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´╗┐Title: Where No Fear Was: A Book About Fear
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 "Where No Fear Was: A Book About Fear" ***

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by Al Haines.







   XIX.  SIN

"Thus they went on till they came to about the middle of the Valley,
and then Christiana said, 'Methinks I see something yonder on the road
before us, a thing of such a shape such as I have not seen.' Then said
Joseph, 'Mother, what is it?' 'An ugly thing, Child, an ugly thing,'
said she. 'But, Mother, what is it like?' said he. ''Tis like I cannot
tell what,' said she. And now it was but a little way off. Then said
she, 'It is nigh.'"

"Pilgrim's Progress," Part II.

Where No Fear Was



There surely may come a time for each of us, if we have lived with any
animation or interest, if we have had any constant or even fitful
desire to penetrate and grasp the significance of the strange adventure
of life, a time, I say, when we may look back a little, not
sentimentally or with any hope of making out an impressive case for
ourselves, and interrogate the memory as to what have been the most
real, vivid, and intense things that have befallen us by the way. We
may try to separate the momentous from the trivial, and the important
from the unimportant; to discern where and how and when we might have
acted differently; to see and to say what has really mattered, what has
made a deep mark on our spirit; what has hampered or wounded or maimed
us. Because one of the strangest things about life seems to be our
incapacity to decide beforehand, or even at the time, where the real
and fruitful joys, and where the dark dangers and distresses lie. The
things that at certain times filled all one's mind, kindled hope and
aim, seemed so infinitely desirable, so necessary to happiness, have
faded, many of them, into the lightest and most worthless of husks and
phantoms, like the withered flowers that we find sometimes shut in the
pages of our old books, and cannot even remember of what glowing and
emotional moment they were the record!

How impossible it is ever to learn anything by being told it! How
necessary it is to pay the full price for any knowledge worth having!
The anxious father, the tearful mother, may warn the little boy before
he goes to school of the dangers that await him. He does not
understand, he does not attend, he is looking at the pattern of the
carpet, and wondering for the hundredth time whether the oddly-shaped
blue thing which appears and reappears at intervals is a bird or a
flower--yes, it is certainly meant for a bird perched on a bough! He
wishes the talk were over, he looks at the little scar on his father's
hand, and remembers that he has been told that he cut it in a
cucumber-frame when he was a boy. And then, long afterwards perhaps,
when he has made a mistake and is suffering for it, he sees that it was
THAT of which they spoke, and wonders that they could not have
explained it better.

And this is so all along! We cannot recognise the dark tower, to which
in the story Childe Roland came, by any description. We must go there
ourselves; and not till we feel the teeth of the trap biting into us,
do we see that it was exactly in such a place that we had been warned
that it would be laid.

There is an episode in that strange and beautiful book Phantastes, by
George Macdonald, which comes often to my mind. The boy is wandering in
the enchanted forest, and he is told to avoid the house where the
Daughter of the Ogre lives. His morose young guide shows him where the
paths divide, and he takes the one indicated to him with a sense of

A little while before he had been deceived by the Alder-maiden, and had
given her his love in error. This has taken some of the old joy out of
his heart, but he has made his escape from her, and thinks he has
learned his lesson.

But he comes at last to the long low house in the clearing; he finds
within it an ancient woman reading out of an old volume; he enters, he
examines the room in which she sits, and yielding to curiosity, he
opens the door of the great cupboard in the corner, in spite of a
muttered warning. He thinks, on first opening it, that it is just a
dark cupboard; but he sees with a shock of surprise that he is looking
into a long dark passage, which leads out, far away from where he
stands, into the starlit night. Then a figure, which seems to have been
running from a long distance, turns the corner, and comes speeding down
towards him. He has not time to close the door, but stands aside to let
it pass; it passes, and slips behind him; and soon he sees that it is a
shadow of himself, which has fallen on the floor at his feet. He asks
what has happened, and then the old woman says that he has found his
shadow, a thing which happens to many people; and then for the first
time she raises her head and looks at him, and he sees that her mouth
is full of long white teeth; he knows where he is at last, and stumbles
out, with the dark shadow at his heels, which is to haunt him so
miserably for many a sad day.

That is a very fine and true similitude of what befalls many men and
women. They go astray, they give up some precious thing--their
innocence perhaps--to a deluding temptation. They are delivered for a
time; and then a little while after they find their shadow, which no
tears or anguish of regret can take away, till the healing of life and
work and purpose annuls it. Neither is it always annulled, even in
length of days.

But it is a paltry and inglorious mistake to let the shadow have its
disheartening will of us. It is only a shadow, after all! And if we
capitulate after our first disastrous encounter, it does not mean that
we shall be for ever vanquished, though it means perhaps a long and
dreary waste of shame-stained days. That is what we must try to
avoid--any WASTE of time and strength. For if anything is certain, it
is that we have all to fight until we conquer, and the sooner we take
up the dropped sword again the better.

And we have also to learn that no one can help us except ourselves.
Other people can sympathise and console, try to soothe our injured
vanity, try to persuade us that the dangers and disasters ahead are not
so dreadful as they appear to be, and that the mistakes we have made
are not irreparable. But no one can remove danger or regret from us, or
relieve us of the necessity of facing our own troubles; the most that
they can do, indeed, is to encourage us to try again.

But we cannot hope to change the conditions of life; and one of its
conditions is, as I have said, that we cannot foresee dangers. No
matter how vividly they are described to us, no matter how eagerly
those who love us try to warn us of peril, we cannot escape. For that
is the essence of life--experience; and though we cannot rejoice when
we are in the grip of it, and when we cannot see what the end will be,
we can at least say to ourselves again and again, "this is at all
events reality--this is business!" for it is the moments of endurance
and energy and action which after all justify us in living, and not the
pleasant spaces where we saunter among flowers and sunlit woods. Those
are conceded to us, to tempt us to live, to make us desire to remain in
the world; and we need not be afraid to take them, to use them, to
enjoy them; because all things alike help to make us what we are.



Now as I look back a little, I see that some of my worst experiences
have not hurt or injured me at all. I do not claim more than my share
of troubles, but "I have had trouble enough for one," as Browning
says,--bereavements, disappointments, the illness of those I have
loved, illness of my own, quarrels, misunderstandings, enmities,
angers, disapprovals, losses; I have made bad mistakes, I have failed
in my duty, I have done many things that I regret, I have been
unreasonable, unkind, selfish. Many of these things have hurt and
wounded me, have brought me into sorrow, and even into despair. But I
do not feel that any of them have really injured me, and some of them
have already benefited me. I have learned to be a little more patient
and diligent, and I have discovered that there are certain things that
I must at all costs avoid.

But there is one thing which seems to me to have always and invariably
hampered and maimed me, whenever I have yielded to it, and I have often
yielded to it; and that is Fear. It can be called by many names, and
all of them ugly names--anxiety, timidity, moral cowardice. I can never
trace the smallest good in having given way to it. It has been from my
earliest days the Shadow; and I think it is the shadow in the lives of
many men and women. I want in this book to track it, if I can, to its
lair, to see what it is, where its awful power lies, and what, if
anything, one can do to resist it. It seems the most unreal thing in
the world, when one is on the other side of it; and yet face to face
with it, it has a strength, a poignancy, a paralysing power, which
makes it seem like a personal and specific ill-will, issuing in a sort
of dreadful enchantment or spell, which renders it impossible to
withstand. Yet, strange to say, it has not exercised its power in the
few occasions in my life when it would seem to have been really
justified. Let me quote an instance or two which will illustrate what I

I was confronted once with the necessity of a small surgical operation,
quite unexpectedly. If I had known beforehand that it was to be done, I
should have depicted every incident with horror and misery. But the
moment arrived, and I found myself marching to my bedroom with a
surgeon and a nurse, with a sense almost of amusement at the adventure.

I was called upon once in Switzerland to assist with two guides in the
rescue of an unfortunate woman who had fallen from a precipice, and had
to be brought down, dead or alive. We hurried up through the
pine-forest with a chair, and found the poor creature alive indeed, but
with horrible injuries--an eye knocked out, an arm and a thigh broken,
her ulster torn to ribbons, and with more blood about the place in
pools than I should have thought a human body could contain. She was
conscious; she had to be lifted into the chair, and we had to discover
where she belonged; she fainted away in the middle of it, and I had to
go on and break the news to her relations. If I had been told
beforehand what would have had to be done, I do not think I could have
faced it; but it was there to do, and I found myself entirely capable
of taking part, and even of wondering all the time that it was possible
to act.

Again, I was once engulfed in a crevasse, hanging from the ice-ledge
with a portentous gulf below, and a glacier-stream roaring in the
darkness. I could get no hold for foot or hand, my companions could not
reach me or extract me; and as I sank into unconsciousness, hearing my
own expiring breath, I knew that I was doomed; but I can only say,
quite honestly and humbly, that I had no fear at all, and only dimly
wondered what arrangements would be made at Eton, where I was then a
master, to accommodate the boys of my house and my pupils. It was not
done by an effort, nor did I brace myself to the situation: fear simply
did not come near to me.

Once again I found myself confronted, not so long ago, with an
incredibly painful and distressing interview. That indeed did oppress
me with almost intolerable dread beforehand. I was to go to a certain
house in London, and there was just a chance that the interview might
not take place after all. As I drove there, I suddenly found myself
wondering whether the interview could REALLY be going to take
place--how often had I rehearsed it beforehand with anguish--and then
as suddenly became aware that I should in some strange way be
disappointed if it did not take place. I wanted on the whole to go
through with it, and to see what it would be like. A deep-seated
curiosity came to my aid. It did take place, and it was very bad--worse
than I could have imagined; but it was not terrible!

These are just four instances which come into my mind. I should be glad
to feel that the courage which undoubtedly came had been the creation
of my will; but it was not so. In three cases, the events came
unexpectedly; but in the fourth case I had long anticipated the moment
with extreme dread. Yet in that last case the fear suddenly slipped
away, without the smallest effort on my part; and in all four cases
some strange gusto of experience, some sense of heightened life and
adventure, rose in the mind like a fountain--so that even in the
crevasse I said to myself, not excitedly but serenely, "So this is what
it feels like to await death!"

It was this particular experience which gave me an inkling into that
which in so many tragic histories seems incredible--that men often do
pass to death, by scaffold and by stake, at the last moment, in
serenity and even in joy. I do not doubt for a moment that it is the
immortal principle in man, the sense of deathlessness, which comes to
his aid. It is the instinct which, in spite of all knowledge and
experience, says suddenly, in a moment like that, "Well, what then?"
That instinct is a far truer thing than any expectation or imagination.
It sees things, in supreme moments, in a true proportion. It asserts
that when the rope jerks, or the flames leap up, or the benumbing blow
falls, there is something there which cannot possibly be injured, and
which indeed is rather freed from the body of our humiliation. It is
but an incident, after all, in a much longer and more momentous voyage.
It means only the closing of one chapter of experience and the
beginning of another. The base element in it is the fear which dreads
the opening of the door, and the quitting of what is familiar. And I
feel assured of this, that the one universal and inevitable experience,
known to us as death, must in reality be a very simple and even a
natural affair, and that when we can look back upon it, it will seem to
us amazing that we can ever have regarded it as so momentous and
appalling a thing.



Now we can make no real advance in the things of the spirit until we
have seen what lies on the other side of fear; fear cannot help us to
grow, at best it can only teach us to be prudent; it does not of itself
destroy the desire to offend--only shame can do that; if our wish to be
different comes merely from our being afraid to transgress, then, if
the fear of punishment were to be removed, we should go back with a
light heart to our old sins. We may obey irresponsible power, because
we know that it can hurt us if we disobey; but unless we can perceive
the reason why this and that is forbidden, we cannot concur with law.
We learn as children that flame has power to hurt us, but we only dread
the fire because it can injure us, not because we admire the reason
which it has for burning. So long as we do not sin simply because we
know the laws of life which punish sin, we have not learned any hatred
of sin; it is only because we hate the punishment more than we love the
sin, that we abstain.

Socrates once said, in one of his wise paradoxes, that it was better to
sin knowingly than ignorantly. That is a hard saying, but it means that
at least if we sin knowingly, there is some purpose, some courage in
the soul. We take a risk with our eyes open, and our purpose may
perhaps be changed; whereas if we sin ignorantly, we do so out of a
mere base instinct, and there is no purpose that may be educated.
Anyone who has ever had the task of teaching boys or young men to write
will know how much easier it is to teach those who write volubly and
exuberantly, and desire to express themselves, even if they do it with
many faults and lapses of taste; taste and method may be corrected, if
only the instinct of expression is there. But the young man who has no
impulse to write, who says that he could think of nothing to say, it is
impossible to teach him much, because one cannot communicate the desire
for expression.

And the same holds good of life. Those who have strong vital impulses
can learn restraint and choice; but the people who have no particular
impulses and preferences, who just live out of mere impetus and habit,
who plod along, doing in a dispirited way just what they find to do,
and lapsing into indolence and indifference the moment that prescribed
work ceases, those are the spirits that afford the real problem,
because they despise activity, and think energy a mere exhibition of
fussy diffuseness.

But the generous, eager, wilful nature, who has always some aim in
sight, who makes mistakes perhaps, gives offence, collides
high-heartedly with others, makes both friends and enemies, loves and
hates, is anxious, jealous, self-absorbed, resentful, intolerant--there
is always hope for such an one, for he is quick to despair, capable of
shame, swift to repent, and even when he is worsted and wounded, rises
to fight again. Such a nature, through pain and love, can learn to
chasten his base desires, and to choose the nobler and worthier way.

But what does really differentiate men and women is not their power of
fearing and suffering, but their power of caring and admiring. The only
real and vital force in the world is the force which attracts, the
beauty which is so desirable that one must imitate it if one can, the
wisdom which is so calm and serene that one must possess it if one may.

And thus all depends upon our discerning in the world a loving
intention of some kind, which holds us in view, and draws us to itself.
If we merely think of God and nature as an inflexible system of laws,
and that our only chance of happiness is to slip in and out of them, as
a man might pick his way among red-hot ploughshares, thankful if he can
escape burning, then we can make no sort of advance, because we can
have neither faith nor trust. The thing from which one merely flees can
have no real power over our spirit; but if we know God as a fatherly
Heart behind nature, who is leading us on our way, then indeed we can
walk joyfully in happiness, and undismayed in trouble; because troubles
then become only the wearisome incidents of the upward ascent, the
fatigue, the failing breath, the strained muscles, the discomfort which
is actually taking us higher, and cannot by any means be avoided.

But fear is the opposite of all this; it is the dread of the unknown,
the ghastly doubt as to whether there is any goal before us or not;
when we fear, we are like the butterfly that flutters anxiously away
from the boy who pursues it, who means out of mere wantonness to strike
it down tattered and bruised among the grass-stems.



There have been many attempts in the history of mankind to escape from
the dominion of fear; the essence of fear, that which prompts it, is
the consciousness of our vulnerability. What we all dread is the
disease or the accident that may disable us, the loss of money or
credit, the death of those whom we love and whose love makes the
sunshine of our life, the anger and hostility and displeasure and scorn
and ill-usage of those about us. These are the definite things which
the anxious mind forecasts, and upon which it mournfully dwells.

The object then in the minds of the philosophers or teachers who would
fain relieve the unhappiness of the world, has been always to suggest
ways in which this vulnerability may be lessened; and thus their object
has been to disengage as far as possible the hopes and affections of
men from things which must always be fleeting. That is the principle
which lies behind all asceticism, that, if one can be indifferent to
wealth and comfort and popularity, one has a better chance of serenity.
The essence of that teaching is not that pleasant things are not
desirable, but that one is more miserable if one loses them than if one
never cares for them at all. The ascetic trains himself to be
indifferent about food and drink and the apparatus of life; he aims at
celibacy partly because love itself is an overmastering passion, and
partly because he cannot bear to engage himself with human affections,
the loss of which may give him pain. There is, of course, a deeper
strain in asceticism than this, which is a suspicious mistrust of all
physical joys and a sense of their baseness; but that is in itself an
artistic preference of mental and spiritual joys, and a defiance to
everything which may impair or invade them.

The Stoic imperturbability is an attempt to take a further step; not to
fly from life, but to mingle with it, and yet to grow to be not
dependent on it. The Stoic ideal was a high one, to cultivate a
firmness of mind that was on the one hand not to be dismayed by pain or
suffering, and on the other to use life so temperately and judiciously
as not to form habits of indulgence which it would be painful to
discontinue. The weakness of Stoicism was that it despised human
relations; and the strength of primitive Christianity was that, while
it recommended a Stoical simplicity of life, it taught men not to be
afraid of love, but to use and lavish love freely, as being the one
thing which would survive death and not be cut short by it. The
Christian teaching came to this, that the world was meant to be a
school of love, and that love was to be an outward-rippling ring of
affection extending from the family outwards to the tribe, the nation,
the world, and on to God Himself. It laid all its emphasis on the truth
that love is the one immortal thing, that all the joys and triumphs of
the world pass away with the decay of its material framework, but that
love passes boldly on, with linked hands, into the darkness of the

The one loss that Christianity recognised was the loss of love; the one
punishment it dreaded was the withholding of love.

As Christianity soaked into the world, it became vitiated, and drew
into itself many elements of human weakness. It became a social force,
it learned to depend on property, it fulminated a code of criminality,
and accepted human standards of prosperity and wealth. It lost its
simplicity and became sophisticated. It is hard to say that men of the
world should not, if they wish, claim to be Christians, but the whole
essence of Christianity is obscured if it is forgotten that its vital
attributes are its indifference to material conveniences, and its
emphatic acceptance of sympathy as the one supreme virtue.

This is but another way of expressing that our troubles and our terrors
alike are based on selfishness, and that if we are really concerned
with the welfare of others we shall not be much concerned with our own.

The difficulty in adopting the Christian theory is that God does not
apparently intend to cure the world by creating all men unselfish.
People are born selfish, and the laws of nature and heredity seem to
ordain that it shall be so. Indeed a certain selfishness seems to be
inseparable from any desire to live. The force of asceticism and of
Stoicism is that they both appeal to selfishness as a motive. They
frankly say, "Happiness is your aim, personal happiness; but instead of
grasping at pleasure whenever it offers, you will find it more prudent
in the end not to care too much about such things." It is true that
popular Christianity makes the same sort of appeal. It says, or seems
to say, "If you grasp at happiness in this world, you may secure a
great deal of it successfully; but it will be worse for you eventually."

The theory of life as taught and enforced, for instance, in such a work
as Dante's great poem is based upon this crudity of thought. Dante, by
his Hell and his Purgatory, expressed plainly that the chief motive of
man to practise morality must be his fear of ultimate punishment. His
was an attempt to draw away the curtain which hides this world from the
next, and to horrify men into living purely and kindly. But the mind
only revolts against the dastardly injustice of a God, who allows men
to be born into the world so corrupt, with so many incentives to sin,
and deliberately hides from them the ghastly sight of the eternal
torments, which might have saved them from recklessness of life. No one
who had trod the dark caverns of Hell or the flinty ridges of
Purgatory, as Dante represented himself doing, who had seen the awful
sights and heard the heart-broken words of the place, could have
returned to the world as a light-hearted sinner! Whatever we may
believe of God, we must not for an instant allow ourselves to believe
that life can be so brief and finite, so small and hampered an
opportunity, and that punishment could be so demoniacal and so
infinite. A God who could design such a scheme must be essentially evil
and malignant. We may menace wicked men with punishment for wanton
misdeeds, but it must be with just punishment. What could we say of a
human father who exposed a child to temptation without explaining the
consequences, and then condemned him to lifelong penalties for failing
to make the right choice? We must firmly believe that if offences are
finite, punishment must be finite too; that it must be remedial and not
mechanical. We must believe that if we deserve punishment, it will be
because we can hope for restoration. Hell is a monstrous and
insupportable fiction, and the idea of it is simply inconsistent with
any belief in the goodness of God. It is easy to quote texts to support
it, but we must not allow any text, any record in the world, however
sacred, to shatter our belief in the Love and Justice of God. And I say
as frankly and directly as I can that until we can get rid of this
intolerable terror, we can make no advance at all.

The old, fierce Saints, who went into the darkness exulting in the
thought of the eternal damnation of the wicked, had not spelt the first
letter of the Christian creed, and I doubt not have discovered their
mistake long ago! Yet there are pious people in the world who will
neither think nor speak frankly of the subject, for fear of weakening
the motives for human virtue. I will at least speak frankly, and though
I believe with all my heart in a life beyond the grave, in which
suffering enough may exist for the cure of those who by wilful sin have
sunk into sloth and hopelessness and despair, and even into cruelty and
brutality, I do not for an instant believe that the conduct of the
vilest human being who ever set foot on the earth can deserve more than
a term of punishment, or that such punishment will have anything that
is vindictive about it.

It may be said that I am here only combating an old-fashioned idea, and
that no one believes in the old theory of eternal punishment, or that
if they believe that the possibility exists, they do not believe that
any human being can incur it. But I feel little doubt that the belief
does exist, and that it is more widespread than one cares to believe.
To believe it is to yield to the darkest and basest temptation of fear,
and keeps all who hold it back from the truth of God.

What then are we to believe about the punishment of our sins? I look
back upon my own life, and I see numberless occasions--they rise up
before me, a long perspective of failures--when I have acted cruelly,
selfishly, self-indulgently, basely, knowing perfectly well that I was
so behaving. What was wrong with me? Why did I so behave? Because I
preferred the baser course, and thought at the time that it gave me

Well then, what do I wish about all that? I wish it had not happened
so, I wish I had been kinder, more just, more self-restrained, more
strong. I am ashamed, because I condemn myself, and because I know that
those whom I love and honour would condemn me, if they knew all. But I
do not, therefore, lose all hope of myself, nor do I think that God
will not show me how to be different. If it can only be done by
suffering, I dread the suffering, but I am ready to suffer if I can
become what I should wish to be. But I do not for a moment think that
God will cast me off or turn His face away from me because I have
sinned; and I can pray that He will lead me into light and strength.

And thus it is not my vulnerability that I dread; I rather welcome it
as a sign that I may learn the truth so. And I will not look upon my
desire for pleasant things as a proof that I am evil, but rather as a
proof that God is showing me where happiness lies, and teaching me by
my mistakes to discern and value it. He could make me perfect if He
would, in a single instant. But the fact that He does not, is a sign
that He has something better in store for me than a mere mechanical



The advantages of the fearful temperament, if it is not a mere
unmanning and desolating dread, are not to be overlooked. Fear is the
shadow of the imaginative, the resourceful, the inventive temperament,
but it multiplies resource and invention a hundredfold. Everyone knows
the superstition which is deeply rooted in humanity, that a time of
exaltation and excitement and unusual success is held to be often the
prelude to some disaster, just as the sense of excitement and buoyant
health, when it is very consciously perceived, is thought to herald the
approach of illness. "I felt so happy," people say, "that I was sure
that some misfortune was going to befall me--it is not lucky to feel so
secure as that!" This represented itself to the Greeks as part of the
divine government of the world; they thought that the heedless and
self-confident man was beguiled by success into what they called ubris,
the insolence of prosperity; and that then atae, that is, disaster,
followed. They believed that the over-prosperous man incurred the envy
and jealousy of the gods. We see this in the old legend of Polycrates
of Samos, whose schemes all succeeded, and whose ventures all turned
out well. He consulted a soothsayer about his alarming prosperity, who
advised him to inflict some deliberate loss or sacrifice upon himself;
so Polycrates drew from his finger and flung into the sea a signet-ring
which he possessed, with a jewel of great rarity and beauty in it. Soon
afterwards a fish was caught by the royal fisherman, and was served up
at the king's table--there, inside the body of the fish, was the ring;
and when Polycrates saw that, he felt that the gods had restored him
his gift, and that his destruction was determined upon; which came
true, for he was caught by pirates at sea, and crucified upon a rocky

No nation, and least of all the Greeks, would have arrived at this
theory of life and fate, if they had not felt that it was supported by
actual instances. It was of the nature of an inference from the facts
of life; and the explanation undoubtedly is that men do get betrayed,
by a constant experience of good fortune, into rashness and
heedlessness, because they trust to their luck and depend upon their
fortunate star.

But the man who is of an energetic and active type, if he is haunted by
anxiety, if his imagination paints the possibilities of disaster, takes
every means in his power to foresee contingencies, and to deal
cautiously and thoroughly with the situation which causes him anxiety.
If he is a man of keen sensibilities, the pressure of such care is so
insupportable that he takes prompt and effective measures to remove it;
and his fear thus becomes an element in his success, because it urges
him to action, and at the same time teaches him the need of due
precaution. As Horace wrote:

     "Sperat infestis, metuit secundis
      Alteram sortem."

