(Compiled by Mike Miles)

Below are articles and other pieces that Chesterton wrote for The Speaker that I have been able to come across.

I have decided to also include those which were later reprinted in books and already available online (such as in The Defendant and Twelve Types, etc.) for two reasons.  First, for the sake of completeness, but also for the fact that for some of them, there are some differences between the original article, and the form it took when published in a book.  (For instance, his article “St. Francis of Assisi” of December 1, 1900 has a passage not included when it was reprinted in Twelve Types.)  For any such articles, after the title I include in brackets the book it was later reprinted in (sometimes with alterations, as mentioned above).

Please forgive any typos in the pieces. (Also any errors which may have crept in when formatted for HTML by another person.)



[Poem] “The Song of Labour” (December 17, 1892)?


[Poem] “The Holy of Holies” (June 5, 1897)

[Poem] “The Earth’s Shame” (August 7, 1897)

[Story] “Gods: A Prehistorical Novel?” (October 9, 1897)


[Poem] “To Them That Mourn” (May 28, 1898)?


[Poem] “To a Certain Nation” (January 7, 1899)

[Poem] “Verdict” (September 18, 1899)


“Ruskin” [The Apostle and the Wild Ducks] (April 28, 1900)

“Normandy in Black and White” (May 12, 1900)

“Prince Rupert” (May 26, 1900)

“Grant Allen” (June 23, 1900)

“Westminster Abbey” (August 4, 1900)

“Famous Frenchwomen” (August 4, 1900)

[Poem] “The Liberal Party” (August 18, 1900)

“A Poem on Early Christianity” (September 29, 1900)

[Poem] “A Speech Reported” (September 29, 1900)

“Fiction” (October 13, 1900)

“A Manx Minstrel” (October 20, 1900)*

[Poem] “An Election Echo” (October 20, 1900)

“How the Church Stands Today” (October 27, 1900)*

“Our Reasonable Imperialist” (November 10, 1900)*

“Buddha versus Buddhism” (November 17, 1900)*

“Literature and Childhood” (November 24, 1900)*

“St. Francis of Assisi” [Twelve Types] (December 1, 1900)

“Christmas Books for Children” (December 8, 1900)*

“Puritan and Anglican” (December 15, 1900)*

“William Morris and His School” [Twelve Types] (December 22, 1900)

“The Christmas Story” (December 29, 1900)*


“Ad Astra” (January 5, 1901)*

“Mark Rutherford” (January 12, 1901)*

“The Shadowy Poet” (January 19, 1901)

“The Odyssey in Slang” (January 19, 1901)

“Woman and the Philosophers” (January 26, 1901)*

“Nonsense” [The Defendant] (February 2, 1901)

“Science and Patriotism” (February 2, 1901)*

“The War of the Ghosts and Gods” (February 9, 1901)*

“The Philosophy of Farce” [The Defendant] (February 16, 1901)

“What We All Mean” (February 16, 1901)*

“Our English Goblins” (February 23, 1901)*

“The Morality of the Hat” (March 2, 1901)*

“Jews Old and New” (March 2, 1901)*

“A Defence of Rash Vows” [The Defendant] (March 9, 1901)

“A Denunciation of Parents” (March 9, 1901)*

“A Defence of Penny Dreadfuls” [The Defendant] (March 16, 1901)

“The Literature of Death” (March 16, 1901)*

“A Defence of Ugly Things” [The Defendant] (March 23, 1901)

“How Not to Do It” (March 23, 1901)*

“A Defence of China Shepherdesses” [The Defendant] (March 30,1901)

“The Problem of Minor Poetry” (March 30, 1901)*

“A Defence of Humility” [The Defendant] (April 13, 1901)

“A Defence of Skeletons” [The Defendant] (April 20, 1901)

“A Defence of Slang” [The Defendant] (April 27, 1901)

“A Gap in English Education” [The Defendant] (May 4, 1901)

“Mr. Robert Buchanan as a Diabolist” (May 4, 1901)

“A Defence of Planets” [The Defendant] (May 11, 1901)

“Is Shakespeare an Allegory?” (May 11, 1901)

“A Defence of Heraldry” [The Defendant] (May 18, 1901)

“Patriotism and Ethics” (May 18, 1901)*

“Baby-Worship” [The Defendant] (May 25, 1901)

“The Mystery of the Sabbath” (May 25, 1901)

