in that crowded church he had singled out the humblest
and simplest for his friend and sister. I saw no more that day, for
the lines of that presence faded out upon the air in the gleams of the
frosty sunshine that came and went among the pillars. But if I could
have painted the scene, the pure, untroubled face so close to the old
worn features, the robes of light side by side with the dingy human
vesture, it would be a picture that no living eye that had rested on it
should forget.

Alas, that one cannot live in moments of inspiration like these! As
life goes on, and as we begin perhaps to grow a little nearer to God by
faith, we are confronted in our own lives, or in the life of one very
near us, by some intolerable and shameful catastrophe. A careless sin
makes havoc of a life, and shadows a home with shame; or some generous
or unselfish nature, useful, beneficent, urgently needed, is struck down
with a painful and hopeless malady. This too, we say to ourselves, must
come from God; He might have prevented it if He had so willed. What are
we to make of it? How are we to translate into terms of love what seems
like an act of tyrannous indifference, or deliberate cruelty? Then, I
think, it is well to remind ourselves that we can never know exactly the
conditions of any other human soul. How little we know of our own! How
little we could explain our case to another, even if we were utterly
sincere! The weaknesses of our nature are often, very tenderly I would
believe, hidden from us; we think ourselves sensitive and weak, when
in reality we are armed with a stubborn breastplate of complacency
and pride; or we think ourselves strong, only because the blows of
circumstance have been spared us. The more one knows of the most
afflicted lives, the more often the conviction flashes across us that
the affliction is not a wanton outrage, but a delicately adjusted
treatment. I remember once that a friend of mine had sent him a rare
plant, which was set in a big flower-pot, close to a fountain-basin.
It never throve; it lived indeed, putting out in the spring a delicate
stunted foliage, though my friend, who was a careful gardener, could
never divine what ailed it. He was away for a few weeks, and the day
after he was gone, the flower-pot was broken by a careless garden-boy,
who wheeled a barrow roughly past it; the plant, earth and all, fell
into the water; the boy removed the broken pieces of the pot, and seeing
that the plant had sunk to the bottom of the little pool, never troubled
his head to fish it out. When my friend returned, he noticed one day in
the fountain a new and luxuriant growth of some unknown plant. He made
careful inquiries and found out what had happened. It then came out that
the plant was in reality a water-plant, and that it had pined away in
the stifling air for want of nourishment, perhaps dimly longing for the
fresh bed of the pool.

Even so has it been, times without number, with some starving and
thirsty soul, that has gone on feebly trying to live a maimed life, shut
up in itself, ailing, feeble. There has descended upon it what looks
at first sight like a calamity, some affliction unaccountable and
irreparable; and then it proves that this was the one thing needed; that
sorrow has brought out some latent unselfishness, or suffering energised
some unused faculty of strength and patience.

But even if it is not so, if we cannot trace in our own lives or the
lives of others the beneficent influence of suffering, we can always
take refuge in one thought. We can see that the one mighty and
transforming power on earth is the power of love; we see people
make sacrifices, not momentary sacrifices, but lifelong patient
renunciations, for the sake of one whom they love; we see a great and
passionate affection touch into being a whole range of unsuspected
powers; we see men and women utterly unconscious of pain and weariness,
utterly unaware that they are acting without a thought of self, if they
can but soothe the pain of one dear to them, or win a smile from beloved
lips; it is not that the selfishness, the indolence, is not there, but
it is all borne away upon a mighty stream, as the river-wrack spins upon
the rising flood.

If then this marvellous, this amazing power of love can cause men to
make, with joy and gladness, sacrifices of which in their loveless
days they would have deemed themselves and confessed themselves wholly
incapable, can we not feel with confidence that the power, which lies
thus deepest in the heart of the world, lies also deepest in the heart
of God, of Whom the world is but a faint reflection? It cannot be
otherwise. We may sadly ponder, indeed, why the love that has been, or
that might have been, the strength of weary lives should be withdrawn
or sternly withheld, but we need not be afraid, if we have one generous
impulse for another, if we ever put aside a delight that may please or
attract us, for the sake of one who expects or would value any smallest
service--and there are few who cannot feel this--we need not then, I
say, doubt that the love which we desire, and which we have somehow
missed or lost, is there waiting for us, ours all the time, if we but
knew it.

