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Title: Soliloquies in England - And Later Soliloquies
Author: Santayana, George
Language: English
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SOLILOQUIES IN ENGLAND

And Later Soliloquies

by

GEORGE SANTAYANA



New York
Charles Scribner's Sons
1922



PREFACE


Many of these Soliloquies have appeared in _The Athenaeum_ and one or
more in _The London Mercury_, _The Nation_, _The New Republic_, _The
Dial_, and _The Journal of Philosophy_. The author's thanks are due to
the Editors of all these reviews for permission to reprint the articles.

For convenience, three Soliloquies on Liberty, written in 1915, have
been placed in the second group; and perhaps it should be added that
not a few of the later pieces were written in France, Spain, or Italy,
although still for the most part on English themes and under the
influence of English impressions.



CONTENTS

Prologue

SOLILOQUIES IN ENGLAND, 1914-1918

   1. ATMOSPHERE
   2. GRISAILLE
   3. PRAISES OF WATER
   4. THE TWO PARENTS OF VISION
   5. AVERSION FROM PLATONISM
   6. CLOUD CASTLES
   7. CROSS-LIGHTS
   8. HAMLET'S QUESTION
   9. THE BRITISH CHARACTER
  10. SEAFARING
  11. PRIVACY
  12. THE LION AND THE UNICORN
  13. DONS
  14. APOLOGY FOR SNOBS
  15. THE HIGHER SNOBBERY
  16. DISTINCTION IN ENGLISHMEN
  17. FRIENDSHIPS
  18. DICKENS
  19. THE HUMAN SCALE
  20. ENGLISH ARCHITECTURE
  21. THE ENGLISH CHURCH
  22. LEAVING CHURCH
  23. DEATH-BED MANNERS
  24. WAR SHRINES
  25. TIPPERARY
  26. SKYLARKS
  27. AT HEAVEN'S GATE

LATER SOLILOQUIES, 1918-1921

  28. SOCIETY AND SOLITUDE
  29. IMAGINATION
  30. THE WORLD'S A STAGE
  31. MASKS
  32. THE TRAGIC MASK
  33. THE COMIC MASK
  34. CARNIVAL
  35. QUEEN MAB
  36. A CONTRAST WITH SPANISH DRAMA
  37. THE CENSOR AND THE POET
  38. THE MASK OF THE PHILOSOPHER
  39. THE VOYAGE OF THE SAINT CHRISTOPHER
  40. CLASSIC LIBERTY
  41. GERMAN FREEDOM
  42. LIBERALISM AND CULTURE
  43. THE IRONY OF LIBERALISM
  44. JOHN BULL AND HIS PHILOSOPHERS
  45. OCCAM'S RAZOR
  46. EMPIRICISM
  47. THE BRITISH HEGELIANS
  48. THE PROGRESS OF PHILOSOPHY
  49. THE PSYCHE
  50. REVERSION TO PLATONISM
  51. IDEAS
  52. THE MANSIONS OF HELEN
  53. THE JUDGEMENT OF PARIS
  54. ON MY FRIENDLY CRITICS
  55. HERMES THE INTERPRETER



PROLOGUE


The outbreak of war in the year 1914 found me by chance in England,
and there I remained, chiefly at Oxford, until the day of the peace.
During those five years, in rambles to Iffley and Sandford, to Godstow
and Wytham, to the hospitable eminence of Chilswell, to Wood Eaton or
Nuneham or Abingdon or Stanton Harcourt,

Crossing the stripling Thames at Bab-lock-hithe,

these Soliloquies were composed, or the notes scribbled from which they
have been expanded. Often over Port Meadow the whirr of aeroplanes sent
an iron tremor through these reveries, and the daily casualty list,
the constant sight of the wounded, the cadets strangely replacing the
undergraduates, made the foreground to these distances. Yet nature
and solitude continued to envelop me in their gentleness, and seemed
to remain nearer to me than all that was so near. They muffled the
importunity of the hour; perhaps its very bitterness and incubus of
horror drove my thoughts deeper than they would otherwise have ventured
into the maze of reflection and of dreams. It is a single maze, though
we traverse it in opposite moods, and distinct threads conduct us; for
when the most dire events have assumed their punctiform places in the
history of our lives, where they will stand eternally, what are they
but absurd episodes in a once tormenting dream? And when our despised
night-dreams are regarded and respected as they deserve to be (since
all their troubles are actual and all their tints evident), do they
prove more arbitrary or less significant than our waking thoughts, or
than those more studious daylight fictions which we call history or
philosophy? The human mind at best is a sort of song; the music of it
runs away with the words, and even the words, which pass for the names
of things, are but poor wild symbols for their unfathomed objects. So
are these Soliloquies compared with their occasions; and I should be
the first to hate their verbiage, if a certain spiritual happiness did
not seem to breathe through it, and redeem its irrelevance. Their very
abstraction from the time in which they were written may commend them
to a free mind. Spirit refuses to be caught in a vice; it triumphs
over the existence which begets it. The moving world which feeds it
is not its adequate theme. Spirit hates its father and its mother. It
spreads from its burning focus into the infinite, careless whether
that focus burns to ashes or not. From its pinnacle of earthly time it
pours its little life into spheres not temporal nor earthly, and half
in playfulness, half in sacrifice, it finds its joy in the irony of
eternal things, which know nothing of it.

Spirit, however, cannot fly from matter without material wings;
the most abstract art is compacted of images, the most mystical
renunciation obeys some passion of the heart. Images and passion,
even if they are not easily recognizable in these Soliloquies as now
coldly written down, were not absent from them when inwardly spoken.
The images were English images, the passion was the love of England
and, behind England, of Greece. What I love in Greece and in England
is contentment in finitude, fair outward ways, manly perfection and
simplicity. Admiration for England, of a certain sort, was instilled
into me in my youth. My father (who read the language with ease
although he did not speak it) had a profound respect for British polity
and British power. In this admiration there was no touch of sentiment
nor even of sympathy; behind it lay something like an ulterior
contempt, such as we feel for the strong man exhibiting at a fair. The
performance may be astonishing but the achievement is mean. So in the
middle of the nineteenth century an intelligent foreigner, the native
of a country materially impoverished, could look to England for a model
of that irresistible energy and public discipline which afterwards
were even more conspicuous in Bismarckian Germany and in the United
States. It was admiration for material progress, for wealth, for the
inimitable gift of success; and it was not free, perhaps, from the poor
man's illusion, who jealously sets his heart on prosperity, and lets
it blind him to the subtler sources of greatness. We should none of us
admire England to-day, if we had to admire it only for its conquering
commerce, its pompous noblemen, or its parliamentary government. I
feel no great reverence even for the British Navy, which may be in
the junk-shop to-morrow; but I heartily like the British sailor, with
his clear-cut and dogged way of facing the world. It is health, not
policy nor wilfulness, that gives true strength in the moral world,
as in the animal kingdom; nature and fortune in the end are on the
side of health. There is, or was, a beautifully healthy England hidden
from most foreigners; the England of the countryside and of the poets,
domestic, sporting, gallant, boyish, of a sure and delicate heart,
which it has been mine to feel beating, though not so early in my life
as I could have wished. In childhood I saw only Cardiff on a Sunday,
and the docks of Liverpool; but books and prints soon opened to me more
important vistas. I read the poets; and although British painting,
when it tries to idealize human subjects, has always made me laugh, I
was quick to discern an ethereal beauty in the landscapes of Turner.
Furgueson's _Cathedrals of England_, too, and the great mansions in
the Italian style depicted in the eighth edition of the _Encyclopaedia
Britannica_, revealed to me even when a boy the rare charm that can
envelop the most conventional things when they are associated with
tender thoughts or with noble ways of living.

It was with a premonition of things noble and tender, and yet
conventional, that after a term at the University of Berlin I went to
spend my first holidays in England. Those were the great free days of
my youth. I had lived familiarly in Spain and in the United States;
I had had a glimpse of France and of Germany, and French literature
had been my daily bread: it had taught me how to think, but had not
given me much to think about. I was not mistaken in surmising that in
England I should find a _tertium quid_, something soberer and juster
than anything I yet knew, and at the same time greener and richer.
I felt at once that here was a distinctive society, a way of living
fundamentally _foreign_ to me, but deeply attractive. At first all
gates seemed shut and bristling with incommunication; but soon in
some embowered corner I found the stile I might climb over, and the
ancient right of way. Those peaceful parks, and those minds no less
retired, seemed positively to welcome me; and though I was still
divided from them by inevitable partitions, these were in places so
thin and yielding, that the separation seemed hardly greater than is
requisite for union and sympathy between autonomous minds. Indeed, I
was soon satisfied that no climate, no manners, no comrades on earth
(where nothing is perfect) could be more congenial to my complexion.
Not that I ever had the least desire or tendency to become an
Englishman. Nationality and religion are like oar love and loyalty
towards women: things too radically intertwined with oar moral essence
to be changed honourably, and too accidental to the free mind to be
worth changing. My own origins were living within me; by their light
I could see clearly that this England was pre-eminently the home of
decent happiness and a quiet pleasure in being oneself. I found here
the same sort of manliness which I had learned to love in America, yet
softer, and not at all obstreperous; a manliness which when refined
a little creates the gentleman, since its instinct is to hide its
strength for an adequate occasion and for the service of others. It is
self-reliant, but with a saving touch of practicality and humour; for
there is a becoming self-confidence, based on actual performance, like
the confidence of the athlete, and free from any exorbitant estimate of
what that performance is worth. Such modesty in strength is entirely
absent from the effusive temperament of the Latin, who is cocky and
punctilious so long as his conceit holds out, and then utterly humbled
and easily corrupted; entirely absent also from the doctrinaire of the
German school, in his dense vanity and officiousness, that nothing can
put to shame. So much had I come to count on this sort of manliness
in the friends of my youth, that without it the most admirable and
gifted persons seemed to me hardly _men_: they fell rather into an
ambiguous retinue, the camp followers of man, cleverer but meaner than
himself--the priests, politicians, actors, pedagogues, and shopkeepers.
The _man_ is he who lives and relies directly on nature, not on the
needs or weaknesses of other people. These self-sufficing Englishmen,
in their reserve and decision, seemed to me truly men, creatures of
fixed rational habit, people in whose somewhat inarticulate society
one might feel safe and at home. The low pressure at which their minds
seemed to work showed how little they were alarmed about anything:
things would all be managed somehow. They were good company even when
they said nothing. Their aspect, their habits, their invincible likes
and dislikes seemed like an anchor to me in the currents of this
turbid age. They were a gift of the gods, like the sunshine or the
fresh air or the memory of the Greeks: they were superior beings, and
yet more animal than the rest of us, calmer, with a different scale
of consciousness and a slower pace of thought. There were glints in
them sometimes of a mystical oddity; they loved the wilds; and yet
ordinarily they were wonderfully sane and human, and responsive to the
right touch. Moreover, these semi-divine animals could talk like men
of the world. If some of them, and not the least charming, said little
but "Oh, really," and "How stupid of me," I soon discovered how far
others could carry scholarly distinction, rich humour, and refinement
of diction. I confess, however, that when they were very exquisite or
subtle they seemed to me like cut flowers; the finer they were the
frailer, and the cleverer the more wrong-headed. Delicacy did not come
to them, as to Latin minds, as an added ornament, a finer means of
being passionate, a trill in a song that flows full-chested from the
whole man; their purity was Puritanism, it came by exclusion of what
they thought lower. It impoverished their sympathies, it severed them
from their national roots, it turned to affectation or fanaticism,
it rendered them acrid and fussy and eccentric and sad. It is truly
English, in one sense, to fume against England, individuality tearing
its own nest; and often these frantic poses neutralize one another and
do no harm on the whole. Nevertheless it is the full-bodied Englishman
who has so far ballasted the ship, he who, like Shakespeare, can wear
gracefully the fashion of the hour, can play with fancy, and remain a
man. When he ceases to be sensual and national, adventurous and steady,
reticent and religious, the Englishman is a mad ghost; and wherever he
prevails he turns pleasant England, like Greece, into a memory.

Those first holidays of mine, when I was twenty-three years of
age, laid the foundation of a lifelong attachment--of which these
Soliloquies are a late fruit--to both Oxford and Cambridge: not so much
to the learned society of those places as to their picturesque aspects
and to the possibility of enjoying there in seclusion the intense
companionship of the past and of the beautiful; also the intense
companionship of youth, to which more advanced years in themselves are
no obstacle, if the soul remains free. I have never liked the taste of
academic straw; but there are fat grains and seeds of novelty even at
universities, which the lively young wits that twitter in those shades
pick up like hungry sparrows, yet without unmitigated seriousness; and
unmitigated seriousness is always out of place in human affairs. Let
not the unwary reader think me flippant for saying so; it was Plato,
in his solemn old age, who said it. He added that our ignominious
condition forces us, nevertheless, to be often terribly in earnest.
Wanton and transitory as our existence is, and comic as it must appear
in the eyes of the happy gods, it is all in all to our mortal nature;
and whilst intellectually we may judge ourselves somewhat as the gods
might judge us, and may commend our lives to the keeping of eternity,
our poor animal souls are caught inextricably in the toils of time,
which devours us and all our possessions. The artist playing a farce
for others suffers a tragedy in himself. When he aspires to shed as
much as possible the delusions of earthly passion, and to look at
things joyfully and unselfishly, with the clear eyes of youth, it is
not because he feels no weight of affliction, but precisely because he
feels its weight to the full, and how final it is. Lest it should seem
inhuman of me to have been piping soliloquies whilst Rome was burning,
I will transcribe here some desperate verses extorted from me by events
during those same years. I am hardly a poet in the magic sense of the
word, but when one's thoughts have taken instinctively a metrical form,
why should they be forbidden to wear it? I do not ask the reader to
admire these sonnets, but to believe them.


A PREMONITION

_Cambridge, October_ 1913

Grey walls, broad fields, fresh voices, rippling weir,
I know you well: ten faces, for each face
That passes smiling, haunt this hallowed place,
And nothing not thrice noted greets me here.
Soft watery winds, wide twilight skies and clear,
Refresh my spirit at its founts of grace,
And a strange sorrow masters me, to pace
These willowed paths, in this autumnal year.
Soon, lovely England, soon thy secular dreams,
Thy lisping comrades, shall be thine no more.
A world's loosed troubles flood thy gated streams
And drown, methinks, thy towers; and the tears start
As if an iron hand had clutched my heart,
And knowledge is a pang, like love of yore.


THE UNDERGRADUATE KILLED IN BATTLE

_Oxford_, 1915

Sweet as the lawn beneath his sandalled tread,
Or the scarce rippled stream beneath his oar,
So gently buffeted it laughed the more,
His life was, and the few blithe words he said.
One or two poets read he, and reread;
One or two friends with boyish ardour wore
Close to his heart, incurious of the lore
Dodonian woods might murmur overhead.
Ah, demons of the whirlwind, have a care,
What, trumpeting your triumphs, ye undo!
The earth once won, begins your long despair
That never, never is his bliss for you.
He breathed betimes this clement island air
And in unwitting lordship saw the blue.


THE DARKEST HOUR

_Oxford_, 1917

Smother thy flickering light, the vigil's o'er.
Hope, early wounded, of his wounds is dead.
Many a night long he smiled, his drooping head
Laid on thy breast, and that brave smile he wore
Not yet from his unbreathing lips is fled.
Enough: on mortal sweetness look no more,
Pent in this charnel-house, fling wide the door
And on the stars that killed him gaze instead.
The world's too vast for hope. The unteachable sun
Rises again and will reflood his sphere,
Blotting with light what yesterday was done;
But the unavailing truth, though dead, lives on,
And in eternal night, unkindly clear,
A cold moon gilds the waves of Acheron.



SOLILOQUIES IN ENGLAND

1914-1918



1

ATMOSPHERE


The stars lie above all countries alike, but the atmosphere that
intervenes is denser in one place than in another; and even where
it is purest, if once its atoms catch the sunlight, it cuts off the
prospect beyond. In some climates the veil of earthly weather is so
thick and blotted that even the plodder with his eyes on the ground
finds its density inconvenient, and misses his way home. The advantage
of having eyes is neutralized at such moments, and it would be better
to have retained the power of going on all fours and being guided by
scent. In fact human beings everywhere are like marine animals and live
in a congenial watery medium, which like themselves is an emanation
of mother earth; and they are content for the most part to glide
through it horizontally at their native level. They ignore the third,
the vertical dimension; or if they ever get some inkling of empty
heights or rigid depths where they could not breathe, they dismiss
that speculative thought with a shudder, and continue to dart about in
their familiar aquarium, immersed in an opaque fluid that cools their
passions, protects their intellect from mental dispersion, keeps them
from idle gazing, and screens them from impertinent observation by
those who have no business in the premises.

The stellar universe that silently surrounds them, if while swimming
they ever think of it, seems to them something foreign and not quite
credibly reported. How should anything exist so unlike home, so out of
scale with their affairs, so little watery, and so little human? Their
philosophers confirm them in that incredulity; and the sea-caves hold
conclaves of profound thinkers congregated to prove that only fog can
be real. The dry, their council decrees, is but a vain abstraction, a
mere negative which human imagination opposes to the moist, of which
alone, since life is moist, there can be positive experience.

As for the stars, these inspired children of the mist have discovered
that they are nothing but postulates of astronomy, imagined for a
moment to exist, in order that a beautiful human science may be
constructed about them. Duller people, born in the same fog, may not
understand so transcendental a philosophy, but they spontaneously
frame others of their own, not unlike it in principle. In the middle
of the night, when the starlight best manages to pierce to the lowest
strata of the air, these good people are asleep; yet occasionally when
they are returning somewhat disappointed from a party, or when illness
or anxiety or love-hunger keeps them pacing their chamber or tossing
in their beds, by chance they may catch a glimpse of a star or two
twinkling between their curtains. Idle objects, they say to themselves,
like dots upon the wall-paper. Why should there be stars at all, and
why so many of them? Certainly they shed a little light and are pretty;
and they are a convenience sometimes in the country when there is no
moon and no lamp-posts; and they are said to be useful in navigation
and to enable the astronomers to calculate sidereal time in addition
to solar time, which is doubtless a great satisfaction to them. But
all this hardly seems to justify such an expense of matter and energy
as is involved in celestial mechanics. To have so much going on so far
away, and for such prodigious lengths of time, seems rather futile and
terrible. Who knows? Astrologers used to foretell people's character
and destiny by their horoscope; perhaps they may turn out to have been
more or less right after all, now that science is coming round to
support more and more what our fathers called superstitions. There may
be some meaning in the stars, a sort of code-language such as Bacon put
into Shakespeare's sonnets, which would prove to us, if we could only
read it, not how insignificant, but how very important we are in the
world, since the very stars are talking about us.

The safest thing, however, is to agree with the great idealists, who
say there are really no stars at all. Or, if their philosophy seems
insecure--and there are rumours that even the professors are hedging
on the subject--we can always take refuge in faith, and think of the
heavenly bodies as beautiful new homes in which we are to meet and work
together again when we die; and as in time we might grow weary even
there, with being every day busier and busier, there must always be
other stars at hand for us to move to, each happier and busier than the
last; and since we wish to live and to progress for ever, the number of
habitable planets provided for us has to be infinite. Certainly faith
is far better than science for explaining everything.

So the embryonic soul reasons in her shell of vapour; her huddled
philosophy is, as it were, pre-natal, and discredits the possibility
of ever peeping into a cold outer world. Yet in time this shell may
grow dangerously thin in places, and a little vague light may filter
through. Strange promptings and premonitions at the same time may visit
the imprisoned spirit, as if it might not be impossible nor inglorious
to venture into a world that was not oneself. At last, willy-nilly, the
soul may be actually hatched, and may suddenly find herself horribly
exposed, cast perhaps on the Arabian desert, or on some high, scorched,
open place that resembles it, like the uplands of Castile. There the
rarefied atmosphere lets the stars down upon her overwhelmingly, like a
veritable host of heaven. There the barren earth entwines few tentacles
about the heart; it stretches away dark and empty beneath our feet, a
mere footstool for meditation. It is a thing to look away from, too
indifferent and accidental even to spurn; for after all it supports
us, and though small and extinguished it is one of the stars. In these
regions the shepherds first thought of God.



2

GRISAILLE


England is pre-eminently a land of atmosphere. A luminous haze
permeates everywhere, softening distances, magnifying perspectives,
transfiguring familiar objects, harmonizing the accidental, making
beautiful things magical and ugly things picturesque. Road and pavement
become wet mirrors, in which the fragments of this gross world are
shattered, inverted, and transmuted into jewels, more appealing than
precious stones to the poet, because they are insubstantial and must be
loved without being possessed. Mists prolong the most sentimental and
soothing of hours, the twilight, through the long summer evenings and
the whole winter's day. In these country-sides so full of habitations
and these towns so full of verdure, lamplight and twilight cross their
rays; and the passers-by, mercifully wrapped alike in one crepuscular
mantle, are reduced to unison and simplicity, as if sketched at one
stroke by the hand of a master.

English landscape, if we think only of the land and the works of man
upon it, is seldom on the grand scale. Charming, clement, and eminently
habitable, it is almost too domestic, as if only home passions and
caged souls could live there. But lift the eyes for a moment above the
line of roofs or of tree-tops, and there the grandeur you miss on the
earth is spread gloriously before you. The spirit of the atmosphere
is not compelled, like the god of pantheism, to descend in order to
exist, and wholly to diffuse itself amongst earthly objects. It exists
absolutely in its own person as well, and enjoys in the sky, like a
true deity, its separate life and being. There the veil of Maya, the
heavenly Penelope, is being woven and rent perpetually, and the winds
of destiny are always charmingly defeating their apparent intentions.
Here is the playground of those early nebulous gods that had the bodies
of giants and the minds of children.

In England the classic spectacle of thunderbolts and rainbows appears
but seldom; such contrasts are too violent and definite for these
tender skies. Here the conflict between light and darkness, like
all other conflicts, ends in a compromise; cataclysms are rare, but
revolution is perpetual. Everything lingers on and is modified; all is
luminous and all is grey.



3

PRAISES OF WATER


The transformation of landscape by moisture is no matter of appearance
only, no mere optical illusion or effect of liquid stained glass. It
is a sort of echo or symbol to our senses of very serious events in
prehistoric times. Water, which now seems only to lap the earth or to
cloud it, was the chisel which originally carved its surface. They say
that when the planet, recently thrown off from the sun, was still on
fire, the lighter elements rose in the form of gases around the molten
metallic core; and the outer parts of this nucleus in cooling formed
a crust of igneous rock which, as the earth contracted, was crushed
together and wrinkled like the skin of a raisin. These wrinkles are
our mountain chains, made even more rugged and villainous by belated
eruptions. On that early earth there was no water. All was sheer peaks,
ledges, and chasms, red-hot or coal-black, or of such livid metallic
hues, crimson, saffron, and purple, as may still be seen on the shores
of the Dead Sea or in the Grand Canyon of the Colorado--rifts that
allow us to peep into the infernal regions, happily in those places
at least without inhabitants. This hellish sort of landscape, which
we must now plunge into the depths to find, was the first general
landscape of earth.

As the cooling progressed, however, the steam that was in the upper
atmosphere began to condense and to fall in rain. At first the hot
drops no doubt sizzled as they fell and rose again immediately in
vapour, yet the meteorological cycle was established notwithstanding.
The rain that evaporated descended once more, each time colder and
more abundant, until it cut channels amongst the crags, ground and
polished their fragments into boulders and pebbles, formed pools in the
hollows, and finally covered the earth up to its chin with the oceans.
Much detritus meantime was washed down from the rocks; it gathered in
crevices and along the pockets and slacker reaches of rivers. This
sediment was soaked with moisture and mixed with dissolved acids; it
became the first soft layer of earth and finally a fertile soil. Water
in this way softened the outlines of the mountains, laid the floor of
the valleys, and made a leafy and a cloudy place of the planet.

The sages (and some of them much more recent than Thales) tell us
that water not only wears away the rocks, but has a singular power of
carrying away their subtler elements in solution, especially carbonic
acid, of which the atmosphere also is full; and it happens that
these elements can combine with the volatile dements of water into
innumerable highly complex substances, all of which the atmospheric
cycle carries with it wherever it goes; and with these complex
substances, which are the requisite materials for living bodies, it
everywhere fills the sea and impregnates the land.

Even if life, then, is not actually born of the moist element, it is at
least suckled by it; the water-laden atmosphere is the wet nurse, if
not the mother, of the earth-soul. The earth has its soul outside its
body, as many a philosopher would have wished to have his. The winds
that play about it are its breath, the water that rains down and rises
again in mist is its circulating blood; and the death of the earth will
come when some day it sucks in the atmosphere and the sea, gets its
soul inside its body again, turns its animating gases back into solids,
and becomes altogether a skeleton of stone.

No wonder that living creatures find things that are fluid and immersed
in moisture friendly to the watery core of their own being. Seeds,
blood, and tears are liquid; nothing else is so poignant as what passes
and flows, like music and love; and if this irreparable fluidity is
sad, anything stark and arrested is still sadder. Life is compelled to
flow, and things must either flow with it or, like Lot's wife, in the
petrified gesture of refusal, remain to mock their own hope.



4

THE TWO PARENTS OF VISION


It would seem that when a heavenly body ceases to shine by its own
light, it becomes capable of breeding eyes with which to profit by the
light other bodies are shedding; whereas, so long as it was itself
on fire, no part of it could see. Is life a gift which cooling stars
receive from those still incandescent, when some ray falls upon a moist
spot, making it a focus of warmth and luminous energy, and reversing
at that point the general refrigeration? It is certain, at any rate,
that if light did not pour down from the sun no earthly animal would
have developed an eye. Yet there was another partner in this business
of seeing, who would have flatly refused to undertake it, had the sole
profit been the possibility of star-gazing.

Star-gazing is an ulterior platonic homage which we pay to our
celestial sources, as a sort of pious acknowledgment of their
munificence in unconsciously begetting us. But this is an
acknowledgment which they are far from demanding or noticing, not
being vain or anxious to be admired, like popular gods; and if we
omitted it, they would continue to perform their offices towards us
with the same contemptuous regularity. Star-gazing is, therefore, a
pure waste of time in the estimation of the other partner in vision,
besides celestial light--I mean, that clod of moist earth which the
light quickens, that plastic home-keeping parent of the mind, whom we
might call old mother Psyche, and whose primary care is to keep the
body in order and guide it prudently over the earth's surface. For
such a purpose the direct rays of the sun are blinding, and those of
the moon and stars fit only to breed lunatics. To mother Psyche it
seems a blessing that the view of the infinite from the earth is so
often intercepted; else it might have sunk into her heart (for she has
watched through many a night in her long vegetative career), and might
have stretched her comfortable industrious sanity into a sort of divine
madness or reason, very disconcerting in her business. Indeed, she
would never have consented to look or to see at all, except for this
circumstance, that the rays coming from heavenly bodies are reflected
by earthly bodies upon one another; so that by becoming sensitive to
light the Psyche could receive a most useful warning of what to seek or
to avoid. Instead of merely stretching or poking or sniffing through
the world, she could now map it at a glance, and turn instinct into
foresight.

This was a great turn in her career, wonderful in its tragic
possibilities, and something like falling in love; for her new art
brought her a new pleasure and a new unrest, purer and more continual
than those drowsy and terrible ones which she knew before. Reflected
light is beautiful. The direct downpour of light through space leaves
space wonderfully dark, and it falls on the earth indiscriminately
upon the wise and the foolish, to warm or to scorch them; but the
few rays caught by solid matter or drifting vapour become prismatic,
soft, and infinitely varied; not only reporting truly the position and
material diversity of things, but adding to them an orchestration in
design and colour bewitching to the senses. It was not the stars but
the terrestrial atmosphere that the eyes of the flesh were made to
see; even mother Psyche can love the light, when it clothes or betrays
something else that matters; and the fleshly-spiritual Goethe said most
truly: _Am farbigen Abglanz haben wir das Leben_.



5

AVERSION FROM PLATONISM


Repetition is the only form of permanence that nature can achieve,
and in those Mediterranean regions that nurtured the classic mind,
by continually repeating the same definite scenes, nature forced it
to fix its ideas. Every one learned to think that the earth and the
gods were more permanent than himself; he perused them, he returned to
them, he studied them at arm's length, and he recognized their external
divinity. But where the Atlantic mists envelop everything, though we
must repeatedly use the same names for new-born things, as we continue
to christen children John and Mary, yet we feel that the facts, like
the persons, are never really alike; everything is so fused, merged,
and continuous, that whatever element we may choose to say is repeated
seems but a mental abstraction and a creature of language. The weather
has got into our bones; there is a fog in the brain; the limits of our
own being become uncertain to us. Yet what is the harm, if only we
move and change inwardly in harmony with the ambient flux? Why this
mania for naming and measuring and mastering what is carrying us so
merrily along? Why shouldn't the intellect be vague while the heart is
comfortable?



6

CLOUD CASTLES


The heavens are the most constant thing we know, the skies the most
inconstant. Even the Olympian expanse, when blue and cloudless, is
an aspect of terrestrial atmosphere in a holiday mood, a sort of gay
parasol which the Earth holds up when she walks in the sun, and takes
down again when she walks in the shadow; while clouds are veils wrapped
more closely about her, and even more friendly to her frailty. Nor are
these feminine trappings less lovely for being easily blown about, and
always fresh and in the latest fashion. It is a prejudice to suppose
that instability must be sad or must be trivial. A new cloud castle is
probably well worth an old one; any one of them may equal in beauty
the monotonous gold and black vault which it conceals from us, and all
of them together certainly surpass that tragic decoration in spiritual
suggestion. Something in us no doubt regrets that these airy visions
vanish so quickly and are irrecoverable; but this is a sort of fleshly
sentimentality of ours and not reasonable. In nature, what disappears
never narrows the range of what is yet to be. If we were immortally
young, like the atmosphere, the lapse of things would not grieve us,
nor would inconstancy be a vice in ourselves. Nobody's future would be
blighted by his past; and this perhaps explains the morals of the gods.
Change to us is an omen of death, and only in the timeless can we feel
secure; but if we were safe in our plastic existence, like nature and
the gods of nature, fidelity to a single love might seem foolish in
us; being and possessing any one thing would not then be incompatible
with sooner or later being and possessing everything else. Nature and
substance are like the absolute actor with an equal affinity for every
part, and changing sex, age, and station with perfect good grace.

A great principle of charity in morals is not to blame the fishes for
their bad taste in liking to live under water. Yet many philosophers
seem to have sinned against this reasonable law, since they have blamed
life and nature for liking to change, which is as much as to say for
liking to live. Certainly life and nature, when they produce thought,
turn from themselves towards the eternal, but it is by a glance, itself
momentary, that they turn to it; for if they were themselves converted
into something changeless, they could neither live, think, nor turn.
In the realm of existence it is not sinful to be fugitive nor in bad
taste to be new. Accordingly cloud castles have nothing to blush for;
if they have a weak hold on existence, so has everything good. We are
warned that the day of judgement will be full of surprises: perhaps
one of them may be that in heaven things are even more unstable than
on earth, and that the mansions reserved for us there are not only
many but insecure. Cloud castles are hints to us that eternity has
nothing to do with duration, nor beauty with substantial existence, and
that even in heaven our bliss would have to be founded on a smiling
renunciation. Did Mohammed, I wonder, misunderstand the archangel
Gabriel in gathering that celestial beauties (unlike the lights and
voices of Dante's paradise) could be embraced as well as admired?
And in promising that our heavenly brides would daily recover their
virginity, did he simply clothe in a congenial metaphor the fact that
they would be different brides every day, and that if we wished to
dwell in a true paradise, and not in a quarrelsome and sordid harem, we
must never dream of seeing any of them a second time?

Fidelity is a virtue akin to habit and rooted in the inertia of animal
life, which would run amok without trusty allies and familiar signals.
We have an inveterate love of _The Same_, because our mortal condition
obliges us to reconsider facts and to accumulate possessions; by
instinct both the heart and the intellect hug everything they touch,
and to let anything go is a sort of death to them. This spirit of
pathetic fidelity in us would certainly reproach those ethereal visions
for being ephemeral, and Cupid for having wings and no heart; but
might not the visiting angels in turn reproach us for clownishness in
wishing to detain them? They are not made of flesh and blood; they are
not condemned to bear children. Their smile, their voice, and the joy
they bring us are the only life they have. They are fertile only like
the clouds, in that by dissolving they give place to some other form,
no less lovely and elusive than themselves; and perhaps if we took a
long view we should not feel that our own passage through existence
had a very different quality. We last as a strain of music lasts, and
we go where it goes. Is it not enough that matter should illustrate
each ideal possibility only once and for a moment, and that Caesar or
Shakespeare should figure once in this world? To repeat them would not
intensify their reality, while it would impoverish and make ridiculous
the pageant of time, like a stage army running round behind the scenes
in order to reappear. To come to an end is a virtue when one has had
one's day, seeing that in the womb of the infinite there are always
other essences no less deserving of existence.

Even cloud castles, however, have a double lien on permanence. A flash
of lightning is soon over, yet so long as the earth is wrapped in
its present atmosphere, flashes will recur from time to time so very
like this one that the mind will make the same comment upon them, and
its pronouncements on its past experience will remain applicable to
its experience to come. Fleeting things in this way, when they are
repeated, survive and are united in the wisdom which they teach us in
common. At the same time they inwardly contain something positively
eternal, since the essences they manifest are immutable in character,
and from their platonic heaven laugh at this inconstant world, into
which they peep for a moment, when a chance collocation of atoms
suggests one or another of them to our minds. To these essences mind
is constitutionally addressed, and into them it likes to sink in its
self-forgetfulness. It is only our poor mother Psyche, being justly
afraid of growing old, who must grudge the exchange of one vision
for another. Material life is sluggish and conservative; it would
gladly drag the whole weary length of its past behind it, like a worm
afraid of being cut in two in its crawling. It is haunted by a ghostly
memory, a wonderful but not successful expedient for calling the dead
to life, in order, somewhat inconsistently, to mourn over them and be
comforted. Why not kiss our successive pleasures good-bye, simply and
without marking our preferences, as we do our children when they file
to bed? A free mind does not measure the worth of anything by the worth
of anything else. It is itself at least as plastic as nature and has
nothing to fear from revolutions. To live in the moment would indeed be
brutish and dangerous if we narrowed to a moment the time embraced in
our field of view, since with the wider scope of thought come serenity
and dominion; but to live in the moment is the only possible life if
we consider the spiritual activity itself. The most protracted life,
in the actual living, can be nothing but a chain of moments, each
the seat of its irrecoverable vision, each a dramatic perspective of
the world, seen in the light of a particular passion at a particular
juncture. But at each moment the wholeness of mind is spiritual and
aesthetic, the wholeness of a meaning or a picture, and no knife can
divide it. Its immortality, too, is timeless, like that of the truths
and forms in which it is absorbed. Therefore apprehension can afford
to hasten all the more trippingly in its career, touching the facts
here and there for a moment, and building its cloud castles out of
light and air, movement and irony, to let them lapse again without a
pang. Contemplation, when it frees itself from animal anxiety about
existence, ceases to question and castigate its visions, as if they
were mere signals of alarm or hints of hidden treasures; and then it
cannot help seeing what treasures these visions hold within themselves,
each framing some luminous and divine essence, as a telescope frames a
star; and something of their inalienable distinction and firmness seems
to linger in our minds, though in the exigencies of our hurried life we
must turn away from each of them and forget them.



7

CROSS-LIGHTS


They say the sun is a very small star, and the thing is plausible
enough in itself, without the proofs which presumably the astronomers
can give of it. That which nature produces she is apt to produce in
crowds; what she does once, if she has her way, she will do often, with
a persistency and monotony which would be intolerable to her if she
were endowed with memory; but hers is a life of habit and automatic
repetition, varied only when there is some hitch in the clockwork, and
she begins hurriedly beating a new tune. Accordingly, what any creature
calls the present time, the living interest, the ruling power, or the
true religion is almost always but as one leaf in a tree. The same
plastic stress which created it creates a million comparable things
around it. Yet it is easy for each to ignore its neighbours, and to be
shocked at the notion of loving them as itself; for they all have their
separate places or seasons, and bloom on their several stems, so that
an accident that overwhelms one of them may easily leave the others
unscathed. But for all that, they are as multitudinous and similar as
the waves of the sea. Take any star at random, like our sun, or any
poet, or any idea, and whilst certainly it will be the nearest and
warmest to somebody, it is not at all likely to be the greatest of its
kind, or even very remarkable.

Nevertheless, in a moral perspective, nearness makes all the
difference; and for us the sun is a veritable ruling deity and parent
of light; he is the centre and monarch of our home system. Similarly
each living being is a sort of sun to itself; this spark within me,
by whose light I see at all, is a great sun to me; and considering
how wide a berth other spiritual luminaries seem to give me, I must
warm myself chiefly by my own combustion, and remain singularly
important to myself. This importance belongs to the humour of material
existence, visible when I look at my seamy side; it vanishes in so
far as my little light actually bums clear, and my intent flies with
it to whatever objects its rays can reach, no matter how distant or
alien. Yet this very intelligence and scope in me are functions of my
inward fire: seeing, too, is burning. An atomic and spark-like form of
existence, prevalent in nature, is absolutely essential to spirit; and
I find it very acceptable. It is a free, happy, and humble condition.
I welcome the minute bulk, the negligible power, the chance quality
and oddity of my being, combined as it is with vital independence
and adequate fuel in my small bunkers for my brief voyage. On a
vaster scale, I think the sun, for all his littleness, has a splendid
prerogative, and I honour Phoebus as a happy god. The happiest part
of his condition and his best claim to deity lie in this: that he can
irradiate and kindle the frozen or vaporous bodies that swim about him;
he can create the moonlight and the earthlight, much more powerful than
the moonlight. This earthlight, if we could only get far enough from
the earth to see it, would seem strangely brilliant and beautiful; it
would show sea-tints and snow-tints and sand-tints; there would be
greens and purples in it reflected from summer and winter zones, dotted
with cinder scars and smoke-wreaths of cities. Yet all these lights are
only sunlight, received and returned with thanks.

Nor is this surface shimmer, visible to telescopic observers, the
only benefit gained: something is kept back and absorbed; some warmth
sinks into the substance of the earth and permeates its watery soil,
initiating currents in the sea and air, and quickening many a nest of
particles into magnetic and explosive and contagious motions. This
life which arises in the earth is an obeisance to the sun. The flowers
turn to the light and the eye follows it, animal bodies imbibe it, and
send it forth again in glad looks and keen attention; and when dreams
and thoughts, even with the eyes shut, play within us like flamelets
amongst the coals, it is still the light of the sun, strangely stored
and transmuted, that shines in those visions. Certainly intelligence
in its cognitive intent is radically immaterial, and nothing could be
more heterogeneous from vibrations, attractions, or ethereal currents
than the power to make assertions that shall be true or false, relevant
or irrelevant to outlying things; but this so spiritual power is
profoundly natural; it plainly exhibits an animal awaking to the
presence of other bodies that actually surround him, resenting their
cruelty or warming to their conquest and absorption. Apart from its
roots in animal predicaments, spirit would be wholly inexplicable in
its moods and arbitrary in its deliverance. The more ecstatic or the
more tragic experience is, the more unmistakably it is the voice of
matter. It then obviously retraces and makes incandescent the silent
relations of things with things, by which its weal or woe is decided.
Sometimes it simply burns in their midst and moves in their company
like the sun amongst the stars he ignores; sometimes it gilds in its
highly coloured lights the surface of things turned in its direction.
Were not the distances between bodies spanned by some universal
gravitation (which we are now told may be a sort of light), we may be
sure that sense and fancy, which are profoundly vegetative things,
would never leap from their source and discount their images in the
heroic effort to understand the world. But the fire of life casts
its passionate illumination on the dead things that control it, and
raises to aesthetic actuality various poetic symbols of their power.
Dead things possess, of course, in their own right, their material and
logical being, but they borrow from the adventitious interest which a
living creature must needs take in them their various moral dignities
and all their part in the conscious world. It is intelligible that
moralists and psychologists should be absorbed in those reflections
of their attention which reach them from things distant or near, and
that they should pronounce the whole universe to be nothing but their
experience of it, a sort of rainbow or crescent kindly decorating their
personal sky. On the same principle the sun (who, being a material
creature, would also be subject to egotism) might say that the only
substance in the universe was light, and that the earth and moon were
nothing but ethereal mirrors palely reflecting his own fire. It would
seem absurd to him that the earth or its inhabitants should profess to
have any bowels. Inextinguishable laughter and self-assurance would
seize him at the report that any dark places existed, or any invisible
thoughts. He would never admit that, in all this, he was himself
thinking; what we should call his thoughts he would maintain (without
thinking!) were evident meteors moving and shining on their own account.

Such are the cross-lights of animal persuasion. Things, when seen,
seem to come and go with our visions; and visions, when we do not know
why they visit us, seem to be things. But this is not the end of the
story. Opacity is a great discoverer. It teaches the souls of animals
the existence of what is not themselves. Their souls in fact live and
spread their roots in the darkness, which embosoms and creates the
light, though the light does not comprehend it. If sensuous evidence
flooded the whole sphere with which souls are conversant, they would
have no reason for suspecting that there was anything they did not
see, and they would live in a fool's paradise of lucidity. Fortunately
for their wisdom, if not for their comfort, they come upon mysteries
and surprises, earthquakes and rumblings in their hidden selves and
in their undeciphered environment; they live in time, which is a
double abyss of darkness; and the primary and urgent object of their
curiosity is that unfathomable engine of nature which from its ambush
governs their fortunes. The proud, who shine by their own light, do
not perceive matter, the fuel that feeds and will some day fail them;
but the knowledge of it comes to extinct stars in their borrowed light
and almost mortal coldness, because they need to warm themselves at
a distant fire and to adapt their seasons to its favourable shining.
When we are on the shady side of the earth we can, as a compensation,
range in knowledge far beyond our painted atmosphere, and far beyond
that little sun who, so long as he shone upon us, seemed to ride at
the top of heaven; we can perceive a galaxy of other lights, no less
original than he, to which his glory blinded us; we can even discover
how he himself, if his hot head of burning hair would only suffer him
to notice it, lives subject to their perpetual influence. Beautiful and
happy god as Phoebus may be, he is not a just god nor an everlasting
one. He is a lyric singer; he is not responsible save to his own
heart, and not obliged to know other things. He lives in the eternal,
and does not need to be perpetual. And he is often beneficent in his
spontaneity, and many of us have cause to thank and to love him. There
is an uncovenanted society of spirits, like that of the morning stars
singing together, or of all the larks at once in the sky; it is a happy
accident of freedom and a conspiracy of solitudes. When people _talk
together_, they are at once entangled in a mesh of instrumentalities,
irrelevance, misunderstanding, vanity, and propaganda; and all to no
purpose, for why should creatures become alike who are different? But
when minds, being naturally akin and each alone in its own heaven,
_soliloquize in harmony_, saying compatible things only because their
hearts are similar, then society is friendship in the spirit; and the
unison of many thoughts twinkles happily in the night across the void
of separation.



8

HAMLET'S QUESTION


To be born is painful, and the profit of it so uncertain that we need
not wonder if sometimes the mind as well as the body seems to hold
back. The winds of February are not colder to a featherless chick than
are the surprises which nature and truth bring to our dreaming egotism.
It was warm and safe in the egg; exciting enough, too, to feel a new
organ throbbing here or a fresh limb growing out there. No suspicion
visited the happy creature that these budding domestic functions were
but preparations for foreign wars and omens of a disastrous death, to
overtake it sooner or later in a barbarous, militant, incomprehensible
world. Of death, and even of birth (its ominous counterpart) the embryo
had no idea. It believed simply in the tight spherical universe which
it knew, and was confident of living in it for ever. It would have
thought heaven had fallen if its shell had cracked. How should life
be possible in a world of uncertain dimensions, where incalculable
blows might fall upon us at any time from any quarter? What a wild
philosophy, to invent objects and dangers of which there was absolutely
no experience! And yet for us now, accustomed to the buffets and
ambitions of life in the open, that pre-natal vegetative dream seems
worthless and contemptible, and hardly deserving the name of existence.

Could we have debated Hamlet's question before we were conceived, the
answer might well have been doubtful; or rather reason, not serving
any prior instinct, could have expressed no preference and must have
left the decision to chance. Birth and death are the right moments for
absolute courage. But when once the die is cast and we exist, so that
Hamlet's question can be put to us, the answer is already given; nature
in forming us has compelled us to prejudge the case. She has decreed
that all the beasts and many a man should propagate without knowing
what they are about; and the infant soul for its part, when once
begotten, is constitutionally bent on working out its powers and daring
the adventure of life. To have made the great refusal at the beginning,
for fear of what shocks and hardships might come, seems to us, now that
we are launched, morose and cowardly. Our soul, with its fluttering
hopes and alarmed curiosity, is made to flee from death, and seems to
think, if we judge by its action, that to miss experience altogether is
worse and sadder than any life, however troubled or short. If nature
has fooled us in this, she doubtless saw no harm in doing so, and
thought it quite compatible with heartily loving us in her rough way.
She merely yielded to a tendency to tease which is strangely prevalent
among nurses. With a sort of tyrannical fondness, to make us show our
paces, she dangled this exciting and unsatisfactory bauble of life
before us for a moment, only to laugh at us, and kiss us, and presently
lay our head again on her appeasing breast.

The fear which children feel at being left in the dark or alone or
among strangers goes somewhat beyond what a useful instinct would
require; for they are likely to be still pretty well embosomed and
protected, not to say smothered. It is as if the happy inmate of
some model gad took alarm at the opening of his cell door, thinking
he was to be driven out and forced to take his chances again in this
rough wide world, when, in fact, all was well and he was only being
invited to walk in the prison garden. Just so when the young mind
hears the perilous summons to think, it is usually a false alarm. In
its philosophical excursions it is likely to remain well blanketed
from the truth and comfortably muffled in its own atmosphere. Groping
and empirical in its habits, it will continue in the path it happens
to have turned into; for in a fog how should it otherwise choose
its direction? Its natural preference is to be guided by touch and
smell, but it sometimes finds it convenient to use its eyes and ears
as a substitute. So long as the reference to the vegetative soul
and its comforts remains dominant, this substitution is harmless.
Sights and sounds will then be but flowers in the prisoner's garden,
and intelligence a maze through which at best he will find his way
home again. Some danger there always is, even in such an outing; for
this walled garden has gates into the fields, which by chance may
be left open. Sight and sound, in their useful ministrations, may
create a new interest, and run into sheer music and star-gazing.
The life the senses were meant to serve will then be forgotten; the
psychic atmosphere--which of course is indispensable--will be pierced,
discounted, and used as a pleasant vehicle to things and to truths; and
the motherly soul, having unintentionally given birth to the intellect,
will grumble at her runaway and thankless child. As for the truant
himself, Hamlet's question will lapse from his view altogether, not
because nature has answered it for him beforehand, but because his own
disinterestedness and rapture have robbed it of all urgency. Intellect
is passionate, and natural, and human enough, as singing is; it is all
the purer and keener for having emancipated itself, like singing, from
its uses, if it ever had any, and having become a delight in itself.
But it is not concerned with its own organs or their longevity; it
cannot understand why its mother, the earthly soul, thinks all the good
and evil things that happen in this world are of no consequence, if
they do not happen to her.



9

THE BRITISH CHARACTER


What is it that governs the Englishman? Certainly not intelligence;
seldom passion; hardly self-interest, since what we call self-interest
is nothing but some dull passion served by a brisk intelligence. The
Englishman's heart is perhaps capricious or silent; it is seldom
designing or mean. There are nations where people are always innocently
explaining how they have been lying and cheating in small matters,
to get out of some predicament, or secure some advantage; that seems
to them a part of the art of living. Such is not the Englishman's
way: it is easier for him to face or to break opposition than to
circumvent it. If we tried to say that what governs him is convention,
we should have to ask ourselves how it comes about that England is
the paradise of individuality, eccentricity, heresy, anomalies,
hobbies, and humours. Nowhere do we come oftener upon those two social
abortions--the affected and the disaffected. Where else would a man
inform you, with a sort of proud challenge, that he lived on nuts, or
was in correspondence through a medium with Sir Joshua Reynolds, or had
been disgustingly housed when last in prison? Where else would a young
woman, in dress and manners the close copy of a man, tell you that her
parents were odious, and that she desired a husband but no children, or
children without a husband? It is true that these novelties soon become
the conventions of some narrower circle, or may even have been adopted
_en bloc_ in emotional desperation, as when people are converted; and
the oddest sects demand the strictest self-surrender. Nevertheless,
when people are dissident and supercilious by temperament, they manage
to wear their uniforms with a difference, turning them by some lordly
adaptation into a part of their own person.

Let me come to the point boldly; what governs the Englishman is his
inner atmosphere, the weather in his soul. It is nothing particularly
spiritual or mysterious. When he has taken his exercise and is drinking
his tea or his beer and lighting his pipe; when, in his garden or
by his fire, he sprawls in an aggressively comfortable chair; when,
well-washed and well-brushed, he resolutely turns in church to the east
and recites the Creed (with genuflexions, if he likes genuflexions)
without in the least implying that he believes one word of it;
when he hears or sings the most crudely sentimental and thinnest
of popular songs, unmoved but not disgusted; when he makes up his
mind who is his best friend or his favourite poet; when he adopts a
party or a sweetheart; when he is hunting or shooting or boating, or
striding through the fields; when he is choosing his clothes or his
profession--never is it a precise reason, or purpose, or outer fact
that determines him; it is always the atmosphere of his inner man.

To say that this atmosphere was simply a sense of physical well-being,
of coursing blood and a prosperous digestion, would be far too gross;
for while psychic weather is all that, it is also a witness to some
settled disposition, some ripening inclination for this or that, deeply
rooted in the soul. It gives a sense of direction in life which is
virtually a code of ethics, and a religion behind religion. On the
other hand, to say it was the vision of any ideal or allegiance to
any principle would be making it far too articulate and abstract.
The inner atmosphere, when compelled to condense into words, may
precipitate some curt maxim or over-simple theory as a sort of war-cry;
but its puerile language does it injustice, because it broods at a
much deeper level than language or even thought. It is a mass of dumb
instincts and allegiances, the love of a certain quality of life, to
be maintained manfully. It is pregnant with many a stubborn assertion
and rejection. It fights under its trivial fluttering opinions like
a smoking battleship under its flags and signals; you must consider,
not what they are, but why they have been hoisted and will not be
lowered. One is tempted at times to turn away in despair from the most
delightful acquaintance--the picture of manliness, grace, simplicity,
and honour, apparently rich in knowledge and humour--because of some
enormous platitude he reverts to, some hopelessly stupid little dogma
from which one knows that nothing can ever liberate him. The reformer
must give him up; but why should one wish to reform a person so much
better than oneself? He is like a thoroughbred horse, satisfying to the
trained eye, docile to the light touch, and coursing in most wonderful
unison with you through the open world. What do you care what words he
uses? Are you impatient with the lark because he sings rather than
talks? and if he could talk, would you be irritated by his curious
opinions? Of course, if any one positively asserts what is contrary to
fact, there is an error, though the error may be harmless; and most
divergencies between men should interest us rather than offend us,
because they are effects of perspective, or of legitimate diversity in
experience and interests. Trust the man who hesitates in his speech and
is quick and steady in action, but beware of long arguments and long
beards. Jupiter decided the most intricate questions with a nod, and a
very few words and no gestures suffice for the Englishman to make his
inner mind felt most unequivocably when occasion requires.

Instinctively the Englishman is no missionary, no conqueror. He prefers
the country to the town, and home to foreign parts. He is rather
glad and relieved if only natives will remain natives and strangers
strangers, and at a comfortable distance from himself. Yet outwardly
he is most hospitable and accepts almost anybody for the time being;
he travels and conquers without a settled design, because he has the
instinct of exploration. His adventures are all external; they change
him so little that he is not afraid of them. He carries his English
weather in his heart wherever he goes, and it becomes a cool spot in
the desert, and a steady and sane oracle amongst all the deliriums of
mankind. Never since the heroic days of Greece has the world had such a
sweet, just, boyish master. It will be a black day for the human race
when scientific blackguards, conspirators, churls, and fanatics manage
to supplant him.



10

SEAFARING


All peoples that dwell by the sea sometimes venture out upon it.
The boys are eager to swim and sail, and the men may be turned into
habitual navigators by the spirit of enterprise or by necessity. But
some races take to the water more kindly than others, either because
they love the waves more or the furrow less. We may imagine that
sheer distress drove the Norse fishermen and pirates into their open
boats. The ocean they explored was rough and desolate; the fish and the
pillaged foreigner had to compensate them for their privations. They
quitted their fiords and brackish islands dreaming of happier lands.
But with the Greeks and the English the case was somewhat different.
There are no happier lands than theirs; and they set forth for the most
part on summer seas, towards wilder and less populous regions. They
went armed, of course, and ready to give battle: they had no scruples
about carrying home anything they might purloin or obtain by enormously
advantageous barter, but they were not in quest of softer climes or
foreign models; their home remained their ideal. They were scarcely
willing to settle in foreign parts unless they could live their home
life there.

This love of home merged in their minds with the love of liberty; it
was a loyalty inwardly grounded and not a mere tribute to habit or
external influences. They could consequently retain their manners
wherever they went, and could found free colonies, almost as Greek or
as English as the mother country; for it was not Greece that originally
formed the Greeks nor England the English, but the other way round; the
Greeks and the English, wherever they might be, spun their institutions
about them like a cocoon. Certainly the geographical environment was
favourable; the skies and waters that embosomed them--when in their
migrations they had reached those climes--simply met their native
genius half-way and allowed it to bloom as it had not elsewhere. But
the winds could carry that same seed to fructify in other soils; and
as there were many Greek cities sprung from one, so there are several
local Englands in Great Britain, and others all over the world. Even
people who are not heirs of these nations according to the flesh may
assimilate their spirit in some measure. All men are Greek in the best
sense in so far as they are rational, and live and think on the human
scale; and all are English in so far as their souls are individual,
each the imperturbably dominant cell in its own organism, each faithful
to its inner oracle.

Life at sea is very favourable to this empire of personal liberty.
The inner man, the hereditary Psyche that breeds the body and its
discursive thoughts, craves to exercise ascendancy; it is essentially a
formative principle, an organ of government. Mere solitude and monastic
reverie, such as a hermit or satirist may enjoy even in great cities,
weary and oppress the Englishman. He wants to do something or else to
play at something. His thoughts are not vivid and substantial enough
for company; his passions are too nebulous to define their innate
objects, until accident offers something that perhaps may serve. At sea
there is always something doing: you must mind the helm, the sails, or
the engines; you must keep things shipshape; brasses must be always
bright and eyes sharp; decorum is essential, since discipline is so;
you may even dress for dinner and read prayers on Sunday. This routine
does not trespass on the liberty and reserve of your inner man. You can
exchange a few hearty commonplaces with the other officers and sailors,
or even with a casual passenger; now and then you may indulge in a long
talk, pacing the deck beneath the stars. There is space, there is the
constant shadow of danger, the chance of some adventure at sea or on
a strange shore. There is a continual test and tension of character.
There are degrees of authority and of competence, but the sailor's art
is finite; his ship, however complicated and delicate a creature, has
a known structure and known organs; she will not do anything without
a reason; she is not too wayward (as is the course of things on terra
firma) for a clear-headed man to understand nor for a firm hand to
steer. Maritime fortune in its uncertainty has after all not many forms
of caprice; its worst tricks are familiar; your life-belt is hanging
over your bunk, and you are ready.