“A Book of War Songs” (June 1, 1901)

[Letter] “Patriotism and Ethics” (June 1, 1901)

“A Reflection on the Welsh Colliery Disaster” (June 1, 1901)

“The Truth about Popular Literature: I — It’s General Character” (June 8, 1901)

“The True Traveler” (June 8, 1901)

“The Catholic Puritan” [Twelve Types] (June 15, 1901)

“The Truth about Popular Literature: II — The Value of Detective Stories” [The Defendant] (June 22, 1901)

“Henry Drummond” (June 22, 1901)

“The True Hamlet” (June 29, 1901)

“The Truth About Popular Literature: III — The Danger of Detective Stories” (July 13, 1901)

“The Truth About Popular Literature: IV — Sentimental Literature” [The Spice of Life] (July 27, 1901)

[Poem] “The Last Hero” (July 27, 1901)

“Churches Under the Microscope” (July 27, 1901)

“The Truth about Popular Literature: V — The Literature of Information” [The Defendant; The Apostle and the Wild Ducks] (August 3, 1901)

“The Truth about Popular Literature: VI — Comic Papers” (August 10, 1901)

“A Scrapbook of Ideals” (August 10, 1901)

“The New Priests” (August 17, 1901)

“The Bones of a Poem” [A Handful of Authors] (August 17, 1901)

“Dreams” [Lunacy and Letters] (August 24, 1901)

“The Age of the Giants” (August 24, 1901)

“Materials” (August 31, 1901)

“Shevolution” (September 7, 1901)

“The Philosophy of First Thoughts” (September 14, 1901)

[Poem] “Lost” (September 28, 1901)


“A Man Who Does Not Exist” (April 12,1902)

“Ecstasy and Selection” (May 3, 1902)

“Mysticism: Its Use and Abuse” (May 31, 1902)

“The Case of Mr. Pinero” (September 13, 1902)

“The Soul of Christmas” [Heretics] (December 13, 1902)


“The Great Democrat” (July 18, 1903)

“The Personality of Mr. Gladstone” (October 10, 1903)

“A Chapter in Irish Poetry” (October 31, 1903)


“A Madgalen’s Husband” (March 4, 1904)


“Mr. William Watson’s Poems” (January 14, 1905)*

“Leviathan and the Hook” (September 9, 1905)*


 — The Speaker, December 17, 1892

A light, a glimmer outlines the crest of the mountain walls,
Starlike it broadens and brightens, and day o’er the valley falls;
It waketh the prince to praise, and it waketh the fool to mirth,
And it waketh a man to his toil and his place on the ordered earth.

There are uplands cloudlet-shadowed and mountains thunder-brewed,
There are wastes of wood untravelled, and leagues of land unploughed,
Swamp-worlds heavy with poison, mist-worlds grey and chill,
And I go, a clearer and builder, the voice of the human will.
God has struck all into chaos, princes and priests down-hurled,
But He leaves the place of the toiler, the old estate of the world.
In a season of doubt and of wrangle, in the thick of a world’s uproar,
With the new life dark in wrestle, with the ghost of a life that is o’er,
When the old Priest fades to a phantom, when the old King nods on his throne,
The old, old hand of Labour is mighty and holdeth its own.
Other leaders may rest upon words, wax proud, and neglect the hours,
But our work is real, and standeth, in leaf and in fruit and in flowers,
In roofs and farms and fences, in draining of mere and of fen,
In the endless going and coming in the homes of the children of men.
Through the blaze of the regal ages, through the wreck of the feudal strife,
We toiled unseen for ever at the roots of the racial life.
The earth brought forth in abundance at the stroke of the hind and the churl,
Till his roof was fired by the chieftain, his fields trodden down by the earl.
Stand to it silently, brothers, and watch for the hour and the day,
We have tramped and toiled for the idle, we have sorrowed and starved for the gay;
We have hewn out the road for the passers through thicket and mountain high —
Stand to it bravely, brothers, for the day and the hour are nigh.
Sorry and weary it is, our terrible army of toil —
With swart limbs bent to the tool, and dark brows turned to the soil,
We look not to heaven, nor pray; we see not the stars overhead,
But we stamp our stern evangel on the face of the earth we tread.
Sorry and weary it is, our army of labour and pain —
Its words are vague and frantic, its hopes are dark and vain;
Yet laugh not aloud, ye mighty, nor triumph, nor pass ye on,
For the High God heareth for ever the voice of the work we have done;
He knows who have striven with Nature, and claimed and conquered the earth,
He knows who have stood to a manhood where work is the title of worth,
He knows who are feeding the nations, are working at eve and at morn,
And He knows who have sneered and been idle, and struck them, and laughed them to scorn.
The poet may look into Nature for mirrors of passion and pain,
For the breadth of an isolation, the nurse of a black disdain;
The painter may look into Nature for shaping of sky and of land,
For blending of glorious hues and visions of fairyland:
But we who are dwelling with her can bend to her breast and hear
The roar of the endless purpose that grappleth sphere to sphere.
Therefore I go at the dawn to my work with a mighty mirth.
For the law of the earth is labour, and man is the dust of the earth.