"He hopes for a change of fortune when things are menacing, he fears a
reverse when things are prosperous." And if we look at the facts of
life, we see that it is not by any means the confident and optimistic
people who succeed best in their designs. It is rather the man of eager
and ambitious temperament, who dreads a repulse and anticipates it, and
takes all possible measures beforehand to avoid it.

We see the same principle underlying the scientific doctrine of
evolution. People often think loosely that the idea of evolution, in
the case, let us say, of a bird like a heron, with his immobility, his
long legs, his pointed beak, his muscular neck, is that such
characteristics have been evolved through long ages by birds that have
had to get their food in swamps and shallow lakes, and were thus
gradually equipped for food-getting through long ages of practice. But
of course no particular bird is thus modified by circumstances. A
pigeon transferred to a fen would not develop the characteristics of
the heron; it would simply die for lack of food. It is rather that
certain minute variations take place, for unknown reasons, in every
species; and the bird which happened to be hatched out in a fenland
with a rather sharper beak or rather longer legs than his fellows,
would have his power of obtaining food slightly increased, and would
thus be more likely to perpetuate in his offspring that particular
advantage of form. This principle working through endless centuries
would tend slowly to develop the stock that was better equipped for
life under such circumstances, and to eliminate those less suited to
the locality; and thus the fittest would tend to survive. But it does
not indicate any design on the part of the birds themselves, nor any
deliberate attempt to develop those characteristics; it is rather that
such characteristics, once started by natural variation, tend to
emphasize themselves in the lapse of time.

No doubt fear has played an enormous part in the progress of the human
race itself. The savage whose imagination was stronger than that of
other savages, and who could forecast the possibilities of disaster,
would wander through the forest with more precaution against wild
beasts, and would make his dwelling more secure against assault; so
that the more timid and imaginative type would tend to survive longest
and to multiply their stock. Man in his physical characteristics is a
very weak, frail, and helpless animal, exposed to all kinds of dangers;
his infancy is protracted and singularly defenceless; his pace is slow,
his strength is insignificant; it is his imagination that has put him
at the top of creation, and has enabled him both to evade dangers and
to use natural forces for his greater security. Though he is the
youngest of all created forms, and by no means the best equipped for
life, he has been able to go ahead in a way denied to all other
animals; his inventiveness has been largely developed by his terrors;
and the result has been that whereas all other animals still preserve,
as a condition of life, their ceaseless attitude of suspicion and fear,
man has been enabled by organisation to establish communities in which
fear of disaster plays but little part. If one watches a bird feeding
on a lawn, it is strange to observe its ceaseless vigilance. It takes a
hurried mouthful, and then looks round in an agitated manner to see
that it is in no danger of attack. Yet it is clear that the terror in
which all wild animals seem to live, and without which
self-preservation would be impossible, does not in the least militate
against their physical welfare. A man who had to live his life under
the same sort of risks that a bird in a garden has to endure from cats
and other foes, would lose his senses from the awful pressure of
terror; he would lie under the constant shadow of assassination.

But the singular thing in Nature is that she preserves characteristics
long after they have ceased to be needed; and so, though a man in a
civilised community has very little to dread, he is still haunted by an
irrational sense of insecurity and precariousness. And thus many of our
fears arise from old inheritance, and represent nothing rational or
real at all, but only an old and savage need of vigilance and wariness.

One can see this exemplified in a curious way in level tracts of
country. Everyone who has traversed places like the plain of
Worcestershire must remember the irritating way in which the roads keep
ascending little eminences, instead of going round at the foot. Now
these old country roads no doubt represent very ancient tracks indeed,
dating from times when much of the land was uncultivated. They get
stereotyped, partly because they were tracks, and partly because for
convenience the first enclosures and tillages were made along the roads
for purposes of communication. But the perpetual tendency to ascend
little eminences no doubt dates from a time when it was safer to go up,
in order to look round and to see ahead, partly in order to be sure of
one's direction, and partly to beware of the manifold dangers of the

And thus many of the fears by which one is haunted are these old
survivals, these inherited anxieties. Who does not know the frame of
mind when perhaps for a day, perhaps for days together, the mind is
oppressed and uneasy, scenting danger in the air, forecasting calamity,
recounting all the possible directions in which fate or malice may have
power to wound and hurt us? It is a melancholy inheritance, but it
cannot be combated by any reason. It is of no use then to imitate
Robinson Crusoe, and to make a list of one's blessings on a piece of
paper; that only increases our fear, because it is just the chance of
forfeiting such blessings of which we are in dread! We must simply
remind ourselves that we are surrounded by old phantoms, and that we
derive our weakness from ages far back, in which risks were many and
security was rare.



If I look back over my own life, I can discern three distinct stages of
fear and anxieties, and I expect it is the same with most people. The
terrors of childhood are very mysterious things, and their horror
consists in the child's inability to put the dread into words. I
remember how one night, when we were living in the Master's Lodge at
Wellington College, I had gone to bed, and waking soon afterwards heard
a voice somewhere outside. I got out of bed, went to the door, and
looked out. Close to my door was an archway which looked into the open
gallery that ran round the big front hall, giving access to the
bedrooms. At the opposite end of the hall, in the gallery, burnt a
gaslight: to my horror I observed close to the gas what seemed to me a
colossal shrouded statue, made of a black bronze, formless, silent,
awful. I crept back to my bed, and there shivered in an ecstasy of
fear, till at last I fell asleep. There was no statue there in the
morning! I told my old nurse, after a day or two of dumb dread, what I
had seen. She laughed, and told me that a certain Mrs. Holder, an
elderly widow who was a dressmaker, had been to see her, about some
piece of work. They had turned out the nursery lights and were going
downstairs, when some question arose about the stuff of the frock,
whatever it was. Mrs. Holder had mounted on a chair to look close at
the stuff by the gaslight; and this was my bogey!

We had a delightful custom in nursery days, devised by my mother, that
on festival occasions, such as birthdays or at Christmas, our presents
were given us in the evening by a fairy called Abracadabra.

The first time the fairy appeared, we heard, after tea, in the hall,
the hoarse notes of a horn. We rushed out in amazement. Down in the
hall, talking to an aunt of mine who was staying in the house, stood a
veritable fairy, in a scarlet dress, carrying a wand and a scarlet bag,
and wearing a high pointed scarlet hat, of the shape of an
extinguisher. My aunt called us down; and we saw that the fairy had the
face of a great ape, dark-brown, spectacled, of a good-natured aspect,
with a broad grin, and a curious crop of white hair, hanging down
behind and on each side. Unfortunately my eldest brother, a very clever
and imaginative child, was seized with a panic so insupportable at the
sight of the face, that his present had to be given him hurriedly, and
he was led away, blanched and shuddering, to the nursery. After that,
the fairy never appeared except when he was at school: but long after,
when I was looking in a lumber-room with my brother for some mislaid
toys, I found in a box the mask of Abracadabra and the horn. I put it
hurriedly on, and blew a blast on the horn, which seemed to be of
tortoise-shell with metal fittings. To my amazement, he turned
perfectly white, covered his face with his hands, and burst out with
the most dreadful moans. I thought at first that he was making believe
to be frightened, but I saw in a minute or two that he had quite lost
control of himself, and the things were hurriedly put away. At the time
I thought it a silly kind of affectation. But I perceive now that he
had had a real shock the first time he had seen the mask; and though he
was then a big schoolboy, the terror was indelible. Who can say of what
old inheritance of fear that horror of the great ape-like countenance
was the sign? He had no associations of fear with apes, but it must
have been, I think, some dim old primeval terror, dating from some
ancestral encounter with a forest monster. In no other way can I
explain it.

Again, as a child, I was once sitting at dinner with my parents,
reading an old bound-up Saturday Magazine, looking at the pictures, and
waiting for dessert. I turned a page, and saw a picture of a Saint,
lying on the ground, holding up a cross, and a huge and cloudy fiend
with vast bat-like wings bending over him, preparing to clutch him, but
deterred by the sacred emblem. That was a really terrible shock. I
turned the page hastily, and said nothing, though it deprived me of
speech and appetite. My father noticed my distress, and asked if I felt
unwell, but I said "No." I got through dessert somehow; but then I had
to say good-night, go out into the dimly-lit hall, slip the volume back
into the bookcase, and get upstairs. I tore up the staircase, feeling
the air full of wings and clutching hands. That was too bad ever to be
spoken of; and as I did not remember which volume it was, I was never
able to look at the set of magazines again for fear of encountering it;
and strange to say some years afterwards, when I was an Eton boy, I
looked curiously for the picture, and again experienced the same
overwhelming horror.

My youngest brother, too, an imaginative child, could never be
persuaded by any bribes or entreaties to go into a dark room to fetch
anything out. Nothing would induce him. I remember that he was
catechised at the tea-table as to what he expected to find, to which he
replied at once, with a horror-stricken look and a long stammer,
"B--b--b--bloodstained corpses!"

It seems fantastic and ridiculous enough to older people, but the
horror of the dark and of the unknown which some children have is not a
thing to be laughed at, nor should it be unsympathetically combated.
One must remember that experience has not taught a child scepticism; he
thinks that anything in the world may happen; and all the monsters of
nursery tales, goblins, witches, evil fairies, dragons, which a child
in daylight will know to be imaginary, begin, as the dusk draws on, to
become appalling possibilities. They may be somewhere about, lurking in
cellars and cupboards and lofts and dark entries by day, and at night
they may slip out to do what harm they can. For children, not far from
the gates of birth, are still strongly the victims of primeval and
inherited fears, not corrected by the habitual current of life. It is
not a reason for depriving children of the joys of the old tales and
the exercise of the faculty of wonder; but the tendency should be very
carefully guarded and watched, because these sudden shocks may make
indelible marks, and leave a little weak spot in the mind which may
prove difficult to heal.

It is not only these spectral terrors against which children have to be
guarded. All severity and sharp indignity of punishment, all
intemperate anger, all roughness of treatment, should be kept in strict
restraint. There are noisy, boisterous, healthy children, of course,
who do not resent or even dread sharp usage. But it is not always easy
to discover the sensitive child, because fear of displeasure will
freeze him into a stupor of apparent dullness and stubbornness. I am
always infuriated by stupid people who regret the disappearance of
sharp, stern, peremptory punishments, and lament the softness of the
rising generation. If punishment must be inflicted, it should be done
good-naturedly and robustly as a natural tit-for-tat. Anger should be
reserved for things like spitefulness and dishonesty and cruelty. There
is nothing more utterly confusing to the childish mind than to have
trifling faults treated with wrath and indignation. It is true that, in
the world of nature, punishment seems often wholly disproportionate to
offences. Nature will penalise carelessness in a disastrous fashion,
and spare the cautious and prudent sinner. But there is no excuse for
us, if we have any sense of justice and patience at all, for not
setting a better example. We ought to show children that there is a
moral order which we are endeavouring to administer. If parents and
schoolmasters, who are both judges and executioners, allow their own
rule to be fortuitous, indulge their own irritable moods, punish
severely a trifling fault, and sentimentalise or condone a serious one,
a child is utterly confused. I know several people who have had their
lives blighted, have been made suspicious, cynical, crafty, and timid,
by severe usage and bullying and open contempt in childhood. The thing
to avoid, for all who are responsible in the smallest degree for the
nurture of children, is to call in the influence of fear; one may speak
plainly of consequences, but even there one must not exaggerate, as
schoolmasters often do, for the best of motives, about moral faults;
one may punish deliberate and repeated disobedience, wanton cruelty,
persistent and selfish disregard of the rights of others, but one must
warn many times, and never try to triumph over a fault by the
infliction of a shock of any kind. The shock is the most cruel and
cowardly sort of punishment, and if we wilfully use it, then we are
perpetuating the sad tyranny of instinctive fear, and using the
strength of a great angel to do the work of a demon, such as I saw long
ago in the old magazine, and felt its tyranny for many days.

As a child the one thing I was afraid of was the possibility of my
father's displeasure. We did not see a great deal of him, because he
was a much occupied headmaster; and he was to me a stately and majestic
presence, before whom the whole created world seemed visibly to bow.
But he was deeply anxious about our upbringing, and had a very strong
sense of his responsibility; and he would sometimes reprove us rather
sternly for some extremely trifling thing, the way one ate one's food,
or spoke, or behaved. This descended upon me as a cloud of darkness; I
attempted no excuses, I did not explain or defend myself; I simply was
crushed and confounded. I do not think it was the right method. He
never punished us, but we were not at ease with him. I remember the
agony with which I heard a younger sister once repeat to him some silly
and profane little jokes which a good-natured and absurd old lady had
told us in the nursery. I felt sure he would disapprove, as he did. I
knew quite well in my childish mind that it was harmless nonsense, and
did not give us a taste for ungodly mirth. But I could not intervene or
expostulate. I am sure that my father had not the slightest idea how
weighty and dominant he was; but many of the things he rebuked would
have been better not noticed, or if noticed only made fun of, while I
feel that he ought to have given us more opportunity of stating our
case. He simply frightened me into having a different morality when I
was in his presence to what I had elsewhere. But he did not make me
love goodness thereby, and only gave me a sense that certain things,
harmless in themselves, must not be done or said in the presence of
papa. He did not always remember his own rules, and there was thus an
element of injustice in his rebukes, which one merely accepted as part
of his awful and unaccountable greatness.

When I was transferred to a private school, a great big place, very
well managed in every way, I lived for a time in atrocious terror of
everything and everybody. I was conscious of a great code of rules
which I did not know or understand, which I might quite unwittingly
break, and the consequences of which might be fatal. I was never
punished or caned, nor was I ever bullied. But I simply effaced myself
as far as possible, and lived in dread of disaster. The thought even
now of certain high blank walls with lofty barred windows, the
remembered smells of certain passages and corners, the tall form and
flashing eye of our headmaster and the faint fragrance of Havana cigars
which hung about him, the bare corridors with their dark cupboards, the
stone stairs and iron railings--all this gives me a far-off sense of
dread. I can give no reason for my unhappiness there; but I can
recollect waking in the early summer mornings, hearing the screams of
peacocks from an adjoining garden, and thinking with a dreadful sense
of isolation and despair of all the possibilities of disaster that lay
hid in the day. I am sure it was not a wholesome experience. One need
not fear the world more than is necessary--but my only dream of peace
was the escape to the delights of home, and the thought of the larger
world was only a thing that I shrank from and shuddered at.

No, it is wrong to say one had no friends, but how few they seemed and
how clearly they stand out! I did not make friends among the boys; they
were pleasant enough acquaintances, some of them, but not to be trusted
or confided in; they had to be kept at arm's length, and one's real
life guarded and hoarded away from them; because if one told them
anything about one's home or one's ideas, it might be repeated, and the
sacred facts shouted in one's ears as taunts and jests. But there was a
little bluff master, a clergyman, with shaggy rippled red-brown hair
and a face like a pug-dog. He was kind to me, and had me to lunch one
Sunday in a villa out at Barnes--that was a breath of life, to sit in a
homelike room and look at old Punches half the afternoon; and there was
another young man, a master, rather stout and pale, with whom I shared
some little jokes, and who treated me as he might treat a younger
brother; he was pledged, I remember, to give me a cake if I won an Eton
Scholarship, and royally he redeemed his promise. He died of heart
disease a little while after I left the school. I had promised to write
to him from Eton and never did so, and I had a little pang about that
when I heard of his death. And then there was the handsome loud-voiced
maid of my dormitory, Underwood by name, who was always just and kind,
and who, even when she rated us, as she did at times, had always
something human beckoning from her handsome eye. I can see her now,
with her sleeves tucked up, and her big white muscular arms, washing a
refractory little boy who fought shy of soap and water. I had a wild
idea of giving her a kiss when I went away, and I think she would have
liked that. She told me I had always been a good boy, and that she was
sorry that I was going; but I did not dare to embrace her.

And then there was dear Louisa, the matron of the little sanatorium on
the Mortlake road. She had been a former housemaid of ours; she was a
strong sturdy woman, with a deep voice like a man, and when I arrived
there ill--I was often ill in those days--she used to hug and kiss me
and even cry over me; and the happiest days I spent at school were in
that poky little house, reading in Louisa's little parlour, while she
prepared some special dish as a treat for my supper; or sitting hour by
hour at the window of my room upstairs, watching a grocer opposite set
out his window. I certainly did love Louisa with all my heart; and it
was almost pleasant to be ill, to be welcomed by her and petted and
made much of. "My own dear boy," she used to say, and it was music in
my ears.

I feel on looking back that, if I had children of my own, I should
study very carefully to avoid any sort of terrorism. Psychologists tell
us that the nervous shocks of early years are the things that leave
indelible marks throughout life. I believe that mental specialists
often make a careful study of the dreams of those whose minds are
afflicted, because it is held that dreams very often continue to
reproduce in later life the mental shocks of childhood. Anger,
intemperate punishment, any attempt to produce instant submission and
dismay in children, is very apt to hurt the nervous organisation. Of
course it is easy enough to be careful about these things in sheltered
environments, where there is some security and refinement of life. And
this opens up a vast problem which cannot be touched on here, because
it is practically certain that many children in poor and unsatisfactory
homes sustain shocks to their mental organisation in early life which
damage them irreparably, and which could be avoided if they could be
brought up on more wholesome and tender lines.



There is a tendency, I am sure, in books, to shirk the whole subject of
fear, as though it were a thing disgraceful, shameful, almost
unmentionable. The coward, the timid person, receives very little
sympathy; he is rather like one tainted with a shocking disease, of
which the less said the better. He is not viewed with any sympathy or
commiseration, but as something almost lower in the scale of humanity.
Take the literature that deals with school life, for instance. I do not
think that there is any province of our literature so inept, so
conventional, so entirely lacking in reality, as the books which deal
with the life of schools. The difficulty of writing them is very great,
because they can only be reconstructed by an effort of memory. The boy
himself is quite unable to give expression to his thoughts and
feelings; school life is a time of sharp, eager, often rather savage
emotions, lived by beings who have no sense of proportion, no knowledge
of life, no idea of what is really going on in the world. The actual
incidents which occur are very trivial, and yet to the fresh minds and
spirits of boyhood they seem all charged with an intense significance.
Then again the talk of schoolboys is wholly immature and shapeless.
They cannot express themselves, and moreover there is a very strict and
peremptory convention which dictates what may be talked about and what
may not. No society in the world is under so oppressive a taboo. They
must not speak of anything emotional or intellectual, at the cost of
being thought a fool or a prig. They talk about games, they gossip
about boys and masters, sometimes their conversation is nasty and
bestial. But it conceals very real if very fitful emotions; yet it is
impossible to recall or to reconstruct; and when older people attempt
to reconstruct it, they remember the emotions which underlay it, and
the eager interests out of which it all sprang; and they make it
something picturesque, epigrammatic, and vernacular which is wholly
untrue to life. The fact is that the talk of schoolboys is very trivial
and almost wholly symbolical; emotion reveals itself in glance and
gesture, not in word at all. I suppose that most of us remember our
boyish friendships, ardent and eager personal admirations,
extraordinary deifications of quite commonplace boys, emotions none of
which were ever put into words at all, hardly even into coherent
thought, and were yet a swift and vital current of the soul.

Now the most unreal part of the reconstructions of school life is the
insistence on the boyish code of honour. Neither as a boy nor as a
schoolmaster did I ever have much evidence of this. There were certain
hard and fast rules of conduct, like the rule which prevented any boy
from giving information to a master against another boy. But this was
not a conscientious thing. It was part of the tradition, and the social
ostracism which was the penalty of its infraction was too severe to
risk incurring. But the boys who cut a schoolfellow for telling tales,
did not do it from any high-minded sense of violated honour. It was
simply a piece of self-defence, and the basis of the convention was
merely this, that, if the rule were broken, it would produce an
impossible sense of insecurity and peril. However much boys might on
the whole approve of, respect, and even like their masters, still they
could not make common cause with them. The school was a perfectly
definite community, inside of which it was often convenient and
pleasant to do things which would be penalised if discovered; and thus
the whole stability of that society depended upon a certain secrecy.
The masters were not disliked for finding out the infractions of rules,
if only such infractions were patent and obvious. A master who looked
too closely into things, who practised any sort of espionage, who tried
to extort confession, was disapproved of as a menace, and it was
convenient to label him a sneak and a spy, and to say that he did not
play the game fair. But all this was a mere tradition. Boys do not
reflect much, or look into the reasons of things. It does not occur to
them to credit masters with the motive of wishing to protect them
against themselves, to minimise temptation, to shelter them from
undesirable influences; that perhaps dawns on the minds of sensible and
high-minded prefects, but the ordinary boy just regards the master as
an opposing power, whom he hoodwinks if he can.

And then the boyish ideal of courage is a very incomplete one. He does
not recognise it as courage if a sensitive, conscientious, and
right-minded boy risks unpopularity by telling a master of some evil
practice which is spreading in a school. He simply regards it as a
desire to meddle, a priggish and pragmatical act, and even as a
sneaking desire to inflict punishment by proxy.

Courage, for the schoolboy, is merely physical courage, aplomb,
boldness, recklessness, high-handedness. The hero of school life is one
like Odysseus, who is strong, inventive, daring, full of resource. The
point is to come out on the top. Odysseus yields to sensual delight, he
is cruel, vindictive, and incredibly deceitful. It is evident that
successful beguiling, the power of telling an elaborate, plausible, and
imperturbable lie on occasions, is an heroic quality in the Odyssey.
Odysseus is not a man who scorns to deceive, or who would rather take
the consequences than utter a falsehood. His strength rather lies in
his power, when at bay, of flashing into some monstrous fiction,
dramatising the situation, playing an adopted part, with confidence and
assurance. One sees traces of the same thing in the Bible. The story of
Jacob deceiving Isaac, and pretending to be Esau in order to secure a
blessing is not related with disapprobation. Jacob does not forfeit his
blessing when his deceit is discovered. The whole incident is regarded
rather as a master-stroke of cunning and inventiveness. Esau is angry
not because Jacob has employed such trickery, but because he has
succeeded in supplanting him.

I remember, as a boy at Eton, seeing a scene which left a deep
impression on me. There was a big unpleasant unscrupulous boy of great
physical strength, who was a noted football player. He was extremely
unpopular in the school, because he was rude, sulky, and overbearing,
and still more because he took unfair advantages in games. There was a
hotly contested house-match, in which he tried again and again to evade
rules, while he was for ever appealing to the umpires against
violations of rule by the opposite side. His own house was ultimately
victorious, but feeling ran very high indeed, because it was thought
that the victory was unfairly won. The crowd of boys who had been
watching the match drifted away in a state of great exasperation, and
finally collected in front of the house of the unpopular player, hissed
and hooted him. He took very little notice of the demonstration and
walked in, when there arose a babel of howls. He turned round and came
out again, facing the crowd. I can see him now, all splashed and muddy,
with his shirt open at the neck. He was pale, ugly, and sinister; but
he surveyed us all with entire effrontery, drew out a pince-nez, being
very short-sighted, and then looked calmly round as if surprised. I
have certainly never seen such an exhibition of courage in my life. He
knew that he had not a single friend present, and he did not know that
he would not be maltreated--there were indications of a rush being
made. He did not look in the least picturesque; he was ugly, scowling,
offensive. But he did not care a rap, and if he had been attacked, he
would have defended himself with a will. It did not occur to me then,
nor did it, I think, occur to anyone else, what an amazing bit of
physical and moral courage it was. No one, then or after, had the
slightest feeling of admiration for his pluck. "Did you ever see such a
brute as P-- looked?" was the only sort of comment made.

This just serves to illustrate my point, that boys have no real
discernment for what is courageous. What they admire is a certain grace
and spirit, and the hero is not one who constrains himself to do an
unpopular thing from a sense of duty, not even the boy who, being
unpopular like P--, does a satanically brave thing. Boys have no
admiration for the boy who defies them; what they like to see is the
defiance of a common foe. They admire gallant, modest, spirited,
picturesque behaviour, not the dull and faithful obedience to the sense
of right.

