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Title: Moral Poison in Modern Fiction
Author: Johnson, Reginald Brimley
Language: English
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                             MORAL POISON
                           IN MODERN FICTION

                             MORAL POISON
                            MODERN FICTION


                          R. BRIMLEY JOHNSON

                               AUTHOR OF


                          A. M. PHILPOT, LTD.
                    69 GREAT RUSSELL STREET, W.C.1


     I. "LIKE THE REST OF THEIR YOUNG WORLD"                      7

    II. THEN CAME THE WAR!                                       12

        HARD                                                     17

        BEFORE THE WAR?                                          21

     V. THE "SPADE" IDEAL IN FICTION                             24

        MORAL INTOXICANTS                                        33

        HOW DO THEY INTERPRET LIFE AND LOVE?                     39

  VIII. WHAT IS THIS LOVE? IT IS SEX-CONFLICT                    53

    IX. WHO _IS_ THE IDEAL MISTRESS?                             64

     X. HERE ARE TWO PICTURES OF FREE LOVE                       72

        YOUTH? HOW ARE WE PAYING OUR DEBT TO THEM?               79


I have not systematically searched modern fiction to illustrate or
support the arguments of this book. Every novel quoted, or even
mentioned, has come before me in the day's work, as a reviewer. It is
scarcely necessary to add that no personal reflection upon any writer
has even crossed my mind. I am not here concerned with the cause or
motive of literature, but with its effect.

                                                    R. B. J.



It is a grim enough charge against our generation. Dare we pronounce it
untrue? Upon what theories of private morality are the young now fed?

Morals are, obviously, influenced in most cases by example and the
atmosphere of the home; but are not these themselves mainly produced,
whether consciously or not, by the teaching and tone of these who
profess to think? In these latter days most thought reaches us through
fiction, most emotion through drama.

_Without hesitation, I would maintain that an immense number of novels
now being written contain much deadly poison._

Let me not be misunderstood. I have no wish to draw down the
blinds again upon vital questions of sex, to bring out once more
the comfortable "wraps" of Victorian days, to uphold reserve if not
silence, or shut the door upon open talk. Nor would I say to youth: "We
are older and _therefore_ we know; believe us, things were far better
and happier in our time."

Such a reproach were neither wise nor true. Human nature, like all
forms of life, always grows and improves (in a long view), steps on
towards the Ideal. But to-day we must face the sharp arrest of all
normal progress, the actual throw-back to savagery, caused by the
war: which came, as a moral influence, upon minds unsettled by the
Revolution of Ideas that had set in before 1914.

Revolution may, and in fact does, largely express itself by
exaggeration, but it is not Anarchy. The ideas then first revealed
were due to a natural and healthy awakening among advanced thinkers.
Winds blew upon our comfortable complacencies. The moral assumptions
we had accepted, and refused to discuss, were boldly questioned. The
Sex-Revolt had begun.

And rightly. Many reforms were badly needed in the legal applications
of morality; the ideal of purity had stiffened into conventions
that chained the mind and stifled the heart. There was a taint of
insincerity over the realities of life: the false gods of narrow-minded
respectability, breeding secret sin.

Wider knowledge; the sifting of old ideas and the questioning of fixed
thought, can harm none. On the whole, moreover, protest was made in
earnest, with a due sense of responsibility. It was not, as to-day,
wildly shouted on the housetops; without reflection, undigested; in a
riot of burning words.

There were, of course, wild statements made in bitter anger; foolish
experiments attempted; in some quarters, merely a new cant and
upside-down convention upheld to replace the old. But, on the whole,
still only among the few. In all probability, under normal conditions,
the needed frank discussion and honest thought would have sifted the
true from the false, before the temporary confusion had inflamed
popular imagination, and uprooted, without reforming, the habits and
thought of daily life.

Looking back, I think, one can fairly summarize the position then
arrived at by advanced thinkers, that was beginning to be generally

    That there is nothing inherently evil in the human body, to
    be hidden up, and if possible ignored; particularly, that the
    instincts of sex are natural and healthy, a vital part of pure

    That women are moved by physical "desires" equally with
    men, though more habituated to restraint; wherefore the old
    one-sided tolerance towards men, "who cannot help themselves,"
    is utterly false and, combined with the conventional innocence
    of women, creates morbid barriers between the sexes, whereby
    "the woman pays."

    That these truths should be known and faced by both sexes
    _before_, not after, marriage; with all the consequences they
    involve and the dangers they should enable us to avoid: the
    risks of a "sheltered" youth and the real meaning of purity,
    true and false passion or love, marriage wrecked by ignorance,
    divorce, the unmarried mother, birth control, the position of
    the prostitute, etc.

    Truth, the ventilation of morality, the honest consideration
    of problems which may at any moment take us unawares, should
    not defile the heart or suggest evil thought. Real knowledge
    strengthens the will; and we must look at sin, see it clearly,
    if we can ever hope to conquer it.

If some of us felt that these, in a sense "new," truths were rather
hurried upon us, often crudely expressed and applied; we knew that each
generation must seek its own light, and add something to inherited
wisdom. We saw children cramped and losing _themselves_ in their
fathers' fetters; we saw injustice, misery, and wasted lives; many a
marriage that proved a prison or a doll's house. We learned honestly
to face, almost for the first time, the terrible abuse of sex behind
drawn blinds that, seeming an integral part of civilization, was eating
away the very heart of humanity and condemning, with grim cynicism, the
complacency of the old code.



—Which meant that thousands of boys and girls were suddenly snatched
away from their homes and parents, flung out into the heat of life,
under conditions of abnormal, and wholly vile, excitement. They had to
act and think for themselves without guidance, training, or experience:
to face problems almost entirely new to young and old alike.

Practically, there were no safeguards.

It was not that men rebelled against and defied the established
traditions: these simply did not apply to life as it burst upon our
sons and daughters. Normal existence was wiped out by a flash of
lightning. The old duties, habits, manners, responsibilities, were
rudely cast aside: for what seemed, and perhaps was, a higher call. The
whole of life was revised in a few hours; and it is no exaggeration to
say that none knew their way about the new world.

Only a clear understanding of what war really meant for us, can reveal
the special problems of to-day in their relation to the permanent,
which are the only real, emotions and instincts of human nature.

To a large extent, the mental and moral growth of all young men
was abruptly stopped short. Those who have come back, physically
fit, are—in all the essentials of character—five years younger
than by the calendar, though more "fixed" in their few ideas. Many
are further hampered and—in a sense—abnormal; maimed, diseased,
or nerve-shattered; definitely unbalanced in some way; only half
themselves, liable to sudden loss, or defiance, of self-control.

For five years they were not men, but screws in a vast evil machine.
They had, indeed, experience of death; none of life. They had,
practically, no responsibility towards, or for, themselves; no sense
of duty before them except obedience; no aim beyond a standardized
efficiency. They lost every influence of home, neighbourliness,
citizenship, and above all the refinement and sanctity of love. To live
for the moment became their Ideal; in a vision of noble patriotism and
sublime self-sacrifice. It was not for them to plan, look forward,
build up life and character for themselves.

This unnatural and irresponsible existence, moreover, was to be spent
among scenes of appalling savagery and the worst primitive passions.

    "The place was rotten with dead; green clumsy legs
    High-booted, sprawled and grovelled along the saps;
    And trunks, face downward, in the sucking mud,
    Wallowed like trodden sand-bags loosely filled;
    And naked sodden buttocks, mats of hair,
    Bulged, clotted heads slept in the plastering slime."

Only devils can serve the Devil of War; and _the supreme sacrifice our
sons made for us was the sacrifice of their humanity_.

To "do their bit," they put away themselves.

But this abnormal, unreal existence, these lives in the Flame of
Hate, hardened and coarsened by the day's work, positively _had_ to
discover some outlet; quick, sure ways to forget. Quite unused to the
normal "decencies," without experience in "ordering" themselves, the
sex-instinct became explosive, a sense-riot unrestrained. Remember,
that to men (and women, for that matter), hard working at high
pressure, leading a strained and feverish life, the sex-thirst springs
out. There is no drug for worn-out bodies and souls so easy and so
sweet-savoured, so prompt in its effects, for the moment so complete.
In those days few stopped to count the cost, face the consequences, or
note the weakening of the will. With death "round the corner," why stop
to think? Life was all snatching; action meant a shrewd blow, careless
of what, in ourselves or in another, we killed by the way.

