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Title: Mammonart: An essay in economic interpretation
Author: Sinclair, Upton
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Mammonart: An essay in economic interpretation" ***


                 _An Essay in Economic Interpretation_


                            UPTON SINCLAIR

                        PUBLISHED BY THE AUTHOR
                         PASADENA, CALIFORNIA

                         COPYRIGHT, 1924, 1925
                            UPTON SINCLAIR

       First edition, February, 1925, 4,000 copies, clothbound,
                       4,000 copies, paperbound.


CHAPTER                                                             PAGE

I.        Ogi, the Son of Og                                           1

II.       Who Owns the Artists?                                        7

III.      Art and Personality                                         11

IV.       The Laborer and His Hire                                    14

V.        The Lord’s Anointed                                         16

VI.       Artificial Childhood                                        19

VII.      Mrs. Ogi Emerges                                            21

VIII.     The Horse-Trade                                             23

IX.       The Class Lie                                               25

X.        Mrs. Ogi Orders Jazz                                        27

XI.       The Populist Convention                                     29

XII.      Kansas and Judea                                            32

XIII.     The Communist Almanac                                       35

XIV.      God’s Propaganda                                            38

XV.       Mrs. Prestonia Orders Plumbing                              40

XVI.      Mrs. Ogi Orders Etiquette                                   42

XVII.     William Randolph Alcibiades                                 45

XVIII.    The Age of Hero-Worship                                     46

XIX.      Hundred Per Cent Athenian                                   49

XX.       The Funny Man of Reaction                                   52

XXI.      Athens and Los Angeles                                      56

XXII.     The Slave Empire                                            58

XXIII.    Dumb Pious Æneas                                            60

XXIV.     The Roman Four Hundred                                      63

XXV.      The American Empire                                         68

XXVI.     The Christian Revolution                                    70

XXVII.    The Ins and the Outs                                        71

XXVIII.   The Heaven of Elegance                                      74

XXIX.     The Muckraker’s Hell                                        77

XXX.      The Pious Poisoners                                         80

XXXI.     The Papal Paymasters                                        84

XXXII.    Who Is Crazy?                                               88

XXXIII.   Ogi, Anglomaniac                                            92

XXXIV.    Phosphorescence and Decay                                   95

XXXV.     The Good Man Theory                                         98

XXXVI.    Comic Relief                                               101

XXXVII.   Praise for Puritans                                        105

XXXVIII.  Comrade’s Progress                                         110

XXXIX.    Vanity Fair                                                113

XL.       Glory Propaganda                                           116

XLI.      Unbridled Desires                                          120

XLII.     The Harpooner of Hypocrisy                                 124

XLIII.    Écrasez l’Infame                                           130

XLIV.     The Trumpeter of Revolution                                135

XLV.      The Harvard Manner                                         139

XLVI.     The Poisoned Rat                                           142

XLVII.    Virtue Rewarded                                            144

XLVIII.   The Good Fellow’s Code                                     146

XLIX.     The Gauger of Genius                                       148

L.        The Brain Proprietor                                       150

LI.       Politics Is Fate                                           154

LII.      Behind the Hedge-Rows                                      159

LIII.     Tory Romance                                               163

LIV.      The Meaning of Magic                                       167

LV.       The Tory Whip                                              171

LVI.      The Fear That Kills                                        173

LVII.     The First Lord of Letters                                  175

LVIII.    The Angel of Revolt                                        178

LIX.      The Stable-Keeper’s Son                                    183

LX.       The Predatory Artist                                       190

LXI.      The Old Communard                                          194

LXII.     Tyger, Tyger!                                              199

LXIII.    The Child of His Age                                       202

LXIV.     Prayer in Adultery                                         204

LXV.      Main Street in France                                      206

LXVI.     The Mattress Grave                                         209

LXVII.    Siegfried-Bakunin                                          211

LXVIII.    The Gospel of Silence                                     216

LXIX.      The Lullaby Laureate                                      220

LXX.       High-Brow Society                                         225

LXXI.      Official Pessimism                                        228

LXXII.     God Save the People                                       231

LXXIII.    The Collector of Snobs                                    233

LXXIV.     Arts and Crafts                                           236

LXXV.      Seeing America First                                      239

LXXVI.     The Age of Innocence                                      242

LXXVII.    A Snow-Bound Saint                                        244

LXXVIII.   Puritanism in Decay                                       246

LXXIX.     The Angel Israfel                                         249

LXXX.      The Good Grey Poet                                        253

LXXXI.     Cabbage Soup                                              258

LXXXII.    Dead Souls                                                260

LXXXIII.   The Russian Hamlet                                        263

LXXXIV.    The Dead-House                                            265

LXXXV.     The Christian Bull-Dog                                    268

LXXXVI.    The Peasant Count                                         271

LXXXVII.   Headaches and Dyspepsia                                   276

LXXXVIII.  The Troughs of Zolaism                                    279

LXXXIX.    The Sportive Demon                                        283

XC.        The Foe of Formulas                                       285

XCI.       The Biological Superior                                   289

XCII.      The Overman                                               291

XCIII.     The Octopus Cities                                        295

XCIV.      The Inspired Parrakeet                                    298

XCV.       The Green Carnation                                       302

XCVI.      The White Chrysanthemum                                   307

XCVII.     The Duel of Wit                                           312

XCVIII.    The Cultured-Class Historian                              316

XCIX.      The Premier Novelist                                      322

C.         The Uncrowned King                                        326

CI.        Smiling America                                           333

CII.       The Eminent Tankard-Man                                   337

CIII.   The Soldier of Fortune                                       341

CIV.    The Bowery Boy                                               345

CV.     The California Octopus                                       349

CVI.    The Old-Fashioned American                                   353

CVII.   Badgad-on-the-Subway                                         357

CVIII.  Supermanhood                                                 363

CIX.    The Stealthy Nemesis                                         372

CX.     The Rebel Immortal                                           379

CXI.    A Text-Book for Russia                                       383




One evening in the year minus ninety-eight thousand and
seventy-six--that is, one hundred thousand years ago--Ogi, the son of
Og, sat in front of a blazing fire in the cave, licking his greasy lips
and wiping his greasy fingers upon the thick brown hair of his chest.
The grease on Ogi’s lips and fingers had come from a chunk out of an
aurochs, which Ogi had roasted on a sharpened stick before the fire. The
tribe had been hunting that day, and Ogi himself had driven the spear
through the eye of the great creature. Being young, he was a hero; and
now he had a hero’s share of meat in him, and sat before the fire,
sleepy-eyed, retracing in dull, slow revery the incidents of the hunt.

In his hand was the toasting-stick, and he toyed with it, making marks
upon the ground. Presently, half involuntarily, there came a pattern
into these marks: a long mark--that was how the body of the aurochs
went; two marks in front, the forelegs of the aurochs; two marks in
back, the hind legs; a big scratch in front, the head. And suddenly Ogi
found a thrill running over him. There was the great beast before him,
brought magically back to life by markings in the dirt. Ogi had made the
first picture!

But then terror seized him. He lived in a world of terror, and always
had to act before he dared to think. Hastily he scratched over the dirt,
until every trace of the magic beast was gone. He gazed behind him,
expecting to see the spirit of the aurochs, summoned into the cave by
this fearful new magic. He glanced at the other members of his tribe,
crouching sleepily about the fire, to see if they had noticed his daring

But nothing evil happened; the meat in Ogi’s stomach did not develop bad
spirits that summer night, neither did the lightning poke him with its
dagger, nor a tree-limb crash upon his head. Therefore, next evening a
temptation came upon him; he remembered his marks, and ventured to bring
back his magic aurochs, and sit before the fire and watch him toss his
head and snort at his enemies. As time passed Ogi did a thing yet
bolder; he made a straight up-and-down mark, with two prongs underneath,
and a round circle on top; Ogi himself, a double Ogi, with his long
spear stopping the monster’s charge!

Even that did not prove bad magic; Ogi did not sicken, no
lightning-daggers or tree-branches struck him. With practice, another
idea came; he indicated the body of the aurochs by two marks, one above
and one below, where the creature vanished into space. Between these
were other scratches indicating a shaggy coat; and in the head a round
spot, with a black hole punched deep by the toasting-stick--the eye of
the monster, glaring balefully at Ogi, and filling him with such thrills
as had never before passed along the nerves of a living organism.

Of course such big magic could not long remain a secret. Ogi was
irresistibly driven to show his homemade aurochs to the tribe, and there
was a tremendous commotion. It was a miracle, all made clear by their
gruntings; they knew the monster instantly--an aurochs, and nothing
else! They cried out with delight at the cleverness of the

(And ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred and sixty-six years later, when
the writer was a little boy, he used to see in a certain home of wealth
which he visited, three pictures hanging in the dining-room, and
appealing to gastronomic emotions. One picture represented several
peaches on a platter, another represented half a dozen fish on a string,
the third showed two partridges hanging by their necks. The members of
the tribe of Ogi, now called the Merchants and Manufacturers Association
of Baltimore, would gather at supper parties and marvel at this big
magic. Here were works of art, and all knew they were works of art, and
knew exactly why; they would say of the fish: “You can see the very
shine of the scales!” Of the peaches: “You can rub the fuzz off them!”
Of the birds: “You can bury your hands in the feathers!”)

But when the first thrills had passed, the dwellers in the cave with Ogi
fell victims to panic. An aurochs was a fearful and destructive beast;
it was hard enough to have to kill him for food--but now to bring back
his angry spirit was tempting fate. In the Holy Mountain fronting the
cave dwelt the Great Hunter, who made all aurochs, and would be jealous
of usurpers. The Witch Doctor of the tribe, who visited the Great Hunter
and made spells for good luck--he was the proper person to make magic,
and not an up-start boy. So the Witch Doctor trampled out the drawing of
Ogi, and the Old Man of the tribe, who made the laws, drove him out from
the cave, and into the night where the sabre-toothed tiger roamed.

(And last winter the writer stood one night at 43rd Street and Broadway,
a busy corner of New York, and across the front of a building a whole
block long he beheld great letters of violet fire, spelling three words:
THE TEN COMMANDMENTS. He entered the building, and there upon a silver
screen he saw a flash of lightning, followed by a burst of clouds and a
terrifying clatter of stage thunder, and out of the lightning and clouds
and thunder was unrolled before his eyes the Second Commandment: _Thou
shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything
that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in
the water under the earth._)

Ogi found a cave of his own, and escaped the sabre-tooth tiger. And not
all the furies of the Witch Doctor, nor even the Ten Commandments of the
Great Hunter, could take from his mind the memory of those delicious
thrills which had stolen over him when he made the magic aurochs in the
dirt. Being now alone, he had time for magic, and he got red stones and
covered the walls of his cave with pictured beasts of many sorts. And
presently came young men from the tribe, and beholding what he had done,
they took to visiting him in secret to share the forbidden thrills.

(And on Main Street in our Great City, I can take you to a cave with
letters of fire over the top, called an “arcade,” and you may go in, and
find the magic of Ogi hidden in little boxes, into which you drop a
token made of copper, and see what is to be seen. One part of this cave
is labeled, _For Men Only_. I have never been into this part, and
therefore do not know what magic the descendants of Ogi have there
hidden; but it is interesting to know that a nerve channel, once
established in a living organism, can be handed down through generations
to the number of three thousand, three hundred and thirty-three.)

Now in the course of time it happened that there was war in the tribe
between the Old Man and the Next Oldest Man; and also between the Old
Witch Doctor and the Next Doctor. The rebels, having learned about the
magic of Ogi, desired to make use of it. There was a secret meeting, at
which the rebel Witch Doctor declared that he had had an interview with
the Great Hunter on the Holy Mountain, and the Great Hunter Himself had
given Ogi power to make the magic aurochs, and to kill them in magic
hunts. In other words, said the Witch Doctor, Ogi was an Inspired
Artist; and if he and his friends would help the new party into power,
Ogi would become Court Painter, and his scratches would be raised to the
status of Ritual. Needless to say, Ogi was delighted at that, and
likewise his friends, some of whom had learned to make scratches almost
as good as Ogi’s, and who desired now to become Inspired Artists, and to
decorate the cave walls and weapons of the tribe.

But one provision must be made clear, said the rebel Witch Doctor; Ogi
and his friends must understand that they were to glorify the magic of
this particular Witch Doctor. When they portrayed hunting, they must
make it plain that it was the new Old Man who was head of the hunt; they
must make him wonderful and fearful to the tribe. Ogi and his pupils
answered that so long as they were permitted to make drawings of aurochs
and of hunters, it made not the slightest difference what aurochs and
what hunters they portrayed. Art was a thing entirely aloof from
politics and propaganda. And so the bargain was settled; the banner of
insurrection was raised, and the new Old Man became head of the tribe,
and the new Witch Doctor set up his magic behind the aurochs-skin
curtains in the far end of the cave; and Ogi made many pictures of both
of them.

(And I have walked through the palaces of kings, and through temples and
cathedrals in many lands, and have seen long rows of portraits of the
Old Men of many tribes, clad in robes of gorgeous colors, and wearing
upon their heads crowns of gold and flashing jewels; they were called
kings and emperors and dukes and earls and princes and captains of
industry and presidents of chambers of commerce. I have seen also the
portraits and statues of Witch Doctors of many varieties of magic; they
were called popes and priests and cardinals and abbots and college
presidents and doctors of divinity. And always the paintings were called
Old Masters.)

So Ogi became Court Painter and painted the exploits of his tribe. And
when the tribe went out to battle with other tribes, Ogi made pictures
to show the transcendent beauty of his tribe, and the unloveliness of
the tribe they were to destroy.

(And when my tribe went out to battle, its highly paid magazine
illustrators made pictures of noble-faced maidens shouting war-cries,
and it was called a Liberty Bond Campaign. And the story-tellers of my
tribe became martial, and called themselves Vigilantes.)

Now Ogi throve greatly, developing his technique, so that he could show
all kinds of beasts and men. The fame of his magic spread, and other
tribes came to visit the caves and to marvel at his skill, and to gaze
reverently upon the Inspired Artist.

(And in a certain hotel restaurant in New York I was admitted behind the
magic red cord which separates the great from the unheard of, and
sitting at a table my companion enlightened me with discreet nods and
whispers, saying: “That is Heywood Broun; and next to him is Rita
Weiman; and that’s Mencken just coming in; and that round little man in
the brown suit and the big spectacles is Hergesheimer.”)

The fame of Ogi, and the magic of which he was master, brought thrills
to the young women of the tribe, and they cast themselves at his feet,
and so his talent was not lost to future generations.

(And in the galleries of Europe I gazed upon miles of madonnas--madonnas
mournful and madonnas smiling, madonnas with wavy golden hair and
madonnas with straight black hair--but never a madonna that was not
plump, manicured and polished and robed in silks and satins, as became
the mistresses of court painters, and of popes and cardinals and abbots
able to pay for publicity.)

The sons and grandsons of Ogi cultivated his magic, and found new ways
to intensify the thrills of art. They learned to make clay figures, and
to carve the Old Men of the tribe and the Witch Doctors out of wood and

(And just before the war, being in Berlin, I was taken by a friend for a
drive down the Sieges Allée, between rows of white marble monsters in
halberd and helm and cowl and royal robes, brandishing sceptres and
mitres, battle-axes and two-bladed swords. Being myself a barbarian, I
ventured to titter at this spectacle; whereupon my friend turned pale,
and put his fingers upon my lips, indicating the driver of the hack, and
whispering how more than once it had happened that presumptuous
barbarians who tittered at the Old Men of the Hohenzollern tribe had
been driven by a loyal hackman straight to the police station and to

Likewise the sons of Ogi learned to make noises in imitation of the
songs of birds, and so they were able to bring back the thrills of first
love. They learned to imitate the rolling of thunder, and the clash of
clubs and spears in battle fury, and so they were able to renew the
glory of the hunt and the slaughter.

(And in the year 1870 the Khedive of Egypt offered a prize of ten
thousand pounds to that descendant of Ogi who should make the most
powerful magic out of his ancestral slaughterings; and now, throughout
all civilization, the masters of the machines of slaughter put on their
honorific raiment, and escort their pudgy wives, bedecked with jewels,
to performances of their favorite grand opera, “Aida.”)

Likewise the descendants of Ogi learned to enact their adventures in
imitation hunts. Inspired by music, they would dance about the
camp-fire, thrusting their weapons into a magic aurochs, shouting when
they saw him fall, and licking their chops at the taste of imaginary

(And in thirty thousand “movie” houses throughout the United States the
tribes now gather to woo and win magic darlings of luxury, and lick
their chops over the acquirement of imaginary millions; also to shudder
at wicked Russian Bolsheviks with bristling beards, at villainous “Red”
agitators with twisted faces, and at such other spectacles as the Old
Men and the Witch Doctors prepare for them, according to instructions
from the Great Hunter on the Holy Mountain.)

Three thousand, three hundred and thirty-three generations have passed,
and in every generation the descendants of Ogi have had to face the
problem of their relationship to the Old Men and the Witch Doctors. Ogi
himself was a hunter, who slew his aurochs with his own hand, and
butchered and cooked his meat before he ate it. But now it has been long
since any descendant of Ogi has driven a spear through the eye of a
charging aurochs. They have become specialists in the imaginary; their
hands adjusted, not to spears and stone hatchets, but to brushes and
pencils, fountain-pens and typewriter keys. So, when they are cast out
from the tribe they can no longer face the sabre-toothed tiger and find
meat for themselves and their beautiful women; so, more than ever, the
grip of the Old Men and the Witch Doctors grows tight upon them. More
than ever it is required that their pictures and stories shall deal with
things of which the Old Men and the Witch Doctors approve; more than
ever they are called upon to honor and praise the customs of their
tribe, as against the customs of all other tribes of men or angels.



Many and various are the art-forms which the sons and grandsons of Ogi
have invented; but of all these forms, the one which bores us most
quickly is the parable--a little story made up for the purpose of
illustrating a special lesson. Therefore, I hasten to drop Ogi and his
sons and grandsons, and to say in plain English that this book is a
study of the artist in his relation to the propertied classes. Its
thesis is that from the dawn of human history, the path to honor and
success in the arts has been through the service and glorification of
the ruling classes; entertaining them, making them pleasant to
themselves, and teaching their subjects and slaves to stand in awe of

Throughout this book the word artist is used, not in the narrow sense
popular in America, as a man who paints pictures and illustrates
magazines; but in its broad sense, as one who represents life
imaginatively by any device, whether picture or statue or poem or song
or symphony or opera or drama or novel. It is my intention to study
these artists from a point of view so far as I know entirely new; to ask
how they get their living, and what they do for it; to turn their
pockets inside out, and see what is in them and where it came from; to
put to them the question already put to priests and preachers, editors
and journalists, college presidents and professors, school
superintendents and teachers: WHO OWNS YOU, AND WHY?

The book will present an interpretation of the arts from the point of
view of the class struggle. It will study art works as instruments of
propaganda and repression, employed by the ruling classes of the
community; or as weapons of attack, employed by new classes rising into
power. It will study the artists who are recognized and honored by
critical authority, and ask to what extent they have been servants of
ruling class prestige and instruments of ruling class safety. It will
consider also the rebel artists, who have failed to serve their masters,
and ask what penalties they have paid for their rebellion.

The book purposes to investigate the whole process of art creation, and
to place the art function in relation to the sanity, health and progress
of mankind. It will attempt to set up new canons in the arts,
overturning many of the standards now accepted. A large part of the
world’s art treasures will be taken out to the scrap-heap, and a still
larger part transferred from the literature shelves to the history
shelves of the world’s library.

Since childhood the writer has lived most of his life in the world’s
art. For thirty years he has been studying it consciously, and for
twenty-five years he has been shaping in his mind the opinions here
recorded; testing and revising them by the art-works which he has
produced, and by the stream of other men’s work which has flowed through
his mind. His decisions are those of a working artist, one who has been
willing to experiment and blunder for himself, but who has also made it
his business to know and judge the world’s best achievements.

The conclusion to which he has come is that mankind is today under the
spell of utterly false conceptions of what art is and should be; of
utterly vicious and perverted standards of beauty and dignity. We list
six great art lies now prevailing in the world, which this book will

Lie Number One: the Art for Art’s Sake lie; the notion that the end of
art is in the art work, and that the artist’s sole task is perfection of
form. It will be demonstrated that this lie is a defensive mechanism of
artists run to seed, and that its prevalence means degeneracy, not
merely in art, but in the society where such art appears.

Lie Number Two: the lie of Art Snobbery; the notion that art is
something esoteric, for the few, outside the grasp of the masses. It
will be demonstrated that with few exceptions of a special nature, great
art has always been popular art, and great artists have swayed the

Lie Number Three: the lie of Art Tradition; the notion that new artists
must follow old models, and learn from the classics how to work. It will
be demonstrated that vital artists make their own technique; and that
present-day technique is far and away superior to the technique of any
art period preceding.

Lie Number Four: the lie of Art Dilettantism; the notion that the
purpose of art is entertainment and diversion, an escape from reality.
It will be demonstrated that this lie is a product of mental
inferiority, and that the true purpose of art is to alter reality.

Lie Number Five: the lie of the Art Pervert; the notion that art has
nothing to do with moral questions. It will be demonstrated that all art
deals with moral questions; since there are no other questions.

Lie Number Six: the lie of Vested Interest; the notion that art excludes
propaganda and has nothing to do with freedom and justice. Meeting that
issue without equivocation, we assert:

_All art is propaganda. It is universally and inescapably propaganda;
sometimes unconsciously, but often deliberately, propaganda._

As commentary on the above, we add, that when artists or art critics
make the assertion that art excludes propaganda, what they are saying is
that their kind of propaganda is art, and other kinds of propaganda are
not art. Orthodoxy is my doxy, and heterodoxy is the other fellow’s

As further commentary we explain that the word morality is not used in
its popular sense, as a set of rules forbidding you to steal your
neighbor’s purse or his wife. Morality is the science of conduct; and
since all life is conduct it follows that all art--whether it knows it
or not--deals with the question of how to be happy, and how to unfold
the possibilities of the human spirit. Some artists preach
self-restraint, and some preach self-indulgence; and both are preachers.
Some artists says that the purpose of art is beauty, and they produce
beautiful art works to demonstrate the truth of this doctrine; when such
art works are completed, they are beautiful demonstrations of the fact
that the purpose of art is to embody the artist’s ideas of truth and
desirable behavior.

What is art? We shall give a definition, and take the rest of the book
to prove it. We hope to prove it both psychologically, by watching the
art process at work, and historically, by analyzing the art works of the
ages. We assert:

_Art is a representation of life, modified by the personality of the
artist, for the purpose of modifying other personalities, inciting them
to changes of feeling, belief and action._

We put the further question: What is great art? We answer:

_Great art is produced when propaganda of vitality and importance is put
across with technical competence in terms of the art selected._

As commentary we add that whether a certain propaganda is really vital
and important is a question to be decided by the practical experience of
mankind. The artist may be overwhelmingly convinced that his particular
propaganda is of supreme importance, whereas the experience of the race
may prove that it is of slight importance; therefore, what was supposed
to be, and was for centuries taken to be a sublime work of art, turns
out to be a piece of trumpery and rubbish. But let the artist in the
labor of his spirit and by the stern discipline of hard thinking, find a
real path of progress for the race; let him reveal new impulses for men
to thrill to, new perils for them to overcome, new sacrifices for them
to make, new joys for them to experience; let him make himself master of
the technique of any one of the arts, and put that propaganda
adequately and vitally before his fellows--and so, and so alone, he may
produce real and enduring works of art.


Manifestly, all this depends upon the meaning given to the term
propaganda. The writer thought that he could trust his critics to look
it up in the dictionary; but during the serial publication of the book
he discovered that the critics share that false idea of the word which
was brought into fashion during the World War--this idea being itself a
piece of propaganda. Our own martial fervor was of course not
propaganda, it was truth and justice; but there crept in an evil enemy
thing, known as “German propaganda”; and so the word bears a stigma, and
when this book applies it to some honorable variety of teaching, the
critics say that we are “stretching its meaning,” and being absurd.

But all we are doing is to use the word correctly. The Standard
Dictionary defines propaganda as: “Effort directed systematically toward
the gaining of support for an opinion or course of action.” This, you
note, contains no suggestion of reprobation. Propaganda may be either
good or bad, according to the nature of the teaching and the motives of
the teacher. The Jesuits have been carrying on a propaganda of their
faith for three hundred years, and one does not have to share this faith
in order to admit their right to advocate it. The present writer has for
twenty-one years been carrying on a propaganda for Socialism, and has a
sturdy conviction that his time has not been wasted.

We take certain opinions and courses of action for granted; they come to
us easily, and when in a poem or other work of art we encounter the
advocacy of such things, it does not seem to us propaganda. Take, for
example, that favorite theme of poets, the following of our natural
impulses; it is pleasant to do this, and the poet who gives such advice
awakens no opposition. But it is different in the case of ideas which
require concentration of the attention and effort of will; such ideas
trouble and repel us, we resent them, and the term “propaganda” is our
expression of resentment. For example, the old poet Herrick advises:

    Gather ye rose-buds while ye may,
      Old time is still a-flying,
    And this same flower that smiles today,
      Tomorrow will be dying.

Here is an attitude of relaxation toward life; the poet gives his advice
under a beautiful simile and with alluring melody, and therefore it is
poetry. If we should call it propaganda, all critics would agree that we
were “stretching the word,” and being absurd. But now, take four lines
by Matthew Arnold:

    Charge once more, then, and be dumb!
    Let the victors, when they come,
    When the forts of folly fall,
    Find your body by the wall.

Here is an utterance of exactly the opposite kind, an utterance of moral
conviction and resolution; the poet is bidding us fight for truth and
justice. Like Herrick, he has chosen an effective simile, and has put
music and fervor into his message; as poetry his lines are exactly as
good as Herrick’s; and yet, if we called them propaganda, how many
critics would object?

This book will endeavor to demonstrate that exactly the same thing
applies to the phenomena of the class struggle, as they appear either in
real life or in works of art. It comes easy to human beings to accept
society as it is, and to admire the great and strong and wealthy. On the
other hand, it gives us a painful wrench to be told that there are moral
excellences and heroic splendors in the souls of unwashed and
unbeautiful workingmen. We resent such ideas, and likewise the persons
who persist in forcing them into our minds; which explains why all
orthodox critics agree that Jesus and Tolstoi are propagandists, while
Shakespeare and Goethe are pure and unsullied creative artists. Such
distinction between “art” and “propaganda” is purely a class distinction
and a class weapon; itself a piece of ruling-class propaganda, a means
of duping the minds of men, and keeping them enslaved to false standards
both of art and of life.



We have promised to prove our thesis psychologically, by watching the
art process at work, and historically, by studying the art works of the
ages. We begin with the former task.

Let us investigate the art process in its elemental forms, as we have
seen them in the story of Ogi. Art begins as the effort of man to
represent reality; first, for the purpose of bringing it back to his own
mind, and second, for the purpose of making it apprehensible to others.
Just as Ogi would seek for ways to keep the meat of the aurochs for as
long as possible so that he might eat it, so he would keep the memory of
the aurochs so that he might contemplate it. And just as he would share
the meat of the aurochs in a feast with his fellows, and derive honor
and advantage therefrom, so he would use a picture of the aurochs, or a
story of the hunt, or a song about it, or a dance reproducing it.

Thus we note two motives, the second of them predominantly social. It is
this impulse to communicate ideas and emotions to others, that becomes
the dominant motive in art, and is the determining factor in the
greatness of art. We share Ogi’s memory of the hunt, his thrills of
fear, his furious struggle, his triumph over a chunk of brutal and
non-rational force. Try it on your own little Ogis, and you will find
they never tire of hearing about the aurochs hunt; and--here is the
essential point--while hearing, they are living in the minds of others,
they are becoming social beings. So through the ages the race has
developed its great civilizing force, the sympathetic imagination, which
has brought the tribes together into nations, and ultimately may bring
the nations into the human race.

The pleasures which we derive from a picture or representation of
reality are many and complicated. There is, first of all, the pleasure
of recognition. In its cruder form it is like guessing a puzzle; in more
mature reproductions we have the pleasure of following the details.
“That is old Smith,” we say--“even to the wart on his nose!” We say:
“You can see the shine of the fish’s scales, you can wipe the fuzz off
the peach, you can bury your hands in the birds’ feathers!” But is that
all there is to art? Manifestly not, for if it were, the sons and
grandsons of Ogi would have been put out of business by the photographic
camera. You can take a microscope to the product of a camera, and
discover endless more details--a bigger magic than any son or grandson
of Ogi has achieved.

But even supposing that a micro-photograph were the highest art, still
you could not get away from the influence of personality. There would
always remain the problem: Upon what shall the camera-lens be focussed?

The first artist I met in my life was a painter, the late J. G. Brown.
He used to paint pictures of newsboys and country urchins, and the
quaint-looking old fellows who loaf in cross-roads stores. As a boy I
watched him at work, and roamed about the country with him when he
selected his subjects. At this distance I remember only two things about
him, his benevolent gray beard, and the intense repugnance he expressed
when I pointed out an old war veteran who had lost an arm. Deformity and
mutilation--oh, horrible! Never could an artist tolerate such a subject
as that!

But growing older, I observed that some of the world’s greatest artists
had made a habit of painting mutilations and deformities. I saw “Old
Masters” portraying crucifixions and martyrdoms; I saw the nightmares of
Doré, and the war paintings of Verestchagin. So I understand the
difference between a man who wishes to probe the deeps of the human
spirit, and one who wishes merely to be popular with children and
childish-minded adults. The late J. G. Brown was a “realist,” according
to the popular use of the term; that is, having selected a subject, he
painted him exactly as he was; but by deliberately excluding from his
artistic vision everything suggesting pain and failure, he left you as
the sum total of his work an utterly false and sentimental view of life.

Most artists go even further in imposing their personality upon their
work. Having selected a subject, they do not reproduce it exactly, but
modify it, emphasizing this trait or that. This process is known as
“idealizing.” The word is generally understood to mean making the thing
more pretty, more to the beholder’s taste; but this is a misuse of the
word. To idealize a subject means to modify it according to an idea, to
make it expressive of that idea, whether pleasing or otherwise. Henry
James tells a story about a portrait painter, who takes as his subject a
prominent man; divining the fundamental cheapness and falsity of the
man’s character, he paints a portrait which brings out these qualities,
and so for the first time reveals the man to the world, and causes the
man’s wife to leave him. That is one kind of “idealizing”; but
manifestly the portrait painter who practiced that method would have a
hard time to find sitters.

What generally happens in such cases we saw when Ogi was invited to
portray the Witch Doctor and the Old Man of his tribe. The last great
hero of the Hohenzollerns, who paid for those white marble monsters at
which I tittered in the Sieges Allée, is cursed with a withered left
arm, a cause of agonies of humiliation to his strutting soul. In his
photographs you will see him carefully posed, so that his left arm is
partly turned away. But how about the countless paintings he had made of
himself? Do you imagine that the painter ever failed to supply a sound
and sturdy left arm? In the same way, in the pictorial labors of all the
Ogis of Egypt, you will find the ruler always represented as of abnormal
stature. Manifestly, in a settled empire the ruler will be of smaller
stature than his fighting men, because he will be coddled in childhood;
but the smaller he becomes in reality, the more rigid the art convention
that he is big.

It was for offenses such as this that Plato drove the artists out of his
Republic. They were liars and pretenders, the whole tribe, and destroyed
men’s respect for truth. But as a matter of fact, this kind of
idealizing of rulers and fighting men may be entirely sincere. The
artist is more sensitive than his fellowmen--that is what makes him an
artist; he shrinks from pain and violence, and feels a real awe for
authority. He thinks his sovereign is bigger in spirit; and so, in
making him bigger in body, the artist is acting as a seer and
philosopher, bringing out an inner truth. Such is the clue to the
greater part of our present-day art standards; snobbery and
subservience, timidity and worship of tradition, also bragging and
strutting and beating of tom-toms. Every little tea-party poet and
semi-invalid cherishes a strong and cruel dream--Nietzsche with his
Blond Beast, and Carlyle with his Hero-worship, and Henley with his
Song of the Sword, and Kipling with his God of our Fathers, known of
old, Lord of our far-flung battle-line.



Little by little we now begin to note the outlines of Ogi’s art code.
Two negative propositions we may consider as clear: Ogi does not paint
the thing as it really is; and he does not paint the thing as he sees
it. The former he could not do, for he does not know what the thing
really is; and the second he would consider bad manners, bad morals and
bad taste. Ogi paints the thing as he thinks it ought to be; or, more
commonly, he paints the thing as he thinks other people ought to think
it to be.

And now comes the question: Why, having chosen his subject, does Ogi
idealize it according to one idea, and not according to another? Are
such decisions matters of accident or whim? Assuredly not; for human
psychology has its laws, which we can learn to understand. We ask: What
are the laws of Ogi, his hand and his eye and his brain? What forces
determine that he shall present his “reality” in this way and not in

The first thing to say is: Don’t ask Ogi about it, for he cannot tell
you. Ogi is not at all what he thinks he is, and does not produce his
works of art from the motives he publishes to the world. We shall find
that the fellow has been almost too shrewd--he has contrived a set of
pretenses so clever that he has fooled, not merely his public, but
himself. He who would produce a great work of art, said Milton, must
first make a work of art of his own life. Ogi has taken this maxim
literally, and got out a fancy line of trade-lies.

It is perfectly plain that the artist is a social product, a member of a
tribe and swayed by tribal impulses. But you find him denying this with
passion, and picturing himself as a solitary soul dwelling in an ivory
tower, galloping through the sky on a winged horse, visited and directed
by heaven-sent messengers, and wooed by mysterious lovely ladies called
Muses. At the same time, however, he wants at least one lady love who is
real; and this lady love does not often share his interest in the
imaginary lady loves. On the contrary, she is accustomed to point out
the brutal fact that Ogi wants three good chunks of aurochs meat every
twenty-four hours; also, the lady herself wants a little meat--and more
important yet, she wants it served according to the best tribal
conventions, those to which she was accustomed before she ran away and
married an artist. The tribal law decrees that the glass on her table
must be cut by hand, even though it is cut crooked; the linen on her
table must be embroidered by hand, because, if it is done wholesale, by
machinery, it is not “art.”

Theoretically, it is possible for an artist to produce his art-works for
the approval of the imaginary Muses; but as a matter of fact you find
that the most solitary old Ogi has somebody, a faithful friend, or an
old housekeeper, or even a child, whose approval he craves. Even an
artist on a desert island will be thinking that some day a ship will
land there; while young and rebellious artists produce for a dream
public in the future. I myself did all my early work from that motive;
and in Voltaire I came upon what seemed to me the cruelest sentence ever
penned: “Letters to posterity seldom reach their destination!”

Ogi must have an audience. So, in his selecting, his idealizing, and his
other varieties of feigning, he has always before him the problem: Will
this please my public? And to what extent? And for how long? There is no
birth control movement in Ogi’s brain; vast numbers of dream children
are born there, and he must select a few of them to be nourished and
raised up to reality, while he sentences the others to be starved and

Having become a professional, living by his work, Ogi is under the
necessity of finding an audience that will feed him. And remember, it is
not merely the three chunks of aurochs meat per day, and three more for
Mrs. Ogi; it is the means of serving Mrs. Ogi’s meat in the fashion her
social position requires. Surely I do not have to prove the proposition
that Ogi cannot produce beautiful and inspiring works of art while Mrs.
Ogi is raising ructions in the cave!

So comes the great struggle in the artist’s soul, a struggle which has
gone on for three thousand, three hundred and thirty-three generations,
and may continue for as many more. Among the children of Ogi’s brain are
some he dearly loves, but who will not “sell.” There are others whom he
despises, but whom he knows the public will acclaim and pay for. “Which
shall it be?”

The answers have been as various as the souls of artists. We shall see
how through the ages there have been hero artists and martyr artists,
men who have produced what they believed to be the best, in the face of
obloquy, ridicule, starvation, even the dungeon and the stake. But,
manifestly, these conditions are not the most favorable for the birth of
masterpieces. To develop an art technique requires decades of practice
and study. To feel other persons’ emotions intensely and reproduce them
according to some coherent plan; to devise new forms, and arrange
millions of musical notes or words or molecules of paint in a complex
design--all this requires intense and persistent concentration. Men
cannot do such work without leisure; neither can they do it while they
are despising themselves for doing it. So we may set down the following
as one of the fundamental art laws:

_The bulk of the successful artists of any time are men in harmony with
the spirit of that time, and identified with the powers prevailing._



Who pays for art? The answer is that at every stage of social
development there are certain groups able to pay for certain kinds of
art. These groups may be large or small, but they constitute the public
for that kind of art, and determine its quality and character; he who
pays the piper calls the tune. It should need no stating that
Rolls-Royce automobiles are not made according to the tastes of
rag-pickers and ditch-diggers, nor yet of poets and saints; they are
made according to the tastes of people who can afford to pay for
Rolls-Royce automobiles. If our thinking about the arts were not so
completely twisted by false propaganda, it would seem an axiom to say
that the first essential to understanding any art product is to
understand the public which ordered and paid for that art product.

Some arts, of course, are cheaper than others. Ballads cost nothing; you
can make one up and sing it on any street corner. Hence we find the
ballad close to the people, simple and human, frequently rebellious. The
same thing applies to folk tales and love songs--until men take to
printing them in books, after which they develop fancy forms,
understandable only to people who have nothing to do with their time
except to play with fancy things.

Beginning with the primitive art forms, it would be possible to arrange
the arts in an ascending scale of expensiveness, and to show that
exactly in proportion to the cost of an art product is its aristocratic
spirit, its subservience to ruling class ideals. Of all the art forms
thus far devised, the most expensive per capita is the so-called “grand
opera”; this grandeur has to be subscribed for in advance by the
“diamond horseshoe,” and consequently there has never been such a thing
as a proletarian grand opera--if you except the “Niebelung Ring,” which
was so effectively disguised as a fairy story that nobody but Bernard
Shaw has been able to decipher its incendiary message.

Many years ago I was talking with a captain of industry, prominent in
New York political life. I spoke of the corruption of the judges, and he
contradicted me with a smile. “Our judges are not bought; they are
selected.” And exactly so it has been with our recognized and successful
artists; they have been men who looked up to the ruling classes by
instinct, and served their masters gladly and freely. If they did not do
so, they paid the penalty by a life of conflict and exile; if they
happened to be poor and friendless, they do not even receive the
gratitude of posterity, because their dream-children died unborn, and
were buried, along with their parents, in graves unknown. “Some mute,
inglorious Milton here may rest.”

It will be our task to study the great art periods one after another,
taking the leading artists and showing what they were, what they
believed, how they got their livings, and what they did for those who
paid them. We shall find that everywhere they were members of their
group, sharing the interests and the prejudices, the hates and fears,
the jealousies and loves and admirations of that group. We shall find
them subject to all the social stresses and strains of the time, and
fighting ardently the battles of their class. For life is never a static
thing, it is always changing, always subjecting its victims to new
dangers, forcing them to new efforts. Either the ruling class is
threatened by the attacks of outside enemies, or else there is a new
class arising inside the community. In times of internal order and
prosperity, there come luxury and idleness, the degeneration
of the tribe; there come all sorts of novelties startling the
elders--modernists sapping the old time creeds, and flappers adopting
the vices of men.

Such evils must be corrected; such enemies of the tribe must be put
down; and in the course of these labors, what chance is there that the
ruling classes will fail to make use of their most powerful weapon, that
of art? There is simply no chance whatever. Ogi will be called on by his
masters; or else he will act of his own impulse--he will lead the
crusade, singing the praises of the old time ways, “idealizing” the
ancestral heroes, the holy saints and the founding fathers, and pouring
ridicule upon the bobbed heads of the flappers. The critics will leap to
Ogi’s support, hailing him as the Lord’s own anointed, a creator of
masterpieces, dignified, serene, secure in immortality. This is art, the
critics will aver, this is real, genuine, authentic art; while out there
in the wilderness somewhere howls a lone gray rebellious wolf, attacking
and seeking to devour everything that is beautiful and sacred in
life--and the howling of this wolf is not art, it is vile and cheap

The critics are certain that the decision is purely a question of
aesthetics; and we answer that it is purely a question of class
prestige. They are certain that art standards are eternal; and we answer
that they are blown about by the winds of politics. Social classes
struggle; some lose, and their glory fades, their arts decay; others
win, and set new standards, according to their interests. The only
permanent factors are the permanent needs of humanity, for justice,
brotherhood, wisdom; and the arts stand a chance of immortality, to the
extent that they serve such ideals.



The reader who shares the art beliefs now prevalent in the world will be
quite certain that the ideas here being expounded are fantastic and
absurd. Among those who thus differ is a friend of mine, a very great
poet who is patiently reading the manuscript and suffering, both for
himself, and for all poets who will follow him. He writes: “There is and
should be such a thing as the enjoyment of what we are pleased to term
‘pure’ beauty.” And again: “You must believe either that we have a right
to play, in which case the poet-who-doesn’t-preach is justified, or
believe the contrary, with its corollary of a coming race of solemn
scientific monsters.”

I do not want to gain an argument by the easy device of omitting
everything that does not help me; therefore I take up this friend’s
contentions. Manifestly an element of play is essential to all art; it
is what distinguishes art from other forms of expression, essays,
sermons, speeches, mathematical demonstrations. If we do not emphasize
this play element, it is not from failure to realize the difference
between a work of art and an essay, a sermon, a speech or a mathematical
demonstration; it is merely because the play element in art is
recognized by everyone, to the exclusion of the element of rational
thought and purpose, which is no less essential.

Let us ask: what is play? The answer is: play is nature’s device whereby
the young train themselves for reality. Two puppies pretending to bite
each other’s throats, learn to fight without having their throats torn
in the process. So all young creatures develop their faculties; and this
function is carried right up into modern art products. From many new
novels I may learn, without risking the fatal experiment, what will
happen to me if I permit the wild beast of lust to get me by the throat.

Let us have another principle, to guide us in our analysis:

_Art is play, having for its purpose the development of human faculties,
and experiment with the possibilities of life._

But notice this distinction. Two puppies, leaping at each other’s
throats and dodging away, do not reason about what they are doing; they
are guided by instinct. But a modern novelist knows what he is doing; he
is thinking ordered thoughts about life, and making a deliberate record
thereof. So we have a second principle:

_Art is play, to the extent that it is instinctive; it is propaganda
when it becomes mature and conscious._

Manifestly, art can never be entirely play, because no human being is
entirely instinctive; nor can it be entirely propaganda--if it is to
remain art, it must keep the play form. Moreover, the play element must
be real, not simply a sham; the work must be a representation of life so
skillful that we can pretend to take it for actuality. Wilkie Collins
gave his formula for success as a fiction writer: “Make ’em laugh, make
’em cry, make ’em wait.” In other words, make ’em do just what they
would have to do, if they were taking part in actual life. This is the
one indispensable element: the artist, by whatever trick, must persuade
us that this is no trick, but reality.

The function of play in adults has been ably studied in Dr. Patrick’s
book, “The Psychology of Relaxation.” We humans have only recently
developed the upper lobes of the brain, and cannot stand using them all
the time; it is necessary occasionally to let them rest, and to live in
the lower centers; in other words, to go back into childhood and play.
To my friend the Poet, who asks if I believe in play, I answer by
pointing to my tennis racquet. But what shall we say about adults who
play all the time? Modern science has a name for such people; it calls
them morons.

If you are a moron artist, producing for a moron public, it will not
avail to argue with you. But we have to inquire: how comes it that the
art of morons is glorified and defended as “true” and “pure” art? How
comes it that the quality of enjoyment without thought, which is
characteristic of puppies and infants, comes to be considered a great
quality in adults? In the fields of industry and education, we know that
pitiful thing, the mind of a child in the body of a grown man. How comes
it that such defective mentality is glorified in the field of art?

The answer is what you will expect from me. There is a class which owns
and runs the world, and wishes everything to stay as it is. As one of
the functions of ownership, this class controls culture and determines
taste. It glorifies the scholar, the man who walks backward through
life; and likewise it glorifies the art-moron, the man who has emotions
without brains.

The so-called “purity” of art is thus a form of artificial childhood.
Just as the Chinese bind the feet of their women in order to keep them
helpless and acquiescent, so ruling-class culture binds the imagination
of the race so that it may not stride into the future. And if you think
that those who run the world’s thinking for the ruling class are not
intelligent enough to formulate such a purpose as this--my reply is that
you are as unintelligent as they would wish you to be, and you justify
all the contempt they feel for you.



We now assume as demonstrated the following propositions. First:

_The artist is a social product, his psychology and that of his art
works being determined by the economic forces prevailing in his time._

And second:

_The established artist of any period is a man in sympathy with the
ruling classes of that period, and voicing their interests and ideals._

If this be true, the next step to the understanding of art, and the
history of art periods past and present, is to understand the economic
forces controlling mankind; the evolution and struggle of classes.

We get that far, when the argument is broken in upon by the particular
Mrs. Ogi who inhabits the cave where this manuscript is produced. Says
Mrs. Ogi: “In other words, you are going to give them your Socialist

Says Mrs. Ogi’s husband: “But--”

Says Mrs. Ogi, who finishes her husband’s sentences, as well as his
manuscripts: “You promised me to write one book without propaganda!”

“But--” once more--“this is a book to prove that all books are
propaganda! And can I conduct a propaganda for propaganda that isn’t

“That depends,” says Mrs. Ogi, “upon how stupid you are.”

She goes on to maintain that the purpose of all propaganda is to put
itself across; the essence of it being a new camouflage, which keeps the
reader from knowing what he is getting. “If you imagine that people who
take up a discussion of art standards are going to read a discourse on
the history of social revolutions, I call you silly, and you aren’t
going to alter my opinion by calling me Mrs. Ogi.”

“My dear,” says the husband, in haste, “all that is not to be taken
literally. Mrs. Ogi is the wife of the artist in general; she is the
human tie that binds him to the group, and forces him to conform to
group conventions.”

“I know--like all men, you want to have it both ways. Everybody will

“I won’t let them assume! It shall be explicitly stated that you are not
Mrs. Ogi.”

“Let it be explicitly stated that there has never been any
hand-embroidered table-linen in this cave--never any sort of table-linen
but paper napkins since I’ve been in it!”

“My dear,” says Ogi, patiently, “you were the one who first pointed out
to me the significance of hand-embroidered table-linen in the history of
art. You remember that time when we went to the dinner-party at Mrs.
Heavy Seller’s--”

“Yes, I remember; and what you ought to do is to put that dinner-party
into your book. Entitle your next chapter ‘The Influence of Lingerie on
Literature,’ or, ‘The Soul of Man Under Silk Hosiery.’”

“That’s not bad,” says Ogi, “I’ll use it later. Meantime, I’ll do my
best to liven up the argument as you request.” And so he retires and
cudgels his brain, and comes back with a new chapter--bearing, not the
dignified title of “The Evolution of Social Classes,” as he had planned,
but instead, a device to catch the fancy of the idle and frivolous--



Twenty-five years ago an American, himself a victim of the commercial
system and dying of consumption, wrote a novel which contained a
description of a horse-trade. The novel was rejected by many publishers,
but came finally to one reader who recognized this horse-trading scene
as the epitome of American civilization. He persuaded the author to
rewrite the book, putting the horse-trade first, and making everything
else in the novel subsidiary; this was done, and the result was the most
sensational success in the history of American fiction. Young and old,
rich and poor, high and low, all Americans recognized in the opening
scene of “David Harum” the creed they believed in, the code they
followed, the success they sought: they bought six hundred thousand
copies of the book. I was young at the time, but I recall how all the
people I knew were shaking their sides with laughter, discussing the
story with one another, delighting in every step of the process whereby
David got the better of the deacon.

Let us analyze this horse-trade, taking our data from the book. First,
there is the lie of the seller, describing a horse which he believes to
be useless. “He’s wuth two hundred jest as he stands. He ain’t had no
trainin’, an’ he c’n draw two men in a road wagin better’n fifty.” And
second, there is the lie of the purchaser, as the purchaser himself
boasts about it afterwards: “Wa’al, the more I looked at him, the better
I liked him, but I only says, ‘Jes so, jes so, he may be wuth the money,
but jes as I’m fixed now he ain’t wuth it to _me_, an’ I hain’t got that
much money with me if he was,’ I says.”

So we see that in a horse-trade both the traders lie; and further we see
that each pretends to be telling the truth, and makes an effort to
persuade the other that he is telling the truth. Watching the ignoble
process, we perceive that neither of the traders is ever sure how far
his own lies are being accepted; nor is he sure what modicum of truth
there may be in the other’s lies. So each is in a state of uncertainty
and fear. When the process has been completed, one trader has a sense of
triumph, mingled with contempt for the victim; the other trader has a
sense of hatred, mingled with resolve to “get square.”

It is further to be pointed out that this conflict of wits, this modern
form of the duello, while it seems ruthless and cruel, yet has its own
strict ethical code. David would lie to the deacon, but he would not
pick the deacon’s pocket, nor would he stab the deacon in the back, no
matter how badly the deacon might have defeated him in commercial war.
We observe also that the author feels under the necessity of persuading
us that David would not have cheated the deacon unless he had first been
cheated _by_ the deacon; this being the conventional lie of the
horse-trader turned novelist. We may also observe that next to the
impulse to acquisitiveness, the supreme quality of this Yankee farmer,
comes the impulse to sociability; having consummated his bargain, he
tells his sister about it, and the humanness of the story lies not
merely in the triumph of David, but in his pleasure in telling his
sister. And observe that David tells her the truth without reservation.
There might be other matters about which he would lie to his sister, but
so far as concerns this horse-trade, he knows that she will not betray
him to the deacon.

When the first savage offered a fish in exchange for a cocoanut, and
made statements as to the freshness of the fish, and the difficulties
and perils of fishing, the trade-lie was a comparatively simple thing.
But in the process of industrial evolution, there have been developed so
many variations and complexities that an encyclopedia of occupational
deceptions would be required. Suffice it to say that the principle is
understood in every nation and clime, being embodied in innumerable
maxims and witticisms: _caveat emptor_: business is business; dog eat
dog; the devil take the hindmost; look out for Number One; do others or
they will do you; self-preservation is the first law of Nature. In a
civilization based upon commercial competition, _laissez faire_ and
freedom of contract, the lie of the horse-trader becomes the basis of
all the really significant actions of men and women.

So obvious is this, so clearly is it set forth in the wisdom of the
race, that at first thought it seems surprising that anyone could be led
into believing a trade-lie. But it is obvious that the test of a
competent liar is that he gets himself believed; like the endless
struggle between the gun-maker and the armor-plate maker, is the
struggle between the trader and his victim. The trader is aided by the
fact that an impulse towards constructiveness has been planted in the
human heart, which breeds a repugnance to dishonesty. So there are
ideals and aspirations, religions, loyalties and patriotisms; there are
the Christs and Galileos of history, the Parsivals and Don Quixotes of
legend. As the trader himself puts it, there is a sucker born every
minute. The trader kills a silly sheep, and puts the skin over his
wolf’s hide; so we have religious institutions and ethical systems,
philanthropic endowments, professional codes, political platforms; we
have honors, offices and titles, proprieties and respectabilities,
graces, refinements, etiquettes and standards of good taste. Many of
these things begin naively and in good faith; but in a society given up
to commercial competition, and dominated by systems of greed, they all
become trade-lies, and are used as weapons in the war of the classes.



In the stage of economic evolution where the savage exchanges a fish for
a cocoanut, the balance of advantage in the trade may be equal. The
fisherman may need the cocoanut as badly as the cocoanut-gatherer needs
the fish. But as soon as we come to the stage where tokens are accepted,
there begins a shifting of the balance of advantage; for the reason that
the seller comes to specialize in the selling of one thing, whereas the
more complex the society, the more different things the buyer must buy,
and so he remains an amateur as to each. Moreover, the sellers learn to
combine; they form partnerships, firms, corporations, alliances,
leagues, associations, parties, classes; the buyer, on the other hand,
remains unorganized and helpless. He is the consumer, who takes what he
can get; he is the proletarian, who has only his chains to lose; he is
that plaything of the competitive process, that jest of the trader
through the ages, the general public. “The public be damned,” said a
great seller of railway transportation, and his phrase has become the
corner-stone of capitalist civilization.

Nineteen hundred years ago a revolutionary economist remarked, “To him
that hath shall be given; while from him that hath not shall be taken
away even that which he hath.” And this economic process is one which
tends continually to accelerate, multiplying itself by geometrical
progression. In present-day society, the sellers are nearly all
organized, while labor is only ten per cent organized, and the ultimate
consumer is not organized at all. We have thus the combination of a
monopoly price with a competitive wage, and the surplus wealth of the
world is drawn by automatic process into the hands of a small class. The
world’s selling power is now vested in combinations of capital, called
“trusts,” which present themselves in the aspect of enormous fortresses
of lies.

Merely to give a catalogue of the various trade-lies embodied in the
daily operations of such a “trust” would require a volume. There are so
many kinds of lies that no one man can know them all. There are lies
carried in the heads and embodied in the practice of petty chiefs of
departments. There are lies so generally accepted and conventionalized
that the very liars do not know them as such, and are amazed and wounded
in the feelings when their attention is called to the truth. There are
lies so complicated that highly trained lawyers have been paid millions
of dollars to contrive them. There are lies so cleverly hidden that it
would take the restoring of tons of burned account-books to prove them.
There are lies so blazoned forth on billboards and in newspapers that
they have become part of the daily thought of the people, and have given
new words and phrases to the language.

So comes the next stage in the evolution of the trade-lie. The owners of
trusts and combinations unite into parties, classes and governments for
the defense of their gains. They combine and endow and perpetuate their
trade-lies, making them into systems and institutions; and so we have
the Lie Wholesale, the Lie Sublimated, the Lie Traditional, the Lie
Classical; we have the Lie become Religion, Philosophy, History,
Literature, and Art.

Turn back to Chapter II, and read the list of the six great art lies;
you may now understand who made them and why. Lie Number One, the Art
for Art’s Sake lie, the notion that the end of art is in the art work,
is a trade lie of the art specialist, the effort of a sacred caste to
maintain its prestige and selling price. Lie Number Two, the lie of Art
Snobbery, the notion that art is for the chosen few, and outside the
grasp of the masses, is the same. Lie Number Three, the lie of Art
Tradition, the notion that new artists must follow old models, is a
self-protective device of those in power. Lie Number Four, the lie of
Art Dilettantism, the notion that the purpose of art is entertainment
and diversion, is a device of the culturally powerful to weaken and
degrade those upon whom they prey; just as the creatures of the
underworld get their victims drunk before they rob them. Lie Number
Five, the lie of the Art Pervert, the notion that art has nothing to do
with moral questions, is the same. Lie Number Six, the lie of Vested
Interest, is the sum of all the other lies, of all the infinite
cruelties of predatory, class-controlled culture.

The sarcastic critic will say that I make the artist an extremely
knavish and dangerous person. My answer is that he may be, and
frequently is, an amiable and guileless child. His knaveries are class
knaveries, collective cruelties, conventions and attitudes to life which
have been produced as automatic reactions to economic forces; the
individual acquires them with no more conscious thought than is involved
in the assimilation of his food. Ogi lies and pretends, he cheats, robs
and murders, imaginatively speaking, by the same instincts that cause
him to blink his eyes in a bright light.



Says Mrs. Ogi: “Well, I see you are having your way.”

Now this is a sore subject in the cave. Each of the residents is
absolutely certain that it is always the other who has his or her way;
and each is able to cite chapter and verse, and frequently does so.
However, at present Ogi has a guilty conscience, so he speaks softly. “I
am almost through with my explanation of industrial evolution.”

“Almost!” sniffs Mrs. Ogi. “How much more?”

“Well, I have to show how successive classes emerge and acquire power--”

“Until at last we see the inevitable triumph of the proletariat and the
establishment of the Co-operative Commonwealth! That will be so new to
your readers, and so delightfully exciting! And meantime they sit and
wonder when the scandals begin.”

“Scandals?” says Ogi. “Have I said anything about scandals?”

“You tell your readers you’re going to turn the artists’ pockets inside
out and show what is in them! If you don’t do it, they’ll say, ‘This
show is a frost!’”

I mention that Mrs. Ogi was brought up in exclusive social circles,
where never a breath of slang could pass her lips without some female
relative raising a finger and whispering: “Hush!” But times are
changing, and marriage becomes more and more a lottery.

Says Mrs. Ogi’s husband: “Of course I intend to muck-rake individual

“Which artists?”

“Well, I have to begin at the beginning--”

“But you’ve already begun with the beginning of the world!”

“I have to begin now with the first significant art.”

Mrs. Ogi’s snort reminds her husband of the old days of the aurochs
hunt. “What the American people want to know is how many thousand
dollars a week Gloria Swanson is really getting, and what was Rupert
Hughes’ total income from ‘The Sins of Hollywood.’ Is all that to be put
off to the end of your book?”

“But how can I deal with present-day art ahead of ancient art?”

“You make me think of those interminable English novels, which begin
with the infancy of the hero, and get through public school at page
three hundred and something!”

“But, my dear, there is some old literature that people are really
interested in. The Bible for example--”

“The Hundred Best Books! Number two, Homer; number three, Shakespeare;
Number four, Paradise Lost--”

“But you overlook the fact--the Bible is a best-seller!”

“The people who buy it are not people who read about art, or would ever
hear of a book on art theories. They are people like Mamma! Once upon a
time a book-agent offered her a set of the World’s Great Orations, and
she decided the dark red leather binding would go well with the
draperies in the drawing-room. Then a couple of weeks later came another
man, selling a set of books in dark green cloth. She decided these would
match the decorations in the billiard-room, so she bought them also, and
it wasn’t until afterwards that somebody noticed the family had two sets
of the same World’s Great Orations!”

“But, my dear, there really is literature in the Bible.”

“People have been told about literature in the Bible since they were
children in Sunday school, and there’s no idea in the whole world that
bores them quite so much.”

“But that’s exactly the point! That’s what this book is for--to show how
real literature was alive in its own day, and is just as much alive in
the present day. Don’t you see what a fascinating theme: they had in
Judea the very same class struggle--”

There has come that fanatical light into his eyes which Mrs. Ogi knows
so well; he means to make her sit and listen to a whole chapter--and
when she has the laundry to count, and the apples to boil for his
supper! “Go ahead and write it,” she says, in a weary voice. “But take
my advice and jazz it up!”

So Ogi goes away and postpones his exposition of the successive
emergence of social classes; and instead of an impressive title such as
“Agrarian Revolt in Ancient Judea,” he begins--



From the New York “Sun,” July 4, the early 1890s:


_Cranks’ Convention in Tumult at Topeka_

_Wild Asses of Prairie Bray_

_Millennium by Majority Vote Scheduled for Next November_

Topeka, Kan., July 3. (Special to the “Sun.”) The open season for
devil-hunting is on in Topeka today. From Nemaha County on the North to
Comanche on the South, from Cherokee County on the East to Cheyenne on
the West, the hunters are pouring into their state capital; money-devil
hunters and speculator-devil hunters, railroad-devil hunters and
rum-devil hunters. The streets of the city swarm with them, the lobbies
of the hotels are packed with them, spell-binders and oratorical
wizards, political quack-doctors and prohibitionist cranks, long-haired
men and short-haired women, partisans of free money, free land and free
love. For months they have been looking forward to this convention,
which is to wrest the powers of government from the hands of a predatory
plutocracy; today, if there is a lunatic in Kansas who is not in Topeka,
it is only because the Wall Street devil has got him behind bars in one
of the asylums.

The lobby of the American House this evening is more like the menagerie
tent of a circus than like anything else ever seen in the effete East.
The convention opens at ten o’clock tomorrow morning, and tonight every
orator has a last chance to save the nation before the platform is made
up. Audiences are not necessary, everybody talks at once, and there are
a dozen men delivering exhortations, standing on the leather seats of
hotel-lobby chairs. Here is “Sockless” Jeremiah Simpson, expecting to be
nominated for Congress tomorrow. Coatless and tieless, his collar wilted
flat, he shouts to the corn-field cohorts his denunciations of the
blood-sucking leeches which have picked the bones of the farmers of
Kansas. Here is Isaiah Woe, weird figure having whiskers almost to his
belt and pants almost to his shoe-tops, waving his skinny arms and
justifying his surname--“Woe, woe, woe--woe unto this and woe unto
that--woe unto them that decree unrighteous decrees, and that write
grievousness which they have prescribed; to turn aside the needy from
judgment, and to take away the rights from the poor of my people, that
widows may be their prey, and that they may rob the fatherless!”

Isaiah is known as a “prophet” among this prairie population; he roars
the grievances of the dear peepul of the prairie-country, and shakes the
hayseeds and corn-dust out of his white whiskers until his audience
really believes it sees a halo about his head. He does not hesitate to
claim divine inspiration, declaring to the mob: “The Lord hath anointed
me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the
broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives.”

Isaiah has no rival in lung-power, unless it be Micah, the Pottawatomie
Prophet--“Mournful Mike,” as he is known in the state capital. This aged
replica of Uncle Sam is out on a cracker-box in front of the Elks’ Club,
and your reporter took down some of his sentences verbatim: “They build
up Washington with blood, and New York with iniquity. The heads thereof
judge for reward, and the priests thereof teach for hire, and the
prophets thereof divine for money.... Therefore shall Washington for
your sake be plowed as a field, and New York shall become heaps, and the
buildings of Wall Street as the high places of a forest.”

There is a regiment of such calamity howlers and kickers, thirsting for
the blood of the money-devil. There is Elijah, known as the “boy orator”
from Kiowa County, and Angry Amos, the “Wild Man of Neosho.” There is
one John, who calls himself the Baptist, and has adopted the singular
habit of dipping his followers into water--though it must be stated that
few of them show the effects after a blistering hot day in Topeka. It is
reported and generally believed that the water-dipping prophet lives
upon the locusts which infest the Kansas corn-fields, together with wild
honey furnished by friendly bees in the cottonwoods along the creek
bottoms. Apparently, however, the prophet has not brought along a supply
of his customary provender, for your correspondent observed him this
afternoon partaking of sinkers and coffee in the railroad restaurant,
with a bunch of other wild asses from the prairie.

Kansas is scheduled to have a new political party tomorrow; a party of
the peepul, to be run by prophets, none of whom will take their salaries
when they get elected to office. And what is to be the platform of this
party? Well, the government is to fix the price of wheat, and
freight-rates are to be reduced to a point which will compel holders of
railway securities to live on locusts and wild honey. All interest on
money is to be abolished; the prophets of the Lord call it “usury,” and
the plank in their platform on the subject reads as follows:

“If thy brother be waxen poor, and fallen in decay with thee, then thou
shalt relieve him, yea, though he be a stranger or a sojourner, that he
may live with thee: Take thou no interest of him, or increase; but fear
thy God that thy brother may live with thee. Thou shalt not give him any
money upon usury, nor lend him thy victuals for increase.”

And if that be not enough, bond slavery is to be forbidden by law, and
beginning with the year 1900, and every fifty years thereafter, all
debts are to be forgiven, and everybody is to have a fresh start. Well
may Jabez Smith, chairman of the State Committee of the Republican
party, watching this outfit of wild men and listening to their
conglomeration of lunacy, lift up his hands and cry out: “Was ist los
mit Kansas?” ...

       *       *       *       *       *

Such was news according to the New York “Sun” of Charles A. Dana’s time;
the sort of news from which I got all my political ideas during boyhood.
Seven times every week I would read articles and editorials in that
tone, and laugh with glee over them; and then, every Sunday morning and
evening I would go to church, and listen while the preacher read the
words of Jeremiah and Isaiah and Micah and Elijah and Amos and John the
Baptist, and I would accept them all as the divinely inspired words of
God. How was I, poor lad, to know that the very same prophets were back
on earth, living the very same lives and making the very same
speeches--trying to save America, as of old they had tried to save
Judea, from the hands of the defilers and the despoilers?



How did it happen that political agitators, living in the Mississippi
Valley at the end of the nineteenth century, were identical in spirit
with religious prophets in Asia Minor five hundred years before Christ?
The answer is that civilizations rise and fall, and history repeats
itself. Let me describe one historic process, and you watch my statement
phrase by phrase, and see if you can tell whether I am referring to
ancient Judea or to modern Kansas.

A people traveled for a long distance, fleeing from despotism and
seeking religious liberty. They were a primitive, hardy people, having a
stern faith in one God who personally directed their lives. They came to
a rich land, and conquered it by hard fighting, under this personal
direction of their God. They built homes, they gathered flocks and
herds, they accumulated wealth; and they saw this wealth pouring into
cities, to be absorbed by governing and trading classes. Their
agricultural democracy evolved into a plutocratic imperialism. The
landlords and the tax collectors left them nothing but a bare living;
the fruits of their labor paid for palaces and temples with golden
roofs, and for golden calves and monkey dinners, and rulers with a
thousand chorus girls.

So there was revolt in the country districts, and one after another came
prophets of discontent. Always these prophets were radical in the
economic sense, voicing the wrongs of the poor and helpless, the widows
and the orphans. Always they were conservative in the social and
religious sense, calling the people back to simplicity and honesty of
life, to faith in the one true God. Always they used the symbols of the
old tribal creed; repudiating new-fangled divinities such as Baal and
Darwin, and gathering at Armageddon to battle for the Lord. Throughout
their lives they were stoned and persecuted and covered with ridicule;
when they died they became their country’s glory, and their words were
cherished and embodied in sacred records which school children were made
to study.

Now, how much of that is Judea, and how much is Kansas?

Let us make clear the point, essential to our present argument, that
from cover to cover the “Old Testament” is propaganda. Those who created
it created it as propaganda, having no remotest idea of anything else.
Nowadays our docile population reads it and accepts it as the literal
inspired Word--not realizing that the book is divided between two kinds
of propaganda, which exactly cancel each other: the propaganda of a
ruling class, teaching reverence for kings and priests, and the
propaganda of rebels, clamoring for the overthrow of these same kings
and priests!

This Old Testament is also offered to us in the literature classes, so
it will be worth our while to consider it from that point of view.
Manifestly there is much of it which never pretended to be literature.
There are weary chronicles of the doings of kings, and lists of their
sons and grandsons. You may find acres of this in our big libraries, but
it is classified as genealogy, not literature. Likewise there are the
laws of the Hebrews, which belong in the legal department. There are
architectural specifications for the temple, and rules of hygiene--all
important to a historian, but rubbish to anybody else. There are a great
number of legends which are eternally delightful to children, stories of
the creation and the fall of man, and of gods and devils and miracles,
precisely as important as similar stories among the ancient
Anglo-Saxons, or the ancient Greeks, or the ancient Egyptians, or the
ancient Hopis.

Among these stories are a few which display fine feeling and narrative
skill, and so for the first time we have literature. There is one
attempt at a drama; it is crude and confused--any sophomore, having
taken a course in dramatic construction at a state university, could
show the author of the Book of Job how to clarify his theme and cut out
the repetitions. But in the midst of such crudities is magnificent
poetry, which our university courses have not yet taught us to equal.
Likewise there is some shrewd philosophy--and it is amusing to note that
our verbal inspirationalists accept the worldly-wise common sense of the
Proverbs and the bleak cynicism of Ecclesiastes as equally divine with
the fervor of Isaiah and the fanatical rage of Jeremiah.

Finally, there is some lyric poetry of a spiritual nature, this also
full of repetition. If you are judging it as ritual, that is all right,
because ritual is intended to affect the subconscious, and repetition is
the essence of the process. The difference between ritual and literature
is that the latter makes its appeal to the conscious mind, where a
little repetition goes a long way.

Dr. Johnson was asked his opinion of the feminist movement in religion,
and he said that “a woman preaching is like a dog walking on two legs;
it is not well done, but we are surprised that it is done at all.” I
think that if we examine our judgments carefully, we shall find that our
high opinion of ancient writings is on this basis. We do not really
judge them by modern standards, any more than we judge a child by adult
standards when he tries to wield a pen, or a hoe, or an oar. Our
pleasure in reading ancient writings is to note the beginnings of real
thinking, of mature attitudes toward life. We say: “By George, those old
fellows had a lot of sense after all!” But judging the Old Testament
strictly, as literature, not as antiquity, I say that everything which
is of serious value to a modern adult person could be gathered into an
extremely small volume, certainly not over thirty thousand words, or
four per cent of the total.



From the “American Times” Sunday Review of Books, A. D. 1944


_A New Religion Enters the Lists_

There come to the desk of a literary editor many volumes which could not
by any stretch of the imagination be considered as literature. But they
are printed and bound, and those who write them believe them of
importance, and others may be of the same opinion. So it becomes the
task of a reviewer to give an account of these volumes.

The book now before us came through the mails, bearing no indication as
to the sender; and examination of the contents quickly reveals the
reason. Those who print and circulate the volume know that in so doing
they render themselves liable to the lethal gas chamber. Nevertheless,
they are impelled by fanaticism to incur the risk, so here is the result
on our desk. Technically, we believe the editor incurs penalties by
keeping the volume, instead of turning it over to the police
authorities. But it seems to us a matter of importance that the public
should know what sort of material is now being circulated among the
populace, and for that reason we give an account of the contents of the
“Communist Almanac for 1944.”

It is perhaps a natural tendency of the human mind, an inevitable
process of history, that holders of proscribed opinions should see
themselves as martyrs, and endeavor to capitalize their sufferings for
political advantage. So, ever since the extermination of the Soviet
government by the armed forces of the civilized world, the surviving
Communists, hiding in forests and holes in the ground, have been seeing
themselves as founders of a new religion. In this document which they
now put before us, we find the creed and ritual of this monstrous
perversion of the so-called proletarian mind, together with the
biographies of its founder and the acts of its leading martyrs.

The founder is Nikolai Lenin, and, incredible as it may seem, this
person has been selected for sanctification! A couple of years before
his death, an almost successful attempt was made to assassinate him, and
the bullets then shot into his body are said to have been the final
cause of his death. That is sufficient to constitute martyrdom in the
Soviet formula, and to entitle Vladimir Ulianov to become a legend. For
a year after his death the Soviet government attempted to preserve his
body in mummy form; but this kind of immortality being unattainable, the
body was buried, and soon afterwards rumors began to spring up all over
Russia to the effect that Lenin had come back to life, and was
reappearing to his followers, giving them advice about the management of
his Bolshevik dictatorship. That was a miracle; so now Lenin is a divine
personage, and those who died in the faith of the “proletarian”
revolution are martyrs and saints. At least, that is the thesis of the
“Communist Almanac for 1944.”

The volume opens with no less than four biographies of the founder,
alleged to have been composed by different followers who knew him
intimately, Mattiu Shipinsky, Marco Sugarmann, Luka Herzkovitz, and Ivan
Petchnikoff. The last, it appears, is a kind of philosopher, and
provides for the Bolshevik cult the mantle of a mystical and
metaphysical system. It is amusing to note that the four biographies go
into minute detail--and differ as to many of these details! They purport
to quote their founder verbatim--and his words on the same occasions are
seldom the same words! Most absurd yet, they cannot even agree about his
ancestry! In fact, they cannot agree about anything, except that he was
the most remarkable person who has ever lived on earth, the bearer of a
new revelation to mankind.

Following the biographies, the “Almanac” proceeds to a long recital of
the doings of various propagandists of the cult, their travels over the
world in the interest of the “class struggle,” and the persecutions to
which they were subjected in various countries. It is a melancholy duty
to record that among these emissaries of disaster were several of
American birth and ancestry. One of the easy ways of achieving
sanctification under the Bolshevik system is to be bitten by a
body-louse, and to die of typhus. So among the Soviet apostles we find
the figure of John Reed, graduate of Harvard University, and traitor to
his country and his race.

Next we have various communications from these agents of social chaos,
addressed to their deluded followers. This part of the volume is almost
comical, in the solemnity with which these precious words are recorded
and preserved for the benefit of posterity. Needless to say, the
communications contain exhortations to the party members to remain
steadfast in the faith, and to carry the message to their fellow
“wage-slaves.” This portion of the volume is known as the
“Epistles”--the word “epistle” being Russian for letter.

Finally, there is a collection of miscellaneous prophesyings, attributed
to a former commissar under the Russian Bolshevik government. All we can
say concerning this part of the volume is that we have been unable to
find out what it means, and it seems destined to serve as an inspiration
to all the lunatics and would-be prophets of the next two thousand
years. It is called “Revelations,” and closes the amazing volume.

We think the time has come when public sentiment should make plain that
the present laxity of the Department of Justice toward Communist
agitators, and the whole tribe of “parlor Bolsheviks” and “pinks,” will
no longer be tolerated. We should be sorry to see this country return to
the old days of the Democratic and Republican parties, and the oil
scandals of the Harding-Coolidge era. But when we read a collection of
perversities such as this “Communist Almanac,” we cannot but sigh for
the return of Palmer and Daugherty, when red-blooded hundred per cent
Americans set to work with vigor to preserve their country from the
fanatical propagandists of class greed.



We have before us another literary criticism, clipped from the “Roman
Times Weekly Review of Books” during the year 300, under the Emperor
Diocletian. It is word for word the same as that from the “American
Times” of 1944--the only difference being that one deals with an outlaw
party known as Bolsheviks, while the other deals with an outlaw sect
known as Christians. The Founder of this latter sect is described by the
“Roman Times” as a proletarian criminal, who was crucified for
disturbing the public peace under the Emperor Augustus Cæsar. His
followers have been hiding in catacombs and tombs, carrying on incessant
propaganda in defiance of the Roman law. In place of John Reed, the
“Roman Times” refers to a certain Paul, a renegade Roman gentleman and
former official of the empire. The good old days to which the “Roman
Times” looks back with longing, are the days of Nero, when these
incendiary fanatics were boiled in oil or fed to the lions. Under the
prodding of this most respectable “Times,” the Emperor Diocletian
undertook a new and ferocious persecution of the sect; but twenty-four
years afterwards the successor of Diocletian became converted to
Christianity, and adopted it as the official religion of the state,
entitled to persecute other religions.

The reader who is a Christian will remind me that Jesus was a pacifist,
he was meek and gentle. To this I answer, the early social
revolutionists were likewise Utopians, appealing to love and
brotherhood. At the time the New Testament became fixed in its present
form, the Christians had never held power in any part of the world. When
they took power under the Emperor Constantine, they behaved like every
government in history--that is, they kept their power, using as much
force as necessary for the purpose. If the reader is shocked by the fact
that the Soviet government of Russia fought for two years a defensive
war on twenty-six fronts against its enemies, I invite him to consider
the Christian crusades, two centuries of offensive propaganda warfare.
If he is shocked by stories he has read about the Tcheka and its
torturing of prisoners, I invite him to consult Lea’s “History of the
Spanish Inquisition.” Considering the series of religious wars which
made of Europe a shambles for more than a thousand years, it is safe to
assert that for every human life sacrificed by the Soviet revolution in
Russia, a hundred thousand lives have been taken in the name of the
gentle and lowly Jesus.

But these are questions which will not be settled in a generation, nor
in a century; therefore we pass on, and take up the question of the New
Testament as literature. It has been generally so recognized, and we may
doubt if any writing ever collected in one volume has exercised as great
an influence upon the human race. And let it be noted that this
literature is propaganda, pure and simple; we may defy anyone to find a
single line in the Gospels, the Acts, the Epistles, or the Book of
Revelations which was not produced as conscious and deliberate

A critic highly regarded by the academic authorities when I was a
student in college was George Henry Lewes. I read his “Life of Goethe,”
and made note of his argument on behalf of “realist” as opposed to
“idealist” art. Goethe and Shakespeare are his examples of the former
type; and how obvious is their superiority to those “subjective”
artists, who “seek in realities only visible illustrations of a deeper
existence!” The critic takes as his test the production of “the grandest
generalizations and the most elevated types”; but it was evident to me,
even in my student days, that he reached his conclusion by the simple
device of overlooking the evidence on the other side. I introduce to you
four “idealist” artists who bear the names--perhaps pen-names--of
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Will anyone maintain that the works of
Shakespeare and Goethe contain “grander generalizations” or “more
elevated types” than the Four Gospels? We set Jesus against Shakespeare,
and Buddha against Goethe, and leave it for the common sense of mankind
to decide.



When I was a young man, groping my way into Socialism, I discovered that
the movement in and about New York had a patroness. Mrs. Prestonia
Martin was her name, and she had a beautiful home in the suburbs, and
another up in the Adirondacks. An assortment of well-bred radicals would
gather, and wait on themselves at table, and do their own laundry, and
scratch a bit in the garden, and feel they were on the front door-step
of the Co-operative Commonwealth. John Martin had been a member of the
Fabian Society in London, so we knew we were under the best possible
auspices, doing the exactly correct advanced things.

But time committed its ravages upon the minds of my friends Prestonia
and John. They lost their vision of the Co-operative Commonwealth, and
when you went to the beautiful “camp” overlooking Keene Valley, you no
longer met young radicals, and no longer helped with the laundry; you
met sedate philosophers, and listened to Prestonia expounding the
mournful conclusion that humanity had never made any advance. The couple
took up a new crusade--to avert from womankind the horrors of politics.
The last time I met John, just before the war, he was an entirely
respectable member of the New York school board and smiled at me a
patronizing smile when I ventured to prophesy that inside of ten years
women would be voting in New York state. “You will never live to see
that!” said the prophet John.

The psalmist expresses the wish that “mine enemy would write a book”;
and in this case mine enemy’s wife committed the indiscretion. I have
before me a scholarly-looking volume, published in 1910, entitled “Is
Mankind Advancing?” by Mrs. John Martin. I cite it as an outstanding
example of one variety of culture superstition; it reduces to absurdity
the arguments of one group of tradition worshipers. My old friend
Prestonia has discovered that the Greeks achieved a higher civilization
than has ever since existed on earth, and her demonstration that mankind
is not advancing is based on the exaltation of Greek civilization over
everything that has since come along.

Mrs. Prestonia does not really know very much about Greek civilization;
I can state that, because I had many discussions with her at the time
she was writing this book. What she has done is to take a history of
Greece and list the leading names, higgledy-piggledy, regardless of
their ideas, or of the parts they played, regardless of the fact that
they fought and even killed one another, regardless of the fact that
their doctrines contradict and cancel one another. They were Greeks, and
therefore they were great. Two or three hundred are listed, all men of
genius; and what names can you put against them?

I ventured to suggest a number of names to my friend Prestonia; but you
see, my men were modern men, vulgar, common fellows who wore trousers,
and ate pie, and worked for dollars! Think of comparing Edison with
Archimedes--could anything be more absurd? Think of comparing Pasteur
with Hippocrates! “But, my dear lady,” I would argue, “Hippocrates
believed that disease was caused by ‘humors’; he believed that crises in
disease followed numerical systems.” Maybe that was true, said
Prestonia, but nevertheless, Hippocrates was the greatest physician that
ever lived. And she would have Socrates listed as one of the glories of
Athenian civilization--in spite of the fact that Athenian civilization
had compelled him to drink the hemlock! In her queer hall of fame the
imperialist Pericles, who led his country to ruin, and was convicted of
the theft of public money, takes rank as the greatest statesman in all
history, outranking Lincoln, who saved the American Union, and freed
several million slaves. A dissolute young despot, Alexander, who sighed
for new worlds to conquer, outranks George Washington, who founded a
nation of free men, and then retired to his plantation.

After running over the list of all the achievements of modern literature
and art, politics and philosophy, science and industry, I was able at
last to find one thing which my friend Prestonia was unwilling to get
along without. She wanted to live in ancient Athens--but to have her
modern plumbing! And never once had it occurred to her that plumbing
means lead and copper and steel and brass and nickel and porcelain and
paint! Also mills in which these things are produced, railroads or
motor trucks on which they are transported, factories in which the cars
and trucks are made! Also telegraph and telephone and electric light,
and bookkeeping systems and credit systems, and capital and labor, and
the Republican party and the Socialist movement!

All this is preliminary to a study of the literature and art of ancient
Greece; to help us clear our minds of cant, and persuade us to face the
question: how much do we really admire Greek literature and Greek art,
and how much do we just pretend to admire it? How much is the
superiority of Greek civilization a reality, and how much is it a
superstition maintained by gentlemen who have acquired honorific
university degrees, which represent to them a meal ticket for the
balance of their sojourns on earth?



“Well,” says Mrs. Ogi, “I see you have got down to the scandal.”

Her husband looks pained. “Do you call that scandal?”

“You accept people’s hospitality, and then come away and ridicule them,
and reveal secrets about how they got the family washing done--”

“Secrets!” cries Ogi. “But that was a reform movement, a crusade!” After
reflection, he adds: “If I really wanted to tell scandals, I could do
it. I might hint that John lost his faith in the radical movement as a
result of auto-intoxication.”

“Well, all I can say is that if you tell that, I’ll never speak to you

Ogi answers meekly, “Excuse me.” And then: “What do you think of my

“Well,” says Mrs. Ogi, “I see, of course--you are trying to irritate and
shock people as much as possible. Are you going to say that Greek art is

“I can’t possibly help saying it.”

“You know that this art is always cited as the perfect type of pure art,
the expression of joy and love of beauty.”

“The Greeks were a beauty-loving race and a joy-seeking race, and they
embodied their ideals in the figures of gods and goddesses--extremely
lovely figures. No one can do better with the human body than they did;
but if you take those divinities on their good looks, you’ll simply be
repeating the bitter mistake of the Greeks--and without their excuse of

Says Mrs. Ogi: “We’re to have a Christian sermon on naked marble idols?”

“We are going to understand the total art product of the Greeks, to draw
out of it what they put into it. These people constituted themselves an
experiment station to try out beauty-loving--that is, trust in
Nature--as a basis of civilization; and they found it didn’t work. It
led them into pain and failure and despair, and the record is written
all over their art. There is a book, Mackail’s ‘Greek Anthology,’ a
collection of various kinds of inscriptions, brief verses and sentiments
from all sources; and you search the pages and hardly find one happy
word. You discover that their art was to put sadness into beautiful and
melodious language. ‘Of all things,’ says Theognis, ‘it is best for men
not to be born.’ And Anacreon, poet of the joy-lovers, compares life to
a chariot wheel that ‘runs fast away.’”

“Well, but so it does!”

“Something endures, and we have to find out what. We have to take hold
of life, and learn to direct it; we cannot just play in a garden, like
happy children. The Greeks played, and their garden turned into a
charnel-house, a place of horror. I call it an amazing blunder of
criticism--the notion that Greek art is one of joy and freedom. The
culmination of their art impulse was the tragedies which the whole
community helped to create and maintain. These performances were
religious ritual, their supreme civic events; and what do they tell us?
There is one theme, immutably fixed, the helplessness of the human
spirit in the grip of fate. A black shadow hangs over the life of men,
they grope blindly in the darkness. Whole families, mighty dynasties of
kings and rulers are condemned to destruction. They are pursued by
bitter and fierce and relentless Nemesis. Somber prophecies are spoken
before men are born, and then we see these men, striving with all their
wit to evade their destiny--in vain. Our pleasure as spectators is to
watch this process, and be convinced of the helplessness of our kind. We
are lifted up to the heaven of the gods, we are endowed with omniscience
and omnipotence--in order to drive a dagger into our own bosoms, to
cohabit with our own mothers and sisters, to stab our own fathers and
brothers, to tear out our own eyeballs. Enacting such things with
majesty and solemnity, reciting them in melodious language to the rhythm
of beautiful music and the graceful motions of a chorus--that is the
final achievement of these lovers of beauty and joy!”

“You are becoming eloquent,” says Mrs. Ogi, who distrusts eloquence in
her cave. “What conclusion do you draw about this art?”

“We are physicians, called to a case after the patient is dead. We want
to know what killed this man, so that we can advise living patients.
From this post-mortem we learn that sensuous charm does not suffice to
secure life; it is not enough for people to carve beautiful figures of
the nude human body, and build marble temples to joy and love, while
their civic affairs are full of jealousy and greed and corruption.”

“Was there corruption in Greek public life?”

“So much that we in modern times cannot conceive it. Yes, I know about
the Teapot Dome and the black satchel with a hundred thousand dollars
worth of bills. Nevertheless, if anyone were to tell us about corruption
such as the Greeks took for granted, not even a movie audience would
swallow it.”

“Now that sounds interesting,” says Mrs. Ogi. “Tell us scandals about
these reverend ancients!”

“First I want to explain the class struggle in Greek society, and the
economic basis of their state--”

“You take my advice,” says Mrs. Ogi; “leave that lecture until the end,
and then forget it. Take your muck-rake and poke it into the Parthenon!”

“What I want to do,” says Ogi, “is to take a character out of ancient
Greece, and set him down in our world and see how he’d sound to us.
Something like this--”



From “The American Plutarch: Our Leading Statesmen Portrayed for the
Young; with Moral Inferences.” New York: A. D. 2124.

The career of William Randolph Alcibiades, publisher, soldier and
politician, coincided with the era of the Great Wars. He was born to a
position of power and luxury, being a nephew of the greatest statesman
of his time, and having as his private tutor the leading philosopher of
his time. He had rare gifts of personal beauty and charm; but his youth
was wild and dissipated, and he spurned the conventional career which
lay open to him, and set himself up as a leader of the Democratic party.
His enemies called him a demagogue, and denied him any sincerity in his
popular appeals.

In the first World War the young statesman was chosen commander-in-chief
of the American forces in France. Returning home, he organized and led
the expedition for the conquest of South America, and laid siege to the
city of Buenos Ayres. He was recalled, because his enemies charged that
on the night before the expedition sailed, he had committed an act of
sacrilege by chopping off the nose of the statue of George Washington in
front of the Treasury Building, New York. History will never know who
committed this vandalism; a young man confessed, and some of those whom
he charged with guilt were executed, but the enemies of William Randolph
maintained that he had purchased this confession, in order to get rid of
certain persons who stood in his way.

William Randolph, while being conducted back to his country under
arrest, made his escape to England. In order to punish his enemies at
home, he made fervent appeals to the British government to enter the war
on the side of South America, and against his own country. His eloquence
prevailed, and both England and France sent ships to the relief of
Buenos Ayres. But William Randolph had to flee from England to France,
because the English king made the discovery that the young American had
seduced his wife.

William Randolph now lived in retirement until the second World War
broke out--between the United States on the one hand, and Japan and
China, aided by England and France, on the other. William Randolph had
always been ardent in promoting hostility against Japan, but he now fled
to the court of the Japanese emperor, and with money furnished by this
wealthy monarch he sent emissaries to foment a conspiracy in the United
States. The conflict between the Republican and Democratic parties had
reached a stage of such bitterness that the wealthy classes were ready
to listen to any scheme which promised them power. William Randolph
having deserted the Democrats and gone over to the Republicans, his
agents approached the naval officers of the fleet, and these, combined
with Judge Gary and J. P. Morgan and other gentlemen of wealth,
overthrew the established government, and set up a new constitution,
which confined the voting power to five thousand of the richest

The new government made an alliance with Japan and China against England
and France; and William Randolph returned to the United States and
became a general in command of the American army. But his failure to win
victories caused his popularity to wane, and he fled to a castle he had
built for himself in Mexico. The British government, enraged by what he
had done to turn the Japanese emperor against them, sent emissaries to
set fire to his castle, and William Randolph Alcibiades was shot while
trying to make his escape from the flames.

From this career we learn that it is not enough for a statesman to be
beautiful in person and charming in manner: it is also necessary that he
be taught to attend Sunday school in his youth.



Greek civilization was made by a large number of different tribes,
inhabiting islands, or fertile valleys and plains separated by mountain
ranges. Among these tribes there was incessant rivalry and bitter
jealousy. They were never able to form a national or racial union, and
their history is a succession of inter-tribal intrigues and wars. In
addition to this came the class struggle. The aristocratic classes,
based on landlordism, held the government, while the proletariat,
crowding into the towns, clamored for power; popular leaders arose, and
there were conspiracies and civic tumults. Invariably the leaders of the
dispossessed party would form alliances with outside states for war upon
their own state. More significant yet, some would take the money and
serve the cause of the Persian kings, who represented barbarian

In the beginning of their written record we find the Greeks just
emerging from the family stage. The old men ruled; they were the wise
and the rich, and no one disputed their authority. They formed alliances
and led expeditions for the plundering of other states; then, returning
to their ancestral halls, they hired musicians to entertain them by
chanting the story of their exploits. So we have the Homeric poems,
ruling-class propaganda, written to glorify the ancestors of powerful
chieftains and fighting men, and to inculcate the spirit of obedience
and martial pride in the new generations.