Of course things have altered for the better. Masters are no longer
stern, severe, abrupt, formidable, unreasonable. They know that many a
boy, who would be inclined on the whole to tell the truth, can easily
be frightened into telling a lie; but they have not yet contrived to
put the sense of honour among boys in the right proportion. Such
stories as that of George Washington--when the children were asked who
had cut down the apple-tree, and he rose and said, "Sir, I cannot tell
a lie; it was I who did it with my little hatchet"--do not really take
the imagination of boys captive. How constantly did worthy preachers at
Eton tell the story of how Bishop Selwyn, as a boy, rose and left the
room at a boat-supper because an improper song was sung! That anecdote
was regarded with undisguised amusement, and it was simply thought to
be a piece of priggishness. I cannot imagine that any boy ever heard
the story and went away with a glowing desire to do likewise. The
incident really belongs to the domain of manners rather than to that of

The truth is really that boys at school have a code which resembles
that of the old chivalry. The hero may be sensual, unscrupulous, cruel,
selfish, indifferent to the welfare of others. But if he bears himself
gallantly, if he has a charm of look and manner, if he is a deft
performer in the prescribed athletics, he is the object of profound and
devoted admiration. It is really physical courage, skill, prowess,
personal attractiveness which is envied and praised. A dull, heavy,
painstaking, conscientious boy with a sturdy sense of duty may be
respected, but he is not followed; while the imaginative, sensitive,
nervous, highly-strung boy, who may have the finest qualities of all
within him, is apt to be the most despised. Such a boy is often no good
at games, because public performance disconcerts him; he cannot make a
ready answer, he has no aplomb, no cheek, no smartness; and he is
consequently thought very little of.

To what extent this sort of instinctive preference can be altered, I do
not know; it certainly cannot be altered by sermons, and still less by
edicts. Old Dr. Keate said, when he was addressing the school on the
subject of fighting, "I must say that I like to see a boy return a
blow!" It seems, if one considers it, to be a curious ideal to start
life with, considering how little opportunity civilisation now gives
for returning blows! Boys in fact are still educated under a system
which seems to anticipate a combative and disturbed sort of life to
follow, in which strength and agility, violence and physical activity,
will have a value. Yet, as a matter of fact, such things have very
little substantial value in an ordinary citizen's life at all, except
in so far as they play their part in the elaborate cult of athletic
exercises, with which we beguile the instinct which craves for manual
toil. All the races, and games, and athletics cultivated so assiduously
at school seem now to have very little aim in view. It is not important
for ordinary life to be able to run a hundred yards, or even three
miles, faster than another man; the judgment, the quickness of eye, the
strength and swiftness of muscle needed to make a man a good batsman
were all well enough in days when a man's life might afterwards depend
on his use of sword and battle-axe. But now it only enables him to play
games rather longer than other people, and to a certain extent
ministers to bodily health, although the statistics of rowing would
seem clearly to prove that it is a pursuit which is rather more apt to
damage the vitality of strong boys than to increase the vitality of
weak ones.

So, if we look facts fairly in the face, we see that much of the
training of school life, especially in the direction of athletics, is
really little more than the maintenance of a thoughtless old tradition,
and that it is all directed to increase our admiration of prowess and
grace and gallantry, rather than to fortify us in usefulness and manual
skill and soundness of body. A boy at school may be a skilful carver or
carpenter; he may have a real gift for engineering or mechanics; he may
even be a good rider, a first-rate fisherman, an excellent shot. He may
have good intellectual abilities, a strong memory, a power of
expression; he may be a sound mathematician, a competent scientist; he
may have all sorts of excellent moral qualities, be reliable, accurate,
truthful, punctual, duty-loving; he may in fact be equipped for life
and citizenship, able to play his part sturdily and manfully, and to do
the world good service; but yet he may never win the smallest
recognition or admiration in his school-days, while all the glory and
honour and credit is still reserved for the graceful, attractive,
high-spirited athlete, who may have nothing else in the background.

That is certainly the ideal of the boy, and the disconcerting thing is
that it is also the ideal, practically if not theoretically, of the
parent and the schoolmaster. The school still reserves all its best
gifts, its sunshine and smiles, for the knightly and the skilful; it
rewards all the qualities that are their own reward. Why, if it wishes
to get the right scale adopted, does it not reward the thing which it
professes to uphold as its best result, worth of character namely? It
claims to be a training-ground for character first, but it does little
to encourage secret and unobtrusive virtues. That is, it adds its
prizes to the things which the natural man values, and it neglects to
crown the one thing at which it professes first to aim. In doing this
it only endorses the verdict of the world, and while it praises moral
effort, it rewards success.

The issue of all this is that the sort of courage which it enforces is
essentially a graceful and showy sort of courage, a lively readiness, a
high-hearted fearlessness--so that timidity and slowness and diffidence
and unreadiness become base and feeble qualities, when they are not the
things of which anyone need be ashamed! Let me say then that moral
courage, the patient and unrecognised facing of difficulties, the
disregard of popular standards, solidity and steadfastness of purpose,
the tranquil performance of tiresome and disagreeable duties, homely
perseverance, are not the things which are regarded as supreme in the
ideal of the school; so that the fear which is the shadow of sensitive
and imaginative natures is turned into the wrong channels, and becomes
a mere dread of doing the unpopular and unimpressive thing, or a craven
determination not to be found out. And the dread of being obscure and
unacceptable is what haunts the minds of boys brought up on these
ambitious and competitive lines, rather than the fear which is the
beginning of wisdom.



The fears of youth are as a rule just the terrors of self-consciousness
and shyness. They are a very irrational thing, something purely
instinctive and of old inheritance. How irrational they are is best
proved by the fact that shyness is caused mostly by the presence of
strangers; there are many young people who are bashful, awkward, and
tongue-tied in the presence of strangers, whose tremors wholly
disappear in the family circle. If these were rational fears, they
might be caused by the consciousness of the inspection and possible
disapproval of those among whom one lives, and whose annoyance and
criticism might have unpleasant practical effects. Yet they are caused
often by the presence of those whose disapproval is not of the smallest
consequence, those, in fact, whom one is not likely to see again. One
must look then for the cause of this, not in the fact that one's
awkwardness and inefficiency is likely to be blamed by those of one's
own circle, but simply in the terror of the unknown and the unfamiliar.
It is probably therefore an old inherited instinct, coming from a time
when the sight of a stranger might contain in it a menace of some
hostile usage. If one questions a shy boy or girl as to what it is they
are afraid of in the presence of strangers, they are quite unable to
answer. They are not afraid of anything that will be said or done; and
yet they will have become intensely conscious of their own appearance
and movements and dress, and will be quite unable to command
themselves. That it is a thing which can be easily cured is obvious
from the fact which I often observed when I was a schoolmaster, that as
a rule the boys who came from houses where there was much entertaining,
and a constant coming and going of guests, very rarely suffered from
such shyness. They had got used to the fact that strangers could be
depended upon to be kind and friendly, and instead of looking upon a
new person as a possible foe, they regarded him as a probable friend.

I often think that parents do not take enough trouble in this respect
to make children used to strangers. What often happens is that parents
are themselves shy and embarrassed in the presence of strangers, and
when they notice that their children suffer from the same awkwardness,
they criticise them afterwards, partly because they are vexed at their
own clumsy performance; and thus the shyness is increased, because the
child, in addition to his sense of shyness before strangers, has in the
background of his mind the feeling that any mauvaise honte that he may
display may he commented upon afterwards. No exhibition of shyness on
the part of a boy or girl should ever be adverted upon by parents. They
should take for granted that no one is ever willingly shy, and that it
is a misery which all would avoid if they could. It is even better to
allow children considerable freedom of speech with strangers, than to
repress and silence them. Of course impertinence and unpleasant
comments, such as children will sometimes make on the appearance or
manners of strangers, must be checked, but it should be on the grounds
of the unpleasantness of such remarks, and not on the ground of
forwardness. On the other hand, all attempts on the part of a child to
be friendly and courteous to strangers should be noted and praised; a
child should be encouraged to look upon itself as an integral part of a
circle, and not as a silent and lumpish auditor.

Probably too there are certain physical and psychological laws, which
we do not at all understand, which account for the curious subjective
effects which certain people have at close quarters; there is something
hypnotic and mesmeric about the glance of certain eyes; and there is in
all probability a curious blending of mental currents in an assembly of
people, which is not a mere fancy, but a very real physical fact.
Personalities radiate very real and unmistakable influences, and
probably the undercurrent of thought which happens to be in one's mind
when one is with others has an effect, even if one says or does nothing
to indicate one's preoccupation. A certain amount of this comes from an
unconscious inference on the part of the recipients. We often augur,
without any very definite rational process, from the facial
expressions, gestures, movements, tones of others, what their frame of
mind is. But I believe that there is a great deal more than that. We
must all know that when we are with friends to whose moods and emotions
we are attuned, there takes place a singular degree of
thought-transference, quite apart from speech. I had once a great
friend with whom I was accustomed to spend much time tete-a-tete. We
used to travel together and spend long periods, day after day, in close
conjunction, often indeed sharing the same bedroom. It became a matter
at first of amusement and interest, but afterwards an accepted fact,
that we could often realise, even after a long silence, in what
direction the other's thought was travelling. "How did you guess I was
thinking of that?" would be asked. To which the reply was, "I did not
guess--I knew." On the other hand I have an old and familiar friend,
whom I know well and regard with great affection, but whose presence,
and particularly a certain fixity of glance, often, even now, causes me
a curious subjective disturbance which is not wholly pleasant, a sense
of some odd psychical control which is not entirely agreeable.

I have another friend who is the most delightful and easy company in
the world when we are, alone together; but he is a sensitive and
highly-strung creature, much affected by personal influences, and when
I meet him in the company of other people he is often almost
unrecognisable. His mind becomes critical, combative, acrid; he does
not say what he means, he is touched by a vague excitement, and there
passes over him an unnatural sort of brilliance, of a hard and futile
kind, which makes him sacrifice consideration and friendliness to the
instinctive desire to produce an effect and to score a point. I
sometimes actually detest him when he is one of a circle. I feel
inclined to say to him, "If only you could let your real self appear,
and drop this tiresome posturing and fencing, you would be as
delightful as you are to me when I am alone with you; but this hectic
tittering and feverish jocosity is not only not your real self, but it
gives others an impression of a totally unreal and not very agreeable
person." But, alas, this is just the sort of thing one cannot say to a

As one goes on in life, this terrible and disconcerting shyness of
youth disappears. We begin to realise, with a wholesome loss of vanity
and conceit, how very little people care or even notice how we are
dressed, how we look, what we say. We learn that other people are as
much preoccupied with their thoughts and fancies and reflections as we
are with our own. We realise that if we are anxious to produce an
agreeable impression, we do so far more by being interested and
sympathetic, than by attempting a brilliance which we cannot command.
We perceive that other people are not particularly interested in our
crude views, nor very grateful for the expression of them. We acquire
the power of combination and co-operation, in losing the desire for
splendour and domination. We see that people value ease and security,
more than they admire originality and fantastic contradiction. And so
we come to the blessed time when, instead of reflecting after a social
occasion whether we did ourselves justice, we begin to consider rather
the impression we have formed of other personalities.

I believe that we ought to have recourse to very homely remedies indeed
for combating shyness. It is of no use to try to console and distract
ourselves with lofty thoughts, and to try to keep eternity and the
hopes of man in mind. We so become only more self-conscious and
superior than ever. The fact remains that the shyness of youth causes
agonies both of anticipation and retrospect; if one really wishes to
get rid of it, the only way is to determine to get used somehow to
society, and not to endeavour to avoid it; and as a practical rule to
make up one's mind, if possible, to ask people questions, rather than
to meditate impressive answers. Asking other people questions about
things to which they are likely to know the answers is one of the
shortest cuts to popularity and esteem. It is wonderful to reflect how
much distress personal bashfulness causes people, how much they would
give to be rid of it, and yet how very little trouble they ever take to
acquiring any method of dealing with the difficulty. I see a good deal
of undergraduates, and am often aware that they are friendly and
responsive, but without any power of giving expression to it. I
sometimes see them suffering acutely from shyness before my eyes. But a
young man who can bring himself to ask a perfectly simple question
about some small matter of common interest is comparatively rare; and
yet it is generally the simplest way out of the difficulty.



Now with all the tremors, reactions, glooms, shadows, and despairs of
youth--it is easy enough to forget them, but they were there--goes a
power of lifting and lighting up in a moment at a chord of music, a
glance, a word, the song of a bird, the scent of a flower, a flying
sunburst, which fills life up like a cup with bubbling and sparkling

  "My soul, be patient! Thou shalt find
   A little matter mend all this!"

And that is the part of youth which we remember, till on looking back
it seems like a time of wandering with like-hearted comrades down some
sweet-scented avenue of golden sun and green shade. Our memory plays us
beautifully false--splendide mendax--till one wishes sometimes that old
and wise men, retelling the story of their life, could recall for the
comfort of youth some part of its languors and mischances, its bitter
jealousies, its intense and poignant sense of failure.

And then in a moment the door of life opens. One day I was an
irresponsible, pleasure-loving, fantastic youth, and a week later I
was, or it seemed to me that I was, a professional man with all the
cares of a pedagogue upon my back. It filled me at first, I remember,
with a gleeful amazement, to find myself in the desk, holding forth,
instead of on the form listening. It seemed delicious at first to have
the power of correcting and slashing exercises, and placing boys in
order, instead of being corrected and examined, and competing for a
place. It was a solemn game at the outset. Then came the other side of
the picture. One's pupils were troublesome, they did badly in
examinations, they failed unaccountably; and one had a glimpse too of
some of the tragedies of school life. Almost insensibly I became aware
that I had a task to perform, that my mistakes involved boys in
disaster, that I had the anxious care of other destinies; and thus,
almost before I knew it, came a new cloud on the horizon, the cloud of
anxiety. I could not help seeing that I had mismanaged this boy and
misdirected that; that one could not treat them as ingenuous and lively
playthings, but that what one said and did set a mark which perhaps
could not be effaced. Gradually other doubts and problems made
themselves felt. I had to administer a system of education in which I
did not wholly believe; I saw little by little that the rigid old
system of education was a machine which, if it made a highly
accomplished product out of the best material, wasted an enormous
amount of boyish interest and liveliness, and stultified the feebler
sort of mind. Then came the care of a boarding-house, close relations
with parents, a more real knowledge of the infinite levity of boy
nature. I became mixed up with the politics of the place, the chance of
more ambitious positions floated before me; the need for tact,
discretion, judiciousness, moderation, tolerance emphasized itself. I
am here outlining my own experience, but it is only one of many similar
experiences. I became a citizen without knowing it, and my place in the
world, my status, success, all became definite things which I had to

The cares, the fears, the anxieties of middle life lie for most men and
women in this region; if people are healthy and active, they generally
arrive at a considerable degree of equanimity; they do not anticipate
evil, and they take the problems of life cheerfully enough as they
come; but yet come they do, and too many men and women are tempted to
throw overboard scornfully and disdainfully the dreams of youth as a
luxury which they cannot afford to indulge, and to immerse themselves
in practical cares, month after month, with perhaps the hope of a
fairly careless and idle holiday at intervals. What I think tends to
counteract this for many people is love and marriage, the wonder and
amazement of having children of their own, and all the offices of
tenderness that grow up naturally beside their path. But this again
brings a whole host of fears and anxieties as well--arrangements, ways
and means, household cares, illnesses, the homely stuff of life, much
of it enjoyed, much of it cheerfully borne, and often very bravely and
gallantly endured. It is out of this simple material that life has to
be constructed. But there is a twofold danger in all this. There is a
danger of cynicism, the frame of mind in which a man comes to face
little worries as one might put up an umbrella in a shower--"Thou
know'st 'tis common!" Out of that grows up a rude dreariness, a
philosophy which has nothing dignified about it, but is merely a
recognition of the fact that life is a poor affair, and that one cannot
hope to have things to one's mind. Or there is a dull frame of mind
which implies a meek resignation, a sense of disappointment about life,
borne with a mournful patience, a sense of one's sphere having somehow
fallen short of one's deserts. This produces the grumpy paterfamilias
who drowses over a paper or grumbles over a pipe; such a man is
inimitably depicted by Mr. Wells in Marriage. That sort of ugly
disillusionment, that publicity of disappointment, that frank disregard
of all concerns except one's own, is one of the most hideous features
of middle-class life, and it is rather characteristically English. It
sometimes conceals a robust good sense and even kindliness; but it is a
base thing at best, and seems to be the shadow of commercial
prosperity. Yet it at least implies a certain sturdiness of character,
and a stubborn belief in one's own merits which is quite impervious to
the lessons of experience. On sensitive and imaginative people the
result of the professional struggle with life, the essence of which is
often social pretentiousness, is different. It ends in a mournful and
distracted kind of fatigue, a tired sort of padding along after life, a
timid bewilderment at conditions which one cannot alter, and which yet
have no dignity or seemliness.

What is there that is wrong with all this? The cause is easy enough to
analyse. It is the result of a system which develops conventional,
short-sighted, complicated households, averse to effort, fond of
pleasure, and with tastes which are expensive without being refined.
The only cure would seem to be that men and women should be born
different, with simple active generous natures; it is easy to say that!
But the worst of the situation is that the sordid banality and ugly
tragedy of their lot do not dawn on the people concerned. Greedy vanity
in the more robust, lack of moral courage and firmness in the more
sensitive, with a social organisation that aims at a surface dignity
and a cheap showiness, are the ingredients of this devil's cauldron.
The worst of it is that it has no fine elements at all. There is a
nobility about real tragedy which evokes a quality of passionate and
sincere emotion. There is something essentially exalted about a fierce
resistance, a desperate failure. But this abject, listless dreariness,
which can hardly be altered or expressed, this miserable floating down
the muddy current, where there is no sharp repentance or fiery
battling, nothing but a mean abandonment to a meaningless and
unintelligible destiny, seems to have in it no seed of recovery at all.

The dark shadow of professional anxiety is that it has no tragic
quality; it is like ploughing on day by day through endless mud-flats.
One does not feel, in the presence of sharp suffering or bitter loss,
that they ought not to exist. They are there, stern, implacable,
august; stately enemies, great combatants. There is a significance
about their very awfulness. One may fall before them, but they pass
like a great express train, roaring, flashing, things deliberately and
intently designed; but these dull failures which seem not the outgrowth
of anyone's fierce longing or wilful passion, but of everyone's
laziness and greediness and stupidity, how is one to face them? It is
the helpless death of the quagmire, not the death of the fight or the
mountain-top. Is there, we ask ourselves, anything in the mind of God
which corresponds to comfort-loving vulgarity, if so strong and yet so
stagnant a stream can overflow the world? The bourgeois ideal! One
would rather have tyranny or savagery than anything so gross and smug.

And yet we see high-spirited and ardent husbands drawn into this by
obstinate and vulgar-minded wives. We see fine-natured and sensitive
women engulfed in it by selfish and ambitious husbands. The tendency is
awfully and horribly strong, and it wins, not by open combat, but by
secret and dull persistence. And one sees too--I have seen it many
times--children of delicate and eager natures, who would have
flourished and expanded in more generous air, become conventional and
commonplace and petty, concerned about knowing the right people and
doing the right things, and making the same stupid and paltry show,
which deceives no one.

There is nothing for it but independence and simplicity and, perhaps
best of all, a love of beauty. William Morris asserted passionately
enough that art was the only cure for all this dreariness--the love of
beautiful sounds and sights and words; and I think that is true, if it
be further extended to a perception of the quality of beauty in the
conduct and relations of life. For those are the cheap and reasonable
pleasures of life, accessible to all; and if men and women cared for
work first and the decent simplicities of wholesome living, and could
further find their pleasure in art, in whatever form, then I believe
that many of these fears and anxieties, so maiming and impairing to all
that is fine in life, would vanish quietly out of being. The thing
seems both beautiful and possible, because one knows of households
where it is so, and where it grows up naturally and easily enough. I
know households of both kinds--where on the one hand the standard is
ambitious and mean, where the inmates calculate everything with a view
to success, or rather to producing an impression of success; and there
all talk and intercourse is an unreal thing, not the outflow of natural
interests and pleasant tastes, but a sham culture and a refinement that
is only pursued because it is the right sort of surface to present to
the world. One submits to it with boredom, one leaves it with relief.
They have got the right people together, they have shown that they can
command their attendance; it is all ceremony and waste.

And then I know households where one sees in the books, the pictures,
the glances, the gestures, the movements of the inmates, a sort of
grace and delicacy which comes of really caring about things that are
beautiful and fine. Sincere things are simply said, humour bubbles up
and breaks in laughter; one feels that light is thrown on a hundred
topics and facts and personalities. The whole of life then becomes a
garden teeming with strange and wonderful secrets, and influences that
flash and radiate, passing on into some mysterious and fragrant gloom.
Everything there seems charged with significance and charm; there are
no pretences--there are preferences, prejudices if you will; but there
is tolerance and sympathy, and a desire to see the point of view of
others. The effect of such an atmosphere is to set one wondering how
one has contrived to miss the sense of so much that is beautiful and
interesting in life, and sends one away longing to perceive more, and
determined if possible to interpret life more truly and more graciously.



And then age creeps on; and that brings fears of its own, and fears
that are all the more intolerable because they are not definite fears
at all, merely a loss of nervous vigour, which attaches itself to the
most trivial detail and magnifies it into an insuperable difficulty. A
friend of mine who was growing old once confided to me that foreign
travel, which used to be such a delight to him, was now getting
burdensome. "It is all right when I have once started," he said, "but
for days before I am the prey of all kinds of apprehensions." "What
sort of apprehensions?" I said. He laughed, and replied, "Well, it is
almost too absurd to mention, but I find myself oppressed with anxiety
for weeks beforehand as to whether, when we get to Calais, we shall
find places in the train." And I remember, too, how a woman friend of
mine once told me that she called at the house of an elderly couple in
London, people of rank and wealth. Their daughter met her in the
drawing-room and said, "I am glad you are come--you may be able to
cheer my mother up. We are going down to-morrow to our place in the
country; the servants and the luggage went this morning, and my mother
and father are to drive down this afternoon--my mother is very low
about it." "What is the matter?" said my friend. The daughter replied,
"She is afraid that they will not get there in time!" "In time for
what?" said my friend, thinking that there was some important
engagement. "In time for tea!" said the daughter gravely.

It is all very well to laugh at such fears, but they are not natural
fears at all, they just indicate a low vitality; they are the symptoms
and not the causes of a disease. It is the frame of mind of the
sluggard in the Bible who says, "There is a lion in the way." Younger
people are apt to be irritated by what seems a wilful creating of
apprehensions. They ought rather to be patient and reassuring, and
compassionate to the weakness of nerve for which it stands.

With such fears as these may be classed all the unreal but none the
less distressing fears about health which beset people all their lives,
in some cases; it is extremely annoying to healthy people to find a man
reduced to depression and silence at the possibility of taking cold, or
at the fear of having eaten something unwholesome. I remember an
elderly gentleman who had lived a vigorous and unselfish life, and was
indeed a man of force and character, whose activity was entirely
suspended in later years by his fear of catching cold or of over-tiring
himself. He was a country clergyman, and used to spend the whole of
Sunday between his services, in solitary seclusion, "resting," and
retire to bed the moment the evening service was over; moreover his
dread of taking cold was such that he invariably wore a hat in the
winter months to go from the drawing-room to the dining-room for
dinner, even if there were guests in his house. He used to jest about
it, and say that it no doubt must look curious; but he added that he
had found it a wise precaution, and that we had no idea how disabling
his colds were. Even a very healthy friend of my own standing has told
me that if he ever lies awake at night he is apt to exaggerate the
smallest and most trifling sense of discomfort into the symptom of some
dangerous disease. Let me quote the well-known case of Hans Andersen,
whose imagination was morbidly strong. He found one morning when he
awoke that he had a small pimple under his left eyebrow. He reflected
with distress upon the circumstance, and soon came to the rueful
conclusion that the pimple would probably increase in size, and deprive
him of the sight of his left eye. A friend calling upon him in the
course of the morning found him writing, in a mood of solemn
resignation, with one hand over the eye in question, "practising," as
he said, "how to read and write with the only eye that would soon be
left him."