Every one grumbles at his lot and at his profession; but what is man
that he should ask for more? These buffeting winds, these long hours of
deep breathing, these habits of quick decision and sharp movement whet
your appetite; you relish your solid plain food, whilst your accustomed
drink smooths over the petty worries of the day, and liberates your
private musings; and what a companionable thing your pipe is! The
women--dear, dogmatic, fussy angels--are not here; that is a relief;
and yet you are counting the weeks before you can return to them at
home. And all those tender episodes of a more fugitive sort, how
merrily you think them over now! more merrily perhaps than you enacted
them, since you need not call to mind the little shabby accompaniments
and false notes that may have marred them in reality. Your remoter
future, too, is smiling enough for an honest man who believes in God
and is not a snob in the things of the spirit. You see in your mind's
eye a cottage on some sunny hillside over-looking the sea; near it,
from a signal-post that is a ship's mast, the flags are flapping in
the breeze; your children are playing on the beach--except the eldest,
perhaps, already a sailor. There is a blessed simplicity about the sea,
with its vast inhumanity islanding and freeing the humanity of man.



12

PRIVACY


The secret of English mastery is self-mastery. The Englishman
establishes a sort of satisfaction and equilibrium in his inner man,
and from that citadel of rightness he easily measures the value of
everything that comes within his moral horizon. In what may lie beyond
he takes but a feeble interest. Enterprising enough when in a roving
mood, and fond of collecting outlandish objects and ideas, he seldom
allows his wanderings and discoveries to unhinge his home loyalties or
ruffle his self-possession; and he remains, after all his adventures,
intellectually as indolent and secure as in the beginning. As to
speculative truth, he instinctively halts short of it, as it looms
in the distance and threatens to cast a contemptuous and chilling
shadow across his life. He would be very severe to any who dreaded
cold water and wouldn't learn to swim; yet in the moral world he is
himself subject to illusions of timidity. He does not believe, there,
in the overwhelming rewards of courage. His chosen life is indeed
beautiful--as the shy boy's might be--ill its finitude; all the more
beautiful and worth preserving because, like his country, it is an
island in the sea. His domestic thermometer and barometer have
sufficed to guide him to the right hygiene.

Hygiene does not require telescopes nor microscopes. It is not
concerned, like medicine or psychology, with the profound hidden
workings of our bodies or minds, complexities hardly less foreign
to our discoursing selves than are the mysteries of the great outer
world. Hygiene regards only the right regimen of man in his obvious
environment, judged by his conscious well-being. If it goes afield
at all, it does so in the interests of privacy. All it asks of life
is that it should be comely, spontaneous, and unimpeded: all it asks
of the earth is that it should be fit for sport and for habitation.
Men, to be of the right hygienic sort, must love the earth, and must
know how to range in it. This the Englishman knows; and just as, in
spite of his insularity, he loves this whole terraqueous globe simply
and genuinely, so the earth, turned into mud by the vain stampings of
so many garrulous and sickly nations, would doubtless say: Let the
Englishman inhabit me, and I shall be green again.

In matters of hygiene the Englishman's maxims are definite and his
practice refined. He has discovered what he calls good form, and
is obstinately conservative about it, not from inertia, but in the
interests of pure vitality. Experience has taught him the uses to which
vitality can be put, so as to preserve and refresh it. He knows the
right degree of exertion normally required to do things well--to walk
or to talk, for instance; he does not saunter nor scramble, he does
not gesticulate nor scream. In consequence, perhaps, on extraordinary
occasions he fails at first to exert himself enough; and his eloquence
is not torrential nor inspired, even at those rare moments when it
ought to be so. But when nothing presses, he shows abundant energy,
without flurry or excess. In manners and morals, too, he has found the
right mean between anarchy and servitude, and the wholesome measure
of comfort. What those who dislike him call his hypocrisy is but
timeliness in his instincts, and a certain modesty on their part in not
intruding upon one another. Your prayers are not necessarily insincere
because you pray only in church; you are not concealing a passion if
for a time you forget it and slough it off. These alternations are
phases of the inner man, not masks put on in turn by some insidious
and calculating knave. All the Englishman's attitudes and habits--his
out-of-door life, his clubs, his conventicles, his business--when they
are spontaneous and truly British, are for the sake of his inner man
in its privacy. Other people, unless the game calls for them, are in
the way, and uninteresting. His spirit is like Wordsworth's skylark,
true to the kindred points of heaven and home; and perhaps these points
seem to him kindred only because they are both functions of himself.
Home is the centre of his physical and moral comfort, his headquarters
in the war of life, where lie his spiritual stores. Heaven is a realm
of friendly inspiring breezes and setting suns, enveloping his rambles
and his perplexities. The world to him is a theatre for the soliloquy
of action. There is a comfortable luxuriousness in all his attitudes.
He thinks the prize of life worth winning, but not worth snatching. If
you snatch it, as Germans, Jews, and Americans seem inclined to do, you
abdicate the sovereignty of your inner man, you miss delight, dignity,
and peace; and in that case the prize of life has escaped you.

As the Englishman disdains to peer and is slow to speculate, so
he resents any meddling or intrusion into his own preserves. How
sedulously he plants out his garden, however tiny, from his neighbours
and from the public road! If his windows look unmistakably on the
street, at least he fills his window-boxes with the semblance of a
hedge or a garden, and scarcely allows the dubious light to filter
through his blinds and lace curtains; and the space between them, in
the most dingy tenement, is blocked by an artificial plant. He is quite
willing not to be able to look out, if only he can prevent other people
from looking in. If they did, what would they see? Nothing shocking,
surely; his attitude by his fireside is perfectly seemly. He is not
throwing anything at the family; very likely they are not at home. Nor
has he introduced any low-class person by the tradesman's entrance,
in whose company he might blush to be spied. He is not in deshabille;
if he has changed any part of his street clothes it has not been from
any inclination to be slovenly in private, but on the contrary to
vindicate his self-respect and domestic decorum. He does not dress to
be seen of men, but of God. His elegance is an expression of comfort,
and his comfort a consciousness of elegance. The eyes of men disquiet
him, eminently presentable though he be, and he thinks it rude of them
to stare, even in simple admiration. It takes tact and patience in
strangers--perhaps at first an ostentatious indifference--to reassure
him and persuade him that he would be safe in liking them. His frigid
exterior is often a cuticle to protect his natural tenderness, which he
forces himself not to express, lest it should seem misplaced or clumsy.
There is a masculine sort of tenderness which is not fondness, but
craving and premonition of things untried; and the young Englishman is
full of it. His heart is quiet and full; he has not pumped it dry, like
ill-bred children, in tantrums and effusive fancies. On the other hand,
passions are atrophied if their expression is long suppressed, and we
soon have nothing to say if we never say anything. As he grows old the
Englishman may come to suspect, not without reason, that he might not
reward too close a perusal. His social bristles will then protect his
intellectual weakness, and he will puff himself out to disguise his
vacuity.

It is intelligible that a man of deep but inarticulate character
should feel more at ease in the fields and woods, at sea or in remote
enterprises, than in the press of men. In the world he is obliged to
maintain stiffly principles which he would prefer should be taken for
granted. Therefore when he sits in silence behind his window curtains,
with his newspaper, his wife, or his dog, his monumental passivity is
not a real indolence. He is busily reinforcing his character, ruffled
by the day's contact with hostile or indifferent things, and he is
gathering new strength for the fray. After the concessions imposed
upon him by necessity or courtesy, he is recovering his natural tone.
To-morrow he will issue forth fresh and confident, and exactly the same
as he was yesterday. His character is like his climate, gentle and
passing readily from dull to glorious, and back again; variable on the
surface, yet perpetually self-restored and invincibly the same.



12

THE LION AND THE UNICORN


Every one can see why the Lion should be a symbol for the British
nation. This noble animal loves dignified repose. He haunts by
preference solitary glades and pastoral landscapes. His movements are
slow, he yawns a good deal; he has small squinting eyes high up in
his head, a long displeased nose, and a prodigious maw. He apparently
has some difficulty in making things out at a distance, as if he had
forgotten his spectacles (for he is getting to be an elderly lion now),
but he snaps at the flies when they bother him too much. On the whole,
he is a tame lion; he has a cage called the Constitution, and a whole
parliament of keepers with high wages and a cockney accent; and he
submits to all the rules they make for him, growling only when he is
short of raw beef. The younger members of the nobility and gentry may
ride on his back, and he obligingly lets his tail hang out of the bars,
so that the little Americans and the little Irishmen and the little
Bolshevists, when they come to jeer at him, may twist it. Yet when the
old fellow goes for a walk, how all the domestic and foreign poultry
scamper! They know he can spring; his strength when aroused proves
altogether surprising and unaccountable, he never seems to mind a blow,
and his courage is terrible. The cattle, seeing there is no safety in
flight, herd together when he appears on the horizon, and try to look
unconscious; the hyenas go to snarl at a distance; the eagles and the
serpents aver afterwards that they were asleep. Even the insects that
buzz about his ears, and the very vermin in his skin, know him for the
king of beasts.

But why should the other supporter of the British arms be the Unicorn?
What are the mystic implications of having a single horn? This can
hardly be the monster spoken of in Scripture, into the reason for whose
existence, whether he be the rhinoceros of natural history or a slip
of an inspired pen, it would be blasphemy to inquire. This Unicorn
is a creature of mediaeval fancy, a horse rampant argent, only with
something queer about his head, as if a croquet-stake had been driven
into it, or he wore a very high and attenuated fool's cap. It would be
far-fetched to see in this ornament any allusion to deceived husbands,
as if in England the alleged injury never seemed worth two horns, or
divorce and damages soon removed one of them. More plausible is the
view that, as the Lion obviously expresses the British character, so
the Unicorn somewhat more subtly expresses the British intellect.
Whereas most truths have two faces, and at least half of any solid
fact escapes any single view of it, the English mind is monocular; the
odd and the singular have a special charm for it. This love of the
particular and the original leads the Englishman far afield in the
search for it; he collects curios, and taking all the nation together,
there is perhaps nothing that some Englishman has not seen, thought, or
known; but who sees things as a whole, or anything in its right place?
He inevitably rides some hobby. He travels through the wide world with
one eye shut, hops all over it on one leg, and plays all his scales
with one finger. There is fervour, there is accuracy, there is kindness
in his gaze, but there is no comprehension. He will defend the silliest
opinion with a mint of learning, and espouse the worst of causes on
the highest principles. It is notorious elsewhere that the world is
round, that nature has bulk, and three if not four dimensions; it is a
truism that things cannot be seen as a whole except in imagination. But
imagination, if he has it, the Englishman is too scrupulous to trust;
he observes the shapes and the colours of things intently, and behold,
they are quite flat, and he challenges you to show why, when every
visible part of everything is flat, anything should be supposed to be
round. He is a keen reformer, and certainly the world would be much
simpler, right opinion would be much lighter and wrong opinion much
wronger, if things had no third and no fourth dimension.

Ah, why did those early phrenologists, true and typical Englishmen
as they were, denounce the innocent midwife who by a little timely
pressure on the infant skull compressed, as they said, "the oval
of genius into the flatness of boobyism." Let us not be cowed by a
malicious epithet. What some people choose to call boobyism and
flatness may be the simplest, the most British, the most scientific
philosophy. Your true booby may be only he who, having perforce but
a flat view of a flat world, prates of genius and rotundity. Blessed
are they whose eye is single. Only when very drunk do we acknowledge
our double optics; when sober we endeavour to correct and ignore this
visual duplicity and to see as respectably as if we had only one
eye. The Unicorn might well say the same thing of two-horned beasts.
Such double and crooked weapons are wasteful and absurd. You can use
only one horn effectively even if you have two, but in a sidelong
and cross-eyed fashion; else your prey simply nestles between, where
eye cannot see it nor horn probe it. A single straight horn, on the
contrary, is like a lancet; it pierces to the heart of the enemy by a
sure frontal attack: nothing like it for pricking a bubble, or pointing
to a fact and scathingly asking the Government if they are aware of it.
In music likewise every pure melody passes from single note to note, as
do the sweet songs of nature. Away with your demoniac orchestras, and
your mad pianist, tossing his mane, and banging with his ten fingers
and his two feet at once I As to walking on two feet, that also is mere
wobbling and, as Schopenhauer observed, a fall perpetually arrested.
It is an unstable compromise between going on all fours, if you want
to be safe, and standing on one leg, like the exquisite flamingo, if
you aspire to be graceful and spiritually sensitive. There is really no
biped in nature except ridiculous man, as if the prancing Unicorn had
succeeded in always being rampant; your feathered creatures are bipeds
only on occasion and in their off moments; essentially they are winged
beings, and their legs serve only to prop them when at rest, like the
foot-piece of a motor-cycle which you let down when it stops.

The Lion is an actual beast, the Unicorn a chimera; and is not England
in fact always buoyed up on one side by some chimera, as on the other
by a sense for fact? Illusions are mighty, and must be reckoned with in
this world; but it is not necessary to share them or even to understand
them from within, because being illusions they do not prophesy the
probable consequences of their existence; they are irrelevant in
aspect to what they involve in effect. The dove of peace brings new
wars, the religion of love instigates crusades and lights faggots,
metaphysical idealism in practice is the worship of Mammon, government
by the people establishes the boss, free trade creates monopolies,
fondness smothers its pet, assurance precipitates disaster, fury ends
in smoke and in shaking hands. The shaggy Lion is dimly aware of all
this; he is ponderous and taciturn by an instinctive philosophy. Why
should he be troubled about the dreams of the Unicorn, more than
about those of the nightingale or the spider? He can roughly discount
these creatures' habits, in so far as they touch him at all, without
deciphering their fantastic minds. That makes the strength of England
in the world, the leonine fortitude that helps her, through a thousand
stupidities and blunders, always to pull through. But England is also,
more than any other country, the land of poetry and of the inner man.
Her sunlight and mists, her fields, cliffs, and moors are full of
aerial enchantment; it is a land of tenderness and dreams. The whole
nation hugs its hallowed shams; there is a real happiness, a sense
of safety, in agreeing not to acknowledge the obvious; there is a
universal conspiracy of respect for the non-existent. English religion,
English philosophy, English law, English domesticity could not get on
without this "tendency to feign." And see how admissible, how almost
natural this chimera is. A milk-white pony, elegantly Arabian, with a
mane like sea-foam, and a tail like a little silvery comet, sensitive
nostrils, eyes alight with recognition, a steed such as Phoebus might
well water at those springs that lie in the chalices of flowers, a
symbol at once of impetuosity and obedience, a heraldic image for the
daintiness of Ariel and the purity of Galahad. If somehow we suspect
that the poetical creature is light-witted, the stem Lion opposite
finds him nevertheless a sprightly and tender companion, as King Lear
did his exquisite Fool. Such a Pegasus cannot be a normal horse; he was
hatched in a cloud, and at his birth some inexorable ironic deity drove
a croquet-stake into his pate, and set an attenuated crown, very like a
fool's cap, between his startled ears.



13

DONS


Dons are picturesque figures. Their fussy ways and their oddities,
personal and intellectual, are as becoming to them as black feathers
to the blackbird. Their minds are all gaunt pinnacles, closed gates,
and little hidden gardens. A mediaeval tradition survives in their
notion of learning and in their manner of life; they are monks flown
from the dovecot, scholastics carrying their punctilious habits into
the family circle. In the grander ones there may be some assimilation
to a prelate, a country gentleman, or a party leader; but the rank and
file are modest, industrious pedagogues, sticklers for routine, with a
squinting knowledge of old books and of young men. Their politics are
narrow and their religion dubious. There was always something slippery
in the orthodoxy of scholastics, even in the Middle Ages; they are so
eager to define, to correct, and to trace back everything, that they
tend to cut the cloth on their own bias, and to make some crotchet
of theirs the fulcrum of the universe. The thoughts of these men are
like the Sibylline leaves, profound but lost. I should not call them
pedants, because what they pursue and insist on in little things is
the shadow of something great; trifles, as Michael Angelo said, make
perfection, and perfection is no trifle. Yet dry learning and much
chewing of the cud take the place amongst them of the two ways men
have of really understanding the world--science, which explores it,
and sound wit, which estimates humanly the value of science and of
everything else.

The function of dons is to expound a few classic documents, and to
hand down as large and as pleasant a store as possible of academic
habits, maxims, and anecdotes. They peruse with distrust the new
books published on the subject of their teaching; they refer to them
sometimes sarcastically, but their teaching remains the same. Their
conversation with outsiders is painfully amiable for a while; lassitude
soon puts the damper on it, unless they can lapse into the academic
question of the day, or take up the circle of their good old stories.
Their originality runs to interpreting some old text afresh, wearing
some odd garment, or frequenting in the holidays some unfrequented
spot. When they are bachelors, as properly they should be, their pupils
are their chief link with the world of affection, with mischievous
and merry things; and in exchange for this whiff of life, which they
receive with each yearly invasion of flowering youth, like the fresh
scent of hay every summer from the meadows, they furnish those empty
minds with some humorous memories, and some shreds of knowledge. It
does not matter very much whether what a don says is right or wrong,
provided it is quotable; nobody considers his opinions for the matter
they convey; the point is that by hearing them the pupils and the
public may discover what opinions, and on what subjects, it is possible
for mortals to devise. Their maxims are like those of the early
Greek philosophers, a proper introduction to the good society of the
intellectual world. So are the general systems to which the dons may
be addicted, probably some revision of Christian theology, of Platonic
mysticism, or of German philosophy. Such foreign doctrines do very well
for the dons of successive epochs, native British philosophy not being
fitted to edify the minds of the young: those vaster constructions
appeal more to the imagination, and their very artificiality and
ticklish architecture, like that of a house of cards, are part of
their function, calling for paradoxical faith and--what youth loves
quite as much--for captious and sophistical argument. They lie in the
fourth dimension of human belief, amongst the epicycles which ingenious
error describes about the unknown orbit of truth; for the truth is not
itself luminous, as wit is; the truth travels silently in the night
and requires to be caught by the searchlight of wit to become visible.
Meantime the mind plays innocently with its own phosphorescence, which
is what we call culture and what dons are created to keep alive.
Wit the dons often have, of an oblique kind, in the midst of their
much-indulged prejudices and foibles; and what with glints of wit and
scraps of learning, the soul is not sent away empty from their door:
better fed and healthier, indeed, for these rich crumbs from the
banquet of antiquity, when thought was fresh, than if it had been
reared on a stuffy diet of useful knowledge, or on some single dogmatic
system, to which life-slavery is attached. Poor, brusque, comic,
venerable dons! You watched over us tenderly once, whilst you blew your
long noses at us and scolded; then we thought only of the roses in
your garden, of your succulent dinners, or perhaps of your daughters;
but now we understand that you had hearts yourselves, that you were
song-birds grown old in your cages, having preferred fidelity to
adventure. We catch again the sweet inflection of your cracked notes,
and we bless you. You have washed your hands among the innocent; you
have loved the beauty of the Lord's house.



14

APOLOGY FOR SNOBS


British satirists are very scornful of snobbery; they seem oppressed
by the thought that wealth, rank, and finery are hideously inane and
that they are hideously powerful. Are these moralists really overcome
by a sense of the vanity of human wishes? It would hardly seem so;
for they often breathe a sentimental adoration for romantic love or
philanthropy or adventure or mystic piety or good cheer or ruthless
will--all of them passions as little likely as any snobbish impulse to
arise without some illusion or to end without some disappointment. Why
this exclusive hostility to the vanities dear to the snob? Have birth,
money, and fashion no value whatever? Do they not dazzle the innocent
and unsophisticated with a distant image of happiness? Are they not
actually, when enjoyed, very comforting and delightful things in their
way? What else than this sensitiveness to better social example--which
we may call snobbery if we please--lends English life in particular
its most characteristic excellences--order without constraint, leisure
without apathy, seclusion without solitude, good manners without
punctilio, emulation without intrigue, splendour without hollowness?
Why such bitterness about the harmless absurdities that may fringe
this national discipline? Are these moralists in fact only envious
and sulky? Is it sour grapes? It would sometimes seem as if, in
England, the less representative a man was the more eagerly he took to
literature, and thought that by hating his fellow-men and despising
their prevalent feelings he rendered himself eminently fit to be their
guide and redeemer.

In fact, there is a philosophical principle implied in snobbery, a
principle which is certainly false if made absolute, but which fairly
expresses the moral relations of things in a certain perspective. If
we all really stood on different steps in a single ladder of progress,
then to admire and imitate those above us and to identify ourselves
with them by hook or by crook would be simply to accelerate our natural
development, to expand into our higher self, and to avoid fatal abysses
to the right and to the left of the path marked out for us by our
innate vocation. Life would then be like the simple game which children
call Follow the Leader; and this scrupulous discipleship would be
perfect freedom, since the soul of our leader and our own soul that
chooses him would be the same. This principle is precisely that of
the transcendental philosophy where it maintains that there is but
one spirit in all men, and one logical moral evolution for the world.
In fact, it is the Germans rather than the English that are solemn,
convinced, and universal snobs. If they do not seem so much snobs in
particular, it is because they are snobs _überhaupt_. It is not only
from the nobility that grateful dews descend on their sensitive hearts,
as upon open flowers; they yearn also after the professors and the
artists, and assiduously dress their domestic mind, so far as the cloth
will go, in the latest intellectual fashion. Their respect for what
holds the official stage, and holds it for the moment, is beautiful in
its completeness. They can change their front without changing their
formation. And the occasional pricks and heartburnings of snobbery are
entirely drowned, in their case, in its voluminous vicarious joys.

On the whole, however, snobbish sentiment and transcendental philosophy
do not express the facts of nature. Men and nations do not really march
in single file, as if they were being shepherded into some Noah's Ark.
They have perhaps a common root and similar beginnings, but they
branch out at every step into forms of life between which there is
no further interchange of sap, and no common destiny. Their several
fruits become incommensurable in beauty and in value, like the poetry
of different languages, and more disparate the more each is perfected
after its kind. The whale is not a first sketch for the butterfly,
nor its culmination; the mind of an ox is not a fuller expression of
that of a rabbit. The poet does not evolve into the general, nor _vice
versa_; nor does a man, in growing further, become a woman, superior
as she may be in her own way. That is why snobbery is really a vice:
it tempts us to neglect and despise our proper virtues in aping those
of other people. If an angel appeared to me displaying his iridescent
wings and treble voice and heart fluttering with eternal love, I should
say, "Certainly, I congratulate you, but I do not wish to resemble
you." Snobbery haunts those who are not reconciled with themselves;
evolution is the hope of the immature. You cannot be everything. Why
not be what you are?

This contentment with oneself, in its rational mixture of pride with
humility, and its infinite indifference to possibilities which to
us are impossible, is well understood in the great East--which is a
moral as well as a geographical climate. There every one feels that
circumstances have not made and cannot unmake the soul. Variations of
fortune do not move a man from his inborn centre of gravity. Whatever
happens and whatever people say he puts up with as he would with bad
weather. He lets them thunder and rage, and continues to sit on his
heels in his corner, in the shade or in the sun according to the
season, munching his crust of bread, meditating on heaven and earth,
and publishing on occasion to the passers-by, or to the wilderness, the
revelations he receives from the spirit; and if these are particularly
vivid, he will not hesitate to cry, "So saith the Lord," with an equal
dignity or assurance whether he be sage, king, or beggar. Such firmness
and independence of character are admirable, so long as the expression
of them remains merely poetical or moral. It is enough if confessions
are sincere, and aspirations true to the heart that utters them. In the
heights and the depths we are all solitary, and we are deceived if we
think otherwise, even when people say they agree with us, or form a
sect under our name. As our radical bodily functions are incorrigibly
selfish and persistent, so our ultimate ideals, if they are sincere,
must for ever deviate from those of others and find their zenith in
a different star. The moral world is round like the heavens, and the
directions which life can take are infinitely divergent and unreturning.

But in the world of circumstances, in matters of politics and business,
information, and thrift, civilized men move together: their interests,
if not identical, are parallel, and their very conflicts and rivalries
arise out of this contact and relevance in their aims. Eminence in this
worldly sphere is unmistakable. One fortune in money can be measured
against another and may be increased to equal it; and in government,
fashion, and notoriety some people are unmistakably at the top of the
tree, and doubtless deserve to be there, having found the right method
of climbing. It is only natural that those who wish to climb too should
study and imitate them. Awe and respect for such persons is an honest
expression of social idealism: it is an admiration mixed with curiosity
and with the desire for propinquity, because their achievements are
in our own line of business and a prospective partnership is not
out of the question. Their life is the ideal of ours. Yet all such
conventional values and instrumentalities, in which we are perhaps
absorbed, in the end say nothing to the heart. If by chance, in the
shifts of this world, we pop up near the people whom we distantly
admired, and reach the crest of the wave in their company, we discover
how great an illusion it was that it would be good or possible for us
to resemble them; conventional friends, we have no instincts, joys, or
memories in common. It is, perhaps, from quite another age or race,
from an utterly different setting of worldly tasks and ambitions,
that some hint of true friendship and understanding reaches us in our
hermitage; and even this hint is probably a hollow reverberation of
our own soliloquy. In this slippery competitive earth snobbery is not
unreasonable; but in heaven and hell there are no snobs. There every
despised demon hugs his favourite vice for ever, and even the smallest
of the stars shines with a singular glory.



15

THE HIGHER SNOBBERY


To call an attitude snobbish, when the great and good recommend it as
the only right attitude, would be to condemn it without trial; yet I
do not know how else to name the sentiment that happiness of one sort
is better than happiness of another sort, and that perfection in one
animal is more admirable than perfection in another. I wish there was
a word for this arrangement of excellences in higher and lower classes
which did not imply approval or disapproval of such an arrangement. But
language is terribly moralistic, and I do not blame the logicians for
wishing to invent another which shall convey nothing to the mind with
which it has any previous acquaintance. The Psyche, who is the mother
of language as well as of intellect, feels things to be good or evil
before she notices what other qualities they may have: and she never
gets much beyond the first dichotomy of her feminine logic: wretch and
darling, nasty and nice. This is perhaps the true reason why Plato, who
in some respects had a feminine mind and whose metaphysics follows the
lines of language, tells us in one place that the good is the highest
of the Ideas, and the source of both essence and existence. Good and
bad are certainly the first qualities fixed by words: so that to call a
man a snob, for instance, is a very vague description but a very clear
insult. Suppose we found on examination that the person in question
had a retiring and discriminating disposition, that he shunned the
unwashed, that he resembled persons of distinction, and recognized the
superiority of those who were really his superiors; we should conclude
without hesitation that he was no snob at all, but a respectable,
right-minded person. If he had been really a snob, he would have looked
up stupidly to what has no true sublimity, like birth without money,
would have imitated what was not becoming to his station, and would
have shunned company, such as our own, which though perhaps not the
most fashionable is undoubtedly the best. As I can see no scientific
difference between this snob and that no-snob, I am constrained in my
own thoughts to class them together; but in order to remind myself that
the same principle may be approved in one case and condemned in the
other, I call snobbery, when people approve of it, the higher snobbery.

An interesting advocate of the higher snobbery is Nietzsche. Although
his admiring eye is fixed on the superman, who is to supersede our
common or garden humanity, the unique excellence of that future being
does not seem to lie merely in that he is future, or is destined to be
dominant in his day: after all, everything was once future, everything
was once the coming thing, and destined to prevail in its day. It
is only human to admire and copy the fashion of to-day, whether in
clothes, or politics, or literature, or speculation; but I have not yet
heard of any snob so far ahead of his times as to love the fashions
of doomsday. The worship of evolution, which counts for so much with
many higher snobs, does not seem essential in Nietzsche. The superman
no doubt is coming, but he is not coming to stay, since the world
repeats its evolution in perpetual cycles; and whilst he will give
its highest expression to the love of power, it does not appear that
he will care very much about controlling external things, or will be
able to control them. His superiority is to be intrinsic, and chiefly
composed of freedom. It was freedom, I think, that Nietzsche sighed
for in his heart, whilst in his cavalierly speculations he talked of
power. At least, unless by power he meant power to be oneself, the
notion that all nature was animated by the lust of power would lose
its plausibility; the ambition which we may poetically attribute
to all animals is rather to appropriate such things as serve their
use, perfection, or fancy, and to leave all else alone. There are
indications that the superman was to be a mystic and a wanderer, like
a god visiting the earth, and that what spell he exercised was to flow
from him almost unawares, whilst he mused about himself and about
higher things. So little was his power to involve subjection to what he
worked upon (which is the counterpart of all material power) that he
was to disregard the interests of others in a Spartan mood; he was to
ride ruthlessly through this nether world, half a poet, half a scourge,
with his breast uncovered to every treacherous shaft, and his head high
in the air.

Now I will not say whether such a romantic and Byronic life is worth
living in itself; there may be creatures whose only happiness is to
be like that, although I suspect that Byron and Nietzsche, Lohengrin
and Zarathustra, had not mastered the art of Socrates, and did not
know what they wanted. In any case, such a Dionysiac career would be
good only as the humblest human existence may be so; its excellence
would lie in its harmony with the nature of him who follows it,
not in its bombast, inflation, or superhumanity. Nietzsche was far
from ungenerous or unsympathetic towards the people. He wished them
(somewhat contemptuously) to be happy, whilst he and his superman
remained poetically wretched; he even said sometimes that in their own
sphere they might be perfect, and added--with that sincerity which,
in him, redeems so many follies--that nothing could be better than
such perfection. But if this admission is to be taken seriously, the
superman would be no better than the good slave. The whole principle of
the higher snobbery would be abandoned, and Nietzsche in the end would
only lead us back to Epictetus.

No, the higher snob will reply, the perfect superman may be no better
than the perfect slave, but he is _higher_. What does this word mean?
For the zealous evolutionist it seems to mean later, more complicated,
requiring a longer incubation and a more special environment. Therefore
what is higher is more expensive, and has a more precarious existence
than what is lower; so the lady is higher than the woman, fine art is
higher than useful art, and the height of the fashion in fine art is
the highest point in it. The higher is the more inclusive, requiring
everything else to produce it, and itself producing nothing, or
something higher still. Of course the higher is not merely the better;
because the standard of excellence itself changes as we proceed, and
according to the standard of the lower morality the higher state which
abolishes it will be worse. An orchid may not be more beautiful than
a lily, but it is higher; philosophy may not be truer than science,
nor true at all, but it is higher, because so much more comprehensive;
faith may not be more trustworthy than reason, but it is higher;
insatiable will may not be more beneficent than contentment in oneself
and respect for others, but it is higher; war is higher, though more
painful, than peace; perpetual motion is not more reasonable than
movement towards an end, and stilts are not more convenient than shoes,
but they are higher. In everything the higher, when not the better,
means what folly or vanity cannot bear to abandon. Higher is a word by
which we defend the indefensible; it is a declaration of impenitence on
the part of unreason, a cry to create prejudice in favour of all that
tyrannizes over mankind. It is the watchword of the higher snob. The
first to use it was Satan, when he declared that he was not satisfied
to be anything but the highest; whereas the highest thinks it no
derogation to take the form of the lowest since the lowest, too, has
its proper perfection, and there is nothing _better_ than that.



16

DISTINCTION IN ENGLISHMEN


England has been rich in poets, in novelists, in inventors, in
philosophers making new beginnings, in intrepid travellers, in learned
men whose researches are a hobby and almost a secret. The land was once
rich in saints, and is still rich in enthusiasts. But the official
leaders of the English people, the kings, prelates, professors, and
politicians, have usually been secondary men; and even they have been
far more distinguished in their private capacity than in their official
action and mind. English genius is anti-professional; its affinities
are with amateurs, and there is something of the amateur in the best
English artists, actors, and generals. Delicacy of conscience, mental
haze, care not to outrun the impulse of the soul, hold the Englishman
back midway in his achievements; there is in him a vague respect for
the unknown, a tacit diffidence in his own powers, which dissuade him
from venturing on the greatest things or from carrying them out in a
comprehensive manner. The truth is the British do not wish to be well
led. They are all individualistic and aristocratic at heart, and want
no leaders in ultimate things; the inner man must be his own guide. If
they had to live under the shadow of a splendid monarch, or a masterful
statesman, or an authoritative religion, or a deified state they would
not feel free. They wish to peck at their institutions, and tolerate
only such institutions as they can peck at. A certain ineptitude thus
comes to be amongst them an aptitude for office: it keeps the official
from acquiring too great an ascendancy. There is a sort of ostracism
by anticipation, to prevent men who are too good from coming forward
and upsetting the balance of British liberties; very like the vacuum
which is created in America around distinction, and which keeps the
national character there so true to type, so much on one lively level.
But in England distinction exists, because it escapes into privacy.
It is reserved for his Grace in his library and her Ladyship at her
tea-table; it fills the nursery with lisping sweetness and intrepid
singleness of will; it dwells with the poets in their solitary rambles
and midnight questionings; it bends with the scholar over immortal
texts; it is shut off from the profane by the high barriers of school
and college and hunting-field, by the sanctity and silence of dubs, by
the unspoken secrets of church and home.

The greatest distinction of English people, however, is one which,
whilst quite personal and private in its scope, is widely diffused
and strikingly characteristic of the better part of the nation;
I mean, distinction in the way of living. The Englishman does in
a distinguished way the simple things that other men might slur
over as unimportant or essentially gross or irremediable; he is
distinguished--he is disciplined, skilful, and calm--in eating, in
sport, in public gatherings, in hardship, in danger, in extremities.
It is in physical and rudimentary behaviour that the Englishman is
an artist; he is the ideal sailor, the ideal explorer, the ideal
comrade in a tight place; he knows how to be clean without fussiness,
well-dressed without show, and pleasure-loving without loudness.
This is why, although he is the most disliked of men the world over
(except where people need some one they can trust) he is also the
most imitated. What ferocious Anglophobe, whether a white man or a
black man, is not immensely flattered if you pretend to have mistaken
him for an Englishman? After all, this imitation of the physical
distinction of Englishmen is not absurd; here is something that _can_
be imitated: it is really the easiest way of doing easy things, which
only bad education and bad habits have made difficult for most people.
There is nothing impossible in adopting afternoon tea, football, and
boy scouts; what is impossible, and if possible very foolish, is to
adopt English religion, philosophy, or political institutions. But
why should any one wish to adopt them? They have their merits, of
course, and their propriety at home; but they are blind compromises,
and it is not in their principles that the English are distinguished,
but only in their practice. Their accents are more choice than their
words, and their words more choice than their ideas. This, which might
sound like a gibe, is to my mind a ground for great hope and for some
envy. Refinement, like charity, should begin at home. First the body
ought to be made fit and decent, then speech and manners, and habits
justly combining personal initiative with the power of co-operating
with others; and then, as this healthy life extends, the world will
begin to open out to the mind in the right perspectives: not at first,
perhaps never, in its total truth and its real proportions, but with
an ever-enlarging appreciation of what, for us, it can contain. The
mind of the Englishman, starting in this proud and--humble and profound
way from the inner man, pierces very often, in single directions, to
the limit of human faculty; and it seems to me to add to his humanity,
without injury to his speculation, that he instinctively withdraws
again into himself, as he might return home to marry and settle after
tempting fortune at the antipodes. His curious knowledge and his
personal opinions then become, as it were, mementos of his distant
adventures; but his sterling worth lies in himself. He is at his best
when free impulse or familiar habit takes an unquestioned lead, and
when the mind, not being expected to intervene, beats in easy unison
with the scene and the occasion, like a rider at home in the saddle and
one with his galloping horse. Then grace returns to him, so angular
often in his forced acts and his express tenets; the smile comes
unaffectedly, and the blithe quick words flow as they should; arm is
linked spontaneously in arm, laughter points the bull's-eye of truth,
the whole world and its mysteries, not being pressed, become amiable,
and the soul shines happy, and beautiful, and absolute mistress in her
comely house. Nothing in him then is gross; all is harmonized, all is
touched with natural life. His simplicity becomes wholeness, and he no
longer seems dull in any direction, but in all things sound, sensitive,
tender, watchful, and brave.



17

FRIENDSHIPS


Friendship is almost always the union of a part of one mind with a part
of another; people are friends in spots. Friendship sometimes rests on
sharing early memories, as do brothers and schoolfellows, who often,
but for that now affectionate familiarity with the same old days, would
dislike and irritate one another extremely. Sometimes it hangs on
passing pleasures and amusements, or on special pursuits; sometimes on
mere convenience and comparative lack of friction in living together.
One's friends are that part of the human race with which one can be
human. But there are youthful friendships of quite another quality,
which I seem to have discovered flourishing more often and more frankly
in England than in other countries; brief echoes, as it were, of that
love of comrades so much celebrated in antiquity. I do not refer to the
"friendship of virtue" mentioned by Aristotle, which means, I suppose,
community in allegiance or in ideals. It may come to that in the end,
considered externally; but community in allegiance or in ideals, if
genuine, expresses a common disposition, and its roots are deeper and
more physical than itself. The friendship I have in mind is a sense of
this initial harmony between two natures, a union of one whole man
with another whole man, a sympathy between the centres of their being,
radiating from those centres on occasion in unanimous thoughts, but
not essentially needing to radiate. Trust here is inwardly grounded;
likes and dislikes run together without harness, like the steeds of
Aurora; you may take agreement for granted without words; affection
is generously independent of all tests or external bonds; it can even
bear not to be mutual, not to be recognized; and in any case it shrinks
from the blatancy of open vows. In such friendships there is a touch of
passion and of shyness; an understanding which does not need to become
explicit or complete. There is wine in the cup; it is not to be spilled
nor gulped down unrelished, but to be sipped slowly, soberly, in the
long summer evening, with the window open to the college garden, and
the mind full of all that is sweetest to the mind.

Now there is a mystery here--though it need be no mystery--which some
people find strange and distressing and would like to hush up. This
profound physical sympathy may sometimes, for a moment, spread to the
senses; that is one of its possible radiations, though fugitive; and
there is a fashionable psychology at hand to explain all friendship,
for that reason, as an aberration of sex. Of course it is such in some
people, and in many people it may seem to be such at rare moments;
but it would be a plain abuse of language to call a mother's love
for her children sexual, even when they are boys, although certainly
she could not have that love, nor those children, if she had no sex.
Perhaps if we had no sex we should be incapable of tenderness of any
sort; but this fact does not make all forms of affection similar in
quality nor in tendency. The love of friends is not, like the love of
woman, a lyrical prologue to nest--building. Engaging, no doubt, the
same radical instincts, in a different environment and at another phase
of their development, it turns them, whilst still plastic, in other
directions. Human nature is still plastic, especially in the region
of emotion, as is proved by the ever-changing forms of religion and
art; and it is not a question of right and wrong, nor even, except
in extreme cases, of health and disease, but only a question of
alternative development, whether the human capacity to love is absorbed
in the family cycle, or extends to individual friendships, or to
communion with nature or with God. The love of friends in youth, in the
cases where it is love rather than friendship, has a mystical tendency.
In character, though seldom in intensity, it resembles the dart which,
in an ecstatic vision, pierced the heart of Saint Theresa, bursting
the normal integument by which the blood is kept coursing through
generation after generation, in the closed channel of human existence
and human slavery. Love then escapes from that round; it is, in one
sense, wasted and sterilized; but in being diverted from its earthly
labours it suffuses the whole universe with light; it casts its glowing
colours on the sunset, upon the altar, upon the past, upon the truth.
The anguished futility of love corrects its own selfishness, its own
illusion; gradually the whole world becomes beautiful in its inhuman
immensity; our very defeats are transfigured, and we see that it was
good for us to have gone up into that mountain.

That such mystic emotions, whether in religion or in friendship, are
erotic was well known before the day's of Freud. They have always
expressed themselves in erotic language. And why should they not be
erotic? Sexual passion is itself an incident in the life of the Psyche,
a transitive phase in the great cycle by which life on earth is kept
going. It grows insensibly out of bodily self-love, childish play, and
love of sensation; it merges in the end, after its midsummer night's
dream, into parental and kingly purposes. How casual, how comic, the
purely erotic impulse is, and how lightly nature plays with it, may be
seen in the passion of jealousy. Jealousy is inseparable from sexual
love, and yet jealousy is not itself erotic either in quality or in
effect, since it poisons pleasure, turns sympathy into suspicion,
love into hate, all in the interests of proprietorship. Why should
we be jealous, if we were simply merry? Nature weaves with a wide
loom, and crosses the threads; and erotic passion may be as easily
provoked peripherally by deeper impulses as be itself the root of other
propensities. Lovers sometimes pretend at first to be only friends,
and friends have sometimes fancied, at first blush, that they were
lovers; it is as easy for one habit or sentiment as for the other to
prove the radical one, and to prevail in the end. As for Englishmen,
the last thing they would do would be to disguise some base prompting
in high-flown language; they would call a spade a spade, if there were
occasion. They are shy of words, as of all manifestations; and this
very shyness, if it proves that there is at bottom a vital instinct
concerned, also proves that it is not intrinsically more erotic than
social, nor more social than intellectual. It is each of these things
potentially, for such faculties are not divided in nature as they are
in language; it may turn into any one of them if accident leads it that
way; but it reverts from every casual expression to its central seat,
which is the felt harmony of life with life, and of life with nature,
with everything that in the pulses of this world beats our own measure,
and swells the music of our thoughts.



18

DICKENS


If Christendom should lose everything that is now in the melting-pot,
human life would still remain amiable and quite adequately human. I
draw this comforting assurance from the pages of Dickens. Who could
not be happy in his world? Yet there is nothing essential to it which
the most destructive revolution would be able to destroy. People
would still be as different, as absurd, and as charming as are his
characters; the springs of kindness and folly in their lives would
not be dried up. Indeed, there is much in Dickens which communism, if
it came, would only emphasize and render universal. Those schools,
those poorhouses, those prisons, with those surviving shreds of family
life in them, show us what in the coming age (with some sanitary
improvements) would be the nursery and home of everybody. Everybody
would be a waif, like Oliver Twist, like Smike, like Pip, and like
David Copperfield; and amongst the agents and underlings of social
government, to whom all these waifs would be entrusted, there would
surely be a goodly sprinkling of Pecksniffs, Squeers's, and Fangs;
whilst the Fagins would be everywhere commissioners of the people.
Nor would there fail to be, in high places and in low, the occasional
sparkle of some Pickwick or Cheeryble Brothers or Sam Weller or
Mark Tapley; and the voluble Flora Finchings would be everywhere in
evidence, and the strong-minded Betsey Trotwoods in office. There
would also be, among the inefficient, many a Dora and Agnes and
Little Emily--with her charm but without her tragedy, since this is
one of the things which the promised social reform would happily
render impossible; I mean, by removing all the disgrace of it. The
only element in the world of Dickens which would become obsolete
would be the setting, the atmosphere of material instrumentalities
and arrangements, as travelling by coach is obsolete; but travelling
by rail, by motor, or by airship will emotionally be much the same
thing. It is worth noting how such instrumentalities, which absorb
modern life, are admired and enjoyed by Dickens, as they were by Homer.
The poets ought not to be afraid of them; they exercise the mind
congenially, and can be played with joyfully. Consider the black ships
and the chariots of Homer, the coaches and river-boats of Dickens,
and the aeroplanes of to-day; to what would an unspoiled young mind
turn with more interest? Dickens tells us little of English sports,
but he shares the sporting nature of the Englishman, to whom the whole
material world is a playing--field, the scene giving ample scope to his
love of action, legality, and pleasant achievement. His art is to sport
according to the rules of the game, and to do things for the sake of
doing them, rather than for any ulterior motive.

It is remarkable, in spite of his ardent simplicity and openness of
heart, how insensible Dickens was to the greater themes of the human
imagination--religion, science, politics, art. He was a waif himself,
and utterly disinherited. For example, the terrible heritage of
contentious religions which fills the world seems not to exist for him.
In this matter he was like a sensitive child, with a most religious
disposition, but no religious ideas. Perhaps, properly speaking, he
had no _ideas_ on any subject; what he had was a vast sympathetic
participation in the daily life of mankind; and what he saw of ancient
institutions made him hate them, as needless sources of oppression,
misery, selfishness, and rancour. His one political passion was
philanthropy, genuine but felt only on its negative, reforming side;
of positive utopias or enthusiasms we hear nothing. The political
background of Christendom is only, so to speak, an old faded back-drop
for his stage; a castle, a frigate, a gallows, and a large female
angel with white wings standing above an orphan by an open grave--a
decoration which has to serve for all the melodramas in his theatre,
intellectually so provincial and poor. Common life as it is lived was
varied and lovable enough for Dickens, if only the pests and cruelties
could be removed from it. Suffering wounded him, but not vulgarity;
whatever pleased his senses and whatever shocked them filled his mind
alike with romantic wonder, with the endless delight of observation.
Vulgarity--and what can we relish, if we recoil at vulgarity?--was
innocent and amusing; in fact, for the humorist, it was the spice of
life. There was more piety in being human than in being pious. In
reviving Christmas, Dickens transformed it from the celebration of a
metaphysical mystery into a feast of overflowing simple kindness and
good cheer; the church bells were still there--in the orchestra; and
the angels of Bethlehem were still there--painted on the back-curtain.
Churches, in his novels, are vague, desolate places where one has
ghastly experiences, and where only the pew-opener is human; and such
religious and political conflicts as he depicts in _Barnaby Rudge_
and in _A Tale of Two Cities_ are street brawls and prison scenes and
conspiracies in taverns, without any indication of the contrasts in
mind or interests between the opposed parties. Nor had Dickens any
lively sense for fine art, classical tradition, science, or even the
manners and feelings of the upper classes in his own time and country:
in his novels we may almost say there is no army, no navy, no church,
no sport, no distant travel, no daring adventure, no feeling for the
watery wastes and the motley nations of the planet, and--luckily, with
his notion of them--no lords and ladies. Even love of the traditional
sort is hardly in Dickens's sphere--I mean the soldierly passion
in which a rather rakish gallantry was sobered by devotion, and
loyalty rested on pride. In Dickens love is sentimental or benevolent
or merry or sneaking or canine; in his last book he was going to
describe a love that was passionate and criminal; but love for him
was never chivalrous, never poetical. What he paints most tragically
is a quasi-paternal devotion in the old to the young, the love of Mr.
Peggotty for Little Emily, or of Solomon Gills for Walter Gay, A series
of shabby little adventures, such as might absorb the interest of an
average youth, were romantic enough for Dickens.

I say he was disinherited, but he inherited the most terrible
negations. Religion lay on him like the weight of the atmosphere,
sixteen pounds to the square inch, yet never noticed nor mentioned. He
lived and wrote in the shadow of the most awful prohibitions. Hearts
petrified by legality and falsified by worldliness offered, indeed,
a good subject for a novelist, and Dickens availed himself of it to
the extent of always contrasting natural goodness and happiness with
whatever is morose; but his morose people were wicked, not virtuous
in their own way; so that the protest of his temperament against
his environment never took a radical form nor went back to first
principles. He needed to feel, in his writing, that he was carrying
the sympathies of every man with him. In him conscience was single,
and he could not conceive how it could ever be divided in other men.
He denounced scandals without exposing shams, and conformed willingly
and scrupulously to the proprieties. Lady Dedlock's secret, for
instance, he treats as if it were the sin of Adam, remote, mysterious,
inexpiable. Mrs. Dombey is not allowed to deceive her husband except by
pretending to deceive him. The seduction of Little Emily is left out
altogether, with the whole character of Steerforth, the development of
which would have been so important in the moral experience of David
Copperfield himself. But it is not public prejudice alone that plays
the censor over Dickens's art; his own kindness and even weakness
of heart act sometimes as marplots. The character of Miss Mowcher,
for example, so brilliantly introduced, was evidently intended to
be shady, and to play a very important part in the story; but its
original in real life, which was recognized, had to be conciliated,
and the sequel was omitted and patched up with an apology--itself
admirable--for the poor dwarf. Such a sacrifice does honour to
Dickens's heart; but artists should meditate on their works in time,
and it is easy to remove any too great likeness in a portrait by a
few touches making it more consistent than real people are apt to be;
and in this case, if the little creature had been really guilty, how
much more subtle and tragic her apology for herself might have been,
like that of the bastard Edmund in _King Lear_! So, too, in _Dombey
and Son_, Dickens could not bear to let Walter Gay turn out badly,
as he had been meant to do, and to break his uncle's heart as well
as the heroine's; he was accordingly transformed into a stage hero
miraculously saved from shipwreck, and Florence was not allowed to
reward the admirable Toots, as she should have done, with her trembling
hand. But Dickens was no free artist; he had more genius than taste, a
warm fancy not aided by a thorough understanding of complex characters.
He worked under pressure, for money and applause, and often had to
cheapen in execution what his inspiration had so vividly conceived.

What, then, is there left, if Dickens has all these limitations? In
our romantic disgust we might be tempted to say, Nothing. But in fact
almost everything is left, almost everything that counts in the daily
life of mankind, or that by its presence or absence can determine
whether life shall be worth living or not; because a simple good life
is worth-living, and an elaborate bad life is not. There remains in the
first place eating and drinking; relished not bestially, but humanly,
jovially, as the sane and exhilarating basis for everything else. This
is a sound English beginning; but the immediate sequel, as the England
of that day presented it to Dickens, is no less delightful. There is
the ruddy glow of the hearth; the sparkle of glasses and brasses and
well-scrubbed pewter; the savoury fumes of the hot punch, after the
tingle of the wintry air; the coaching-scenes, the motley figures and
absurd incidents of travel; the changing sights and joys of the road.
And then, to balance this, the traffic of ports and cities, the hubbub
of crowded streets, the luxury of shop-windows and of palaces not to
be entered; the procession of the passers-by, shabby or ludicrously
genteel; the dingy look and musty smell of their lodgings; the
labyrinth of back-alleys, courts, and mews, with their crying children,
and scolding old women, and listless, half-drunken loiterers. These
sights, like fables, have a sort of moral in them to which Dickens was
very sensitive; the important airs of nobodies on great occasions,
the sadness and preoccupation of the great as they hasten by in their
mourning or on their pressing affairs; the sadly comic characters of
the tavern; the diligence of shopkeepers, like squirrels turning in
their cages; the children peeping out everywhere like grass in an
untrodden street; the charm of humble things, the nobleness of humble
people, the horror of crime, the ghastliness of vice, the deft hand and
shining face of virtue passing through the midst of it all; and finally
a fresh wind of indifference and change blowing across our troubles and
clearing the most lurid sky.

I do not know whether it was Christian charity or naturalistic insight,
or a mixture of both (for they are closely akin) that attracted Dickens
particularly to the deformed, the half-witted, the abandoned, or those
impeded or misunderstood by virtue of some singular inner consecration.
The visible moral of these things, when brutal prejudice does not
blind us to it, comes very near to true philosophy; one turn of the
screw, one flash of reflection, and we have understood nature and human
morality and the relation between them.

In his love of roads and wayfarers, of river-ports and wharves and the
idle or sinister figures that lounge about them, Dickens was like Walt
Whitman; and I think a second Dickens may any day appear in America,
when it is possible in that land of hurry to reach the same degree of
saturation, the same unquestioning pleasure in the familiar facts.
The spirit of Dickens would be better able to do justice to America
than was that of Walt Whitman; because America, although it may seem
nothing but a noisy nebula to the impressionist, is not a nebula but
a concourse of very distinct individual bodies, natural and social,
each with its definite interests and story. Walt Whitman had a sort of
transcendental philosophy which swallowed the universe whole, supposing
there was a universal spirit in things identical with the absolute
spirit that observed them; but Dickens was innocent of any such
clap-trap, and remained a true spirit in his own person. Kindly and
clear-sighted, but self-identical and unequivocally human, he glided
through the slums like one of his own little heroes, uncontaminated
by their squalor and confusion, courageous and firm in his clear
allegiances amid the flux of things, a pale angel at the Carnival,
his heart aflame, his voice always flute-like in its tenderness and
warning. This is the true relation of spirit to existence, not the
other which confuses them; for this earth (I cannot speak for the
universe at large) has no spirit of its own, but brings forth spirits
only at certain points, in the hearts and brains of frail living
creatures, who like insects flit through it, buzzing and gathering
what sweets they can; and it is the spaces they traverse in this
career, charged with their own moral burden, that they can report on or
describe, not things rolling on to infinity in their vain tides. To be
hypnotized by that flood would be a heathen idolatry. Accordingly Walt
Whitman, in his comprehensive democratic vistas, could never see the
trees for the wood, and remained incapable, for all his diffuse love
of the human herd, of ever painting a character or telling a story;
the very things in which Dickens was a master. It is this life of the
individual, as it may be lived in a given nation, that determines the
whole value of that nation to the poet, to the moralist, and to the
judicious historian. But for the excellence of the typical single life,
no nation deserves to be remembered more than the sands of the sea; and
America will not be a success, if every American is a failure.

Dickens entered the theatre of this world by the stage door; the shabby
little adventures of the actors in their private capacity replace for
him the mock tragedies which they enact before a dreaming public.
Mediocrity of circumstances and mediocrity of soul for ever return to
the centre of his stage; a more wretched or a grander existence is
sometimes broached, but the pendulum soon swings back, and we return,
with the relief with which we put on our slippers after the most
romantic excursion, to a golden mediocrity--to mutton and beer, and to
love and babies in a suburban villa with one frowsy maid. Dickens is
the poet of those acres of yellow brick streets which the traveller
sees from the railway viaducts as he approaches London; they need a
poet, and they deserve one, since a complete human life may very well
be lived there. Their little excitements and sorrows, their hopes and
humours are like those of the Wooden Midshipman in _Dombey and Son_;
but the sea is not far off, and the sky--Dickens never forgets it--is
above all those brief troubles. He had a sentiment in the presence
of this vast flatness of human fates, in spite of their individual
pungency, which I think might well be the dominant sentiment of mankind
in the future; a sense of happy freedom in littleness, an open-eyed
reverence and religion without words. This universal human anonymity
is like a sea, an infinitive democratic desert, chock-full and yet
the very image of emptiness, with nothing in it for the mind, except,
as the Moslems say, the presence of Allah. Awe is the counterpart
of humility--and this is perhaps religion enough. The atom in the
universal vortex ought to be humble; he ought to see that, materially,
he doesn't much matter, and that morally his loves are merely his own,
without authority over the universe. He can admit without obloquy that
he is what he is; and he can rejoice in his own being, and in that of
all other things in so far as he can share it sympathetically. The
apportionment of existence and of fortune is in Other Hands; his own
portion is contentment, vision, love, and laughter.