And even if we miss the sweet influence of love in our lives, is there
any one who has not, in solitude and dreariness, looked back upon
the time when he was surrounded by love and opportunities of love, in
childhood or in youth, with a bitter regret that he did not make more of
it when it was so near to him, that he was so blind and selfish, that he
was not a little more tender, a little more kind? I will speak frankly
for myself and say that the memories which hurt me most, when I stumble
upon them, are those of the small occasions when I showed myself
perverse and hard; when eyes, long since closed, looked at me with
a pathetic expectancy; when I warded off the loving impulse by some
jealous sense of my own rights, some peevish anger at a fancied
injustice; when I stifled the smile and withheld the hand, and turned
away in silence, glad, in that poisonous moment, to feel that I could at
all events inflict that pain in base requital. One may know that it is
all forgiven, one may be sure that the misunderstanding has faded in the
light of the other dawn, but still the cold base shadow, the thought of
one's perverse cruelty, strikes a gloom upon the mind.

But with God, when one once begins to draw near to Him, one need have no
such poignant regrets or overshadowing memories; one may say to Him in
one's heart, as simply as a child, that He knows what one has been and
is, what one might have been and what one desires to be; and one may
cast oneself at His feet in the overwhelming hope that He will make of
oneself what He would have one to be.

In the parable of the Prodigal Son, it is not the poor wretch himself,
whose miserable motive for returning is plainly indicated--that instead
of pining in cold and hunger he may be warmed and clothed--who is the
hero of the story; still less is it the hard and virtuous elder son. The
hero of the tale is the patient, tolerant, loving father, who had acted,
as a censorious critic might say, foolishly and culpably, in supplying
the dissolute boy with resources, and taking him back without a word of
just reproach. A sad lack of moral discipline, no doubt! If he had kept
the boy in fear and godliness, if he had tied him down to honest work,
the disaster need never have happened. Yet the old man, who went so
often at sundown, we may think, to the crest of the hill, from which he
could see the long road winding over the plain to the far-off city, the
road by which he had seen his son depart, light-heartedly and full
of fierce joyful impulses, and along which he was to see the dejected
figure, so familiar, so sadly marred, stumbling home--he is the
master-spirit of the sweet and comforting scene. His heart is full of
utter gladness, for the lost is found. He smiles upon the servants; he
bids the household rejoice; he can hardly, in his simple joy of heart,
believe that the froward elder brother is vexed and displeased; and his
words of entreaty that the brother, too, will enter into the spirit of
the hour, are some of the most pathetic and beautiful ever framed in
human speech: "Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine;
it was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother
was dead, and is alive again, and was lost, and is found."

And this is, after all, the way in which God deals with us. He gives us
our portion to spend as we choose; He holds nothing back; and when we
have wasted it and brought misery upon ourselves, and return to Him,
even for the worst of reasons, He has not a word of rebuke or caution;
He is simply and utterly filled with joy and love. There are a thousand
texts that would discourage us, would bid us believe that God deals
hardly with us, but it is men that deal hardly with us, it is we
that deal hardly with ourselves. This story, which is surely the most
beautiful story in the world, gives us the deliberate thought of the
Saviour, the essence of His teaching; and we may fling aside the bitter
warnings of jealous minds, and cast ourselves upon the supreme hope
that, if only we will return, we are dealt with even more joyfully than
if we had never wandered at all.

And then perhaps at last, when we have peeped again and again, through
loss and suffering, at the dark background of life; when we have seen
the dreariest corner of the lonely road, where the path grows steep and
miry, and the light is veiled by scudding cloud and dripping rain, there
begins to dawn upon us the sense of a beautiful and holy patience, the
thought that these grey ashes of life, in which the glowing cinders
sink, which once were bright with leaping flame, are not the end--that
the flame and glow are there, although momently dispersed. They have
done their work; one is warmed and enlivened; one can sit still, feeding
one's fancy on the lapsing embers, just as one saw pictures in the
fire as an eager child long ago. That high-hearted excitement and that
curiosity have faded. Life is very different from what we expected, more
wholesome, more marvellous, more brief, more inconclusive; but there is
an intenser, if quieter and more patient, curiosity to wait and see what
God is doing for us; and the orange stain and green glow of the sunset,
though colder and less jocund, is yet a far more mysterious, tender,
and beautiful thing than the steady glow of the noonday sun, when the
shining flies darted hither and thither, and the roses sent out their
rich fragrance. There is fragrance still, the fragrance of the evening
flowers, where the western windows look across the misty fields to the
thickening shadows of the tall trees. But there is something that speaks
in the gathering gloom, in the darkening sky with its flush of crimson
fire, that did not speak in the sun-warmed garden and the dancing
leaves; and what speaks is the mysterious love of God, a thing sweeter
and more remote than the urgent bliss of the fiery noon, full of
delicate mysteries and appealing echoes. We have learnt that the
darkness is no darkness with Him; and the soul which beat her wings
so passionately in the brighter light of the hot morning, now at last
begins to dream of whither she is bound, and the dear shade where she
will fold her weary wing.