One's first impulse is to treat these self-inflicted sufferings as
ridiculous and almost idiotic. But they are quite apt to beset people
of effectiveness and ability. To call them irrational does not cure
them, because they lie deeper than any rational process, and are in
fact the superficial symptoms of some deep-seated weakness of nerve,
while their very absurdity, and the fact that the mind cannot throw
them off, only proves how strong they are. They are in fact signs of
some profound uneasiness of mind; and the rational brain of such
people, casting about for some reason to explain the fear with which
they are haunted, fixes on some detail which is not worthy of serious
notice. It is of course a species of local insanity and monomania, but
it does not imply any general obscuration of faculties at all. Some of
the most intellectual people are most at the mercy of such trials, and
indeed they are rather characteristic of men and women whose brain is
apt to work at high pressure. One recollects in the life of Shelley,
how he used to be haunted by these insupportable fears. He was at one
time persuaded that he had contracted leprosy, and he used to
disconcert his acquaintances by examining solicitously their wrists and
necks to see if he could detect symptoms of the same disease.

There is very little doubt that as medical knowledge progresses we
shall know more about the cause of such hallucinations. To call them
unreal is mere stupidity. Sensible people who suffer from them are
often perfectly well aware of their unreality, and are profoundly
humiliated by them. They are some disease or weakness of the
imaginative faculty; and a friend of mine who suffered from such things
told me that it was extraordinary to him to perceive the incredible
ingenuity with which his brain under such circumstances used to find
confirmation for his fears from all sorts of trivial incidents which at
other times passed quite unnoticed. It is generally quite useless to
think of removing the fear by combating the particular fancy; the
affected centre, whatever it is, only turns feverishly to some other
similar anxiety. Occupation of a quiet kind, exercise, rest, are the
best medicine.

Sometimes these anxieties take a different form, and betray themselves
by suspicion of other people's conduct and motives. That is of course
allied to insanity. In sane and sound health we realise that we are
not, as a rule, the objects of the malignity and spitefulness of
others. We are perhaps obstacles to the carrying out of other people's
plans; but men and women as a rule mind their own business, and are not
much concerned to intervene in the designs and activities of others.
Yet a man whose mental equilibrium is unstable is apt to think that if
he is disappointed or thwarted it is the result of a deliberate
conspiracy on the part of other people. If he is a writer, he thinks
that other writers are aware of his merits, but are determined to
prevent them being recognised out of sheer ill-will. A man in robust
health realises that he gets quite as much credit or even more credit
than he deserves, and that his claims to attention are generously
recognised; one has exactly as much influence and weight as one can
get, and other people as a rule are much too much occupied in their own
concerns to have either the time or the inclination to interfere. But
as a man grows older, as his work stiffens and weakens, he falls out of
the race, and he must be content to do so; and he is well advised if he
puts his failure down to his own deficiencies, and not to the malice of
others. The world is really very much on the look out for anything
which amuses, delights, impresses, moves, or helps it; it is quick and
generous in recognition of originality and force; and if a writer, as
he gets older, finds his books neglected and his opinions disdained, he
may be fairly sure that he has said his say, and that men are
preoccupied with new ideas and new personalities. Of course this is a
melancholy and disconcerting business, especially if one has been more
concerned with personal prominence than with the worth and weight of
one's ideas; mortified vanity is a sore trial. I remember once meeting
an old author who, some thirty years before the date at which I met
him, had produced a book which attracted an extraordinary amount of
attention, though it has long since been forgotten. The old man had all
the airs of solemn greatness, and I have seldom seen a more rueful
spectacle than when a young and rising author was introduced to him,
and when it became obvious that the young man had not only never heard
of the old writer, but did not know the name of his book.

The question is what we can do to avoid falling under the dominion of
these uncanny fears and fancies, as we fall from middle age to age. A
dreary, dispirited, unhappy, peevish old man or old woman is a very
miserable spectacle; while, at the same time, generous, courteous,
patient, modest, tender old age is one of the most beautiful things in
the world. We may of course resolve not to carry our dreariness into
all circles, and if we find life a poor and dejected business, we can
determine that we will not enlarge upon the theme. But the worst of
discouragement is that it removes even the desire to play a part, or to
make the most and best of ourselves. Like Mrs. Gummidge in David
Copperfield, if we are reminded that other people have their troubles,
we are apt to reply that we feel them more. One does not desire that
people should unduly indulge themselves in self-dramatisation. There is
something very repugnant in an elderly person who is bent on proving
his importance and dignity, in laying claim to force and influence, in
affecting to play a large part in the world. But there is something
even more afflicting in the people who drop all decent pretence of
dignity, and pour the product of an acrid and disappointed spirit into
all conversations.

Age can establish itself very firmly in the hearts of its circle, if it
is kind, sympathetic, appreciative, ready to receive confidences,
willing to encourage the fitful despondencies of youth. But here again
we are met by the perennial difficulty as to how far we can force
ourselves to do things which we do not really want to do, and how far
again, if we succeed in forcing ourselves into action, we can give any
accent of sincerity and genuineness to our comments and questions.

In this particular matter, that of sympathy, a very little effort does
undoubtedly go a long way, because there are a great many people in the
world eagerly on the look out for any sign of sympathy, and not apt to
scrutinise too closely the character of the sympathy offered. And the
best part of having once forced oneself to exhibit sympathy, at
whatever cost of strain and effort, is that one is at least ashamed to
withdraw it.

I remember a foolish woman who was very anxious to retain the hold upon
the active world which she had once possessed. She very seldom spoke of
any subject but herself, her performances, her activities, the pressure
of the claims which she was forced to try to satisfy. I can recall her
now, with her sanguine complexion, her high voice, her anxious and
restless eye wandering in search of admiration. "The day's post!" she
cried, "that is one of my worst trials--so many duties to fulfil, so
many requests for help, so many irresistible claims come before me in
the pile of letters--that high," indicating about a foot and a half of
linear measurement above the table. "It is the same story every day--a
score of people bringing their little mugs of egotism to be filled at
my pump of sympathy!"

It was a ridiculous exhibition, because one was practically sure that
there was nothing of the kind going on. One was inclined to believe
that they were mugs of sympathy filled at the pump of egotism! But if
the thing were really being done, it was certainly worth doing!

One of the causes of the failure of nerve-force in age, which lies
behind so much of these miseries, is that people who have lived at all
active lives cannot bring themselves to realise their loss of vigour,
and try to prolong the natural energies of middle age into the twilight
of elderliness. Men and women cling to activities, not because they
enjoy them, but to delude themselves into believing that they are still
young. That terrible inability to resign positions, the duties of which
one cannot adequately fulfil, which seems so disgraceful and
unconscientious a handling of life to the young, is often a pathetic
clinging to youth. Such veterans do not reflect that the only effect of
such tenacity is partly that other people do their work, and partly
also that the critic observes that if a post can be adequately filled
by so old a man it is a proof that such a post ought not to exist. The
tendency ought to be met as far as possible by fixing age-limits to all
positions. Because even if the old and weary do consult their friends
as to the advisability of retirement, it is very hard for the friends
cordially to recommend it. A public man once told me that a very aged
official consulted him as to the propriety of resignation. He said in
his reply something complimentary about the value of the veteran's
services. Whereupon the old man replied that as he set so high an
estimation upon his work, he would endeavour to hold on a little longer!

The conscientious thing to do, as we get older and find ourselves
slower, more timid, more inactive, more anxious, is to consult a candid
friend, and to follow his advice rather than our own inclination; a
certain fearfulness, an avoidance of unpleasant duty, a dreary
foreboding, is apt to be characteristic of age. But we must meet it
philosophically. We must reflect that we have done our work, and that
an attempt to galvanise ourselves into activity is sure to result in
depression. So we must condense our energies, be content to play a
little, to drowse a little, to watch with interest the game of life in
which we cannot take a hand, until death falls as naturally upon our
wearied eyes as sleep falls upon the eyes of a child tired with a long
summer day of eager pleasure and delight.

But there is one practical counsel that may here be given to all who
find a tendency to dread and anxiety creeping upon them as life
advances. I have known very truly and deeply religious people who have
been thus beset, and who make their fears the subject of earnest
prayer, asking that this particular terror may be spared them, that
this cup may be withdrawn from their shuddering lips. I do not believe
that this is the right way of meeting the situation. One may pray as
whole-heartedly as one will against the tendency to fear; but it is a
great help to realise that the very experiences which seem now so
overwhelming had little or no effect upon one in youthful and
high-hearted days. It is not really that the quality of events alter;
it is merely that one is losing vitality, and parting with the
irresponsible hopefulness that did not allow one to brood, simply
because there were so many other interesting and delightful things
going on.

One must attack the disease, for it is a disease, at the root; and it
is of little use to shrink timidly from the particular evil, because
when it is gone, another will take its place. We may pray for courage,
but we must practise it; and the best way of meeting particular fears
is to cultivate interests, distractions, amusements, which may serve to
dispel them. We cannot begin to do that while we are under the dominion
of a particular fear, for the strength of fear lies in its dominating
and nauseating quality, so that it gives us a dreary disrelish for
life; but if we really wish to combat it, we must beware of inactivity;
it may be comfortable, as life goes on, to cultivate a habit of mild
contemplation, but it is this very habit of mind which predisposes us
to anxiety when anxiety comes. Dr. Johnson pointed out how
comparatively rare it was for people who had manual labour to perform,
and whose work lay in the open air, to suffer from hypochondriacal
terrors. The truth is that we are made for labour, and we have by no
means got rid of the necessity for it. We have to pay a price for the
comforts of civilisation, and above all for the pleasures of
inactivity. It is astonishing how quickly a definite task which one has
to perform, whether one likes it or not, draws off a cloud of anxiety
from one's spirit. I am myself liable to attacks of depression, not
causeless depression, but a despondent exaggeration of small troubles.
Yet in times of full work, when meetings have to be attended, papers
tackled, engagements kept, I seldom find myself suffering from vague
anxieties. It is simply astonishing that one cannot learn more common
sense! I suppose that all people of anxious minds tend to find the
waking hour a trying one. The mind, refreshed by sleep, turns
sorrowfully to the task of surveying the difficulties which lie before
it. And yet a hundred times have I discovered that life, which seemed
at dawn nothing but a tangle of intolerable problems, has become at
noon a very bearable and even interesting affair; and one should thus
learn to appreciate the tonic value of occupation, and set oneself to
discern some pursuit, if we have no compulsory duties, which may set
the holy mill revolving, as Dante says; for it is the homely grumble of
the gear which distracts us from the other sort of grumbling, the
self-pitying frame of mind, which is the most fertile seed-plot of fear.

"How happy I was long ago; how little I guessed my happiness; how
little I knew all that lay before me; how sadly and strangely afflicted
I am!" These are the whispers of the evil demon of fearfulness; and
they can only be checked by the murmur of wholesome and homely voices.

The old motto says, "Orare est laborare," "prayer is work"--and it is
no less true that "laborare est orare," "work is prayer." The truth is
that we cannot do without both; and when we have prayed for courage,
and tried to rejoice in our beds, as the saints who are joyful in glory
do, we had better spend no time in begging that money may be sent us to
meet our particular need, or that health may return to us, or that this
and that person may behave more kindly and considerately, but go our
way to some perfectly commonplace bit of work, do it as thoroughly as
we can, and simply turn our back upon the hobgoblin whose grimaces fill
us with such uneasiness. He melts away in the blessed daylight over the
volume or the account-book, in the simple talk about arrangements or
affairs, and above all perhaps in trying to disentangle and relieve
another's troubles and anxieties. We cannot get rid of fear by drugs or
charms; we have to turn to the work which is the appointed solace of
man, and which is the reward rather than the penalty of life.



There is one great and notable instance in our annals which ought once
and for all to dispose of the idea that there is anything weak or
unmanly in finding fear a constant temptation, and that is the case of
Dr. Johnson. Dr. Johnson holds his supreme station as the "figure" par
excellence of English life for a number of reasons. His robustness, his
wit, his reverence for established things, his secret piety are all
contributory causes; but the chief of all causes is that the proportion
in which these things were mixed is congenial to the British mind. The
Englishman likes a man who is deeply serious without being in the least
a prig; a man who is tender-hearted without being sentimental; he likes
a rather combative nature, and enjoys repartee more than he enjoys
humour. The Englishman values good sense above almost all qualities; by
a sensible man he means a man with a clear judgment of right and wrong,
a man who is not taken in by pretences nor gulled by rhetoric; a man
who can instinctively see what is important and what is unimportant.
But of course the chief external reason, apart from the character of
Johnson himself, for his supremacy of fame, is that his memory is
enshrined in an incomparable biography. It shows the strange ineptness
of Englishmen for literary and artistic criticism, their incapacity for
judging a work of art on its own merits, their singular habit of
allowing their disapprobation of a man's private character to
depreciate his work, that an acknowledged critic like Macaulay could
waste time in carefully considering whether Boswell was more fool or
more knave, and triumphantly announce that he produced a good book by
accident. Probably Boswell did not realise how matchless a biographer
he was, though he was not disposed to belittle his own performances.
But his unbridled interest in the smallest details, his power of
hero-worship, his amazing style, his perception, his astonishing memory
and the training he gave it, his superb dramatic faculty, which enabled
him to arrange his other characters around the main figure, and to
subordinate them all to his central emphasis--all these qualities are
undeniable. Moreover he was himself the most perfect foil and contrast
to Johnson that could be imagined, while he possessed in a unique
degree the power of both stimulating and provoking his hero to
animation and to wrath. Boswell may not have known what an artist he
was, but he is probably one of the best literary artists who has ever

But the supreme quality of his great book is this--that his interest in
every trait of his hero, large and small, is so strong that he had none
of that stiff propriety or chilly reserve which mars almost all English
biographies. He did not care a straw whether this characteristic or
that would redound to Johnson's credit. He saw that Johnson was a
large-minded, large-hearted man, with an astonishing power of
conversational expression, and an extremely picturesque figure as well.
He perceived that he was big enough to be described in full, and that
the shadows of his temperament only brought out the finer features into

Since the days of Johnson there are but two Englishmen whose lives we
know in anything like the same detail--Ruskin and Carlyle. We know the
life of Ruskin mainly from his own power of impassioned autobiography,
and because he had the same sort of power of exhibiting both his charm
and his weakness as Boswell had in dealing with Johnson. But Ruskin was
not at all a typical Englishman; he had a very feminine side to his
character, and though he was saved from sentimentality by his extreme
trenchancy, and by his irritable temper, yet his whole temperament is
beautiful, winning, attractive, rather than salient and picturesque. He
had the qualities of a poet, a quixotic ideal, and an exuberant fancy;
but though his spell over those who understand him is an almost magical
one, his point of view is bound to be misunderstood by the ordinary man.

Carlyle's case is a different one again. There the evidence is mainly
documentary. We know more about the Carlyle interior than we know of
the history of any married pair since the world began. There is little
doubt that if Carlyle could have had a Boswell, a biographer who could
have rendered the effect of his splendid power of conversation, we
might have had a book which could have been put on the same level as
the life of Johnson, because Carlyle again was pre-eminently a
"figure," a man made by nature to hold the enraptured attention of a
circle. But it would have been a much more difficult task to represent
Carlyle's talk than it was to represent Johnson's, because Carlyle was
an inspired soliloquist, and supplied both objection and repartee out
of his own mind. I think it probable that Carlyle was a typical
Scotchman; he was more impassioned in his seriousness than Johnson, but
he had a grimness which Johnson did not possess, and he had not
Johnson's good-natured tolerance for foolish and well-meaning people.
Carlyle himself had a good deal of Boswell's own gift, a power of
minute and faithful observation, and a memory which treasured and
reproduced characteristic details. If Carlyle had ever had the time or
the taste to admire any human being as Boswell admired Johnson, he
might have produced fully as great a book; but Carlyle had a prophetic
impulse, an instinct for inverting tubs and preaching from them, a
desire for telling the whole human race what to do and how to do it,
which Johnson was too modest to claim.

There is but one other instance that I know in English literature of a
man who had the Boswellian gift to the full, but who never had complete
scope, and that was Hogg. If Hogg could have spent more of his life
with Shelley, and had been allowed to complete his book, we might, I
believe, have had a monument of the same kind.

But in the case of Boswell and Johnson, it is Boswell's magnificent
scorn of reticence which has done the trick, like the spurt of acid, of
which Browning speaks in one of his best similes. The final stroke of
genius which has established the Life of Johnson so securely in the
hearts of English readers, lies in the fact that Boswell has given us
something to compassionate. As a rule the biographer cannot bear to
evoke the smallest pity for his hero. The absence of female relatives
in the case of Johnson was probably a part of his good fortune. No
biographer likes, and seldom dares, to torture the sensibilities of a
great man's widow and daughters. And the strength as well as the
weakness of the feminine point of view is that women have a power not
so much of not observing, as of actually obliterating the weaknesses of
those whom they love. It is sentiment which ruins biographies, the
sentiment that cannot bear the truth.

Boswell did not shrink from admitting the reader to a sight of
Johnson's hypochondria, his melancholy fears, his dreary miseries, his
dread of illness, his terror of death. Johnson's horror of annihilation
was insupportable. He so revelled in life, in the contact and company
of other human beings, that he once said that the idea of an infinity
of torment was preferable to the thought of annihilation. He wrote, in
his last illness, to his old friend Dr. Taylor:

"Oh! my friend, the approach of death is very dreadful. I am afraid to
think on that which I know I cannot avoid. It is vain to look round and
round for that help which cannot be had. Yet we hope and hope, and
fancy that he who has lived to-day may live to-morrow. But let us learn
to derive our hope only from God.

"In the meantime, let us be kind to one another. I have no friend now
living but you and Mr. Hector that was the friend of my youth.--Do not
neglect, sir, yours affectionately, SAM. JOHNSON."

Was ever the last fear put into such simple and poignant words as in
the above letter? It is like that other saying of Johnson's, when all
sorts of good reasons had been given why men should wish to be released
from their troubles by death, "After all, it is a sad thing for a man
to lie down and die." There is no more that can be said, and not the
best reasons in the world for desiring to depart and have done with
life can ever do away with that sadness.

Dr. Johnson supplies the clearest proof, if proof were needed, that no
robustness of temperament, no genius of common sense, no array of
rationality, no degree of courage, can save a man from the assaults of
fear, and even of fear which the sufferer knows to be unreal. Some of
the most severe and angry things which Johnson ever said were said to
Boswell and others who persisted in discussing the question of death.
Yet Johnson had no rational doubt of immortality, and believed with an
almost childlike simplicity in the Christian faith. He was not afraid
of pain, or of the act of dying; it was of the unknown conditions
beyond the grave that he was afraid. Probably as a rule very robust
people are so much occupied in living that they have little time to
think of the future, while men and women who hold to life by a frail
tenure are not much concerned at quitting a scene which is phantasmal
and full of pain. But in Johnson we have the two extremes brought
together. He was the most gregarious of men; he loved company so well
that he would follow his friends to the very threshold, in the hope, as
he once told Boswell, that they might perhaps return. When he was alone
and undistracted, his melancholy came back upon him like a cloud. He
tortured himself over the unprofitableness of his life, over his
failure to achieve official prominence. He does not seem to have
brooded over the favourite subject for Englishmen to lose heart over,
namely, his financial position. It is a very significant fact in our
English life that if at an inquest upon a suicide it can be established
that a man has financial difficulties, a verdict of temporary insanity
is instantly conceded. Loss of property rather than loss of affection
is the thing which the Englishman thinks is likely to derange a man.
But Johnson seems never to have been afraid of poverty, nor to have
ever troubled about fame. He was very angry once when it was laughingly
suggested to him that if he had gone to the Bar he might have been Lord
Chancellor; and I have no doubt, as I have said, that one of his
uncomfortable reflections was that he did not seem to himself to be in
a position of influence and authority. But, apart from that, it is
obvious that Johnson's broodings took the form of lamenting his own
sinfulness and moral worthlessness: what the faults which troubled him
were, it is hard to say. He does not seem to have been repentant about
the mortification he caused others by his witty bludgeoning--indeed he
considered himself a polite man! But I believe, from many slight
indications, that Johnson was distressed by the consciousness of
sensual impulses, though he held them in severe restraint. His habit of
ejaculatory prayer was, I think, directed against this tendency. The
agitation with which he once said that corruption had entered into his
heart by means of a dream seems to me a proof of this. He took a
tolerant view of the lapses of others, and of course the standard of
the age was lax in this respect. But I have little doubt myself that
here Johnson found himself often confronted with a sensuous tendency
which he thought degrading, and which he constantly combated.

Apart from this, he was not afraid of illness in itself, except as a
prelude of mortality. Indeed I believe that he took a hypochondriac
pleasure in observing his symptoms minutely, and in dosing himself in
all sorts of ways. His mysterious preoccupations with dried orange-peel
had no doubt a medicinal end in view. But when it came to suffering
pain and even to enduring operations, he had no tremors. His one
constant fear was the fear of death. He kept it at arm's length, he
loved any social amusement that banished it, but it is obvious, in
several of his talks, when the subject was under discussion, that the
cloud descended upon him suddenly and made him miserable. It was all
summed up in this, that life was to his taste, that even when oppressed
with gloom and depression, he never desired to escape. I have heard a
great doctor say that he believed that human beings were very sharply
divided in this respect, that there were some people in whom any
extremity of prolonged anguish, bodily or mental, never produced the
smallest desire to quit life; while there were others whose attachment
to life was slight, and that a very little pressure of care or calamity
developed a suicidal impulse. This is, I suppose, a question of
vitality, not necessarily of activity of mind and body, but a deep
instinctive desire to live; the thought of deliberate suicide was
wholly unintelligible to Johnson, death was his ultimate fear, and
however much he suffered from disease or depression, his intention to
live was always inalienable.

His fear then was one which no devoutness of faith, no resolute
tenacity of hope, no array of reasons could ever touch. It was simply
the unknown that he feared. Life had not been an easy business for
Johnson; he had known all the calamities of life, and he was familiar
with the worst calamity of all, the causeless melancholy which makes
life weary and distasteful without ever removing the certainty that it
is in itself desirable.

We may see from all this that to attempt to seek a cure for fear in
reason is foredoomed to failure, because fear lies in a region that is
behind all reason. It exists in the depth of the spirit, as in the
fallen gloom of the glimmering sea-deeps, and it can be touched by no
activity of life and joy and sunlight on the surface, where the
speeding sail moves past wind-swept headlands. We must follow it into
those depths if we are to deal with it at all, and it must be
vanquished in the region where it is born, and where it skulks unseen.



There were three great men of the nineteenth century of whom we know
more than we know of most men, Carlyle, Ruskin, and Tennyson, in whose
lives fear was a prominent element.

Tennyson has suffered no loss of fame, but he has suffered of late a
certain loss of influence, which was bound to come, if simply from the
tremendous domination which his writings exercised in his lifetime. He
was undoubtedly one of the first word-artists who ever lived and wrote,
but he was a great deal more than that; he was a great mystic, a man
whose mind moved in a shining cloud of inspiration. He had the
constitution and the temperament of a big Lincolnshire yeoman, with
that simple rusticity that is said to have characterised Vergil. But
his spirit dwelt apart, revolving dim and profound thoughts, brooding
over mysteries; if he is lightly said to be Early Victorian, it is not
because he was typical of his age, but because he contributed so much
to make it what it was. While Browning lived an eager personal life,
full of observation, zest, and passion, Tennyson abode in more
impersonal thoughts. In the dawn of science, when there was a danger of
life becoming over-materialised, contented with the first steps of
swiftly apprehended knowledge, and with solutions which were no
solutions at all, but only the perception of laws, Tennyson was the man
of all others who saw that science had a deeply poetical side, and
could enforce rather than destroy the religious spirit; he saw that a
knowledge of processes was not the same thing as an explanation of
impulses, and that while it was a little more clear in the light of
science what was actually happening in the world, men were no nearer
the perception of why it happened so, or why it happened at all.
Tennyson saw clearly the wonders of astronomy and geology, and
discerned that the laws of nature were nothing more than the habits, so
to speak, of a power that was incredibly dim and vast, a power which
held within itself the secrets of motion and rest, of death and life.
Thus he claimed for his disciples not only the average thoughtful men,
but the very best and finest minds of his generation who wished to link
the past and the present together, and not to break with the old

Tennyson's art suffered from the consciousness of his enormous
responsibility, and where he failed was from his dread of unpopularity,
or his fear of alienating the ordinary man. Browning was interested in
ethical problems; his robust and fortunate temperament allowed him to
bridge over with a sort of buoyant healthiness the gaps of his
philosophy. But Tennyson's ethical failure lay in his desire to improve
the occasion, and to rule out all impulses that had not a social and
civic value. In the later "Idylls" he did his best to represent the
prig trailing clouds of glory, and to discourage lawlessness in every
form; but he was more familiar with the darker and grosser sides of
life than he allowed to appear in his verse, which suffers from an
almost prudish delicacy, which is more akin to respectability than to
moral courage.