Every device of the poet’s art is employed to lend prominence and
splendor to the Homeric heroes. They are frequently demigods, the result
of some mood of dalliance on the part of one of the high gods of
Olympus, who came down to earth and encountered a lovely Greek maiden
wandering in a meadow. This divine illegitimacy entitles the heroes to
the center of the stage, and they take it. They are a set of extremely
greedy, jealous, vain and capricious school-boys; and, what is still
more significant, their gods, the highest ideal they could conceive, are
exactly as greedy, jealous, vain and capricious. The only beautiful
emotion in the poems is when some of the mothers and fathers, the wives
and children of those heroes express for them an affection of which they
are unworthy.

We are accustomed to use the words “Homeric” and “epic” to signify
something vast, elemental, portentous. How is it that Homer secures to
his characters this “heroic” effect? By causing all the rest of the
world to bow to their pretensions, by interesting the gods in their
fate--and, above all else, by portraying them as unrestrained in their
emotions and limitless in their desires. These are the familiar devices
whereby aristocracy signifies itself.

And that explains why such men as Matthew Arnold and Gladstone write
volumes of rhapsody over Homer. There is in England a class which has
invented ways of setting forth to the world the fact that it does not
have to work for a living. There are things this class can do which the
vulgar herd cannot do; and one of these things is to read and appreciate
Latin and Greek literature. Homer is to the British world of culture
what the top-hat is to the British world sartorial.

Homer serves these purposes, because he has the aristocratic point of
view, and gives the aristocratic mind what it craves. Just as we cherish
genealogy volumes to prove that our ancestors came over in the
_Mayflower_, so the Homeric minstrel chanted a catalogue of the ships
which had taken part in the Trojan war. And just as our members of good
society preach “law and order” to the lower classes, so in the Homeric
poems it is made clear that the common soldier exists to shed his blood
for the glory of his chief. Only once does a common man lift his voice
in the “Iliad”--the famous scene in the council where Thersites dares to
rise up. He is represented as a hunchbacked and offensive brawler; he is
overwhelmed with ridicule, and finally receives a sound thrashing from
Ulysses, called “the wily,” the Greek ideal of the shrewd and sensible
man of the world. “The sovereignty of the many is not good,” declares
this “wily” one; “let there be one sovereign, one king.”

We shall find that the bards of aristocracy seldom neglect to flatter
their masters by showing some rebel thus being taught his place. We
shall find Shakespeare treating Jack Cade precisely as Homer treats
Thersites; neither stopping for a moment to inquire whether the grumbler
had any just cause to grumble. We shall find also that leisure-class
critics always accept these scenes as pure and undefiled “art,” and are
shocked by the suggestion of their mighty minstrels stooping to
propaganda in the interest of those who pay them. In those early days
the pay was poor; if legend is to be trusted, Homer wandered blind and
friendless among the Greek towns, which afterwards claimed the honor of
being his birthplace. Says the epigram:

    Seven wealthy towns contend for Homer dead,
    Through which the living Homer begged his bread.

Taking the “Iliad” on the basis of literature, we say it contains fine
poetry, and vivid pictures of old-time manners, fascinating to read
about--if you come on them while you are young. There is a stage of life
when we are naïve and uncritical in our acceptance of “heroism.” We
adopt a certain shining person, we share his glories, we go out to
battle with him, we thrill to every stroke of his broad sword, we shout
when he wins the victory--and never reflect that we might exactly as
well be interested in the other fellow, who has exactly as much right to
survive. The average person reaches that age of hero-worship at twelve
years, and passes it at sixteen, if he passes it at all. Let children
read the “Odyssey” in a good translation; they will enjoy these perils
and later on they will discover that the universe has not yet been
entirely explored--there are perils in the starry spaces, and in the
deeps of our minds.



Once in their history fate provided the Greeks with a great cause; that
was in the fifth century, when the gigantic Juggernaut of Persia came
rolling down upon them. King Xerxes assembled his barbarian hordes, his
tribes of wild horsemen and his phalanxes of slaves, his war elephants
and his chariots. Compared with these invaders, the Greeks were modern
civilized men; free men, holding in their minds all the treasures of the
future. They forgot their state jealousies and civic factions, and
rallied and saved their culture. From that national impulse came
practically everything that is worth while in the “classics.” It was
here that the Greek spirit achieved self-consciousness; it was here that
Greek patriotism and Greek religion found their justification, their
validity as propaganda for great art.

Among the Athenian captains who fought at Marathon was one by the name
of Æschylus. He returned, full of the pride of his race, and wrote a
tragedy, “The Persians,” around the story of the king whom he had helped
to defeat; the climax of the drama being the battle in which the poet
had been a leader. It was Greek patriotic and religious propaganda
without any thought of disguise; its purpose being to portray the
downfall of despotism. The play was a popular success, and made Æschylus
the national poet, not merely of Athens, but of all the Greeks.

He wrote other plays of the same religious and patriotic sort, and he
never feared to put in whatever moral teachings he thought his audience
needed. “Obedience is the mother of success, bringing safety,” summed up
his political creed; so, needless to say, he belonged to the
conservative party. So little was he afraid of “propaganda” that in “The
Seven Against Thebes” he praised by name the statesman Aristides, who
was present in the audience. This kind of topical illusion “brought down
the house” in ancient Athens, precisely as it would in New York today.

The sculptors and architects and other artists of Greece felt the same
patriotic and religious thrill, the same consciousness of a sublime
destiny; they labored with burning faith to glorify the gods and
demigods, the ancestors and rulers who had made them masters of the
land. As a memorial to the victory of Marathon the Greeks instituted
national games, which took place every four years, and were a means of
uniting the various tribes in worship of their gods. There was the
keenest rivalry, and the ambition of Greek gentlemen was to win the
crowns and laurel wreaths. When they had won, they wanted the fact to be
known; so they paid poets who could sing their achievements in glorious
verses. The poet Pindar became a high-class publicity man for these
aristocratic sportsmen; also he sang the praises of whatever tyrants
held power in the Greek cities, making them splendid and heroic,
regardless of how unprincipled and cruel they might be.

The production of the dramas was also a kind of game. Each playwright
found a wealthy patron to pay the expenses of drilling and equipping the
chorus for his play; then, if the play carried off the prize, the
wealthy gentleman built a monument to his own generosity; and so we saw,
lining the streets of Athens, the choregic monuments of Andrew Carnegie
and John D. Rockefeller and Otto H. Kahn. Each poet seeking the prize
would take the demigods and ancestral rulers, and portray them
according to his own interpretation; incidentally he would use the
chorus to discuss the current events of politics, and to express his own
convictions. Thus Æschylus wrote his “Eumenides” to oppose the
abolishing of the Areopagiticus, an ancient court which met on the
Sacred Hill: just as if today a poet should produce a drama to combat
the radical attacks on the United States Supreme Court.

Another dramatist arose, the son of a noble family, Sophocles by name.
He wrote some thirty plays, and carried off the prize nineteen times,
and his rivals and enemies took pleasure in charging that he was greedy
for money, a regular old miser, besides being exceptionally fond of the
ladies, and raising a large illegitimate family. Sophocles produced
serene and beautiful works, because he believed in the patriotic and
pious traditions he served, accepting the hideous stories of the
old-time Greek heroes and demi-gods as the natural fate of mortals. He
is the perfect type of the ruling-class artist who achieves perfection
without strife, because he is completely at one with his environment,
identifying the interests of his class with the will of the gods. We
shall encounter a line of such poets--Virgil, Spenser, Shakespeare,
Racine, Goethe, Tennyson. They feel love and pity for the unhappy
children of their brains, and they move us to grief and awe, but never
do they move us to revolt.

But now came another dramatist, in a different mood. This man looked at
the Greek legends and decided that they were not true. He looked at
Greek institutions, private property, and state patriotism, and the
sovereignty of old men in family and tribe, and he decided that these
were not necessarily wise and permanent arrangements. He set himself up
as a propagandist of things that we call “modern,” and that the Greeks
called blasphemy and infidelity. His name was Euripides, and he took the
heroes and heroines of the old legends and turned them into plain human
beings, suffering the cruelties of fate, but fighting back, voicing
protests and doubts. So came a string of plays, jeering at militarism
and false patriotism, denouncing slavery and the subjection of women in
the home, rebuking religious bigotry, undermining the noble and wealthy
classes. A play in which the women get together to rebel against war! A
play in which a devoted wife gives her life to an angry god in order to
save her husband’s life--but the husband is shown as an egotistical cad,
not worthy of this dutiful and pious Greek sacrifice! Read a passage of
the dramatic propaganda of Euripides, and realize how this must have
sounded to hundred per cent Athenian patriots--and right in the midst of
a war to the death with Sparta:

    Doth some one say that there be gods above?
    There are not; no, there are not. Let no fool,
    Led by the old false fable, thus deceive you.
    Look at the facts themselves, yielding my words
    No undue credence; for I say that kings
    Kill, rob, break oaths, lay cities waste by fraud,
    And doing thus are happier than those
    Who live calm pious lives day after day.
    How many little states that serve the gods
    Are subject to the godless but more strong,
    Made slaves by might of a superior army!



Needless to say, the Bolshevik sentiments of Euripides were not
proclaimed before the altar of Dionysus without protest on the part of
the orthodox. There rose up another dramatist, this time a comedian, to
champion the ancient and honorable traditions of Athens. Aristophanes
was his name, and he was one of the world’s great masters of the comic
line. He had infinite verve and wit and imagination; you can read him
today and laugh out loud--even while his reactionary ideas make you

The point to be got clear is that right or wrong, this poet is
altogether a propagandist; a political campaigner, full of the most
bitter fury against his enemies, attacking them by name, lampooning
them, ridiculing them, not scrupling even to tell vicious falsehoods
about them. He wrote his plays to advocate this thesis or that thesis;
he arranged his incidents to exhibit this or that aspect of the thesis;
he chose his characters, either to voice his own convictions, or to make
the opposite convictions absurd. Not merely do his characters make long
speeches in which they set forth the poet’s ideas; at any time in the
course of the action the poet will wave these characters one side, and
step out in the form of the chorus and say what he thinks, arguing and
pleading with the audience, scolding at them, denouncing his enemies,
explaining his previous actions, discussing his present play--even going
so far as to explain to the audience why they should award the prize to
Aristophanes and not to somebody else! I doubt if there has ever been a
bolder propagandist using the stage; I doubt if the propertied classes
and the partisans of tradition ever had a more vigorous defender; and
this, don’t fail to note, in a world dramatist, a “classic” of history’s
greatest “art for art’s sake” period!

The amazing modernness of Aristophanes is what strikes us most. There is
hardly a single one of our present-day contentious questions he does not
discuss at length. He has the malicious wit of the New York “Sun” in the
days of Dana; he has the fun of Stephen Leacock, whose comical tales
ridicule every new and sensible idea the human mind can conceive. Again,
one thinks of the verses of Wallace Irwin--except that Aristophanes
sincerely held his convictions, whereas Mr. Irwin’s wit appears to be
directed by his newest publisher.

Aristophanes was a gentleman, in the English sense of the word, and
wrote for other gentlemen. Just as in England during the late war we
observed the manufacturers of beer and munitions rising to power and
turning the aristocracy out of their castles, so during the
Peloponnesian war Aristophanes saw his cultured class dispossessed by
newly rich traders. There is a scene in the “Knights” in which he
denounces them; they are “mongers,” a whole succession of
“mongers”--topical allusions which the audience received with roars of
laughter. First came a rope-monger to govern the state, and then a
mutton-monger; now there was a leather-monger--Cleon, ruler of the city,
who sat in the audience and heard himself abused. Athens could go only
one stage lower, said Aristophanes, and he produced an offal-monger, and
recited to this person a list of his vices, which proved him fit to take
charge of public affairs.

As to Cleon, the poet objected that his political manners were rude; and
in order to set him a good example, described him as “a whale that
keeps a public house and has a voice like a pig on fire!” This was in
war-time--and imagine what would have happened to a playwright who
produced a play in Washington, D. C., in the year 1918, describing the
President of the United States in similar language!

Again, Aristophanes produced a play denouncing his city for its shabby
treatment of its tributary states. He produced this play while
ambassadors from those states were in the audience, attending a council
of the empire. For this Cleon had the poet prosecuted and fined; so in
his next production Aristophanes comes back, proposing that the people
shall kick out a number of rascals, including

    All statesmen retrenching the fees and the salaries
    Of theatrical bards, in revenge for the railleries,
    And jests, and lampoons, of this holy solemnity,
    Profanely pursuing their personal enmity,
    For having been flouted, and scoff’d, and scorn’d--
    All such are admonish’d and heartily warn’d!

Aristophanes loathed Euripides for having turned the ancestral heroes
into weak mortals, with sentiments and whinings about their rights and
wrongs. He dragged the poet down into hell, and there beat him with all
the weapons he could lay hold of. He took the poet’s play of feminism,
the “Lysistrata,” and turned it to farce by that most modern of devices,
a strike of mothers! A play in which the women of Athens refuse to
co-habit with their husbands until the husbands have ended the war with

Also Aristophanes loathed Socrates, because that philosopher taught the
youths of Athens to think for themselves. To this the poet attributed
the corruption of Alcibiades, the young aristocrat who had been a pupil
of Socrates, and had sold out his country to the Persian king. He wrote
a play called “The Clouds,” in which he represented Socrates as a
cunning trickster, teaching men how to advocate any cause for money. He
portrayed the philosopher sitting in a hanging basket in front of his
house, performing absurdities with his pupils. It is exactly the tone of
a “Saturday Evening Post” editorial, jeering at “parlor pinks,” and
college professors who teach their pupils “mugwumpery.” The time came
when the mob voted death to Socrates; and this was the great triumph of
the funny man of reaction.

But alas, the death of one free-thinker did not suffice to bring the
citizens of Athens back to the simple life of their ancestors. They
continued to make money and enjoy themselves, and to hire soldiers to do
their fighting. Their dramatists developed the so-called “social
comedy”--that is, pictures of the fashions and follies of the leisure
class, without any propaganda. It is an invariable rule that the absence
of propaganda in the art of a people means that this people is in
process of intellectual and moral decay. So now a strong man came down
out of the north and took charge of Greece, and Greek literature moved
into the Alexandrine period.

The center of this new culture was the city of Alexandria, in Egypt. The
poets now took pride in their technical skill, and wrote delicate and
charming portrayals of the delights of love. A horde of learned scholars
busied themselves with criticism and interpretation of the works of the
past, and composed long epic poems dealing with grammar and rhetoric and
similar subjects. This too was “propaganda”; but you note that it was
propaganda of a secondary and imitative sort, it was not produced by men
who were doing great deeds, and creating new forms of life. Alexandria
was a cosmopolitan center, ruled by a despot, the home of some wealthy
and cultured gentlemen, who supported painters and sculptors and poets
and musicians and actors to while away their boredom, and to serve as
their press-agents and trumpeters. But the art of classical Greece was
the work of free men, citizens of a state ruled by a larger proportion
of its inhabitants than had ever before held authority in civilized
times. That meant throughout the community the joy and thrill of
intellectual adventure, it meant a great leap of achievement for the
whole group. Such invariably is the origin of art which we now regard as
“classical”--and which we use to hold the minds of new generations in
chain to tradition and conformity!



There has been peace in the cave for a while, because Mrs. Ogi has been
interested in learning about the Greeks. “I perceive,” she says, “that
there are superstitions in the arts, just as in religion.”

“Exactly,” says Ogi; “and they serve the same purpose. They begin as
honest ignorance, and are then taken up and used as a source of income
and a shield to privilege.”

Says Mrs. Ogi, “It strikes me the Greeks lived in a country very much
like Southern California.”

“Quite so. The climate is the same; and the rocky hills and fertile
valleys, and people living the outdoor life, and giving their time to
sports. The one-piece bathing-suits that have come into fashion in our
‘beauty parades’ are about the same thing as the Greek maidens running
naked in the games. And if you want to parallel the darker side of Greek

“There is Hollywood,” says Mrs. Ogi.

“There is all smart society, as much luxury and wantonness as your
thesis requires.”

“But then, why has Los Angeles never had any art? I know what you are
going to say--our mental energy goes into real estate advertisements.
But joking aside, why?”

“Because the people here have never had a struggle. They came into a
country already prepared for them, inhabited by tame Indians living on
piñon nuts. All the settlers had to do was to subdivide the land, and
raise the price once every year. They are too polite to have an art; if
anybody makes a crude effort, it is a masterpiece, and we all get
together and boost. You can write one feeble book, and live a life-time
on your reputation. Los Angeles is a fruit that was rotten before it was

“What are we going to do?” asks Mrs. Ogi.

“We are going to take our choice between a social revolution and a slave

Mrs. Ogi is not certain about her choice; she sits, watching the
entrance of the cave out of the corner of her eye--the ancestral habit
of expecting some hostile intruder. After a while she remarks, “I
notice you didn’t say anything about slavery in Greece.”

“It will be better to deal with slavery in the case of the Romans, where
its effects show so plainly. The Greeks had slavery, but the force which
destroyed their civilization was faction. They had their ‘world war,’
and Sir Gilbert Murray, who knows them by heart, has drawn a parallel
between that war and ours; it is so exact that it makes you laugh--or
weep, according to your temperament. The Greek struggle was between the
Athenian empire, a democratic sea power, and the Spartans, an
aristocratic, military people with no nonsense about them. The war
lasted for two generations, off and on; they hadn’t developed the
technique of extermination as we have. But they had all the social and
psychic factors of our ‘war for democracy’--‘defeatists’ and
‘bitter-enders,’ poets and propagandists of hate, statesmen promising
utopias after victory, spies and informers and provocateurs, refugees
crowding into the cities, landlords raising rents, food famines,
rationing of supplies, and profiteers coining fortunes out of the
general misery. And of course the demagogues and haters had their way;
Athens was ruined and Sparta was bled white, and the Greeks became
subjects, first of Macedonia, then of the Romans, then of the Turks.”

“Thus endeth the first lesson,” says Mrs. Ogi. “And now for the Romans.”

“Well, the Romans didn’t bleed themselves to death; they were practical
fellows, with a business man’s point of view. They turned their deadly
short swords against other races; and when they had conquered somebody,
they put him to work for the glory of the Grand Old Party. They were
‘hard-boiled,’ as we say; our big business men of the rougher type--old
P. D. Armour, and Pullman, and ‘Jesse James’ Hill, and Harriman, and the
elder Morgan, and Judge Gary. This banker in Chicago that the Republican
party has just put over on us as vice-president, General ‘Helen Maria’
Dawes--he commanded an army against the Germans, and having conquered
them, he goes back to put them under bond, to set them at work for long
hours, and drain the milk out of the mothers’ breasts, and feed it to
the international bankers, instead of to the German infants. That was a
perfect Roman job, and General Helen Maria would have been the boy
after the Romans’ own heart; they would have made him a prefect over the
whole of Asia Minor, or Northern Africa, or Spain, and he would have
come home a millionaire--but never so rich as the head of one of the
Morgan banks in Chicago!”

“I shouldn’t think you’d get much art out of people like that,” says
Mrs. Ogi. “But go ahead and tell us the story.”



Rome, like all other nations, was founded by stern, determined men, who
believed in themselves and in their tribal gods. They conquered the
peninsula of Italy, and built mighty cities, and a net-work of military
roads, and aqueducts which endure even today. All that time their state
was a republic; in fact, they made the word for us--res publicæ mean
public affairs, and all Roman citizens took part in them, discussed and
voted, passed laws and enforced the laws. They raised armies, and built
fleets of ships, and conquered Carthage, and ultimately the whole
Mediterranean world. But, according to the custom of the time, they
enslaved their prisoners in war; and so, in the course of six or eight
centuries, Rome provided the classic demonstration of what slavery does
to civilization.

Emerson has said that wherever you find a chain fastened to the wrist of
a slave, you find the other end fastened to the wrist of a master. It is
possible for a slave-holder to be a virtuous man, but it is impossible
for him to raise virtuous children. Slaves are tricky and dishonest,
full of suppressions and secret vices; even where they mean well, they
debauch the young by waiting upon them and depriving them of initiative.
Why should a young aristocrat work, when he knows he will grow up to
inherit papa’s money? In a few generations he is too effeminate even to
fight. Why should he risk his precious life, when he can hire common

Not only that, but slavery undermines free labor, and breaks down the
farming class. Cheap food poured into Rome, and the farmers were
ruined, and their sons drifted into the cities. The lands of Italy were
mortgaged, and the money-lenders got them. Wealthy merchants and
officials returning from the provinces became owners of vast estates,
while the cities were crowded with a hungry mob, idle, dissolute--and
victimized by the owners of slum tenements. You may see every bit of
that reproduced in the United States today, for chattel slavery and wage
slavery are in their economic effects the same. The only difference is
that a process which took six or eight centuries in Rome is taking one
century under the stimulus of machinery.

The Roman mob had the vote, and they used it to get something for
themselves. There came class struggles, bitter and ferocious. Two young
brothers of the aristocracy, Caius and Tiberius Gracchus, became
champions of the common people--what we call “parlor Socialists.” They
were assassinated, and the partisans of privilege, the “old gang,”
proceeded to slaughter everybody in Italy who threatened their power.
There followed two generations of civil strife, and then came a strong
man, Julius Cæsar, who put an end to political democracy. In history
books that are taught to our school children today you will read that
Cæsar was a great and virtuous protector of law and order; because the
class which is paying for school text-books in capitalist America is
waiting hopefully for the arrival of exactly such a man to put an end to
the threat of industrial democracy.

So Rome became in form what it was in fact, an empire, the most colossal
machine for plundering that had ever been seen on earth. A little inside
gang of rich men ran it, and kept the mob satisfied by bread and
circuses and gladiatorial shows. The Roman emperors tried every form of
debauchery and blood-thirsty cruelty, incest and unnatural vice, and
crowned it by having themselves made into gods with their statues set up
to be worshiped in the temples. Their heirs took to murdering and
poisoning each other, and Rome was governed by palace revolutions. Then
the army discovered that it could share the graft, and the troops took
to revolting and setting up their leaders as emperors and gods. All the
while the tribute continued to roll in--the wealth of the whole world
squandered in one mad orgy--

“Look here,” says Mrs. Ogi; “you have got in a solid chapter of
preaching--and we are trying to find out about art!”

“I’m all through now,” says her husband, humbly. “But no one could
understand Roman art without understanding the economics of slavery.”



In the beginning the Romans didn’t bother very much with art. In their
public buildings they were content to take over the Greek styles--but
making them heavy and solid, so as to last to the end of time. The
attitude of a Roman gentleman toward the fine arts reminds me of a
wealthy Southern planter whose son wanted to become a violinist, and the
father said, “I can hire all the fiddler-fellows I want.” The Roman
gentleman bought people of that sort--musicians, dancers and poets with
skill handed down from “the glory that was Greece.”

Until the republic was dead and the Emperor Augustus took the throne.
Then came a time of peace, and a Roman scholar, the son of a country
proprietor, looked about him, and seeing the perils of internal decay
and outside barbarism looming over his world, he recalled the stern
sobriety of the good old days, and yearned to bring back the governing
class of Rome to reverence for their ancestors. There is a report that
the Emperor Augustus himself suggested the task to the poet; anyhow, Mr.
Publius Vergilius Maro, known to us as Virgil, set himself with sober
deliberation to the making of a piece of Roman national and religious

It was to be an epic after the fashion of Homer, written in dactylic
hexameter, like Homer. Virgil cast about him for a hero, and selected a
legendary Trojan named Æneas, who was said to have fled from the Greeks
and to have founded Rome. The characters in Homer carried an adjective
before their names, “the wily Ulysses,” “the swift-footed Achilles,” and
so on. Therefore this hero must have an adjective, and he becomes “the
pious Æneas”--the man who respects the old-time faith, and preserves
the old-time traditions of virtue, sobriety and public service.

So here is an epic poem, wrought with verbal skill and sincerity of
feeling, conveying to us the dream of Rome as it ought to be, but was
not. We see the wanderings of Æneas and his ship-load of companions. We
see him land at Carthage, and carry on a love affair with Queen Dido,
and then desert her--not a serious impropriety in Roman days. We see the
founding father celebrating the old-time religious rites, consulting the
auguries and asking the blessing of those gods, of which every Roman had
a little image in his home, just as orthodox Russians and Roman
Catholics do today.

The “Æneid” is considered ideal for infliction upon helpless school
boys; it being full of that careful propriety and decorous tameness
which represent what our children ought to be, but are not. The old
professor of Latin who inflicted the poem upon me was an ardent
propagandist of the Catholic faith, and it was his hope that if we
learned proper respect for the established religion of ancient Rome, we
might some day be lured into similar respect for the established
religion of modern Rome. We read, or made up, a phrase: “Dum pius
Æneas,” meaning: “While the pious Æneas”--. We boys knew we were being
propaganded, and we resented it, and this phrase gave us a chance to
express our feelings. “The dumb pious Æneas” became our formula. “What’s
your next hour?” “Oh, I’ve got the dumb pious Æneas!”

We would sit and solemnly translate a long account of a prize-fight--a
religious prize-fight, part of the pious games. The antagonists wore no
vulgar boxing-gloves, but a mysterious, romantic thing called a
“cestus,” which we did not recognize as plain “brass knucks.” And woe to
the student if the dumb pious professor happened to catch him with a
morning newspaper under his desk, reading an account of a prize-fight
which had happened the night before in Madison Square Garden! Woe
likewise to the student who, translating the rage of the deserted Queen
Dido--“furens quid femina possit”--happened to be caught reading the
story of some queen of the stage or the grand opera who had committed
suicide because of a faithless lover!

Does anyone question that the “Æneid” is propaganda? If so, I mention
that the poet lost his country estate in one of the civil wars; and on
account of his beautiful verses the Emperor Augustus restored the
property to him, and made him a court favorite. So in the “Æneid” we
find this pious emperor described in the following fashion:

    This, this is he--long promised, oft foretold--
    Augustus Cæsar. He the age of gold,
    God-born himself, in Latium shall restore
    And rule the land that Saturn ruled before.

That is a more direct and personal kind of propaganda, the propaganda of
a hungry poet in search of his dinner. We shall find a great deal of it
through the history of art, and it is, I am told, not entirely unknown
in art circles today.

“I have here,” says Mrs. Ogi, “a letter from a Professor who has been
reading this manuscript. He protests, ‘not in a professorial fashion’--”

“Naturally not,” says Ogi.

“That you cannot possibly know the old authors as well as he does, who
has given the greater part of his life to studying them. ‘To say that
Virgil was a sycophant of a Roman emperor is a very superficial
estimate, which overlooks the really deep matter in his writings. To say
that somehow there has constantly been a conscious trick played on
humanity, in defending and glorifying the ruling classes, is merely
silly. There was no knowledge of a social question then, any more than
there was electric machinery.’”

“That is important,” answers Ogi, “and I want to get it straight. I
should like to put an arrow on the cover of this book, directing the
attention of all professors to the fact that I do not state or imply
that the great leisure-class artists were playing a ‘conscious trick.’
Sometimes they knew what they were doing; but most of the time they just
wrote that way, because they were that kind of men. I have tried to make
this plain; but evidently the Professor missed it, so let me give an

“Here is a hive of bees; each of these bees all day long diligently
labors to collect the juices of flowers and make it into honey; or to
collect wax, and build exact hexagonal architectural structures in which
to store the honey. Now comes an entomologist, and studies the life
cycle of the bee, and says that the purpose of the hexagonal structures
is to hold the honey in the most economical fashion; the purpose of the
honey is to nourish the infant bees which will be hatched in the
hexagonal cells. Now shall a critic say that this entomologist is
‘silly,’ because no bee can have understood the principles of economy
involved in the hexagonal structure, nor can it have performed chemical
tests necessary to determine the nutritive qualities of carbohydrates?

“The class feelings of human beings are instinctive and automatic
reactions to economic pressure. The reactions of the artist, who seeks
fame and success by voicing these class feelings, may be just as
instinctive. But now mankind is emerging into consciousness, and social
life is becoming rational and deliberate. I say that one of the steps in
this process is to go back and study the life cycle of the artist, and
find out where he collected his honey, and how he stored it, and what
use was made of it by the hive.”

At this point Mrs. Ogi, who has been reading in her Bible--known to the
rest of the world as the Works of G. B. S.--produces a text from “The
Quintessence of Ibsenism,” reading as follows: “The existence of a
discoverable and perfectly definite thesis in a poet’s work by no means
depends on the completeness of his own intellectual consciousness of



A few years after Virgil came another Roman poet, whom I learned to read
as a lad. He also was taken up by the Emperor Augustus, and wrote
fulsome odes in praise of this emperor. Also he found a patron, a
wealthy gentleman by the name of Mæcenas, who was really fond of the
arts, and gave the poet a Sabine farm to live on. This poet was, I
believe, the first author who invited the public into his home, and told
them his private affairs, pleasant or otherwise. Being that kind of a
tactless author myself, I early conceived a feeling of affection for Mr.
Quintus Horatius Flaccus, known to us as Horace.

For one thing, this worldly wise poet knows how to tip us a wink, even
while handing out flattery to his patron. For another thing, his Mæcenas
seems to have been a really worthy soul. I know how easy it is to love a
rich man; but in Rome it must have been hard to find a rich man who
could be loved at any price. Horace was a man of humble tastes; all he
wanted was to live in his books, and to escape the brawl and fury of
politics. We might have expected him to fall down on his knees and kiss
the hand of a man who gave him a quiet home, with fruit-trees around
him, and snow-capped mountains in the distance, and a crackling log fire
in winter-time.

But, as a matter of fact, the poet was quite decent about it. He
asserted the right of a man of letters to live an independent
life--quite a “modern” idea, and hard for brutal rich Romans to
understand. Every now and then Horace would have to visit his patron and
friend, and meet some of these haughty conquerors of the world, and be
put in his place by them. The father of Horace was what the Romans
called a “freedman”; that is, he had formerly been a slave, and the
great world sneered at the poet on that account. But instead of being
ashamed of his ancestry, and trying to hide it, Horace put his old
father into his books, for all Rome to meet. Yes, said the poet, that
fond old freedman father brought his little boy to Rome to get an
education, and walked every day to school with him, carrying his books
and slate.

We can honor this honest gentleman, and read his charming verses with
pleasure--but without committing the absurdities of the classical
tradition, which ranks Horace as a great poet. He was a pioneer man of
letters, and in that way made history; but there is nothing he wrote
that the world has not learned to write better today. There are a score
of young fellows writing verses for the columns of American newspapers
who can turn out just as witty and clever and human stuff. “F. P. A.”
has written “take-offs” on Horace, which shock the purists, but would
have delighted Horace. Louis Untermeyer has published volumes of such
mingled wisdom and wit; and there is Austin Dobson, and above all,
Heine--a man who writes verse of loveliness to tear your heart-strings,
and at the same time had the nerve to hit out at the ruling-class brutes
of his age.

“Wasn’t there a single artist in Rome who revolted?” asks Mrs. Ogi.

“Yes, there was one. He also was the son of a freedman, and came nearly
a century after Virgil and Horace, in the reign of the infamous
Domitian. His name was Juvenal, and he wrote satires in which he flayed
the aristocracy of the empire for their vileness and materialism. I once
published a novel, ‘The Metropolis,’ in which I did the same thing for
the so-called ‘Four Hundred’ of New York; and it is interesting to
compare the two pictures--”

“Now don’t you start talking about your own books!” cries Mrs. Ogi.

“I don’t offer ‘The Metropolis’ as literature, but merely as a record of
things I saw in New York twenty years ago. Afterwards I’ll show what
Juvenal has to say on the same topics. First, ‘The Metropolis,’ page
278, listing the health-cures of ladies in high society:

“One of the consequences of the furious pace was that people’s health
broke down very quickly; and there were all sorts of bizarre ways of
restoring it. One person would be eating nothing but spinach, and
another would be living on grass. One would chew a mouthful of soup
thirty-two times; another would eat every two hours, and another only
once a week. Some went out in the early morning and walked barefooted in
the grass, and others went hopping about the floor on their hands and
knees to take off fat. There were ‘rest cures’ and ‘water cures,’ ‘new
thought’ and ‘metaphysical healing’ and ‘Christian Science’; there was
an automatic horse, which one might ride indoors, with a register
showing the distance traveled. Montague met one man who had an electric
machine, which cost thirty thousand dollars, and which took hold of his
arms and feet and exercised him while he waited. He met a woman who told
him she was riding an electric camel!

“But of course they could not really succeed in reducing weight, because
they were incapable of self-restraint. Mrs. Billy Alden gave Montague a
delightfully malicious account of a certain lordly fat lady of her set,
who had got the Turkish-bath habit. Terrible to encounter, most awful in
visage, she would enter the baths by night, and all the attendants would
rush into instant action. ‘She delights in perspiring with great
tumult,’ said Mrs. Billy. ‘And when her arms have sunk down, wearied
with the heavy dumb-bells, the sly masseur omits to rub down no part of
her person. Meantime, perhaps there are a number of guests assembled for
dinner at home. They wait, overcome with drowsiness and hunger. At last
the lady comes, flushed, and declaring that she is thirsty enough for a
whole ‘magnum.’ As soon as she is seated at the table, the footman
brings her a bucket of ice, packed about her own special quart of
champagne. She drinks half of this before she tastes any food--calling
it an appetizer. She drinks so much that it won’t stay down, but returns
as a cascade on the floor’--and Montague had to stop Mrs. Billy in her
too vivid description of the sights which a certain unhappy banker, the
husband of this lady, had to witness at his dinner-parties. Said Mrs.
Billy, with her usual vividness of metaphor: ‘It is like a snake that
has crawled into a cask of wine; it takes in and gives out again.’”

Mrs. Ogi interrupts. “There is one thing I want to make plain--that you
weren’t married to me when you published that disgusting stuff.”

“All right,” says Ogi; “it shall be entered in the record. But you must
understand that I am not to blame for Mrs. Billy’s stories.”

“You were to blame for the company you kept,” declares Mrs. Ogi. “I call
that sort of writing inexcusable.”

“Well, I’ll try again,” says her husband. “On page 351 of ‘The
Metropolis’ you find a glimpse of the underworld of New York:

“So far had the specialization in evil proceeded that there were places
of prostitution which did a telephone business exclusively, and would
send a woman in a cab to any address; and there were high-class
assignation-houses, which furnished exquisite apartments and the
services of maids and valets. And in this world of vice the modern
doctrine of the equality of the sexes was fully recognized; there were
gambling-houses and pool-rooms and opium-joints for women, and
drinking-places which catered especially to them. In the ‘orange room’
of one of the big hotels, you might see rich women of every rank and
type, fingering the dainty leather-bound and gold-embossed wine cards.
In this room alone were sold over ten thousand drinks every day; and the
hotel paid a rental of a million a year to the Devon estate. Not far
away the Devons also owned negro-dives, where, in the early hours of the
morning, you might see richly gowned white women drinking.

“Montague was told by a certain captain of police a terrible story about
the wife of our very greatest railroad magnate, who lived in a colossal
marble palace on Fifth Avenue. As soon as she perceived that her husband
was asleep, she would put on a yellow wig as a disguise, and wearing an
overcoat which she kept for this purpose, she would quit the palace on
foot, with only a single attendant. She would enter one of the brothels
in the ‘Tenderloin,’ where she had a room set apart for herself. There
she took her stand, with naked breasts and gilded nipples, bearing the
name of Zaza, and displaying the person of the mother of one of our most
magnificent young lords of society and finance. She would receive all
comers with caresses, and when the madame dismissed her customers, she
would take her leave sadly, lingering, and being the last to close the
door of her room. Still unsatisfied in her desires, she would retire
with her sullied cheeks, bearing back the odors of the brothel to the
pillow of her mighty railroad magnate. And shall I speak of the

“Most emphatically you shall not!” cries Mrs. Ogi, “I think we’ve had
enough of ‘The Metropolis’ and I won’t hear of its being reproduced in
this new book. It’s your crudest Socialist propaganda--”

“You’re quite sure it’s propaganda?” says Ogi.

“Of course. Who would question that?”

“Well then, I’ve proved one point!” says the other.

“I don’t understand.”

“I have made you the victim of a mean little trick. Each of those
passages starts out as ‘The Metropolis’; but then it slides into
Juvenal--the sixth satire, dealing with the ladies of ancient Rome. The
point of my joke is that you will have to consult the books in order to
be sure which is Juvenal and which is me. Of course I’ve had to change
names and phrases, replacing Roman things with New York things. And I’ve
had to tone Juvenal down, because there are some of his phrases I
couldn’t reproduce--”

“There are some you have tried to reproduce, and that you’re going to
cut out,” says Mrs. Ogi. And as always, she has her way, and so it is a
Bowdlerized Juvenal you have been reading!



“You had your fun out of that,” says Mrs. Ogi. “But of course I can’t
judge; somebody who knows about Rome may come along and show that it’s
all nonsense.”

“Those who know about Rome,” says Ogi, “don’t always know about
capitalist America. There has never been such a parallel of two
civilizations in all history. I could write, quite literally, a whole
book of mystifications--quoting American poets and statesmen and
journalists, and mixing in passages from the same kind of people in
Rome, and unless you knew the different passages you couldn’t tell which
was which.”

“We still have our republic, have we not?”

“In every presidential election for the past fifty years that candidate
has won who has had the campaign-funds; and he has had the
campaign-funds because he was the candidate of the plutocracy. Right now
we are at the critical moment--the age of the Gracchi. We are trying to
rouse the people to action; and whether we succeed, or whether we are
going to be slaughtered, as our industrial masters desire and intend--”

Mrs. Ogi’s hand tightens upon her husband’s arm. She never has this
thought out of mind; and whenever in the midnight hours a cat or dog
sets foot upon the porch of her home, she leaps up, expecting to see a
company of bankers and merchants, clad in their new uniform of white
night-shirts and hoods. Our aristocratic party has what it calls the
“Better Roman Federation,” and collects lists of the proscribed, and
issues secret bulletins to its mobbing parties. Last week, down at
Brundisium, our naval harbor, their subsidized mob raided a meeting of
wage slaves, beat some of them insensible with clubs, threw a little
girl into a great receptacle of boiling coffee, scalding her almost to
death, and dragged six men off into the woods and tarred and feathered

“What do you really think is coming?” asks Mrs. Ogi.

“There are two factors in modern civilization that did not exist in
Rome. First there is the printing press, a means of spreading
information. So far as the master class can control it, it is a machine
for debauching the race mind; but in spite of everything the masters can
do, the workers get presses of their own, and so get information which
was denied the slaves of Rome.”

“And the other factor?”

“The labor movement. In Rome there were some labor unions, but they were
weak and the slaves were an unorganized mob; when they revolted, as they
did again and again, they were slaughtered wholesale. But the modern
labor movement goes on growing; it trains its members, and gives them
sound ideas. So, out of the final struggle we may have, not another
empire, and another collapse of civilization, but the co-operative
commonwealth of our dreams.”

This, of course, is outright preaching; but it happens that Mrs. Ogi has
just received a letter about the child who was thrown into the scalding
coffee, so her husband gets his way for once. Besides, as he explains,
there is nothing more to be said about Roman art, because there is no
more Roman art. The plutocracy of the empire had brought themselves to a
state where they were incapable of sustained thinking or effort of any
sort. The barbarian hordes, which had been besieging the frontiers,
broke through and overwhelmed the Roman empire, and so came what history
knows as the Dark Ages.

When I was a lad, my Catholic teachers explained to me that these ages
were called dark, not because they had no culture, but because we were
so unfortunate as not to know about it. I was not able to answer the
Catholic gentlemen in those days, but I can answer them now. When groups
of human beings kindle the precious light of the intellect, they make it
into a torch and pass it on to posterity. That is always their first
impulse; and so we may be sure that if an age had no art, it was a dark



It took several centuries for the peoples of Europe to lift themselves
out of barbarism and chaos. Then we find a new art developing, an
altogether different art, built upon Babylonian and Hebrew foundations,
instead of Greek and Roman. It meant an overthrowing of standards, and a
setting-up of new values--a precedent of enormous importance to social

What exactly was the difference between Pagan and Christian art? The
Greeks said: The human body is the most beautiful thing in the world. To
which the Christians replied: All flesh is grass. The Greeks said:
Because the body is beautiful, we immortalize it in statues. The
Christians replied: We are iconoclasts--that is to say, breakers of
marble idols. The Romans said: Material wealth is the basis of
individual and national safety. The Christians replied: What shall it
profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?

These Christian sayings meant that mankind had discovered new
satisfactions, replacing, for a time at any rate, the customary ones of
physical pleasure and domination over others. These new joys came from
inside the self, and required a new word, spiritual. To the artist was
set the task of making these inner qualities apprehensible, and for this
he had to have a new technique. Where the Greeks had carved the body
graceful, the Christians carved it with that ugliness which results from
the ascetic life. Where the Romans had represented their great men
muscular and mighty, the Christians represented them frail and sickly.
The Christians reveled in wounds, disease and deformity, taking a
perverse pleasure in defying old standards--a process known to the
psychologist as “over-correction.” The two favorite themes of Christian
art became a man-god who accepted all suffering and humiliation, and a
woman-god who allowed the erring soul an unlimited number of new

Because this new art was trying so often to express the inexpressible,
it was driven to symbolism. The painters and sculptors invented outward
and visible signs of the inward and spiritual graces: the cross, the
crown of thorns, the sacrificial lamb. The Virgin Mary would have a
heart of radiant fire, with perhaps a white dove perched on top of it.
The saints and martyrs wore halos of light about their heads, so as not
to be mistaken for ordinary beggars, or for patients in the last stages
of tuberculosis. One should hardly need to state that all this art was
propaganda; it was permitted on that basis alone.

The significance of all this to social revolutionists lies in the fact
that they also plan an art revolution. What the Christians did to Pagan
art, the Socialists now seek to do to bourgeois art; metaphorically
speaking, to smash the idols and burn the temples dedicated to the
worship of individual and class aggrandizement, and to set up new art
standards, based on the abolition of classes, and the assertion of
brotherhood and solidarity. Just as the stone which was rejected of the
Pagan builders became the cornerstone of the Christian temple, so those
things which are despised and rejected of plutocratic snobbery will
become the glory of revolutionary art; the very phrases of contempt will
become battle-cries--the great unwashed, the vulgar herd, the common
man. The revolutionary artist, clasping the toiling masses to his

“Over-correction?” suggests Mrs. Ogi.

“Partly that; but also the longing for solidarity, the enlargement of
the personality through mass feeling.”

“But beauty came back into art,” says Mrs. Ogi.

“Yes, and that is an interesting story; a drama of the conflict between
God and Mammon, and the triumph of what I am calling Mammonart. I have
pondered a title for the drama--something like this: Christianity as a
Social Success; or the admission of the Martyr to the Four Hundred!”



There are two types of human temperament and attitude which manifest
themselves in the world’s art product: the Art of Beauty and the Art of

The Art of Beauty is produced by ruling classes when they are
established and safe, and wish to be entertained, and to have their
homes and surroundings set apart from the common mass. I do not mean
that simple and primitive people do not produce beauty of a naïve sort;
but for such art to develop and mature, it must be taken up by the
privileged classes, patronizing and encouraging the artist, and making
his work a form of class distinction. The fact that the men who produce
this art have come from the people is a fact of no significance; for the
ruling classes take what they want where they find it, and shape it to
their own class ends. The characteristics of the Art of Beauty, whether
in painting, or sculpture, or music, or words, or actions, are those of
rest and serenity, pleasure in things as they actually exist; also
clarity of form--because the leisure-class artist has time to study
technique, and knows what he wants to do.

In every human society there is one group which controls, and another
which struggles for control; the “ins” versus the “outs,” the “haves”
versus the “have-nots.” In every well-developed civilization this latter
class will be strong enough to have its art, which is apt to be crude
and instinctive, full of surging, half-expressed and half-realized
emotion. Such art lays stress upon substance, rather than form; it aims,
or at any rate tends, to arouse to action; and so we call it the Art of

This is the art which is generally described as “propaganda” by
established criticism; the distinction being, as we have previously
explained, itself a piece of propaganda. The Art of Beauty is equally
propaganda; it is the gas-barrage of the “haves,” and the essence of its
deadliness lies in the fact that it looks so little like a weapon. But
to me it seems clear enough that when a leisure-class artist portrays
the graces and refinements of the civilization which maintains him, when
he paints the noble features, and quotes the imaginary golden words of
ruling-class ladies and gentlemen, he is doing the best he knows how to
protect those who give him a living. Nor is he, as a rule, without some
awareness of the harsh and rough and dangerous forces which surround
him, besieging the ivory tower, or the temple, or the sacred grove, or
wherever it is that he keeps his working tools. But even where the
artist is instinctive and naïve, the class which employs him knows what
he is doing; it knows what is “safe and sane,” and “of sound tendency”;
it approves of such art, and pays its money to maintain such art.

Unless the society is stagnant, like China, its social life is marked by
changes of power. The revolutionary classes succeed, and replace the old
rulers; whereupon we note at once a change in their art. Those who were
dissatisfied now find peace; those whose emotions overwhelmed them now
find themselves able to order their thoughts; those who were interested
in what they had to say now achieve triumphs of technique; in short,
those who were producing an Art of Power now begin to produce an Art of
Beauty. And so we are in position to understand what happened to
Christian art, when the martyrs and the saints broke into “good

The Roman Empire fell about five hundred years after Christ, and for
another five hundred years the Italian peninsula was a battle-ground of
invading barbarian hordes. When finally things settled down, the land
was held by a great number of feudal princes and plundering groups,
having their lairs in castles and walled cities. Christianity was the
official religion, and abbots and bishops and popes were robber chiefs
commanding armies. In between their military campaigns they took their
pleasures like other princes; and among their pleasures were those of

The inner emotions which Christianity cultivated were free to those who
sought them in monks’ cells and hermits’ caves, but they could not be
purchased nor rented out, and they wilted in the atmosphere of palaces
and courts. So gradually we find Italian religious art undergoing a
change. The saints become gentlemen of refinement wearing scholars’
robes; Jesus becomes a heavenly prince, in spotless linen garments and a
golden crown, casting benevolent looks upon the clergy; the Virgin Mary
becomes the favorite mistress of a duke or abbot or pope--or perhaps the
painter’s own mistress. This latter arrangement is common, for business
reasons easy to understand. The lady is at hand, and has nothing to do
while the painter is painting; he gets the service of a model free, he
flatters his lady love’s vanity, and at the same time he keeps her safe
from other painters. So the poison of luxury creeps into what is
supposed to be religious art; and we see the symbols of martyrdom and
holy sacrifice employed to glorify the vanities and cloak the vices of
the predatory classes.

But the soul of man never dies; it goes on struggling for justice and
brotherhood, in spite of all betrayal and persecution. So inside the
church and outside comes a long line of heroic souls, fighting to
restore the primitive simplicity and honesty of the faith. The struggle
between the “ins” and the “outs,” the “haves” and the “have-nots,” takes
the form of heresy and schism, of mendicant and preaching orders and
Protestant sects. Young and obscure servants of God arise, denouncing
the corruption of the church machine. Some retire to monasteries,
spurning the wicked world; others take literally the words of Jesus, and
go out upon the road without scrip or cloak, preaching to whoever will
hear them, and living on charity. They are denounced and excommunicated,
their followers are slaughtered by the tens and hundreds of thousands;
but the movement persists, and when the leaders die they are canonized,
and become in their turn themes for artists--to be “idealized,” and
dressed in spotless raiment, and made fit for stained glass windows and
the art galleries of prelates and princes. St. Francis of Assisi in the
thirteenth century, putting on beggar’s clothing and being publicly
disinherited by his father; Savonarola in the fifteenth century,
persuading the rich to throw their jewels into the flames, and being
publicly hanged in Florence; Martin Luther in the sixteenth century,
preaching against the sale of indulgences and nailing his theses to the
church door; George Fox in the eighteenth century, crying out against
priestly corruption in the streets, and jailed time after time; Bishop
Brown in the twentieth century, kicked out of the Episcopal church for
repudiating dogma and defending Communism--such are the figures which
have kept the Christian religion alive, and such are the themes of vital
religious art.



It was in Italy first that the language of the people became the
language of culture, replacing Latin; and the two greatest writers of
this age afford us an interesting contrast between the Art of Beauty and
the Art of Power.

The favorite ruling-class poet and novelist of medieval Italy was the
illegitimate son of a merchant, who was recognized by his father and
given the best education of his time. He chose as his mistress the
natural daughter of a king; with this married lady he carried on an
intrigue for many years, and wrote to her long epic poems about Greek
heroes, weaving into the poems elaborate acrostics and secret codes. The
first letters of the lints, taken according to certain numerical
systems, made three other separate poems; other letters, chosen
according to other systems, spelled the names of other lady loves. In
such ways the skillful artists of the Italian courts were accustomed to
beguile their leisure, wrung from the toil of a wretched enslaved

This poet rose to fame, and became the darling of the ruling classes. He
was sent as an ambassador on various important missions to popes and
princes; he became the favorite of a queen, and did not reject her favor
even when she turned into a murderess. He learned to write beautiful
Italian prose, a great service to his country. He used his skill to
compose a collection of short stories dealing with the sojourn in a
country villa of a number of Italian ladies and gentlemen of wealth and
charm, the occasion being an outbreak of the plague in Florence. These
ladies and gentlemen did not feel impelled by their religion to nurse
the suffering; they were of too great importance to be risked in such
crude fashion, so they retired, and passed their time listening to
charmingly narrated tales of sexual promiscuity.

I do not mean to imply that there is nothing but smut in the “Decameron”
of Boccaccio. We shall find it a rule throughout history that
leisure-class ladies and gentlemen do not spend their entire time in
trying new sexual combinations. They have to eat, and so their artists
give us delightful, appetizing accounts of banquets. They have to drink,
and so their artists give us an entire lore of intoxicating liquors.
They have to cover their nakedness, so we have a complicated art of
dress, a mass of subtlety constantly changing, and affording traps to
catch the feet of the unwary, so that the sacred inner circles may be
protected from those individuals who have disgraced themselves by doing
useful work, or by having parents or grandparents who did useful work.

Also, the ladies and gentlemen have palaces to live in, and country
estates to which they may flee from pestilence, famine and war; so we
have the art of architecture. Because these homes have walls which must
be decorated, we have the art of painting; and so on through a long list
of cultural accomplishments. Moreover, not all ladies and gentlemen have
been able to exclude the natural human emotions from their hearts; so in
leisure-class art we have sentiments and sentimentalities. We like to be
sorry for the poor, provided they are “worthy”; so we have “idylls” and
other sad, sweet tales. When we are sick with ennui, we like to imagine
going back to the country; so we have a long line of “return to nature”
arts--eclogues and bucolics and pastorals, with beautiful shepherds and
shepherdesses dancing on the green, and country lads and lasses giving
touchingly quaint imitations of the manners of their betters.

Also we have in this leisure-class world vestigial traces of the sense
of duty. We take this sense and refine it or exaggerate it, making it
into something fantastic, stimulating to jaded tastes. So we find in
Boccaccio the famous story of the “patient Griselda,” a leisure-class
model of wifely fidelity and humility. She is married to a monster, who
subjects her to every indignity the perverted imagination can conceive;
but she endures all things, and continues to be his patient and devoted
slave, and in the end she conquers her tormentor, and brings about the
necessary happy ending. The legend of this most convenient lady
represents a popular form of masculine wish-fulfillment.

Giovanni Boccaccio died in ripe old age, and the Catholic Church took
cognizance of his popularity among the Italian people by preparing an
expurgated and authorized edition of his “Decameron.” From this edition
they omitted no word of the obscenities, but they changed each of the
stories so that wherever Boccaccio described indecencies committed by
priests and monks and holy popes, the said indecencies were transferred
to laymen! The tales of this darling of the Italian leisure class remain
today one of the most popular of books, which every dirty old boy keeps
hidden in his trunk, and every dirty young boy reads under his desk
while the professor of moral philosophy is lecturing on the social
responsibilities of great wealth.



Now by way of contrast we take the Italian poet of revolt and moral
indignation. We have only to look at the pictures of this man to see
that he is a crusader; a lean, hawk-like face, stern, bitter, lined with
suffering; “the mournfulest face,” says Carlyle, “that ever was painted
from reality; an altogether tragic, heart-affecting face.” There has
never been a world poet so deliberately ethical, preoccupied with moral
problems, and using his art as a means of teaching mankind what he
believed to be sound ideas about conduct.

Dante Alighieri was born to comfortable circumstances in Florence; he
had the education of a scholar, and might have lived a life of literary
ease. Instead, he chose to take part in the tumultuous and dangerous
politics of his city, becoming one of the leaders of the republican
party. When the forces of the pope conquered Italy, he fled for his
life, and a sentence of exile was pronounced upon him. This exile was a
cruel hardship; he describes himself as “a pilgrim, almost a beggar,
displaying against my will the wounds of fortune.... Truly have I been a
vessel without sail and without rudder, borne to divers ports and shores
and havens by the dry wind that blows from dolorous poverty.” Yet he
never wavered in his convictions; on the contrary, by his writings he
brought upon himself a confirmation of the decree of exile, and an exile
he died.

We shall not go into the details of medieval politics, the complicated
wranglings among various cities and principalities, the warring factions
in each, plus the partisans of papal dominion and those of the Holy
Roman Empire. Suffice it here to point out that one of the greatest
world poets was from the beginning to the end of his life a politician,
and took a vigorous part in the practical affairs of his time, fighting
his enemies hard, hating them implacably, and not hesitating to use his
literary art to punish them in a future world. When Dante goes down into
hell he encounters in the lowest pits of torment various Florentine
politicians, who have betrayed and debauched his city. How he regards
them may be judged by the case of Bocca degli Abbati, a gentleman who
is found locked helpless up to his neck in ice; the poet grabs his hair
and tears it out by the handful!

The quality which Dante especially loathed was greed, “cupiditia.” He
raged at the church of his time, because it had accepted the “fatal
gift” from the Emperor Constantine--the temporal possessions which made
the popes into worldly potentates, intriguers and heads of armies. The
two popes of his own time Dante flung into hell, and portrayed heaven
itself as reddening with anger at their deeds. St. Peter declares that
each of them “has of my cemetery made a sewer of blood and filth.” This
is plain muck-raking; and how undignified and unliterary it must have
seemed to the cultured prelates of the fourteenth century!

It seems that way to modern critics also. Albert Mordell has published a
book entitled “Dante and Other Waning Classics,” in which he argues that
the “Divine Comedy” is ugly, as well as out of date, with its elaborate
symbolism derived from church legend, and from Greek and Latin
mythology, combined and complicated by scholastic subtlety. Mr. Mordell
is one of those who think that art ought not to preach; and certainly
Dante does not shirk this issue--he tells us in plain words: “The kind
of philosophy under which we proceed in the whole and in the part is
moral philosophy or ethics; because the whole was undertaken not for
speculation but for use.”

What are the moral problems which occupied the soul of Dante, and have
these problems any interest for us? There are two which I believe will
always concern mankind. First, the problem of divine justice. How does
it happen that the wicked flourish? How shall we explain their power to
oppress the innocent? If God has power to prevent it, why does He not
use that power? Dante traveled to the depths of hell and ascended
through purgatory to heaven, seeking answers to these questions. Our
only advantage over him is that we do not even think we can answer.

The second great problem is that of love. The Christian revolution had
brought with it a new attitude toward womanhood. Mankind made the
discovery of what the psycho-analysts call the sublimation of sex, that
gratification withheld acts as a stimulus to all the psychic being. So
the simple naturalism of the Greeks was replaced by the romanticism of
the Middle Ages; and Dante’s whole being, his total art product, was
illuminated by the vision of a great and wonderful love, which began by
a chance meeting with a nine-year-old girl, and continued without
physical expression through the poet’s whole life. No student of the
science of sex today would accept Dante’s attitude as sound or sensible;
nevertheless, we are stirred by his exaltation of the ideal woman, and
the Beatific Vision which she brings to his soul.

In Dante’s pilgrimage through hell he accepted the leadership of Virgil.
This was because he honored in the Roman poet those factors we have
stressed--the moral earnestness, the effort of a lofty soul to rescue a
civilization. In Dante’s time the cultured world was just making the
discovery of Greek and Roman art, and was all a-thrill with the wonder
of a past age, rescued after a thousand years: the Renaissance, or
re-birth, we call it.

We may understand how it was by recalling our own excitement over the
tomb of King Tutankhamen. Let us suppose that in that tomb had been
found Egyptian literary masterpieces, which revealed the existence of a
Socialist civilization in ancient Egypt. There was a mighty king who had
been just to the poor, who had abolished exploitation by the landlords,
and had kept the peace with other nations. A Socialist poet of our day,
wishing to satirize the “war for democracy” by locating its leaders in
hell, would take this ancient Egyptian king for a guide, and would
exchange fraternal greetings with his royal comrade, and discuss with
him political conditions both in ancient Egypt and in modern America.

And in the nethermost pits the poet would meet Lloyd George and
Clemenceau and Woodrow Wilson, together with the rowdies and bullies
whom these statesmen turned loose upon mankind. Attorney-General Palmer,
for example, would be represented as a devil with a long barbed tail;
the poet would seize this tail and twist it, and the attorney-general
would howl and shriek, and a radical audience would be delighted. But
respectable critics would turn up their noses, saying that of course no
one would take such a thing for art; it was the most obvious soap-box

So the cultured Renaissance critics looked upon Dante as a crude and
“popular” person; the highly cultured Bishop della Casa spoke
patronizingly concerning “the rustic homeliness of his language and
style, his lack of decorum and grace.” If space permitted I could show
you that every truly vital artist who has ever lived has been thus dealt
with by the academic critics of his own time.



The Italian princes were no more influenced by the moral austerity of
Dante than the Roman ruling class had been by Virgil. Medieval Italy
traveled the same road as imperial Rome, and two centuries after Dante
we find the vicars of God on earth reproducing the worst crimes of the
Neros and Caligulas. Alexander VI, the Borgia pope, purchased his high
office, and then set to work to plunder the cities of Italy and harry
the whole peninsula with war. Among his children by his numerous
mistresses was Cesare Borgia, who became the commander of the papal
armies, and slaughtered and poisoned all who stood in his way, including
his own brother. Returning from his wars, he would amuse himself by
using his prisoners of war as targets for archery practice in the
courtyard of the Vatican. In the end Cesare died of wounds, Alexander
died by poison, and his daughter Lucrezia poisoned her own son and then

Here was an ideal environment for the development of leisure-class art.
These popes and princes built themselves magnificent palaces, and as a
measure of soul-insurance they built cathedrals and churches. They were
willing to spend fortunes upon famous artists; and the artists, needless
to say, were willing to take the money. Browning has a poem, “The Bishop
Orders His Tomb at St. Praxed’s Church,” a vivid picture of the attitude
of mind of these pious poisoners and artistic assassins. The bishop lies
upon his couch dying, and his sons, politely known as “nephews,” gather
about him to hear his vision of a tomb which is to preserve his memory
and bring peace to his soul. He describes the treasures of beauty which
are to go upon the tomb--

    One block, pure green as a pistachio-nut,
    There’s plenty jasper somewhere in the world--
    And have I not St. Praxed’s ear to pray
    Horses for ye, and brown Greek manuscripts,
    And mistresses with great smooth marbly limbs?

The pious soul goes on to specify his epitaph; it must be “choice Latin,
picked phrase,” from Cicero. Having got this--

    And then how I shall lie through centuries,
    And hear the blessed mutter of the mass,
    And see God made and eaten all day long,
    And feel the steady candle-flame, and taste
    Good strong thick stupefying incense-smoke!

The true “art for art’s sake” attitude, you perceive; and under the
patronage of such esthetic prelates, the poets and musicians, the
painters and sculptors flourished in sixteenth century Italy. Among
those who were employed by the poisoner pope, Alexander VI, was a
youthful painter of extraordinary ability, Raphael Sanzio by name. This
pope was succeeded by two others, who conquered many cities for the
glory of God, and spent millions of their plunder upon religious art. So
this young painter of genius was floated through life upon a flood of
gold ducats, and with his magic brushes he turned the blood and sweat
and tears of the peasantry of Italy into beautiful images of serenely
smiling madonnas, and enraptured saints, and ineffably gracious Jesuses.
Raphael is ranked by many as the greatest painter in history; we stand,
therefore, within the very holy of holies, before the shrine of “pure”
beauty, and it will repay us to dig into the roots of his life, and see
from what soil this precious flower grows.

He was the son of a court painter, and his life was one of ease, swift
achievement, and applause. He was gifted with all the graces of body,
also a genial and winning nature. He studied the work of one painter
after another, and acquired all the powers of each. He became so famous
that his life was “not that of a painter, but of a prince.” Ambassadors
from the wealthy and powerful besieged his doors, and waited for months
in hope of an interview. He went about accompanied by a band of more
than fifty youths, pupils and adorers of his art.

He had one weakness, which was for the ladies. The popes and princes
who cherished him sought to put loving restraint upon him, and planned
wealthy marriages for him, but he could not bring himself to stoop to
matrimony. At this time he was decorating the palace of a Sienese
millionaire, Chigi, owner of ships and of salt and alum mines throughout
Italy; this gentleman, discovering that Raphael was so wrapped up in his
mistress that he was neglecting the palace decorations, solved the
problem by a brilliant move--bringing the mistress to live in the
palace! In the end this darling of fortune died at the age of
thirty-seven, of a fever brought on by self-indulgence. His adoring
biographer, Vasari, tells us that when he knew his last hour had come,
he sent away his mistress from his home, “as a good Christian should,”
and so passed on to decorate the palaces of heaven.

What was the secret of Raphael’s fortune? The answer is, he painted the
ruling class of Italy, in their physical beauty and their material
luxury and splendor. In order to flatter their vanity, he painted them
as all the saints and demigods of the Catholic mythology. Every trace of
asceticism is now gone out of church art; the Christian gentlemen and
mistresses and virgins and gods and saints of Raphael and his
contemporaries are full-throated and full-bosomed and ruddy-cheeked
pictures of prosperity; their ecstasies have never been permitted to
interfere with their digestions. The angel comes to the Virgin Mary to
bring to her the sacred tidings of her divine pregnancy, and finds her
seated, not in a carpenter’s hut, but in a palace. Even when Jesus is
crucified and borne to the sepulchre, the mourning ladies have not
forgotten the proper arrangement of their hair and the proper costumes
for the historic occasion. Says Vasari: “Our Lady is seen to be
insensible, and the heads of all the weeping figures are exceedingly

Needless to say, Raphael painted portraits of all the Old Men and the
Witch Doctors of his time, and he made them magnificent and thrilling.
Of the portrait of Pope Julius II, valiant war-maker, Vasari writes:
“The picture impresses on all beholders a sense of awe, as if it were
indeed the living object.” Later on came another pope, Leo X, who in
order to get the millions necessary for his family monuments, and for
the art glories of St. Peter’s, started a sale of indulgences, which
brought about the church revolt known to us as the Reformation. His
portrait by Raphael shows a Tammany politician of the bar-room type; and
Vasari tells us--

     The velvet softness of the skin is rendered with the utmost
     fidelity; the vestments in which the Pope is clothed are also most
     faithfully depicted, the damask shines with a glossy luster; the
     furs which form the linings of his robes are soft and natural,
     while the gold and silk are copied in such a manner that they do
     not seem to be painted, but really appear to be silk and gold.
     There is also a book in parchment decorated with miniatures, a most
     vivid imitation of the object represented, with a silver bell,
     finely chased, of which it would not be possible adequately to
     describe the beauty. Among other accessories, there is, moreover, a
     ball of burnished gold on the seat of the Pope, and in this--such
     is its clearness--the divisions of the opposite window, the
     shoulders of the Pope, and the walls of the room, are faithfully
     reflected; all these things are executed with so much care, that I
     fully believe no master ever has done, or ever can do anything

A man who can perform such miracles for the rich and powerful can
command his own price, and is master of everything except his own
passions. Raphael’s old uncle wrote, begging him to return to his home
town and take himself a respectable wife. The young painter’s reply has
come down to us. “If I had done as you wished,” he says, “I should not
be where I am now.” And he goes on to tell where he is--

     At the present time I have property in Rome worth three thousand
     gold ducats, and an income of fifty gold crowns, as his Holiness
     gives me a salary of three hundred gold ducats for superintending
     the fabric of St. Peter, which will continue as long as I live; and
     I am sure to earn more from other sources and am paid whatever I
     choose to ask for my work. And I have begun to paint another room
     for his Holiness which will bring me one thousand two hundred gold
     ducats, so that you see, my dearest uncle, that I do honor to you
     and to all my family and to my country.... What city in the world
     can compare with Rome, what enterprise is more worthy than this of
     Peter, which is the first temple in the world? And these are the
     grandest works which have ever been seen, and will cost more than a
     million in gold, and the Pope has decided to spend sixty thousand
     ducats a year on the fabric and can think of nothing else.

While Raphael was thus flourishing and proud of his world, a German monk
by the name of Martin Luther was nailing his condemnation of the papacy
upon the door of the church at Wittenberg. But our painter-prince was so
busy, he had so many commissions to portray new popes and cardinals,
new annunciations and transfigurations and illuminations and immaculate
conceptions, that he probably never even heard of the barbarian rebel in
the far North. He remained to the end the perfect exemplar of
leisure-class art, and is today the darling of pious peasant-wives, and
sentimental school-marms doing culture-pilgrimages: in short, of all who
wish to develop their emotions at the expense of their brains, and to
shut their eyes to the grim realities of life, out of which alone true
and vital beauty can grow.



Among its numerous artists of beauty Renaissance Italy produced one man
who did not find life a garden of pleasure; one man who, when he sinned,
did not do it with easy grace and cheerful heart; a man who faced the
mysteries of life, and took seriously the terrors which the medieval
mind has conjured for itself. This man was a rebel against the wanton
and cruel spirit of his age; a rebel also against nature, those
cruelties which time and death inflict upon our race. He was a lonely
man, pursued by the jealousies and greeds of his rivals, tortured by his
own sensuality and by fears of eternal torment. He lived a life of
futile and agonized revolt, and produced some magnificent and terrible

In this book it is our task to study the artist in relation to the
masters of money; and we shall find no more tragic illustrations of the
waste that is wrought in the life of genius by the powers of greed, than
are revealed to us in the story of Michelangelo Buonarroti. He is ranked
as one of the greatest sculptors of all time; he was also one of the
greatest of painters, and a great poet. Like most of those who have
visioned the sublime and the colossal, he was a man of frail physique,
fear-haunted all his life. As a child he was beaten by his father, who
sought to break him of the desire to become an artist. At the age of
nine he was taken to hear the thunderings of Savonarola, another frail
prophet who had arisen to denounce the vices of the church in Florence.
When Michelangelo was twenty-three, Savonarola was publicly hanged,
after having been excommunicated by the Borgia pope. The young painter
at that time was beguiling himself with Greek beauty; but the terrible
fate of the prophet cannot have failed to impress him, and helps to
account for the religious fervors of his later years. Two worlds
struggled in his soul, the world of pagan beauty and luxurious pleasure,
and the world of heavenly raptures and fanatical asceticism.

This artist’s abilities were quickly recognized. The same pope, Julius
II, who was showering Raphael with golden ducats, adopted Michelangelo
as his chief glorifier, and the two of them spent a year or two
preparing colossal plans for the pope’s tomb, something greater than any
tomb ever seen on earth before, a perfect mountain of marble, with more
than forty statues of colossal size. Here we see Michelangelo’s fate;
one of the great masters of life, with a mighty message concerning the
destiny of man, he is obliged to get the money by which he lives, and
the marble which he carves, from a vain and greedy politician in
churchly raiment. He is permitted to make statues of David and of Moses,
of Day and Night and Morning and Evening, and other great symbolic
ideas; but he must carve them for the tomb of some pope or potentate,
and must spend the greater part of his life in quarreling--not merely
with this pope or potentate, but with officials and subordinates, all
hating, intriguing, threatening to stab or to poison.

In the sentimental rubbish which historians and art critic’s write about
the Middle Ages, we are told that mighty cathedrals and temples were
produced by the co-operative devotion and reverence of whole communities
of worshipers. When you come to investigate the facts, you find that
they were produced amid a chaos of wrangling and cheating and lying,
exactly as a modern public building, or a battleship, or a fleet of
aeroplanes is produced. The chief architect of Pope Julius II was a
dissipated and murderous rascal, who was putting rotten walls into the
Vatican buildings--walls which have had to be repaired incessantly ever
since. He carried on intrigues against Michelangelo, and succeeded in
persuading the pope that it was bad luck for anyone to build his own
tomb while he was alive. So the pope dropped the project, and
Michelangelo was left in debt, having to pay out of his own pocket the
costs of transporting the mountain of marble. The sculptor stormed the
Vatican and insisted upon being paid, and the pope had him put out by a

Next he was required to make a bronze statue of his most holy pope. He
protested that he did not know anything about casting bronze, but he
worked at it for more than a year, making a wretched failure of it, and
ruining his health. Then he was ordered to paint the ceiling of the
Sistine Chapel. He protested that he did not know how to paint ceilings,
it was hard and exhausting work; but again the pope insisted, and
Michelangelo spent four years at this, painting his colossal and
terrifying symbols upside down. Because he took so long at it, the pope
was enraged, insisting upon seeing the work and criticizing it, flying
into a fury and beating Michelangelo with his staff, then sending a
messenger with five hundred ducats to salve his feelings.

Julius II died and Leo X came in. Michelangelo had made a new contract
with the heirs of the dead pope to complete the tomb, and had started
work on thirty-two colossal statues. But the new pope wanted
Michelangelo’s fame for himself, and so for ten years the poor sculptor
was pulled and hauled between two rival groups. It was the fashion of
other sculptors and painters, when thus loaded down with work, to hire a
number of assistants and put the job through in a hurry. But
Michelangelo suffered from conscientiousness; he thought that nobody
else could do his work as he wanted it done, and he sweated and agonized
and groaned under the burden of these contracts. More marble was needed,
and he was dragged about between the rival owners of marble quarries.
The unsuccessful owners intrigued with the boatmen to make it impossible
for the marble to be moved; just like a certain teamsters’ strike which
I had occasion to investigate in Chicago some twenty years ago--the
riots and mobbings and showers of brick-bats and broken heads and
bullet-riddled bodies were caused by a great mail-order house having
paid for a strike against a rival mail-order house!

There came another pope, this time a Medici. He wanted a tomb to his
ancestors, who were splendid and wealthy merchants in Florence. Also
there was to be a colossus in the Medici gardens, a difficult matter,
because of the lack of room; Michelangelo discussed the problem in a
letter to a friend, which has come down to us. Read this picture of a
man of genius trying to please a wealthy and fastidious patron:

     I have thought about the Colossus; I have indeed thought a great
     deal about it. It seems to me that it would not be well placed
     outside the Medici gardens because it would take up too much room
     in the street. A better place, I think, would be where the barber’s
     shop is. There it would not be so much in the way. As for the
     expenses of expropriation, I think to reduce them we could make the
     figure seated, and as it could be hollowed, the shop could be
     placed inside so the rent would not be lost. It seems to me a good
     idea to put in the hand of the Colossus a horn of abundance, and
     this could be hollow and would serve as a chimney. The head could
     also be made use of, I should think; for the poultryman, my very
     good friend who lives on the square, said to me secretly that it
     would make a wonderful dovecote. I have another and still better
     idea--but in that case the statue must be made very much larger,
     which would not be impossible, for towers are made with stone--and
     that is that the head should serve as a bell-tower to S. Lorenzo,
     which now has none. By placing the bells so that the sound would
     come out of the mouth it would seem as if the giant cried for
     mercy, especially on holidays when they use the big bells.

Michelangelo was in Florence when the republican revolution against the
Medici took place. The artist sympathized with the revolutionists,
against his patrons; he proposed to make for the revolutionists a
gigantic statue of David and Goliath, but they decided he had better use
his energies in fortifying the walls! When the city was taken, and the
slaughter of the rebels began, Michelangelo hid for a month or two. Then
he was commanded to come forth and resume his task of glorifying his
conquerors! He did so, and was put to work on the tomb of the Medici.
Needless to say, the figures on the tomb are not figures of serene
contentment and spiritual peace! Romain Rolland describes them as an
“outburst of despair” whereby the sculptor “drowned his shame at raising
this monument of slavery.”

Another pope came, and wanted Michelangelo for his chief glorifier. The
artist pleaded his old contracts, but the pope was furious, and
commanded him to tear them up. He was put to work on the ceiling of the
Sistine Chapel, and the result was the marvelous painting, “The Last
Judgment,” in which all the terrors and torments of the Middle Ages are
summed up. It was one of the world’s greatest paintings; but the pious
of the time were shocked, and the pope put some of his other painters
to putting panties on the nude saints. From time to time other shocked
ecclesiastics had this or that article of clothing painted into the
picture; and because they used any color they happened to have lying
about, we can now form little idea of Michelangelo’s vision of the Day
of Doom.

All this time the artist was being hounded by the heirs of his first
pope; but the present pope insisted that he should be the architect of
St. Peter’s; so here we see the old man, over seventy, still fighting
the grafters and hounded by conspirators. It appears that in Renaissance
Rome, when a grafter was caught, and threatened to expose his
fellow-grafters, he was shot, and the world was told that he had
committed suicide; exactly as it happens in Washington, D. C., in these
our days of oil-thieves and bootleggers! Michelangelo was still afraid,
as he had been all his life; but he was still more afraid of God, and
determined to finish St. Peter’s as a means of saving his soul at the
Last Judgment.

So he stuck and fought the grafters. There came yet another pope--the
artist had to win each one in turn, thwarting a whole new set of
intriguing enemies. We find him at the age of eighty-eight, exposing
thieves who are building the walls of St. Peter’s out of rotten
materials--and around him the thieves are stabbing each other. At last,
at the age of ninety, he lies on his death-bed, his terrific labors at
an end; and between his dying gasps he confides to a friend his one
regret, that he has to die just when he has succeeded in learning the
alphabet of his art!



When civilization emerged from the Dark Ages, the fighting man went
about with a hard-shell covering, like a crab, and was called a knight.
Both he and his horse underwent a long training, and when it was
finished he was a fighting engine which could roll over anything else
existing in the world. He went on crusades, and drove back the Saracen
and the Turk from Europe. In these days of real and cruel danger he
produced a genuine Art of Power: for example, “The Song of Roland,” an
eleventh century French poem, telling of a terrific all-day battle
against invading infidel hordes.

But afterwards, when chivalry had become established, it developed its
Art of Beauty; a fantastic literature about ideal beings, who conformed
to an artificial and complicated code of etiquette, and spent their time
rescuing beautiful young ladies from the claws of various monsters.
There grew up a whole genealogy of these literary knights, and enormous
long poems were composed about them. When I was at Columbia University,
acquiring culture, one of the tasks set me was the reading of Ariosto,
an Italian poet of the sixteenth century, and I valiantly struggled
through a dozen cantos of these absurd adventures. They resemble a
Griffith moving picture, in which there is a villain engaged in an
elaborate process of raping a beautiful virgin, while the gallant hero
is galloping on his way to a rescue. But Ariosto regales us with more
details of the attempted rape; for in these old times people were not
afraid of the animal aspects of life.

In the distant island of Britain some rough country fellows trained
themselves to shoot arrows through the joints of the knightly armor. A
little later came the invention of gunpowder, and that finished the
hard-shell crabs on horseback. But the literary world also resembles a
crab, in that it walks backward, with its eyes on the past. Invariably
you find that what is called scholarship and culture is several
generations behind the practical life of men; and so the poets went on
composing elaborate and fantastic romances of chivalry. The test of
excellence in literature was the refinement and elegance and remoteness
from life of this perverted leisure-class art: until Cervantes came
along and laughed it to death.

He was born in Spain in the middle of the sixteenth century, noble but
poor. He first lived his great book, and then in old age he wrote it. He
went to Rome in the retinue of a papal ambassador, and later on took up
the chivalrous career, a crusade. The Turks were in possession of the
Mediterranean, and the Spaniards were trying to drive them out;
Cervantes, though ill of a fever, fought desperately at the battle of
Lepanto, and was twice wounded. After five years of such war he was
sailing home, when the Turks captured him, and for several years he was
a slave in Algiers--a gallant and romantic slave, the darling of his
companions and the terror of his masters. He made several attempts to
escape, and finally was ransomed by his relatives, and came home to
Spain, crippled and poor--to reflect, like so many returned soldiers,
upon the bitterness of dead glory.

He became a government agent, collecting naval stores. He was not a
great success: one of his subordinates defaulted, and he was put in
prison. He lived in straitened circumstances, in a household with five
women relatives and his sense of humor. Then he tried writing; for
twenty years he wrote every kind of thing which a man of his time could
imagine would bring a living, but all in vain. He was not a university
man and so the critics of his time considered him presumptuous in
attempting to break into their sacred ranks. Until he was fifty-eight
his life was a failure.

Then he hit upon the idea of ridiculing the established literature of
chivalry, by bringing it into contact with the every-day realities of
Spain. He created a character very much like himself; except that the
old Don Quixote had read so many romances that his head was turned, and
he began to take them seriously, mounted his old nag and rode out to
rescue damsels, and to mistake a barber’s basin shining in the sun for a
helmet, and wind-mills for giants who must be overthrown. The story
rambles along from one comical adventure to the next, and brings in
almost every type of person in Spain. It became an instant and
enormously popular success; but poor Cervantes got practically nothing
out of it, because editions were pirated all over the country. He was a
failure to the end--and curiously enough, did not get any satisfaction
even from his fame. He was ashamed of his popular book, and quite sure
that mankind would some day appreciate his long poems, “The Journey to
Parnassus,” and the pastoral romance, “Galatea,” and the romantic poem,
“Persiles and Sigismunda.”

Many of the world’s greatest writers have thus fallen victim to
culture-snobbery. Shakespeare was despised by the academic critics of
his own time, and apparently did not think enough of his own plays to
see that posterity got a correct edition of them. When I was a boy we
all read “Tom Sawyer” and “Huckleberry Finn,” and “laughed our heads
off” over them; but if anybody had suggested to us that Mark Twain
might be one of the world’s great writers, we should have thought it a
Mark Twain joke.

“Don Quixote” was produced, definitely and deliberately, as a piece of
propaganda. We no longer know even the names of these long-winded
romances of chivalry, so we do not realize that the author, in
ridiculing them, is trying to teach us something. Also, there is another
kind of propaganda that Cervantes put into the book, his ideas
concerning one of the gravest problems confronting mankind through the
ages. What shall be the relation of the idealist, the dreamer of good
and beautiful things, to the world of ugliness and greed in which he
finds himself? He has a vision of something splendid, but the world
knows nothing about that vision, and cannot be made to understand it; if
he tries to apply it, the world will call him crazy, it will treat him
so badly that before he gets through he may be really crazy. But what,
after all, is it to be crazy? Is it to believe in the possibility of
something splendid in life? Or is it to believe that life must always be
the hateful and ugly thing we now see it?

Nobody can be sure just how much Cervantes realized all this himself.
There are many cases of men of genius writing, out of their sorrow and
their laughter, things more wise and more deep than they know. Did
Shakespeare intend Shylock to be a comic character, to be howled at and
pelted by the Jew-hating mob of his time, or did he realize that in this
half-comic, half-tragic figure he was voicing the grief and protest of a
persecuted race?

What Cervantes has done in “Don Quixote” is to supply the critics and
interpreters with material for speculation through many ages to come. He
gave his crack-brained old gentleman a devoted servant, with no particle
of his master’s idealism or insanity. Sancho Panza is entirely normal,
from the world’s point of view, a sturdy and practical fellow; yet he
gets into just as many absurd scrapes as his master--because he is
ignorant, and is betrayed by his own greed. So we are brought back again
and again to the question: Who is it that is really crazy in this
shifting and uncertain world? Is a reader of literature insane because
he sets out to apply the ideas of that literature in real life? Or does
insanity lie with writers who produce and critics who praise literature
which cannot be applied to real life, and is not intended to be so
applied? If, as I believe, the latter answer is correct--then how many
foolish persons there are writing books today!

It is interesting to note how many of the world’s great monuments of art
were produced by men who saw their country traveling the road to ruin,
and pleaded in vain with the ruling classes. Cervantes himself was a
devout Catholic, and would not have understood us if we had told him
that Don Quixote typified the Spain of his time; the Spain which
believed that the human mind could be shackled by religious bigotry, and
forced by dungeon and torture and the stake to accept a set of
theological dogmas. The Spaniards slaughtered or drove into exile their
most intelligent population, the Moors; and Cervantes approved it. They
set out to conquer the world for their hateful faith, and Cervantes saw
their powerful Armada overthrown and destroyed by the little ships of
sturdy, independent Englishmen, who had recently kicked out the pope
from their country and taken charge of their own thinking. This pope had
by formal decree presented England to Spain; but the old, crack-brained
Don Quixote empire had been unable to take possession, and the sad
gentleman-soldier, Cervantes, died without having understood any of
these world-events.



Says Mrs. Ogi: “This is getting to be quite a respectable literary book:
the very thing for club ladies here in Southern California, who hire
somebody to read books for them, and tell them what the books are about.
Here you’ve read thousands of books for them!”

Says Ogi: “They’ll get all the culture of the ages in a lecture lasting
three-quarters of an hour. I remember your telling how the Negro mammies
chew up the babies’ food for them, and then feed it back into the
babies’ mouths.”

“Yes, but don’t you tell that!” cries Mrs. Ogi.

“A little too Renaissancy?” laughs her husband.

“With reasonable care,” persists the other, “you can break into literary
society with this book. I understand you’re leading up to English
literature; and that is where respectability begins and ends.”

“You forget my Russian and German readers. Also, I’m sorry to report, we
have to have another chapter of economics and politics.”

“What’s happened now?”

“Free institutions have got a new start, and we have to understand the
process. We have to make an appraisal of the parliamentary system; and
if we make one that is just, we shall displease all parties to the
controversy. You remember how during the war this Ogi family used to
argue until three o’clock in the morning. The most difficult question in
all history had to be decided, and kept decided for four years. Was
there really a choice between British capitalism and German autocracy?
Was there any real life left in the parliamentary system, anything worth
saving in political democracy; or must we go over to working class
dictatorship? We listened to the partisans of each side as they stormed
at us; there were millions of separate facts, and we had to appraise
them and strike a balance. And just when we thought we had it, some
Irishman or Hindoo would come along with fresh examples of British
governmental imbecility.”

“But what’s that got to do with the book?” demands Mrs. Ogi.

“We have to make the same decision in our study of world culture. Here
is Elizabethan England, and we have to appraise it, and appraise
Shakespeare. Are we going to agree with Bernard Shaw and scold him
because he isn’t a Socialist? Are we going to agree with Tolstoy and
scrap him because he isn’t a saint? Evidently I’m expected to do those
things. Here’s a letter from George Sterling, who disapproves most
strenuously of my thesis, but who says, ‘From your point of view
Shakespeare is your biggest and most vulnerable game.’”

“Well,” says Mrs. Ogi, “what’s Shakespeare to you, or you to

“For one thing, he’s an old friend. For another, he’s a whole universe
in himself--”

“Surely a respectable opinion!”

“I’m sorry to be respectable, but I want to be just. It is easy to name
great and important qualities that Shakespeare lacked, and damn him for
that lack. On the other hand, one can think of hideous qualities he
lacked--and honor him for their absence. Most important of all, he
wasn’t a medieval bigot. If he doesn’t ascend to the heights of moral
idealism, at least he avoids wallowing in what Sterling calls ‘the
liquid manure of superstition.’ He is a modern man, who looks at life
with clear eyes, and judges it on its own merits. Coming from Catholic
Europe to Elizabethan England is like coming out of a morgue, and
standing on a headland where the wind blows from the sea. Shakespeare
knew that, and all the men of his time knew it; they were defending
themselves from the Inquisition, they were saving the race-mind.

“The future world poet was twenty-four years old when the Spanish Armada
was harried down the English channel by the little ships of Drake and
Frobisher. He had already come up to London, and perhaps he heard the
guns. Anyhow, all England knew that the pope had by formal decree turned
over their country to be a vassal of Spain; they knew that King Philip
was preparing against them the most powerful fleet in history. They
waited, in just such an agony of suspense as we knew during the long
struggle in France. And just as Æschylus was inspired by the battle of
Marathon to write Greek patriotic propaganda, so Shakespeare was
inspired by the defeat of the Armada to write English patriotic
propaganda. Now, in weighing the value of that propaganda, we have to
judge the society in which Shakespeare lived, the balance of democratic
and aristocratic forces, of progress and reaction it contained. We can’t
do that without a theory of political evolution--”

“I’ll tell you what you do,” says Mrs. Ogi. “You start in and tell us
some facts about Shakespeare’s plays, and what’s in them, and work in
your theory of political evolution as you go along. Then, as I go along,
I’ll take a pencil and mark most of it out!”



A few months ago I had the pleasure of spending twenty-four hours with a
Chicago millionaire who specializes in knowing all there is to know on
the subject of ciphers. During the war he gave our army practically all
its information on this subject; so precious was his knowledge that, for
fear the enemy might get him, he was kept for a year and a half locked
up in the fire-proof, bomb-proof, burglar-proof and bullet-proof vault
where his books and manuscripts are preserved.

Sitting in this vault, the owner showed me the greatest collection of
Bacon and Shakespeare first editions in America. For several hours he
pointed out the ciphers in these editions, and coming home on the train
I read the narrative which is hidden in these ciphers, the secret life
of Francis Bacon, Lord Verulam, wherein he claims to have been a natural
son of Queen Elizabeth, and the author of most of the plays attributed
to William Shakespeare. It seems strange that one has to learn about
these things in French; but so it stands, in a series of articles by
General Cartier, published in the “Mercure de France,” September, 1922.

If I were going to have an opinion on this subject, I should want at
least two years to devote, without interruption, to a study of this
cipher literature, and to the lives of Bacon and Shakespeare, and a
comparison of their literary styles. Lacking this leisure in the present
crisis of man’s fate, I content myself with saying that here is one of
the most fascinating mysteries in the world, and that I am not one of
those comfortable people who know a thing to be impossible, merely
because it is new and strange. Having said this much, I proceed upon the
orthodox assumption that the plays attributed to William Shakespeare
were written by the actor of that name.

He was born in 1564 at Stratford-on-Avon, his father being a merchant
who early fell into misfortune. There are legends that the son was wild,
and ran away to London to escape prosecution for deer-stealing. He
became a hanger-on of theatrical companies, held horses at the doors of
theaters, became connected with the Duke of Leicester’s company, acted
in various plays, was called upon to revise and patch up manuscripts,
and finally wrote plays of his own which were popular successes. He made
money, bought several pieces of property at Stratford, won the
friendship of some of the powerful and great, and finally returned to
his home town, to die at the age of fifty-two.

That is all we know about the greatest poet of all time. How he managed
to escape attention, how above all he failed to see to it that the world
got authentic copies of his plays, is a mystery only partly explained by
the fact that playwriting and acting were disreputable occupations.
Actors had been strolling vagabonds, liable to be thrown into jail by
any constable, like a workingman out of a job in the United States. Only
by getting the protection of some noble earl could they be safe from
persecution; and if you had become a friend of noble earls, and a
gentleman of property in your home-town, you did not boast of plays you
had written, any more than if you lived on Fifth Avenue today you would
boast of a saloon you had once kept.

Shakespeare’s first plays are romantic comedies in the style of the
time. It was the tradition of the pastoral, fostered by elegant ladies
and gentlemen who know nature as a place for picnics. It is a world of
beauty, wit and “charm”; everybody is young, everybody’s occupation is
falling in love with some other pretty body, and problems exist only to
be solved in the last act.

When I was young I saw Julia Marlowe in “As You Like It,” and was
ravished with delight. Now I look back on it, in the broad daylight of
my present knowledge about life; I recall the thousand traps into which
I fell because of ignorance of sex, ignorance of money, ignorance of
almost everything about my fellow human beings. I recall the people I
have known who fell into these same traps, and were not able to
extricate themselves, but paid for their romantic illusions with
poverty, drunkenness, disease, divorce, insanity, suicide. So I am
compelled to declare that these “charming” comedies are as false to life
as the average moving picture of our time, in which the problems of
labor and capital are solved by the honest labor leader marrying the
daughter of the great captain of industry.