And for girls and young women there was one Rule of Life—"give the men
a good time." I know the inspiring motive, however little conscious in
some, was a generous self-forgetting. To give is always ennobling, and
God forbid one should ever, by thought or word, belittle the selfless
heroism born in woman.

But then, our daughters had no chance to know and choose, no test
between real emotion and fevered desire—their own or another's.
Inheriting a beautiful home-womanliness, the flower of sheltered
innocence, they had to make and be themselves in the open of a new
world. Nobility shone out among us in those days, miracles beyond
belief of what woman can do and suffer for big, or small, men: a new
vision of the mothering of humanity that brought God to our side. Also,
alas, terrible shattering of English girlhood, ugly staining of the
pure in heart, feverish unrest, a fury of overdoing, a hard glitter of
cold joy. Always haste, never growth. Wherefore to-day our morality is
an ash-heap, which some weep over, others kick up.

_Dare we refuse to face the black awakening to disillusion?_



What was their "food for thought"? Largely away from, and independent
of, personal influence from the intimacies of home life; almost
entirely freed from authority even in daily conduct, and from the
restraints of an accepted moral code; they talked and read. All the
rebellions and revolts of before 1914 were conspicuously abroad.
Above all, then and to-day, the novels (devoured for distraction) had
forced sex-problems upon the most thoughtless; demanded for all on
the threshold of life full licence for self-expression; analysed what
they called the soul in undigested detail; lingered over body-contact,
flushes and fires of the flesh; loudly proclaimed new Laws of Love.

The whole experience of mankind, our most sacred instincts, are flouted
with contempt. The conflicting claims, which none can avoid, between
young and old, have been flung off. The old distinctions between wrong
and right are categorically denied; all now demand an absolutely fresh
start based on universal knowledge of sin, absolute freedom for the
individual, frank discussion of physical intimacies, full rights to
the Egoist—"a commonplace promiscuity that masquerades as liberty,
as courageousness, as art. A slimy, glittering snail-track threaded
through all society."

And we have not, even yet, gone far enough! since, it is said,
"Conversation is over-sexed, the novel under-sexed, therefore untrue,
therefore insincere." By this creed, there is only one _real_ thing in
life—physical passion.

I do not suggest that contemporary thought is _all_ evil, unclean or
false. Many of our writers are serious, pure-minded men and women,
rightly indignant with old falsehoods, honestly seeking new light. Much
of their work, too, reveals both sincerity and truth, a finer instinct
for the ideal than the Victorians ever knew. Their courage is heroic,
their frankness most wise.

But they are, on the whole, prone to haste. They denounce often without
understanding; eager to knock down, without preparation to build up.
_There is a large body of new doctrine, or interpretation of life and
manhood, which is false, morbid, and poisonous in its effects._

Above all, the message has taken youth unprepared—just when (more than
ever before in the history of the world) they needed quiet patience for
complete understanding. _And_ it has, naturally, proved an attractive
instrument for cheap sensation-mongers to feed novelty and excitement,
in second-rate, widely read, novels. The appeal here is far more
dangerous, because it lacks thought or any sense of responsibility
in the writers. These insincere books, written for success to catch
the crowd, even when slightly more veiled in phrase, are far more
suggestive and unclean. They present conclusions without reasons,
gospels without faith. They partly create, and largely reflect, life as
it is for the moment. Taking evil for granted, they do devil's work.

Such are the prevailing influences of the day; very mixed, of grave
peril, that have already done much to prolong the crime of war.

But the following pages shall not be given to mere abuse, idle
complaints, or dogmatic assertion.

It is necessary, quite frankly, but with all possible _clear_
thinking, to examine and present the new moral teaching, to sift true
from false; to declare how much has come from more knowledge and
understanding, and how much from unreasoning anger, impatience of
control, the search for novelty and pride in revolt. Where, too, mere
dirt has stained the page.



What are their effects, for good and evil, upon modern literature?

We recognize the physical expression of love as itself no way impure
or unclean: but as a part of true passion. We know that sin means a
state of mind or emotion, a false conception of moral values; and that
virtue is not secured by legal sanction. We recognize, frankly, man's
weakness and the complexity of social life; wherefore the dangers and
temptations of ill-doing must be faced and understood.

Finally, we believe that _knowledge brings strength_; and, therefore,
these "difficult" questions cannot, and should not, be ignored in
conversation or in books: above all, not by those who, whether
intentionally or not, do influence thought by their power to create
character in fiction.

This awakening to a new view of Truth, however, has produced an
atmosphere in modern novels which—whatever the aim or intention of
modern novelists, leads to grave evil.

    1. The determination to call a spade a spade, complete
    frankness in words, too often ignores the relative importance
    of things or deeds thus exposed. It tends, unavoidably, to
    over-emphasize the physical, no less than our grandparents
    exaggerated the romantic.

    2. A recognition of the unmarried mother and the refusal to
    boycott a whole class, produce detailed and frank pictures of
    "gay life," in which the pleasures and even the moral conquests
    are so brought into prominence as to convey the totally false
    impression that such conditions are freer, and therefore
    better, than prosaic domesticity.

    3. The gospel of self-expression in emotion, itself a
    fine ideal inspiring sincerity, is too often so violently
    proclaimed as to ignore any consideration for others and the
    "consequences" to oneself:—the inevitable weakening of the

    4. In particular, the glorification of burning passion which
    (as a physical fact) cannot be continuous, is revealed to
    justify the lie that, as the _nature_ of love changes or grows,
    it also turns cold and dies. Therefore, they seek to show that
    the noblest love does not last, that men and women alike need
    constant change in emotion, that marriage is not a bond but

Everywhere, they confound the abuses of truth with truth itself;
proclaim an ideal false simply because it has been degraded and
misunderstood. They condemn because we cannot attain.

Obviously, however, the novelists may still reply, "We are concerned
with life not with ideals. If these things be sin, we must write of
sin." That we all admit. The novel with any ambition towards truth dare
not ignore temptation or the failure to resist. It must reveal human
nature, no less at its worst than its best; face the struggle between
faith and disloyalty to oneself; picture life's cruel ironies and the
tyranny of fate.

_But that can never excuse doubt, or confusion between right and wrong,
exalting evil, or perversion of the truth._



This has been summarized once for all in his description of what Mr.
W. L. George calls a "sincere" novel: "There would be as many scenes
in the bedroom as in the drawing-room, probably more, given that human
beings spend more time in the former than the latter apartment."

There is nothing sincere in that definition except its nasty flavour;
the lust it suggests. The actual effect, if not the intention, is a
quick shock to our natural instincts.

Any possible value it might appear to possess at first sight, as a
serious argument, has been lost by the insincere reason given. Mr.
George himself is far too good an artist not to know that _real_ life
is _not_ measured by length of hours. Crises are, nearly always, swift.
Too often, a character is lost or won in a moment; we grow old in a
night; gain the happiness of a lifetime by the right word. How many a
man is bound to "spend more time" over his ledger than beside his lady!

This weak reasoning gives the realists away. They are so set on the
letter of truth as to deny its spirit. Aiming at exact photographic
reproduction of life, they lose all sense of proportion and real
values, hiding the wood in the trees. Whether or not the material facts
be true, the reality is false, the proportions misplaced, the picture
out of focus.

In practice, moreover, they do select no less arbitrarily than the
romantic Victorians. In their view, "one can only get at most women's
minds through their bodies."

But Mr. George has only _expressed_ one reason for his contention; even
if _that_ be seriously intended. The argument really _means_ that,
often, if not always, the most vital moments of our life are spent in
the bedroom; a half-truth more dangerous and misleading than a lie.

What the word "bedroom" in this sentence honestly stands for is
obviously something quite real; but it does not reveal or test
character, and can never in any way complete a _true_ picture of life.
The accidents of expression are not truth itself.

In a recent drama of temperament called _Enter Madame_, the author's
mere instinct for stage-effects has, as it were by accident, provided
an illustration that proves our point. The hero of this spontaneous
and light-hearted drama is attracted by two women of whom one largely
appeals to his passions (though _not_ his lust); and the other appears
to possess what modernists would call the "tame" comforting qualities
of a "good" wife. He chooses passion in the end, following his love
_off the stage_, into a bedroom. In this scene we have the whole truth;
no added sincerity in the presentment, no shade of character the most
minute, would have been added by opening that door. The emotional
decision was the reality.

To the realist the play would probably seem a square fight between wife
and mistress—with the inevitable result!