Having humility, that most liberating of sentiments, having a true
vision of human existence and joy in that vision, Dickens had in a
superlative degree the gift of humour, of mimicry, of unrestrained
farce. He was the perfect comedian. When people say Dickens
exaggerates, it seems to me they can have no eyes and no ears. They
probably have only _notions_ of what things and people are; they accept
them conventionally, at their diplomatic value. Their minds run on
in the region of discourse, where there are masks only and no faces,
ideas and no facts; they have little sense for those living grimaces
that play from moment to moment upon the countenance of the world. The
world is a perpetual caricature of itself; at every moment it is the
mockery and the contradiction of what it is pretending to be. But as it
nevertheless intends all the time to be something different and highly
dignified, at the next moment it corrects and checks and tries to cover
up the absurd thing it was; so that a conventional world, a world of
masks, is superimposed on the reality, and passes in every sphere of
human interest for the reality itself. Humour is the perception of
this illusion, the fact allowed to pierce here and there through the
convention, whilst the convention continues to be maintained, as if we
had not observed its absurdity. Pure comedy is more radical, cruder,
in a certain sense less human; because comedy throws the convention
over altogether, revels for a moment in the fact, and brutally says to
the notions of mankind, as if it slapped them in the face, There, take
that! That's what you really are I At this the polite world pretends
to laugh, not tolerantly as it does at humour, but a little angrily.
It does not like to see itself by chance in the glass, without having
had time to compose its features for demure self-contemplation. "What
a bad mirror," it exclaims; "it must be concave or convex; for surely
I never looked like that. Mere caricature, farce, and horse play.
Dickens exaggerates; _I_ never was so sentimental as that; _I_ never
saw anything so dreadful; _I_ don't believe there were ever any people
like Quilp, or Squeers, or Serjeant Buzfuz." But the polite world is
lying; there _are_ such people; we are such people ourselves in our
true moments, in our veritable impulses; but we are careful to stifle
and to hide those moments from ourselves and from the world; to purse
and pucker ourselves into the mask of our conventional personality;
and so simpering, we profess that it is very coarse and inartistic
of Dickens to undo our life's work for us in an instant, and remind
us of what we are. And as to other people, though we may allow that
considered superficially they are often absurd, we do not wish to dwell
on their eccentricities, nor to mimic them. On the contrary, it is
good manners to look away quickly, to suppress a smile, and to say to
ourselves that the ludicrous figure in the street is not at all comic,
but a dull ordinary Christian, and that it is foolish to give any
importance to the fact that its hat has blown off, that it has slipped
on an orange-peel and unintentionally sat on the pavement, that it
has a pimple on its nose, that its one tooth projects over its lower
lip, that it is angry with things in general, and that it is looking
everywhere for the penny which it holds tightly in its hand. That may
fairly represent the moral condition of most of us at most times; but
we do not want to think of it; we do not want to see; we gloss the
fact over; we console ourselves before we are grieved, and reassert
our composure before we have laughed. We are afraid, ashamed, anxious
to be spared. What displeases us in Dickens is that he does not spare
us; he mimics things to the full; he dilates and exhausts and repeats;
he wallows. He is too intent on the passing experience to look over
his shoulder, and consider whether we have not already understood, and
had enough. He is not thinking of us; he is obeying the impulse of the
passion, the person, or the story he is enacting. This faculty, which
renders him a consummate comedian, is just what alienated from him a
later generation in which people of taste were aesthetes and virtuous
people were higher snobs; they wanted a mincing art, and he gave them
copious improvization, they wanted analysis and development, and he
gave them absolute comedy. I must confess, though the fault is mine
and not his, that sometimes his absoluteness is too much for me. When
I come to the death of Little Nell, or to What the Waves were always
Saying, or even to the incorrigible perversities of the pretty Dora,
I skip. I can't take my liquor neat in such draughts, and my inner
man says to Dickens, Please don't. But then I am a coward in so many
ways! There are so many things in this world that I skip, as I skip
the undiluted Dickens! When I reach Dover on a rough day, I wait there
until the Channel is smoother; am I not travelling for pleasure? But
my prudence does not blind me to the admirable virtue of the sailors
that cross in all weathers, nor even to the automatic determination of
the sea-sick ladies, who might so easily have followed my example, if
they were not the slaves of their railway tickets and of their labelled
luggage. They are loyal to their tour, and I to my philosophy. Yet as
wrapped in my great-coat and sure of a good dinner, I pace the windy
pier and soliloquize, I feel the superiority of the bluff tar, glad of
breeze, stretching a firm arm to the unsteady passenger, and watching
with a masterful thrill of emotion the home cliffs receding and the
foreign coasts ahead. It is only courage (which Dickens had without
knowing it) and universal kindness (which he knew he had) that are
requisite to nerve us for a true vision of this world. And as some of
us are cowards about crossing the Channel, and others about "crossing
the bar," so almost everybody is a coward about his own humanity. We do
not consent to be absurd, though absurd we are. We have no fundamental
humility. We do not wish the moments of our lives to be caught by a
quick eye in their grotesque initiative, and to be pilloried in this
way before our own eyes. For that reason we don't like Dickens, and
don't like comedy, and don't like the truth. Dickens could don the
comic mask with innocent courage; he could wear it with a grace, ease,
and irresistible vivacity seldom given to men. We must go back for
anything like it to the very greatest comic poets, to Shakespeare or to
Aristophanes. Who else, for instance, could have penned this:

      "It was all Mrs. Bumble. She _would_ do it," urged Mr.
      Bumble; first looking found to ascertain that his partner
      had left the room.

      "That is no excuse," replied Air. Brownlow. "You were
      present on the occasion of the destruction of these
      trinkets, and indeed are the more guilty of the two, in
      the eye of the law; for the law supposes that your wife
      acts under your direction."

      "If the law supposes that," said Mr. Bumble, squeezing
      his hat emphatically in both hands, "the law is a ass,
      a idiot. If that's the eye of the law, the law is a
      bachelor; and the worst I wish the law is, that his eye
      may be opened by experience--by experience."

      Laying great stress on the repetition of these two words,
      Mr. Bumble fixed his hat on very tight, and putting his
      hands in his pockets, followed his helpmate downstairs.

This is high comedy; the irresistible, absurd, intense dream of the
old fool, personifying the law in order to convince and to punish
it. I can understand that this sort of thing should not be common in
English literature, nor much relished; because pure comedy is scornful,
merciless, devastating, holding no door open to anything beyond.
Cultivated English feeling winces at this brutality, although the
common people love it in clowns and in puppet shows; and I think they
are right. Dickens, who surely was tender enough, had so irresistible
a comic genius that it carried him beyond the gentle humour which most
Englishmen possess to the absolute grotesque reality. Squeers, for
instance, when he sips the wretched dilution which he has prepared for
his starved and shivering little pupils, smacks his lips and cries:
"Here's richness!" It is savage comedy; humour would come in if we
understood (what Dickens does not tell us) that the little creatures
were duly impressed and thought the thin liquid truly delicious. I
suspect that English sensibility prefers the humour and wit of Hamlet
to the pure comedy of Falstaff; and that even in Aristophanes it seeks
consolation in the lyrical poetry for the flaying of human life in
the comedy itself. Tastes are free; but we should not deny that in
merciless and rollicking comedy life is caught in the act. The most
grotesque creatures of Dickens are not exaggerations or mockeries of
something other than themselves; they arise because nature generates
them, like toadstools; they exist because they can't help it, as we
all do. The fact that these perfectly self-justified beings are absurd
appears only by comparison, and from outside; circumstances, or the
expectations of other people, make them ridiculous and force them to
contradict themselves; but in nature it is no crime to be exceptional.
Often, but for the savagery of the average man, it would not even be
a misfortune. The sleepy fat boy in _Pickwick_ looks foolish; but
in himself he is no more foolish, nor less solidly self-justified,
than a pumpkin lying on the ground. Toots seems ridiculous; and we
laugh heartily at his incoherence, his beautiful waistcoats, and his
extreme modesty; but when did anybody more obviously grow into what
he is because he couldn't grow otherwise? So with Mr. Pickwick, and
Sam Weller, and Mrs. Gamp, and Micawber, and all the rest of this
wonderful gallery; they are ridiculous only by accident, and in a
context in which they never intended to appear. If Oedipus and Lear and
Cleopatra do not seem ridiculous, it is only because tragic reflection
has taken them out of the context in which, in real life, they would
have figured. If we saw them as facts, and not as emanations of a
poet's dream, we should laugh at them till doomsday; what grotesque
presumption, what silly whims, what mad contradiction of the simplest
realities! Yet we should not laugh at them without feeling how real
their griefs were; as real and terrible as the griefs of children and
of dreams. But facts, however serious inwardly, are always absurd
outwardly; and the just critic of life sees both truths at once, as
Cervantes did in _Don Quixote_. A pompous idealist who does not see the
ridiculous in _all_ things is the dupe of his sympathy and abstraction;
and a clown, who does not see that these ridiculous creatures are
living quite in earnest, is the dupe of his egotism. Dickens saw the
absurdity, and understood the life; I think he was a good philosopher.

It is usual to compare Dickens with Thackeray, which is like comparing
the grape with the gooseberry; there are obvious points of resemblance,
and the gooseberry has some superior qualities of its own; but you
can't make red wine of it. The wine of Dickens is of the richest,
the purest, the sweetest, the most fortifying to the blood; there is
distilled in it, with the perfection of comedy, the perfection of
morals. I do not mean, of course, that Dickens appreciated all the
values that human life has or might have; that is beyond any man.
Even the greatest philosophers, such as Aristotle, have not always
much imagination to conceive forms of happiness or folly other than
those which their age or their temperament reveals to them; their
insight runs only to discovering the _principle_ of happiness, that
it is spontaneous life of any sort harmonized with circumstances. The
sympathies and imagination of Dickens, vivid in their sphere, were
no less limited in range; and of course it was not his business to
find philosophic formulas; nevertheless I call his the perfection of
morals for two reasons: that he put the distinction between good and
evil in the right place, and that he felt this distinction intensely.
A moralist might have excellent judgement, he might see what sort of
life is spontaneous in a given being and how far it may be harmonized
with circumstances, yet his heart might remain cold, he might not
suffer nor rejoice with the suffering or joy he foresaw. Humanitarians
like Bentham and Mill, who talked about the greatest happiness of the
greatest number, might conceivably be moral prigs in their own persons,
and they might have been chilled to the bone in their theoretic love
of mankind, if they had had the wit to imagine in what, as a matter of
fact, the majority would place their happiness. Even if their theory
had been correct (which I think it was in intention, though not in
statement) they would then not have been perfect moralists, because
their maxims would not have expressed their hearts. In expressing their
hearts, they ought to have embraced one of those forms of "idealism"
by which men fortify themselves in their bitter passions or in their
helpless commitments; for they do not wish mankind to be happy in
its own way, but in theirs. Dickens was not one of those moralists
who summon every man to do himself the greatest violence so that he
may not offend them, nor defeat their ideals. Love of the good of
others is something that shines in every page of Dickens with a truly
celestial splendour. How entirely limpid is his sympathy with life--a
sympathy uncontaminated by dogma or pedantry or snobbery or bias of
any kind! How generous is this keen, light spirit, how pure this open
heart! And yet, in spite of this extreme sensibility, not the least
wobbling; no deviation from a just severity of judgement, from an
uncompromising distinction between white and black. And this happens
as it ought to happen; sympathy is not checked by a flatly contrary
prejudice or commandment, by some categorical imperative irrelevant to
human nature; the check, like the cheer, comes by tracing the course
of spontaneous impulse amid circumstances that inexorably lead it to
success or to failure. There is a bed to this stream, freely as the
water may flow; when it comes to this precipice it must leap, when
it runs over these pebbles it must sing, and when it spreads into
that marsh it must become livid and malarial. The very sympathy with
human impulse quickens in Dickens the sense of danger; his very joy
in joy makes him stem to what kills it. How admirably drawn are his
surly villains! No rhetorical vilification of them, as in a sermon; no
exaggeration of their qualms or fears; rather a sense of how obvious
and human all their courses seem from their own point of view; and
yet no sentimental apology for them, no romantic worship of rebels in
their madness or crime. The pity of it, the waste of it all, are seen
not by a second vision but by the same original vision which revealed
the lure and the drift of the passion. Vice is a monster here of such
sorry mien, that the longer we see it the more we deplore it; that
other sort of vice which Pope found so seductive was perhaps only some
innocent impulse artificially suppressed, and called a vice because it
broke out inconveniently and displeased the company. True vice is human
nature strangled by the suicide of attempting the impossible. Those
so self-justified villains of Dickens never elude their fates. Bill
Sikes is not let off, neither is Nancy; the oddly benevolent Magwitch
does not escape from the net, nor does the unfortunate young Richard
Carstone, victim of the Circumlocution Office. The horror and ugliness
of their fall are rendered with the hand of a master; we see here, as
in the world, that in spite of the romanticists it is not virtue to
rush enthusiastically along any road. I think Dickens is one of the
best friends mankind has ever had. He has held the mirror up to nature,
and of its reflected fragments has composed a fresh world, where the
men and women differ from real people only in that they live in a
literary medium, so that all ages and places may know them. And they
are worth knowing, just as one's neighbours are, for their picturesque
characters and their pathetic fates. Their names should be in every
child's mouth; they ought to be adopted members of every household.
Their stories cause the merriest and the sweetest chimes to ring in the
fancy, without confusing our moral judgement or alienating our interest
from the motley commonplaces of daily life. In every English-speaking
home, in the four quarters of the globe, parents and children will
do well to read Dickens aloud of a winter's evening; they will love
winter, and one another, and God the better for it. What a wreath that
will be of ever-fresh holly, thick with bright berries, to hang to this
poet's memory--the very crown he would have chosen!



19

THE HUMAN SCALE


Great buildings often have great doors; but great doors are heavy to
swing, and if left open they may let in too much cold or glare; so that
we sometimes observe a small postern cut into one leaf of the large
door for more convenient entrance and exit, and it is seldom or never
that the monumental gates yawn in their somnolence. Here is the modest
human scale reasserting itself in the midst of a titanic structure, but
it reasserts itself with an ill grace and in the interests of frailty;
the patch it makes seems unintended and ignominious.

Yet the human scale is not essentially petty; when it does not slip
in as a sort of interloper it has nothing to apologize for. Between
the infinite and the infinitesimal all sizes are equally central.
The Greeks, the Saracens, the English, the Chinese, and Japanese
instinctively retain the human scale in all that part of their work
which is most characteristic of them and nearest to their affections.
A Greek temple or the hall of an English mansion can be spacious and
dignified enough, but they do not outrun familiar uses, and they lend
their spaciousness and dignity to the mind, instead of crushing it.
Everything about them has an air of friendliness and sufficiency; their
elegance is not pompous, and if they are noble they are certainly not
vast, cold, nor gilded.

The Saracens, Chinese, and Japanese in their various ways use the
human scale with even greater refinement, for they apply it also in a
sensuous and psychological direction. Not only is the size of their
works moderate by preference, like their brief lyrics, but they exactly
meet human sensibility by a great delicacy and concentration in design
and a fragrant simplicity in workmanship. Everything they make is
economical in its beauty and seems to say to us: "I exist only to be
enjoyed; there is nothing in me not merely delightful," Here the human
scale is not drawn from the human body so much as from the human soul;
its faculties are treated with deference--I mean the faculties it
really has, not those, like reason, which a flattering philosophy may
impute to it.

An English country house which is a cottage in appearance may turn
out on examination to be almost a palace in extent and appointments;
there is no parade, yet there is great profusion--too much furniture,
too many ornaments, too much food, too many flowers, too many people.
Everything there is on the human scale except the quantity of things,
which is oppressive. The Orientals are poorer, more voluptuous, and
more sensitive to calligraphy; they leave empty spaces about them and
enjoy one thing at a time and enjoy it longer.

One reason for this greater subtlety and mercifulness in the art of
Orientals is perhaps the fiercer assault made on their senses by
nature. The Englishman lives in a country which is itself on the human
scale, clement at all seasons, charming with a gently inconstant
atmospheric charm. The rare humanity of nature in his island permeates
his being from boyhood up with a delight that is half sentimental,
half physical and sporting. In his fields and moors he grows keen
and fond of exertion; there too his friendships and his estimates of
men are shaped unawares, as if under some silent superior influence.
There he imbibes the impressions that make him tender to poetry. He
may not require great subtlety in his poets, but he insists that their
sentiment shall have been felt and their images seen, and while the
obvious, even the shamelessly obvious, does not irritate him, he hates
cheap sublimity and false notes. He respects experience and is master
of it in his own field.

Thus the empty spaces with which a delicate art likes to surround
itself are supplied for the Englishman by his comradeship with nature,
his ranging habits, and the reticence of his imagination. There the
unexpressed dimension, the background of pregnant silence, exists for
him in all its power. For the Saracen, on the contrary, nature is an
abyss: parched deserts, hard mountains, night with its overwhelming
moon. Here the human scale is altogether transgressed; nature is cruel,
alien, excessive, to be fled from with a veiled face. For a relief and
solace he builds his house without windows; he makes his life simple,
his religion a single phrase, his art exquisite and slight, like the
jet of his fountain. It is sweet and necessary that the works of man
should respect the human scale when everything in nature so infinitely
transcends it.

Why the Egyptians loved things colossal I do not know, but the taste
of the Romans for the grandiose is easier to understand. It seems to
have been part and parcel of that yearning for the super-human which
filled late antiquity. This yearning took two distinct directions.
Among the worldly it fostered imperialism, organization, rhetoric,
portentous works, belief in the universality and eternity of Rome,
and actual deification of emperors. Among the spiritually-minded it
led to a violent abstraction from the world, so that the soul in its
inward solitude might feel itself inviolate and divine. The Christians
at first belonged of course to the latter party; they detested the
inflation of the empire, with its cold veneer of marble and of
optimism; they were nothing if not humble and dead to the world. Their
catacombs were perforce on the human scale, as a coffin is; but even
when they emerged to the surface, they reduced rather than enlarged
the temples and basilicas bequeathed to them by the pagans. Apart
from a few imperial structures at Constantinople or Ravenna their
churches for a thousand years kept to the human scale; often they were
diminutive; when necessary they were spread out to hold multitudes,
but remained low and in the nature of avenues to a tomb or a shrine.
The centre was some sombre precinct, often subterranean, where the
inward man might commune with the other world. The sacraments were
received with a bowed head; they did not call for architectural vistas.
The sumptuousness that in time encrusted these sanctuaries was that
of a jewel--the Oriental, interior, concentrated sumptuousness of the
cloistered arts. Yet the open-air pagan tradition was not dead. Roman
works were everywhere, and not all in ruins, and love of display and
of plastic grandiloquence lay hardly dormant in the breast of many.
It required only a little prosperity to dispel the mystical humility
and detachment which Christianity had brought with it at first; and the
human scale of the Christian Greeks yielded at the first opportunity
to the gigantic scale of the Romans. Spaces were cleared, vaults were
raised, arches were made pointed in order that they might be wider and
be poised higher, towers and spires were aimed at the clouds, usually
getting only half way, porches became immense caverns. Brunelleschi
accomplished a _tour de force_ in his dome and Michelangelo another in
his, even more stupendous. These various strained models, straining in
divergent directions, have kept artists uneasy and impotent ever since,
except when under some benign influence they have recovered the human
scale, and in domestic architecture or portrait painting have forgotten
to be grand and have become felicitous.

The same movement is perhaps easier to survey in philosophy than in
architecture. Scarcely had Socrates brought investigation down from
the heavens and limited it to morals--a realm essentially on the human
scale--when his pupils hastened to undo his work by projecting their
moral system again into the sky, denaturalizing both morals and nature.
They imagined a universe circling about man, tempering the light for
his eyes and making absolute his childlike wishes and judgements. This
was humanism out of scale and out of place, an attempt to cut not the
works of man but the universe to human measure. It was the nemesis that
overtook the Greeks for having become too complacently human. Earlier
the monstrous had played a great part in their religion; henceforth
that surrounding immensity having been falsely humanized, their modest
humanity itself had to be made monstrous to fill its place.

Hence we see the temples growing larger and larger, the dome
introduced, things on the human scale piled on one another to make a
sublime fabric, like Saint Sophia, triumphal arches on pedestals not
to be passed through, vain columns like towers, with a statue poised
on the summit like a weathercock, and finally doors so large that they
could not be opened and little doors had to be cut in them for men to
use. So the human scale turned up again irrepressibly, but for the
moment without its native dignity, because it had been stretched to
compass a lifeless dignity quite other than its own.



20

ENGLISH ARCHITECTURE


Nests were the first buildings; I suppose the birds built them long
before man ceased to be four-footed or four-handed, and to swing by
his tail from trees. The nests of man were coverts, something between
a hole in the ground and an arbour; a retreat easily turned into a
wig-warn, a hut, or a tent, when once man had begun to flay animals and
to weave mats. From the tent we can imagine the cart developing--one of
the earliest of human habitations--and from the cart the boat: tents,
boats, and carts (as the Englishman knows so well) are in a manner
more human than houses; they are the shelters of freemen. Some men,
those destined to higher things, are migratory; they have imagination,
being haunted by absent things, and distance of itself allures them,
even if dearth or danger does not drive them on; indeed, dearth and
danger would not of themselves act as incentives to migration, if some
safer and greener paradise were not present to the fancy. Ranging into
varied climates, these men feel the need of that portable shelter which
we call clothes; and at a slightly greater distance from their skins,
they surround themselves with a second integument, also portable, the
tent, cart, or boat. The first home of man is appropriately without
foundations, except in the instincts of his soul; and it is only by a
slight anchorage to the earth, in some tempting glen or by some flowing
river, that the cart, boat, or tent becomes a dwelling-house. Here
I see the secret of that paradox, that the English people who have
invented the word home, should be such travellers and colonists, and
should live so largely and so contentedly abroad. Home is essentially
portable; it has no terrene foundation, like a tomb, a well, or an
altar; it is an integument of the living man, as the body itself is;
and as the body is more than the raiment, and determines its form, so
the inner man is more than his dwelling, and causes it to mould and
to harden itself round him like a shell, wherever he may be. Home is
built round his bed, his cupboard, and his chimney-corner; and such a
nest, if it fits his habits, is home all the world over, from Hudson's
Bay to Malacca; at least, it becomes home when the inner man, as he is
prompted inwardly to do, surrounds himself there with a family; for a
home is a nest, and somehow incomplete without an egg to sit on.

This seems to me to be the true genealogy of English architecture,
in so far as it is English. Strictly speaking, there is no English
architecture at all, only foreign architecture adapted and domesticated
in England. But how thoroughly and admirably domesticated I How
entirely transmuted inwardly from the classic tragic monumental thing
it was, into something which, even if in abstract design it seems
unchanged, has a new expression, a new scale, a new subordination of
part to part, and as it were a new circulation of the blood within it!
It has all been made to bend and to cling like ivy round the inner
man; it has all been rendered domestic and converted into a home. Far
other was the character proper to nobler architecture in its foreign
seats. There it had been essentially military, religious, or civic:
it had begun perhaps with a slight modification or rearrangement of
great stones lying on the ground, perhaps infinitely rooted in its
depths. Its centre was no living person, but some spot with a magic and
compulsive influence, or with a communal function; it came to glorify
three slabs--the tomb, the hearth, and the altar--and to render them
monumental. The tribe or the king had a treasure to be roofed over and
walled in; the mound where the dead lay buried was marked with a heap
of stones; pillars were set up to the right and to the left of the
presiding deity, to dignify the place where he delivered true oracles,
and dispensed magic powers. This deity himself was a pillar, scarcely
humanized in form, or fantastically named after some animal; and as he
grew colossal, and his features took form and colour, his sacred head
had to be arched over with more labour and art; and the approach to him
was impressively delayed through pylons, courts, narthex, or nave,
into the sepulchral darkness of the holy of holies. Similarly defences
grew into citadels, and judgement-seats into palaces; and as for
individual men, if they did not sleep in the embrasure of some temple
gate, or under some public stair, they found cubicles in the galleries
of the king's court, or built themselves huts to breed in under the lee
of the fortifications.

This sort of architecture has a tragic character; it dominates the soul
rather than expresses it, and embodies stabilities and powers far older
than any one man, and far more lasting. It confronts each generation
like an inexorable deity, like death and war and labour; life is
passed, thoughtlessly but not happily, under that awful shadow. Of
course, there are acolytes in the temple and pages in the palace that
scamper all over the most hallowed precincts, tittering and larking;
and the same retreats may seem luminous and friendly afterwards to
the poet, the lover, or the mind bereaved; yet in their essential
function these monuments are arresting, serious, silent, overwhelming;
they are a source of terror and compunction, like tragedy; they are
favourable to prayer, ecstasy, and meditation. At other times they
become the scene of enormous gatherings, of parades and thrilling
celebrations; but always it is a vast affair, like a court ball, in
which one insinuates one's littleness into what corner one can, to see
and feel the movement of the whole, without playing any great part
in it. Even the most amiable forms of classic architecture have this
public character. There is the theatre and the circus, into which one
must squeeze one's person uncomfortably, in order to subject one's
mind to contagious emotions, and the judgements of the crowd; and even
the public fountain, at which the housemaids and water-boys wait for
their turn, plays for ever far above the heads of the people; as if
that Neptune and those dolphins were spouting for their own pleasure,
cooling the sunshine for their own bronze limbs, and never caring
whether they soused the passing mortal, or quenched his thirst.

All these forms and habits are intensely un-English, and yet England
is full of vestiges of them, not only because its fine arts are
derived from abroad, but because, however disguised, the same tragic
themes must appear everywhere. The tomb, the temple, the fortress are
obligatory things; but they become properly English in character only
when their public function recedes into the background, and they become
interesting to the inner man by virtue of associations or accidents
which harmonize them with his sentimental experience. They grow English
in growing picturesque. These castles and abbeys were Norman when
they were built, they were expressions of domination and fear, hard,
crude, practical, and foreign. But now the moat is grass-grown, the
cloister in ruins, the headless saints are posts for the roses to
creep over, the frowning keep has lost its battlements and become a
comfortable mansion mantled with ivy; before it the well-dressed young
people play croquet on the lawn; and the chapel, whitewashed within,
politely furnished with pews, and politely frequented on Sundays, is
embowered in a pretty garden of a graveyard, which the yew seems to
sanctify more than the cross, and the flowers to suit better than the
inscriptions; there is a bench there round the great tree, where the
old villagers sit of an evening, and its branches, far overtopping the
church spire with its restored sun-dial, seem to dispense a surer grace
and protection than the church itself: they seem more unequivocally
the symbol and the work of God. So everything, in its ruin, seems in
England to live a new life; and it is only this second life, this
cottage built in the fallen stronghold, that is English.

If great architecture has a tragic character, it does not exclude, in
the execution, a certain play of fancy, a sportive use of the forms
which the needful structure imposes; and these decorative frills or
arbitrary variations of theme might be called comic architecture. This
is the side of the art which is subject to fashion, and changes under
the same influences, with the same swiftness and the same unanimity.
But as fashions among peasants sometimes last for ages, so certain
decorative themes, although quite arbitrary, sometimes linger on
because of the inertia of the eye, which demands what it is used to,
or the poverty of invention in the designer. The worst taste and the
best taste revel in decoration; but the motive here is play and there
display. The Englishman deprecates both; he abominates the tawdry, the
theatrical, the unnecessarily elaborate; and at the same time he is
shy of novelty and playfulness; give him comfortable old grey clothes,
good for all weathers, and comfortable, pleasing, inconspicuous houses,
where he can live without feeling a fool or being the victim of his
possessions. The comic poses of architecture, which come to him from
abroad, together with its tragic structure, he accordingly tones down
and neutralizes as far as possible. How gently, for instance, how
pleasantly the wave of Italian architecture broke on these grassy
shores! The classic line, which is tragic in its simple veracity and
fixity, had already been submerged in attempts to vary it; in England,
as in France, the Gothic habit of letting each part of a building have
its own roof and its own symmetry, at once introduced the picturesque
into the most "classic" designs. The Italian scale, too, was at once
reduced, and the Italian rhetoric in stone, the baroque and the
spectacular, was obliterated. How pleasantly the Palladian forms were
fitted to their English setting; how the windows were widened and
subdivided, the show pediments forgotten, the wreathed urns shaved
into modest globes, the pilasters sensibly broadened into panels, and
the classical detail applied to the native Gothic framework, with
its gables, chimneys, and high roofs; whence the delightful brood of
Jacobean and Queen Anne houses; and in the next generation the so
genteel, so judicious Georgian mansion, with its ruddy brick, its broad
windows, and its delicate mouldings and accessories of stone. The
tragic and the comic were spirited away together, and only the domestic
remained.

Nevertheless, at one of the greatest moments in its history, England
had seemed to revel in comic art, and to have made it thoroughly its
own. Domestic taste had reduced Gothic too, in England, to the human
scale; prodigies of height and width in vaulting were not attempted,
doors remained modest, hooded, perhaps, with an almost rustic porch;
the vast spaces were subdivided, they were encrusted with ornament; the
lines became playful, fan-tracery was invented, and floral pendants
of stone; the walls became all glass, the ceilings carved bowers,
and Gothic seemed on the point of smothering its rational skeleton
altogether in luxurious trappings and the millinery of fashion.
All England seemed to become one field of the cloth of gold; rooms
looked like gilded palanquins or silken tents, roofs were forests
of bannerets, pinnacles, and weathercocks; heraldry (a comic art)
overspread every garment and utensil. Poetry, too, became euphuistic
and labyrinthine and nevertheless friendly and familiar and full
of a luscious humour, like the wit of the people. Even prose was a
maze of metaphors and conceits, every phrase was embroidered, and
no self-respecting person could say yea or nay without some artful
circumlocution. It was this outburst of universal comedy that made
Shakespeare possible--an exuberant genius in some respects not like
a modern Englishman; he rose on the crest of a somewhat exotic wave
of passion and vivacity, which at once subsided. Some vestiges of
that spirit seem to linger in American manners; but for the most part
puritanism killed it; and I do not think we need regret its loss. What
could England have been but for the triumph of Protestantism there?
Only a coarser France, or a cockney Ireland. The puritan stiffening
was essential to raise England to its external dignity and greatness;
and it was needed to fortify the inner man, to sober him, and persuade
him to be worthy of himself. As for comic art, there is enough of it
elsewhere, in the oriental and the French schools, and in painting
and drawing, if not in architecture, all the younger artists are
experimenting with it. The sort of aestheticism which was the fashion
in London at the end of the nineteenth century tried to be playful,
and to dote on art for its own sake; but in reality it was full of a
perverted moralism; the aesthetes were simply Ruskin's pupils running
away from school; they thought it immensely important to be choice, and
quite disgraceful to think of morals. The architecture of that time was
certainly not comic in my sense of the word, it did not give a free
rein to exuberant fancy: it was only railway Gothic. But in England the
mists and the ivy and the green sward and the dark screening trees can
make endurable even that abortion of the ethics of Ruskin: and with
better models, and less wilfulness, I see the fresh building of to-day
recovering a national charm: the scale small, the detail polyglot, the
arrangement gracious and convenient, the marriage with the green earth
and the luminous air, foreseen and prepared for. Domestic architecture
in England follows to the letter the advice of Polonius:

Costly thy garment as thy purse can buy,
But not expressed in fancy: rich, not gaudy.



21

THE ENGLISH CHURCH


Compromise is odious to passionate natures because it seems a
surrender, and to intellectual natures because it seems a confusion;
but to the inner man, to the profound Psyche within us, whose life
is warm, nebulous, and plastic, compromise seems the path of profit
and justice. Health has many conditions; life is a resultant of many
forces. Are there not several impulses in us at every moment? Are there
not several sides to every question? Has not every party caught sight
of something veritably right and good? Is not the greatest practicable
harmony, or the least dissension, the highest good? And if by the
word "truth" we designate not the actual order of the facts, nor the
exact description of them, but some inner symbol of reconciliation
with reality on our own part, bringing comfort, safety, and assurance,
then truth also will lie in compromise: truth will be partly truth to
oneself, partly workable convention and plausibility. A man's life as
it flows is not a theorem to which there is any one rigid solution.
It is composed of many strands and looks to divers issues. There is
the love of home and the lure of adventure; there is chastity which is
a good, and there is love which is a good also; work must leave room
for sport, science for poetry, and reason for prejudice. Can it be a
man's duty to annul any of the elements that make up his moral being
and, because he possesses a religious tradition, shall he refuse the
gifts of his senses, of his affections, of his country and its history,
of the ruling science, morality, and taste of his day? Far from it:
religion, says the inner man, ought rather to be the highest synthesis
of our nature, and make room for all these things. It should not
succumb to any dead or foreign authority that ignores or dishonours
them. The Englishman finds that he was born a Christian, and therefore
wishes to remain a Christian; but his Christianity must be his own, no
less plastic and adaptable than his inner man; and it is an axiom with
him that nothing can be obligatory for a Christian which is unpalatable
to an Englishman.

Only a few years ago, if a traveller landing in England on a Sunday
and entering an Anglican church, had been told that the country
was Catholic and its church a branch of the Catholic church, his
astonishment would have been extreme. "Catholic" is opposed in the
first place to national and in the second place to Protestant; how
then, he would have asked himself, can a church be Catholic that is so
obviously and dismally Protestant, and so narrowly and primly national?
Why then this abuse of language? And why this silly provincialism of
insisting on always calling Catholics Roman Catholics, as if there were
any others, and they were not known by that name all the world over?
Nevertheless, the restoration of an elder Anglicanism in our day has
somewhat softened these paradoxes; and when we remember how fondly the
English screen their instincts in legal fictions and in genteel shams,
the paradoxes vanish altogether.

What is Protestantism? It is all things to all men, if they are
Protestants: but I see in it three leading _motifs_: to revert to
primitive Christianity, to inspire moral and political reform, and
to accept the religious witness of the inner man. Now the Church of
England, intensely Protestant as it seemed until the other day, is not
Protestant in any of these respects. No established national church
could possibly be so. The subjection to Parliament which renders the
English church not Catholic, renders it also not Protestant. To a
primitive Christian, to a puritan reformer or to a transcendental
mystic, a religion established by lay authority is a contradiction in
terms; a lay government may be more or less inspired by righteousness,
but it cannot mediate salvation. A Protestant is essentially a
nonconformist. Moreover, if we examine the theology of the English
church, we see that whilst incidentally very heretical, it is still
fundamentally Catholic; it admits only a single deposit of faith and
one apostolic fountain of grace for all mankind. But in its view heresy
in any branch of the church does not cut it off from the tree. Heresy
is something to which all churches are liable; the pope of Rome and
the patriarch of Constantinople fall into it hardly less often or less
desperately than the archbishop of Canterbury himself. Heresy is to be
conceived as eccentricity within the fold, not as separation from it;
it is the tacking of the ship on its voyage. Saint Peter or Saint Paul
or both of them must have been heretical in their little controversies;
and Christ himself must have had at times, if not always, but a
partial view of the truth; for instance, in respect to the date and
the material nature of his second coming. Accordingly, although it
may be a little trying to the nerves, it is no essential scandal that
a curate should be addicted to Mariolatry, or that a dean should be
unfortunately ambiguous on the subject of the Incarnation: such rapids
and backwaters in the stream of Christian thought only prove how broad
and full it is capable of being.

That many Catholic bodies, if not all, should be constantly schismatic
or heretical, is therefore no paradox with this conception of the
church; and it is obvious that Rome itself is heretical and schismatic
on this theory, since it has laid an exaggerated weight on the
text about Peter and the keys, and has claimed a jurisdiction Over
the eastern patriarchates which was certainly not primitive, and
which these patriarchates have never honestly acknowledged. On the
other hand, the Church of England belonged to the Western Empire
and its Christianity has always been Latin. It broke away from the
patriarchate of Rome not at all in sympathy with the claims of
Antioch or Constantinople, but notoriously in sympathy with German
Protestantism. This revolt was based on the same anti-Catholic and
inconsistent motives as the German Reformation--namely, greed and
desire for absolute power in princes, zeal in puritan reformers, and
impatience of moral and intellectual constraint in the body of the
clergy and laity. Nationalism, faith, learning, and licence were
curiously mingled in those turbid minds, and the Church of England
inherits all that indescribable spiritual confusion. It is national
in its morals and manners, mincing in its scholarship, snobbish in
its sympathies, sentimental in its emotions. Spiritual minds in the
church--of which there are many--suffer under this heredity incubus of
worldliness; but what can they avail? Some join the socialists; a few
escape to Rome; there at least the worldliness, however conspicuous,
is regarded as a vice and not as a virtue. The convert will find
no dearth of petty passions, machinations, vanities, tricks, and
shameless disbelief; but all this will be, like debauchery, a crust of
corruption, avowedly corrupt. It is dirt on the skin, not cancer at
the heart. But then the true Catholic has made the great surrender;
he has renounced, or never thought of maintaining, the authority of
his inner man. He is a catechumen; his teachers will read for him the
symptoms of health or disease visible in his thoughts and dispositions;
by their discipline--which is an ancient science--they will help him
to save his soul; a totally different thing from obeying the impulses
or extending the adventures of the transcendental self. The inner
man, for the Catholic as for the materialist, is only a pathological
phenomenon. Therefore the Englishman, as I conceive him, living in
and by his inner man, can never be really a Catholic, either Anglican
or Roman; if he likes to call himself by either name, it is equally a
masquerade, a fad like a thousand others to which the inner man, so
seriously playful, is prone to lend itself. He may go over to Rome on a
spiritual tour, as he might abscond for a year and live in Japan with
a Japanese wife; but if he is converted really, and becomes a Catholic
at heart, for good, and in all simplicity, then he is no longer the man
he was. Words cannot measure the chasm that must henceforth separate
him from everything at home. I am not surprised that he recoils from so
desperate a step. It is not only the outward coarseness and laxity of
Catholic manners that offend him; these vices are not universal, and he
would not need to share them. But for him, a modern Englishman, with
freedom and experiment and reserve in his blood, always nursing within
himself the silent love of nature and of rebellion, to go over to Rome
is an essential suicide: the inner man must succumb first. Such an
Englishman might become a saint, but only by becoming a foreigner.

There is another sense altogether in which the English church might
be catholic if it chose. Suppose we lay it down as an axiom that
whatever is acceptable to the inner man is good and true, and that
whatever is good and true is Christian--Christianity would then be
open to every influence which, whilst apparently denaturalizing it,
might help to manifest its fulness. It would cast off husk after husk
of doctrine, developing the living spirit and feeding it with every
substance which it was fitted to absorb. There is nothing new in this
process. Christianity was born of such a marriage between the Jewish
soul and the Greek. Greek philosophy was absorbed with magnificent
results; the restoration of Pauline theology, and the other insights
of Protestantism, led to German philosophy, which has been absorbed
too; the sloughing off of monasticism and ecclesiasticism have put
Christianity in a position to understand and express the modern world;
the reduction of revelation, by the higher criticism of the Bible, to
its true place in human history, will involve a new change of front;
and the absorption of modern science and of democracy would complete
the transformation.

To justify this method the church might appeal to an archbishop of
Canterbury who--this was in the old days--was also a saint and a great
philosopher. Saint Anselm has a famous proof of the existence of God
which runs as follows: God exists, because God is, by definition, the
most real of beings. According to this argument, if it should turn
out that the most real of beings was matter, it would follow that
matter was God. This might be thought a consequence drawn in mockery;
but I do not mean to deride Saint Anselm, whom I revere, but on the
contrary to lay bare the nerve of his argument which if the age had
given him scope, and he had not been Arch-bishop of Canterbury, he
might have followed to its sublime conclusion, as Spinoza did after
him. There is a dignity in existence, in fact, in truth which to some
speculative and rapt natures absorbs and cancels every other dignity:
and on this principle the English church might, without any sudden or
distressing negation, gradually turn its worship to the most real
of beings, wheresoever it may be found; and I presume the most real
of beings will be the whole of what is found everywhere. A narrower
conception of God might at each step give place to a wider one; and the
church, instead of embodying one particular revelation and striving
to impose it universally through propaganda, might become hospitable
to all revelations, and find a place for the inspirations of all ages
and countries under the aegis of its own progressive traditions. So
the religion of ancient Rome domesticated all the gods; and so the
English language, if it should become the medium of international
intercourse, might by translation or imitation of other literatures or
by the infiltration into it of foreign words and styles, really become
a vehicle for all human ideas.

I am not sure whether one party in the English church might not welcome
such a destiny; but at present, so far as I can see, the tenderer
and more poetical spirits in it take quite another direction. They
are trying to recover the insights and practices of mediaeval piety;
they are archaistic in devotion. There is a certain romance in their
decision to believe greatly, to feel mystically, to pray perpetually.
They study their attitudes, as they kneel in some correctly restored
church, hearing or intoning some revived early chant, and wondering why
they should not choose a divine lady in heaven to be their love and
their advocate, as did the troubadours, or why they should not have
recumbent effigies of themselves carved on their tombs, with their
legs crossed, like the crusaders. "_Things_" cried the rapturous young
priest who showed me the beautiful chapel of Pusey House, "what we need
is _Things_!"



22

LEAVING CHURCH


Protestant faith does not vanish into the sunlight as Catholic faith
does, but leaves a shadowy ghost haunting the night of the soul. Faith,
in the two cases, was not faith in the same sense; for the Catholic
it was belief in a report or an argument; for the Protestant it was
confidence in an allegiance. When Catholics leave the church they
do so by the south door, into the glare of the market-place, where
their eye is at once attracted by the wares displayed in the booths,
by the flower-stalls with their bright awnings, by the fountain with
its baroque Tritons blowing the spray into the air, and the children
laughing and playing round it, by the concourse of townspeople and
strangers, and by the soldiers, perhaps, marching past; and if they
cast a look back at the church at all, it is only to admire its antique
architecture, that crumbling filigree of stone so poetically surviving
in its incongruous setting. It is astonishing sometimes with what
contempt, with what a complete absence of understanding, unbelievers in
Catholic countries look back on their religion. For one cultivated mind
that sees in that religion a monument to his racial genius, a heritage
of poetry and aft almost as precious as the classical heritage, which
indeed it incorporated in a hybrid form, there are twenty ignorant
radicals who pass it by apologetically, as they might the broken
toys or dusty schoolbooks of childhood. Their political animosity,
legitimate in itself, blinds their imagination, and renders them even
politically foolish; because in their injustice to human nature and
to their national history they discredit their own cause, and provoke
reaction.

Protestants, on the contrary, leave the church by the north door, into
the damp solitude of a green churchyard, amid yews and weeping willows
and overgrown mounds and fallen illegible gravestones. They feel a
terrible chill; the few weedy flowers that may struggle through that
long grass do not console them; it was far brighter and warmer and more
decent inside. The church--boring as the platitudes and insincerities
were which you listened to there for hours--was an edifice, something
protective, social, and human; whereas here, in this vague unhomely
wilderness, nothing seems to await you but discouragement and
melancholy. Better the church than the madhouse. And yet the Protestant
can hardly go back, as the Catholic does easily on occasion, out of
habit, or fatigue, or disappointment in life, or metaphysical delusion,
or the emotional weakness of the death-bed. No, the Protestant is more
in earnest, he carries his problem and his religion within him. In
his very desolation he will find God. This has often been a cause of
wonder to me: the Protestant pious economy is so repressive and morose
and the Catholic so charitable and pagan, that I should have expected
the Catholic sometimes to sigh a little for his Virgin and his saints,
and the Protestant to shout for joy at having got rid of his God. But
the trouble is that the poor Protestant can't get rid of his God; for
his idea of God is a vague symbol that stands not essentially, as with
the Catholic, for a particular legendary or theological personage,
but rather for that unfathomable influence which, if it does not
make for righteousness, at least has so far made for existence and
has imposed it upon us; so that go through what doors you will and
discard what dogmas you choose, God will confront you still whichever
way you may turn. In this sense the enlightened Catholic, too, in
leaving the church, has merely rediscovered God, finding him now not
in the church alone, but in the church only as an expression of human
fancy, and in human life itself only as in one out of a myriad forms
of natural existence. But the Protestant is less dear in his gropings,
the atmosphere of his inner man is more charged with vapours, and it
takes longer for the light dubiously to break through; and often in his
wintry day the sun sets without shining.



23

DEATHBED MANNERS


In all Protestant countries I have noticed a certain hush about death,
an uncomfortable secrecy, and a fear as if of blasphemy whenever the
subject threatens to come up. Is it that hell is still felt to lie, for
the vast majority, immediately behind the curtain? Or is it that people
have encouraged themselves to live and love as if they were immortal,
and to this lifelong bluff of theirs death brings a contradiction which
they have not the courage to face? Or is it simply that death is too
painful, too sacred, or too unseemly for polite ears? That a desire
to ignore everything unpleasant is at the bottom of this convention
seems to be confirmed by an opposite attitude towards death which I
have observed among English people during this war. Some of them speak
of death quite glibly, quite cheerfully, as if it were a sort of trip
to Brighton. "Oh yes, our two sons went down in the _Black Prince_.
They were such nice boys. Never heard a word about them, of course;
but probably the magazine blew up and they were all killed quite
_instantly_, so that we don't mind half so much as if they had had any
of those bad lingering wounds. They wouldn't have liked it at all being
crippled, you know; and we all think it is probably much better as it
is. Just _blown to atoms_! It is _such_ a blessing!"

Of course, the poor parents feel their hearts sink within them in
private; but their affectation of cheerfulness has its logic. Death
is a fact; and we had better accept it as such as we do the weather;
perhaps, if we pretend not to care, we really shan't care so much. The
men in the trenches and hospitals have often been bitterly unreconciled
and rebellious, and haunted by the cruel futility of their sufferings:
but the nursing everywhere has been devoted and heroic: and my
impression of the mourning at home is, that it has been philosophical.

English manners are sensible and conducive to comfort even at a
death-bed. No summoning of priests, no great concourse of friends
and relations, no loud grief, no passionate embraces and poignant
farewells; no endless confabulations in the antechamber, no gossip
about the symptoms, the remedies, or the doctors' quarrels and
blunders; no breathless enumeration of distinguished visitors, letters,
and telegrams; no tearful reconciliation of old family feuds nor
whisperings about the division of the property. Instead, either silence
and closed doors, if there is real sorrow, or more commonly only a
little physical weariness in the mourners, a little sigh or glance
at one another, as if to say: We are simply waiting for events; the
doctors and nurses, are attending to everything, and no doubt, when
the end comes, it will be for the best. In the departing soul, too,
probably dulness and indifference. No repentance, no anxiety, no
definite hopes or desires either for this life or for the next. Perhaps
old memories returning, old loves automatically reviving; possibly a
vision, by anticipation, of some reunion in the other world: but how
pale, how ghostly, how impotent this death-dream is! I seem to overhear
the last words, the last thoughts of a mother: "Dear children, you know
I love you. Provision has been made. I should be of little use to you
any longer. How pleasant to look out of that window into the park! Be
sure they don't forget to give Pup some meat with his dog-biscuit." It
is all very simple, very much repressed, the pattering echo of daily
words. Death, it is felt, is not important. What matters is the part
we have played in the world, or may still play there by our influence.
We are not going to a melodramatic Last Judgement. We are shrinking
into ourselves, into the seed we came from, into a long winter's sleep.
Perhaps in another springtime we may revive and come again to the light
somewhere, among those sweet flowers, those dear ones we have lost.
That is God's secret. We have tried to do right here. If there is any
Beyond, we shall try to do right there also.



24

WAR SHRINES


In many an English village there is nowadays a calvary. The novel
object merges with wonderful ease into the landscape, and one would
almost think it had always been there. The protecting wooden eaves have
already lost their rigidity and their varnish; the crucifix no longer
reminds one of the shop-window from which it came; it does not suggest
popish aggression nor the affectations of ritualism. Flecks of sunlight
play upon it familiarly, as upon the wayside stones, and it casts its
shadow across the common like any natural tree. The flowers in the
pots before it have withered, they droop half hidden in the ivy that
has overgrown them. Even the scroll of names has modified its official
ghastliness--all those newly dead obscure souls starkly ticketed
and numbered; the tragic page has got somewhat weather-stained and
illegible, and is curling up at the edges; it has become a dead leaf.
Decidedly the war-shrine is at home in the scene. It is a portion of
that unspoken truth which every one carries about with him, and the
people seem again to breathe freely under the shadow of the cross.

What does the cross signify? We are told that Christ died to save us,
and various analogies, legal, sentimental, or chivalrous, are put
forward to make that notion acceptable. I respect the sentiments of
duty and devotion which this doctrine of legal redemption can inspire;
they express readiness to do well, and in a certain moral sense, as
Hamlet says, the readiness is all; yet it is a conception of religion
borrowed from ancient lawyers and rhetoricians, a sort of celestial
diplomacy. The cross can mean something else; it can symbolize
poetically a general truth about existence and experience. This truth
is the same which the Indians express more philosophically by saying
that life is an illusion--an expression which is itself figurative
and poetical. It is certainly not an illusion that I have now the
experience of being alive and of finding myself surrounded, at least
in appearance, by a tolerably tractable world, material and social. It
is not an illusion that this experience is now filling me with mixed
and trooping feelings. In calling existence an illusion, the Indian
sages meant that it is fugitive and treacherous: the images and persons
that diversify it are unsubstantial, and myself the most shifting and
unsubstantial of all. The substance and fine mechanism which I do
not doubt underlie this changing apparition are out of scale with my
imagined units, and (beyond a certain point) out of sympathy with my
interests. Life is an illusion if we trust it, but it is a truth if
we do not trust it; and this discovery is perhaps better symbolized
by the cross than by the Indian doctrine of illusion. I will not say
that not to exist would not be better; existence may be condemned
by the very respectable criterion of excellence or "reality" which
demands in all things permanence and safety; but so long as we exist,
however precariously or "unreally," I think it the part of wisdom to
find a way of living well, rather than merely to deprecate living. The
cross is certainly a most violent image, putting suffering and death
before us with a rude emphasis; and I can understand the preference
of many for the serene Buddha, lifting the finger of meditation and
profound counsel, and freeing the soul by the sheer force of knowledge
and of sweet reason. Nevertheless, I am not sorry to have been born
a Christian: for the soul cannot be really freed except by ceasing
to live; and it is whilst we still exist, not after we are dead to
existence, that we need counsel It is therefore the crucified spirit,
not the liberated spirit, that is our true master.

Certainly the spirit is crucified, first by being incarcerated in the
flesh at all, and then again, after it has identified itself with
the will of the flesh, by being compelled to renounce it. Yet both
this painful incarnation and this painful redemption have something
marvellously sweet about them. The world which torments us is truly
beautiful; indeed, that is one of its ways of tormenting us; and we are
not wrong in loving, but only in appropriating it. The surrender of
this untenable claim to exist and to possess the beautiful, is in its
turn beautiful and good. Christ loved the world, in an erotic sense in
which Buddha did not love it: and the world has loved the cross as it
can never love the Bo-tree. So that out of the very entanglements of
the spirit come marvellous compensations to the spirit, which in its
liberation leave it still human and friendly to all that it gives up. I
do not at all accept the morality of the Indians in so far as it denies
the values of illusion; the only evil in illusion is that it deceives;
there is beauty in its being. True insight, true mercy, is tender and
sensitive to the infinite pulsations of ignorance and passion: it is
not deceived by the prattle of the child, but is not offended by it.
The knowledge that existence can manifest but cannot retain the good
reconciles us at once to living and to dying. That, I think, is the
wisdom of the cross.

There is a folly of the cross also, when the knowledge or
half-knowledge that life must be suffering, until it is cleared of the
love of life, erects suffering into an end in itself, which is insane
and monstrous. I suspect, however, that in asceticism as actually
preached and practised there is less of this idolatry of suffering than
the outsider imagines, who lying amid his cushions severely reproves
those who indulge in a penance. There is an asceticism which may be
loved for its simplicity, its clean poverty and cold water, hygienic
like mountain air; but flagellations and blood and night-long wailings
are not an end in themselves; no saint expects to carry them with him
into heaven; at best they are a homoeopathic cure for the lusts of the
flesh. Their purpose, if not their effect, is freedom and peace. I
wish Protestants, who find their ascetic discipline in hard work, were
equally clear about its object. From the worship of instrumentalities,
whether penitential or worldly, the cross redeems us: in draining the
cup of suffering it transcends suffering, and in being raised above the
earth it lifts us out of it. My instinct is to go and stand under the
cross, with the monks and the crusaders, far away from these Jews and
Protestants who adore the world and who govern it.

There is a mystical folly also among the Indians, when they assign a
positive bliss to pure Being; this, too, is substance-worship. Identity
with substance is deemed blessed because beneath the vicissitudes of
illusion, substance remains always solid, safe, and real. Certainly
substance, if there is such a thing, must be safe, real, and solid; for
we understand by substance whatever is constant in change. Hence the
desire to escape from illusion and from suffering hails a return to
the indistinction of substance as a positive salvation; remember that
you are dust, return to the infinite from which you came, and nothing
ominous can threaten you any more, the dust and the infinite are safe.
But changeless substance, being unconscious, cannot be blissful; the
attribution of divine bliss to it is an illusion of contrast, and,
like so much philosophy, mere rhetoric turned into a revelation. What
verbal mirage is this, to see happiness in fixity? Substance may
be conceived logically, and then it means pure Being; or it may be
conceived psychologically, and then it means absorption in the sense
of pure Being; or it may be conceived physically as matter, a name
for the constant quantities in things that are traceably transformed
into one another. Pure Being and the contemplation of pure Being seem
at first sight very different from matter; but they may be a dramatic
impersonation of matter, viewed from the inside, and felt as blind
intensity and solidified ignorance. No one calls matter blessed when
viewed externally, although it is then that its best qualities, its
fertility and order, come into view: yet half mankind have fallen to
worshipping matter in envy of its internal condition, and to trying to
fall back into it, because it is the negation (and yet the cause!) of
all their troubles. The idea of an intense nothing hypnotizes them,
it is the sovereign anaesthetic; and they forget that this intense
nothing, by its fruitfulness in the realm of illusion, has generated
all their desires, including this desperate desire to be nothing, which
turns that nothingness, by a last illusion, into a good.

If to be saved were merely to cease, we should all be saved by a
little waiting: and I say this advisedly, without forgetting that
the Indians threaten us with reincarnation. It is a myth to which I
have no objection, because only selfishness persuades me that if I am
safe, all is well. What difference does it make in reality whether
the suffering and ignominy of life fall to what I call myself or to
what I call another man? The only trouble is that the moral redemption
which is proposed to us as a means of safety instead of death, touches
the individual only, just as death does. Christ and Buddha are called
saviours of the world; I think it must be in irony, for the world
is just as much in need of salvation as ever. Death and insight and
salvation are personal. The world springs up unregenerate every morning
in spite of all the Tabors and Calvaries of yesterday. What can save
the world, without destroying it, is self-knowledge on the part of the
world, not of course reflective self-knowledge (for the world is not
an animal that can think) but such a regimen and such a philosophy
established in society as shall recognize truly what the world is, and
what happiness is possible in it. The force that has launched me into
this dream of life does not care what turns my dream takes nor how
long it troubles me. Nature denies at every moment, not indeed that I
am troubled and dreaming, but that there are any natural units like
my visions, or anything anomalous in what I hate, or final in what I
love. Under these circumstances, what is the part of wisdom? To dream
with one eye open; to be detached from the world without hostility to
it; to welcome fugitive beauties and pity fugitive sufferings without
forgetting for a moment how fugitive they are; and not to lay up
treasures, except in heaven.

How charming is divine philosophy, when it is really divine, when it
descends to earth from a higher sphere, and loves the things of earth
without needing or collecting them I What the gay Aristippus said of
his mistress: I possess, I am not possessed, every spirit should say
of an experience that ruffles it like a breeze playing on the summer
sea. A thousand ships sail over it in vain, and the worst of tempests
is in a teapot. This once acknowledged and inwardly digested, life and
happiness can honestly begin. Nature is innocently fond of puffing
herself out, spreading her peacock feathers, and saying, What a fine
bird am I! And so she is; to rave against this vanity would be to
imitate it. On the contrary, the secret of a merry carnival is that
Lent is at hand. Having virtually renounced our follies, we are for
the first time able to enjoy them with a free heart in their ephemeral
purity. When laughter is humble, when it is not based on self-esteem,
it is wiser than tears. Conformity is wiser than hot denials, tolerance
wiser than priggishness and puritanism. It is not what earnest people
renounce that makes me pity them, it is what they work for. No possible
reform will make existence adorable or fundamentally just. Modern
England has worked too hard and cared too much; so much tension is
hysterical and degrading; nothing is ever gained by it worth half what
it spoils. Wealth is dismal and poverty cruel unless both are festive.
There is no cure for birth and death save to enjoy the interval. The
easier attitudes which seem more frivolous are at bottom infinitely
more spiritual and profound than the tense attitudes; they are nearer
to understanding and to renunciation; they are nearer to the cross.
Perhaps if England had remained Catholic it might have remained
merry; it might still dare, as Shakespeare dared, to be utterly
tragic and also frankly and humbly gay. The world has been too much
with it; Hebraic religion and German philosophy have confirmed it in
a deliberate and agonized worldliness. They have sanctioned, in the
hard-working and reforming part of the middle classes, an unqualified
respect for prosperity and success; life is judged with all the
blindness of life itself. There is no moral freedom. In so far as minds
are absorbed in business or in science they all inevitably circle about
the same objects, and take part in the same events, combining their
thoughts and efforts in the same "worlds work." The world, therefore,
invades and dominates them; they lose their independence and almost
their distinction from one another. Their philosophy accordingly only
exaggerates a little when it maintains that their individual souls are
all manifestation of a single spirit, the Earth-spirit. They hardly
have any souls they can call their own, that may be saved out of the
world, or that may see and judge the world from above.