How often has the soul in her dreariness cried out, "One effort more!"
But that is done with for ever. She is patient now; she believes at
last; she labours no longer at the oar, but she is borne upon the moving
tide; she is on her way to the deep Heart of God.



EPILOGUE


I have wandered far enough in my thought, it would seem, from the lonely
grange in its wide pastures, and the calm expanse of fen; and I should
wish once more to bring my reader back home with me to the sheltered
garden, and the orchard knee-deep in grass, and the embowering elms; for
there is one word more to be said, and that may be best said at home;
though our experience is not limited by time or place. It was on the
lonely ridge, strewn with boulders and swept by night-winds, when the
darkness closed in drearily about him, that Jacob, a homeless exile, in
the hour of his utmost desolation, saw the ladder whose golden head was
set at the very foot of God, thronged with bright messengers of strength
and hope. And again it was in the familiar homestead, with every corner
rich in gentle memories, that the spirit of terror turned the bitter
stream of anguish, as from the vent of some thunderous cloud, upon the
sad head of Job. We may turn a corner in life, and be confronted perhaps
with an uncertain shape of grief and despair, whom we would fain banish
from our shuddering sight, perhaps with some solemn form of heavenly
radiance, whom we may feel reluctant in our unworthiness to entertain.
But in either case, such times as those, when we wrestle all night with
the angel, not knowing if he wishes us well or ill, ignorant of his name
and his mien alike, are better than hours spent in indolent contentment,
in the realisation of our placid and petty designs. For, after all, it
is the quality rather than the quantity of our experience that matters;
it is easy enough to recognise that, when we are working light-heartedly
and eagerly at some brave design, and seeing the seed we plant springing
up all about us in fertile rows in the garden of God. But what of those
days when our lot seems only to endure, when we can neither scheme nor
execute, when the old volubility and vitality desert us, and our one
care is just to make our dreary presence as little of a burden and a
shadow as possible to those whom we love? We must then remind ourselves,
not once or twice, that nothing can separate us from the Father of all,
even though our own wilfulness and perversity may have drawn about us
a cloud of sorrow. We are perhaps most in God's mind when we seem most
withdrawn from Him. He is nearer us when we seek for Him and cannot find
Him, than when we forget Him in laughter and self-pleasing. And we must
remember too that it is neither faithful nor fruitful to abide wilfully
in sadness, to clasp our cares close, to luxuriate in them. There is a
beautiful story of Mrs. Charles Kingsley, who long survived her husband.
Never perhaps had two souls been united by so close a bond of chivalry
and devotion. "Whenever I find myself thinking too much about Charles,"
she said in the days of her grief, "I find and read the most sensational
novel I can. People may think it heartless, but hearts were given us to
love with, not to break." And we must deal with our sorrows as we
deal with any other gift of God, courageously and temperately, not
faint-heartedly or wilfully; not otherwise can they be blest to us. We
must not pettishly reject consolation and distraction. Pain is a
great angel, but we must wrestle with him, until he bless us! and the
blessings he can bring us are first a wholesome shame at our old selfish
ingratitude in the untroubled days, when we took care and pleasure
greedily; and next, if we meet him faithfully, he can make our heart
go out to all our brothers and sisters who suffer in this brief and
troubled life of ours. For we are here to learn something, if we can but
spell it out; and thus it is morbid to indulge regrets and remorse too
much over our failures and mistakes; for it is through them that we
learn. We must be as brave as we can, and dare to grudge no pang that
brings us nearer to the reality of things.

Reality! that is the secret; for we who live in dreams, who pursue
beauty, who are haunted as by a passion for that sweet quality that
thrills alike in the wayside flower and the orange pomp of the setting
sun, that throbs in written word and uttered melody, that calls to
us suddenly and secretly in the glance of an eye and the gesture of a
hand,--we, I say, who discern these gracious motions, tend to live
in them too luxuriously, to idealise life, to make out of our daily
pilgrimage, our goings and comings, a golden untroubled picture; it
need not be a false or a base effort to escape from what is sordid
or distasteful; but for all that we run a sore risk in yielding too
placidly to our visions; and as with the Lady of Shalott, it may be well
for us if our woven web be rent aside, and our magic mirror broken; nay,
even if death comes to us at the close of the mournful song. Thus then
we draw near and look reluctant and dismayed into the bare truth of
things. We see, it may be, our poor pretences tossed aside, and the
embroidered robe in which we have striven to drape our leanness torn
from us; but we must gaze as steadily as we can, and pray that the
vision be not withdrawn till it has wrought its perfect work within us;
and then, with energies renewed, we may set out again on pilgrimage,
happy in this, that we no longer mistake the arbour of refreshment for
the goal of our journey, or the quiet house of welcome, that receives
us in the hour of weariness, for the heavenly city, with all its bright
mansions and radiant palaces.