But, in actual fact, almost every detail went to confound the new
morality. The passionate woman was the hero's wife, whom he had just
divorced—to achieve domesticity. She did _not_ exclusively depend upon
the physical appeal; though it was used to bring him back. They had a
thousand other, more subtle, points of sympathy and mutual attraction,
despite the exasperating petty irritations of life, which she would
not allow to wreck their love. On the other hand, it was not any fixed
aversion to marriage, any weakness in the bond itself, that caused her
rival's failure. She simply was not, when—as it were—put to the test,
his spiritual mate. For him, she was the wrong woman.

Most certainly this play was not inspired by any conscious theories on
life or art. A straightforward, workmanlike picture of everyday people;
its very lack of intention made it the more convincing. The author had
no axe to grind.

As in life, we saw that the best feelings of an ordinary decent sort of
man are expressed, as his ultimate happiness is secured, by 'putting
up with his wife's tantrums for love of her dear self.' That is, by
some kind of self-control about the small things of life for the sake
of the big; an instinctive knowledge of values or sense of proportion;
mutual accommodation, and self-expression in self-sacrifice. He would
not rush away from her for a change or new experience, to that placid
domesticity which, because he had missed it, he—for a moment—supposed
would prove ideal.

Nevertheless, it is absolutely clear that his decision does _not_
establish the superiority of passion-storms over carpet slippers.
He chose between two women, not between two modes of life: a matter
of temperament, and the man's individual, permanent feeling. Though
married, he had not—as he too hastily imagined—fallen "out of" love.

Life is distorted to-day by the orgy of crude passion in most
second-rate fiction, of which Mr. Evan Morgan's _Trial by Ordeal_ is an
extreme case. Unfortunately such novelists have the smart air of being
absolutely at home all over the world, without really knowing their way
about anywhere.

The leading lady of this brightly variegated human manure-heap is a
"vampire, like a sea-breeze, like the noise of a waterfall at night";
her familiar ally is a discreet "sort of lady dressmaker, whose sons,
numbering almost equally with her lovers, had forced her to take to
a genteel trade." It is a picture of life among "bolsters with the
temperaments of wood-lice; . . . among talented women, gifted women,
immoral women."

Here Miss Hazell O'Neill "netted a half-blind poet, whom she took out
and dusted on bright days and holidays." Him she ultimately left, as
part of her luggage, to a landlady in Jersey; and proceeded to "smash
a sculptor with his own statue."

Caught at last by "romance," falling in love with a man who
wondered—"would she be more trouble than she was worth"; this
determined young woman "leapt up and began undressing . . . plunged into
the water"; so that "the momentary glance he had of her naked beauty,
the excitement, overcame him."

The hero, in his "first affair" with "the daughter of a very
respectable God-fearing parson," carefully taught her the new ideals of
"free love, free conscience, free everything . . . hoping himself
to reap the fruit of his labours." Submitting, however, to the
"ceremonial" of marriage, he was caught in his own trap. She was
now "enlightened," and "dreading suddenly the binding nature of the
service," ran away, at the eleventh hour, with another man.

Afterwards "she came back ill, very ill, and he left her to sink or
swim." Such is the chivalry of free love; that ultimately drove her to
become "a horrible, decadent, drug-maniac."

Of his "spiritual" union with another, we read: "Both were exhausted,
the _emotions of the soul_ had overpowered them, they fell fainting
against the cool grey stone, and there, like a burning picture of all
the romances there have been since the beginning of time, they leant in
the twilight."

By all means call a spade a spade; but do not imagine that all life is
spades. To insist upon bedroom scenes in fiction or drama, and all the
nakedness of phrase such a conception of art implies, does, and must,
often suggest the sly and coarse innuendo. It is the same with all
_excess_ of emphasis on physical detail. When Mr. D. H. Lawrence dwells
on the feverish symptoms (mainly skin-deep) of his lovers, describes
their breasts and loins, he is—actually—playing with the obscene.

The reticence we demand is not based on any pretence that our bodies
are unclean, on any conventional association between mere words and

A nude painting may be supremely, spiritually, beautiful: it may be
lewd: but it is not, as many would now declare, more real _because_ of
its nudity.

Can we _honestly_ say that the increasing undress on stage or in daily
life provokes more deep, true and sincere feeling, reveals more of
a girl's or a woman's real and best self? We know it does not. _It
distracts our thoughts from the woman herself_ to memories of purely
animal and gross experience, tempts us to lower depths. It matters
not, in the book or in the play, that innocence prevail. I have heard
men, for example, when the curtain fell at _The Sign of the Cross_,
chuckling over the public attack on a girl's body (though it failed),
with gay plans for vile conquests.

Obviously, there can be no fixed verbal rule. To say that no writer may
use certain words or describe certain actions and things; no playwright
may paint certain scenes; would be to "speak as a fool." Each case must
be determined by its inner spiritual truth.

In one sense our selection of phrase must be a matter of taste and
good feeling; in another, it comes from our artistic instinct. What I
maintain, and have tried to show, is that modern novels are, too often,
both poisonous _and_ untrue to life because their choice of words and,
indeed, their whole picture of life, is dominated by a false view:
that, if only your figures are naked they _must_ be true, that our
bodies cannot lie. _In angry revolt against the half-truths of the
past, they snatch at the other half and swear it is the whole._

Let the writer be sure that he cares only for truth; and loyalty to his
vision will give him the right, clean thoughts and words.

Let the reader trust to his own natural instincts. Almost certainly,
if a phrase or thought either shock or suggest the unclean, it is
itself—as then used—unclean, false to life and nature; _and_ also
bad art. If you are told that the first slight shock, prick of the
conscience, impulse to shrink away, is false hypocrisy, _do not believe

Nearly always the most inexperienced youth _feels straight_. Once
the poison is drunk and you have let yourself go with the injected
delirium, you will have lost the power to see and feel for yourself.



One does not pronounce the subject forbidden. We know, and recognize,
that a man's mistress _may_ be a nobler woman than his wife, the love
between them more real; we know and recognize where mere passion may
lead; and we do not carelessly push beyond the pale, those whom a
hundred different circumstances—quite different degrees of moral
weakness or reckless defiance through special trouble—may have led to
live on man's desires. We do not dismiss them from thought, reading,
and conversation.

Nevertheless many novels now written use these most grave issues for
mere dramatic effect, or to confound morality; and, to these ends,
offer a falsely attractive picture of emotional adventure. In his
terrible _Bed of Roses_, on the other hand, Mr. W. L. George treats
his theme with the definite object of exposing the tragedy of a young
woman with no training, suddenly forced to earn her living; and of
expressing his righteous anger against the conditions of civilization.
Because, he declares, "a woman can scratch up a living but not a
future; and the only job she's really fit for is to be a man's keep,
legal or illegal, permanent or temporary." The narrative itself is
most emphatically not free from offence, but the motive is honest and

Mr. Gilbert Cannan, again, with less earnest intention but still
legitimately, seems to have written _Pink Roses_ to illustrate the
demoralizing effects of the war on a quite decent, average young man,
who was "left out" of things—through a weak heart. He drifts into an
experiment of lust, but is not finally destroyed, because he recognized
from the first that he had only sought the adventure—to fill the blank

The frail "Cora" of Mr. Snaith's _Sailor_ merely stands for temptation,
which no novelist can omit. The episode is not shirked, but it is
treated with all the traditional reticence, which puts it outside our
discussion here.

In these examples the motive may be acknowledged towards
justification; but such books as Mr. W. L. George's _Confessions of
Ursula Trent_ only respond to a morbid preference for melodramatic
atmosphere: they assume, and encourage, our interest in the unclean.

To heighten the effect, they are—almost inevitably—untrue. The
attractions and drama are exaggerated, giving a false glamour to the
gravest tragedy of human nature. There is here obvious adventure,
and far greater variety or colour than we can, most of us, reach in
ordinary respectable life. There is even some real liberty for the
individual (though far less than these superficial narratives suggest),
in dramatic contrast to the slaving drudgery and imprisoned minds—of
underpaid long hours of toil and drab unloving homes.

The hopeless tragedy, the bitter knowledge, the utter weariness and the
slavery of the soul do not provide the novelist with dramatic material,
and are—to a large extent—left out of the picture. He slurs over,
or altogether ignores, the blunting of moral sense, the coarsening of
moral fibre, the lowering of all ideals: the gradual loss of power
over oneself, loss of will, loss of freedom, loss—even—of desire.
He may use the more obvious foulness and brutality as an occasion for
drama—naturally not wishing to be transparently unreal. The moral
tragedy is not _there_.