Death is the background of life much as empty space is that of the
stars; it is a deeper thing always lying behind, like the black sky
behind the blue. In the realm of existence death is indeed nothing;
only a word for something negative and merely notional--the fact that
each life has limits in time and is absent beyond them. But in the
realm of truth, as things are eternally, life is a little luminous
meteor in an infinite abyss of nothingness, a rocket fired on a dark
night; and to see life, and to value it, from the point of view of
death is to see and to value it truly. The foot of the cross--I dare
not say the cross itself--is a good station from which to survey
existence. In the greatest griefs there is a tragic calm; the fury
of the will is exhausted, and our thoughts rise to another level; as
the shrill delights and the black sorrows of childhood are impossible
in old age. People sometimes make crosses of flowers or of gold; and
I like to see the enamelled crucifix richly surrounded with scrolls,
and encrusted with jewels; without a touch of this pagan instinct the
religion of the cross would not be healthy nor just. In the skirts
of Mount Calvary lies the garden of the resurrection: I do not refer
to any melodramatic resurrection, such as is pictured in Jewish and
Christian legend, but to one which actually followed quietly, sweetly,
in the light of a purer day, in the cloister, in the home, in the
regenerate mind. After renouncing the world, the soul may find the
world more amiable, and may live in it with a smile and a mystic
doubt and one foot in eternity. Vanity is innocent when recognized to
be vain, and is no longer a disgrace to the spirit. The happiness of
wisdom may at first seem autumnal, and the shadow of the cross the
shadow of death; but it is healing slow; and presently, in the hollow
where the cross was set, the scent of violets surprises us, and the
crocuses peep out amongst the thorns. The dark background which death
supplies brings out the tender colours of life in all their purity.
Far be it from me to suggest that existence is the better because
non-existence precedes and follows it; certainly, if man was immortal
his experience could not include tradition, parentage, childhood, love,
nor old age; nevertheless, from the point of view of both bodily and
intellectual instincts immortality would be far better. But since, as
a matter of fact, birth and death actually occur, and our brief career
is surrounded by vacancy, it is far better to live in the light of the
tragic fact, rather than to forget or deny it, and build everything on
a fundamental lie. Death does not say to life that life is nothing,
or does not exist, or is an illusion; that would be wild talk, and
would show that the inspiration we had drawn from death was as little
capable of doing justice to life, as life itself is when mindless, of
discovering death, or learning anything from it. What the environing
presence of death teaches is merely that life has such and such limits
and such and such a course, whether it reflects on its course or not,
whether it recognizes its limits or ignores them. Death can do nothing
to our lives except to frame them in, to show them off with a broad
margin of darkness and silence; so that to live in the shadow of death
and of the cross is to spread a large nimbus of peace around our
littleness.



25

_TIPPERARY_


What a strange pleasure there is sometimes in seeing what we expected,
or hearing what we knew was a fact! The dream then seems really to hold
together and truth to be positively true. The bells that announced the
Armistice brought me no news; a week sooner or a week later they had to
ring. Certainly if the purpose of the war had been conquest or victory,
nobody had achieved it; but the purposes of things, and especially of
wars, are imputed to them rhetorically, the impulses at work being too
complicated and changeful to be easily surveyed; and in this case, for
the French and the English, the moving impulse had been defence; they
had been sustained through incredible trials by the awful necessity
of not yielding. That strain had now been relaxed; and as the conduct
of men is determined by present forces and not by future advantages,
they could have no heart to fight on. It seemed enough to them that the
wanton blow had been parried, that the bully had begged for mercy. It
was amusing to hear him now. He said that further bloodshed this time
would be horrible; his tender soul longed to get home safely, to call
it quits, and to take a long breath and plan a new combination before
the next bout. His collapse had been evident for days and months;
yet these bells that confirmed the fact were pleasant to hear. Those
mean little flags, hung out here and there by private initiative in
the streets of Oxford, had almost put on a look of triumph; the very
sunlight and brisk autumnal air seemed to have heard the tidings, and
to invite the world to begin to live again at ease. Certainly many a
sad figure and many a broken soul must slink henceforth on crutches, a
mere survival; but they, too, will die off gradually. The grass soon
grows over a grave.

So musing, I suddenly heard a once familiar strain, now long despised
and out of favour, the old tune of _Tipperary_. In a coffee-house
frequented at that hour some wounded officers from the hospital at
Somerville were singing it, standing near the bar; they were breaking
all rules, both of surgeons and of epicures, and were having champagne
in the morning. And good reason they had for it. They were reprieved,
they should never have to go back to the front, their friends--such as
were left--would all come home alive. Instinctively the old grumbling,
good-natured, sentimental song, which they used to sing when they
first joined, came again into their minds. It had been indeed a long,
long way to Tipperary. But they had trudged on and had come round full
circle; they were in Tipperary at last.

I wonder what they think _Tipperary_ means--for this is a mystical
song. Probably they are willing to leave it vague, as they do their
notions of honour or happiness or heaven. Their soldiering is over;
they remember, with a strange proud grief, their comrades who died to
make this day possible, hardly believing that it ever would come; they
are overjoyed, yet half ashamed, to be safe themselves; they forget
their wounds; they see a green vista before them, a jolly, busy,
sporting, loving life in the old familiar places. Everything will go
on, they fancy, as if nothing had happened.

Good honest unguided creatures! They are hardly out of the fog of war
when they are lost in the fog of peace. If experience could teach
mankind anything, how different our morals and our politics would
be, how clear, how tolerant, how steady I If we knew ourselves, our
conduct at all times would be absolutely decided and consistent; and a
pervasive sense of vanity and humour would disinfect all our passions,
if we knew the world. As it is, we live experimentally, moodily, in
the dark; each generation breaks its egg-shell with the same haste and
assurance as the last, pecks at the same indigestible pebbles, dreams
the same dreams, or others just as absurd, and if it hears anything of
what former men have learned by experience, it corrects their maxims
by its first impressions, and rushes down any untrodden path which it
finds alluring, to die in its own way, or become wise too late and to
no purpose. These young men are no rustics, they are no fools; and yet
they have passed through the most terrible ordeal, they have seen the
mad heart of this world riven and unmasked, they have had long vigils
before battle, long nights tossing with pain, in which to meditate on
the spectacle; and yet they have learned nothing. The young barbarians
want to be again at play. If it were to be only cricket or boating, it
would be innocent enough; but they are going to gamble away their lives
and their country, taking their chances in the lottery of love and of
business and of politics, with a sporting chance thrown in, perhaps,
of heaven. They are going to shut out from view everything except their
topmost instincts and easy habits, and to trust to luck. Yet the poor
fellows think they are safe! They think that the war--perhaps the last
of all wars--is over!

Only the dead are safe; only the dead have seen the end of war. Not
that non-existence deserves to be called peace; it is only by an
illusion of contrast and a pathetic fallacy that we are tempted to
call it so. The church has a poetical and melancholy prayer, that the
souls of the faithful departed may rest in peace. If in that sigh there
lingers any fear that, when a tomb is disturbed, the unhappy ghost is
doomed to walk more often abroad, the fear is mad; and if it merely
expresses the hope that dead men's troubles are over, the wish is
superfluous; but perhaps we may gloss the old superstition, and read
into it the rational aspiration that all souls in other spheres, or in
the world to come upon earth, might learn to live at peace with God and
with things. That would be something worth praying for, but I am afraid
it is asking too much. God--I mean the sum of all possible good--is
immutable; to make our peace with him it is we, not he, that must
change. We should need to discover, and to pursue singly, the happiness
proper to our nature, including the accidents of race and sex and the
very real advantages of growing old and of not living for ever; and we
should need to respect without envying all other forms of the good.
As to the world of existence, it is certainly fluid, and by judicious
pressure we may coax some parts of it into greater conformity with our
wills; yet it is so vast, and crawls through such ponderous, insidious
revolutions, all so blind and so inimical to one another, that in order
to live at peace with things we should need to acquire a marvellous
plasticity, or a splendid indifference. We should have to make peace
with the fact of war. It is the stupid obstinacy of our self-love that
produces tragedy, and makes us angry with the world. Free life has
the spirit of comedy. It rejoices in the seasonable beauty of each
new thing, and laughs at its decay, covets no possessions, demands no
agreement, and strives to sustain nothing in being except a gallant
spirit of courage and truth, as each fresh adventure may renew it.

This gallant spirit of courage and truth, you young men had it in
those early days when you first sang _Tipperary_; have you it still,
I wonder, when you repeat the song? Some of you, no doubt. I have
seen in some of you the smile that makes light of pain, the sturdy
humility that accepts mutilation and faces disability without repining
or shame; armless and legless men are still God's creatures, and even
if you cannot see the sun you can bask in it, and there is joy on
earth--perhaps the deepest and most primitive joy--even in that. But
others of you, though you were driven to the war by contagious example,
or by force, are natural cowards; you are perhaps superior persons,
intellectual snobs, and are indignant at having been interrupted in
your important studies and made to do useless work. You are disgusted
at the stupidity of all the generals, and whatever the Government does
is an outrage to your moral sense. You were made sick at the thought of
the war before you went to it, and you are sicker of it now. You are
pacifists, and you suspect that the Germans, who were not pacifists,
were right after all. I notice you are not singing _Tipperary_ this
morning; you are too angry to be glad, and you wish it to be understood
that you can't endure such a vulgar air. You are willing, however, to
sip your champagne with the rest; in hospital you seem to have come
forward a little socially; but you find the wine too dry or too sweet,
and you are making a wry face at it.

Ah, my delicate friends, if the soul of a philosopher may venture
to address you, let me whisper this counsel in your ears: Reserve a
part of your wrath; you have not seen the worst yet. You suppose that
this war has been a criminal blunder and an exceptional horror; you
imagine that before long reason will prevail, and all these inferior
people that govern the world will be swept aside, and your own party
will reform everything and remain always in office. You are mistaken.
This war has given you your first glimpse of the ancient, fundamental,
normal state of the world, your first taste of reality. It should teach
you to dismiss all your philosophies of progress or of a governing
reason as the babble of dreamers who walk through one world mentally
beholding another. I don't mean that you or they are fools; heaven
forbid. You have too much mind. It is easy to behave very much like
other people and yet be possessed inwardly by a narcotic dream. I
am sure the flowers--and you resemble flowers yourselves, though a
bit wilted--if they speculate at all, construct idealisms which,
like your own, express their inner sensibility and their experience
of the weather, without much resemblance to the world at large.
Their thoughts, like yours, are all positings and deductions and
asseverations of what ought to be, whilst the calm truth is marching
on unheeded outside. No great harm ensues, because the flowers are
rooted in their places and adjusted to the prevailing climate. It
doesn't matter what they think. You, too, in your lodgings in Chelsea,
quite as in Lhassa or in Mount Athos, may live and die happy in your
painted cells. It is the primitive and the ultimate office of the mind
to supply such a sanctuary. But if you are ever driven again into the
open, if the course of events should be so rapid, that you could catch
the drift of it in your short life (since you despise tradition), then
you must prepare for a ruder shock. There is eternal war in nature, a
war in which every cause is ultimately lost and every nation destroyed.
War is but resisted change; and change must needs be resisted so long
as the organism it would destroy retains any vitality. Peace itself
means discipline at home and invulnerability abroad--two forms of
permanent virtual war; peace requires so vigorous an internal regimen
that every germ of dissolution or infection shall be repelled before it
reaches the public soul. This war has been a short one, and its ravages
slight in comparison with what remains standing: a severe war is one in
which the entire manhood of a nation is destroyed, its cities razed,
and its women and children driven into slavery. In this instance the
slaughter has been greater, perhaps, only because modern populations
are so enormous; the disturbance has been acute only because the modern
industrial system is so dangerously complex and unstable; and the
expense seems prodigious because we were so extravagantly rich. Our
society was a sleepy glutton who thought himself immortal and squealed
inexpressibly, like a stuck pig, at the first prick of the sword. An
ancient city would have thought this war, or one relatively as costly,
only a normal incident; and certainly the Germans will not regard it
otherwise.

Existence, being a perpetual generation, involves aspiration, and
its aspiration envelops it in an atmosphere of light, the joy and
the beauty of being, which is the living heaven; but for the same
reason existence, in its texture, involves a perpetual and a living
hell--the conflict and mutual hatred of its parts, each endeavouring
to devour its neighbour's substance in the vain effort to live for
ever. Now, the greater part of most men's souls dwells in this hell,
and ends there. One of their chief torments is the desire to live
without dying--continual death being a part of the only possible and
happy life. We wish to exist materially, and yet resent the plastic
stress, the very force of material being, which is daily creating and
destroying us. Certainly war is hell, as you, my fair friends, are
fond of repeating; but so is rebellion against war. To live well you
must be victorious. It is with war as with the passion of love, which
is a war of another kind: war at first against the beloved for favour
and possession; war afterwards against the rest of the world for the
beloved's sake. Often love, too, is a torment and shameful; but it
has its laughing triumphs, and the attempt to eliminate it is a worse
torture, and more degrading. When was a coward at peace? Homer, who was
a poet of war, did not disguise its horrors nor its havoc, but he knew
it was the shield of such happiness as is possible on earth. If Hector
had not scoured the plain in his chariot, Paris could not have piped
upon the slopes of Ida, nor sported with his sheep and his goddesses
upon the green. The merchants of Crete or Phoenicia could not have
drawn up their black keels upon the beach, if the high walls of Ilium
had not cast their protecting shadow on their bales of merchandise,
their bags of coin, and their noisy bargaining. When Hector was no more
and the walls were a heap of dust, all the uses of peace vanished also:
ruin and utter meanness came to inhabit that land, and still inhabit
it. Nor is war, which makes peace possible, without occasions in which
a free spirit, not too much attached to existence, may come into its
own. Homer shows us how his heroes could gather even from battle a
certain harvest of tenderness and nobility, and how above their heads,
half seen through the clouds of dust and of pain, flew the winged
chariots of the gods, and music mingled with their banquet.

Be sad if you will, there is always reason for sadness, since the good
which the world brings forth is so fugitive and bought at so great a
price; but be brave. If you think happiness worth enjoying, think it
worth defending. Nothing you can lose By dying is half so precious as
the readiness to die, which is man's charter of nobility; life would
not be worth having without the freedom of soul and the friendship
with nature which that readiness brings. The things we know and love
on earth are, and should be, transitory; they are, as were the things
celebrated by Homer, at best the song or oracle by which heaven is
revealed in our time. We must pass with them into eternity, not in the
end only but continually, as a phrase passes into its meaning; and
since they are part of us and we of them, we should accompany them
with a good grace: it would be desolation to survive. The eternal is
always present, as the flux of time in one sense never is, since it
is all either past or future; but this elusive existence in passing
sets before the spirit essences in which spirit rests, and which can
never vary; as a dramatic poet creates a character which many an actor
afterwards on many a night may try to enact. Of course the flux of
matter carries the poets away too; they become old-fashioned, and
nobody wishes any longer to play their characters; but each age has its
own gods. Time is like an enterprising manager always bent on staging
some new and surprising production, without knowing very well what it
will be. Our good mother Psyche, who is a convolution of this material
flux, breeds us accordingly to mindlessness and anxiety, out of which
it is hard for our youthful intellect to wean itself to peace, by
escaping into the essential eternity of everything it sees and loves.
So long as the world goes round we shall see Tipperary only, as it
were, out of the window of our troop-train. Your heart and mine may
remain there, but it's a long, long way that the world has to go.



26

SKYLARKS


There is a poet in every nice Englishman; there is a little fund of
free vitality deep down in him which the exigencies of his life do
not tap and which no art at his command can render articulate. He
is able to draw upon it, and to drink in the refreshment and joy of
inner freedom, only in silent or religious moments. He feels he is
never so much himself as when he has shed for the time being all his
ordinary preoccupations. That is why his religion is so thin or (as
he might say) so pure: it has no relevance to any particular passions
or events; a featureless background, distant and restful, like a pale
clear sky. That is why he loves nature, and country life, and hates
towns and vulgar people; those he likes he conceives emasculated,
sentimentalized, and robed in white. The silent poet within him is
only a lyric poet. When he returns from those draughts of rare and
abstract happiness, he would find it hard to reconcile himself to the
world, or to himself, did he not view both through a veil of convention
and make-believe; he could not be honest about himself and retain his
self-respect; he could not be clear about other people and remain kind.
Yet to be kind to all, and true to his inner man, is his profound
desire; because even if life, in its unvarnished truth, is a gross
medley and a cruel business, it is redeemed for him, nevertheless, by
the perfect beauty of soul that here and there may shine through it.
Hamlet is the classic version of this imprisoned spirit; the skylark
seems a symbol of what it would be in its freedom.

Poor larks! Is the proportion of dull matter in their bodies, I wonder,
really less than in ours? Must they not find food and rear their
young? Must they not in their measure work, watch, and tremble? Cold,
hunger, and disease probably beset them more often and more bitterly
than they do most of us. But we think of them selfishly, as of actors
on the stage, only in the character they wear when they attract our
attention. As we walk through the fields we stop to watch and to listen
to them performing in the sky, and never think of their home troubles;
which they, too, seem for the moment to have eluded; at least they
have energy and time enough left over from those troubles for all this
luxury of song. It is this glorious if temporary emancipation, this
absolute defiant emphasis laid with so much sweetness on the inner life
that the poet in every nice Englishman loves in the lark; it seems to
reveal a brother-spirit more fortunate than oneself, almost a master
and a guide.

Larks made even Shelley envious, although no man ever had less
reason to envy them for their gift, either in its rapture or in its
abstraction. Even the outer circumstances of Shelley's life were very
favourable to inspiration and left him free to warble as much and as
ardently as he chose; but perhaps he was somewhat deceived by the
pathos of distance and fancied that in Nephelococcygia bad birds and
wicked traditions were less tyrannous than in parliamentary England.
He seems to have thought that human nature was not really made for
puddings and port wine and hunting and elections, nor even for
rollicking at universities and reading Greek, but only for innocent
lyrical ecstasies and fiery convictions that nevertheless should
somehow not render people covetous or jealous or cruelly disposed,
nor constrain them to prevent any one from doing anything that any
one might choose to do. Perhaps in truth the cloisters of Oxford and
the streets of London are quite as propitious to the flights of which
human nature is really capable as English fields are to the flights of
larks; there is food in them for thought. But Shelley was impatient
of human nature; he was horrified to find that society is a web of
merciless ambitions and jealousies, mitigated by a quite subsidiary
kindness; he forgot that human life is precarious and that its only
weapon against circumstances, and against rival men, is intelligent
action, intelligent war. The case is not otherwise with larks, on the
fundamental earthly side of their existence; yet because their flight
is bodily, because it is a festive outpouring of animal vitality, not
of art or reflection, it suggests to us a total freedom of the inner
man, a freedom which is impossible.

In the flight of larks, however, by a rare favour of fortune, all seems
to be spontaneity, courage, and trust, even within this material
sphere; nothing seems to be adjustment or observation. Their life
in the air is a sort of intoxication of innocence and happiness in
the blind pulses of existence. They are voices of the morning, young
hearts seeking experience and not remembering it; when they seem to
sob they are only catching their breath. They spring from the ground
as impetuously as a rocket or the jet of a fountain, that bursts
into a shower of sparks or of dew-drops; they circle as they rise,
soaring through veil after veil of luminous air, or dropping from
level to level. Their song is like the gurgling of little rills of
water, perpetual through its delicate variations, and throbbing with
a changed volume at every change in the breeze. Their rapture seems
to us seraphic, not merely because it descends to us invisibly from
a luminous height, straining our eyes and necks--in itself a cheap
sublimity-v but rather because the lark sings so absolutely for the
mad sake of singing. He is evidently making high holiday, spending his
whole strength on something ultimate and utterly useless, a momentary
entrancing pleasure which (being useless and ultimate) is very like an
act of worship or of sacrifice. Sheer life in him has become pure. That
is what we envy; that is what causes us, as we listen, to draw a deeper
breath, and perhaps something like tears to come to our eyes. He seems
so triumphantly to attain what all our labours end by missing, yet what
alone would justify them: happiness, selflessness, a moment of life
lived in the spirit. And we may be tempted to say to ourselves: Ah, if
I could only forget, if I could cease to look before and after, if the
pale cast of thought did not make a slave of me, as well as a coward!

Vital raptures such as the lark's are indeed not unknown even to man,
and the suggestion of them powerfully allures the Englishman, being
as he is a youth morally, still impelled to sport, still confident of
carrying his whole self forward into some sort of heaven, whether in
love, in politics, or in religion, without resigning to nature the
things that are nature's nor hiding in God the things that are God's.
Alas, a sad lesson awaits him, if he ever grows old enough to learn
it. Vital raptures, unless long training or a miracle of adaptation
has antecedently harmonized them with the whole orchestration of
nature, necessarily come to a bad end. Dancing and singing and love
and sport and religious enthusiasm are mighty ferments: happy he who
vents them in their season. But if ever they are turned into duties,
pumped up by force, or made the basis of anything serious, like morals
or science, they become vicious. The wild breath of inspiration is gone
which hurried them across the soul like a bright cloud. Inspiration,
as we may read in Plato between the lines, inspiration is animal. It
comes from the depths, from that hearth of Hestia, the Earth-Mother,
which conservative pagans could not help venerating as divine. Only
art and reason, however, are divine in a moral sense, not because
they are less natural than inspiration (for the Earth-Mother with her
seeds and vapours is the root of everything) but because they mount
towards the ultimate heaven of order, beauty, intellectual light,
and the achievement of eternal dignities. In that dimension of being
even featherless bipeds can soar and sing with a good grace. But
space is not their element; airmen, now that we have them, are only
a new sort of sailor. They fly for the sake of danger and of high
wages; it is a boyish art, with its romantic glamour soon tarnished,
and only a material reward left for all its skill and hardships. The
only sublimity possible to man is intellectual; when he would be
sublime in any other dimension he is merely fatuous and bombastic. By
intelligence, so far as he possesses it, a man sees things as they are,
transcends his senses and his passions, uproots himself from his casual
station in space and time, sees all things future as if they were past,
and all things past as for ever present, at once condemns and forgives
himself, renounces the world and loves it. Having this inner avenue
open to divinity, he would be a fool to emulate the larks in their kind
of ecstasy.

His wings are his intelligence; not that they bring ultimate success
to his animal will, which must end in failure, but that they lift his
failure itself into an atmosphere of laughter and light, where is his
proper happiness. He cannot take his fine flight, like the lark, in the
morning, in mad youth, in some irresponsible burst of vitality, because
life is impatient to begin: that sort of thing is the fluttering of
a caged bird, a rebellion against circumstance and against commonness
which is a sign of spirit, but not spirit in its self-possession, not
happiness nor a school of happiness. The thought which crowns life at
its summit can accompany it throughout its course, and can reconcile us
to its issue. Intelligence is Homeric in its pervasive light. It traces
all the business of nature, eluding but not disturbing it, rendering it
in fact more amiable than it is, and rescuing it from vanity.

Sense is like a lively child always at our elbow, saying, Look, look,
what is that? Will is like an orator, indignantly demanding something
different. History and fiction and religion are like poets, continually
recomposing the facts into some tragic unity which is not in them. All
these forms of mind are spiritual, and therefore materially superfluous
and free; but their spirit is pious, it is attentive to its sources,
and therefore seems to be care-laden and not so gloriously emancipated
as the music of larks, or even of human musicians; yet thought is pure
music in its essence, and only in its subject-matter retrospective
and troubled about the facts. It must indeed be troubled about them,
because in man spirit is not a mere truant, as it seems to be in
the lark, but is a faithful chronicler of labour and wisdom. Man is
hard-pressed; long truancies would be fatal to him. He is tempted to
indulge in them--witness his languages and pyramids and mythologies;
yet his margin of safety is comparatively narrow, and he cannot afford
to spend such relatively prodigious amounts of energy in mere play as
the lark does with a light heart and in the grand manner. There are
words to man's music; he gives names to things; he tries to catch the
rhythm of his own story, or to imagine it richer and more sublime than
it is. His festivals are heavy with pathos; they mark the events on
which his existence turns--harvests, funerals, redemptions, wooings,
and wars. When he disregards all these tiresome things, he becomes a
fop or a fanatic. There is no worthy transport for him except sane
philosophy--a commentary, not a dream. His intelligence is most intense
and triumphant when there is least waste in his life; for if hard
thinking sometimes makes the head ache, it is because it comes hard,
not because it is thinking; our fuddled brain grates and repeats
itself in that it _can't_ think. But if your business is in order, it
requires no further pains to understand it. Intelligence is the flower
of war and the flower of love. Both, in the end, are comprehension. How
miraculously in our happy moments we understand, how far we jump, what
masses of facts we dominate at a glance! There is no labour then, no
friction or groping, no anxious jostling against what we do not know,
but only joy in this intricate outspread humorous world, intoxication
as ethereal as the lark's, but more descriptive. If his song is raised
above the world for a moment by its wantonness and idle rapture, ours
is raised above it essentially by its scope. To look before and after
is human; it would not be sincere nor manly in us not to take thought
for the morrow and not to pine for what is not. We must start on that
basis, with our human vitality (which is art) substituted for the
vegetative prayerfulness of the lily, and our human scope (which is
knowledge of the world) substituted for the outpourings of larks.

On this other plane we could easily be as happy as the larks, if we
were as liberal. Men when they are civilized and at ease are liberal
enough in their sports, and willing to _desipere in loco_, like
kittens, but it is strange how barbarous and illiberal, at least in
modern times, they have remained about thought. They wish to harness
thought like a waterfall, or like the blind Samson, to work for
them night and day, in the treadmill of their interests or of their
orthodoxy. Fie upon their stupidity and upon their slavishness! They do
not see that when nature, with much travail, brings something living
to birth, inevitable thought is there already, and gratis, and cannot
possibly be there before. The seething of the brain is indeed as
pragmatic as the habit of singing and flying, which in its inception
doubtless helped the larks to survive, as even the whiteness of the
lily may have done through the ministry of insects which it attracted;
but even material organs are bound to utility by a very loose tie.
Nature does not shake off her baroque ornaments and her vices until
they prove fatal, and she never thinks of the most obvious invention
or pressing reform, until some complication brings her, she knows
not how, to try the experiment. Nature, having no ulterior purpose,
has no need of parsimony or haste or simplicity. Much less need she
be niggardly of spirit, which lays no tax upon her, and consumes no
energy, but laughs aloud, a marvel and a mystery to her, in her very
heart. All animal functions, whether helpful or wasteful, have this
fourth dimension in the realm of spirit--the joy, or the pain, or the
beauty that may be found in them. Spirit loads with a lyric intensity
the flying moment in which it lives. It actually paints the lily
and casts a perfume on the violet; it turns into vivid presences a
thousand forms which, until its flame lighted them up, were merged in
the passive order and truth of things, like the charms of Lucy by the
springs of Dove, before Wordsworth discovered them. The smile of nature
is not ponderable; and the changing harmonies of nature, out of which
spirit springs, are like the conjunctions or eclipses of planets, facts
obvious enough to sense in their specious simplicity, yet materially
only momentary positions of transit for wayfarers bound each on his own
errand. The songs of larks are like shooting stars that drop downwards
and vanish; human intelligence is a part of the steadier music of the
spheres.



27

AT HEAVEN'S GATE


Skylarks, if they exist elsewhere, must be homesick for England. They
need these kindly mists to hide and to sustain them. Their flexible
throats would soon be parched, far from these vaporous meadows and
hedgerows rich in berries and loam. How should they live in arid
tablelands, or at merciless altitudes, where there is nothing but
scorching heat or a freezing blizzard? What space could they find
for solitude and freedom in the tangle of tropical forests, amongst
the monkeys and parrots? What reserve, what tenderness, what inward
springs of happiness could they treasure amid those gross harlot-like
flowers? No, they are the hermits of this mild atmosphere, fled to
its wilderness of gentle light. Well may they leave it to eagles to
rush against the naked sun, as if its round eye challenged them to
single combat: not theirs the stupid ferocity of passion against fact,
anger against light, swiftness against poise, beak and talons against
intangible fire. Larks may not be very clever, but they are not so
foolish as to be proud, or to scream hoarsely against the nature of
things. Having wings and voluble throats they play with them for pure
pleasure; they are little artists and little gentlemen; they disdain
to employ their faculties for their mere utility, or only in order to
pounce down to the earth, whenever they spy a dainty morsel, or to
return to sulk shivering on some solitary crag, their voracity but half
appeased, like eagles dreaming of their next victim. Of course, even
the most playful songster must eat, and skylarks no doubt keep an eye
open for worms, and their nest calls them back to terrene affections;
but they are as forgetful of earth as they can be, and insatiable
craving does not stamp itself on their bent necks, as if they were
vultures, nor strain their feathers of iron. No more are they inspired
by sentimental pangs and love-sick like the nightingale; they do not
hide in the labyrinthine shade of ilex or cypress, from there to wail
in the melancholy moonlight, as it were a seductive serenade addressed
to mortal lovers. No, the trilling of larks is not for mankind. Like
English poets they sing to themselves of nature, inarticulately happy
in a bath of light and freedom, sporting for the sake of sport, turning
what doubts they may have into sweetness, not asking to see or to know
anything ulterior. They must needs drink the dew amongst these English
fields, peeping into the dark little hearts and flushed petals of
these daisies, like the heart and cheeks of an English child, or into
these buttercups, yellow like his Saxon hair. They could hardly have
built their nests far from this maze of little streams, or from these
narrow dykes and ditches, arched with the scented tracery of limes and
willows. They needed this long, dull, chilly winter in which to gather
their unsuspected fund of yearning and readiness for joy; so that when
high summer comes at last they may mount with virgin confidence and
ardour through these sunlit spaces, to pour their souls out at heaven's
gate.

At heaven's gate, but not in heaven. The sky, as these larks rise
higher and higher, grows colder and thinner; if they could rise
high enough, it would be a black void. All this fluid and dazzling
atmosphere is but the drapery of earth; this cerulean vault is only
a film round the oceans. As these choristers pass beyond the nether
veils of air, the sun becomes fierce and comfortless; they freeze
and are dazzled; they must hurry home again to earth if they would
live. They must put fuel in their little engines: after all it was
flesh and blood in them that were praising the Lord. And accordingly,
down they drop to their nests and peck about, anxious and silent; but
their song never comes down. Up there they leave it, in the glittering
desert it once ravished, in what we call the past. They bore their
glad offering to the gate and returned empty; but the gladness of it,
which in their palpitation and hurry they only half guessed, passed
in and is a part of heaven. In the home of all good, from which their
frail souls fetched it for a moment, it is still audible for any ear
that ever again can attune itself to that measure. All that was loved
or beautiful at any time, or that shall be so hereafter, all that
never was but that ought to have been, lives in that paradise, in the
brilliant treasure-house of the gods.

How many an English spirit, too modest to be heard here, has now
committed its secret to that same heaven! Caught by the impulse of the
hour, they rose like larks in the morning, cheerily, rashly, to meet
the unforeseen, fatal, congenial adventure, the goal not seen, the air
not measured, but the firm heart steady through the fog or blinding
fire, making the best of what came, trembling but ready for what might
come, with a simple courage which was half joy in living and half
willingness to die. Their first flight was often their last. What fell
to earth was only a poor dead body, one of a million; what remained
above perhaps nothing to speak of, some boyish sally or wistful fancy,
less than the song of a lark for God to treasure up in his omniscience
and eternity. Yet these common brave fools knew as well as the lark
the thing that they could do, and did it; and of other gifts and other
adventures they were not envious. Boys and free men are always a
little inclined to flout what is not the goal of their present desires,
or is beyond their present scope; spontaneity in them has its ebb-flow
in mockery. Their tight little selves are too vigorous and too clearly
determined to brood much upon distant things; but they are true to
their own nature, they know and love the sources of their own strength.
Like the larks, those English boys had drunk here the quintessence of
many a sunlit morning; they had rambled through these same fields,
fringed with hedges and peeping copse and downs purple with heather;
these paths and streams had enticed them often; they had been vaguely
happy in these quiet, habitable places. It was enough for them to live,
as for nature to revolve; and fate, in draining in one draught the
modest cup of their spirit, spared them the weary dilution and waste of
it in the world. The length of things is vanity, only their height is
joy.

Of myself also I would keep nothing but what God may keep of me--some
lovely essence, mine for a moment in that I beheld it, some object
of devout love enshrined where all other hearts that have a like
intelligence of love in their day may worship it; but my loves
themselves and my reasonings are but a flutter of feathers weaker than
a lark's, a prattle idler than his warblings, happy enough if they too
may fly with him and die with him at the gate of heaven.



LATER SOLILOQUIES

1918-1921



28

SOCIETY AND SOLITUDE


O solitudo, sola beatitudo, Saint Bernard said; but might he not
have said just as well, _O societas, sola felicitas_? Just as truly,
I think; because when a man says that the only happiness is this or
that, he is like a lover saying that Mary Jane is the one woman in the
world. She may be truly the one woman for him, though even that is
not probable; but he cannot mean to assert that she is the only woman
living, nor to deny that each of the others might be the one woman
for somebody. Now, when a Hegelian philosopher, contradicting Saint
Bernard, says that society is his be-all and end-all, that he himself
is nothing but an invisible point at which relations cross, and that if
you removed from him his connection with Hegel, with his university,
his church, his wife, and his publishers, there would be nothing left,
or at best a name and a peg to hang a gown on, far be it from me to
revise his own analysis of his nature; society may be the only felicity
and the only reality for him. But that cannot annul the judgement of
Saint Bernard. He had a great mind and a great heart, and he knew
society well; at least, he accepted the verdict which antiquity had
passed on society, after a very long, brilliant, and hearty experience
of it; and he knew the religious life and solitude as well; and I can't
help thinking that he, too, must have been right in his self-knowledge,
and that solitude must have been the only happiness for him.

Nevertheless, the matter is not limited to this confronting of divers
honest judgements, or confessions of moral experience. The natures
expressed in these judgements have a long history, and are on different
levels; the one may be derived from the other. Thus it is evident
that the beatific solitude of Saint Bernard was filled with a kind of
society; he devoted it to communion with the Trinity, or to composing
fervent compliments to the Virgin Mary. It was only the society to be
found in inns and hovels, in castles, sacristies, and refectories, that
he thought it happiness to avoid. That the wilderness to which hermits
flee must be peopled by their fancy, could have been foreseen by any
observer of human nature. Tormenting demons or ministering angels
must needs appear, because man is rooted in society and his instincts
are addressed to it; for the first nine months, or even years, of his
existence he is a parasite; and scarcely are these parental bonds a
little relaxed, when he instinctively forms other ties, that turn
him into a husband and father, and keep him such all his days. If
ever he finds happiness in solitude, it can only be by lavishing on
objects of his imagination the attentions which his social functions
require that he should lavish on something. Without exercising these
faculties somehow his nature would be paralysed; there would be no
fuel to feed a spiritual flame. All Saint Bernard could mean, then,
is that happiness lies in this substitution of an ideal for a natural
society, in converse with thoughts rather than with things. Such a
substitution is normal, and a mark of moral vigour; we must not be
misled into comparing it with a love of dolls or of lap-dogs. Dolls
are not impersonal, and lap-dogs are not ideas: they are only less
rebellious specimens of the genus thing; they are more portable idols.
To substitute the society of ideas for that of things is simply to
live in the mind; it is to survey the world of existences in its truth
and beauty rather than in its personal perspectives, or with practical
urgency. It is the sole path to happiness for the intellectual man,
because the intellectual man cannot be satisfied with a world of
perpetual change, defeat, and imperfection. It is the path trodden by
ancient philosophers and modern saints or poets; not, of course, by
modern writers on philosophy (except Spinoza), because these have not
been philosophers in the vital sense; they have practised no spiritual
discipline, suffered no change of heart, but lived on exactly like
other professors, and exerted themselves to prove the existence of
a God favourable to their own desires, instead of searching for the
God that happens to exist. Certainly this path, in its beginnings,
is arduous, and leaves the natural man somewhat spare and haggard;
he seems to himself to have fasted for forty days and forty nights,
and the world regards his way of living afterwards as rather ghostly
and poor. But he usually congratulates himself upon it in the end;
and of those who persevere some become saints and some poets and some
philosophers.

Yet why, we may ask, should happiness be found exclusively in this
ideal society where none intrudes? If the intellectual man cannot lay
up his treasures in a world of change, the natural man can perfectly
well satisfy his instincts within it; and why shouldn't the two live
amicably together in a house of two stories?

I can see no essential reason; but historically natural society long
ago proved a moral failure. It could not harmonize nor decently satisfy
even the instincts on which it rests. Hence the philosophers have felt
bound not only to build themselves a superstructure but to quit the
ground floor--materially, if possible, by leading a monastic fife,
religiously in any case by not expecting to find much except weeping
and wailing in this vale of tears. We may tax this despair with being
premature, and call such a flight into an imaginary world a desperate
expedient; at any time the attempts of the natural man to live his
comic life happily may be renewed, and may succeed. Solitude peopled
with ideas might still remain to employ the mind; but it would not be
the only beatitude.

Yet the insecurity of natural society runs deeper, for natural society
itself is an expedient and a sort of refuge of despair. It, too, in
its inception, seemed a sacrifice and a constraint. The primitive soul
hates order and the happiness founded on order. The barbarous soul
hates justice and peace. The belly is always rebelling against the
members. The belly was once all in all; it was a single cell floating
deliciously in a warm liquid; it had no outer organs; it thought it
didn't need them. It vegetated in peace; no noises, no alarms, no
lusts, no nonsense. Ah, veritably solitude was blessedness then! But
it was a specious solitude and a precarious blessedness, resting on
ignorance. The warm liquid might cool, or might dry up; it might breed
all sorts of enemies; presently heaven might crack and the cell be
cleft in two. Happy the hooded microbe that put forth feelers in time,
and awoke to its social or unsocial environment! I am not sure that,
beneath the love of ideal society, there was not in Saint Bernard a
lingering love of primeval peace, of seminal slumber; that he did
not yearn for the cell bio-logical as well as for the cell monastic.
Life, mere living, is a profound ideal, pregnant with the memory of a
possible happiness, the happiness of protoplasm; and the advocate of
moral society must not reckon without his host. He has a rebellious
material in hand; his every atom is instinct with a life of its own
which it may reassert, upsetting his calculations and destroying
his organic systems. Only the physical failure of solitude drove
the spirit at first into society, as the moral failure of society
may drive it later into solitude again. If any one said, then, that
happiness lies only in society, his maxim would be no less sincere
and solid than Saint Bernard's, but it would not be so profound. For
beneath natural society, in the heart of each of its members, there is
always an intense and jealous solitude, the sleep of elemental life
which can never be wholly broken; and above natural society there is
always another solitude--a placid ethereal wilderness, the heaven of
ideas--beckoning the mind.



29

IMAGINATION


Men are ruled by imagination: imagination makes them into men, capable
of madness and of immense labours. We work dreaming. Consider what
dreams must have dominated the builders of the Pyramids--dreams
geometrical, dreams funereal, dreams of resurrection, dreams of
outdoing the pyramid of some other Pharaoh! What dreams occupy that
fat man in the street, toddling by under his shabby hat and bedraggled
rain-coat? Perhaps he is in love; perhaps he is a Catholic, and
imagines that early this morning he has partaken of the body and
blood of Christ; perhaps he is a revolutionist, with the millennium
in his heart and a bomb in his pocket. The spirit bloweth where it
listeth; the wind of inspiration carries our dreams before it and
constantly refashions them like clouds. Nothing could be madder, more
irresponsible, more dangerous than this guidance of men by dreams. What
saves us is the fact that our imaginations, groundless and chimerical
as they may seem, are secretly suggested and controlled by shrewd old
instincts of our animal nature, and by continual contact with things.
The shock of sense, breaking in upon us with a fresh irresistible
image, checks wayward imagination and sends it rebounding in a new
direction, perhaps more relevant to what is happening in the world
outside.

When I speak of being governed by imagination, of course I am indulging
in a figure of speech, in an ellipsis; in reality we are governed by
that perpetual latent process within us by which imagination itself is
created. Actual imaginings--the cloud-like thoughts drifting by--are
not masters over themselves nor over anything else. They are like
the sound of chimes in the night; they know nothing of whence they
came, how they will fall out, or how long they will ring. There is a
mechanism in the church tower; there was a theme in the composer's
head; there is a beadle who has been winding the thing up. The sound
wafted to us, muffled by distance and a thousand obstacles, is but the
last lost emanation of this magical bell-ringing. Yet in our dream
it is all in all; it is what first entertains and absorbs the mind.
Imagination, when it chimes within us, apparently of itself, is no less
elaborately grounded; it is a last symptom, a rolling echo, by which we
detect and name the obscure operation that occasions it; and not this
echo in its aesthetic impotence, but the whole operation whose last
witness it is, receives in science the name of imagination, and may be
truly said to rule the human world.

This extension of names is inevitable although unfortunate, because
language and perception are poetical before they become scientific,
if they ever do; as Aristotle observes that the word anger is used
indifferently for two different things: dialectically, or as I call
it, imaginatively, for the desire for revenge, but physically for a
boiling of the humours. And utterly different as these two things are
in quality, no great inconvenience results from giving them the same
name, because historically they are parts of the same event. Nature
has many dimensions at once, and whenever we see anything happen, much
else is happening there which we cannot see. Whilst dreams entertain
us, the balance of our character is shifting beneath: we are growing
while we sleep. The young think in one way, the drunken in another, and
the dead not at all; and I imagine--for I have imagination myself--that
they do not die because they stop thinking, but they stop thinking
because they die. How much veering and luffing before they make that
port I The brain of man, William James used to say, has a hair-trigger
organization. His life is terribly experimental. He is perilously
dependent on the oscillations of a living needle, imagination, that
never points to the true north.

There are books in which the footnotes, or the comments scrawled
by some reader's hand in the margin, are more interesting than the
text. The world is one of these books. The reciprocal interference of
magnetic fields (which I understand is the latest conception of matter)
may compose a marvellous moving pattern; but the chief interest to
us of matter lies in its fertility in producing minds and presenting
recognizable phenomena to the senses; and the chief interest of any
scientific notion of its intrinsic nature lies in the fact that, if not
literally true, it may liberate us from more misleading conceptions.
Did we have nothing but electrical physics to think of, the nightmare
would soon become intolerable. But a hint of that kind, like a hasty
glance into the crater of a volcano, sends a wholesome shudder through
our nerves; we realize how thin is the crust we build on, how mythical
and remote from the minute and gigantic scale of nature are the bright
images we seem to move among, all cut out and fitted to our human
stature. Yet these bright images are our natural companions, and if
we do not worship them idolatrously nor petrify them into substances,
forgetting the nimble use of them in mental discourse, which is
where they belong, they need not be more misleading to us, even for
scientific purposes, than are words or any other symbols.

It is fortunate that the material world, whatever may be its intrinsic
structure or substance, falls to our apprehension into such charming
units. There is the blue vault of heaven, there are the twinkling
constellations, there are the mountains, trees, and rivers, and above
all those fascinating unstable unities which we call animals and
persons; magnetic fields I am quite ready to believe them, for such in
a vast vague way I feel them to be, but individual bodies they will
remain to my sensuous imagination, and dramatic personages to my moral
sense. They, too, are animate: they, too, compose a running commentary
on things and on one another, adding their salacious footnotes to
the dull black letter of the world. Many of them are hardly aware of
their own wit; knowing they are but commentators, they are intent on
fidelity and unconscious of invention. Yet against their will they
gloss everything, willy-nilly we are all scholiasts together. Heaven
forbid that I should depreciate this prodigious tome of nature, or
question in one jot or tittle the absolute authority of its Author;
but it is like an encyclopaedia in an infinite number of volumes, or
a directory with the addresses of everybody that ever lived. We may
dip into it on occasion in search of some pertinent fact, but it is
not a book to read; its wealth is infinite, but so is its monotony; it
is not composed in our style nor in our language, we could not have
written one line of it. Yet the briefest text invites reflection, and
we may spin a little homily out of it in the vernacular for our own
edification.

In the _Mahabharata_, a learned friend tells me, a young champion
armed for the combat and about to rush forward between the two armies
drawn up in battle array, stops for a moment to receive a word of
counsel from his spiritual adviser--and that word occupies the next
eighteen books of the epic; after which the battle is allowed to
proceed. These Indian poets had spiritual minds, they measured things
by their importance to the spirit, not to the eye. They despised
verisimilitude and aesthetic proportion; they despised existence, the
beauties of which they felt exquisitely nevertheless, and to which
their imagination made such stupendous additions. I honour their
courage in bidding the sun stand still, not that they might thoroughly
vanquish an earthly enemy, but that they might wholly clarify their own
soul. For this better purpose the sun need not stand still materially.
For the spirit, time is an elastic thing. Fancy is quick and brings
the widest vistas to a focus in a single instant. After the longest
interval of oblivion and death, it can light up the same image in all
the greenness of youth; and if cut short, as it were at Pompeii, in the
midst of a word, it can, ages after, without feeling the break, add the
last syllable. Imagination changes the scale of everything, and makes
a thousand patterns of the woof of nature, without disturbing a single
thread. Or rather--since it is nature itself that imagines--it turns
to music what was only strain; as if the universal vibration, suddenly
ashamed of having been so long silent and useless, had burst into tears
and laughter at its own folly, and in so doing had become wise.



30

THE WORLD'S A STAGE


Nature, like a theatre, offers a double object to the mind. There is
in the first place the play presented, the overt spectacle, which is
something specious and ideal; and then there is something material
and profound lying behind and only symbolically revealed, namely, the
stage, the actors, and the author. The playful spectacular sort of
reality we can pretty well dominate and exhaust, if we are attentive;
indeed the prospect, in its sensuous and poetic essence, is plastic
to attention, and alters its character according to the spectator's
station and faculty; a poetic theme develops as interest in it is
aroused, and offers different beauties and different morals to every
new critic. The instrumentalities, on the contrary, which bring
this spectacle before us, whether they be material or personal, are
unfathomable. They are events, not ideas. Even putting together all
that carpenters and chemists, biographers and psychologists, might
learn about these events, we could never probe them to the bottom.

In the beginning, as for a child at his first pantomime, the play's
the thing; and a human audience can never quite outgrow this initial
illusion, since this world is a theatre nobody can visit twice. If we
could become habitués, old theatre-goers amongst the worlds, we might
grow more discriminating; on the whole we might enjoy the performances
just as much or even more, perhaps; yet less breathlessly. We should
see more and believe less. The pleasure of seeing is one, and the
pleasure of believing is quite another; the first liberates our senses
and fills the present with light; the second directs our conduct
and relieves our anxiety or doubts about the past and future. When
the spectator bethinks himself of destiny as well as of beauty, his
sensibility becomes tragic, it becomes intelligence. Every picture is
then regarded as a sign for the whole situation which has generated it
or which it forebodes. The given image, for intelligence, expresses
a problematic fact; and intelligence invents various grammatical
forms and logical categories by which to describe its hidden enemy
or fascinating prey. So spontaneous and dogmatic is the intellect in
this interpretation of the scene that the conceived object (however
abstractly sketched) is unhesitatingly judged to be, as we say, the
real thing: it alone works and acts, whilst the given image is either
disregarded altogether or despised as a mere word or phantasm of
sense, such as only fools would stop to gaze at. And it is very true,
whatever desperate efforts empiricism may make to deny it, that every
figure crossing the stage of apprehension is a symbol, or may become
a symbol; they all have some occasion and arise out of some deeper
commotion in the material world. The womb of nature is full of crowding
events, to us invisible; the ballet has machinery behind its vistas and
its music; the dancers possess a character and fate in the daylight
quite foreign to these fays and shepherds before the footlights; what
to us is a pirouette to them is a twitch or a shilling. Shame to the
impious egotism that would deny it, and, in order to spare itself the
tension of faith and the labour of understanding, would pretend to find
in experience nothing but a shadowy tapestry, a landscape without a
substance. To its invisible substance the spectacle owes not only its
existence but its meaning, since our interest in the scene is rooted
in a hidden life within us, quite as much as the shifts and colours of
the scenery are rooted in tricks of the stage. Nevertheless the roots
of things are properly and decently hidden under ground, and it is as
childish to be always pulling them up, to make sure that they exist, as
it is to deny their existence. The flowers are what chiefly interests
a man of taste; the spectacle is what liberal-minded people have come
to see. Every image has its specific aspect and aesthetic essence, more
or less charming in itself; the sensualist, the poet, the chronicler of
his passing visions must take them at their face value, and be content
with that. Fair masks, like flowers, like sunsets, like melodies wrung
out of troubled brains and strung wire, cover for us appropriately the
anatomical face of nature; and words and dogmas are other masks, behind
which we, too, can venture upon the stage; for it is life to give
expression to life, transmuting diffused movements into dear images.
How blind is the zeal of the iconoclasts, and how profoundly hostile
to religious impulse! They pour scorn upon eyes that see not and a
mouth that cannot speak; they despise a work of art or of thought for
being finished and motionless; as if the images of the retina were less
idols than those of the sculptor, and as if words, of all things, were
not conventional signs, grotesque counterfeits, dead messengers, like
fallen leaves, from the dumb soul. Why should one art be contemptuous
of the figurative language of another? Jehovah, who would suffer no
statues, was himself a metaphor.



31

MASKS


When we are children we love putting on masks to astonish our elders;
there is a lordly pleasure in puzzling those harmless giants who are
not in the secret. We ourselves, of course, know that it is only
a disguise; and when presently we pull it off, their surprise at
recognizing us is something deliciously comic. Yet, at bottom, this
compulsory return to nature is a little sad; our young empiricism
would like to take appearances more seriously. To an unsophisticated
mind every transformation seems as credible as it is interesting; there
is always danger and hope of anything. Why should people hesitate to
believe something intrinsically so plausible as that Johnny should
have acquired a bull's head, or that little Alice should suddenly
develop a red nose and furious mustachios? That is just the sort of
thing that would happen if this stupid world were only more natural;
but the trouble with old people is that their minds have become
stagnant, dominated as they are by precedent and prejudice; it is
too much of an exertion for them to imagine anything but what they
have always seen. Even when they tell us about religion, which is so
full of exciting and lovely things that we know _must_ be true, they
seem to be trying to remember something they have read or heard of,
and quite spoil the story; they don't seem to understand at all, as
we do, why it all happens. They are terrible believers in substance,
and can hardly lend themselves to the wayward game of experience.
This after all wouldn't matter so much; it is not worth while playing
with people who don't relish games. The subtlest part of the pleasure
is being blindfolded on purpose and feeling lost when you know you
are not lost. Empiricism would be agony if any one was so silly as
really to forget his material status and to become the sport of his
passing ideas. But masks are great fun in themselves, and when you are
fundamentally sane it is pleasant to play the madman and to yield to
the eloquence of an imagined life; and it is intolerable to have the
game spoiled by some heavy-footed person who constantly reminds you of
the discovered facts and will not lend himself to the spirit of your
fiction, which is the deepest part of your own spirit. No one would be
angry with a man for unintentionally making a mistake about a matter
of fact; but if he perversely insists on spoiling your story in the
telling of it, you want to kick him; and this is the reason why every
philosopher and theologian is justly vexed with every other. When we
are children the accident and fatality of having been born human are
recent and only half welcome; we still feel a little hurt at being so
arbitrarily confined to one miserable career and forced to remain
always consistent; we still see the equal antecedent propriety of being
anybody or anything else. Masks afford us the pleasing excitement of
revising our so accidental birth-certificate and of changing places in
spirit with some other changeling.

Nevertheless the game soon tires. Although children are no believers in
substance, they are substances themselves without knowing it. The mask
refuses to grow on to their flesh: it thwarts their rising impulses.
Play-acting is seldom worth the commitments it involves; your part,
after a few enthusiastic rehearsals, turns out not really to suit you.
It seemed at first to open up splendid adventures and give you a chance
to display your unsuspected passions and powers; but now you begin
to think your speeches ridiculous and your costume unbecoming. You
must pull off the mask to see clearly and to breathe freely; you are
overheard indulging in asides that are out of character, and swearing
in the unvarnished vernacular; and when the performance at last is
over, what a relief to fling away your wig and your false beard, and
relapse into your honest self! There is no place like home, although
there may be better places; and there is no face like one's own, for
comfort to the wearer.

The Englishman likes to be comfortable, and he hates masks. It is
pleasant to be straightforward, as it is to be clean. Mere façades
offend him so much that he actually manages to build houses without
them; they have creepers, they have chimneys, they have bow-windows,
they have several doors, but they have no front. His Empire, too, for
all its extent and complexity, presents no imposing façade to the
world; it seems to elude observation and to be everywhere apologizing
for its existence. Its enemies, on the contrary, both at home and
abroad, are blatancy itself, always parading their heroisms and
their ambitions; and one wonders how a power so hated, so hesitant,
and so involuntary can last at all. But it has a certain plastic
invulnerability; you pommel it and trample on it here, and its strength
turns out to have lain in quite another quarter. It is like the sort
of man who serves it, a pale languid youth, sprawling on cushions,
and lisping a little when he cares to take his pipe out of his mouth
at all; but what is your surprise when, something having happened, he
gets up and knocks you down. Nothing had prepared you for that; no
philosophical eloquence or resounding _coup d'état_: he is perhaps
a little surprised himself at his energy. He blushes if by chance
any warm gesture or expression has escaped him; he feels that it
misrepresents his average sentiment; the echo of it sounds hollow in
his ear, and just because it was so spontaneous he detests it as if it
had been a lie. The passing grimaces of passion, the masks of life, are
odious to him; yet he is quite happy to be deceived and to be masked by
a thick atmosphere of convention, if only this atmosphere is temperate
and sustained. He will be loyal to any nonsense that seems to justify
his instincts and that has got a domestic stamp; but elaborate original
lies are not in his nature; he has no histrionic gift. Intrigue
requires a dear perception of the facts, an insight into other people's
motives, and a power of sustained simulation; he is not clever at any
of these things. Masks, wigs, cowls, and stays are too troublesome;
if you are not always on the watch, the beastly things will fall off.
He prefers to dress his personage more constitutionally; the dyes he
uses must be all indelible, such as religion and education can supply.
These, with the habit of his set or profession, are his lifelong
make-up and his second nature; his only mask is the unperturbed
expression which time and temperance have chiselled in his face.



32

THE TRAGIC MASK


Masks are arrested expressions and admirable echoes of feeling, at once
faithful, discreet, and superlative. Living things in contact with
the air must acquire a cuticle, and it is not urged against cuticles
that they are not hearts; yet some philosophers seem to be angry with
images for not being things, and with words for not being feelings.
Words and images are like shells, no less integral parts of nature
than are the substances they cover, but better addressed to the eye and
more open to observation. I would not say that substance exists for the
sake of appearance, or faces for the sake of masks, or the passions
for the sake of poetry and virtue. Nothing arises in nature for the
sake of anything else; all these phases and products are involved
equally in the round of existence, and it would be sheer wilfulness
to praise the germinal phase on the ground that it is vital, and to
denounce the explicit phase on the ground that it is dead and sterile.
We might as justly despise the seed for being merely instrumental,
and glorify the full-blown flower, or the conventions of art, as the
highest achievement and fruition of life. Substance is fluid, and,
since it cannot exist without some form, is always ready to exchange
one form for another; but sometimes it falls into a settled rhythm or
recognizable vortex, which we call a nature, and which sustains an
interesting form for a season. These sustained forms are enshrined in
memory and worshipped in moral philosophy, which often assigns to them
a power to create and to reassert themselves which their precarious
status is very far from justifying. But they are all in all to the
mind: art and happiness lie in pouring and repouring the molten metal
of existence through some such tenable mould.