But all this was the shadow of a very sensitive and melancholy
temperament. Comparatively little is known of the first forty years of
his life; it is after that time that the elaborate legend begins. Till
the time of his marriage, he must have been a constant anxiety to his
friends; his gloom, his inertia, his drifting mooning ways, his
hypochondria, his incapacity for any settled plan of life, all seemed
to portend an ultimate failure. But this troubled inertness was the
soil of his inspiration; his conceptions took slow and stately shape.
He never suffered from the haste, which as Dante says "mars all decency
of act." After that time he enjoyed a great domestic happiness, and
practised considerable sociability. His terrifying demeanour, his
amazing personal dignity and majesty, the certainty that he would say
whatever came into his head, whether it was profound and solemn, or
testy and discourteous, gave him a personal ascendancy that never
disappointed a pilgrim.

But he lived all his life in a perpetual melancholy, feeling the
smallest slights acutely, hating at once obscurity and publicity, aware
of his renown, yet shrinking from the evidences of it. He could be
distracted by company, soothed by wine and tobacco; but left to itself,
his mind fell helplessly down the dark slope into a sadness and a
dreariness which deprived life of its savour. It was not that his dread
was a definite one; he was strong and tough physically, and he regarded
death with a solemn curiosity; but he had a sense of the profitlessness
of vacant hours, unthrilled by beauty and delight, and had also a
morbid pride, of the nature of vanity, which caused him to resent the
smallest criticism of his works from the humblest reader. There are
many stories of this, how he declaimed against the lust of gossip,
which he called with rough appositeness "ripping up a man like a pig,"
and thanked God with all his heart and soul that he knew nothing of
Shakespeare's private life; and in the same breath went on to say that
he thought that his own fame was suffering from a sort of congestion,
because he had received no letters about his poems for several days.

In later life he became very pessimistic, and believed that the world
was sinking fast into dull materialism, petty selfishness, and moral
anarchy. He had less opportunity of knowing what was going on in the
world than most people, in his sheltered and secluded life, with his
court of friends and worshippers. And indeed it was not a rational
pessimism; it was but the shadow of his fear. And the fact remains that
in spite of a life of great good fortune, and an undimmed supremacy of
fame, he spent much of his time in fighting shadows, involved in clouds
of darkness and dissatisfaction. That was no doubt the price he paid
for his exquisite perception of beauty and his power of melodious
expression. But we make a great mistake if we merely think of Tennyson
as a rich and ample nature moving serenely through life. He was
"black-blooded," he once said, adding, "like all the Tennysons."
Doubtless he had in his mind his father, a man often deeply in the grip
of melancholy. And the absurd legend, invented probably by Rossetti,
contains a truth in it and may be quoted here. Rossetti said that he
once went to dine with a friend in London, and was shown into a dimly
lit drawing-room with no one to receive him. He went towards the
fireplace, and suddenly to his surprise discovered an immensely tall
man in evening dress lying prostrate on the hearthrug, his face
downwards, in an attitude of prone despair. While he gazed, the
stranger rose to his feet, looked fixedly at him, and said, "I must
introduce myself; I am Octavius, the most morbid of the Tennysons."

With Ruskin we have a different case. He was brought up in the most
secluded fashion, and though he was sharply enough disciplined into
decorous behaviour by his very grim and positive mother, he was guarded
like a precious jewel, and as he grew up he was endlessly petted and
indulged. The Ruskins lived a very comfortable life in a big villa with
ample grounds at Denmark Hill. Whatever the wonderful boy did was
applauded and even dangerously encouraged, both in the way of drawing
and of writing. Though he seems to have been often publicly snubbed by
both his parents, it was more a family custom than anything else, and
was accompanied by undisguised admiration and patent pride. They were
his stupefied critics, when he read aloud his works in the family
circle, and his father obediently produced large sums of money to
gratify his brilliant son's artistic desire for the possession of
Turner's paintings. Ruskin in his morbid moments, in later life, turned
fiercely and unjustly against his fond and tender father. He accused
him with an in temperate bitterness of having lavished everything upon
him except the intelligent sympathy of which he stood in need, and his
father's gentle and mournful apologies have an extraordinary beauty of
puzzled and patient dignity about them.

When Ruskin went to Oxford, his mother went to reside there too, to
look after her darling. One might have supposed that this would have
involved Ruskin in ridicule, but he was petted and indulged by his
fellow-undergraduates, who found his charm, his swift wit, his
childlike waywardness, his freakish humour irresistible. Then he had a
serious illness, and his first taste of misery; he was afraid of death,
he hated the constraints of invalid life and the grim interruption to
his boundless energies and plans. Then came his first great book, and
he strode full-fledged into fame. His amazing attractiveness, his talk,
which combined incisiveness and fancy and humour and fire and
gentleness, made him a marked figure from the first. Moreover, he had
the command of great wealth, yet no temptation to be idle. The tale of
Ruskin's industry for the next fifty years is one that would be
incredible if it were not true. His brief and dim experience of married
life seems hardly to have affected him. As a critic of art and ethics,
as the writer of facile magnificent sentences, full of beauty and
rhythm, as the composer of word-structures, apparently logical in form
but deeply prejudiced and inconsequent in thought, he became one of the
great influences of the day, and wielded not only power but real
domination. The widespread delusion of the English educated classes,
that they are interested in art, was of Ruskin's making. Then something
very serious happened to him; a baffled passion of extraordinary
intensity, a perception of the realities of life, the consciousness
that his public indulged and humoured him as his parents had done, and
admired his artistic advice without paying the smallest heed to his
ethical principles--all these experiences broke over him, wearied as he
was with excessive strain, like a bitter wave. But his pessimism took
the noble form of an intense concern with the blindness and
impenetrability of the world at large. He made a theory of political
economy, which, peremptory and prejudiced as it is, is yet built on
large lines, and has been fruitful in suggestiveness. But he tasted
discouragement and failure in deep draughts. His parents frankly
expressed their bewildered disappointment, his public looked upon him
as a perverse man who was throwing away a beautiful message for the
sake of a crabbed whim; and he fell into a fierce depression,
alternating between savage energy and listless despondency, which
lasted for several years, till at last the overwrought brain and mind
gave way; and for the rest of his life he was liable to recurrent
attacks of insanity, which cleared off and left him normal again, or as
normal as he ever had been. Wide and eager as Ruskin's tenderness was,
one feels that his heart was never really engaged; he was always far
away, in a solitude full of fear, out of the reach of affection, always
solemnly and mournfully alone. Ruskin was never really allied with any
other human soul; he knew most of the great men of the day; he baited
Rossetti, he petted Carlyle; he had correspondents like Norton, to whom
he poured out his overburdened heart; but he was always the spoiled and
indulged child of his boyhood, infinitely winning, provoking, wilful.
He could not be helped, because he could never get away from himself;
he could admire almost frenziedly, but he could not worship; he could
not keep himself from criticism even when he adored, and he had a
bitter superiority of spirit, a terrible perception of the
imperfections and faults of others, a real despair of humanity.

I do not know exactly what the terrors which Ruskin suffered were--very
few people will tell the tale of the valley of hobgoblins, or probably
cannot! In the Pilgrim's Progress itself, the unreality of the spirits
of fear, their secrecy and leniency, is very firmly and wittily told.
They scream in their dens, sitting together, I have thought, like fowls
in a roost. They come padding after the pilgrim, they show themselves
obscurely, swollen by the mist at the corners of the road. They give
the sense of being banded together in a numerous ambush, they can
deceive eye and ear, and even nose with noisome stenches; but they
cannot show themselves, and they cannot hurt. If they could be seen,
they would be nothing but limp ungainly things that would rouse disdain
and laughter and even pity, at anything at once so weak and so
malevolent. But they are not like the demons of sin that can hamper and
wound; they are just little gnomes and elves that can make a noise, and
their strength is a spiteful and a puny thing.

Ruskin had no sordid or material fears; he had no fear of poverty, for
he flung his father's hard-earned wealth profusely away; nor did he
fear illness; indeed one of the bravest and most gallant things about
him was the way in which he talked and wrote about his insane fits,
described his haunted visions, told, half-ruefully, half-humorously,
how he fought and struggled with his nurses, and made fun of the
matter. That was a very courageous thing to do, because most people are
ashamed of insanity, no doubt from the old sad ignorant tradition that
it was the work of demoniacal agencies, and not a mere disease like
other diseases. Half the tragedy of insanity is that it shocks people,
and cannot be alluded to or spoken about; but one can take the sting
out of almost any calamity if one can make fun of it, and this Ruskin

But he was wounded by his fears, as we most of us are, not only through
his vanity but through his finest emotions. He felt his impotence and
his failure. He had thought of his gift of language as one might think
of a magic wand which one can wave, and thus compel duller spirits to
do one's bidding. Ruskin began by thinking that there was not much
amiss with the world except a sort of pathetic stupidity; and he
thought that if only people could be told, clearly and loudly enough,
what was right, they would do it gladly; and then it dawned upon him by
slow degrees that the confusion was far deeper than that, that men
mostly did not live in motives but in appetites. And so he fell into a
sort of noble rage with the imperfection of mortal things; and one of
the clearest signs, as he himself knew, that he was drifting into one
of the mind-storms which swept across him, was that in these moods
everything that people said or wrote had power to arouse his
irritation, to interrupt his work, to break his sleep, and to show him
that he was powerless indeed. What he feared was derision, and the
good-natured indifferent stolidity that is worse than any derision, and
the knowledge that, with all his powers and perceptions, his
common-sense, which was great, and his sense of responsibility, he was
treated by the world like a spoilt child, charming even in his wrath,
who had full license to be as vehement as he liked, with the
understanding that no one would act on his advice.

I often go to Brantwood, which is a sacred place indeed, and see with
deep emotion the little rooms, with all their beautiful treasures, and
all the great accumulations of that fierce industry of mind, and
remember that in that peaceful background a man of exquisite genius
fought with sinister shadows, and was worsted in the fight, for a time;
because the last ten years of that long life were a time of serene
waiting for death, a beguiling by little childish and homely
occupations the heavy hours: he could uplift his voice no more, often
could hardly frame an intelligible thought. But meanwhile his great
message went on rippling out to the world, touching heart after heart
into light and hope, and doing, insensibly and graciously, by the
spirit, the very thing he had failed to do by might and power.

And then we come to Carlyle, and here we are on somewhat different
ground. Carlyle had a colossal quarrel with the age, but he thought
very little of the message of beauty and peace. His idea of the world
was that of a stern combative place, with the one hope a strenuous and
grim righteousness; Carlyle thought of the world as a place where
cheats and liars cozened and beguiled men, for their own advantage,
with all sorts of shams and pretences: but he did not really know the
world; he put down to individual action and deliberate policy much that
was due simply to the prevalence of tradition and system, and to the
complexity of civilisation. He was so fierce an individualist himself
that he credited everyone else with purpose and prejudice. He did not
realise the vast preponderance of helpless good-nature and muddled
kindliness. The mistake of much of Carlyle's work is that it is too
poignantly dramatic, and bristles with intention and significance; and
he did not allow sufficiently for the crowd of vague supers who throng
the background of the stage. Neither did he ever go about the world
with his eyes open for general facts. Wherever he was, he was intensely
observant, but he spent his days either in a fierce absorption of work,
blind even to the sorrow and discomfort of his wife, or taking rapid
tours to store his mind with the details of historical scenes, or in
the big houses of wealthy people, where he kept much to himself, stored
up irresistibly absurd caricatures of the other guests, and lamented
his own inaction. I have never been able to discover exactly why
Carlyle spent so much time in staying at great houses, deriding and
satirising everything he set eyes upon; it was, I believe, vaguely
gratifying to him to have raised himself unaided into the highest
social stratum; and the old man was after all a tremendous aristocrat
at heart. Or else he skulked with infinite melancholy in his mother's
house, being waited upon and humoured, and indulging his deep and true
family affection. But he was a solitary man for the most part, and
mixed with men, involved in a cloud of his own irresistibly fantastic
and whimsical talk; for his real gift was half-humorous,
half-melancholy improvisation rather than deliberate writing.

But it is difficult to discern in all this what his endless and
plangent melancholy was concerned with. He had a very singular physical
frame, immensely tough and wiry, with an imagination which emphasized
and particularised every slight touch of bodily disorder. When he was
at work, he toiled like a demon day after day, entirely and vehemently
absorbed. When he was not at work he suffered from dreary reaction. He
fought out in early days a severe moral combat, and found his way to a
belief in God which was very different from his former Calvinism.
Carlyle can by no stretch of the word be called a Christian, but he was
one of the most thoroughgoing Deists that ever lived. The terror that
beset him in that first great conflict was a ghastly fear of his own
insignificance, and a horrible suspicion that the world was made on
fortuitous and indifferent lines. His dread was that of being worsted,
in spite of all his eager sensibility and immense desire to do a noble
work, of being crushed, silenced, thrown ruthlessly on the dust-heap of
the world. He learned a fiery sort of Determinism, and a faith in the
stubborn power of the will, not to achieve anything, but to achieve

Yet after this tremendous conflict, described in Sartor Resartus, where
he found himself at bay with his back to the wall, he never had any
ultimate doubt again of his own purpose. Still, it brought him no
serenity; and I suppose there is no writer in the world whose letters
and diaries are so full of cries of anguish and hopelessness. He was
crushed under the sense of the world's immensity; his own observation
was so microscopic, his desire to perceive and know so strong, his
appetite for definiteness so profound, that I feel that Carlyle's
terror was like that of a mite in an enormous cheese, longing to
explore it all, lost in the high-flavoured dusk, and conscious of a
scale of mystery so vast that it humiliated a brain that wanted to know
the truth about everything. In these sad hours--and they were numerous
and protracted--he felt like a knight worn out by conflict, under a
listless enchantment which he could not break. I know few confessions
that are so filled with gleams of high poetry and beauty as many of
these solitary lamentations. But I believe that the terrors that
Carlyle had to face were the terrors of a swift, clear-sighted,
feverishly active, intuitive brain, prevented by mortal weakness and
frailty from dealing as he desired with the dazzling immensity and
intricacy of the world's life and history.

I feel no real doubt of this, because Carlyle's passion for accurate
and minute knowledge, his intense interest in temperament and
character, his almost unequalled power of observation--which is really
the surest sign of genius--come out so clearly all through his life,
that his finite limitations must have been of the nature of a torture
to him. One who desired to know the truth about everything so
vehemently, was crushed and bewildered by the narrow range and limited
scope of his own insatiable thought. His power of expressing all that
he saw and felt, so delicately, so humorously, and at times so
tenderly, must have beguiled his sadness more than he knew. It was
Ruskin who said that he could never fit the two sides of the puzzle
together--on the one side the awful dejection and despondency which
Carlyle always claimed to feel in the presence of his work, as a
dredger in lakes of mud and as a sorter of mountains of rubbish, and on
the other side the endless relish for salient traits, and the delighted
apprehension of quality which emerges so clearly in all he wrote.

But it is clear that Carlyle suffered ceaselessly, though never
unutterably. He was a matchless artist, with an unequalled gift of
putting into vivid words everything he experienced; but his sadness was
a disease of the imagination, a fear, not of anything definite--for he
never even saw the anxieties that were nearest to him--but a nightmare
dream of chaos and whirling forces all about him, a dread of slipping
off his own very fairly comfortable perch into oceans of confusion and



I doubt if the records of intimate biography contain a finer
object-lesson against fear and all its obsessions than the life of
Charlotte Bronte. She was of a temperament which in many ways was more
open to the assaults of fear than any which could well be devised. She
was frail and delicate, liable to acute nervous depression, intensely
shy and sensitive, and susceptible as well; that is to say that her
shyness did not isolate her from her kind; she wanted to be loved,
respected, even admired. When she did love, she loved with fire and
passion and desperate loyalty.

Her life was from beginning to end full of sharp and tragic
experiences. She was born and brought up in a bleak moorland village,
climbing steeply and grimly to the edge of heathery uplands. The bare
parsonage, with its little dark rooms, looks out on a churchyard paved
with graves. Her father was a kindly man, but essentially moody and
solitary. He took all his meals alone, walked alone, sate alone. Her
mother died of cancer, when she was but a child. Then she was sent to
an ill-managed austere school, and here when she was nine years old her
two elder sisters died. She took service two or three times as a
governess, and endured agonies of misunderstanding, suspicious of her
employers, afraid of her pupils, longing for home with an intense
yearning. Then she went out to a school at Brussels, where under the
teaching of M. Heger, a gifted professor, her mind and heart awoke, and
she formed for him a strange affection, half an intellectual devotion,
half an unconscious passion, which deprived her of her peace of mind.
Her sad and wistful letters to him, lately published, were disregarded
by him, partly because his wife was undoubtedly jealous of the
relation, partly because he was disconcerted by the emotion he had
aroused. Her brother, a brilliant, wayward, and in some ways attractive
boy, got into disgrace, and drifted home, where he tried to console
himself with drink and opium. After three years of this horrible life,
he died, and within twelve months her two surviving sisters, Emily and
Anne, developed consumption and died. As Robert Browning says, there
indeed was "trouble enough for one!"

Now it must be borne in mind that her temperament was naturally

Let me quote a passage dealing with the same experience; it is
undoubtedly autobiographical, though it comes from Villette, into which
Charlotte Bronte threw the picture of her own solitary experiences in
Brussels. She is left alone at the pensionnat in the vacation, strained
by work and anxiety, and tortured by exhaustion, restlessness, and

"One day, perceiving this growing illusion, I said, 'I really believe
my nerves are getting overstretched: my mind has suffered somewhat too
much; a malady is growing upon it--what shall I do? How shall I keep

"Indeed there was no way to keep well under the circumstances. At last
a day and night of peculiarly agonising depression were succeeded by
physical illness; I took perforce to my bed. About this time the Indian
summer closed, and the equinoctial storms began; and for nine dark and
wet days, of which the hours rushed on all turbulent, deaf,
dishevelled--bewildered with sounding hurricane--I lay in a strange
fever of the nerves and blood. Sleep went quite away. I used to rise in
the night, look round for her, beseech her earnestly to return. A
rattle of the window, a cry of the blast only replied--Sleep never came!

"I err. She came once, but in anger. Impatient of my importunity she
brought with her an avenging dream. By the clock of St. Jean Baptiste,
that dream remained scarce fifteen minutes--a brief space, but
sufficing to wring my whole frame with unknown anguish; to confer a
nameless experience that had the hue, the mien, the terror, the very
tone of a visitation from eternity. Between twelve and one that night a
cup was forced to my lips, black, strong, strange, drawn from no well,
but filled up seething from a bottomless and boundless sea. Suffering,
brewed in temporal or calculable measure, and mixed for mortal lips,
tastes not as this suffering tasted. Having drank [sic] and woke, I
thought all was over: the end come and passed by. Trembling
fearfully--as consciousness returned--ready to cry out on some
fellow-creature to help me, only that I knew no fellow-creature was
near enough to catch the wild summons--Goton in her far distant attic
could not hear--I rose on my knees in bed. Some fearful hours went over
me; indescribably was I torn, racked and oppressed in mind. Amidst the
horrors of that dream I think the worst lay here. Methought the
well-loved dead, who had loved ME well in life, met me elsewhere
alienated; galled was my inmost spirit with an unutterable sense of
despair about the future. Motive there was none why I should try to
recover or wish to live; and yet quite unendurable was the pitiless and
haughty voice in which Death challenged me to engage his unknown
terrors. When I tried to pray I could only utter these words:--

"'From my youth up Thy terrors have I suffered with a troubled mind.'"

The deep interest of this experience is that it was endured by one who
was not only intellectually endowed beyond most women of her time, but
whose sanity, reasonableness, and moral force were conspicuously
strong. Charlotte Bronte was not one of those impulsive and imaginative
women who are the prey of every fancy. Throughout the whole of her
career, she was for ever compelling her frail and sensitive
temperament, with indomitable purpose, to perform whatever she had
undertaken to do. There never was anyone who lived so sternly by
principle and reason, or who so maintained her self-control in the face
of sorrow, disaster, unhappiness, and bereavement. She never gave way
to feeble or morbid self-accusation, and therefore the fact that she
could thus have suffered is a sign that this unnamed terror can coexist
with a dauntless courage and an essential self-command.

Here again is the cry of a desolate heart! She had been going through
her sisters' papers not long after their death, and wrote to her great

"I am both angry and surprised at myself for not being in better
spirits; for not growing accustomed, or at least resigned, to the
solitude and isolation of my lot. But my late occupation left a result,
for some days and indeed still, very painful. The reading over of
papers, the renewal of remembrances, brought back the pangs of
bereavement and occasioned a depression of spirits well-nigh
intolerable. For one or two nights I hardly knew how to get on till
morning; and when morning came I was still haunted by a sense of
sickening distress. I tell you these things because it is absolutely
necessary to me to have SOME relief. You will forgive me and not
trouble yourself, or imagine that I am one whit worse than I say. It is
quite a mental ailment, and I believe and hope is better now. I think
so, because I can speak about it, which I never can when grief is at
its worst. I thought to find occupation and interest in writing when
alone at home, but hitherto my efforts have been in vain: the
deficiency of every stimulus is so complete. You will recommend me, I
dare say, to go from home; but that does no good, even could I again
leave papa with an easy mind. . . . I cannot describe what a time of it
I had after my return from London and Scotland. There was a reaction
that sank me to the earth, the deadly silence, solitude, depression,
desolation were awful; the craving for companionship, the hopelessness
of relief were what I should dread to feel again."

Or again, in a somewhat calmer mood, she writes:

"I feel to my deep sorrow, to my humiliation, that it is not in my
power to bear the canker of constant solitude. I had calculated that
when shut out from every enjoyment, from every stimulus but what could
be desired from intellectual exertion, my mind would rouse itself
perforce. It is not so. Even intellect, even imagination will not
dispense with the ray of domestic cheerfulness, with the gentle spur of
family discussions. Late in the evening and all through the nights, I
fall into a condition of mind which turns entirely to the past--to
memory, and memory is both sad and relentless. This will never do, and
will produce no good. I tell you this that you may check false
anticipations. You cannot help me, and must not trouble yourself in any
shape to sympathise with me. It is my cup, and I must drink it as
others do theirs."

It would be difficult to create a picture of more poignant suffering;
yet she was at this time a famous writer. She had published Jane Eyre
and Shirley, and on her visits to London, to her hospitable publisher,
had found herself welcomed, honoured, feted. The great lions of the
literary world had flocked eagerly to meet her. Even these simple
festivities were accompanied by a deadly sense of strain, anxiety, and
exhaustion. Mrs. Gaskell describes how a little later she met Charlotte
Bronte at a quiet country-house, and how Charlotte was reduced from
tolerable health to a bad nervous headache by the announcement that
they were going to drive over in the afternoon to have tea at a
neighbour's house--the prospect of meeting strangers was so alarming to

But in spite of this agonising susceptibility and vulnerability, there
is never the least touch either of sentimentality or self-pity about
Charlotte Bronte. She stuck to her duty and faced life with an infinity
of patient courage. One of her friends said of her that no one she had
ever known had sacrificed more to others, or done it with a fuller
consciousness of what she was sacrificing. If duty and affection bade
her act, no sense of weakness or of inclination had any power over her.
She was afraid of life, but she stood up to it; she was never crushed
or broken. Consider the circumstances under which she began to write
Jane Eyre. She had written her novel The Professor, and it was returned
to her nine several times, by publisher after publisher. Her father was
threatened with blindness. She had taken him to Manchester for an
operation, installed him in lodgings, and settled down alone to nurse
him. The ill-fated Professor came back to her once more with a polite
refusal. That very day she wrote the first lines of Jane Eyre. Later on
too, with her brother dying of opium and drink, she had begun Shirley,
and she finished it after the deaths of her sisters. She was perfectly
merciless to herself, saw no reason why she should be spared any sorrow
or suffering or ill-health, but looked upon it all as a stern but not
unjust discipline. She had one of the most passionately affectionate
natures both in friendship and home relations--"my hot tenacious
heart," she once says! But there was no touch of softness or
sentimentality about her; she never feebly condoned weaknesses; her
observation of people was minute, her judgment of them severe and even
satirical. Her letters abound in pungent humour and acute perception;
and her idea of charity was not that of mild and muddled tolerance. She
had a vein of frank and rather bitter irony when she was indignant, and
she could return stroke for stroke.