But by his own art standard, that demands the exact truth, he is
condemned; and he is guilty of just that falsehood which he set out
to expose and revile—of treating his characters as a _class apart_,
rather types than individuals. As the Victorians assumed, without
charity, they were always lower than the "respectable"; he almost
conveys the impression that they are necessarily higher—as careless,
and far more dangerous, an assumption.

We can perhaps see more clearly where this perverse attack upon
convention really leads from another example of fiction, frankly
designed to sell.

It is, indeed, hard to detect the serious object or thought behind such
books as _The Age of Consent_. The publisher claims "extraordinary
delicacy" for its treatment of a "difficult, perilous, and exciting
situation," which is "modern in the fullest sense." There is, we admit,
nothing coarse here in language or thought, a welcome exception to-day;
and the combination of essential purity, in a very real sense, with a
courageous acceptance of life, is revealed with real understanding of
morality and of our natural instincts.

In other words, Pamela is a true woman; with exceptional possession of
herself, heroic impulse and a clean mind; capable of sustained, genuine
self-sacrifice and self-restraint.

_But when we consider the tests by which her nature is revealed and
developed, the sordid vice in which she grew from girl to woman;
the whole impression is reversed._ Circumstances and atmosphere are
violently morbid and also quite abnormal. We have not only every
conceivable variety in the cruel and profit-sharing intrigues of lust
(with no sudden impulse to excuse, if not condone); but illustration
and discussion of the most extreme and vile form of criminal mania that
serves no purpose but to heighten the crude sensationalism.

The legal problem suggested by the title (a "practical" issue of
grave importance to public morality) is only used for the mechanism
of the plot; and spiritual purity is fertilized by manure. This, of
course, may be achieved by a strong nature: virtue does sometimes
triumph against long odds. But such books without doubt imply that the
surroundings of loathly sin _provide the most favourable soil_ for the
growth and strengthening of a girl's innocence to perfect womanhood.
Which is a lie.

_Can we finally hesitate to proclaim that too many novels, written
round "gay life," create moods and stimulate emotions, by which truth
and the Right are hidden or denied?_



We have, so far, considered rather the effects of "new" morality
than the morality itself; and, to some extent, dwelt more upon the
characteristics of modern fiction than on the thought it expounds.

It is now necessary to examine the actual teaching, or interpretation,
of life and love.

The poison permeating literature and society seems to have its main
origin in over-emphasis and a determination to reform by destruction.

A violent, but not altogether unjustified, reaction against our old
moral rules and formulæ, which laid undue stress on "appearances," has
led to a passionate declaration that the first right and duty of every
man or woman is to express himself or herself at all costs. The one
sin now held unpardonable is hypocrisy, or the insincere moulding of
oneself by rule; falling in line, accepting any authority or tradition,
any form of self-sacrifice. There is great confusion here between good
and evil. We have already more than once explained that we of the older
days frankly admit our mistake. We did conform over-much, fixed our
ideals in a groove, and—with too anxious love—sought to guide and
direct youth, rather than help and stimulate them to be their best

But, if we laid too great stress on restraint, control, sacrifice, and
mere orderliness; the new thinkers have, here again, missed the truth
by their fiery haste. As the clear-sighted heroine of a recent novel
has remarked, "It was a great and fine act to let yourself go—only no
one said precisely where you went to."

Their Self is not a complete purposeful human being, of strong
character and sustained courage, clear faith, and reasonable hope:
certainly not of any charity whatsoever. _The ego they would exalt is
a mere riot of moods._ They snatch at a moment's joy, utter a moment's
emotion, act on a moment's thought. There is no idea of "finding"
oneself _before_ expressing oneself. Every passing fancy, feverish
excitement, sudden hate, is to be flung out upon a bewildered world;
above all to the confounding and wounding of steadier souls—the old,
the middle-aged, or any that bear another's burden. Such tempestuous
demands on life are based on anger against parental preachments and on
a curious lack of self-confidence. Seeing the glory of youth's capacity
for enthusiasm, they seem always afraid that it will fade and die
unless encouraged perpetually to explode. They will not tolerate any
idea of growth and strength through self-control, any appeal to the
higher, deeper Self, built up on loving service and kindness to one's

No theory of life ever produced such weak, formless, and utterly
miserable human beings. _They quickly cease to have any self to
express._ Swayed in a thousand contrary directions by every idle
mood, they become more absolutely slaves to chance encounter and
a thoughtless word than one would have supposed possible to an
intelligent man or woman, with any pride in self or any standard
of honour. It should be obvious that such a perpetual series of
unconsidered experiments in emotion must wear out all independent
thought, all strength of will, all capacity for judgment.

Miss Sheila Kaye Smith does not teach this ideal in _Joanna Godden_,
but she exposes it with her usual grim sincerity. The heroine of that
profound tragedy kills her lonely soul by a perpetual struggle to
snatch happiness for herself. Originally a strong woman, she goes on
"blundering worse and worse," until "there she stood, nearly forty
years old, her lover, her sister, her farm, her home, her good name,
all lost."

A novel in which we can, however, clearly detect confusion between
love and the quick, vicious, response to every sensuous impression,
is _The Sleeping Fire_ of W. E. B. Henderson, described by its author
as a tale of "the urge in woman . . . where the flesh, crying like an
infant for food, is yet held back by scruples of a spirit that bows to
circumstance, from fastening on the breast of personal choice."

Here "the woman," Viva Barrington, is, again and again, described as "a
human soul, innately decent and fine"; and yet she "suddenly kindled"
at any man's mere touch. The young guardsman whom "considerable
practice had enabled to use his fine eyes with much effect," declared
"she could be no end o' fun, if she'd only let herself go." In fact,
he took up a bet, "ten to one in quids," that he would kiss her before
the last supper dance; "a real live kiss, mind you, where she gives as
good as she gets. None of your stolen pecks."

As this "splendid specimen of the vigorous young male smoothed back
her hair, devouring her with his eyes . . . a delicious languor . . .
as of one yielding to an anæsthetic . . . was stealing over her.
Husband, children—everything of her outside life slipped away."

And at his kiss "primordial passion" awoke. "Feeling herself a live
coal of shame from head to foot she raised herself slightly upwards
towards him, and with closed eyes and utter abandon, passionately
returned the pressure of his lips."

This "pure" woman, already a mother, is fired by a "vulgar wager," a
vain boy wanting to kiss her "for the mere enjoyment of the contact,"
in the conservatory, heated by champagne and the dance. There is no
attempt to suggest real feeling, the passionate awakening that _may_
come after a foolish marriage; when the "right man" stirs unknown
depths, beating down "fears, doubts, self-distrusts." She crumples up
at the first chance shot.

No wonder that, after some months' experimenting among men, she grows
"afraid—afraid! . . . now I know I'm liable to—to kindle, suddenly,
inexplicably. . . . There's a man here—one of those to-night. He's
unclean, through and through. I never used to attract that type. And
now apparently I do. The 'sleeping fire' . . . he sees it in me and
tries to feed it. He sickens me! Oh, I'm frightened. Suppose one day
that type _ceased_ to sicken me. I've seen the demi-monde at the
tables. Their faces haunt me. _They_ began with the sleeping fire, and
men fed it and fed it till it became a furnace . . . for me, it's been
like summer lightning so far . . . only summer lightning. Look after me,
help me, lest it ever be forked lightning . . . the lightning that can
strike and destroy."

So she appeals to the husband she had originally accepted as "a
crutch," and who had looked upon her as "furniture." Fortunately—for
the children, because he has "changed, broadened in outlook and
understanding"—he is ready "to build afresh, stone by stone."

We admit that Mr. Henderson's moral is sound enough; he has, indeed,
found "the way of salvation." But he has _not_ drawn for us the
"innately decent and fine woman." Viva is weak and abnormally sensual
from the first; pulled out of the mire by luck, human kindness, and
a dim taste for "the things that are good, decent, and worth while";
_inherited from clean-living forebears_.

The danger for her was exceptional, not "that _natural_ yearning"
against which "_all women_ must be _eternally_ on their guard." Her
husband, we notice, hoped to guard his daughter "_against her mother's

We have a precisely similar situation in _The Mother of All Living_
by Mr. Keable. An emotional, but high-minded woman, whose husband
was not aggressively incompatible, is here suddenly stirred to the
depths—practically at first sight—by a cynical, handsome man of the
world. There is absolutely no attempt whatever to even suggest any
natural affinity in mind or tastes between the two; no urge except the
unexplained, and inexplicable, mystery of the spark that fires sex. The
abandon to which this unnatural awakening leads up belongs to quite a
different type of woman; and when, at the eleventh hour, she repents in
melodrama, we have still a third personality, no way like the girl her
husband wooed and won.