Masks are accordingly glorious things; we are instinctively as proud
of designing and wearing them as we are of inventing and using words.
The blackest tragedy is festive; the most pessimistic philosophy is an
enthusiastic triumph of thought. The life which such expressions seem
to arrest or to caricature would be incomplete without them; indeed,
it would be blind and abortive. It is no interruption to experience to
master experience, as tragedy aspires to do; nor is it an interruption
to sink into its episodes and render them consummate, which is the
trick of comedy. On the contrary, without such playful pauses and
reflective interludes our round of motions and sensations would be
deprived of that intellectual dignity which relieves it and renders
it morally endurable--the dignity of knowing what we are doing, even
if it be foolish in itself, and with what probable issue. Tragedy,
the knowledge of death, raises us to that height. In fancy and for a
moment it brings our mortal wills into harmony with our destiny, with
the wages of existence, and with the silence beyond. These discoveries
of reason have fixed the expression of the tragic mask, half horror
and half sublimity. Such is the countenance of man when turned towards
death and eternity and looking beyond all his endeavours at the Gorgon
face of the truth. This is not to say that it is less human, or less
legitimate, to look in other directions and to make other faces. But
whether the visage we assume be a joyful or a sad one, in adopting
and emphasizing it we define our sovereign temper. Henceforth, so
long as we continue under the spell of this self-knowledge, we do not
merely live but act; we compose and play our chosen character, we wear
the buskin of deliberation, we defend and idealize our passions, we
encourage ourselves eloquently to be what we are, devoted or scornful
or careless or austere; we soliloquize (before an imaginary audience)
and we wrap ourselves gracefully in the mantle of our inalienable part.
So draped, we solicit applause and expect to die amid a universal hush.
We profess to live up to the fine sentiments we have uttered, as we try
to believe in the religion we profess. The greater our difficulties
the greater our zeal. Under our published principles and plighted
language we must assiduously hide all the inequalities of our moods and
conduct, and this without hypocrisy, since our deliberate character
is more truly ourself than is the flux of our involuntary dreams. The
portrait we paint in this way and exhibit as our true person may well
be in the grand manner, with column and curtain and distant landscape
and finger pointing to the terrestrial globe or to the Yorick-skull of
philosophy; but if this style is native to us and our art is vital, the
more it transmutes its model the deeper and truer art it will be. The
severe bust of an archaic sculpture, scarcely humanizing the block,
will express a spirit far more justly than the man's dull morning looks
or casual grimaces. Every one who is sure of his mind, or proud of his
office, or anxious about his duty assumes a tragic mask. He deputes it
to be himself and transfers to it almost all his vanity. While still
alive and subject, like all existing things, to the undermining flux
of his own substance, he has crystallized his soul into an idea, and
more in pride than in sorrow he has offered up his life on the altar
of the Muses. Self-knowledge, like any art or science, renders its
subject-matter in a new medium, the medium of ideas, in which it loses
its old dimensions and its old pace. Our animal habits are transmuted
by conscience into loyalties and duties, and we become "persons" or
masks. Art, truth, and death turn everything to marble.

That life should be able to reach such expression in the realm of
eternal form is a sublime and wonderful privilege, but it is tragic,
and for that reason distasteful to the animal in man. A mask is not
responsive; you must not speak to it as to a living person, you must
not kiss it. If you do, you will find the cold thing repulsive and
ghastly. It is only a husk, empty, eyeless, brittle, and glazed. The
more comic its expression the more horrible it will prove, being that
of a corpse. The animal in man responds to things according to their
substance, edible, helpful, or plastic; his only joy is to push his
way victoriously through the material world, till a death stops him
which he never thought of and, in a sense, never experiences. He is not
in the least interested in picturing what he is or what he will have
been; he is intent only on what is happening to him now or may happen
to him next. But when the passions see themselves in the mirror of
reflection, what they behold is a tragic mask. This is the escutcheon
of human nature, in which its experience is emblazoned. In so far as
men are men at all, or men of honour, they militate under this standard
and are true to their colours. Whatever refuses to be idealized in
this way, they are obliged to disown and commit to instant oblivion.
It will never do for a mind merely to live through its passions or
its perceptions; it must discern recognizable objects, in which to
centre its experience and its desires; it must choose names and signs
for them, and these names and symbols, if they are to perform their
function in memory and intercourse, must be tightly conventional. What
could be more unseemly than a fault in grammar, or in many a case
more laughable and disconcerting? Yet any solecism, if it were once
stereotyped and made definitely significant, would become an idiom:
it would become a good verbal mask. What is not covered in this way by
some abiding symbol can never be recovered; the dark flood of existence
carries it down bodily. Only in some word or conventional image can
the secret of one moment be flashed to another moment; and even when
there is no one ready to receive the message, or able to decipher it,
at least the poet in his soliloquy has uttered his mind and raised his
monument in his own eyes; and in expressing his life he has found it.



33

THE COMIC MASK


The down is the primitive comedian. Sometimes in the exuberance of
animal life a spirit of riot and frolic comes over a man; he leaps,
he dances, he tumbles head over heels, he grins, shouts, or leers,
possibly he pretends to go to pieces suddenly, and blubbers like a
child. A moment later he may look up wreathed in smiles, and hugely
pleased about nothing. All this he does hysterically, without any
reason, by a sort of mad inspiration and irresistible impulse. He
may easily, however, turn his absolute histrionic impulse, his pure
fooling, into mimicry of anything or anybody that at the moment happens
to impress his senses; he will crow like a cock, simper like a young
lady, or reel like a drunkard. Such mimicry is virtual mockery, because
the actor is able to revert from those assumed attitudes to his natural
self; whilst his models, as he thinks, have no natural self save
that imitable attitude, and can never disown it; so that the clown
feels himself immensely superior, in his rôle of universal satirist,
to all actual men, and belabours and rails at them unmercifully. He
sees everything in caricature, because he sees the surface only, with
the lucid innocence of a child; and all these grotesque personages
stimulate him, not to moral sympathy, nor to any consideration of
their fate, but rather to boisterous sallies, as the rush of a crowd,
or the hue and cry of a hunt, or the contortions of a jumping-jack
might stimulate him. He is not at all amused intellectually; he is
not rendered wiser or tenderer by knowing the predicaments into which
people inevitably fall; he is merely excited, flushed, and challenged
by an absurd spectacle. Of course this rush and suasion of mere
existence must never fail on the stage, nor in any art; it is to the
drama what the hypnotizing stone block is to the statue, or shouts and
rhythmic breathing to the bard; but such primary magical influences may
be qualified by reflection, and then rational and semi-tragic unities
will supervene. When this happens the histrionic impulse creates the
idyl or the tragic chorus; henceforth the muse of reflection follows
in the train of Dionysus, and the revel or the rude farce passes into
humane comedy.

Paganism was full of scruples and superstitions in matters of behaviour
or of _cultus_, since the _cultus_ too was regarded as a business or a
magic craft; but in expression, in reflection, paganism was frank and
even shameless; it felt itself inspired, and revered this inspiration.
It saw nothing impious in inventing or recasting a myth about no matter
how sacred a subject. Its inspiration, however, soon fell into classic
moulds, because the primary impulses of nature, though intermittent,
are monotonous and clearly defined, as are the gestures of love and of
anger. A man who is unaffectedly himself turns out to be uncommonly
like other people. Simple sincerity will continually rediscover the old
right ways of thinking and speaking, and will be perfectly conventional
without suspecting it. This classic iteration comes of nature, it is
not the consequence of any revision or censorship imposed by reason.
Reason, not being responsible for any of the facts or passions that
enter into human life, has no interest in maintaining them as they
are; any novelty, even the most revolutionary, would merely afford
reason a fresh occasion for demanding a fresh harmony. But the Old
Adam is conservative; he repeats himself mechanically in every child
who cries and loves sweets and is imitative and jealous. Reason,
with its tragic discoveries and restraints, is a far more precarious
and personal possession than the trite animal experience and the
ancestral grimaces on which it supervenes; and automatically even the
philosopher continues to cut his old comic capers, as if no such thing
as reason existed. The wiseacres too are comic, and their mask is
one of the most harmlessly amusing in the human museum; for reason,
taken psychologically, is an old inherited passion like any other, the
passion for consistency and order; and it is just as prone as the other
passions to overstep the modesty of nature and to regard its own aims
as alone important. But this is ridiculous; because importance springs
from the stress of nature, from the cry of life, not from reason and
its pale prescriptions. Reason cannot stand alone; brute habit and
blind play are at the bottom of art and morals, and unless irrational
impulses and fancies are kept alive, the life of reason collapses for
sheer emptiness. What tragedy could there be, or what sublime harmonies
rising out of tragedy, if there were no spontaneous passions to create
the issue, no wild voices to be reduced to harmony? Moralists have
habitually aimed at suppression, wisely perhaps at first, when they
were preaching to men of spirit; but why continue to harp on propriety
and unselfishness and labour, when we are little but labour-machines
already, and have hardly any self or any passions left to indulge?
Perhaps the time has come to suspend those exhortations, and to
encourage us to be sometimes a little lively, and see if we can invent
something worth saying or doing. We should then be living in the spirit
of comedy, and the world would grow young. Every occasion would don
its comic mask, and make its bold grimace at the world for a moment.
We should be constantly original without effort and without shame,
somewhat as we are in dreams, and consistent only in sincerity; and we
should gloriously emphasize all the poses we fell into, without seeking
to prolong them.

Objections to the comic mask--to the irresponsible, complete, extreme
expression of each moment--cut at the roots of all expression. Pursue
this path, and at once you do away with gesture: we must not point,
we must not pout, we must not cry, we must not laugh aloud; we must
not only avoid attracting attention, but our attention must not be
obviously attracted; it is silly to gaze, says the nursery-governess,
and rude to stare. Presently words, too, will be reduced to a
telegraphic code. A man in his own country will talk like the laconic
tourist abroad; his whole vocabulary will be _Où? Combien? All right!
Dear me!_ Conversation in the quiet home will dispense even with these
phrases; nothing will be required but a few pragmatic grunts and
signals for action. Where the spirit of comedy has departed, company
becomes constraint, reserve eats up the spirit, and people fall into
a penurious melancholy in their scruple to be always exact, sane, and
reasonable, never to mourn, never to glow, never to betray a passion
or a weakness, nor venture to utter a thought they might not wish to
harbour for ever.

Yet irony pursues these enemies of comedy, and for fear of wearing
a mask for a moment they are hypocrites all their lives. Their very
reserve becomes a pose, a convention imposed externally, and their
mincing speech turns to cant. Sometimes this evasion of impulsive
sentiment fosters a poignant sentimentality beneath. The comedy goes
on silently behind the scenes, until perhaps it gets the upper hand
and becomes positive madness; or else it breaks out in some shy,
indirect fashion, as among Americans with their perpetual joking.
Where there is no habitual art and no moral liberty, the instinct for
direct expression is atrophied for want of exercise; and then slang
and a humorous perversity of phrase or manner act as safety-valves to
sanity; and you manage to express yourself in spite of the censor by
saying something grotesquely different from what you mean. That is a
long way round to sincerity, and an ugly one. What, on the contrary,
could be more splendidly sincere than the impulse to play in real life,
to rise on the rising wave of every feeling and let it burst, if it
will, into the foam of exaggeration? Life is not a means, the mind is
not a slave nor a photograph: it has a right to enact a pose, to assume
a _panache_, and to create what prodigious allegories it will for the
mere sport and glory of it. Nor is this art of innocent make-believe
forbidden in the Decalogue, although Bible-reading Anglo-Saxondom
might seem to think so. On the contrary, the Bible and the Decalogue
are themselves instances of it. To embroider upon experience is not to
bear false witness against one's neighbour, but to bear true witness
to oneself. Fancy is playful and may be misleading to those who try
to take it for literal fact; but literalness is impossible in any
utterance of spirit, and if it were possible it would be deadly. Why
should we quarrel with human nature, with metaphor, with myth, with
impersonation? The foolishness of the simple is delightful; only the
foolishness of the wise is exasperating.



34

CARNIVAL


In this world we must either institute conventional forms of expression
or else pretend that we have nothing to express; the choice lies
between a mask and a fig-leaf. Art and discipline render seemly what
would be unseemly without them, but hypocrisy hides it ostentatiously
under something irrelevant, and the fig-leaf is only a more ignominious
mask. For the moment it is certainly easier to suppress the wild
impulses of our nature than to manifest them fitly, at the right times
and with the proper fugitive emphasis; yet in the long run suppression
does not solve the problem, and meantime those maimed expressions
which are allowed are infected with a secret misery and falseness. It
is the charm and safety of virtue that it is more natural than vice,
but many moralists do their best to deprive it of this advantage.
They seem to think it would lose its value if they lost their office.
Their precepts, as distinguished from the spontaneous appreciations
of men, are framed in the interests of utility, and are curiously out
of sympathy with the soul. Precept divides the moral world materially
into right and wrong things; but nothing concrete is right or wrong
intrinsically, and every object or event has both good and bad effects
in the context of nature. Every passion, like life as a whole, has its
feet in one moral climate and its head in another. Existence itself is
not a good, but only an opportunity. Christians thank God for their
creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life, but life
is the condition and source of all evil, and the Indians thank Brahma
or Buddha for lifting them out of it. What metaphysical psychologists
call Will is the great original sin, the unaccountable and irrational
interest which the spirit takes, when it is incarnate, in one thing
happening rather than another; yet this mad interest is the condition
of generosity and of every virtue. Love is a red devil at one end of
its spectrum and an ultra-violet angel at the other end.

Nor is this amphibious moral quality limited to the passions; all facts
and objects in nature can take on opposite moral tints. When abstracted
from our own presence and interests, everything that can be found or
imagined is reduced to a mere essence, an ideal theme picked out of
the infinite, something harmless, marvellous, and pure, like a musical
rhythm or geometrical design. The whole world then becomes a labyrinth
of forms and motions, a castle in the clouds built without labour and
dissolved without tears. The moment the animal will reawakes, however,
these same things acquire a new dimension; they become substantial,
not to be created without effort nor rent without resistance; at the
same time they become objects of desire and fear; we are so engrossed
in existence that every phenomenon becomes questionable and ominous,
and not so much a free gift and manifestation of its own nature as a
piece of good or bad news. We are no longer surprised, as a free spirit
would be, at the extraordinary interest we take in things turning out
one way rather than another. We are caught in the meshes of time and
place and care; and as the things we have set our heart on, whatever
they may be, must pass away in the end, either suddenly or by a gentle
transformation, we cannot take a long view without finding life sad,
and all things tragic. This aspect of vanity and self-annihilation,
which existence wears when we consider its destiny, is not to be denied
or explained away, as is sometimes attempted in cowardly and mincing
philosophies. It is a true aspect of existence in one relation and on
a certain view; but to take this long view of existence, and look down
the avenues of time from the station and with the emotions of some
particular moment, is by no means inevitable, nor is it a fair and
sympathetic way of viewing existence. Things when they are actual do
not lie in that sort of sentimental perspective, but each is centred
in itself; and in this intrinsic aspect existence is nothing tragic
or sad, but rather something joyful, hearty, and merry. A buoyant
and full-blooded soul has quick senses and miscellaneous sympathies:
it changes with the changing world; and when not too much starved or
thwarted by circumstances, it finds all things vivid and comic. Life
is free play fundamentally and would like to be free play altogether.
In youth anything is pleasant to see or to do, so long as it is
spontaneous, and if the conjunction of these things is ridiculous, so
much the better: to be ridiculous is part of the fun.

Existence involves changes and happenings and is comic inherently, like
a pun that begins with one meaning and ends with another. Incongruity
is a consequence of change; and this incongruity becomes especially
conspicuous when, as in the flux of nature, change is going on at
different rates in different strands of being, so that not only does
each thing surprise itself by what it becomes, but it is continually
astonished and disconcerted by what other things have turned into
without its leave. The mishaps, the expedients, the merry solutions of
comedy, in which everybody acknowledges himself beaten and deceived,
yet is the happier for the unexpected posture of affairs, belong to
the very texture of temporal being; and if people repine at these
mishaps, or rebel against these solutions, it is only because their
souls are less plastic and volatile than the general flux of nature.
The individual grows old and lags behind; he remembers his old pain and
resents it when the world is already on a new tack. In the jumble of
existence there must be many a knock and many a grief; people living
at cross purposes cannot be free from malice, and they must needs be
fooled by their pretentious passions. But there is no need of taking
these evils tragically. At bottom they are gratuitous, and might have
been avoided if people had not pledged their hearts to things beyond
their control and had not entrenched themselves in their illusions.
At a sufficient remove every drama seems pathological and makes much
ado about what to other people is nothing. We are interested in those
vicissitudes, which we might have undergone if placed under the given
circumstances; but we are happy to have escaped them. Thus the universe
changes its hues like the chameleon, not at random but in a fashion
which moral optics can determine, as it appears in one perspective or
another; for everything in nature is lyrical in its ideal essence,
tragic in its fate, and comic in its existence.

Existence is indeed distinguishable from the platonic essences that
are embodied in it precisely by being a conjunction of things mutually
irrelevant, a chapter of accidents, a medley improvised here and now
for no reason, to the exclusion of the myriad other farces which, so
far as their ideal structure is concerned, might have been performed
just as well. This world is contingency and absurdity incarnate, the
oddest of possibilities masquerading momentarily as a fact. Custom
blinds persons who are not naturally speculative to the egregious
character of the actual, because custom assimilates their expectations
to the march of existing things and deadens their power to imagine
anything different. But wherever the routine of a barbaric life is
broken by the least acquaintance with larger ways, the arbitrariness
of the actual begins to be discovered. The traveller will first learn
that his native language is not the only one, nor the best possible,
nor itself constant; then, perhaps, he will understand that the same
is true of his home religion and government. The naturalist will
begin by marvelling at the forms and habits of the lower animals,
while continuing to attribute his own to their obvious propriety;
later the heavens and the earth, and all physical laws, will strike
him as paradoxically arranged and unintelligible; and ultimately the
very elements of existence--time, change, matter, habit, life cooped
in bodies--will reveal themselves to him in their extreme oddity, so
that, unless he has unusual humility and respect for fact, he will
probably declare all these actual things to be impossible and therefore
unreal. The most profound philosophers accordingly deny that any of
those things exist which we find existing, and maintain that the only
reality is changeless, infinite, and indistinguishable into parts; and
I call them the most profound philosophers in spite of this obvious
folly of theirs, because they are led into it by the force of intense
reflection, which discloses to them that what exists is unintelligible
and has no reason for existing; and since their moral and religious
prejudices do not allow them to say that to be irrational and
unintelligible is the character proper to existence, they are driven to
the alternative of saying that existence is illusion and that the only
reality is something beneath or above existence. That real existence
should be radically comic never occurs to these solemn sages; they are
without one ray of humour and are persuaded that the universe too must
be without one. Yet there is a capital joke in their own systems, which
prove that nothing exists so strenuously, that existence laughs aloud
in their vociferations and drowns the argument. Their conviction is
the very ghost which it rises to exorcise; yet the conviction and the
exorcism remain impressive, because they bear witness to the essential
strangeness of existence to the spirit. Like the Ghost in _Hamlet_
this apparition, this unthinkable fact, is terribly disturbing and
emphatic; it cries to us in a hollow voice, "Swear!" and when in an
agony of concern and affection we endeavour to follow it, "Tis here!
'Tis here! Tis gone!" Certainly existence can bewitch us; it can compel
us to cry as well as to laugh; it can hurt, and that is its chief claim
to respect. Its cruelty, however, is as casual as its enchantments;
it is not cruel on purpose but only rough, like thoughtless boys.
Coarseness--and existence is hopelessly coarse--is not an evil unless
we demand refinement. A giggling lass that peeps at us through her
fingers is well enough in her sphere, but we should not have begun by
calling her Dulcinea. Dulcinea is a pure essence, and dwells only in
that realm. Existence should be met on its own terms; we may dance a
round with it, and perhaps steal a kiss; but it tempts only to flout
us, not being dedicated to any constant love. As if to acknowledge
how groundless existence is, everything that arises instantly backs
away, bowing its excuses, and saying, "My mistake!" It suffers from
a sort of original sin or congenital tendency to cease from being.
This is what Heraclitus called [Greek: _Dikè_], or just punishment;
because, as Mephistopheles long afterwards added, _alles was entsteht
ist wert dass es zugrunde geht_--whatsoever arises deserves to perish;
not of course because what arises is not often a charming creation,
but because it has no prerogative to exist not shared by every
Cinderella-like essence that lies eternally neglected in that limbo to
which all things intrinsically belong--the limbo of unheard melodies
and uncreated worlds. For anything to emerge from that twilight region
is inexplicable and comic, like the popping up of Jack-in-the-box; and
the shock will amuse us, if our wits are as nimble as nature and as
quick as time. We too exist; and existence is a joy to the sportive
side of our nature, itself akin to a shower of sparks and a patter of
irrevocable adventures. What indeed could be more exhilarating than
such a rout, if only we are not too exacting, and do not demand of
it irrelevant perfections? The art of life is to keep step with the
celestial orchestra that beats the measure of our career, and gives
the cue for our exits and our entrances. Why should we willingly miss
anything, or precipitate anything, or be angry with folly, or in
despair at any misadventure? In this world there should be none but
gentle tears, and fluttering tip-toe loves. It is a great Carnival, and
amongst these lights and shadows of comedy, these roses and vices of
the playhouse, there is no abiding.



35

QUEEN MAB


Nature, which is far more resourceful than logic, has found a way out
of the contradiction between the human need for expression and the
British distaste for personal outbursts. This way is rambling fiction.
When out of shyness, or because they have shocked each other, the
inner man and the outer man are not on speaking terms, loud language
and vehement gestures are incompatible with depth of feeling. What
lies deep must in such a case remain unexpressed, and will seem
inexpressible. A man's heart will be revealed, even to himself, only
in long stretches of constant endeavour and faithful habit: towards
the end of his life he may begin to discern his ruling motives. In
the meantime, however, his fancy may have played at self-revelation;
he may have indulged in day-dreams and romantic transformations of
himself, as boys do; and without pledging his real person too much he
may have made trial of candour, or, if need be, of extravagance, in
imaginary substitutes for himself, thus trying the paces of his inner
man without cheapening his secret feelings or publishing them in common
and second-hand terms. Such a man will talk little about himself; his
opinions and preferences will not be very explicit, but he will privily
nurse and develop them by endless variations played upon them in fancy,
as he reads or perhaps writes a book of fiction by his chimney corner.
He will dream of what Queen Mab makes other people dream.

Romantic fiction is a bypath of expression; it meanders through fields
of possible experience that stretch harmlessly between the highroads of
actual lives, far from the precipices of private and public passions.
The labyrinth is infinite, but the path chosen in it is always
traceable by a sort of Ariadne's thread spun out of the poet's heart.
He means to forget himself and to feign some charming monster in some
picturesque landscape, the more exotic the better; but in doing so he
obeys the dream-impulses of his own soul, and recasts or corrects the
images supplied by his experience. His very extravagances and hectic
concentration of fancy betray him; they manifest his impatience, his
affections, his potentialities; for he paints what he can conceive and
what fascinates him in conceiving it. That which he might have been,
and was not, comforts him. Such a form of self-expression, indirect,
bashful, and profoundly humorous, being play rather than art, is
alone congenial to the British temperament; it is the soul of English
literature. Like English politics and religion, it breathes tolerance,
plasticity, waywardness, infinitude; it is tender and tentative,
shapeless and guileless. Its straggling march forms a vast national
soliloquy, rich in casual touches, in alternatives, in contrasts, in
suspended themes; the plot grows out of the episodes, it is always
being remodelled and always to be continued. The facts, though much
talked of in detail, are never faced as a whole, nor is the soul ever
gathered together to pronounce upon them; the whole procedure is a
subterfuge, and may be easily disparaged by people with other gifts
and aspirations. Intelligence certainly does not dominate it; its
conclusions, when it reaches conclusions, are false, and its methods
cumbrous; and foreigners who adopt them are catching only the vices of
their model. But its virtues are transcendent; if the mind of England
is wrapped in mists, it is touched with ethereal colours; and who shall
measure the benign influences, the lights, the manliness, the comforts,
the moral sanity that have spread from it through the world? Its very
incapacities are full of promise; it closes no doors; it is the one
fountain of kindly liberty on earth. The Englishman's prejudices are so
obviously prejudices as to be almost innocent, and even amiable; his
consecrated formulas (for of course he has them) are frankly inadequate
and half humorous; he would not have you suppose he has said his
all, nor his last word. He is jealous of preserving, far from public
observation or censure, the free play of his potential sentiments;
from thence he will occasionally fetch some scrap of a word, or let
slip some hint of emotion; he will only murmur or suggest or smile his
loves. Everybody dislikes a caricature of himself; and the Englishman
feels (I think justly) that any figure a man can cut in other people's
eyes is a caricature. Therefore, if there is anything in him, he fears
to betray it; and if there is nothing in him, he fears to betray that;
and in either case he is condemned to diffidence and shyness. He wishes
you to let him alone; perhaps if you do he may presently tell you,
about quite another imaginary person, some vivid and tender story.

This story may be a fairy tale or it may be a piece of realistic
fiction, in which the experiences of sundry characters, as different
as possible from oneself and from one another, are imagined and lived
through. The author may fairly say that these creations are not masks
for his own person; it is expressly not his own feelings that he is
evoking and developing. He is fancying other feelings; and yet, as
this fancy and the magic life it constitutes are necessarily his own,
his mind is being secretly agitated and relieved by these fictions;
and his sensibility, instead of being sublimated into some ultimate
tragic passion, is diffused over a thousand picturesque figures and
adventures with which he acknowledges no moral kinship, save such as
is requisite for a lively interest in them and a minute portrayed. It
is only by accident that any of his poetic offspring may resemble their
parent. What cares he what curious eye may note their deformity? _He_
need not blush for them. He may even be bent on unmasking and fiercely
condemning them, as a scrupulous penitent is bent on ferreting out
and denouncing his real or fancied sins. In the most searching truth
of fiction there is accordingly no indiscretion; the author's inmost
and least avowable feelings may be uttered through it without reserve.
Like a modest showman behind the curtain of his booth, he manipulates
his marionettes and speaks for them in a feigned voice, by a sort of
ventriloquy. Here is no religious tragedy, no distilled philosophy, no
overarching cosmic myth. The scale is pleasantly small and the tone
familiar, though the sum of the parts may fade into the infinite. We
do not find in this complicated dream any life greater than our own
or less accidental. We do not need to outgrow ourselves in order to
understand it; no one summons us to pause, to recant, to renounce any
part of our being. On the contrary, we simply unwind our own reel; we
play endlessly at living, and in this second visionary life we survive
all catastrophes, and we exchange one character for another without
carrying over any load of memory or habit or fate. We seem still to
undergo the vicissitudes of a moral world, but without responsibility.

Queen Mab is a naughty sprite, full of idle curiosity and impartial
laughter. When she flutters over the roofs of cities, she is no
angel with a mission, coming to sow there some chosen passion or
purpose of her own; nor does she gather from those snoring mortals
any collective sentiment or aspiration, such as a classic muse might
render articulate, or such as religion or war or some consecrated
school of art might embody. She steals wilily like a stray moonbeam
into every crack and dark old corner of the earth. Her deft touch, as
she pretends, sets all men dreaming, each after his own heart; but
like other magicians, she is a fraud. Those garden fancies about her
fairy equipage are all a joke to amuse the children; her wings are,
in reality, far finer than gossamer, and the Equivocation she rides
on is nimbler than any grasshopper. All she professes to spy out or
provoke is her own merry invention. Her wand really works no miracle
and sets no sleeper dreaming; on the contrary, it is rather an electric
spark from the lover's brain or the parson's nose, as she tickles it,
that quickens her own fancy, and hatches there an interminable brood
of exquisite oddities, each little goblin perfectly ridiculous, each
quite serious and proud of its little self, each battling bravely for
its little happiness. Queen Mab is the genius proper to the art of a
nation whose sensibility is tender, but whose personal life is drab and
pale. To report, however poetically, the events and feelings they have
actually experienced would be dull, as dull as life; their imagination
craves entertainment with something richer, more wayward, more
exciting. Every one is weary of his own society; the lifelong company
of so meagre and warped a creature has become insufferable. We see that
the passions of Mercutio are potentially deep and vivid; but they have
been crossed by fortune, and on fortune his kindly humour mockingly
takes its revenge, by feigning no end of parodies and escapades for
the ineffable bright mischiefs lurking in his bosom. Queen Mab is the
frail mothlike emanation of such a generous but disappointed mind;
her magic lies in the ironical visions which, like the dust of the
poppy, she can call forth there. A Cinderella at home, she becomes a
seer in her midnight travels. Hence Table Rounds and Ivanhoes; hence
three-volume novels about Becky Sharps and David Copperfields. These
imagined characters are often alive, not only because the scene in
which they move may be well indicated, with romantic absorption in the
picturesque aspects of human existence, but also because their minds
are the author's mind dreaming; they skirt the truth of his inner man;
in their fancifulness or their realism they retain a secret reference
to the deepest impulses in himself.

English lovers, I believe, seldom practise what in Spain is called
conjugating the verb; they do not spend hours ringing the changes on I
love, you love, we love. This, in their opinion, would be to protest
too much. They prefer the method of Paolo and Francesca: they will
sit reading out of the same book, and when they come to the kissing,
she will say, "How nice that is!" and he will reply, "Isn't it?" and
the story will supply the vicarious eloquence of their love. Fiction
and poetry, in some supposititious instance, report for the Englishman
the bashful truth about himself; and what English life thereby misses
in vivacity, English literature gains in wealth, in tenderness, in a
rambling veracity, and in preciousness to the people's heart.



36

A CONTRAST WITH SPANISH DRAMA


In classical Spanish drama the masks are few. The characters hardly
have individual names. The lady in Calderon, for instance, if she is
not Beatriz will be Leonor, and under either name so superlatively
beautiful, young, chaste, eloquent, devoted, and resourceful, as to be
indistinguishable from her namesakes in the other plays. The hero is
always exaggeratedly in love, exaggeratedly chivalrous, and absolutely
perfect, save for this heroic excess of sensitiveness and honour.
The old father is always austere, unyielding, perverse, and sublime.
All the maids in attendance possess the same roguishness, the same
genius for intrigue and lightning mendacity; whilst the valet, whether
called Crispin or Florin, is always a faithful soul and a coward,
with the same quality of rather forced humour. No diversity from play
to play save the diversity in the fable, in the angle at which the
stock characters are exhibited and the occasion on which they versify;
for they all versify in the same style, with the same inexhaustible
facility, abundance, rhetorical finish, and lyric fire.

Why this monotony? Did Spanish life afford fewer contrasts, less
individuality of character and idiom, than did the England of
Shakespeare? Hardly: in Spain the soldier of fortune, the grandee,
peasant, monk, or prelate, the rogue, beggar, and bandit were surely
as highly characterized as anything to be then found in England; and
Spanish women in their natural ardour of affection, in their ready
speech and discretion, in their dignity and religious consecration,
lent themselves rather better, one would think, to the making of
heroines than did those comparatively cool and boylike young ladies
whom Shakespeare transmuted into tragic angels. I think we may go
further and say positively that it was Spain rather than England that
could have shown the spectacle of "every man in his humour."

Even in the days before Puritanism English character was English;
it tended to silent independence and outward reserve, preferring
to ignore its opposite rather than to challenge it. In pose and
expression the Spaniard is naturally more theatrical and pungent; and
his individuality itself is stiffen No doubt, in society, he will
simulate and dissimulate as an Englishman never would; but he is
prompted to this un-English habit by the very fixity of his purposes;
all his courtesy and loyalty are ironical, and inwardly he never yields
an inch. He likes if possible to be statuesque; he likes to appeal
to his own principles and character, and to say, "Sir, whatever you
may think of it, that is the sort of man I am." He has that curious
form of self-love which inclines to parade even its defects, as a
mourner parades his grief. He admits readily that he is a sinner,
and that he means to remain one; he composes his countenance proudly
on that basis; whereas when English people say they are miserable
sinners (which happens only in church) they feel perhaps that they are
imperfect or unlucky, and they may even contemplate being somewhat
different in future; but it never occurs to them to classify themselves
as miserable sinners for good, with a certain pride in their class,
deliberately putting on the mask of Satan or the cock's feather of
Mephistopheles and saying to all concerned, "See what a very devil I
am!" The Englishman's sins are slips; he feels he was not himself on
those occasions, and does not think it fair to be reminded of them.
Though theology may sometimes have taught him that he is a sinner
fundamentally, such is not his native conviction; the transcendental
ego in him cannot admit any external standard to which it ought to have
conformed. The Spaniard is metaphysically humbler, knowing himself
to be a creature of accident and fate; yet he is dramatically more
impudent, and respects himself more than he respects other people. He
laughs at kings; and as amongst beggars it is etiquette to whine, and
ostentatiously to call oneself blind, old, poor, crippled, hungry, and
a brother of yours, so amongst avowed sinners it may become a point of
pride to hold, as it were, the record as a liar, a thief, an assassin,
or a harlot. These rôles are disgraceful when one is reduced to them
by force of circumstances or for some mean ulterior motive, but they
recover their human dignity when one wears them as a chosen mask in
the comedy of life. The pose, at that angle, redeems the folly, and
the façade the building. Nor is this a lapse into sheer immorality;
there is many a primitive or animal level of morality beneath the
conventional code; and often crime and barbarism are as proud of
themselves as virtue, and no less punctilious. If there is effrontery
in such a rebellion, there may be also sincerity, courage, relief,
profound truth to one's own nature. Hence the eloquence of romanticism.
Passion and wilfulness (which romanticists think are above criticism)
cannot be expected to understand that, if they merged and subsided
into a harmony, the life distilled out of their several deaths would
be infinitely more living and varied than any of them, and would be
beautiful and perfect to boot; whereas the romantic chaos which they
prolong by their obstinacy is the most hideous of hells. But avowed
sinners and proud romanticists insist on preserving and on loving hell,
because they insist on loving and preserving themselves.

It was not, then, moral variety that was lacking in Spain, always a
romantic country, but only interest in moral variety. This lack of
interest was itself an expression of romantic independence, intensity,
and pride. The gentleman with his hand always on the hilt of his sword,
lest some whiff from anywhere should wound his vanity, or the monk
perpetually murmuring _memento mori_, closed his mind to every alien
vista. Of course he knew that the world was full of motley characters:
that was one of his reasons for holding it at arm's length. What were
those miscellaneous follies to him but an offence or a danger? Why
should he entertain his leisure in depicting or idealizing them? If
some psychological zoologist cared to discant on the infinity of
phenomena, natural or moral, well and good; but how should such things
charm a man of honour, a Christian, or a poet? They might indeed be
referred to on occasion, as fabulists make the animals speak, with a
humorous and satirical intention, as a sort of warning and confirmation
to us in our chosen path; but an appealing poet, for such tightly
integrated minds, must illustrate and enforce their personal feelings.
Moreover, although in words and under the spell of eloquence the
Spaniard may often seem credulous and enthusiastic, he is disillusioned
and cynical at heart; he does not credit the existence of motives or
feelings better than those he has observed, or thinks he has observed.
His preachers recommend religion chiefly by composing invectives
against the world, and his political writers express sympathy with one
foreign country only out of hatred for another, or perhaps for their
own. The sphere of distrust and indifference begins for him very near
home; he has little speculative sympathy with life at large; he is
cruel to animals; he shrugs his shoulders at crime in high places; he
feels little responsibility to the public, and has small faith in time
and in work. This does not mean in the least that his character is weak
or his morality lax within its natural range; his affections are firm,
his sense of obligation deep, his delicacy of feeling often excessive;
he is devoted to his family, and will put himself to any inconvenience
to do a favour to a friend at the public expense. There are definite
things to which his sentiments and habits have pledged him: beyond that
horizon nothing speaks to his heart.

Such a people will not go to the play to be vaguely entertained, as
if they were previously bored. They are not habitually bored; they
are full to the brim of their characteristic passions and ideas. They
require that the theatre should set forth these passions and ideas as
brilliantly and convincingly as possible, in order to be confirmed in
them, and to understand and develop them more clearly. Variety of plot
and landscape they will relish, because nothing is easier for them than
to imagine themselves born in the purple, or captive, or in love, or in
a difficult dilemma of honour; and they will be deeply moved to see
some constant spirit, like their own, buffeted by fortune, but even in
the last extremity never shaken. The whole force of their dramatic art
will lie in leading them to dream of themselves in a different, perhaps
more glorious, position, in which their latent passions might be more
splendidly expressed. These passions are intense and exceptionally
definite; and this is the reason, I think, for the monotony of Spanish
music, philosophy, and romantic drama. All eloquence, all issues, all
sentiments, if they are not to seem vapid and trivial, must be such as
each man can make his own, with a sense of enhanced vitality and moral
glory. The lady, if he is to warm to her praises, must not be less
divine than the one he loves, or might have loved; the hero must not
fall short of what, under such circumstances, he himself would have
wished to be. The language, too, must always be worthy of the theme:
it cannot be too rapturous and eloquent. Unless his soul can be fired
by the poet's words, and can sing them, as it were, in chorus, he will
not care to listen to them. But he will not tire of the same cadences
or the same images--stars, foam, feathers, flowers--if these symbols,
better than any others, transport him into the ethereal atmosphere
which it is his pleasure to breathe.

The Spanish nation boils the same peas for its dinner the whole year
round; it has only one religion, if it has any; the pious part of it
recites the same prayers fifty or one hundred and fifty times daily,
almost in one breath; the gay and sentimental part never ceases to
sing the same _jotas_ and _malagueñas_. Such constancy is admirable.
If a dish is cheap, nutritious, and savoury on Monday, it must be so
on Tuesday, too; it was a ridiculous falsehood, though countenanced
by some philosophers, which pretended that always to feel (or to eat)
the same thing was equivalent to never feeling (or eating) anything.
Nor does experience of a genuine good really have any tendency to turn
it into an evil, or into an indifferent thing; at most, custom may
lead people to take it for granted, and the thoughtless may forget
its value, until, perhaps, they lose it. Of course, men and nations
may slowly change their nature, and consequently their rational
preferences; but at any assigned time a man must have some moral
complexion, or if he has none, not much need be said about him.

But there is another point to be considered. Need human nature's
daily food be exclusively the Spanish pea? Might it not just as
well be rice, or polenta, or even beef and bacon? Much as I admire
my countrymen's stomachs for making a clear choice and for sticking
to it, I rather pity them for the choice they have made. That hard
yellow pea is decidedly heavy, flatulent, and indigestible. I am sure
Pythagoras would not have approved of it; possibly it is the very
bean he abhorred. Against the _jota_ and the _malagueña_ I can say
nothing; I find in them I know not what infinite, never-failing thrill
and inimitable power, the power which perfection of any kind always
has; yet what are they in comparison to all the possibilities of human
music? Enjoyment, which some people call criticism, is something
aesthetic, spontaneous, and irresponsible; the aesthetic perfection of
anything is incommensurable with that of anything else. But there is a
responsible sort of criticism which is political and moral, and which
turns on the human advantage of possessing or loving this or that sort
of perfection. To cultivate some sorts may be useless or even hostile
to the possible perfection of human life. Spanish religion, again, is
certainly most human and most superhuman; but its mystic virtue to the
devotee cannot alter the fact that, on a broad view, it appears to be a
romantic _tour de force,_ a desperate illusion, fostered by premature
despair and by a total misunderstanding of nature and history. Finally,
those lyrical ladies and entranced gentlemen of the Spanish drama are
like filigree flowers upon golden stems; they belong to a fantastic
ballet, to an exquisite dream, rather than to sane human society.
The trouble is not that their types are few and constant, but that
these types are eccentric, attenuated, and forced. They would not be
monotonous if they were adequate to human nature. How vast, how kindly,
how enveloping does the world of Shakespeare seem in comparison! We
seem to be afloat again on the tide of time, in a young, green world;
we are ready to tempt new fortunes, in the hope of reaching better
things than we know. And this is the right spirit; because although
the best, if it had been attained, would be all-sufficient, the best is
not yet.



37

THE CENSOR AND THE POET


There is an important official of the inner man who in the latest
psychology is called the Censor; his function is to forbid the
utterance, in the council chamber within us, of unparliamentary
sentiments, and to suppress all reports not in the interest of our
moral dignity. By relegating half our experience to oblivion and
locking up our unseemly passions in solitary dungeons, the Censor
composes a conventional personage that we may decently present to
the world. It is he, whilst we are sane and virtuous, that regulates
our actions. It had occurred to me sometimes that the Censor was
only another name for our old friend Reason; but there is a great
difference. This is no censor of the noble Roman sort, like Cato
Major; he makes no attempt to purify the republic from within; he is
not concerned with moral health, honest harmony, and the thorough
extirpation of hopeless rebels. He is concerned only with appearances
and diplomatic relations; his old name was not Reason but Vanity or
Self-love. He is merely the head of the government propaganda, charged
with preventing inconvenient intelligence of our psychological home
politics from reaching foreign powers or weakening the _moral_ of our
fighting force. He is the father of shams. He invents those masterly
methods of putting our best foot forward, and sustaining the illusion
that we are always actuated by becoming and avowable motives. He it
is that dictates the polite movements by which we show that we prefer
the comfort of others to our own. He causes us to put on mourning
for those who have left us legacies. He persuades us that we believe
in the religion of our ancestors, in the science of the day, in the
national cause, and in the party cry. He leads us to admire the
latest art, or the most ancient; he enables us to be pleased with
every fashion in turn, or perhaps to sigh at its ugliness, if we are
conscious of being the best-dressed persons in the room. He induces
us to follow the doings of the royal family with affectionate awe, to
love our relations, to prefer Bach to Offenbach, and always to have
had a good time when we leave a friend's house. The Censor sends our
children to the best schools, to prove what sacrifices we are willing
to make for their good, and to relieve us of further responsibility
in regard to them. He directs that considerations of wealth shall
control our careers, our friendships, and our manners; and this is
perhaps the greatest sham of all the shams he has set up: that money
is an expression of happiness and a means to it. What opens the way to
happiness, if our character does not render happiness impossible, is
freedom, and some security against want is usually necessary for that;
but wealth, and the necessity of being fashionable if one is rich, take
away freedom. A genuine love for the pleasant surroundings and the
facilities which riches afford is often keener in the outsider, who
peeps in at the gate, than in the master or his children who perhaps,
if the Censor would let them, would prefer their low acquaintance and
their days afield. But the Censor-ridden inner man cannot break his
harness. He is groomed and reined in like a pony at the circus: at the
crack of the whip the neck must be bent, the tail switched, the trained
feet must retrace the circle in the sawdust, or tap the velvet barrier.
So we prance to our funeral, the last sham of all, after the Censor
has made our wills for us; whereupon somebody else's Censor gives us
the finishing touches by praising our character, and nailing down the
coffin.

The untutored passions which the Censor keeps down are themselves
remarkable dissemblers. That old propensity to allegory, which is now
condemned in literature, seems to rule unchecked in dreams. Invention
in dreams, as in mythology, is far-fetched, yet spontaneous. What it
sets immediately before us is a third or a fourth transformation of
the fundamental fact. It hides the fact, without misrepresenting it;
the orchestration of the theme, the alien images in which allegory
dresses it up, are suggested by some subtle affinity, some instinctive
choice, which is perfectly automatic and innocent; the Psyche could
find no simpler way of bringing her agitations to consciousness. Just
as we cannot see a material object more clearly than by seeing exactly
how it looks (though that may not be at all how it is), so we cannot
express a feeling more sincerely than by rehearsing all the images, all
the metaphors, which it suggests to us. Passion when aroused to speech
is rich in rhetorical figures. When we assert inaccurately that a man
is a cur we depart from observation only to register sentiment; we
express truly the niche he fills in our thoughts. Dramatic poetry is an
excursus in this direction; it reports the echoes which events produce
in a voluminous inner sensibility; it throws back our perception of
what is going on into the latent dream which this perception has for
its background: for a perception, apart from its object, is only one
feature in a dream, momentarily more salient than the rest. These
natural harlequins, the passions, are perfectly sincere in their
falsehoods and indirections: their fancy is their only means of
expressing the facts. To be more literal would require training, and
a painful effort; it would require the art of reading and discounting
dreams, whilst these simple poets have only the gift of dreaming.
When Juliet dreams (it is a desperate poetic little dream created by
her passion) that she will cut up Romeo into bits and make stars of
him, the image is extravagant; yet if the fundamental theme is, as I
suppose, that every atom of Romeo is precious, this mad but natural
passion for the bits, even, of what she loves, is expressed truly. But
this sort of sincere fiction, though it may put the Censor to sleep if
he does not quite understand what it signifies, is the very opposite
of his own shams; it is exuberance and these are suppression. If the
Censor could have got at Juliet in time, she would have expressed
herself quite differently. Wiping her prospective tears he would have
said, "What is Romeo's body to me? Our spirits will be reunited in
heaven!" This would have been a sham; because we should now not be led
to understand that Juliet loved the eyes and the hands and the lips
of Romeo--which was the fact to be expressed--but on the contrary her
idolatrous infatuation would have been hushed up, and something else,
an empty convention contradicting her true feeling, would have been
substituted for it.

The Censor may not be useless to the poet in the end, because the need
of shamming develops sensitiveness in some directions, as in that,
for instance, of self-consciousness. The vigour of art in England may
depend on the possibility of using the fineness of perception which
reticence enhances in order to invent new metaphors and allegories by
which to express the heart. Could a vigorous English art, for instance,
ever give expression to the erotic passion which, according to this
latest psychology, plays such a great part in the Psyche? The comic
vein of English writers commonly stops short at the improper. This
is doubtless a wise modesty on their part, because every artist is a
moralist, though he need not preach; like Orpheus he tames the simple
soul to his persuasive measures; he insinuates his preferences and his
principles, he teaches us what to love: and to discover what we truly
love is the whole of ethics. Now if any passion were sinful and really
shameful in itself, it ought not to enter at all into human life,
either through the door of art or through any other door. Conceivably
a perfect expression might still be given to it technically, although
even this is improbable if the artist had a bad conscience and a
leering eye; but this expression, good only from an abstracted
point of view, would be on the whole an evil experience and an evil
possession. If the early Christians and the Puritans and a whole cloud
of mystics and ascetics everywhere have been right in thinking the
flesh essentially sinful, the Censor must not be allowed to flinch;
on the contrary, he must considerably extend his operations. If you
renounce the flesh you must renounce the world; things called indecent
or obscene are inextricably woven into the texture of human existence;
there can be no completely honest comedy without them. Life itself
would have to be condemned as sinful; we should deny that anything
harmonious, merry, or sweet could be made of it, either in the world
or on the stage. If we made any concession to art at all, on the same
grounds as to matrimony, it would be only in favour of tragedy, which
should show us that all we think most amiable is an illusion, ending
in torments and in nothingness. Wedlock itself would be sanctioned
only grudgingly, as a concession to human frailty, lest a worse thing
be; and we should marry, if at all very sadly, with fear and trembling
and strictly for the sake of children. Marriage would then not be the
happy-go-lucky, tender, faithful, humorous, trying fatality which
nature has made of it, and which comedy describes.

Perhaps the emancipated plebeians of the future will expect their comic
poets to play upon sensuality as upon something altogether innocent
and amiable: comic, too, because all reality is comic, and especially
a phase of it where illusion, jollity, conceit, mishap, and chagrin
follow one another in such quick alternation. If this subject could be
passed by the Censor, and treated judiciously, it would enrich the arts
and at the same time disinfect the mind in one of its most troubled
and sullen moods, by giving it a merry expression. In the _Arabian
Nights_ I find something of this kind; but erotic art in Europe, even
in antiquity, seems to have been almost always constrained and vicious.
A man who is moralized politically, as Europeans are, rather than
religiously or poetically like Orientals, cannot treat natural things
naturally. He respects the uttered feelings of others more than his
own feelings unuttered, and suppresses every manifestation of himself
which a spectator might frown upon, even if behind the Censor's back
everybody would rejoice in it. So long as this social complication
lasts public art and the inner life have to flow separately, the one
remains conventional the other clouded and incoherent. If poets under
these circumstances tried to tell the whole truth, they would not only
offend the public but do a grave injustice to their theme, and fail
to make it explicit, for want of discipline and grace of expression.
It is as well that the Censor, by imposing silence, keeps them from
attempting the impossible.



38

THE MASK OF THE PHILOSOPHER


Amongst tragic masks may be counted all systems of philosophy and
religion. So long as they are still plastic in the mind of their
creator, they seem to him to wear the very lineaments of nature. He
cannot distinguish the comic cast of his own thought; yet inevitably it
shows the hue and features of his race; it has its curious idiom and
constitutional grammar, its quite personal rhetoric, its ridiculous
ignorances and incapacities, and when his work is finished and its
expression set, and other people behold it, it becomes under his name
one of the stock masks or _dramatis personae_ of the moral world. In
it every wrinkle of his soul is eternalized, its old dead passion
persisted in, its open mouth, always with the same _rictus_, bawling
one deaf thought for ever. Even to himself, if he could have seen his
mind at a distance, it would have appeared limited and foreign, as
to an old man the verses of his youth, or like one's own figure seen
unexpectedly in a mirror and mistaken at first for another person. His
own system, as much as those of others, would have seemed to him a mask
for the truth, partial, over-emphatic, exaggerating one feature and
distorting another, and above all severed from the context of nature,
as a picture in a frame, where much may be shown with a wonderfully
distilled beauty, yet without its substance, and without its changeful
setting in the moving world. Yet this fate is in part a favour. A
system, like a tell-tale glass, may reveal by a trick of reflection
many a fact going on behind one's back. By it the eye of the mind
travels where experience cannot penetrate; it turns into a spectacle
what was never open to sight, and it disentangles things seen from the
personal accidents of vision. The mask is greater than the man. In
isolating what was important and pertinent in his thoughts, it rescues
his spirit from the contamination of all alien dyes, and bequeaths it
to posterity such as it would have wished to be.



39

THE VOYAGE OF THE _SAINT CHRISTOPHER_


The voyage of Peter's Bark in search of another world has been less
fortunate than that of Columbus. There have been mutinies on board;
the other world is not yet found. Soon after this good ship, the
_Saint Christopher_, was launched from her Phoenician home-port, she
had a strange experience very like that which legend attributes to her
namesake, the sainted ferryman. Her freight at the beginning seemed
to be of the lightest--only living Hopes and daily Miracles; and the
crossing was to be very brief, the other shore being plainly visible
at a stone's throw. But that promised land turned out to be a mirage,
lying across the mouth of the port, which really opened out into a vast
ocean. Meantime the cargo too was strangely transformed; for whilst the
Hopes and Miracles were still reputed to be on board, they were hidden
from sight and smothered in a litter of Possessions. These included a
great load of Books, a heavy fund of Traditions, and a multitude of
unruly passengers, with their clamorous wives and children, and all
sorts of provender. So over-weighted, the _Saint Christopher_ sank down
until the waves almost covered her deck; but she was staunch, like the
wading saint when his light burden grew heavier and heavier, and she
laboured on.

Not only was this ship named after a saint--which in so old a ship
is no wonder--but incredible as it may seem, her captain was a saint
too--Saint Simon or (since these vague roving people often have an
_alias_) Saint Peter. He had been a fisherman by profession, and had
only become a saint late in life; a fact which explained his good
seamanship and his bad language. Besides, he did not pretend to be
a saint except in his official capacity, as captain, and in matters
of science and navigation: in his private life he was frankly not
impeccable, and deprecated any strict scrutiny of it as not to the
point. Not only might there have been some blemishes in his early
career, but even when in command he might have his faults. People enjoy
doing what they can do well from long habit; and he was perhaps too
fond of fishing, of cursing, and of commanding.

These foibles once brought upon him a serious mutiny. A large part of
the crew, imitating his expressive speech, cried, "Damn the captain!"
and took to the boats, saying the ship was rotten and water-logged.
They carried away with them most of the Hopes, whilst scrupulously
leaving the Miracles alone. In their boats and rafts they pulled ahead
in all directions, covering the sea with specks for a long distance;
and the captain, after running down and sinking a few of them in his
towering rage, got used to their existence, made things shipshape again
on board, and fell to observing them, not without some chucklings of
humour, rowing and splashing about, quarrelling and never getting
anywhere, but often merely drifting and quietly fishing, much in his
own old maimer.

The worst mutiny in the _Saint Christopher_, however, was of quite
another kind. The remaining crew had no objection to the captain--they
were human themselves--and no desire to paddle their own canoes. But
they got thoroughly weary of sailing day after day into the same
sunset, decided that there was no El Dorado, and insisted clamorously
on putting the ship about. But in what direction? Some were for going
home; they said all talk of another world was nonsense, that those
Hopes and Miracles were worthless, and that the only thing to do was
to return to the old country and live there in the old way, making the
best of it. But the majority said that such an acknowledgment of defeat
and error would be ignominious; and that life at home, never really
happy, would now be doubly intolerable. They would never have set out
on so problematical an expedition, had they found life possible in
their native seats. But it had been horrible. They remembered with a
shudder the cruelties and vanities of their ancestral heathenism. They
were adventurers and mariners by nature. They might be now bewildered
for a moment and discouraged in their explorations, but the impulse to
hope for the better and to try the unknown was ineradicable in their
breast.

In some of them, indeed, this brave impulse was so vigorous, that
they now had a sudden intuition of the romantic principle of life, and
harangued their companions as follows:

"What need, O shipmates, to sail for _any_ port? The sailor is not a
land animal. How we chafed and stifled when we lived on _terra firma_,
pent in those horrible stone dungeons called houses and churches, and
compelled to till those inert and filthy clods, year in and year out--a
most stupefying existence! Let us sail for the sake of sailing. It was
not in putting forth into this infinite sea that we were ill-advised,
but only in imagining that we could reach an opposite shore, and that
the sea was not infinite but hemmed about by dead land. That was a
gross illusion. In reality there is no _terra firma_ at all, but only
ships and rafts more or less extensive, covered over with earth and
trees, riding on the water. Fancy deceived us, when we supposed that
our Earth was anchored in some deeper earth. It floats and drifts
upon a bottomless flood, and will dissolve into it. Do not dream of
any backward voyage, or of reaching home. You will never find that
old home again; it exists no longer. But this good ship of ours,
with its wind-blown sails, can never sink and can never stop. If the
banners and crosses, which we still fly in deference to custom, have
lost their meaning for us, other symbols will take their place. We
must not confuse our infinite task with the illusions that may first
have prompted us to undertake it. A brave and an endless life awaits
us, battling with the storms of winter; in the summer days, leaping
over the waves with the dolphins and the porpoises; in the watches
of the night hailing the ever-new constellations which, as we sail
onward, will rise to greet us, and pass over our heads. For ocean is a
river that flows unendingly, and the stars and clouds are exhalations
attendant upon it; they rise and soar in great circles perpetually
before its course, like loosed doves before the bounding shell of
Galatea."

These words were not at all relished by the majority of those who
listened to them. They were stay-at-homes by temperament, who had
embarked only in the hope of gain, or of finding peace and plenty in
some softer climate. They were alarmed and disgusted at what they had
just heard, and not being quite sore that it was false, they denied it
with some irritation.