 — The Speaker, June 5, 1897

“Elder Father, through thine eyes
Shine with hoary mysteries,
Canst thou tell what in the heart
Of a cowslip blossom lies?”

“Smaller than all lives that be,
Secret as the deepest sea,
Stands a little house of seeds,
Like an elfin’s granary.”

“Speller of the stones and weeds,
Skilled in Nature’s crafts and creeds,
Tell me what is in the heart
Of the smallest of the seeds.”

“God Almighty, and with Him
Cherubim and seraphim
Filling all Eternity —
Adonai Elohim.”

G.K. Chesterton


 — The Speaker, August 7, 1897

Name not his deed: in shuddering and in haste,
We dragged him darkly o’er the windy fell;
That night there was a gibbet in the waste,
And a new sin in hell.

Be one thing hid from commonwealths and kings,
By all men born be one true tale forgot:
But three kings, braver than all earthly things,
Faced him, and heared him not.

Above his head and sunken secret face dead;
Nested the sparrow’s young, and dropped not
From the red blood and slime of that lost place
Grew daisies white, not red.

And, from high Heaven looking upon him,
Slowly upon the face of God did come
A smile the cherubim and seraphim
Hid all their faces from.



 — The Speaker, October 9, 1897

A gross, grey fog hid the face of the world.  In the darkness mammoths, elks, huge and fantastic creatures whose trace has vanished off the globe, trod each other down as they swayed and surged together.  For through the mist was coming a great sound, incessant yet varying, now hoarse like falling waters, now soaring up in piercing peals and screams like a flock of eagles.  Every note of wood and hill passed through it-the dash of the rain, the chatter of the bird, the cry of the stricken thing.  And between these bursts of mimicry came obscurer passages, prophecies of tongues yet unknown, sounds that were the symbols of passions still without name.  Yet all came from one place.

At last the sun climbed up, and against it broke the dark outline of a strange creature.  It stood poised on two legs only, but yet there were no plumes upon its bare lean body, except a ragged shock or crest.  It had teeth and ears and eyes according to rule; but its want of a tail made it altogether ridiculous.  The feet were on the horns of a slain elk, great wings of ravenous vultures flapped about its head, the eyes were fierce as stars, the throat sending forth in shout after shout the first poem of the world.  It was the epic of the victory of man, which is not yet ended.

“What are you talking, Ribs-hard?” inquired a weak voice, like a baby’s. It belonged to another primeval man, an old gentleman with a great part of his face covered with white hair, who hoisted himself up the bank until his nose was just over the edge.  His name was Feet-very-large; the name of the elk-slayer was Ribs-hard, bestowed on him by his admiring neighbours after many experiments.

“I have hit an elk and made it dead,” replied Ribs-hard haughtily.  Then giving vent to his natural feelings of superiority, unhampered by any modern affectation, he put his face close to the other’s, grinned, put out his tongue, hooted, and gave other evidences of pardonable vanity, without in any way disconcerting the owl-like solemnity of the old gentleman with his nose over the edge of the rock.  Feet-very-large, however, coming to the conclusion that this state of things gave Ribs-hard an unfair rhetorical advantage, swung up over the bank and alighted cross-legged in front of the victorious hunter.

The latter had lifted the dead elk by the horns and was gazing at it.  “Feet-very-large,” he said patronisingly, like a child, “this is my fetish.  You also, Feet-very-large-you also may worship my fetish.”

Feet-very-large snorted.  “Your fetish is a frog-that-lives-in-the-mud,” he said with severity.