I have to go further and maintain that this betrayal of life was
deliberate; the writer himself knew more than he told us. Shakespeare is
fond of jeering at the “groundlings,” and those who stoop to tickle
their unwashed ears. In the Shakespearean theater the cheap seats were
in the pit, or what we call the orchestra; the aristocrats sat on the
sides of the stage, and frequently got drunk, and amused themselves by
sprawling in their seats and tripping up the actors and guying the show.
These elegant ones were not “groundlings,” and it was no disgrace to a
romantic poet to rise in the world by giving them what they wanted.
Shakespeare was even cynical enough to laugh at them for their silly
taste; he called one of his comedy successes “As You Like It,” and
another “Twelfth Night, or What you Will.”

This man was gifted with the most marvelous tongue that has yet appeared
on earth. Golden, glowing, gorgeous words poured out of him at a
moment’s notice all his life; he covered everything he wrote with the
glamour of poetry. This gift was his fortune; but also it was a trap,
because it saved him the need of thinking. It is a trap for us, because
it tempts us into sharing his emotions without thinking. But force
yourself to think, ask yourself what is the actual value of the ideas
the mighty poet is expressing, and you discover that many of them are
commonplace, many are worldly and cheap, many are the harsh prejudices
of his time and class.

In these early days Shakespeare wrote a long narrative poem, which helps
us to know him. It is dedicated to the young Earl of Southampton, his
patron, and is called “Venus and Adonis”; a typical example of the
pseudo-classical romantic rubbish which the cultured world of that time
called “art.” Nature has provided for the mixing and distributing of the
qualities of living creatures by a system of sex exchanges. Throughout
the higher forms of life, and with men and women in their primitive,
natural condition, the act of sex fertilization occupies less than the
entire time of the creature. But now a leisure-class arises, parasitic
upon its fellows; and the members of this class seek to divert their
idle time by the endless elaboration of the sex function.

“Venus and Adonis” tells the story of an effort of the goddess of love
to secure the sexual attentions of a reluctant youth. The striking
thing about the poem is the extent to which the Greek ideal of the
goddess of fecundity has been debased--I will not say to the animal
level, because the animals are decent and sensible in their sex affairs;
I say to the level of the high-priced brothel, where the jaded rich are
beguiled. Venus in this poem has no idea of making herself spiritually
or intellectually attractive to the youth; she does not know how to be
sublime and goddess-like, she does not know how to be wise, or even to
be witty and gay. She only knows how to force her unwanted flesh more
and more persistently upon the youth, to wallow upon his body,
disgusting both the youth and the reader.

The fact that “Venus and Adonis” is full of verbal splendor, like
everything else that Shakespeare wrote, makes it more and not less
offensive to an intelligent person. By means of our intelligence we have
invented the microscope, and thereby we know that decay is not less
decay because it happens to be phosphorescent. We can surely say that
there was decay in the fashionable world of Shakespeare’s time, when
twelve editions of “Venus and Adonis” were called for, while for a
mighty tragedy like “Othello” there was not demand enough to secure its
printing until six years after its author was dead!



When I was young the orthodox critics of Shakespeare taught, and
everybody accepted the idea, that there was no poet who had been more
aloof from his own work, and that it was impossible to tell anything
about him from the characters he portrayed. But now comes Frank Harris
with his book, “The Man Shakespeare and His Tragic Life-Story.” Harris
contends that no poet has revealed himself more continuously than
Shakespeare; the character speaking out of the plays is that of a man
tormented all his life by sensuality, and fighting in pain and
bewilderment to save a brilliant intellect from ruin by excess.

Frank Harris is such a man himself; he makes no secret of the fact that
this has been his tragic life-story. So, as we read the book, our first
question is, to what extent has Frank Harris read himself into
Shakespeare. It has been a long time since I read the plays straight
through, and I should want to do it again before I felt I had an
opinion. Meantime, we can say this much: if the Shakespeare of Frank
Harris is not Shakespeare, but a work of imagination, it is one of the
most fascinating works of imagination in the world, fully as significant
as any character in any of Shakespeare’s plays.

All critics would assent to the statement that Shakespeare began with
youthful glorification of his leisure-class friends, their graces and
their charms; and that as the years passed he met with a series of
disillusionments, which drove him to bitterness, almost to madness. But
it is to be noted that throughout this period of disillusionment he
remains purely personal, he never rises above the “good man” theory of
life. You know how it is in our politics; if there is corruption, it is
because we have elected bad men to office. The test of one’s ability to
think straight on social questions is the outgrowing of this “good man”

“Just a moment,” says Mrs. Ogi, who has not entirely outgrown this
theory herself. “Do you deny that there are some things a good man can
do in the world that would not be done otherwise?”

“Of course; I’m willing to admit that any social system would work, if
we could manage to get good men in charge, and to keep them there. The
trouble about evil systems is that they keep good men out of power; they
turn good men into bad men, even before they get into office. They keep
us from finding the good men; they make us think that bad men are
good--until ruin has come and it’s too late.”

“But think of the frightful pictures that Shakespeare drew of evil men
in power!”

“Shakespeare was a man of refinement, he loathed brutality and cruelty.
That was a part of his propaganda, his hatred of power blindly used; he
comes back again and again to cry out against it, to defend the gentle
and the innocent and the kind. In those ways he was far ahead of his
time; for those things we love him, they help to make him a world poet.
But here is the point--with Shakespeare it is all a family matter,
inside the leisure class. Some bad member of the family has got power,
and our attention is concentrated upon turning him out, and putting in
some good member of the family, who will make wiser use of power.

“We shall find that the leisure-class artist is frequently permitted
this kind of criticism. He has his friends among the ruling class, he
comes to think of himself as belonging; so he has a right to find fault.
You know how it is with Mrs. Ogi; she will say things about her own
family--they are ignorant, they are arrogant, they are this and that.
But it is the part of discretion for her husband to remain silent at
such times. Mrs. Ogi will entertain the company with tales about the
absent-mindedness and general absurdity of her own husband; but it will
be the part of discretion for the company to dissent gently from such

“If you stay married to me long enough,” says Mrs. Ogi, “you will know
enough about human nature to be able to write a novel. But now we are
talking about Shakespeare. Aren’t you ahead of the time in expecting him
to have revolutionary feelings?”

“Not at all. There was plenty of revolt, both political and social, in
Shakespeare’s day; there had been two centuries of social protest before
he was born. John Ball, the rebel priest, had been hanged and quartered
for asking the dangerous question:

    ‘When Adam delved and Eve span
     Who then was the gentleman?’

“So, if Shakespeare had wanted to cast in his lot with the poor he had
his opportunity. But there was nothing of that sort in him. He was a
brilliant youth who had come up to London, poor and friendless, to
become intimate with noble earls and wealthy gentlemen, to dedicate his
poems and sonnets to them, and have his plays produced by their licensed
companies. If they proved faithless, if they insulted and humiliated a
man of genius, if their brilliant ladies and dashing maids of honor
intrigued with him and then betrayed him--he would fly into a rage and
write plays of almost insane fury, such as ‘Timon of Athens’ and ‘King
Lear,’ or pictures of grim and somber cruelty such as ‘Measure for
Measure.’ But when these plays failed, he would learn his lesson and go
back to writing romantic dreams, pretty fairy stories like ‘A Winter’s
Tale’ and ‘The Tempest.’ In these latter we find the wistful sadness of
the old man who has learned that life is not the beautiful thing it
ought to be, but who sighs in vain for an all-powerful magician to come
and set it right. Again, you see, the ‘good man’ theory; while the
social classes whose destiny it is to abolish parasitism are the object
of Shakespeare’s haughty and aristocratic sneers.”

“Ah, now!” says Mrs. Ogi. “That’s the part of the story you’re saving
for a climax!”



Shakespeare’s historical plays cover a period of three hundred years;
the breakdown of the feudal system, and its replacement by a monarchy
more or less controlled by a parliament. We have ten plays dealing with
this period. Some of them Shakespeare wrote entirely, getting his data
from old chronicles; others he worked over from older plays. He was
careless about his facts; and how little grasp he had of fundamentals
you may judge from the circumstance that “King John” does not even refer
to the signing of Magna Charta. He might easily have had a character in
this play make a speech on the subject of the people binding the
insolence of their rulers. But he had no interest in such matters.

What Shakespeare did was to make a series of chronicle plays dealing
with the intrigues and quarrels and fightings of the English nobility.
He followed tradition, but never hesitated to change the characters in
order to heighten the dramatic interest. The result has replaced English
history in the minds of all English school-boys, and those grown-up
school-boys called statesmen. Their national poet flatters their
vanities and encourages their insular prejudices. He did not like the
Irish, he did not like the Welsh, he did not like the Scotch, he did not
like the French, and of course he did not like the Spaniards. He liked
the Romans, apparently because they resembled the English ruling

John of Gaunt in his dying speech proclaims England in a series of
rapturous similes “this other Eden, demi-paradise ... this happy breed
of men, this little world, this precious stone set in the silver sea ...
this blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.”... And that
is all right, that is the correct way for Englishmen to feel about
England. But do they permit Frenchmen to feel that way about France, to
love and defend their country, and manage it in their own way? The
answer is, they do not. Frenchmen are to see English kings laying claim
to their throne; they are to see English armies invading their country,
destroying their cities and laying waste their fields; and they are to
hear the great poet of England cheering on the invader with his golden
eloquence, burdening his play with wearisome speeches to prove the
validity of the English claim to the throne of France, and explaining to
Frenchmen that it is for their own good that their country is invaded by
a superior race.

Stranger yet, we shall find American scholars and critics enraptured
over such English imperialist poetry! I go to my local library to see
what the learned gentry have to say on this subject, and the most
up-to-date thing I find is a book called “English History in
Shakespeare’s Plays,” by a professor of a university in Louisiana. He
quotes the passage in which Henry V incites his troops to the attack on

    Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more,
    Or close the wall up with our English dead.

Says our scholar: “We are now greeted by the noble strain; a strain
unworn by constant quotation, unhackneyed by trite allusions. Like the
splendid harmonies of a master-musician it throbs and thrills us as we
read, in spite of the declamations of the schoolroom and the parsing
exercises of childhood.”

Joan of Arc arose to inspire her people to drive out these invaders; and
the English burned her as a witch. A hundred and sixty years had
passed--surely time enough for sober second thought, surely time for
England’s national poet to do what he could to wipe this blot from his
country’s good name. But the maid of Orleans had to look elsewhere for
vindication than to Shakespeare, friend of the rich and powerful, who
never advocated an unpopular cause in all his forty plays. He represents
Joan according to the basest of the prejudices of his “groundlings”; a
vain, boastful creature, unchaste, and not denying her unchastity.

In the series of plays dealing with King Henry VI comes a still more
significant incident, the rebellion of Jack Cade. For three hundred
years the blood and treasure of the English people had been wasted in
these foreign wars, and incessant civil wars of rival earls and dukes
and barons. In the middle of the fifteenth century there was widespread
distress, and in Kent occurred an uprising; a popular leader took the
city of London, and forced some promises of reforms, and was then
betrayed and killed. This incident fell into Shakespeare’s lap--an
opportunity for delicious gentlemanly wit at the expense of the
exploited workers. “Be brave, then,” cries Cade, “for your captain is
brave and vows reformation. There shall be in England seven half-penny
loaves sold for a penny, the three-hooped pot shall have ten hoops, and
I will make it felony to drink small beer.”

Just as soon as the Cade of Shakespeare gets power he sets himself up to
be a nobleman, and offers to strike one of his followers dead for
failing to recognize his claim. He addresses Lord Say, one of the
persons against whom the indignation of the people had been roused:

     Thou hast most traitorously corrupted the youth of the realm in
     erecting a grammar school; and whereas, before, our fathers had no
     other book but the score and the tally, thou hast caused printing
     to be used; and contrary to the king, his crown and dignity, thou
     hast erected a paper mill. It will be proved to thy face that thou
     hast men about thee that usually talk of a noun, and a verb, and
     such abominable words as no Christian ear can endure to hear.

Such is the wit of our gentleman poet; and what is the comment of our
Louisiana scholar? He tells us: “This savors of modern times.... The
demagogue has the ignorance of his audience on his side. He has in
behalf of his appeals that sullen jealousy of the masses who are
conscious of classes, that is, of a caste above them and more
accomplished.” To be sure, the Louisiana professor admits that
Shakespeare is here handling a great historic scene “flippantly”; but
then, you see, the poet had such a good excuse! He was “sorely in need
of comedy for the tragic drama of ‘Henry VI’”! But I ask: why could he
not have made up some comedy dealing with noble lords and gentlemen?

The answer is: It is a tradition of the leisure-class literature of
England that the sufferings of the rich and powerful are dignified
tragedy, while the sufferings of the poor are “comic relief.” The only
way a poor person of any sort can get Shakespeare to take him seriously
is by being a devoted servant of some wealthy and powerful person; for
example, Old Adam in “As You Like It,” a part which, according to
tradition, was played by Shakespeare himself. But when the common people
try to do something for themselves, they are clowns and fools, yokels
and tavern roysterers.

Take the comedy scenes in “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” when working people
actually attempt to give a play. Shakespeare thinks that no idea could
be more absurd. But nowadays working people give many plays in England;
there are radical theater groups producing a new dramatic literature, in
which it does not always happen that poor people are boobs, while ladies
and gentlemen are refined and gracious. More significant yet, the
descendants of those Jack Cade rebels, whom Shakespeare represents as
objecting to grammar schools, have by a century-long struggle forced the
establishment of free schools for the children of the people in every
corner of England. They have some three thousand branches of the
Workers’ Education Association, in which the people learn about nouns
and verbs at their own expense. Was ever a national poet more sternly
rebuked by the people of his own nation?

Says Mrs. Ogi: “It is time for Jack Cade to make it felony to read

“No,” says Ogi; “we have to follow the example of the Catholic Church,
whose priests are allowed to read prohibited books for purposes of
controversy. But certainly it is time for us to get clear in our minds
that Shakespeare is a poet and propagandist of the enemy; for the
present, at any rate, a burden upon the race mind. He is the crown and
glory of the system of class supremacy, and a magic word used by every
snob and every time-server in the place of straight thinking and the
reality of life.”



Says Mrs. Ogi: “From the title of this chapter I judge that we here
begin our long-anticipated debate with H. L. Mencken!”

“No,” replies her husband, “we shall hew to the line of John Milton; but
of course, if one of the chips happens to hit Mencken in the eye--”

“He will let us know,” says Mrs. Ogi.

“First we have to have some of the despised sociology. We have to
mention that human institutions arise, and serve their day, and then
degenerate. The shell which at one time protects the crab becomes an
encumbrance and has to be split and cast off. The English monarchy once
served to break the power of the rebellious nobles, and to give the
country unity; but now came Parliament, pushing the kings aside. The
people who brought about that change were the Puritans: and for a
century they represented such freedom of conscience and freedom of
intellect as England had. Incidentally, they settled the North American
continent, cleared out the savages, and made a civilization. We owe them
more than we owe to any other single group; and if nowadays we identify
Puritanism with the Society for the Prevention of Vice, we shall be just
as narrow and as bigoted as Anthony Comstock himself.”

Says Mrs. Ogi: “There goes a chip straight for Mencken’s eye!”

The society in which John Milton grew up was very much like the
Harding-Coolidge era which we know. There was the same raffish crew in
control of government, selling everything in sight, and trampling civil
rights. Men were thrown wholesale into prison, they were beaten and
tortured for their opinions’ sake. A small handful stood out, and
suffered martyrdom; they appealed to the public, and the public seemed
dead and indifferent--exactly as it seems today.

John Milton had a fortunate and happy youth. His father was prosperous,
and gave his son the best guidance and education. At Christ’s College
they called the boy “the lady,” because he was beautiful and refined. He
returned to his father’s home to live a life of quiet study, and to
write poems of imperishable beauty. If “art for art’s sake” degenerates
care to know how poetry can have all the graces and sensuous charms, and
still be clean, they are referred to these early poems of the young
English Puritan. It is worth while to point out explicitly how little
his creed meant narrowness and contempt for art. All that came later, as
a result of the civil war. But Milton in his youth acquired all the
culture of his time; he was a thorough-going humanist, personally
graceful and attractive; he traveled in Italy and met the leading men of
his age, including the old blind Galileo, who had been forced under
threat of torture to recant his belief that the earth moves around the

The efforts of the most Catholic King Charles I to break the parliament
of England brought Milton home from Italy. The parliament resisted, and
civil war broke out, and he put aside his poetry and teaching, and
plunged into the work of saving free government. Even today we find
leisure-class critics bewailing the fact that a great poet should have
wasted himself in a political career. But I venture the opinion that
John Milton has given us more great poetry than we take time to
appreciate; and it was worth while also to give us a life, and
demonstrate that a poet can be a man.

For twenty years John Milton was the world voice of the Republican
cause. In order to defend it he made himself master of the finest
English prose style known up to that time. He defended his cause also in
Latin, in French, and in Italian; he defended it so well that it now
prevails over most of the world, and so we fail to realize what it
seemed in the poet’s day. The parliamentary army met the king in battle,
and took him prisoner, held him for three years, and then, because of
his infinite and incurable treachery, tried him and cut off his head. To
the orthodox respectability of the seventeenth century this was the most
horrible thing that had happened since the crucifixion of Christ.

You know how Bolsheviks and Socialists are reputed to practice free
love, and worse yet, to preach it. John Milton was that kind of wicked
person, also. He married a giddy young Royalist wife, and she left him;
whereupon he wrote two pamphlets in favor of divorce. When he could not
get permission to print such diabolical documents, he printed them
without license; and when he was attacked for this, he published another
pamphlet, maintaining the unthinkable theory that men should be free to
print what they pleased. I have seen, within a few miles of my own home,
bookstores and printing offices raided, and their contents smashed and
burned, both by mobs and by officers of the law; I have seen one of my
friends fined thirty thousand dollars for publishing a book in favor of
the atrocious idea that human beings should not shed one another’s
blood; so I believe that I can understand how this Puritan poet was
regarded by the cultured world of his time.

He was a grim fighter. It was the fashion in those days to abuse your
opponents, and Milton gave as good as he got. People who think that
Upton Sinclair is too personal in his controversial writing--

“Won’t think it any the less because he compares himself with Milton!”
says Mrs. Ogi. “Go on with your story.”

So her husband confines his statement to the fact that Milton never
engaged in a fight except for human liberty. At the crisis of his
country’s peril he was told he had abused his eyes, and that if he did
not rest them, he would go blind. He wrote another pamphlet in defense
of his cause, thus deliberately sacrificing his sight in the effort to
save the republican government. The sacrifice was in vain, for Cromwell
died, and the government went to pieces, and the raffish rout came back;
“bonnie Prince Charlie,” lecherous, treacherous and vile, with all his
herd of noble plunderers. John Milton, foreign secretary out of a job,
went into hiding, and his books were burned by the public hangman; later
he was arrested and fined--they would have liked to have the hangman
deal with him also, but did not quite dare.

However, he lost most of his property; and there he was, old, blind and
helpless--his very daughters caught the spirit of the new time, and
stole his books and sold them to gratify their own desires. That is what
happens to men who consecrate their art to a cause; and somehow they
have to rise above such circumstances, maintain the supremacy of the
human spirit, “and justify the ways of God to man.”

The psychoanalysts have made us familiar with the word “sublimation.”
Without ever hearing the word, John Milton proceeded to sublimate his
sufferings and his balked hopes into one of the greatest of the world’s
poems. The first point to get clear about this poem is that it was a
piece of propaganda, pure and simple, deliberately so made. Beauty and
culture and charm--these things John Milton had known, and in his bitter
old age he did not forget them; but the task to which he now set himself
was the same task as Dante’s to explain the universe and its divine

The epic of English Puritanism has never won its due recognition abroad;
the Continental critics have given preference to Byron, who was also a
rebel, but a man of the world, a lover, and a lord. Albert Mordell of
course includes “Paradise Lost” among his “waning classics”; he has an
easy time pointing out the absurdities of its theology, and argues that
the interest of the poem is bound up with these. For my part I say about
it what I said about Dante; some of its propaganda is out of date, and
some of it will be out of date when men cease to consecrate their lives
to ends greater than themselves.

It is interesting to note how the spirit of Milton broke the fetters of
his theology. According to that theology Satan was the father of evil,
and there was no excuse for him; he had rebelled against a heavenly king
who was all-wise and all-good. But Milton also had rebelled against a
king, and could not forget the feeling; he poured his own revolt into
the speeches of Satan, making him the most interesting character in the

If you live in New York or visit there, you may see in the public
library a painting of Milton as he sat in his home, dictating “Paradise
Lost.” We have a description from the pen of a visitor; it was a poor
little house, with only one room to the floor, and the poet sat in a
chair, in a rusty black suit, old and blind, pale and tormented with
rheumatism. Ten pounds he got for England’s great epic, and thirteen
hundred copies of it were sold during his lifetime. Yet his spirit never
wavered, and he lived to write “Samson Agonistes,” a drama in the Greek
style, neglected by the critics. As a rule there is nothing more futile
than imitations of outworn art forms; but once in a while it happens
that a man lives the old life, and can write in the old manner. Milton
writes a Greek drama about a Jewish strong man--and it turns out to be a
picture of the poet’s own soul at bay!

Having praised Milton highly in this chapter, I recall my opening
statement as to the superiority of present-day technique. You will
expect me to justify this, and an interesting opportunity presents
itself here. In 1655 occurred a massacre of Swiss Protestants by Italian
Catholics under the Duke of Savoy. Milton, being then in office as
foreign secretary, wrote a sonnet voicing his indignation. It is rated
by critics as one of the greatest of English sonnets. For your
convenience I quote it:


    Avenge, O Lord! thy slaughter’d Saints, whose bones
      Lie scatter’d on the Alpine mountains cold;
      Even them who kept Thy truth so pure of old
    When all our fathers worshipt stocks and stones.
    Forget not: In Thy book record their groans
      Who were Thy sheep, and in their ancient fold
      Slain by the bloody Piedmontese, that roll’d
    Mother with infant down the rocks. Their moans
    The vales redoubled to the hills, and they
     To Heaven. Their martyr’d blood and ashes sow
    O’er all the Italian field, where still doth sway
      The triple Tyrant, that from these may grow
    A hundred-fold, who, having learnt Thy way,
      Early may fly the Babylonian woe.

Francis Turner Palgrave, named by Tennyson as the best judge of poetry
of his time, says in the notes to his “Golden Treasury”: “this ‘collect
in verse,’ as it has been justly called, is the most mighty Sonnet in
any language known to the Editor.” So you see, we are setting a high
standard. What modern work shall we compare with it?

In the year 1914 there occurred in Colorado, in the Rocky Mountains
cold, the “Ludlow massacre” of the wives and children of miners on
strike. It caused a demonstration in front of the office of John D.
Rockefeller, Jr., at 26 Broadway, New York, about which you may read in
“The Brass Check.” A young poet who happened at that time to be my
secretary, and who has since made a success as a novelist, was moved by
these events to write a sonnet, which I sent to the Scripps newspapers,
getting for the poet the unprecedented sum of twenty-five dollars. I now
quote the sonnet, and invite you to study the two, comparing them by
all tests of poetry known to you. I give my own opinion: that in their
propaganda impulse these two sonnets are identical; that in simplicity,
directness, and fervor of feeling they are as nearly identical as two
art works can be; and that in technical skill the modern work is


By Clement Wood

    White-fingered lord of murderous events,
      Well are you guarding what your father gained;
      With torch and rifle you have well maintained
    The lot to which a heavenly providence
    Has called you; laborers risen in defense
      Of liberty and life, lie charred and brained
      About your mines, whose gutted hills are stained
    With slaughter of these newer innocents.

    Ah, but your bloody fingers clenched in prayer!
      Your piety, which all the world has seen!
    The godly odor spreading through the air
      From your efficient charity machine!
    Thus you rehearse for your high rôle up there,
      Ruling beside the lowly Nazarene!



There is another artist of English Puritanism we must not overlook. We
shall have no trouble in proving this one a propagandist; so obviously
was he preaching, that the critics of his own time overlooked him
entirely. The elegant men of letters of the Restoration period,
gossiping in their coffee houses, dicing in their taverns, and carrying
on their fashionable intrigues, would have been moved to witty couplets
by the notion that an ignorant tinker, a street-corner tub-thumper
locked up in Bedford gaol, was engaged in composing one of the immortal
classics of English literature. As soon might you attempt to tell one of
the clever “colyumnists” of the New York newspapers, stumping his last
cigarette in his coffee saucer at luncheon in the Algonquin, that an
immortal classic of American literature was running serially in the
“Appeal to Reason” or the “Daily Worker.”

John Bunyan came from the lowest ranks of the people, those same louts
and clowns whom Shakespeare delighted to ridicule. And he was quite as
ridiculous as Shakespeare could have wished him; he saw visions, and was
pursued by devils, and rushed out onto the street to save the souls of
people as ignorant and unimportant as himself. Under the laws of England
the saving of souls was a privilege reserved to the younger sons of the
gentry, who got “livings” out of it; so John Bunyan was persecuted,
precisely as ignorant and unimportant I. W. W. are persecuted in my
neighborhood today. And he behaved exactly as the I. W. W. behave; that
is, he stubbornly declined to change his opinions, or to cease
proclaiming them on the streets. Sent to prison, he did what a number of
the I. W. W. did in Leavenworth; despite the fact that he had a pregnant
wife and four small children, one of them blind, he refused to give a
purely formal promise to behave himself. This caused extreme
embarrassment to humane magistrates, who didn’t want to be hard on a
poor crack-brain, but were sworn to uphold the majesty of the law.

So for twelve years John Bunyan stayed in jail and wrote “Pilgrim’s
Progress.” Now my friend, Albert Mordell, includes it among his “waning
classics.” He says: “The story that children delight in the book and
read it through is mythical; many children try to read it but usually
drop it.” Well, it so happened that when I read those words, I had been
making a test on a ten-year-old boy, my own. We used to read it aloud,
sitting in front of the fireplace on winter evenings; and of all the
books we read, none created such excitement. It was difficult to keep on
reading, because of the stream of questions: “What does that mean,
Papa?” You see, allegories, which bore us adults, are fascinating to the
child mind. Such a wonderful idea, when you first think of it--to embody
moral qualities in living beings, and give them names, and send them
walking out over the earth, to engage in adventures and contend with
each other! To see the every-day problems of your own conduct unrolled
before you in the form of a story!

My young friends of the radical intelligentsia, who used to live in
Greenwich Village, but have now moved to Croton and Provincetown and
Stelton to get away from the bally-hoo wagons, have been calling me a
Puritan ever since they knew me; and now they will smile a patronizing
smile, hearing me endorse this old-fashioned Sunday school story. I can
only record my conviction, that one does not escape the need of personal
morality by espousing proletarian revolution. Even after the revolution,
there will be moral struggles fought out in the hearts of men and women.
I realize that morality is destined to become a science, and that by the
study of psychology we shall abolish many problems of conduct;
nevertheless, life will still require effort--there will remain the
question of whether to study or not to study, and why!

I suggest to my young radical friends that they amuse an idle hour by
applying “Pilgrim’s Progress” to the great movement of our day. Instead
of Christian, read Comrade; instead of Christian’s burden, read a
soap-box. You can always find some youngster to serve as traveling
companion under the name of Hopeful. And very soon in your journey you
will enter the Valley of Humiliation; very soon you will begin to meet
Mr. Money-Love and Mr. Pliable; also Mr. Talkative will come in swarms
to your studio parties. And By-Ends--he works beside you in every
office; the fellow who takes care of himself and does not believe in
going to extremes. And Mr. Worldly-Wiseman--perhaps you have a rich
uncle who will serve; you can see him sitting in the padded leather
chairs of any club. And when Comrade’s Pilgrimage brings him to New
York, he will see Vanity Fair, flaunting its glories up and down the
avenue, protected by plate glass. And the fiend Appolyon--we have had
two attorney-generals exactly cut for the rôle. If you think that a
joke, it means that you have been playing the part of Mr. Facing
Both-ways during the past ten years, and do not know about the realities
of government by gunmen.

The forms of things change, but the inner essence remains the same, and
you must learn to recognize it. The Slough of Despond, for example, is
discovered in the bottom of the coffee-cups in which Greenwich Village
now gets its bootleg gin. As for the Giant Despair--a singular
transformation!--he is a pale-colored microscopic organism of cork-screw
shape, lurking in the delicious intrigues of our gay and saucy young
folks. As for the Interpreter’s House, it is out of repair just now,
having been hit by H-E shells in 1917. As for the Celestial City, which
we old fogies used to vision under the name of the Co-operative
Commonwealth--the young people won’t let us mention it any more; they
tell us that propaganda is out of style, in these days of
petting-parties and hip-pocket flasks.



We have been keeping low company for so long that the reader may be
wondering: Were there no writers for ladies and gentlemen in the time of
Milton and Bunyan? The answer is, yes; and we should pay a brief visit
to that Vanity Fair which Bunyan saw through the bars of his prison.

There was a poet laureate, who did not go to prison but became the idol
of his age, and the most prosperous writer up to that time. John Dryden
was his name, and like Milton, he was born of a well-to-do Puritan
family, and received the best education going. He was twenty-seven years
old when Cromwell died, and he wrote heroic stanzas on the Lord
Protector. He attached himself to his cousin, an official of the Puritan
republic, expecting advancement; but he did not get it, so two years
later, when the “bonnie Prince Charlie” came back to be crowned, the
young poet welcomed him with a panegyric ode, several pages of ecstatic

    How shall I speak of that triumphant day
    When you renewed the expiring pomp of May?
    A month that owns an interest in your name,
    You and the flowers are its peculiar claim.

I am following the life of Dryden by Professor Saintsbury, an eminent
scholar of the Tory way of thought, who has just immortalized himself by
publishing a whole volume devoted to the literature of alcoholic liquor.
This professor says everything that can be said in defense of Dryden,
but the best he can say about this “Astræa Redux” is that in order to
appreciate its beauties, you must forget the facts about the “bonnie
Prince Charlie” and his reign. The professor lists a few of the facts
you must forget: “the treaty of Dover and the closed exchequer, Madam
Carwell’s twelve thousand a year and Lord Russell’s scaffold.” That is
the way to read literature under the guidance of a leisure-class critic!
As we used to say when we were children: “Open your mouth and shut your
eyes, and I’ll give you something to make you wise!”

The elegant literature of that time was described by the term
“metaphysical,” which meant that the poet exhausted his imagination in
inventing quaint and startling conceits. For example, one of Dryden’s
noble patrons contracted smallpox, and the poet, describing his
appearance, records that

    Each little dimple had a tear in it,
    To wail the fault its rising did commit.

By such personal attention to the rich and powerful John Dryden became
the greatest poet of his century, and married the daughter of an earl.
He took to writing heroic plays in the style of his time, such
preposterous bombast that if I were to tell you about them you would
think I was making them up. Then he wrote society comedies, also in the
style of his time, which was such high-toned sex nastiness that if I
were to write it today I should be taken up by the Shuberts and the
Laskys, and paid as much as Cecil de Mille and Robert W. Chambers and
Elinor Glyn rolled into one.

The “Restoration comedies” were much the same thing as our “bedroom
farces,” except that they were long drawn out; the seventeenth century
audience was satisfied to listen to smart people gossiping about their
vices, while our audience wants to see the smart people climbing through
the transom in their pajamas. Also, the old comedies are difficult for
us to understand, because the language of polite obscenity changes from
age to age, and we don’t always know what Dryden and Congreve and
Wycherley are talking about. But we need not rack our brains; we may be
sure that all their witticisms have reference to fornication and
adultery. There was no other occupation for these “restored” ladies and
gentlemen--except gambling and eating and drinking, and cheating and
lying in order to get the money to pay for their elegant pleasures.

Dryden gained by this writing an income of a couple of thousand pounds a
year, which was the top-notch for a literary fellow in England. Also he
became poet laureate, and an intimate of the king; in short, he reached
the heights. But alas, greatness has its penalties, as the poet soon
discovered, caught in the poisonous intrigues of a vile court. He was
accused of having written a slanderous poem, and one of his noble
enemies hired some bullies to beat him up one night. Also, a muck-raking
parson by the name of Jeremy Collier came along and lashed him in a book
entitled “A Short View of the Profaneness and Immorality of the English
Stage.” To all his other literary and political enemies the poet showed
himself a voluble antagonist; but to the Reverend Jeremy he had nothing
to answer.

He began, apparently, to realize the seriousness of life, and took to
writing propaganda for his gang. He produced a series of political
tracts, satirical and didactic verses upon which he expended great
technical skill. Professor Saintsbury points out these literary
beauties; but again he specifies: in appreciating them, the reader has
to bear in mind that what Dryden proved today he may have disproved
yesterday, and he may prove something different tomorrow. Lacking this
acrobatic ability, I can only record my opinion, that these most famous
verses are snarling and odious quarrels, of exactly as much importance
to mankind as the yelps in a dog-fight.

One of them was a poem full of enraptured praise for the Anglican
church. The poet at this time was listed for a salary of a hundred
pounds a year as poet laureate; but the salary was badly in arrears, and
somebody must have pointed out to him that his new sovereign, King James
II, was an ardent Catholic. So the poet became converted to Catholicism,
and wrote an equally enraptured poem in praise of that. But, alas! it
was a bad guess; shortly afterwards His Most Catholic Majesty was kicked
out of England, and William of Orange was brought over, and the country
was Protestant again. This was the period when the Vicar of Bray had
such a hard time holding his job; and our court poet also suffered,
losing most of his perquisites, and having to go to work again.

He was an old man now, and decided to play safe; he made a verse
translation of Virgil, for which nobody could scold him. Nobody did, and
he died full of honors, and had a “sufficiently splendid funeral” in
Westminster Abbey, “with a great procession, preceded at the College by
a Latin oration, and by the singing of Exegi Monumentum to music.”

And so, if you like that sort of thing, there you have what you like;
and if you have Dryden’s talents, and are willing to sell them to the
ruling classes, I can drive you over to Hollywood any day, and introduce
you to the fellows who will start you off at twenty thousand a year, and
raise you to two hundred thousand as soon as you have begun to deliver
the goods.



In order to make a consecutive story we have followed the development of
English art for a century and a half. We now go back to cover the same
period on the Continent, where a new ruling class has acquired wealth
and power and has ordered a supply of new artists.

The difference between France and England during the sixteenth and
seventeenth centuries may be summed up briefly. The English revolt
against the Catholic machine was successful, therefore the spirit of the
English race expanded, and new art forms were created. In France, on the
other hand, the Catholic machine succeeded in crushing the Protestants;
something over fifty thousand were slaughtered on St. Bartholomew’s Eve;
and therefore the art of France was held within the mold of the
classical tradition. The Elizabethan drama grew out of the old miracle
and mystery plays, a native product, crude, but popular and democratic.
There existed such a native drama also in France; but it was scorned and
repressed by authority, and cultured art followed the tragedies of
Seneca, a Roman millionaire of the time of Nero, who had of course
derived from the Greeks.

It may seem strange that Catholic absolutism should have made Greek and
Latin art forms a part of its sacred dogma; but so it was. The doctors
of the church in the Middle Ages had put together a theology, in part
from the early Christian fathers, and in part from Athenian and
Alexandrian philosophers. It was for denying Ptolemy’s doctrine that the
sun moved round the earth that Galileo was forced to recant under
threat of torture by the pope; and it was for denying the sacred “three
unities,” derived from Aristotle’s “Poetics,” that playwrights were
critically tortured by the priests of orthodox culture.

These three dogmas of play-writing were unity of theme, unity of time,
and unity of place. The first is, within reasonable limits, a natural
requirement of any work of art; but unity of time, meaning that the play
must happen within twenty-four hours, and unity of place, meaning that
it must happen on one physical spot, are absurdities. It is hard for us
to realize that such rules were compulsory upon any dramatist who wished
to see his work upon the stage; it is harder yet for us to realize that
such rules were used as weapons in the class struggle, along with the
infallibility of the pope and the divine right of kings.

There arose in France a prelate of the grim and bloody kind, who became
the king’s minister, and directed the slaughtering of the Huguenots, and
chopped off the heads of the rebellious nobles; he even forced the
church to submit itself, and made his king the absolute ruler of France,
so that a year after Richelieu’s death it was possible for the king’s
son to ascend the throne, and to say, “I am the State,” and have no one
dispute him through his reign of seventy-two years. One of the engines
of repression that Richelieu devised was the French Academy, to take
charge of the language and art of the monarchy, and impose law and order
by chopping off the literary heads of all rebels. This Academy became
the ruling authority in cultured France, and has filled that rôle for
three hundred years. Not merely has it served the ruling classes by
maintaining tradition and discrediting every innovation in French
letters; it has issued formal pronouncements against unorthodox social
and political books--for example, Rousseau’s “Social Contract.” A list
of the French men of letters who have been excluded from the “immortals”
includes Descartes, Pascal, Molière, Saint-Simon, LeSage, Rousseau,
Beaumarchais, Diderot, Compte, Proudhon, Stendhal, Balzac, Flaubert,
Zola, Goncourt, Maupassant, Jaurès, Barbusse, Rolland.

The polite literature which reigned in Richelieu’s time was known as
“précieuse,” and occupied itself in the making up of elaborate long
similes, extending sometimes through several pages. It was foppish and
fantastic to the point of imbecility; and the makers of it were the
darlings of Richelieu’s Academy. There came up from the provinces a
young lawyer by the name of Pierre Corneille, who began to write
successful comedies, and received the high honor of being picked by
Richelieu as one of five men to write dramas under his august direction.
But Corneille, a man of genius, could not long submit himself to the
head-chopping cardinal. He went his own way, and incurred the raging
enmity of both Richelieu and his Academy.

He wrote a tragedy in Alexandrine verse called “The Cid,” which was an
enormous popular success. This Cid was a legendary hero of Spain, a
“free captain”--that is, the head of an army of hired mercenaries, who
went about fighting for anybody who would pay him. We are used to this
system of “free captains” in the United States, where they are called
private detective bureaus and strike-breaking agencies. They have armies
of tens of thousands of fighting men, horse, foot and artillery, whom
they move about from place to place for the crushing of union labor. So
before long we shall see on Broadway or in Hollywood some young writer
making a tremendous ruling-class drama out of the legendary career of
Alan Pinkerton or William J. Burns. The great detective will be shown in
love with the beautiful daughter of some labor leader, the tragedy
coming when in the course of his duty the great detective has to kill
the labor leader. That is the story which Corneille developed--except
that of course, it was a rival prince whom the Cid was fighting.
Needless to say, in order not to have his head chopped off by Richelieu,
the playwright put his hero in the position of defending legitimacy.

But the poet had failed to respect the “three unities” in his tragedy;
so, although acclaimed by audiences, he was viciously attacked by the
academicians--one of them even challenged him to a duel! The Academy as
a body was afraid to attack the play, but Richelieu forced it to take
action. Corneille was not strong enough to withstand opposition such as
this; in his future work he conformed to the rules, and became a humble
pensioner of the cardinal. It is interesting to note that his genius
began quickly to decline, and he had the humiliation of living to old
age and seeing himself scorned and neglected by the new generation. Thus
Richelieu’s Academy fulfilled at the outset its function, destroying the
greatest tragic dramatist that France had produced, and suppressing for
two hundred years the romantic movement in the French theater.

It is important to get clear the difference between the real classical
art of the Greeks, and this imitation classical art of French
absolutism. The Greek stage rules had been made to fit the facts of the
Greek stage. Their tragedies had been enacted in a large open-air
theater, and to keep the actors from looking too small they had worn
high shoes, almost stilts, and had shouted to the audience through a
megaphone disguised as a mask. Needless to say, they could not move
quickly, and could not do anything but talk. Their tendency was to talk
at great length--like mighty ships, which, having got under way, were
not easily to be stopped.

But in the time of Corneille and his successors all that was gone; plays
were acted in small, indoor theaters, and the characters might have been
human and real. But the critical authorities ordained that the Greek
conventions were sacred; so the characters of Corneille are stiff and
stately, and stalk about hurling long, impassioned tirades at one

Nevertheless, two thousand years have not failed to make an impression
upon the minds of men. The dark, overshadowing fate of the Greeks is
gone, its place as director of events being taken by human ambition.
Corneille’s characters are embodiments of this or that passion. They
are, of course, always aristocrats, the mighty and powerful of the
earth; they are intended to be morally sublime, but to us they seem
monsters of egotism. They want what they want when they want it, they
smite their breasts and exclaim: “Moi! Moi! Moi!” There is war, splendid
war, in which they gain the admiration and attention known as “glory.”
The tragedy comes because they cannot get all they want; they have
weaknesses, especially love, which get in the way, and paralyze the will
of mighty princes engaged in prevailing over each other.

At this time the Thirty Years’ War was devastating Europe. It had begun
as a religious war, an effort of Catholic Austria to crush German
Protestantism; but it had now degenerated into a clash of rival
dynasties, with Richelieu, master intriguer, using the Protestants to
put down the enemies of the French monarchy. The mother of the French
king had been an Austrian princess, Catherine de’ Medici, and she was
intriguing against her son’s country. She had been driven into exile by
Richelieu, and was raising up armies against him; so, all over Europe,
the people were being led out to slaughter at the whim of this vicious
old woman. They were led out for one greedy prince or another; they were
led out because the mistress of some king had been snubbed by the wife
of some emperor; they were led out for an endless tangle of royal
jealousies and noble spites.

And the function of the dramas of Corneille is to take us into the souls
of these lawless aristocrats; all the powers of genius, all the
resources of the stage are expended in order that we may share their
furies, may strut the stage with them and deliver tumultuous tirades.
For a time or two the experience is interesting; but then the novelty
wears off, and we ask ourselves: Do I really care anything about these
heroes? Do I want to share their feelings--or do I want to change the
world, so that there may be no corner where such dangerous and
destructive creatures can lurk? And so ends the glory propaganda of



Louis XIV, the “grand monarch,” ascended the throne of France in the
year 1643, while Cromwell’s “Ironsides” were fighting their king, and
only six years before they cut off his head. A greater difference
between two kingdoms could scarcely be imagined; and this difference is
completely reflected in French and English art.

All the life of France was centered at the court. The monarch who was
“the State” withdrew himself from Paris, and built a magnificent
play-ground at Versailles; aqueducts were constructed, a barren waste
was turned into a pleasure-park, whole forests of trees being moved and
replanted. Great palaces arose; the architects and landscape gardeners,
the sculptors and painters poured out their treasures, to make this
most wonderful garden of delight.

All over the land was a ruined peasantry; misery, starvation and
ignorance, freedom crushed, justice flaunted, superstition and despotism
enthroned. A nation was taxed bare to make the beauty and glory and
luxury of this court. You might see the “grand monarch,” with a huge
powdered periwig on top of his head, in a costume of crimson and white
brocaded with gold, advancing with solemn steps upon red-heeled shoes,
and wielding a golden snuff-box covered with jewels. About him flock the
courtiers, great nobles and ecclesiastics, now deprived both of their
powers and their duties, and with nothing to do but dance attendance at
court. Here also are the swarms of fine ladies, trained in the arts of
seduction. In the morning the court rides forth in enormous hunting
parties, pursuing stags imported from all over Europe. They spend the
afternoons and evenings in feasting, gaming, gossiping, intriguing.

And here, of course, come the artists; poets and painters, dramatists
and musicians, dancing masters and jugglers and makers of ballets and
masques. The king who said, “I am the State,” might equally have said,
“I am Art.” He and his court constituted audience and critics; either
you pleased them, or as an artist you were dead.

It is interesting to note that the famous artists of that time all came
from the middle classes. The great gentlemen scorned to work at art, as
at anything else; they paid others to work for them. They were exacting
paymasters, having high standards of perfection in technique, and the
middle-class Ogis slaved diligently to polish and refine and beautify
their productions.

War was far off from this splendid court, an echo of trouble in another
world; so the sternness and sublimity of Corneille went out of fashion.
Love was no longer a temptation and a weakness, but the delight and
glory of the “great world.” The source of human impulse was located in
what the poets of those days called “the heart”--though we, by surgical
investigations, have ascertained that it is located below the diaphragm.

There came a new dramatist to thrill this amorous company. His name was
Jean Racine, and he also came from the middle classes. His genius
brought him instant success; he wrote an ode to the king, was awarded a
pension of six hundred livres, and became an assiduous and successful
courtier. He is, like Raphael, the perfect type of the ruling-class
artist; fitting exactly to his age, with no ideals below it and none
above it. His works represent perfection of technique, the ideal harmony
of content and form, the Art of Beauty as it had not been seen upon the
stage since the time of Sophocles.

Until late in Racine’s life religion is purely formal in his work; his
plays deal with the princely world. Society is fixed, and its forms
ordained; nobody is rising and displacing anybody else, hence there can
be no social drama. You play your part “in that state of life to which
it has pleased God to call you”; and tragedy happens when somebody takes
away from you the sexual gratification you crave. Everything has become
personal; we are concerned with the jealousies, the fears, the loves and
hates of aristocratic individuals. The heroes and heroines abandon
themselves to their passions, they pour out floods of exquisite emotion.
The scene is laid in “an apartment in a palace,” and murder, suicide,
insanity and despair lurk just outside the door.

They do not come upon the stage, because the classical tradition ordains
that violent actions happen off the stage, and people rush on and tell
us about them. We get the echoes of horror in the eyes and the voices of
these people. It is curious to compare Racine’s tragedies with those of
Shakespeare, which jump you about among a score or two of places all
over the earth, and bring on swarms of characters from every social
class. In Racine, not merely are the lower classes excluded from the
stage, the lower classes are excluded from existence. Three or four
noble ladies and gentlemen stand in a room, and come and go, and make
speeches to one another in marvelously polished rhymed couplets. They
address long soliloquies to the air, they address imaginary beings, the
heavenly powers of Christian mythology and Roman and Greek and Turkish
and Celtic mythology; they call earth and sea and sky to witness the
infinite wickedness and cruelty of their not being able to have what
they want.

This is the height and perfection of art, according to the most
fastidious and exacting of French standards. And is it propaganda? I do
not see how anyone capable of putting two thoughts together can
question the fact. Here are the gods of a new hierarchy, princes and
potentates, absorbing to themselves by divine right all the treasures of
civilization. Here they are exhibited in all their splendor, one of the
world’s greatest poets devoting his technical skill to glorifying and
exalting them. Storms of thrilling emotion are poured forth, and the
crowds go mad with excitement. So ideals are created and standards set,
which govern, not merely the art life, but the social and political and
business life of the whole of society.

The poet himself lived this life of elegant egotistical passion; he was
jealous and quarrelsome, and he followed the custom of the painters in
using his mistresses as models for his female types. One of his
tragedies became the cause of a ferocious court quarrel; a duchess hired
another playwright and produced a rival play on the same theme, and
hired a claque to applaud his play, and to hiss Racine’s. This
apparently frightened the poet; he lost his joy in the courtier life,
became sick, and in orthodox Catholic fashion retired into mysticism,
and wrote a play of religion, as unwholesome and remote from reality as
his worldly plays.

The most famous of his tragedies is “Phedre,” which tells about the wife
of an Athenian king, who conceives an adulterous passion for her
step-son, and when the youth repels her advances, accuses him falsely to
his father, and brings about his death; after which, in a transport of
shame, she poisons herself. For two centuries and a half this portrayal
of unbridled desire has been the test of genius upon the French stage;
eight generations of actresses have exhausted their skill in portraying
it to eight generations of elegant ladies and gentlemen, living lives of
the same unbridled desire.

In our time the great Phedre was Sarah Bernhardt, the “divine Sarah,” as
she was known to the leisure-class critics of my boyhood. Upon the stage
she exhibited the unbridled desires of an ancient Greek queen, and in
real life she exhibited the unbridled desires of a modern stage queen; a
woman who never felt a social emotion, but squandered the treasure of
various royal and plutocratic and literary lovers, who likewise had
never felt a social emotion. We are privileged now to read the extremely
stupid love-letters which King Edward of England wrote to her, and
learn what sums of money be paid to her, and what dignified court
gentlemen he sent to make his assignations with her. We read also about
her passion for Sardou, leisure-class playwright of her time, who
created a host of splendid prostitutes and lustful queens, to enable
this leisure-class divinity to sweep her audiences into ecstasy.

We today, possessing means of exploring the subconscious mind,
understand these unbridled desires as symptoms of infantilism. Here are
babies, still reaching out for the moon, and shrieking because they
cannot have it; here are spoiled children, flattered by servants and
fawned upon by slaves, indulged and petted, never adjusting themselves
to the realities of life, but growing up to make heroes and heroines of
tragedy. We no longer consider these creations sublime; we call them
psychopaths, and the art which portrays them we call a bore.

As economists we have explored the social causes of such raging
egotisms, and also the social consequences. The plutocracy is not the
only class which has unbridled desires; the proletariat has its share,
and if one class is permitted to gratify them, and to flaunt them before
the world, the only possible consequence is a revolution of blind and
bloody revenge. Queen Phedre, frenzied and horror-smitten, saw hell
looming hideous before her staring eyes; but she saw no hell compared
with what Racine’s audience might have seen, had they been able to look
forward a hundred years in French history, and to watch the starved and
brutalized mob of Paris dancing the “Carmagnole” in the streets, while
the guillotine rolled into its bloody basket the heads of the
great-grandsons and great-granddaughters of those splendid, unbridled
ladies and gentlemen who made up the “grand monarch’s” splendid,
unbridled court.



In vain do kings and emperors set up the doctrine that art exists for
courts; that only the great ones of the earth are the proper theme for
art works, and courtiers and court critics the true judges of taste.
Deeply planted in the human heart is an instinct, declaring that all
human beings are of consequence; and men of genius arise who follow that
instinct, and write about ordinary people, and appeal to wider and wider
groups of the community. We shall now see this happening to the
exclusive and haughty court of the “grand monarch.” A world genius
appears, who breaks the established barriers, sets all France to arguing
over his ideas, and helps to make the drama of Europe the social force
which it is today.

He was the son of the royal upholsterer in Paris; that is to say, of a
tradesman who had the job of repairing the soft and expensive cushions
upon which this court reclined. But Molière, a volcano of energy and
enterprise, did not take long to discover that he was not interested in
cushioning a court. At the age of twenty-one he sold his claims to the
family job, and started a theater on a tennis-court in Paris. It was a
failure, and the young Molière was three times imprisoned for debt. But
he would not give up; he organized a company to tour the provinces, and
for thirteen years he lived a life of “one-night stands.” It is a dog’s
life today, and must have been worse three hundred years ago, when
actors were outcasts and almost outlaws. Catholic bigotry in France was
as bitter against them as Puritan bigotry in England.

It was a hard school, in which Molière made no money and lost his
health. But it was a way to make a tragi-comic dramatist, for it brought
him into contact with every kind of human being. When he came to
Versailles to become the king’s favorite dramatist, he brought with him
knowledge of something more than courtly intrigue; he brought the
fighting spirit of a man who had been roughly handled, who had been poor
and in jail, and who knew France as it was to the plain people.

Molière got a chance to produce plays before the king, including a
couple of his own little farces. The king was then twenty-one years of
age, curious about life, and not entirely in the hands of women and
priests as he later became. Molière was thirty-seven when he produced
his first significant work, “Les Précieuses Ridicules,” a satire on the
literary fashions of the time, according to which a mirror was called
“the counsellor of the graces,” and a chair “the commodity of
conversation.” Great ladies were accustomed to assemble to display their
wit to one another, and it was exactly like the literary tea-parties we
have nowadays. I have pictured them in a chapter in “The Metropolis”--

“Go ahead with Molière!” says Mrs. Ogi.

“I just want to quote a dozen lines,” pleads her husband. “This shows
you what happens to literature, when it becomes ‘the rage’ among fine
ladies: ‘We learn thereby, every day, the latest gallantries, and the
prettiest novelties in prose and verse; we are told just in the nick of
time, that such a one has composed the prettiest piece in the world on
such a subject; that some one else has written words to such an air;
that this person has made a madrigal upon an enjoyment, and that his
friend has composed some stanzas upon an infidelity; that Mr. So-and-so
sent half a dozen verses yesterday evening to Miss Such-and-such, and
that she sent back an answer at eight o’clock this morning; that one
celebrated author has just sketched a plan for a new book, that another
has got to the third part of his romance, and that a third is passing
his works through the press.’”

“Is that in ‘The Metropolis’?” asks Mrs. Ogi, suspiciously.

Whereat, her husband grins with malice. “Look for it; and if you don’t
find it, try the tenth scene of ‘Les Précieuses Ridicules.’”

It was insolence for a mere tradesman’s son to make fun of high-born
ladies, and the ladies were furious, and succeeded in keeping the play
off the stage for five days. That was the beginning of a fight, which
lasted the rest of Molière’s life. At any time he chose to write a silly
farce or a ballet he could have it produced safely and with applause;
but whenever he wrote a play with a serious purpose he raised up a swarm
of enemies, who kept his play off the boards anywhere from five days to
five years. And here is where the man showed his spirit; he was sick, he
was always struggling with debt, he had his theatrical company to look
out for--people whom he loved and whose burdens he carried.
Nevertheless, truth blazed in him like a white-hot flame, and he could
not let his enemies alone. He would quit the fight for a year or two,
then come back to it with a piece of ridicule yet more stinging, or a
picture of cruelty and falsehood so grim that it was hard to pass off
for a comedy.

Molière hated hypocrisy with a deadly hatred; he hated the church of his
time, because it was an organized system of hypocrisy for cash. He hated
vain fops, and empty-headed, pretentious women, and the snobbish and
self-seeking great ones of the earth. Also he hated the enslaving and
imprisoning of love. In his time the French girl was raised in a
convent, and when she was somewhere between thirteen and eighteen her
parents, with the aid of the family lawyer, sold her in marriage to some
mature man of the world, who possessed rank and fortune, and was apt to
possess vices and diseases. In no less than nine of Molière’s plays
there is such a situation; also there is an amiable young man in love
with the girl, and the couple find a way to thwart the schemes of their
elders. The plays thus become a plea for common sense and human feeling,
as opposed to avarice and worldly pride. This has become a familiar
theme of comedy; the poet’s first instinctive revolt against the

It is Molière’s custom to take some propaganda theme, and to construct
upon it a sermon in picture form. He chooses very simple characters to
illustrate the theme, and in the conversations he pounds upon it like a
man driving in a spike with a sledge. Every bit of knowledge and skill
he possesses goes into those hard strokes; all his wit and verve, his
insight into human character, his amazing vividness, his palpitating
sense of life.

The greatest evil of the time was unquestionably the church, which
controlled the mind and conscience of the nation and repressed all
independent thinking. The life of France was beset by a horde of spies,
the secret agents of a predatory power, the Jesuits; nothing could be
hid from them, because they controlled the salvation of souls, and
through the instrument of the confessional were able to dominate
political and social life. They worked, as always, upon the ignorance
and emotionalism of women; they beset the mind of the king, and in the
end they got him, forcing the revocation of the law tolerating
Protestants, and beginning another monstrous persecution. Molière saw
all that going on around him, and he wrote about it one of the most
terrible plays in the world. It is called “Tartuffe, or The Hypocrite,”
and shows a religious intriguer, worming his way into a middle-class
family and seducing the wife of his benefactor. The drama is an
utterance of blazing anger, a veritable harpooning of hypocrisy. As a
weapon of propaganda it is exactly as powerful today as it was three
hundred years ago.

Of course it raised a storm in the little world of Paris and Versailles.
The clerical party besieged the king, and the play was barred from
public performance, though it was shown privately to some of the great
nobles. The archbishop threatened to excommunicate those who even read
the play, and Bossuet, the ruling-class literary pope of the time, took
Molière’s untimely death from tuberculosis as a divine judgment upon him
for the writing of this infamous work. Two years later the king again
permitted the play to be shown; but when the performance came on he was
away at one of his wars, and an official closed the theater, and
Molière’s appeals to the king were in vain. For five years the fight
over this play went on, before at last it could be freely shown.

They were years of incessant struggle for Molière. He produced “Don
Juan,” and the clerical critics objected to that also, because it
portrayed an intellectual and free thinker. To be sure, it portrayed him
as a very immoral man; but that did not satisfy the clerical party, for
few of them could meet that test. It was the irony of fate that the
archbishop, who forbade to Molière’s body a church service, was himself
a man of notoriously vile habits.

Then came a play called “The Misanthrope,” a name doubtless given as a
sop to Molière’s critics. There is really nothing misanthropic about the
hero; he is simply a man of fine ideals, who is stunned by his discovery
of the powers of evil in the world about him, and their ability to
destroy human life. He is married to a woman whom he loves, but who will
not give up this evil world, and gives up her husband instead. Molière
himself had made a bitterly unhappy marriage with a young actress who
preferred the world to her husband, and the hero of this play is
generally taken as Molière’s own voice, just as Hamlet is taken as
Shakespeare’s voice.

This greatest comic dramatist of France had to waste much of his time
producing farces and ballets for his exacting king. He now wrote a farce
comedy, which I suppose is produced a thousand times every year in
American high schools, “The Bourgeois Gentleman.” The play makes merry
with a crude, newly-rich merchant who tries to acquire a little culture
in his prosperous years. Molière was thus catering to high-born
snobbery, and also voicing the dislike which all artists feel for those
who buy and sell. You will recall the scorn of Aristophanes for
“mongers” of all sorts--“mutton-mongers” and “rope-mongers” and
“leather-mongers” and “offal-mongers.”

In another play, “The Learned Ladies,” Molière joins Aristophanes in
poking fun at the idea that women should or could be educated. It is
true that the vanities of women are especially absurd when applied to
scientific matters, in which personality is so entirely out of place;
but the same absurdities result from the first efforts of any
disinherited group or class or race to lift itself. We have seen
Shakespeare making fun of workingmen trying to produce a play;
similarly, we shall find Kipling ridiculing the notion that Hindoos can
master the English language, and become fit to hold government positions
in their own country.

Molière’s last whack was at the doctors, whom he especially disliked. We
can understand that a man afflicted with a chronic disease, concerning
which the doctors of his time understood nothing, must have had
unsatisfactory results from their visits, must have submitted to their
purgings and their bleedings to no purpose, and paid them money which he
felt they did not earn. Anyhow, he goes after them again and again, and
in his “Imaginary Invalid” he portrays a man who thinks he is sick, and
all the various quacks who swarm around him. Three times the play was
given with great success, with Molière acting the leading part. A fourth
performance was due, and the poor playwright was ill; he thought of his
company and what would happen to them if he were to shut down, so he
went through the performance, and collapsed and died a few hours later.

But his vivid and courageous propaganda did not die. It lives, even to
our time, as the greatest glory of the French drama; proving over and
over again our thesis that really great art has never been produced
except by men who wished to improve their fellow-men and to abolish
cruelty and greed and falsehood from the earth.



In his later years the “grand monarch” fell under the spell of a
priest-ridden woman, made her his queen, and turned over his court to
Jesuit intrigue. The law tolerating Protestants was repealed, the best
schools in France were closed, and half a million of the most
intelligent people were driven from the country. At the same time wars
of conquest were undertaken, and a series of military disasters befell.
The king’s reign closed in darkness and despair, and the crowds of Paris
mocked his funeral pageant. But the people’s wrath had to fester for
seventy years longer before it broke the tyranny of this “ancient

Two years after the “grand monarch’s” death, the regent sent to the
Bastille a young French poet and man of fashion, the son of a wealthy
lawyer of Paris. This youth, known to us as Voltaire, was accused of
having written a pamphlet ridiculing absolutist ideas; the charge
happened to be false, but needless to say, a year spent in prison
without redress did not increase the young man’s love for absolutism. He
was one of the wittiest mortals ever born on earth, and blessed, or
cursed, with an incessantly active mind. His jailers were comparatively
civilized--I mean, compared with jailers of capitalist absolutism in
America; they permitted the young man to write poetry and dramas, and
when he came out he continued the gay and dissolute life of a literary
fop of that period. He was welcomed in the salons of the great, and his
long epic poems and his rhymed verse tragedies were produced with great

But in his pride as a man of letters Voltaire forgot his place in the
great world of France; he presumed to resent an insult from a noble
gentleman, whereupon this gentleman brought his lackeys, armed with
sticks, and had the poet cruelly beaten, while the noble gentleman sat
in his sedan-chair, jeering and directing the punishment. To the
amazement of the French aristocracy, the victim failed to accept this as
a proper form of discipline; he, a mere lawyer’s son, proceeded to train
himself to fight a duel with the nobleman--whereupon his great friends
turned their backs on him, and he was again thrown into the Bastille,
and got out only upon promise to leave France.

He went to England, where he lived for three years. It was a new
England, based upon the revolution which had driven out the Stuarts; a
Protestant England, prosperous, busy, and from the point of view of a
French refugee, amazingly free; an England in which Pope was preaching
common sense, and Swift was lashing hypocrisy, and Newton was
discovering the laws of the universe. When Voltaire returned to France,
it was no longer to be a society fop and darling of the aristocracy; it
was to be an intellectual pioneer, undermining the wall which French
absolutism had built about the country.

Voltaire wrote a book dealing with the things he had learned in England,
all the ideas of the new science and the new philosophy and the new
toleration. Refused permission to publish it, he had it published
secretly, whereupon it was solemnly banned by authority, and a copy was
burned by the hangman. This made the fortune of the book; it had a big
circulation, and all intellectual France fell to arguing about it. And
that was to be Voltaire’s life for some forty-five years thereafter;
writing forbidden books and pamphlets under an infinity of pen names,
having them secretly printed in England, or in Holland, or in
Switzerland, having them publicly burned, and no less publicly debated.

The name Voltaire thus means to us a champion of free thought, against
religious superstition; but we must get clear the fact that during his
life Voltaire was the most eminent poet and dramatist of France. Also it
is interesting to note that, revolutionary as he was in the field of
philosophy, he was a complete conservative in the field of art;
following the models of Corneille and Racine, and respecting the sacred
unities, the artificial laws whereby the French stage was fettered.
Among the discoveries he had made in England was a playwright by the
name of Shakespeare, whom he described as “a drunken savage, without the
smallest scrap of good taste, and without the least acquaintance with
the rules.” Voltaire was much annoyed when this dictum had the effect of
causing some Frenchmen to be curious about Shakespeare! As time passed,
he found that he had to give more and more energy to denouncing this
“drunken savage,” and rebuking those who professed to find merit in his

All of which has a vital lesson for us; it shows us how tight is the
grip of culture conventions upon the educated mind. It is possible for
men to think for themselves concerning God and immortality, concerning
the divine right of emperors and kings, and even of oil magnates and
international financiers. But it is extremely difficult for them to
think freely on the subject of what constitutes good taste, and whether
or not they ought to permit themselves to enjoy a new and strange work
of art. I note with interest that our own young intellectuals, who count
themselves thorough-going revolters, who boast of unorthodoxy in
religion, politics, economics, and morals, are usually of Tory
inclination in matters of culture; cherishing the aristocratic
superstition that art exists for cultured classes, and that whatever is
popular is obviously contemptible.

We in America do not make any fuss about poets, so it is hard for us to
understand the power which Voltaire wielded over French society. He was
cynical, he was obscene, he was jealous and vain and exasperating; but
he was a kind of god, to whom critical authority bowed, even monarchs
with their worldly power. He produced a score of dramas, most of them
tragedies in the heroic style, and with few exceptions each was a
separate ovation, a coronation in the kingdom of letters. It never
occurred to anyone in Voltaire’s time that he was not the equal of
Racine, as a dramatist; while his epics were put above Homer and Virgil.
We today begin one of his plays with determination to go through to the
end, but we cannot make it; we desire some Greenwich Village wit to
produce it in mock heroic style, so that we can laugh heartily at these
pompous aristocrats raging and storming, stabbing and killing each
other. We laugh, because it is so apparent that the poet himself has
never felt any of this emotion, he has thought only how magnificent it

But at this time French culture was supreme throughout Europe, and
Voltaire, cynic and skeptic, was at once the idol and the terror of the
courts. He was a good business man, and invested the money he made from
his plays, and become enormously rich. He purchased an estate in
Switzerland, just over the French border; an admirable strategic
location, a sort of literary emplacement for a high-caliber gun. He
could have his pamphlets printed in Germany and Holland, and secretly
shipped into France, and the French police were powerless to touch him.
The Swiss Calvinists were glad to have attacks made upon French and
Catholic absolutism, so they let the poet alone.

Voltaire was a frail ghost of a man, almost a skeleton, but with quick
bright eyes in his bare skull. He was ill most of his life; when he
visited King Frederick he described himself as suffering from four
mortal diseases, yet he lived to the age of eighty-four, and worked
under terrific pressure all the time. He carried on an enormous
correspondence--more than ten thousand of his letters have been edited
and published. He was capable of almost every kind of meanness and
malice, but he was also capable of heroic and unselfish idealism, as the
world was now to see.

In the city of Toulouse, in southern France, a young man named Calas
committed suicide, as result of religious mania; he was a member of a
Protestant family, and the Catholic authorities in Toulouse accused the
father of having murdered the boy to keep him from turning Catholic.
They had no shred of evidence, but they cruelly tortured the old man,
and finally executed him, and confiscated the property of the family.
Voltaire took up the case in a frenzy of indignation; he employed
investigators and lawyers, he wrote pamphlets and circulated them, he
wrote innumerable letters and appeals; for three years he devoted his
time to making the case a political and religious issue in France. No
man could have displayed nobler public spirit, or more genuine human
sympathy; for three years, so he wrote, he never smiled without feeling
that he had committed a crime. When at last the verdict of the Toulouse
courts was reversed, he fell into the arms of one of the Calas lads, and
wept like a child. He said--he, the veteran playwright: “This is the
most splendid fifth act I have ever seen on any stage!”

There came one such case after another. Just as in Russia the Black
Hundreds spread the rumor that the Jews were accustomed to shed the
blood of Christian children, so this Catholic machine made war on the
Protestants by accusing them of hideous crimes. Voltaire espoused the
“Sirven case” in the same fury of indignation; it had taken the courts
two hours to condemn the victims, he said, and nine years to do them
justice! Out of his agony of protest came one of his greatest works, the
“Treatise on Toleration”--burned by the hangman, like everything else.
Also there came his immortal slogan, which he took to putting on all his
letters: “Écrasez l’infame”--that is, crush the infamous thing, meaning
Catholic absolutism.

Now America also has its “infame,” which is capitalist absolutism; and
we await the arrival of some man of letters, capable of the heroic and
unselfish idealism of Voltaire. To him there were brought ten or a dozen
cases of cruelty and torture in the course of twenty years; but hardly a
month passes that my mail does not contain a story of cruelty and
torture equally hideous, committed by the powers which are now
destroying liberty and enlightenment in America. Consider, for example,
the case of the Centralia prisoners, a story of brutality, torture,
murder, terrorism, and the subornation of the law by the lumber barons
of the Northwest; a story just as pitiful, just as revolting, just as
worthy of Voltaire’s immortal slogan.

“If you are not careful,” says Mrs. Ogi, “you will be accused of putting
propaganda into this chapter!”

It was as the champion of freedom of thought that Voltaire stood before
the French people; he, with his wealth and fame, was able to do what
they did not dare to do. From his mountain retreat he sent his ideas all
over Europe; and meantime the blind, deluded rulers of France did all
they could to plow the soil for his sowing. The great-grandson of the
“grand monarch,” who ascended the throne as a child in 1715, ruled for
almost sixty years. Beginning with the name of “the well-beloved,” he
squandered the revenues of the state upon his mistresses, and led his
country to a series of disasters, including the loss of the American
colonies and India. He left the nation bankrupt, and died with the
famous phrase, “After us the deluge.”

Four years later, the old Voltaire, made bold by all his honors, came
down from his mountain fortress and entered Paris. He had a pageant like
a conquering hero; his plays were produced to enormous audiences, and
even the Academy of Richelieu welcomed him--strange irony of history!
It was like Tolstoi in Russia; the authorities would have liked to chop
off his head, but they could only gnash their teeth in impotence.
However, what their hatred could not do, the love of the people
accomplished; Voltaire was literally killed by kindness, and died amid
the excitements of this holiday. It is interesting to us to note that
among those he met in Paris was Benjamin Franklin, fellow skeptic,
scientist, and revolutionary propagandist from the new world. This was
in 1778, two years after the Declaration of Independence, and less than
ten years before the French revolution.

In the case of Voltaire we see a man of letters who ranks as one of the
great world forces, and purely and simply because of his propaganda. If
he had written nothing but heroic tragedies and sublime epics, he would
be a forgotten name today; it was only because he took upon himself the
task of setting free the mind of his country, and labored at it
incessantly for the greater part of his life, that we know of him and
honor him as one of the glories of France. Great as were his faults, no
one can deny that he stood to all the world for the fundamental idea of
freedom of thought.



We have seen that Voltaire was a Tory as to art; his revolution was of
the intellect. There was needed a revolutionist of the feelings, and he
appeared in the person of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a stormy, embittered,
unhappy man, the object of endless controversy, continuing to our own
day; a character full of contradictions, difficult to cover within the
limits of a chapter.

His father was a watch-maker in Geneva; he ran away from home and became
a vagabond, and remained that all his life. He never had any property;
as for friends, he had them only for short periods, because he quarreled
with everyone. Among the occupations he followed in youth was that of a
footman, which ought to have barred him from rising in eighteenth
century France. But he wrote ballets, operas, comedies, and won an
entrée to the salons of the great.

Here is another “pure” artist; and did you ever hear of him in that
“pure” capacity? Did you know that Jean-Jacques had written ballets,
operas and comedies? Could you name one of these works? Unless you are a
specialist in literary history, you could not; and if Rousseau had
followed that easy career, and kept his entrée to the Paris salons, you
would never have heard his name. It was only when he became a
propagandist that he earned world fame, and it is as a propagandist that
we know him.

He was thirty-seven years old when Diderot, editor of the great
“Encyclopedia,” the Bible of the new learning in France, was put into
prison for writing an atheistical pamphlet. Rousseau went to visit him
and, while thus wrought up, he fell to thinking about the depraved state
of society, and the causes thereof; he wrote an essay, and so was
launched upon his career as maker of intellectual dynamite. He was
pursued by the authorities, until he acquired a persecution complex;
before he died he became convinced that everyone he knew was in a
conspiracy to destroy him.

His first important book was “The Social Contract,” a study of the state
and its authority. What is the basis of sovereignty? What right has the
state to command my obedience? The answer of Rousseau’s time was that
God had appointed a king to rule you, and if you disobeyed this king you
were hanged, drawn and quartered, and later on roasted to eternity.
Rousseau’s thesis was that the basis of sovereignty is popular consent;
the state is made by the general will, and lacking such sanction, no
sovereignty exists. The opening words give the keynote of the book: “Man
was born free, and everywhere he is in chains.” A study of history and
anthropology convinces us that the first part of this statement is
false; but that did not keep the words from becoming a revolutionary

The next important book was “The New Heloise,” a love story written in
the form of a series of letters. French women were rebelling against
being sold in marriage; their natural desire to marry the man of their
own choice was reaching a point dangerous to the old convention. To be
sure, Heloise obeyed her parents and married according to their command;
but her sufferings were so moving that she was more effective as an
inspirer of revolt than if she had herself revolted.

Then came another novel, “Emile, or The Sentimental Education”--that is
to say, an education according to the dictates of the natural feelings.
The physical and moral soundness of the infant Emile were based upon the
fact that his mother suckled him, instead of turning him over to a wet
nurse, according to the fashion of the great world of France. The child
was raised in close contact with nature, and followed the dictates of
those natural desires, which Rousseau believed were always wholesome and
trustworthy. The youth was taught to work and be useful instead of being
a culture parasite; and in due course a pure and beautiful maiden
appeared to deserve his love. Today Rousseau’s ideas of education are
freely applied in the Ferrer schools; but in 1762 “Emile” was condemned
by the Sorbonne, and burned by the common executioner, and its author
was forced to flee to Switzerland, and finally to England.

In his later years of desolation Rousseau produced the story of his
life, known as the “Confessions.” His other works are not easy for us to
read, but the “Confessions” will be read so long as man is interested in
his own heart. Here for the first time in the history of our race a man
of first-rate genius told the full truth about himself. A great deal of
it is painful truth; we read it with dismay, and on the basis of it
Rousseau’s enemies have condemned him to infamy.

But never forget, we know these painful things because Rousseau tells
them to us; if he had concealed them, or dressed them up to look
romantic, then we should have had quite a different Rousseau in our
minds. Many authors have done that, and live enthroned in our regard.
But this man says to us: much as I care about myself--and I care a great
deal--I care still more about enabling my fellowmen to understand
reality. And that is the spirit in which we take the “Confessions.” We
realize that we are not dealing with one of those feeble natures which
first commit offenses, and then find pleasure in talking about them; we
are sharing life with a deeply serious man, who seeks in agony a cure
for human ills.

I doubt if there has ever been a preacher of doctrine who delivered
himself more completely to his enemies than Jean-Jacques. He tells us
how, not knowing how to get his bread, he left his newly born children
in care of a foundling asylum. This was a custom of the time; but as a
rule those who followed the custom did not go away and write a book
advising other people how to rear and educate their children! For such
inconsistencies his critics ridiculed him unmercifully. And yet, in
spite of all they could say, he became the trumpeter of the revolution,
political, economic, and cultural, which was on the way in France. He
remains in our time a trumpeter of the social revolution which is
happening before our eyes.

That does not mean that we are blind to the fallacies and absurdities in
his doctrines. We of today study education in the light of a mass of
psychological knowledge, we study government in the light of historical
and economic knowledge, we study the human soul in the light of biology,
sociology, chemistry, psychoanalysis--a host of sciences whose very
names were unknown to Rousseau. But how do we come to possess this
knowledge? We possess it because Jean-Jacques, with the divination of a
prophet and the fervor of a moral genius, proclaimed from the housetops
the right of the human spirit to be free, and to face the facts of life,
and to choose its path in accordance with its own happiness and health.

With any critic of Rousseau there is one question to be settled at the
outset. Why do you quarrel with this man? Is it because you wish to
correct his errors, and clear the way to his goal of liberty, equality,
and fraternity? Or are you one of those who dread the torrent of new
ideas and new feelings which Rousseau let loose upon the world? Is it
your purpose to discredit the whole individualistic movement which he
fathered, and to take us back to the good old days when children obeyed
their parents, and servants obeyed their masters, and women obeyed their
husbands, and subjects obeyed their popes and kings, and students in
colleges accepted without question what their professors told them?

Says Mrs. Ogi: “I suspect that last phrase is meant for Professor

“It is wonderful,” says her husband, “that he should have that name. A
judgment of Providence, without doubt!”



Let it be explained at the outset that we are setting out to discuss,
not a character in a novel, but a living person, Irving Babbitt,
professor of French literature in Harvard University; a scholar who has
set himself one goal in life, to deliver America from the evil influence
of Rousseau and “Rousseauism”--by which he means the whole modern
cultural movement. He has published a stately volume, “Rousseau and
Romanticism,” three hundred and ninety-three pages, plus twenty-three
pages of introduction, with an average of twelve quotations and
citations per page, illustrating the follies, absurdities and
monstrosities uttered or enacted by every man or woman who has at any
time during the past hundred and seventy-five years ever thought a new
thought, or tried an original experiment, or embodied an especially
intense emotion in art form.

It makes a formidable catalogue. Because, you see, humanity proceeds by
the method of trial and error; there is no other way to proceed. The
pendulum of life swings to one extreme, and then it swings to the other.
Every movement has its lunatic fringe, people who show us where to stop;
and what our Harvard professor has done is to make a whole book of these
extravagances and insanities. He takes the fringe for the movement; and
so, of course, it is easy for him to prove that the human spirit ought
never to have been set free; it was a violation of “decorum.” That is
his favorite word, to which he comes back in every chapter. The rest of
America has another name for it; we call it “the Harvard manner.”

“Of course,” says Mrs. Ogi, “you have to do up a Harvard Tory--that is
fore-ordained. But I recall the lunatics I have met in the radical
movement--not merely the harmless cranks, but the dangerous and hateful
beasts! What Rousseau means to me is that I used to hear his praises
sung by a man who has lived for twenty years by seducing young girls
and getting their money.”

Says Ogi: “If you are going to judge a wave by its scum, I shall have to
make a study of the criminals of classicism: the horrors perpetrated by
perfect gentlemen who respected the three unities, and wrote triolets,
and wore exactly the right clothes. There will be a section in this
volume devoted to Harvard University--see ‘The Goose-Step,’ pages 62 to

Says Mrs. Ogi: “Come back to Rousseau, and explain to us why a college
professor should take so much trouble to kill a man who died a hundred
and fifty years ago.”

“The professor does not know why Rousseau is still alive, but I can tell
him--because Rousseau’s revolution is only half completed. The political
part happened, and gave us--world capitalism! We aren’t satisfied, and
we are gathering our muscles for another leap, and all the world’s
Tories are hanging to our coat-tails, trying to hold us back. They dig
out all the old mummies from their coffins, and dress them up and paint
them to look like life, and set them up to cry warnings to us. Even
Voltaire’s ‘l’Infame’! There is a clerical party in every country in
Europe, and Catholic trade unions, called ‘Christian Socialist,’ to
cheat the workers. In the United States there are the Knights of
Columbus, and Tammany Hall, and parades of priests and cardinals up
Fifth Avenue, generously financed by Wall Street. And naturally, in such
a crisis the three unities and the rest of the classical tradition are
not overlooked; so here comes our learned professor with his stately
volume, to prove to us that Rousseau did not have the Harvard manner.
The very same conspiracy, you see, that Rousseau faced during his life.”

“The persecution complex?” asks Mrs. Ogi.

“Don’t fool yourself; Rousseau actually was persecuted! And see what
evidence he would have, if he were alive today, and could investigate
this Babbitt case! The House of Morgan, on the corner of Broad and Wall
streets, just across the way from the United States Treasury building;
and the billion dollars which this House of Morgan made buying war
supplies for the Allies; and the thirty billion dollars which the United
States Treasury paid out to save the House of Morgan’s French and
British loans; and the Boston connections of the House of Morgan, Lee,
Higginson & Company, with their network of banks and trust companies;
and the Lee-Higginson and Morgan control of the governing bodies of
Harvard University; and Harvard’s answer to ‘The Goose-Step,’ the
election of its distinguished graduate, Mr. J. P. Morgan, to its sacred
band of overseers; and the Boston ‘Transcript,’ and the Harvard
‘Lampoon,’ and the Laski case, and the Sacco-Vanzetti case, and the
Boston police strike, and Cal Coolidge, the queer prank that fate played
on Boston’s aristocracy. Picture the situation in the year 1919, the
days of Attorney-General Palmer; the Harvard mob smashing that police
strike, and the hundred per cent patriotic plutocrats of Boston raiding
the offices of the ‘Reds,’ and cracking the skulls of everybody they
found there--”

“The Harvard manner?” says Mrs. Ogi.

“Throwing them into jail, or packing them by hundreds into rooms in
office buildings without toilets, and shipping them back to Europe where
they came from. And right in the midst of that campaign, in that same
anno mirabile of 1919, comes our Babbitt professor--I mean our Professor
Babbitt--with a schoolmaster’s ferule in one hand and a slung-shot in
the other, scolding and at the same time committing mayhem upon every
artist who in the past hundred and seventy-five years of history has
ever had a human feeling. It is supposed to be a work of scholarship, of
literary criticism; it is written to teach ‘decorum’--by such examples
as this: ‘The humanitarian, all adrip with brotherhood, and profoundly
convinced of the loveliness of his own soul.’ And again: ‘Both Rousseau
and his disciple Robespierre were reformers in the modern sense--that is
they are concerned not with reforming themselves, but other men.’ What
is one going to do with a man like that?”

“What did they do with them in the French revolution?” asks Mrs. Ogi.

“Les aristocrats à la lanterne!” says her husband.

“I’ve forgotten all my French,” says Mrs. Ogi, “and so will most of your
readers. But I’ll tell you this--the professor sounds exactly like you,
except that he’s on the other side!”



While France has been moving toward its revolution, England has been
moving away from hers, and we now return to the foggy island to watch
the course of events through this eighteenth century. The crown has
submitted, and parliament has the last word in public affairs. A
parliament of the land-owning gentry, elected by corruption, we shall
see it in the course of two centuries being gradually changed into a
parliament of merchants and ship-owners, of steel and coal and diamond
and gold magnates, of brewers and publishers of capitalist propaganda.

It was the task of eighteenth century England to create the bourgeois
soul. Machinery and standardized production, which were to make over the
world, had not yet appeared, but when they came, they found their
psychology and culture all prepared for them by this “nation of
shop-keepers.” It is a world of money, all other powers deposed, all
other standards a shell without life inside; honor, favor, virtue are
represented by money. Religion has become an affair of “livings” and of
“benefices.” Politics has become an affair of party rancor, a squabble
over the spoils of office. The difference between the two parties is
that one is in and the other is out; the purpose of the outs being to
prove rascality against the ins, and thus get a chance to do what the
ins are doing.

In this bourgeois world the artist may be feeble of mind, not knowing
the reality of his time, believing sincerely in its shams. Or he may be
a cynic, jeering at his time, but taking what he can get. Or he may be a
rebel, speaking the truth--in which case he will starve in a garret, or
go insane, or be thrown into prison, or driven into exile.

The first to greet this new century with his writings was a man who went
insane. One of the great masters of English prose, his fate in life was
to be brought up as a “poor relation,” and to eat the bitter bread of
dependence. He became a kind of educated servant to the wealthy, and
finally got a small job in the church. Ill most of his life, proud,
imperious, burning up with thwarted genius, Jonathan Swift was made into
a master ironist.

His first great book was “The Tale of a Tub,” in which he ridiculed the
squabbles of the various church parties. Having thus shocked the church,
he applied to be a dean, but did not get the job, because somebody else
paid a thousand pound bribe to the official having the appointment.
Swift was told that he could have another deanery at the same price, but
he did not have the sum handy.

The “ins” of those days were called Tories, and the “outs” were called
Whigs; they fought furiously, and literary rats, hiding in garrets and
cellars, wrote pamphlets of personal abuse, which were published
anonymously and circulated in the face of jail penalties. Like the
laureate Dryden, our would-be dean did this vile writing; he did it for
the Whigs, and when he got no preferment there, he joined the Tories,
and was made dean of the cathedral in Dublin. There he wrote his “Modest
Proposal” for eating the children of Ireland, one of the most terrific
pieces of irony in all literature. “Look,” says the ‘gloomy dean,’ “we
are letting a population starve to death, and, what a waste of national
resources, what a violation of our fundamental principles of business
economy. Let us feed these Irish babies, and when they are nice and fat,
serve them on our tables; they will be happy during their brief span of
life, and we shall no longer have to import food from foreign parts.”

Then came “Gulliver’s Travels,” which took its place along with
“Pilgrim’s Progress” as required reading for children and adults. It is
an even more perfect allegory; you can read it as a story pure and
simple, without any idea of an ulterior meaning. The author helps you by
the perfect gravity with which he describes every detail of these
singular adventures. First we visit the land in which the people are
only six inches tall, and so we laugh at the pettiness of human affairs.
Then we visit the land where they are correspondingly big, and we learn
how brutal and gross and stupid we really are. So on, until we come to
the land of noble and beautiful horses, in which human beings are lewd
and filthy apes. So we learn the worst possible about a world which
appointed a man of genius to be dean of St. Patrick’s in Dublin, when
he wanted to be dean of St. Paul’s in London. So we are ready to go
insane, and to die, as the dean himself phrased it, “like a poisoned rat
in a hole.”



Prose fiction up to this time had dealt for the most part with men; its
most popular variety was the “picaresque,” telling the adventures of
vagabonds and rascals. But now in this bourgeois England the fiction
writer settles down, and becomes respectable, and discovers the theme
which is to occupy him for the next two hundred years--the feminine
heart, and what goes on in it during the mating season.

Watch the gentleman-turkey, stirred by erotic excitement; he struts up
and down, swells out his comb, spreads his feathers, scrapes the ground
with his stiff wings. And there stands the humble and retiring
lady-turkey, observing him with modest but attentive eye; she takes a
step or two away, but does not run far. What is going on in her mind?
What does she think of the blood-flushed comb and the spread feathers,
the heroic pose and the awe-inspiring gobble? We are not permitted to
enter into the psychology of a lady-turkey; but through the magic of
fiction we are permitted to watch the mind of the lady-human, and note
every detail of the process whereby she gets her mate. We share her
emotions, we analyze the devices she employs--and thus, if we belong to
her sex, we perfect our technique, or, if we belong to the male sex, we
learn how to write novels.

In this bourgeois world, the emotions of mating are dominated by those
of money. Society has become settled, property relations are fixed, and
you live a routine life, without great change or adventure--except once,
which is at this mating period. Here is your great chance to rise above
your own class in a world of money classification. A beautiful and
charming maiden may catch the eye of some wealthy man; a handsome,
dashing youth may stumble upon an heiress. Such is the significance of
the heavenly smiles and the coy glances of bourgeois romance. Cupid
travels about, armed with a golden arrow, and in the love-glints from
the eyes of youth and beauty we see fortunes flying to and fro--diamonds
and rubies, manor-houses, estates, orders and offices, titles to
nobility. And always in the background sit the chaperons, keeping
watch--old women, whose function it is to know the grim facts of greed,
and to pass on such “worldly wisdom” to the young.

The first old woman to take up this task in English fiction was Samuel
Richardson. He himself was a hero for any bourgeois novel--a printer who
had married his master’s daughter, and become publisher to the king. He
knew what money costs, and believed in it with all his heart and soul;
in his mature years he set out to warn young women of the value of their
virtue, and point out to them the importance of a life contract in love.
He wrote a novel called “Pamela; or Virtue Rewarded,” telling the story
of an innocent fifteen-year-old servant girl in the household of a great
gentleman who makes love to her. In a series of letters to her parents
she exposes to us the details of this love-making, and all her
bewilderments, agonies and fears.

Pamela Andrews is the very soul of humility; but young as she is, she
knows the business facts concerning the life contract--“with all my
worldly goods I thee endow.” She knows that her master is a rake and
scoundrel--he gives her in the course of the story all possible evidence
of that; nevertheless, she stands firm, and in the end her virtue is
rewarded--by marriage with this rake and scoundrel. If that seems to you
a strange reward of virtue, it will be only because you do not
understand this eighteenth century world. What a man is personally
counts for little compared with the class he belongs to. He is a
gentleman, he owns houses and lands, and Pamela’s children will be
ladies and gentlemen, and will own houses and lands. This novel became
the sensation of the day, not merely in England, but all over Europe.
There were two large volumes, and a sequel with two more, but no one was
bored; great ladies sat up half the night, weeping their eyes red over
Pamela’s trials, and welcoming her--in imagination--into the class of
ladies. The writers learned how to make money, and a new profession,
that of the love-describers, came into being.



You will note in this bourgeois world two attitudes toward money; one
might be described as the attitude of the first generation, and the
other of the third. The first generation has had to make the money, and
knows what money costs. The third generation wants the money just as
much, but its knowledge is confined to what money will buy. There is war
between these two generations, and you find it reflected in the arts;
the young and saucy artists make propaganda for one side, while the
mature and sober artists make it for the other.

There was in England at this time a gentleman whose ancestors had had
money for a long time, and who took toward it the attitude of jolly good
heartedness. He read this story of “Pamela,” and it filled him with
fury; what a loathsome world, in which, men and women spent their time
poring over cash-books and calling it virtue! What would be left in life
if a fashionable young gentleman could not have fun with a lower class
girl without tying himself to her for life! So Henry Fielding,
gentleman, barrister, and man of pleasure in London, sat himself down to
turn “Pamela” into screaming farce. He took Pamela’s brother, a young
footman, and pictured him in the household of a great lady who
endeavored to lure him from the path of virtue. The agonies of
temptation of Joseph Andrews reproduced those of his sister; but as
young men were not supposed to have any virtue, the tragedy was turned
upside down.

This story is usually cited by the critics as an illustration of how a
man of genius began a piece of propaganda, and then got interested in
his story, and turned it into a real work of art. I should alter the
formula by saying that he changed from a negative to a positive kind of
propaganda. Joseph Andrews runs away from his wicked mistress, taking a
girl he truly loves, and the narrative turns from a satire on
Richardson’s pseudo-virtues into a portrayal of what Fielding considers
real virtue. Joseph and his girl fall into trouble, and their creator,
in pleading their cause, defends the poor and friendless all over
England, who do not get justice in the courts. Fielding knew, because
he had ridden the circuits; being a warm-hearted man, he created a model
English magistrate by the name of Squire Allworthy--an obvious enough
name--to show how the law ought to be administered.