She knew well that, whatever life was meant to be, it was not intended
to be an easy business; but she did not face it stoically or
indifferently; she had a fierce desire for knowledge, culture, ideas;
she was ambitious; and above everything she desired to be loved; yet
she did not think of love in the way in which all English romancers had
treated it for over a century, as a condescending hand held out by a
superior being, for the glory of which a woman submitted to a more or
less contented servitude; but as a glowing equality of passion and
worship, in which two hearts clasped each other close, with a sacred
concurrence of soul. And thus it was that she and Robert Browning,
above all other writers of the century, put the love of man and woman
in the true light, as the supreme worth of life; not as a half-sensuous
excitement, with lapses and reactions, but as a great and holy mystery
of devotion and service and mutual help. She too had her little taste
of love. Mr. Nicholls, her father's curate, a man of deep tenderness
behind his quiet homely ways, had proposed to her; she had refused him;
but his suffering and bewilderment had touched her deeply, and at last
she consented, though she went to her wedding in fear and dread; but
she was rewarded, and for a few short months tasted a calm and sweet
happiness, the joy of being needed and desired, and at the same time
guarded and tended well. Her pathetic words, when she knew from his
lips that she must die, "God will not part us--we have been so happy,"
are full of the deepest tragedy.

I say again that I know of no instance among the most intimate records
of the human heart, in which life was faced with such splendid courage
as it was by Charlotte Bronte. It contained so many things which she
desired--art, beauty, thought, peace, deep and tender relations, and
the supreme crown of love. But she never dreamed of trying to escape or
shirk her lot. After her first great success with Jane Eyre, she might
have lived life on her own lines; her writing meant wealth to one of
her simple tastes; and as her closest friend said, if she had chosen to
set up a house of her own, she would have been gratefully thanked for
any kindness she might have shown to her household, instead of being,
as she was, ruthlessly employed and even tyrannised over. Consider how
a young authoress, with that splendid success to her credit, would
nowadays be made much of and tended, begged to consult her own wishes
and make, her own arrangements. But Charlotte Bronte hated notoriety,
and took her fame with a shrinking and modest amazement. She never gave
herself airs, or displayed any affectation, or caught at any flattery.
She just went back to her tragic home, and carried the burden of
housekeeping on her frail shoulders. The simplicity, the delicacy, the
humility of it all is above praise. If ever there was a human being who
might have pleaded to be excused from any gallant battling with life
because of her bleak, comfortless, unhappy surroundings, and her own
sensitive temperament, it was Charlotte Bronte. But instead of that she
fought silently with disaster and unhappiness, neither pitying herself
for her destiny, nor taking the smallest credit for her tough
resistance. It does not necessarily prove that all can wage so equal a
fight with fears and sorrows; but it shows at least that an indomitable
resolution can make a noble thing out of a life from which every
circumstance of romance and dignity seems to be purposely withdrawn.

I do not think that there is in literature a more inspiring and
heartening book than Mrs. Gaskell's Life of Charlotte Bronte. The book
was written with a fine frankness and a daring indiscretion which cost
Mrs. Gaskell very dear. It remains as one of the most matchless and
splendid presentments of duty and passion and genius, waging a
perfectly undaunted fight with life and temperament, and carrying off
the spoils not only of undying fame, but the far more supreme crown of
moral force. Charlotte Bronte never doubted that she had been set in
the forefront of the battle, and that her first concern was with the
issues of life and sorrow and death. She died at thirty-eight, at a
time when many men and women have hardly got a firm hold of life at
all, or have parted with weak illusions. Yet years before she had said
sternly to a friend who was meditating a flight from hard conditions of
life: "The right course is that which necessitates the greatest
sacrifice of self-interest." Many people could have said that, but I
know no figure who more relentlessly and loyally carried out the
principle than Charlotte Bronte, or who waged a more vigorous and
tenacious battle with every onset of fear. "My conscience tells me,"
she once wrote about an anxious decision, "that it would be the act of
a moral poltroon to let the fear of suffering stand in the way of
improvement. But suffer I shall. No matter!"



I believe that the most affecting, beautiful, and grave message ever
written from a death-bed is John Sterling's last letter to Carlyle. It
reflects, perhaps, something of Carlyle's own fine manner, but then
Sterling had long been Carlyle's friend and confidant.

Before I give it, let me add a brief account of Sterling. He was some
ten years Carlyle's junior, the son of the redoubtable Edward Sterling,
the leader-writer of the Times, a man who in his day wielded a mighty
influence. Carlyle describes the father's way of life, how he spent the
day in going about London, rolling into clubs, volubly questioning and
talking; then returned home in the evening, and condensed it all into a
leader, "and is found," said Carlyle, "to have hit the essential
purport of the world's immeasurable babblement that day with an
accuracy above all other men."

The younger Sterling, Carlyle's friend, was at Cambridge for a time,
but never took his degree; he became a journalist, wrote a novel,
tales, plays, endless poems--all of thin and vapid quality. His brief
life, for he died at thirty-eight, was a much disquieted one; he
travelled about in search of health, for he was early threatened with
consumption; for a short time he was a curate in the English Church,
but drifted away from that. He lived for a time at Falmouth, and
afterwards at Ventnor. He must have been a man of extraordinary charm,
and with quite unequalled powers of conversation. Even Carlyle seems to
have heard him gladly, and that is no ordinary compliment, considering
Carlyle's own volubility, and the agonies, occasionally suppressed but
generally trenchantly expressed, with which Carlyle listened to other
well-known talkers like Coleridge and Macaulay.

Carlyle certainly had a very deep affection and admiration for
Sterling; he rains down praises upon him, in that wonderful little
biography, which is probably the finest piece of work that Carlyle ever

He speaks of Sterling as "brilliant, beautiful, cheerful with an
ever-flowing wealth of ideas, fancies, imaginations . . . with frank
affections, inexhaustible hopes, audacities, activities, and general
radiant vivacity of heart and intelligence, which made the presence of
him an illumination and inspiration wherever he went."

But all Carlyle's love and admiration for his friend did not induce him
to praise Sterling's writings; he looked upon him as a poet, but
without the gift of expression. He says that all Sterling's work was
spoilt by over-haste, and "a lack of due inertia." The fact is that
Sterling was a sort of improvisatore, and what was beautiful and
natural enough when poured out in talk, and with the stimulus of
congenial company, grew pale and indistinct when he wrote it down; he
had, in fact, no instinct for art or for design, and he failed whenever
he tried to mould ideas into form.

The shadow of illness darkened about him, and he spent long periods in
prostrate seclusion, tended by his wife and children, unable to write
or talk or receive his friends. Then a terrible calamity befell him.
His mother, to whom he was devotedly attached, died after a long
illness, Sterling not being allowed to go to her, or to leave his own
sick-room. He received the news one morning by letter, that all was
over, went in to tell his wife, who was ill; while they were talking,
his wife became faint, and died two hours later. So that within a few
hours he lost the two human beings whom he most devotedly loved, and on
whom he most depended for sympathy and help.

But in all Sterling's sorrows and illnesses, he never seems to have
lost his interest in life and thought, in ideas, questions, and
problems. Again and again he came back to the surface, with an
irrepressible zest and freshness, and even gaiety, until at last all
hope of life was extinguished. He lay dying for many weeks, and it was
then that he wrote his last letter to Carlyle, which must be given in

  10th August 1844.

MY DEAR CARLYLE,--For the first time for many months it seems possible
to send you a few words; merely, however, for Remembrance and Farewell.
On higher matters there is nothing to say. I tread the common road into
the great darkness, without any thought of fear, and with very much of
hope. Certainty indeed I have none. With regard to you and me I cannot
begin to write; having nothing for it but to keep shut the lid of those
secrets with all the iron weights that are in my power. Towards me it
is still more true than towards England that no man has been and done
like you. Heaven bless you! If I can lend a hand when THERE, that will
not be wanting. It is all very strange, but not one hundredth part so
sad as it seems to the standers-by.

Your Wife knows my mind towards her, and will believe it without
asseverations.--Yours to the last, JOHN STERLING.

That letter may speak for itself. In its dignity, its nobleness, its
fearlessness, it is one of the finest human documents I know. But let
it be remembered that it is not the letter of a mournful and
heart-broken man, turning his back on life in an ecstasy of despair;
but the letter of one who had taken a boundless delight in life, had
known upon equal terms most of the finest intellects of the day, and
had been frankly recognised by them as a chosen spirit. All Sterling's
designs for life and work had been slowly and surely thwarted by the
pressure of hopeless illness; yet he had never complained or fretted or
brooded, or indulged in any bitter recriminations against his destiny.
That seems to me a very heroic attitude; while the letter itself, in
its perfect frankness and courage, without a touch of solemnity or
affectation, or any trace of craven shrinking from his doom, makes it
in its noble simplicity one of the finest "last words" that I have ever
read, and finer, I verily believe, than any flight of poetical

A few days later he sent Carlyle some stanzas of verse, "written," says
Carlyle, "as if in star-fire and immortal tears; which are among my
sacred possessions, to be kept for myself alone."

A few weeks before he wrote his last letter to Carlyle, Sterling had
written a letter to his son, who was then a boy at school in London. In
that he says:

"When I fancy how you are walking in the same streets, and moving along
the same river, that I used to watch so intently, as if in a dream,
when younger than you are--I could gladly burst into tears, not of
grief, but with a feeling that there is no name for. Everything is so
wonderful, great and holy, so sad and yet not bitter, so full of Death
and so bordering on Heaven. Can you understand anything of this? If you
can, you will begin to know what a serious matter our Life is; how
unworthy and stupid it is to trifle it away without heed; what a
wretched, insignificant, worthless creature anyone comes to be, who
does not as soon as possible bend his whole strength, as in stringing a
stiff bow, to doing whatever task lies first before him."

That again is a noble letter; but over it I think there lies a little
shadow of regret, a sense that he had himself wasted some of the force
of life in vague trifling; but even that mood had passed away in the
nearness of the great impending change, leaving him upborne upon the
greatness of God, in deep wonder and hope, knowing nothing more, in his
weariness and his suffering, but the calmness of the Eternal Will.



The fears then from which men suffer, and even the greatest men not
least, seem to be strangely complicated by the fact that nature does
not seem to work as fast in the physical world as in the mental world.
The mosquitoes of South American swamps are all fitted with a perfect
tool-box of implements for piercing the hides of warm-blooded animals
and drawing blood, although warm-blooded animals have long ceased to
exist in those localities. But as the mosquito is one of the few
creatures which can propagate its kind without ever partaking of food,
the mosquito has therefore not died out; and though for many
generations billions upon billions of mosquitoes have never had a
chance of doing what they seem born to do, they have not discarded
their apparatus. If mosquitoes could reason and philosophise, the
prospect of such a meal might remain as a far-off and inspiring ideal
of life and conduct, a thing which heroes in the past had achieved, and
which might be possible again if they remained true to their highest
instincts. So it is with humanity. Many of our fears do not correspond
to any real danger; they are part of a panoply which we inherit, and
have to do with the instinct of self-preservation. We are exposed to
dangers still, dangers of infection for instance, but we have developed
no instinctive fear which helps us to recognise the presence of
infection. We take rational precautions against it when we recognise
it, but the vast prevalence and mortality of consumption a generation
or two ago was due to the fact that men did not recognise consumption
as infectious; and many fine lives--Keats and Emily Bronte, to name but
two--were sacrificed to careless proximity as well as to devoted
tendance; but here nature, with all her instinct of self-preservation,
did not hang out any danger signal, or provide human beings with any
instinctive fear to protect them. Our instinctive fears, such as our
fear of darkness and solitude, and our suspicion of strangers, seem to
date from a time when such conditions were really dangerous, though
they are so no longer.

At the same time the development of the imaginative faculty has brought
with it a whole series of new terrors, through our power of
anticipating and picturing possible calamities; while our increased
sensitiveness as well as our more sentimental morality expose us to yet
another range of fears. Consider the dread which many of us feel at the
prospect of a painful interview, our avoidance of an unpleasant scene,
our terror of arousing anger. The basis of all this is the primeval
dread of personal violence. We are afraid of arousing anger, not
because we expect to be assailed by blows and wounds, but because our
far-off ancestors expected anger to end in an actual assault. We may
know that we shall emerge from an unpleasant interview unscathed in
fortune and in limb, but we anticipate it with a quite irrational
terror, because we are still haunted by fears which date from a time
when injury was the natural outcome of wrath. It may be our duty, and
we may recognise it to be our duty, to make a protest of an unpleasant
kind, or to withstand the action of an irritable person; but though we
know well enough that he has no power to injure us, the flashing eye,
the distended nostril, the rising pallor, the uplifted voice have a
disagreeable effect on our nerves, although we know well that no
physical disaster will result from it. Mrs. Browning, for instance,
though she had high moral courage and tenacity of purpose, could not
face an interview with her father, because an exhibition of his anger
caused her to faint away on the spot. One does not often experience
this whiff of violent anger in middle life; but the other day I had
occasion to speak to a colleague of mine on a Board of which I am a
member, at the conclusion of a piece of business in which I had
proposed and carried a certain policy. I did not know that he
disapproved of the policy in question, but I found on speaking to him
that he was in a towering passion at my having opposed the policy which
he preferred. He grew pale with rage; the hair on his head seemed to
bristle, his eyes flashed fire; he slammed down a bundle of papers in
his hand on the table, he stamped with passion; and I confess that it
was profoundly disturbing and disconcerting. I felt for a moment that
sickening sense of misgiving with which as a little boy one confronted
an angry schoolmaster. Though I knew that I had a perfect right to my
opinion, though I recognised that my sensations were quite irrational,
I felt myself confronted with something demoniacal and insane, and the
basis of it was, I am sure, physical and not moral terror. If I had
been bullied or chastised as a child, I should be able to refer the
discomfort I felt to old associations. But I feel no doubt that my
emotion was something far more primeval than that, and that the dumb
and atrophied sense of self-preservation was at work. The fear then
that I felt was an instinctive thing, and was experienced in the inner
nature and not in the rational mind; and the perplexity of the
situation arises from the fact that such fear cannot be combated by
rational considerations. Though no harm whatever resulted or could
result from such an interview, yet I am certain that the prospect of
such an outbreak would make me in the future far more cautious in
dealing with this particular man, more anxious to conciliate him, and
probably more disposed to compromise a matter.

Such an incident makes one unpleasantly aware of the quality of one's
nature and temperament. It shows one that though one may have a strong
moral and intellectual sense of what is the right and sensible course
to take, one may be sadly hampered in carrying it out, by this secret
and hidden instinct of which one may be rationally ashamed, but which
is characteristic of what seems to be the stronger and more vital part
of one's self.

The whole of civilisation is a combat between these two forces, a
struggle between the rational and the instinctive parts of the mind.
The instinctive mind bids one follow profit, need, advantage, the
pleasure of the moment; the rational part of the mind bids one abstain,
resist, balance contingencies, act in accordance with a moral standard.
Many such abstentions become a mere matter of habit. If one is hungry
and thirsty, and meets a child carrying bread or milk, one has no
impulse to seize the food and eat it. One does not reflect upon the
possible outcome of following the impulse of plunder; it simply does
not enter one's head so to act. And there is of course a slow process
going on in the world by which this moral restraint is becoming
habitual and instinctive; but notably in the case of fear our instinct
is a belated one, and results in many causeless and baseless anxieties
which our reason in vain assures us are wholly false.

What then is our practical way of escape from the dominion of these
shadows? Not, I am sure, in any resolute attempt to combat them by
rational weapons; the rational argument, the common-sense consolation,
only touches the rational part of the mind; we have got to get behind
and below that, we have got somehow to fight instinct by instinct, and
quell the terror in its proper home. By our finite nature we are
compelled to attend to one thing at a time, and thus if we use rational
argument, we are recognising the presence of the irrational fear; it is
of little use then to array our advantages against our disadvantages,
our blessings against our sufferings, as Michael Finsbury did with such
small effect in The Wrong Box; our only chance is to turn tail
altogether, and try to set some other dominant instinct at work; while
we remember, we shall continue to suffer; our best chance lies in
forgetting, and we can only do that by calling some other dominant
emotion into play.

And here comes in the peculiarly paralysing effect of these baser
emotions. As Victor Hugo once said, in a fine apophthegm, "Despair
yawns." Fear and anxiety bring with them a particular kind of physical
fatigue which makes us listless and inert. They lie on the spirit with
a leaden dullness, which takes from us all possibility of energy and
motion. Who does not know the instinct, when one is crushed and
tortured by depression, to escape into solitude and silence, and to let
the waves and streams flow over one. That is a universal instinct, and
it is not wholly to be disregarded; it shows that to torture oneself
into rational activity is of little use, or worse than useless.

When I was myself a sufferer from long nervous depression, and had to
face a social gathering, I used out of very shame, and partly I think
out of a sense of courtesy due to others, to galvanise myself into a
sort of horrid merriment. The dark tide flowed on beneath in its sore
and aching channels. It was common enough then for some sympathetic
friend to say, "You seemed better to-night--you were quite yourself;
that is what you want; if you would only make the effort and go out
more into society, you would soon forget your troubles." There is
something in it, because the sick mind must be persuaded if possible
not to grave its dolorous course too indelibly in the temperament; but
no one else could see the acute and intolerable reaction which used to
follow such a strain, or how, the excitement over, the suffering
resumed its sway over the exhausted self with an insupportable agony. I
am sure that in my long affliction I never suffered more than after
occasions when I was betrayed by excitement into argument or lively
talk, and the worst spasms of melancholy that I ever endured were the
direct and immediate results of such efforts.

The counteracting force in fact must be an emotional and instinctive
one, not a rational and deliberate one; and this must be our next
endeavour, to see in what direction the counterpoise must lie.

In depression then, and when causeless fears assail us, we must try to
put the mind in easier postures, to avoid excess and strain, to live
more in company, to do something different. Human beings are happiest
in monotony and settled ways of life; but these also develop their own
poisons, like sameness of diet, however wholesome it may be. It is, I
believe, an established fact that most people cannot eat a pigeon a day
for fourteen days in succession; a pigeon is not unwholesome, but the
digestion cannot stand iteration. There is an old and homely story of a
man who went to a great doctor suffering from dyspepsia. The doctor
asked him what he ate, and he said that he always lunched off bread and
cheese. "Try a mutton chop," said the doctor. He did so with excellent
results. A year later he was ill again and went to the same doctor, who
put him through the same catechism. "What do you have for luncheon?"
said the doctor. "A chop," said the patient, conscious of virtuous
obedience. "Try bread and cheese," said the doctor. "Why," said the
patient, "that was the very thing you told me to avoid." "Yes," said
the doctor, "and I tell you to avoid a chop now. You, are suffering not
from diet, but from monotony of diet--and you want a change."

The principle holds good of ordinary life; it is humiliating to confess
it, but these depressions and despondencies which beset us are often
best met by very ordinary physical remedies. It is not uncommon for
people who suffer from them to examine their consciences, rake up
forgotten transgressions, and feel themselves to be under the anger of
God. I do not mean that such scrutiny of life is wholly undesirable;
depression, though it exaggerates our sinfulness, has a wonderful way
of laying its finger on what is amiss, but we must not wilfully
continue in sadness; and sadness is often a combination of an old
instinct with the staleness which comes of civilised life; and a return
to nature, as it is called, is often a cure, because civilisation has
this disadvantage, that it often takes from us the necessity of doing
many of the things which it is normal to man by inheritance to
do--fighting, hunting, preparing food, working with the hands. We
combat these old instincts artificially by games and exercises. It is
humiliating again to think that golf is an artificial substitute for
man's need to hunt and plough, but it is undoubtedly true; and thus to
break with the monotony of civilisation, and to delude the mind into
believing that it is occupied with primal needs is often a great
refreshment. Anyone who fishes and shoots knows that the joy of
securing a fish or a partridge is entirely out of proportion to any
advantages resulting. A lawyer could make money enough in a single week
to buy the whole contents of a fishmonger's shop, but this does not
give him half the satisfaction which comes from fishing day after day
for a whole week, and securing perhaps three salmon. The fact is that
the old savage mind, which lies behind the rational and educated mind,
is having its fling; it believes itself to be staving off starvation by
its ingenuity and skill, and it unbends like a loosened bow.

We may be enjoying our work, and we may even take glad refuge in it to
stave off depression, but we are then often adding fuel to the fire,
and tiring the very faculty of resistance, which hardly knows that it
needs resting.

The smallest change of scene, of company, of work may effect a
miraculous improvement when we are feeling low-spirited and listless.
It is not idleness as a rule that we want, but the use of other
faculties and powers and muscles.

And thus though our anxieties may be a real factor in our success, and
may give us the touch of prudence and vigilance we want, it does not do
to allow ourselves to drift into vague fears and dull depressions, and
we must fight them in a practical way. We must remember the case of
Naaman, who was vexed at being told to go and dip himself in a
mud-stained stream running violently in rocky places, when he might
have washed in Abana and Pharpar, the statelier, purer, fuller streams
of his native land. It is just the little homely torrent that we need,
and part of our cares come from being too dignified about them. It is
pleasanter to think oneself the battle-ground for high and tragical
forces of a spiritual kind, than to realise that some little homely bit
of common machinery is out of gear. But we must resist the temptation
to feel that our fears have a dark and great significance. We must
simply treat them as little sicknesses and ailments of the soul.

I therefore believe that fears are like those little fugitive gliding
things that seem to dart across the field of the eye when it is weak
and ailing, vague clusters and tangles and spidery webs, that float and
fly, and can never be fixed and truly seen; and that they are best
treated as we learn to treat common ailments, by not concerning
ourselves very much about them, by enduring and evading them and
distracting the mind, and not by facing them, because they will not be
faced; nor can they be dispelled by reason, because they are not in the
plane of reason at all, but phantoms gathered by the sick imagination,
distorted out of their proper shape, evil nightmares, the horror of
which is gone with the dawn. They are the shadows of our childishness,
and they show that we have a long journey before us; and they gain
their strength from the fact that we gather them together out of the
future like the bundle of sticks in the fable, when we shall have the
strength to snap them singly as they come.

The real way to fight them is to get together a treasure of interests
and hopes and beautiful visions and emotions, and above all to have
some definite work which lies apart from our daily work, to which we
can turn gladly in empty hours; because fears are born of inaction and
idleness, and melt insensibly away in the warmth of labour and duty.

Nothing can really hurt us except our own despair. But the problem
which is difficult is how to practise a real fulness of life, and yet
to keep a certain detachment, how to realise that what we do is small
and petty enough, but that the greatness lies in our energy and
briskness of action; we should try to be interested in life as we are
interested in a game, not believing too much in the importance of it,
but yet intensely concerned at the moment in playing it as well and
skilfully as possible. The happiest people of all are those who can
shift their interest rapidly from point to point, and throw themselves
into the act of the moment, whatever it may be. Of course this is
largely at first a matter of temperament, but temperament is not
unalterable; and self-discipline working along the lines of habit has a
great attractiveness, the moment we feel that life is beginning to
shape itself upon real lines.



Let us divide our fears up into definite divisions, and see how it is
best to deal with them. Lowest and worst of all is the shapeless and
bodiless fear, which is a real disease of brain and nerves. I know no
more poignant description of this than in the strange book Lavengro:

"'What ails you, my child,' said a mother to her son, as he lay on a
couch under the influence of the dreadful one; 'what ails you? you seem

"Boy. And so I am; a dreadful fear is upon me.

"Mother. But of what? there is no one can harm you; of what are you

"Boy. Of nothing that I can express; I know not what I am afraid of,
but afraid I am.

"Mother. Perhaps you see sights and visions; I knew a lady once who was
continually thinking that she saw an armed man threaten her, but it was
only an imagination, a phantom of the brain.

"Boy. No armed man threatens me; and 'tis not a thing that would cause
me any fear. Did an armed man threaten me, I would get up and fight
him; weak as I am, I would wish for nothing better, for then, perhaps,
I should lose this fear; mine is a dread of I know not what, and there
the horror lies.

"Mother. Your forehead is cool, and your speech collected. Do you know
where you are?

"Boy. I know where I am, and I see things just as they are; you are
beside me, and upon the table there is a book which was written by a
Florentine. All this I see, and that there is no ground for being
afraid. I am, moreover, quite cool, and feel no pain--but--but--

"And then there was a burst of 'gemiti, sospiri ed alti guai.' Alas,
alas, poor child of clay! as the sparks fly upward, so wast thou born
to sorrow--Onward!"