“I will make your head all smashed,” said Ribs-hard furiously.  In those days decisions were rapidly arrived at.

Feet-very-large merely grunted.  Ribs-hard snatched his flint axe and prepared to begin the first religious persecution.  Feet-very-large did not appear to take the least notice of him.  This always irritated man in early times-a characteristic that has disappeared.

“You are afraid,” said Ribs-hard; “you are cow.  This is very good.  It is always safer to fight when the other man is cow.”

Feet-very-large appeared to be rubbing two pieces of stick together, which seemed an aimless amusement even for prehistoric times; but his face was so grave and expectant that Ribs-hard stopped to stare.

“I make a good fetish,” said Feet-very-large solemnly.  “Mine is good.”

Ribs-hard laughed: a horrible sight.  “Feet-very-large makes a fetish of two little sticks!” And he put out his tongue again, as one who had himself reached a purer form of religion.  “A fetish of two sticks!” he repeated.  “The wood is full of sticks!” He felt himself becoming the wit of the valley.

Seeing, however, that Feet-very-large went on rubbing the sticks, quite unmoved by this satire, he suddenly recollected his warlike intentions.  Clutching his hatchet, he leapt on his enemy, and the next moment leapt back again with a howl, wringing his fingers.  From one of the two sticks had broken a luminous red tongue, that played to and fro like a living thing.  It also stung.

“My fetish is a good fetish,” said the phlegmatic Feet-very-large. “It bites me if I am bad.  It has bitten you.  You were bad.”

Ribs-hard was too depressed to resent this moral remark.  “Why do you make your fetish if it bites?” he asked.

“If I hit it, it bites.  If I do not hit, it kisses.  ‘Wait. Wait and see.”

He went limping away hurriedly, leaving Ribs-hard staring at the moving glory and mystery which was to light the cities of his far-off children.

Presently Feet-very-large returned, carrying a heap of boughs and twigs.  But his hoary face, instead of its usual expression of monkey-like sagacity, wore an expression of bewilderment and humility.  “I have seen your woman, Ribs-hard.”

Ribs-hard looked suspicious.  “She has a fetish,” went on Feet-very-large, “a new fetish; better than my fetish.” And he rolled his eyes.

“My woman is a brown pig,” said Ribs-hard authoritatively.  “She can do nothing.  She cannot make a fetish.  She lives in a hole, and has not got anything to make fetishes.”

“Nevertheless she has a fetish,” said Feet-very-large.  “It is a new fetish.”

The two went together down the valley.  The sun had set, and the dome of evening was a mellow green.

“That is a good star,” said Ribs-hard. “It is over my woman’s hole.” They were silent, even for primeval men, until they came to the low cave where Ribs-hard had left his squaw.

The cavern was quite bare.  There were neither sticks nor skins of which to make a fetish.  But on the ground in front of the woman, and watched by her with a strange new light in her eyes, lay a small brown baby.

It may have been that the fire was still in Ribshard’s eyes, but he fancied he saw a sort of glory round the child’s head.

They both fell on their knees.

TO THEM THAT MOURN.  [Poem] (May 1898)

 — The Speaker, May 28, 1898

Lift up your heads: in life, in death,
God knoweth his head was high;
Quit we the coward’s broken breath,
Who watched a strong man die.

If ye must say “No more his peer
Cometh: the flag is furled,”
Stand not too near him; lest he hear
That slander on the world.

The good green earth he loved and trod
Is still, with many a scar,
Writ in the chronicles of God
A giant-bearing star.

He fell: but Britian’s banner swings
Above his sunken crown;
Black Death shall have his toil of kings
Before that cross goes down.

O young ones of a darker day,
In Art’s wan colours clad,
Whose very love and hate are grey
Whose very sin is sad,

Pass on: one agony long-drawn
Was merrier than your mirth:
When hand in hand came death and dawn
And spring was on the earth.



 — The Speaker, January 7, 1899

“The tone of the English Press is resented.” — DAILY PAPER.

We cannot let thee be: for thou art ours —
We thank thee still, though thou forgets these things,
For that hour’s sake when thou didst wake all powers
With a great cry that God was sick of kings.

Leave thee there grovelling at their rusted greaves,
These hulking cowards on a painted stage
That with imperial pomp and laurel leaves
Show their Marengo — one man in a cage.

These, for whom stands no type or title given
In all the squalid tales of gore and pelf,
Though cowed with crashing thunders from all heaven
Cain never said, “My brother slew himself.”