Fielding next took to writing plays. But he ventured to make satiric
allusions to “persons of quality”; therefore he ran afoul of the Lord
Chamberlain, and one of his plays was banned. He was disgusted, and
rather than conform, he gave up play-writing. There was no government
big-wig overseeing fiction; and so this new art form was destined to
become the vehicle of social criticism.

In his next book this gentleman-novelist went on to write a deadly piece
of satire. Looking out over Europe, he saw Frederick, king of Prussia,
called “the great,” making a raid upon Silesia and seizing it; he saw
other royal and imperial conquerors tormenting mankind with war. He took
a notorious criminal, who had recently been hanged in London, and made
him the hero of a novel, which parodied in detail the glory-career of a
king. “Jonathan Wild the Great,” like all works of revolutionary
tendency, has received from the critics small part of its due praise.
There are few scenes more grim than the conclusion of the book, the
satire upon the “consolations of religion” when the arch-criminal dies.

Then came “Tom Jones,” one of the greatest of English novels. Fielding’s
purpose in this story, as he declared it, was “to recommend Goodness and
Innocence.” In his hero he set out to show the truth about a man; not a
snuffling saint for a church-window, but a real, hearty good fellow,
according to Fielding’s notion. What may such a young fellow do, and
what may he not do? May he drink? Of course. May he spend money freely?
Fielding knew about that, having married a rich wife and run through her
fortune. May he take money from his friends? Yes, even ask for it. May
he take money from his mistresses? And here suddenly you see the
gentleman-author start up in anger. He may not! Here is an iron-clad
rule, which English gentlemen enforce without compromise. But then, may
he cohabit with girls of classes below his own? Yes, says Fielding,
certainly he may, and he will; let’s be honest, and not fool ourselves
with shams. Thackeray, who was loud in admiration of “Tom Jones,”
lamented that no novelist since then had dared to tell the truth about a
man. In our day, for better or worse, the novelists have dared, and
reticence as a literary virtue is dead.

In conclusion, we note the fact that Fielding died at the age of
forty-three, “of dropsy, jaundice, and asthma.” So it appears that you
may take your choice; you may exercise self-restraint, and be accused of
hypocrisy, and of spoiling your friends’ pleasure; or you may throw the
reins upon the neck of desire, and go through life at a gallop--and have
your body give out just when your brain is ready for its best work.



We have read about an English gentleman-novelist who wasted his health
and died at the age of forty-three; and we next have to hear the story
of a Scotch plowman-poet who treated himself in the same way and died at
the age of thirty-seven. Such men present a painful problem to their
friends, and also to their critics--since in art circles it is not
considered good form to set up moral standards. However, in this case
Robert Burns has solved the problem for us; he lacked nothing in
clearness of insight or plainness of speech concerning his own follies,
and spoke of his “self-contempt bitterer to drink than blood.”

He was one of seven children of a peasant family, and was born on a
stormy January day, in a clay cottage of which the roof was blown off a
few days later. He followed the plow-tail all his early years, and wrote
that his life until sixteen was “the toil of a slave.” The few books
they could borrow the children would read at meal times, or snatching a
few words in the fields. Such peasant slaves are not supposed to acquire
culture, and if they do so, it is at the cost of health of mind and
body. Robert Burns was given to fits of melancholy, and to moods of wild
excess; he speaks of his “passions raging like demons.” He was a
headstrong, impatient youth, disgusted by the falsities and shams of
conventional religion. He had to find his own code in life, and the
fact that he found it too late to save himself is our loss.

This peasant, toiling on a rocky tenant farm, discovered in himself the
gift of exquisite melody. His feelings poured themselves out in verses
in the homely Scotch dialect, then considered a barbarous thing,
unworthy of literature. He would compose these verses all day long while
guiding the plow, and then, coming home at night, he would sit in a
garret room and write them out. Not until he was twenty-seven years old
did he succeed in having them published. They appeared at a time when
the family was ruined, and the poet himself being pursued by officers of
the law, at the instance of the father of a girl he loved. The twenty
pounds which he got from this first volume saved his life, so he

He leaped into fame all over Scotland, and spent a year in Edinburgh,
where he was fêted by the great. But he did not keep their favor,
because he persisted in intimacy with his humble friends, and also,
alas! with the taverns. He went back to the plow, more set than ever in
his bitterness against the world of privilege and rank. It was a time
when the great world was in the habit of pensioning its poets, but the
Tories controlled in Scotland, and “Bobbie” Burns was a Whig, and turned
into a Republican, the same thing as a Bolshevik today. The best that
lovers of his poetry could get him was a job as a gauger of liquor
barrels, at the princely salary of sixty pounds a years.

Even that he had difficulty in holding; because the French revolution
came sweeping over Europe, and frightened the governing class of England
into just such a frenzy of reaction as we in America witnessed in 1919.
In his capacity as exciseman Burns captured a smuggling ship with four
cannon; he purchased the cannon at auction, and sent them to the French
Legislative Assembly as a mark of sympathy. Imagine, if you can, an
American customs officer in 1919 shipping four machine-guns to the
Soviet government of Russia, and you may realize how close the poet came
to losing the salary upon which his wife and children had to exist.

We shall see other poets shrinking in horror from the execution of King
Louis, and throwing in their lot with reaction. But here is one who
stood by the down-trodden of the earth, and voiced their feelings to
the end. Not merely is he the national poet of Scotland; he is, in spite
of the handicap of dialect, the voice of the peasant and the land-slave
throughout the English-speaking world. When he writes “the rank is but
the guinea’s stamp,” he is the voice of the labor movement in England
and of democracy in America. His work is beloved by humble people; you
would be surprised to know how widely it is read--perhaps more widely
than any other poetry among the poor.

The people know this voice, they know this heart, with all its loves and
hates, its longings and griefs. There is no man who has come from the
toiling masses, self-taught and self-made, who has expressed their
feelings so completely. And note that he has, not merely beauty and
passion, but keen insight and power of brain; he can think for his
people, as well as feel with them. He is not a bit afraid to use his art
to preach and to scold, to discuss moral problems, to storm at social
injustice and to ridicule church dogma.

What though such a man did drink and squander himself; that also is a
part of the worker’s tragedy. He paid for it the price which the workers
pay, and life spared him no part of the suffering and shame, nor did he
spare himself the remorse. He wrote his own epitaph, in which he spoke
of himself as “the poor inhabitant below,” and recorded that
“thoughtless folly laid him low and stained his name.” Because there is
no spiritual value greater than honesty, the judgment of his people has
raised him high and crowned his name with immortality.



“Why do you call this a work on art,” says Mrs. Ogi, “when you are
dealing entirely with literature?”

“All the arts are one,” says her husband. “They are expressions of the
human spirit, and the material they use is comparatively unimportant. We
realize this when we see an artist like Michelangelo using blocks of
marble and molecules of paint and printed words, and giving us with each
medium the record of the same personality. There have been others who
used the acted drama and the lyric, like Shakespeare; or words and

“Let us see how your thesis works out with music,” says Mrs. Ogi.

Up to the end of the eighteenth century music has been either an adjunct
of religious propaganda, or else a leisure-class plaything and
decoration. The musicians are commanded to come and entertain their
lords and masters, while the latter feast and dance and gossip. The
musician as an artist, a lover of beauty for its own sake, exists at his
own peril. For example, Mozart; at the age of six he was a child
prodigy, exhibited as a curiosity before all the crowned heads of
Europe; but he grew up to a life of slow starvation, and a death from
tuberculosis at the age of thirty-five. The sum total of his earnings
from seven hundred and sixty-nine compositions was not enough to keep
his small family alive.

But now comes a mighty genius, who discovers how to make music an art of
power, an expression of the deepest experiences of the human soul.
Beethoven was born in 1770, his mother being a cook and his father a
broken-down musician drinking himself to death. Beethoven became the
child slave of this drunkard; he was driven by beatings to practice the
piano at the age of four, and at the age of seven had a job in a theater
orchestra. I wonder, when we go to the “movies” and listen to the
banging and scraping, may there be among those servants of imbecility
some lad who is destined to raise the art of music to a new height, and
to die in misery for his pains?

Beethoven went to Vienna to earn his living as entertainer to the
dilettante aristocracy of that pleasure-loving city. He was eccentric,
self-absorbed, possessed by his visions, never happy except when he was
composing, or out in the country where he could give free rein to his
delight in nature. It was his fate to teach music to the children of the
rich, and to play for grown-up rich children in their salons. They were
accustomed to chatter while men of genius attempted to entertain them;
but Beethoven thought his playing was of importance, and when they
failed to keep silence he struck his fist upon the piano keys, and
sprang up, exclaiming: “I will not play for such swine!”

A terrible calamity befell him, the worst that a musician could
imagine--he began to grow deaf. At the age of thirty he could no longer
hear a musical note. That seemed the ruin of his life; his enemies
jeered, saying that he poured out his preposterous compositions because
he did not know how horrible they sounded. Also Beethoven suffered from
near-sightedness, caused by smallpox in childhood. His health at times
gave way entirely, and he contemplated suicide. “My art alone deterred
me,” he wrote.

He was, like Milton, a Puritan, though he did not use the word. He had
an ideal of love, and did not squander himself in casual intrigues. His
profession brought him into intimacy with the ladies of the great world;
they would be overwhelmed by his genius, but then they would think it
over, and realize what it would mean to marry a social inferior--and a
deaf one at that. One brilliant young lady tortured the great man’s
heart, and then went off and married a count. So Beethoven withdrew into
himself, becoming more eccentric, more irritable, and more passionate
and terrifying in his compositions. Said Weber when he heard the Third
Symphony: “Beethoven is now quite mad.”

The composer’s life was one long struggle with poverty and debt. There
were wealthy noblemen in Vienna who appreciated his genius, and wanted
him to stay and play for them; they subscribed an income for him, but
then forgot to pay it, and left him to struggle along. To be sure, he
was none too easy with his patrons; he went to stay with one, and the
good man persisted in taking off his hat every time he laid eyes on
Beethoven. The composer, who abhorred ceremony, ran away.

Beethoven was a reader of Plutarch, and held the ideals of the old Roman
republic; he believed in universal suffrage, and in liberty, and had no
hesitation in voicing his convictions to anyone. He hailed Napoleon as a
defender of liberty, and dedicated his “Eroica” symphony to him. Later
on, when Napoleon accepted a crown, Beethoven changed this dedication,
“To the _memory_ of a great man.” He dedicated another symphony to a
French general, the conqueror of the Bastille; and you can imagine how
reactionary Vienna welcomed that.

After the defeat of Napoleon, the monarchs entered into what they called
the “Holy Alliance,” to rivet Catholic absolutism upon the continent
forever. Vienna became the center of world reaction, and dungeon and
torture were the fate of men who raised their voices for human rights.
Here was Beethoven, old, deaf, and poverty-stricken; but he never
yielded an inch of his principles. “Words are bound in chains,” he said,
“but sounds are still free.” He poured his feelings into his wonderful
Ninth Symphony, which occasioned such a tornado of applause that the
police considered it necessary to interfere.

Here, you see, was no maker of pretty sounds for the entertainment of
the rich; here was a great mind, one who read and thought for himself,
and understood not merely dancing and mating, but the nature of
organized society. In a time of universal subservience and fawning he
clenched his hands and behaved like a democrat. When his brother, full
of the pride of a newly rich bourgeois, presented him with a card
inscribed, “Johann van Beethoven, Land Proprietor,” the composer
scrawled under it, “Ludwig van Beethoven, Brain Proprietor.”

There is a story of his meeting with the poet Goethe. As we shall see,
Goethe had made his way by conforming to the customs of a court; he was
now sixty-three years of age, stiff to the rest of the world, but
pliable to the nobility. Beethoven was forty-two, willing to be humble
to a poet of genius, but not to rank and arrogance. They met in the open
air, in a park where there were many people; and suddenly came word that
the duke and the empress were coming. The people formed two lines, and
stood, hats in hand, to do homage; and Goethe took his place among them.
Beethoven was furious; he remonstrated with the poet in vain, then he
jammed his hat down over his head and strode toward the duke and
empress, and they were the ones who did homage to him. Goethe never
forgot this scene, and he did not care to listen to Beethoven’s music,
because he said he found it “disturbing.”

We are told by our “art for art’s sake” dilettanti that art has nothing
to do with moral questions. Let them take their answer from the father
of modern music, the greatest genius who has used that lofty art. No
higher authority could be found; and his words were these: “I recognize
no sign of superiority in mankind other than goodness.” By that
principle he lived, and by it he wrote; his art is overwhelmingly
ethical, and if we were to tear up every record of his life, every word
in the way of title or dedication or inscription upon his compositions,
if we had nothing but the musical notes of his sonatas and symphonies,
we should get precisely the same impressions; we should know that we
were in the presence of a titanic conflict of the human will against the
forces of fate, the blind cruelties of nature and the deliberate
cruelties of class. We might not know that this man became deaf at the
height of his powers; we might have no definite image to attach to the
terrible hammer strokes of the Fifth Symphony; but we should know that
here is torture, here is defeat and despair crying out, here is
loveliness broken to pieces, trampled, crushed out of life; here also is
man, clenching his hands and setting his teeth in grim resolve,
proclaiming the supremacy of his own spirit, and rising to heights of
power, in which he makes his joy out of the very materials of his
torment. Some friend in Beethoven’s presence called upon God; and the
composer answered with the motto of his life: “O man, help thyself!”



We come now to one of the great intellects of modern times, a genius who
made the culture of Germany known to the rest of the world. He is cited,
along with Shakespeare, as an illustration of how great art holds itself
aloof from propaganda; so it will be worth our while to study him
carefully, and see how he lived and voiced the aristocratic ideals of
his age.

Johann Wolfgang Goethe was born in Frankfort, his father being a wealthy
lawyer. Through his eighty-three years of life he never knew a moment’s
inconvenience or waste of time from poverty. He was sent to the
university, but was not interested in the study of law, which his father
tried to force upon him; he studied the things he cared for, and
incidentally gave himself to a life of pleasure, so that he came home at
the age of nineteen with a severe hemorrhage.

It was the period of “Storm and Stress” in German literature; Rousseau
and his wicked “Romanticism” had crossed the Rhine, and here was all the
youth of Germany revolting against writing poetry in French; they
insisted upon dealing with German heroes and experiencing unrestrained
German emotions. Goethe was reading Shakespeare; and, spurning the
classical forms, he wrote a drama about Goetz von Berlichingen, a
medieval German knight who was big and bold and turbulent. This made
Goethe a hero of the new insurgency. Also he wrote a story entitled “The
Sorrows of Werther,” about a young man who yearned agonizingly for the
wife of his friend, and finally committed suicide. Goethe himself did
not commit suicide, but lived to regret these youthful extravagances.

He fell in love more than once in these tumultuous days, his experience
being exactly the opposite to that of Beethoven; it was the poet who was
aristocratic and prudent, and it was the girl who suffered. Goethe had a
fear of marriage, because it would interfere with his genius; but it is
worth noting that the course he adopted brought him a great deal of
unhappiness and waste of time.

At the age of twenty-six his destiny was decided by a meeting with the
young Duke of Weimar. The duke was twenty, and conceived an intense
admiration for the poet, and besought him to come and live at his court.
To tempt him, and to keep him there, he gave him a beautiful home,
together with some acres of land for a garden, and made him a state
councilor with a salary, and before long gave him a title, enabling him
to put the magic word “von” before his name. Thus Goethe became a court
writer and a court man. You may call him the greatest of court writers
and the most dignified of court men; nevertheless, there is a whole
universe of difference between such a life, and that of an outsider and
rebel like Beethoven.

The only trace of his youthful revolt which Goethe kept was in matters
having to do with himself. He saved part of his time for his work, he
took to traveling to get away from court functions, and in his later
years, secure in his fame and power, he withdrew into his own home, and
the court had to come to him. Thus he maintained the dignity of the
intellectual man; but in his art ideals he became a strong conservative;
and as for political and social ideals, he solved the problem by having
nothing to do with them.

It would be easy to make Goethe less attractive, by mentioning that the
court lady who became his mistress for the next ten years had a husband
somewhere in the background. But that would not be fair, because it was
the custom of the time, and nobody in court saw anything wrong with
adultery. But when Goethe, somewhere around the age of forty, fell very
much in love with a daughter of the people and made her his mistress,
court circles were shocked; they were still more shocked, when, after
she had borne him a son, he brought her to his home; they were
speechless, when in the end he married her. She justified their worst
expectations by turning into a drunkard; and that was hard for a very
dignified and reserved man of letters.

Goethe traveled to Italy, and fell in love with the classical ideal of
art, and wrote an imitation Greek play. Coming back to Weimar, he took
up court duties, including the organizing of a fire brigade and going to
war. The French revolution had come, and King Louis of France was a
prisoner, together with his beautiful Austrian queen, Marie Antoinette,
who had asked why the people did not eat cake if they could not get
bread. The sovereigns of Europe hastened to rescue this brilliant wit,
and to overthrow the monster of revolution. Goethe’s duke went along,
with Goethe in his train. The poet showed his attitude toward the whole
matter by writing a musical comedy while at the training camp, and
gathering botanical specimens during the fighting.

This attitude he explained by saying that he had to shut his eyes to the
events of his time, because otherwise he would have been driven mad. And
I admit that it was painful to see the movement for freedom run wild in
the Terror, and to see it betrayed by Napoleon, and to see the French
people lured into a war of conquest, so that Voltaire’s “l’Infame” was
able to pose as a champion of national freedom, and thus to rivet its
power upon the peoples once again. But why did these things happen? It
was because men of genius and intellect had been indifferent to the
misery of the French people, their degradation and enslavement. It was
because when the people did rise and throw off their tyrants, there were
so few voices to explain the meaning of this event, and to defend the
revolution’s right to be. When Goethe went out with his duke, and lent
the sanction of his name to the counter revolution, it was he who was
making inevitable the Terror, it was he who was delivering the
revolution to Napoleon. Bloodshed and misery overwhelmed Europe for
twenty-five years; and Goethe, by withdrawing to his study and occupying
himself with poetry and scientific research, encouraged the worst
weakness of German philosophy and letters--the tendency to lull itself
with high-sounding, abstract words, while the real life of the nation
goes to the devil.

Reality broke in harshly enough upon this poet. Sixteen years after his
military foray into France, the tables were turned, and Napoleon’s
cannon-balls came tumbling through the beautiful gardens at Weimar. Here
were French troopers, flushed with the victory of Jena, pillaging the
town, robbing the poet of both his wine and his money, and threatening
to kill him in his bed. Two years later came the peace negotiations, and
the poet lent his presence to balls and fetes, and was summoned to an
audience with the master of Europe. He was then fifty-nine years old, a
world genius, and Napoleon was thirty-nine years old, a world conqueror;
the older man went, and permitted himself to be inspected by the
younger. Goethe had a handsome presence, and Napoleon was pleased. “You
are a man!” he exclaimed. “How old are you?” he demanded; and then: “You
are very well preserved”--as if this were a Grecian scholar being
purchased as a slave by a Roman proconsul!

“You have written tragedies?” demanded Napoleon; and a courtier hastened
to mention that the poet had written several--also he had translated
Voltaire’s tragedy, “Mahomet.” “It is not a good piece,” said Napoleon,
and went on to disapprove of dramas in which fate played a part, “What
are they talking about with their fate? La politique est la fatalité.”
Here was an utterance that Goethe might well have applied through all
the rest of his life. I could take it as a motto for this book.
“Politics is fate!” Hardly could one pack more wisdom into five words of
French or three of English!

But Goethe chose to keep his salary and position in the court, and to
overlook the power of organized society over the individual soul. When
the time came for the German people to revolt against Napoleon he had no
word of encouragement--quite the contrary, he pronounced it folly. Nor
had he any word of protest against the cruelties of the Holy Alliance.

Yet, see the inconsistency! His greatest work is “Faust,” a study of the
problem of duty and happiness. Faust tries pleasure, he tries learning
for learning’s sake, and it brings him nothing. In the end he accepts
useful service as the only ideal, and the draining of swamps and
cultivating of land as a moral occupation. But what is the use of such
work, if statesmen are permitted to make war, and to destroy in a few
hours all that generations have built up? You may believe in
aristocratic politics or in democratic politics; but how can you believe
in the possibility of human happiness without wisdom in statesmen?

There is a better side to Goethe, which must not be overlooked. He was
magnanimous, open-minded, and a friend to all men of genius. He met the
poet Schiller, ten years younger than himself, ill in health and
struggling with cruel poverty. Schiller was a poet of freedom, and
stayed that to the end of his life. His first successful drama was “The
Robbers,” a glorification of revolt against medieval tyranny; his last
was “William Tell,” whose hero set Switzerland free from the Austrian
yoke. The fact that Schiller was of humble origin made no difference to
Goethe; he brought the young poet to Weimar, and got him a pension from
the duke, and became his intimate friend.

And that was the best thing that happened in Goethe’s life, for Schiller
with his fine sincerity and idealism drove the older man to work. We are
accustomed to see these two great names coupled together, and the
critics point out that Schiller was the enthusiast, the “propagandist,”
while Goethe, the serene Olympian temperament, was the greater poet. The
critics do not mention that Schiller had to waste most of his life doing
wretched hack work, and died of tuberculosis at the age of forty-six. If
Goethe, with all his leisure and independence, had died at that age, his
greatest work would have been lost.

Can anyone deny that we get a world view from the writings of Goethe;
that he has definite conclusions as to every aspect of human life? Can
anyone deny that his dramas and his novels, even his lyric poems, are
saturated with philosophy? It so happens that his point of view is that
which has been accepted by tradition and critical authority through all
the ages; therefore it slides down easily, it does not taste like
medicine, and we do not think of it as propaganda.

What is this point of view? The world is a place of blind and generally
aimless strife, and scholars and men of genius are powerless to control
it, and can only keep out of its way. “Renounce,” said Goethe; and what
is the first of all things you must renounce? Manifestly, the dream that
you can manage your own time. Live simply, develop your highest
faculties, leave a message and an example to the world; and somehow, at
some future date--you do not attempt to say when or how--this message
and this example may take effect, and truth and justice and mercy may
prevail. Meantime, since you must live, and since the ruling classes own
all the means of life, you must be polite to them, you must fit yourself
into their ways, you must be a gentleman, a courtier, a man of property.

Thus by your example and daily practice you become a prop to the
established order; and by the automatic operation of economic forces you
become less and less tolerant of all rebels and disturbers of the peace.
Because you know only the wealthy and the noble, you come to deal with
them exclusively in your art works, you interpret their feelings, and
behold life from their point of view. All critics unite in declaring
that this is Reality, this is Nature, this is Art; while to object to
this, and voice any other point of view, is Idealism, Preaching, and



Spreading the magic carpet of the imagination, we take flight from the
free and easy court of Weimar to the home of an English rector, where
impropriety is scarcely whispered, and where a little old maid of genius
lives amid tea-parties and the embroidering of linen and the visiting
of the poor, interrupted at intervals by the major crises of births,
marriages and deaths.

Jane Austen was the youngest of seven children, who dwelt together in
that amity which the Bible recommends but which frail humanity
infrequently realizes. She was a genius without eccentricities, egotisms
or rebellions; never did a writer of immortal books live a more
conventional life or have less to write about. She had no literary
friends, not even at the end of her life. Her best work was done at the
age of twenty-two, and was a secret kept from the members of her family.
She wrote on little sheets of paper, which could be quickly hidden under
a blotter or a piece of “fancy work.” Her books were not published until
late in her life, and then they were published anonymously. She died of
tuberculosis at the age of forty-two.

The characters in her novels are the people of the world she knew. Her
theme is, of course, the theme of all bourgeois fiction, the property
marriage. Here we see the golden love-glints flashing from Cupid’s eyes;
here we see the fortunes sailing about upon breezes of emotion; here we
see Sensibility controlled by Sense.

Not great fortunes, you understand, but modest ones, such as entitle one
to be on the visiting list of an English country rector. A fortune
sufficient to enable the hero to escape the inconvenience of working,
and to live in the country and exhibit to mankind a beautiful and
graceful specimen of the human race. A fortune sufficient to enable him
to marry a lady of Sense and Sensibility, and to provide her with a
beautiful home and a garden, and a few servants, and maintenance for
whatever number of children it may please Providence to send. That is
the sort of fortune for which Jane Austen’s heroines are competing, and
which each of them invariably gets--the bourgeois happy ending.

Do not misunderstand me: her heroines are not mercenary--that is, not
with their conscious minds. The mercenary elements in their lives are
instinctive and conventional; the laws of the British leisure classes,
of “gentlefolk.” These laws Jane Austen never questioned, nor does
anyone of her heroines ever question them. Therefore it is possible for
these ladies to be mercenary to the point of ferocity, yet at the same
time to be sentimental and even charming.

If you travel through the Jane Austen country you find the roads lined
with hedge-rows, which bear flowers in the springtime, and are full of
birds, and afford opportunity for delightful descriptions in novels;
also they afford thrilling adventures, because a heroine can stand
behind a hedge-row and listen to her best friend discussing her to her
lover. Outside these hedge-rows walk common people of all sorts; farm
laborers on their way to fourteen hours of animal-like toil; factory
workers, pale and stunted; soldiers on the march; able seamen paying a
visit to home; tradesmen, tourists--all sorts of persons one does not
know. Behind the hedge-rows dwell the “gentlefolk,” carefully guarded by
the police magistrates; and the common people never by any chance
penetrate the hedge-rows, except in the capacity of servants. So the
young ladies of the “gentle” family meet no men save such as have been
carefully investigated and approved; so it is possible for these ladies
to be full of Sensibility--that is, quivering with excitement at the
male approach--and yet entirely innocent of mercenary motives, and
entirely safe from the danger of making an unmercenary match.

How perfectly this system works you may note in Jane Austen’s novels.
There are eight heroines, and eight fortunes to be married. One of the
heroines takes the risk of marrying a clergyman who has no money except
his “living.” Two others marry clergymen who, in addition to their
“livings,” have good financial prospects. The other five marry
non-clerical gentlemen of wealth. Mostly these fortunes come from land;
everywhere over the Jane Austen novel there hovers a magic presence
known as the “entailed estate.” In only one case is there any hint of
vulgar origin for the fortune, in a recent connection with “trade.” Of
all the fortunes, only one has actually been gained by the man who
possesses it and bestows it upon the heroine; and this man has gained it
in a most respectable Christian way--that is to say, not by “trade,” but
by killing and robbery. He has been a naval captain, and brings home his
share of the prizes taken.

The great crimes and horrors of the world lie outside the hedge-rows
surrounding the Jane Austen rectory. We can hear the guns and smell the
powder smoke, but the deadly missiles never pass the magic barrier. Two
of Jane’s brothers are naval officers, and they come and go in imposing
uniforms; the Napoleonic wars are on, and they are guarding the channel,
and in later life become admirals. An intimate friend of the family is
Warren Hastings, who conquered India for the British; when he was placed
on trial for wholesale graft, he explained by saying that when he
considered his opportunities, he marveled, not that he had taken so
much, but that he had not taken more. Nothing of anything like this
enters into the novels.

What does enter are the quiverings of Sensibility, the ups and downs of
the “tender emotions.” When we were children we used to take a daisy and
pull off the petals, and with petal number one we would say: “He loves
me,” and with petal number two: “He loves me not,” and so on. With petal
number one our heart goes up, and with petal number two it goes down.
There is another question, equally thrilling: “Do I love him, or do I
not?” Many things get in the way; Pride and Prejudice, for example. It
is hard to know our own minds; and sometimes when we hesitate too long,
it is necessary for the older members of our family to apply Persuasion.
(I am making puns on the titles of the novels.)

I would not be understood to disparage this little English old maid. She
did not make her world, in which the father of the family preaches in
the name of the Prince of Peace, and the sons go out to kill and loot.
She is a most charming and witty old maid, and her queer people are
alive in every throb of their quivering hearts. She was a sly little
body, and we suspect her of knowing more than she tells. There was a
terrible scandal whispered concerning her, which she vehemently denied;
we hate to pass it on, but this is a book of plain speaking and we have
to do our duty--so let it be recorded that some of the neighbors
suspected Jane Austen of watching them at tea-parties and church fairs,
with the intention of putting their peculiarities into her books!



Upon our first visit to Scotland we kept low company; but now we return
to dwell in a castle, and play the host to our Sovereign Lord the King.

Walter Scott was born in Edinburgh in 1771, the son of a prosperous
lawyer who held the high office of sheriff. The father made a specialty
of his country’s antiquities, and the boy was brought up, as it were, in
the property-room of a moving picture studio. He was lame, which made it
impossible for him to repeat the valorous deeds of his ancestors; so he
took to dreams, and gave the world a new form of art, the historical

The French revolution occurred in his youth, and he reacted from it as
did all his class. It was the job of British Toryism to crush the
republican idea; with money derived from the trade of the whole world,
it subsidized the kings and emperors of Europe in their attacks upon
France. The result was to raise up Napoleon, and before Napoleon was
beaten Europe had waded through twenty-five years of blood. Walter
Scott’s function was to glorify the ancient loyalties and pieties in
whose name that world-crime was committed; and for his services he was
made a baronet, and paid a million dollars, equal to five or ten times
as much in our money.

Personally he was a generous and kindly gentleman, but he lent his name
and influence to the most vicious rowdies of his party. Nor was he
content with writing; he turned out and did his part as a smasher of the
“Reds.” At the age of forty-one we find him writing to the poet Southey
like an earlier incarnation of Attorney-General Palmer. “You are quite
right in apprehending a _Jacquerie_; the country is mined below our
feet.” He goes on to tell how he discovered a meeting of weavers in a
large manufacturing village, and how he did his duty as an officer of
the law. “I apprehended the ringleaders and disconcerted the whole
project; but in the course of my inquiries, imagine my surprise at
discovering a bundle of letters and printed manifestoes, from which it
appeared that the Manchester Weavers’ Committee corresponds with every
manufacturing town in the South and West of Scotland, and levies a
subsidy of 2s. 6d. per man--(an immense sum)--for the ostensible purpose
of petitioning Parliament for redress of grievances, but doubtless to
sustain them in their revolutionary movements. An energetic
administration, which had the confidence of the country, would soon
check all this; but it is our misfortune to lose the pilot when the ship
is on the breakers. But it is sickening to think of our situation.”

Walter Scott’s literary career began with narrative poems based upon the
love-makings and quarrelings of old Scottish chieftains. Then he began
writing novels on these same themes, and it was as if he had struck a
pick into a pit full of golden nuggets. To his Tory age he came as a
heaven-sent magician with exactly the right spells to prop up the
tottering old system. The public began to buy the Waverley novels so
fast that it was impossible to get them bound in time. England went wild
over them, and Europe as well; one million, four hundred thousand
volumes were sold in France alone. This was the time of the “Holy
Alliance,” and another King Louis had been set upon the French throne.

It was not quite the proper thing for an eminent legal gentleman to
write novels, so Scott published the books anonymously, and always
denied their authorship; but he did not refuse to take the money. He was
a fluent writer, and could turn out a volume in a month or six weeks,
and would get a thousand pounds before he had finished it. Never was
there such prosperity, since the days of Aladdin and his wonderful lamp.

Our Tory novelist was a big overgrown boy; he could never have written
such propaganda otherwise. He began to spend his money as a boy would
spend it--to make real the world of chivalry and romance in nineteenth
century Scotland, fully launched into the age of capitalist
industrialism! He built himself an imitation castle of colossal size,
“with a tall tower at either end ... sundry zigzagged gables ... a
myriad of indentations and parapets, and machicolated eaves; most
fantastic waterspouts; labelled windows, not a few of them painted glass
... stones carved with heraldries innumerable.” And inside, of course,
were all the stage properties, “cuirasses, helmets, swords of every
order, from the claymore and rapier to some German executioner’s
swords.” Here our hero kept open house to all the world of rank and
fashion, with gay hunting parties and dances, drinking bouts, and
singing of ballads and the sounding of pibrochs. It was his aim, in his
own words, “to found a family”; besides becoming a baron, he married his
eldest son to an heiress, and the climax of his career came when King
George IV came to visit his northern dominion, and to be the novelist’s

It so happened that this king was an odious fat lecher; but that made no
difference, he was Sir Walter’s Most Gracious and Sovereign Lord. In an
ecstasy of loyalty, the novelist took possession of a glass from which
His Majesty had drunk a toast. This was to be preserved as the most
sacred of the treasures of Abbotsford; but, alas, the novelist put it in
his pocket, and in a moment of absent-mindedness sat down on it, and cut
himself severely! It did not occur to his pious soul that this might be
an effort of Providence to teach him something about drinking, or about
the worship of lecherous kings.

Here in Hollywood we see these magic castles arise on the movie lots; we
see the costumes reproduced with minute exactitude, and then surmounting
them we see the heads of screen dolls, male and female, lounge lizards
and jazz dancers and queens from department stores and manicure parlors.
And just so it is in the novels of Sir Walter: the costumes and scenery
are those of old-time Scotland, but the characters are the gentlemen and
servants and tenants of Scott’s own neighborhood. He had creative energy
and a sense of humor, he makes the game very real, and we can enjoy it,
provided we know what we are getting. It is not even Scott’s own time,
it is merely the Tory propaganda of that time. It is medievalism and
absolutism dressed up and glorified, with every trace of blood and filth
and horror wiped away; a fictionized sermon upon the text: Vote the
Conservative ticket.

But alas for the dreams of stand-pat poets! First came the ruin of his
personal hopes. Among the rascals of his gang were two who persuaded him
into a publishing business, to reap the millions out of his popularity.
They stole everything in sight, and then went bankrupt, and left him at
the age of fifty-five with a debt of a hundred and seventeen thousand
pounds. He set to work to write pot-boilers and pay it off; an action
which has made him a hero to his biographers. And of course, it is an
honorable thing for an artist to pay his debts; we all know that most
disagreeable of characters, the Bohemian genius who borrows from
everybody he meets and repays nothing. But it seems necessary to point
out that a novelist owes two debts; one to his business creditors, and
the other to those who are to read his books in future time. We are not
satisfied with Sir Walter’s pot-boilers, and we deny that a man of
genius has a right to drive himself to death and bring on a stroke of
paralysis in four years, in order to satisfy a romantic dream of honor.

Equally pitiful was the wreck of Sir Walter’s political ideals. In vain
did he glorify the loyalty of the Scotch peasants, their fidelity to
their lairds; in vain was all his hounding of the rebellious weavers
with the weapons of the law. They continued to organize, and the
peasants began to mutter and snarl; they wanted the vote, they clamored
for rights both political and economic. A most wicked project known as
the Reform Bill came up before Parliament, to give the vote to common
working people; and Sir Walter, sixty years old and ill, persisted in
taking part in the campaign. He made a speech in which he warned the
audience that all these licentious movements came from France. This was
forty years after the French revolution, and the Bolshevik bogie had
lost its power to terrify; Sir Walter was hissed by his audience. Later
on he personally saw to the arrest of a radical rascal on the street,
and got himself stoned and mobbed. It was a shock he never got over, and
he carried the memory to his grave a year or two later.

Fate is usually kind to aged Tories of this sort; it takes them off the
stage of life before the failure of their hopes is too apparent. Imagine
the shock to this chivalrous old soul if he could come out of his grave
today, and visit the House of Parliament, and hear the “left wing”
members, elected from his beloved highlands, shouting for the
Dictatorship of the Proletariat! Now indeed would he say: “The country
is mined below our feet!”



The effect of the French revolution upon poets is a subject of especial
interest to us, because the period is so nearly identical with our own.
There were several English poets whose reactions to the great event it
will pay us to consider.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge was a clergyman’s son, born in 1772, so that he
was twenty-one years old when King Louis’ head fell into the basket of
the guillotine. At that time Coleridge was traveling about giving
Unitarian lectures, a most revolutionary occupation. He met another
young enthusiast, Robert Southey, and they had a Utopian dream of a free
community on the banks of the Susquehanna River. It was to be called the
Pantisocracy, and to get funds Coleridge set out to canvass for his
Unitarian paper. The dream ended when the two poets married sisters.

At the age of twenty-eight we find Coleridge in the full tide of the
reaction against France. One of the organs of the Tory party, the London
“Morning Post,” is paying him a salary to write articles clamoring for
renewal of the war on the French republic; it was said in Parliament
that the rupture of the peace was brought about by these articles. For
the balance of his days the one-time Unitarian was a pillar of the
Anglican church, and of every form of reaction. He had become a devotee
of German metaphysics, also of opium; a wanderer and a wreck, living on
charity, and planning colossal literary labors which came to nothing. He
was sent to a nursing-home under the charge of a physician, where he
died at the age of sixty-two.

So much for the life; and now for the poetry. There are only a few
hundred lines of it, all written before the poet entered the Tory
service. A study of it makes clear the spiritual tragedy; it is poetry
of emotion and music, with a total absence of judgment and will. From
only one of the poems, “The Ancient Mariner,” can you extract a human
meaning; that if one man commits an act of cruelty against a bird, the
moral forces of the universe will punish a shipload of innocent men,
sparing only the one who is guilty!

It is the poetry of opium. Indeed, the most famous of all the verses,
“Kubla Khan,” was actually an opium dream, transferred to paper after
return to consciousness--

“Now, hold on a moment,” says Mrs. Ogi. “Here is a letter from a Poet.
You are going to have a lot of them reading this book, and wanting to
pull your hair out; so you might as well have it out with them now. This
Poet names ‘Kubla Khan’ as the perfect type of the ‘pure’ poem.”

“I know. Swinburne calls it, ‘for absolute melody and splendor the first
poem in the language.’ It happens that the first five lines sum up the
whole; so it will pay us to stop and analyze them, take them apart,
syllable by syllable, and see how the trick is done. I quote the lines;
and in order to play fair with the poet, shut your eyes and give
yourself up to his spell. If you have any feeling for beauty of words,
you will feel a chill running up and down your spine.”

    In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
      A stately pleasure-dome decree:
    Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
    Through caverns measureless to man
      Down to a sunless sea.

First of all, note the meter; every long syllable is naturally long, and
every short syllable is naturally short; so the lines flow softly, like
running waves. Not merely are the rhymes perfect, there are hidden
rhymes scattered through the lines; the Xanadu and Khan, also the two
u’s in the first line, and the two a’s in the fourth line. Note the
repetition of the consonant sounds. The X in the first line is
pronounced as K; and we have seen shrewd business men in the United
States collect many millions of dollars from the American people by the
magic of the letter K three times repeated. There are two d’s in the
second line, four r’s in the third, two m’s in the fourth, two s’s in
the fifth. There is not a single harsh sound in the entire five lines;
they have every musical charm that is possible to words.

So much for the sounds; and now for the sense. Let us take it word by
word, and see what it tells us. Xanadu: a place you never heard of,
therefore mysterious, stimulating to the imagination; taken in
connection with Kubla Khan, it suggests Tartar despotism, cruelty,
terror. “A stately pleasure-dome”: magnificence in the fashion of the
Arabian Nights, extravagance, a free rein to desire. The word “decree”
reinforces this; suggesting an Oriental despot, who follows his whims
without restraint. “Alph”: an unknown stream, therefore mysterious. “The
sacred river”: this reinforces the idea of despotism, adding to our fear
of earthly kings that of an all-powerful one in heaven. “Caverns
measureless to man”: again mystery, and the fear which the unknown
inspires. “Sunless sea”: this clenches the impression; for without the
sun there can be no life, and the picture is the last word in

The rest of the poem is in the same key. We hear about “ancestral voices
prophesying war,” and a stream haunted “by woman wailing for her demon
lover.” We are told about “an Abyssinian maid,” “a damsel with a
dulcimer,” etc.

Note that everyone of these images appeals to reactionary emotions, fear
or sensuality; By sensuality the reason is dragged from its throne;
while fear destroys all activity of the mind, causing abasement and
submission. Moreover--and here is the point essential to our
argument--almost every image in this poem turns out on examination to be
a lie. There is no such place as Xanadu; and Kubla Khan has nothing to
teach us but avoidance. His pleasures were bloody and infamous, and
there was nothing “stately” about his “pleasure-dome.” There never was a
river Alph, and the sacredness of any river is a fiction of a priestly
caste, preying on the people. There are no “caverns measureless to man”;
while as for a “sunless sea,” a few arc-lights would solve the problem.
The “woman wailing for her demon lover” is a savage’s nightmare; while
as for the “Abyssinian maid,” she would have her teeth blackened and
would stink of rancid palm oil.

From the beginning to the end, the poem deals with things which are
sensual, cruel, and fatal to hope. These old fears and cravings are
buried deep in our subconsciousness; the poet touches them, and they
quiver inside us, and we don’t know what it means, so we call it
“magic.” That is the favorite term of the art for art’s sakers; they
don’t know what this “magic” is, and they don’t want to know, but the
psychoanalyst tells them.

Says Mrs. Ogi: “Our Poet will be pained. He lives by magic, and you seek
to destroy it!”

Says Ogi: “There are emotions equally thrilling, equally wonderful,
which are stirred by the discovery of new truth and the contemplation of
progress. What I am trying to do is to persuade the poets to use their
brains and common sense, and apply melody and beauty of sound to the
good things of the future, instead of to the evil things of the past.”

“Give them a few illustrations,” says Mrs. Ogi.

“I will name eight things which have been in my daily newspapers during
the past week, any one of which is every bit as exciting, every bit as
provocative of ecstasy as ‘Kubla Khan.’

“Number One: The air is full of music, traveling half way round the
earth. Number Two: Aeroplanes are circling the earth for the first time
in history. Number Three: A scientist has given his life in the effort
to find a cure for cancer. Number Four: Mars is coming nearer, and we
have a chance to learn how the canals are made, and perhaps to get
messages from a new race. Number Five: In a physics laboratory, only two
or three miles from our home, men are taking the atom to pieces and
preparing to extract its energy. Number Six: We are discovering how to
take control of our subconscious minds and master our hidden life.
Number Seven: A group of scientists in New York are exploring, by means
of laboratory tests, the energies we call ‘psychic.’ Number Eight: In
every civilized country today the workers are organizing themselves to
put an end to parasitism based upon class privilege.

“Here are eight themes for poets, every one of which has the advantage
of being real, and not fading away upon analysis. Here are
pleasure-domes that are truly “stately,” rivers that are truly “sacred,”
caverns that are truly “measureless to man.” These modern themes have
only one drawback, from the point of view of the poet; they require him
to think as well as to feel!”



Another poet who was frightened out of his wits by the French revolution
was Robert Southey. But he took to respectability instead of to opium.

He was born in 1774, the son of a linen draper. At the age of nineteen
he was full of Rousseau, Goethe, and the “infidelity” of Gibbon. He was
so keen for France that he wrote an epic about Joan of Arc; also he
planned the “Pantisocracy” with Coleridge. But then he married the other
sister, and was shocked by the Terror; a wealthy man gave him an
annuity, and he settled down to write long and romantic poems about
princes and conquerors, Celtic, Mexican, Arab, Indian--stage properties
from all over the world, combined with standard British moralizing.

In less than ten years we find Southey evolved into a pillar of
reaction; at the age of thirty-three he received a pension from the
government, and two years later he joined Walter Scott and Gifford as
the literary whips of the Tory party. They published the “Quarterly
Review,” and we shall see before long what they did to Byron, Shelley
and Keats. At thirty-nine Southey became the laureate, and delivered the
customary New Year’s ode in support of church and state; a procedure his
biographer defends by explaining that he “was earning a provision for
his girls.” It is of course a pleasant thing for a poet with many
daughters to save up the purchase price of a husband for each; but what
about the cotton spinners, whose ten-year-old daughters were working
fourteen and sixteen hours a day in the mills, with the Tory squirarchy
taxing the bread out of their mouths?

For centuries the literary jackals who served the British ruling classes
had starved in garrets; but now their services were beginning to be
appreciated, and they were admitted to the class they defended. The
diligent Southey wrote a “Naval Biography,” a hymn of praise to
Britain’s sea-lords, and got five hundred pounds per volume for it, and
established himself as England’s leading man of letters.

But alas, there was a skeleton in his literary closet. In his youth he
had written a poem in praise of Watt Tyler, proletarian rebel of old
England; and now someone got hold of the manuscript, and published it
secretly, and Southey’s frantic efforts in the courts failed to stop it.
Sixty thousand copies were sold, and a member of Parliament stood up and
read extracts from it, side by side with the laureate’s latest article
in the “Quarterly Review,” denouncing parliamentary reform. To the
respectability of Southey’s time this reading was an outrage, but for my
part, it is the only reading of Southey I ever enjoyed. Here was a
scholar, standing on his literary dignity--and what was his attitude to
his fellow authors who had not sold out? He clamored for Hunt and
Hazlitt to be deported to a penal settlement; while for Byron he wanted
“the whip and the branding-iron”!

We today know Southey by his “Life of Nelson,” which serves as required
reading in most American high schools. We are told that this is because
it is a great work of literature, but the true reason is because it is a
work of propaganda for the Army and Navy League. If you want to study
the art of hero-making, note the biographer’s deft handling of the Lady
Hamilton episode of Nelson’s career. This regulation movie “vamp” had
married an English nobleman in his dotage; and she got hold of Nelson in
Naples, where she was the favorite of an unspeakably corrupt court.
Southey tells us there was nothing “criminal” in the hero’s relationship
to this lady; which is the English way of stating that Nelson did not
commit adultery. If this be true, it is rather singular that Nelson
should have believed himself the father of Lady Hamilton’s two children!

The queen of this Neapolitan court was a sister of Marie Antoinette, the
French queen who had told the people to eat cake if they could not get
bread; and through Lady Hamilton’s hold on Nelson, he was led to use the
British fleet in furtherance of Neapolitan royalist conspiracies, and in
defiance of orders from home. But you don’t find any of that in Southey!
You are told that when Nelson returned to England, he “separated from”
his wife; the fact being that his wife left him because he insisted on
bringing the “vamp” lady to live in the home with her! In view of these
details, I asked Americans to consider whether it would not be better
for their children to read about the democratic English heroes, such as
John Milton and Oliver Cromwell and Isaac Newton and John Ruskin and
Keir Hardie?



One more, and we are done with the melancholy tale of the poets who ran
away from the French revolution.

William Wordsworth was born in 1770, his father being lawyer to a noble
earl who robbed him of five thousand pounds. That may possibly have
accounted for some of the early rebellious emotions of the poet. He was
graduated from Cambridge at the age of twenty-one, and went to France at
the height of the revolutionary fervor. He has told us in his verse of
the stirrings which then possessed him; to be young at such a time “was
very heaven.”

But the poet, in telling us about his experiences in France, left out a
vital part thereof. The story had to wait a century and a quarter before
a professor of Princeton University dug it out. While Wordsworth was
abroad he carried on an affair with a young French girl of good family.
She bore him a daughter, but he did not marry her; instead, he came back
to England, and lived most piously with his sister, and became a
preacher of the proprieties. We can understand how, looking back on
France, it seemed to him a land of license, meriting stern rebuke from a
British moralist.

His first book of poems, “Lyrical Ballads,” was published in 1798. He
had by then become a reactionary in religion and politics, but in poetry
he was an innovator, because he dealt with the simple, every-day
feelings of his own heart, and with the peasant people of his
neighborhood. He was mercilessly ridiculed by the critics, and retired
into himself, to live a frugal life upon an income of a hundred pounds a
year, bequeathed to him by a well-to-do friend. In the course of time
the British ruling class realized that there was no real harm in this
nature-mystic, and at the age of forty-three he received a salary as a
distributor of stamps; nine years later an annuity was allowed him, and
a year after that he became poet laureate. He passionately opposed every
political reform, and composed a series of “Ecclesiastical Sonnets,”
dealing with the church rigmarole of England; also a pamphlet bitterly
attacking the proposition to run a railroad into the country of his
dreams. At the age of seventy-five we find him, white-haired and
venerable, kneeling, in the presence of a large assembly, to kiss the
hand of an extremely dull young girl by the name of Victoria.

Wordsworth was one of the teachers of my youth, and I do not want to be
unjust to him because he turned Tory before thirty. What we have to do
is to understand him, and to draw a moral from him. The worship of
Nature is like the worship of God; as a rule it is a reactionary
influence, cutting one off from real life; but here and there it may be
a source of inner energy, enabling a man to stand for his own
convictions against the world. To Wordsworth in his early days Nature
was that, and no poet has uttered in more noble and beautiful language
this sense of oneness with the great mother of all life. His writing at
its best is as beautiful, and also as sound, as anything in English.

But here is the point to get clear: practically all this poetry was
written in eight years; you might count on your ten fingers and ten toes
all the lines that Wordsworth wrote after the age of thirty-five which
are worth anyone’s while to read. In my youth, when I was studying
poetry, it was my habit to go through a poet, beginning with the first
page of volume one and ending with the last page of volume five, or ten,
or whatever it might be. In the case of Wordsworth, it was volume
twelve, and he was the one poet with whom I fell down. The
“Ecclesiastical Sonnets” finished me; I testify that of all the dreary
drivel in the world’s literature, this carries the prize.

There were two men in Wordsworth: the instinctive man, who experienced
overwhelming feelings, and the conscious man, who was terrified by those
feelings. This is no guess of mine, but something which Wordsworth
himself explained over and over again: “My apprehensions come in
crowds.... My former thoughts returned: the fear that kills.... Me this
unchartered freedom tires; I feel the weight of chance desires.” So the
Wordsworth who believed in the Tory party and the Thirty-nine Articles
put the screws on the poet, and not merely the emotions, but the brains
of a great genius withered before the age of forty.

The cases of Coleridge, Southey and Wordsworth suggest the inquiry: is
it possible for a great poet to be a conservative? In old times, yes;
for the conservatives then had something to say for themselves. But in
the last hundred years the meaning of the class struggle has become so
apparent, the consequences of class exploitation have become so obvious,
that a man who fails to see them must be deficient in intelligence, a
man who fails to care about them must be deficient in heart and
conscience; and these are things without which great poetry cannot be



Fortunately not all the poets of England let themselves be frightened
into reaction by the French revolution.

George Gordon, Lord Byron, was born in 1788. His father was a rake and
blackguard. “Your mother is a fool,” said a schoolmate; and Byron
answered, “I know it.” This, you must admit, was a poor start in life
for a boy. He had a club foot, concerning which he was frightfully
sensitive; but in other ways he was divinely handsome, and much sought
after by the ladies; so he alternated between fits of solitude and
melancholy, and other fits of amorous excess. Being a lord, he was a
great person all his life. Being a man of genius, he enormously
increased his greatness. He lived always before the world, in one
sublime pose or another, and composed whole epics about himself and his

He traveled, and became a cosmopolitan figure, and wild tales were
spread concerning his adventures in Europe. Then he came back to
England, and published a poem, “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage,” which made
such a sensation as Britain had never known before. “I awoke one morning
and found myself famous,” he said. But he affected to despise this fame;
he, a noble lord, must not be confused with vulgar writing fellows. He
would toss a manuscript to his publishers with a careless
gesture--though the manuscript might be worth one or two thousand
pounds. I cannot recall any high-up aristocrat who achieved literary
greatness to compare with Byron; he was the first lord of letters of
that age and of all ages.

He composed a series of verse romances, tales of Eastern despots and
their crimes, in the fashion of the day. They were full of melody and
rhythm, and their heroes were always that melancholy, sublime, outlaw
figure which we known as “Byronic.” This autobiographic hero was eagerly
taken up by the fashionable world, especially the female part. One great
lady, already supplied with a husband, adored the poet wildly, then
despised him, threatened to kill him, attacked him in a novel, and
finally, when she met his funeral cortege in the street, fainted and
went insane.

He married an heiress, quite cynically for her money, spent the money,
and had everything he owned attached by his creditors. Then his wife
left him, with hints of mysterious wickedness. He was overwhelmed by a
storm of abuse, and went into exile for the rest of his life. The wife
never told her story, but many years later the American novelist,
Harriet Beecher Stowe, published what she claimed was the truth, that
Byron had been guilty of incest with his half-sister. His lordship had
by that time become a “standard author,” and the critics were outraged
by Mrs. Stowe’s indiscretion; even now they do not speak out loud about
the matter.

In Switzerland the poet met Shelley, the best influence that ever came
into his life. He recognized this new friend as the purest soul he knew,
and praised his character ardently in his letters, though he never paid
the public tribute to Shelley’s writings which they deserved. Shelley
turned Byron’s thoughts to politics, and he wrote “The Prisoner of
Chillon,” one of the noblest of his poems. But then he went off to
Venice, and amused himself with numerous intrigues, and got fat. He
began “Don Juan,” a new kind of epic poem, mocking itself, as well as
everything else. It is a hateful picture of a hateful world, but it has
almost infinite verve and energy, and we recognize in it a great spirit
trying to lift itself above an age of corruption by the instrument of

It was the time of the “Holy Alliance,” and the few men who cared for
freedom were living in exile or hiding from the police. Byron associated
with these revolutionists, and gave them both money and his name. He
became a neighbor of Shelley’s, and again immersed himself in politics
and literature. He wrote his drama “Cain,” in which he deals with the
problems of human fate from the revolutionary point of view. To the
religionists of the time, this was most awful blasphemy; the poet
Southey frothed at the mouth, and wrote his “Vision of Judgment,”
portraying the damnation of Byron. His angry lordship came back with a
poem of the same name--so effective that the publisher was jailed for
six months! One stanza, describing the poet laureate, will serve for a
sample of Byron’s fighting mood:

    He had written praises of a regicide;
      He had written praises of all kings whatever;
    He had written for republics far and wide,
      And then against them bitterer than ever:
    For pantisocracy he once had cried
      Aloud, a scheme less moral than ’twas clever;
    Then grew a hearty anti-jacobin--
    Had turned his coat--and would have turned his skin.

Byron had now become the voice of liberty against reaction throughout
Europe. And this was a brand new thing, seeming a kind of insanity to
the Tories. There had been an abundance of dissipated lords, but never
before a lord of revolt! Byron joined the secret society of the
Carbonari, and took part in their attempt to free Italy. When they
failed, he was not discouraged, but wrote: “There will be blood shed
like water, and tears like mist; but the peoples will conquer in the
end.” In those words we know the voice of a thinker and a man.

He was now thirty-five years of age, restless, tormented by a sense of
futility. The Greek people were carrying on a war for liberation against
the Turks, and Byron went to help them, and thus set a crown upon his
life. He died of a fever, early in the campaign; and so today, when we
think of him, we think not merely of a nobleman and a poet, but of a man
who laid down wealth and fame and worldly position for the greatest of
all human ideals.

In the beginning he had written to amuse himself and his readers; he had
catered to their sentimentalism and their folly. But in the end he came
to despise his readers, and wrote only to shock them. They had made a
world of lies; and one man would tell them the truth. That is why today
we rank him as a world force in the history of letters. We are no longer
the least bit thrilled by his wickedness; we think of such things as
pathological and are moved only to pity. We do not see anything
picturesque about a great lord who travels over Europe with a train of
horses and carriages, dogs, fowls, monkeys, servants, and mistresses;
the Sunday supplements of our newspapers have over-supplied us with such
material. But we are interested in a poet who possessed a clear eye and
a clear brain, who saw the truth, and spoke it to all Europe, and helped
to set free the future of the race.



Percy Bysshe Shelley was born in 1792, which made him four years younger
than Byron. His father was the richest baronet in the county of Sussex,
a great landlord and a ferocious Tory, who typified the spirit of his
age and drove his son almost to madness.

The boy was sent to school at Eton, a dreadful place inhabited by gnomes
who wear all day the clothes which our little rich boys wear to evening
parties, and the hats which our grown-up rich boys wear to the opera.
They had a system of child slavery known as “fagging,” and Shelley
revolted against it and was tortured. He was a swift, proud spirit, made
frantic by the sight or even the thought of tyranny; so sensitive that
he swooned at the scent of the flowers in the Alpine valleys. He was
gifted with a marvelous mind, ravenous for knowledge, and absorbing it
at incredible speed.

He went to Oxford, where at the age of nineteen he published a pamphlet
entitled, “The Necessity for Atheism.” A reading discloses that the
title might better have been “The Necessity for Abolishing
Ecclesiasticism Masquerading as Christianity.” But it is not likely that
such a change of title would have helped Shelley, who was
unceremoniously kicked out of the university, and cast off by the Tory
baronet who controlled his purse-strings.

So we find him, an outcast in London, living in lodgings and almost
starving. He met a girl of sixteen, the daughter of a coffee-house
proprietor, and hoping to convert her to his sublime faith, he ran away
and married her. At the age of twenty we find him in Ireland, issuing an
“Address to the Irish People” and circulating it on the streets. The
scholarly critics of Shelley speak of this as the absurd extravagance of
boyhood; whereas it was plain common sense and the obvious moral duty of
every English poet. Infinitely touching it is to read this pamphlet, and
note its beauty of spirit and sublimity of faith, not exceeded by the
utterances of Jesus. All that was wrong with Shelley’s advice was that
it was too good both for Ireland and England. For distributing it
Shelley’s servant was sent to jail for six months.

The poet’s wife had no understanding of his ideals, and the couple were
unhappy. After two years of married life, Shelley met the
sixteen-year-old daughter of Godwin, revolutionary philosopher, and ran
away with her. That was the crime of his life, for which he was
condemned to infamy by his own time, and has hardly yet been pardoned.
Two years later his former wife drowned herself; and the British lord
chancellor deprived the poet of the custody of their two children, on
the ground that he was an unfit person. We shall discuss the ethics of
this affair later on. Suffice it for the moment to say that Shelley,
broken in heart but not in will, fled to the Continent for refuge, and
devoted the last four years of his life to the task of overthrowing the
British caste system. A hundred years have passed, and he has not yet
succeeded; but let no one be too sure that he will not succeed in the

He lived in Switzerland and Italy, and worked with desperate intensity,
so that he brought on tuberculosis. There are no four years in the life
of any other writer which gave us such treasures of the mind and spirit.
The critics of Shelley judge him by his boyhood and his horrible
scandal. But taking these last years, the impression we get is of
maturity of mind, dignity of spirit, firmness of judgment. If you want
to know this Shelley, read the wonderful letters he wrote from
Switzerland. Read his essay, recently discovered and published, “A
Philosophical View of Reform,” in which the whole program of radical
propaganda is laid out with perfect insight and beauty of utterance.
Read “The Defense of Poetry,” one of the finest pieces of eloquence in
English. Note the soundness of his critical judgment, which erred in
only one respect--an under-estimate of his own powers. He was humble to
Byron, a lesser person both as poet and as man.

One after another Shelley now poured out the marvelous works on which
his fame is based. He took the old myth of Aeschylus and wrote a drama,
“Prometheus Unbound,” which might be described as the distilled essence
of revolt, the most modern of philosophical dramas, proclaiming the
defiance of the human spirit to all ordained gods. At the other extreme,
and written in the same year, was “The Cenci,” a tragic story out of
Renaissance Italy, human and simple, therefore poignant and real. The
poet Keats died, and Shelley wrote “Adonais”--and those who think that
art exists for art’s sake and beauty for beauty’s sake, make note that
here is a work which combines all the perfections of poetry, and yet has
a moral, a fighting message.

He wrote also political comedies in the style of
Aristophanes--representing English society by an ecstatic chorus of
pigs. So savage is this lashing that even today English critics keep
silence about “Swellfoot the Tyrant.” The odious fat lecher, King George
IV, was sued for divorce by his wife, Queen Caroline, and it was a most
horrible scandal, which Britain hardly dared to whisper. I remember when
I was a student in college, twenty-five years ago, searching the
libraries in an effort to find out the contents of the “Green Bag” which
figures in Shelley’s drama; but no commentator would tell me--and I
don’t know yet!

Shelley has the qualities of sublimity and fervor; also he has the
defects of these qualities--he is often windy and wordy and unreal. But
in his last miraculous years he shed these faults, and produced lyrics
of such loveliness that he is today the poet of poets, the soul
companion of generous and idealistic youth. In his “Mask of Anarchy” are
songs of revolt which have reached the workers--and which therefore
English critics still find it necessary to deprecate! A couple of years
ago was celebrated in London the anniversary of Shelley’s death, and
there assembled a great number of people of the sort who would have
skinned him while he was alive. A famous editor, Mr. J. C. Squires,
took occasion to quote the poem: “Men of England, wherefore plow?” How
obviously foolish! If the men of England did not plow, they would
starve! But it just happens that Shelley did not say that; what he said
was: “Men of England, wherefore plow for the lords who lay ye low?” And
five million, five hundred thousand labor votes echo: “Wherefore?”

This poet of the future was scorned in his lifetime, as no other great
Englishman in history. He was the byword of the literary wits of London;
“Prometheus Unbound,” they said, an excellent name: who would bind it?
By Sir Walter Scott and his ruffians of the Tory “Review,” Shelley’s
name could not be spoken without crossing yourself. The poet Moore cried
out in horror--Tommy, little snob of the drawing-rooms, who “dearly
loved a lord.” And Wordsworth, ignorant and bigoted, living among his
peasants, reading nothing; and Southey, turncoat and prig. Even Byron
made no fight for Shelley’s fame; while Byron’s friends, the fashionable
idlers of the Continent, rebuked him for keeping such disreputable

Even two generations later the evil spell was not broken. Matthew
Arnold, standard English critic, read about Shelley’s friends, and
lifted his scholarly hands and cried: “What a set!” It did not occur to
the critic to ask what other kind of set Shelley might have had. What
people had he to choose among? Arnold had not tried being a radical, so
as to see what queer people swarm about you--especially when you are
known to have an income of four thousand pounds a year, and to give away
nearly all of it! A poet who believes everything good about his fellows,
and who lives in dreams of exalted nobleness, is the last person in the
world to discover the faults of those who gather about him. And after he
has made the discovery, he remains a dreamer; instead of casting them
off, in the fashion of the good, respectable world, he clings to them,
trying to help them, often in spite of themselves.

Shelley believed in “free love,” and tried out his theories; and that
horrified Matthew Arnold, who said after reading the record, “One feels
sickened forever of the subject of irregular relationships.” Quite so; I
also have seen people try out this theory, and have felt sickened. But
consider the question, in which way will the race more quickly acquire
knowledge as to the rights and wrongs of sex--if men say honestly what
they believe, and tell frankly what they do, or if they preach one code
and practice another, and hide their sins in a dark corner?

Shelley followed the former course; he was young, and knew no older
person who understood him and could give him wise advice. He believed
that if your heart was full of generosity and kindness and unselfishness
and a burning sense of justice, you could trust your desires, even those
of love. He tried it, and filled his life with pain and tragedy. And
seventy or eighty years later comes an eminent and well-established
critic, and in solemn tones protests that it is a crime against good
taste to give us these facts! Let poets follow the plan of Wordsworth,
who sowed his one wild oat in a foreign land, and put a heavy stone of
silence over the crop, and became a Tory laureate and pillar of

In the course of a hundred years we have got all the details of
Shelley’s two marriages; we know that when he eloped with Harriet
Westbrook, his first wife, he told her his ideas on the subject of love.
She professed to agree with him; but, of course, being a
sixteen-year-old child, that meant nothing. She was ignorant, and in no
way fitted to be the life companion of a great poet. When Shelley left
her he took care of her and the two children; her suicide two years
later was caused by the fact that she had an unhappy love affair with
another man, and was with child by this man.

Here is a problem which will not be solved in our time, nor for a long
time to come: what is to be done when two people have loved, and one
ceases to love while the other goes on loving? For the present, our only
task is to get straight the facts about Shelley’s case; the central fact
being that he was damned for holding a revolutionary opinion and acting
on it. If all he had wanted was to indulge his passions and keep out of
trouble, the way was clear before him; the old Tory baronet, his father,
had explained with brutal frankness that he would never pardon a
marriage with a woman below Shelley’s rank in life, but he was willing
to assume responsibility for the support of any number of illegitimate
children the poet might wish to bring into existence. Such was the
moral code against which Shelley revolted; such was the world in which
he tried to live according to the principles of justice, freedom and

He died at the age of thirty, drowned in a storm while sailing a boat;
and with him perished the finest mind the English race had produced. I
make this statement deliberately, knowing the ridicule it will excite;
but I ask you, before you decide: take the men of genius of England one
by one, wipe out their lives after the age of thirty, and see what you
have left. Will you take Shakespeare? You will know him as the author of
“Venus and Adonis” and “The Rape of Lucrece” and “Love’s Labor Lost” and
“The Comedy of Errors,” and possibly “Richard III” and some sonnets.
Will you take Milton, with “L’Allegro” and “Il Penseroso” and “Comus”
and “Lycidas,” and nothing else? Will you go to the Continent, and take
Goethe, who outlived Shelley? What would you think of Goethe if you had
only “Goetz” and “Werther” and a few lyric poems?

Shelley was one among the sons of Rousseau who did not falter and turn
back to feudalism, Catholicism, or mysticism of any sort. He fixed his
eyes upon the future, and never wavered for a moment. He attacked class
privilege, not merely political, but industrial; and so he is the coming
poet of labor. Some day, and that not so far off, the strongholds of
class greed in Britain will be stormed, and when the liberated workers
take up the task of making a new culture, they will learn that there was
one inspired saint in their history who visioned that glad day, and gave
up everything in life to bring it nearer. They will honor Shelley by
making him their poet-laureate, and hailing him as the supreme glory of
English letters.



There is one more poet of this period with whom we must deal, and that
is John Keats.

“And now you are going to have your hands full,” says Mrs. Ogi.
“Everyone is quite sure that Keats is one poet who cannot possibly be
accused of propaganda.”

“Yes,” says her husband; “an amusing illustration of the extent to which
leisure-class criticism is able to take the guts out of art. Here is a
man whose life and personality constitute one of the greatest pieces of
radical propaganda in the history of English literature.”

“At least the issue is fairly joined,” says Mrs. Ogi. “Go to it!”

Let us first take the life and personality, and afterwards the writings.
John Keats was the son of a stable-keeper; and if you don’t know what
that meant to British snobbery there is no way I can convey it to you.
He did not attend a public school or a university; he did not learn to
walk and talk like an English gentleman. He was a simple, crude
fellow--a little chap not much over five feet high--and his social
experiences early taught him the lesson of extreme reserve; he held
himself aloof from everyone who might by any possibility spurn him
because of his low estate. Even with Shelley he would not forget that he
was dealing with the son of a baronet; everyone who surrounded Shelley
was trying to get money from him, and so Keats despised them and stayed

“He was of the skeptical, republican school,” wrote one of his boyhood
intimates. “A fault finder with everything established.” And the first
poem which he got up the courage to show was a sonnet upon the release
of Leigh Hunt, who had been sent to prison for two years for writing an
article denouncing the prince regent. This poem was published in Hunt’s
paper, the “Examiner,” and the notorious editor became the friend and
champion of this twenty-year-old poet.

Meantime Keats had been apprenticed to a surgeon, and became a dresser
in a hospital. He was called an apothecary’s apprentice; and so when he
published “Endymion,” the ruling-class critics of the day fell upon him.
The insolence of a low-bred fellow, imagining that he could write a poem
dealing with Greek mythology, the field above all others reserved to
university culture! “Back to your shop, John,” cried the “Quarterly
Review,” “back to plasters, pills and ointment boxes!”

You see, it was not a literary issue at all; it was a political and
social issue. In “Blackwood’s” appeared a ferocious article, denouncing
not merely Keats, but the whole “cockney school,” as it was called;
this including Leigh Hunt, Hazlitt, Lamb, Shelley and Keats. “Cockney”
is the word by which the cultured gentry of England describe the vulgar
populace of London, who drop their h’s and talk about their “dyly
pyper.” The Tory reviewers were only incidentally men of letters; they
were young country squires amusing themselves with radical-baiting, they
were “athletes, outdoor men, sportsmen, salmon-fishers, deer-stalkers.”
They gathered at Ambrose’s and drank strong Scotch whiskey, and sang a
rollicking song of which the chorus ran: “Curse the people, blast the
people, damn the lower orders.” And when they attacked the “Cockney”
poets, it was not merely because of their verses, but because of their
clothing and their faces and even their complexions. “Pimply Hazlitt”
was their phrase for the greatest essayist of their time; they alleged
that both Hazlitt and Lamb drank gin--and gin was the drink for

Keats wrote “Endymion” at the age of twenty-one, and two years later he
suffered a hemorrhage, which meant the permanent breaking of his health.
He wrote his last lines at the age of twenty-four, and died early in his
twenty-fifth year. So you see he had not long to win his way against
these aristocratic rowdies. He was poor, and exquisitely sensitive; he
suffered under such brutal attacks, but he went on, and did the best
work he could, and said, very quietly: “I think I shall be among the
English poets after my death.” He realized the dignity of his calling,
and in his letters made clear that he did not take the ivory tower
attitude toward his art. “I am ambitious of doing the world some good,”
he wrote; “if I should be spared, that may be the work of future years.”
And in the course of his constant self-criticism and groping after new
methods and new powers, he traveled far from the naive sensuousness of
his early poems. His last work was a kind of prologue to “Hyperion,” in
which he discussed the poet and his function, and laid down the law that
only those can climb to the higher altar of art

      to whom the miseries of the world
    Are misery and will not let them rest.

How Keats felt on the subject of the class struggle was startlingly
indicated in the last days of his life. Dying of consumption, he took a
sea voyage to Italy, a journey which was a frightful strain upon him. He
landed in Naples; and Naples, as we know, is warm and beautiful, a place
for a poet to rest and dream in. But Keats would not dream; he smelt the
foul atmosphere of royalist intrigue and tyranny, and would not stay. A
friend took him to the theater, and he saw a gendarme standing on either
side of the stage, and took that for a symbol of censorship and
despotism, and would not sit out the performance!

He died in Rome, and after his death Shelley wrote “Adonais,” a eulogy
of Keats and an attack on his detractors. Little by little his fame
began to spread, and everywhere it was recognized by the Tories as part
of the class struggle of the time. Sir Walter Scott had been pained by
the personal venom of Lockhart’s attack in “Blackwood’s”; but not enough
to cause him to withdraw his subsidy from the magazine, nor to prevent
his accepting Lockhart as his son-in-law and future biographer. A young
Englishman of radical sympathies defended Keats, and a friend of
Lockhart’s intervened in the argument, and forced a duel with Keats’
defender, and killed him. That is the way literary questions were
settled in those days!

When you fight for the fame of Keats you are asserting the idea that
genius is not a privilege of rank and wealth, but that the precious fire
smoulders also among the masses of the people, so that a stable-keeper’s
son, self-taught, may become one of his country’s greatest poets. Some
critics would accept that doctrine now; but not all, it would appear.
Here is Henry A. Beers, eminent scholar and professor of English
literature in Yale University, writing in the Yale “Review,” and saying:
“There _was_ something a little underbred about Hazlitt and Leigh Hunt,
and even perhaps about Keats.”

So much for the man; now for the poetry. The first thing to be got clear
is that it is _young_ poetry; it was all written before the age of
twenty-four. An ignorant boy, brought up in uncultured surroundings,
gropes his way out into the beauty and splendor of art. He is
enraptured, quivering with delight; nature to him is a perpetual
ecstasy, and words are jewels out of which he makes ravishment for the
senses. He has a marvelous gift of language, splendor like a flood of
moonlight flung out upon a mountain lake. He is in love, first with
nature, then with a young lady of eighteen, whom he describes by the
adjectives “stylish” and “ignorant”; nevertheless, he falls under her
spell, and after he is dead the young lady says that the kindest thing
people can do for him is to forget him. So little does a great poet’s
dream of feminine loveliness understand his true character and
greatness! We may be sure that if Keats had lived to marry Fanny Brawne
he would not have been happy, and would have realized only too quickly
that love is not merely a thrill of young sensibility, a rapturous
“Dream of St. Agnes,” but a grave problem requiring for its solution
both reason and conscience.

The early poetry of Keats represents that stage of simple, instinctive,
unreflecting delight which we call by the name “Greek.” He chose Greek
themes and Greek imagery, and was never more Greek than when he tried to
be medieval. But the most significant thing about his work is the quick
maturing of it, even in those scant four years. A shadow of pain darkens
his being, the pangs of frustrated love wring cries of anguish from him;
and so we come to the second stage of the Greek spirit--the sense of
fate, of cruelty hidden at the heart of life, the terror and despair of
loveliness that knows it is doomed. Out of this mood came his greatest
poems, the “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” the “Ode to a Nightingale,” the “Ode
to Melancholy.” If anyone denies that this poet is trying to teach us
something about life, if anyone thinks there is no message in this
infinite mournfulness, he has indeed a feeble apprehension.

But let us, for the sake of argument, assume with the art for art’s
sakers that Keats was an esthete, and produced “pure beauty,” unalloyed
by any preaching. Would that mean that we had found some art which is
not propaganda? Assuredly not; and those who besiege us with contentious
examples--Keats, Gautier, Whistler, Hearn, etc.--simply show that they
have not understood what we mean by the thesis that all art is
propaganda. It is that, fundamentally, as an inescapable psychological
fact; and it does not cease to be that just because the artist preaches
enjoyment instead of effort.

Use your common sense upon the proposition. When an artist takes the
trouble to embody his emotions in an art form, he does so because he
wishes to convey those emotions to other people; and insofar as he
succeeds in doing that, he will change the emotions of the other people,
and change their attitudes toward life and hence their actions. Is it
not just as much “teaching” to proclaim the supremacy of the sensuous
delights, as to proclaim the supremacy of reason, or of any system of
reasoned thought? When an artist composes a song on the theme, “Let us
eat, drink and be merry,” is he not setting forth a doctrine of life? If
not, why does he not go ahead and eat, drink and be merry? Why does he
trouble to give advice to you and me? When Keats writes, “A thing of
beauty is a joy forever,” it is perfectly plain that he is making
propaganda--and false propaganda, since standards of beauty are matters
of fashion, varying with every social change. He is making propaganda
when he declares that

    “Beauty is truth, truth beauty”--that is all
     Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

Incidentally he is revealing to us that he has done very little thinking
about either truth or beauty, but is content to use abstract words
without meaning behind them.

I have made clear, I hope, that I consider the art of Keats an
exquisitely beautiful art, fine and clean, and a perfectly proper art
for any lad to produce between the ages of twenty and twenty-four. There
is a stage of naïve trust in instinct through which youth passes,
especially poetical youth. But when this stage is continued into
maturity then it becomes something entirely different, neither fine, nor
clean, nor beautiful; it becomes stale self-indulgence, empty-minded
irresolution, dawdling decadence. All those things manifested themselves
in the later periods of Greek art, and they may be observed in our own
period of the breakdown of capitalism.

The Tory party came in the end to realize that there was nothing really
dangerous in the poetry of this unhappy boy. Wise old Tories like Sir
Walter Scott had known it from the beginning, and young Tories like
Tennyson and Rossetti proclaimed it. Keats himself was no longer alive
to offend them with his Cockney manners, so they took up his writings,
and made them a bulwark of leisure-class culture in a stage of arrested
mentality, a resource of critics who wish to keep the young from
thinking about dangerous modern questions. But I venture the opinion
that if this Cockney stable-keeper’s son had grown to manhood, he would
have taken care of his own destiny, and seen to it that dilettanti
idlers and aesthetic decadents should find no comfort in his name and
example. His letters give abundant evidence of his capable mind, and
assure us that if he had been blessed with health he would have matured
into a thinker, even as John Milton, the great companion of his later

How much the lip-servers of Keats really understand him, was proven by a
peculiar incident which befell me in my own youth. Twenty-two years ago
I published “The Journal of Arthur Stirling,” a passionate defense of
the right of young poets to survive; and of course I sang enraptured
praise of Keats, and made him a text for excited tirades. At that time
there was a newspaper in New York called the “Evening Telegram,” owned
by James Gordon Bennett, a dissipated rowdy who might have been a blood
brother to the Tory crowd which conducted “Blackwood’s” and the
“Quarterly” a hundred years ago. This “Evening Telegram” published a
page of book reviews every Saturday, boasting it the most widely
circulated book page in the United States. Its opinion, therefore, was
of importance to a young writer hoping to live by his pen. It reviewed
“The Journal of Arthur Stirling,” saying that we might have sympathized
with the struggles of an unfortunate poet, had he not committed the
indiscretion of giving us samples of his writings, which enabled us to
be certain that he had no idea whatever of poetry. For example, said the
editor, here was one of Arthur Stirling’s effusions. Read it:

    Sit thee by the ingle, when
    The sear faggot blazes bright,
    Spirit of a winter’s night!--
    Sit thee there, and send abroad
    With a mind self-overaw’d
    Fancy, high-commission’d;--send her!
    She has vassals to attend her;
    She will bring, in spite of frost,
    Beauties that the earth hath lost;
    She will bring thee, all together,
    All delights of summer weather;
    All the buds and bells of May
    From dewy sward or thorny spray;
    All the heapèd Autumn’s wealth,
    With a still, mysterious stealth;
    She will mix these pleasures up,
    Like three fit wines in a cup,
    And thou shalt quaff it!--

Poor Arthur Stirling was supposed to be dead, so I asked a friend to
write to the editor of the “Evening Telegram” and point out to him that
he had misunderstood the book; the lines quoted were not submitted as
the work of Arthur Stirling, they happened to be the work of John Keats!
The editor published this reply with an easygoing comment; it made a
good joke, he said, but as a matter of fact he was justified in his
criticism, because the lines belonged to the very early work of Keats,
which was practically without poetic merit. My friend wrote again,
expressing surprise that the editor should make such a statement; for
this poem, entitled “Fancy,” belonged to the last two years of Keats’
life, the wonderful years which produced all his greatest writings.
Palgrave, whose authority none would dispute, had included it in the
“Golden Treasury,” which contained only thirteen poems by Keats. The
editor of the “Evening Telegram” was unable to find space for that



Says Mrs. Ogi: “Here is Haldeman-Julius, discussing the thesis of your
book. He says: ‘You may say that because Balzac drew his characters
largely from the bourgeoisie he was conducting a subtle propaganda in
behalf of a class; or, in general, that he was a bourgeois author. But
such a view would be a travesty of literary criticism.’”

Says Ogi: “That is what a great many people are going to call this book.
But let us see what we can make of Balzac.”

At this point the mail arrives, and in it a letter to Mrs. Ogi, telling
some bad news about a friend. A look of deep distress comes upon her
face, and Ogi, watching her, is suddenly inspired. “Hold that
expression!” he cries.

“What do you mean?” falters Mrs. Ogi.

“It’s what I need for a story! I want to get all the details of it--the
trembling of your lips, the look in your eyes. Hold it now! It is copy!”

“I think you are out of your mind,” says Mrs. Ogi; and her face assumes
a quite different expression.

Says her husband: “I am the artist, and I feed on life. My fellow humans
suffer, and a voice within me cries: ‘Magnificent!’ Anguish writes
itself upon their features, and I whisper: ‘There is a great moment!’
They are utterly abased, and I think: ‘Here is my chance of

Says Mrs. Ogi: “You are a monster! I have always known it.”

“I am one among thousands of monsters, ranging the earth, competing
furiously for their prey. I explore the whole field of human experience;
I climb the mountain peaks, I ransack the starry spaces, I rummage the
dust-bins of history, collecting great significant moments, climaxes of
emotion, drama, suspense, thrill; when I find it, I slap my knee, like
Thackeray writing the scene of Becky Sharp caught in adultery, and
exclaiming: ‘There is a stroke of genius!’ I see tears falling, and I
think: ‘That will sell!’ Out of that cry of despair I shall make a
feast! From this tale of tragedy I shall build a new house! Upon this
heap of anguish I shall leap to fame! I shall enlarge my ego, expand in
the admiration of my fellow-men, enjoying dominion over their emotions
and their thoughts. Also, of course, I shall not forget my fellow-women,
their thrills and ecstasies; I shall have gorgeous apartments, furnished
with barbaric splendor, to which will come brilliant and fascinating

Says Mrs. Ogi: “Is this a dream you want me to psychoanalyze?”

“No,” says her husband, “it is simply the soul of Balzac which I am
putting before you: the most perfect type of the predatory artist that
has existed in human history; the art for art’s sake ideal incarnate;
genius divorced from conscience, save only as applied to the art work
itself--the inexorable duty of portraying the utmost conceivable energy,
fury, splendor, terror, sublimity, melodrama, pity, elegance, greed,
horror, cruelty, anguish, beauty, passion, worship, longing,
wickedness, glory, frenzy, majesty and delight.”

This predatory artist, living in a predatory world, and portraying
predatory emotions, does not seem to us a propagandist, simply because
of the complete identity which exists between him and the thing he
portrays. It is the world which came into existence after the French
revolution, and has prevailed ever since. The masses made the
revolution, hoping to profit from it; but the merchants and bankers and
lawyers took over the power. Alone, this class in France could not have
succeeded; but they had the help of England--it is the triumph of
British gold, taking charge of the continent and making it over in the
image of the “shop-keeper”: the bourgeois world, a society in which
everybody seeks money, and having obtained it, spends it upon the
getting of more money, or upon the expansion of his personality through
the power of money to dominate and impress other men. Those who succeed
enjoy, while those who fail are trampled; such is the “Comédie Humaine,”
as Balzac exhibits it in a total of eighty-five works of prose fiction,
not counting dramas, essays and reviews.

He was born of a bourgeois family and educated for a lawyer. But he
wanted to write, and because his family would not support him, he went
away and starved most hideously in a garret. The hunger which he there
acquired was not merely of the stomach and the senses, but of the
intellect and soul. He became a ferocious, almost an insane worker. He
was greedy for facts, and never forgot anything; he acquired a whole
universe of detail, names, places, technical terms, the appearances of
persons and things, human characteristics, anecdotes, conversations. He
wove these into his stories, he constructed vast panoramas of French
society, colossal processions marching past without end. The bulk of his
work is so enormous that you may spend your lifetime reading Balzac,
exploring the lives of his two or three thousand characters.

What will you know when you get through? You will know French bourgeois
civilization, high and low, rich and poor, good and evil. You will
observe the rich growing richer and the poor growing poorer; you will
discover the greedy devouring the good and patient and honest--and then
coming to ruin through their own insensate desires. It is brilliant,
vivid, as real as genius can make it, and at first you are enthralled.
How marvelous, to learn about the world without the trouble of going
into it! But after you have read for a month or two, another feeling
steals over you, a feeling of familiarity: you know all this, why read
any more? Life is odious and cruel, it makes you ill; your one thought
becomes, can anything be done about it? Is there any remedy? And from
that moment you are done with Balzac.

For, so far as this “Comédie Humaine” is concerned, there is no remedy.
Balzac was so much a part of his own corrupt age that he could not have
conceived of a co-operative world. He saw the class struggle, of
course--and took his stand on the side of his money. A passionate Tory,
he referred to “the two eternal truths, the monarchy and the Catholic
church.” His attitude to politics was summed up in the formula that the
people must be kept “under the most powerful yoke possible.” You find in
his novels tremendous loads of philosophic and scientific learning,
practically all of it utter trash. Henry James disposes of him in the
sentence: “He was incapable of a lucid reflexion.” The nearest approach
to a definite proposition to be got out of his writings is the notion
that desire, imagination and intellect are the destroyers of life. Of
course, if that be true, civilization is doomed, and it is a waste of
time to seek moral codes or understanding, or even to produce art.

Such a view was, of course, simply the reflex of the predatory artist’s
own greed for money, luxury, fame and power. He lived alternately for
art and Mammon. He would shut himself up alone in a secret place and
write for weeks, even months, without seeing anyone. He would start work
at midnight, clad in a white Benedictine robe, with a black skull-cap,
by the light of a dozen candles, and under the stimulus of many pots of
coffee. Having thus completed a masterpiece, he would emerge to receive
the applause of Paris, carrying a cane with an enormous jeweled head.
Having made another fortune and paid a small part of what he called his
“floating debt,” he would plunge into the wholesale purchasing of silks
and satins and velvets, furniture and carpets and tapestries and jewels
and “objects of art,” vast store-rooms full of that junk whereby the
bourgeois world sets forth the emptiness of its mind and the futility of
its aims. Lacking money enough, his maniac imagination would evolve new
schemes--book publishing, paper manufacturing, a journal, a secret
society, silver mines in Sardinia, the buried treasure of Toussaint
l’Ouverture, each of which he was sure was going to turn him into a
millionaire overnight.

Balzac gives prominence to that type of men whom the French call
“careerists”; that is to say, men who set out to make their fortune, at
any cost of honor, decency and fair play. Balzac admired such men--for
the simple reason that he himself was that kind. In his later years he
met a wealthy Polish lady, Madame Hanska, who became his mistress;
writing to his sister about it, he set forth what this meant to him, and
his language was such as a “confidence man” would use, writing to a
woman confederate. The alliance, he wrote, would give him access to the
great world, and “opportunity for domination.”

Is the work of such a man propaganda? If you accept the common dogma
that blind egotistical instinct, and the portrayal and glorification
thereof, constitute art, while the effort to understand life, and to
reconstruct it into a thing of order and sense and dignity, is
propaganda--why then undoubtedly the “Comédie Humaine” of Honoré de
Balzac is pure and unadulterated art. If, on the other hand, you admit
my contention that a man who is born into a money-ravenous world, and
who absorbs its poisoned atmosphere, and sets himself to the task of
portraying it, not merely as real and inevitable, but as glorious,
magnificent, fascinating, sublime--if you admit with me that such a man
is a propagandist, why then you must reconcile yourself to enduring the
opposition of all orthodox literary critics.



Victor Hugo was born in 1802, three years later than Balzac. He grew up
in the same world, but was not satisfied to contemplate its diseases; he
sought remedies, and became a convert to revolutionary ideals, and so
all critics agree that his work is marred by propaganda. He lived to be
eighty-three years old, and went on writing and working to the very end,
so that the story of his life carries us through practically the whole
of the nineteenth century. We shall follow it, and then come back and
retrace parts of the same story in the lives of other artists, French,
German, British and American.

Hugo’s father was a revolutionary soldier who rose to be a general in
Napoleon’s army. As a little boy the poet followed the armies from place
to place in Switzerland, Italy and Spain. His mother was a Royalist, and
the boy had an old Catholic priest for a tutor, and was taught the old
dogmas, literary as well as religious and political. His conversion into
a revolutionist was not completed until the age of forty-six. Having
been brought about by contact with daily events, this conversion was of
tremendous influence upon the thought of Europe.

He was a child of genius, and his prodigious activity began early. We
find him composing a tragedy at the age of fourteen, and at the age of
seventeen publishing a journal with the title of the “Literary
Conservator.” He gets married upon a pension of a thousand francs,
conferred upon him by King Louis XVIII, who has been put upon the throne
to preserve Catholic reaction. Then comes King Charles X, who makes him
a knight of the Legion of Honor at the age of twenty-three. But
gradually the young poet’s “throne and altar stuff” begins to shown
signs of independent thought; he composes a play in which Richelieu is
portrayed as master of his king, and this is considered unsuitable for
such ticklish times; the censor bars it, and the young poet’s personal
intercession with the king does not avail.

All this time, you understand, French art is still under the sway of the
so-called “classical” ideals of Voltaire and Racine; tragic dramatists
have to obey the “three unities,” or they cannot get produced. But by
1830 the French people are sick of reaction, and ready to make their
revolution again. As part of the change comes a surge of “romanticism”
in the arts. Shakespeare is played in Paris for the first time; and
Victor Hugo publishes a drama on the theme of Cromwell, with a preface
in which he commits the blasphemy of declaring that Racine is “not a
dramatist”! In the midst of the new revolution he produces a romantic
play, “Hernani,” dealing with a revolutionary Spaniard of the Byronic
type, who declaims all over the stage and dies sublimely.

The production of this play resulted in one continuous riot for
forty-five nights. The leading lady protested, the hired claque
revolted; so Victor Hugo called for help to the young artists of the
studios, and they poured out of Montmartre and took possession of the
theater. In those days the first purpose of romantic youth was to “shock
the bourgeois” by strange costumes. Here was Théophile Gautier, nineteen
years old, with long locks hanging over his shoulders, a scarlet satin
waistcoat, pale sea-green trousers seamed with black, and a gray
overcoat lined with green satin. Night after night the rival factions
shouted and raged as long as the play lasted. All this in order to gain
for dramatists the right to show more than one scene in a play, and more
than twenty-four hours of their hero’s life!