That is a description of amazing power, but of course we are here
dealing with a definite brain-malady, in which the emotional centres
are directly affected. This in a lesser degree no doubt affects more
people than one would wish to think; but it may be considered a
physical malady of which fear is the symptom and not the cause.

Let us then frankly recognise the physical element in these irrational
terrors; and when one has once done this, a great burden is taken off
the mind, because one sees that such fear may be a real illusion, a
sort of ghastly mockery, which by directly affecting the delicate
machinery through which emotion is translated into act, may produce a
symptom of terror which is both causeless and baseless, and which may
imply neither a lack of courage nor self-control.

And, therefore, I feel, as against the Ascetic and the Stoic, that I am
meant to live and to taste the fulness of life; and that if I begin by
choosing the wrong joys, it is that I may learn their unreality. I have
learned already to compromise about many things, to be content with
getting much less than I desire, to acquiesce in missing many good
things altogether. But asceticism for the sake of prudence seems to me
a wilful error, as though a man practised starvation through uneasy
days, because of the chance that he might some day find himself with
not enough to eat. The only self-denial worth practising is the
self-denial that one admires, and that seems to one to be fine and

For we must emphatically remember that the saint is one who lives life
with high enjoyment, and with a vital zest; he chooses holiness because
of its irresistible beauty, and because of the appeal it makes to his
mind. He does not creep through life ashamed, depressed, anxious,
letting ordinary delights slip through his nerveless fingers; and if he
denies himself common pleasures, it is because, if indulged, they
thwart and mar his purer and more lively joys.

The fear of life, the frame of mind which says, "This attractive and
charming thing captivates me, but I will mistrust it and keep it at
arm's length, because if I lose it, I shall experience discomfort,"
seems to me a poor and timid handling of life. I would rather say, "I
will use it generously and freely, knowing that it may not endure; but
it is a sign to me of God's care for me, that He gives me the desire
and the gratification; and even if He means me to learn that it is only
a small thing, I can learn that only by using it and trying its

This may be held a dangerous doctrine; but I do not mean that life must
be a foolish and ingenuous indulgence of every appetite and whim. One
must make choices; and there are many appetites which come hand in hand
with their own shadow. I am not here speaking of tampering with sin; I
think that most people burn their fingers over that in early life. But
I am speaking rather of the delights of the body that are in no way
sinful, food and drink, games and exercise, love itself; and of the
joys of the mind and the artistic sense; free and open relations with
men and women of keen interests and eager fancies; the delights of
work, professional success, the doing of pleasant tasks as vigorously
and as perfectly as one can--all the stir and motion and delight of

To shrink back in terror from all this seems to me a sort of cowardice;
and it is a cowardice too to go on indulging in things which one does
not enjoy for the sake of social tradition. One must not be afraid of
breaking with social custom, if one finds that it leads one into dreary
and useless formalities, stupid and expensive entertainments, tiresome
gatherings, dull and futile assemblies. I think that men and women
ought gaily and delightedly to choose the things that minister to their
vigour and joy, and to throw themselves willingly into these things, so
long as they do not interfere with plainer and simpler duties.

Another way of escape from the importunities of fear is to be very
resolute in fighting against our personal claims to honour and esteem.
We are sorely wounded through our ambitions, whether they be petty or
great; and it is astonishing to find how frail a basis often serves for
a sense of dignity. I have known lowly and unimportant people who were
yet full of pragmatical self-concern, and whose pride took the form not
so much of exalting their own consequence as of thinking meanly of
other people. It is easy to restore one's own confidence by dwelling
with bitter emphasis on the faults and failings of those about one, by
cataloguing the deficiencies of those who have achieved success, by
accustoming oneself to think of one's own lack of success as a sign of
unworldliness, and by attributing the success of others to a cynical
and unscrupulous pursuit of reputation. There is nothing in the world
which so differentiates men and women as the tendency to suspect and
perceive affronts, and to nurture grievances. It is so fatally easy to
think that one has been inconsiderately treated, and to mistake
susceptibility for courage. Let us boldly face the fact that we get in
this world very much what we earn and deserve, and there is no surer
way of being excluded and left out from whatever is going forward than
a habit of claiming more respect and deference than is due to one. If
we are snubbed and humiliated, it is generally because we have put
ourselves forward and taken more than our share. Whereas if we have
been content to bear a hand, to take trouble, and to desire useful work
rather than credit, our influence grows silently and we become
indispensable. A man who does not notice petty grumbling, who laughs
away sharp comments, who does not brood over imagined insults, who
forgets irritable passages, who makes allowance for impatience and
fatigue, is singularly invulnerable. The power of forgetting is
infinitely more valuable than the power of forgiving, in many
conjunctions of life. In nine cases out of ten, the wounds which our
sensibilities receive are the merest pin-pricks, enlarged and fretted
by our own hands; we work the little thorn about in the puncture till
it festers, instead of drawing it out and casting it away.

Very few of the prizes of life that we covet are worth winning, if we
scheme to get them; it is the honour or the task that comes to us
unexpectedly that we deserve. I have heard discontented men say that
they never get the particular work that they desire and for which they
feel themselves to be suited; and meanwhile life flies swiftly, while
we are picturing ourselves in all sorts of coveted situations, and
slighting the peaceful happiness, the beautiful joys which lie all
around us, as we go forward in our greedy reverie.

I have been much surprised, since I began some years ago to receive
letters from all sorts of unknown people, to realise how many persons
there are in the world who think themselves unappreciated. Such are not
generally people who have tried and failed;--an honest failure very
often brings a wholesome sense of incompetence;--but they are generally
persons who think that they have never had a chance of showing what is
in them, speakers who have found their audiences unresponsive, writers
who have been discouraged by finding their amateur efforts unsaleable,
men who lament the unsuitability of their profession to their
abilities, women who find themselves living in what they call a
thoroughly unsympathetic circle. The failure here lies in an incapacity
to believe in one's own inefficiency, and a sturdy persuasion of the
malevolence of others.

Here is a soil in which fears spring up like thorns and briars.
"Whatever I do or say, I shall be passed over and slighted, I shall
always find people determined to exclude and neglect me!" I know
myself, only too well, how fertile the brain is in discovering almost
any reason for a failure except what is generally the real reason, that
the work was badly done. And the more eager one is for personal
recognition and patent success, the more sickened one is by any hint of
contempt and derision.

But it is quite possible, as I also know from personal experience, to
go patiently and humbly to work again, to face the reasons for failure,
to learn to enjoy work, to banish from the mind the uneasy hope of
personal distinction. We may try to discern the humour of Providence,
because I am as certain as I can be of anything that we are humorously
treated as well as lovingly regarded. Let me relate two small incidents
which did me a great deal of good at a time of self-importance. I was
once asked to give a lecture, and it was widely announced. I saw my own
name in capital letters upon advertisements displayed in the street. On
the evening appointed, I went to the place, and met the chairman of the
meeting and some of the officials in a room adjoining the hall where I
was to speak. We bowed and smiled, paid mutual compliments,
congratulated each other on the importance of the occasion. At last the
chairman consulted his watch and said it was time to be beginning. A
procession was formed, a door was majestically thrown open by an
attendant, and we walked with infinite solemnity on to the platform of
an entirely empty hall, with rows of benches all wholly unfurnished
with guests. I think it was one of the most ludicrous incidents I ever
remember. The courteous confusion of the chairman, the dismay of the
committee, the colossal nature of the fiasco filled me, I am glad to
say, not with mortification, but with an overpowering desire to laugh.

I may add that there had been a mistake about the announcement of the
hour, and ten minutes later a minute audience did arrive, whom I
proceeded to address with such spirit as I could muster; but I have
always been grateful for the humorous nature of the snub administered
to me.

Again on another occasion I had to pay a visit of business to a remote
house in the country. A good-natured friend descanted upon the
excitement it would be to the household to entertain a living author,
and how eagerly my utterances would be listened to. I was received not
only without respect but with obvious boredom. In the course of the
afternoon I discovered that I was supposed to be a solicitor's clerk,
but when a little later it transpired what my real occupations were, I
was not displeased to find that no member of the party had ever heard
of my existence, or was aware that I had ever published a book, and
when I was questioned as to what I had written, no one had ever come
across anything that I had printed, until at last I soared into some
transient distinction by the discovery that my brother was the author
of Dodo.

I cannot help feeling that there is something gently humorous about
this good-humoured indication that the whole civilised world is not
engaged in the pursuit of literature, and that one's claims to
consideration depend upon one's social merits. I do honestly think that
Providence was here deliberately poking fun at me, and showing me that
a habit of presenting one's opinions broadcast to the world does not
necessarily mean that the world is much aware either of oneself or of
one's opinions.

The cure then, it seems to me, for personal ambition, is the humorous
reflection that the stir and hum of one's own particular teetotum is
confined to a very small space and range; and that the witty
description of the Greek politician who was said to be well known
throughout the whole civilised world and at Lampsacus, or of the
philosopher who was announced as the author of many epoch-making
volumes and as the second cousin of the Earl of Cork, represents a very
real truth,--that reputation is not a thing which is worth bothering
one's head about; that if it comes, it is apt to be quite as
inconvenient as it is pleasant, while if one grows to depend upon it,
it is as liable to part with its sparkle as soda-water in an open glass.

And then if one comes to consider the commoner claim, the claim to be
felt and respected and regarded in one's own little circle, it is
wholesome and humiliating to observe how generously and easily that
regard is conceded to affectionateness and kindness, and how little it
is won by any brilliance or sharpness. Of course irritable,
quick-tempered, severe, discontented people can win attention easily
enough, and acquire the kind of consideration which is generally
conceded to anyone who can be unpleasant. How often families and groups
are drilled and cautioned by anxious mothers and sisters not to say or
do anything which will vex so-and-so! Such irritable people get the
rooms and the chairs and the food that they like, and the talk in their
presence is eagerly kept upon subjects on which they can hold forth.
But how little such regard lasts, and how welcome a relief it is, when
one that is thus courted and deferred to is absent! Of course if one is
wholly indifferent whether one is regarded, needed, missed, loved, so
long as one can obtain the obedience and the conveniences one likes,
there is no more to be said. But I often think of that wonderful poem
of Christina Rossetti's about the revenant, the spirit that returns to
the familiar house, and finds himself unregretted:

  "'To-morrow' and 'to-day,' they cried;
     I was of yesterday!"

One sometimes sees, in the faces of old family servants, in unregarded
elderly relatives, bachelor uncles, maiden aunts, who are entertained
as a duty, or given a home in charity, a very beautiful and tender
look, indescribable in words but unmistakable, when it seems as if
self, and personal claims, and pride, and complacency had really passed
out of the expression, leaving nothing but a hope of being loved, and a
desire to do some humble service.

I saw it the other day in the face of a little old lady, who lived in
the house of a well-to-do cousin, with rather a bustling and vigorous
family pervading the place. She was a small frail creature, with a
tired worn face, but with no look of fretfulness or discontent. She had
a little attic as a bedroom, and she was not considered in any way. She
effaced herself, ate about as much as a bird would eat, seldom spoke,
uttering little ejaculations of surprise and amusement at what was
said; if there was a place vacant in the carriage, she drove out. If
there was not, she stopped at home. She amused herself by going about
in the village, talking to the old women and the children, who half
loved and half despised her for being so very unimportant, and for
having nothing she could give away. But I do not think the little lady
ever had a thought except of gratitude for her blessings, and
admiration for the robustness and efficiency of her relations. She
claimed nothing from life and expected nothing. It seemed a little
frail and vanquished existence, and there was not an atom of what is
called proper pride about her; but it was fine, for all that! An
infinite sweetness looked out of her eyes; she suffered a good deal,
but never complained. She was glad to live, found the world a beautiful
and interesting place, and never quarrelled with her slender share of
its more potent pleasures. And she will slip silently out of life some
day in her attic room; and be strangely mourned and missed. I do not
consider that a failure in life, and I am not sure that it is not
something much more like a triumph. I know that as I watched her one
evening knitting in the corner, following what was said with intense
enjoyment, uttering her little bird-like cries, I thought how few of
the things that could afflict me had power to wound her, and how little
she had to fear. I do not think she wanted to take flight, but yet I am
sure she had no dread of death; and when she goes thitherward, leaving
the little tired and withered frame behind, it will be just as when the
crested lark springs up from the dust of the roadway, and wings his way
into the heart of the dewy upland.



If we are to avoid the dark onset of fear, we must at all costs
simplify life, because the more complicated and intricate our life is,
and the more we multiply our defences, the more gates and posterns
there are by which the enemy can creep upon us. Property, comforts,
habits, conveniences, these are the vantage-grounds from which fears
can organise their invasions. The more that we need excitement,
distraction, diversion, the more helpless we become without them. All
this is very clearly recognised and stated in the Gospel. Our Saviour
does not seem to regard the abandonment of wealth as a necessary
condition of the Christian life, but He does very distinctly say that
rich men are beset with great difficulties owing to their wealth, and
He indicates that a man who trusts complacently in his possessions is
tempted into a disastrous security. He speaks of laying up treasure in
heaven as opposed to the treasures which men store up on earth; and He
points out that whenever things are put aside unused, in order that the
owner may comfort himself by the thought that they are there if he
wants them, decay and corruption begin at once to undermine and destroy
them. What exactly the treasure in heaven can be it is hard to define.
It cannot be anything quite so sordid as good deeds done for the sake
of spiritual investment, because our Saviour was very severe on those
who, like the Pharisees, sought to acquire righteousness by
scrupulosity. Nothing that is done just for the sake of one's own
future benefit seems to be regarded in the Gospel as worth doing. The
essence of Christian giving seems to be real giving, and not a sort of
usurious loan. There is of course one very puzzling parable, that of
the unjust steward, who used his last hours in office, before the news
of his dismissal could get abroad, in cheating his master, in order to
win the favour of the debtors by arbitrarily diminishing the amount of
their debts. It seems strange that our Saviour should have drawn a
moral out of so immoral an incident. Perhaps He was using a well-known
story, and even making allowances for the admiration with which in the
East resourcefulness, even of a fraudulent kind, was undoubtedly
regarded. But the principle seems clear enough, that if the Christian
chooses to possess wealth, he runs a great risk, and that it is
therefore wiser to disembarrass oneself of it. Property is regarded in
the Gospel as an undoubtedly dangerous thing; but so far from our Lord
preaching a kind of socialism, and bidding men to co-operate anxiously
for the sake of equalising wealth, He recommends an individualistic
freedom from the burden of wealth altogether. But, as always in the
Gospel, our Lord looks behind practice to motive; and it is clear that
the motive for the abandonment of wealth is not to be a desire to act
with a selfish prudence, in order to lay an obligation upon God to
repay one generously in the future for present sacrifices, but rather
the attainment of an individual liberty, which leaves the spirit free
to deal with the real interests of life. And one must not overlook the
definite promise that if a man seeks virtue first, even at the cost of
earthly possessions and comforts, he will find that they will be added
as well.

Those who would discredit the morality of the Gospel would have one
believe that our Saviour in dealing with shrewd, homely, literal folk
was careful to promise substantial future rewards for any worldly
sacrifices they might make; but not so can I read the Gospel. Our
Saviour does undoubtedly say plainly that we shall find it worth our
while to escape from the burdens and anxieties of wealth, but the
reward promised seems rather to be a lightness and contentment of
spirit, and a freedom from heavy and unnecessary bonds.

In our complicated civilisation it is far more difficult to say what
simplicity of life is. It is certainly not that expensive and dramatic
simplicity which is sometimes contrived by people of wealth as a
pleasant contrast to elaborate living. I remember the son of a very
wealthy man, who had a great mansion in the country and a large house
in London, telling me that his family circle were never so entirely
happy as when they were living at close quarters in a small Scotch
shooting-lodge, where their life was comparatively rough, and luxuries
unattainable. But I gathered that the main delight of such a period was
the sense of laying up a stock of health and freshness for the more
luxurious life which intervened. The Anglo-Saxon naturally loves a kind
of feudal dignity; he likes a great house, a crowd of servants and
dependants, the impression of power and influence which it all gives;
and the delights of ostentation, of having handsome things which one
does not use and indeed hardly ever sees, of knowing that others are
eating and drinking at one's expense, which is a thing far removed from
hospitality, are dear to the temperament of our race. We may say at
once that this is fatal to any simplicity of life; it may be that we
cannot expect anyone who is born to such splendours deliberately to
forego them; but I am sure of this, that a rich man, now and here, who
spontaneously parted with his wealth, and lived sparely in a small
house, would make perhaps as powerful an appeal to the imagination of
the English world as could well be made. If a man had a message to
deliver, there could be no better way of emphasizing it. It must not be
a mere flight from the anxiety of worldly life into a more congenial
seclusion. It should be done as Francis of Assisi did it, by continuing
to live the life of the world without any of its normal conveniences.
Patent and visible self-sacrifice, if it be accompanied by a tender
love of humanity, will always be the most impressive attitude in the

But if one is not capable of going to such lengths, if indeed one has
nothing that one can resign, how is it possible to practise simplicity
of life? It can be done by limiting one's needs, by avoiding luxuries,
by having nothing in one's house that one cannot use, by being detached
from pretentiousness, by being indifferent to elaborate comforts. There
are people whom I know who do this, and who, even though they live with
some degree of wealth, are yet themselves obviously independent of
comfort to an extraordinary degree. There is a Puritanical dislike of
waste which is a very different thing, because it often coexists with
an extreme attachment to the particular standard of comfort that the
man himself prefers. I know people who believe that a substantial
midday meal and a high tea are more righteous than a simple midday meal
and a substantial dinner. But the right attitude is one of unconcern
and the absence of uneasy scheming as to the details of life. There is
no reason why people should not form habits, because method is the
primary condition of work; but the moment that habit becomes tyrannous
and elaborate, then the spirit is at once in bondage to anxiety. The
real victory over these little cares is not for ever to have them on
one's mind; or one becomes like the bread-and-butter fly in Through the
Looking-Glass, whose food was weak tea with cream in it. "But supposing
it cannot find any?" said Alice. "Then it dies," says the gnat, who is
acting the part of interpreter. "But that must happen very often?" said
Alice. "It ALWAYS happens!" says the gnat with sombre emphasis.

Simplicity is, in fact, a difficult thing to lay down rules for,
because the essence of it is that it is free from rules; and those who
talk and think most about it, are often the most uneasy and complicated
natures. But it is certain that if one finds oneself growing more and
more fastidious and particular, more and more easily disconcerted and
put out and hampered by any variation from the exact scheme of life
that one prefers, even if that scheme is an apparently simple one, it
is certain that simplicity is at an end. The real simplicity is a sense
of being at home and at ease in any company and mode of living, and a
quiet equanimity of spirit which cannot be content to waste time over
the arrangements of life. Sufficient food and exercise and sleep may be
postulated; but these are all to be in the background, and the real
occupations of life are to be work and interests and talk and ideas and
natural relations with others. One knows of houses where some trifling
omission of detail, some failure of service in a meal, will plunge the
hostess into a dumb and incommunicable despair. The slightest lapse of
the conventional order becomes a cloud that intercepts the sun. But the
right attitude to life, if we desire to set ourselves free from this
self-created torment, is a resolute avoidance of minute preoccupations,
a light-hearted journeying, with an amused tolerance for the incidents
of the way. A conventional order of life is useful only in so far as it
removes from the mind the necessity of detailed planning, and allows it
to flow punctually and mechanically in an ordered course. But if we
exalt that order into something sacred and solemn, then we become
pharisaical and meticulous, and the savour of life is lost.

One remembers the scene in David Copperfield which makes so fine a
parable of life; how the merry party who were making the best of an
ill-cooked meal, and grilling the chops over the lodging-house fire,
were utterly disconcerted and reduced to miserable dignity by the entry
of the ceremonious servant with his "Pray, permit me," and how his
decorous management of the cheerful affair cast a gloom upon the circle
which could not even be dispelled when he had finished his work and
left them to themselves.



One of the ways in which our fears have power to wound us most
grievously is through our affections, and here we are confronted with a
real and crucial difficulty. Are we to hold ourselves in, to check the
impulses of affection, to use self-restraint, not multiply intimacies,
not extend sympathies? One sees every now and then lives which have
entwined themselves with every tendril of passion and love and
companionship and service round some one personality, and have then
been bereaved, with the result that the whole life has been palsied and
struck into desolation by the loss. I am thinking now of two instances
which I have known; one was a wife, who was childless, and whose whole
nature, every motive and every faculty, became centred upon her
husband, a man most worthy of love. He died suddenly, and his wife lost
everything at one blow; not only her lover and comrade, but every
occupation as well which might have helped to distract her, because her
whole life had been entirely devoted to her husband; and even the hours
when he was absent from her had been given to doing anything and
everything that might save him trouble or vexation. She lived on,
though she would willingly have died at any moment, and the whole
fabric of her life was shattered. Again, I think of a devoted daughter
who had done the same office for an old and not very robust father. I
heard her once say that the sorrow of her mother's death had been
almost nullified for her by finding that she could do everything for
and be everything to her father, whom she almost adored. She had
refused an offer of marriage from a man whom she sincerely loved, that
she might not leave her father, and she never even told her father of
the incident, for fear that he might have felt that he had stood in the
way of her happiness. When he died, she too found herself utterly
desolate, without ties and without occupation, an elderly woman almost
without friends or companions.

Ought one to feel that this kind of jealous absorption in a single
individual affection is a mistake? It certainly brought both the wife
and daughter an intense happiness, but in both cases the relation was
so close and so intimate that it tended gradually to seclude them from
all other relations. The husband and the father were both reserved and
shy men, and desired no other companionship. One can see so easily how
it all came about, and what the inevitable result was bound to be, and
yet it would have been difficult at any point to say what could have
been done. Of course these great absorbed emotions involve large risks;
and it may be doubted whether life can be safely lived on these
intensive lines. These are of course extreme instances, but there are
many cases in the world, and especially in the case of women whose life
is entirely built up on certain emotions like the love and care of
children; and when that is so, a nature becomes liable to the sharpest
incursions of fear. It is of little use arguing such cases
theoretically, because, as the proverb says, as the land lies the water
flows,--and love makes very light of all prudential considerations.

The difficulty does not arise with large and generous natures which
give love prodigally in many directions, because if one such relation
is broken by death, love can still exercise itself upon those that
remain. It is the fierce and jealous sort of love that is so hard to
deal with, a love that exults in solitariness of devotion, and cannot
bear any intrusion of other relations.

Yet if one believes, as I for one believe, that the secret of the world
is somehow hidden in love, and can be interpreted through love alone,
then one must run the risks of love, and seek for strength to bear the
inevitable suffering which love must bring.

But men and women are very differently made in this respect. Among
innumerable minor differences, certain broad divisions are clear. Men,
in the first place, both by training and temperament, are far less
dependent upon affection than women. Career and occupation play a much
larger part in their thoughts. If one could test and intercept the
secret and unoccupied reveries of men, when the mind moves idly among
the objects which most concern it, it would be found, I do not doubt,
that men's minds occupy themselves much more about definite and
tangible things--their work, their duties, their ambitions, their
amusements--and centre little upon the thought of other people; an
affection, an emotional relation, is much more of an incident than a
settled preoccupation; and then with men there are two marked types,
those who give and lavish affection freely, who are interested and
attracted by others and wish to attach and secure close friends; and
there are others who respond to advances, yet do not go in search of
friendship, but only accept it when it comes; and the singular thing is
that such natures, which are often cold and self-absorbed, have a power
of kindling emotion in others which men of generous and eager feeling
sometimes lack. It is strange that it should be so, but there is some
psychological law at the back of it; and it is certainly true in my
experience that the men who have been most eagerly sought in friendship
have not as a rule been the most open-hearted and expansive natures. I
suppose that a certain law of pursuit holds good, and that people of
self-contained temperament, with a sort of baffling charm, who are
critical and hard to please, excite a certain ambition in those who
would claim their affection.