Bear with us, O our sister — not in pride
Nor any scorn we see thee spoiled of knaves
Only with shame to hear, where Danton died
Thy foul dead kings all laughing in their graves.

Thou hast a right to rule thyself; to be
The thing thou wilt, to grin, to fawn, to creep,
To crown thee clumsy liars — aye and we
Who knew thee once — we have a right to weep.



 — The Speaker, September 16, 1899

Mercy there is to ask; but not of these,
That count the stripes upon a coat and see
How they may judge. Enough — they judged themselves
And spoke: and hanged their souls upon a tree.

Mercy there is to seek: nor yet of these,
His hungry foes, by fear made light and lithe:
Nay, judge not, torture not, the twisted souls —
What need of racks to teach a worm to writhe?

We wait for mercy in a narrower court:
Dreaming if pardon or black judgment brews
Beneath one brow: bound with such crown of thorns
As old-world warriors bound upon a Jew.

Mother of arts, behold thy son! Away!
Of old long loves still this much left have we
As for some screaming harlot, still to pray —
That in this hour he is not judging thee.



 — The Speaker, April 28, 1900

[later reprinted in The Apostle and the Wild Ducks]

The Life of John Ruskin.  By W.G. Collingwood.  London: Methuen.

I do not think any one could find any fault with the way in which Mr. Collingwood has discharged his task, except, of course, Mr. Ruskin himself, who would certainly have scored through all the eulogies in passionate red ink and declared that his dear friend had selected for admiration the very parts of his work which were vile, brainless and revolting.  That, however, was merely Ruskin’s humour, and one of the deepest disappointments with Mr. Collingwood is that he, like every one else, fails to appreciate Ruskin as a humourist.  Yet he was a great humourist: half the explosions which are solemnly scolded as “one-sided” were simply meant to be one-sided, were mere laughing experiments in language.  Like a woman, he saw the humour of his own prejudices, did not sophisticate them by logic, but deliberately exaggerated them by rhetoric.  One-tenth of his paradoxes would have made the fortune of a modern young man with gloves of an art yellow.  He was as fond of nonsense as Mr. Max Beerbohm.  Only....he was fond of other things too.  He did not ask humanity to dine on pickles.

But while his kaleidoscope of fancy and epigram gives him some kinship with the present day, he was essentially of an earlier type: he was the last of the prophets.  With him vanishes the secret of that early Victorian simplicity which gave a man the courage to mount a pulpit above the head of his fellows.  Many elements, good and bad, have destroyed it, humility as well as fear, camaraderie as well as scepticism, have bred in us a desire to give our advice lightly and persuasively, to mask our morality, to whisper a word and glide away.  The contrast was in some degree typified in the House of Commons under the last leadership of Mr. Gladstone: the old order with its fist on the box, and the new order with its feet on the table.  Doubtless the wine of that prophecy was too strong even for the strong heads that carried it.  It made Ruskin capricious and despotic, Tennyson lonely and whimsical, Carlyle harsh to the point of hatred, and Kingsley often rabid to the ruin of logic and charity.  One alone of that race of giants, the greatest and most neglected, was sober after the cup.  No mission, no frustration could touch with hysteria the humanity of Robert Browning.

But though Ruskin seems to close the roll of the militant prophets, we feel how needful are such figures when we consider with what pathetic eagerness men pay prophetic honours even to those who disclaim the prophetic character.  Ibsen declares that he only depicts life, that as far as he is concerned there is nothing to be done, and still armies of “Ibsenites” rally to the flag and enthusiastically do nothing.  I have found traces of a school which avowedly follows Mr. Henry James: an idea full of humour.  I like to think of a crowd with pikes and torches shouting passages from The Awkward Age.  It is right and proper for a multitude to declare its readiness to follow a prophet to the end of the world, but if he himself explains, with pathetic gesticulations, that he is only going for a walk in the park, there is not much for the multitude to do.  But the disciple of Ruskin had plenty to do.  He made roads; in his spare moments he studied the whole of geology and botany.  He lifted up paving stones and got down into early Florentine cellars, where, by hanging upside down, he could catch a glimpse of a Cimabue unpraisable but by divine silence.  He rushed from one end of a city to the other comparing ceilings.  His limbs were weary, his clothes were torn, and in his eyes was that unfathomable joy of life which man will never know again until once more he takes himself seriously.