Victor Hugo also wrote fiction and prose, and in every field he became
the new sun of France. But he was not content with literary laurels; he
went on seeking a remedy for the bourgeois disease. He espoused the
cause of a poor workingman, who, having been tortured in prison, had
killed the governor of the prison. The young poet came upon a novel
remedy--to sow the Bible all over France. “Let there be a Bible in every
peasant’s hut.” Here in America the Gideonites have tried out the idea,
sowing a Bible in every hotel room--but for some reason there are more
crimes of violence in the United States than ever before in any
civilized country!

The revolution of 1830 brought in a new king, Louis-Philippe, the ideal
bourgeois monarch, an amiable gentleman who stayed at home with his wife
and let the bankers and business men run the country. This king made
Victor Hugo into a peer of France. But there was a new revolutionary
outburst preparing, and in 1848 the bourgeois king was dethroned, and
Victor Hugo was elected deputy to the new parliament, styling himself a
“moderate Republican.” The French people at this time were in the same
position as the American people at present; that is, they believed what
they were told, and were ready to accept any tinseled circus-performer
as a statesman. They chose for their president a wretched creature who
happened to be a nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte, and promised a return of
all the old glories of France.

It took only a year of his government for Victor Hugo to realize that
the one hope for progress lay in the program of the radicals. His two
grown sons were thrown into jail for editing a paper attacking the
policies of Louis Napoleon; and the father espoused the ideas of the old
revolution, “the rights of man.” Egged on by the terrified financiers,
Louis Napoleon overthrew the parliament and had himself made emperor.
Victor Hugo sought to rouse the people, barricades were raised in the
streets, and hundreds were shot down with cannon. The poet with great
difficulty made his escape to Brussels, from which city he denounced the
usurper--“Napoleon the Little” as he called him--with the result that
the Catholic government of Belgium passed a law expelling him.

He fled to the channel island of Jersey, where he wrote a book of poems
called “The Chastisements,” one of the most terrific pieces of
denunciation in all the world’s literature. Shortly after this the
bourgeois government of England combined with the bourgeois government
of France to drive Russia out of the Crimea; there was a great war, and
the people of Jersey objected to the poet’s attacks on the French
emperor; they mobbed his home, and he had to flee to the neighboring
island of Guernsey, where he settled down to the true task of a great
artist, to reform the world by changing the ideals of the coming
generations. For nineteen years he stayed in exile, until “Napoleon the
Little” brought himself to ruin, and his country along with him. In the
meantime Victor Hugo had published several volumes of marvelous poetry,
and finally, after ten years’ labor, his masterpiece of fiction, “Les
Misérables,” which appeared simultaneously in eight capitals of the
world, and brought its author the sum of four hundred thousand francs.

Into this novel Hugo poured all his passionate devotion to liberty,
equality and fraternity; likewise his blazing hatred of cruelty and
tyranny. He tells the story of an escaped convict who reforms and makes
a success of his life, but is pursued by the police and dragged back to
prison. Incidentally the poet gives us a vast picture of the France of
his own time, and the lives and struggles of the proletariat. The figure
of Jean Valjean is one of the great achievements of the human
imagination, and his story is a treasure of the revolutionary movement
in every modern land.

“Napoleon the Little” led his country to war with Germany and was
overwhelmingly crushed. Hugo came home in this crisis, and took part in
the defense of Paris. Then came the terrible uprising of the starved and
tortured masses, the Paris Commune. By this time the bourgeois savages
had machine-guns, so that they could wipe out wholesale the idealism and
faith of the people; they stood some fifty thousand workers, men, women
and children, against the walls of Paris and shot them down in cold
blood. Victor Hugo defended these Communards, and once more had to flee
for his life.

After the peace with Germany, France was left a republic, and her great
poet returned to live with his grandchildren, to labor for the working
classes, and to pour out floods of eloquence in behalf of his social
ideals. New movements arose, and the old man heard that he was
theatrical, bombastic, unreal. All that is true to a considerable
extent; for Hugo is like Shelley, having the defects of his great
qualities. When the inspiration does not come to him, he learns to
imitate it; he acquires mannerisms, he adopts poses. Following Milton’s
suggestion of making an art work of his life, he sets his personality up
as an embodiment of revolutionary idealism, he makes himself into a
legend, a living monument, a literary shrine, one might say a literary
cathedral. It is only a step from the sublime to the ridiculous, and we
often take that step with Victor Hugo. But the masses of the people knew
that the core of his being was a passionate devotion to liberty and
justice; therefore they took him to their hearts, and his life is so
blended with theirs that Victor Hugo and revolutionary France are two
phrases with one meaning.



What would Victor Hugo have been if he had had no social conscience?
What would the romantic movement have amounted to if it had confined
itself to the field of art? These questions are answered for us by
Théophile Gautier.

We have seen him at the age of nineteen taking part in the battle of
“Hernani” in his scarlet satin waistcoat; we see him at the same age
leading the art students in mocking dances about a bust of Racine in a
public square of Paris. After that we see him for forty-two years
diligently following the art for art’s sake formula. He declares that he
has no religion, no politics; he has no concern with any moral or
intellectual question, he is purely and simply an artist, devoting
himself with passionate fervor to the production of works of pure
beauty. His fastidiousness is shown by the law he lays down, that a
young artist should write not less than fifty thousand verses for
practice before he writes one verse to be published.

And what is the content of this art? Gautier believes in one thing, the
human body. He believes in it, not as an instrument of the mind, a house
of the spirit, but as a thing in itself, to be fed and pampered and
perfumed, and clad in silks and satins, and taken out to engage in
sexual adventures. The pretensions of art for art’s sake turn out to be
buncombe; the reality of the matter is art for orgy’s sake.

At the age of twenty-four Gautier published a novel, “Mademoiselle de
Maupin,” which might be described as Shakespeare’s “As You Like It”
rewritten by the devil. A young lady of beauty and fashion goes
wandering in the costume of a man, and this affords endless
possibilities of sexual titillation; women fall in love with her,
thinking she is a man, and men fall in love with her by instinct, as it
were; the orgies thus postponed are especially thrilling when they
finally occur.

Some men have written this kind of depravity at twenty-four, and learned
something better as they grew older; but Gautier learned absolutely
nothing. To the end of his long life he continued to produce novels and
tales of which the sole purpose is to glorify the orgy, to make it
romantic and thrilling by the elaborate squandering of wealth, the
heaping mountain high of the apparatus of luxury. The device fails, for
the simple reason that the senses are limited. When you are hungry a
dinner interests you, but ten thousand dinners appall; and the same
thing applies to coition. The men and women in these orgies remind us of
people in a besieged castle, living in deadly terror of an enemy who
never fails to get them in the end. The French have made a word for that
victorious enemy: _ennui_.

It should hardly need to be said that the art of Théophile Gautier is a
leisure-class art. These orgies are possible only in a slave
civilization; they presuppose the fact that the masses shall toil to
heap up wealth for a privileged few to destroy in a night of riot. At
the very opening of “Mademoiselle de Maupin” the author portrays his
hero, living at ease with a valet to serve him, and nothing to do but be
discontented. “My idle passions growl dully in my heart, and prey upon
themselves for lack of other food.” He is consumed with imaginings--all,
needless to say, having to do with pleasures which he does not mean to
earn. “I wait for the heavens to open, and an angel to descend with a
revelation to me, for a revolution to break out and a throne to be given
me, for one of Raphael’s virgins to leave the canvas and come to embrace
me, for relations, whom I do not possess, to die and leave me what will
enable me to sail my fancy on a river of gold,” etc.

His dream finally takes the form of a woman, and he spends many pages in
detailing her qualities. Needless to say, she belongs to the rioting
classes. “I consider beauty a diamond which should be mounted and set in
gold. I cannot imagine a beautiful woman without a carriage, horses,
serving-men, and all that belongs to an income of a hundred thousand a
year; there is harmony between beauty and wealth.” Of course this
dream-woman must be entirely subject to the sensual desires of man. “I
consider woman, after the manner of the ancients, as a beautiful slave
designed for our pleasure.”

Victor Hugo was exiled by Louis Napoleon; while Gautier, having “no
political opinions,” remained in Paris and accepted financial favors
from the tyrant. What he considered his master work was published at the
age of forty-five, a volume of verse whose title explains its character,
“Enamels and Cameos.” The art of poetry has become identical with that
of the goldsmith; words are tiny jewels, fitted together with precise
and meticulous care. Words have beauty, quite apart from their meaning,
and the proper study for mankind is the dictionary. Poetry should have
neither feeling nor ideas; while as for the subject, the more unlikely
and unsuitable it is, the greater the triumph of the poet. This is not
an effort to caricature Gautier’s doctrine, it is his own statement, the
theme of one of his poems. But on no account are you to take this poem
for propaganda!

You see how the proposition demonstrates its own absurdity. Théophile
Gautier was during his entire lifetime a fanatical preacher, a
propagandist of sensuality and materialism, a glorified barber and
tailor, a publicity man for the Association of Merchants of Tapestries,
Furniture and Jewelry. When he writes a poem on the subject of a
rose-colored dress, he asks you to believe that he is really interested
in the rose-colored dress, but you may be sure that he is no such fool;
he writes about the rose-colored dress as an act of social defiance. He
says: There are imbeciles in the world who believe in religion, in moral
sense, in virtue, self-restraint and idealism, subjects which bore me to
extinction; in order to show my contempt for such imbeciles, I proceed
to prove that the greatest poem in the world can be written on a
rose-colored dress or on a roof, or on my watch, or on smoke, or on
whatever unlikely subject crosses my mind; I consecrate myself to this
task, I become a moral anti-moralist, a propagandist of no-propaganda.

What are the products of nature bearing most resemblance to enamels and
cameos? They are certain kinds of insects, beautiful, hard, shiny,
brilliantly colored, repulsive, cruel, and poisonous. Such is the art of
Théophile Gautier and his successors, who have made French literature a
curse for a hundred years. This literature possesses prestige because of
its perfection of form; therefore it is important to get clear in our
minds the fact that the ability to fit words together in intricate
patterns is a thing ranking very low in the scale of human faculties.
The feats of the art-for-art-sakers are precisely as important as those
of the man on the stage who balances three billiard-balls on the end of
his nose. The piano-gymnast who leaped to world fame by his ability to
wiggle his fingers more rapidly than any other living man has been
definitely put out of date by the mechanical piano-player; and some day
mankind will adopt a universal language, and forget all the enamels and
cameos in the old useless tongues.

Get it clear in your mind that external beauty is entirely compatible
with deadly cruelty of intellect and spirit. A tiger is a marvelous
product, from the esthetic point of view, and offers a superb theme to
poets, as William Blake has shown us. “Tyger, tyger, burning
bright”--but who wants this gold-striped glory in his garden? In exactly
the same way, there is a mass of what is called literature, possessing
the graces of form--music and glamor, elegance, passion, energy--and
using all these virtues, precisely as the tiger uses his teeth and
claws, to rend and destroy human life. Literary criticism which fails to
take account of such vicious qualities in art works is just exactly as
sensible and trustworthy as the merchant who would sell you a _cobra de
capello_, with a gorgeous black and white striped hood, for a boudoir
ornament and pet.



The middle of the nineteenth century was a hard time for generous-minded
and idealistic poets in France. The great revolution had failed, it
failed again in 1830 and in 1848, and cruelty and greed and corruption
seemed to be the final destiny of civilization. A few strong spirits
kept the faith, but the weaker ones drifted away and drowned their
sorrows in debauchery and drink.

Alfred de Musset was one of these latter, a beautiful and charming
youth, gifted with all the graces of life and with the magic fire of
genius. He has told his own sad story in a book, “The Confessions of a
Child of His Age.” Most of the strong and healthy men of France had been
killed off in the Napoleonic wars, and the new generation were the
children of weaklings. They drifted aimlessly, having luxury but no
duties, and no vision or ideal to inspire them.

Musset was born in 1810, of a well-to-do and cultured family. He was
impressionable, sensitive, and in the beginning plunged with ardor into
the poetical movement headed by Hugo. But soon he lost interest, and
gave himself to amorous adventures and to mournful self-pity, an elegant
young Byron of the boulevards. It was a time when a poet could make a
national reputation by comparing the moon above a church-steeple to a
dot on the letter i. Musset, from the beginning to the end of his short
life, had no experience of any sort except sexuality, alcohol, and the
poetry of men who likewise had no other experience.

At the age of twenty-three he met George Sand, a woman of thirty who had
run away from her family and was supporting herself as a free-lance
novelist. She carried the young poet off to Italy, but their dream of
love broke up in a quarrel, and poor Musset had brain fever, and came
home, and sat all day in his room for four months, so his brother tells
us, doing nothing but crying, except when he played chess. But at the
end of the four months he went out and found another love, and then
another and another. Any woman would do, according to his philosophy,
poetically set forth in an exquisite verse: “What matters the flagon,
provided one is drunk?”

The young poet was welcomed to the French Academy, but was not very
faithful to his duties. Said one of the members: “Musset absents himself
too much.” To which the answer was: “Musset absinthes himself too much.”
He was an old roué at the age of thirty, and there was nothing left but
to die. Long afterwards George Sand published a novel in which she told
the intimate details of their love affair; and that, of course, was fine
copy, and a tremendous thrill. The title of the novel was “She and He,”
and Musset’s brother came back with a book entitled “He and She.” It
appears that George Sand had been unfaithful to Musset in the midst of
their amour; but we cannot get up much sympathy for the unhappy “child
of his age.” His brother delicately tells us how, in the days of his
beautiful youth, lying in bed at night, the young poet would impart shy
confidences about his amorous triumphs. He was seducing other men’s
wives and daughters and sisters, and was apparently not concerning
himself with any brain fevers these men might have, or with any tears of
grief they might shed in between their games of chess.

Two of the most beautiful and eloquent of Musset’s poems are entitled,
respectively, “A Night of May” and “A Night of December.” Each of them
portrays the poet as falling sorrowfully out of love. The world had
naturally assumed that the two poems related to the same mistress; but
the poet’s brother revealed that the two poems had a different “motive,”
and also that there was another “motive” in between the May “motive” and
the December “motive.” And there were many other “motives”--since
numbers of elegant ladies in Paris aspired to become the theme of one of
the “Nights” of this delicate if drunken genius. We shall see a long
string of poets of this sort for a hundred years in France--and some,
alas! in England and America. The lesson of their lives is always the
same--that poetry without social vision and moral backbone is merely a
snare for the human spirit.



The problem of the relationship of art to morality is most interestingly
illustrated by the case of George Sand. This woman-writer was
promiscuous, and she was predatory, in the sense that she turned her
adventures into copy and sold them in the market. But she had a mind,
and she used it to investigate all the new ideas of her time. She was
moved, not merely by her own desire for pleasure, but by the sufferings
and strivings of her fellow human beings. She poured all these things
into her books, and made herself one of the civilizing forces of her

She was born in 1804 and raised in a convent. Married at the age of
eighteen, and being unhappy, she kicked over the traces and became a
Bohemian adventurer, wearing trousers, proclaiming the rights of
passion, taking to herself one conspicuous lover after another, and
then putting them into books for the support of herself and her two
children. She was the founder of what we might call emotional feminism.
She was religious in a sentimental way, though a vigorous anti-clerical;
she became converted to Socialism, worked ardently for social reform,
and published many long novels in its support.

George Sand had a romantic ancestry, of which she did not fail to make
literary use. On her father’s side she was descended from a royal
bastard. Her mother had been a camp follower in the army of Napoleon, “a
child of the old pavements of Paris.” Thus the novelist united in one
person the aristocratic and the proletarian impulses. A large percentage
of her collected ancestors were illegitimate, so she came honestly by
her free love ideas. On the other hand, she was a very respectable,
hard-working bourgeois woman, who preached interminably on virtue, and
paid all her debts, and got good prices for her manuscripts--things
which were regarded as extremely bad taste by the art-world of her time.

France had had innumerable aristocratic ladies who had loved
promiscuously, proceeding from a king to a duke, and from a duke to an
abbé or a monseigneur. There had been women who had risen from the lower
classes by becoming the mistresses of noblemen. But here was a brand-new
phenomenon, a woman who went out and faced the world “on her own,” and
instead of taking the money of the men she loved, proceeded to earn the
money by writing about the men! It was an enormous scandal, and at the
same time an enormous literary success, for these were pot-boilers of
genius, full of eloquence and fire. Also they were full of ideas on a
hundred subjects, elementary instruction such as ladies on the women’s
pages of our Sunday supplements give to correspondents. But American
readers find it a little hard to understand the fusion of piety and
sexuality which George Sand pours into her romantic novels. “Oh, my dear
Octave,” writes an adulterous wife to her lover, “never shall we pass a
night together without kneeling and praying for Jacques!” It is just a
little shocking to us to learn that this Jacques is the husband whom the
pair are deceiving!

George Sand lived like a healthy bourgeoise to the age of seventy-two;
in her later years she retired to the country, and the fires of free
love died, and she wrote novels about the peasants in her neighborhood.
They are very human and simple, and make standard reading for French
courses in American high schools. It is interesting to compare them with
the old-style handling of the peasants in French art. Gone are the fancy
pictures of beautiful young shepherds and shepherdesses in silks and
satins and high-heeled slippers. Now for the first time a French artist
finds it worth while to go out among the working people of the fields,
and observe the external details of their lives, and at least try to
imagine their feelings. We note the same thing happening also in
pictorial art; instead of the elegancies of Fragonard, we now have a
peasant painter, Millet, peasant born and peasant reared, making real
pictures full of real proletarian feeling. That much as least the
revolution has accomplished!



“Eighteen years ago,” says Ogi, “a lanky, red-headed youth from
Minnesota ran away from Yale University and showed up at Helicon Hall to
stoke our furnace. We were never entirely sure about the furnace, but we
could always count upon lively arguments on the literary side of our
four-sided fireplace. Now this youth has grown up and added a new phrase
to the American language--”

“‘Main Street’ or ‘Babbitt’?” says Mrs. Ogi.

“Recall the story of ‘Main Street.’ A young girl marries a doctor and
lives with him in one of the desolate, cultureless villages of the
Northwest. The novel is a long one, and the method that of minute
detail; we learn everything about the little place and the people in it,
their empty, sordid lives, the utter absence of vision. The girl is
lonely and restless, she craves something beautiful and inspiring. She
has luxurious tastes, and chafes at having to economize. She meets a
handsome, attractive young man, and after many agonies of soul she takes
him as her lover. In the end he leaves her; and after being heart-broken
for a while she takes another lover. He also deserts her, and she is
ill, in debt, and finally takes poison, and her husband, the doctor,
dies of grief--”

“Hold on,” says Mrs. Ogi, “you must have been reading a sequel to ‘Main
Street.’ I don’t remember any of those things happening. Carol Kennicott
thought she loved the other man, but she didn’t deceive her husband, she
held herself back--”

“It is another of my poor jokes,” says Ogi. “This is not the story of
‘Main Street,’ but of a famous French classic, ‘Madame Bovary’ by
Gustave Flaubert. You see, the themes of the two novels are identical,
and so is the method; the difference lies in the temperaments of two
races. The young man from Sauk Centre and the young man from Rouen alike
call themselves “realists”; but one proceeds upon the assumption that it
is possible to restrain passion, and on the whole, better to try, while
the other proceeds upon the assumption that it is impossible to restrain
passion, and that if you pretend to do it, you are a Puritan, and what
is worse, a hypocrite. So at the end of Carol Kennicott’s story we find
her still trying to introduce a little light into Gopher Prairie, while
Emma Bovary is dead and the town of Yonville-l’Abbaye is exactly what it
was before.”

Flaubert is by many considered the greatest of all realists. He made his
religion out of a theory of style; and he was absolutely certain that
“Madame Bovary” was the final product of the “objective” method. He had
coldly observed reality, and no predisposition had been allowed to
interfere. My purpose in mixing him up with Main Street, Gopher Prairie,
Minn., is to bring out the contention that “Madame Bovary” is as
subjective as a lyric; from first to last an expression of its author’s
personal, or shall we say racial conviction, that the sexual impulse
dominates the lives of men and women. The great classic of realism is a
legal brief, in which every detail has been carefully selected and
arranged, and every sentence composed for the purpose of proving this
argument. We have once more the old Greek tragedy with its lurking
Nemesis; only this time the lurking-place is in the genital glands.

Flaubert was born in 1821, so that he was a youngster to the group of
writers we have been considering: Balzac, Hugo, Gautier, George Sand. He
was a tall, lanky, provincial fellow, with drooping mustaches, looking
like a dragoon. He was epileptic and hysterical, and suffered agonies of
melancholy, for the most part over problems of style. He would pace the
floor all night in torment seeking for a missing word; he records that
he spent eight unhappy days in avoiding one dissonance. The action of
all his life which he repented most was a phrase in “Madame Bovary.”
Translated literally, this phrase is “a crown of flowers of
orange-tree”; the unforgivable sin lying in the two “ofs.”

We are told that Flaubert originated a formula of art which Gautier
cherished all the rest of his life: “The form is the parent of the
idea.” In other words, you first think of a beautiful way to say
something, and then you think of something to say which can be said in
that way. It would be impossible for art perversity to go farther; and
you have only to consider “Madame Bovary” to realize how little Flaubert
followed his own theory. He did not first think of a prose work in two
parts, the first part having nine chapters and the second part fifteen;
what he thought of was the French formula, locating the seat of Nemesis
in the genital glands. The secret of his masterpiece is the fact that he
chose to illustrate this formula by means of characters which he knew
intimately and loved with all the power of his instinctive being. That
is the real basis of the greatness of “Madame Bovary”; the fact that
with all her faults and all her follies her creator loved her, and
believed in her, and made her real in every breath she drew and in every
word she uttered. The important idea which he put across is that we are
all of us, good or bad, wise or foolish, stupid or clever, passengers on
the same ship of life, tossed by the same storms, and bound for the same
unknown harbor.

That is the propaganda which makes the greatness of every work of
realism, if it has greatness. And so we can understand the failure of
this unhappy genius in his other writings. He went back to ancient
Carthage, and following his rigid art theories, he laboriously
accumulated knowledge of detail, and wrote what he meant to be another
masterpiece of realism, “Salammbô.” He creates for us a whole gallery of
Carthaginian characters; but he doesn’t know these characters, he
doesn’t love them, he doesn’t make us know them or love them--and his
would-be masterpiece is therefore as lifeless as any gallery of wax
works. We read it with curiosity because of the historical detail, the
pictures of a far-off and cruel civilization; but we seldom finish it,
and we forget everything but what a history-book might have given us.



We have paid a long visit to France, and must now cross the Rhine and
see what is happening in Germany. It is interesting to note that the two
artists whom we are about to study are men who had to flee from Germany
and spend a considerable part of their lives as political exiles in

Heinrich Heine was born in 1799, the same year as Balzac. He was a Jew,
and it was a time when the Jews in Frankfort were penned up in a filthy
ghetto and subjected to insults and outrages; the “Jew-grief” was one of
the deep elements of this great poet’s soul. Another element was the
shame of the “poor relation”; he had a rich uncle, a millionaire banker
in the bourgeois city of Hamburg, who took the youthful genius into his
office at the age of nineteen, and soon afterwards kicked him out,
telling him that he was “a fool.” Among other follies, the young genius
had fallen in love with the rich banker’s daughter, and she toyed with
him for a while, and then married respectably, and gave the poet’s heart
a wound from which it never recovered.

To get rid of him the uncle set him to studying law; but he made a poor
student and a worse lawyer. In order to be allowed to practice he had to
be baptized as a Christian; this doesn’t really do one any harm, but it
caused shame to Heine throughout his life. He had no real religion,
being a child of Voltaire, a rebel, and in due course a revolutionist.
He was a poet, a maker of exquisite verses, full of unutterable
tenderness. Also he was a lover; he wandered here and there with his
broken heart, trying many casual loves, and paying for his adventures a
frightful penalty, as will appear.

We are back in the days of the “Holy Alliance,” and all the little
princelings of Germany are holding the thoughts of their subjects in a
vise. Heine put satirical and skeptical ideas into rhyme; he had a
bitter wit, and his words flew all over Germany, and the Hohenzollerns
of Prussia not merely suppressed one book, they paid him the compliment
of prohibiting everything he might write. “Put a sword on my coffin,” he
said, in one of his stanzas, “for I have been a soldier in the war for
the liberation of humanity.” The revolution of 1830 came in France, and
Heine was deeply stirred, and hoped for something to happen in Germany.
But he had to wait a long time, nearly a hundred years; then, strange
whim of history, three million American boys had to cross the ocean to
win the political battle of this German-Jewish rebel!

Heine could stand Germany no longer, and went to live in Paris, where he
was welcomed by the whole romantic school. He wrote letters, articles
and verses, which went back to Germany and helped carry on the war for
freedom. His genius and wit were such that all the efforts to bar his
books only promoted their circulation. Fate played a queer prank upon
the Prussian Junkerdom--their most popular sentimental songs, which they
know by heart and sing on all possible occasions, were written by a
rebel exile whom they had chased about the streets in a Judenhetze; the
same man who wrote the terrible stanzas of “The Silesian Weavers,”
picturing the starving wretches sitting in their huts and weaving a
three-fold curse, against God, King and Fatherland--“Old Germany, we
weave thy shroud--we weave, we weave!”

His was a strange, complex nature, with many contradictory qualities. He
was called “the German Aristophanes.” He met in the end a ghastly fate;
a spinal disease, the penalty of his casual loves, slowly ate him up,
and for years he lay on what he called “a mattress grave.” First he
could scarcely walk, then he could scarcely see, and all the time he
suffered hideously. But his mind lasted to the end, and he saw all
things clearly, including his own grim fate. “The Great Author of the
Universe, the Aristophanes of Heaven, wished to show the petty, earthly,
so-called German Aristophanes that his mightiest sarcasms are but
feeble banter compared with His, and how immeasurably He excels me in
humor and in colossal wit.”



In my interpretation of artists so far I have had to rely, for better or
for worse, upon myself; no one else, so far as I know, has analyzed art
works from the point of view of revolutionary economics.

“Tolstoi?” suggests Mrs. Ogi.

“Tolstoi considered them from the point of view of Christian
primitivism, a quite different thing. But now at last I have help; the
economic interpretation of Richard Wagner has been done by Bernard Shaw
in a little book, ‘The Perfect Wagnerite,’ published more than
twenty-five years ago. So I feel like a small boy taking shelter from
his enemies behind the back of his big brother.”

“If you would talk like that more frequently,” says Mrs. Ogi, “you
wouldn’t have so many enemies!”

Richard Wagner was a towering genius, a master of half a dozen arts,
perhaps the greatest compeller of emotion that has ever lived. He
invented a new art-form, the “music-drama,” in which the arts of the
musician, the poet, the dramatist, the actor, the scene-painter, and the
costumer are brought together and fused into a new thing, “the music of
the future.” It is a terrific engine for the evocation and
intensification of human feelings; in creating it, and forcing its
recognition by the world, Wagner performed a Titan’s task.

He was born in 1813, which made him thirty-five years of age when the
revolution of 1848 drove King Louis Philippe from the throne of France
and sent an impulse of revolt all over Europe. Wagner at this time was
the conductor of the Royal Opera House at Dresden, having a life
position with a good salary and a pension. Previous to that time he had
had a ghastly struggle with poverty; a young and unknown genius, he had
almost starved to death in a garret in Paris. He had married an actress,
who had no understanding whatever of his power, but who had starved with
him, and now clung with frenzy to security. He himself had the full
consciousness of his destiny as an artist; he had already written three
great operas, and had sketched his later works. He had thus every reason
in the world to protect his future, and to shelter himself behind the
art for art’s sake formula.

Instead of which, he attended a meeting of a revolutionary society of
Dresden, and delivered an address appealing to the king of Saxony--the
royal personage whose servant and pensioner he was--to establish
universal suffrage, to abolish the aristocracy and the standing army,
and to constitute a republic with His Majesty as president. Needless to
say, His Majesty did not follow this recommendation from his operatic
conductor; and next year the people of Dresden rose, and built
barricades in the streets, and Wagner joined the revolutionists and
actively took part in organizing their forces. When the Prussian troops
marched in and put down the insurrection, three men were proscribed in a
royal proclamation as “politically dangerous persons,” and condemned to
death. One was Roeckel, assistant conductor of the opera house, who was
captured and spent the next twelve years in a dungeon; another was
Michael Bakunin, who became the founder of the Anarchist movement; and
the third was Richard Wagner, royal operatic conductor.

Germany’s greatest living genius spent his next twelve years as a
political exile in France and Switzerland. He utilized the time, in part
to pour out political pamphlets, and in part to embody his revolutionary
view of life in his greatest art work. Those who are interested in the
pamphlets may find extracts in “The Cry for Justice.” Here is a sample
from a manifesto entitled “Revolution,” published in the Dresden

     Arise, then, ye people of the earth, arise, ye sorrow-stricken and
     oppressed. Ye, also, who vainly struggle to clothe the inner
     desolation of your hearts with the transient glory of riches,
     arise! Come and follow in my track with the joyful crowd, for I
     know not how to make distinction between those who follow me. There
     are but two peoples from henceforth on earth--the one which follows
     me, and the one which resists me. The one I will lead to happiness,
     but the other I will crush in my progress. For I am the Revolution,
     I am the new creating force. I am the divinity which discerns all
     life, which embraces, revives, and rewards.

The art work in which Wagner embodied these revolutionary ideas is known
as “The Ring of the Nibelung.” It consists of four long operas, based
upon the old German mythology. It begins with a charming fairy story and
ends with a grim tragedy; and from first to last it is a study of the
effects of economic power upon human life.

In the depths of the river dwell the Rhine-maidens, having a lump of
gold which they admire because it shines, but for which they have no
other use. An ugly little dwarf pursues them; and when he cannot get
their love, he decides to get along with their gold. He steals it, and
makes from it a magic ring, which represents the ability to build cities
and palaces, to command luxury and pleasure--to be, in short, our
present master class. Even the gods are seduced by this lure, and fall
to quarreling and intriguing for the magic power of gold. The god Wotan
wrests it from the dwarf Alberich; and the latter puts a curse upon it,
to the effect that it can only be worn by those who have renounced
love--which is just as you see it in our modern world, and just as
Wagner saw it when he was a court servant in Dresden, and was driven mad
by the insolence of hereditary privilege.

There are two giants, who represent our great captains of industry, and
have built Wotan a palace known as Walhalla. The giants have been
promised Wotan’s sister, the goddess of youthful beauty and goodness, as
their pay for this labor; but they elect to take the ring instead. This
is Wagner’s way of telling us his opinion of the great bankers and
gentlemen of wealth whom he vainly besought to assist him in the
production of his beautiful works of art.

There were no factories in old German mythology; but the scene shows us
a cavern down in the bowels of the earth, where Alberich, by the power
of his ring, compels all his fellow dwarfs to toil at making treasures
for him. We see him wielding the lash, and the music snarls and whines,
and it is precisely the atmosphere you find in every sweat-shop and
cotton mill and coal mine under our blessed competitive system. And when
we see one of the giants slay his brother, and carry off the ring, and
turn himself into a dragon, to sit upon it and guard it for the balance
of time, we know that Wagner has visited the millionaire clubs of
Dresden, and seen the fat old plutocrats in their big leather

Wotan, the old god, sees too late the ruin he has brought into the
world; he decides that the only way of escape is to create a hero who
shall slay the dragon of privilege and break the spell of economic
might. This hero is the young Siegfried, the child of nature who knows
no fear; Bernard Shaw says that he is Wagner’s young Anarchist
associate, Bakunin. And note that in this Siegfried myth Wagner
foreshadows the downfall not only of capitalism, but also of religion.
The last of the four operas is called “The Twilight of the Gods,” and
the two evil spells of gold and of superstition are broken by the strong
arm and the clear mind of a human youth.

Wagner wrote the words of these four operas immediately after the
Dresden revolution; the poem was privately published four years after
his flight from the city. During the years of his exile he affords us a
sublime example of a great man contending with obstacles for the sake of
an ideal. He went ahead to compose his masterpiece in the face of
poverty and debt, ridicule and ignominy. His works were absolutely new,
they required an absolutely new method of presentation; so, even when he
could get a chance of production, he had to face the stupidity and
malice of singers and conductors and managers, who were sure in their
own conceit and resented instructions from an upstart.

We find him in 1860, almost at the end of his exile, receiving from
Louis Napoleon an opportunity to put on “Tannhäuser” in Paris. Now this
opera is a music sermon in reprehension of sensual love; it portrays the
ruin and ultimate repentance of a medieval knight who is lured into the
Venusburg, the lurking place of the old heathen goddess. And this Sunday
school lesson in music was to be presented in the great opera house,
whose boxes were rented by members of the Jockey Club, the gilded youth
of Paris who supported the opera in order to provide publicity for their
mistresses in the ballet!

The clash was embittered by the fact that the members of the Jockey Club
came late from their supper-parties, and wanted to see their mistresses
dance; therefore it was an iron-clad law of the opera that the ballet
came in the second act. But in Wagner’s Sunday school lesson the knight
is lured into the Venusburg in the first act, and the composer
stubbornly refused to change his story. Therefore the young gentlemen of
the Jockey Club yelled and hooted and blew penny-whistles all through
the performance, and kept that up night after night. They even took the
trouble to come on Sunday to make sure of breaking up Wagner’s show.

It would be pleasant to have to record that this hero of the social
revolution stood by his guns until the end of his life; but alas, he
weakened, and sold out completely to the enemy. Bernard Shaw excuses him
on the ground that the social revolution was not yet ready, and that the
revolutionists were impractical men. But I say that it was Wagner’s task
to help make the social revolution ready, and to train the
revolutionists by setting them an example of probity. Instead of that,
he decided that the establishing of his own reputation was more
important than the salvation of society. He accepted amnesty from the
Saxon king, and came back and made himself into a great captain of the
music industry, and a national and patriotic hero.

He became the intimate friend and pensioner of the king of Bavaria; and
for this king he wrote a highly confidential paper entitled “Of the
State and Religion,” wherein he explained that he had once been a
Socialist, but he now saw that the masses were gross and dull, incapable
of high achievement. The problem was to get them to serve ends which
they did not understand; they must be deceived, they must have
illusions. The first mass-illusion was patriotism; they must be taught
to reverence their king. The second mass-illusion was religion; they
must believe they were obeying the will of God. The difficulty of
government lay in the fact that the ruling class must see the truth,
they could not believe either in the State or in God. For them there
must be the higher illusions of the Wagnerian art. Needless to say, for
this secret service King Ludwig paid generously, and we find Wagner
spending his pension--I cite one item, three hundred yards of satin of
thirteen carefully specified colors, at a cost of three thousand

He had craved luxury all his life, and in the end he got it--not merely
silks and satins and velvets, for which he had a sort of insanity, but
all kinds of splendor and homage, with kings and emperors to attend the
opening performances of his operas. When the Franco-Prussian war breaks
out we find our Siegfried-Bakunin drinking the cup of military glory and
pouring out a “Kaiser-march”; we find him stooping to an operatic
libretto in which he casts odium upon all the genius of France, not
sparing even Victor Hugo. He reads Schopenhauer, and decides that he is
a pessimist, and has always been a pessimist, and he tries to
reinterpret his revolutionary “Ring” accordingly. He composes a
religious festival play, a mixture of Christian mysticism and Buddhist
fatalism, called “Parsival,” which made the fortune of his Bayreuth
enterprise, a play-house built out of funds subscribed by his admirers.

Wagner lived to old age, full of honors, and left a widow and a son,
poetically named Siegfried. The widow died recently, but the son still
survives, to bask in his father’s glory, and to gather in the shekels of
the music pilgrims. It is possible to appreciate to the full the
sublimity of the revolutionary Wagner without paying reverence to this
family institution which he has left behind, or for the hordes of
“Schwaermer” who come to eat sausages and drink beer and revel in
emotions which they have no idea of applying to life. Is there anything
in all the tragedies imagined by Richard Wagner more tragic than the
fate which has befallen the young Siegfried-Bakunin--whose prestige and
tradition are now the financial mainstay of the White Terror in Germany,
the Jew-baiting, Communist-shooting mob of the “Hakenkreutzler,” or
Bavarian Fascisti?



Ogi has been wandering about the cave with a discontented expression on
his face, showing a disposition to growl at whatever gets in his way.
Mrs. Ogi, whose job is to notice domestic weather-signs, inquires: “What
is the matter with you?”

Says Ogi: “I have to write an uninteresting chapter.”

“Why don’t you skip it?”

“I can’t, because it deals with an interesting man.” As she cannot guess
that riddle, he goes on to complain: “If only I had been writing this
book twenty-five years ago, when I thought ‘Sartor Resartus’ the most
delightful book ever penned! But I went on, and got an overdose of
Carlyle. I read almost all that Gospel of Silence in forty volumes; and
now I sit and ask: what did I learn from it? Some facts, of course:
history and biography. But did I get a single valid idea, one sound
conclusion about life?”

“Explain it quickly, and pass on,” says Mrs. Ogi.

“I explain the human race, blocked from the future by a sheet-steel
door. We need the acetylene torch of spiritual fervor; also we need the
engineering brain, to say: “Put it here, and here, and cut the hinges.”
In the face of this task, some of the wielders of the torch go off and
get drunk. Others fall down on their knees and pray. Others forbid us to
touch the door, because God made it and it is His will. Others write
noble verses with perfect rhymes, to the effect that man is born to
trouble, and great art teaches us to endure discomfort with dignity.
Others take fire with zeal, and proceed to butt the door down with their
heads. They butt and butt, until their heads ache. I realize how
undignified it is to describe a great master of English prose as a
‘sorehead’; yet there happens to be no other word in the language that
so tells the story of Thomas Carlyle.”

He was the son of a carpenter in Scotland, and suffered from poverty and
neglect, and through a long life from indigestion. He complained
pathetically that Emerson ate pie and was well, while he ate plain
oatmeal and was miserable. He was irritable, and hard to get along
with--we are privileged to know about this, because both he and his wife
wrote endless letters to their friends, detailing their domestic
troubles, and these letters are published in many volumes, and we can
read both sides and take our choice. Tennyson refused assent to the
proposition that the Carlyles should have married elsewhere; because
then there would have been four miserable people instead of two.

Carlyle made himself, and also his literary style; he was a hack writer,
biographer and translator, and struggled along with a dissatisfied young
wife in a lonely country cottage. “Sartor Resartus” was written at the
age of thirty-five, and sketches the philosophy of an imaginary German
professor, whose name translated means “Devil’s Dung”; this professor’s
philosophy being based upon the discovery that everything in
civilization is merely clothes, the outside of things, the shams and
pretensions and conventions. It is funny to imagine our statesmen and
diplomats and prominent society personages stripped, not merely of their
medals and ribbons, but also of their shirts and trousers; very few of
them would look imposing--and the same applies to civilization with its
proprieties, moralities and religions. This work of uproarious mischief
fell absolutely flat in well-dressed and well-mannered England, and
Emerson and a few people in far-off Boston had to inform the British
cultured classes that they had a new prophet among them.

The teaching of “Sartor Resartus” is entirely negative; and when you ask
what Carlyle had to contribute to constructive thinking about our
hateful social system, the answer is: nonsense. He saw the evils, and
scolded at them--and scolded equally hard at the forces which are to
remedy the evils. Carlyle had contempt for the people, out of whose lap
he had sprung; he despised democracy and the whole machinery of popular
consent. He repaid America for discovering him by ridiculing the Union
cause; he denounced the reform bill of 1867 as “Shooting Niagara.”

Carlyle’s way to set the world right is revealed to us in a book called
“Hero-Worship.” First we have to find the Great Man; and then we have to
obey him. “Obedience is the primary duty of man”--meaning, of course,
the man like you and me, who is spelled with a little m. The one who is
spelled with a capital letter is the Autocrat, who makes us do what we
ought to do. “A nation that has not been governed by so-called tyrants
never came to much in the world.”

Our Great Tyrant sets us all hard at work. He makes us build houses and
cultivate farms--but no machinery or railroads, because these constitute
Industrialism, which is a Mammon-Monster. If we do our work by machinery
we have leisure, and that is dangerous; we must have Work, and then more
Work, our one safe Deliverance from Devil-Mischief--you see how one
picks up the style of the “Gospel of Silence”!

Having got the houses built, what next? Why then, to save us from the
Idleness-Imp we set to work knocking the houses down with cannon-balls.
I don’t mean that Carlyle always advocated war; what he did was to
glorify systems of government which historically have resulted and
psychologically must result in war. At the age of fifty-eight, having
surveyed the whole of history, our Scotch hero-worshipper selected the
greatest of human heroes to become the subject of a grand state
biography in six volumes: and whom do you suppose this hero turns out to
be? Frederick of Prussia, who stole Silesia from his cousin, and seized
Poland and divided it up among Austria, Russia and himself; Jonathan
Wild the Great, founder of the Hohenzollern Heroism, and
great-great-grandfather of our World War!

I dutifully read those six large volumes, and studied the series of
charts in which the strategy of Frederick’s military campaigns is set
forth. I learned a fascinating parlor game, which consists in moving
here and there little black and white oblongs representing regiments and
brigades and divisions and other military formations of human beings.
The white oblongs represent your own human beings, and the black oblongs
represent the human beings you propose to destroy; you pound them to
pieces with artillery, you sweep them with volleys of musketry, you
charge them with cavalry and chop them with sabres--and then you move up
other oblongs, called reserves, and continue the procedure. It is safer
to play this game on paper, because when you get through, you can throw
the paper into the waste-basket, and do not have some tens of thousands
of dead and mutilated men and horses decaying all over your back yard.

A pitiful ending for a Prophet and Preacher who aspires to the Remaking
of Mankind in Capital Letters! Just a poor, bewildered old dotard,
dyspeptic and crotchety, helpless and blundering, aspiring to a certain
end and working to the opposite end.

“But why should anyone consider such a man great?” asks Mrs. Ogi.

“I have been trying to formulate that to myself. It is because he had
the grace to be unhappy about our modern world. He did not get drunk on
moonshine; he did not tell himself that God was going to do what it was
obviously the business of men to do. He didn’t persuade himself that
Evolution was going to do it, or that Time was going to do it, or that
Faith was going to do it. He didn’t prattle about one increasing purpose
running through the ages, or about one far-off divine event to which the
whole creation moves. He didn’t decide to dream his dream and hold it
true, or to have moments when he felt he could not die. He didn’t tell
us that Love will conquer at the last, or that his faith was large in

“This appears to be a transition,” says Mrs. Ogi.

“Precisely. We are about to begin a new chapter: The Lullaby Laureate,
or Queen Victoria’s Super-Soothing Syrup.”



The story of my own soul is the story of Alfred Tennyson’s reputation
for the last thirty or forty years; so that is the easiest way for me to
tell about it.

I was one of Tennyson’s cultural products. I cannot recall the age when
I did not know “Call me early, mother dear,” and “What does little
birdie say?” As soon as I had the idea of being anything, I had the idea
of being Sir Galahad. I attended very devoutly a church, which differed
from that of Alfred Tennyson in one fact--that it had a prayer for the
President of the United States in place of a prayer for the Queen. I
doubt if it ever occurred to me to think that Tennyson might be wrong in
anything--until the age of fifteen, when suddenly there dawned upon my
horrified mind the idea that Christianity was merely another mythology.

I wrestled with this idea for a couple of years, and part of the
struggle consisted of a study of “In Memoriam,” recommended by my
spiritual adviser. The poem suggested a great many new reasons for
doubting the immortality of the soul; but it suggested no certainty that
the Creator of the universe, having given me one life, was under
obligation to give me two. Which meant that I was through with
Tennyson, whose whole product, on its religious side, is an agonized cry
that immortality must be.

In politics and economics I experienced a similar revulsion from my
one-time idol. He seemed to me a victim of all the delusions, a
celebrator of all the shams of civilization. Even his poetical charms
now annoyed me, serving as trimming and decoration for second-rate
ideas. In my reaction I went too far, as have all the young people of
our time; for Tennyson was really a great poet, and a man of fine and
generous spirit.

He was the son of a Church of England clergyman, and that is a fact
which must never be forgotten; he grew up in a rectory, and wrote Sunday
poetry. He was the elder brother of a big family, and took the position
of elder brother to all mankind. He was tall and imposing, dark and
romantic looking, cultivating long wavy black locks and a Spanish cloak
and a poet’s pipe. When he did not know anything to say, he puffed at
his pipe and looked magnificent, and everybody was awed.

Culture came naturally in his family. He had written five thousand
octosyllabic rhymes at the age of twelve. His first verses were
published when he was young, and because one or two critics made fun of
them, he took refuge in his dignity and waited nine years to publish
again. “Ulysses” made his fame when he was thirty-three, and two years
later he received a pension from the Tory government. Two years after
that came “The Princess,” a dramatic composition in ridicule of the
higher education of women; it suited the lower-educated Victorian ladies
so perfectly that it ran into five editions. In 1850, at the age of
forty-one, Tennyson became the laureate; when he was seventy-four he was
raised to the peerage. No other English poet has earned this honor,
which is reserved to wholesale slaughterers of animals and men, to
brewers, whiskey distillers, diamond merchants, and publishers of
capitalist dope.

Concerning Lord Tennyson as an artist in words, there is little that
needs to be said. He received his “ten talents” and put them to use;
everywhere he went he carefully collected poetical impressions, words,
phrases and ideas, and jotted them down. No one ever spent more time
filing and perfecting, and no one was more completely master of
beautiful utterance.

He had an inquiring mind, and picked up ideas on all subjects and put
them into his poetry; but unfortunately he found consecutive thinking
very difficult, and you can find as many contradictory thoughts in him
as in the Bible. He has an invincible repugnance to the drawing of
uncomfortable conclusions; whenever his thinking leads to such, he
evaporates in a cloud of comforting words. His verse contains more
platitudes and cheap cheer-up stuff than any other poet known to me; and
so he was the darling of the antimacassar age.

England had put down Napoleon and taken possession of the trade of the
world. There were revolutions on the continent, but at home nothing
worse than a few rioters to be clubbed by the police. The foggy islands
were a safe haven, administered by landlords and merchants. Everything
was for the best in the best of all possible worlds, and the function of
a poet was to tell it to the people, in such beautiful language that
they would accept it as a revelation.

Tennyson in his early days had shown traces of liberalism, but the
Chartist movement frightened him into reaction, and there he stayed.
“Shout for England!” says the chorus of one of his poems, and the
function of the shout in suppressing thought is understood by all
students of mob psychology. “Riflemen, form!” exhorted another poem,
published in the “Times”--

    Let your reforms for a moment go;
    Look to your butts, and take good aim.

That was, so to speak, a “Timesly” sentiment; the riflemen hastened to
form, and the young aristocrats led them to slaughter, and the poet
laureate had to come forward again to glorify the British national habit
of blundering. “The Charge of the Light Brigade” was so popular in its
day that it was printed on picture post cards; every school child
learned the duty of the lower classes under the Tory system--

    Theirs not to make reply,
    Theirs not to question why,
    Theirs but to do and die.

Bear in mind that the factory system was now in full flower, and little
children ten and twelve years old were slaving all night in cotton
mills, or dragging heavy cars in the depths of coal mines. English
manufacturers and landlords were taxing the lower classes to such a
condition that today, when you see them pouring out for their holidays
upon Hampstead Heath, they seem not human beings, but some lower
species, shambling and deformed. Once in a while a gleam of this horror
breaks into Tennyson’s verse; but even then the message is
reactionary--an English gentleman is scolding at commercialism because
it destroys the good old country life.

But for the most part the Victorian way of dealing with uncomfortable
things was to hush them up. Poetry must select pure and sweet subjects;
poetry must be polite, it must use big words and preserve the home
comforts. It is our duty to believe what is proper, even when it is
obviously not true.

I have referred to Tennyson’s long agony on the subject of immortality.
The deepest experience of his life was the death of his friend, Arthur
Hallam, a man who apparently knew how to think, and to drive the dreamy
poet to work. It is puzzling to us that a grown man should be so taken
aback by death; it would seem to be a common enough phenomenon to be
noted and prepared for. But Tennyson was struck down mentally and
spiritually, and his sufferings make clear to us that he did not really
believe his creed. Men who are seriously convinced of heaven don’t mind
waiting a few years to join their loved ones; but Tennyson was never
really sure that he would see Arthur Hallam again, and he spent
seventeen years brooding over this problem, and putting his broodings
into “In Memoriam.”

The poet early fell in love with a young English lady, but could not
afford to marry her; so he waited twenty years, and she waited also. Now
there have been poets who married when they fell in love, and went off
and kept house in a garret or a cottage, and made out the best they
could. But Tennyson had to have his poet’s robe and his poet’s chair in
front of the fireplace; he had to be an English gentleman, and to keep
his wife like an English lady in the days of Victorian propriety. The
lady, when they were finally united, put an end to fretting over
immortality; she explained to her husband that “doubt is
devil-born”--and what gentleman wants a devil in his home? It is better
to become an oracle: to preach about peace in a far future, and meantime
wield a sword in the Crimea; to sing about justice, and vote the Tory
ticket; to have all the comforts that fine phrases can bring, without
sacrificing those other comforts of popularity and prosperity.

Tennyson went back to the old days of Britain, and falsified the story
of King Arthur so as to make it sweetly sentimental. “Obedience is the
bond of rule,” he wrote; and so Queen Victoria’s husband came to call on
him. He preached submission to womanhood: “Lay thy sweet hands in mine
and trust to me”--and so he was summoned to Windsor Castle to kiss the
sweet hand of his queen. One thinks of the sweet hands of those English
ladies who took up hatchets and chopped the pictures in the National

Victoria’s beloved husband died, and Tennyson wrote an ode to him; so he
became the dear pudgy old lady’s intimate friend, and she confided to
him the troubles of royalty. “How I wish you could suggest means of
crushing those horrible publications, whose object is to promulgate
scandal and calumny, which they invent themselves!” The poet did his
best; his most popular sentimental and patriotic stuff was published in
pamphlets which sold for thrippence; but in spite of everything the
labor movement continued to take root, and likewise Socialism--or
“Utopian idiocy,” to use the Tennysonian phrase.

He sits upon his throne, eighty years of age and more, and hardly anyone
questions his supremacy; he is the greatest English poet since
Shakespeare, there is no living writer to be compared to him. We pity
him, for after all, he is a great man, and has written great
verse--“Ulysses,” for example, of which no one could ever wish to change
a line. He has written lyrics of beauty and real eloquence. But now he
sees the younger generation traveling another road from his, and he
wonders and fears and storms and scolds. He is too clear-sighted not to
see the wreck of his dreams--

    Poor old voice of eighty crying after voices that have fled!

He looks about and sees modern capitalism--

     Is it well that while we range with Science, glorying in the time,
     City children soak and blacken soul and sense in city slime?

It was no common Victorian who saw that at the age of eighty; and no
fair critic will deny him credit for such lines. But the elderly
poet-lord had no idea what to do about it, and capitalist society
continued to nourish its secret disease, which twenty-two years after
Tennyson’s death was to cover the whole earth with vomit.



There was another poet who grew up in this unpromising Victorian
England. His father and grandfather were bank officials, and he had a
comfortable income. In his youth he was a dandy, with lemon-colored
gloves and flowing poetical locks; he turned into a leading clubman and
a prominent diner-out. He believed in the Church of England, and in
those social conventions which guide the lives of English gentlemen; he
refused to permit his wife to have anything to do with George Sand’s
Bohemian set, and when she tried to investigate spiritualism he broke up
the show.

And yet he managed to be a great and open-minded poet, and in many ways
a revolutionary force. He had in him a core of sound instinct, a healthy
belief in life and a trust in his own intellect. He fell in love with a
lady poet by the name of Elizabeth Barrett, who was an invalid, kept in
a kind of prison of duty by a tyrannical old father. The poet did not
wait twenty years for her; he persuaded her to slip around the corner
and marry him--a dreadful scandal in the polite world of England.

When I was a lad we did not have the word “high-brow”; its place was
filled by the word “Browning.” Learned ladies and gentlemen had formed a
“Browning Society,” and held solemn meetings in which they tried to find
out what these poems were about. Apparently the task proved a difficult
one, for they are at it still.

Now a poet may be obscure because he has something to say which is very
profound; but there is little of that kind of obscurity in Robert
Browning. When you decipher his message, it turns out to be something
quite obvious, like the immortality of the soul, or the rights of love,
or the fact that human motives are mixed. The cause of the obscurity is
that the poet has invented a perverse way of telling these things; he
likes to play around the outside of a subject, approach it from a dozen
different angles, and set you the task of piecing the thing together
from hints and glimpses.

He is an enormously learned person, and has rummaged in a thousand old
dust-bins of history, and acquired a million details of names and places
and things; he pays you the generally quite undeserved compliment of
assuming that you know all this as well as he does. If he wishes to tell
you about some unknown musician in the court of some obscure Renaissance
ruler, he will begin by talking about a ring this musician used to wear,
and the first dozen lines of the poem will depend upon an ancient Greek
legend concerning the stone that is in the ring. If you don’t know the
legend about the stone in the ring of the musician in the court of the
Renaissance ruler, why then the opening of the poem has no meaning to
you, and the Browning Society might hold a hundred sessions on the
subject without making head or tail of it. Such writing is simply a bad
joke; it is one of the many forms of leisure-class art perversions.

When Browning chooses to write real poetry, he can make it just as
simple and as melodious as Tennyson’s, and far more passionate. He
invented a new and fascinating poetical form, the dramatic lyric, or
dramatic soliloquy. He will take some strange and complicated character,
whom he has picked up in the junk-rooms of the past, and let this
character start to talk and reveal himself to you--not merely the things
he wants you to know, but the things he is trying to hide from you, and
which he lets slip between the lines. Thus we have Mr. Sludge, the
spiritualist medium, who would have converted Mrs. Browning if the poet
had not kicked him out of the house. Thus we have Bishop Blougram, an
elegant and thoroughly modern Catholic prelate, discussing with an
intimate friend over the wine and cigars the delicate question of how he
justifies himself for feeding base superstition to the people, who want
it and can’t get along without it.

Browning knew how to be direct, when his feelings were deeply enough
stirred. He was direct when he dealt with the old poet Wordsworth and
his apostasy from the cause of freedom. Anyone can understand the title,
“The Lost Leader,” and the opening lines

    Just for a handful of silver he left us,
      Just for a riband to stick in his coat.

Likewise, when the Brownings went to Italy and took fire at the struggle
of the Italian people for freedom, everybody understood the poetry they
wrote home; even the Austrian police understood it, for they opened
Browning’s mail, to his furious indignation. Likewise, when Mrs.
Browning died and some persons proposed to write her biography without
her husband’s permission, the husband was able to make known his
opposition. He spoke of “the paws of these blackguards in my bowels,”
and said he would “stop the scamp’s knavery along with his breath.”

For his master-work, to which he devoted his later years, Browning made
a peculiar selection. It was a time when democracy was breaking into the
world of culture, in spite of all the opposition of academic authority.
We shall find poets and novelists in every country persisting in dealing
with vulgar reality, instead of with mythological demigods and romantic
conquerors. Browning went for his story to an old scandal pamphlet he
picked up in a second-hand bookshop of Florence. He might as well have
picked up a scrap of a Hearst newspaper from the gutter, for it dealt
with a sensational murder story, what is called a “crime of passion.” An
elderly merchant in Rome had killed his wife, and at his trial he proved
that she had run away with a young priest. The priest maintained that
the elopement had been a chaste one; he was trying to save the girl from
the cruelty of her husband.

Browning, in telling the story, adopts the ultra-modern device of the
open forum: all sides shall have a hearing. In “The Ring and the Book”
you read nine long narratives of the same events. You hear Half Rome,
which sides with the husband; then you hear the Other Half Rome, which
sides with the wife. You hear the husband, the wife, the young priest,
the lawyers for each side, and the pope, rendering judgment. When you
get through with all this reading you have learned several important
lessons: you have learned that life is a complicated thing, and truth
very difficult to arrive at; you have learned that good and evil live
side by side in the same human heart; you have learned to think for
yourself, and not to believe everything you hear; finally, you have
learned that the most sordid human events offer a potential literary
masterpiece--requiring only a man of genius to penetrate the hearts of
the persons involved!



In this writer’s youth, when he was struggling to earn a living in New
York, there was one magazine which was open to new ideas, the
“Independent.” Its literary editor was Paul Elmer More, and he gave me a
chance to write book reviews for him--and then, alas! decided that he
could find other people whose writing he preferred. Mr. More evolved
into a critic, and has published I don’t know how many volumes of what
he calls the “Shelburne Essays.” Up to a few years ago, when Professor
Sherman made his appearance, I used to say that More was the one
literary conservative in America who was not intellectually
contemptible; the one man who combined scholarship with a perfectly
definite and consistent point of view, no sentimentality, and no
water-tight compartments in his brain.

In the third volume of the “Shelburne Essays” Mr. More has one dealing
with Byron’s “Don Juan.” I smile when I reflect with what contempt Mr.
More would greet the proposition that he should read a modern writer as
slangy, as licentious, and as popular as Byron! But “Don Juan” was
written a hundred years ago; so it is a “classic,” and Mr. More greets
its author as the last of the great pessimists, one who had the wit to
recognize the futility of human life, and the courage to speak his
conclusions plainly.

Things have changed since Byron’s day, Mr. More explains. “We, who have
approached the consummation of the world’s hope, know that happiness and
peace and the fulfilment of desires are about to settle down and brood
for ever more over the lot of mankind.” This, I had better explain, is
sarcasm on Mr. More’s part. He is irritated because modern scientific
people have presumed to think that human problems can be solved. He is
so much irritated that he turns his essay on Byron into a series of
sneers at “the new dispensation of official optimism.” For example, this
kind of thing:

     Next year, or the next, some divine invention shall come which will
     prove this melancholy of the poets to have been only a childish
     ignorance of man’s sublimer destiny; some discovery of a new
     element more wonderful than radium will render the ancient brooding
     over human feebleness a matter of laughter and astonishment; some
     acceptance of the larger brotherhood of the race will wipe away all
     tears and bring down upon earth the fair dream of heaven, a reality
     and a possession forever; some new philosophy of the soul will
     convert the old poems of conflict into meaningless fables, stale
     and unprofitable.

What is the meaning of this attitude of envenomed resentment at the idea
of a hope for mankind? We shall note it again and again among the poets
and critics of the ancient regime--of what we may call “the old
dispensation of official pessimism.” It used to puzzle me that scholars
and thinkers should be so malicious and perverted as to find pleasure in
trampling upon human aspiration; but after years of pondering I think I
understand it. These gentlemen are guests at a banquet, who, seeing the
food too long delayed, and despairing of anything better, have filled
their bellies with husks and straw; and now, when they are full, and can
no longer eat, they see the good food coming to the table!

It was a perfectly natural thing for an ancient to be pessimistic. He
saw the world as a place of blind cruelty, the battle-ground of forces
which he did not understand; and what guarantee could he have that the
feeble intellect of man would ever tame these giants? So he made for
himself a philosophy of stern resignation, and an art of beautiful but
mournful despair. The scholars and lovers of old things have identified
themselves and their reputations with these ancient dignities and
renunciations, these tender and touching griefs; and how shall they
express their irritation when bumptious youth arises, and proceeds to
take charge of life, to abolish pestilence and famine, poverty, war,
crime--and perhaps, in the end, even old age and death?

All this is preliminary to the introduction of another Victorian poet;
one who moved me deeply in my youth, and still holds my undimmed
affection. I would choose Matthew Arnold as the perfect exemplar of the
“classical” attitude toward life; that is, resignation, at once pathetic
and heroic, to the pitiful fate of mankind on earth. Listen to him at
his best:

    Ah, love, let us be true
    To one another! for the world, which seems
    To lie before us like a land of dreams,
    So various, so beautiful, so new,
    Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
    Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
    And we are here as on a darkling plain
    Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
    Where ignorant armies clash by night.

The author of these lines was the son of a great teacher, and therefore
had no money. He spent thirty years of his life as an inspector of
schools; a most pitiful destiny for a poet--traveling all over England
to hear little children recite the list of the kings and the counties,
and tell the number of legs on a spider. The fountain of his poetry
dried up, and he became a critic, not merely of English letters but of
English life; in many ways the most radical and most intelligent critic
that Victorian England had. He preached the gospel of sweetness and
light; also, alas, he went on the war-path against an infamous bill
which was being agitated in Parliament, to permit a man to violate the
old Mosaic code by marrying the sister of his deceased wife!

Matthew Arnold insisted that it wasn’t on account of Moses, but on
account of a thing he called “delicacy.” You cannot travel in Victorian
England without encountering phenomena like this. You will be introduced
to what appears to you a perfectly sane and self-contained and
cultivated gentleman, wearing exactly the correct frock-coat and tie;
but then, you will happen to touch one of his tribal taboos, and
suddenly he will shriek, and tear off his shirt, and pull out a sharp
knife, and begin to slash himself, and dance and whirl in a holy frenzy.

--Ogi, wishing to make sure about this point, goes to the source of all
information on the subject of refinement in sex matters. “Tell me,” he
says, “if you were to die, would it be indelicate of me to marry one of
your younger sisters?”

Mrs. Ogi, who has never read the Mosaic code, and is not learned in the
Victorian lunacies, looks at her husband with a puzzled expression. “I
helped to raise my sisters,” she says. “Surely any wife would want to
leave her husband in safe hands!”



In the first half of this nineteenth century the British factory system
came to maturity; the capitalist class took charge of society, and
forced the working class into a condition of degradation hitherto
unknown upon this planet. The class struggle took definite
shape--Chartist agitations and suffrage reform bills and Corn Law
riots--and there arose in England a man of genius to tell about the
wrongs of the people from his own first-hand experience.

His father was a wretchedly paid government clerk, who had no
acquaintance with the birth control movement. Charles Dickens was one of
eight half-starved children, and went to work at the age of ten in a
filthy, ramshackle blacking factory. The cruelties he there experienced
stamped his soul for life, and helped to make the radical movement of
the English-speaking world.

Later on he got a chance to go to school, and became a court
stenographer and newspaper reporter, and saw the insides of ruling-class
rascality. He began writing humorous sketches which turned into the
“Pickwick Papers,” and so at the age of twenty-four he was carried up
into a golden cloud of glory. World fame and success were his for the
balance of his life; but he never entirely forgot the meaning of his
early days, and remained to some extent an apostle of the poor and

When I say that Dickens is radical propaganda, I do not mean merely that
he wrote novel after novel exposing the abuses of his time, the
cruelties of the poor laws, the horrors of the debtors’ prisons, the
delays and corruptions of the courts, the knaveries and imbecilities of
politics. I do not mean merely that he hated by instinct and ridiculed
all through his life, lawyers and judges and newspaper editors and
preachers and priests of capitalist prosperity. I mean something more
deep and more fundamental than that: I mean that the very selection of
his themes and of his characters, the whole environment and atmosphere
of his novels, is a piece of propaganda. For Dickens proceeds to force
into the aristocratic and exclusive realms of art the revolutionary
notion that the poor and degraded are equally as interesting as the rich
and respectable. We are invited, not merely to laugh at the antics of
illiterate and unrefined people, as in Shakespeare; we are invited to
enter into their hearts and minds, to put ourselves in their place and
actually live their experiences. As reward for so doing, we are offered
treasures of laughter and tears and thrills.

I don’t know how it is nowadays, but in my boyhood, which was some
twenty years after Dickens’ death, everybody read him--my rich
relatives, who read nothing else, and my poor relatives, broken-down
Southern aristocrats, who read nothing else except the life of Robert E.
Lee. And then in New York, the people I met in boarding-houses and
third-rate lodgings--all shuddered over Bill Sykes and wept over Paul
Dombey and laughed over Mr. Pickwick and Sam Weller.

Dickens was, and remained to the end, from the point of view of
leisure-class culture, a quite vulgar person. He took a naive delight in
his worldly triumphs, and counted the success of his books by sales and
money. He was a born actor, and loved to shine before the public;
devising dramatic readings of his works, and taking endless tours, both
in England and America, gathering great sums of money--though of course
not to be compared with the moving picture fortunes of our day. It was a
time when audiences liked to shed tears out loud, and Dickens liked to
join them; he has all the tremolo stops in his organ, and piles on
sentiment until we shudder. Fastidious and literary persons have now
made it fashionable to declare that Dickens is unreadable; but the
people have read him, and his sentiment as well as his humor are a part
of our racial heritage, and one of the fountain-heads of the Socialist
movement. His books are a five million word reiteration of the old
Chartist hymn--

    When wilt thou save the people?
      O God of mercy! when?
    Not kings and lords, but nations!
      Not thrones and crowns, but men!

Dickens himself was entirely instinctive in his class feelings; his mind
was a typical middle-class muddle, and his remedy for the ills he
pictured was kindness and poor law reform and charity bazaars--hanging
paper garlands about the neck of the tiger of capitalism. The British
masses needed time in which to find out how to bind and destroy this
beast; but the first service was to proclaim the fact that this
capitalist world is a world impossible for sensitive and decent human
beings to endure--a world in which justice has become the Circumlocution
Office, and truth has become Thomas Gradgrind, and Christianity has
become Mr. Pecksniff and Uriah Heep.



Emerson, commenting upon the old saying that “No man is a hero to his
valet,” put the question: “What hero ever had a valet?” This goes to
prove that Emerson was not a reader of popular fiction; for if he had
been following the novels of William Makepeace Thackeray in “Fraser’s
Magazine,” he would have known that it is impossible for any hero to be
without a valet. In Dickens we enter into the lives of the poor, and in
Thackeray we enter into the lives of the rich, and it is hard for us to
decide which class has the greater claim to our pity.

Thackeray was bom in India, his father being a government official. They
tried to educate him at Cambridge, but it didn’t take, because he was
incorrigibly desultory, a big, good-natured fellow who loved eating and
drinking and gambling and good fellowship--everything, in short, but
hard work. He early lost his fortune, trying to publish a paper; then he
had to work, and became a contributor to “Punch,” and developed a
faculty for burlesque verses and satiric sketches.

In my youth there was general complaint that Thackeray was “a cynic.”
Let us settle that question at the outset; he was one of the most
sentimental souls that ever walked about the world in trousers. But he
had a pair of eyes, and he saw in the fashionable society around him a
hundred different varieties of snobs; he collected them into a “Book of
Snobs”--each one like a butterfly stuck on a pin. He went on to write a
series of novels, full of scoldings varied by ridicule of human vanity
and folly.

His first great work remains entirely neglected by the critics. “Barry
Lyndon” is a marvelous piece of sustained irony, the story of a capable
scoundrel, who makes his way in the great world by being just a little
sharper than the people he meets, and a little more honest with himself.
You recall how Milton, a devout and orthodox Puritan, could not refrain
from making Satan heroic, because Satan was a rebel and Milton was
another. We notice the same phenomenon in this case of Barry Lyndon, who
does every kind of rascal thing; yet the fact remains, he is living by
his wits, he is surviving in a world of privilege and power, and
Thackeray is secretly thrilled by him. That doubtless accounts for the
unpopularity of the story; for the average novel reader likes to have
his villains labeled, and not to mix his blacks and his whites.

The instinctive rebel in Thackeray shows himself still more plainly in
“Vanity Fair.” This time the villain is Becky Sharp, an utterly
heartless intriguer, selling her sex for money and power. Nevertheless,
she is a woman “on her own,” a little tiger-cat backed into a corner,
with all the world poking sticks at her; she fights back, and gets the
best of her enemies, and Thackeray cannot help making her the most
interesting figure in the book.

As a respectable Victorian sentimentalist, he did his best to provide us
with a foil for Becky, giving us Amelia Sedley, the perfect, submissive,
adoring female. The daughter of a wealthy merchant, Amelia has never had
a moment’s discomfort in her life. She is a model of the Victorian
virtues; she honors and serves the male members of her family, no matter
how selfish and worthless they may be. She has the brains of a
medium-sized rabbit, and after we have got to know her, we understand
why Victorian gentlemen sought refuge in interesting mistresses.

It has been said that in Thackeray’s novels all the good people are
fools and all the evil people are clever. Beatrix Esmond, the one woman
who rivals Becky Sharp in interest, is a cold, proud beauty, without
even Becky’s excuse of poverty; she schemes to marry a duke, and when he
is killed in a duel, she seeks to become the mistress of a prince, and
ends ignominously as the wife of a tutor and the widow of a bishop. The
Anti-Socialist Union of Great Britain, which exists to fight the “Reds,”
should begin its labors by excluding from all libraries these
devastating pictures of the manners and morals of the ruling classes.

I do not mean by this that Thackeray was consciously a Socialist; quite
the contrary. As a member of the ruling classes, he pleads with them to
be worthy of their high and agreeable destiny. How completely he
believed in the “gentleman” you can see by the treatment he gives to his
hero, Pendennis, a perfectly worthless young idler, and to Major
Pendennis, a cynical and depraved old rascal. Thackeray condones the
former and loves and pities the latter, and expects us to weep over the
closing picture of the old martinet, having lost his fortune, obliged to
dwell in a charity home with other indigent parasites. I speak for one
reader, who could have borne with entire equanimity to see the major at
work on the rock-pile, accompanied by all the other idle clubmen of

Thackeray in his writings rebelled against some conventions of his
world, but in his every-day life he was as helpless as Amelia Sedley.
His wife became insane, so he fell victim of that superstition which
condemns the innocent partner in such a marriage to life-long celibacy.
Thackeray, enduring this infliction, seemed heroic to his friends, and
pitiful to us. He left it to a woman novelist, George Eliot, to set the
precedent of defiance to this especially idiotic tribal taboo. George
Eliot loved George Henry Lewes, who had an insane wife, and she went and
lived with Lewes for twenty-four years, until his death, and told all
the world about it. Thus we have one pleasant detail to record
concerning Victorian England.

In his early days Thackeray had lived poorly, because he had to; but
later he acquired a taste for expensive food, and especially drink, and
thereby ruined his health and died at the age of fifty-two. This, of
course, was devoutly concealed by his daughters, and explains the fact
that no biography was published. Like other conventional gentlemen, he
felt bound to provide incomes for these daughters, so he wasted his
time trying to get some government sinecure, first in the post office,
and then in the diplomatic service--the very kind of thing he exposed in
his stories. He took to lecturing, following in the foot-steps of
Dickens, but not enjoying the work, because he had nothing of the
showman in him, but on the contrary the English gentleman’s intense

All this is what is called “gossip,” and is supposed to have nothing to
do with the works of a great writer. I record my belief, that the
character and life experiences of an artist make his works of art, in
the same way that a mold makes the image out of the liquid metal. The
quickest route to the understanding of any novelist or poet is to know
these personal details about him; and above all, his relationship to
those who paid him the money which kept him alive from day to day.
Whether he conforms, or whether he rebels, these money-forces condition
a man’s life.



Capitalist industrialism may be indicted on economic grounds because it
is wasteful, and on moral grounds because it is dishonest; also it may
be indicted upon esthetic grounds because it is ugly. The artistic
temperament objects to it for this last reason, and there were some
among the artists who set out to make war upon it.

John Ruskin was the son of a wealthy English wine merchant; he devoted
himself to the study of art, and sought to carry it back to the simple
standards of the Christian primitives. He became a lecturer and teacher,
and founded a college for the sons of workingmen at Oxford. We find him
leading groups of British university students out to do manual labor
upon the roads--a pathetic effort to be useful and honest in a world of
cheating and exploiting. In the end Ruskin went out of his mind, as a
result of brooding over the ugliness and cruelty of his country’s
industrial system.

Among his disciples was one who is entitled to a place in these pages,
because he was a working artist who strove to create beauty upon a sound
social basis; also because he was a Socialist who tried to teach the
principles of brotherhood and solidarity to a world of individualist and
capitalist art.

William Morris was born in 1834; his parents were wealthy and he
inherited a comfortable income. His mother designed him for a bishop,
but he soon outgrew that career. He parted with his Christian faith on
the intellectual side, but he still kept its emotions; he was a
passionate lover of the Middle Ages, and of the Gothic spirit in art. He
managed to persuade himself that the Middle Ages had been happy, and
that the craftsmen in those days had been free to make what they loved
without reference to the profit motive. So all his life he yearned back
to those good old days, and made them a standard by which to judge
everything bad in his own time.

He was a simple, whole-souled fellow, who loved to do things with his
hands, and possessed extraordinary aptitude for all the arts; he learned
to paint and to carve and to decorate, and to do every kind of hand
labor that contained any slightest element of artistry. He looked out
upon modern industrialism and saw wholesale, cheap production of ugly
and commonplace and unsubstantial goods. He hated it with his whole
soul, and attributed all the moral evils of the time to the fact that
the workers had lost their love for their job and their pride in
craftsmanship. He wanted a home to live in, and because no architect
knew how to design a beautiful home, Morris became his own architect;
because he could not buy any beautiful furniture, he designed his own
furniture and had a carpenter make it. Out of this came the
establishment of a firm to do such labor, and so grew the Arts and
Crafts movement.

That brought Morris into touch with workingmen, a very dangerous thing;
because under our present social system it is better for a gentleman to
stay in his own class, and not find out what is happening to the
workers. Morris was drawn into politics--beginning, curiously enough,
with an effort to save old churches and other buildings from being
“restored” according to modern taste. Before long we find him evolved
into one of the leading Victorian rebels, a founder of the
Social-Democratic Federation, speaking afternoons and evenings at
soap-box meetings. The critics lamented this, just as they lamented the
political career of John Milton: it seemed such a waste of time for a
great poet and artist. But it was all a part of William Morris’s life;
if he had not been the kind of man he was, he could not have produced
the kind of art he did.

In between all his other labors he wrote poetry; it flowed out of him
freely, wonder tales of all sorts, having to do with those old times
which he loved, and the beautiful things which he imagined happening
there. It is very good narrative verse, and all young people ought to
read “The Earthly Paradise”; also they ought to read “The Dream of John
Ball,” and learn what happened to the social rebels in the old days.

Morris’s most popular piece of prose writing is “News from Nowhere.” He
had read Bellamy’s Utopia, “Looking Backward,” and he did not like it,
because Bellamy was an American, and had organized and systematized the
world. Nobody was going to organize and systematize William Morris; he
set about to make his own Utopia, in which everything is placid and
commonplace, healthy as the animals are healthy--but also abominably

Says Mrs. Ogi: “You are discussing one of the classics of your movement,
and you know what the critics all say: the Socialists ought to begin by
agreeing on what they want.”

“I know,” says Ogi, “and I’m sorry to disappoint them. But there are
many different kinds of people in the world, and some of each kind in
our movement. I am a Socialist who believes in machinery, and has no
interest in any world that does not develop machine power to the
greatest possible extent. We are like people traveling through a tunnel;
it is dark and smoky, and some want to turn back, but I want to go
through to the other end.”

“Morris and Ruskin said the other end was in hell.”

“Yes, but I think their eyes were blinded by the smoke. What is wrong is
not with machinery, but with the private ownership of machinery. There
is no reason why machines should not make beautiful and substantial
things, instead of making ugly and dishonest things--except the fact
that machines are owned by people who have no interest except to make a
profit out of the product. A thing is not less beautiful because there
are millions of other things exactly like it in the world. That is just
a snobbish notion, and Morris should have learned the lesson from any
field of daisies.”

Here is Sherwood Anderson telling the story of his life. He is one
American who does not like machinery, and he has good reason; he has
worked in factories, and he knows. He agrees with Morris that the
monotony of the machine destroys the initiative and therefore the morals
of the workers; they cannot create, and so they tell smutty stories. But
you note that Anderson is not a Socialist, and has not the vision of
what a factory might be if it were democratically owned and managed by
the workers. The workers will then be very proud of their beautiful
machines, they will learn to understand and tend them all, and
administer the politics of the great industry of which the machines are
a part. The individual worker will travel from the factories to the
harvest fields and back, as many varieties of labor as he fancies. And
anyhow he won’t have to work but three or four hours a day, and the rest
of the time he can develop his faculties by making verses, or playing
music, or staging dramas, or baseball games, or whatever he pleases. And
every year the machines will become more automatic, until some day the
only labor of man will consist of pressing a few buttons every morning.
Whether you like that or not depends entirely upon whether or not you
have developed your brains, and want to develop them still further.



The spirit of John Milton and John Bunyan crossed the Atlantic Ocean and
settled in Massachusetts, and the spirit of their enemies crossed the
Atlantic Ocean and settled in Virginia. They made two civilizations, and
these civilizations fought a civil war in the new world, just as they
had done in the old.

For the first two hundred years the colonists were busy killing Indians
and clearing the wilderness, so they had little time for art. They had
to break their ties with the old country; and just as we saw Voltaire
finding it easier to rebel in religion and politics than in the field of
culture, so in America we shall find that the Declaration of
Independence was signed a long time before any artist was bold enough to
revolt from British standards of taste. The first American writers were
concerned to handle American themes as they imagined Addison and Steele
and Burke and Dryden would have done.

The first writer to escape this British tradition did so, not by making
an American tradition, but by ascending into the universal and
transcendental. Ralph Waldo Emerson read Goethe and Swedenborg and Plato
and the Hindus, and became a Yankee mystic and democratic saint.

He was the son of a Unitarian clergyman, and followed in his father’s
footsteps. But early in life he realized that he no longer believed the
special doctrines which gave meaning to the communion service, so he
stood up in his church, and very quietly and simply told about his new
convictions, and went out into the world to earn his living as an
independent lecturer.

Puritanism was now two hundred years ancient, but the temper of it still
survived in New England; that is, people were painfully anxious to do
right, and looked up to teachers who had studied such problems. They
were willing to gather in meeting places, and be advised what they
should do, and to pay a modest stipend to the adviser. So this young
rebel was able to earn the simple living which sufficed everyone in
Concord in those days. He studied the world’s best literature in several
languages, he thought earnestly and wrote honestly, and was a model of
dignity, kindness, and wisdom.

His most popular lectures are known to us as “Emerson’s Essays.” I read
them in youth, and owe to them a tribute of gratitude. First of all,
they teach self-reliance, the most fundamental of the pioneer virtues.
It was by self-reliant men that New England was made; and in this
atmosphere of extreme individualism, it was impossible for a philosopher
to value the equally fundamental virtue of solidarity. Emerson has no
conception of a co-operative world, and believes that he has done his
duty to his fellows by courtesy and the speaking of the truth.

The essays are formless, consisting of scattered paragraphs and random
reflections. They are not always easy to interpret, because they soar
into regions of the absolute, where every statement is equally as untrue
as it is true. The bearings depend upon the application; so that we have
to know Emerson’s whole thought, and his life. Applying the highest
tests, we find his doctrine a little thin and his example a little tame.
He lived through stern times, and while his voice was always on the
right side, we feel that he might have been more prompt and more
vigorous. His optimism is beautiful, but a trifle lacking in content. We
want a man to put more reality into his writings, to show us how to deal
with the grim and hateful facts of life. Emerson makes a cryptic

    I am owner of the sphere,
    Of the seven stars and the solar year,
    Of Caesar’s hand, and Plato’s brain,
    Of Lord Christ’s heart, and Shakespeare’s strain.

We say: yes, perhaps; but most of us find it difficult to get the
Shakespeare strain to come out of us. Likewise, we do not know quite how
to reconcile Lord Christ with Caesar; nor can we always get Lord Christ
to agree with Shakespeare--watch the scoffing this book will cause among
the critics! You see how these mystic utterances are liable to be
misunderstood; and how it was possible for the transcendentalist
movement, which produced Emerson, to produce also the horrors of
“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures.”

On the other hand, when Emerson deals with justice and liberty in New
England he can deliver as heavy a punch as Byron: for example, his
“Boston Hymn,” discussing the question of compensation for the
enfranchised slaves--

    Pay ransom to the owner,
      And fill the bag to the brim.
    Who is the owner? The slave is owner,
      And ever was. Pay him.

I have discussed these lines in “The Book of Life,” and suggested how
much cheaper it would have been to pay the owners than to fight the
Civil War. I overlooked the fact that this “Boston Hymn” was written
after the Civil War was on. Emerson, combining Yankee economy with wise
humanity, had all along been advocating the sensible course of freeing
the slaves by purchase.

We think of this Concord sage as a philosopher, and less often as a
poet. But he was a great poet; at his best he is among the immortals.
Not only is there wisdom and moral beauty in his verse; there is love of
nature, and there is passion. People sometimes died young in Concord,
just as they did in old England and in Greece, and poets poured their
sorrow into song. Emerson’s “Threnody,” written upon the death of his
five-year-old son, is lacking in all the classical paraphernalia of
Milton’s “Lycidas,” but it is full of such beauty and fervor as are
native to our country, and I see no reason why we Americans should
devote all our time to the worship of foreign gods. If our colleges must
teach the classics, to the exclusion of modern work, let them at least
teach our native classics, which are easier for us to understand.

I propose a motto for our youth: See Emerson first!



America at this time was an overgrown youthful body, ill-supplied with
mind; and a few ardent believers in culture set out to fill this need.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was a student at Bowdoin College, and the
faculty decided that Cervantes and Dante and Goethe and Moliere and Hugo
ought to be more than names to the American people; somebody ought to
study these languages and literatures, and pass them on. They gave
Longfellow a traveling scholarship for three years, and he went abroad
and collected things romantic and beautiful and innocent in Spain and
Italy and Germany and France, and came home and spent the next twenty or
thirty years in teaching them, first at Bowdoin and then at Harvard. He
translated poetry, and also wrote poetry of his own, very much
resembling the translations. At the age of forty-seven he became a poet
exclusively, and lived to be a seventy-five-year-old boy, just as
romantic and beautiful and innocent as when he had first gone out to
gather nourishment for the hungry young soul of America.

Longfellow was a moralist, and it was his purpose to draw useful
conclusions in his poetry. He would start by looking at the planet Mars,
and end by proving that human beings must be brave and self-reliant: not
that there is anything remotely suggesting such qualities in a “red
planet,” but because this planet happens to be named after the God of
war. He would look at a ship on the stocks, and draw conclusions about
the government of his country. He would look at the village blacksmith,
and thank him for a lesson in diligence and sobriety.

That kind of poetry has now gone out of fashion. The young intellectuals
of America are no longer romantic and beautiful and innocent, and they
say that Longfellow is propaganda. But you know my thesis by now--theirs
is just as much propaganda, only it is on the other side. What
Longfellow called art is incitement towards diligence and sobriety,
while what our young sophisticates call art is incitement toward going
to hell in a hurry. Anything that pictures the delights of the senses
and the breakdown of the will is art; but poor Longfellow, in an
unguarded moment, had the misfortune to exclaim that

    Life is real! Life is earnest!
      And the grave is not its goal.

These two lines have been enough to damn him in the eyes of a whole
generation of coterie-litterateurs.

Turning the pages of the art which Longfellow brought back from Europe,
there flashes to mind a memory of the days when I also traveled in
Europe, collecting culture. It was in Naples, a soft moonlit evening in
early spring, and I stood before a great statue, noting its dim
outlines. A figure slipped up beside me, and a soft voice began to
whisper, offering to take me to a place where there were beautiful boys:
“beautiful, sweet Neapolitan boys,” I remember the phrase. I wonder what
the traveling idealist from Bowdoin College would have made of such a
whisper in the moonlight!

That was a dozen years ago, and we in America have learned something
about Europe since then. I am the last person in the world who would
desire a return to the age of innocence, or advocate, even for the
young, the blinking of grim and hideous facts. But this I do believe: a
time will come, and not so far in the future, when American youth will
react from the hip-pocket flask and petting-party stage of culture.
With full knowledge of vice and disease, it will choose virtue and
health, because these are the truly interesting and worth while things,
and the truly great themes of art.

Pending the arrival of such a time, I record my notion, that poetry does
not cease to be great because it is declaimed by a million schoolboys.
“To be or not to be,” and “Friends, Romans, countrymen,” are great
poetry, even though we personally are tired of them. If it be permitted
to tell a story in verse, then assuredly “The Wreck of the Hesperus” is
a tragic story told in vivid and stirring language. I say that anyone
who does not know this for a great ballad simply does not know what a
ballad is. You may spend your time digging in Percy’s “Reliques” and
other old volumes, and find things less easy to read, but nothing more
worth reading. I go farther and admit that when I was young I found
delight in “Paul Revere’s Ride” and “Hiawatha” and “Evangeline,” and I
don’t believe that kind of young person is yet entirely extinct in



The Puritans, having been driven from England by religious persecution,
set to work in their New England to persecute others. Among their
victims was a Massachusetts Quaker by the name of Whittier, who was
deprived of the franchise for daring to petition the town council for
liberty to preach. Undaunted by the punishment, this pioneer raised a
family of ten stalwart children in the Quaker faith, and became the
great-great-grandfather of a Quaker poet, who has received but scant
appreciation from the literary critics of his country.

John Greenleaf Whittier was born in 1807, one of a large family, and
grew up to toil upon a rocky farm. He got his education in a country
school, and his first glimpse of poetry from a wandering Scotchman who
spent a night at the farm-house, and who sang the songs of Robert Burns.
The frail and sensitive lad who sat and listened enraptured was to grow
up to be the Burns of New England; a saintly Burns, having the Scotch
poet’s energy and rebellious ardor, but not his destroying vices.

Independence, hard work, and religion were the three factors in
Whittier’s environment. He wanted to go to an academy to continue his
education, but there was no money, so he earned it by work as a cobbler.
You remember the sneer of the Tory critic--“Back to your gallipots, Mr.
Keats”; and here we find a critic satirizing our Quaker poet: “the wax
still sticking to his fingers’ ends.” You remember how Keats fell in
love with an elegant young lady; Whittier became a country editor and
presumed to aspire to the daughter of a local judge, and was spurned,
and went back home, ill, poverty-stricken and humiliated.

But he continued to study and write verses, and found another job as
editor, and a prospect of success in politics. Then came the crisis in
his life; the anti-slavery movement was making its first feeble
beginnings in New England, and Whittier became the friend of William
Lloyd Garrison, and spent sleepless nights wrestling with the angel of
duty. At the age of twenty-seven he made the choice; he threw away his
career, and spent his hard-won savings to print and send out five
hundred copies of an address in opposition to chattel slavery. We who in
these days are daring to challenge wage slavery, and are witnessing
mobbings and jailings and torturing for the cause, must not forget that
back in the 1830’s this gentle Quaker poet was stoned and nearly lynched
in Massachusetts, and mobbed again and had his office burned about his
head in Philadelphia.

He suffered from ill health all his life, yet he never gave up the
cause. He suffered from poverty; having a mother and sisters dependent
upon him, he was too poor ever to marry. He continued to edit papers, he
wrote and spoke against slavery, and composed verses which were taken up
and recopied by constantly increasing numbers of newspapers. Many of
these verses are now found in his collected works, and one who reads
them is surprised by their uniformly high quality, not merely the fervor
and energy, but the beauty of expression and the treasures of
imagination which this self-taught country boy poured into his
propaganda. You recall Browning’s rebuke to the old poet Wordsworth,
“The Lost Leader.” Here is Whittier’s “Ichabod,” rebuking Daniel
Webster for his apostasy to the cause of freedom--

    All else is gone, from those great eyes
      The soul has fled:
    When faith is lost, when honor dies,
      The man is dead!

Whittier was not among the fanatics of the movement; on the contrary, he
was a shrewd politician, interested in moving the minds of his fellows
and in getting something done. He helped in the forming of the Abolition
party, which later became the Free Soil party, and then the Republican
party of Lincoln. As a Quaker he could not support the war, yet he
managed to write verses about it--for example, when Stonewall Jackson
was unwilling to kill old Barbara Frietchie for hanging out the Stars
and Stripes in Frederick. It is probable that this incident never
happened, but it made a very popular poem.

Whittier never went to college, he never traveled in Europe to acquire a
foreign tone; he remained an American peasant. He voiced their thoughts
in their own language, and they have cherished him, and will some day
force the critics to give him his due place. If you are looking for
ballads made out of native material, read the story of old Skipper
Ireson, who roused the fury of his villagers by sailing away from a ship
in distress:

    Old Floyd Ireson, for his hard heart
    Tarred and feathered and carried in a cart
      By the women of Marblehead.

If you are looking for American sentiment, for simple, untouched
democracy, read “Maud Muller.” Above all, if you want the inner essence
of New England farm life, the mingled harshness and beauty of its body,
and the mingled sternness and charm of its spirit, read “Snow-Bound”



The Puritans of Massachusetts, having killed the Indians and fenced the
farms and built the towns, settled into the routine of getting one
another’s money. The more enterprising ones moved West, where there was
more money; the others sunk into slow decay. Puritanism came to mean,
not aggressive virtue, but negative avoidance. Before it passed away
entirely, it produced a man of genius who was of it enough to know it
thoroughly, yet sufficiently out of it to be able to embody it in art.

Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in Salem, a port which had once been
prosperous, but had lost in competition with the great cities. It was a
mournful place, living in the memory of its past, which included the
drowning and hanging of witches, a frenzy of religious terror in which
an ancestor of Hawthorne had been a persecuting judge. One of this
judge’s victims had put a curse upon him, and the novelist pictures
himself, playfully, as the last sad relic of this curse. He was a
solitary man, born to poverty, shy, aloof and obscure. Recognition did
not come until the middle forties, and meantime he lived in ancient,
lonely houses, staying indoors by day and wandering the streets by
night. He had no political sense, no social sense; events in the world
outside meant little--he lived in the past.

Yet, strangely enough, he did not accept the ideas of this past. He had
nothing of the robust Tory fervor of Sir Walter Scott; he was a modern
man, and a quiet, skeptical humor shines through his pages. What had
happened was that his faith had dried up, and nothing else had come to
take its place; so there he was, not knowing why, or how, or to what
end. He wrote elaborate diaries, full of minute details about the things
which happened hour by hour; things which only a child would consider
worth recording. He would produce and publish a sketch in which, with
really beautiful art, he would describe the sensations of walking about
the streets of Salem on a rainy night, and how the lights shone in the
puddles--yellow lights of the street-lamps and blue and green lights
from the drug-stores.

He gathered strange legends of old-time people, living terror-haunted
lives, driven to sin by the very desperation of their efforts to avoid
it. The pangs of conscience are Hawthorne’s “local color” and artistic
tradition; he knows them in every detail, but he himself is not under
their spell--they are like bric-à-brac and objects of art which he
collects. “Twice-Told Tales” was the title of his first volume, and
this, you see, prepares us for conscious literary artifice. Then we
have “Mosses from an Old Manse” which promises mournfulness and
moldiness, desolation and decay. Then “The House of the Seven Gables,”
the hiding place of an old and dying family haunted by a curse.

“The Scarlet Letter” brought its author instant recognition, and is
considered by many critics America’s most authentic masterpiece of
fiction. A young married woman in the old-time witch-hunting Salem has
yielded to adulterous love for a young clergyman. A child is born, and
the mother is publicly accused, and exhibited upon the scaffold, with
the letter “A” embroidered in scarlet cloth upon her dress. She will not
reveal the name of her lover, and so the young clergyman escapes
obloquy, but is haunted by that sense of guilt which is the principal
product of Puritanism in decay.

The “eternal triangle,” you see; but it differs from other triangles in
that it is not a story of passion, but of punishment. We do not see the
guilty love in the days of its happiness, but only in the days of its
remorse. As in all Hawthorne’s stories, we meet, not people who are
acting, but people who are looking back upon actions long since
committed. This is one kind of art, and I admit the greatness of “The
Scarlet Letter” as a piece of technique. But we are here discussing art
works as human and social products; and I point out, as in the case of
so many other tragedies, how temporary and unsubstantial is the ground
upon which it rests.

The ethical basis of “The Scarlet Letter” is the conviction that
marriage is indissoluble, and that a young woman who has been given in
marriage to an elderly man, and finds herself unhappy, is bound by the
laws of God to remain in the bonds of that unhappy marriage. But
suppose, for the sake of argument, that the ideas of mankind should
undergo a change; suppose we should come to the conviction that a young
woman who finds herself married to an elderly man whom she does not
love, and who conceives an intense and enduring passion for a younger
man, and desires to have children by that younger man--suppose we should
decide that this woman, in remaining with the older and unloved man, and
denying life to children by the younger man, is committing a crime
against posterity, violating a fundamental law upon which race progress
depends? You can see that in that case “The Scarlet Letter” would become
entirely archaic, an object of curiosity mingled with repugnance.

The American government honored this eminently respectable novelist by
making him, first a gauger of customs, and then its consul to Liverpool.
He was a prematurely old man then, and fled from the cold fogs of
England to Rome--which he liked no better. But he patiently collected
information concerning Roman antiquities, and composed a novel called
“The Marble Faun,” which is dutifully read as a guide book by all
school-marms visiting the Eternal City. How well adapted this Puritan
genius was to interpret the Latin world, you may judge from the fact
that he was shocked by nude statues, and could not see why sculptors
continued to overlook the necessity for marble clothing. That skin was
made before clothing, and may continue to be worn after clothing is
forgotten, is a fact which did not occur to this traveler from Salem.

He came back to pass his last days in an America torn by the agonies of
the Civil War. He was a Democrat by force of inertia, and had written a
campaign biography of the genial and bibulous President Pierce. He had
no understanding of the war, nor of the new America which was to be born
from it. In these last pathetic days he reminds us of the poor old Tory,
Sir Walter Scott, facing the Reform Bill and the Chartist riots and “the
country mined below our feet.” I plead with artists to step ahead of the
procession in their youth, so that in their old age. they may not be
left so pitifully far behind.



The Puritans who settled Massachusetts believed that happiness was to be
found in the repressing of the “carnal nature.” The Cavaliers who
settled Maryland and Virginia believed in enjoyment, and rode their
passions at a gallop. It was appropriate that these Cavaliers should
give to America an artist who taught that sensuous beauty is a mystic
revelation of God, and that poetry must be music, to the exclusion of
intellect and moral sense.

A Maryland general’s son ran away and married a young actress, and these
two lived a wretched, hand-to-mouth existence, and died in a garret,
leaving three infants. One of the three was named Edgar Poe, and our
first glimpse of him shows a nurse feeding him upon a “sugar-tit” soaked
in gin. A little later we find him adopted by a sentimental lady named
Allan, and made into a kind of drawing-room pet, taught to pledge toasts
in drink. He was an exquisite little fellow, proud, sensitive and
self-willed; and in his early training we note the seeds of all his
later misery.

He began writing poetry in childhood, and we still read verses which he
composed in his ’teens. He was sent to the University of Virginia, where
along with rich men’s sons he gambled and drank. He deserted the
University, quarreled with his benefactors, and enlisted in the army.
They got him out and sent him to West Point, which is famous for having
graduated a number of soldiers, and for having failed to graduate two
artists, Edgar Allan Poe and James McNeill Whistler. Poe wrote verses
and drank brandy with his room-mates, and finally set about to get
himself expelled from a life which he hated.

So here he was at the age of twenty-two, a poet, a rebel and a drunkard.
He had eighteen years more to live, and during that time his life was
one long agony of struggle. He had brilliant gifts, his work found
recognition, and he got many editorial positions, but could not keep
them. He wandered from city to city, quarreled with both enemies and
friends, and exhibited all those forms of evasion and dishonesty for
which alcohol and opium are responsible....

“How much shall I say about the great curse of the South?” asks Ogi.

“Say it all,” says his wife.

“I recall those old Maryland and Virginia homesteads, dark and dusty,
falling to decay; a few sticks of furniture, moth-eaten hangings, and
silent, pale, in-door men and women--the former drinking, the latter
taking drugs and patent medicines. I remember also the well-to-do
families in the towns, the wild young cursing blades, and the old topers
with trembling hands. I remember the uncle who shot off his head in the
park, and that other uncle, with a distinguished naval record, who lived
into old age without ever being sober. I remember my own father, and my
childhood and youth of struggle to save him. All these men were kind and
gentle, idealistic, charming in manners--”

“I, too, had an uncle,” says Mrs. Ogi; “the tenderest heart you ever
knew. He drank because he could not stand the life he saw about him, the
unsolvable race problem, the mass of ignorance and brutality. I would
get his bottle away from him and hide it, and then in his torment he
would go so far as a ‘damn’; but I never saw him so drunk that he failed
to apologize for such a word.”

We must take Poe as one of the pitiful victims of these customs; we must
understand that his virtues were his own, while his vices were fed to
him in a “sugar-tit.” Of all American poets up to this time his was the
greatest genius; his was the true fire, the energy, the vision--and for
the most part it was wasted and lost. It was wasted, not merely because
he got drunk, because he was always on the verge of starvation, because
he was chained to slavery, and had to write pot-boilers under the orders
of men with routine or mercenary minds; it was wasted also because he
was a victim of perverse theories about art and life. He began, as a
child, with imitations of Byron, and then came under the spell of
Coleridge’s disorderly genius. We might take a great part of Poe’s work,
just as we took “Kubla Khan,” and show how his talent goes into the
portrayal of every imaginable kind of ruin, terror and despair.

We cannot say to what extent Poe’s art theories were the product of his
vices, and to what extent the vices were the product of the theories.
After he left West Point, and was starving in Baltimore, he met his
cousin, a frail, sensitive child, as poor as himself. He married her
when she was less than fourteen years old; he adored her, but their life
was a long crucifixion, because of her failing health. Several times she
broke a blood vessel, and in the end she faded away from tuberculosis.
The shadow of that tragedy hung over Poe’s whole mature life, and you
will note that his loveliest poetry deals with beautiful women who are
dying or dead.

In this tormented body there lived and wrought not merely a great
genius, but also a great mind. Poe was a critic, of a kind entirely new
to America. He did not distribute indiscriminate praise from motives of
patriotism and puffery; he had critical standards, right or wrong, and
was merciless to the swarms of art pretenders. Naturally, therefore, he
was hated and furiously attacked; and because of his weaknesses, he was
an easy mark for all.

His art theories were those which we are here seeking to overthrow; how
false and dangerous they were, his life attests. It is interesting to
note that in one of his youthful poems, the first real utterance of his
genius, he took a quite different view. Quoting an imaginary passage
from the Koran about the angel Israfel, “whose heart-strings are a
lute,” he wrote:

    Therefore thou art not wrong,
    Israfeli, who despisest
    An unimpassioned song;
    To thee the laurels belong,
    Best bard, because the wisest.

Well might this tormented Baltimore poet long for the wisdom of the
Mohammedan angel! He spent his great analytical powers in concocting a
“moon hoax,” and in solving all the cryptograms which empty-headed
people sent him. It was as if a man should build a mighty engine, and
then set it to fanning the air. In his last pitiful years he composed an
elaborate work on metaphysics, which he called “Eureka,” meaning that he
had solved the secret of the ages, the nature of existence and the
absolute. It is like all other metaphysics--a cobweb spun out of words;
the mighty engine has here been set to fanning a vacuum.

Poe was a fighting man and an ardent propagandist. He fought for art,
for the freedom and the glory and the joy of art, as a thing apart from
humanity, and from the sense of brotherhood and human solidarity. Life
wreaked its vengeance upon him, his punishment was heavy enough, and we
should be content with voicing our pity--but for the fact that his art
theories are still alive in the world, wrecking other young artists.
This is what makes necessary the painful task of drawing moral lessons
over the graves of “mighty poets in their misery dead.”



Edgar Allan Poe lived and wrote to prove that art excludes morality. We
come now to another poet, who lived and wrote to prove that art excludes
everything else. He had a message and a faith, which was the dominating
motive in everything he wrote; in short, he was one of the major
prophets--like Dante, Milton, Tolstoi, Nietzsche, who used art as a
means of swaying the souls of men.

Referring thus to Walt Whitman, we now have upon our side the weight of
critical authority; learned and entirely respectable college professors
write in this fashion about his books, and do not lose their positions
for so doing. But realize how different it was in Whitman’s lifetime; in
the early years respectable opinion looked upon him as a kind of obscene
maniac. His first edition of “Leaves of Grass,” a thousand copies
printed by himself, was left on his hands, except for those which he
sent out free--and even some of these were returned, one by the poet
Whittier! A critic wrote that Whitman was “as unacquainted with art as a
hog with mathematics.” Another wrote that he “deserved the whip of the
public executioner.” He was thrown out of a government position in
Washington for having a copy of his book locked up in his own desk, and
again and again his publishers were forced by threat of public
prosecution to withdraw the book from circulation. Alone among Whitman’s
contemporaries to recognize his genius was Emerson, and when Whitman
published Emerson’s letter in the second edition of “Leaves of Grass,”
Emerson was embarrassed--for in the meantime his horrified friends had
persuaded him to hesitate in his opinion. From all this we may learn how
difficult it is to judge one’s contemporaries.

Walt Whitman was born of farmer folk in an isolated part of Long Island.
His father became a carpenter and moved to Brooklyn, then a small town.
Walt became an office boy at the age of twelve; he got hold of some good
reading, learned printing, and became a teacher, and something of an
orator. He was an abolitionist, a teetotaler and other kinds of “crank”;
a slow-moving, rather stubborn youth, who wandered about from place to
place, meeting all kinds of people, watching life with interest, but
caring nothing for success. He had a good job as a newspaper editor, but
gave it up because of his views on slavery. He set a new fashion in
life--a type of man now common in the radical movement, who does enough
manual labor to keep alive, and spends the rest of his time studying
literature and life. Walt’s people loved him, but could not make him
out; they thought he was lazy when he loafed and invited his soul.

He was finding his own way, guided by the unfolding genius within. He
wanted to know people, every kind that lived; he wanted to talk with
them, to feel himself one with them. He worked with laborers on the job,
he rode in ferry-boats, he made friends with the drivers of busses. He
wanted to see America, so he wandered by slow stages to New Orleans and
back. He wanted to know literature, so he read, but according to his own
taste, taking no one’s opinions. When he was ready to express himself,
it was a self hitherto unknown in literature, and the most startling
voice yet lifted in America.

It often happens that the student learns about new and vital movements
through the writings of their opponents. Thus the present writer was
made into a rationalist by the reading of Christian apologetics. In the
same way I learned about Whitman from an essay by Sidney Lanier, a
respectable gentleman-poet from the South, who demonstrated that
Whitman’s claim to be the voice of democracy was nonsense; the masses of
the people had no interest whatever in this eccentric poetry, and could
not understand what the poet was driving at.

Does a poet necessarily have to be appreciated by those of whom he
writes? Or is it possible to tell something about people which they
themselves do not yet know? If a man is picking apples, he is obeying
the laws of gravitation, and the apples likewise are obeying it. Sir
Isaac Newton comes along, and interprets the behavior of the man and of
the apples. Does the truth of Newton’s law depend upon the assent of the

Walt Whitman did really know the American people, the masses, as
distinguished from the cultured few; he knew them as no man of letters
up to that time had known them. He believed there were tremendous,
instinctive forces working within them, and that he, as poet and seer,
could enter into that unconscious mass-being and understand it and guide
it. He believed that he was laying out the path which democracy would
follow, he was voicing the desires it would feel, the love and
fellowship and solidarity it would embody in institutions and arts.
Whether he was right in these intuitions and mystical prophesyings was
for the future to decide. Certainly there were two kinds of persons in
Whitman’s own day who could not decide; one was the average wage-slave,
ignorant and groping; and the other was a gentleman from Georgia, who
made excellent but customary rhymes about birds and brooks and flowers.

Walt Whitman was one of those mystics to whom the inner essence of all
things is the same; all life is sacred, and all men are brothers in a
common Fatherhood. Jesus taught that, and in the nineteen hundred years
which have since passed new prophets have arisen every now and then to
revive it--but the Christians are just as much scandalized every time.
Whitman’s title, “Leaves of Grass,” under which he included all his
poems, means that he chose the most common and least distinguished
product of nature for his symbol of the human soul. The poet himself was
one of these “Leaves of Grass,” and celebrated himself as the
representative and voice of the rest. He sang the song of himself, and
his contemporaries thought this was crude and barbarous egotism. This
big bearded fellow who printed his own poems, with a preface to tell how
great they were, and his picture in a workingman’s dress without a
necktie--he was nothing but a hoodlum, and the critics called for the

The worst stumbling block was the portion of the book called “Children
of Adam,” dealing with sex. The Anglo-Saxon race was used to horrified
silence about sex, and also to sly leering about sex; the one thing it
had never encountered was simple frankness. What Whitman did was to take
sex exactly as it is, a part of life, and write about it as he wrote
about everything else. When I, as a student, first looked up “Leaves of
Grass” in the Columbia University library, I found this portion of the
book so thumbed and worn as to make plain that the young readers had not
been taught to understand Whitman. For he gave to this part of his
message its due proportion and no more. He was a clean man, living an
abstemious and even ascetic life, developing his mind as well as his

The Civil War came, and the moral greatness of Whitman was made
apparent. He went to Washington as a sort of amateur nurse; living on
almost nothing, he devoted his entire time to visiting in the hospitals,
bringing comfort and affection to tens of thousands of suffering and
neglected soldiers. His genius was for friendship, and everyone loved
him; there are many stories of men whose lives were saved by his
presence and his love. He was a big man, with ruddy cheeks and a full
beard, turned gray under the strain of these years. It is interesting to
note that Lincoln, meeting him, said the same words that Napoleon said
to Goethe: “This is a man!”

“The good grey poet,” as one of his friends called him, wrecked his
health amid these frightful scenes, and was never the same again. He
published more poems, “Drum-Taps,” dealing with the war. All that which
was called egotism is now burned away, and we have a revelation of a
people uplifted by struggle. In 1871 came a prose work, “Democratic
Vistas,” in which his message is proclaimed even more clearly than in
his verse. It is a call for a new art, based upon brotherhood and
equality. Our New World democracy, declared Whitman, is “so far an
almost complete failure in its social aspects, and in really grand
religious, moral, literary and aesthetic results.”

Whitman suffered a stroke of paralysis, recovered partially, and then
suffered another stroke. He was more or less crippled through his last
twenty years, and lived in extreme poverty; but gradually his fame
spread and friends gathered about him. The labor movement was now
emerging--and its leaders were discovering that this old poet had indeed
forseen how they would feel. “My call is the call of battle--I nourish
active rebellion.” And each new generation of the young nourishers of
rebellion feeds its soul upon Whitman’s inspiration.

Is it poetry? That is a question over which battles are fought. It seems
to me that words matter little; it is a kind of inspired chant, which
moves you if you are susceptible to its ideas. For two years I steeped
myself in the literature of the Civil War, while writing “Manassas”; and
to me at that time “Drum-Taps” seemed to contain all the fervor and
anguish of the conflict. But the everyday person, who does not rise to
those heights, prefers “O Captain, My Captain,” which has the easier
beauties of rhyme and fixed rhythm.

The critics have by now got used to Whitman’s honesty about sex; the
only stumbling block is his long catalogues of things. He will sing the
human body, and give you a list of the parts thereof: and can that be
poetry? But you must bear in mind that Whitman is more a seer than a
poet. “Sermons in stones,” said Shakespeare; and if the stones had
names, Whitman would call the roll of them, and each would be a mystic
symbol, and the total effect would be a hypnotic spell. It is an old
trick of those who appeal to the subconscious mind; in the English
Prayer-Book, for example, there is a chant: “O, all ye Works of the
Lord, bless ye the Lord, praise Him and magnify Him forever.” The hymn
goes on to name all the various aspects of nature: “O, all ye Showers
and Dew ... O, all ye Fire and Heat ... Ye Lightnings and Clouds ... Ye
Mountains and Hills ... Ye Seas and Floods ... Ye Fowls of the Air ...
Ye Beasts and Cattle.” ... and so on through the many Works of the Lord
which are invited to praise Him and magnify Him forever. So, if you are
a mystic, you may contemplate with awe each separate miraculous product
of that mysterious organizing force which has created a living human

The mystical life has its dangers, and also, alas! its boredoms. I have
stated in the chapter on Emerson that there is no absolute which is not
equally as false as it is true. Whitman has raised up a host of
imitators, and I have read their alleged “free verse,” and record the
fact that it was surely a waste of my time, and apparently a waste of
theirs. Also, I have known many followers of Walt Whitman, the greater
number of whom have chosen to follow the poet’s eccentricities, rather
than his virtues. You see, it is so much easier to leave off a necktie
and “loaf,” than it is to have genius and create a new art form! Whitman
is not alone in suffering through his disciples; Jesus had that tragic
fate, and Nietzsche, and Tolstoi, and many another major prophet!



We have been following the fortunes of a pioneer people breaking into
the field of world culture. Let us now travel part way round the earth
in either direction, and watch another pioneer people doing the same

The differences between America and Russia are many and striking, and
before we enter upon a study of Russian literature we must understand
Russian life. Voltaire tells us that virtue and vice are products like
vinegar, and we shall find this applies also to the Russian soul with
its mysticism and melancholy. When the sun almost disappears for six
months at a time, and icy blizzards rage, human beings have a tendency
to stay by the fire and develop their inner natures; also they develop
congested livers, and brood upon the futility of life.

Says Mrs. Ogi: “Don’t forget that it often gets cold in New England.”

“Yes, and there is both mysticism and melancholy in New England art. But
the difference is that the people of New England escaped from the cradle
of despotism in Asia many centuries earlier than the Russians. So the
brooding of the New England colonist took the form of calling a town
meeting to plan for the building of a new road in the spring. But the
Russian could not do things for himself; he had to get the permission of
officials. If he tried to act for himself, they would strip him and beat
him with knouts until he swooned. So the Russian’s brooding turned to
despair, and he got drunk, and got into a fight and killed his neighbor,
and then tried to make up his mind whether God would forgive him, or
damn him to hell fire forever; he fretted over this problem until he
went insane or wrote a novel--”

“Or both,” says Mrs. Ogi.

The dominant fact in Russian art of the nineteenth century was
despotism. Here was a vast empire of a hundred million people, energetic
and aspiring; and the ruling class dreamed that they could introduce
modern material civilization, while keeping out the modern mind and
soul. Young Russians travelled, and learned to think as the rest of
Europe thought; then they came home, to find that the slightest attempt
to teach or to organize was met by imprisonment, torture, exile, hard
labor, or the scaffold. Wave after wave of rebellion swept Russia, to be
met by wave after wave of repression. Intellectual activity which New
England honored was in Russia a secret and criminal conspiracy; the
youth of the country was broken in a torture chamber; and so we have the
misery and distortion and impotence which we regard as characteristic
Slavic qualities.

The Russian was supposed to be incapable of action, incapable of keeping
an appointment on time, incapable of doing anything but drinking a
hundred cups of tea and shedding tears over the fate of man. But now
comes the revolution, and in a flash we discover that all that was
buncombe. The Russians begin to act precisely like other men; they cease
to get drunk, they learn to keep appointments, they discover a sudden
admiration for those qualities we call Yankee--hustle and efficiency,
the adjusting of one’s desires to what can be immediately accomplished.
The Russian peasant, supposed to be a grown-up and bearded cherub,
lifting his eyes in adoration to his Little Father in the Winter Palace
and his Big Father in Heaven, is discovered to have precisely the same
desires as every other farmer in the world--that is to say, more land,
and fewer tax-collectors.

Russian literature is a great literature, because it voices the hopes
and resolves of a great people groping their way to freedom and
understanding. It is, whether consciously or unconsciously, a literature
of revolt. It is full of ideas, because it has to take the place of the
prohibited subjects, science, politics, economics, and social
psychology. It is desperately serious, because it is produced by people
who are suffering. Some twenty years ago I remember meeting in New York
the adopted son of Maxim Gorki, who was earning his living as a printer
by day and studying our civilization by night. I recall his remark:
“Americans do not know what the intellectual life means.” The young man
had in mind a country where you adopted ideas with the knowledge that
they might cost you your liberty, and even your life. Under such
circumstances you think hard before you come to a decision. A lot of
Americans have had an opportunity to test their ideas that way during
the past ten years, and so they are now taking the intellectual life
seriously, and producing literature in many ways resembling the Russian.

Says Mrs. Ogi: “Sherwood Anderson says it is because he was raised on
cabbage soup.”

“People will read that,” says Ogi, “and think it a flash of humor; very
few will consider seriously the effect of a starvation diet upon the
soul of a sensitive boy. Neither will they stop to think about three
boys sleeping in one bed as a source of abnormal sexual imaginings,
which constitute one of the original elements in Sherwood Anderson’s
books. To me this seems a law: that wherever you have widespread and
long-continued poverty, maintained by policemen’s clubs, there you will
have a literature, extremely painful to its creators, but delightful to
high-brow critics, who will hail it as ‘strong,’ and up to the standard
of the great Russian masters.”



The poet who taught the Russian people the possibilities of their
language was Pushkin; one of those beautiful leisure-class youths who
live fast and die young. He was born of an aristocratic family, and when
he was twenty he was, like most poets, a hopeful idealist, and wrote an
ode to liberty, and was condemned to exile. He lived a wild life among
the gypsies, and wasted himself, and finally his family persuaded the
tsar to give him another chance. He was brought back to court and made a
small functionary, among illiterate, dull, supposed-to-be-great people
who had no understanding of his talents. He married a beautiful noble
lady, who betrayed him continuously and broke his heart.

Pushkin now wrote folk tales, and a great quantity of love poems in the
Byronic manner. His idealism was dead; he was a court man, and went so
far as to glorify the rape of Poland. He wrote a long narrative poem,
“Eugene Onegin,” which tells about the tragic love troubles of an
aristocratic youth, together with all the details of his life, how he
got up in the morning, how he sipped his chocolate, how he read his
invitations to tea-parties and balls. You might not think there would
be great literature in such a story; but at least Pushkin dealt with
Russian themes and with reality; he made it interesting, lending it the
glamour of musical verse, and so he killed the old classical tradition
in Russia. The Greek nymphs and the French shepherdesses went out of
fashion, and the way was clear for Russian writers with something
important to say to their people.

Then came Nikolai Gogol. He was a Little Russian; that is, he came from
the Ukraine, which is in the South, and like all Southern countries is
supposed to be warm-hearted and romantic. Gogol was a poor devil of a
clerk, who leaped to fame by writing humorous tales, in which the
laughter was mingled with tears. He did not put in any recognized
“propaganda,” for the simple reason, that this would have cost him his
liberty. In those days when you were discussing politics you announced
yourself as a Hegelian Moderate or a Hegelian Leftist, or whatever it
might be; in other words, you pretended to be discussing the ideas of a
German philosopher, a spinner of metaphysical cobwebs, instead of
dealing with the real problems of your country and time.

Gogol wrote a play called “The Inspector-General,” which tells how a
government representative is expected to visit a small provincial town,
and all the functionaries are in a state of terror for fear their
various stealings will be exposed. It is understood that the
inspector-general will come in disguise, and so they mistake a youthful
traveler for this functionary, and insist on doing him honor, to his
great bewilderment. Finally the postmaster of the town, following his
custom of secretly reading the mail, opens a letter from the young man
to a friend, telling about his adventures and ridiculing the town
functionaries. The postmaster reads this aloud in the hearing of the
functionaries, to their great dismay.

Somebody read this play to the tsar, and he was so delighted that he
ordered it produced. You remember King Louis of France, the “grand
monarch,” taking delight in Moliere’s ridicule of his courtiers. The
monarch can afford to laugh, or at least thinks he can; it is only the
functionaries who realize the destructive power of laughter.

Then Gogol wrote a long novel, “Dead Souls.” He introduces us to a young
man who might be a graduate of any one of a thousand schools and
colleges and universities of “salesmanship” in the United States. So
brilliant are this young man’s talents:

     Whatsoever the conversation might be about, he always knew how to
     support it. If people talked about horses, he spoke about horses;
     if they began talking about the best hunting dogs, here also
     Tchitchikov would make remarks to the point. If the conversation
     related to some investigation which was being made by the
     government, he would show that he also knew something about the
     tricks of the civil service functionaries. When the talk was about
     billiards, he showed that in billiards he could keep his own; if
     people talked about virtue, he also spoke about virtue, even with
     tears in his eyes; and if the conversation turned on making brandy,
     he knew all about brandy.

This expert in the psychology of salesmanship had a truly Yankee idea to
make his fortune. At that time the Russian peasants were sold with the
land, and the landlord had to pay taxes on all his serfs. A reckoning
was made at certain periods, and if any serfs died in between the
periods of reckoning, the landlord had to pay taxes just the same. Now,
said the salesman to himself, any landlord will be glad to sell me these
“dead souls”; and when I have bought a great number of them, I will get
hold of a piece of land, and move all these “dead souls” to that land,
and some bank will lend me a great sum of money, not knowing they are

To travel over Russia and interview landlords on such an errand is in
itself high comedy. Gogol takes us to one estate after another, and lets
us see the misery of the serfs, and the incompetence and futility of the
landlords; the ones who are kind-hearted and sentimental don’t know what
to do, and cause just as much misery as the brutal ones. Such a
situation requires no comment from the novelist; merely to know about it
is to condemn it. So it happened that Gogol’s story became a
revolutionary document, and was copied out by hand and passed about
among the young rebels. The government intervened, preventing a second
edition of the book; and poor Gogol, a little later in his life, turned
into some kind of religious maniac, and repented of what he had written,
and burned great quantities of his manuscripts, including the latter
part of this novel. That gives us a glimpse of the “Russian soul,” and
makes us realize what a distance these people had to travel from
Oriental barbarism to modern individualism.



The modern world was there, and it kept calling to the youth of Russia.
There came a skillful novelist, whose task it was to interpret his
country to the outside world, and at the same time to interpret the
outside world to Russia. He came of a family of wealthy landowners, and
received the best education available; but he ventured at the funeral of
Gogol to praise the work of this great master--which so incensed the
government that he was sentenced to exile upon his own estate. Three
years later he succeeded in getting permission to go abroad, and lived
the rest of his life in Germany and France, where he was free to write
as he pleased.

The first work of Ivan Turgenev was called “A Sportsman’s Sketches”;
pictures of the peasant types he met while on shooting trips. It was a
safe, aristocratic occupation, that of killing birds for pleasure, and
surely no government could object to a gentleman’s describing the
peasants who went along to carry his guns and his lunch. The government
did not object; and so the reading public in Russia had brought vividly
before it the fact that human beings, of their own blood and their own
faith, were serfs at the mercy of landlords, to be sold like other
chattels. So the tsar was forced to free the serfs.

Turgenev settled in Paris; a great, handsome giant, a wealthy bachelor,
amiable and simple, a charming literary lion. His friends were Gautier,
Flaubert, and other novelists, from whom he learned the perfections of
artistry, the pictorial charm, the “enamels and cameos” ideal. He had no
need to learn from them the bitter and corroding despair, because that
was his Russian heritage.

He wrote seven novels, all short and simple; the theme of each being the
stock theme of leisure-class fiction, a man and a woman at the crisis of
their love. His girls are very much alike; direct and honest, they flame
up, and are ready to act upon their feelings, to go anywhere with the
man they love. But the man does not know where to go or what to do. The
hero of the first novel, Rudin, is a kind of modern Hamlet, who became
proverbial as the type of Russian intellectual. He is incapable of
anything but talk, and tells the girl that they must submit to her
family, which opposes the marriage.

In the other novels the heroes do not always submit. There is, for
example, Bazarov, the Nihilist; he is a fighter, and ready for
action--but Turgenev tells us what he thinks of man’s dream of
accomplishment, when Bazarov scratches his finger and dies of blood
poisoning. Another hero is a Bulgarian, and there is a chance for action
in Bulgaria; but unfortunately this man’s lungs are weak, and he dies in
the arms of the brave girl who eloped with him.

You see, it is hard for Turgenev to portray anyone who believes, because
he is an artist in the leisure-class tradition of fatalism and urbane
incredulity. Life is a malady; it is a malady in cruel and barbarous
Russia, and no less so in free but cynical and licentious Paris.
Turgenev, living safely abroad, describes heroes who also live abroad;
he has not the moral courage to face Russia and the Russian problem,
even in his thoughts. His people are the exiles and intellectuals, the
travelers and parasites, amusing themselves in the capitals of Europe.
He loathes this loafing class, and satirizes it without mercy; but also
he cannot help seeing the weaknesses of the revolutionists--and the
revolutionists were of course indignant at that, because they were
fighting for human freedom, and thought that a man of culture and
enlightenment ought to help them.

So there was furious controversy over each of Turgenev’s novels, and it
hurt the feelings of the great, good-natured giant, and he did a lot of
explaining, some of it contradictory. The truth is that he did not know
quite what he believed; he was not a thinker, but merely an artist in
the narrow sense of the word, one who sees what exists and portrays it
with cunning skill. This makes him, of course, a darling of the
leisure-class critics, art for art sakers and dilettanti. The French
translations of his novels had an enormous vogue, likewise the English
translations, and men like Henry James thought him a god. But out of
Russia there now comes a new voice; the revolutionary proletariat is
making Russia over, and the young students report themselves bored with
Turgenev; he whines and moans and gets them nowhere. You see, the
Russians can now act, like other people; and so the Russian Hamlet is
laid on the shelf.



A dozen years ago in Holland, talking about Dostoievski with my friend
Frederik van Eeden, I remarked that I had made several attempts, but had
never been able to read one of his novels through. Van Eeden replied
that Dostoievski was the world’s greatest novelist; and that is high
praise, because van Eeden is a great novelist himself. Now, under the
strain of the war, my old friend has turned into a Catholic mystic; and
so I understand his passion for the dark Russian, another of those
over-burdened spirits who despair of the human intellect, and seek
refuge in that most powerful auto-suggestion known as God.

Feodor Dostoievski was born in a hospital, his father being a poor
surgeon with a big family. As a child he knew cold and hunger, and was
living in a garret when he wrote his first novel, “Poor People,” at the
age of twenty-four. It is a picture of two suffering, will-less
creatures; and so genuine, so completely “lived,” that it made an
instant impression.

Its author was drawn into literary circles--which in those days meant
also revolutionary circles. In his feeble way he took up the ideas of
Fourier; he attended some radical gatherings, and went so far as to
identify himself with a printing press. The group were arrested, and
Dostoievski lay in a dungeon for many months, and finally with twenty
companions was brought out upon a public square before a scaffold and
prepared for death. At the last moment there came a reprieve from the
tsar, but meantime one of the victims had gone insane. The shock to
Dostoievski’s mind was such that he comes back to the incident again and
again in his books.

He was sent to Siberia at hard labor; herded with common felons, beaten
and tormented--in short, receiving exactly the same treatment now meted
out to social idealists by the states of California and Washington, and
recently by the United States government at Leavenworth. After a few
years the tsar pardoned Dostoievski and impressed him into the army; he
was allowed to come back to Russia after ten years, and wrote the story
of his experiences in a book called “Memoirs of a Dead-House.”

Dostoievski now took up the life of a hack writer. He had a large
following, but somebody else got the money; he was always in debt, his
wife and children starving and freezing. He wrote at terrific speed and
never stopped to revise. He was ill all the time, suffering an attack of
epilepsy every ten days. All this is in his writing; his characters are
drunkards, criminals, epileptics, idiots, and neurotics of every type.
He enters into their souls, and makes every moment of their lives, every
mood of their unhappy beings real to us.

His greatest novel is “Crime and Punishment”; telling the story of a
student who, ambitious and starving, has an impulse to murder an old
woman money-lender and rob her. He commits the crime, but is too much
terrified to get the money; then he is pursued by remorse, and we follow
him through his inner torments. He meets a young girl who has become a
prostitute in order to save her family from starvation; she persuades
him to give himself up to the police, and she follows him to Siberia,
and together their souls are redeemed by love.

I am conscientious in my attitude toward literature, and when I find the
critics raving over a great master, I feel obliged to read him. Some
years ago, I was in a hospital, recuperating from an operation, and that
seemed a good time to tackle an eight hundred-page volume, so I began
Dostoievski’s “The Brothers Karamazov.” There are several of these
brothers, also an old father, and all of them are drunk most of the
time, and tangled up with a stupid prostitute. The old father has money,
and so has the advantage over the sons, and apparently one of the sons
is on the way to murdering him. To cheer you up while the climax is
preparing, there is a monastery full of monks who hate one another like
poison, and one venerable and lovable saint, in whose spirituality you
are expected to find hope for Russia and mankind. But this saint dies,
and the youngest Karamazov brother, who loves him, has his faith in God
and his hope for humanity shattered forever, because the expected
miracle does not happen--Father Zossima stinks like any other
corpse!--That is as far as I got in the novel, and if you want to know
the outcome, you will have to do your own reading.

This is called “realism”; but get my point clear, it is romantic and
subjective to the highest degree; it is impassioned, even frenzied,
propaganda. Dostoievski is an orthodox Eastern or Byzantine Christian;
also he is a Slavophile, or mystical Russian patriot, believing that the
Russian soul is something wonderful and special, having secret
relationship with God. This relationship is the old mediaeval orgy of
suffering and submission, a wallowing in repentance and self-abasement,
the glorification of sores, boils, rags, lice, beggary, and bad smells.
All degradation, if patiently endured, is penitential and holy, whereby
the character is lifted to exalted mystical states. When the young
student in “Crime and Punishment” awakens to the horror of having killed
a human being, he does not decide to redeem himself by devoting his
educated brain to some useful labor; no, he decides he must go to a
police station and deliver himself into the hands of officials who are
worse criminals than he. A government, itself the distilled essence of a
billion hideous crimes, will send him to Siberia, so that he and his
pious prostitute may endure ecstacies of torment.

We see this still more clearly in another novel, whose purpose is to
reduce Christianity to idiocy. Do not take this for hyperbole or
epigram; it is merely the statement of Dostoievski’s thesis. The book is
called “The Idiot,” and the hero is an incarnation of that mystical,
psycho-neurotic Christianity which finds redemption through abasement
deliberately sought. You see, it is so easy to suffer, and it is so hard
to think! It is so easy to give yourself up to epileptic tremblings and
terrors, and call it God! Also, it appears to be easy for literary
critics to take mental disease at its own valuation.

In the whole field of art there is no spiritual tragedy greater than
Dostoievski’s. This man made an attempt in the cause of liberty, and the
Tsardom made him into a martyr; but he came back, not to be a soldier of
enlightenment, but to crawl in the dust and lick the hand which had
lashed him. He came back as a propagandist of reaction, proclaiming a
Russia redeemed by monks. Well, he had his way, and the redeeming monk
appeared--Gregori Rasputin by name!

Mind you, I do not quarrel with Dostoievski because he portrayed the
lost and abandoned, the hopelessly sick and tortured souls he knew. I do
not object because his characters are feverish and hysterical, because
they stare and glare and moan and cry and leap and tremble, because
their knees shake and their teeth chatter and they have nightmares
filling whole chapters. I am willing to read these things; but I want to
read them from the point of view of a scientist who can interpret them,
or of an economist who can remedy them; I do not want to read them as an
apotheosis of idiocy. I do not want them composed and idealized to prove
the divine nature of epilepsy.

And when I hear perfectly sane and comfortable bourgeois critics in the
United States exalting this pathologic mysticism, I want to throw a
brick-bat at them. Here, for example, is Professor William Lyon Phelps
of Yale University, telling us that “of all the masters of fiction both
in Russia and elsewhere, Dostoievski is the most truly spiritual.” At
the beginning of his essay he says that this novelist “was brought up on
the Bible and the Christian religion. The teachings of the New Testament
were with him almost innate ideas. Thus, although his parents could not
give him wealth, or ease, or comfort, or health, they gave him something
better than all four put together.”

“I think,” says Mrs. Ogi, “that you had better take a chapter off and
deal with that.”

Says her husband: “I have a title already chosen--”



Just what has a professor at Yale University to do with “the Christian
religion”? What do “the teachings of the New Testament” really mean to
him? How competent is he to judge about “masters of fiction” who are
“truly spiritual”? How much sincerity is there in such literary
criticism, emanating from the elm shadows of New Haven, Connecticut?

Picture a great ruling-class university, founded on “the Bible, rum and
niggers”; that is to say, the African slave-trade, covered by a mantle
of religiosity. The students at this university are young aristocrats,
heirs-apparent of ruling-class families, who attend “prep” schools so
exclusive, and with so long a waiting list that you have to make your
application when you are born. In these schools they “make” certain
exclusive fraternities, and when they come to Yale they “make” certain
secret societies, whose spirit is symbolized by the “Skull and Bones.”
Their other ideal in life is to win athletic contests, whose temper they
embody in the “Bull-dog.”

The trustees of this pious university you will find listed according to
their economic functions in “The Goose-Step.” Their favorite alumnus,
the high god of the present Yale religion is a three-hundred-pound
plutocrat by the name of William Howard Taft, who was made president of
the United States some years ago for the purpose of allowing the land
thieves to get away with the natural resources of Alaska. Having
fulfilled that function for his class, and having, when he came up for
re-election, succeeded in carrying the states of Vermont and Utah, he
was made chief justice of the Supreme Court, to serve as a bulwark of
the liberties of the American people: the liberty of the individual
hunky and wop to negotiate independently with the Steel Trust; the
liberty of railroad directors to compel their wage-slaves to toil when
the wage-slaves want to rest; the liberty of little children of Georgia
crackers and North Carolina clay-eaters to work all night in cotton
mills. Having solemnly delivered such pronouncements in defense of
liberty, this all-highest alumnus brings his three hundred pounds to the
commencement ceremonies, and walks in solemn procession clad in scarlet
and purple robes.

That is Yale, and the spirit of Yale; the academic apologist of the most
efficient system of plunder yet seen upon the face of the earth.
Capitalistic exploitation is Yale’s religion; and you will note that in
all essentials it is identical with the religion of Rasputin and Tsar
Nicholas. When the tsar’s armies marched out to protect the lumber
concessions of the grand dukes on the Yalu River, the priests and
archbishops in the Kremlin officially blessed the ikons. And just so do
chaplains of New Haven bless the flags when the American marines set
out to shoot up natives in the West Indies and Central America, for
failing to pay their interest upon the bonds of J. P. Morgan and his
Yale trustees.

This New England plutocracy selects with meticulous care the professors
who train its young. These trainers are required to be gentlemen of the
most extreme conventionality; and they are none of them drunkards, and
none of them epileptics, and they do not publicly manifest their
Christian sympathy for prostitutes, however beautiful in spirit. On the
contrary, they wear their neckties exactly right, and understand and
respect all those subtleties which mark the distinction between students
who have “made” the great secret societies and students who have failed.
William Lyon Phelps, “Lampson Professor of English Literature at Yale
University,” signs himself also “Member of the National Institute of
Arts and Letters,” a most august body of literary nonentities. If anyone
of the characters in the novels of Dostoievski were to accompany
Professor Phelps to one of the sessions of this august body, the other
members would evacuate the hall. If Dostoievski himself were alive, and
writing in the United States today, the masters of this august body
would be just as apt to invite him to their membership as they are to
invite Theodore Dreiser or Sherwood Anderson.

Very well then; what is the purpose of “the Christian religion,” what is
the meaning of the “spirituality” of Yale? Manifestly, it has no
relationship to the young plutocrats of New England. It is an official
religion, and its application is to the wealth-producing classes. Its
aim is to teach American wage-slaves to kiss the hand which lashes
them--precisely as poor sick Dostoievski kissed the Russian Tsardom. It
is to provide a mystical basis for the American Legion--just as
Dostoievski’s glorification of the Slavic soul prepared the way for the
“Black Hundreds.” When Professor Phelps says that “the teachings of the
New Testament” are better than all four of the gifts of “wealth or ease
or comfort or health,” he is not making a literary criticism, nor is he
saying anything that he means; he is peddling the standard dope which
priests and preachers of ruling classes have been feeding to the workers
through a hundred thousand years.

Says Mrs. Ogi: “Some one ought to rewrite the Beatitudes according to
the Bull-dog.”

Says Ogi: “I have put all ten of them into one. It runs as follows:
Blessed are the rich, for they have inherited the earth and you can’t
get it away from them.”



We come now to the great giant of the North, the most dynamic artist
that Russia has produced. Leo Tolstoi, when he died, was not only the
greatest literary man in the world; he was the incarnation to all
mankind of the Russian genius and moral power. His books had been
translated into forty-five languages, and read not merely by the
cultured few but by the great masses. The revolution which came seven
years after his death did not follow Tolstoi’s principles, and he would
have been shocked by many aspects of it; nevertheless it is true that,
just as Rousseau brought on the French revolution, Tolstoi brought on
the Russian revolution, and his invisible spirit had much to do with
shaping it.

Leo Tolstoi was a member of the higher nobility. As a literary man,
therefore, he started with the same advantage as Byron; the critics were
ready to read his work, the public was curious about him, and all his
life, whatever he did or said was “copy.” His relatives and friends were
high in court circles, and he was able to speak to the tsar whenever he
pleased; therefore he and he alone was above the power of the police
system which strangled the life of Russia.

He received a good education, according to the ruling-class standards of
his time, and lived a life of elegant idleness and dissipation. But even
in early youth he was tormented by religious and moral questionings. He
decided that he must do something useful, so he became an artillery
officer in the army of his tsar. Here he wrote an autobiographical
story, “Childhood,” which attracted immediate attention. Then came the
Crimean war, and he wrote a series of pictures of this conflict,
“Sevastopol,” which made him known as a great writer.

He traveled abroad and met Turgenev in Paris; but still his conscience
troubled him, and at the age of thirty-one he went back to his estate at
Yasnaya Polyana, and undertook the task of educating the peasants who
tilled his fifteen thousand acres and provided his leisure and comfort.
Here came the police, during his absence, and searched his house and
closed the school. In those days Tolstoi was an artillery officer, and
not a Christian pacifist; he sent word to the tsar by his aunt that he
was armed, and if the police came to his estate again he would shoot the
first one who entered the house.

Tolstoi married, and raised a large family upon this estate. His wife
was a devoted admirer of his literary work, and copied his manuscripts
many times over with infinite pains. During the years 1865-69 he wrote
“War and Peace,” which most critics consider one of the great novels of
the world. I will merely record my regrets. There are a vast number of
characters, scattered all over Russia; each character has several long
Russian names, and, according to Russian custom, will be called
different names by different groups of persons--to say nothing of
diminutives and nick-names. I labored diligently to keep track of these
characters, to remember which was which and what each was doing; but I

Next came “Anna Karenina”: a sort of Russian high-society version of
“The Scarlet Letter.” Anna is a woman who has been sold in the usual way
to an elderly gentleman; she is a contented wife, until she meets a
young cavalry officer whom she truly loves. Instead of engaging in a
polite intrigue, according to the custom of her time, Anna takes the new
love affair more seriously than she takes her marriage, and so Tolstoi
drives her and her lover to suicide. This harshness greatly shocked the
critics of the time, who said that Tolstoi was “killing flies with an

There are several attitudes one can take to the problem of the “eternal
triangle.” You can say, as polite society said all over Europe, and
still says, that adulterous intrigue is a small matter, provided you
make a pretense of hiding it. Or you may say with me, that when a
married woman finds she truly and deeply loves another man, it is her
duty to get a divorce and marry the man she loves. Or you may say, with
most of the “heavy” novelists, that there is nothing for the various
characters to do but to die horrid deaths.

Tolstoi was on the way to the great crisis of his life, a spiritual
conversion which involved a complete repudiation of the sexual element
in love. He decided that it was the duty of men and women to repress
their physical desires and become inspired Christian ascetics. When
people asked him how, in that event, the human race was to continue to
be propagated, his answer was that we didn’t have to worry about that,
because so few people would be able to practice the code he laid down.
It is difficult to see how a moral teacher could advance a doctrine more
obviously absurd than that. The better elements of the race are to
sterilize themselves, and posterity is to be begotten by weaklings and
conscious sinners! There is only one possible explanation of such a
doctrine; it is the reaction of a man whose passions are beyond his
control. We know that such was the case with Tolstoi; he was a gross
man, and Gorki reports that even in his old age his conversation was
unbearably obscene, and his attitude toward women low. Such a man can
conceive of asceticism, but he cannot conceive of true idealism in the
sex relationship.

If Tolstoi’s conversion had had to do with sex matters alone, it would
have had but little significance. But it was something far greater than
that; it was the cry of anguish of a member of the privileged classes,
who realized that his whole life, all his equipment of leisure and
knowledge and power, was made out of the blood and sweat and tears of
the debased masses of his Russian people. He wanted to give up his
landed estates, and live as a peasant, and return to the workers what he
had taken from them. But, alas, in the meantime he had raised a large
family, and this family had something to say about the matter. The
Countess Tolstoi had been her husband’s devoted helper, so long as he
was content to remain a literary man; but when he wanted to become a
prophet and a saint, she thought he was mad. She had the children to
look out for, and the children, of course, wanted to grow up as their
father had done, in the great world of pleasure and fashion.

Tolstoi himself retired to live in a hut; he put on peasant’s clothes
and spent his time cobbling shoes. He gave up his copyrights, but he
could never get the courage to give up his land; so he continued to grow
rich, in spite of all his agonized preachings, and the balance of his
life was continuous contradiction and disharmony. In the end he could
stand it no longer; he saw his children quarreling over the property,
like so many birds of prey over a carcass, and so he went out from his
home, with no one but his secretary. For a time no one knew where he
was, and at last he was discovered, ill and dying. His flight was one of
the great gestures of history, and the scenes which took place about his
death-bed summed up in dramatic form all the conflicting forces of the

Tolstoi had repudiated the Russian church as a creature of superstition
and exploitation. He had gone back to primitive Christianity, and the
church had excommunicated him. Now, when he was dying, they wanted to
get him back, realizing that their very existence depended upon it. If
they could not persuade him to confess and repent, they would lie about
it, and say that he had done so, as orthodox churches have done for many
other great heretics. So here were Tolstoi’s friends, mounting guard in
the railroad station where he lay dying, to keep the priests and the
bishops away! And here also were the police agents and spies, a swarm of
vermin, prying into the affairs of every person about the death-bed, and
telegraphing in panic to headquarters for instructions. When the great
soul had passed on, and the body had to be moved, some students tried to
sing a hymn, and there were the usual scenes of brutality to which the
Russian people were accustomed.

Tolstoi had met some of the revolutionists of his time, but had been
cold to them; he was not interested in politics, only in religious and
moral questions. His conversion first took the form of absolute
non-resistance to evil. Later on he came to modify it to the doctrine
which Gandhi is now spreading throughout all Asia, “non-violent
resistance.” You shall not use physical force against your enemy, but
you oppose him by word and teaching, by your power of endurance and of
moral conviction; so you shame him, or rouse the moral forces of the
whole world to rebuke him.

Tolstoi applied that treatment to the state church and to the police. Of
course, if he had been a peasant or a workingman, or even a poor
student or literary man, he would have been beaten to death with the
knout, or shipped off to Siberia to perish in a convict camp. But he was
a member of the nobility, and his family influence protected him, until
he had become so famous throughout the world that he was greater than
the Tsardom itself. In his last years he lived as a majestic symbol of
the protest of the Russian people; he poured out arguments against war,
against government cruelty, against landlordism, against priestcraft;
and all the powers of darkness in Russia did not dare to lay a finger
upon him.

In his later years he wrote several novels, one of which I personally
consider his greatest. This is “Resurrection,” which tells the story of
a young Russian nobleman who seduces a peasant girl, and later on in
life discovers her as a prostitute. He becomes conscience-stricken
because of what he has done, and sets out to redeem her, follows her to
Siberia and saves her, and in the end they live that life of brotherly
and sisterly love which Tolstoi had come to preach. This story contains
frightful pictures of the whole Russian system; it was translated into
an immense number of languages, and it probably did more than any other
one book to undermine the Tsardom.

Tolstoi published a work of criticism, and some people think that I got
my ideas from it. Therefore, let me say that if you want to find the
germ of “Mammonart,” you will do better to consult Walt Whitman’s
“Democratic Vistas,” published a generation before Tolstoi’s work.

The thesis of Tolstoi’s “What is Art?” resembles mine in just one
particular; that is, we both believe that art has to do with moral
questions--a belief which we share with Aeschylus and Sophocles and
Euripedes and Aristophanes and Virgil and Dante and Cervantes and
Moliere and Victor Hugo and Dostoievski and Tennyson and Ibsen--and so
on through a long list of persons still to be considered.

But from what point of view shall the artist approach morality? Tolstoi
answers as one who distrusts the intellect, distrusts science, and has
no use for or belief in progress, whether social or political or
intellectual. He believes that the one basis of hope for human beings is
in a return to the primitive, elemental forms of life; he wants art to
confine itself to those simple emotions which can be understood by the
uneducated peasant. I should say that the easiest way to make plain his
thesis would be to change his title from “What Is Art?” to “What Is
Children’s Art?”

Whatever faults the critic may have to find with “Mammonart,” I beg him
to realize that its author is not a primitive Christian, but a
scientific Socialist; one who welcomes the achievements of the human
intellect, and looks forward to a complex social order, and to social
art which will possess an intensity and subtlety beyond the power of
comprehension, not merely of Russian peasants, but of the exclusive and
fastidious individualist culture of our time.



We left the French novel in the hands of Flaubert. We return now to
consider the influence of two French writers, who founded the school
known as “naturalism.” They were contemporaries of Flaubert, but their
influence counted later, for the reason that recognition was so long

Jules and Edmond de Goncourt were brothers, who collaborated in writing
to such an extent that they became as one mind and one pen. Jules, the
younger, died at the age of forty; his brother lived to old age. They
came of an aristocratic family, and inherited a competence; they were
bachelors and semi-invalids, and devoted themselves to the cause of art
with a kind of ascetic frenzy. They believed that true art could be
understood only by artists; but they achieved greatness in spite of that
theory, because of the intensity of their sensibility, and the vitality
they gave to the creatures of their brain.

It was the Goncourts who first used the term “naturalism.” It was their
idea that characters are built up and a story made real by infinite
attention to detail. No attempt must be made to generalize, you must
deal with the particular, and you must make that particular known by the
massing of external circumstance. Everything must be subordinated to
that purpose; the style must be flexible, it must, like the music of
the Wagnerian opera, change at every moment, according to the scene it
portrays. These writers broke all the rules of French literary elegance,
they used barbarous and forbidden words, so the critics ridiculed them,
and the academy of Richelieu spurned them, and they had to start an
academy of their own.

Their first work of significance was “Germinie Lacerteux,” which tells
the life history of a French serving-maid. Why should the genteel art of
fiction stoop to such a heroine? The authors answer this question in a

     Living in the nineteenth century, at a time of universal suffrage,
     and democracy, and liberalism, we asked ourselves whether what are
     called “the lower orders” had no claim upon the Novel; whether the
     people--this world beneath a world--were to remain under the
     literary ban and disdain of authors who have hitherto maintained
     silence regarding any soul and heart that they might possess. We
     asked ourselves whether, in these days of equality, there are still
     for writer and reader unworthy classes, misfortunes that are too
     low, dramas too foul-mouthed, catastrophes too base in their
     terror. We became curious to know whether Tragedy, that
     conventional form of a forgotten literature and a vanished society,
     was finally dead; whether, in a country devoid of caste and legal
     aristocracy, the miseries of the lowly and the poor would speak to
     interest, to emotion, to pity, as loudly as the miseries of the
     great and rich; whether, in a word, the tears that are wept below
     could provoke weeping like those that are wept above.

Fiction had dealt with serving-maids before this; for example, the
heroine of the first great English novel, Pamela, occupies that station.
But Pamela is an innocent child, and our interest is in seeing her
raised to the status of a lady. The Goncourts do not tell that kind of
story: quite the contrary, their serving-maid sinks to the depths of
degradation. The only other novelist of this time who was writing about
such “low life” was Charles Dickens. He will tell you about poverty, he
will even tell you about seduction, and the sufferings of a seduced
woman; but always he is a Victorian gentleman, remembering what is
proper for young girls to read. The French writers, on the other hand,
take up the sexual conduct and feelings of their women in the spirit of
a medical clinic; they make it a matter of honor to spare you no most
hideous detail, and if you go with them you will learn all there is to
know about sexual pathology.

Now this degradation exists in the world, and it is the duty of every
thinking man and woman to know about it; to shrink from knowing, or from
telling others about it, is to evade our mental duty. But when we have
acquired this knowledge--when we have visited the hospitals and the
jails and the brothels and the morgues--our minds are automatically led
to the question: what is to be done about it? Not to follow this impulse
is to be mentally incompetent or morally diseased.

And that is where we part company with the Goncourt brothers and their
theory of art. We learn from them all about the experiences of a Paris
prostitute; we learn the details of the life of a young society girl,
brought up in a hot-house environment, a prey to abnormal cravings; we
learn the symptoms of religious pathology, the half-sensuous hysteria of
a woman in the toils of Catholic priestcraft. There are eight or ten
such novels, each dealing with a different assortment of abnormalities;
but nowhere in these books is there a hint of anything to be done,
whether by individual conversion, the renewal of the moral forces, or by
political and economic readjustments.

All such things are rigidly excluded by the “naturalist” formula; and it
is essential to get clear that the Goncourt brothers, who made the
formula, made it because they were sick and impotent men, the victims of
a decadent stage of civilization. They thought they were giving us
scientific reports upon human life, when as a matter of fact what they
were giving us were the by-products of their own headaches and
dyspepsias. They toiled with the devotion of martyrs to report every
quiver of their nervous sensibility; Edmond watched Jules while Jules
was dying--Jules even watched himself--in order to report the details of
this experience. Neither of them realized that, much as the world may
need information about the sensations of dying, it has even more need of
information about how to live. As for the Goncourt brothers, what they
needed was fresh air and exercise.

Fiction, according to this “naturalist” formula, was to become “exact
science.” But then, there are many kinds of science. It is science to
put a beetle under the microscope, and diagram the epidermal cells in
its carapace. But science does not stop with such observation; it goes
on to experiment. Supposing this beetle be dyed pink; will there be any
trace of pink in its offspring, and does that prove the transmission of
acquired characteristics?

We have here in California a plant wizard who raises fields of flowers
and fruits and vegetables. He is not content to accumulate facts about
them, but proceeds to alter them--to make cactus without spines, and
blackberries as big as your thumb, and wheat that is rust-proof and
peaches that are scale-proof. Will some member of the Goncourt Academy
explain why the “exact science” of fiction writing might not include an
effort to free human beings from alcoholism and syphilis? As it
happened, the greatest disciple of the Goncourt brothers, the man who
took up their formula and used it to make himself the most widely read
of all French novelists, came in the end to this very conclusion, and
evolved into a moralist as intense and determined as Tolstoi.



Emile Zola was left an orphan in childhood, and experienced bitter
poverty. He began work as a bundle-clerk in a publishing house, and
trained himself to be a writer at night. He knew what it was to be
half-starved, and to write in bed with his fingers freezing in an
unheated room. His struggle for recognition was long; for more than a
score of years he wrote pot-boilers without success. But he had faith in
his own genius, he was a stubborn plodder, and in his grim, sober
fashion he worked his way to the top.

When I was a boy this Frenchman’s name was a synonym for everything
loathsome; Tennyson wrote about “wallowing in the troughs of Zolaism.”
This writer had used words never before used in literature, and
described actions never before described; the critics could find but one
explanation--that he was a vile-minded wretch. But in fact he was one of
the most conscientious writers and most determined reformers that ever
lived. He wrote that “‘l’Assommoir’ is morality in action ... the first
story of the people that has the true scent of the people.” And he
added: “I do not defend myself, my work will defend me. It is a true

He had set himself to tell the full truth about the world in which he
lived; to portray it as it actually was, both high and low, without
mercy, without fear or shame, without sparing the hideous facts. Having
such a picture before you, you might make what you pleased of it; you
might become a cynic or a sensualist, a saint or a revolutionist; but
until you had the facts, how could you judge what you ought to become?

He planned a tremendous work, to consist of more than a score of
volumes, the “Rougon-Macquart series,” to tell the history of a family
under the Second Empire. We are back in the time of Napoleon the Little,
when Victor Hugo was driven into exile, and the French bourgeoisie set
up their puppet emperor. Zola had imbibed the materialistic science of
his time; he believed that human life was determined by heredity, and he
wished to exhibit this force working in society. He chose two people
suffering from a nervous disease, and showed their descendants, the rich
ones plundering and squandering, the poor ones sunk in drunkenness and

For years the critics spurned these books, and the public neglected
them; but at last came a masterpiece, “l’Assommoir,” which had an
enormous sale. The title means, literally, “The Slaughter-House”; it is
the name of a saloon in the working-class quarter of Paris, where the
poor are lured to their doom. It has been just twenty-five years since I
read this book, but I still see the procession of ghastly scenes: the
poor woman slave in a laundry, the husband a house-painter, and their
brood of wretched, neglected children. I gasp as I see the painter slip
and fall from the roof to his death; I shudder as I see the child Nana,
peeping through the key-hole at the obscenities her parents are

Zola has no graces of style, no charms of personality, no humor, hardly
even any sentiment. He is hag-ridden by the misery of the modern world,
and in plodding, matter-of-fact, relentless fashion he proceeds to
overwhelm you with a mass of facts. A few such facts you might evade,
but the sum of them is irresistible; you know that this is the truth.
Over the whole picture you feel the brooding pity of a master spirit, to
whom these suffering millions are an obsession, haunting his imagination
and driving him to his task.

There are no heroes and no heroines in Zola’s works; his hero is the
human swarms who breed like flies in our teeming cities, and struggle
and suffer and perish, without ever a gleam of understanding of their
fate. He takes us into the mining country, and in “Germinal” shows us
the slaves of the pits, coal-blackened hordes, starving, oppressed,
poisoned by alcohol, surging up in a blind fury of revolt. In “Nana” he
shows us prostitution; and to me this is the most frightful book of
all--the life-story of the little girl whom we saw getting her first
lessons in vice through the key-hole. This daughter of the working class
becomes their instrument of vengeance upon the exploiters; a seductress,
a wanton, luring men old and young to their doom, she is a kind of
symbol of wastefulness. Her life becomes a frenzy of destruction; silks,
jewels, food and wine are poured upon her in floods, and she throws them
about like a drunken giant wrecking a city. While she lies dying of
small-pox, we hear the mob outside shrieking: “To Berlin! To Berlin!”
The Franco-Prussian war is on, and Napoleon the Little is about to try
out his dream of glory, and provide Zola with the theme for yet another
masterpiece, “The Downfall,” showing war with all its horror of mass
suffering and national collapse.

Zola, raved at and prosecuted as a sensationalist and corrupter, had now
become a national figure; and he met this responsibility by evolving
from a materialist and fatalist into a scientific Socialist, a
rationalist and preacher of humanity. He wrote three long novels,
“Lourdes,” “Rome” and “Paris,” which exposed the church as a bulwark of
hereditary privilege, and became the text-books of anti-clericalism in
France. Then came the Dreyfus case, calling for a hero to carry the
anti-clerical banner into action; and the man with the sewer name came
forward to answer the call. France had become a republic, but the army
had remained monarchist and clerical. Some of these pious aristocrats,
needing money to lavish on their Nanas, had been selling army secrets to
Germany, and were caught. They decided to put the blame upon a certain
cavalry officer, who happened to be guilty of a quite different crime,
that of being a Jew. Captain Dreyfus was convicted, and sentenced to
life imprisonment in the convict settlement on Devil’s Island. Another
officer, who investigated the case and attempted to defend Dreyfus, was
shipped off to Africa.

It was nearly a hundred and fifty years since Voltaire had made his
fight in the Calas case; and here was “l’Infame” at the same old game of
the “frame-up.” Zola came forward with a terrific challenge entitled
“J’Accuse.” He was arrested, tried and convicted, and escaped from
France. For years this Dreyfus case remained an international scandal,
and finally it was proved that the documents used against Zola had been
forged, and later on one of the guilty men committed suicide, and
Dreyfus was released and reinstated. As I write this book the papers
record that Premier Herriot has abolished the penal settlement on
Devil’s Island, and so Zola’s task is completed.

He had now become the leader of the French masses in the war against
reaction; and his last novels were tracts written in this cause. In
“Labor” he portrays his ideal of the free men and women of the
revolutionary movement, living frugal and abstemious lives, and
consecrating themselves to the cause of human emancipation. Another,
called “Truth,” deals with the Dreyfus case. Another had been planned,
“Justice,” but this he did not live to write. In all these works you
notice that the old theories of materialistic science have been modified
enough to permit men to fight for truth and freedom; and so Emile Zola
shares with Walt Whitman the rôle of prophet of democracy. He served the
masses even better than Whitman, because he achieved complete insight
into the economic forces of modern times, and pointed out to the people
the exact road they had to travel. More than any other artist of the
nineteenth century he voiced and guided the movement of proletarian
revolt, the mass action of the workers of factory and farm to whom the
future belongs.



What would Zola and his naturalism have been without social vision and
revolutionary hope? This question was answered for us by a disciple and
friend of Zola, ten years his junior, who proceeded to make a laboratory

Guy de Maupassant was a healthy young Norman animal, who came up to
Paris to make his way as a journalist. He was a tremendous worker; in
the course of his short life he wrote six novels and two hundred and
twelve short stories. He made himself master of the latter form, and has
had a dominating influence upon it. No one has been able to pack more
meaning into a brief episode, to give you the whole life and import of a
character in a couple of thousand words. Therefore all young writers of
short stories go to school to him. What has he to give them--aside from
the tricks of the trade?

Maupassant himself would have answered: Nothing. For he was one of the
fighting art-for-art’s-sakers, to whom the idea of morality in an
art-work is an insult. But the fact is that he has a propaganda, as
definite, as deeply felt, as persistently hammered home as that of a
tub-thumper like John Bunyan or a prophet like Tolstoi. His message is
that life is a cheat and a snare, and that human beings are beasts
decked in fine clothing and pretenses. Maupassant dislikes them so that
he eats himself up. He tries to believe in play, in natural, animal
enjoyment of the passions; but instead of being content with such
pleasures, he shuts himself up like a hermit in a cell, to acquire
mastery of a difficult art, and have the satisfaction before he dies of
voicing his hatred of that fate, whatever it may be, which has created
his own life, and the bourgeois France which he sees about him.

Maupassant watches with eager eye and alert fancy for a scene, an
episode, a trait of character, which will enable him to illustrate the
pettiness and ignominy of human destiny, and the falsity of man’s
dignities and honors. He collects such things, as a naturalist collects
biting bugs and stinging serpents. His characters are the French
peasants with their greed and cruelty, and the French bourgeois and
cultured classes, who, underneath their silks and satins, their
moralities and intellectualities, are the same vile animals as the
peasants. But Maupassant’s quarrel is not merely with men and women; it
is with life itself. The thing which brings him the keenest satisfaction
is an incident which shows the futility even of virtue; which exhibits
God as a sportive demon, amusing himself by pulling off the wings of the
butterflies he has created.

Out of the two hundred and twelve specimens in the Maupassant museum,
any one will suffice. I choose one called “The Necklace,” simply because
it has stayed in my memory for twenty-five years. A lovely woman,
married to a poor clerk, and living a starved life, borrows from a
wealthy friend a beautiful diamond necklace, in order to make a show at
some function. She loses the necklace, and she and her husband pledge
everything they own, buy another to replace it, and take it to the owner
without revealing what has happened. For ten years they slave and drudge
to pay off their debts, and the lovely woman is turned into a haggard
wreck. The friend who loaned the necklace meets her, and is horrified at
her condition; the poor woman tells how she has drudged all these
years--and learns that she has wasted her life in order to replace an
imitation necklace, of no value worth considering!

There is subtlety in the technique of Maupassant, but none in his view
of life. There can be no subtlety, when you lay down the law that human
beings are beasts. There are only a few beast emotions, and they never
vary; you can always be sure what a man will do in the presence of a
woman, and what the woman will let him do. And when God is a sportive
demon, all stories have the same ending. You may not foresee the
particular trick this demon will play--for example, that the lost
necklace would turn out to have been paste--but you can be sure that
something will happen to make a mockery of all human effort and hope.

And likewise you can foresee the ending of such a man. If he takes life
seriously enough to become a great artist, he is apt to take it
seriously enough to act upon his convictions. He will seek refuge from
despair in debauchery and drink; not finding it, he will go on to opium
and hashish. He will be one of those who from fear of death commit
suicide, or who from brooding over insanity go insane. Maupassant was in
a strait-jacket at the age of forty; thus proving himself a moralist,
and a teacher of precious lessons: more than we can say about the art
dilettanti of our own time, who write delicately perfumed impropriety,
and live conventional and pampered lives upon the backs of the working



Up in the gloomy, ice-bound North, where men dream about God and drink
strong liquor, another teacher was engaged in undermining bourgeois
morality, and raising a storm of controversy about his head. The name of
Henrik Ibsen brings before us a grim-faced old man with set mouth and
large spectacles and a fringe of defiant white whiskers. He was a
fighting man, a dogmatic antidogmatist, a propagandist if ever there was
one in the field of art.

He also was born of the people, and educated in the school of hardship.
He was an apothecary’s assistant in a small Norwegian port, then a poor
student, journalist and poet, then the director of a provincial theater,
which struggled for six years in a vain fight against bankruptcy.
Finally, at the age of thirty-eight, Ibsen received a pension of four or
five hundred dollars a year from the king, and on this he lived a stern,
penurious life, raising a family, sewing the buttons on his own clothes,
and making over the theater and the moral ideas of the thinking world.

Except for some pot-boilers written in his youth, all the works of Ibsen
have one theme, the problem of ideals in relation to reality. Men and
women form a conception of right conduct, and they try to apply it, and
it doesn’t work out as it is supposed to; in most of Ibsen’s plays it
works out exactly the opposite way. His thesis is that life cannot be
guided by formulas; those of democracy are just as dangerous as those of
authority; either will destroy you if you apply them blindly. Ibsen is
in revolt against religious creeds and social conventions which repress
the individual and thwart his full development. But you must not assume
that he is willing to make a formula out of self-realization;
straightway he will turn about and show you some selfish egotist engaged
in realizing himself and wrecking everyone else.

Ibsen wrote two long poems, “Brand” and “Peer Gynt,” into which he put
ideas resembling those of “Don Quixote.” Brand is a Norwegian preacher,
who has his formula of perfect righteousness, the sacrifice of the
individual to God. He acts as blindly as Don Quixote tilting at
wind-mills, and destroys a number of people, himself included. “Peer
Gynt,” on the other hand, is a scamp who, like Sancho Panza, fools
himself by those very qualities of which he is most proud, his ability
to take care of himself, his unwillingness to consider anything but his
own interest.

Ibsen also fell under the spell of gloomy materialistic science. Like
Maupassant, he sees men as the sport of circumstances. The difference is
that he believes, in spite of his theories, in fighting against
circumstance, and his whole being is absorbed in the task of helping men
and women to fight wisely and effectively.

He took the French device of the “well-made play,” a simple, unadorned
picture of reality, compressing a great mass of character and incident
into a small space. He used this art form to deal, not with the great
world of fashion, but with the middle-class people he knew in small
Norwegian towns: doctors and lawyers and clergymen and merchants, with
their wives and sons and daughters. They are wretchedly unhappy people,
and Ibsen shows how they make their own unhappiness, because their ideas
are false, because they are slaves of traditions which have no relation
to present-day reality. “The Pillars of Society” tells about a business
man who makes his life a string of lies in order to hide an offense he
has committed; he is helping to preserve civilization, by not letting
anybody know that a business man can do wrong. “A Doll’s House” tells
about a woman who discovers that she is a pet and an ornament in her
household, and leaves her husband and children and goes out into the
world to become an individual.

There are three stages in one’s attitude toward thesis plays of this
sort. First, the thesis is new, and whether it pleases you or angers
you, it rouses and stirs you. Second, you know the thesis by heart, and
have accepted it and lived it. At that stage the play bores you; you say
that you do not go to the theater for Sunday school lessons. The third
stage comes when the thesis has become so familiar that you no longer
think of the play in that way; it holds you then, if it holds you at
all, by the human realness of its characters and their fates.

Eighteen years ago I saw “A Doll’s House” acted. I was at the second
stage of development, and it seemed to me a tiresome little sermon, I
could not stay to the end. But a few days later I saw “Hedda Gabler,”
and this was different; I forgot the thesis, and was interested in a
psychological study of the modern parasitic female. We all know Hedda;
some of us have been married to her. She has been brought up in
idleness, she lives by vanity, she is bored, and preys upon men, not
because she is sexual, but because she wants attention and applause, and
cannot endure that anyone else should have these things in her presence.
One of Hedda’s victims is a poet; he has labored to produce a
manuscript, and in his despair over her he tears it up. When Hedda hears
of that she is thrilled to the depths, and cries: “A deed! A deed!” Let
that be a symbol of the art-for-art’s-sake attitude to life!

The greatest of Ibsen’s plays is “Ghosts.” It has a thesis so wicked
that the critics hardly yet dare to state it. This thesis happens to be
the exact opposite of the one in “The Scarlet Letter”: that a true and
good woman, unhappily married, who finds that she loves her clergyman,
ought to elope with the clergyman instead of staying with her husband.
In Ibsen’s play the woman stays with her husband, and helps to make him
comfortable, while he gets drunk and commits infidelities. She bears him
a son, and lavishes her love and devotion upon this son, only to see him
go the way of his father, and eventually die of syphilis.

This unpleasant disease had never before appeared upon the stage, and
when “Ghosts” was produced in the pious city of London in the year 1891,
the critics and newspapers went out of their minds. You may find a
record of their opinions in Bernard Shaw’s “Quintessence of Ibsenism”;
starting with the London “Daily Telegraph,” which called the play “an
open drain; a loathsome sore unbandaged; a dirty act done publicly; a
lazar-house with all its doors and windows open ... candid foulness ...
bestial and cynical ... offensive cynicism ... melancholy and malodorous
world ... absolutely loathsome and fetid ... gross, almost putrid
indecorum ... literary carrion ... crapulous stuff.” All this referring
to a play now recognized as one of the great tragic masterpieces of all

“An Enemy of the People” deals with Ibsen’s attitude toward politics and
social questions. The “enemy” is a young doctor in a Norwegian town, who
discovers that the famous baths, the basis of the town’s prosperity, are
infected with typhoid. The doctor insists upon making the facts public,
and so of course he has an unhappy time. Curiously enough, you will find
the same story in “The Goose-Step”; it happened at the University of
Oregon--quite a distance from Norway. The “enemy of the people” in this
latter case was a young professor, who was duly compelled to move on.

The world is forty years older than when Ibsen wrote this play; we have
had time to analyze the economic forces in our society, and we are no
longer satisfied with a crude distrust of democracy. It is true that the
people stone the prophets; but later on they build monuments to them;
and the world must be saved by the people, if it is to be saved at all.
Ibsen’s attitude is the natural one for an artist, who has to take care
of his own mind, and does not want anyone to tell him what to think. He
is distrustful of discipline, preaches individualism--and finds the
reactionaries glad to quote his words. But you see, all the poet has to
do is to portray the world; the masses have a more difficult job--they
have to change it. So they cannot rest in the anarchist attitude; they
have to have discipline and solidarity, they have to organize and find
leaders, and learn to stand by those leaders, and at the same time to
control them. All that is a new task, and calls for new types of
thinkers, not merely critical, but constructive.



Sweden also had a great dramatist and poet in this nineteenth century.
He came some twenty years later than Ibsen, a tormented and highly
emotional man of genius, who just about boxed the compass of thought,
and believed everything there was for a man to believe. He was too much
of a propagandist, even for me; I like an artist to have ideas, but not
so many that they contradict!

August Strindberg’s father was a bankrupt shop-keeper; his mother was a
bar-maid, and three illegitimate children had preceded him. He was
raised in a family of eleven in a small house, and the first emotions he
knew were fear and hunger. He was lonely and unhappy all his life, and
poured out his troubles in a torrent over Sweden.

He began writing at twenty-one; he had the artist’s passion for all
kinds of knowledge, and in those early days he was a Socialist and a
champion of labor, also of the economic emancipation of women. But at
the age of twenty-six he chose a wife, and illustrated the formula we
used to sing in childhood:

    Needles and pins, needles and pins,
    When a man marries his trouble begins!

His wife bore him some children, and then wished to resume her career as
an actress. Strindberg objected to this, and they quarreled, and after
seven years they parted. The poet considered this an irremediable
tragedy; for he held a mystical idea, that marriage is an actual union
of flesh and spirit, and to tear a couple apart is to maim them both.
Strindberg put his agony into a book, “The Confessions of a Fool”; a
ghastly record, yet one can hardly keep from smiling over it. The author
preaches the doctrine that woman is inferior to man; he pounds upon this
theme--and then proceeds to tell you marital incidents which make it
clear that the woman was fully a match for him!

Strindberg believes that woman is inferior, not merely physically,
intellectually and morally, but biologically; she is a half-way
creature between man and child, and it is her duty to submit herself in
all things to the biologically superior male. But nature for some reason
has failed to inform her that she is inferior, and the perverse creature
insists upon trying to act as if she were equal; so everything goes to
wreck. Somebody said that Herbert Spencer’s idea of a tragedy was a
generalization killed by a fact. Strindberg’s tragedy was the same, but
he never recognized it; he clung to his generalization, not merely
through this marriage, but through two others, which failed in the same
way, and for the same reason.

It is true that some women are predatory; it is true that a great many
women abuse the power they get. That may be expected of every enslaved
race or class or sex. But the only way to become fit for power is to
exercise it, and the only way to get it is to take it. The women who
broke Strindberg’s three marriages were like the suffragettes with
hammers; they were using the only arguments their opponents would heed.
As a result of their efforts, some of us now live in a happier time,
having comrade-wives who do not abuse their share of power, but
co-operate with their husbands in carrying the burdens of life.

But whatever you think about Strindberg’s biological superiority, you
cannot deny the power of the tragedy he wrote upon his thesis. It is
called “The Father,” and shows a man undermined and destroyed by a
cunning, determined woman, who sets out to break him to her will. Also
you have to admit the reality of “Miss Julia,” which portrays the
degeneracy of the ruling classes in Sweden. This high-born young lady,
who starts an intrigue with a man-servant in her household, might be a
page out of a “yellow” Sunday supplement in America.

Strindberg came close to the line of insanity; he spent two or three
years in a sanitarium, and wrote a book about these borderland states,
“Inferno.” Then he took up with Swedenborg, and evolved into a Christian
mystic, and went back into a second childhood of bible-worship. But that
did not keep him from carrying on frantic quarrels with his enemies, and
pouring out many volumes of personalities. Strangely enough, there is a
kind of impersonality in it all, because the man is so tragically
earnest. He is trying to find the truth, and puts himself before us as
a document; no one but Rousseau has done this so completely. Therefore,
we think of Strindberg as one of the great teachers. Let the artist give
us truth, and we can always find use for it.



Another great writer of this time was troubled about the problem of the
ladies. August Strindberg married three, and experienced three
tragedies. Friedrich Nietzsche sought to marry one, but she would not
have him; after which he wrote contemptuously of them all. Despite the
fact that he was a clergyman’s son, he suffered from hereditary
syphilis, and went insane--a tragic waste of the greatest genius of
modern times.

Nietzsche was born in 1844, and became a professor of philology at a
Swiss university. His health broke down from eye-strain at the age of
thirty-five, and he retired upon a small pension. His insanity came at
the age of forty-five, and he lived eleven years longer, slowly rotting
to pieces, and meantime growling like a wild beast.

Nietzsche’s enemies, of course, made the most of this cruel fate; they
said that he was insane all the time. That is an easy way to dispose of
his writings--easy for the average person, who has never experienced
such emotional states as Nietzsche dealt with, and does not wish to be
troubled by them. But a few who have experienced these states are in
better position to decide. Nietzsche’s mature work is perfectly sane; it
contains many contradictions, but we have to permit an original mind to
grow. His masterpiece, “Thus Spake Zarathustra,” contains the greatest
imaginative writing of several centuries.

But we must remember that these books were written by a man who was ill
and suffering atrociously. He declared that every year meant for him two
hundred days of pain. His view of life is the product of a pain-driven
mind, like the ecstasy experienced by martyrs undergoing torture. We do
not expect ordered and systematic thought from such persons; but we may
learn from them strange secrets concerning the possibilities of the
human spirit.

One of Nietzsche’s doctrines is the exaltation of the aristocratic over
the democratic virtues. He was the son of a Prussian state pastor, and
he glorified war, and was taken as the spiritual director of the
invasion of Belgium. It would be easy for me to deal with him on that
basis, and draw and quarter him amid general acclamation. The only
trouble is that Nietzsche is one of the pioneers of the moral life, a
conqueror of new universes for our race.

There are two sides to his message, the positive and the negative. On
the positive side it is the record of an exalted poet, proclaiming
brotherhood, service, and consecration. On its negative side it
represents the fears and repugnances of an invalid, shrinking from life
which was too much for him, and seeking refuge in his own visions, where
he could be master without interference from a hostile world. Where
Nietzsche loved something, you will generally find it something great
and noble; where he hated something, you will often find it a thing he
failed to understand. There were two subjects upon which he was entirely
ignorant; the first woman, and the second economics. This double
ignorance distorted all his thought, and has brought it about that his
influence counts on the side of the forces he hated.

Nietzsche agreed with the proposition of the present book, that all the
arts are propaganda. He showed how those who were able to face life and
to conquer made themselves a philosophy and art of self-assertion and
development; those who were afraid of life made a philosophy and art of
self-sacrifice and renunciation. Nietzsche explained Christianity as a
slave religion, evolved by the victims of Roman imperialism; he
proclaimed himself Antichrist, and advocated a “master morality.”

Nietzsche’s supreme contribution is the interpretation of evolution; he
became the prophet and seer of this doctrine, developing a concept of
the Overman, a higher being into which the human race is destined to
evolve. Bernard Shaw has popularized the term Superman; but I venture to
stick to Overman, which I used in “The Journal of Arthur Stirling,”
several years before “Man and Superman” was published. Nietzsche might
have chosen the term “Supermensch” if he had wished; but he wrote

This concept Nietzsche set forth in “Zarathustra” with fervor and
splendor of imagery, a chant the like of which the German language had
never known before. Ten years ago, editing “The Cry for Justice,” made
up of the world’s revolutionary literature from thirty languages and
five thousand years of history, I gave the last place to a quotation
from “Zarathustra”; the reason being that it represents to me the
ultimate of modern thought, the greatest words in recent poetry. I quote
a portion of this passage:

     Man is a cord, tied between Beast and Overman--a, cord above an

     A perilous arriving, a perilous traveling, a perilous looking
     backward, a perilous trembling and standing still.

     What is great in man is that he is a bridge, and no goal; what can
     be loved in man is that he is a going-over and a going-under.

     I love them that know not how to live, be it even as those going
     under, for such are those going across.

     I love them that are great in scorn, because these are they that
     are great in reverence, and arrows of longing toward the other

You will note that these paragraphs celebrate the fame of the martyrs,
those who sacrifice themselves for the race. Are we not here right back
in the spirit of Jesus? I do not mean Christianity, the thing that is
taught in churches, the creeds of the other-worldly; I am referring to
the revolutionary carpenter, who taught brotherhood in its high heroic
sense, and proclaimed the kingdom of heaven upon earth.

Nietzsche wrote and taught in that same heroic sense; but because of his
two great ignorances, concerning women and concerning economics, he
could not make distinctions, and save his message from being interpreted
in the interest of class greed and materialism. When we see the image of
Jesus set up in gold and jewels, and carried forth to bless wholesale
murder for the profit of the Russian Tsardom, or of J. P Morgan &
Company’s international loans, we are witnessing one of mankind’s
historic tragedies. We are witnessing another when the message of
Friedrich Nietzsche is taken up by Bernhardi and the Prussian Junkers,
and used to sanctify that power which during the war I described as “the
Beast with the Brains of an Engineer.”

Nietzsche loathed the Prussian Junkers, and the whole Prussian state
machine. He lived the life of an ascetic, and wrote in spiritual terms;
when he talked about the “strong,” he meant those that are great in
reverence as well as in scorn. But he could not analyze the different
kinds of competition in which social beings engage; he could not
distinguish between those which encourage intellectual progress and
those which strangle it. He saw that in primitive societies war
eliminates the degenerate; he did not perceive that in modern capitalist
society war has exactly the opposite effect, preserving the weaklings
and parasites, and putting commercial hogs in power. Neither did he
perceive how a system of hereditary privilege enthrones the sensualists
and idlers, the human types he most despised. While young he came under
the influence of Richard Wagner; he read that pernicious secret document
which Wagner had prepared for his friend King Ludwig, explaining it as
the duty of the artist to devise illusions to keep the masses patriotic
and religious. Nietzsche absorbed that doctrine and it poisoned his
social thought for life.

I have met with ridicule from sapient critics for praising Zarathustra
and at the same time proclaiming myself a Socialist. But just as it is
possible by a deeper view to reconcile Zarathustra and Jesus, so also it
is possible to reconcile Zarathustra and Marx. The free spirits and
lofty idealists whom Nietzsche dreamed will never be able to function in
the world of international profiteers; they are outcasts in such a
world, as Nietzsche was in the Junker world. Only when competition for
money has been replaced by co-operative order will mankind take
seriously those higher activities which were Nietzsche’s concern.

Exactly the same thing applies to the war of the sexes; it is not in
quarreling with women, like Strindberg, or in avoiding them, like
Nietzsche, that the happiness of man is found. There is a saying of
Zarathustra most frequently quoted by his enemies: “When thou goest to
woman forget not the whip.” That is taken to mean that man should
dominate woman by brute power; but Georg Brandes tells me that it does
not mean that at all. It means that you must not forget that the woman
will seek to wield a whip over you if she can; in other words, the
Strindberg terror! Brandes declares that he has seen a photograph of
Nietzsche in company with the young lady whom he loved; Nietzsche in
this photograph had a child’s harness about his neck and shoulders, and
the woman had a whip in her hand. That, of course, was play; but Freud
has taught us that play is symbolic, and perhaps it was this picture
which Nietzsche had in mind when he wrote his famous sentence.

Anyhow, this much is certain: Nietzsche did not know women. Except for
this one unhappy love affair, he took toward them the same attitude as
the Christian hermits and monks--and for the same reason, because he
wanted to live his inner life without disturbance. So extremes meet, and
history repeats itself--the “eternal recurrence” which Nietzsche taught!
Through much of his life he had the devoted services of his sister; she
nursed him and cared for him during those dreadful years when he
wandered about the room growling like a wild beast; and after he was
dead, she edited his books and his letters. Man flees from woman--but he
begins in a woman’s arms, and he ends there.



Modern civilization is a stepmother to poets; it is crowded, noisy and
ugly, and they run away and seek refuge in gardens, or monasteries, or
dreams of a happier past. But modern civilization is alive; it is the
life of hundreds of millions of human beings, forging a new future. And
there comes a new kind of poet, able to penetrate to the inner spirit of
that future.

It was fitting that such a poet should be a Belgian; for Belgium is the
center of the new industrialism in Europe. Here are great iron and steel
plants, and vast cobwebs of railroads, and harbors to which the commerce
of the world pours in. The past and the future meet here, for Belgium
has an old history and art; it is a battle-ground of Catholicism and
Protestantism, of modern science and ancient mysticism, of French
revolution and German autocracy. It is wealthy, with all the class
contrasts and antagonisms which modern capitalism brings.

Emile Verhaeren was born in 1855, of well-to-do retired parents. He
lived in the country, but in Belgium the country is close to the towns,
and the boy saw the river with the great ships, the factories and the
busy artisans, a teeming life, stimulating to the imagination. He was
educated in a Jesuit school, where they hoped to make a priest of him,
but did not succeed. He studied law, and led a wild, freakish youth. He
had been writing verses since childhood, Latin verses, and then the
classical French Alexandrines, under the spell of Victor Hugo. Then came
Zola, and young Verhaeren horrified his parents and friends by a volume
of poetry portraying the violent and brutal facts of Flemish life. They
are a gross and drunken people--we see them in the paintings of Rubens;
and it was a time when young poets were in revolt against false
idealism, and wanted to deal with reality, the more crude and hideous
the better.

From excess of animalism the Belgian people revolt to the other extreme,
asceticism; so the country is full of monks, gloomy and sober, living
apart and contemplating the past with holy awe. Verhaeren wrote a second
book, in which he portrayed strange types of these devotees. But he was
content to admire them; he did not join them.

The poet exists by virtue of the fact that he is more sensitive than the
average man; life hits him harder blows, and he flies from one extreme
to the other. Modern science took from Verhaeren his Catholic faith, and
there followed a period of pessimism, a terrible psychic crisis. Like
Dostoievski and Strindberg, he came close to the border-line of insanity
and suicide. But his restless mind would not give up to any suffering;
he was thrilled even by the adventure of pain; he loved life, even
though it held for him only the vision of death. All things are themes
for art; so he wrote a book of nightmares, a pilgrimage of neurasthenia.