This is, perhaps, why Mr. Keable calls her _The Mother of all Living_,
Eve incarnate, the World-Woman. As Mr. Masefield draws Mary Queen
of Scots—too "big" for one lover. Both writers chose to forget, or
to ignore, that love has no meaning, unless one's _whole_ self is

Mr. Temple Thurston, again, in _The Green Bough_, seems resolutely
determined to uphold Pope's dictum that "every woman is at heart a

Mary, indeed, is a woman "whom life had discarded and thrown aside";
whom, therefore, we are ready to judge leniently. It does _not_,
therefore, follow "How vast a degree of false modesty there is in the
world . . . it had _all been false_ that modesty which their mother had
taught them."

She, at any rate without modesty, sought and found love. So fine
a thing this that she took it, without hesitation, from a married
man, who had told her how much he loved his wife. "It happened—in a

Of her sisters, reproaching her, she declares "Jane thinks herself
a true woman just because she's clung to modesty and chastity and a
fierce reserve; but these things are only of true value when they're
needed, and what man has needed them of us? _Who cares at all whether
we've been chaste or pure?_ None but ourselves! And what made us care
_but those false values_ that make Jane's shame of me? . . . You're not
really ashamed of me. You're _envious, jealous, and you're stung with
spite_. Calling me a servant girl or a woman of the streets only feeds
your spite, it doesn't satisfy your heart. _You'd give all you know to
have what I have._ . . . I'm going to have a child. . . . It's not a
sin. It's not a shame. It's the most wonderful thing in the world."

_There is one unanswerable reply to that fearful charge—"What man has
needed chastity of us, who cares?"—a son's honouring of his mother,
the man's instinct to defend his wife, his sister, or his child._

False, or forced, "modesty" may degenerate into "spite"; but it will be
a sad day for human nature when all women are "jealous" of the "free!"

Mr. Thurston seems to claim, in this novel, to be "the one man in the
world who understands the truth about women." This is his reading of

It had been "the one night of her lover's life"; but he went back to
that "wonderful woman," his wife, who had "as big a heart as all this
stretch of acres and that breadth of sea." To Mary, he wrote, "I blame
myself utterly and I blame myself alone. . . . So many another woman
would have reckoned the cost before she knew the full account. You said
nothing. _You are wonderful, Mary_, and if any woman deserves to escape
the consequences of passion, it is you."

"God!" she cried, "was that the little mind her own had met with? . . .
She knew how in the deepest recesses of her soul there did not live a
father to her child. . . . If this was a man, then men were nothing to
women. Two nights of burning passion he had been with her and for those
moments they had been inseparably one. But now he had gone as though
the whole world divided them. . . . With that letter he had cancelled
all existence in the meaning of life. There was no meaning in him."

He was "the mere servant of Nature, whipped with passion to her purpose
. . . no father at all."

Wherefore _she tries to explain_ to him: "Women are not complicated.
It is only the laws that make us appear so. . . . That first of our
two nights on the cliffs, did you find me complicated or difficult
of understanding? I showed, as well as gave you myself, and this
is how you have treated that revelation. . . . _Why do you hint about
shame to me? Did you think I shared what you call your weakness? Did
you think for those moments that, as you say of yourself, I forgot
or lost restraint?_ . . . You would not believe me if I told you that
all women in their essence are the same. It is only with so many that
. . . the hollow dignity of social position, the chimera of good repute
. . . are more attractive and alluring than the pain and discomfort and
difficulty of bringing children into a competitive world. . . . But
starve one of these women . . . deny to her the first function which
justifies her existence . . . and you will find her behave as I
behaved. . . . I had no shame then. I loved. Loving no longer, I still
now have no shame because, and believe me it is not in anger, we have no
cause to meet again."

On the other hand, Miss E. M. Delafield's _Humbug_ reveals with
startling clearness the falseness of self-seeking in passion.
Her argument is the more convincing because her heroine, Lily
Stellenthorpe, has the best of reasons for adopting the new ideal, the
strongest possible temptation to follow a false light. Her sensitive
and vital nature had been cramped from birth by "a good woman's
capacity for the falsification of moral values." Her father literally
drove her along the same demoralizing groove. Love and respect for
their honest, but kind, goodness almost compel insincerity and the
complete self-annihilation. Under such influences, she acquires a
_good_ husband. He, alas, dictates her conscience, assumes that so
sweet a woman will conform to type. It seems almost a brutal sin for
her to act, think, or even feel, for herself. Steadily she grows more
hidden, secret, and hypocritical.

This careful preparation for modern self-passion is admirably drawn. We
can scarcely deny that any sudden outburst of even cruel selfishness or
revolt might be excused, if not absolutely justified, for _her_.

Inevitably the occasion comes. The expected lover appears, young,
ardent, understanding; all, it seems to her revived free impulse, that
she had been seeking for many years. Lily, however, does not snatch
at happiness, flare out herself. She looks into herself, getting
herself—as it were—in order, before so fateful a choice.

She thought first, _as she had been told by a sympathetic
schoolmistress_, "What I need, what I must have, if I am ever to
fulfil myself—is romance. I must learn not to be afraid of life. Some
day, I shall love. Am I to pretend to myself that such a thing is out
of the question because I am married?" Why not strike for freedom, and
begin life again? She "thought that the conflict lay, as so often,
between sincerity and sentiment." Only sentiment made it "impossible
for her to be ruthless" to her husband.

"_Then illumination came to her, searing and vivid._"

The lover was, after all, a mere "pretext," an opportunity for one more
experiment with life, one more feverish attempt to find some false
image of herself.

"Was the freedom for which she looked to be based upon yet another
artificial value? After all, why should she arrogate to herself the
right of deciding what her greatest happiness was to be? . . . The
long, long way round that it had been, to arrive at last at her own
convictions, and cease to try and wrench them into line with those of
other people!"

"The gift" of herself "had been made" to her husband. Her real self lay
with him and with their coming child.

So she conquered the final test, escaped "applying a general law to a
particular case—taking one's values ready-made—the old, old humbug."
As "the last comforting falsity fell from her she saw . . . the truth."

This was the truth _for her_. It is not offered as an argument for or
against a dogmatic rule that no woman may ever be justified in leaving
her husband.

What this thoroughly modern and sincere novel _does_ establish, is the
equal folly, and almost greater moral danger, of the opposite dogma:
that self-expression for its own sake, the mere putting a moment's
apparent happiness above all other claims or aims, without considering
the future, or seeking to find one's real self, _is a false and evil

_Miss Delafield gives the "new" morality a fair, and even an eloquent,
hearing, chooses a case where all the circumstances seem combined for
its support, and then exposes the fallacy of its reasoning._



The most obvious, and the most sincere, form of self-expression rests
on pure emotion—a natural and healthy impulse. The right thus to
express oneself belongs, as we acknowledge to-day, to women no less
than men.

But, largely misled by their over-insistence upon the physical in human
nature, too many modern thinkers confuse fierce excitement with deep
emotion. Also seeing, and wisely exalting, the glory of youth's dream,
they sanction, and even advise, thoughtless haste and action on every

It is now taught, not only that physical passion stands for, or rather
_is_, the Love of which it forms only a part; but that the fire of
sudden desire is the only true, or natural, expression of love itself.

Such a view has been, again and again, formally stated with quite
serious, honest intent by our leading novelists. It is assumed,
without argument or justification, in most second-rate popular fiction;
thereby reaching and poisoning the very readers least qualified to
resist evil influence and, as we have shown, particularly ill-equipped

For Mr. Cannan's Matilda love is a "kiss of the lips, a surrender to
the flood of perilous feeling, a tampering with forces that might or
might not sweep you to ruin; a matter of fancy, dalliance, and risk."
His Cora, the "natural light of love," "kissed" her lover's "eyes, his
lips, his ears, and bit the tip of his nose until it was bruised and

He may well ask: "Does any man want any woman, or any woman any man?
Are these wild flashes more than things of a moment? . . . Is not every
woman any man's woman? Is not every man any woman's man? Why property?
Why impossible pledges? Why pretend so much that is obviously false?
Why build upon a lie and call it sacred? . . . Why do men and women live
hideously together? . . . Why, and why again?"