Mr. Collingwood’s excellent chapters on the art criticism of Ruskin would be better, in my opinion, if they showed more consciousness of the after revolutions that have reversed, at least in detail, much of Ruskin’s teaching.  We no longer think that art became valueless when it was first corrupted with anatomical accuracy.  But if we return to that Raphaelism to which he was so unjust, let us not fall into the old error of intelligent reactionaries, that of ignoring our own debt to revolutions.  Ruskin could not destroy the market of Raphaelism, but he could and did destroy its monopoly.  We may go back to the Renascence, but let us remember that we go back free.  We can picnic now in the ruins of our dungeon and deride our deliverer.

But neither in Mr. Collingwood’s book nor in Ruskin’s own delightful Praeterita shall we ever get to the heart of the matter.  The work of Ruskin and his peers remains incomprehensible by the very completeness of their victory.  Fallen for ever is that vast brick temple of Utilitarianism, of which we may find the fragments but never renew the spell.  Liberal Unionists bowl in its high places, and in its ruins Mr. Lecky builds his nest.  Its records read with something of the mysterious arrogance of Chinese: hardly a generation away from us, we read of a race who believed in the present with the same sort of servile optimism with which the Oriental believes in the past.  It may be that banging his head against that roof for twenty years did not improve the temper of the prophet.  But he made what be praised in the old Italian pictures — “an opening into eternity.”



 — The Speaker, May 12, 1900

Highways and Byways in Normandy.  By Percy Dearmer, M.A.  With Illustrations by Joseph Pennell.  Macmillan.

For the individual to whom France at this moment means the Exhibition there is not perhaps much material for that particular event to be gathered in Normandy.  He may, indeed, imagine a grand international race between a local Norman train and a green Bayswater omnibus.  He may dream of a competition in confidential solemnity and physical hoarseness between a French and an English church cicerone; and if the English omnibus would (most probably) win in the first contest, we have no doubt at all that the French cicerone would win in the second.  But Normandy has in the matter of international enlightenment one real advantage over Paris at this time.  It is possible for an Englishman to visit a French Exhibition in a temper of the most virgin arrogance.  A certain type of English tourist, having decided not to “boycott” the Exhibition, may strut through Paris in a spirit that makes one wish he felt it his duty to boycott every assembly of his fellow-creatures. The heroics of M. Millerand may exhibit to him much of the real weakness and much of the misunderstood greatness of the French character.  The inevitable ugliness of a modern “show” may leave his imagination free to compare it with the grander architecture of the Wheel at Earl’s Court, into which eager hundreds ascend nightly — presumably because it is the only place from which it cannot be seen.  Everywhere the tawdriness of that which is new, the pretentiousness of that which is official, may give food to any mind that is desirous of indulging in the contemptible pleasure of contempt.  But no Englishman who travels in Normandy and takes with him any vestige of English generosity and shrewdness can fail to feel, amid sleepy towns and grass-grown ruins, the silent splendour of the enduring greatness of France.  He finds himself among the monuments of a French civilisation which sowed cathedrals and council halls as thick as farms in Kent in an age when utter savagery reigned in the land of France’s great modern enemy and of her great modern ally.  And in the shadow of this opulent antiquity he finds a race, living and vigorous, whose faults indeed are neither few nor small, but whose virtues are those especially claimed for the Teuton-strength, prudence, fidelity and industry; none the worse for being touched with a certain democratic courtesy which is rare in London and almost undiscoverable in Paris.  Mr. Percy Dearmer and Mr. Pennell are suited to each other in one respect; that they are both impressed with the necessity of avoiding the air and spirit of the guide-book. But while Mr. Pennell’s scorn of the practical is airy and triumphant, Mr. Dearmer’s is fitful and desperate.  Now and then the guide-book conquers.  A reader who opens the book incautiously may easily light on a paragraph beginning, “Proceeding up the left aisle we find ourselves . . . .” and be forced, with a slight shudder, to turn over the pages quickly.  But to dwell on these lurid examples would be to give an utterly false idea of a very interesting work.  Mr. Dearmer has grasped the one great truth of the matter, that to be rambling, to be lopsided, to be unequal, are things that matter not at all, if by these processes a man may dwell on what he has to say and pass over what everybody else has said.  Mr. Dearmer has certain hobbies of his own; one of them is mediaeval military architecture, a truly generous hobby which warms the heart, since it cannot under any conceivable circumstances be of any material use to anybody.  By the space he devotes to the difficulty of capturing Coeurde-Lion’s fortress of Chateau-Gaillard one might think he was going to storm that long-dismantled stronghold next morning.  another of his interests is coloured glass.  The general impression of Norman buildings conveyed in his pages is that they consist entirely of windows, like the Crystal Palace.  But words cannot convey how warmly Mr. Dearmer is to be commended for giving his work the sincerity of a specialist rather than the hypocrisy of the “cultured” tourist, with his predestined admiration of every buttress and crypt.  There is snobbery and flattery enough among men; there is no need that we should fawn upon stones.