The sick poet had fled from the noisy and brutal world; he found his
deliverance by coming back to it. Redemption lay in loving and
understanding mankind in its manifold new activities. Those things which
the poets generally affect to despise Verhaeren now took up with
ecstasy: industrialism, machinery, the roar of cities, the manifold
activities of crowds, in all these things he discovered a new power,
promising an infinitude of beauty.

Verhaeren wrote in French, and used a new form of rhymed free verse,
more obviously rhythmical than Whitman’s, marvelously responsive to
every throb of the poet’s imagination. It is a kind of verse to chant
aloud, an utterance of sweeping ecstasy. Verhaeren resembles Whitman in
many ways; in his identification of himself with the toiling masses, his
sense of the multitude as a new being, a thing with a life of its own.
Like Whitman he accepts the universe, he sings the chant of humanity
becoming God, conquering nature, and remaking existence in its own

Walt Whitman sang “these states,” and saw them as one mighty, triumphant
land. Verhaeren also had a vision, he was the prophet of the United
States of Europe. He had lived in all its great capitals, and knew and
interpreted the forces which were bringing them together and making them
one. Terrible places they are--“the octopus cities,” he calls them in
the title of one of his volumes, and portrays them as gigantic
tentacular monsters, sucking all the life-blood from the country. No
poet has ever approached Verhaeren in the portrayal of the cruelty and
loneliness and horror of these capitalist cities. You will find in “The
Cry for Justice” a translation of one of these poems, the most frightful
picture of prostitution ever given in verse.

Verhaeren welcomed science, and proclaimed mass solidarity, the
surrender of the individual to the sweep of progress. He became a
prophet and preacher of what he called “cosmic enthusiasm.” He was, of
course, a Socialist and revolutionist. He wrote a lyrical drama called
“The Dawn,” which has been translated into English by Arthur Symonds.
Here in a mixture of prose and verse he celebrates a hero who surrenders
the citadel of capitalism to the masses, and gives his life in the
effort to abolish class conflict and build the happy future. Verhaeren
wrote other plays which have not yet been translated or produced; they
do not conform to the rules of the drama for profit, for they deal with
humanity and not with sex. But the new time is coming--and here is one
of its prophets.



I remember the first poet I ever met in my youth; one of the “pure”
poets, a dreamy soul, who lived in the ugly city of New York, and wrote
about beauty in distant Nineveh and Tyre. He earned his living in a
book-store, where he faded slowly, and his hair came to look as if the
moths had been feeding on it. Only once I saw fire in his eyes, and that
was when the name of Swinburne was mentioned. “Swinburne is a _god_!” he

Yes, Algernon Charles Swinburne is no mere poet; he is divinity, before
whose high altar the art-for-art’s-sakers perform obeisance. He was born
in 1837, of an aristocratic county family in the North of England. So he
always had plenty of money, and lived his own life in the aristocratic
fashion. They sent him to Eton at the age of twelve, and then to Oxford,
but respectability failed to “take” with him.

He was the strangest figure in which the soul of a poet was ever housed.
As a child he had been beautiful, but something must have gone wrong
with his glands, so that his head grew faster than his body. He
developed a noble brow, but a weak mouth and receding chin; his enormous
head was lighted by two bright green eyes, and covered with a shock of
vivid red hair. When he became excited, which he was liable to do at a
moment’s notice, his arms and legs began to jerk convulsively, and he
would rush about the room, orating vehemently, perhaps hopping upon the
sofa, like a bright-colored parrakeet. He was an omnivorous reader, and
knew all the poetry there was in the world--most of it by heart, and
would pour it out by the hour, in Latin, Greek, French, Italian or
English. If he became too much excited, he would suddenly have a fit and
fall unconscious, to the terror of the company; but after a while he
would come to, just as lively and full of words as ever.

In his childhood and youth, according to the English custom, they filled
him up with Greek and Latin verses; he absorbed the bad as well as the
good, wine and women as well as song. Then he came under the spell of
Victor Hugo, who filled him with a fervor for liberty. It is an
interesting illustration of the influence a great poet can exert.
Swinburne worshipped Hugo with frenzied extravagance, and remained a
disciple of republicanism all through his seventy-two years; and this
without the slightest actual contact with republicanism, without
anything in his environment or his actions to explain such revolutionary

Worldly impracticability was carried to its last extreme in this
combustible youth; he always had to have somebody to take care of him,
and fell under the spell of one personality after another: Rossetti,
William Morris, Mazzini, and finally Watts-Dunton, who literally saved
his life. Swinburne would come up to London and engage in what he called
“racketing”--by which he meant stimulating his frenzies with alcohol. He
would keep this up until he was completely prostrated, and then his
father or one of his friends would carry him off to the country and
mount guard over him, and there he would live a quiet and placid
literary life until the world lured him forth again. By the time he was
forty he had carried his dissipation to such extremes that he was all
but wrecked. One by one his friends had to give him up, and he was
living in wretched lodgings at the point of death.

It was then that Watts-Dunton took charge of his affairs once for all,
and turned his country house into a sort of literary sanitarium, and
kept the poet for thirty years, strictly forbidding any but respectable
citizens to call upon him. Here the queer little parrakeet hopped about
in the library, and gradually grew old and deaf, and wrote a great deal
of prose and verse of little consequence. Some critics fight with the
moralists over the question, Is it better for a poet to die drunk and
inspired, or to live sober and dull? My friend, George Sterling, writes
me on this point: “I still refuse, probably from personal experience, to
believe that alcohol helps the artist to function at his best.”

Swinburne’s first great work, published at the age of twenty-eight, was
an imitation Greek play, “Atalanta in Calydon.” As poetry it is
marvelous; nobody since Shelley had poured out such a torrent of
glorious words. All the tricks of the trade are in it--how many you can
learn from Professor Saintsbury, who lists them: “equivalence and
substitution, alternative and repetition, rhymes and rhymeless
suspension of sound, volley and check of verse, stanza construction,
line-and pause-moulding, foot-conjunction and contrast.” Such are the
weapons in the armory of those who have read all the poetry there is in
the world!

What else is there beside verbal splendor and technical tricks? The
answer is: The familiar Greek aristocratic personages, struggling in
vain against their gods; the old Greek fatalism and pessimism, taken up
as a literary exercise and carried to un-Hellenic extremes. It might
have puzzled you, perhaps, that a poet of republicanism and revolt
should also be a poet of pessimism; but you would have been ill-advised
to ask the question of Swinburne, for once, when a friend ventured to
criticize his work, he stared for a moment or two of horror, then
uttered a shrill scream, and rushed upstairs to his room, and seized his
manuscript and spent hours tearing it into shreds and throwing it into
the fire--and then spent the rest of the night rewriting it from memory!

Swinburne could not think, he could only feel, and so he was capable of
pouring his poetic frenzy into absolutely contradictory ideas. So we
have these magnificent choruses of “Atalanta,” in which man’s despair at
his own fate is voiced with overwhelming poignancy:

    For a day and a night and a morrow,
      That his strength might endure for a span
    With travail and heavy sorrow,
      The holy spirit of man....
    He weaves, and is clothed with derision;
      Sows, and he shall not reap;
    His life is a watch or a vision
      Between a sleep and a sleep.

But then, if that be true, what is the use of struggling for liberty and
overthrowing tyrants? What indeed is the use of writing beautiful verses
and reading proofs and wrangling with publishers and critics?
Manifestly, no use whatever. Nevertheless, Swinburne would read a news
item about Napoleon the Little, and he would fly into another frenzy,
and write a poem in which he called for the blood of tyrants. He
collected all these into his “Songs before Sunrise,” which constitute
one of the bibles of liberty. When I meet an art-for-art’s-saker, I
never fail to ask him if he has read Swinburne’s “Prelude,” in which
the poet describes his conversion to the cause of human service.

    Play then and sing; we too have played,
    We likewise, in that subtle shade.
      We too have twisted through our hair
      Such tendrils as the wild Loves wear,
    And heard what mirth the Mænads made.

Such has been the poet’s life; but now he has reformed, and taken up the
duty of passing on the light of the intelligence to his fellows:

    A little time that we may fill
    Or with such good works or such ill
      As loose the bonds or make them strong
      Wherein all manhood suffers wrong.

And that leads us by a natural transition to the “Marching Song,” a
battle-cry of the revolution:

              Rise, ere the dawn be risen;
                Come, and be all souls fed;
              From field and street and prison
                Come, for the feast is spread;
    Live, for the truth is living; wake, for night is dead.

“My other books are books,” Swinburne declared, “but ‘Songs before
Sunrise’ is myself.” His respectable biographer, Edmund Gosse, is both
puzzled and shocked by this, and points out how completely Swinburne’s
hopes of republicanism have failed to be realized in the modern world.
Yes; the poet failed to see that the lords of finance, the fat men of
the bourgeoisie, would subsidize autocracy and subsidize superstition,
as a means of riveting slavery upon the human mind and body for another
century. But let Professor Gosse take care of his health for a few years
more, and he may see that Daylight which was heralded in the “Songs
before Sunrise.”

We have stepped ahead of our story and omitted to mention Swinburne’s
earlier volume of miscellaneous work, “Poems and Ballads,” which was
published shortly after “Atalanta,” and gave the Victorian age the worst
shock of its existence. This was the time of Tennyson at his most
mawkish, the time of “Maud” and “Enoch Arden”; literary England had not
seen anything really indecent since Byron’s “Don Juan,” nearly half a
century ago. But here came this young aristocrat--the son of an
admiral, and therefore beyond prosecution for anything that he might
do--throwing out upon the world an inspired glorification of sexual and
alcoholic riot.

Swinburne was, of course, just as sincere in his praise of Venus and the
vine as he was in his praise of liberty; more sincere, in fact, because
he practiced what he preached in the former case, but he omitted to go
off and die in the cause of liberty as Byron had done. Some of his
licentious poetry is perfect from the technical point of view; but, on
the other hand, “Poems and Ballads” contains the worst combination of
words ever put into a poem: “the lilies and languors of virtue and the
roses and raptures of vice.” It is pleasant to be able to record that
Swinburne had the wit to ridicule his own habit of silly alliteration;
see the parody called “Nephelidia”: “From the depth of the dreamy
decline of the dawn through a notable nimbus of nebulous noonshine,” and
so on.

In “Thus Spake Zarathustra” there is a doctrine of freedom, which is
summed up: I ask you, not free _from_ what, but free _to_ what? And that
is what I should like to point out to young poets who uncritically
accept Swinburne as a god. It is possible to be entirely free to do what
you please, and yet not please to do many silly and destructive things.
Young poets are free to write as eloquent verses as they know how; and
they may put into those verses a celebration of all things beautiful and
just and noble in the world. On the other hand, they may put in a
celebration of debauchery; and they may try it out for themselves, and
fall slaves to alcohol and drugs, and end in the mad-house or a
suicide’s or drunkard’s grave--like Baudelaire and Verlaine and Musset
and Poe and Dowson, and that brilliant, unhappy genius whose story we
have next to read.



Eight years ago Frank Harris published his two volumes entitled “Oscar
Wilde: His Life and Confessions.” I wrote him that it was one of the
half dozen greatest biographies in the English language, and he replied,
characteristically: “Name the other five.” That story never fails to
raise a laugh; but in fairness to Frank Harris I ought to add that when
I sat down and thought it over seriously I could not name the other
five. Here is the story of a terrific human tragedy, told plainly and
completely, with profound insight and deep pity. How can the man who
wrote it not know that it is great?

The subject of this sermon in action was born in Dublin in 1854. His
father was a wealthy baronet, a physician who was accustomed to seduce
his women-patients; his mother was an excessively vain society poetess.
The son was burdened with the label Oscar Fingal O’Flahartie Wills
Wilde, and received the usual public school and Oxford education. In
these so-called “public” schools, which are ruling class
boarding-schools, the boys live semi-monastic lives, entirely withdrawn
from woman’s influence; they are fed upon Greek literature and art,
which glorifies homosexuality, and therefore English upper-class life is
rotten with this odious vice. Frank Harris narrates that at the time of
Wilde’s trial, when general exposures on this subject were threatened,
great numbers of London’s prominent club members suddenly discovered
that they had important business on the Continent.

Oscar Wilde had extraordinary gifts; a vivid imagination, a flow of
eloquence, and charming wit. He was the perfect fine flower of
leisure-class art, a gentleman about town, a literary dandy who learned
the lesson that it pays to advertise, and made himself the most talked
about man in London by dressing in knee breeches and silk hose, carrying
a large sunflower in his hand, and greeting men and women with sweet
impertinences. There is a satiric portrait of this elegant “esthete” in
Robert Hichens’ novel, “The Green Carnation.”

Oscar wrote comedies dealing with the London world of fashion in which
he lived. These plays delighted that world, and still delight audiences
of the fashionable. Frank Harris regards them as imperishable classics;
and all I can do is to record the fact that they put me to sleep. Nearly
twenty years ago I saw “The Importance of Being Earnest” in New York,
and cannot recall that I was ever more bored in a theater. The interest
of the play is supposed to lie in its “smart” dialogue, and the formula
for that smartness is one which anyone can learn in two minutes. Take
any statement involving the simple common sense of mankind, the moral
heritage of the race for countless ages; and then make an epigram
proclaiming the opposite, and you have a “line” for a society play.
“Charity creates a multitude of sins.... It is better to be good-looking
than to be good.... All charming people are spoiled.... A man can be
happy with any woman as long as he does not love her.... It is a
dangerous thing to reform anyone.... The real drawback to marriage is
that it makes one unselfish.... Democracy means simply the bludgeoning
of the people by the people for the people.... There is no such thing as
a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written or badly written....
The sphere of art and the sphere of ethics are absolutely distinct and

A man who is absorbed in useful work, and therefore has few impulses to
depravity, can encounter such Wildeness with indifference; but the
average man, who is never sure of his own self-control, and who has sons
and daughters to train in as much decency as he can, is made frantic by
such perversity, the deliberate bedeviling of the wits of our blindly
struggling humanity. These “epigrams” of Oscar Wilde are like the
snapping of a whip-lash in the face of men’s everyday moral sensibility.
So naturally this too-clever young esthete was cordially loathed, and
his enemies whetted their knives for him.

Oscar came over to America to exhibit his whimsicalities to the wives
and daughters of our steel kings and pork packers. To the custom’s
officer he remarked: “I have nothing to declare but my genius”; and so
his success was assured. He went back to London and wrote more plays,
one of them, “Salome,” assuredly the most cruel, cold, and disgusting
piece of lewdness in the English language. Its heroine is the young
daughter of King Herod, who attempts to seduce John the Baptist to her
sensual desires, and when he repels her, has him executed, and has his
head brought in upon a platter, and strips herself as nearly naked as
stage-customs allow, and dances before this bloody object and fondles
and kisses it. The climax of modern art depravity was reached when
Richard Strauss set this drama to elaborate and costly music. When I saw
audiences of bedizened and bejewelled fat beasts, male and female,
having their sick nerves thrilled by this “grand” opera, I knew that
European capitalism was ready for the slaughterman’s ax.

Out of these plays Oscar reaped much money, and spent it in eating too
much, drinking too much, and pursuing his cultured vices. Among his
favorites was a young heir of the nobility, who has since become Lord
Alfred Douglas, assuredly the most disagreeable little wretch that ever
displayed himself in the British world of letters. Lord Alfred’s father,
the Marquis of Queensbury, made an effort to separate his son from
Wilde, and in so doing he wrote letters concerning Wilde which brought
about a great literary scandal.

It is the privilege of elegant British gentlemen to pursue their vices
without interference; but they must display discretion, and not step
upon the toes of marquises. Oscar Wilde brought suit for slander against
Queensbury; and his lordship rallied his aristocratic friends, defended
himself successfully, and then had the audacious playwright arrested and
prosecuted for sodomy.

The ordinary British citizen had, of course, no knowledge of the inside
circumstances of this case; all he saw was that a writer of nasty plays
tripped jauntily into the limelight and brought a libel suit against a
father for trying to save his son. Of the fact that the father was a bad
one, and the son worse, and that the courts were being used to maintain
a corrupt ruling class--those things the average Englishman did not
know. He will never know them until there is a Socialist daily press in
England, with the right to tell the truth about the ruling class,
something which at present the libel laws prevent.

Here is material for a drama, far greater than any that Wilde wrote; and
Frank Harris gives us the whole story. In the early part of it he sees
Oscar clearly as the pitiful victim of his own will-less nature; but
when the tragedy of this nature reaches its climax, Harris lets himself
be tempted into offering Wilde to us in a new rôle, that of a persecuted
hero and martyred genius. Much as Harris may abhor Oscar’s sin, he
abhors the leading British virtues still more; so he is in the position
of Milton dealing with Satan--he cannot keep from sympathizing with his
character, in spite of logic. To be sure, he gives us the facts, so that
we can judge for ourselves, if we have the brains; and we must try to be
worthy of that trust!

It seems evident enough that Oscar was sent to prison, not because of
his genius, nor yet because of his vices, but simply because he attacked
in a conspicuous and aggravating way a member of the hallowed ruling
caste of Britain. You may call that turning the tragedy into a Socialist
tract; but a man cannot interpret any case of social persecution unless
he sees its economic implications--unless, in other words, he
understands the class struggle. If Frank Harris had been a conscious
social revolutionist, his book would have been more powerful and
convincing, because he would have been less tempted to blame individuals
for evils which are social in their origin. He would have given us an
economic interpretation of Oscar, the spoiled darling of a putrescent
leisure class, thrown overboard, like Jonah, as a sacrifice in a
middle-class hurricane of virtue.

Oscar Wilde was convicted and sent to prison; and of course Frank Harris
does not like prisons--he, too, has been sent there by the British
ruling caste. It is only natural that he should overlook in his book the
significance of the fact which he himself records, that this
imprisonment was the best thing that ever happened to Oscar. Harris
interceded for him, and was able to get him good food and the right to
have his books; he tells us that he noticed during his visits a
“spiritual deepening” in Oscar, due to the rigid disciplining of his
selfish nature. He was never so well or so much in possession of his
mental faculties as when he came out; but immediately he went back to
his vomit, and ate and drank and loafed himself to death, according to
the customs prevailing in that putrescent leisure class.

It seems to me that the true conclusion to be drawn from Frank Harris’
book is that decadent poets should be sent to prison and kept there
permanently. Anything to save them from smart society! While Oscar was
at large, the pet of the cultured rich, he idled and wrote futile plays;
but when he was locked up, he took life seriously, and wrote great
literature: “De Profundis,” a study of his spiritual reactions to his
disgrace; and “The Ballad of Reading Gaol,” a supremely eloquent and
noble poem, the poet’s excuse for having lived.

Reading these two works we say, by all means let us have prisons for
will-less men; places where such unhappy beings may have as much
self-government as they can use, together with plain wholesome food,
moderate work outdoors, and enforced abstinence from alcohol and tobacco
and drugs. Having set up such prisons, let us keep in them, not merely
all thieves and highwaymen and esthetes, but men of fashion, princes,
lords and dukes, bishops, stock-brokers and fat persons.

Says Mrs. Ogi: “You said you were going to label all your jokes.”

Her husband, after meditating, remarks: “What Oscar needed was the right
sort of a wife.”

She answers: “Almost any wife would have told him that a guilty man
cannot bring a slander suit.”



“What troubles me,” says Mrs. Ogi, “is that you call this a book of all
the arts, and continue to deal with literature.”

“In modern times each of the arts has developed a complicated technique;
and in order to analyze them all and show what they mean, one would have
to know much more than I know. But every now and then it happens that a
musician or painter or sculptor is not satisfied with his own art, but
uses mine; and then I have him!”

“Oh, that mine enemy would write a book,” says Mrs. Ogi.

James McNeill Whistler wrote a book; he gave it a title: “The Gentle Art
of Making Enemies as Pleasingly Exemplified in Many Instances, Wherein
the Serious Ones of this Earth, Carefully Exasperated, Have Been
Prettily Spurred on to Unseemliness and Indiscretion, While Overcome by
an Undue Sense of Right.” The pages of this book are covered with
butterflies which the painter adopted as the signature for his work.
These butterflies are defiant, care-free, insolent; manifestly, some one
has taken great pains with them, and with the volume through which they
flutter. Studying it, we learn what kind of man it takes to succeed as a
leisure-class portrait-painter.

Whistler was born in Boston, his father being a major in the United
States Army. We have seen him “let out” from West Point; he was
“deficient in chemistry.” He went to Paris and lived the Bohemian
student life for some years, and imbibed those ideas concerning the
non-moral nature of art, which are a symptom of the disintegration of
our ruling classes.

Whistler settled in London. He was unknown and an American; he had new
ideas about painting, and the Royal Academy would have nothing to do
with him, so he had to fight his way. A fiery little man, with wavy
black locks and one very singular white lock over his forehead, he
trained his eyebrows to stand out fiercely, and wore a little imperial
and a monocle, and carried a very long cane, and a white chrysanthemum
always in his buttonhole. He cultivated truculence, and his life was a
succession of conspicuous libel suits and public quarrels, kept alive by
letters to the newspapers.

To a little group of his intimates Whistler could be a charming
companion and host; but when he went out into the world, he put on armor
like a hard-shelled crab, and was ready to bite the head off the first
person who got in his way. He would hit a man in the eye for differing
with him indiscreetly; once in a theater he beat a critic over the head
with his cane. In deadly seriousness he challenged George Moore to a
duel, and appointed seconds, and published Moore’s failure to reply.
Because he was dissatisfied with the price paid him for the portrait of
a certain lady, he painted out the lady’s face. He undertook to decorate
a dining-room for a wealthy shipowner, and became fascinated with the
idea of covering walls and ceiling with an endless number of peacocks in
gold and blue. He worked over this in a frenzy for months. The shipowner
wanted his house, but could not have it; Whistler turned it into an art
gallery, and brought the critics as to a public show. The man had agreed
to pay five hundred guineas for the decorating; in consideration of the
unforeseen amount of work, he raised the price to a thousand. But
Whistler insisted upon two thousand, and flew into a furious rage with
the man, and carried the row into the newspapers, and painted most
odious caricatures of the man and exhibited them publicly.

Whistler was not content to be a great painter; he was also a lecturer,
man of letters, and historian. His idea was that when he overcame one
of his enemies by a witty retort he made history, and when he collected
these retorts and the stories of his quarrels into a book, he wrote
history. The collecting was suggested to him by a journalist, who
proposed the title, and was authorized to gather the various items from
newspaper files. After the work was done and the book prepared and
printed, Whistler decided to take the credit for himself, so he sent the
journalist a check for ten pounds and dismissed him. Naturally the poor
fellow insisted that he had rights in the matter, and tried to bring out
the book in Belgium and in Paris. Whistler pursued him and had him
arrested and heavily fined; he took over the man’s idea and title, and
so we have the beautiful volume with the fancy butterflies. Whistler’s
conduct throughout the affair was brutal, and his book I am inclined to
call the most hateful thing in print. Its content is the egotism of a
highly intelligent and persistent hornet.

Whistler has, to be sure, some ideas to advocate. He reprints a lecture
called “Ten O’clock,” named from the after-dinner hour at which it was
given in London. To his well-fed audience he explained that art is for
artists, who alone can understand it; art has nothing to do with the
people, who only degrade it when they touch it. Moreover, art has no
concern with morality, whether individual or national; “in no way do our
virtues minister to its worth, in no way do our vices impede its

As for painting, Whistler declared it to be a matter of the arrangement
of line, form and color; it has nothing to do with any other idea, not
even with the subject being painted. To quote the painter’s own words:
“The subject matter has nothing to do with the harmony of color.” In
order to emphasize this point of view Whistler took to calling his
portraits by such names as “Harmony in Green and Rose,” “Caprice in Blue
and Silver,” “Symphony in White,” “Variations in Violet and Green,”
“Arrangement in Black and Gray.” One of his most famous paintings showed
fireworks at night, and was called “Nocturne in Black and Gold.” John
Ruskin wrote of it: “I never expected to hear a coxcomb ask two hundred
guineas for flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face.” So there was
a picturesque and sensational libel suit, and the jury awarded Whistler
damages of one farthing, that is, half a cent. That was not enough to
pay his lawyer’s fees, and so the painter went into bankruptcy and spent
a few years in Europe.

What is the meaning of this art doctrine so defiantly enunciated? The
answer is, it is an extension of the artist’s egotism; the snobbery of
his profession and his caste, in every way and from every point of view
an anti-social and predatory thing. Here we are in London, the heart and
brain of the British Empire, at that time the greatest agency of
exploitation in the world. Here is wealth and fashion, representing the
wrung-out sweat and blood, not merely of enslaved British workers, but
of enslaved hundreds of millions of black and brown and yellow races.
Here dwell the masters, and they wish to flaunt their splendor; heedless
of the groans and the agony, the clamor of all the misery of mankind,
they command a dining-room painted over with gold and blue peacocks, or
hung with portraits of their splendid predatory selves and their lovely
parasitic females.

And here come the swarms of painters competing for their attention,
seeking to flatter their vanity and awe their ignorance. One hornet a
little more venomous than the rest is able to impress his hornetry upon
them, to stir their greed by the possibility that his paintings may some
day be sold for thousands of pounds. So they decide to have themselves
“done” by this strange genius. They come to his studio and spend months
of torment standing or sitting for him, while he fusses and frets, and
paints and wipes out and paints again, taking infinite pains to see that
the ladies’ dresses are made of exactly the right quality of muslin, cut
and stitched in exactly the right way--because there is one certain
precise kind of muslin dress which is art, and any other kind is
something else.

All this is called “beauty”; all this has laws, so Whistler tells us, as
definite and determinable as the laws of physics or chemistry. Beauty is
a thing permanent and immortal, and independent of all other
qualities--morality, justice, health, truth, honesty. The answer is: all
this is poisonous nonsense, handed out to the rich by those who exploit
their vanity. Art without morality is simply art produced for patrons
who have no morality by artists who have no morality. As to the
permanence of such art, the answer is that its standards are at every
moment subject to the attack of more clever devisers of new forms of
folly and pretense. The proper way to cut a muslin dress today is an
absurd way to cut it tomorrow; and the same applies to harmonies of
color and outlines of form. The Turks cherish fatness in women, because
they like to be comfortable in their harems; the early Christians
thought that emaciation was beautiful, because it prepared them for
heaven; Whistler, wishing to flatter the aristocratic conceit of his
patrons, paints them abnormally tall and lean, because that is the
snobbish notion in fashion at the moment.

Whistler was a great artist in the technical sense; that is, he learned
to put paint on canvas in such a way as to convey an impression of
reality, not merely physical but emotional and spiritual. He was a
terrific worker, as any man must be to succeed in the fierce competition
of modern life. He took his art with seriousness; and it happened that
twice in his lifetime something lifted him above the empty theories in
which he gloried. The first time was when he painted his mother. Here
was a gentle, sensitive, sweet-faced, devout Presbyterian old lady, with
whom all his childhood memories were bound up; he painted her sitting
with her hands in her lap, and her gray hair brushed down and covered
with an old-fashioned lace cap. He called it “Arrangement in Black and
Gray”; and that is all right, because black and gray are old lady’s
colors. But he would have described the painting even better if he had
given it a moral title: “Arrangement in Reverence and Affection.”

And then came Carlyle; poor, bewildered, dyspeptic, struggling old
prophet from Scotland, he looked at Whistler’s portrait of his mother
and loved it, and consented to let the painter do the same thing for
him. So here is another study, posed in the same way, and called
“Arrangement in Black and Gray,” instead of “Arrangement in Pity and
Pathos.” These two pictures have human feeling and moral meaning;
therefore they are the two which have been reproduced, and which
everybody knows and loves. That is the answer to Whistler’s art
theories; but of course it is an answer which he himself would have
scorned--he would have made a witticism on it, and got out a new edition
of “The Gentle Art of Making Enemies.”

“This victory is not yours,” says Mrs. Ogi. “It is Death’s.”



Some years ago a story was told me concerning a certain eminent man in
England. This man came from the common people; he possesses one of the
finest minds in England, and he is the champion of all things generous
and free in letters and life. The lady who told me the story, herself a
well-known novelist, was writing about the particular section of society
from which this man sprung, and in which he had lived his boyhood; she
needed an item of local color, and asked him how such people pronounce a
certain word. The man flushed, and demanded: “How should I know?” I
thought this story one of the most awful I had ever heard; and the lady
novelist was shocked when she saw how I took it, for she had not meant
to tell anything so serious about her friend. She tried to explain to
me, it wasn’t really so bad as it seemed; the pressure of caste feeling
is so strong in England that a man is irresistibly driven to cover up
his humiliating past.

I tell the incident as preliminary to a discussion of George Meredith.
Here was a devoted servant of the muses, a master of his craft, who won
a quite unique position among his contemporaries. The public knew him
not; to the end of his life his books had little sale, and he was
compelled to support himself by odd jobs of journalism and publisher’s
reading. But to the inner circle of letters his name became a kind of
secret password; he was the choice and precious one, the poet’s poet and
the novelist’s novelist, and the little country nook where he dwelt was
a shrine to which the distinguished pilgrims traveled from England and
America and the Continent.

But over this great writer’s life there hung a dark shadow; a tragic
secret, hidden from the world, dimly guessed only by a few of the inner
circle. What had been the master’s early life? He never spoke of it.
Where had he spent his childhood? No one knew. Where had he been born?
The government was collecting some kind of census, and put the question
to its great novelist, and he lied; he invented an imaginary birthplace.
So he lived safe from scandal, and only after his death was the dreadful
truth revealed. His grandfather had been a tailor to naval officers! His
father likewise had been a tailor, and failing in business, had gone to
South Africa and become a tailor there. His son had nothing to do with
him and never spoke of him.

What there is so especially dreadful about a tailor you will have to ask
some Englishman to explain to you. I personally have known tailors who
were exceedingly kind and generous men; I have known tailors who were
students and thinkers and devoted workers in the Socialist movement. All
that a tailor may be; I suppose he may even be a saint. There is only
one thing which he can never by any possibility be, and that is an
English gentleman.

And George Meredith aspired to be an English gentleman; he wrote about
English gentlemen in all the infinite subtleties of their relationship
to other English gentlemen, and more especially to English ladies. He
wished to be, not an interloper and observer, tolerated because of his
cleverness with the pen; he wished to be an authentic member of the
caste, so secure that he might exercise that most cherished of all the
privileges of the caste--to ridicule other members who fall away from
the perfect caste ideal.

Do you think that I am making too much of this frailty of George
Meredith? I answer that it is the key to the understanding of everything
he wrote. Stop and think what it means that a man who possessed one of
the great intellects of his time, who had all the wisdom of all the ages
at his command, should be so bowed down with awe before the spirit of
caste that he was willing to lie about himself. I do not mean merely
that such a man’s whole life would become a pose; that he would pretend
to be abnormally spiritual and ascetic, when as a matter of fact he was
strongly attracted to lark-pies; that he would study his features, and
observing that he had a refined and sensitive profile, would place
himself at the window in such a position that his adorers would gaze
upon this profile during the course of their visit. What I mean is that
this man would have a caste-ridden mind; the subtleties of caste
distinction, the minute details of appearance and conduct and thought by
which caste superiority is manifested and maintained--this is the stuff
out of which the man’s novels would be made, and the theme upon which
his superfine intellect would be concentrated.

And so it is in the Meredithian universe. The dark, grim, vaguely
shadowed Nemesis of the Greeks is gone; Jehovah with his thunders has
been laid away with the other rubbish in the garret; what is left, to
dominate the lives of men and women, to blast their hopes and lure them
to ruin and despair, is social convention. And all such convention may
be boiled down into one formula: thou shalt not break into a caste
higher than that to which you were born. You may have money, and try it;
you may pretend to have money, and try it; but in both cases alike you
will fail. Meredith gives us masterpieces in the way of impostors trying
to break in; he is even willing, under the veil of art, to use his own
tragic life-story, and in “Evan Harrington” he tells about a tailor’s
son who tries to break in. He turned such blasts of ridicule upon the
poor tailor family and the poor tailor state of being, that Meredith’s
tailor father down in South Africa was shriveled up with shame, and
could not thereafter endure to hear his son’s novels discussed.

Likewise, women fail to break into the sacred caste. They have beauty,
they have wit, but nothing avails. The creator of “Diana of the
Crossways” lays himself out to convince us that this heroine is the most
brilliant conversationalist that ever graced a London dinner-table. But
she had to have money, and so she sells a government secret to a great
newspaper, and being discovered, is thrown out. And if Diana failed,
with all her worldly gifts, what hope for poor Lucy Feverel, who had
nothing but country graces, natural loveliness of body, and sweetness
and kindness and unselfishness of spirit? The “ordeal” of Richard
Feverel lies in the fact that being a son of a rigid English gentleman,
rigidly trained according to an ideal system, he falls in love with a
country flower, and instead of seducing her according to the custom of
the caste, he marries her. So, of course, the pair of them are trampled.

The defenders of Meredith will say that he does not desire such a state
of affairs; he merely portrays it, because it exists. My answer to that
is the familiar one, that art is propaganda. If George Meredith had
believed in overthrowing the caste system in England he could surely
have found ways to convey that fact to us. He might have begun with his
own life; he might have taken his stand on a pedestal and said: “I, who
know myself to be a highly intellectual novelist, am the son and
grandson of tailors, and be pleased to make what you can of that.” If
Meredith had realized vitally and vividly the anti-social nature of the
caste system, and especially how that system is the very negation and
death of art--surely he would have found space in his many novels for at
least one character who has a little success in the effort to hold his
head up against the power of snobbery. Remember, this was a time in
which Alfred Harmsworth, gutter-journalist, became an earl, and Keir
Hardie, pit-boy, became a labor hero. But Meredith’s caste-bound
characters fail, and fail without any hint that they might have

I do not wish to be unjust to this brilliant novelist, who was a modern
man in many ways. He was entirely free from that religiosity which
blighted Tennyson’s mind. He was clear-sighted about love, seeing that
it is a thing of flesh and spirit, and must be both, or neither. Also he
stood valiantly for the rights of ladies to be educated, and to have
their talents recognized, and to dispose of their own personalities. In
his old age he advanced the proposition that all marriages should be for
a term of years, and that at the end of the term the parties should be
free to remarry or not, as they wished. That this most sensible idea did
not raise more of a storm was because most persons in Britain took it
for granted that the novelist must be joking.

But as a rule what we get from Meredith is not social criticism in its
broad sense, but merely caste criticism, the self-discipline of the
privileged orders. Meredith’s greatest novel is “The Egoist,” a quite
amazing study of one of these superior males, a creature who has been
brought up from infancy to regard his sublime self as the purpose for
which his own family exists, and one of a small group of select persons
for whom the British Empire, and therefore the world exist. Meredith
lays him bare for us in every turn and movement of his being, and we
loathe him heartily, and sympathize with the series of females with whom
he dallies in courtship.

Meredith is one of those super-sophisticated novelists who are unwilling
to allow us to be interested in a course of events. The intellect in him
has eaten up and sterilized the emotions. In reading him we are
tormented by a feeling that his story and his characters would be
delightful if only he would give them a chance; but he has such a
brilliant style, he has so many ideas to convey to us, and so much
shining wit and corruscating metaphor to display. It is like an exhibit
of fireworks, which can be most ravishing for a few minutes; you catch
your breath, and think you have never seen anything more lovely. But
after an hour or so you decide that fireworks lack variety.

This infinitely subtle and delicate, witty and charming personality
invites us to sit with him as gods upon Olympus, to look down upon the
tragic fate of mortals, and find pleasure in the irony of their
failures. As in the case of Corneille, we are concerned with the strife
and clash of aristocratic egotisms; we take part in deadly intrigues,
and in duels without mercy. But times have changed, and now no blood is
shed, no corpses cover the ground; it is a duel of wit, with a
death-blow in a phrase or the lifting of an eye-brow. Watching the
conflict, we find ourselves asking, precisely as we asked with
Corneille: What have we to do with these puppets? How do they concern
us? What reality is there, what permanence to the conventions which
dominate their puppet minds? What real wisdom is there behind their
volleys of cleverness? So we realize that we are still in the Victorian
age; and Victoria and boredom are two words for one thing.



We are getting down to modern times, and have come to the first great
artist of whom I can say that with my own eyes I saw him. Shortly before
the war, coming out of the dining-room of the New Reform Club in
London, my host, H. G. Wells, stopped me and whispered: “There sits the
Great Cham.” He may have said “Great Buddha” or “Great Jupiter”; anyhow,
I looked, and seated at a table in solitary state was a large elderly
gentleman, with large bald head shining whitely, and jaws moving
meditatively. I knew him from his pictures; and besides, there was at
that time only one Great Cham, or Great Buddha, or Great Jupiter of
international letters.

I did not ask to meet him, because, having read him, I understood the
aesthetic proprieties, and did not wish to surprise a Great Master with
his mouth full of lunch. Also, the days of my discipleship had long
since passed, and I was not sure if I would be able to think of just the
proper delicate subtlety with which to convey my attitude to one whom I
had once revered, and now regarded with affection because of reverence
remembered. That sentence is a little longer and more subtle than I
usually write--such being the effect upon one’s style of merely thinking
about Henry James.

In my youth I wanted to know the great world, and who could tell me with
such compelling authority? I read everything he had written up to that
time--no small task, some forty volumes, many of them fat. I stuck to it
day and night for a couple of months, and then wrote an essay, “The
Leisure-Class Historian,” which, alas, no editor could be found to
publish, and which was consumed, with all the rest of my belongings
except one night-shirt, in the Helicon Hall fire.

Coming back to the task at this interval, I realize that I gave Henry
James too broad a title; he is “the cultured-class historian.” He knows
of the existence of the uncultivated mob of idle rich, the
“high-feeding, champagne-quaffing, orchid-arranging,” as he describes
them; but his theme is that small section of the rich who possess
aesthetic sensibilities, and withdraw in haughty aloofness from
high-feeding, champagne-quaffing, and orchid-arranging, and live
fastidious lives devoted to the cultivation of beauty. The word “beauty”
Henry James understands in the broadest sense; it covers not merely the
things you look at, but the things you do and the things you think. You
recognize it by its being elegant, dignified and restrained.

To an outsider it might appear cold, but the Master admits you to the
inside, and you discover that it is passionate, quivering with feeling.
But it sternly checks its impulses, and seldom permits itself to do
anything except to think about the problems confronting it, to analyze
these problems in minute detail, to pile up subtlety and complication
concerning them--literally whole mountains of complication; or perhaps
(since, when you are reading or writing or discussing Henry James, you
anticipate many variations of metaphor, and endless subtle shadings of
metaphor, and parenthetical disquisitions interpreting and qualifying,
and still further, as it were, intensifying metaphor--each separate
complication, you will note, set apart from other complications by a
comma) it would convey a more accurate impression of the authentic
Jamesian manner, if I were to say that he builds towering structures of
subtle sophistication, which structures you, with joy and excitement of
the mind, see rising, unexpectedly splendid, before you, revealing new
possibilities of penetration into the refinements of sensibility, as
well as new possibilities of sentence structure, which convey, by
infinite variation of shadings, a sense, or, as it were, almost a
sensation, of the actuality of exceptional mental experience.

Such are the great rambling sentences, through which you stagger and
gasp your way. You keep on, because you find that the old boy is really
saying something. He is not delighting in intricacy and smartness for
their own sake, as you so often feel to your annoyance with Meredith; he
is not deliberately confusing you with useless obscure detail like
Browning; he is really making a heroic effort to convey some complicated
intricacy in the mental processes of people who not merely think, but
who think about thinking, and think about thinking about thinking.

Henry James was born in New York in 1843, his father being a theological
writer. His elder brother, William, became a popular professor of
psychology at Harvard, thus giving rise to the jest that “William is a
psychologist who writes like a novelist, and Henry is a novelist who
writes like a psychologist.” Henry was taken abroad and educated in
England, France and Switzerland, which had the effect of cutting his
roots from under him. At the age of twenty-six he moved permanently to
England, and from that time made his home there, with occasional trips
to the Continent.

He was a sensitive youth, quiet and shy; he suffered from spinal
trouble, and liked to sit quietly in drawing-rooms and listen to other
people talk. Then he would go apart for long periods, and reflect upon
what he had heard, and weave it into stories. He was grateful to his
friends if they would tell him their troubles, because that provided him
with copy; but he never told anyone his own troubles, and his friends
lost sight of the possibility that anything might ever have happened to
him personally. Edmund Gosse, who became his intimate, tells how in his
old age James, walking up and down in a garden one evening, was suddenly
moved to open his heart. Looking up at a light in the house, he was
reminded of a scene long, long ago, when he had stood in a street one
rainy night, looking up thus to a lighted window, expecting to see a
face, but the face had not come. That was all of the story; but Mr.
Gosse was thrilled, even appalled. Actually, once upon a time, something
had happened to the Master!

It would perhaps not be indelicate of us to feel warranted in assuming
that this something had to do with the relation of the sexes. We note
that this relation is, like everything else in the Henry James world,
fastidious, reserved, and governed by the aesthetic sensibilities. These
people do not love, they talk about loving; and as years pass, and the
later manner grows, their talk comes more and more to deal with the
condition of having been loved.

In “Daisy Miller,” an early story which made the young author famous, we
see an innocent American girl in Rome, who to her horror receives an
improper advance from a young Italian. In “Madame de Mauves” we see an
American lady, unhappily married to a Frenchman in Paris, tempted by
passion for a true young American. But when we come to the great long
novels with the great long sentences of the “third manner,” we find
ourselves dealing with the fact that once upon a time, long, long ago, a
man and a woman committed an impropriety, and now somebody else is
slowly finding out about it, to the general horror and dismay. Thus “The
Golden Bowl,” seven hundred and eighty-nine closely printed pages,
dealing with the mental and emotional reactions of a woman who has an
intimate woman friend, and discovers that her husband has at some past
period been the lover of this friend. Or “What Maisie Knew,” in which we
discover an ancient intrigue through the eyes of the little daughter of
the intriguing woman. Perhaps you think you know what obscenity is, but
you get a new revelation of its possibilities when you proceed through
the mind of a child to pick up hints and allusions of the elders, and
piece them into a pattern of fornication.

Henry James, the son of an American theological writer, acquired, like
Hawthorne, an inside knowledge of Puritanism, and in his early novels he
took the New England point of view toward intrigues and improprieties.
Thus Daisy Miller is innocent and free, and the dark, wicked Italian
misunderstands her freedom, and thinks she is what a girl with such
manners would be in Europe. Madame de Mauves, a loyal wife, is married
to a Frenchman of no morals, and when she loves a true and good
American, she scorns to sin, for the reason that she would be imitating
the Frenchman, she would be doing what the Frenchman expects her to do.
“The American” is a novel about a “man from home,” who has made money,
and seeks a cultured wife among the French nobility, and gradually finds
that he is in a nest of murders. All regulation hundred percent
patriotic stuff!

But Europe grew upon Henry James, and America faded, and the aesthetic
sensibilities became less Puritanical and more cosmopolitan. So we have
“The Ambassadors,” the world’s great international novel. Something over
twenty years ago I went with a friend on a canoeing trip in the far
Northern wilds, and for six weeks we saw only one white man, the keeper
of a Hudson Bay trading post. Baggage had to be limited on such a trip,
and I took only one book. Evening after evening I would read it, a few
pages at a time, lying in a tent by candle light. So I had plenty of
time to note every subtlety, and before I got through I was talking
Henry James in my sleep. Now the twenty years are as a day, and the
characters and their story are as vivid as ever in my mind.

A young New Englander, son of a wealthy family, has come to Paris and
settled there, refusing to go home. His family send an elderly friend as
ambassador to bring back the prodigal. This ambassador, whose name is
Strether, discovers that a crude young barbarian has been changed by his
Parisian life into a cultured and self-possessed man of the world.
Strether is duly impressed by the change, and attributes it to the
influence of a middle-aged French lady, who has been the young man’s
good angel.

He writes about the situation, but the family is not satisfied, and
another ambassador comes, this time the young man’s elder sister, the
incarnation of the acidulous propriety of New England. This sister is
not in the least impressed by the French lady, but on the contrary
suspects the very worst between the lady and her brother. Strether is
shocked by her crude ideas; but then comes the climax of the drama--a
scene wherein it is accidentally revealed to Strether that the acidulous
sister is right; a part of the process whereby the charming French lady
has civilized the young barbarian has been to take him as her lover. So
two civilizations meet, and in the clash between them we see the hearts
of both revealed.

You note that in all these stories we are dealing with well-to-do
people. No other kind of people exist in the world of Henry James. Such
highly complicated and subtle aesthetic sensibilities are only possible
in connection with large sums of money, freely furnished to the
characters without effort on their part. It is impossible to imagine any
person in the “third manner” being so vulgar as to make, or even to take
money. What they do is to spend money elegantly, and when they meet
persons who spend it inelegantly, they turn away in dignified disdain.
There are only a few passages in which the novelist condescends to be
aware of the existence of the lower orders, who by their toil produce
the wealth which makes the aesthetic sensibilities possible. We get one
such glimpse in “The Princess Casamassima”; the hero glances at the
women and girls of the working classes, and then:

     “What remedy but another deluge, what alchemy but annihilation?” he
     asked himself as he went his way; and he wondered what fate there
     could be, in the great scheme of things, for a planet overgrown
     with such vermin, what redemption but to be hurled against a ball
     of consuming fire.

This cultured-class hero fails to ask himself what would happen to his
cultured self if the working-class vermin were to be wiped out.
Manifestly, these vermin have to be allowed to go on working, in order
that elegant illuminati from America and England and Italy and France
may gather in the great capitals to listen to beautiful music and attend
the newest art exhibitions and discuss the newest books. It is necessary
that hundreds of millions of peasants should drudge on the rack-rented
soil of Europe, it is necessary that mill slaves in New England and
sweat-shop slaves in New York and mine slaves in Pennsylvania should
wear out their bodies, in order that culture ambassadors may acquire old
world subtlety and understanding; may watch the “European scene” and, by
reporting it for us, enable us, at least in imagination, to escape the
crudity and provinciality of our home lives.

Henry James wrote a biography of Hawthorne, who as a fellow sufferer
under Puritanism he greatly admired; and in the course of that biography
he drew a picture of the “American scene,” which enables us to
understand why a cultured-class novelist fled from it at the age of
twenty-six, and came back for only one visit in a long lifetime. Read
the list of our deficiencies--and do not read it hurriedly, but stop
and, as Henry James would say, “savour” each phrase, realizing the mass
of content it has to the aesthetically sensitive mind:

     No sovereign, no court, no personal loyalty, no aristocracy, no
     church, no clergy, no army, no diplomatic service, no country
     gentlemen, no palaces, no castles, no manors, nor old
     country-houses, nor parsonages, nor thatched cottages, nor ivied
     ruins; no cathedrals, no abbeys, nor little Norman churches; no
     great Universities nor public schools--no Oxford, nor Eton, nor
     Harrow; no literature, no novels, no museums, no pictures, no
     political society, no sporting class--no Epsom nor Ascot!



We have studied two great novelists of the later Victorian age who
failed of wide popularity. We shall not understand that age completely
unless we study one who was crowned, not merely by the critics, but by
the mass of novel-reading ladies.

Mrs. Humphry Ward was her name, and she takes me back to the days when
I was a poor devil of a would-be writer, half starving in a New York
lodging-house. What made success in the world of books? I had to know,
or die; and the New York “Times” was kind enough to publish a weekly
review to give me the information. Every year or two there would appear
a new novel by Mrs. Humphry Ward; and always this novel would be the
occasion for a grand state review, signed by the name of some eminent
pundit, occupying pages one and two, with a large portrait on page one.
So I knew that Mrs. Humphry Ward was modern literature, and read each
novel as part of my life training.

I read it with a mingling of interest and fear; interest, because it
told me about a set of people whom I knew did actually exist, and did
actually govern the world in which I lived; and fear, because this set
of people, so obviously both predaceous and stupid, were so powerfully
buttressed by the prestige of snobbery, and protected by the holy mantle
of religion. No novelist every worshipped Mammon-respectability more
piously or portrayed it with more patient devotion than Mrs. Humphry
Ward in her later years.

She was brought up in the inner circle of culture; her father was an
Oxford big-wig, and Matthew Arnold was her “Uncle Matt.” Everything that
education could do for a young girl was done for her, and she was
writing a history of Spain at the age of twenty. Incidentally, she was
dreaming a wonderful dream--that some day she might be presented at

Her first novel, “Robert Elsmere,” dealt with the subject of religion. A
large section of the idling classes of England get their incomes by
believing that Jesus was born of a virgin and that Jonah swallowed a
whale; and with the progress of science they were naturally finding this
more and more difficult. A school of ingenious Bible-twisters arose, to
invent symbolical and literary meanings for fairy-tales, in order that
people who no longer believed could continue with good conscience to
collect the salaries of belief. Mrs. Ward made her hero one of these
new-style clergymen, and somebody persuaded Gladstone to read the novel,
and he wrote a long refutation of it, which caused a tremendous fuss.
Statesmen in England, as a rule, read only Thucydides and Homer, while
in the United States they read only the “Saturday Evening Post.” There
were a great many people who never saw a modern novel, who hastened to
read it when Gladstone called it dangerous. Half a million copies were
sold in our country, and Mrs. Ward’s fortune was made.

She had begun, you see, as a radical; and in her next novel, “The
History of David Grieve,” she glorifies a young hero who devotes himself
to social reform. But in a very few years success and wealth and the
applause of the great changed the hue of this lady novelist’s
reflections. She wrote “Marcella,” a complete recantation of her
unorthodoxy, and a picture of what had gone on in her mind. Leaders of
labor and social reformers now turn out to be dangerous demagogs; and a
beautiful heroine, who loves one, discovers the error of her way, and
comes back to safety as the wife of a nobleman’s son. From which time on
Mrs. Humphry Ward was safe for aristocracy.

She moved to a mansion in Grosvenor Place, where she had a view of the
garden of Buckingham Palace. She became an intimate of duchesses, and a
great figure in society and politics. Her publisher would negotiate with
America before breakfast, and get her seven thousand pounds advance on a
new novel; so the good lady spent the rest of her life grinding out a
series of glorified pot-boilers in support of the Tory principles of
government. Each novel was an Anglo-Saxon world event, and the counters
of book-stores in the fashionable shopping districts of America were
piled to the ceiling with the new volume. Mrs. Ward’s following was the
Anglomaniac mob, people who have but one idea in life, to imitate the
British governing classes; the sort of people who study those page
advertisements and speculate anxiously: “What is Wrong with this

Says Mrs. Ogi: “I was in that mob. In our town in Mississippi there was
no book-store, but an adventurous Jew who kept a cigar-store had the
idea of getting a shelf of modern novels and renting them for ten cents
a volume. I was the first young lady in the town who had the courage to
go into a cigar-store, and I set all the other young ladies to reading
Mrs. Humphry Ward.”

“What did you get out of it?”

“I never could find out. It was all about British political life;
people were pulling and hauling and intriguing, but I never could
understand what their principles were, or what they expected to do when
they got elected.”

“That’s the point exactly; there are no principles, there are only
parties. Whichever one gets in constitutes the ‘government,’ and its
task is to hold labor by the throat while capital picks its pockets.
Labor produces a sovereign a day, and capital takes it, and gives labor
four shillings wages, and labor tips its cap and is grateful. And then
capital’s favorite lady-novelist comes round with a market basket
containing sixpence worth of food and medicine; which is called charity,
and is the means of getting labor’s vote at election time.”

Such was the private life of Mrs. Humphry Ward. She was what is called
“philanthropic”; that is, she was prominent in those society activities
which help the poor by playing upon the vanity and love of display of
the rich. Her life consisted in rushing about from one meeting to
another, shaking hands and chatting, rushing home to dress and dine with
prominent people, and then reading about it in the next day’s
newspapers. She was so busy with all this that she could only find half
an hour a day in which to read Greek!

The characters in her books are busy with the same kind of activities.
The leading man is a handsome young aristocrat, whose occupation is
becoming premier. We never have any idea why he wants to be premier,
except that as hero that is his function. The idea that the people of
England should ask reasons for making an empty-headed noodle into their
premier is one that never occurs to anyone in the novels. What interests
us is the efforts of the young man’s friends to push him in, and the
efforts of his enemies to bar him out.

Success or failure in all such “political novels” depends on one factor,
an entanglement of sex. It appears that the English voters insist
rigidly upon one requirement--that the statesman who holds them by the
throat while their pockets are being picked shall be ostensibly chaste.
The law may be summed up by saying that he is permitted to have only one
leisure-class female during his life. Of course, if she dies, he is
permitted one more leisure-class female; but for the rest, he is
required to satisfy his needs with females of lower classes. Political
novels derive their plots from the fact that occasionally some
statesman fails to conform to this law; there is a statesman who wants
two ladies, or there are two ladies who want the statesman. Nature has
not created man exclusively for the purpose of wearing a top-hat and a
frock-coat, and making speeches in Parliament; nor do all women find
complete satisfaction, like Mrs. Humphry Ward, in political labors to
keep other women from getting the vote. There are women with mischief in
them, who endeavor to tempt statesmen from exclusive devotion to
“careers.” And the statesmen are tempted; they commit indiscretions,
such as taking walks in the moonlight with the evil females; and a
thrill runs through all “society,” and the tongues of the gossips wag
furiously. Did they? Or did they not? The friends of the statesman rally
to save him; and the enemies of the statesman sharpen their tomahawks;
and Anglomaniacs, watching the scene, are thrilled as when Blondin on
the tight-rope sets out to walk across Niagara Falls.

“We don’t really need to worry,” says Mrs. Ogi; “a hero is always a
hero, and in all the books that I got from the little cigar-store in the
Mississippi town, I cannot recall that one hero ever failed to become

“It would be interesting,” says Ogi, “to compile statistics on the
question: How many premiers have there been in the novels of Mrs.
Humphry Ward, and how many in the recent history of the British Empire?”



We come now to study America in the second half of the nineteenth

The dominating factor in this period was the Civil War, a conflict in
which the physical and moral energy of the country was exhausted. There
followed the inevitable reaction: Abraham Lincoln was succeeded by the
carpetbagger in the South and the tariff-boodler in the North. The very
hero who had led the nation to victory, and had said, “Let us have
peace,” entered the White House to turn the government over to
corruptionists. In the two generations following the Civil War America
made enormous material and some intellectual progress, but no moral
progress discernible. As I write this book, our political morals are
embodied in a post-campaign jest: “The Republicans should have stolen
the Washington monument, and then Coolidge would have carried Florida
and South Carolina.”

Provincial America in the decades following the Civil War based its
religion upon the dogma that it was the most perfect nation upon God’s
footstool. The whisky-drinking, tobacco-chewing, obscenity-narrating,
Grand Old Party-voting mob would tolerate no criticism, not even that
kind implied by living differently. To it an artist was a freak, whom it
punished with mockery and practical jokes. There were only two possible
ways for him to survive; one was to flee to New York and be lost in the
crowd; the other was to turn into a clown and join in laughing at
himself, and at everything he knew to be serious and beautiful in life.
This latter course was adopted by a man of truly great talent, who might
have become one of the world’s satiric masters if he had not been
overpowered by the spirit of America. His tragic story has been told in
a remarkable study, “The Ordeal of Mark Twain,” by Van Wyck Brooks.

For something like forty years Mark Twain lived as an uncrowned American
king; his friends referred to him thus--“the King.” His was a life which
seemed to have come out of the Arabian Nights’ enchantment. His
slightest move was good for columns in the newspapers; when he traveled
about the world he was his country’s ambassador at large--his baggage
traveled free under consular dispensation, and in London and Vienna the
very traffic regulations were suspended. When he went to Washington to
plead for copyright laws, the two houses adjourned to hear him, and the
speaker of the House turned over his private office to the king of
letters. He made three hundred thousand dollars out of a single book, he
made a fortune out of anything he chose to write. The greatest
millionaires of the country were his intimate friends; he had a happy
family, a strong constitution, inexhaustible energy--what more could a
human being ask?

And yet Mark Twain was not happy. He grew less and less happy as time
passed. Bitterness and despair began to creep into his writings;
sentences like this: “Pity is for the living, envy is for the dead.”
Stranger yet, it began to be whispered that America’s uncrowned king was
a radical! In times of stress some of us would go to him for help, for a
word of sympathy or backing, and always this strange thing was noticed;
he was full of understanding, and would agree with everything we said;
yes, he was one of us. But when we asked for a public action, a
declaration, he was not there.

“The Jungle” was published, and he wrote me a letter. It was burned in
the Helicon Hall fire, and I recall only one statement: he had had to
put the book down in the middle, because he could not endure the anguish
it caused him. Naturally, I had my thoughts about such a remark. What
right has a man to refuse to endure the anguish of knowing what other
human beings are suffering? If these sufferings cannot be helped, why
then perhaps we may flee from them; but think what the uncrowned king of
America could have done, in the way of backing a young author who had
aimed at the public’s heart and by accident had hit it in the stomach!

Then came the Gorki case. The great Russian writer came to America to
plead for freedom for his country, and to raise money for the cause. The
intriguers of the tsar set out to ruin him, and turned the bloodhounds
of the capitalist press upon him. A dinner in Gorki’s honor had been
planned, and Mark Twain and William Dean Howells were among the
sponsors. The storm of scandal broke, and these two great ones of
American letters turned tail and fled to cover.

A year or two later Mark Twain was visiting Bermuda, and came to see me.
He had taken to wearing a conspicuous white costume, and with his
snow-white hair and mustache he was a picturesque figure. He chatted
about past times, as old men like to do. I saw that he was kind,
warm-hearted, and also full of rebellion against capitalist greed and
knavery; but he was an old man, and a sick man, and I did not try to
probe the mystery of his life. The worm which was gnawing at his heart
was not revealed, until in the course of time his letters were given to
the public. Now we know the amazing story--that Mark Twain lived a
double life; he, the uncrowned king of America, was the most repressed
personality, the most completely cowed, shamed, and tormented great man
in the history of letters.

He was born in a Missouri River town in 1835. His father was a futile
dreamer with a perpetual motion machine. His mother was a victim of
patent medicines, who had seen better days, and reared a family of
ragged brats in a foul and shabby environment, where a boy saw four
separate murders with his own eyes. “Little Sam” was a shy, sensitive
child, his mother’s darling, and she raised him in a fierce
determination to have him grow up respectable and rich. He became a
printer, then a pilot on the Mississippi River. This latter was a great
career; the river pilot was the uncrowned king of this western country.
He saw all the world in glorious fashion; he was a real artist, and at
the same time carried a solemn responsibility.

The Civil War destroyed this career, and Mark Twain went out to Nevada
to become a gold miner, promising his mother that he would never return
until he had made a fortune. He failed as a miner, and was forced to
live by journalism. So he drifted into becoming the world’s buffoon. He
always despised it--so much so that he put a pistol to his head. But he
lacked the courage to pull the trigger, and had to go on and be a
writer. His “Jumping Frog” story went around the world; after which he
came East, and wrote “Innocents Abroad,” and made his three hundred
thousand dollars.

Shortly after that he exchanged the domination of his mother for that of
a wife. He fell in love with the daughter of a wealthy coal-dealer in
Elmira, New York. There was a terrible “to do” about it in respectable
“up-State” circles, for Samuel Clemens was a wild and woolly westerner,
who didn’t know how to handle a knife and fork, while the daughter of
the coal-dealer had been brought up on an income of forty thousand
dollars a year. However, this strange lover was a “lion,” so they
decided to accept him and teach him parlor tricks. They gave the young
couple a carriage and coachman, and a house which had cost twenty-five
thousand dollars; it wasn’t long before he was completely justifying
their faith, by living at the rate of a hundred thousand a year.

The wife was a frail woman, a semi-invalid, and Mark Twain adored her;
also, he was awe-stricken before her, because of her extremely high
social position. She was ignorant, provincial, rigidly fixed in a narrow
church-going respectability; by these standards she brought him up, and
raised a couple of daughters to help him. As Clemens phrased it, his
wife “edited” him; as his daughters phrased it, they “dusted papa off.”

What these women did to America’s greatest humorist makes one of the
most amazing stories in the history of culture. They went over
everything he wrote and revised it according to the standards of the
Elmira bourgeoisie. They suppressed the greater part of his most vital
ideas, and kept him from finishing his most important works. When he
wrote something commonplace and conventional they fell on his neck with
delight, and helped to spend the fortune which it brought in. When he
told the truth about America, or voiced his own conclusions about life,
they forced him to burn it, or hide it in the bottom of a trunk. His one
masterpiece, “Huckleberry Finn,” he wrote secretly at odd moments,
taking many years at the task, and finally publishing it with anxiety.
Mrs. Clemens came home from church one day, horrified by a rumor that
her husband had put some swear words into a story; she made him produce
the manuscript, in which poor Huck, telling how he can’t live in the
respectable world, exclaims: “They comb me all to hell.” Now when you
read “Huckleberry Finn,” you read: “They comb me all to thunder!”

Mark Twain had in him the making of one of the world’s great satirists.
He might have made over American civilization, by laughing it out of its
shams and pretensions. But he was not permitted to express himself as an
artist; he must emulate his father-in-law, the Elmira coal-dealer. The
unhappy wretch turned his attention to business ventures, and started a
huge publishing business, to publish his own and other books. He sold
three hundred thousand copies of General Grant’s Memoirs, and sold
hundreds of thousands of copies of other books, utterly worthless from
the literary point of view.

He was always at the mercy of inventors with some new scheme to make
millions. For example, there was a typesetting machine; he sunk a huge
fortune into that, and would spend his time figuring what he was going
to make--so many millions that it almost made a billion. He was a
wretched business man, and failed ignominously and went into bankruptcy,
losing his wife’s money as well as his own. H. H. Rogers, master pirate
of Standard Oil, came forward and took charge of his affairs,
incidentally playing billiards with him until four o’clock every
morning. And then some young radical brought him an exposure of the
Standard Oil Company, expecting him to publish this book as a public

Going back to Mark Twain’s books, we can read these facts between the
lines, and see that he put his balked and cheated self, or some aspect
of this self, into his characters. We understand how he poured his soul
into Huck Finn; this poor henpecked genius, dressed up and made to go
through the paces of a literary lion, yearns back to the days when he
was a ragged urchin and was happy; Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer represent
all that daring, that escape from the bourgeois world, which Sam Clemens
dreamed but never achieved. He put another side of himself into Colonel
Sellers, who imagined fortunes; and yet another side into Pudd’nhead
Wilson, the village atheist who mocked at the shams of religion.
Secretly Mark Twain himself loathed Christianity, and wrote a letter of
cordial praise to Robert Ingersoll; but publicly he went to church every
Sunday, escorting his saintly wife, according to the customs of Elmira!

The more you read this story the more appalling you find it. This
uncrowned king of America built up literally a double personality; he
took to writing two sets of letters, one containing what he really
wanted to say, and the other what his official public self was obliged
to say. He accumulated a volume of “unmailed letters,” one of the
weirdest phenomena in literary history. He was indignant at the ending
of the Russian-Japanese war, because he believed that if it had
continued for a couple of months more the tsar would have been
overthrown. When Colonel George Harvey invited him to dine with the
Russian emissaries to the Portsmouth Conference, he wrote a blistering
telegram, in which he declared himself inferior as a humorist to those
statesmen who had “turned the tragedy of a tremendous war into a gay and
blithesome comedy.” But he did not send that telegram; he sent another,
full of such enraptured praise of the Russian diplomats that Count Witte
sent it to the tsar!

That is only one sample out of many. He wrote a War Prayer, a grim
satire upon the Christian custom of praying for victory. “I have told
the whole truth in that,” he said to a friend; and then added the
lamentable conclusion: “Only dead men can tell the truth in this world.
It can be published after I am dead.” He explained the reason--this
financier who had fortunes to blow in upon mechanical inventions: “I
have a family to support, and I can’t afford this kind of dissipation.”
And again: “The silent, colossal National Lie that is the support and
confederate of all the tyrannies and shams and inequalities and
unfairnesses that afflict the peoples--that is the one to throw bricks
and sermons at. But let us be judicious and let somebody else begin.”

Of course a man who wrote like this despised himself. It was the tragedy
of Tolstoi, but in a far more humiliating form; Tolstoi at least wrote
what he pleased, and did in the end break with his family. But Mark
Twain stayed in the chains of love and respectability--his bitterness
boiling and steaming in him like a volcano, and breaking out here and
there with glare and sulphurous fumes. “The damned and mangy human
race,” was one of his phrases; and again he wrote: “My idea of our
civilization is that it is a shabby poor thing and full of cruelties,
vanities, arrogances, meannesses and hypocrisies. As for the word, I
hate the sound of it, for it conveys a lie; and as for the thing itself,
I wish it was in hell, where it belongs.”

In the effort to excuse himself, this repressed personality evolved a
philosophy of fatalism. Man was merely a machine, and could not help
doing what he did. This was put into a book, “What is Man?” But then he
dared not publish the book! “Am I honest?” he wrote, to a friend. “I
give you my word of honor (privately) I am not. For seven years I have
suppressed a book, which my conscience tells me I ought to publish. I
hold it my duty to publish it. There are other difficult tasks I am
equal to, but I am not equal to that one.” He did publish the book at
last, but anonymously, and with a preface explaining that he dared not
sign his name.

He, America’s greatest humorist, had a duty laid upon him; he saw that
duty clearly--how clearly we learn from a story, “The Mysterious
Stranger,” a ferocious satire upon the human race, published after his
death. In this book Satan asks: “Will a day come when the race will
detect the funniness of these juvenilities and laugh at them--and by
laughing at them destroy them? For your race, in its poverty, has
unquestionably one really effective weapon--laughter. Power, money,
persuasion, supplication, persecution--these can lift at a colossal
humbug--push it a little--weaken it a little, century by century; but
only laughter can blow it to rags and atoms at a blast.... As a race, do
you ever use it at all? No; you lack sense and the courage.” Such was
the spiritual tragedy going on in the soul of a man who was going about
New York, clad in a fancy white costume, smiled upon and applauded by
all beholders, crowned by all critics, wined and dined by Standard Oil
millionaires, dancing inexhaustibly until three or four o’clock in the
morning, and nicknamed in higher social circles “the belle of New York.”

Mrs. Ogi from Mississippi reads this onslaught upon Mrs. Ogi from
Elmira; and her husband wonders a little while he waits. But she only
smiles, and remarks: “In our family the men have a traditional saying:
‘It’s all right to be henpecked, but be sure you get the right hen!’”



We come now to an American artist who played the part of his own wife;
that is to say, Ogi and Mrs. Ogi combined in one person.

His name was William Dean Howells, and he was born in 1837 in an Ohio
town. He began life as a typesetter in a newspaper office, then he
became a reporter, and was made United States consul in Venice at the
age of twenty-four. It was a job which left time for art, and young
Howells trained himself diligently. He became editor of the “Atlantic
Monthly,” the first non-Bostonian to hold that high ecclesiastical
office. For years he presided at the dying bedside of New England
literature, and after the patient was buried he came to New York and
found a permanent berth with “Harper’s Magazine.” He wrote for sixty
years, and published over a hundred volumes of poetry, criticism and
fiction. He had ease and grace and charm, all the drawing-room literary
virtues; he displayed the same virtues in real life, and so everybody
loved him, and he became, according to Mark Twain, “the critical Court
of Last Resort in this country, from whose decisions there is no

The principle upon which the success of Howells was based is revealed to
us in his autobiography. He tells how as a young reporter on an Ohio
newspaper, he was sent to a police court, and he quit. “If all my work
could have been the reporting of sermons, with intervals of sketching
the graduating ceremonies of young ladies’ seminaries”--why, then he
might have become a city editor! He tells of coming upon a sordid
tragedy, and resolving that forever after he would avert his eyes from
the darker side of life; “the more smiling aspects of life are the more
American.” You can see why he needed no Mrs. Ogi from Elmira, or from
any other place, to edit his manuscripts.

To dignify this program of portraying the more smiling and therefore
more American aspects of life, Howells gave it the name of “realism.”
All his life long he published critical articles in defense of this
program, and he described these articles as “a polemic, a battle.” Also
he wrote novels, which he regarded as pure, undiluted works of art. It
never occurred to the dear soul that the novels were merely a
continuation of his “polemic,” another phase of his “battle.” Not
content with rebuking men who did wrong, Howells wished to provide
examples of what was right; therefore he invented characters and
contrived situations to exhibit the virtues and charms of that
middle-class gentility which was always smiling and therefore always

The apologia of this school of “realism” may be formulated as follows: I
am a gentleman of placid disposition and quiet feelings, with no
devastating passions tormenting me, no cosmic idealisms driving my soul.
I am comfortable in the bourgeois world, having always earned a good
salary and taken care of my family. I believe this is the proper thing
for men to do, and if they fail to do it it is their own fault. I love
to read good books, and I cultivate a mild and gentle imagination. I
write about my sort of people, and I call such books art. If men persist
in having violent and stormy passions and intense and overwhelming
convictions; if they persist in going to extremes, whether base and
cruel, or heroic and sublime--then I am disturbed in my literary
dignity, and I denounce such writing, and call it romanticism,
propaganda, and pose. And since I am “the critical Court of Last Resort
in this country, from whose decisions there is no appeal,” it follows
that young writers who persist in displeasing me are sentenced to move
into garrets and be starved and frozen into submission.

Upon the above formula Howells founded and maintained a school of “local
color” in the United States. Men and women who had been brought up in
different parts of the country wrote stories describing in detail the
peculiarities of speech and costume and manners there prevailing.
Confining themselves to the everyday and obvious events of humdrum life,
and being content to observe and not to think, they were sure of a
cordial reception from Howells, and of publication and payment by the
great magazine and publishing house which took the great critic’s
advice. By enforcing these standards for half a century, Howells and a
group of editors like him put a blight upon American literature from
which it is only now escaping.

I do not want to be unfair to a gracious and kindly gentleman. In his
later years he fell under the spell of Tolstoi, and took to calling
himself a Socialist. He wrote a story, “The Traveler from Altruria,” a
gentle and winning satire upon the stupidities of capitalism. I would
love him more ardently for having written that book if he had been
willing to fight for it; if he had put any trace of social protest into
his magazine editing and contributing. But he joined with Mark Twain in
deserting poor Gorki, and he continued to hold his comfortable position
and to collect his salary and royalties from Harper and Brothers, after
that concern went into bankruptcy and was turned into the propaganda
department of J. P. Morgan and Company.

I have told in “The Brass Check” the curious story of my own experience
with this publishing house; I will repeat it here, so far as it bears on
Howells. Ten years ago I was collecting material for my anthology of
revolutionary literature, “The Cry for Justice,” and I applied to one or
two hundred authors for permission to quote briefly from their writings.
Having got the authors’ permission, I then applied to the publishers;
whereupon I received from Messrs. Harper and Brothers a letter,
forbidding me to quote from any book published by them, even with the
author’s permission. I took the trouble to call upon the gentleman who
had this matter in charge, and was informed that the firm considered my
reputation to be so bad that I would do injury to any author whom I
quoted. I had with me a letter from Howells, saying that he would be
very glad to be quoted. But no matter; I was not to quote him; neither
was I to quote Mark Twain, nor Charles Rann Kennedy, nor H. G. Wells!

It happened that Howells’ editorial office was in that same dingy old
Franklin Square building, so I took the matter to him. He was courteous
and friendly--but he did not feel that it would be proper for him to
oppose the objections of his publishers. My plea, that he owed something
to a fellow-Socialist, and still more to the movement, did not avail.

And lest the reader think that I am unduly prejudiced against the
publication department of J. P. Morgan & Company, let me quote a couple
of sentences from a letter written to the editor of “Harper’s” Magazine
by Lafcadio Hearn: “Your firm is a hundred years behind; ignorant,
brutal, mean, absurdly ignorant--incredibly ignorant of what art is,
what literature is, what good taste is. But it makes money like pork
packeries and butcheries and loan offices.”

History has its curious ironies, and this would be one--if it should
turn out that Howells, in refusing to be quoted in “The Cry for
Justice,” had lost his best chance of being read in the future. And lest
this remark be taken for megalomania, let me add that I am not the
author of the anthology, merely its editor, and others could have done
the job as well, perhaps better. The point is that this is the kind of
literature which the future will read. The whirlwinds of social
revolution are gathering to sweep the world; and when they have passed,
there will be a new generation of clear-eyed young workers, who will
look upon the fiction-characters of William Dean Howells with puzzled
dismay. Characters so mild and gentle, so tolerant in the presence of
intolerable wrong! Characters so very respectable in the getting and
spending of their incomes, so anxious in their conformity to pecuniary
conventions! The young workers will not be able to imagine themselves
in the place of such characters; but will study them as one studies
relics in a museum, or queer-shaped insects under a microscope.



Through the latter part of the nineteenth century there existed in the
United States a peculiar literary phenomenon, the underground reputation
of Ambrose Bierce. The fiction reading public did not know this man; the
readers of “yellow” journalism knew him as a Hearst writer, even more
brilliant and cynical than the average. But now and then you would come
upon an expert in the literary craft, who would tell you that Ambrose
Bierce was a short-story writer and satirist without equal in America,
the greatest genius our literature had produced. You would set out to
look for these obscure writings, and could not find them in the
libraries or the book-stores. At last you might get someone to lend you
a copy, and then you would join the campaign of whispering.

Now Bierce is coming into his own. The public is hearing about him. He
is of especial interest to us here, because he spent his energy in
attacking, with the utmost possible fury, the thesis of this book; while
at the same time, both in his life and his writings, he vindicated that
thesis to the last syllable.

Ambrose Bierce was bom in 1842, the son of a poor farmer in Ohio. At the
age of nineteen he enlisted and fought through the Civil war, being
twice wounded and brevetted major. Then he became a journalist, first in
San Francisco, then in London, finally in Washington and New York.

He was one of the most ethical men that ever lived, a born preacher, as
vehement and persistent as Carlyle. He fought for his beliefs, and
shrank from no sacrifice in their behalf. He was no man’s man, but said
what he thought, no matter how bitter and fierce it might be. He paid
the penalty in a host of enemies and a lifetime of struggle.

That such a man should have taken up with art-for-art’s-sake theories
is assuredly a quaint incongruity in the history of literature. But so
it happened. He looked out upon America, and saw the grafters thriving,
he saw corruption enthroned as a political system, and he gave up the
human race in despair: “a world of fools and rogues, blind with
superstition, tormented with envy, consumed with vanity, selfish, false,
cruel, cursed with illusions--frothing mad.” These phrases occur in an
article, “To Train a Writer”; and you can see what sort of writer it
would train! A writer who renounces solidarity, and seeks refuge in his
own talent, the one place where a man is master, where he can make
beauty, order and dignity. So let us live in the world of art, let us
consecrate ourselves to its service, and waste no love upon “the
irreclaimable mass of brutality that we know as ‘mankind.’”

This conviction Bierce holds in the fashion of a religious zealot. He
has reached the stage of knowing that the rest of the world doubts his
faith; therefore he asserts it the more vehemently, and flies into a
rage with all who question it. His letters have been published; and in
the first one, addressed to a young girl who aspires to write, he storms
at the viciousness of those who would use the writer’s craft in the
service of human progress. “Such ends are a prostitution of art.” And
later on in the letters this champion of the art-for-art’s-sake theory
reveals the terror that gnaws at his soul. “If poets saw things as they
are they would write no more poetry.”

Some twenty years ago Jack London sent me the first book of a San
Francisco poet, and in an inscription he described the author: “I have a
friend, the dearest in this world.” The book was “The Testimony of the
Suns,” by George Sterling; and friendship being an unlimited thing, I
also took over a share of it. For twenty years I have been puzzled at
finding in this gracious companion and maker of exquisite verses certain
qualities of bitterness and aching despair. When I read these letters of
Ambrose Bierce I discovered a plausible explanation; for here is the
young poet, submitting his first efforts; and here is the savage
misanthropist using his power as a preacher and an elder, in an effort
to set the poet’s feet in the paths of futility and waste.

Ambrose Bierce, among his host of antagonisms, had one which amounted to
an insanity--his dislike of Socialists; and he saw both London and
Sterling lending their influence to the hellish cult. Bierce was one of
those subtle opponents who say that they have a certain amount of
sympathy with the Socialist ideal, were it not for the fact that the
partisans of the cause make themselves so objectionable. Yes; they would
truly be willing to see mankind delivered from poverty, crime,
prostitution and war, were it not for creatures of the lunatic fringe,
who wear their hair long and tie their neck-ties into a bow!

There is something pathological about the ravings of Bierce on this
subject, and we are not surprised to learn that in his early days a
prominent Socialist writer, Laurence Gronlund, took a girl away from
him, and thus excited his animosity. We find him quarreling with one
person after another who persists in dallying with Socialist ideas, and
in the end he quarreled even with Sterling, and wrote him letters of
harsh abuse, which Sterling out of kindness to his memory destroyed.

The published letters are full of literary criticism; it is always
consistent--and in every case exactly the opposite of what you find in
this book. Ibsen and Shaw are “very small men--pets of the drawing-room
and gods of the hour.” Tolstoi is “not an artist,” and Burns is
“gibberish”; Gorki is “not only a peasant, but an anarchist and an
advocate of assassination.” Bierce was living in Washington, serving the
Hearst newspapers, when Gorki came to America. Bierce had never met him,
and really knew nothing about him, but he swallowed with greedy
eagerness the propaganda emanating from the Russian embassy in
Washington; he writes to Sterling mysterious hints from inside
information: “It isn’t merely the woman matter. You’d understand if you
were on this side of the country.”

All this has become familiar to us with the passage of the years; it is
the thing known as hundred percent American boobery. The capitalist
system sets up its colossal slander-mills, with a staff of secret
agents, forgers and safe-crackers and confidence men, a devil’s crew.
The people of course have no conception of this machinery for the
manipulating of their minds; and how pitiful to find a haughty
intellectual as credulous as the poorest clodhopper! It is one more
demonstration of the fact that a modern man who does not understand
revolutionary economics is a child wandering in a forest at midnight.

There were other factors in the making of Bierce’s irascibility. He
describes himself as “an eminent tankard-man,” and he found in San
Francisco plenty of people willing to practice art for art’s sake, not
troubling themselves or him with hopes for the human race. There is a
tale of a riotous crew, resolving to put an end to Christianity by
pulling down a cross which stood upon the highway. They tied themselves
to the cross with ropes and pulled their hardest, only to sink down
exhausted in drunken slumber. I wonder that some Catholic poet does not
take this for a piece of symbolism. Maybe it has been done--I admit
there are gaps in my knowledge of Catholic poetry!

What had this man to give the world, if anything? The answer is: love of
truth, and loathing of corruption and hypocrisy. He wrote all those
things which Mark Twain knew, but suppressed. He was the only one of
those who fought through the war to tell the truth about it. And
therein lies his power and significance as an artist; he, the
art-for-art’s-saker pure and simple, writes tales which make us hate

The formula of these tales is the one with which Maupassant has made us
familiar. Men aspire, and fate knocks them down and tramples their faces
into the mud. When we see in the chances of battle a son shoot his own
father, we may draw the conclusion that all human life is futile, as
Bierce wishes us to; or we may elect to draw a different conclusion, and
join the League to Outlaw War.

Bierce’s verses were shafts of satire aimed at the social kites and
buzzards of his time. They have a quality of personal ferocity seldom
equalled in the world’s literature. There are two volumes of them,
“Black Beetles in Amber” and “Shapes of Clay.” Readers of “The Brass
Check” may remember a sample there quoted, dealing with Mike de Young,
publisher of the San Francisco “Chronicle,” and concluding:

    A dream of broken necks and swollen tongues--
    A whole world’s gibbets loaded with de Youngs!

Here, as in so much of Bierce’s work, his ignorance of social forces
rendered him impotent. He writes about individual scoundrels, but he
does not understand what makes them, nor how to remedy them; so his
writing is useless to himself, to his victims, and to us.

Once upon a time Ambrose Bierce went to sleep at night on a flat stone
in a graveyard. We are not told whether his exploits as “an eminent
tankard-man” had anything to do with this, but we are told that as a
result he became a lifelong sufferer from rheumatism and asthma. So his
old age was bitter, and he found insufficient consolation in producing
literary masterpieces for a hypothetical posterity. He wandered off into
Mexico and disappeared. “To be a gringo in Mexico at the present time is
a cheap form of euthanasia,” he told his friends. So apparently it
proved; and so this book has another vindication, provided by a leading

“Be careful,” says Mrs. Ogi; “the Mexican bandits may not have got him
after all.”

“He has already had a few whacks at me. George Sterling sent him an
article of mine, published twenty years ago, ‘Our Bourgeois Literature,’
and he ridiculed my thesis that the qualities of American literature are
explained by American social conditions: ‘The political and economical
situation has about as much to do with it as the direction of our rivers
and the prevailing color of our hair.’ Also he read ‘The Journal of
Arthur Stirling,’ and called my poor poet ‘the most disagreeable
character in fiction.’”

Says Mrs. Ogi: “He did not even trouble to get the poor poet’s name

Her husband answers: “The officers in the British army have a saying:
‘What is fame? To die in battle and have your name misspelled in the



Having considered a fiction writer whom the great public rejected, let
us now consider one whom it enthusiastically acclaimed.

Richard Harding Davis was born in Philadelphia in 1864. His father was a
famous editor, and he was raised among cultured people, with every
advantage of prestige and social position. He was handsome, full of
energy, and all his life made hosts of friends. After getting through
college, he took a job with Arthur Brisbane on the New York “Evening
Sun,” where his brother tells us he underwent “considerable privation,”
his salary being only thirty dollars a week at the start, plus his
earnings from short stories. During this same period the present writer
was living in New York upon four and one-half a week, and never sure of
having that; so you see that standards of “considerable privation” vary

Davis’s first stories dealt with a hero named Van Bibber, a scion of the
Fifth Avenue plutocracy, handsome, debonair, wearing his clothes with
irreproachable taste, and devoting his abundant leisure to the reforming
of New York; Haroun-al-Raschid brought down to date, Sir Galahad in a
dress-suit. Happy, care-free, he wanders, with innocent heart and open
purse, making things right wherever he finds them wrong. He has the
entrée behind the scenes of theatres, but not to seduce the chorus
girls--ah, nothing like that, but to rescue a sweet, innocent child and
carry her home to a cold, proud, cruel Fifth Avenue father who has
refused to acknowledge his wild oat. That done, Van Bibber roams again,
and jumps on the neck of a burglar, and kicks his pistol out of his
hand, and then gets sorry for him, and buys him a ticket to Montana,
where his wife and daughter wait for him to come and reform. Then he
wanders to the Bowery, and sees a rowdy insulting a lady; it is not
enough for him to demonstrate the natural superiority of the plutocracy
by putting this one rowdy to flight, he must crown the demonstration by
accepting a challenge from three of “the purest specimens of the tough
of the East Side waterfront,” and routing them in the presence of the
proud aristocratic beauty. The charm of the story lies in the truly
elegant insouciance with which young Van Bibber does all these
things--the manner of a juggler keeping six billiard-balls in the air.

Here, you see, is the perfect type of the ruling-class glorifier: Homer
and the Arabian Nights, Don Quixote and King Arthur, Dumas, Ouida,
Rudyard Kipling and Mrs. Humphry Ward all rolled into one. No wonder our
grandfathers were captivated, or that the innocent souls who edited
“Harper’s” and “Scribner’s” extended the freedom of their columns to
this inspired creator of plutocratic romance! It is interesting to note
that our “Dick” came from the most English place in the United States,
and looked like an Englishman and, perhaps as a matter of instinct,
dressed and talked like an Englishman. In his early writing days he
lived for a few months at Oxford, and the students of Balliol College
took him in on equal footing, an honor never before accorded to a
non-student American.

The English ruling class had taken upon itself the task of colonizing
and exploiting the rest of the world, and the American ruling class was
following suit, and Richard Harding Davis became the prophet of both.
Throughout Central America and the West Indies the process is
invariable: American capitalists bribe the governments of these
countries and get enormously valuable concessions, then they send in
engineers and other handsome young heroes clad in khaki and puttees and
with automatics in their belts. These heroes engage the natives of the
country to exploit the natural resources and ship out the wealth of the
country, to be spent upon monkey dinners at Newport and champagne
suppers in Broadway lobster palaces. Sooner or later the natives become
irritated at the sight of their natural resources being exported for
such purposes, so they revolt against the native government which has
sold them to the Yankees. Then the handsome young Yankee heroes draw
their automatics and bring up machine guns, and gloriously defend the
native government which they have bought and paid for. The ending comes
triumphantly with a Yankee gunboat in the harbor, and some marines
charging up the slope of a hill waving Old Glory, while the audience
leaps from its seats and cheers for five minutes.

“Soldiers of Fortune” was “Dick” Davis’s biggest success. It brought him
reservoirs of money, first as a serial, then as a novel, then as a
drama, and finally as a movie. His other novels were like it, in that
they dealt with members of the ruling class gloriously making or
marrying fortunes. The next was called “The Princess Aline,” and told
about a young, wealthy, handsome and aristocratic artist--so many
elements of good fortune!--who falls in love with the photograph of a
German princess. The model for this exquisite heroine was the future
Empress of Russia; but Davis did not live to write a sequel, showing the
final destiny of his heroine, her mangled body dumped into a well along
with her husband and four exquisite daughters. Recalling these novels at
the present hour, I see the international plutocracy with all its
exquisite wives and daughters, crouched trembling upon the top of a
mountain of gold and jewels, while all around them the handsome young
hired heroes peer out over the sights of machine guns at the massed fury
of the exploited millions of mankind--white, black, yellow, brown, red,
and mixed.

Davis became a war correspondent and spent his time racing over the
earth from one scene of excitement to another. I have run through the
volume of his letters and jotted down a few date lines in the order they
occur: Cuba, London, Egypt, Gibraltar, Paris, Central America, South
America, Moscow, Budapest, Havana, London, Florence, Greece, Havana,
Cape Town, Pretoria, Aix-les-Bains, Massachusetts, Madrid, London, San
Francisco, Tokio, Manchuria, Havana, the Congo, New York, London,
Santiago, Vera Cruz, Belgium, Plattsburg, Paris, Athens, Rome. If you
know the history of the world for twenty-five years beginning with 1890
you can connect each of these geographical names with a coronation, a
jubilee, a war, or other ruling-class recreation.

All through the letters runs the theme of money, the Aladdin’s tale of a
soldier of literary fortune. He gets five thousand dollars for the
serial rights of “Soldiers of Fortune” from “Scribner’s Magazine”; he
gets five hundred dollars for reporting a foot-ball game; he gets three
thousand dollars and expenses for a month’s reporting of the Cuban
struggle with Spain, and when America enters the conflict, he gets ten
cents a word from “Scribner’s Magazine” and four hundred dollars a week
and expenses from the New York “Times.”

Everywhere he goes he is, of course, a lion, and moves only in the
highest circles. His letters are full of diplomats and generals and
lords and ladies and kings and queens, together with the most famous
actors and literary lights. He is presented at Court--and by this,
needless to say, I mean the Court of their Majesties the King and Queen
of Great Britain and Ireland, and Emperor and Empress of India. And all
through the letters we note dinner-parties and banquets and
champagne-suppers and cocktails--interrupted by a siege with sciatica,
preparing us for the quick curtain, when our ruling-class hero departs
his successful life at the age of fifty-two.

New York is a place of mean and envious gossip, and one of its
diversions was telling anecdotes illustrating the snobbery and
self-importance of Richard Harding Davis. It appears that in the days of
his extraordinary prosperity he did not always recognize his former
newspaper cronies when he met them on the street. Perhaps he had noted
that so many of these former cronies took the occasion to borrow money
from him. Anyhow, I have one anecdote to contribute to the collection.

It was early in 1914, a period of great depression in my own life and
fortunes. Davis, of course, never had any depressions; he had just come
back from Cuba, where he had turned “Soldiers of Fortune” into a moving
picture film, and it was now being launched on Broadway with enormous
éclat. I happened to know the manager, and was invited to the opening
performance, where in the lobby I was introduced to the great author and
lion of the occasion. When he heard my name his face lighted up, and he
gave me a warm hand-clasp, exclaiming, “Ah, now! You write books because
you really have something to say, while I write only to make money!” It
was so different from what I expected that I was completely taken aback,
and could only make a deprecating murmur. “It is true,” he said; “I know
it, and so do you.”

The reader may say that in telling this story I do more credit to Davis
than to myself. But that is not my concern. What I have to do here is to
report the statement of America’s leading soldier of literary fortune
concerning his own work and its reason for being.