"What folly," they cried, "what nonsense you are talking. Of course it
is the land that is infinite, since it is much better than the sea;
and the sea is no river, or its water would be fresh, and you know how
brackish and bitter it is: indeed, but for the rain we have collected
in pans and hogsheads, we should already have died of thirst. This sea
is nothing but a stagnant lake in the midst of the green earth, one
of the myriad salt ponds studded all over it; and as for this leaky
little ship, which we were induced to embark in only by fraud, it is
not really sea-worthy. The planks and cordage are already rotting, and
how shall we replace them, unless we speedily sight land--and God grant
it may be a civilized country! And look there! Is not that land on the
horizon! Through the clearing mists I can discern a lighthouse, quite
distinctly; and beyond lies a low shore, overhung with smoke. Something
tells me this is the New Atlantis described by Bacon. A prosperous
and populous city, full of docks and factories, where we shall find
everything needful--warehouses, shops, inns, theatres, baths, even
churches and chapels of every sect and denomination. What joy!"

This sight was so welcome to those heartsick passengers, that they
could not wait for the ship to make fast, though they steered her
straight for the coast, but jumped over-board and eagerly swam ashore.
Their example was contagious. The other party could not bear to be left
behind without experiencing the new life, whatever it might bring. They
reflected that as the land was really a part of the sea, it was not
bad seamanship sometimes to run aground, that in leaving the ship they
would, in a higher sense, be continuing their voyage, and that they
would not be true to the supreme principle of their philosophy, which
was absolute free-will, if they did not often change their principles
in minor matters. The chief point was to experience everything. They
did not regret the past, as did their narrow-minded positivistic
friends, simply because it had involved hardships and errors. Hardships
and errors were blessings, if you could only outgrow them; and they,
in their splendid vitality, knew how to outgrow everything. Sacred
history, classic fable, chivalry, and the cure of one's soul had,
in that former age, proved absorbing themes for the fancy, and had
exquisitely modulated the emotions; but the fountain of those emotions
had always been their own breast, and since after such dramatic
adventures their breast remained deeply unsatisfied, it was time to
look again narrowly into its depths to discover some newer and truer
way of expressing it. Why should not the development of material arts
be the next phase in their career? They would not be less free amid the
gusts and the billows of politics than they had been in their marine
adventure; commerce would offer them glorious opportunities to exercise
their will-power and their invention; infinite vistas, here too, were
open before them: cities always more populous, possessions always more
varied, instruments always more wonderful, and labour always more
intense.

The romantic party accordingly joined the lovers of material progress
in their new city, called Mechanapolis: but the old opposition in their
temperaments remained undiminished. The lovers of adventure wanted
machines in order to make war, and the lovers of thrift wanted peace in
order to make other machines.

Meantime Peter the captain, with much grumbling and shaking of
his grey beard, had got the old _Saint Christopher_ afloat again,
and accompanied still by a faithful boatswain and cook, and some
nondescript recruits that he had got together, set out again to sea, in
search of that other land beyond the ocean which is called heaven. And
every evening with a trembling finger he pointed to it in the setting
sun, not seeing that heaven was above his head.



40

CLASSIC LIBERTY


When ancient peoples defended what they called their liberty, the word
stood for a plain and urgent interest of theirs: that their cities
should not be destroyed, their territory pillaged, and they themselves
sold into slavery. For the Greeks in particular liberty meant even
more than this. Perhaps the deepest assumption of classic philosophy
is that nature and the gods on the one hand and man on the other, both
have a fixed character; that there is consequently a necessary piety,
a true philosophy, a standard happiness, a normal art. The Greeks
believed, not without reason, that they had grasped these permanent
principles better than other peoples. They had largely dispelled
superstition, experimented in government, and turned life into a
rational art. Therefore when they defended their liberty what they
defended was not merely freedom to live. It was freedom to live well,
to live as other nations did not, in the public experimental study of
the world and of human nature. This liberty to discover and pursue a
natural happiness, this liberty to grow wise and to live in friendship
with the gods and with one another, was the liberty vindicated at
Thermopylae by martyrdom and at Salamis by victory.

As Greek cities stood for liberty in the world, so philosophers stood
for liberty in the Greek cities. In both cases it was the same kind
of liberty, not freedom to wander at hazard or to let things slip,
but on the contrary freedom to legislate more precisely, at least for
oneself, and to discover and codify the means to true happiness. Many
of these pioneers in wisdom were audacious radicals and recoiled from
no paradox. Some condemned what was most Greek: mythology, athletics,
even multiplicity and physical motion. In the heart of those thriving,
loquacious, festive little ant-hills, they preached impassibility and
abstraction, the unanswerable scepticism of silence. Others practised
a musical and priestly refinement of life, filled with metaphysical
mysteries, and formed secret societies, not without a tendency to
political domination. The cynics railed at the conventions, making
themselves as comfortable as possible in the rôle of beggars and
mocking parasites. The conservatives themselves were radical, so
intelligent were they, and Plato wrote the charter of the most extreme
militarism and communism, for the sake of preserving the free state. It
was the swan-song of liberty, a prescription to a diseased old man to
become young again and try a second life of superhuman virtue. The old
man preferred simply to die.

Many laughed then, as we may be tempted to do, at all those absolute
physicians of the soul, each with his panacea. Yet beneath their
quarrels the wranglers had a common faith. They all believed there was
a single solid natural wisdom to be found, that reason could find it,
and that mankind, sobered by reason, could put it in practice. Mankind
has continued to run wild and like barbarians to place freedom in their
very wildness, till we can hardly conceive the classic assumption of
Greek philosophers and cities, that true liberty is bound up with an
institution, a corporate scientific discipline, necessary to set free
the perfect man, or the god, within us.

Upon the dissolution of paganism the Christian church adopted the
classic conception of liberty. Of course, the field in which the higher
politics had to operate was now conceived differently, and there was
a new experience of the sort of happiness appropriate and possible
to man; but the assumption remained unchallenged that Providence, as
well as the human soul, had a fixed discoverable scope, and that the
business of education, law, and religion was to bring them to operate
in harmony. The aim of life, salvation, was involved in the nature of
the soul itself, and the means of salvation had been ascertained by a
positive science which the church was possessed of, partly revealed
and partly experimental. Salvation was simply what, on a broad view,
we should see to be health, and religion was nothing but a sort of
universal hygiene.

The church, therefore, little as it tolerated heretical liberty, the
liberty of moral and intellectual dispersion, felt that it had come
into the world to set men free, and constantly demanded liberty for
itself, that it might fulfil this mission. It was divinely commissioned
to teach, guide, and console all nations and all ages by the self-same
means, and to promote at all costs what it conceived to be human
perfection. There should be saints and as many saints as possible.
The church never admitted, any more than did any sect of ancient
philosophers, that its teaching might represent only an eccentric view
of the world, or that its guidance and consolations might be suitable
only at one stage of human development. To waver in the pursuit of the
orthodox ideal could only betray frivolity and want of self-knowledge.
The truth of things and the happiness of each man could not lie
elsewhere than where the church, summing up all human experience and
all divine revelation, had placed it once for all and for everybody.
The liberty of the church to fulfil its mission was accordingly hostile
to any liberty of dispersion, to any radical consecutive independence,
in the life of individuals or of nations.

When it came to full fruition this orthodox freedom was far from gay;
it was called sanctity. The freedom of pagan philosophers too had
turned out to be rather a stiff and severe pose; but in the Christian
dispensation this austerity of true happiness was less to be wondered
at, since life on earth was reputed to be abnormal from the beginning,
and infected with hereditary disease. The full beauty and joy of
restored liberty could hardly become evident in this life. Nevertheless
a certain beauty and joy did radiate visibly from the saints; and
while we may well think their renunciations and penances misguided or
excessive, it is certain that, like the Spartans and the philosophers,
they got something for their pains. Their bodies and souls were
transfigured, as none now found upon earth. If we admire without
imitating them we shall perhaps have done their philosophy exact
justice. Classic liberty was a sort of forced and artificial liberty, a
poor perfection reserved for an ascetic aristocracy in whom heroism and
refinement were touched with perversity and slowly starved themselves
to death.

Since those days we have discovered how much larger the universe is,
and we have lost our way in it. Any day it may come over us again
that our modern liberty to drift in the dark is the most terrible
negation of freedom. Nothing happens to us as we would. We want peace
and make war. We need science and obey the will to believe, we love
art and flounder among whimsicalities, we believe in general comfort
and equality and we strain every nerve to become millionaires. After
all, antiquity must have been right in thinking that reasonable
self-direction must rest on having a determinate character and knowing
what it is, and that only the truth about God and happiness, if we
somehow found it, could make us free. But the truth is not to be
found by guessing at it, as religious prophets and men of genius have
done, and then damning every one who does not agree. Human nature,
for all its substantial fixity, is a living thing with many varieties
and variations. All diversity of opinion is therefore not founded on
ignorance; it may express a legitimate change of habit or interest. The
classic and Christian synthesis from which we have broken loose was
certainly premature, even if the only issue of our liberal experiments
should be to lead us back to some such equilibrium. Let us hope at
least that the new morality, when it comes, may be more broadly based
than the old on knowledge of the world, not so absolute, not so
meticulous, and not chanted so much in the monotone of an abstracted
sage.



41

GERMAN FREEDOM


There is a fine theory of Hegel's that the universe exists in order
to realize freedom. In Oriental despotisms, he tells us, only one man
was free. In ancient republican cities a minority, the aristocracy
of citizens, obtained freedom. Now at last freedom has extended to
all; not, however, as we might fondly suppose, in free and casual
America, but under the perfect organization of the Prussian monarchy.
For freedom in the mouth of German philosophers has a very special
meaning. It does not refer to any possibility of choice nor to any
private initiative. It means rather that sense of freedom which we
acquire when we do gladly and well what we should have to do anyhow, as
when in passing from a close room into the open air we say we breathe
freely at last. German freedom is like the freedom of the angels in
heaven who see the face of God and cannot sin. It lies in such a deep
love and understanding of what is actually established that you would
not have it otherwise; you appropriate and bless it all and feel it to
be the providential expression of your own spirit. You are enlarged
by sympathy with your work, your country, and the universe, until you
are no longer conscious of the least distinction between the Creator,
the state, and yourself. Your compulsory service then becomes perfect
freedom.

For liberal freedom, for individualism, these philosophers have a
great contempt. They say a man is nothing but the sum of his relations
to other things, and if he should throw off one after another these
constitutive bonds, he would find his private residuum of a self to be
a mathematical point and a naked cipher, incapable of willing or of
choosing anything. And they further say that a dutiful soul is right in
feeling that the world it accepts and co-operates with is its own work;
for, according to their metaphysics, the world is only an idea which
each man makes after his own image, and even as you are, so is the
world you imagine you live in. Only a foolish recalcitrant person, who
does not recognize the handiwork of his own spirit about him, rebels
against it, and thereby cancels his natural freedom; for everywhere he
finds contradictions and closed doors and irksome necessities, being
divided against himself and constantly bidding his left hand undo what
his right hand is doing. So that, paradoxical as it may seem, it is
only when you conform that you are free, while if you rebel and secede
you become a slave. Your spiritual servitude in such a case would only
be manifesting itself in a phenomenal form if the government should put
you in prison.

The national expression of this kind of freedom is what the Germans
call _Kultur_, a word not well understood in other countries. Every
nation has certain characteristic institutions, certain representative
writers and statesmen, past and present, certain forms of art and
industry, a certain type of policy and moral inspiration. These are
its _Kultur_, its national tradition and equipment. When by education
the individual is brought to understand all these things, to share
their spirit and life, and to be able to carry them forward faithfully,
then he has absorbed the _Kultur_ in his own person. _Kultur_ is
transmitted by systematic education. It is not, like culture, a matter
of miscellaneous private attainments and refined tastes, but, rather,
participation in a national purpose and in the means of executing it.
The adept in this _Kultur_ can live freely the life of his country,
possessing its secret inspiration, valuing what it pursues and finding
his happiness in those successes which he can help it to attain.
_Kultur_ is a lay religion, which includes ecclesiastical religion and
assigns to it its due place.

German _Kultur_ resembles the polity of ancient cities and of the
Christian church in that it constitutes a definite, authoritative,
earnest discipline, a training which is practical and is thought
to be urgent and momentous. It is a system to be propagated and to
be imposed. It is all-inclusive and demands entire devotion from
everybody. At the same time it has this great advantage over the
classic systems, that it admits variations. At Sparta, in Plato's
Republic, and in the Catholic church the aims and constitution of
society were expected to remain always the same. The German ideal,
on the contrary, not only admits evolution, but insists upon it.
Like music, it is essentially a form of movement. According to the
philosophers, however, the form of this movement is fixed by the
absolute genius of the composer, and prescribes the way in which the
changes shall go on. Evolution thus introduces life into this ideal,
but does not admit ambiguities. In this sense the German law of
progression is as inexorable as the classic model of form.

The more reasonable theorists of German _Kultur_ introduce another
qualification, which, if admitted, is of the greatest importance,
namely, that German _Kultur_ is not to be extended to other nations.
Some make a special point of contrasting the universal claims of the
Roman and Napoleonic empires and of the Catholic church with the
aspirations of German genius, which, they say, is infinite inwardly,
being capable of endless growth and modification by men of Teutonic
blood, yet is limited externally or in space, in that it is not
communicable to other races. Non-Teutons should never be summoned,
therefore, to acquire the German spirit, which they would only pollute.
Their proper rôle is rather to stand by, no doubt overawed and filled
with admiration, but left without hope or fear of being assimilated.
Yet as the church could admit that there might be unconscious and
virtual Christians among the heathen, who might by exception be
saved, so there may be sporadic manifestations of Teutonic genius in
unforeseen quarters. Shakespeare, Dante, and Christ were virtual and
unconscious Germans.

There is, of course, a less indulgent Germanism, which has on its side
the authority of Fichte and Hegel, the enthusiasm of the pan-Germans
and that lust for boundless ascendancy which enterprise and war
naturally foster in anybody who has carried them on passionately and
successfully. According to this stricter view, the whole world is to
be subjugated and purified by the German nation, which alone inherits
the undefiled language and religion of Eden, and must assign to the
remaining creole races, descended from savages and ultimately perhaps
from monkeys or devils, such tasks as they are capable of. The masters,
being by nature generous and kind, will allow their slaves, after
their work is done, to bask in despicable happiness, since happiness
is all that slaves are capable of living for; but they will be proudly
commanded by a race of hard, righteous, unhappy, heroic German experts,
with blue eyes fixed on the eternal ideal.

The admission that German _Kultur_ is merely national, which might
seem to promise peace and goodwill, may be turned in this way into a
sinister claim to absolute dominion. The ancients and the church had
supposed that all men, though endowed with talent and goodness in the
most various degrees, had qualitatively the same nature. The same
passions, the same arts, and the same salvation were proper to them
all. The servant, in furthering the aims of his betters, served what
his own soul potentially loved and was capable of appropriating; there
could be religion and love in his subordination. Reciprocally the
master could feel respect and affection for his servants, who were his
wards and his god-children. The best things in classic life--religion,
poetry, comradeship, moral sagacity--were shared by the humblest
classes and expressed their genius. The temple, the church, the agora,
the theatre, Socrates, and the saints were of the people.

German _Kultur_, on the contrary, boasts that it is not the expression
of diffused human nature, but the product of a special and concentrated
free will. It is therefore incommunicable, unrepresentative. It is not
felt by any one else to realize his ideal, but seems foreign to him,
forced and unamiable. Every nation loves its idiosyncrasies and, until
it reflects, thinks its own balance of faculties, like its language,
more natural than other people's. But the prophets of Germanism have
turned this blameless love of home and its sanctities into a deliberate
dogma that everything German has a divine superiority. This dogma they
have foisted on a flattered and trustful nation, with the command to
foist it on the rest of the world. The fatuity of this is nothing new,
many nations and religions having shared it in their day, and we could
afford to laugh at it, if by direct and indirect coercion it did not
threaten to trespass upon our liberties.

What is universally acceptable in German _Kultur_ is what it contains
that is not German but human, what with praiseworthy docility it
has borrowed from the ancients, from Christianity, from the less
intentional culture of its modern neighbours. The Teutonic accent which
these elements have acquired is often very engaging; it adds to them a
Gothic charm for the lack of which mankind would be the poorer. But the
German manner, in art, in philosophy, in government, is no better--in
its broad appeal to human nature we may fairly say it is worse--than
the classic manner which it hopes to supersede. It is avowedly a
product of will, arbitrary, national, strained; it is not superior
to what other nations possess or may create but only different, not
advanced but eccentric. To study it and use it for a stimulus may be
profitable in times and places of spiritual famine or political chaos,
but to impose it as normal, not to say as supreme, would be a plain
invasion of human liberty.



42

LIBERALISM AND CULTURE


Modern reformers, religious and political, have usually retained
the classic theory of orthodoxy, namely, that there is one right or
true system--democracy and free thought, for instance--which it is
the reformer's duty to establish in the place of prevalent abuses.
Certainly Luther and Calvin and the doctrinaires of the French
revolution only meant to substitute one orthodoxy for another, and
what they set forth they regarded as valid for all men and forever.
Nevertheless they had a greater success in discrediting the received
system than in establishing their own, and the general effect of their
reforms was to introduce the modern conception of liberty, the liberty
of liberalism.

This consists in limiting the prescriptions of the law to a few points,
for the most part negative, leaving it to the initiative and conscience
of individuals to order their life and conversation as they like,
provided only they do not interfere with the same freedom in others. In
practice liberal countries have never reached this ideal of peaceful
anarchy, but have continued to enforce state education, monogamy, the
vested rights of property, and sometimes military service. But within
whatever limits, liberty is understood to lie in the individual being
left alone, so that he may express his personal impulses as he pleases
in word and action.

A philosopher can readily see that this liberal ideal implies a certain
view about the relations of man in the universe. It implies that the
ultimate environment, divine or natural, is either chaotic in itself or
undiscoverable by human science, and that human nature, too, is either
radically various or only determinable in a few essentials, round which
individual variations play _ad libitum_. For this reason no normal
religion, science, art, or way of happiness can be prescribed. These
remain always open, even in their foundations, for each man to arrange
for himself. The more things are essentially unsettled and optional,
the more liberty of this sort there may safely be in the world and the
deeper it may run.

Man, however, is a gregarious animal, and much more so in his mind
than in his body. He may like to go alone for a walk, but hates to
stand alone in his opinions. And he is so imitative that what he thinks
he most wishes to do is whatever he sees other people doing. Hence
if compulsory organization disappears a thousand free and private
organizations at once take its place. Virginal lived in compulsory
unison, having only one unquestioned religion, one style of art, one
political order, one common spring of laughter and tears. Liberalism
has come to remove the strain and the trammels of these traditions
without as yet uprooting the traditions themselves. Most people retain
their preliberal heritage and hardly remember that they are legally
free to abandon it and to sample any and every other form of life.
Liberalism does not go very deep; it is an adventitious principle, a
mere loosening of an older structure. For that reason it brings to all
who felt cramped and ill-suited such comfort and relief. It offers them
an escape from all sorts of accidental tyrannies. It opens to them that
sweet, scholarly, tenderly moral, critically superior attitude of mind
which Matthew Arnold called culture.

Primitive, dragooned, unanimous ages cannot possess culture. What
they possess is what the Germans call a _Kultur_, some type or other
of manners, laws, implements, arts, religion. When these national
possessions are perused and relished by some individual who does
not take them for granted and who understands and judges them as if
from outside, his acquaintance with them becomes an element in his
culture; and if he is at home in many such forms of life and thought,
his culture is the more perfect. It should ideally be culled from
everywhere. Culture is a triumph of the individual over society. It is
his way of profiting intellectually by a world he has not helped to
make.

Culture requires liberalism for its foundation, and liberalism requires
culture for its crown. It is culture that integrates in imagination
the activities which liberalism so dangerously disperses in practice.
Out of the public disarray of beliefs and efforts it gathers its
private collection of curiosities, much as amateurs stock their museums
with fragments of ancient works. It possesses a wealth of vicarious
experience and historical insight which comforts it for having nothing
of its own to contribute to history. The man of culture abounds in
discriminating sentiments; he lives under the distant influence
of exalted minds; his familiar thoughts at breakfast are intimate
appreciations of poetry and art, and if his culture is really mellow,
he sometimes smiles a little at his own culture.

Culture came into the modern world with the renaissance, when personal
humours and remote inspiration broke in upon the consecrated mediaeval
mind. Piety and learning had their intrinsic charms, but, after all,
they had been cultivated for the sake of ulterior duties and benefits,
and in order to appropriate and hand down the revealed wisdom which
opened the way to heaven. Culture, on the contrary, had no ulterior
purpose, no forced unity. It was an aroma inhaled by those who walked
in the evening in the garden of life. Far from being a means to
religion, it threw religion also into the context of human experience,
and touched its mysteries and quarrels with judgement and elegance. It
liberated the studious mind from obligatory or national discipline,
and as far as possible from all bonds of time, place, utility, and
co-operation, kindling sympathies by preference with what was most
exotic, and compensating the mind for the ignominious necessity of
having to be, in practical matters, local and partisan. Culture was
courteous, open, unconscious of self; it was the joy of living every
life but one's own. And its moral side--for everything has its moral
side--lay in the just judgements it fostered, the clear sense it
awakened of the different qualities and values of things. The scale of
values established by the man of culture might sometimes be fanciful or
frivolous, but he was always most scrupulous, according to his lights,
in distinguishing the better from the worse. This conscientiousness,
after all, is the only form of morality that a liberal society can
insist upon.

The days of liberalism are numbered. First the horrors of competition
discredited it, and now the trial of war, which it foolishly thought
it could elude. The vogue of culture, too, has declined. We see that
the man whose success is merely personal--the actor, the sophist,
the millionaire, the aesthete--is incurably vulgar. The rightness of
liberalism is exactly proportional to the diversity of human nature,
to its vague hold on its ideals. Where this vagueness and play of
variation stop, and they stop not far below the surface, the sphere of
public organization should begin. It is in the subsoil of uniformity,
of tradition, of dire necessity that human welfare is rooted, together
with wisdom and unaffected art, and the flowers of culture that do not
draw their sap from that soil are only paper flowers.



43

THE IRONY OF LIBERALISM


To the mind of the ancients, who knew something of such matters,
liberty and prosperity seemed hardly compatible, yet modern liberalism
wants them together. Liberals believe that free inquiry, free
invention, free association, and free trade are sure to produce
prosperity. I have no doubt they are right in this; the nineteenth
century, that golden age of liberalism, certainly saw a great increase
in wealth, in science, and in comforts. What the ancients had before
them was a different side of the question; they had no experience of
liberalism; they expected to be state-ridden in their religion, their
customs, and their military service; even in their personal and family
morals they did not begrudge the strictest discipline; their states
needed to be intensely unified, being small and in constant danger of
total destruction. Under these circumstances it seemed clear to them
that prosperity, however it might have been produced, was dangerous to
liberty. Prosperity brought power; and when a people exercises control
over other peoples its government becomes ponderous even at home;
its elaborate machinery cannot be stopped, and can hardly be mended;
the imperial people becomes the slave of its commitments. Moreover,
prosperity requires inequalities of function and creates inequalities
of fortune; and both too much work and too much wealth kill liberty
in the individual. They involve subjection to _things_; and this is
contrary to what the ancients, who had the pride of noble animals,
called freedom. Prosperity, both for individuals and for states, means
possessions; and possessions mean burdens and harness and slavery; and
slavery for the mind, too, because it is not only the rich man's time
that is pre-empted, but his affections, his judgement, and the range of
his thoughts.

I often wonder, looking at my rich friends, how far their possessions
are facilities and how far they are impediments. The telephone, for
instance, is a facility if you wish to be in many places at once and
to attend to anything that may turn up; it is an impediment if you are
happy where you are and in what you are doing. Public motor-vehicles,
public libraries, and public attendants (such as waiters in hotels,
when they wait) are a convenience, which even the impecunious may
enjoy; but private automobiles, private collections of books or
pictures, and private servants are, to my thinking, an encumbrance: but
then I am an old fogy and almost an ancient philosopher, and I don't
count. I prize civilization, being bred in towns and liking to hear and
to see what new things people are up to. I like to walk about amidst
the beautiful things that adorn the world; but private wealth I should
decline, or any sort of personal possessions, because they would take
away my liberty.

Perhaps what liberalism aspires to marry with liberty is not so much
prosperity as progress. Progress means continued change for the better;
and it is obvious that liberty will conduce to progress in all those
things, such as writing poetry, which a man can pursue without aid
or interference from others: where aid is requisite and interference
probable, as in politics, liberty conduces to progress only in so far
as people are unanimous, and spontaneously wish to move in the same
direction. Now what is the direction of change which seems progress to
liberals? A pure liberal might reply, The direction of liberty itself:
the ideal is that every man should move in whatever direction he
likes, with the aid of such as agree with him, and without interfering
with those who disagree. Liberty so conceived would be identical with
happiness, with spontaneous life, blamelessly and safely lived; and the
impulse of liberalism, to give everybody what he wants, in so far as
that is possible, would be identical with simple kindness. Benevolence
was one of the chief motives in liberalism in the beginning, and
many a liberal is still full of kindness in his private capacity;
but politically, as a liberal, he is something more than kind. The
direction in which many, or even most, people would like to move
fills him with disgust and indignation; he does not at all wish them
to be happy, unless they can be happy on his own diet; and being a
reformer and a philanthropist, he exerts himself to turn all men into
the sort of men he likes, so as to be able to like them. It would be
selfish, he thinks, to let people alone. They must be helped, and not
merely helped to what they desire--that might really be very bad for
them--but helped onwards, upwards, in the _right_ direction. Progress
could not be rightly placed in a smaller population, a simpler economy,
more moral diversity between nations, and stricter moral discipline
in each of them. That would be progress backwards, and if it made
people happier, it would not make the liberal so. Progress, if it is
to please him, must continue in the direction in which the nineteenth
century progressed, towards vast numbers, material complexity, moral
uniformity, and economic interdependence. The best little boy, for
instance, according to the liberal ideal, desires to be washed, to go
to school, to do Swedish exercises, and to learn everything out of
books. But perhaps the individual little boy (and according to the
liberal philosophy his individuality is sacred, and the only judge
of what is good or true for him is his own consciousness) desires to
go dirty, to make mud-pies in the street, and to learn everything
by experience or by report from older boys. When the philanthropist
runs up to the rescue, this little ingrate snivels at him the very
principle of liberal liberty, "Let me alone." To inform such an urchin
that he does not know what is good for him, that he is a slave to bad
habits and devilish instincts, that true freedom for him can only
come of correcting himself, until he has learned to find happiness in
virtue--plainly that would be to abandon liberalism, and to preach
the classical doctrine that the good is not liberty but wisdom.
Liberalism was a protest against just such assumptions of authority. It
emphatically refused to pursue an eventual stoical freedom, absurdly
so called, which was to come when we had given up everything we really
wanted--the mock freedom of service. In the presence of the little boy
liberal philosophy takes a middle course. It is convinced--though it
would not do to tell him so prematurely--that he must be allowed to
go dirty for a time, until sufficient experience of filth teaches him
how much more comfortable it is to be clean; also that he will go to
school of his own accord if the books have pictures enough in them, and
if the teacher begins by showing him how to make superior mud-pies.
As to morals and religion, the boy and his companions will evolve the
appropriate ones in time out of their own experience, and no others
would be genuine.

Liberal philosophy, at this point, ceases to be empirical and British
in order to become German and transcendental. Moral life, it now
believes, is not the pursuit of liberty and happiness of all sorts by
all sorts of different creatures; it is the development of a single
spirit in all life through a series of necessary phases, each higher
than the preceding one. No man, accordingly, can really or ultimately
desire anything but what the best people desire. This is the principle
of the higher snobbery; and in fact, all earnest liberals are higher
snobs. If you refuse to move in the prescribed direction, you are not
simply different, you are arrested and perverse. The savage must not
remain a savage, nor the nun a nun, and China must not keep its wall.
If the animals remain animals it is somehow through a failure of the
will in them, and very sad. Classic liberty, though only a name for
stubborn independence, and obedience to one's own nature, was too
free, in one way, for the modern liberal. It accepted all sorts of
perfections, animal, human, and divine, as final after their kind, each
the seat of a sufficient virtue and happiness. It was polytheistic.
Between master and slave, between man and woman, it admitted no moral
advance or development; they were, or might be, equally perfect.
Inequality was honourable; amongst the humblest there could be dignity
and sweetness; the higher snobbery would have been absurd, because if
you were not content to be what you were now, how could you ever be
content with anything? But the transcendental principle of progress
is pantheistic. It requires everything to be ill at ease in its own
house; no one can be really free or happy but all must be tossed, like
herded emigrants, on the same compulsory voyage, to the same unhomely
destination. The world came from a nebula, and to a nebula it returns.
In the interval, happiness is not to be found in being a fixed star, as
bright and pure as possible, even if only for a season; happiness is to
flow and dissolve in sympathy with one's higher destiny.

The motion of progress is thus merged with that of universal evolution,
dropping the element of liberty and even of improvement. Nevertheless,
in the political expression of liberalism, liberty took the first
innings. Protestants began by asserting the right of private Judgement
in interpreting scripture; transcendentalists ended by asserting the
divine right of the individual to impose his own spirit on everything
he touched. His duty to himself, which was also his deepest instinct,
was to suck in from the widest possible field all that was congenial to
him, and to reject, down to his very centre, whatever might thwart or
offend. Sometimes he carried his consistency in egotism to the length
of denying that anything he could not digest could possibly exist, or
that the material world and foreign nations were more than ideal pawns
in the game he played with himself for his self-development. Even when
not initiated into these transcendental mysteries, he was filled with
practical self-trust, the desire to give himself freedom, and the
belief that he deserved it. There was no need of exploring anything
he was not tempted to explore; he had an equal right to his opinion,
whatever the limits of his knowledge; and he should be coerced as
little as possible in his action. In specific matters, for the sake of
expediency, he might be willing to yield to the majority; but only when
his vote had been counted, and as a sort of insurance against being
disturbed in his residual liberty.

There was a general conviction behind all these maxims, that tradition
corrupts experience. All sensation--which is the test of matters of
fact--is somebody's sensation; all reasoning is somebody's reasoning,
and vitally persuasive as it first comes; but when transmitted the
evidence loses its edge, words drop their full meaning, and inert
conventions falsify the insights of those who had instituted them.
Therefore, reform, revision, restatement are perpetually required: any
individual, according to this view, who honestly corrected tradition
was sure to improve upon it. Whatsoever was not the fresh handiwork
of the soul and true to its present demand was bad for that soul. A
man without traditions, if he could only be materially well equipped,
would be purer, more rational, more virtuous than if he had been an
heir to anything. _Weh dir, dass du ein Enkel bist_! Blessed are the
orphans for they shall deserve to have children; blessed the American!
Philosophy should be transcendental, history romantic and focussed in
one's own country, politics democratic, and art individual and above
convention. Variety in religious dogma would only prove the truth--that
is, the inwardness--of inspiration.

Yet if this transcendental freedom had been the whole of liberalism,
would not the animals, such of them at least as are not gregarious,
have been the most perfect liberals? Are they not ruled wholly from
within? Do they not enjoy complete freedom of conscience and of
expression? Does Mrs. Grundy interfere with their spontaneous actions?
Are they ever compelled to fight except by their own impulse and in
their private interest? Yet it was not the ideal of liberalism to
return to nature; far from it. It admonished the dogs not to bark and
bite, even if, in the words of the sacred poet, "it is their nature
to." Dogs, according to transcendental philosophy, ought to improve
their nature, and to behave better. A chief part of the liberal
inspiration was the love of peace, safety, comfort, and general
information; it aimed at stable wealth, it insisted on education,
it venerated culture. It was wholly out of sympathy with the wilder
instincts of man, with the love of foraging, of hunting, of fighting,
of plotting, of carousing, or of doing penance. It had an acute, a
sickening horror of suffering; to be cruel was devilish and to be
hardened to pain was brutal. I am afraid liberalism was hopelessly
pre-Nietzschean; it was Victorian; it was tame. In inviting every man
to be free and autonomous it assumed that, once free, he would wish to
be rich, to be educated, and to be demure. How could he possibly fail
to covet a way of life which, in the eyes of liberals, was so obviously
the best? It must have been a painful surprise to them, and most
inexplicable, that hardly anybody who has had a taste of the liberal
system has ever liked it.

What about liberty in love? If there is one ingenuous and winged
creature among the immortals, it is Eros; the freer and more innocent
love is, the more it will flutter, the farther it will range, and the
higher it will soar. But at the touch of matter, of conditions, of
consequences, how all its freedom shrivels, or turns into tragedy!
What prohibitions, what hypocrisies, what responsibilities, what
sorrows! The progress of civilization compels love to respect the
limits set to it by earlier vows, by age, sex, class, race, religion,
blood relationship, and even fictitious relationship; bounds of which
the impertinent Eros himself knows nothing. Society smothers the imp
altogether in the long christening-clothes of domestic affection
and religious duty. What was once a sensuous intoxication, a mystic
rapture, an enchanted friendship, becomes all a question of money, of
habit, of children. British liberalism has been particularly cruel
to love; in the Victorian era all its amiable impulses were reputed
indecent, until a marriage certificate suddenly rendered them godly,
though still unmentionable. And what liberty does even the latest
radicalism offer to the heart? Liberty to be divorced; divorced at
great expense, with shabby perjuries and public scandal, probably in
order to be at once married again, until the next divorce. Was it not
franker and nobler to leave love, as in Spain, to the poets; to let
the stripling play the guitar as much as he liked in the moonlight,
exchange passionate glances, whisper daily at the lattice, and then,
dressing the bride in black, to dismiss free fancy at the church door,
saying: Henceforth let thy names be charity and fidelity and obedience?

It is not politics that can bring true liberty to the soul; that
must be achieved, if at all, by philosophy; but liberalism may
bring large opportunities for achievement in a man's outward life.
It intensifies--because it renders attainable--the lure of public
distinction, of luxury, of love surrounded by refined pleasures.
The liberal state stimulates the imagination of an ambitious man to
the highest degree. Those who have a good start in the universal
competition, or sharp wits, or audacity, will find plenty of prizes
awaiting them. With the pride of wealth, when it is great, there comes
the pride of munificence; in the suburbs of wealth there is culture,
and in its service there is science. When science can minister to
wealth and intelligence to dominion, both can be carried on the
shoulders of the plutocracy which dominates the liberal state; and they
can fill it with innumerable comforts and marvellous inventions. At the
same time, nothing will hinder the weaker members of rich families from
becoming clergymen or even scholars or artists; or they may range over
the five continents, hunt whatever wild beasts remain in the jungle,
and write books about savages.

Whether these prizes offered by liberal society are worth winning, I
cannot say from experience, never having desired them; but the aspects
of modern life which any one may observe, and the analytic picture
of it which the novelists supply, are not very attractive. Wealth is
always, even when most secure, full of itch and fear; worry about
health, children, religion, marriage, servants; and the awful question
of where to live, when one may live anywhere, and yet all seems to
depend on the choice. For the politician, politics are less important
than his private affairs, and less interesting than bridge; and he has
always a party, or a wicked opposition, on which to throw the blame if
his careless measures turn out badly. No one in office can be a true
statesman, because a true statesman is consistent, and public opinion
will never long support any consistent course. What the successful man
in modern society really most cares about is love; love for him is a
curious mixture of sensuality, vanity, and friendship; it lights up
all the world of his thought and action with its secret and unsteady
flame. Even when mutual and legal, it seems to be three-quarters
anxiety and sorrow; for if nothing worse happens to lovers, they grow
old. I hear no laughter among the rich which is not forced and nervous.
I find no sense of moral security amongst them, no happy freedom, no
mastery over anything. Yet this is the very cream of liberal life, the
brilliant success for the sake of which Christendom was overturned,
and the dull peasantry elevated into factory-hands, shopkeepers, and
chauffeurs. When the lists are open to all, and the one aim of life is
to live as much as possible like the rich, the majority must needs be
discouraged. The same task is proposed to unequal strengths, and the
competition emphasizes the inequality. There was more encouragement
for mediocre people when happiness was set before them in mediocrity,
or in excellence in some special craft. Now the mass, hopelessly out
of the running in the race for wealth, falls out and drifts into
squalor. Since there is liberty, the listless man will work as little
and drink as much as he can; he will crawl into whatever tenement he
can get cheapest, seek the society in which least effort is demanded
and least shame is felt, have as many children as improvidence sends
him, let himself out, at a pinch, for whatever service and whatever
wages he can obtain, drift into some syndicated servitude or some great
migration, or sink in solitude into the deepest misery. He then becomes
a denizen of those slimy quarters, under the shadow of railway bridges,
breweries, and gas-works, where the blear lights of a public-house peer
through the rain at every corner, and offer him the one joy remaining
in life; for joy is not to be mentioned in the same breath as the
female prowling by the door, hardly less befuddled and bedraggled
than the lurching idlers whom she endeavours to entice; but perhaps
God does not see all this, because a pall hangs over it perpetually
of impenetrable smoke. The liberal system, which sought to raise the
individual, has degraded the masses; and this on so vast a scale
and to so pitiable a degree, that the other element in liberalism,
philanthropic zeal, has come again to the fore. Liberty go hang, say
the new radicals; let us save the people. Liberal legislation, which
was to have reduced government to the minimum of police control, now
has undertaken public education, social reform, and even the management
of industry.

This happy people can read. It supports a press conforming to the
tastes of the common man, or rather to such tastes as common men can
have in common; for the best in each is not diffused enough to be
catered for in public. Moreover, this press is audaciously managed
by some adventitious power, which guides it for its own purposes,
commercial or sectarian. Superstitions old and new thrive in
this infected atmosphere; they are now all treated with a curious
respect, as if nobody could have anything to object to them. It is
all a scramble of prejudices and rumours; whatever first catches the
ear becomes a nucleus for all further presumptions and sympathies.
Advertising is the modern substitute for argument, its function is to
make the worse appear the better article. A confused competition of
all propagandas--those insults to human nature--is carried on by the
most expert psychological methods, which the art of advertising has
discovered; for instance, by always repeating a lie, when it has been
exposed, instead of retracting it. The world at large is deafened; but
each propaganda makes its little knot of proselytes, and inspires them
with a new readiness to persecute and to suffer in the sacred cause.
The only question is, which propaganda can first materially reach the
greatest number of persons, and can most efficaciously quench all
the others. At present, it looks as if the German, the Catholic, and
the communist propaganda had the best chances; but these three are
divergent essentially (though against a common enemy they may work
for a while together, as they did during this war), and they appeal
to different weaknesses of human nature; they are alike, however,
in being equally illiberal, equally "_rücksichtlos_" and "_böse_"?
equally regardless of the harm they may do, and accounting it all an
added glory, like baiting the devil. By giving a free rein to such
propagandas, and by disgusting the people with too much optimism,
toleration, and neutrality, liberalism has introduced a new reign of
unqualified ill-will. Hatred and wilfulness are everywhere; nations
and classes are called to life on purpose to embody them; they are
summoned by their leaders to shake off the lethargy of contentment and
to become conscious of their existence and of their terrible wrongs.
These propagandas have taken shape in the blue sky of liberalism, like
so many summer clouds; they seem airships sailing under a flag of
truce; but they are engines of war, and on the first occasion they will
hoist their true colours, and break the peace which allowed them to
cruise over us so leisurely. Each will try to establish its universal
ascendancy by force, in contempt of personal freedom, or the voice
of majorities. It will rely, against the apathy and vagueness of the
million, on concentrated zeal in its adepts. Minorities everywhere have
their way; and majorities, grown familiar with projects that at first
shocked them, decide one fine morning that there may be no harm in them
after all, and follow like sheep. Every trade, sect, private company,
and aspiring nation, finding some one to lead it, asserts itself
"ruthlessly" against every other. Incipient formations in the body
politic, cutting across and subverting its old constitution, eat one
another up, like different species of animals; and the combat can never
cease except some day, perhaps, for lack of combatants. Liberalism has
merely cleared a field in which every soul and every corporate interest
may fight with every other for domination. Whoever is victorious in
this struggle will make an end of liberalism; and the new order, which
will deem itself saved, will have to defend itself in the following age
against a new crop of rebels.

For myself, even if I could live to see it, I should not be afraid
of the future domination, whatever it may be. One has to live in
some age, under some fashion; I have found, in different times and
places, the liberal, the Catholic, and the German air quite possible
to breathe; nor, I am sure, would communism be without its advantages
to a free mind, and its splendid emotions. Fanatics, as Tacitus said
of the Jews or Christians, are consumed with hatred of the human race,
which offends them; yet they are themselves human; and nature in them
takes its revenge, and something reasonable and sweet bubbles up out
of the very fountain of their madness. Once established in the world
the new dispensation forms a ruling caste, a conventional morality,
a standard of honour; safety and happiness soften the heart of the
tyrant. Aristocracy knows how to kiss the ruddy cheeks of its tenants'
children; and before mounting its thoroughbred horse at the park gates,
it pats him with a gloved hand, and gives him a lump of sugar; nor does
it forget to ask the groom, with a kindly interest, when he is setting
out for the war. Poor flunkey! The demagogues will tell him he is a
fool, to let himself be dragooned into a regiment, and marched off
to endure untold privations, death, or ghastly wounds, all for some
fantastic reason which is nothing to him. It is a hard fate; but can
this world promise anybody anything better? For the moment he will have
a smart uniform; beers and lasses will be obtainable; many comrades
will march by his side; and he may return, if he is lucky, to work
again in his master's stables, lounge at the public-house, and bounce
his children on his knee amongst the hollyhocks before his cottage.
Would the demagogues give him better prospects, or prove better
masters? Would he be happier with no masters at all? Consider the
demagogues themselves, and their history. They found themselves in the
extreme of misery; but even this is a sort of distinction, and marks
off a new species, seizing new weapons in the struggle for existence.
The scum of the earth gathers itself together, becomes a criminal or
a revolutionary society, finds some visionary or some cosmopolitan
agitator to lead it, establishes its own code of ethics, imposes the
desperate discipline of outlaws upon its members, and prepares to rend
the free society that allowed it to exist. It is astonishing with
what docility masses of Englishmen, supposed to be jealous of their
personal liberty, will obey such a revolutionary junta, that taxes and
commands them, and decrees when they shall starve and when they shall
fight. I suspect that the working-people of the towns no longer have
what was called the British character. Their forced unanimity in action
and passion is like that of the ages of faith; its inspiration, like
that of early Christianity, comes from a few apostles, perhaps foreign
Jews, men who in the beginning had visions of some millennium; and the
cohesion of the faithful is maintained afterwards by preaching, by
custom, by persecution, and by murder. Yet it is intelligible that the
most earnest liberals, who in so far as they were advocates of liberty
fostered these conspiracies, in so far as they are philanthropists
should applaud them, and feel the need of this new tyranny. They save
liberal principles by saying that they applaud it only provisionally as
a necessary means of freeing the people. But of freeing the people from
what? From the consequences of freedom.



44

JOHN BULL AND HIS PHILOSOPHERS


England has been curiously served by her philosophers. Personally and
in their first intention they have usually been sturdy Britons; but
their scope has seldom been equal to their sagacity in particular
matters, they have not divined the ultimate drift of their ideas, and
they have often ended by adopting, a little blankly and doggedly, some
foreign or fantastic system, apparently most inexpressive of John Bull.
Nevertheless the exotic tendency in so many British philosophers, as
in so many disaffected British poets, is itself a mark of the British
character. The crust of convention has solidified too soon, and the
suppressed fires issue in little erratic streams that seem of an alien
substance. In speculation as in other things the Englishman trusts
his inner man; his impulse is to soliloquize even in science. At the
same time his inner man dislikes to be too articulate; he is soon at a
stand in direct self-expression; and as a poet may take to describing
nature or Italian passions, so a philosopher may pick up some alien
doctrine that comes to hand, and that seems friendly to his mind; not
understanding it very well, perhaps, in its native quality, but making
it a living companion in his own lucubrations, and a symbol for what
remains hidden but revered in his breast. In this way the Bible or
Plato may serve him to found sects upon exclusively expressing his own
feelings; or remaining a plain Englishman to all practical purposes,
he may become, for his greater private satisfaction, a revolutionary
atheist, a spiritualist, a Catholic, or a Buddhist. In such strange
allegiances something may be due to wayward learning, or to genuine
plasticity of mind and power to feel as very different souls have felt
in other climes; but a part is unmistakable helplessness and dire need,
and a part, perhaps, affectation.

When his own resources fail, however, the most obvious easement and
support for the English inner man are the classical and Anglican
traditions he has been bred in, when these are not too nicely defined
nor too slavishly followed. Most characteristic is John Bull the
theologian, instinct with heresy and practising compromise; but the
rationalistic John Bull is very like him in his alternative way of
securing the same supreme object of thinking what he likes to think.
In both cases he embraces his opinions much more because they are
wholesome and important than because they are certain or clear.
Opinions, he feels, should be summary and safe; they should express the
lessons of experience.

As he conceives it at first, experience does not merely exist, it
teaches. In a sporadic fashion it yields sound satisfactions, clear
warnings, plain facts. It admonishes him to trust his senses, the
reports of reputable travellers and naturalists, Christianity, and
the British constitution, all when duly revised; and on the other
hand to shun popery, scholastic quibbles, absolutism, and revolution.
But evidently experience could never teach him these things if his
inner man did not contribute its decided cravings and aversions.
His inner man detests dictation and loves opportunity; in ideas it
prefers timeliness to finality. Therefore, when his philosophers come
upon the scene they cannot appeal to him by coercive proofs, nor by
the impressive architecture of their systems, nor by disentangling
and setting clearly before him any ultimate ideal. To win his ear
they must rather drive his current convictions home, nearer to their
source in himself; they must invite him to concentrate his empiricism.
For instance, he trusts his senses; and the philosophers can deeply
interest him if they ask him what, precisely, his senses vouch for. Is
it external things? But can he actually see anything except colours,
or touch anything except resistances? Can he feel anything except his
own sensations? By appealing to his honesty, the sophists catch him
in a trap, and he changes his mind in trying to utter it. It will
appear presently, as he pursues his inquiry, that he has no knowledge
of those external things and events which he had been so sure of;
they were mere empty notions, and his genuine experience contained
nothing but the pulses of his inner life, changes in his ideas and
vital temperature, which an accurate autobiography might record. And
the more scrupulously he considers these pulses of his inner life the
less and less will he find in them. He and his whole experience will
soon be reduced to a series of sensations in single file, with nothing
behind them. In reality even this is too much. Although the inertia of
psychological conventions and the romantic habit of self-consciousness
have kept him from perceiving it, even to this day, yet the fact that
a sensation is occurring is not revealed by that sensation itself; no
date, place, or relation to a mind is included in its deliverance, and
no relation to anything before or beyond; so that the bare datum of
sensation is an aesthetic being, not a mental one; an ideal term, not
an event; a universal essence, not a particular fact; and immersion
in sense or in absolute immediate experience, when animal faith and
intelligence are taken away from it, would remove from us every vestige
of the notion that anything exists or that anything happens. But
without pushing analysis so far, the empirical philosophers left John
Bull, when he listened to them, singularly bereft of those comfortable
impedimenta with which he had expected to travel through life--without
a body, without an environment, without a ground, or any natural
perfection or destiny, for his moral being. He had loved exploration,
and had looked forward with the flush of confidence to the knowledge
and power which his discoveries would bring him; but now he saw that
all discoveries were incalculable, arbitrary, and provisional, since
they were not truly discoveries, but only developments.

Here was an odd transformation. The self-educated merchants and
indignant reformers who, thumping their desks dogmatically, had
appealed so roundly to the evidence of their senses, little expected
that their philosophy was directed to turning them in the end into
inarticulate sensualists, rapt in omphalic contemplation of their
states of mind. Some academic idealists, disliking this result, which
cast a slur on the pre-eminence of spirituality and learning, and yet
not being willing or able to give up the method by which that result
had been reached, sought to push the inquiry further, and to come out
of the wood on quite the other side. My sensations, they said, since
I can now survey the whole series they form, must all exist together
in my present apprehension; and as I cannot know them except in this
single and present glance, they never can have existed out of it; so
that I am not really a series of sensations, but only the idea that
I am a series of sensations; in other words, I have become a single
sensation instead of many. To make this clearer the same philosophers
added that this single sensation or thought, which is what I really am,
is also God. Experience now turned out not to be anything that goes
on or happens or is endured; it is the theme of an immutable divine
contemplation and divine satisfaction. I am God in so far as I think
and approve; but the chequered experience which I supposed myself to be
undergoing is merely imputed to myself by God and me in our thinking.

This second conclusion, like the first, has its value for some
temperaments. It brings suddenly before us, as if it were an
accomplished fact, the innate ideal of the intellect: to see the
changing aspects of all things from above, in their true eternal
relations. But this ideal, too, is utterly disparate from that
practical experience and prevision which John Bull prizes so highly and
thinks he possesses; indeed, the sublimity of this view lies precisely
in its tendency to freeze and submerge all experience, transmuting hard
facts and anxious events into painted ships upon a painted ocean, and
for our stumbling and unfinished progress substituting a bound volume
of travels.

What false step could bring British philosophy, in its gropings,
to conclusions so un-English that even those who feel compelled to
propose them do so shamefacedly, with many euphemisms and convenient
confusions, or even fail altogether to understand the tremendous
paradoxes they are repeating? It was a false step at which Hobbes
halted, which Locke took unsuspectingly, and which sent Berkeley and
Hume head over heels: the assumption that facts are known immediately.
In reality none of the facts which the sturdy Briton feels that he
knows--and they are the true facts of nature and of moral life--would
be known to him if he were without tentative intelligence and
instinctive animal faith; indeed, without these the senses would have
no virtue and would inform us of nothing; and cows would not see
grass nor horses hay, but only green or yellow patches, like rapt
empirical philosophers. When Hobbes said that no discourse whatsoever
can end in absolute knowledge of fact, he uttered a great truth, but
he implied a great error, since he implied that sense--meaning the
senseless sensations of idiots--could give such knowledge; whereas
the absolute datum in sense is just as ideal, and just as little
a fact, as the deliverance of the most theoretical discourse; and
absolute knowledge--if we call such apprehension knowledge--can seize
only some aesthetic or logical term, without any given date, place,
or connection in experience. Empiricism in the end must substitute
these ideal essences, on the ground that they are the only data, for
the facts of nature--facts which animal reactions and the beliefs
expressing them are requisite to discover, and which science defines by
the cumulative use of reason. In making this substitution empiricism
passes against its will into sensualism or idealism. Then John Bull
and his philosophers part company: he sticks manfully to his confused
conventional opinions, which after all give him a very tolerable
knowledge of the facts; while they go digging for an absolute knowledge
of fact, which is impossible, in an intuitive cloudland where there
are only aesthetic essences. Hence the bankruptcy of their enterprise.
Immediate data are the counters of experience, but they are the money
of empiricism.



45

OCCAM'S RAZOR


To many an Englishman the human head seems too luxuriant. With its
quantities of superfluous words and ideas, it grows periodically hot
and messy, and needs a thorough cropping and scrubbing. To this end,
William of Occam long ago invented his razor: _entia non multiplicanda
praeter necessitatem_; a maxim calculated to shave the British inner
man clean, and make a roundhead of him, not to say a blockhead. That
everything is "nothing but" something else, probably inferior to it,
became in time a sort of refrain in his politics and philosophy. He
saw that reflection was constantly embroidering on the facts; but did
he suppose that the pattern of things was really simpler than that of
ideas, or did he feel that, however elaborate things might be, thought
at least might be simple? At any rate, he aimed instinctively at
economy of terms, retrenchment in belief, reduction of theory to the
irreducible minimum. If theory was not useful, what was the use of it?
And certainly all that can be said for some theories is that perhaps
they are useful; and when ideas are merely useful, being worthless in
themselves and absorbing human caloric, the less we require of them
the better. Thought might then be merely a means to a life without
thought, and belief a door to a heaven where no beliefs were expected;
all speech might be like the curt words one says to the waiter, in the
hope of presently dining in silence; and all looking might be looking
out, as in crossing a crowded street, ending in the blessed peace of
not having to look any more.

Occam's razor has gradually shorn British and German philosophy of the
notions of substance and cause, matter and God, truth and the soul.
Sometimes these terms were declared to stand for nothing whatever,
because (as in the case of matter and substance) if I reduced myself to
a state of artificial stupidity I might for a moment stop short of the
conception of them. More often (as in the case of the soul) the term
was declared to stand for something real, which, however, was "nothing
but" something else. Of course, all words and thoughts stand for
something else; and the question is only whether we can find another
word or thought that will express the reality better. Thus, if I said
that the soul was "nothing but" a series of sensations, I should soon
have to add that this series, to make up a soul, must arise in the
same animal body, and must be capable of being eventually surveyed and
recalled together; while I should have to assign to some other obscure
agency those unconscious vital functions which were formerly attributed
to the soul in forming and governing the body, and breeding the
passions; functions without which my series of sensations would hardly
be what it is. I am not confident that all this laboured psychology
makes things much clearer in the end, or does not multiply entities
without necessity; since where I had simply spoken of the soul, I
should now have to speak of sensations, series, possibility, synthesis,
personal identity, the transcendental unity of apperception, and the
unconscious mind. Something is doubtless gained by coining these modern
and questionable expressions, since they indicate true complexities in
the facts, while a poetic term like "soul" covers them only by pointing
the finger of childish wonder at them, without analysis. Nature is
far more complicated than any language or philosophy, and the more
these refine, the closer they can fit. The anxiety of the honest Occam
to stick to the facts, and pare his thoughts to the quick, had this
justification in it, that sometimes our images and distinctions are
misplaced. Grammar, usurping the rôle of physics, created metaphysics,
the trouble with which is not at all that it multiplies entities, since
no metaphysician can invent anything that did not lie from all eternity
in the realm of essence, like the plot of unwritten novels, waiting
for some one with wit enough to think of it. The trouble is rather
that the metaphysician probably gives his favourite essences the wrong
status. These beings may well be absent from the time and place to
which he hastily assigns them; they may even be incongruous altogether
with what happens to exist anywhere. What happens to exist is perhaps
what he thinks he is describing, or what, like Occam, he would like to
describe if he could; but he is probably not able. Yet that doesn't
matter so much as he imagines. What happens to exist can take very
good care of itself, and is quite indifferent to what people think of
it; and as for us, if we possess such cursory knowledge of the nearer
parts of existence as is sufficient for our safety, there is no reason
why we should attend to it too minutely: there's metal more attractive
in discourse and in fiction. Mind, as Hobbes said, is fancy, and it is
the things of fancy that greet us first and reward us best. They are
far from being more absurd than the facts. In themselves, all things
are equally unnecessary and equally possible; for their own part, all
are equally ready to be thought of or even to be born. It is only the
routine of nature or the sluggish human imagination that refuses to
admit most of them, as country people refuse to admit that foreign
languages or manners might do as well as their own.

If God or nature had used Occam's razor and had hesitated to multiply
beings without necessity, where should _we_ be? Far from practising
economy, nature is prevented from overflowing into every sort of
flourish and excrescence only by the local paucity of matter, or the
pre-emption of it by other forms; because forms, once embodied in
matter, acquire all its inertia, and grow dreadfully stubborn and
egotistical. Scrimpy philosophers little know whose stewards they
are when they complain of lavishness in nature, or her lordly way
of living; her substance cannot be spent, nor its transformations
exhausted. In sheer play, and without being able to help it, she will
suddenly create organization, or memory, or intelligence, or any of
those little vortices called passions, persons, or nations, which
sustain themselves for a moment, hypostatizing their frail unity into
some moral being--an interest or a soul. And as we are superfluous in
the midst of nature, so is the best part of ourselves superfluous in
us. Poetry, music and pictures, inspired and shaded by human emotion,
are surely better worth having than the inarticulate experience they
spring from. Even in our apprehension of the material world, the best
part is the adaptation of it to our position and faculties, since this
is what introduces boundaries, perspectives, comparison and beauty.
It is only what exists materially that exists without excuse, whereas
what the mind creates has some vital justification, and may serve to
justify the rest. Hence the utility of Occam's razor itself, which may
help us to arrive at a strict and spare account of what the world would
be without us: a somewhat ironical speculation which is the subtlest
product and last luxury of the scientific mind. Meantime the sensuous
and rhetorical trappings of human knowledge, from which exact science
abstracts, by no means disappear; they remain to enrich the sphere of
language and fancy, to which judicious people always felt that they
belonged; and this intellectual or literary realm is no less actual and
interesting than any other, being a part of the moral radiation and
exuberance of a living world.