With a cynic's frankness Mr. W. L. George answers why:

"Men may have us," said his Victoria, "as breeders and housekeepers,
but the mistress is the root of all." This is not, as one might
suppose, a confession of sin; for "Love is outside marriage, because
love's too big to stay inside . . . don't you see that of itself it
carries the one sanctity that may exist between men and women? That it
cannot be bound because it is as light airs, imponderable; so fierce
that all things it touches it burns, so sweet that whosoever has drunk
shall ever more be thirsty."

_Because a man soon tires of such burning sweetness, he must satisfy
his thirst elsewhere._

Woman, indeed, he is annoyed to find, is still unable to "understand
love in its neurotic moods; she cannot yet understand that a greater
intensity might creep into passion if one _knew_ it to be transient,
that one might love more urgently, with greater fierceness, if one
_knew_ that soon the body, temple of that love, would fade, wither,
die, then decay . . . that haste to live made living more intense."

WHAT, THEN, IS THIS LOVE. IT IS A SEX-CONFLICT; wherein the man "has
to make war, to conquer." The woman begs him "to hurt her, to set his
imprint upon her"; even when "about to conquer" she must wear "the
slave look." This is precisely the woman he also finds, more crudely
phrased, in the "mean streets": "If yer lives alone nothing 'appens
. . . stuck in the mud like. But when yer've got a 'usband, things 'as
wot they calls zest . . . if 'e do come 'ome . . . p'r'aps 'e'll give
yer one in the mouf. Variety, that's wot it is, variety. . . . He may
lift his elbow a bit and all that, but anyhow 'e's a man." If he does
_not_ come home, love means "waking up in the middle of the night and
running about the room like a crazy thing because she'd dreamed he was
with some other girl." In the afternoon it meant "feeling all soft and
swoony just because he helped you into the 'bus by the elbow."

More thoughtful or intelligent young ladies come "to think there's no
such thing as a pure-minded girl." Marriage is "merely evidence that
the girl has held out" and "only a dodge for getting rid of being in

Mr. Hugh Walpole once very sensibly remarked that "people don't want
to know what a young ass thinks about life if he can't tell a story."
Perhaps, if such muddled ideas were only expressed by these solemn and
very intellectual young men (who, however, can "tell a story"), we
might be disposed to leave the matter in their hands and trust to time
for their enlightening.

But, unfortunately, the same false "new love" is about us everywhere.
It is a commonplace to boys and girls, and has crept into the great
majority of second-rate, easily read, novels published to-day.

What does it really mean? How has it come about?

In the first place, the new thinkers have done precisely what they
are always protesting against. They confuse "marriage" with the legal
contract. A great part of their abuse, half their plea for the greater
sincerity of free love, has no standing against spiritual marriage,
founded on true love.

Nevertheless the argument against _permanency_ remains. The demand for
continual new adventure in emotion (set out to condone both intimacy
without marriage or disloyalty to marriage) does rest on something
which has the appearance of truth and reason.

The fiery, swooning passion of mere bodily impulse _does not last_.
But even physical passion, the sex-urge, means more than that. Our
new teachers ignore what all experience has proved and science
taught—that _every_ physical impulse—whether to eat or drink, work
or play—demands restraint for its fruition. The value of self-control
is no less of the body than the soul.

It is the fever-bred passion, born of stimulated sex-consciousness,
that must snatch at every chance for expression and demands constant
change. This, indeed, does weary and satiate the spirit, weaken bodily
vigour, and destroy manhood. Bid us look for, welcome, and artificially
develop every first faint stirring of the sex-urge, and you make us
slaves indeed. If you consider less fundamental desires and pleasures
of the body, you will admit at once that feverish, uncontrolled,
and constant straining to put out all your strength at once, can
produce no kind of good sportsman. Who more rigorously disciplines
himself than the athlete? The power to be passionate, to express the
love of the flesh, dies before it has ever been really attained,
for those who always at once yield to mere craving. Their "deeply
sensual associations" are "always robbed of mystery and delight when
long-balked attraction comes to a tardy blooming."

And as Scott told us long ago, "It is no small aggravation of this
jaded and uncomfortable state of mind, that the voluptuary cannot
renounce the pursuits with which he is satiated, but must continue, for
his character's sake, or from the mere force of habit, to take all the
toil, fatigue, and danger of the chase, while he has so little real
interest in the termination."

That is, they quickly lose the very pleasures which were their object
and their excuse.

_I have known, or read of, no more miserable and weak human beings than
many of the men and women in modern fiction._

Does it then follow that spiritual love, a true union of souls, for
which we claim a higher and a more lasting happiness, is a thing apart,
wherein the physical must be kept under, put aside; or, if conceded
to our common weakness (the penalty of our earthly existence), should
be calmly and occasionally indulged, only under official licence,
in secret as a shameful deed? Certainly _not_. The pure know far
more of passion than the loose. But, as other bodily pleasure, i.e.,
self-expression, gains strength and depth by taking responsibility for
itself, "ordering" itself; so, above all, does our strongest, and most
ultimate, physical need.

It is the true passion, naturally found in comradeship and love,
spontaneously constant and controlled, which will complete man's
vitality, deepen and strengthen, while it steadies, physique.
Spiritually the one expresses itself by _taking_, the other achieves
itself by _giving_.

The biggest adventure in life, the deepest and truest feelings do,
actually, involve that emotional abandon, or complete self-forgetting,
which modernists exalt. But the giving away of one's whole self,
that is, expressing one's whole self in passionate service, is _not_
achieved by sudden, untested intimacy. It can only come, or grow,
for those who seek understanding of each other, suffer the first
mystery—(stirring the wonder dreams of youth)—to unfold and reveal
itself in steady, controlled devotion to the vision of romance. Then,
and only then (soon or late, as the individual self prompts), he shall
dare, _because he knows_.

In other words, the physical passion, in which to-day men find the
_birth_ of love, belongs in nature to maturity and completion, when man
has gained the courage to be himself and express himself. It is the
harvest of pure romance, only possible to those who have earned full
knowledge of themselves and of each other.

The humdrum pictures of insincere marriage, with which fiction is
crowded to-day, come from mistakes or spiritual failure to be one's
best self, _not_ from constancy and faith. The need to perpetually
revive intense emotion with a new mistress can never be felt in a true
marriage. It _is_ inevitable for so-called "free" love, the bitterest
slavery of man.

For wedded love—that is, the permanent union of body and soul—there
is ever a new and wonderful adventure, the deepening mystery of the
closer bond. And the highest happiness, which is _intense_ emotion, has
the gravest responsibilities, demanding the greatest courage and hope.
As Mr. Middleton Murray has written in _The Things We Are_: "The taking
of a wife or the taking of a friend is an eternal act; if it be less,
it is a treachery, a degradation."

It is true, certainly, that the _nature_ of love and passion may
change with time and the comradeship of daily life; but the change is
not a weakening, not even a lowering of the pulse. Its ardour does
not diminish but conquers life more completely. It is, actually, the
constant and faithful heart, which has most strength to bear with, or
to ennoble, the deadening trivialities of existence (that no free
lover can escape), to make small things great; which finds most courage
to face Fate.

The deadening influence of constant "experiments" in passion ("walking
round and round the thing you want, gloating over it with your eyes");
the bitter tragedy of a life that is "one long series of eager
conquests turned to listless ones," has been dramatically exposed, with
unflinching realism, by Miss Olive Mary Salter in her _God's Wages_;
which also reveals "that love beyond self which is human companionship."

For Anne Verity, we read, "marriage" had been "the finger-post to
Death." In "making man her own she made him stale. . . . There was no
end to those upon whom she had lived and left them to pay the bill."
Always "life must be savoured anew by fresh interests, hashed up
aspects of the same old facts served up over and over again to one's
easily deceived palate." It was "her vanity that must be ministered
to afresh, its staleness and satiation relieved by the sacrifice of
someone else's young virility."

She found that "love doesn't stay with this generation, it touches us
and flies again. . . . It's this awful quality of inconstancy in me, as
if my heart had got a hole in it. . . . We've lost the art of looking
on at anybody but ourselves."

But, at long last, when a man explained to her: "I want you to love my
mind, that lives, instead of my body, that will die," she awoke.

She learnt then, that "the right man, or the right woman for the matter
of that, isn't ever ready made. It needs effort of the most intense
kind to fit a man perfectly into a woman's life, a woman perfectly into
a man's."