We come now to another one of those unhappy tales of young rebellious
geniuses who cannot or will not fit themselves into the bourgeois world.
This time it is Stephen Crane, who was the fourteenth child of a
Methodist preacher and an evangelist mother, and was born in Newark,
New Jersey; which goes to prove that a genius may spring up anywhere in
the world.

There is an old saying that a preacher’s son always turns out to be a
rake. I don’t suppose that statistically this statement could be
justified, but psychologically we should expect such cases; for other
children get religion once a week, but the children of clergymen get it
all the time. The tragedy of poor “Stevie” Crane reveals to us the folly
of attaching fundamental moral principles to incredible fairy tales.
When the child grows up and finds that he no longer believes the tales,
he is apt to conclude that the moral principles are equally false and

Little “Stevie” was a frail and sensitive child. His father died when he
was young, and then his evangelist mother died, and he was left to grope
his way alone. We find him turning up at a military academy with a
reputation as a baseball player, also with six pipes--which was six too
many for a lad who was to die from tuberculosis at the age of
twenty-nine. He picked up a living doing odd newspaper jobs, and then he
went to Syracuse University. Most singular, prank of history, that James
Roscoe Day, D.D., Sc.D., LL.D., D.C.L., L.H.D., Chancellor of the
University of Heaven (see “The Goose-Step”), should have had in charge
the intellectual and moral training of the author of “Maggie: A Girl of
the Street”!

This boy had pathetic courage, and absolutely original opinions, even
from the beginning. His young verdict was that Tennyson was “swill” and
Oscar Wilde “a mildewed chump.” That, of course, was merely calling
names; but in addition he had the oddest and most charming gift of
humor. Of his mother he said, “You could argue as well with a wave.”

Having got through with college at the age of twenty, he went to New
York to live in a garret and starve for the sake of his independence. He
chose the Bowery for his school of art; these being the old days of the
wicked street, before the respectable, hard-working Jews took
possession; the days when all New York gloried in its “toughness,” and
when now and again in the filthy old alleys they raked out a human
corpse from a pile of ill-smelling rubbish. Here the boy wrote his first
novel, “Maggie,” dealing with a girl whose drunken parents beat her and
drove her on to the streets. It was an entirely new note in American
literature, because it told the truth about these things quite simply
and as a matter of course, without apology or sentimentality.

The young author took it to Richard Watson Gilder, editor of the
“Century Magazine,” and went back, hungry and shivering with cold, to
get the verdict. The “Century” was one of the four great magazines which
determined the destiny of American authors; its policy was guided by the
fact that it had “half the expectant mothers in America” on its
subscription list. Gilder said that he could not publish “Maggie”; and
after he had made long-winded explanations, Stephen boiled them down to
one sentence, as was his custom. “You mean that the story is too
honest?” And Gilder was honest enough to answer that he did.

Reading about this garret existence sends shivers over my skin; because
it was only ten years later that I was to live the same life, and have
the same experiences in the same editorial offices. I also took
manuscripts to Gilder and was turned down. The same publisher who
accepted “The Red Badge of Courage,” and made a fortune out of it,
accepted also “The Journal of Arthur Stirling,” and tricked me into
signing a contract out of which I never got a cent.

All his life Stephen Crane had heard the war stories of old
soldiers--not what you read in the official history books, but the real
things that men had felt and done. He decided upon this theme, and read
up his “local color,” and in ten quivering nights he produced “The Red
Badge of Courage.” At last he had a success; a newspaper syndicate paid
him a hundred dollars for the serial rights! He waited a year or two
longer, and then it came out in book form. It sold fairly well, until
suddenly the English critics went wild over it, and then New York knew
that it had a man of genius.

The realists had been ruling the literary roost, insisting that you must
portray life by describing its external details. But this boy had a new
idea; the interesting thing to him was the way people felt, and details
merely served to reveal the human spirit. He was not afraid to describe
emotions as having colors. So here was a new kind of fiction, called
“impressionism”; and the realists were laid on the shelf for a while.

“Stevie” made a small fortune, and no longer drank his drinks in the
saloons of the Bowery, but in the high-priced cafés on Broadway. He
wrote short stories and sketches, and verses without rhyme or rhythm,
which puzzled the critics--I remember that in my student days they were
the joke of the newspaper paragraphers. The gossips got busy with him,
of course, and a legend was built up concerning the extent of his revolt
against social conventions. His biographer, Thomas Beer, defends him
vigorously against these tales. It seems clear that he did not take
drugs; while, as to his drinking, we can only repeat what we said about
the pipes--any drinking at all was too much for a man who was to die of
tuberculosis in a few years.

As to the women stories, they seem to have been partly blackmail, and
partly the young writer’s imprudent notions of chivalry. He was talking
with a girl of the streets in a saloon, and a policeman arrested the
girl, and Crane came into court to testify in her behalf, and so of
course got himself in for a lot of disagreeable publicity. It would have
been so easy for him to avoid that, by having the ordinary caution of a
man of the world. If only he had been willing to learn from Mark Twain
and William Dean Howells how to dodge the shadow of a scandal!

The life of this wayward child of genius is one more illustration of
that disagreeable alternative which life so often presents us. You may
have self-restraint, plus more or less hypocrisy, and live long and
successfully; or you may have do-as-you-please, plus absolute honesty,
and undermine your constitution and die at the age of twenty-nine. The
mind of Stephen Crane was like an acid which dissolved the shams and
pretenses of civilization. But he has nothing to put in the place of
these things. In “The Red Badge of Courage” he shows us a hero blind
with fear; and the theme of all his short stories and later novels is
that life is a matter of accident, and the universe a thing without
moral sense or meaning. This belief Crane put also into his conduct; he
knew nothing to do with his life, except that he had a childish wish to
see a real war with his own eyes. First he tried to get to Cuba, and was
shipwrecked; and while he got a good story out of that, “The Open Boat,”
he paid with a part of his very small store of vitality. Then he went to
Greece, but the cooking made him ill. Finally he saw our war in Cuba,
and displayed such indifference to his own fate that the tongues of the
gossips wagged faster than ever. He must be seeking death, because of
some dark scandal hanging over his head!

He was altogether out of step with the 1890’s; but now a new generation
has come, and all our young intellectuals are cold and objective and
cynical, agreeing that pity is a mistake and life nothing in particular.
They leave to me the unpleasant task of holding uninvited post-mortems
over the ardent unhappy dead.

Let me put it briefly: that some day there will be yet another
generation, which will realize that no man can get along without a
religion, least of all the creative artist. It will not be the Methodist
religion, but it will be something that gives young geniuses a reason
for taking care of themselves and their gifts.

There was one religion which Stephen Crane adopted for a period of two
weeks. He was a Socialist for that long--so he explains in a letter; but
he met two other Socialists, who told him his doctrines were wrong, and
then fell to quarreling as to which of the two was right. I say: Oh,
young Stephen Cranes of the future, judge truth by the tests of truth,
and not by our personal frailties and follies!



The mind of America at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of
the twentieth century was controlled by elderly maiden aunts and hired
men of privilege; and it seemed that behind the scenes of our national
life some evil jinx was operating to keep us in this double thrall.
There arose five independent and original-minded artists, and here is
what happened to them: Stephen Crane died of tuberculosis at the age of
twenty-nine, Frank Norris died of appendicitis at the age of thirty-two,
David Graham Phillips was killed by a lunatic at the age of forty-four,
O. Henry died of alcoholism at the age of forty-eight, and Jack London
killed himself at the age of forty.

Frank Norris was born in California in 1870, the son of well-to-do
parents. All through his childhood and boyhood he liked to tell stories
and make sketches; he wasn’t sure which he liked to do best. He studied
art in Paris for a couple of years, and published a long narrative poem
at the age of twenty. Then he came home and tried to learn something
about writing at the University of California, but without success. He
took a graduate course at Harvard, and here he wrote “McTeague,” his
first successful novel.

He had been absorbing Zola, and set out to apply the Zola method to
America. He is going to give you the brutal reality of life, he is going
to write about big animal men with heavy muscles and prominent jaws, and
broad-bosomed women with large quantities of alluring hair. He is going
to give you the great open spaces, and also the sordidness and smells of
cities--as much as America can be got to stand. The theme of “McTeague”
is avarice, and we see a dentist’s office with a big gold tooth for a
sign, and all through the tragic story we run upon the motif of gold in
everything from sunsets to decorations.

Then came “The Octopus,” and here we are in outdoor California, dealing
with crude people and nature on a large scale. “The Octopus” has two
themes. It is the Epic of the Wheat, and we see the great unfenced
plains upon which wheat is raised wholesale, and the golden flood of
grain on its way to feed the millions in the cities, a torrent of food
so vast and heavy that it symbolically suffocates a man on its way. And
then there is the railroad, the Octopus which has seized the wheat
country and is devouring the settlers. I read this novel before I read
anything of Zola’s, and so I got the shock of a great discovery. I was
one of many youngsters who were set on fire. Here was power, here was a
new grasp of reality; this was the way to write novels!

Also I was horrified and bewildered: could it be that things like this
happened in America? Could it be that railroads set themselves up as the
ruling power in a community, that they defeated the laws, deprived
people of their homes and drove them into exile or outlawry? You see, I
was the naive and innocent product of American public schools and of Mr.
J. P. Morgan’s university; I really thought that I lived in a democracy,
and under the protection of a Constitution. At that very time I was
raising campaign funds and helping to elect the president of our
university--mine and Mr. Morgan’s--as a “reform” mayor of New York City!

I tried to find out about this railroad Octopus, and there was no way to
find out. It was a dark secret of American life, crushed completely
underground. There was no literature about it, nothing in the newspapers
or the magazines, no books or pamphlets in the library of the great
university. Now, twenty-three years later, I can tell you of a book in
which you may read the life-story of one of these men of the San
Joaquin, who were driven to outlawry by the Southern Pacific Railroad.
The name of the man is Ed Morrell, and Jack London made him the hero of
a novel, “The Star Rover.” They caught him finally and put him in
prison, and that is the story he tells in his book, “The Twenty-fifth
Man,” one of the most appalling narratives ever penned by a human being.

Frank Norris, who taught me something new about my country, had set out
deliberately to do that very thing. He explained his ideas in a book,
“The Responsibilities of the Novelist”; and I might, if I wanted to take
the time, play a trick upon you, by quoting sentences from his book,
mixed in with sentences from my book, and you could not tell the
difference. For example, who is it that says: “No art that is not in the
end understood by the People can live or ever did live a single
generation”? Who says: “It is the complaint of the coward, this cry
against the novel with a purpose”? Who says: “The muse is a teacher, not
a trickster”? Who says: “Truth in fiction is just as real and just as
important as truth anywhere else”? It is Frank Norris who says all these

He goes on to point out that the pulpit reaches us only on Sundays, and
the newspaper is quickly forgotten, but the novel stays with us all the
time. And yet, facing this responsibility, there are novelists who admit
that they write for money, and “you and I and the rest of us do not
consider this disreputable!” Norris goes on to voice his own attitude
toward his work: “I never truckled; I never took off the hat to Fashion
and held it out for pennies. By God, I told them the truth. They liked
it or they didn’t like it. What had that to do with me? I told them the

He qualifies his doctrine by the statement that the novelist must not
let his purpose run away with his story. I have an idea he must have let
publishers and critics persuade him he had done that in “The Octopus”;
for in “The Pit,” the second volume of his proposed trilogy, he is more
tame and conventional. He tries to interest us in a grain broker and his
wife as human beings--and he cannot do that, because parasites are not
and cannot be interesting, except in satire after the fashion of
“Babbitt.” We miss the epic sweep and bigness of “The Octopus,” and we
are not consoled by the fact that “The Pit” had twice the sale.

The relationship between the novelist’s purpose and his story is very
simple; the two things are one, and of equal importance, and the
novelist must have them both in hand at every moment of his work. The
consequence of losing either is equally fatal. The novelist who loses
his grip upon the story and the characters who are living the story,
begins at once to write a tract or a sermon--I know all about that,
having done it. But equally fatal it is to lose your grip upon your
purpose; for then you are doing meaningless reporting, and becoming a
camera instead of a creative intellect.

I am prepared to hear it said many times that the author of this book
does not know the difference between a tract or sermon and a work of
art. But those who read the book, not to get material for ridicule, but
to learn the truth about art, will note that I have praised in this book
only the artists who were big enough and strong enough to keep both
their imaginative impulse and their intellectual control; I have failed
to mention a goodly company of artists who fought valiantly for freedom
and justice, but who do not belong among the greatest, for precisely the
reason that their impulse to teach and to preach ran away with their
inspiration. That is why you miss such names as Plato and Sir Thomas
More and Ferdinand Lassalle and Bertha von Suttner and John Ruskin and
Walter Besant and Charles Kingsley and Charles Reade and Robert Buchanan
and John Davidson and Richard Whiteing and Francis Adams and Harriet
Beecher Stowe and Edward Bellamy.



David Graham Phillips affords an interesting illustration of the power
of bourgeois criticism to suppress and abolish those writers who
threaten its ideology. He was by all odds the greatest novelist of the
period in which he wrote, a sturdy and vigorous personality, who looked
at the world about him with his own eyes and really had something to
say. He was worth a dozen of the imitation novelists who were acclaimed
as great during the first ten years of the century. But Phillips was a
“muck-rake man,” a prophet and a satirist; therefore the critics
patronized him, and since his death they have forgotten him. No
biography has been published, and a new generation will have to make the
discovery that he wrote the biggest piece of American fiction of his

Phillips was eleven years older than myself, but we arrived upon the
literary scene together, and I used to meet him now and then in New
York. I have an idea that I annoyed him; he was generous in praising my
books, but that did not satisfy me--I wanted to make a Socialist out of
him, and he would not have it! He was the genuine old-fashioned
American, the wearer of square-toed shoes and a string tie. I do not
mean that I ever saw him in that costume, but that his view of human
society was derived from that period. He came from the Middle West, and
believed in the simple, small-town democracy he had there known. A man
of common sense, he hated all forms of social pretense and finickyness.
Like a good American, he respected money and the power of money, but he
wanted the people who had this power to behave like sensible human
beings, and he was infuriated because they took to putting on “side,”
getting English butlers and five footmen in livery.

He blamed this especially on the women. He loathed the modern parasitic
female, to the extent of some twenty volumes, exposing every aspect of
her foolishness and empty-headedness. She it was who dragged men to
ruin, she caused the corruption of government and a general riot of
greed, in order that she might have silk stockings and jewels and
servants. She had spurned the jobs of cooking and sewing and making
home, without ever having taken the trouble to learn to do these
efficiently. Now she couldn’t do even her foolish society job; she
couldn’t run a rich man’s household and be an intelligent companion, she
couldn’t bear healthy children, or raise them to be anything but

Proper people were shocked by Phillips because he talked so plainly, and
fastidious people considered him coarse. As a matter of fact, he was a
man of tender heart and true refinement, who put on an aspect of rough
common sense as a matter of principle. Cut out all this nonsense, he
seems to say to his readers; you know we all want money, we all like
comfort, we are all selfish creatures; you women especially are making
silly pretenses, you know you have to be kept, and you prefer a man who
is self-willed and masterful, a fighting man. So he recorded “The
Fashionable Adventures of Joshua Craig,” and irritated many fine ladies.
So in “Old Wives for New” he preaches the common sense idea, that if a
woman is lazy and sluttish and refuses to work at her job as wife, her
husband is justified in getting rid of her and marrying a young and
attractive woman. In “The Hungry Heart” he deals with the eternal
triangle, and shows a husband forgiving an erring wife--which you would
think was good Christian doctrine, but which is contrary to fancy
notions of sexual implacability. In “The Husband’s Story” he portrays a
wife who marries a man because she believes he will succeed; she helps
him to succeed, and they rise high, but finding that the higher they
get, the less interest there is in life.

Phillips was not content with preaching in his novels; he wrote a book,
a general scolding at “The Age of Gilt.” Here you see the old-fashioned
gentleman from Indiana, an individualist, but a hater of monopoly and
privilege, a modern Isaiah denouncing graft and greed. The “Cosmopolitan
Magazine” lured him into writing a series of articles about the gang
which was selling out our government; “The Treason of the Senate,” the
articles were called, and they made an enormous uproar. Theodore
Roosevelt made a speech denouncing “muck-rake men,” which was very
plainly aimed at Phillips. Afterwards, in his character as Mr.
Facing-Bothways, Roosevelt made an attempt to get information from
Phillips, for use in his fight against the Senate. Let me testify that
only a few weeks before Roosevelt made this “muck-rake” speech, I sat at
his dinner-table in the White House and heard him call the roll of these
very same senators, naming them according to the interests they
served--the senator from the Steel Trust, the senator from the Copper
Trust, and so on. I recall the description of Hale of Maine, the senator
from the Shipping Trust: “the most innately and essentially malevolent
scoundrel that God Almighty ever put on earth!”

The entire writing life of Phillips was barely ten years, and in that
period he worked incessantly, rewriting and revising with painful
conscientiousness. His stories were successful as serials, and I
remember once teasing him because they were always of the right length
for the purpose; I wished that mine would behave in that convenient way.
The jest apparently troubled him, for he referred to it on several
occasions. He did not tell me that for ten years he had been working in
secret upon a novel of three hundred thousand words!

He left that when he died, and it waited five years for a magazine to
get up the courage to print extracts from it. We have it now in two
volumes, “Susan Lenox: Her Fall and Rise.” Its heroine is a girl who
bears the brand of illegitimacy, and runs away from home to escape it;
but they bring her back and marry her off to an elderly farmer, and the
picture of her bridal night is one of the unforgettable scenes of
American fiction. Susan is ignorant of the world, a flower in the mud.
Groping for light, she escapes again, and tries to earn her living in a
box factory, and undergoes all the horrors of tenement life. Starved
out, she takes to the streets in Cincinnati, and we see the graft and
cruelty of city government. She is taken up as the mistress of a
politician and travels with him in Europe. But always she is reaching
toward something better; her spirit remains untarnished, and in the end
she becomes a successful actress.

This story, of course, shocked the orthodox and respectable. It was a
new kind of romanticism, familiar enough to Europe, but not to us. Could
a woman’s soul remain pure while her body was sullied? The critics
denied it; but, as it happens, several women of that sort have made
their appearance since Phillips wrote--for example, the author of
“Madeleine,” who had equally degrading experiences to tell, and yet kept
her soul, and is working to help the downtrodden part of her sex.

Nothing offends bourgeois respectables more than the statement that
women are driven to prostitution by economic forces. They like to
believe that the women of the poor are naturally depraved; also, they
don’t want working girls made discontented with their lot, and they
don’t want social reformers poking their noses into box factories and
department-stores. So they call “Susan Lenox” an immoral book, and it is
taboo in libraries and reviews.

But as a matter of fact, David Graham Phillips shows himself in this
book a thoroughly bourgeois person, safely and wholesomely “American” in
his whole-hearted acceptance of the doctrine that a woman cannot and
ought not try to live without comfort. Susan’s experience in the box
factory is brief; she suffers, both in mind and body, but not so deeply
that she cannot bear to leave the working class, and rise above it, and
win fame and fortune by entertaining the master class, in that kind of
prostitution known as the capitalist theatre. It does not occur to her
to conceive a passionate ideal of sisterhood with all the oppressed
factory workers; to hang on to her job with them, and teach and organize
them, and lead them in a strike for better working conditions and higher

That, you see, is another method by which a heroine could develop a
beautiful soul; another path by which she could break into the world of
intellect and power--the way of class-consciousness and solidarity. But
David Graham Phillips did not understand the revolutionary psychology,
and could not have imparted it to his heroine; he was bound by the
limitations of a small-town man from Indiana, a graduate of Princeton
University, a city editor of capitalist newspapers. I read the scant
records of his life, and find a leading critic praising him because he
had “no panaceas”; meaning that the critic liked him because his
thinking was as muddled as the critic’s.

The old-fashioned American has preached us a tremendous and moving
sermon, putting his whole heart into it; and it would be pleasant to be
able to express for it the same unquestioning reverence as Mr. Robert W.
Chambers, who writes the introduction to the book. But truth requires
me to point out that Phillips avoids having his heroine contract
venereal disease--something which might decidedly have affected the
beauty of her soul. Also, she manages to preserve her beauty, in spite
of the part which getting men drunk plays in the life of a
street-walker. In other words, he idealizes prostitution as a career for
women, in order to give it the advantage over the box factory.

It is very significant that he fails to take us into this factory and
show us the work; all we get is Susan’s interviews with the boss in his
office. We do not meet the other women, except the one with whom Susan
starves in her tenement room. So we fail to realize that Susan’s
solution of her problem is not the solution for all women. There have to
be boxes, as well as sex gratification, in the capitalist world; and
thousands of women must hold their box-making jobs. They lose their hair
and teeth, sometimes their fingers, and always their beauty; but they
acquire class-consciousness; and here and there a genius among them, by
incredible heroic labors, gets a bit of knowledge and becomes a leader.
So, out of the whole mass-misery results organization, and that labor
movement which is the germ of the new society, taking form, according to
the wondrous process of nature, inside the shell of the old.

But of all this we get no hint in “Susan Lenox”; a middle-class story,
written by a middle-class man about a middle-class girl who descends for
a short period into the inferno of working-class life, and then
magically rises out of it again. If David Graham Phillips had written
the story of a working-class girl, who stayed with the working class and
learned working-class lessons--why then all critics would have indicted
him for the crime of having a “panacea,” and “Susan Lenox” would have
waited, not five years, but fifty years, for publication in a popular



The short story writer who signed the pen name O. Henry burst like a
meteor upon the magazine world of New York. His first stories appeared
in 1902, when he had only eight years of life before him. In that time
he became the recognized king of the craft; everybody read him, high
and low, those skilled in writing as well as the plain people with whose
fates he dealt. He poured out his stories at the rate of one or two
every week, and if he did not get the highest prices ever heard of, it
was because he cared nothing about money and did not trouble to claim
his own.

He was a strange, reserved man, deeply loved by his few friends, but
hard to get at, and resentful of the intrusion of lion hunters. He had
the tenderness and sentimentality of the Southern gentleman,
combined with a secretiveness which puzzled the denizens of his
Bagdad-on-the-Subway. Only a few facts about his life were known; that
he had lived on a ranch in Texas, had been a drugstore clerk, had
written for papers in New Orleans, had traveled in Central America, and
was a widower and had a young daughter--that was all his best friends
knew. There was a gap in his life, and no one ventured to question him.
But several years after his death a biography was published, and the
disclosure was made that America’s short story king had served three
years and three months as a federal prisoner in the Ohio penitentiary.
That was where he had begun his career as a story writer; that was where
he had got his intimate knowledge of gentle grafters and chivalrous
highwaymen; that was where he had acquired the pathos and the

It was characteristic of America that there should have been a great
fuss over this disclosure. There was the daughter, and also a new wife,
and these thought that the dreadful secret so long hidden should have
stayed hidden. Likewise some editors and reviewers thought it. Here was
a man who was assumed to belong to the ages, and here was a story more
moving and more instructive than any volume O. Henry had published; but
they wanted to bury it in his grave--because, forsooth, America is the
land of respectability, and the deepest tragedies of the human soul are
of no consequence compared with the desire of two ladies to escape
humiliation in a matter for which neither was in any way to be blamed.

It appears that O. Henry was a teller of a bank in Texas, the affairs of
which were very loosely handled. Something over a thousand dollars was
missing; somebody else got it, and O. Henry got the trouble. He was on
his way to stand trial, when he fell into a panic; he could not face the
ordeal, and ran away to Honduras. But then, learning that his wife was
dying of tuberculosis, he could not stand that either, and came home.
His wife died, and he went through his trial in a daze of shame, and
went to prison, to witness that infinity of horrors which America heaps
upon those who have threatened its property interests.

While in Honduras “Bill” Porter--that was his real name--had made a
strange acquaintance, Al Jennings, a train-bandit much wanted by
Wells-Fargo detectives. The two men came back to America and fate
brought them to the same penitentiary. Jennings has since reformed, and
has given us the story of himself and his literary friend in a book
called “Through the Shadows with O. Henry.” So we are privileged to see
the raw material out of which the stories were made, and to watch the
maker at his work.

He had become the drug clerk of the prison, and in his spare hours he
wrote incessantly, in order to forget the human anguish about him. He
would take the outlaw stories of Jennings, the stories of all varieties
of offenders in the prison, and transform them to his own uses. Outside
was his little daughter, carefully kept in ignorance as to her father’s
whereabouts; he must have money to send her a Christmas present, and so
he ground out manuscripts and mailed them to magazines.

And so once more, as in the case of Mark Twain, we see the spirit of
bourgeois America, embodied in the personality of a woman, engaged in
remodeling the soul of a genius. Here was a mass of material,
palpitating with life, and ready to be shaped into one of the great
tragic records of the ages. And here was a loving and tender-hearted,
humorous and blundering Southern gentleman, with no grasp of social
forces and no understanding of what had happened to him, engaged in
sentimentalizing and feminizing that mass of material.

Take one example, the story of “Jimmy Valentine,” the most popular
character O. Henry created. This story was made into a play, which had
enormous success both in America and England; it was stolen and
dramatized several times in France and Spain; it was the source of a new
stage variety, what is known as the “crook play.” The story tells about
a little child who is locked by accident in a bank vault, and will be
suffocated in a few hours. A famous safe-cracker learns of her plight
and opens the safe, and thereby reveals himself to a detective who has
been hunting him. But the detective, being a magazine detective, is
kind-hearted and easily moved to tears; he foregoes the glory and reward
of capturing a famous crook, and the crook retires to be good and happy
ever afterwards in the company of the little child. Such is the
underworld according to American magazine mythology.

And now, what was the true story of “Jimmy Valentine”? There was a great
scandal in the state of Ohio; some high-class crooks, of the kind who
never go to the penitentiary, had stolen millions of dollars, and locked
all the papers in a vault and escaped. These papers must be had, and it
was not possible to blow open the vault with dynamite, for fear of
destroying them. So the governor applied to the penitentiary for a
competent safe-cracking artist. A man came forward. He had been a
gutter-rat, starving in childhood, like Al Jennings, who tells his
story. At the age of eleven, a “ravenous little rag-picker,” he had
broken into a box-car and stolen ten cents worth of crackers, and had
been sent to a “reformatory,” and turned out a master-crook, at
eighteen. A year later they had sent him to the penitentiary for
life--an “habitual criminal.” Now he was dying of tuberculosis, and his
old mother was dying of grief, because she had not been permitted to see
her son, or even to hear from him for sixteen years.

This man had a method of opening safes, which consisted of filing his
finger-nails off, so that with the quivering raw flesh he could feel the
dropping of the “tumblers,” as he turned the dial of the lock. He was
promised his liberty if he would open the vault for the great state of
Ohio. He did it in ten seconds; and then the promise was broken, and he
went back to die in prison. When his coffin was carted out, there was
his old heart-broken mother in the slush and snow, toddling along with
streaming eyes and stretched-out hands behind the cart.

That was a real story, you see; and O. Henry was in the prison when it
happened, he felt the thrill of horror and fury that ran through the
place when the pardon was denied. But, you see, if he had written that
story, he would not have had any Christmas gifts to send to his little
daughter, nor would he have been invited to Bagdad-on-the-Subway to be
crowned the short story king. So unwilling was he to face reality that
he did not even use the detail about Jimmy Valentine’s filing off his
finger-nails. No, the crook in his story has to open the safe with a
special fancy set of tools!

You see, O. Henry simply could not face the pain of life; he did not
know what to do about it, and so he dodged it--just like the magazine
writers and the magazine public of his period. He could not even face
his own disgrace; his heart was dead in that prison, even the thought of
freedom was a terror, because of the awful secret he would carry.
Jennings quotes him: “The prison label is worse than the brand of Cain.
If the world once sees it, you are doomed. It shall not see it on me. I
will not become an outcast.”

Understand, he knew himself to be innocent; and yet he took the position
of an ex-convict, crouching and trembling. There were other men who went
to prison, for example, ‘Gene Debs, who also knew himself to be
innocent; he came out a warrior and a saint. But O. Henry accepted the
social system as permanent, identical with destiny.

He was often compared to Maupassant, and that hurt his feelings, for he
said that he had never written a filthy line in his life, and he did not
wish to be compared to a filthy writer. You see here the limitations of
his understanding; morality means sex, and he is revolted by Gallic
brutality, and practices sentimental Southern reticence. But in a more
fundamental way his point of view is identical with that of Maupassant;
for to both writers class greed has taken the place of God in control of
the universe. The French writer jeers and hates, while the American
smiles and weeps; but each finds the point of his story in the
incongruities and absurdities which this artificial economic fate
inflicts upon its helpless and uncomprehending victims.

Strike through the pathos and the tragedy of O. Henry at any point, and
what do you find? Everywhere and inevitably one thing, the Big Business
system of America. Here is a waitress in a restaurant with white
porcelain walls and glass-topped tables and a ceaseless clatter of
crockery. Yes, it is pathetic for a girl to carry loads of crockery all
day, and try to keep virtuous on a starvation wage. Then close the O.
Henry book, and consult Moody’s Manual of Corporations, and you discover
that the great chain of restaurants has been bought by Standard Oil;
America’s “great clamorer for dividends” has doubled the prices of the
food without improving its quality, and has failed to raise wages to
keep pace with the cost of living.

Or take James Turner, who presses hats all day and has to stand on his
feet, which makes them sore; he finds his escape in reading Clark
Russell’s sea-tales, and having got a copy, he is happy even in jail.
Consult a study of the sweated trades, and you note that hat pressing is
a secondary and parasitic industry, incapable of being organized;
therefore the poor devil has no one to protect his sore feet. A part of
his equipment is a jeering scorn for those who are striving to enlighten
him. “Say,” he asks, “do I look like I’d climbed down one of them
missing fire-escapes at Helicon Hall?” That is his way of saying that he
has no vision of a better world; it is O. Henry’s idea of being a
sociologist. (If you have any curiosity concerning Helicon Hall and its
fire-escapes, the story is in “The Brass Check.”)

The obscure and exploited masses of New York, the waitresses and
hat-pressers and soda-jerkers and bums and taxi drivers and policemen,
O. Henry’s Four Million, adopted him as their favorite writer, because
he knew their lives, he loved them, and they felt that love under the
cover of his laughter. And in truth it is a pleasant thing when you are
in trouble to find a heart which feels with you; but it is an even more
important thing to find a head which understands the causes of your
trouble and can help you to escape it. The Four Million will have to
look elsewhere than to O. Henry for that head.

There was an essential fact about him which his official biographer
fails to mention; he was a true Southern gentleman in another
respect--that he drank too much. Al Jennings records that he was half
drunk when Jennings encountered him, sitting in front of the American
consulate in the little town of Trujillo, Honduras. They proceeded to
get all the way drunk, and to celebrate the Fourth of July by shooting
up the place. And there is much other drinking scattered through the
story. In the prison O. Henry was in charge of certain supplies, and he
found that contractors were robbing the prison, and he wanted to expose
them; but Jennings showed him that if he did so, he would get himself
thrown into the hole, and beaten to death by the prison powers who were
sharing in the graft. So our poor Southern gentleman kept silence, and
received large presents of wine and liquor. When he came to New York,
this habit had him in its grip, and never let him go.

So here is a point about the O. Henry stories; they are alcoholic
stories, and take the alcoholic attitude toward life. The friends of O.
Henry, who spent their time trying to save him, will understand what all
of us know who have had to do with Southern gentlemen of the old school:
that a victim of alcohol can weep with pity and can mingle laughter with
his tears; he can be charming and beautiful, gentle and kind; but one
thing he can rarely have, and that is a firm grasp of the realities
about him; another thing he can never by any possibility have, and that
is an attitude of persistent and unflinching resolve. Yet these are
exactly the qualities which the Four Million will have to develop before
they can escape from their slavery in Bagdad-of-the-Traction-Trust.



We come now to the first of the writers of our time who was born of the
working class, and carried his working-class consciousness into his
literary career. He was the true king of our story tellers, the
brightest star that flashed upon our skies. He brought us the greatest
endowment both of genius and of brain, and the story of what America did
to him is a painful one.

Jack London was born in San Francisco, in 1876, which made him two years
my senior. We took to exchanging our first books, and a controversy
started between us, which lasted the rest of his life; the last letter I
received from him was an invitation to come up to the ranch and continue
it. “You and I ought to have some ‘straight from the shoulder’ talk with
each other. It is coming to you, it may be coming to me. It may
illuminate one or the other or both of us.” I answered that I was
finishing a job of writing; but that as soon as the job was done I would
come and “stand the gaff.” And then I read that he was dead!

It was the old question, several times stated in this book, of
self-discipline versus self-indulgence; or, as Jack would have put it,
asceticism versus self-expression. Which way will a man get the most out
of life? Believing in his own nature and giving it rein, living
intensely and fast; or distrusting his nature, all nature, stooping to
mean cautions and fears, imposing a rule upon his impulses--and so
cutting himself off from his joyful fellows, and exposing himself to
painful sneers?

I see Jack vividly, as he was at our first meeting, when he came to New
York in 1904 or 1905. At that time he was in the full glory of his
newly-won fame, and we young Socialists had got up a big meeting for him
at Grand Central Palace. Our hero came on a belated train from Florida,
arriving when our hearts were sick with despair; he came, radiant and
thrilling, in spite of an attack of tonsilitis, and strode upon the
platform amid the waving of red handkerchiefs, and in a voice of calm
defiance read to the city of New York his essay, “Revolution.”

New York did not like it, needless to say. But I liked it so well that I
was prepared to give my hero the admiration of a slave. But we spent the
next day together, chatting of the things we were both absorbed in; and
all that day the hero smoked cigarettes and drank--I don’t remember what
it was, for all these red and brown and green and golden concoctions are
equally painful to me, and the sight of them deprives me of the control
of my facial muscles. Jack, of course, soon noted this; he was the
red-blood, and I was the mollycoddle, and he must have his fun with me,
in the mood of the oyster pirate and roustabout. Tales of incredible
debauches; tales of opium and hashish, and I know not what other strange
ingredients; tales of whisky bouts lasting for weeks! I remember a
picture of two sailor boys at sea in a small boat, unable to escape from
each other, conceiving a furious hatred of each other, and when they got
ashore, retiring behind the sand-dunes to fight. They fought until they
could hardly walk--and then they repaired to town to heal their bruises
with alcohol.

The next time we met was six or eight years later; and this time the
controversy was more serious. For now Jack had read “Love’s Pilgrimage,”
and was exasperated by what seemed to him a still less excusable form of
asceticism, that of sex. Here was a so-called hero, a prig of a poet,
driving a young wife to unhappiness by notions born in the dark corners
of Christian monkeries. I am not sure just how I defended poor Thyrsis;
I am not sure how clearly I myself saw at that time the peculiar working
of sex-idealism which had manifested itself in that novel; the impulse a
man has to be ashamed of advantages given to him by nature and society,
and so to put himself chivalrously under the feet of a woman--raising
her, an image of perfection, upon a pedestal of his own self-reproach.
Sometimes she refuses to stay upon this pedestal; and so results a
comical plight for a too-imaginative ascetic!

The argument between Jack and myself was handicapped on that occasion by
the fact that his voice was almost entirely gone because of a sore
throat. He was trying the alcohol treatment; my last picture of him in
the flesh was very much of the flesh, alas!--with a flask of gin before
him, and the stumps of many cigarettes in his dinner-plate, and his eyes
red and unwholesome-looking. He has told the story of his travels in the
Kingdom of Alcoholia himself, told it bravely and completely, so I am
not obliged to use any reserve in speaking of this aspect of his life. I
went away, more than ever confirmed as a mollycoddle!

But Jack London was a man with a magnificent mind, and a giant’s will.
He fought tremendous battles in his own soul--battles in despite of his
own false philosophy, battles which he was fighting even while he was
quarreling at other men’s self-restraint. He went on a trip around the
Horn, which lasted several months, and drank nothing all that time;
also, he wrote that shining book, “John Barleycorn,” one of the most
useful and most entertaining ever penned by a man.

It was our habit to send each other our new books, and to exchange
comments on them. When I read “John Barleycorn” I wrote that the book
had made me realize a new aspect of the drink problem, a wrong it did
to men who never touched it--in depriving them of companionship, making
them exiles among their fellows. So much of men’s intercourse depends
upon and is colored by drinking! I, for example, had always felt that my
friendship with Jack London had been limited by that disharmony.

He wrote in reply that I was mistaken; it was especially with my
attitude towards sex that he disagreed. We exchanged some letters about
the matter, and mentally prepared ourselves for that duel which will
never be fought. In concluding the subject of alcohol, let me point out
that Jack himself settled the controversy by voting for “California Dry”
at the election held a few days before his death. His explanation was
that while he enjoyed drinking, he was willing to forego that enjoyment
for the sake of the younger generation; and it would indeed be a
graceless ascetic who asked more than that!

So far as concerns the matter of sex, the test of a man’s philosophy is
that at the age of forty he has kept his belief in womankind, in the joy
and satisfaction that true love may give. Where the philosophy of
“self-expression” had led Jack London was known to many who heard him
tell of a book he planned to write, giving the whole story of his
experiences with women. He meant to write it with the same ruthless
honesty he had used in “John Barleycorn”; revealing his tragic
disillusionment, and his contempt for woman as a parasite, a creature of
vanity and self-indulgence.

Jack’s conquests among the sex had been many, and too easy, it would
seem; like most fighters, he despised an unworthy antagonist. The women
who threw themselves at his head came from all classes of society, drawn
to him as moths to a flame; but it is evident that his philosophy was to
blame for the fact that there were so few among them he could respect.
There were surely many able to hold the interest of a great man, who did
not share his philosophy, and therefore remained unnoticed by him.

It is not generally the custom to write of these things in plain words;
but in the case of Jack London it would be futile to do otherwise,
because he spoke of them freely, and would have written of them in the
same way. His whole attitude was a challenge to truth-telling, a call
for frankness, even to the point of brutality. The book he planned was
to be published under some such name as “Jack Liverpool”--which you must
admit would hardly have been a very adequate disguise. I have heard one
of his best friends say that he is glad Jack never lived to write it.

For my part, believing as I do that the salvation of the race depends
upon unmasking the falsehoods of our class-morality--the institution
which I call “marriage plus prostitution”--I cannot but sigh for this
lost story. What an awakening it would have brought to the mothers of
our so-called “better classes,” if Jack London had ever given to the
world the true story of his experiences with their daughters! As a
school boy in Oakland, for example, with the young girls of the
comfortable classes in that city! He and his companions, sons of
workingmen and poor people, looking up to the great world above them
inquiringly, made the strange discovery that these shining,
golden-haired pets of luxury, guarded at home and in their relations
with their social equals by the thousand sleepless eyes of scandal,
found it safe and pleasant to repair to secret rendezvous among the
willow thickets of Lake Merritt, and there play the nymph to handsome
and sturdy fauns of a class below the level ever reached by the thousand
sleepless eyes!

When you listened to a narrative such as that, you realized the grim
meaning that Jack London put into his essay, “What Life Means to Me,”
telling of the embitterment that came to him when he, the oyster pirate
and roustabout, broke into the “parlor floor of society”:

     Where they were not alive with rottenness, quick with unclean life,
     they were merely the unburied dead.... The women were gowned
     beautifully, I admit; but to my naive surprise I discovered that
     they were of the same clay as all the rest of the women I had known
     down below in the cellar.... It is true these beautifully gowned,
     beautiful women prattled sweet little ideals and dear little
     moralities; but, in spite of their prattle, the dominant key of the
     life they lived was materialistic. And they were so sentimentally
     selfish! They assisted in all kinds of sweet little charities and
     informed one of the fact, while all the time the food they ate and
     the beautiful clothes they wore were bought out of dividends
     stained with the blood of child labor, and sweated labor, and
     prostitution itself.

Jack London had a dream of another kind of love; the dream of a strong,
free, proud woman, the mate for a strong, free, proud man. This dream
came into his writings at the start; into “A Daughter of the Snows,” his
third novel--the very name of it, you perceive. This story, published in
the second year of the present century, was crude and boyish, but it had
the promise of his dawning greatness, and was the occasion of my first
letter to him, and the beginning of our friendship. Afterwards he told
this same dream of the perfect mating, over and over again; he continued
to tell it long after he had ceased to believe in it.

This necessity of writing about sex in a way that was utterly insincere
must have been the main cause of that contempt for his own fiction which
London was so swift and vehement to proclaim. The expression of this
contempt was the most startling thing about him, to any one who admired
his work. “I loathe the stuff when I have done it. I do it because I
want money and it’s an easy way to get it. But if I could have my choice
about it I never would put pen to paper--except to write a Socialist
essay, to tell the bourgeois world how much I despise it.” I remember
trying to persuade him that he must have enjoyed writing the best of his
stories--“The Sea Wolf” and “The Call of the Wild”; but he would not
have it so. He was a man of action; he liked to sail a boat, to run a
ranch, to fight for Socialism.

His real attitude towards woman was expressed in “Martin Eden,” his most
autobiographical novel, whose hero gives his final conclusion about life
by dropping himself out of the porthole of an ocean steamer at night.
This hero is a working boy, who makes a desperate struggle to rise from
poverty; but the girl of the world of culture, whom he idealizes and
worships, proves a coward and fails him in his need. That is one wrong
an uncomprehending woman can do to a man; and yet another is to
comprehend his weaker part too well. I have heard friends of London’s
boyhood tell how he came back from the Klondike with the flush of his
youthful dream upon him--the dream of the primitive female, the “mate”
of the strong and proud and free man; and how a shrewd young woman saw
her chance and proceeded to play the primitive female in drawing-rooms,
leaping over tables and chairs, and otherwise exhibiting abounding
energy. But when this game had accomplished its purpose she did no more
leaping, but “settled down,” as the phrase is; and so came a divorce.

This “Martin Eden” is assuredly one of Jack London’s greatest works; he
put his real soul into it, and the fact that it was so little known and
read, must have been of evil significance to him. It taught him that if
an American writer wants to earn a living with his pen--especially an
extravagant living--it is necessary that he should avoid dealing in any
true and vital way with the theme of sex. Either he must write over and
over again the dream of primitive and perfect mating, a phenomenon
unreal and unconvincing to people who are not primitive, but who have
intellects as well as bodies to mate; or else, if he deals with modern
life, he must give us details of the splendid and devastating passions
of the prosperous--the kind of perfumed poison now all the rage. One saw
the beginning of that in “The Little Lady of the Big House,” and I count
this book the most sinister sign in the life of Jack London. A man can
hardly have a thirty-six thousand dollar a year contract with the Hearst
magazines and still keep his soul alive!

I would say to myself, mournfully, that America had “got” Jack London,
just as it “got” Mark Twain! But then something would happen to show me
that I had given up hope too soon. Jack had a mind which worked
unceasingly, and impelled him irresistibly; he had a love of truth that
was a passion, a hatred of injustice that burned volcanic fires. He was
a deeply sad man, a bitterly, cruelly suffering man, and no one could
tell what new vision he would forge in the heat of his genius. If I
write of him here severely it is because I believe in the rigid truth,
which he himself preached; but I would not leave anyone with the idea
that I do not appreciate his greatness, both as a writer and a man.

There were many among his friends and mine who gave him up. He went to
Hawaii, and the “smart set” there made a lion of him, and he
condescended to refer appreciatively to their “sweet little charities”
on behalf of the races they were exploiting. He went to Mexico, and fell
under the spell of the efficiency of oil engineers, and wrote for
“Collier’s Weekly” a series of articles which caused radicals to break
out in rage. Jack was a boy to the end, and must make new discoveries
and have new enthusiasms. If a naval officer took him over a
battleship, he would perceive that it was a marvelous and thrilling
machine; but then in the quiet hours of the night he would see the
pitiful white faces of the stokers, to whom as a guest of an officer he
had not been introduced!

Yes, for he had been in the place of these stokers, and their feelings
had been stamped upon his soul. He might set up to be a country
gentleman, and fall into a fury with his “hands” for their stupidity and
incompetence; but if you said to him, “How about the class war?”
instantly he would be there with his mind. “Yes, of course, I know how
they feel; if I were in their place I would never do a stroke of work I
did not have to.” It is a stressful thing to have an imagination, and to
see many sides of life at once!

Jack had a divine pity, he had wept over the East End of London as Jesus
wept over Jerusalem. For years afterwards the memories of this stunted
and debased population haunted him beyond all peace; the pictures he
wrote of them in “The People of the Abyss” will be read by posterity
with horror and incredulity, and recognized as among the most powerful
products of his pen. Those, with his vivid and intensely felt Socialist
essays, constitute him one of the great revolutionary figures of our
history. I know that he kept a spark of that sacred fire burning to the
very end, for a little over a year before his death I tried him with the
bulky manuscript of “The Cry for Justice.” The preface he wrote for it
is one of the finest things he ever did, and some of it will be carved
upon his monument:

     It is so simple a remedy, merely service. Not one ignoble thought
     or act is demanded of any one of all men and women in the world to
     make fair the world. The call is for nobility of thinking, nobility
     of doing. The call is for service, and such is the wholesomeness of
     it, he who serves all best serves himself.

That is what life had taught him at the end. But it was not easy for him
to learn such a lesson, for he had an imperious nature, fierce in its
demands, and never entirely to be tamed. The struggle between
individualism and Socialism was going on in his whole being all the
time. In the copy of “Martin Eden” which he sent me he wrote: “One of my
motifs in this book was an attack on individualism (in the person of the
hero). I must have bungled for so far not a single reviewer has
discovered it.” After reading the book I replied that it was easy to
understand the befuddlement of the critics; for he had shown such
sympathy with his hard-driving individualist hero that it would hardly
occur to anyone to take the character as a warning and a reproach.

You feel that same thing in all his books--in “The Sea Wolf,” and
especially in “The Mutiny of the Elsinore”; the Nietzschean
world-conqueror has conquered London’s imagination, in spite of his
reason and his conscience. If I have written here with cruel frankness
about the personal tragedies of his life, it is because I would not have
posterity continue in the misunderstanding of which he complained in the
case of “Martin Eden.” No, do not make that mistake about his life and
its meaning; most certainly it is not a glorification of the red-blooded
superman, trampling all things under his feet, gratifying his imperious
desires. Rather is it a demonstration of the fact that the
world-conquering superman, trampling all things under his feet and
gratifying all his desires, commits suicide by swallowing laudanum at
the age of forty, because pleasure and wealth and fame have turned to
ashes on his lips. Jack’s friends say that the cause was a desire for
two women at the same time; but I don’t believe that a mature,
intellectual man will kill himself for such a reason, unless his moral
forces have been sapped by years of self-indulgence.

It was the “Martin Eden” ending, which had haunted Jack London all his
life, and which in the end he made a reality. What a shame, and what a
tragedy to our literature, that capitalist America, the philosophy of
individualist greed and selfishness, should have stolen away the soul of
this man, with all his supreme and priceless gifts! He had seen so
clearly our vision of fellowship and social justice--how clearly, let
him tell you in his own words, the last words he wrote upon ethical

     He, who by understanding becomes converted to the gospel of
     service, will serve truth to confute liars and make them
     truth-tellers; will serve kindness so that brutality will perish;
     will serve beauty to the erasement of all that is not beautiful.
     And he who is strong will serve the weak that they may become
     strong. He will devote his strength not to the debasement and
     defilement of his weaker fellows, but to the making of opportunity
     for them to make themselves into men rather than into slaves and

These words are from “The Cry for Justice,” “this humanist Holy Book,”
as London called it. Such words, and actions based upon them, make
precious his memory, and will preserve it as long as anything in
American literature is preserved. Perhaps the best thing I can add to
this chapter is a statement of what I personally owed to him--the utmost
one writer can owe to another. When he was at the height of his fame,
and I was unknown, I sent him proofs of “The Jungle,” explaining that I
had been unable to find a publisher, and wished to raise money to
publish the book myself. There are many jealousies in the literary
world; some who win its laurels by bitter struggle are not eager to
raise up rivals. But Jack was not one of these; he wrote a letter about
the book, hailing it as “The ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ of Wage Slavery,” and
rallying the Socialist movement as by a bugle-call to its support. If
that book went all over the world, it was Jack London’s push that
started it; and I am only one of a score of authors who might tell the
same story of generous and eager support.



While I am writing this book death swings his scythe, and two more
artists enter the ghostly marathon of Fame.

The first of them is Joseph Conrad. Away back in my early days someone
sent me from England a copy of his first novel, “Almayer’s Folly,” and
after that I kept watch, and managed somehow to get hold of “Heart of
Darkness” and “Lord Jim” and “Youth.” I used to rave about these books
to everyone I knew; but when at last Conrad became famous I had a secret
resentment--he had been mine for so long that I did not like to give him
up to those who did not understand him! In his later writings he
deteriorated, as many old men do, and I saw the critics giving to these
inferior books the praise which belonged to the earlier ones.

Conrad’s death has been the occasion for much discussion of the
“romanticism” of his novels. The fact is that he was as realistic as he
knew how to be. The reason he seems “romantic” is because the scenes and
characters of his stories are remote and strange to us. But they were
not at all strange to Conrad; he had sailed these Eastern seas and met
these people, and their tragic fates were as commonplace to him as
street-car traffic to us.

One other thing the obituary reviews agree upon--that he was the perfect
type of the “pure” artist, who gave us immortal fiction without trace of
purpose. And that I call a joke for the ages: Joseph Conrad being as
grim and determined a propagandist as ever used fiction for a medium.
Most of the time he carries on this propaganda with the Olympian calm of
one who is sure of his thesis and fears no dispute. But now and then he
stumbles upon some personality or point of view which seems to threaten
his doctrine; and then suddenly the front of Jove becomes wrinkled, and
the eyes of Jove shoot flames, and we discover the great Olympian in a
venomous fury.

The strangest fact about this master of English prose is that he was
born in Poland, and began life as a sailor, shipping on French craft in
the Mediterranean. He was born in 1857 and came to England at the age of
twenty-one; he rose in the British merchant service to become a captain,
and was nearly forty before his first novel was published.

This man paces the quarter-deck through the long night watches in lonely
silent seas. He reflects upon life, and comes to a conclusion about it.
But it is not the conclusion officially recommended by his native
countrymen; this merchant captain does not pray to the Virgin Mary for
the safety of his ship and the souls of those on board; neither does he
accept the official formula of his adopted country, in whose churches
the congregations implore:

    Eternal Father, strong to save,
    Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
    Who bidd’st the mighty ocean deep
    Its own appointed limits keep:
      O hear us when we cry to Thee
      For those in peril on the sea.

No, in the fiction of Joseph Conrad the gods, both male and female, have
shriveled up and crumbled and blown away as dust, and over the universe
there broods a dark inscrutable fate. Conrad himself puts it into words:
“a stealthy Nemesis lies in wait.” You see, he uses the classic symbol,
and unites in one blending the terror of four different races--Greek,
Polish, English and Malay. This “stealthy Nemesis” is the enemy of men,
and they fight against it, and almost invariably it overcomes them and
destroys them, the good and generous and capable as well as the cowardly
and weak.

Such is the fact of man’s life; and the question then becomes: what
shall man do? The first thing, obviously, is for him to understand; and
so the great master toils incessantly and with religious ardor to embody
his philosophic theory in human types and experiences. Do not let anyone
lead you astray on this point: these dignified and noble art-works are
“thesis novels,” composed for a didactic purpose, in exactly the same
way as the Sunday school tales about little Bobbie who fell into the
creek because he disobeyed his mother and went fishing on the Lord’s
day. Great moral lessons do not get embodied in art-works by accident,
any more than the wheels of a watch get put together by accident; so,
while you absorb the elaborately contrived pessimism of Joseph Conrad,
you must know that you are attending an Agnostic Sunday school.

Men have not merely to understand, but to act; therefore the pupils of
this school are taught a moral code. They must stand together against
the stealthy Nemesis which seeks to destroy them; and their rules of
behavior must be so deeply graven in their souls that the reaction will
be instinctive--for you never know at what moment the stealthy Nemesis
will strike at you, in the form of fire at sea, or storm, or collision,
or submerged reefs, or savages, or the slow, insidious action of
physical or moral disease.

What is this code? The answer is, the code of the British merchant
service. Its primary purpose is the protection of the ship, a valuable
piece of property. So, in place of an imaginary God in a speculative
heaven, we have a vaguely suggested Owner on the shore. This Owner is
the force which creates the shipping industry and keeps it going; He is
the goal of loyalty for officers and crew. Agnosticism upon closer study
turns out to be Capitalism.

The ship has for ages been the source of a natural and spontaneous
autocracy, begotten of the constant threat of danger; hence it comes
that the naval officer is the most complete and instinctive snob in the
world, and the merchant officer the perfect task-master. And when the
self-made, risen-from-the-ranks merchant officer comes on shore, and has
to deal with shore questions, we are not surprised to find him a hearty
and boisterous Tory. In “Chance” we meet--but assuredly not by
chance!--a feminist woman, and learn what Conrad thinks of this species;
he impresses us as a fuming old British clubman, who would like to get
the heads of all thinking women upon one neck--and then wring the neck!

In the same way, in “Under Western Eyes” we get Conrad’s view of
politics; in a book written in the days of the Tsardom, we learn that a
Siberian refugee who devotes his life to the overthrow of this hideous
tyranny is an odious and unspeakable creature, and that a woman of means
who helps him is a gawk and a bundle of scandals. It is a picture of
social revolutionists of a sort you may pick up at any tea-table where
the wives of legation attachés shrug their delicate white shoulders and
prattle snobbish wit. Published in 1911, this book is a prophecy of the
White Terror, that combination of holy knavery and romantic reaction
which has made Poland the curse of Europe.

But the proper place to study Conrad is at sea. And we find that, just
as Meredith takes the British caste system to be God, just as O. Henry
takes the Standard Oil Company to be God, so Conrad takes the capitalist
ownership and control of marine transportation. Analyzing the stories in
the light of economic science, we find the stealthy Nemesis revealed as
organized greed exploiting unorganized ignorance.

Take that most fascinating of sea tales, one of the great imaginative
feats of literature: take “Youth.” A young man puts out to sea in an old
tub of a vessel, and the old tub goes to pieces beneath his feet. One
after another comes a procession of calamities; but he is young, and
what does he care for troubles and dangers? The ship goes down in the
end, but it is all a glory and a thrill to Youth, which laughs at the
stealthy Nemesis and lives to tackle it again.

When we are young we read this, and our hearts are lifted up, and we
know ourselves to be gods. But with maturing years and understanding, we
come back to it, and what do we find? The cruel power which we took to
be Nature, the perils of the deep, turns out to be nothing more romantic
than the practice of marine insurance! If you own a ship and it becomes
old and unseaworthy, you would in the ordinary course of events not
trust a valuable cargo and a score of human lives to that ship. But
finding that you can insure both ship and cargo, and get more money by
sinking her than by selling her for junk, you continue to send her out
until she falls to pieces; and Youth, deliberately kept in ignorance by
capitalist control of schools and colleges, thinks it glory and wonder
to sail out and fight a losing battle with “Nature.”

There is a story concerning Joseph Conrad, that when he became master of
a ship, he conceived a desire to bring her home through the Torres
Straits, which are especially dangerous waters. He had the fantastic
idea that he wanted to sail in them, because he had read stories about
them. The owners permitted him to have his way, and the critics and
reviewers are thrilled by this sign of “romance” in ship owners. Critics
and reviewers, you see, are sweet and innocent souls; only an
evil-minded “muck-rake man” would make inquiries as to the age of that
ship and the amount of insurance she carried through the Torres Straits!

The capitalist shipping industry is full of facts of this sort. Take,
for example, the “Plimsoll line.” There was an English workingman who
became a rich manufacturer, and did not forget his class, but devoted
his life to trying to save the seamen and officers who were sent out in
these “coffin ships.” He was elected to Parliament, and brought in a
bill providing that ships should not be loaded beyond a certain
line--the “Plimsoll line,” it was called. When his fellow-members voted
it down, he shook his fist at them and called them “villains.” Of course
they were shocked, and wanted to expel him, but they didn’t quite dare;
they gave him ten days to think it over, and then he apologized, and
they passed his bill--a most admirable form of compromise for a

For a generation after this, as cold statistics showed, some thousands
of British seamen and officers escaped all the cruelties of Nature, the
stealthy Nemesis of Joseph Conrad. For years this “Plimsoll line” served
these thousands of seamen and officers in place of the Holy Trinity,
the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, the Gentle Jesus meek and mild, the
Virgin Mary, Mother of God, and likewise all the Saints in the calendar,
the glorious company of the Apostles, the goodly fellowship of the
Prophets, the noble Army of Martyrs, the heavenly choir of Angels and
Archangels, the Cherubim and Seraphim, and the Holy Church throughout
all the world. But this divine supervision cost British shipping owners
a certain number of millions of pounds of profit every year, and so they
paid the campaign funds of their Tory and Liberal parties and got their
henchman, David Lloyd-George, in authority and repealed that law; so now
those thousands of seamen and officers are once more falling victims to
the stealthy Nemesis!

And Joseph Conrad--what has he to say about this? As a man of the sea,
he knows the facts; and in “The Nigger of the Narcissus,” that most
cruel-souled book, he takes occasion to pour his jeering scorn upon
those who try to save the lives of seamen. You have to read the actual
text to get the full effect of his venom. A seaman is talking:

     “I mind I once seed in Cardiff the crew of an overloaded
     ship--leastways she weren’t overloaded, only a fatherly old
     gentleman with a white beard and an umbreller came along the quay
     and talked to the hands. Said as how it was crool hard to be
     drownded in winter just for the sake of a few pounds more for the
     owner--he said. Nearly cried over them--he did; and he had a square
     mainsail coat, and a gaff-topsail hat too--all proper. So they
     chaps, they said they wouldn’t go to be drownded in
     winter--depending upon that ’ere Plimsoll man to see ’em through
     the court. They thought to have a bloomin’ lark and two or three
     days’ spree. And the beak giv’ ’em six weeks--coss the ship warn’t
     overloaded. Anyways they made it out in court that she wasn’t.
     There wasn’t one overloaded ship in Penarth Dock at all. ‘Pears
     that old coon he was only on pay and allowance for some kind
     people, under orders to look for overloaded ships, and he couldn’t
     see no further than the length of his umbreller. Some of us in the
     boarding-house, where I live when I’m looking for a ship in
     Cardiff, stood by to duck that old weeping spunger in the dock. We
     kept a good look out, too--but he topped his boom directly he was
     outside the court.... Yes. They got six weeks’ hard....”

The coast of California, near which I live, is a favored lurking place
of the stealthy Nemesis. The entire coast is a line of jagged rocks,
with very few harbors, and vessels continually strike upon the rocks and
are pounded to pieces. Sometimes they are great passenger steamers, and
hundreds of people are in danger and have to be taken off on tugs; the
newspapers give us hourly bulletins of what is happening, and their
correspondents perform prodigies of daring and speed to get us
photographs of the disaster in the first editions. The public reads of
these tragedies, and is awed by the spectacle of man struggling in vain
against the stealthy Nemesis.

What is the fact about this matter? It is very simple: the Nemesis here
consists of the fact that the Pacific Coast from Seattle to San Diego
makes a convex curve; so ships of all sorts, the great lumber schooners,
the little salmon steamers, the great passenger liners, have to go a few
miles farther out to sea in order to be safe. But that additional
distance at sea means so many million dollars a year out of the pockets
of the owners. It means not merely that more fuel has to be burned, it
means that more of the ship’s time has to be taken, and more wages paid
to officers and crew; in the case of the great liners it means that
several hundred passengers have to be fed an additional meal!

So naturally the owners, being fully covered by insurance, are clamorous
in their demands, and the ship’s officers are bending all their energies
to save every yard of distance and every second of time. Always and
everywhere up and down the coast they are gliding past the rocky points,
and in the darkness and fogs and storms they risk an inch too much. To
me this seems an eminently “romantic” situation; I can imagine a great
imaginative artist rearing it into a tremendous symbol of human guilt.
But this artist would make the discovery that the principal magazines on
the Pacific Coast are published by the railroad companies which own and
operate the steamship lines!

Every hour the progress of science increases man’s control over nature,
and therefore the safety of travel at sea. If it were not for private
ownership and the blind race for profits, these dangers would be largely
a memory, and the stealthy Nemesis of Conrad, like the gods of the
Polish Catholic and the Anglican Protestant churches, would shrivel up
and crumble and blow away as dust. Would Conrad like that? Or would he
feel the irritation of an old man who has staked his reputation upon a
bad guess? He gives you the answer in “The Nigger of the Narcissus,” a
whole novel written to satirize the altruistic impulse, and expose it as
a destroyer of discipline and character. He assigns the role of
“agitator” at sea to an odious little Cockney rat; and when this
creature has got the poor crew stirred up to mutiny, what sport Conrad
has with them! Such lofty sarcasm:

     Our little world went on its curved and unswerving path carrying a
     discontented and aspiring population. They found comfort of a
     gloomy kind in an interminable and conscientious analysis of their
     unappreciated worth; and inspired by Donkin’s hopeful doctrines
     they dreamed enthusiastically of the time when every lonely ship
     would travel over a serene sea, manned by a wealthy and well-fed
     crew of satisfied skippers.

In the chapter on Matthew Arnold I mentioned Paul Elmer More as a critic
who has based his reputation upon the thesis of man’s helplessness in
the presence of the universe; I explained Matthew Arnold as a poet who
finds his ideal both moral and poetical in a dignified and mournful
resignation to the evils of life. And here is another of these Great
Mourners, a zealot of Pessimism. Woe to you, if in his Agnostic Sunday
school you venture to breathe a hope for mankind! Woe to you if you
commit the supreme offense of art, the suggesting of a happy ending for
a novel! Woe to you, beyond all land-woes; for now you are in Neptune’s
empire, and there is no Bill of Rights, no freedom of speech, press or
assemblage; he who murmurs an optimistic thought hears the dread word
Mutiny--and the “beak” gives him “six months hard!”



Henry James remarks somewhere that an American has to study for fifty
years of his life in order to attain, culturally speaking, the point
from which a European starts at birth. Just what does he mean by this
unpatriotic utterance? I am reminded of it when I think of Anatole
France, and recall his characteristic sayings. Consider the following:

     ’Tis a great infirmity to think. God preserve you from it, my son,
     as He has preserved His greatest saints, and the souls whom He
     loves with especial tenderness and destines to eternal felicity.

Now it is possible to conceive of a Catholic bishop or a Methodist
missionary or a Kleagle of the Ku Klux Klan who might be too stupid to
understand that remark; but it is difficult to conceive how,
understanding it, he could withhold the tribute of a smile. Into this
remark a great master of words has distilled the essence of a
civilization, the precious flavor of centuries of culture. There are
only thirty-four words in it, and yet you can afford to meditate upon it
for a long time. The writer of such a paragraph possesses a mind
emancipated from the shams and delusions of the ages; he is skeptical,
realistic, and as witty as it is possible for a man to be; yet also he
is urbane--he does not seize you by the shoulders and shake you, for he
has learned that there are all kinds of strange people in the world, and
he asks merely that you consent to smile with him.

How is such a man brought into existence? His father was a book-seller,
and so he breathed culture in his childhood; he read everything from
every part of the world, especially things written by men long since
dead; things full of that beauty mingled with sadness which is one of
the gifts of time. Anatole France learned to be at home in strange
cultures, and at the same time he studied the masters of his own
country, whose specialties are precision and lucidity and charm of
phrase. At the age of twenty-seven he published a story, “The Crime of
Sylvestre Bonnard,” a sentimental pretty tale about an elderly,
kind-hearted French antiquarian, who rescues a little girl from cruel
mistreatment, and then discovers that under the French law he is guilty
of abduction. It might have been written by any of our magazine writers
of the cheer-up, God’s-in-His-Heaven school--provided only that these
writers had possessed a thousand years of culture.

It was just what the Academy of Richelieu loved, and they crowned it.
The young writer was taken up by an exquisite French lady, who became
his mistress, and set up a salon for him, and helped him to meet all the
editors and critics--which is how you make fame and fortune in Paris,
and sometimes in America, I am told. This Frenchman was clever and
witty, sensual, cynical, but not too much so for his elegant
free-thinking tradition. He wrote other novels and a great quantity of
miscellaneous writings, and in 1896, at the age of fifty-two, his
labors were rewarded by the great French honor, he became one of
Richelieu’s forty Immortals. In the ordinary course of events there was
nothing more for him to do, save to sink back in his comfortable
arm-chair and listen to the plaudits of Paris.

But a strange and alarming thing happened. The struggle over the Dreyfus
case arose, and Anatole France leaped into the arena, joining Zola, whom
he had previously denounced as a beastly writer. Here was something
absolutely without precedent--that an Academician should turn into a
Socialist, and take to attending meetings of workingmen, and addressing
to them remarks unfit to be quoted in respectable newspapers. Worse even
yet, he, the pride and glory of art-for-art’s-sake culture, took to
putting radical propaganda into novels! They had let him in among the
Immortals, and there was no way to get him out; so here was one of the
pillars of literary authority, portraying his country as an island of
penguins, and the pillars of his church and state as grotesque, wingless
birds, dressing themselves in frock-coats and silk hats and hopping
about upon obscene errands. Have a glimpse of them:

     “Do you see, my son,” he exclaimed, “that madman who with his teeth
     is biting the nose of the adversary he has overthrown, and that
     other one who is pounding a woman’s head with a huge stone?”

     “I see them,” said Bulloch. “They are creating law; they are
     founding property; they are establishing the principles of
     civilization, the basis of society, the foundations of the State.”

     “How is that?” asked old Maël.

     “By setting bounds to their fields. That is the origin of all
     government. Your penguins, O Master, are performing the most august
     of functions. Throughout the ages their work will be consecrated by
     lawyers, and magistrates will confirm it.”

“Penguin Island” was published in 1908; and then came the war, and this
elderly antiquarian--he was seventy then--came forward and enlisted to
fight for his country. But that did not mean, as with many others of
lesser judgment, that he gave up his hopes for the working class, and
surrendered to the propaganda of capitalist nationalism. We find him at
the age of seventy-five, carrying a red flag in a procession of French
radicals, protesting against the acquittal of the assassin of Jaurès.
We find him ready to break an engagement to a literary banquet in order
to address a working-class meeting in protest against capitalist church
and state. He, the greatest of all the Immortals, sets himself against
the other thirty-nine; he, the old man, sets himself against the
cultured youth of his country, who have abandoned themselves to a
mixture of Catholic mysticism with homosexuality, of Dadaist imbecility
with athleticism having for its goal the turning of machine-guns upon
the workers.

The books of Anatole France afford a curious study of struggle between
the old pessimistic, cynical culture of capitalism and the new creative
culture of the awakening proletariat. These cultures are absolutely
irreconcilable, but Anatole France believed in both. He was a social
revolutionist with his conscious mind and judgment, while he remained a
fatalist and a scoffer with his hereditary culture, that ancient
accumulation of despair and terror which he had breathed in with the
dust in his father’s old book-shop.

So he writes “The Gods Are Athirst,” in which he portrays mankind as
given up to endless misery and destruction; or “The Revolt of the
Angels,” in which again the heavens are drowned in blood and there is no
hope. After which he issues a manifesto upholding Russia, or calling
upon the workers to rally to the Third International. He goes before a
convention of the organized teachers of France, and delivers to them an
address of such magnificent eloquence as to move the assemblage to
tears. I have quoted from this address in “The Goslings”; I repeat one
paragraph--because it is the duty of a writer to spread these words on
every possible occasion, to bring to the great master the help upon
which he relies:

     Reason, wisdom, intelligence, forces of the mind and heart, whom I
     have always devoutly invoked, come to me, aid me, sustain my feeble
     voice; carry it, if that may be, to all the peoples of the world,
     and diffuse it everywhere where there are men of good will to hear
     the beneficent truth! A new order of things is born. The powers of
     evil die, poisoned by their crime. The greedy and the cruel, the
     devourers of peoples, are bursting with an indigestion of blood.
     However sorely stricken by the sins of their blind or corrupt
     masters, mutilated, decimated, the proletarians remain erect; they
     will unite to form one universal proletariat, and we shall see
     fulfilled the great Socialist prophecy: “The union of the workers
     will be the peace of the world.”

It was interesting to note, in the obituaries which the death of Anatole
France brought forth, how almost universally this aspect of his life was
glossed over. Our literary reviews told all about him as a master of
French prose, a supreme ironist in the tradition of Rabelais, Voltaire,
and Renan. But they left it for the radical papers to celebrate Anatole
France, the crusader, the carrier of the red flag. I am urged to believe
that our literary Tories are honest, but all this moves me to wonder.

I ask them, once for all, what is it they want? What proof will content
our cultural stand-patters? Here is their crowned favorite, their
revered master, the man who was as witty as it is possible for a human
being to be; and he sets out to prove to them that it is just as easy to
be witty in the service of Justice as in the service of Mammon. I ask
you, gentlemen of letters, do you know how a sentence can be wittier
than this: “The law in its majestic equality forbids the rich as well as
the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal



Mrs. Ogi has been silent for some time; saving her energies in
anticipation of that greatest satisfaction known to wives. Now she takes
it. “I told you so!”

“What did you tell me?” asks Ogi, uneasily.

“You have filled up a book, and haven’t got in a word about Gloria
Swanson’s salary, nor what Rupert Hughes really got for ‘The Sins of

“It’s this way,” says her husband. “I found I had so much material that
I’d have to make two volumes, one dealing with the artists of the past,
and the other with living artists.”

“I remember, eight years ago,” says Mrs. Ogi, “you started out to write
a criticism of the world’s culture in one volume; and presently you came
to me looking worried, and said you had so much about Religion it would
need a volume to itself. So you took a hundred thousand words for
Religion. And when you started after Journalism, and took a hundred
thousand words to tell the story of your own life, and another hundred
thousand to tell about the newspapers. And then Education; you came
again and said you had so much about the colleges, you’d have to give a
whole volume to them. You took two hundred and five thousand words for
the colleges, and then a hundred and ninety-five thousand for the

As Ogi has no answer to this indictment, she continues: “Just what do
you think you’ve written now?”

“I’ve written a text-book of culture.”

“For the schools?”--very sarcastically.

“It will be serving as a text-book in the high schools of Russia within
six months.”

“In Russia, yes--”

“In every country in Europe, as soon as the social revolution comes. The
workers, taking power, bring a new psychology and a new ethics;
naturally they have to have a new art, and new art standards.”

“They may want to write their own text-books,” suggests Mrs. Ogi.

“No doubt they will--and better than mine. But so far no one has done
it--and they will have to use such weapons as they find ready.”

Mrs. Ogi is one of those who observe the phenomena of religion with a
mingling of fear and longing. It would be wonderful to believe like
that! “Of course,” she says, “if your side has its way--”

“That is how history is made,” says Ogi. “Once upon a time a wealthy
Virginia planter, with other wealthy gentlemen from Pennsylvania and
Massachusetts, rose up and declared rebellion against his king. A war
was fought, and the rebel planter won; therefore he is known as the
Father of His Country, and all little boys in school learn how he could
not tell a lie. If he had lost his war against his king, he would have
been a vile and traitorous varlet, and every little boy in school would
have learned by heart a long list of the lies he had told. And just so
it is with writers who take up the cause of the dispossessed and
disinherited. If the proletariat wins in its war against capitalism,
these outcast writers will become leading men of letters. On the other
hand, if the proletariat loses, they will remain ‘propagandists,’ and
‘tub-thumpers,’ and ‘buzzards,’ and ‘muckrakers’--you recognize those

Yes, Mrs. Ogi admits that she recognizes them; and he continues:

“I have given the workers an honest book, a sound book, from the point
of view of their hopes and needs. I say to them: Why should you read the
books of your enemies, those who make their glory and their greatness
out of your misery and humiliation? Why should you walk into the traps
that are set for you? Life is very cruel, but assuredly this is the most
cruel thing in your fate--that you should admire those actions which
crush you, those tastes which spurn you, those standards which have as
their beginning and end your enslavement and degradation.”

“None but workers are to see this book?” asks Mrs. Ogi.

“I use the word in its revolutionary sense, the strict scientific sense
of those who do the useful and necessary labor, whether of hand or
brain. I am pleading especially with the young brain-workers, the
intellectuals. For the hand-worker is a slave by compulsion, but the
young thinker, the student, has the ancient choice of Hercules, between
virtue and vice. He may sell himself to the exploiters, he may take the
dress-suit bribe, the motor-cars and the ‘hooch’ parties, and the
beautiful, soft-skinned, hard-souled women; or he may heed my plea, and
steel his soul, and go back to the garret which is the cradle of the
arts, back to the ancient and honorable occupation of cultivating
literature upon a little oatmeal.

“To this young intellectual, hesitating at the parting of ways, I say:
Comrade, this world of organized gambling and predation in which we live
seems powerful and permanent, but it is an evil dream of but a few more
years; the seeds of its own destruction are sprouting in its heart. I am
not referring to its moral failure, the fact that it thwarts the most
fundamental of human cravings, for justice and for freedom; I mean in
the bare material sense--it fails to employ its own workers, it makes
misery out of its own plenty, and war and destruction of its abounding
prosperity. It is as certain to fall as a pyramid standing on its tip;
and when it falls, what is left but the workers? What other force is
there, having solidarity, the sense of brotherhood, the ideal of
service, of useful labor, as against the buying and selling and
exploiting, the robbing, killing and enslaving which is capitalism?

“This great new force is shaping itself in our world, preparing for the
making of the future. And shall this new life not have an art? Shall men
not thrill to this vision, and rouse others to make it real? Here lies
your task, young comrade; here is your future--and not the timid service
of convention, the million-times-over repetition of ancient lies, the
endless copying of copies of folly and cruelty and greed. The artists of
our time are like men hypnotized, repeating over and over a dreary
formula of futility. And I say: Break this evil spell, young comrade; go
out and meet the new dawning life, take your part in the battle, and put
it into new art; do this service for a new public, which you yourselves
will make. That is the message of this book, the last word I have to
say: that your creative gift shall not be content to make art works, but
shall at the same time make a world; shall make new souls, moved by a
new ideal of fellowship, a new impulse of love, and faith--and not
merely hope, but determination.

“That is what this book is about,” says Ogi; “and maybe not many will
get me, but a few will, and they will be the ones I am after.”

Mrs. Ogi comes to him and puts her arms about him, trembling a little.
“Yes, of course,” she says; “and I’m glad you wrote it, in spite of all
my terrors.”

“Ah, now!” says Ogi, smiling. “We ought to have a picture of this! A
happy ending, in the very best bourgeois style!”


Roman numerals refer to chapters, Arabic numerals to pages

Adams, Francis, 352

Adams, F. P., 64

Æschylus, 49, 94, 180

Alcibiades, XVII

Alexander, 41

Amos, 31

Anderson, 239, 260, 270

Archimedes, 41

Ariosto, 89

Aristophanes, XX, 129, 210

Aristotle, 117

Arnold, 47, 181, LXXI, 323, 379

Assisi, 74

Austen, LII

Babbitt, 138, XLV

Bacon, 95

Bakunin, 212

Balzac, LX

Barrett, 225

Baudelaire, 302

Beer, 348

Beers, 186

Beethoven, L

Bellamy, 238, 352

Bennett, 189

Bernhardi, 293

Bernhardt, 123

Besant, 352

Bierce, CII

Blake, 202

Boccaccio, XXVIII

Borgia, 80

Brandes, 294

Brawne, 187

Brooks, 327

Brown, Bishop, 74

Brown, J. G., 12

Browning, 80, LXX

Buchanan, 352

Buddha, 39

Bunyan, XXXVIII, 239, 283

Burbank, 279

Burns, XLIX, 244, 339

Byron, LVII, 181, 203, 228, 241, 251, 301

Cade, 103

Calas, 133

Carlyle, 13, 77, LXVIII, 311, 337

Caroline, 180

Cartier, 95

Cervantes, XXXII

Chambers, 114, 356

Charles I, 106

Charles X, 195

Clemens, C, 91, 334, 340, 348, 359, 369

Cleon, 53

Coleridge, LIV, 251

Collier, 115

Collins, 20

Comstock, 105

Congreve, 114

Conrad, CIX

Coolidge, 141, 327

Corneille, XL, 316

Crane, CIV

Cromwell, 113, 173, 195

Dana, 32, 53

Dante, XXIX

Davidson, 352

Davis, CIII

Dawes, 57

Day, 346

Debs, 361

de Mille, 114

de Young, 340

Dickens, LXXII, 236, 277

Diderot, 136

Dobson, 64

Doré, 12

Dostoievski, LXXXIV-V

Douglas, 305

Dreiser, 270

Dreyfus, 282, 381

Dryden, XXXIX, 143

Eddy, 241

Edison, 41

Edward, 123

Elijah, 31

Eliot, 235

Emerson, 58, 217, 233, LXXV, 253

Euripedes, 51, 52, 54

Fielding, XLVIII

Flaubert, LXV, 276

Fox, 74

France, CX

Frederick, 133, 147, 219

Galileo, 106, 117

Gandhi, 274

Garrison, 245

Gautier, 187, 196, LXII, 208

George IV, 165, 180

Gibbon, 171

Gifford, 171

Gilder, 347

Gladstone, 48, 323

Glyn, 114

Goethe, 39, 153, LI, 183

Gogol, LXXXII, 263

Goncourt, LXXXVII

Gorki, 259, 273, 328, 335, 339

Gosse, 301, 319

Gracchus, 59

Grant, 330

Gronlund, 339

Haldeman-Julius, 190

Hale, 355

Hallam, 223

Hamilton, 172

Hanska, 194

Hardie, 173

Harper, 335-6

Harris, 98, 99, XCV

Harvey, 331

Hastings, 162

Hawthorne, LXXVIII, 322

Hazlitt, 185

Hearn, 187, 336

Heine, 64, LXVI

Henley, 14

Henry, CVII, 349, 375

Herriot, 282

Hichens, 303

Hippocrates, 41

Hohenzollern, 219

Homer, XVIII, 60

Horace, XXIV

Howells, CI, 328, 348

Hughes, 28, 383

Hugo, 200, 203, 216, LXI, 280, 296, 298

Hunt, 184, 185, 186

Ibsen, XC, 339

Ingersoll, 331

Irwin, 53

Isaiah, 30

Jackson, 246

James, H., 13, 73, 82, 193, 264, XCVIII, 379

James, W., 318

Jaurès, 381

Jennings, 359-60, 362

Jeremiah, 30

Jesus, 38, 39, 257, 293

Joan, 102

John, 31

Johnson, 34

Juvenal, XXIV

Keats, LIX, 180, 245

Kingsley, 352

Kipling, 14, 129

Kubla Khan, 168

Lamb, 185

Lanier, 254

Lassalle, 352

Leacock, 53

Lee, 232

Lee-Higginson, 141

Lenin, 36

Lewes, 39, 235

Lewis, 206

Lincoln, 256

Lloyd-George, 377

Lockhart, 186

London, CVIII, 338, 349, 351

Longfellow, LXXVI

Louis XIV, XLI

Louis XVIII, 195

Louis Napoleon, 197, 214

Louis-Philippe, 196

l’Ouverture, 194

Ludwig, 215, 294

Luther, 74, 83

Mackail, 43

Mæcenas, 64

Marie Antoinette, 156, 172

Marlowe, 96

Martin, XV

Marx, 294

Maupassant, LXXXIX, 286, 340, 361

Medici, 86, 120

Mencken, 105

Meredith, XCVII, 375

Micah, 31

Michelangelo, XXXI, 150

Millet, 206

Milton, 14, XXXVII, 152, 173, 183, 189, 198, 234, 239, 242, 305

Moliere, XLII, 261

Moore, G., 308

Moore, T., 181

Mordell, 78, 108, 111

More, P. E., 228, 229, 379

More, Sir T., 352

Morgan, 140, 141, 270, 293, 350-1

Morrell, 351

Morris, LXXIV

Mozart, 151

Murray, 57

Musset, LXIII, 302

Napoleon, 152, 156, 157, 163, 222

Nelson, 172

Newton, 131, 173, 254

Nicholas, 269

Nietzsche, 13, XCII, 257

Norris, CV

Palgrave, 109, 190

Palmer, 79, 141, 163

Pasteur, 41

Patrick, 20

Pericles, 41

Phelps, 268, LXXXV

Phillips, CVI, 349

Pindar, 50

Plato, 13, 352

Plimsoll, 376

Plutarch, 152

Poe, LXXIX, 302, 253

Pope, 131

Porter, CVII, 349, 375

Pushkin, 260, 261

Queensbury, 305

Rabelais, 383

Racine, XLI, 195, 199

Raphael, XXX, 200

Rasputin, 268, 269

Reade, 352

Reed, 37, 38

Renan, 383

Richardson, XLVII, 277

Richelieu, 117

Robespierre, 141

Rockefeller, 109

Roeckel, 212

Rogers, 331

Roland, 88

Roosevelt, 354

Rossetti, 188

Rousseau, 117, 118, XLIV, XLV, 155, 271, 291

Ruskin, 173, 236, 238, 309, 352

Russell, 362

Saintsbury, 113, 115, 299

Sand, 203, LXIV, 225

Savonarola, 74, 84

Schiller, 158

Schopenhauer, 216

Scott, LIII, 171, 181, 186, 188, 247, 249

Shakespeare, 39, 48, XXXIII-VI, 129, 131, 151, 183, 195, 241

Shaw, 17, 63, 93, 211, 215, 287, 292, 339

Shelley, 176, 177, LVIII, 185, 198

Sherman, 228

Sinclair, 107, 328, 335, 345, 347, 353, 363-6, 372

Socrates, 41, 54

Sophocles, 51

Southey, 163, 167, LV, 177

Spencer, 290

Squires, 181

Sterling, 93, 94, 338-9, 341

Stowe, 176, 352

Strauss, 304

Strindberg, XCI, 291, 294

Swanson, 28, 383

Swift, 131, XLVI

Swinburne, 168, XCIV

Symonds, 297

Taft, 269

Tennyson, LXIX, 109, 188, 217, 279, 301, 346

Thackeray, LXXIII, 191

Tolstoi, 135, 211, LXXXVI, 257, 279, 283, 332, 335, 339

Turgenev, LXXXIII, 271

Twain, 91, C, 334, 340, 348, 359, 369

Untermeyer, 64

van Eeden, 265

Vasari, 83

Verestchagin, 12

Verhaeren, XCIII

Verlaine, 302

Victoria, 174, 220, 224, 316

Virgil, XXIII, 79

Voltaire, XLIII, 195, 209, 240, 282, 383

von Suttner, 352

Wagner, LXVII, 294

Ward, XCIX

Washington, 41, 384

Watts-Dunton, 299

Weber, 152

Webster, 246

Wells, 317

Westbrook, 182

Whistler, 187, XCVI, 250

Whiteing, 352

Whitman, LXXX, 275, 282, 297

Whittier, LXXVII, 253

Wilde, XCV, 346

Witte, 331

Wood, 110

Wordsworth, LVI, 181, 182

Wycherley, 114

Zola, LXXXVIII, 296, 349, 381

                                                               W. B. C.

                   *       *       *       *       *

                     Who Owns the Press, and Why?

=When you read your daily paper, are you reading facts or propaganda? And
whose propaganda?=

=Who furnishes the raw material for your thoughts about life? Is it
honest material?=

=No man can ask more important questions than these; and here for the
first time the questions are answered in a book.=

                            THE BRASS CHECK

                    A Study of American Journalism

                           By UPTON SINCLAIR

Read the record of this book to August, 1920: Published in February,
1920; first edition, 23,000 paper-bound copies, sold in two weeks.
Second edition, 21,000 paper-bound, sold before it could be put to
press. Third edition, 15,000 and fourth edition, 12,000, sold. Fifth
edition, 15,000, in press. Paper for sixth edition, 110,000, just
shipped from the mill. The third and fourth editions are printed on
“number one news”; the sixth will be printed on a carload of lightweight
brown wrapping paper--all we could get in a hurry.

The first cloth edition, 16,500 copies, all sold; a carload of paper for
the second edition, 40,000 copies, has just reached our printer--and so
we dare to advertise!

Ninety thousand copies of a book sold in six months--and published by
the author, with no advertising, and only a few scattered reviews! What
this means is that the American people want to know the truth about
their newspapers. They have found the truth in “The Brass Check” and
they are calling for it by telegraph. Put these books on your counter,
and you will see, as one doctor wrote us--“they melt away like the

From the pastor of the Community Church, New York:

     “I am writing to thank you for sending me a copy of your new book,
     ‘The Brass Check.’ Although it arrived only a few days ago, I have
     already read it through, every word, and have loaned it to one of
     my colleagues for reading. The book is tremendous. I have never
     read a more strongly consistent argument or one so formidably
     buttressed by facts. You have proved your case to the handle. I
     again take satisfaction in saluting you not only as a great
     novelist, but as the ablest pamphleteer in America today. I am
     already passing around the word in my church and taking orders for
     the book.”--John Haynes Holmes.

=440 pages. Single copy, paper, 60c postpaid; three copies, $1.50; ten
copies, $4.50. Single copy, cloth, $1.20 postpaid; three copies, $3.00;
ten copies, $9.00=

                Address: UPTON SINCLAIR, Pasadena, Cal.

                   *       *       *       *       *

                            THE GOOSE-STEP

                     A Study of American Education

                           By Upton Sinclair

     =Who owns the colleges, and why?=

     =Are your sons and daughters getting education, or propaganda?=

     =And whose propaganda?=

     =No man can ask more important questions than these; and here for
     the first time the questions are answered in a book.=


“‘The Goose-Step’ came in at last yesterday afternoon, and I fell on it
last night. My very sincere congratulations. I have read on and on with
constant joy in the adept marshalling of facts, the shrewd presentation
of personalities, the lively and incessant humor. It is not only a fine
piece of writing; it is also a sound piece of research. It presents a
devastating, but, I believe, thoroughly fair and accurate picture of the
American universities today. The faults of ‘The Brass Check’ and ‘The
Profits of Religion’ are not in it. It is enormously more judicial and
convincing than either of those books. You are here complaining of
nothing. You simply offer the bald and horrible facts--but with
liveliness, shrewdness, good humor. An appalling picture of a moral and
mental debasement! Let every American read it and ponder it!”

A few questions considered in “The Goose-Step”: Do you know the extent
to which the interlocking directors of railroads and steel and oil and
coal and credit in the United States are also the interlocking trustees
of American “higher” education? Do you think that our colleges and
universities should be modeled on the lines of our government, or on the
lines of our department-stores? Do you know that eighty-five percent of
college and university professors are dissatisfied with being managed by
floor-walkers? Do you know for how many different actions and opinions a
professor may lose his job? Do you know how many professors have to do
their own laundry? Do you know why American college presidents with few
exceptions are men who do not tell the truth? Do you know to what extent
“social position” takes precedence over scholarship in American academic
life? Do you know to what extent our education has become a by-product
of gladiatorial combats?

A few of the institutions dealt with:

The University of the House of Morgan; The University of Lee-Higginson;
The University of U. G. I.; The Tiger’s Lair; The Bull-dog’s Den; The
University of the Black Hand; The University of the Lumber Trust; The
University of the Chimes; The Universities of the Anaconda; The
University of the Latter Day Saints; The Mining Camp University; The
Colleges of the Smelter Trust; The University of Wheat; The University
of the Ore Trust; The University of Standard Oil; The University of
Judge Gary; The University of the Grand Duchess; The University of
Automobiles; The University of the Steel Trust; The University of
Heaven; The University of Jabbergrab.

500 pages, cloth $2.00, paper $1.00, postpaid.


       *       *       *       *       *

Typographical errors corrected by the etext transcriber:

series of chonicle=> series of chronicle {pg 101}

here we seen Sensibility=> here we see Sensibility {pg 160}

be became poet laureate he became poet laureate {pg 173}

Two laters later his=> Two years later his {pg 179}

a crime aganist=> a crime against {pg 182}

the old god, see too late=> the old god, sees too late {pg 214}

enlightment ought to help them=> enlightenment ought to help them {pg

worse criminals that he=> worse criminals than he {pg 267}

most efficient sytem=> most efficient system {pg 269}

out of thir minds=> out of their minds {pg 287}

be became the prophet=> he became the prophet {pg 292}

to feel wraranted=> to feel warranted {pg 319}

long and successfuly=> long and successfully {pg 348}

live a single genration=> live a single generation {pg 351}

him to suceed=> him to succeed {pg 354}

presents a devasting=> presents a devastating {ad page}

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Mammonart: An essay in economic interpretation" ***