Women, I have no doubt, live far more in the thought of others, and
desire their intention; they wish to arrive at mutual understanding and
confidence, to explore personality, to pierce behind the surface, to
establish a definite relation. Yet in the matter of relations with
others, women are often, I believe, less sentimental, and even less
tender-hearted than men, and they have a far swifter and truer
intuition of character. Though the two sexes can never really
understand each other's point of view, because no imagination can cross
the gulf of fundamental difference, yet I am certain that women
understand men far better than men understand women. The whole range of
motives is strangely different, and men can never grasp the comparative
unimportance with which women regard the question of occupation.
Occupation is for men a definite and isolated part of life, a thing
important and absorbing in itself, quite apart from any motives or
reasons. To do something, to make something, to produce something--that
desire is always there, whatever ebb and flow of emotions there may be;
it is an end in itself with men, and with many women it is not so; for
women mostly regard work as a necessity, but not an interesting
necessity. In a woman's occupation, there is generally someone at the
end of it, for whom and in connection with whom it is done. This is
probably largely the result of training and tradition, and great
changes are now going on in the direction of women finding occupations
for themselves. But take the case of such a profession as teaching; it
is quite possible for a man to be an effective and competent teacher,
without feeling any particular interest in the temperaments of his
pupils, except in so far as they react upon the work to be done. But a
woman can hardly take this impersonal attitude; and this makes women
both more and less effective, because human beings invariably prefer to
be dealt with dispassionately; and this is as a rule more difficult for
women; and thus in a complicated matter affecting conduct, a woman as a
rule forms a sounder judgment on what has actually occurred than a man,
and is perhaps more likely to take a severe view. The attitude of a
Galileo is often a useful one for a teacher, because boys and girls
ought in matters that concern themselves to learn how to govern

Thus in situations involving relation with others women are more liable
to feel anxiety and the pressure of personal responsibility; and the
question is to what extent this ought to be indulged, in what degree
men and women ought to assume the direction of other lives, and whether
it is wholesome for the director to allow a desire for personal
dominance to be substituted for more spontaneous motives.

It very often happens that the temperaments which most claim help and
support are actuated by the egotistical desire to find themselves
interesting to others, while those who willingly assume the direction
of other lives are attracted more by the sense of power than by genuine

But it is clear that it is in the region of our affections that the
greatest risks of all have to be run. By loving, we render ourselves
liable to the darkest and heaviest fears. Yet here, I believe, we ought
to have no doubt at all; and the man who says to himself, "I should
like to bestow my affection on this person and on that, but I will keep
it in restraint, because I am afraid of the suffering which it may
entail,"--such a man, I say, is very far from the kingdom of God.
Because love is the one quality which, if it reaches a certain height,
can altogether despise and triumph over fear. When ambition and delight
and energy fail, love can accompany us, with hope and confidence, to
the dark gate; and thus it is the one thing about which we can hardly
be mistaken. If love does not survive death, then life is built upon
nothingness, and we may be glad to get away; but it is more likely that
it is the only thing that does survive.



It is every one's duty to take himself seriously--that is the right
mean between taking oneself either solemnly or apologetically. There is
no merit in being apologetic about oneself. One has a right to be
there, wherever one is, a right to an opinion, a right to take some
kind of a hand in whatever is going on; natural tact is the only thing
which can tell us exactly how far those rights extend; but it is
inconvenient to be apologetic, because if one insists on explaining how
one comes to be there, or how one comes to have an opinion, other
people begin to think that one needs explanation and excuse; but it is
even worse to be solemn about oneself, because English people are very
critical in private, though they are tolerant in public, because they
dislike a scene, and have not got the art of administering the delicate
snub which indicates to a man that his self-confidence is exuberant
without humiliating him; when English people inflict a snub, they do it
violently and emphatically, like Dr. Johnson, and it generally means
that they are relieving themselves of accumulated disapproval. An
Englishman is apt to be deferential, and one of the worst temptations
of official life is the temptation to be solemn. There is an old story
about Scott and Wordsworth, when the latter stayed at Abbotsford;
Scott, during the whole visit, was full of little pleasant and
courteous allusions to Wordsworth's poems; and one of the guests
present records how at the end of the visit not a single word had ever
passed Wordsworth's lips which could have indicated that he knew his
host to have ever written a line of poetry or prose.

I was sitting the other day at a function next a man of some eminence,
and I was really amazed at the way in which he discoursed of himself
and his habits, his diet, his hours of work, and the blank indifference
with which he received similar confidences. He merely waited till the
speaker had finished, and then resumed his own story.

It is this sort of solemn egotism which makes us overvalue our
anxieties quite out of all proportion to their importance, because they
all appear to us as integral elements of a dignified drama in which we
enact the hero's part. We press far too heavily on the sense of
responsibility; and if we begin by telling boys, as is too often done
in sermons, that whatever they do or say is of far-reaching
consequence, that every lightest word may produce an effect, that any
carelessness of speech or example may have disastrous effects upon the
character of another, we are doing our best to encourage the
self-emphasis which is the very essence of priggishness.

There is a curious conflict going on at the present time in English
life between light-mindedness and solemnity; there is a great appetite
for living, a love of amusement, a tendency to subordinate the
interests of the future to the pleasure of the moment, and to think
that the one serious evil is boredom; that is a healthy manifestation
enough in its way, because it stands for interest and delight in life;
but there is another strain in our nature, that of a rather heavy
pietism, inherited from our Puritan ancestors. It must not be forgotten
that the Puritan got a good deal of interest out of his sense of sin;
as the old combative elements of feudal ages disappeared, the soldierly
blood retained the fighting instinct, and turned it into moral regions.
The sense of adventure is impelled to satiate itself, and the Pilgrim's
Progress is a clear enough proof that the old combativeness was all
there, revelling in danger, and exulting in the thought that the human
being was in the midst of foes. Sin represented itself to the Puritan
as a thing out of which he could get a good deal of fun; not the fun of
yielding to it, but the fun of whipping out his sword and getting in
some shrewd blows. When preachers nowadays lament that we have lost the
sense of sin, what they really mean is that we have lost our
combativeness: we no longer believe that we must treat our foes with
open and brutal violence, and we perceive that such conduct is only
pitting one sin against another. There is no warrant in the Gospel for
the combative idea of the Christian life; all such metaphors and
suggestions come from St. Paul and the Apocalypse. The fact is that the
world was not ready for the utter peaceableness of the Gospel, and it
had to be accommodated to the violence of the world.

Now again the Christian idea is coloured by scientific and medical
knowledge, and sin, instead of an enemy which we must fight, has become
a disease which we must try to cure.

Sins, the ordinary sins of ordinary life, are not as a rule instincts
which are evil in themselves, so much as instincts which are selfishly
pursued to the detriment of others; sin is in its essence the
selfishness which will not cooperate, and which secures advantages
unjustly, without any heed to the disadvantage of others. SYMPATHETIC
IMAGINATION is the real foe of sin, the power of putting oneself in the
place of another; and much of the sentiment which is so prevalent
nowadays is the evidence of the growth of sympathy.

The old theory of sin lands one in a horrible dilemma, because it
implies a treacherous enmity on the part of God, to create man weak and
unstable, and to pit his weakness against tyrannous desires; to allow
his will to do evil to be stronger than his power to do right, is a
satanical device. One must not sacrifice the truth to the desire for
simplicity and effective statement. The truth is intricate and obscure,
and to pretend that it is plain and obvious is mere hypocrisy. The
strength of Calvinism is its horrible resemblance to a natural
inference from the facts of life; but if any sort of Calvinism is true,
then it is a mere insult to the intelligence to say that God is loving
or just. The real basis for all deep-seated fear about life is the fear
that one will not be dealt with either lovingly or justly. But we have
to make a simple choice as to what we will believe, and the only hope
is to believe that immediate harshness and injustice is not ultimately
inconsistent with Love. No one who knows anything of the world and of
life can pretend to think or say that suffering always results from, or
is at all proportioned to, moral faults; and if we are tempted to
regard all our disasters as penal consequences, then we are tempted to
endure them with gloomy and morbid immobility.

It is far more wholesome and encouraging to look upon many disasters
that befall us as opportunities to show a little spirit, to evoke the
courage which does not come by indolent prosperity, to increase our
sympathy, to enlarge our experience, to make things clearer to us, to
develop our mind and heart, to free us from material temptations. Past
suffering is not always an evil, it is often an exciting reminiscence.
It is good to take life adventurously, like Odysseus of old. What would
one feel about Odysseus if, instead of contriving a way out of the
Cyclops' cave, he had set himself to consider of what forgotten sin his
danger was the consequence? Suffering and disaster come to us to
develop our inventiveness and our courage, not to daunt and dismay us;
and we ought therefore to approach experience with a sense of humour,
if possible, and with a lively curiosity. I recollect hearing a man the
other day describing an operation to which he had been subjected. "My
word," he said, his eyes sparkling with delight at the recollection,
"that was awful, when I came into the operating-room, and saw the
surgeons in their togs, and the pails and basins all about, and was
invited to step up to the table!" There is nothing so agreeable as the
remembrance of fears through which we have passed; and we can only
learn to despise them by finding out how unbalanced they were.

I do not mean that fears can ever be pleasant at the time, but we do
them too much honour if we court them and defer to them. However much
we may be tortured by them, there is always something at the back of
our mind which despises our own susceptibility to them; and it is that
deeper instinct which we ought to trust.

But we cannot even begin to trust it, as long as we allow ourselves to
believe pietistically that the Mind of God is set on punishment. That
is the ghastly error which humanity tends to make. It has been dinned
into us, alas, from our early years, and religious phraseology is
constantly polluted by it. Our Saviour lent no countenance to this at
all; He spoke perfectly plainly against the theory of "judgments." Of
course suffering is sometimes a consequence of sin, but it is not a
vindictive punishment; it is that we may learn our mistake. But we must
give up the revengeful idea of God: that is imported into our scale of
values by the grossest anthropomorphism. Only the weak man, who fears
that his safety will be menaced if he does not make an example, deals
in revenge. He is indignant at anything which mortifies his vanity,
which implies any doubt of his power or any disregard of his wishes.
Revenge is born of terror, and to think of God as vindictive is to
think of Him as subject to fear. Serene and unquestioned strength can
have nothing to do with fear. Milton is largely responsible for
perpetuating this belief. He makes the Almighty say to the Son--

  "Let us advise, and to this hazard draw
   With speed what force is left, and all employ
   In our defence, lest unawares we lose
   This our high place, our sanctuary, our hill."

Milton's idea of the Almighty was frankly that of a Power who had
undertaken more than he could manage, and who had allowed things to go
too far. But it is a puerile conception of God; and to allow ourselves
to think or speak of God as a Power that has to take precautions, or
that has anything to fear from the exercise of human volition, is to
cloud the whole horizon at once.

But we ought rather to think of God as a Power which for some reason
works through imperfection. The battle of the world is that of force
against inertness: and our fears are the shadow of that combat.

Fear should then rather show us that we are being confronted with
experience; and that our duty is to disregard it, to march forward
through it, to come out on the other side of it. It is all an
adventure, in fact! The disaster in which we are involved is not sent
to show us that the Eternal Power which created us is vexed at our
failures, or bent on crushing us. It is exactly the opposite; it is to
show us that we are worth testing, worth developing, and that we are to
have the glory of going on; the very fear of death is the last test of
our belief in Love. We are assuredly meant to believe that the coward
is to learn the beauty of courage, that the laggard is to perceive the
worth of energy, that the selfish man is to be taught sympathy. If we
must take a metaphor, let us rather think of God as the graver of the
gem than as the child that beats her doll for collapsing instead of
sitting upright.

It is our dishonouring thought of God as jealous, suspicious, fond of
exhibiting power, revengeful, cruel, that does us harm. We must rather
think of His Heart as full of courage, energy, and hope; as teeming
with joy, lightness, zest, mirth; and then we can begin to think of
failures, fears, delays as things small and unimportant, not as
malicious ambushes, but as rough bits of road, as obstacles to reveal
and to develop our strength and gaiety. There is no joy in the world so
great as the joy of finding ourselves stronger than we know; and that
is what God is bent upon showing us, and not upon proving to us that we
are vile and base, in the spirit of the old Calvinist who said to his
own daughter when she was dying of a painful disease, that she must
remember that all short of Hell was mercy. It is so; but Hell is rather
what we start from, and out of which we have to find our way, than the
waste-paper basket of life, the last receptacle for our shattered



To achieve serenity we must have the power of keeping our hearts and
minds fixed upon something which is beyond and above the passing
incidents of life, which so disconcert and overshadow us, and which are
after all but as clouds in the sky, or islets in a great ocean. Think
with what smiling indifference a man would meet indignation and abuse
and menace, if he were aware that an hour hence he would be
triumphantly vindicated and applauded. How calmly would a man sleep in
a condemned cell if he knew that a free pardon were on its way to him!
Of course the more eagerly and enjoyably we live, so much the more we
are affected by little incidents, beyond which we can hardly look when
they bring us so much pleasure or so much discomfort; and thus it is
always the men and women of keen and highly-strung natures, who taste
the quality of every moment, in its sweetness and its bitterness, who
will most feel the influence of fear. Edward FitzGerald once sadly
confessed that, as life went on, days of perfect delight--a beautiful
scene, a melodious music, the society of those whom he loved
best--brought him less and less joy, because he felt that they were
passing swiftly, and could not be recalled. And of course the
imaginative nature which lives tremulously in delight will be most apt
to portend sadness in hours of happiness, and in sorrow to anticipate
the continuance of sorrow. That is an inevitable effect of temperament;
but we must not give way helplessly to temperament, or allow ourselves
to drift wherever the mind bears us. Just as the skilled sailor can
tack up against the wind, and use ingenuity to compel a contrary breeze
to bring him to the haven of his desire, so we must be wise in trimming
our sails to the force of circumstance; while there is an eager delight
in making adverse conditions help us to realise our hopes.

The timid soul that loves delight is apt to say to itself, "I am happy
now in health and circumstances and friends, but I lean out into the
future, and see that health must fail and friends must drift away;
death must part me from those I love; and beyond all this, I see the
cloudy gate through which I must myself pass, and I do not know what
lies beyond it." That is true enough! It is like the story of the old
prince, as told by Herodotus, who said in his sorrowful age that the
Gods gave man only a taste of life, just enough to let him feel that
life was sweet, and then took the cup from his lips. But if we look
fairly at life, at our own life, at other lives, we see that pleasure
and contentment, even if we hardly realised that it was contentment at
the time, have largely predominated over pain and unhappiness; a man
must be very rueful and melancholy before he will deliberately say that
life has not been worth living, though I suppose that there have
probably been hours in the lives of all of us when we have thought and
said and even believed that we would rather not have lived at all than
suffer so. Neither must we pass over the fact that every day there are
men and women who, under the pressure of calamity and dismay, bring
their lives to a voluntary end.

But we have to be very dull and thankless and slow of heart not to feel
that by being allowed to live, for however short a time, we have been
allowed to take part in a very beautiful and wonderful thing. The
loveliness of earth, its colours, its lights, its scents, its savours,
the pleasures of activity and health, the sharp joys of love and
friendship, these are surely very great and marvellous experiences, and
the Mind which planned them must be full of high purpose, eager
intention, infinite goodwill. And we may go further than that, and see
that even our sorrows and failures have often brought something great
to our view, something which we feel we have learned and apprehended,
something which we would not have missed, and which we cannot do
without. If we will frankly recognise all this, we cannot feebly
crumple up at the smallest touch of misery, and say suspiciously and
vindictively that we wish we had never opened our eyes upon the world;
and even if we do say that, even if we abandon ourselves to despair, we
yet cannot hope to escape; we did not enter life by our own will, it is
not our own prudence that has kept us there, and even if we end it
voluntarily, as Carlyle said, by noose or henbane, we cannot for an
instant be sure that we are ending it; every inference in the world, in
fact, would tend to indicate that we do not end it. We cannot destroy
matter, we can only disperse and rearrange it; we cannot generate a
single force, we can only summon it from elsewhere, and concentrate it,
as we concentrate electricity, at a single glowing point. Force seems
as indestructible as matter, and there is no reason to think that life
is destructible either. So that if we are to resign ourselves to any
belief at all, it must be to the belief that "to be, or not to be" is
not a thing which is in our power at all. We may extinguish life, as we
put out a light; but we do not destroy it, we only rearrange it.

And we can thus at least practise and exercise ourselves in the belief
that we cannot bring our experiences to an end, however petulantly and
irritably we desire to do so, because it simply is not in our power to
effect it. We talk about the power of the will, but no effort of will
can obliterate the life that we have lived, or add a cubit to our
stature; we cannot abrogate any law of nature, or destroy a single atom
of matter. What it seems that we can do with the will is to make a
certain choice, to select a certain line, to combine existing forces,
to use them within very small limits. We can oblige ourselves to take a
certain course, when every other inclination is reluctant to do it; and
even so the power varies in different people. It is useless then to
depend blindly upon the will, because we may suddenly come to the end
of it, as we may come to the end of our physical forces. But what the
will can do is to try certain experiments, and the one province where
its function seems to be clear, is where it can discover that we have
often a reserve of unsuspected strength, and more courage and power
than we had supposed. We can certainly oppose it to bodily
inclinations, whether they be seductions of sense or temptations of
weariness. And in this one respect the will can give us, if not
serenity, at least a greater serenity than we expect. We can use the
will to endure, to wait, to suspend a hasty judgment; and impulse is
the thing which menaces our serenity most of all. The will indeed seems
to be like a little weight which we can throw into either scale. If we
have no doubt how we ought to act, we can use the will to enforce our
judgment, whether it is a question of acting or of abstaining; if we
are in doubt how to act, we can use our will to enforce a wise delay.

The truth then about the will is that it is a force which we cannot
measure, and that it is as unreasonable to say that it does not exist
as to say that it is unlimited. It is foolish to describe it as free;
it is no more free than a prisoner in a cell is free; but yet he has a
certain power to move about within his cell, and to choose among
possible employments.

Anyone who will deliberately test his will, will find that it is
stronger than he suspects; what often weakens our use of it is that we
are so apt to look beyond the immediate difficulty into a long
perspective of imagined obstacles, and to say within ourselves, "Yes, I
may perhaps achieve this immediate step, but I cannot take step after
step--my courage will fail!" Yet if one does make the immediate effort,
it is common to find the whole range of obstacles modified by the
single act; and thus the first step towards the attainment of serenity
of life is to practise cutting off the vista of possible contingencies
from our view, and to create a habit of dealing with a case as it

I am often tempted myself to send my anxious mind far ahead in vague
dismay; at the beginning of a week crammed with various engagements,
numerous tasks, constant labour, little businesses, many of them with
their own attendant anxiety, it is easy to say that there is no time to
do anything that one wants to do, and to feel that the matters
themselves will be handled amiss and bungled. But if one can only keep
the mind off, or distract it by work, or beguile it by a book, a walk,
a talk, how easily the thread spins off the reel, how quietly one comes
to harbour on the Saturday evening, with everything done and finished!

Again, I am personally much disposed to dread the opposition and the
displeasure of colleagues, and to shrink nervously from anything which
involves dealing with a number of people. I ought to have found out
before now how futile such dread is; other people forget their vexation
and even grow ashamed of it, much as one does oneself; and looking back
I can recall no crisis which turned out either as intricate or as
difficult as one expected.

Let me admit that I have more than once in life made grave mistakes
through this timidity and indolence, or through an imaginativeness
which could see in a great opportunity nothing but a sea of troubles,
which would, I do not doubt, have melted away as one advanced. But no
one has suffered except myself! Institutions do not depend upon
individuals; and I regard such failures now just as the petulant
casting away of a chance of experience, as a lesson which I would not
learn; but there is nothing irreparable about it; one only comes, more
slowly and painfully, to the same goal at last. I dare not say that I
regret it all, for we are all of us, whether small or great, being
taught a mighty truth, whether we wish it or know it; and all that we
can do to hasten it is to put our will into the right scale. I do not
think mistakes and failures ought to trouble one much; at all events
there is no fear mingled with them. But I do not here claim to have
attained any real serenity--my own heart is too impatient, too fond of
pleasure for that!--yet I can see clearly enough that it is there, if I
could but grasp it; and I know well enough how it is to be attained, by
being content to wait, and by realising at every instant and moment of
life that, in spite of my tremors and indolences, my sharp impatiences,
my petulant disgusts, something very real and great is being shown me,
which I shall at last, however dimly, perceive; and that even so the
goal of the journey is far beyond any horizon that I can conceive, and
built up like the celestial city out of unutterable brightness and
clearness, upon a foundation of peace and joy.

It is very difficult to determine, by any exercise of the intellect or
imagination, what fears would remain to us if we were freed from the
dominion of the body. All material fears and anxieties would come to an
end; we should no longer have any poverty to dread, or any of the
limitations or circumscriptions which the lack of the means of life
inflicts upon us; we should have no ambitions left, because the
ambitions which centre on influence--that is, upon the desire to direct
and control the interests of a nation or a group of individuals--have
no meaning apart from the material framework of civil life. The only
kind of influence which would survive would be the influence of
emotion, the direct appeal which one who lives a higher and more
beautiful life can make to all unsatisfied souls, who would fain find
the way to a greater serenity of mood. Even upon earth we can see a
faint foreshadowing of this in the fact that the only personalities who
continue to hold the devotion and admiration of humanity are the
idealists. Men and women do not make pilgrimages to the graves and
houses of eminent jurists and bankers, political economists or
statisticians: these have done their work, and have had their reward.
Even the monuments of statesmen and conquerors have little power to
touch the imagination, unless some love for humanity, some desire to
uplift and benefit the race, have entered into their schemes and
policies. No, it is rather the soil which covers the bones of dreamers
and visionaries that is sacred yet, prophets and poets, artists and
musicians, those who have seen through life to beauty, and have lived
and suffered that they might inspire and tranquillise human hearts. The
princes of the earth, popes and emperors, lie in pompous sepulchres,
and the thoughts of those who regard them, as they stand in metal or
marble, dwell most on the vanity of earthly glory. But at the tombs of
men like Vergil and Dante, of Shakespeare and Michelangelo, the human
heart still trembles into tears, and hates the death that parts soul
from soul. So that if, like Dante, we could enter the shadow-land, and
hold converse with the spirits of the dead, we should seek out to
consort with, not those who have subdued and wasted the earth, or have
terrified men into obedience and service, but those whose hearts were
touched by dreams of impossible beauty, and who have taught us to be
kind and compassionate and tender-hearted, to love God and our
neighbour, and to detect, however faintly, the hope of peace and joy
which binds us all together.

And thus if emotion, by which I mean the power of loving, is the one
thing which survives, the fears which may remain will be concerned with
all the thoughts which cloud love, the anger and suspicion that divide
us; so that perhaps the only fears which will survive at all will be
the fears of our own selfishness and coldness, that inner hardness
which has kept us from the love of God and isolated us from our
neighbour. The pride which kept us from admitting that we were wrong,
the jealousy that made us hate those who won the love we could not win,
the baseness which made us indifferent to the discomfort of others if
we could but secure our own ease, these are the thoughts which may
still have the power to torture us; and the hell that we may have to
fear may be the hell of conscious weakness and the horror of
retrospect, when we recollect how under these dark skies of earth we
went on our way claiming and taking all that we could get, and
disregarding love for fear of being taken advantage of. One of the
grievous fears of life is the fear of seeing ourselves as we really
are, in all our baseness and pettiness; yet that will assuredly be
shown us in no vindictive spirit, but that we may learn to rise and

There is no hope that death will work an immediate moral change in us;
it may set us free from some sensual and material temptations, but the
innermost motives will indeed survive, that instinct which makes us
again and again pursue what we know to be false and unsatisfying.

The more that we shrink from self-knowledge, the more excuses that we
make for ourselves, the more that we tend to attribute our failures to
our circumstances and to the action of others, the more reason we have
to fear the revelation of death. And the only way to face that is to
keep our minds open to any light, to nurture and encourage the wish to
be different, to pray hour by hour that at any cost we may be taught
the truth; it is useless to search for happy illusions, to look for
short cuts, to hope vaguely that strength and virtue will burst out
like a fountain beside our path. We have a long and toilsome way to
travel, and we can by no device abbreviate it; but when we suffer and
grieve, we are walking more swiftly to our goal; and the hours we spend
in fear, in sending the mind in weariness along the desolate track, are
merely wasted, for we can alter nothing so. We use life best when we
live it eagerly, exulting in its fulness and its significance, casting
ourselves into strong relations with others, drinking in beauty, making
high music in our hearts. There is an abundance of awe in the
experiences through which we pass, awe at the greatness of the vision,
at the vastness of the design, as it embraces and enfolds our weakness.
But we are inside it all, an integral and indestructible part of it;
and the shadow of fear falls when we doubt this, when we dread being
overlooked or disregarded. No such thing can happen to us; our
inheritance is absolute and certain, and it is fear that keeps us away
from it, and the fear of fearlessness. For we are contending not with
God, but with the fear which hides Him from our shrinking eyes; and our
prayer should be the undaunted prayer of Moses in the clefts of the
mountain, "I beseech Thee, show me Thy Glory!"


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