_Wherefore, "Love, real love, is the consummation of great effort,
neither more nor less."_



The most determined advocates of free-love have never upheld the old,
lazy indulgence towards man and his "wild oats." The ideal mistress,
whom they so confidently exalt over the wife, is not the "kept woman"
behind Victorian respectability. Modern writers have, boldly and
justly, attacked that discreet indiscretion with the unanswerable
logic of facts. If we allow men licence, justice demands equal liberty
for women. Sin is not less, but greater, for being in secret, however
flimsy the veil.

It is difficult, nevertheless, to see how _mutual_ infidelity can
actually remove the admitted evils of a situation it makes more
complex; or to believe that publicity can, of itself, turn black to
white. By some curious twist of reasoning, it really would seem that
they maintain: "By lifting the blinds, we have created a 'new' woman,
the ideal of all the ages."

For where, after all, have they turned to find her, save to their
knowledge and experience of the past? We cannot, positively,
reconstruct human nature.

There is a clear and concise exposition of the whole theory in Miss
Romer Wilson's last novel, _The Death of Society_. It is the story of
Mr. Smith and his short visit to a distinguished Norwegian writer. He,
quite openly, worships the old man's young wife—"his girl, his woman,
his desire"—and though for them "time was so short they could not
afford to sleep," it is expressly stated that "_she, the perfect woman
in whom all women live, raised him to perfect manhood_." "Now," he
said, "I have confidence to do what I think right. . . . I do not care
for opinion any longer."

Together, "they fell into the deep pool of love," when she "was too far
gone in bliss to reply."

"Many men," she said, "men who came to see my husband, thought that
I was part of the visit, and that no man who thought well of himself
should go away without seducing me." But "that is how you seduced me,
because I saw love sprang straight from your heart and not from custom."

"There was an Italian man who loved me, but not more than the books
with gold covers on his shelves. . . . He said I was the Muse of
Comedy. . . . There was a Frenchman who said I was the Muse of
Poetry. . . . There was a Russian who said nothing. . . . He loved me
because we were both animals; but only you love me because I am part of
your life and so I love you equally."

Miss Wilson, indeed, attempts to impart a unique atmosphere into this
commonplace intrigue by a remarkable device. Smith "cannot speak
German, nor speak Norwegian." _She_ knows only a few words of English.
"I like to _pretend_ you hear," said Rosa, "I have always pretended";
and he "could address her in whatever words he liked," since "lovers'
language is universal."

By this method they do, in fact, hold conversations by the hour,
answering each other with quite miraculous preciseness; understanding,
we are expected to believe, the intimacies of thought and feeling
behind each phrase: "though he had no idea what she had said, word for
word." The intention, obviously, is to suggest some special mysterious,
if not miraculous, bond of the spirit knitting two souls in one. The
comment of a plain man, who deals with facts, must be that inarticulate
love can be only physical. It does not elevate, but further degrades,
their intimacy. He "had gone back to the dust to learn about God."

They parted, however, because "they loved each other too much to ask
for each other's lives." Meanwhile, "in patience and humility" they
must wait "until after the Death of Society"—when they can be together.

"How should I act," said Rosa, "if there were no such a thing as
Society? I know how I should act. . . . I owe nothing to either man or
woman. My name? My husband's name?—these belong to Society. . . . I
will not leave my husband, because he is an old man, nor my daughters,
because they are young; but if I give you a day of love, and again
a day perhaps, whom shall I hurt? . . . My soul belongs to nobody:
I—Rosa Christiansen—am my own. _My body is my soul's servant and
friend, and by it I can know other souls as I know my own._ . . . Oh!
oh! My soul is mine, and loves your soul!"

We see that the "perfect woman" still kept on husband and home.

And Smith, thus "proudly numbering himself among the angels," also
found time for a secondary, but quite passionate, intercourse with one
of the daughters of the house, who willingly gives him everything she
has; because she loves him so much, he is all she wants.

He "kissed her violently on the face . . . squeezed her ribs as tight
as ever he dared," and replied without hesitation, "I love you as I
love flowers and the trees and the sky. I love you because you are
lovable as a wet or fine day is lovable. Why, yes, I must confess that
I love you. . . . . I believe all men love a great many women. . . . I
am a Bluebeard with a cellar full of wives. . . . You see, God hasn't
created the woman yet who represents the whole of female perfection.
Don't mistake me, Nathalia; I am not a beast. I don't run after women
solely as women. . . . He began to stroke her head as he thought of all
those past and bygone romances."

And so on——! Strangely enough, "his heart was filled with deep and
tender _respect for her_."

More frequently, however, the novelists of this school seem to have
gone back to the casual lusts of _Tom Jones_, with the rôle of hero and
heroine reversed. There are many tales, almost romantic, of Sir Galahad
waiting and tilting for Cleopatra or Mary Queen of Scots. Too often,
marriage is merely evidence that "the _man_ has held out."

Still we maintain that the modernists are really looking to the
old-world "kept" woman for their ideal of more or less open and, as it
were, established free love. We find clear, specific complaints against
the new system: "They had lapsed into a relation which slowly from
irregular grew regular. It was not marriage, but it was in the nature
of marriage." Now, "after two and a half years . . . she had done wifely
things for him. . . . Love and domestic economy; it was very like
marriage after all."

What then, frankly speaking, is the real charm of the new
mistress-love? Most obviously it comes, ultimately, from the holiday
spirit; its freedom from sordid or petty cares, the prose of our daily
life, business or home worries, the responsibilities that dull the
eye and wear down body and soul: which _means_ the incarnation of

Outspoken and simply coarse writers of the past centuries expose this
fact by their frank hints on "the honeymoon"; of which we acknowledge
the underlying truth.

It has been cynically maintained, nor dare one quite deny, that
our romance-lady, the sheltered and innocent pure girl, would have
been broken long ago but for the "outlet," to mere males, of her
under-sister. I would suggest that the new "ideal" mistress is
certainly no less, probably more, dependent upon the housewife—the
tame, tied woman who bears her lover's name.

We can none of us escape "the day's work." Under the conventional "wild
oats" scheme of life, we _can_ place the whole burden upon the wife:
and so find elsewhere "The Woman"—passionately and emotionally our

But no theory of free love was ever based upon two establishments. The
whole weight of the new thought cries out for open, frank _leaving one
woman_ and _going to the other_; where possible by mutual consent. The
secrecy, the misunderstanding, _the divided allegiance_, of the old
world, is the very evil they are clamouring to wipe out. Yet _can_
we leave our bills, our servants, and our children behind with the
fixtures of the old "home to let"? Can we spend our life, or for that
matter, more than a few days or weeks, in one perpetual holiday among
the "beach-flappers" of Miss Amber Reeves' unstable _Helen in Love_ and
the boys they so gaily and easily annex?

The truth, of course, cannot be denied. These new, glorified
sex-contracts (whether entirely free, or on a "short lease" subject
to "things going well") will, and must, involve all the trials of
domesticity, without the compensations of a shared responsibility:
a real bond to halve our sorrows and double our joys. There will,
moreover, be a thousand times more occasion for incompatibility, the
jar of nerves; where there is no steady, devoted endeavour towards
mutual forbearance and understanding, no spur to forgive—in courageous
hope. Life in hotels may, superficially, expose less friction; but it
quickly destroys any reality in comradeship. Only daily service can
build up Love.

The mistress, in fact, remains an enervating luxury, a habit of living
beyond our emotional means, a sparkling drug.

_We have not found the Ideal, because it does not exist._



"After all, what is life for me? _Strange doors in strange houses,
strange men and strange intimacies._ Sometimes weirdly grotesque and
incredibly beastly. The secret vileness of human nature flung at
me. Man revealing himself, through individual after individual, as
utterly contemptible. I tell you, my dear eager fool, it is beyond
my conception ever to regard a man as higher than a frog, as less

It is a cry from Mr. Compton Mackenzie's glittering land of many, and
strange, sins—surely a nightmare of hell itself; cry of the gallant
Sylvia Scarlett, writing her own epitaph—"Here lies Sylvia Scarlett
_who was always running away_."

On the surface, indeed, it is a gay enough scene Mr. Mackenzie has
painted for us, when "her arm was twined round him like ivy, and their
two hands came together like leaves."

Glittering and hot in the first flush of adventure, we see youth's
brave curiosity endlessly awake. Yet it was cold, hard, and "strange"
at the core: always, everywhere, a "stranger" upon the earth. Sylvia
"was always running away"—from men and from herself; so weary, so
hurt, and so afraid. For there was none to share the burden and the
joy, no footing for her; nothing to hold on to and steady life, no
future to build: weary and restless and alone. She could never stay
anywhere, with anyone; searching for ever, for she knows not what. For
"life, which means freedom and space and movement, she is willing to
pay with utter loneliness at the end."