46

EMPIRICISM


Experience is a fine word, but what does it mean? It seems to carry
with it a mixed sense of mastery and disappointment, suggesting
knowledge of a sort with despair of better knowledge. Is it such
contact with events as nobody can avoid, shocks and pressure
endured from circumstances and from the routine of the world? But a
cricket-ball has no experience, although it comes in contact with many
hands, receives hard knocks, and plays its part in the vicissitudes of
a protracted game. There are men in much the same case; they travel,
they undergo an illness or a conversion, and after a little everything
in them is exactly as it was before; [Greek: _pathos_] with them is not
[Greek: _pathos_]; their natures are so faithful to the _a priori_ and
so elastic that they rebound from the evidence of sense and the buffets
of fortune like a rubber bag full of wind; they pass through life with
round eyes open, and a perpetual instinctive babble, and yet in the
moral sense of the word they have no experience, not being mindful
enough to acquire any. It would seem that to gather anything we must
first pause, and that before we can have experience we must have minds.

Yet if we said that experience arose by the operation of mind, would
not all the operations of mind be equally experience? Has not a maniac
probably more and more vivid experience than a man of the world?
Doubtless when people call their fancies or thoughts experience,
they mean to imply that they have an external source, as "religious
experience" is assumed to manifest divine intervention, and "psychical
experience" to prove the self-existence of departed spirits. But
these assumptions are not empirical; and evidently the religious or
psychical experience itself, whatever its cause, is the only empirical
fact in the case. Those who appeal to the _lessons_ of experience are
not empiricists, for these are lessons that only reason can learn.
Experience, as practical people understand it, is not every sort of
consciousness or memory, but only such as is addressed to the facts
of nature and controlled by the influence of those facts; material
contact or derivation is essential to it. Experience is both physical
and mental, the intellectual fruit of a material intercourse. It
presupposes animal bodies in contact with things, and it presupposes
intelligent minds in those bodies, keeping count of the shocks
received, understanding their causes, and expecting their recurrence
as it will actually take place. To these naturalistic convictions
all those ought to have clung who valued experience as a witness
rather than as a sensation; without animals in a natural environment
experience, as contrasted with fancy or intuition, can neither be nor
be conceived. It means so much of knowledge and readiness as is fetched
from contact with events by a teachable and intelligent creature; it is
a fund of wisdom gathered by living in familiar intercourse with things.

But such assumptions are an offence to the expert empiricist. The
moment he comes upon the scene we feel that all we thought experience
had taught us is going to be disproved. "Do you admit," he begins by
asking, "that nothing can be more real than experience?" We do admit
it. "And can you ever know anything that is not experience?" Perhaps
not; and yet would experience be very distinct or very significant
if it was experience of nothing? "Of nothing, indeed," he retorts,
withering us with a scornful glance and the consciousness of his
masked batteries; "as if experience itself was nothing! Experience
is everything; and when you have experience of experience what more
could you ask for, even if you were Doctor Faustus in person? What
spurious little non-empirical particle is this _of_ of yours? And what
illegitimate ghost is this _something else_ that experience should be
_of_? Can you, without confessing to an adulterous intercourse with
what is not experience, explain these natural but disreputable members
of your intellectual family?" We cannot explain them, and we blush.
Yet why should experience arise at all if there is no occasion for it?
"Occasion!" cries the empiricist; "another illegal figment, the old
notion of cause! Is it not notorious that causation is nothing but the
habit which some parts of experience have of following upon others? How
then should the whole of it follow upon any part? Experience cannot
spring from anything, it cannot express anything, and it cannot know
anything, because experience is all there is."

Here is a considerable retrenchment in the scope of our philosophy: no
material world, no soul, and (in the proper sense of the words) no God
and no knowledge. Retrenchment, however, is often a sign of wisdom,
and the retrenching empiricist deserves to be followed, like the
retrenching hermit, into his psychological wilderness, not with a vow
never to return to the world, for that would be precipitate, but in the
hope of sounding, in one direction, the depths of spiritual discipline
and disillusion. And the empirical eremite can taste rare pleasures.
All things, for him, become the appanage of the inner man; and we need
not wonder that the pensive Englishman is ready to be empirical in this
sense and to become an idealist. The _lessons_ of experience, if he was
forced to take them seriously, might tend to dethrone his inner man and
lead him to materialism; but fortunately the lessons of experience,
for an empiricist, can be nothing but little epicycles within it, or
cross-references to its literal text; they cannot spoil its intimate
and romantic nature, which is to be no end of pulsations and no end of
pictures. How dead would anything external or permanent be, even if we
thought we could find it! How abstract would be anything common to all
times and places, how terrible a mocking truth that should overarch
them for ever!

It is true that the romantic empiricist is not very radical; he
commonly stops short of any doubts on the validity of memory, with
all the yarns it spins; his past adventures and his growth are too
fascinating for him to doubt their reality. Sometimes he even trusts
a superstitious prophecy, under the name of logical evolution,
foretelling what his destiny is somehow compelled to be. At other times
he prefers to leave the future ambiguous, so that the next step may
lead him anywhere, perhaps to heaven, provided it is understood that
his career, even there, is always to remain an unfinished voyage in an
uncharted sea. In strictness, however, he has no right to this fond
interest in himself. If he became a perfect empiricist he would trust
experience only if it taught him absolutely nothing, even about his
own past. This is hard for the flesh, and it may not be fair to ask
an empiricist to be heroic in the interests of logic; but if he could
screw his courage up for the plunge, his spirit might find itself
perfectly at home in the new situation. What he might have been or
might have thought, he would dismiss as a dead issue; he would watch
only his present life as it flowed, and he would love exclusively what
he was becoming. There is a sense of safety in being and not thinking
which probably all the animals know, and there is a mystical happiness
in accepting existence without understanding it; but the sense of
safety does not render the animals really safe, and the price they
pay for living in the moment is that they carry nothing over from one
moment to another except bare existence itself. The disadvantage of
radical empiricism is that it shuts out experience.



47

THE BRITISH HEGELIANS


It was formerly a matter of some surprise to me that there should be
so many Hegelians in England, and in such places of influence. I could
imagine how the system might have taken root in circles where the
classic tradition was absent or enfeebled--in America, in Scotland,
among the Dissenters or Jews in England itself; but how could Oxford
and Cambridge fail to see in that system the trail of the serpent? How
could they mistake it for a Christian or for a spiritual philosophy? It
is indeed, in form, an encyclopaedic system, and in that sense suitable
to universities; and it deifies knowledge such as an encyclopaedia can
give, turning it into the sum total of reality, so that it flatters
the self-sufficiency of pedants, or that of any reflective mind. But
in Oxford and Cambridge knowledge is not everything; they are more and
less than universities; the learning they cultivate is selective and
pursued in the service of aristocratic liberty. I should not expect
them to care much for a philosophy that was not poetic and devout. I
sometimes fancy how the genuine Oxonians must have smiled to hear T.
H. Green, in the early days of transcendentalism, talking about his
spiritual principle in nature. By spiritual he meant mind-made; he
thought the world, remaining just as it is, could suddenly be proved to
be spiritual if you could show that a mental synthesis was requisite
to hold it together. But what possible advantage is it to the world to
be held together by a mental synthesis, rather than by space or time
or the truth of its constitution? A synthesis of worthless facts does
not render them severally better, nor itself a good. A spirit whose
essential function was to create relations would be merely a generative
principle, as the spider is to its web; it would be no better than its
work, unless perhaps it was spiritual enough to grow weary of that vain
labour. Spiritual, for those who retain the language of Christendom,
signifies free from the world and from the flesh, and addressed to the
eternal and to the beautiful.

Everything, however, has its explanation, and in the matter of English
Hegelism I think I begin to see it. In the first place, I was rashly
identifying England with a figment of my dreams, with which I was
in love: I saw in my mind's eye a manly and single-minded England,
free, candid, poetical, akin to feudal France, beauty-loving like
old Italy, the Benjamin of the Roman family of nations, adding to
the dignity and disinterestedness of the Castilian character only a
certain blond charm, a certain infusion of northern purity, and of
sympathy with the wild and rural voices of nature. In this England,
in which there was something Spartan and archaically Greek, the men
were like Hippolytus and the women like Antigone. Naturally it was
unintelligible to me that the system of Hegel should take root in such
a nation. Persons with a ripe moral tradition are not attracted by
sophistry. No argument, however specious, will convince them that the
experience of man on earth makes up the whole universe, or the chief
part of it; much less will they allow fortune, under the pompous name
of evolution, to dictate to them their moral allegiance. The chief
force of the Hegelian system for those who are not metaphysicians lies
in the criterion of progress which it imposes. This criterion is not
beauty in art, nor truth in philosophy, nor justice in society, nor
happiness in the individual life: the criterion is simply the direction
which the actual movement happens to be taking. Hegel endeavours to
show in what way forms are inevitably passing into one another. Thus
his ethics begs defence of history, and his history calls for aid on
metaphysics. And what metaphysics? A logic of moral fashions. Now it
seemed to me axiomatic that eager co-operation with whatever is going
on, or is bound to win, would be repulsive to a man of honour. Nor
could I conceive a true Englishman taking kindly even to the grand side
of this system, which to me personally is rather attractive, I mean
to its satirical elevation. The English mind is tender and temperate:
it deprecates scorn. But Hegel, in his scathing moods, is comparable
to Heraclitus; he mocks every opinion with an opinion which refutes
it, and every life with another life which kills it. He has the wisdom
of the serpent; but unlike Heraclitus, whose fabled tears were warm,
he has the heart of the serpent too. He despises finitude because it
is weak, as if an infinity of pervasive weakness were strong, or a
perpetual flux a victory for anything. Laughing, I can't help thinking,
up his sleeve, he suggests that this flux itself is a victory for the
spirit, meaning by spirit the law by which he supposes that this flux
is controlled. But this is sheer mockery: the only moral victory is
that achieved, under favourable conditions, by some living spirit,
glad to be expressed or to have been expressed in some perfect form.
The finite only is good: the infinite tides are worth exactly what
they cast up. There is a bitter idolatry of fate in this system which
might seem splendid to a barbarian; but how, I asked myself, can it be
anything but horrible to a cultivated conscience, or to a pupil of the
Greeks?

In the real England the character I dreamt of exists, but very much
mixed, and overbalanced by its contrary. Many have the minds of true
gentlemen, poetically detached from fortune, and seeing in temporal
things only their eternal beauties. Yet if this type of English
character had been general, England could never have become Puritan,
nor bred so many prosperous merchants and manufacturers, nor sent such
shoals of emigrants to the colonies; it would hardly have revelled
as it does in political debates and elections, and in societies for
the prevention and promotion of everything. In the real England there
is a strong if not dominant admixture of worldliness. How ponderous
these Lord Mayors, these pillars of chapels, these bishops, these
politicians, these solemn snobs! How tight-shut, how moralistic, how
overbearing these intellectuals with a mission! All these important
people are eaten up with zeal, and given over to rearranging the world,
and yet without the least idea of what they would change it into in the
end, or to what purpose. Being so much in earnest, they are convinced
that they must be living on the highest principles: what, then, is more
intelligible than that they should welcome a philosophy which assures
them that such is the case? They are well pleased to hear, on the
highest metaphysical authority, that the first duty of a rich man is to
grow richer, and of a settled man to redouble in loyalty to his wife,
his community, his party, and his business. The Protestant reformers
told them so formerly in biblical language; the Protestant philosophers
tell them so now in the language of Hegel.

Besides, on its technical side, the Hegelian system has a great
strength, and was most apposite in the predicament in which, fifty
years ago, philosophy found itself in England. It supplied three
illusions which idealism sadly needed if it was to become orthodox and
popular: the illusions of profundity, of comprehensiveness, and of
finality. It was a philosophy of progress--another claim to popularity
in the nineteenth century--not only progress in the world at large,
but especially in philosophy itself; and a philosophy of progress
cannot ask us to go back, to cry _peccavi_, and reconsider the false
assumptions on which we may have been reasoning for two hundred or for
two thousand years. It must accept these assumptions and go on building
upon them, always a higher and a higher structure. Now the principal
assumption of British philosophy, on which German philosophy itself
rests, was that nothing can be experienced except experience itself,
and nothing known except knowledge. But the Germans analysed far more
accurately than the British had formerly done what the notions of
experience and knowledge contain. They demonstrated the unity of glance
that is essential to it, and thus refuted (without of course removing)
the successive and episodic character of experience, as the honest
but unwary empiricists had conceived it. Hume and Mill had remained
naturalists in regard to the distribution of those volatile ideas
to which they pretended to reduce the world. John Stuart Mill had a
deeper and a sweeter mind than his critics; there was something in him
akin to Wordsworth or to Matthew Arnold; but his inherited principles
were treacherous, and opened the door to just such a concentration
of egotism as the Hegelians brought about. Moreover, Hume and Mill
had seemed depressing; they perplexed without filling the mind; they
made everything that is most familiar and interesting seem strangely
hypothetical; whereas in Hegel the pageant of nature and history
appeared to be re-formed and to march round and round the stage of the
ego under the strongest light to the loudest music. There was a sort of
deafening optimism about it; and not only was a convenient school-book
universe offered you, warranted complete, but all previous philosophies
were succinctly described, refuted, and linked together, in a manner
most convenient for tutorial purposes. Of course, the true character
and eternal plausibility of each great system were falsified in such
a survey; each was attached artificially to what happened to precede
and to follow it in time, or in the knowledge of the historian; as if
history were a single chain of events, and its march dialectical--a
fiction which Hegel did not blush to maintain. An inner instability was
thus attributed to each view which came only from the slippery mind
of the critic touring amongst them, without the least intention of
finding anywhere a home in which to rest. Hegel was not looking for the
truth--why dream of truth when you possess learning?--he was writing
an apology for opinion. He enjoyed understanding and imagining things
plausibly, and had a great intelligence to pour into his constructions;
but this very heat of thought fused everything into the mould of his
method, and he gave out that he had understood every system much better
than those who believed in it, and had been carried by its inner
contradictions (which its adepts never saw) to the next convenient
position in the development of human fancy, and of his own lectures.

Abstraction, such as withdrawal of the mind from worldly affairs, is
condemned by this philosophy: you must glut the brain and heart with
everything that exists. An even worse abstraction, for a philosopher,
is to detach the object from the subject, and believe it to exist
independently. But what is abstraction? Can attention ever render
things more discrete than they are in their own nature? Suppose I
abstract a coin from another man's pocket: it is easily proved by
Hegel's logic that such an abstraction is a mere appearance. Coins
cannot exist as coins except as pocketed and owned; at the same time
they imply an essential tendency to pass into the pockets of other
men: for a coin that could not issue from the pocket would be a coin
in name only, and not in function. When it actually passes from one
man's pocket into another's, this circumstance, far from justifying us
in thinking the coin a separable thing, shows that all men's pockets
(when not empty and therefore, in function, not pockets at all) are
intrinsically related and, in a higher sense, one and the same purse.
Therefore, we may conclude, it was not the sly transference of the coin
from my neighbour's pocket into mine that was the wrongful abstraction,
but only the false supposition that if the coin was his it was not,
by right of eminent domain, mine also. A man, in so far as he is the
possessor of coins, is simply a pocket, and all pockets, in so far as
there is transferable coin, in them, are one pocket together. In this
way we avoid false abstraction by proving that everything is abstract.

Nor is this all; for strange as it may seem, Hegel appeals also to one
type of religious people, and seems to them to lift religious faith
triumphantly above all possible assaults of fact or of science. Are
not all facts mere ideas? And must not all ideas be bred in the mind
according to its own free principles of life and effort? Is not all
this semblance of externality in things a blessed foil to spiritual
activity? Does not this universal mutation pay loud homage to eternal
law? Things go by threes: that is the reason why they exist and why
they move, and the sovereign good to be attained by their motion. If
every truth turns out to be a lie, every lie is a part of some higher
truth; if everything becomes unreal, because it passes into something
else, this other thing inherits its reality; and if we look at things
as a whole instead of _seriatim_, and spread out our moving film into a
panorama, we perceive that everything has implied everything else from
the beginning, and formed a part of it; So that only from the point
of view of ignorance is anything earlier, or better, or truer than
anything else. Here, in the All, we have rest from our labours.

In this way even the slaves of the world at last learn to overcome the
world; but it is too late. This All, even if it were open to human
survey, would have no value: it defeats each of its constituent lives
and is itself responsive to no living desire. The indistinction which
the vague idea of it produces in the mind may be soothing to the weary;
but better than mystical relief at the end would have been moral
freedom in the beginning. That a different life will supersede mine is
nothing against my happiness; that time is swallowing me up is nothing
against my appropriate eternity. How vain the crabbed hand of the miser
stringing his pearls and never looking at them, counting the drops
that trickle into his cup and never emptying it, never feeling the
intoxication of living now, of telling the truth frankly, and of being
happy here I If the devil laughs at me because I am mortal, I laugh at
him for imagining that death can trouble me, or any other free spirit,
so long as I live, or after I am dead.



48

THE PROGRESS OF PHILOSOPHY


This war will kill the belief in progress, and it was high time.
Progress is often a fact: granted a definite end to be achieved, we may
sometimes observe a continuous approach towards achieving it, as for
instance towards cutting off a leg neatly when it has been smashed;
and such progress is to be desired in all human arts. But _belief_
in progress, like belief in fate or in the number three, is a sheer
superstition, a mad notion that because some idea--here the idea of
continuous change for the better--has been realized somewhere, that
idea was a power which realized itself there fatally, and which must
be secretly realizing itself everywhere else, even where the facts
contradict it. Nor is belief in progress identical with belief in
Providence, or even compatible with it. Providence would not have begun
wrong in order to correct itself; and in works which are essentially
progressive, like a story, the beginning is not worse than the end, if
the artist is competent.

What true progress is, and how it is usually qualified by all sorts
of backsliding and by incompatible movements in contrary directions,
is well illustrated by the history of philosophy. There has been
progress in it; if we start with the first birth of intelligence and
assume that the end pursued is to understand the world, the progress
has been immense. We do not understand the world yet; but we have
formed many hypotheses about it corroborated by experience, we are
in possession of many arts which involve true knowledge, and we have
collated and criticized--especially during the last century--a great
number of speculations which, though unverified or unverifiable,
reveal the problems and the possibilities in the case; so that I think
a philosopher in our day has no excuse for being so utterly deceived
in various important matters as the best philosophers formerly were
through no fault of theirs, because they were misled by a local
tradition, and inevitably cut off from the traditions of other ages and
races. Nevertheless the progress of philosophy has not been of such a
sort that the latest philosophers are the best: it is quite the other
way. Philosophy in this respect is like poetry. There is progress in
that new poets arise with new gifts, and the fund of transmitted poetry
is enriched; but Homer, the first poet amongst the Greeks, was also
the best, and so Dante in Italy, and Shakespeare in England. When a
civilization and a language take shape they have a wonderful vitality,
and their first-fruits are some love-child, some incomparable creature
in whom the whole genius of the young race bursts forth uncontaminated
and untrammelled. What follows is more valuable in this respect or
in that; it renders fitly the partial feelings and varying fashions
of a long decadence; but nothing, so long as that language and that
tradition last, can ever equal their first exuberance. Philosophy
is not so tightly bound as poetry is to language and to local
inspiration, but it has largely shared the same vicissitudes; and in
each school of philosophy only the inventors and founders are of any
consequence; the rest are hacks. Moreover, if we take each school as
a whole, and compare it with the others, I think we may repeat the
same observation: the first are the best. Those following have made
very real improvements; they have discovered truths and methods before
unknown; but instead of adding these (as they might have done) to the
essential wisdom of their predecessors, they have proceeded like poets,
each a new-born child in a magic world, abandoned to his fancy and his
personal experience. Bent on some specific reform or wrapped up in some
favourite notion, they have denied the obvious because other people had
pointed it out; and the later we come down in the history of philosophy
the less important philosophy becomes, and the less true in fundamental
matters.

Suppose I arrange the works of the essential philosophers--leaving
out secondary and transitional systems--in a bookcase of four shelves;
on the top shelf (out of reach, since I can't read the language) I
will place the Indians; on the next the Greek naturalists; and to
remedy the unfortunate paucity of their remains, I will add here those
free inquirers of the renaissance, leading to Spinoza, who after two
thousand years picked up the thread of scientific speculation; and
besides, all modern science: so that this shelf will run over into
a whole library of what is not ordinarily called philosophy. On the
third shelf I will put Platonism, including Aristotle, the Fathers,
the Scholastics, and all honestly Christian theology; and on the last,
modern or subjective philosophy in its entirety. I will leave lying on
the table, as of doubtful destination, the works of my contemporaries.
There is much life in some of them. I like their water-colour sketches
of self-consciousness, their rebellious egotisms, their fervid reforms
of phraseology, their peep-holes through which some very small part of
things may be seen very clearly: they have lively wits, but they seem
to me like children playing blind-man's-buff; they are keenly excited
at not knowing where they are. They are really here, in the common
natural world, where there is nothing in particular to threaten or to
allure them; and they have only to remove their philosophical bandages
in order to perceive it.

What sort of a world this is--I will not say in itself, but in respect
to us--can be perceived almost at once by any candid spirit, and the
Indians readily perceived it. They saw that substance is infinite, out
of _scale_ with our sensuous images and (except in the little vortex
that makes us up) out of sympathy with our endeavours; and that spirit
in us nevertheless can hold its own, because salvation lies in finding
joy in the truth, not in rendering fortune propitious, by some miracle,
to our animal interests. The spirit is at home in the infinite, and
morally independent of all the accidents of existence: nothing that
nature can produce outruns its potential scope, its desire to know the
truth; and its disinterestedness renders it free, free especially from
any concern about its own existence. It does not deem it the part of
piety to deny the fugitive, impotent, and fantastic nature of human
life. It knows that the thoughts of man and his works, however great
or delightful when measured by the human scale, are but the faintest
shimmer on the surface of being. On the ruin of humanistic illusions
(such as make up the religious philosophy of the West) it knows how to
establish a tender morality and a sublime religion.

Indian wisdom, intent on the infinity and unity of substance and on the
vanity of human life, neglected two inquiries which are nevertheless of
the greatest interest to the spirit, so long as this vain life endures.
The Indians did not study the movement and mechanism of nature: they
had no science. Their poets, in a sort of spectacular physics, were
content to paint vividly the images of sense, conscious of their
fugitive charm, and of their monstrous and delirious diversity.
They also neglected the art of rational conduct in this world; the
refinements of their moral discipline were all mystical; they were
determined by watching the movement of inner experience, and allowing
the fancy to distinguish its objects and its stages. They thought the
spirit could liberate itself by thinking, as by thinking it seemed
to have entangled itself in this mesh of dreams. But how could the
spirit, if it had been free originally, ever have attached its fortunes
to any lump of clay? Why should it be the sport of time and change
and the vicissitudes of affairs? From the point of view of the spirit
(which is that of the Indians) this question is absolutely insoluble;
a fact which drives them to say that this entanglement is not "real,"
but only an illusion of being entangled. Certainly substance is not
entangled, but persists and moves according to its nature; and if what
exists besides substance--its aspects and the spirit in us that notes
them--is not "real" because not substantial, then the unreal has the
privilege, as Democritus pointed out, of existing as well as the real,
and more obviously. But this subterfuge, of denying that appearance
exists, because its existence is only the seeming of its objects, was
inevitable in the Indian system, and dramatically right. The spirit,
left to its own fond logic, remains perfectly ignorant of its natural
ancestry and cannot imagine why it finds itself caught in the vice of
existence, and hanging like Prometheus on a crag of Caucasus, or like
Christ on the cross. The myth of reincarnation, whilst it meets certain
moral demands, leaves the problem essentially untouched. Why should
spirit have fallen in the first instance, or made any beginning in sin
and illusion?

It would have been better, for the moral and religious purposes of
these sages, to have observed and respected the prose facts, and
admitted that each little spirit falls for the first time when the
body is generated which it is to dwell in. It never, in fact, existed
before; it is the spirit of that body. Its transcendental prerogatives
and its impersonal aims are by no means inconsistent with that humble
fact: they seem inconsistent only to those who are ignorant of the
life and fertility of nature, which breeds spirit as naturally as the
lark sings. Aspiration to liberate spirit from absorption in finite
existence is in danger of missing its way if it is not enlightened by a
true theory of existence and of spirit; for it is utterly impossible
to free the spirit materially, since it is the voice of matter, but
by a proper hygiene it can be freed ideally, so that it ceases to be
troubled by its sluggish instrument, or conscious of it. In these
matters the Indians were the sport of the wildest fancy. They mistook
their early poetry for a metaphysical revelation, and their philosophy
was condemned to turn in the most dreary treadmill of commentaries
and homilies, without one ray of criticism, or any revision of first
principles. Nevertheless, all their mythology and scholasticism did
not invalidate (as they did not in the Catholic church afterwards) the
initial spiritual insight on which their system rested. The spirit,
viewed from within, is omnipresent and timeless, and must be spoken of
as falling, or coming down, or entering (as Aristotle puts it) through
the house-door. Spirit calls itself a stranger, because it finds the
world strange; and it finds the world strange because, being the spirit
of a very high-strung and perilously organized animal, it is sensitive
to many influences not harmonious with its own impulses, and has to beg
its daily bread. Yet it is rich in resource; and it gives itself out
for a traveller and tells marvellous lies about its supposed native
land, where it was a prince and an omnipotent poet. These boasts serve
the spirit as a declaration of independence, and a claim to immense
superiority above the world. This independence, however, is really only
the independence of ignorance, that must think and act at random; and
the spirit would add sanity to its spirituality if it recognized the
natural, precarious, and exquisite life of which it is the spirit.

Sanity, thy name is Greece. The Greek naturalists saw (what it needs
only sanity to see) that the infinite substance of things was instinct
with a perpetual motion and rhythmic order which were its life, and
that the spirit of man was a spark from that universal fire. They made
a magnificent beginning in understanding what the order of nature is,
and what is the relation of its substance to its spirit. They were much
nearer in their outlook and their wisdom to the Indians than we are
apt to imagine. The Indians meant to be naturalists too; all serious
philosophers must somehow make a naturalism of their chosen elements;
only the Indians were carried away by an untutored imagination. The
Greeks, for their part, also meant to be discerners of substance like
the Indians, and sharers in the divine life. The object which they
believed in and studied was precisely the same as that which the
Indians felt to be breathing deeply around and within them: it was the
infinite substance and life of things; all things not as they appear
but as they truly are. This is the object which animals envisage in
their perceptions from the beginning. The sciences, and all honest
speculation, only substitute more refined ideas for the images of
sense, to be descriptions of the same objects which the images of sense
reveal. The notion that the object of sense is the very image created
in sensation, or is an idea constructed afterwards by the intellect, is
an aberration of confused psychologists; the intellectual construction,
like the sensuous image, is and is meant to be only a symbol for the
substance, whatever it may be, which confronts the living being when
he eats or looks or frames a scientific hypothesis. Natural things, in
their undiscovered inner texture, are the only things-in-themselves,
and the object of every practical perception is the thing-in-itself,
whatever its nature may happen to be.

When we enlarge our thoughts, and take in the world, as it were, at
a glance, the object does not become more metaphysical than when we
take common things singly. The Greeks, too, looked up into the heavens
and cried, "The All is one." It was just what the Indians had said,
shutting their eyes and drinking in an infinite draught of nothing;
but the outward glance, the docility to fact, in the Greeks made a new
thought of it, and a true one. What was now discovered was the system
of nature; the spirit was naturalized in its source; it was set like
a young plant in its appropriate flower-pot, where it might wax and
bloom. It did grow there, but not to its primeval size. These knowing
Greeks were not saints and hermits, like the venerable Indians; they
were merchants, sniffing travellers, curiosity-hunters, who turned
pebbles over and culled herbs, breeders of animals, or wandering
sooth-sayers with a monkey on their shoulder; and in naturalizing the
spirit they stultified it. Why should knowledge of the world make
people worldly? It ought to do the exact opposite. The Indians had, in
their way, a most profound and mature knowledge of the world; they knew
perfectly what it could yield to the spirit, and what it was worth. But
lost in their inner experience they invented for nature what structure
they chose, fantastically attenuating and inflating it as in a dream.
Apparently there is not energy enough in the human intellect to look
both ways at once, and to study the world scientifically whilst living
in it spiritually.

The Greeks in their sanity discovered not only the natural world but
the art of living well in it. Besides physics they founded ethics
and politics. But here again progress was prevented by the rejection
or perversion of the greater thing in the interests of the lesser.
Speculatively at least some just conception of the world we live
in, and of our place and destiny there, is more important than the
choice of a definite way of life; for animals and man have, quite
legitimately, each his own habits and pleasures, but they all crawl
under the same heaven, and if they think of it at all, they should
not blaspheme against it. The Greek naturalists had conceived nature
rightly; and their sentiments and maxims, whilst very properly diverse,
had all of them a certain noble frankness in the presence of the
infinite world, of which they begged no favours. It was precisely these
personal sentiments and maxims, and policy in the government of cities,
that interested the Greeks most; and the Sophists and Socrates affected
to care nothing about natural science, unless it could make their pot
boil. This utilitarianism was humorous in Socrates, and in some of the
Sophists unprincipled; but the habit of treating opinions about nature
as rhetorical themes, or as more or less edifying myths, had disastrous
consequences for philosophy. It created metaphysics. Metaphysics is
not merely speculative physics, in which natural science is extended
imaginatively in congruous ways, anticipating what might some day be
discovered. This is what the naturalists had done, and their theories
were simply physical or cosmological. But after Socrates a theory
constructed by reasoning, in terms of logic, ethics, and a sort of
poetic propriety was put in the place of physics; the economy of the
human mind was projected into the universe; and nature, in the works
of the metaphysicians, held the mirror up to man. Human nature and the
human mind, which were thus made to rule the world, are in reality a
very small incident in it; they are proper to one animal; they are
things of yesterday and perhaps not of to-morrow. This is nothing
against them in their place, as it is nothing against the daisy that it
is humble, nor against the spray of the sea that its flight is violent
and brief. The Platonic, British, and German schools of philosophy
advance our knowledge of ourselves; what a pity that they were not
content to cultivate their own gardens, where so many moral fruits and
psychological flowers might be made to grow, but have insisted that
their domestic vegetables are the signs of the zodiac, and that the
universe was made to illustrate their horticulture!

Taken for what they really are, these humanistic philosophies express
different sides of human nature. The best (and earliest) is the
Platonic, because the side of human nature which it expresses and
fosters is the spiritual side. Platonic metaphysics projects into
the universe the moral progress of the soul. It is like a mountain
lake, in which the aspirations and passions of a civilized mind are
reflected upside down; and a certain tremor and intensity is added to
them in that narrower frame, which they would hardly have in the upper
air. This system renders the life of the soul more unified and more
beautiful than it would otherwise be. Everything becomes magical, and a
sort of perpetual miracle of grace; the forms which things wear to the
human mind are deputed to be their substance; the uses of life become
its protecting gods; the categories of logic and of morals become
celestial spheres enclosing the earth. A monstrous dream, if you take
it for a description of nature; but a suitable allegory by which to
illustrate the progress of the inner life: because those stages, or
something like them, are really the stages of moral progress for the
soul.

The British and German philosophies belong to an analytic phase of
reflection, without spiritual discipline, and their value is merely
psychological. Their subject matter is human knowledge; and the titles
of many of the chief works of this school confess that this is their
only theme. Not moral life, much less the natural world, but simply the
articulation of knowledge occupies them; and yet, by the hocus-pocus
of metaphysics, they substitute this human experience for the whole
universe in which it arises. The universe is to be nothing but a
flux of perceptions, or a will positing an object, or a tendency to
feign that there is a world. It would ill become me, a pupil of this
philosophy, to deny its profundity. These are the heart-searchings of
"a creature moving about in worlds not realized." It is a wonderful
thing to spin out in soliloquy, out of some unfathomed creative
instinct, the various phases of one's faith and sensibility, making
an inventory of one's intellectual possessions, with some notes on
their presumable or reported history. I love the lore of the moral
antiquary; I love rummaging in the psychological curiosity shop. The
charm of modern life is ambiguous; it lies in self-consciousness.
Egotism has its tender developments; there is a sort of engaging purity
in its perplexities and faithful labours. The German soul has a great
volume, and Hamlet is heroic even in his impotence. When in this little
glow-worm which we call man there is so much going on, what must not
all nature contain in its immensity? Yet all these advances in analysis
and in psychological self-knowledge, far from enriching the modern
philosopher and giving him fresh hints for the interpretation of the
great world, have been neutralized, under the guise of scepticism, by
a total intellectual cramp or by a colossal folly. This thoughtful
dog has dropped the substance he held in his mouth, to snatch at the
reflection of it which his own mind gave him. It is wonderful with
what a light heart, with what self-satisfaction and even boasts, the
youngest children of the philosophical family jettison all their
heirlooms. Fichte and Nietzsche, in their fervid arrogance, could
hardly outdo the mental impoverishment of Berkeley and Hume in their
levity: it had really been a sight for the gods to see one of these
undergraduates driving matter out of the universe, whilst the other
drove out spirit.



49

THE PSYCHE


English poetry and fiction have expressed the inner man far better
than British philosophy has defined him. He is a hidden spring, a
source of bubbling half-thoughts and characteristic actions, and the
philosophers have called him a series of ideas. Ideas are rather his
weak point. Idealism, on principle, leaves no room for anything latent;
but in a living being, especially in a nice Englishman, what is latent
is the chief thing. The vital organs are under the skin and far more
complicated, I suspect, than anatomy would lead us to imagine: the case
is somewhat as if some giant in remote space should examine the surface
of our earth with a glass, measuring its motion round the sun and
perhaps round its own axis, but regarding as perfectly inexplicable and
unmeaning the coursing of ships, the march of armies and migrations,
the change of forests into cornfields, and of cornfields into deserts.
So, perhaps, far beyond the reach of any microscope, the politic
congregation of atoms within us is busy in its curiously organic and
curiously aimless way: sustaining on the whole, until disease or
death supervenes, the international peace and commerce of the animal
body. How much wireless telegraphy, how many alliances, and how many
diplomatic compromises there must be in our system for the human body
to live at all! But psychological philosophers, like children, think
the whole economy of life the simplest thing in the world: experience,
they say, just _comes_ as it does come; as the boy, asked where he
would get the money necessary for all the fine things he said he
would do when he was a man, replied, full of empirical wisdom, "Out
of my pocket, like papa!" Experience is the paternal pocket of these
philosophers; they have not discovered the financial system, the life
of the body, which fills that minute and precarious reservoir.

It is not only a stronger glass that the remote giant would need to
disclose to him the life of the earth; he would need imagination akin
to the human, which such a giant would probably not possess. For
suppose anatomy had done its best or its worst, and had completely
mapped the machinery of the human automaton; and suppose at the
same time the modern dream-readers and diviners had unearthed all a
man's infant concupiscences and secret thoughts: there would still
be something essential undiscovered. I do not mean that behind the
whole physical machinery there would be another material agency,
another force or set of events; nor that besides the totality of
mental discourse, remembered or unremembered, there would be more
thinking elsewhere: the hypothesis is that all that exists in these
spheres has been surveyed, and assigned to its place in the evolving
system. What has been so far ignored is something on another plane of
being altogether, which this automatic life and this mental discourse
involve, but do not contain. It is the _principle_ of both and of their
relation; the system of repetitions, correspondences, developments,
and ideal unities created by this march of human life in double
column. For instance, men are mortal; they are born; they are begotten
by sexual fertilization; they have a childhood; their passions and
thoughts flow in a certain general order; and there are units in the
human world called persons, nations, interests, purposes. I do not
refer to the _ideas_ of these things in the mental discourse of this
or that man; but to the groups or cycles of facts designated by these
ideas. To perceive these groups or cycles requires a certain type of
intelligence: but intelligence does not invent them without cause; it
_finds_ the order which it designates by some word, some metaphor, or
some image.

That this order of human life is something natural, and not a fiction
of discourse, appears in many ways. The relation of discourse itself
to physical life is one proof of it. Mental discourse is the inner
luminosity or speech that accompanies dramatic crises in the fortunes
of the body; it is not self-generated; it is always the _expression_ of
another event, then occurring in the body, as is a cry of pain; and it
is usually, at the same time, a _report_ of still another event that
has already occurred beyond the body, as is a memory or a perception.
Feeling and thought are perpetually interrupted and perpetually
renewed by something not themselves. Their march, logic, and sanity,
no less than their existence, translate into mental language an order
proper to material events. A sense of comfort is the symptom of a good
digestion; pain expresses a lively discord in the nervous system, and
pleasure a lively harmony. When we can scarcely live, because something
is stifling us, we hate that thing; and when we breathe more freely
because something approaches, we love it. Spirit everywhere expresses
the life of nature, and echoes its endeavours; but the animal life
which prompts these feelings is itself not arbitrary: it passes through
a cycle of changes which are pre-ordained. This predetermined, specific
direction of animal life is the key to everything moral; without it
no external circumstance could be favourable or unfavourable to us;
and spirit within us would have no reason to welcome, to deplore, or
to notice anything. What an anomaly it would seem to a free spirit
(if there could be such a thing) that it should care particularly for
what happens in the body of some animal, or that it should see one set
of facts rattier than another, and this in so partial and violent a
perspective! But spirit does, and must, do this; and it is an absurd
and satanic presumption on its part to profess that it could exist,
or be a spirit at all, if it were not the spirit of some body, the
voice of some animal heart. To have a station in matter, and to have
interests in the material world, are essential to spirit, because
spirit is life become articulate, experience focussed in thought and
dominated ideally; but experience and life are inconceivable unless
an organism with specific capacities and needs finds itself in an
environment that stimulates it variously and offers it a conditioned
career.

Science as yet has no answer to this most important of all questions,
if we wish to understand human nature: namely, How is the body, and how
are its senses and passions, determined to develop as they do? We may
reply: Because God wills it so; or Because such is the character of
the human species; or Because mechanical causes necessitate it. These
answers do not increase our scientific understanding in the least;
nevertheless they are not wholly vain: for the first tells us that we
must be satisfied with ignorance; the second that we must be satisfied
with the facts; and the third, which is the most significant, that
these facts are analogous in every province of nature. But how dose
are these analogies? Mechanism is one habit of matter, and life is
another habit of matter; the first we can measure mathematically and
forecast accurately, the second we can only express in moral terms,
and anticipate vaguely; but that the mechanical habit runs through
the vital habit, and conditions it, is made obvious by the dependence
of life on food, on time, on temperature, by its routine in health
and by its diseases, by its end, and above all by its origin; for it
is a habit of matter continuous with other inorganic habits, and (if
evolution is true) arising out of them. In any case, life comes from a
seed in which it lies apparently dormant and arrested, and from which
it is elicited by purely mechanical agencies. On the other hand, the
seed reacts on those agencies in a manner as yet inexplicable by what
we know of its structure; and its development closely repeats (though
perhaps with some spontaneous variation) the phases proper to the
species.

To this mysterious but evident predetermination of normal life by
the seed the ancients gave the name of soul; but to us the word soul
suggests a thinking spirit, or even a disembodied one. It is totally
incredible that a thinking spirit should exist in the seed, and should
plan and carry out (by what instruments?) the organization of the
body; and if so wise and powerful and independent a spirit lay in us
from the beginning, or rather long before our birth, how superfluous a
labour to beget us at all, and how unkind of it to dangle after it, in
addition to its own intelligence, these poor blundering and troubled
thoughts of which alone we are aware! Evidently the governing principle
in seeds is no soul in this modern sense, no thinking moral being; it
is a mysterious habit in matter. Whether this total habit is reducible
to minor habits of matter, prevalent in the world at large, is the
question debated between mechanical and vitalist psychologists; but it
is a stupid controversy. The smallest unit of mechanism is an event as
vital, as groundless, and as creative as it is possible for an event
to be; it summons fresh essences into existence, which the character
of the essences previously embodied in existence by no means implied
dialectically. On the other hand, the romantic adventure of life, if
it is not a series of miracles and catastrophes observed _ex post
facto_, must be a resultant of simpler habits struggling or conspiring
together. However minute, therefore, or however comprehensive the
units by which natural processes are described, they are equally
vital and equally mechanical, equally free and (for an observer with
a sufficient range of vision) equally predictable. On the human scale
of observation it is the larger habits of living beings that are most
easily observed; and the principle of these habits, transmitted by a
seed, I call the Psyche: it is either a complex of more minute habits
of matter, or a mastering rhythm imposed upon them by the habit of the
species. Many Greek philosophers taught that the Psyche was material;
and even Plato, although of course his Psyche might eventually take to
thinking, regarded it as primarily a principle of motion, growth, and
unconscious government; so that the associations of the word Psyche are
not repugnant, as are those of the word soul, to the meaning I wish to
give to it: that habit in matter which forms the human body and the
human mind.[1]

There is, then, in every man a Psyche, or inherited nucleus of life,
which from its dormant seminal condition expands and awakes anew in
each generation, becoming the person recognized in history, law, and
morals. A man's body is a sort of husk of which his Psyche (itself
material) is the kernel; and it is out of the predispositions of this
living seed, played upon by circumstances, that his character and
his mind are formed. The Psyche's first care is to surround itself
with outer organs, like a spider with its web; only these organs
remain subject to her central control, and are the medium by which
she acts upon outer things, and receives, in her patient labour, the
solicitations and rebuffs of fortune. The Psyche, being essentially
a way of living, a sort of animated code of hygiene and morals, is a
very selective principle: she is perpetually distinguishing--in action,
if not in words--between good and bad, right and wrong. Choice is the
breath of her nostrils. All the senses, instincts, and passions are
her scouts. The further she extends her influence the more she feels
how dependent she is on external things, and the more feverishly she
tries to modify them, so as to render them more harmonious with her own
impulses.

At first, when she was only a vegetative Psyche, she waited in a
comparatively peaceful mystical torpor for the rain or the sunshine
to foster her, or for the cruel winter or barbarous scythe to cut her
down; and she never would have survived at all if breeding had not been
her chief preoccupation; but she distributed herself so multitudinously
and so fast amongst her children, that she has survived to this day.
Later, she found a new means of safety and profit in locomotion; and it
was then that she began to perceive distinct objects, to think, and to
plan her actions--accomplishments by no means native to her. Like the
Chinese, she is just as busy by night as by day. Long before sunrise
she is at work in her subterranean kitchen over her pots of stewing
herbs, her looms, and her spindles; and with the first dawn, when the
first ray of intuition falls through some aperture into those dusky
spaces, what does it light up? The secret springs of her life? The aims
she is so faithfully but blindly pursuing? Far from it. Intuition,
floods of intuition, have been playing for ages upon human life: poets,
painters, men of prayer, scrupulous naturalists innumerable, have
been intent on their several visions; yet of the origin and of the
end of life we know as little as ever. And the reason is this: that
intuition is not a material organ of the Psyche, like a hand or an
antenna; it is a miraculous child, far more alive than herself, whose
only instinct is play, laughter, and brooding meditation. This strange
child--who could have been his father?--is a poet; absolutely useless
and incomprehensible to his poor mother, and only a new burden on her
shoulders, because she can't help feeding and loving him. He _sees_;
which to her is a mystery, because although she has always acted as if,
in some measure, she felt things at a distance, she has never seen and
never can see anything. Nor are his senses, for all their vivacity,
of any use to her. For what do they reveal to him? Always something
irrelevant: a shaft of dusty light across the rafters, a blue flame
dancing on the coals, a hum, a babbling of waters, a breath of heat or
of coolness, a mortal weariness or a groundless joy--all dream-images,
visions of a play world, essences painted on air, such as any poet
might invent in idleness. Yet the child cares about them immensely: he
is full of sudden tears and of jealous little loves. "Hush, my child,"
says good mother Psyche, "it's all nonsense." It is not for those
fantastic visions that she watches: she knits with her eyes shut, and
mutters her same old prayers. She has always groped amidst obstacles
like a mole pressing on where the earth is softest. She can tell
friends from enemies (not always correctly) by a mysterious instinct
within her, and the rhythm, as it were, of their approaching step. She
is long-suffering and faithful, like Penelope; but when hard-pressed
and at bay she becomes fierce. She is terribly absolute then, blindly
bent on vengeance and wild destruction. At other times she can melt
and be generous; in her beehive she is not only the congregation of
workers, but also the queen. Her stubborn old-womanish temper makes her
ordinarily unjust to her best impulses and hypocritical about her worst
ones. She is artful but not intelligent, least of all about herself.
For this reason she can never understand how she gave birth to such a
thankless child. She hardly remembers the warm ray from the sun or from
some other celestial source which one day pierced to her heart, and
begat there this strange uneasiness, this truant joy, which we call
thought. Seeing how quick and observant the brat is, she sometimes
sends him on errands; but he loiters terribly on the way, or loses
it altogether, forgets what he was sent for, and brings home nothing
but strange tales about Long-noses and Helmets-of-gold, whom he says
he has encountered. He prefers the poppies to the com, and half the
mushrooms he picks are of the poisonous variety; he sometimes insists
on setting apart his food for imaginary beings called the dead or the
gods; and worst of all, he once ravished and married a fairy, whom he
called Truth; and he wished to bring her to live with him at home. At
that, good mother Psyche naturally put her foot down. No hussies here!
Yet there are moments when she relents, when her worn old hands rest
in her lap, when she remembers and wonders, and two cold tears trickle
down from her blind eyes. What is the good of all her labour? Has it
all been, perhaps, for his sake, that he might live and sing and be
happy? Even in her green days, in her cool vegetable economy, there
had been waste; she had unwittingly put forth flowers she could not
see and diffused a fragrance that eluded her. Now her warmer heart has
bred this wilder, this diviner folly: a wanton sweetness shed by her
longer travail and a flower of her old age. But he forgets her in his
selfishness, and she can never, never understand him.


[Footnote 1: I beg the learned to notice that the Psyche, as I use the
term, is not a material atom but a material system, stretching over
both time and space; it is not a monad; it has not the unity proper to
consciousness; nor is it a mass of "subconscious," mental discourse.
The Psyche may be called a substance in respect to mental and moral
phenomena which (I think) are based on modes or processes in matter,
not on any material particle taken singly; but the Psyche is not a
substance absolutely, since its own substance is matter in a certain
arrangement--in other words, body. Matter may be called mind-stuff or
psychic substance inasmuch as it can become on occasion the substance
of a Psyche, and through the Psyche the basis of mind; but of course
not in the sense that matter may be an aggregate of thinking spirits.
Mental events may be called psychic when we consider their origin
rather than their essence, as certain pleasures are called material,
although pleasures, in being, are all equally spiritual. "Psychic
phenomena" are crudely material, and "psychical research" has for its
object, not spirits in another world, but the habits of matter that
produce apparitions.]



50

REVERSION TO PLATONISM


I hear that Oxford is reading Plotinus--a blessed change from Hegel.
The pious mind is still in the age of mythology; science has confused
its own lessons, for want of a philosopher who should understand them;
and what matters, so long as the age of mythology lasts, is that the
myths that occupy the fancy should be wise and beautiful, and should
teach men to lay up their treasures in heaven. The philosophy of
Plotinus does this, and does it magnificently. Like that of Plato
and of Aristotle it is little more than a rhetorical inversion or
perpetual metaphor, expressing the aim of life under the figure of a
cosmos which is animate and which has already attained its perfection.
Considering the hurried life which we are condemned to lead, and the
shifting, symbolic ideas to which we are confined, it seems hardly
worth while to quarrel with such inspired fabulists, or to carp at the
cosmic dress in which they present their moralities. Gentle, secluded,
scholastic England does well to platonize. It had never ceased to do
so. In spite of the restiveness, sometimes, of barbarian blood, in
spite of Hebraic religion and Germanic philosophy, the great classical
tradition has always been seated here; and England has shared, even if
with a little reserve and mistrust, in the ecclesiastical, courtly,
military, and artistic heritage of Europe. A genuine child of the past,
who is bred to knowledge of the world, and does not plunge into it
greedily like a stranger, cannot worship the world; he cannot really be
a snob. Those who have profited by a long life cannot possibly identify
the divine life with the human. They will not be satisfied with a
philosophy that is fundamentally worldly, that cannot lift up its heart
except pragmatically, because the good things are hanging from above,
or because the long way round by righteousness and the ten commandments
may be the shortest cut to the promised land. Their love of wisdom will
not be merely provisional, nor their piety a sort of idyllic interlude,
penitent but hopeful, comforting itself with the thought that the sour
grapes will soon be ripe, and oh, so delicious! They will not remember
the flesh-pots of Egypt with an eternal regret, and the flesh-pots of
Berlin and New York will not revive their appetite.

Spirit is not an instrument but a realization, a fruition. At every
stage, and wherever it peeps out through the interstices of existence,
it is a contemplation of eternal things. Eternal things are not other
material things by miracle existing for ever in another world; eternal
tilings are the essences of all things here, when we consider what
they are in themselves and not what, in the world of fortune, they may
bring or take away from us personally. That is why piety and prayer
are spiritual, when they cease to be magic operations or efforts of a
celestial diplomacy: they chief works of this school confess that this
is their only theme. Not moral life, much less the natural world, but
simply the articulation of knowledge occupies them; and yet, by the
hocus-pocus of metaphysics, they substitute this human experience for
the whole universe in which it arises. The universe is to be nothing
but a flux of perceptions, or a will positing an object, or a tendency
to feign that there is a world. It would ill become me, a pupil of this
philosophy, to deny its profundity. These are the heart-searchings of
"a creature moving about in worlds not realized." It is a wonderful
thing to spin out in soliloquy, out of some unfathomed creative
instinct, the various phases of one's faith and sensibility, making
an inventory of one's intellectual possessions, with some notes on
their presumable or reported history. I love the lore of the moral
antiquary; I love rummaging in the psychological curiosity shop. The
charm of modern life is ambiguous; it lies in self-consciousness.
Egotism has its tender developments; there is a sort of engaging purity
in its perplexities and faithful labours. The German soul has a great
volume, and Hamlet is heroic even in his impotence. When in this little
glow-worm which we call man there is so much going on, what must not
all nature contain in its immensity? Yet all these advances in analysis
and in psychological self-knowledge, far from enriching the modern
philosopher and giving him fresh hints for the interpretation of the
great world, have been neutralized, under the guise of scepticism, by
a total intellectual cramp or by a colossal folly. This thoughtful
dog has dropped the substance he held in his mouth, to snatch at the
reflection of it which his own mind gave him. It is wonderful with
what a light heart, with what self-satisfaction and even boasts, the
youngest children of the philosophical family jettison all their
heirlooms. Fichte and Nietzsche, in their fervid arrogance, could
hardly outdo the mental impoverishment of Berkeley and Hume in their
levity: it had really been a sight for the gods to see one of these
undergraduates driving matter out of the universe, whilst the other
drove out spirit.



51

IDEAS


How comes it that the word Idea, so redolent of Platonism, has been
the fulcrum on which British philosophy has turned in its effort to
dislodge Platonism from its foundations, and to lay bare the positive
facts? The vicissitudes of words are instructive; they show us what
each age understood or forgot in the wisdom of its predecessors,
and what new things it discovered to which it gave the old names.
The beauty which Plato and the English saw in Ideas was the same
beauty; they both found in Ideas the immediate, indubitable object of
knowledge. And nevertheless, hugging the same certitude, they became
sure of entirely different things.

The word Idea ought to mean any theme which attention has lighted
up, any aesthetic or logical essence, so long as it is observed in
itself or used to describe some ulterior existence. Amid a thousand
metaphysical and psychological abuses of the term this purely ideal
signification sometimes reappears in polite speech; for instance when
Athalie says, in Racine:

    J'ai deux fois, en dormant, revu la même idée.

Here, perhaps by chance, the word is used with absolute propriety and
its chief implications are indicated. An Idea is something seen, an
_immediate_ presence; it is something seen in a dream, or _imaginary_;
and it is the same Idea when seen a second time, or a _universal_.
That universals are present to intuition was the secret of Plato;
yet it is the homeliest of truths. It comes to seem a paradox, or
even inconceivable, because people suppose they see what they believe
they are looking at, which is some particular thing, the object of
investigation, of desire, and of action; they overlook the terms of
their thought, as they overlook the perspective of the landscape. These
terms, which are alone immediate, are all universals. Belief--the
expectation, fear, or sense of events hidden or imminent--precedes
clear perception; but it is supposed to be derived from it. Perception
without belief would be mere intuition of Ideas, and no belief in
things or ulterior events could ever be based on it. A seraph who
should know only Ideas would be incapable of conceiving any fact, or
noting any change, or discovering his own spiritual existence; he would
be mathematics actualized, a landscape self-composed, and love spread
like butter. The human mind, on the contrary, is the expression of an
animal life, swimming hard in the sea of matter. It begins by being
the darkest belief and the most helpless discomfort, and it proceeds
gradually to relieve this uneasiness and to tincture this blind faith
with more and more luminous Ideas, Ideas, in the discovery of facts,
are only graphic symbols, the existence and locus of the facts thus
described being posited in the first place by animal instinct and
watchfulness. If we suspend these eager explorations for a moment, and
check our practical haste in understanding the material structure of
things and in acting upon them, it becomes perfectly obvious that the
data of actual intuition are sounds, figures, movements, landscapes,
stories--all universal essences appearing, and perhaps reappearing, as
in a trance.

I think that Plato in his youth must have seen his Ideas with this
mystical directness, and must have felt the irritation common to
mystics at being called back out of that poetic ecstasy into the
society of material things. Those essences were like the gods, dear and
immortal, however fugitive our vision of them might be; whereas things
were in their inmost substance intricate and obscure and treacherously
changeable; you could never really know what any of them was, nor
what it might become. The Ideas were our true friends, our natural
companions, and all our safe knowledge was of them; things were only
vehicles by which Ideas were conveyed to us, as the copies of a book
are vehicles for its sense.