It is experience that matters, as I have said; not what we do, but how
we do it. The material things that we collect about us in our passage
through life, that we cling to so pathetically, and into which something
of our very selves seems to pass, these things are little else than
snares and hindrances to our progress--like the clay that sticks to the
feet of the traveller, like the burden of useless things that he carries
painfully with him, things which he cannot bring himself to throw away
because they might possibly turn out to be useful, and which meanwhile
clank and clatter fruitlessly about the laden beast, and weigh him down.
What we have rather to do is to disengage ourselves from these things:
from the money which we do not need, but which may help us some day;
from the luxuries we do not enjoy; from the furniture we trail about
with us from home to home. All those things get a hold of us and tie
us to earth, even when the associations with them are dear and tender
enough. The mistake we make is not in loving them--they are or can be
signs to us of the love and care of God--but we must refrain from loving
the possession of them.

Take, for instance, one of the least mundane of things, the knowledge we
painfully acquire, and the possession of which breeds in us such lively
satisfaction. If it is our duty to acquire knowledge and to impart it,
we must acquire it; but it is the faithfulness with which we toil, not
the accumulations we gain that are blessed to us--"knowledge comes but
wisdom lingers," says the poet--and it is the heavenly wisdom of which
we ought to be in search; for what remains to us of our equipment, when
we part from the world and migrate elsewhere, is not the actual stuff
that we have collected, whether it be knowledge or money, but the
patience, the diligence, the care which we have exercised in gaining
these things, the character, as affected by the work we have done;
but our mistake is to feel that we are idle and futile, unless we have
tangible results to show; when perhaps the hours in which we sat idle,
out of misery or mere feebleness, are the most fruitful hours of all for
the growth of the soul.

The great savant dies. What is lost? Not a single fact or a single
truth, but only his apprehension, his collection of certain truths; not
a single law of nature perishes or is altered thereby. We measure worth
by prominence and fame; but the destiny of the simplest and vilest
of the human race is as august, as momentous as the destiny of the
mightiest king or conqueror; it is not our admiration of each other that
weighs with God, but our nearness to, our dependence on Him. Yet, even
so, we must not deceive ourselves in the matter. We must be sure that it
is the peace of God that we indeed desire, and not merely a refined kind
of leisure; that we are in search of simplicity, and not merely afraid
of work. We must not glorify a mild spectatorial pleasure by the name of
philosophy, or excuse our indolence under the name of contemplation.
We must abstain deliberately, not tamely hang back; we must desire the
Kingdom of Heaven for itself, and not for the sake of the things that
are added if we seek it. If the Scribes and Pharisees have their reward
for ambition and self-seeking, the craven soul has its reward too, and
that reward is a sick emptiness of spirit. And then if we have erred
thus, if we have striven to pretend to ourselves that we were careless
of the prize, when in reality we only feared the battle, what can we
do? How can we repair our mistake? There is but one way; we can own
the pitiful fault, and not attempt to glorify it; we can face the
experience, take our petty and shameful wages and cast ourselves afresh,
in our humiliation and weakness, upon God, rejoicing that we can
at least feel the shame, and enduring the chastisement with patient
hopefulness; for that very suffering is a sign that God has not left us
to ourselves, but is giving us perforce the purification which we could
not take to ourselves.

And even thus, life is not all an agony, a battle, an endurance; there
are sweet hours of refreshment and tranquillity between the twilight
and the dawn; hours when we can rest a little in the shadow, and see the
brimming stream of life flowing quietly but surely to its appointed end.
I watched to-day an old shepherd, on a wide field, moving his wattled
hurdles, one by one, in the slow, golden afternoon; and a whole burden
of anxious thoughts fell off me for a while, leaving me full of a quiet
hope for an end which was not yet, but that certainly awaited me; of
a day when I too might perhaps move as unreflectingly, as calmly,
in harmony with the everlasting Will, as the old man moved about his
familiar task. Why that harmony should be so blurred and broken, why we
should leave undone the things that we desire to do, and do the things
that we do not desire, that is still a deep and sad mystery; yet even in
the hour of our utmost wilfulness, we can never wander beyond the range
of the Will that has made us, and bidden us to be what we are. And thus
as I sit in this low-lit hour, there steals upon the heart the message
of hope and healing; the scent of the great syringa bush leaning out
into the twilight, the sound of the fitful breeze laying here and there
a caressing hand upon the leaves, the soft radiance of the evening star
hung in the green spaces of the western sky, each and all blending into
incommunicable dreams.





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