For the wanderers there is no end we dare tell. Mr. Mackenzie has "a
jolly conception of the adventurous men of London, with all its sly
and labyrinthine romance"; but has he ever thought of following beside
any of the men and women who flutter across his page—we cannot say
to their homes, for they have none? Dare he _live_ with "the muslin
and patchouli, the aspidestras and yellowing photographs, as in unseen
basements children whined, while on the mantelpiece garish vases
rattled to the vibration of the traffic"; or with Mrs. Smith "creeping
about the stairs like a spider?" Dare he see his shrewd, bright Daisy

To the novelist, indeed, they do not matter. They have played their
part in his drama, and may shuffle off to the wings. _They are human
beings in real life._ And for the truth about them, we could tell
such a dreary, monotonous, bitter and tragic sheaf of "Lonely Lives."
We should show them to you, wandering round and round, in and out,
under bright lights or behind dark corners; every year more weak and
frightened, till strength fails them even for movement without hope,
and they slip away into some silent pond.

And finally, from the first, if all love means constant change to
revive passion, a life of continual experiment in emotion; we dare not
face the child.

Novelists to-day, indeed, have given much thought to children. "You
know," wrote Mr. Mackenzie, "that if I were to set down all I could
remember of my childhood the work would not yet have reached beyond
the fifth year." They all often remember much, with rare understanding
and delicate insight. Heroes and heroines, to-day, are introduced to
us in the cradle, and for many a chapter remain nursery-bound. But,
curiously enough, we meet them all _at home, in a family group_. Every
one of the "newest" men and women, in modern novels, were brought up by
their parents (or nearest relatives), and did inherit the great gift
of influences they make no attempt to hand on. To fight fate they had,
at least, the traditional defence: _a self moulded by a mother's and
father's love_.

Fiction has not yet faced the offspring of Free Love.

They are still, however, bravely inspired by visions of mother-love.
The faith and loyalty they forbid to lovers, is still honoured in sons.
How many of Mr. Cannan's young heroines, for instance, could ever have
mothered his own Renè Fourny or the "Three Pretty Men." The Mrs. Morel
of D. H. Lawrence, most passionately tempestuous of all the moderns,
comes very near to the ideal. Few women have lived more absolutely
or continuously for, and in, their child. Yet few women can have had
better excuse or more temptation to desertion, greater need for a new
start. _Here was no love and no home, save what she made by loyal
constancy to the building up of the child she had borne._

Who would condemn more fiercely, and with more bitter tears, the
teaching of these men than the great mothers they have so nobly

There would be none such in life so lived.

       *       *       *       *       *

Could any novelist have drawn for us a more mad picture of the emotions
aroused by sex-licence than may be read in _The Jewel in the Lotus_ by
Rosita Forbes? The heroine, Corona, "who paints, you know," is not,
professionally, a gay woman. She had, perhaps justifiably, divorced her
first husband; and achieved something like real love with a Spanish
Catholic, whose religion alone prevented the legal sanction. He,
however, died suddenly before the story opens; and "from that time
Corona deliberately cut away the soft side of life . . . she fought her
lonely battle and she won."

But "_she did not attempt to shut sex out of her life again_. On the
contrary, _there were many incidents_ in many countries, but to no
single lover did she give any part of her soul. For a little while
they drifted into her life, fulfilling the need her loneliness had
of companionship. She paid the price asked for affection, sympathy,
kindness, and _it left no mark on her_. Sometimes passion took her and
she _loved like a man_ for a time and then forgot, but nothing and no
one interfered with the strange, new force she was developing."

"At thirty-five she was a woman, strong, courageous, intelligent, a
brilliant conversationalist"—in fact, a popular Society Queen. Her
"existence had been an orgy of sensation."

Then the boy, Gerald, came into her life. He had a "wonderful" mother:
"There's nothing I would not tell her, nothing that we do not talk
over." It was his plan, and hers, for him not to marry "for ages, not
for ten years, if then. You see, I want to make my castle first. Then
I will ask someone to live in it. I want to give my wife everything. I
want to stick her up in the public view and just arrange things for her

_But_ his mother was "broad-minded." When "she sees a woman obviously
happy, she feels that she probably has a lover." She "wouldn't want all
the best" of her son's life. "She knows I don't mean to marry, and she
knows also that no man goes very far without a woman in his life."

And, _not_ "necessarily, in the background. I can imagine a very great
friendship developing into something more passionate while one was
young and impulsive, and then slipping gradually back into a wonderful

"And," he added, "I should never marry a woman who would mind my having

All this he tells Corona—"very quietly and simply"; and then, "kissing
her face swiftly, hotly, . . . till she bit him"; with incredible
_naivete_, explains that he had talked about her with his mother—"She
feels I should be safe with you" and "she would be a good friend to my

In her first blaze of anger and scorn Corona spits out: "I suppose Sir
Henry is your mother's lover"; and the boy cries, "No, he is not! How
dare you suggest it? _My mother is much too fine a woman to have a
lover._ She never had one and never will have."

This is the truth none can escape: the one answer possible for any
decent boy: the inspiration of all the youth of all ages, who have made
for us a fair world, illumined by faith, courage, and hope.



Honour the dead, care for those who saved the homes: for, as we have
here striven to show, never before has youth been in such dire need of
sympathy, understanding, and help. Too soon we forget that war blasts
humanity, a state of war makes us all brutes, degrades every man,
woman, and child, in every part of their nature, for all hours of their
lives. Youth, indeed, was rudderless through no fault of its own and,
when least prepared, most needing a clear vision, it has been tossed
into such a medley of mad notions as never before deluded mankind.

We were, indeed, at the approach of Dawn; new light was breaking over
the mists of Victorian morality. To recover the _real_ progress, which
has been diverted into a mere riot of attack, we have endeavoured to
gather together, examine, and clearly state what the "new" morality
_really means and leads to_, how it has come to be upheld. Without
denying in some the honest seeking of truth, we have sought to make
clear where the teaching around us to-day is untrue, destructive of
reality, and poisonous in its effect.

As now proclaimed, this teaching cannot escape its responsibility for
much evil talk, thought, and emotion, for many black deeds. Under its
influence, thoughtless humanity is fast coming to believe and say that
all love, or even comradeship, between the sexes without immediate
physical satisfaction is hypocritical and unreal; that is, cramped by
forced self-denial or an evidence of cold blood and incapacity for real
love. The young live feverishly by this conviction: they flaunt their
passions, their falls and their conquests, before the world. They jest
at sin, sneer at restraint, and spare no thought for purity. Kindness,
courtesy, thought for others, are cast to the winds. At all costs, they
must be themselves, and snatch the hour's joy.

Such feverish disorder of emotion—the swooning delirium, sudden fires,
and complete abandon of balance—is not natural to wholesome humanity;
but, as we have seen, _it can easily be produced by suggestion_. Now
that popular novelists casually produce drama and crude excitement
by smart tales of such over-sexed human beings, an immense body of
readers, without knowledge or experience to combat the falseness of the
picture, have come to accept it as a _normal record_ of real life. They
are adapting themselves to its alluring thrills, modelling their lives
to its pattern, and acting upon its teaching. From men and women, they
may too soon become mere male and female, as God did _not_ create them.
The whole history of mankind, our centuries of growth from cave-man to
the last word in civilization, have established truths which remain
true. Our right to be ourselves can never wipe out our duty to others.
There is an eternal and infinite difference between Right and Wrong,
and those who ignore this _cannot escape the penalty_. Love is not
lust. All that is finest and noblest in human nature has been built
upon a pure and constant loyalty; of which the eternal symbol (however
smirched and stained by folly or sin) is marriage and the home.
Character, which ultimately rules the world, grows straight amidst
the influence of family life. The permanent ideal for man and woman;
creating new life, bearing and cherishing each new generation, is a
complete union of the whole nature, spiritual and physical, whereof the
spiritual bond must be supreme.

_Self-control, restraint, and, if needs be, Sacrifice, are the highest
expression of Self._

If we may not refuse new light, we can never forget old truth. The
foundations of morality have been established by our gradual emergence
from that state of savagery, into which we were again for a few years
submerged by war.

Those who blot out the Vision attained by centuries of man's upward
fight, thereby confounding the ultimate issues of right and wrong,
setting the body above the soul, _are intoxicating and poisoning
humanity as with a deadly drug_.






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The following correction has been made to the original text:

    Page 55: because it is as light airs[original has "a light as
    air"], imponderable

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