Nevertheless, the happy intuition of pure essences of all sorts, as
life vouchsafes it to the free poet or to the logician, could not
satisfy the heart of Plato. He felt the burden, the incessant sweet
torment, of the flesh; and when age--as I think we may detect in the
changed tone of his thoughts--relieved him of this obsession, which
had been also his first inspiration, it only reinforced an obsession
of a different kind, the indignation of an aristocrat and the sorrow
of a patriot at the doom which hung visibly over his country. The fact
that love intervened from the beginning in Plato's vision of the Ideas
explains why his Ideas were not the essences actually manifested in
experience, as it comes to the cold eye or the mathematical brain. When
love looks, the image is idealized; it does their several visions;
yet of the origin and of the end of life we know as little as ever.
And the reason is this: that intuition is not a material organ of the
Psyche, like a hand or an antenna; it is a miraculous child, far more
alive than herself, whose only instinct is play, laughter, and brooding
meditation. This strange child--who could have been his father?--is a
poet; absolutely useless and incomprehensible to his poor mother, and
only a new burden on her shoulders, because she can't help feeding and
loving him. He _sees_; which to her is a mystery, because although she
has always acted as if, in some measure, she felt things at a distance,
she has never seen and never can see anything. Nor are his senses, for
all their vivacity, of any use to her. For what do they reveal to him?
Always something irrelevant: a shaft of dusty light across the rafters,
a blue flame dancing on the coals, a hum, a babbling of waters, a
breath of heat or of coolness, a mortal weariness or a groundless
joy--all dream-images, visions of a play world, essences painted on
air, such as any poet might invent in idleness. Yet the child cares
about them immensely: he is full of sudden tears and of jealous little
loves. "Hush, my child," says good mother Psyche, "it's all nonsense."
It is not for those fantastic visions that she watches: she knits
with her eyes shut, and mutters her same old prayers. She has always
groped amidst obstacles like a mole pressing on where the earth is
softest. She can tell friends from enemies (not always correctly) by a
mysterious instinct within her, and the rhythm, as it were, of their
approaching step. She is long-suffering and faithful, like Penelope;
but when hard-pressed and at bay she becomes fierce. She is terribly
absolute then, blindly bent on vengeance and wild destruction. At other
times she can melt and be generous; in her beehive she is not only the
congregation of workers, but also the queen. Her stubborn old-womanish
temper makes her ordinarily unjust to her best impulses and
hypocritical about her worst ones. She is artful but not intelligent,
least of all about herself. For this reason she can never understand
how she gave birth to such a thankless child. She hardly remembers the
warm ray from the sun or from some other celestial source which one
day pierced presents actually will be only a few, and not the most
welcome, since this world is a most paradoxical, odd, and picturesque
object, and not at all the sort of world which the human mind (being a
highly specialized part of it) would have made or can easily believe
to be real. The Ideas which a philosopher says govern the world are
not likely to be its true laws; and, if he has really drawn them from
observation, they cannot possibly be all, nor the best, Ideas on
which his free mind would have chosen to dwell. The truth, which is a
standard for the naturalist, for the poet is only a stimulus; and in
many an idealist the poet debauches the naturalist, and the naturalist
paralyses the poet. The earth might well upbraid Plato for trying to
build his seven-walled cloud-castle on her back, and to circumscribe
her in his magic circles. Why should she be forbidden to exhibit any
other essences than those authorized by this metaphysical Solon? Why
should his impoverished Olympian theology be imposed upon her, and all
her pretty dryads and silly fauns, all her harpies and chimeras, be
frowned upon and turned into black devils? How these people who would
moralize nature hate nature; and if they loved nature, how sweetly
and firmly would morality take its human place there without all this
delusion and bluster! But I am not concerned so much with the violence
done by Plato to nature; nature can take care of herself, and being
really the mother even of the most waspish philosopher, with his sting
and his wings and his buzzing, she can comfortably find room for him
and his system amongst her swarming children. I wish I knew if the
real wasps, too, have a philosophy, and what it is; probably as vital
and idealistic as that of the Germans. But I am grieved rather at the
servitude and at the stark aspect imposed on the Platonic Ideas by
their ambition to rule the world. They are like the shorn Samson in the
treadmill; they have lost the radiance and the music of Phoebus Apollo.
Socrates taught that to do wrong is to suffer harm; and his Ideas, in
establishing their absurd theocracy over nature, were compelled to bend
their backs to that earth-labour, and to become merely a celestial
zoology, a celestial grammar, and a celestial ethics. Heaven had
stooped to rule the earth, and the crooked features of the earth had
cast their grotesque shadow on heaven.

This is the first chapter in the sad history of Ideas. Now for the
second.

The honest Englishman does not care much for Ideas, because in his
labour, he is occupied with things and in his leisure with play, or
with rest in a haze of emotional indolence: but finding himself, for
the most part, deep in the mess of business, he is heartily desirous
of knowing the facts; and when, in his scrupulous inquiry into the
facts, he finds at bottom only Ideas, and is constrained to become a
philosopher against his will, he contrives, out of those very Ideas, to
elicit some knowledge of fact. Ideas are not intrinsically facts, but
suppositions; they are descriptions offering themselves officiously as
testimonials for facts whose character remains problematical, since, if
there were no such facts, the Ideas would still be the same; yet, says
the melancholy Jaques to himself, "Is it not a fact that I have made
this dubious supposition? Am I not entertaining this Idea? This sad but
undeniable experience of mine, not the fact which I sought nor the Idea
which I found, is the actual fact, and the undeniable existence." Thus
the occurrence of any experience, or the existence of any illusion,
assumes the names both of fact and of idea in his vocabulary, and the
existence of ideas becomes the corner-stone of his philosophy.

The most candid and delightful of English philosophers (who was an
Irishman) was Berkeley. In his ardent youth, like Plato, he awoke to
pure intuition: he saw Ideas, or at least he saw that he did not see
material things; but instead of studying these Ideas for their own sake
with a steadier gaze, he took up the disputatious notion of denying
that material things existed at all, because he could not _see_ them.
It was a great simplification; and if he had not had conventional and
apologetic axes to grind, he might have reached the radical conclusion,
familiar to Indian sages, that nothing could exist at all, least of all
himself. Language, however, and the Cartesian philosophy, made it easy
for him to assume that of course he existed, since he saw these Ideas;
and he was led by a malicious demon to add, that the Ideas existed too,
since he saw them, so long as they were visible to him. Bat if he
existed only in that he saw the Ideas, and the Ideas existed in that
he saw them, was there any difference at all between himself seeing
and the Ideas seen? None, I am afraid: so that he himself, whom he
had proudly called a spirit, would be in truth only a series of ideas
(I spell them now with a small i), and the ideas--in which he had not
stopped to recognize eternal essences--would be only the pulses of his
fugitive existence.

Here is substance for an excellent ironical system of the universe,
such as some philosopher in Greece might have espoused; a flux of
absolute intensive existences, variously coloured and more or less
warm, like the sparks of a rocket. Some scientific philosopher in
our day or in the future may be tempted to work out this system, and
it might have been the true one. But I see an objection to it from
the point of view of British philosophy, which covets knowledge of
fact. The philosopher conceiving this system, if the system was true,
would be only one of those sparks; he could have no idea except the
idea which he was; the whole landscape before him would be but the
fleeting nature of himself. Although, therefore, by an infinitely
improbable accident, his philosophy might be true, he could have no
reason to think it true, and no possibility of not thinking it so. A
genuine sceptic might be satisfied with this result, enjoying each
moment of his being, and laughing at his own perpetual pretension of
knowing anything further. And since extremes meet, such a mocking
sceptic might easily become, like Plato, a lover of pure Ideas. If he
really abandons all claims, all hopes, all memory which is more than
fantasy, and simply enjoys the illusion of the moment, he dwells on
an Idea, which is all that an illusion can supply. The immediate has
a mystical charm; it unveils some eternal essence, and the extreme of
renunciation, like a sacrificial death, brings a supreme security in
another sphere. Berkeley and Hume were little more than boys when they
fell in love with Ideas; perhaps, if we knew their personal history,
we should find that they were little children when they first did so,
and that pure Essence was the Beatrice that had secretly inspired all
their lives. But though they were youths of genius, there was a touch
in them of the prig; the immediate, dear as it is to fresh and honest
hearts, was too unconventional for them legally to wed and to take
home, as it were, to their worldly relations. In England to love Ideas
is to sow one's intellectual wild oats. There may be something healthy
and impetuous in that impulse which is engaging; but it must not go too
far, and above all it must not be permanent. The British philosopher
dips into idealism in order to reform belief, to get rid of dangerous
shams or uncongenial dogmas, not for the sake of pure intuition or
instant assurance. He wishes to remove impediments to action; he hates
great remote objects as he hates popery and policy; imposing things are
impositions. Better get rid, if possible, of substance and cause and
necessity and abstractions and self and consciousness. The purpose is
to reduce everything to plain experience of fact, and to rest neither
in pure intuition nor in external existences. For instance, he has
two arguments against the existence of matter which he finds equally
satisfactory: one that matter cannot exist because he can form no idea
of it, and the other that matter cannot exist because it is merely an
idea which he forms. He descends to the immediate only for the sake
of the ulterior, for the immediate in some other place. If he found
himself reduced to essences actually given now, he would be terribly
unhappy, and I am sure would renounce philosophy as a bad business, as
he did in the person of Hume, his most profound representative.

Thus European speculation, like the Athalie of Racine, has twice in
its dreams beheld the same Ideas; but like that uneasy heroine it
has been troubled by the sight, and has stretched out its arms to
grasp the painted shadow. The first time, instead of Ideas, it found
a celestial hierarchy of dominations and powers, a bevy of magic
influences, angels, and demons. The second time, instead of Ideas, it
found an irrevocable flux of existing feelings, without sense, purpose,
connection, or knowledge. Perhaps if on the third occasion the Ideas
visited a less burdened and preoccupied soul, that could look on them
without apprehension, they might be welcomed for their fair aspect and
for the messages they convey from things, without being, in their own
persons, either deified or materialized.



52

THE MANSIONS OF HELEN


Concerning the visions which men have of the gods there is much
uncertainty. It is written that no man can see God and live; but I
think some evil god or evil man must be spoken of, and that they come
nearer to the truth who say that the vision of God brings perfect
happiness. I suspect this is true in a humbler and more familiar sense
than is intended in discourses about the state of the soul in heaven;
for there is a heaven above every place, and the soul mounts to it in
all its thoughts and actions, when these are perfect. I incline also
to another opinion, which would surprise those religious friends of
mine who call me an atheist; namely, that Whenever we see anything,
we have, or might have if we chose, a partial vision of God, and a
moment of happiness. For all experience comes to us fatally, from an
alien source which in physics is called matter, in morals power or
will, and in religion God; so that by his power (as I learned when a
child in my Spanish catechism) God is present in everything. The same
authority added (and how full of meaning that word is to me now!)
that he was also present in everything by his essence; since what is
brought unimpeachably before us in any vision is some essence which,
being absolutely indestructible, is in that respect divine. It is
indestructible because, if all trace and memory of it were destroyed,
it would in that very obscuration vindicate its essential identity,
since not _it_, but only things different from _it_, would now exist.
Every essence, therefore, lies eternally at the very foundations of
being, and is a part of the divine immutability and necessity; an
intrinsic feature in that Nous or Logos which theologians tell us is
the second hypostasis of the divine nature. Yet to say that we see
God when we see him only in part is perhaps hazardous and open to
objection, because a part of anything, separated from the rest, becomes
a different being, qualitatively and numerically; and it will be better
to speak of our visions as visions of angels or messengers or demigods,
having one divine parent and one human. In everything, if we regard it
as it is in itself, and not selfishly, we may find an incarnation or
manifestation of deity.

How the divinity of our daily visitants shines out at certain moments
and then again is obscured by our practical haste and inattention, is
admirably expressed in the history of Helen. Her birth was miraculous,
and yet quaintly natural, for her father Zeus, having taken the form
of a swan when he wooed her mother Leda, she was hatched from a great
white egg; and there was always something swanlike in the movements
of her neck, in the composure of her carriage, as if borne on still
waters, in the scarcely flushed marble of her skin, and in the
lightness and amplitude of her floating garments. She was hardly of
this world, and it seemed almost a desecration to have wedded her to
any mortal. Yet she offered no resistance to love; it was indifferent
to her whom she might enamour, or into what nest of robbers she might
be carried by force. Was it not violence, she said to herself, to exist
on earth at all? What mattered a shade more or less of violence? If she
remained in a manner chaste and inviolate, it was only because she was
too beautiful to tempt the lusts of men. Neither of her two husbands
loved or understood her. Menelaus because he was a dullard, and Paris
because he was a rake, approached her as they would have approached
any other woman, and they found no great pleasure in her society. Yet
wherever she appeared, every one stopped talking and was motionless;
and she was worshipped by all who saw her pass at a distance. Supreme
beauty is foreign everywhere, yet everywhere has a right of domicile;
it opens a window to heaven, and is a cause of suspended animation and,
as it were, ecstatic suicide in the heart of mortals.

Helen passed her childhood dazed, but with a pleasing wonder, because
she loved her brothers, and they, absorbed though they were habitually
in their violent sports, were tender to her. When they died, how gladly
would she have followed them and become the third star with them in
heaven! But she found herself married to Menelaus the king; and this
her first mansion at Sparta, the narrowest of citadels, was far from
happy. The palace was a great farm-house, and the talk in it was all
of harvests and cattle and horses and wars. The men were boors, and
their scruples about sacrifices and auguries annoyed her; being half
divine, she felt no need for religion. "What advantage is it," she said
in her thoughts, "to be a queen when I am a prisoner, or to be called
beautiful where nobody looks at me."

Accordingly it was with a vague hope and a secret desire for vengeance
that she heard of the approach of a brilliant stranger, from a far more
populous and flourishing city than Sparta, who came with gifts and a
glib tongue to view the wonders of the island world. When his eyes fell
on her, his unfeigned surprise filled her with exultation. To be so
discerned, for her, was to be won. Those eyes could recognize divinity.
No doubt he was preparing new fetters for her and new sorrows, but for
a moment she would be free, and in following him she would feel herself
once more the goddess.

In fact, so long as they sailed the dark-purple sea, or rested in
caves or in island bowers, all was pleasantness between them. Their
very galley, with its white sails spread, took on something of Helen's
beauty, and seemed a cloud wafted across the Aegean, or the swan, her
father, riding on the rippled reaches of the Meander. Paris proved
a candid and light-hearted lover; never vexed, he was all grace and
mastery in small matters: one of those lordly travellers who can feel
the charm of nature and of woman in every dime, however exotic, however
pure, or however impure; and the incomparable Helen seemed indeed
incomparable to his practised mind. He adored her, but he preferred
other women. Moreover, she found that at Troy he counted for nothing.
He moved amid battles and councils, quite at home in the scene, but
never consulted; a prince turned shepherd, a familiar but superfluous
ornament, like a fop or a ballet-dancer that everybody smiled upon and
nobody respected. It was given him in the end to slay the redoubtable
Achilles with a chance arrow, Apollo secretly directing the shaft,
but he was no warrior. It was a useless triumph, as his abduction of
Helen had been an innocent crime: both were the work of gods laughing
at human arrogance. There were doubtless street rhetoricians in Ilium
who upbraided Paris and Helen, as there are reasoning philosophers
and politicians to-day who attribute the ascendancy or decay of
nations to the ideas that prevail there, forgetting to ask why those
particular ideas have been embraced by those peoples, when all ideas,
in the universal market, are to be had gratis. The wise old Priam
and his counsellors knew better. They did not disown Paris for his
escapade, as they might so easily have done, nor did they return
Helen to her wronged husband, useless as she was at Troy. They knew
that the confused battles of earth must be fought over some nominal
prize; men and animals will always be fighting for something, not
because the thing is necessarily of any value to them, but because
they wish to snatch it from one another. Helen had lent her name and
image to colour an ancient feud, and make articulate the dull eternal
contention between Asia and Europe. It was for existence that each
party was fighting; but it added to their courage and self-esteem to
say they were fighting for beauty, and that the victory of their side
would be a victory for the gods. But the gods were in both camps, and
in neither, as in her heart was Helen herself. In her isolation, her
conscience sometimes reproached her, and she wondered that she never
heard these reproaches from the lips of others. Hector and Priam and
the other old men, even the queen and the gossiping women, treated her
with deference; but they cared only for Troy and for their own affairs.
If less beset than in her strict old home, she was more neglected
in these spacious palaces, and no less melancholy. Was it a miracle
of generosity that nobody blamed her, or was it a supreme proof of
indifference, that standing in the centre of the stage she remained
unheeded? Was she so much a goddess that they thought her a statue?
Would she be borne away by the victors like an inert Palladium, to be
set up elsewhere on a new pedestal? She did not understand that it is
not the vision that men have of the gods that works their safety or
ruin, but that fatal maladjustments, or natural vigour in them, in
shaping their destiny, call that vision down. Nor is it an idle vision;
for the sight turns the dreary length of their misery into a tragedy
flashing with light and tears; and the presence of Helen on those
beleaguered walls, which might have irritated the foolish, consoled
the wise. She was not the cause of their danger nor of their coming
disaster, as she had not been the cause of the harsh virtues of her
Spartan clan; but as those harsh virtues had created her beauty, so the
wealth and exuberant civilization of Ilium had recognized it, and made
it their own; and she was a glory to both nations, for not every city,
of all the cities that perish, has had a queen like her.

When Troy fell at last, when Hector and Paris and Priam were dead, and
Aeneas had escaped just in time, she waited, impassible, at the gate
of the smoking acropolis, neither glad nor sorry, not ashamed to see
her first husband again and his shouting friends--for she despised
them--nor unwilling to be removed, as it were, into the evening shadow
of her old queenliness. Something told her that in her second life at
Sparta she would be more feared and more respected; in her advancing
age and intangible isolation she would be as a priestess whom no
one--not even Menelaus--would dare to approach. Her crime would be her
protection; her rebellion, proudly acknowledged and never retracted
in spirit, would lift her above all mankind. Even while still in this
world, she would belong to the other.

There is an obscure rumour that after the fall of Troy Helen never
returned to Sparta but was spirited away to Egypt, whilst a mere
phantasm resembling her accompanied her dull husband back to his
dull fastness by the pebbly Eurotas. This turn given to the fable
hints darkly at the unearthly truth. Helen was a phantom always and
everywhere; so long as men fought for her, taking her image, as it
were, for their banner, she presided over a most veritable and bloody
battle; but when the battle ceased of itself, and all those heroes
that had seen and idolized her were dead, the cerulean colours of that
banner faded from it; the shreds of it rotted indistinguishably in the
mire, and the hues that had lent it for a moment its terrible magic
fled back into the ether, where wind and mist, meteors and sunbeams,
never cease to weave them. The passing of Helen was the death of
Greece, but Helen herself is its immortality. Yet why seek to interpret
the parable? There is more depth of suggestion in these ancient myths
than in any abstract doctrine which we may substitute for them. Homer
and his companions certainly were not writing intentional allegories;
but they had a sense for beauty and a sense for the flux of things,
and in those two perceptions the whole philosophy of Ideas is latent.
Sight, thought, love arrest essences; and time, perpetually undermining
the existence that brings those essences before us, drives them, as
fast as we can arrest them, like a sort of upward flaw, back into
heaven.



53

THE JUDGEMENT OF PARIS


I do not conceive the Judgement of Paris as Rubens has painted it:
an agricultural labourer leering at three fat women of the town who
have gone into the country for a lark. This disrobing of goddesses,
though there may be some ancient authority for it, does not conform
to my principles of exegesis, and I pronounce it heretical. Goddesses
cannot disrobe, because their attributes are their substance. They
are like the images of the Virgin in Spanish churches; if you are so
ill-advised, you may take off their crown, their veils, and their
stiffly embroidered conical mantle; but what will remain will not be
our Lady either of Mercies or of Sorrows, but a pole, with a doll's
head and two hands attached. The spell lies in the ornaments, because
they alone are symbolical and richly mysterious. Similarly the virtue
of those pagan goddesses did not he in what each might be in herself,
either as a conscious spirit or as a beautiful titanic body endowed
with free and immortal life; their relevant virtue was tutelary,
and lay in their patronage of particular crafts or passions in man.
For this reason it was not absurd that they should be rivals in
beauty. Of course in itself every nature, celestial or even earthly,
is incomparable and perfect in its own way. But goddesses may well
compete for the prize of beauty in the eyes of a mortal; it is not
their persons that he sees or can see, but their herds, born and bred
on the mountain-side, Arcadia is full of dirt, hardship, and poverty;
sunrise and sunset are heavy to them; they fatten their sheep in order
to shear and to slaughter them, and they love a green pasture because
it fattens the sheep. So too the eclogues of town poets, and the toy
Arcadias of Versailles or of the carnival, in their satin slippers
and gilded crooks, are a forced labour, and tedious; at best a new
masquerade in which the jaded may continue to make love. But there
is a poetic Arcadia none the less, the real Arcadia mirrored in a
contemplative mind. Idle vision neither is what it looks at, nor apes
it: it is infinitely other, yet in looking forgets itself, and lends
its heart gladly to the spectacle. Paris shirked none of the labours
or bestialities of the country swain; with a semi-divine tolerance he
relished those rough sports and those monotonous pipings: anything
a creature can love, some god finds lovable. He tussled with those
wenches, and the crude scent of those smoking kettles did not turn
his stomach. Had it been less malodorous at court? Was there not more
freedom, more laughter, and greater plenty here? If Paris was not a
hero, at least he was not a snob. He was a truant prince, a fop become
a shepherd, with a body and a mind capable of great things, but doing
easy things from choice. In his very softness, since it was voluntary,
there was a kind of strength, the strength of indifference, and
freedom, and universal derision. And his cynicism was voluptuous. Idle
vision in him gilded alike everything it saw. He had chosen, and would
never lose, possession of the Immediate.

As to Helen, I have not ignored her. The gods called Paris Alexander,
and a private oracle has revealed to me that they also had another
name for Helen, which was Doxa or Epiphaneia, that is to say, Glory
or Evidence or (being otherwise interpreted) Seeming or Phantom. She
was not substantial, but a manifestation of something else. Her beauty
was her all, and what was her beauty to herself A myriad potential
appearances wait in the intricate recesses of substance, or in the
ethereal web of lights and motions that vibrates through the infinite,
ready for the quick eye that can discern them. This discernment is at
once a birth and a marriage. No sooner is the fair phantom called
into existence than she has already leapt, as if carried by destiny,
into her lover's arms; for nothing can be more longed for, or more
rapturously beautiful when it appears, than perfect evidence is to
the mind. And the womb of nature, too, in its dark fertility, must be
relieved to bring something to light at last. Yet this rare concourse
of desires, and this blissful marriage, proves in the end most unhappy,
for there is sin in it.

As all desperate lovers, in the absence of their true love, embrace
what best they can find, though a false object, so spirit which, if
not entangled in circumstance and heavy with dreams, would embrace the
truth, must embrace appearance instead. There is a momentary lyrical
joy even in that, because appearance has a being of its own; it has
form, like Helen, and magic comings and goings, like visions of the
gods: and if spirit were not incarnate and had nothing to fear or
pursue, appearance would be the only reality it would care to dwell on.
It was princely of Paris to love only the Immediate, but it was inhuman
and unwise; and Venus had seduced him not only to his ruin (we must
all die sooner or later) but to his disgrace and perpetual misery. A
spirit lodged in time, place, and an animal body needs to be mindful of
existence; it needs to respect the past, the hidden, the ulterior. It
should be satisfied with what beauties are visible from its station,
and with such truths as are pertinent to its fate. It should study
appearance for the sake of substance. But as the joy of a free spirit
is in perfect evidence, in Doxa or Epiphaneia, it inevitably flouts
substance and embraces appearance instead. The Rape of Helen is this
adulterous substitution, dazzling but criminal.



54

ON MY FRIENDLY CRITICS


Now that for some years my body has not been visible in the places it
used to haunt (my mind, even then, being often elsewhere), my friends
in America have fallen into the habit of thinking me dead, and with
characteristic haste and kindness, they are writing obituary notices,
as it were, on my life and works. Some of these reach me in this other
world--the friendly ones, which their authors send me--and without
the aid of any such stratagem as Swift's, I have the strange pleasure
of laughing at my own epitaphs. It is not merely the play of vanity
that enters into this experience, nor the occasional excuse for being
unfair in return; there comes with it a genuine discovery of the
general balance of one's character. A man has unrivalled knowledge
of the details of his life and feelings, but it is hard for him to
compose his personage as it appears in the comedy of the world, or in
the eyes of other people. It is not true that contemporaries misjudge
a man. Competent contemporaries judge him perfectly, much better
than posterity, which is composed of critics no less egotistical
and obliged to rely exclusively on documents easily misinterpreted.
The contemporary can read more safely between the lines; and if the
general public often misjudges the men of its own time, the general
public hears little of them. It is guided by some party tag or casual
association, by the malignity or delusion of some small coterie that
has caught its ear: how otherwise should it judge ideas it has not
grasped and people it has not seen? But public opinion is hardly better
informed about the past than about the present, and histories are only
newspapers published long after the fact.

As to my person, my critics are very gentle, and I am sensible of the
kindness, or the diffidence, with which they treat me. I do not mind
being occasionally denounced for atheism, conceit, or detachment. One
has to be oneself; and so long as the facts are not misrepresented--and
I have little to complain of on that score--any judgement based upon
them is a two-edged sword: people simply condemn what condemns them. I
can always say to myself that my atheism, like that of Spinoza, is true
piety towards the universe and denies only gods fashioned by men in
their own image, to be servants of their human interests; and that even
in this denial I am no rude iconoclast, but full of secret sympathy
with the impulses of idolaters. My detachment from things and persons
is also affectionate, and simply what the ancients called philosophy:
I consent that a flowing river should flow; I renounce that which
betrays, and cling to that which satisfies, and I relish the irony of
truth; but my security in my own happiness is not indifference to that
of others: I rejoice that every one should have his tastes and his
pleasures. That I am conceited, it would be folly to deny: what artist,
what thinker, what parent does not overestimate his own offspring? Can
I suppress an irresistible sense of seeing things clearly, and a keen
delight in so seeing them? Frankly, I think these attitudes of mine
are justified by the facts; but I entirely understand how offensive
they must be to any one who thinks they are not justified, or who fears
that they may be. Let the irritant work. The arrows of anger miss their
mark. Aimed at some imaginary evil bird in the heavens, they scarcely
startle the poet wandering in his dell. He hears them pass over his
head and bury their venom far away in the young grass. Far away too his
friends are designing his vain cenotaph, and inscribing it with seemly
words in large capitals.

On the other hand, in respect to my impersonal opinions, I notice a
little bewilderment, and some obtuseness. Of course, if people are
repelled by the subject or by the manner (which is an integral part
of the thought) and find it all unintelligible, that is no fault of
theirs, nor of mine; but I speak of the initiated and of such as are
willing to lend their minds to my sort of lucubration. For instance,
when more than twenty years ago, I wrote some _Interpretations of
Poetry and Religion_, this is what William James said of them: "What
a perfection of rottenness ... how fantastic a philosophy!--as if
the 'world of values' _were_ independent of existence. It is only as
_being_ that one thing is better than another. The idea of darkness
is as good as that of light, as ideas. There is more value in light's
_being_." William James was a "radical empiricist," so that for him
the being of light could not have meant anything except its being in
idea, in experience. The fantastic view must therefore be some other;
apparently that in the realm of unrealized essences, apart from any
observer, one essence can be better than another. But how could any one
attribute such a view to me? The whole contention of my book was that
the glow of human emotion lent a value to good poetry which it denied
to bad, and to one idea of God which it denied to another. My position
in this matter was that of empirical philosophy, and of William James
himself. In his book on Pragmatism he says that the being of atoms is
just as good as the being of God, if both produce the same effects in
human experience; and I remember once mildly protesting to him on that
point, and asking him if, apart from these effects on us, the existence
of God, assuming God to be conscious, would not have a considerable
value in itself; and he replied, "Of course; but I was thinking of our
_idea_." This was exactly the attitude of my book; I was thinking of
our religious and poetic ideas, and reducing their value to what they
stood for in the elements of our experience, or in our destiny.

I think I see, however, where the trouble lies. The practical intellect
conceives everything as a source of influence. Whether it be matter or
other people, or tutelary spirits, that which we envisage in action
and passion is not our idea of these objects, but their operation
on us, or our operation on them. Now a source of influence cannot
be non-existent. Accordingly, what concerns earnest people in their
religion is something, they know not what, which is real. They are
not interested in forming poetic or dramatic pictures of the gods, as
the Greeks did in their mythology, but rather in finding a living God
to help them, as even the Greeks did in their home cultus and their
oracles. This living God, since he is to operate and to be worked upon,
must exist; otherwise the whole practice of religion becomes a farce.
So also in love or in science, it would be egotistical and affected to
gloat on our own ideal, turning our backs on the adorable person or the
natural process before us. It is the danger of empirical and critical
philosophy, that it turns our attention stubbornly to the subjective:
legitimately, I think, if the purpose is merely to study the growth and
logic of our beliefs, but illegitimately, if the purpose is malicious,
and if it is assumed that once we have understood how our beliefs
are formed we shall abandon them and believe nothing. Empiricism and
idealism are, as Kant called them, excellent cathartics, but they
are nasty food; and if we try to build them up into a system of the
universe the effort is not only self-contradictory (because we ought
then to possess only ideas without beliefs) but the result is, in the
words of William James, fantastic and rotten.

Now, however much I may have studied the human imagination, I have
never doubted that even highly imaginative things, like poetry and
religion, express real events, if not in the outer world, at least in
the inner growth or discipline of life. Like the daily experience of
the senses and like the ideas of science, they form _a human language_,
all the terms of which are poetical and its images dream-images, but
which symbolizes things and events beyond it and is controlled from
outside. This would be perfectly evident to any other animal who should
discover how men see the world or what they think of it: why should we
be less intelligent than any other animal would be about ourselves?
Enlightenment consists in coming nearer and nearer to the natural
objects that lend a practical meaning to our mental discourse; and when
the material significance of our dreams is thus discovered, we are lost
in admiration at the originality, humour, and pictorial grandeur of
the imagery in which our experience comes to us, as we might be at the
decorative marvels of tapestry or of stained glass: but now without
illusion. For we can now discriminate the rhythms and colour proper to
our mental atmosphere from the extrinsic value of discourse as a sign
for things and events beyond it. These external things and events make
up what we call nature. It is nature, or some part of nature, or some
movement of nature occurring within us or affecting us, that is the
true existent object of religion, of science, and of love. The rest is
a mere image.

My naturalism is sometimes taxed with being dogmatic, and if I were
anxious to avoid that reproach, I might easily reduce my naturalism
to a definition and say that if experience has any sources whatever,
the sum and system of these sources shall be called nature. I know
what speculative difficulties cluster about the notion of cause, which
in one sense is quite unnecessary to science; but so long as time,
process, and derivation are admitted at all, events may be traced
back to earlier events which were their sources; and this universal
flax of events will be called nature. Any existing persons, and any
gods exercising power, will evidently be parts of nature. But I am not
concerned to avoid dogmatism on such a point. Every assertion about
existence is hazarded, it rests on animal faith, not on logical proof;
and every argument to support naturalism, or to rebut it, implies
naturalism. To deny that there are any facts (if scepticism can be
carried so far) is still to dogmatize, no less than it would be to
point to some fact in particular; in either case we descend into the
arena of existence, which may betray our confidence. Any fact is an
existence which discourse plays about and regards, but does not create.
It is the essence of the practical intellect to prophesy about nature,
and we must all do it As to the truth of our prophecy, that is always
problematical, because nature is whatever nature happens to be; and
as to our knowledge, starting as it does from a single point, the
present position of the thinker, and falling away rapidly in dearness
and certainty as the perspective recedes, it cannot pretend to draw
the outlines of nature _a priori_: yet our knowledge of nature, in our
neighbourhood and moral climate, is very considerable, since every
known fact is a part of nature. It is quite idle to deny, for instance,
that human life depends on cosmic and hygienic influences; or that in
the end all human operations must run back somehow to the rotation of
the earth, to the rays of the sun, to the moisture and fructification
of the soil, to the ferment there of vegetative and dreaming spirits,
quickened in animals endowed with locomotion into knowledge of
surrounding things: whence the passionate imaginations which we find in
ourselves. I know that things might have been arranged otherwise; and
some of those alternative worlds may be minutely thought out in myth
or in philosophy, in obedience to some dialectical or moral impulse of
the human mind; but that all those other worlds are figments of fancy,
interesting as poetry is interesting, and that only the natural world,
the world of medicine and commerce, is actual, is obvious; so obvious
to every man in his sane moments, that I have always thought it idle to
argue the point. Argument is not persuasive to madmen; but they can
be won over by gentler courses to a gradual docility to the truth. One
of these gentler courses is this: to remember that madness is human,
that dreams have their springs in the depths of human nature and of
human experience; and that the illusion they cause may be kindly and
even gloriously dispelled by showing what the solid truth was which
they expressed allegorically. Why should one be angry with dreams,
with myth, with allegory, with madness? We must not kill the mind, as
some rationalists do, in trying to cure it. The life of reason, as I
conceive it, is simply the dreaming mind becoming coherent, devising
symbols and methods, such as languages, by which it may fitly survey
its own career, and the forces of nature on which that career depends.
Reason thereby raises our vegetative dream into a poetic revelation
and transcript of the truth. That all this life of expression grows up
in animals living in the material world is the deliverance of reason
itself, in our lucid moments; but my books, being descriptive of the
imagination and having perhaps some touches of imagination in them, may
not seem to have expressed my lucid moments alone. They were, however,
intended to do so; and I ought to have warned my readers more often
that such was the case.

I have no metaphysics, and in that sense I am no philosopher, but
a poor ignoramus trusting what he hears from the men of science.
I rely on them to discover gradually exactly which elements in
their description of nature may be literally true, and which merely
symbolical: even if they were all symbolical, they would be true enough
for me. My naturalism is not at all afraid of the latest theories of
space, time, or matter: what I understand of them, I like, and am ready
to believe, for I am a follower of Plato in his doctrine that only
knowledge of ideas (if we call it knowledge) can be literal and exact,
whilst practical knowledge is necessarily mythical in form, precisely
because its object exists and is external to us. An arbitrary sign,
indication, or name can point to something unambiguously, without at
all fathoming its nature, and _therefore_ can be knowledge of fact:
which an aesthetic or logical elucidation of ideas can never be.
Every idea of sense or science is a summary sign, on a different plane
and scale altogether from the diffuse material facts which it covers:
one unexampled colour for many rays, one indescribable note for many
vibrations, one picture for many particles of paint, one word for a
series of noises or letters. A word is a very Platonic thing: you
cannot say when it begins, when it ends, how long it lasts, nor where
it ever is; and yet it is the only unit you mean to utter, or normally
hear. Platonism is the intuition of essences in the presence of things,
in order to describe them: it is mind itself.

I am quite happy in this human ignorance mitigated by pictures, for
it yields practical security and poetic beauty: what more can a sane
man want? In this respect I think sometimes I am the only philosopher
living: I am resigned to being a mind. I have put my hand into the hand
of nature, and a thrill of sympathy has passed from her into my very
heart, so that I can instinctively see all things, and see myself, from
her point of view: a sympathy which emboldens me often to say to her,
"Mother, tell me a story." Not the fair Sheherazad herself knew half
the marvellous tales that nature spins in the brains of her children.
But I must not let go her hand in my wonder, or I might be bewitched
and lost in the maze of her inventions.

A workman must not quarrel with his tools, nor the mind with ideas; and
I have little patience with those philanthropists who hate everything
human, and would reform away everything that men love or can love.
Yet if we dwell too lovingly on the human quality and poetic play of
ideas, we may forget that they are primarily signs. The practical
intellect is always on the watch for ambient existences, in order to
fight or to swallow them: and if by chance its attention is arrested
at an idea, it will instinctively raise that idea to the throne of
power which should be occupied only by the thing which it stands for
and poetically describes. Ideas lend themselves to idolatry. There is
a continual incidental deception into which we are betrayed by the
fictitious and symbolical terms of our knowledge, in that we suppose
these terms to form the whole essence of their objects. I think I have
never failed to point out this danger of illusion, and to protest
against idolatry in thought, so much more frequent and dangerous
than the worship of stocks and stones; but at the same time, as such
idolatry is almost inevitable, and as the fictions so deified often
cover some true force or harmony in nature, I have sometimes been
tempted in my heart to condone this illusion. In my youth it seemed as
if a scientific philosophy was unattainable; human life, I thought, was
at best a dream, and if we were not the dupes of one error, we should
be the dupes of another; and whilst of course the critic must make this
mental reservation in all his assents, it was perhaps too much to ask
mankind to do so; so that in practice we were condemned to overlook the
deceptiveness of fable, because there would be less beauty and no more
truth in whatever theory might take its place. I think now that this
despair of finding a scientific philosophy was premature, and that the
near future may actually produce one: not that its terms will be less
human and symbolical than those to which we are accustomed, but that
they may hug more closely the true movement and the calculable order
of nature. The truth, though it must be expressed in language, is not
for that reason a form of error. No doubt the popularizers of science
will turn its language into a revelation, and its images into idols;
but the abstract character of these symbols will render it easier for
the judicious to preserve the distinction between the things to be
described and the science which describes them.

Was it, I wonder, this touch of sympathy with splendid error, bred in
me by long familiarity with religion and philosophy, that offended my
honest critics? Now that I show less sympathy with it, will they be
better satisfied? I fear the opposite is the case. What they resented
was rather that in spite of all my sympathy, and of all my despair
about science, it never occurred to me to think those errors true,
because they were splendid, except true to the soul. Did they expect
that I should seriously debate whether the Ghost in _Hamlet_ really
came out of Purgatorial fires, and whether Athena really descended
in her chariot from Olympus and pulled Achilles by his yellow hair
when he was in danger of doing something rash? Frankly, I have
assumed--perhaps prematurely--that such questions are settled. I am not
able nor willing to write a system of magic cosmology, nor to propose a
new religion. I merely endeavour to interpret, as sympathetically and
imaginatively as I can, the religion and poetry already familiar to us;
and I interpret them, of course, on their better side, not as childish
science, but as subtle creations of hope, tenderness, and ignorance.

So anxious was I, when younger, to find some rational justification
for poetry and religion, and to show that their magic was significant
of true facts, that I insisted too much, as I now think, on the need
of relevance to fact even in poetry. Not only did I distinguish good
religion from bad by its expression of practical wisdom, and of
the moral discipline that makes for happiness in this world, but I
maintained that the noblest poetry also must express the moral burden
of life and must be rich in wisdom. Age has made me less exacting, and
I can now find quite sufficient perfection in poetry, like that of the
Chinese and Arabians, without much philosophic scope, in mere grace
and feeling and music and cloud-castles and frolic. I assumed formerly
that an idea could have depth and richness only if somehow redolent of
former experiences of an overt kind. I had been taught to assign no
substance to the mind, but to conceive it as a system of successive
ideas, the later ones mingling with a survival of the earlier, and
forming a cumulative experience, like a swelling musical movement.
Now, without ceasing to conceive mental discourse in that way, I have
learned, with the younger generation, to rely more on the substructure,
on the material and psychical machinery that puts this conscious
show on the stage, and pulls the wires. Not that I ever denied or
really doubted that this substructure existed, but that I thought it
a more prudent and critical method in philosophy not to assume it.
Certainly it is a vast assumption; but I see now an irony in scepticism
which I did not see when I was more fervid a sceptic; namely, that
in addressing anybody, or even myself, I have already made that
assumption; and that if I tried to rescind it, I should only be making
another, no less gratuitous, and far more extravagant; I should be
assuming that the need of making this assumption was a fatal illusion,
rather than a natural revelation of the existence of an environment
to a living animal. This environment has been called the unknowable,
the unconscious and the subconscious--egotistical and absurd names for
it, as if its essence was the difficulty we have in approaching it.
Its proper names are matter, substance, nature, or soul; and I hope
people will learn again to call it by those old names. When living
substance is thus restored beneath the surface of experience, there is
no longer any reason for assuming that the first song of a bird may
not be infinitely rich and as deep as heaven, if it utters the vital
impulses of that moment with enough completeness. The analogies of this
utterance with other events, or its outlying suggestions, whilst they
may render it more intelligible to a third person, would not add much
to its inward force and intrinsic beauty. Its lyric adequacy, though of
course not independent of nature, would be independent of wisdom. If
besides being an adequate expression of the soul, the song expressed
the lessons of a broad experience, which that soul had gathered and
digested, this fact certainly would lend a great tragic sublimity to
that song; but to be poetical or religious intrinsically, the mystic
cry is enough.

I notice that men of the world, when they dip into my books, find
them consistent, almost oppressively consistent, and to the ladies
everything is crystal--clear; yet the philosophers say that it is lazy
and self-indulgent of me not to tell them plainly what I think, if I
know myself what it is. Because I describe madness sympathetically,
because I lose myself in the dreaming mind, and see the world from that
transcendental point of vantage, while at the same time interpreting
that dream by its presumable motives and by its moral tendencies,
these quick and intense reasoners suppose that I am vacillating in
my own opinions. My own opinions are a minor matter, and there was
usually no need, for the task in hand, that I should put them forward;
yet as a matter of fact, since I reached the age of manhood, they
have not changed. In my adolescence I thought this earthly life (not
unintelligibly, considering what I had then seen and heard of it) a
most hideous thing, and I was not disinclined to dismiss it as an
illusion, for which perhaps the Catholic epic might be substituted
to advantage, as conforming better to the impulses of the soul; and
later I liked to regard all systems as alternative illusions for the
solipsist; but neither solipsism nor Catholicism were ever anything to
me but theoretic poses or possibilities; vistas for the imagination,
never convictions. I was well aware, as I am still, that any such vista
_may_ be taken for true, because all dreams are persuasive while they
last; and I have not lost, nor do I wish to lose, a certain facility
and pleasure in taking those points of view at will, and speaking those
philosophical languages. But though as a child I regretted the fact and
now I hugely enjoy it, I have never been able to elude the recurring,
invincible, and ironic conviction that whenever I or any other person
feign to be living in any of those non-natural worlds, we are simply
dreaming awake.

In general, I think my critics attribute to me more illusions than
I have. My dogmatism may be a fault of temper or manner, because I
dislike to stop to qualify or to explain everything; but in principle
it is raised more diffidently and on a deeper scepticism than most of
the systems which are called critical. My "essences," for instance,
are blamed for being gratuitous inventions or needless abstractions.
But essences appear precisely when all inventions are rescinded and
the irreducible manifest datum is disclosed. I do not ask any one to
_believe_ in essences. I ask them to reject every belief, and what they
will have on their hands, if they do so, will be some essence. And if,
believing nothing, they could infinitely enlarge their imagination,
the whole realm of essence would loom before them. This realm is no
discovery of mine; it has been described, for instance, by Leibniz in
two different ways; once as the collection of all possible worlds, and
again as the abyss of non-existence, _le néant_, of which he says: "The
non-existent ... is infinite, it is eternal, it has a great many of the
attributes of God; it contains an infinity of things, since all those
things which do not exist at all are included in the non-existent,
and those which no longer exist have returned to the non-existent."
It suffices, therefore, that we deny a thing for us to recognize
an essence, if we know at all what we are denying. And the essence
before us, whether we assert or deny its existence, is certainly no
abstraction; for there is no other datum, more individual or more
obvious, from which the abstraction could be drawn. The difficulty
in discerning essences is simply the very real difficulty which the
practical intellect has in abstaining from belief, and from everywhere
thinking it finds much more than is actually given.

Profound scepticism is favourable to conventions, because it doubts
that the criticism of conventions is any truer than they are. Fervent
believers look for some system of philosophy or religion that shall be
_literally_ true and worthy of superseding the current assumptions of
daily life. I look for no such thing. Never for a moment can I bring
myself to regard a human system--a piece of mental discourse--as more
than a system of notation, sometimes picturesque, sometimes abstract
and mathematical. Scientific symbols, terms in which calculation is
possible, may replace poetic symbols, which merely catch echoes of
the senses or make up dramatic units out of appearances in the gross.
But the most accurate scientific system would still be only a method
of description, and the actual facts would continue to rejoice in
their own ways of being. The relevance and truth of science, like the
relevance and truth of sense, are pragmatic, in that they mark the
actual relations, march, and distribution of events, in the terms in
which they enter our experience.

In moral philosophy (which is my chosen subject) I find my
unsophisticated readers, as I found my pupils formerly, delightfully
appreciative, warmly sympathetic, and altogether friends of mine in
the spirit. It is a joy, like that of true conversation, to look
and laugh and cry at the world so unfeignedly together. But the
other philosophers, and those whose religion is of the anxious and
intolerant sort, are not at all pleased. They think my morality very
loose: I am a friend of publicans and sinners, not (as they are) in
zeal to reform them, but because I like them as they are; and indeed
I am a pagan and a moral sceptic in my naturalism. On the other hand
(and this seems a contradiction to them), my moral philosophy looks
strangely negative and narrow; a philosophy of abstention and distaste
for life. What a horrible combination, they say to themselves, of
moral licence with moral poverty! They do not see that it is because
I love life that I wish to keep it sweet, so as to be able to love it
altogether: and that all I wish for others, or dare to recommend to
them, is that they should keep their lives sweet also, not after my
fashion, but each man in his own way. I talk a great deal about the
good and the ideal, having learned from Plato and Aristotle (since the
living have never shown me how to live) that, granting a human nature
to which to appeal, the good and the ideal may be defined with some
accuracy. Of course, they cannot be defined immutably, because human
nature is not immutable; and they cannot be defined in such a way as
to be transferred without change from one race or person to another,
because human nature is various. Yet any reflective and honest man,
in expressing his hopes and preferences, may expect to find many of
his neighbours agreeing with him, and when they agree, they may work
politically together. Now I am sometimes blamed for not labouring more
earnestly to bring down the good of which I prate into the lives of
other men. My critics suppose, apparently, that I mean by the good
some particular way of life or some type of character which is alone
virtuous, and which ought to be propagated. Alas, their propagandas!
How they have fined this world with hatred, darkness, and blood! How
they are still the eternal obstacle, in every home and in every heart,
to a simple happiness! I have no wish to propagate any particular
character, least of all my own; my conceit does not take that form.
I wish individuals, and races, and nations to be themselves, and to
multiply the forms of perfection and happiness, as nature prompts them.
The only thing which I think might be propagated without injustice to
the types thereby suppressed is harmony; enough harmony to prevent
the interference of one type with another, and to allow the perfect
development of each type. The good, as I conceive it, is happiness,
happiness for each man after his own heart, and for each hour according
to its inspiration. I should dread to transplant my happiness into
other people; it might die in that soil; and my critics are the
first to tell me that my sort of happiness is a poor thing in their
estimation. Well and good. I congratulate them on their true loves: but
how should I be able to speed them on their course? They do not place
their happiness in the things I have, or can give. No man can set up
an ideal for another, nor labour to realise it for him, save by his
leave or as his spokesman, perhaps more ready with the right word. To
find the comparatively right word, my critics seem to agree, is my art.
Do I not practise it for their benefit as best I can? Is it I who am
indifferent to the being of light? Who loves it more, or basks in it
more joyfully? And do I do nothing that the light may come? Is it I who
tremble lest at its coming it should dissolve the creatures begotten in
darkness? Ah, I know why my critics murmur and are dissatisfied. I do
not endeavour to deceive myself, nor to deceive them, nor to aid them
in deceiving themselves. They will never prevail on me to do that. I am
a disciple of Socrates.



55

HERMES THE INTERPRETER


A traveller should be devout to Hermes, and I have always loved him
above the other gods for that charming union which is found in him of
youth with experience, alacrity with prudence, modesty with laughter,
and a ready tongue with a sound heart. In him the first bubblings of
mockery subside at once into courtesy and helpfulness. He is the winged
Figaro of Olympus, willing to yield to others in station and to pretend
to serve them, but really wiser and happier than any of them. There
is a certain roguery in him, and the habit of winking at mischief. He
has a great gift for dissertation, and his abundant eloquence, always
unimpeachable in form and in point, does not hug the truth so closely
as pious people might expect in a god who, as they say sagaciously, can
have no motive for lying. But gods do not need motives. The lies of
Hermes are jests; they represent things as they might have been, and
serve to show what a strange accident the truth is. The reproach which
Virgil addresses to his Juno, "Such malignity in minds celestial?"
could never apply to this amiable divinity, who, if he is a rascal at
all (which I do not admit), is a disinterested rascal. He has given no
pawns to fortune, he is not a householder, he is not pledged against
his will to any cause. Homer tells us that Hermes was a thief; but the
beauty of mythology is that every poet can recast it according to his
own insight and sense of propriety; as, in fact, our solemn theologians
do also, although they pretend that their theology is a science, and
are not wide awake enough to notice the dreamful, dramatic impulse
which leads them to construct it. Now, in my vision, the thievery of
Hermes, and the fact that he was the patron of robbers, merchants,
rhetoricians, and liars, far from being unworthy of his divine nature,
are a superb and humorous expression of it. He did not steal the
cattle of Apollo for profit. Apollo himself--a most exquisite young
god--did not give a fig for his cattle nor for his rustic employment;
in adopting it he was doing a kind turn to a friend, or had a love-lorn
scheme or a wager afoot, or merely wished for the moment to be idyllic.
It was a pleasant _scherzo_ (after the _andante_ which he played in the
heavens, in his capacity of sun-god and inspirer of all prophets) to
lean gracefully here on his herdsman's staff, or to lie under a tuft of
trees on some mossy hillock, in the midst of his pasturing kine, and to
hold the poor peeping dryads spellbound by the operatic marvels of his
singing. In purloining those oxen, Hermes, who was a very little boy at
the time, simply wanted to mock these affectations of his long-haired
elder brother; and Apollo, truly an enraptured artist and not a prig,
and invulnerable like Hermes in his godlike freedom, did not in the
least mind the practical joke, nor the ridicule, but was the first to
join in the laugh.

When Hermes consents to be the patron of thieves and money-lenders it
is in the same spirit. Standing, purse in hand, in his little shrine
above their dens, he smiles as if to remind them that everything
is trash which mortals can snatch from one another by thieving or
bargaining, and that the purpose of all their voyages, and fairs, and
high-way robberies is a bauble, such as the dirty children playing
in the street set up as a counter in their game. But Hermes is not
impatient even of the gutter-snipes, with their cries and their
shrill quarrels. He laughs at their grimaces; their jests do not seem
emptier to him than those of their elders; he is not offended at
their rags, but sends sleep to them as they lie huddled under some
archway or stretched in the sun upon the temple steps. He presides
no less benignly over thieves' kitchens and over the shipyards and
counting-houses of traders; not that he cares at all who makes the
profit or who hoards the treasure, but that sagacity and the hum of
business are delightful to him in themselves. He likes to cull the
passion and sparkle out of the most sordid life, and the confused
rumble of civilization is pleasant to his senses, like a sweet vapour
rising from the evening sacrifice.

His admirable temper and mastery of soul appear in nothing more clearly
than in his love-affair with the beautiful Maia. She is ill-spoken of,
but he is very, very fond of her, and deeply happy in her love. It is
a secret relation, although everybody has heard of it; but the nymph
is a mystery; in fact, although everybody has seen her at one time
or another, no one has ever known then that it was she. Hermes alone
recognizes and loves her in her own person, and calls her by her name;
but privately. Sometimes, with that indiscretion and over-familiarity
which the young allow themselves in their cups, his brothers ask him
where he meets her; and he only smiles a little and is silent. She is
said to be a wild unmanageable being, half maenad and half shrew; a
waif always appearing and disappearing without any reason, and in her
fitful temper at once exacting and tedious. Her eyes are sometimes
blue and sometimes black, like heaven. Empty-headed and too gay, some
people think her; but others understand that she is constitutionally
melancholy and quite mad. They say she often sits alone, hardly
distinguishable in the speckled sunshine of the forest, or else by
the sea, spreading her hair to the wind and moaning: and then Hermes
flies to her and comforts her, for she is an exile everywhere and he
is everywhere at home. It is rumoured that in the East she has had a
great position, and has been Queen of the Universe; but in Europe she
has no settled metaphysical status, and it is not known whether she is
really a goddess, mistress over herself, or only a fay or a phantom
at other people's beck and call; and she has nowhere any temple or
rustic sanctuary or respectable oracle. Moreover, she has inexpressibly
shocked the virtuous, who think so much of genealogy, by saying, as
is reported, that she has no idea who is the father of her children.
Hermes laughs merrily at this, calling it one of her harmless sallies,
which she indulges in simply because they occur to her, and because
she likes to show her independence and to flout the sober censors of
this world. He is perfectly confident she has never had any wooer but
himself, nor would dream of accepting any other. Even with him she
is always reverting to stubborn refusals and denials and calling him
names; but when the spitfire is raging most angrily, he has only to
gaze at her steadily and throw his arm gaily about her, as much as to
say, "Don't be a fool," for her to be instantly mollified and confess
that it was all make-believe, but that she couldn't help it. Then it
is wonderful how reasonable she becomes, how perfectly trustful and
frank, so that no companion could be more deeply delightful. She is as
light as a feather, then, in his arms. The truth is, she lives only for
him; she really has no children, only young sisters who are also more
or less in love with him and he with them; and she sleeps her whole
life long in his absence. In all those strange doings and wanderings
reported of her she is only walking in her sleep. The approach of
Hermes awakes her and lends her life--the only life she has. Her
true name is Illusion; and it is very characteristic of him, so rich
in pity, merriment, and shrewdness, to have chosen this poor child,
Illusion, for his love.

Hermes is the great interpreter, the master of riddles. I should not
honour him for his skill in riddles if I thought he invented them
wantonly, because he liked to puzzle himself with them, or to reduce
other people to a foolish perplexity without cause. I hate enigmas;
and if I believed that Hermes was the inspirer of those odious persons
who are always asking conundrums and making puns I should renounce him
altogether, break his statue, turn his picture to the wall, and devote
myself exclusively to the cult of some sylvan deity, all silence and
simple light. But I am sure Hermes loves riddles only because they are
no riddles to him; he is never caught in the tangle, and he laughs
to see how unnecessarily poor opinionated mortals befool themselves,
wilfully following any devious scent once they are on it by chance,
and missing the obvious for ever. He gives them what sly hints he can
to break the spell of their blindness; but they are so wedded to their
false preconceptions that they do not understand him, and are only the
more perplexed. Sometimes, however, they take the hint, their wit grows
nimble, their thoughts catch fire, and insight, solving every idle
riddle, harmonizes the jarring cords of the mind.

The wand of Hermes has serpents wound about it, but is capped with
wings, so that at its touch the sting and the coil of care may vanish,
and that we may be freed from torpor and dull enchantment, and may see,
as the god does, how foolish we are. All these mysteries that befog
us are not mysteries really; they are the mother-tongue of nature.
Rustics, and also philosophers, think that any language but theirs
is gibberish; they are sorry for the stranger who can speak only an
unintelligible language, and are sure he will be damned unless the
truth is preached to him speedily by some impertinent missionary from
their own country. They even argue with nature, trying to convince her
that she cannot move, or cannot think, or cannot have more dimensions
than those of their understanding. Oh for a touch of the healing wand
of Hermes the Interpreter, that we might understand the language of the
birds and the stars, and, laughing first at what they say of us, might
then see our image in the mirror of infinity, and laugh at ourselves!
Here is a kindly god indeed, humane though superhuman, friendly though
inviolate, who does not preach, who does not threaten, who does not
lay new, absurd, or morose commands on our befuddled souls, but who
unravels, who relieves, who shows us the innocence of the things we
hated and the clearness of the things we frowned on or denied. He
interprets us to the gods, and they accept us; he interprets us to
one another, and we perceive that the foreigner, too, spoke a plain
language: happy he if he was wise in his own tongue. It is for the
divine herald alone to catch the meaning of all, without subduing his
merry voice to any dialect of mortals. He mocks our stammerings and
forgives them; and when we say anything to the purpose, and reach any
goal which, however wantonly, we had proposed to ourselves, he applauds
and immensely enjoys our little achievement; for it is inspired by him
and like his own. May he be my guide: and not in this world only, in
which the way before me seems to descend gently, quite straight and
clear, towards an unruffled sea; but at the frontiers of eternity let
him receive my spirit, reconciling it, by his gracious greeting, to
what had been its destiny. For he is the friend of the shades also,
and makes the greatest interpretation of all, that of life into truth,
translating the swift words of time into the painted language of
eternity. That is for the dead; but for living men, whose feet must
move forward whilst their eyes see only backward, he interprets the
past to the future, for its guidance and ornament. Often, too, he bears
news to his father and brothers in Olympus, concerning any joyful or
beautiful thing that is done on earth, lest they should despise or
forget it. In that fair inventory and chronicle of happiness let my
love of him be remembered.





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