Mr. Pennell is, of course, even further from the beaten track.  His work can hardly be considered by the tourist a good substitute for an album of photographs.  He is one of the most brilliant of that modern school of artists in whom the desire to copy external objects is always checked by a delicate love of the materials and medium in which the work is done.  If he sketches a cottage in pen-and-ink, the lines suggest the bricks; but they are not brick lines — they are deliberately and avowedly pen-and-ink lines; the soul of the pen is in them as the soul of the bow is in the flying arrow.  If he draws a waterfall in charcoal, he may love the great mountains and the ruinous fall of the river, but he does not love them half as much as he loves that piece of charred stick in his hand-its filmy lines or black abrupt angles.

Mr. Pennell’s illustrations are, of course, admirable, and they are reproduced in a manner that must have satisfied the artist himself — not the most roseate of optimists on such points of criticism.  One rather singular thing about the illustrations is the large number of them that are set on the page crooked, making the spires reel as if Normandy were a land of earthquakes.  “The Tower of St. Jacques,” for example, is a splendid architectural study, but it is impossible to repress the query — which Mr. Winkle applied to his horse — “What makes him go sideways?” I note this eccentricity with some trepidation, for it may be a part of the new technique.  No one acquainted with Mr. Pennell’s literary personality would be surprised if the matter ended in an indignant article over his name, in which he explained that artists had long abandoned the obstinate, fatuous, clumsy process of putting a picture the right way up, had realised the great atmospheric delicacy of the oblique method, and that this enlightenment, long familiar to the great aristocracy of art, might soon work its way down, through the lunatic asylums and the criminal class, to the comprehension of the literary critics.

Any one who can appreciate the technique of sketching will find inexhaustible pleasure even in those parts of Mr. Pennell’s work in which his excellences are scholarly and traditional.  If he blackens a tree with barred lines, the lines grip the tree tight and give it solid shape: they do not merely stripe it like a tiger-skin rug.  If he throws out a line, however long and loose, it is sent flying in great curves like a lasso at a definite place and purpose: not sent stumbling through blank spaces like a lost cow in the style of the imitators of Beardsley.  But the chief interest of Mr. Pennell’s art is not in the more conservative portions.  The basis of the artistic as of the ethical virtues is courage, and of courage there is only one certain and splendid signal — failure.  And among all the designs there are none that more definitely give its character to the series than those which are not wholly successful, which aim at an original effect and miss it.  Here and there a mass of hill and cloud, left too defiantly blank, does not suggest a blaze of sunshine, but merely a square of white paper: here and there a medley of strokes does not come together quickly enough to assume the features of a familiar cathedral.  But these are more especially valuable, for they are the marks of the chivalrous and ambitious spirit of Mr. Pennell’s art, which is everywhere making experiments, which seeks with each sketch to found a school.

Of all the many styles which Mr. Pennell affects with success, there is one which calls for a certain notice, for it is that which has most recently modified his work.  It is essentially describable as a sketchy revival of the pre-Raphaelite landscape.  The heavy dogmas of pre-Raphaelite criticism have gone, the corpse that falls from every religion at its resurrection.  But the spirit, the unconscious spirit of the great brotherhood, its instinct for the decorative character of the shapes of things, its instinct for the effective conventional treatment of sun and tree and river, its fresh feeling for the youth of the earth, none the less fascinated and fascinating because it was touched with a youthful asceticism and fear, its medieeval sentiment of a compact cosmos in which clouds and stars were as solid as stones and mountains — all this half mystic, half-grotesque realism is gathered up into the eternal web of the world’s art.  And if any one wishes to see the essential truth that was in pre-Raphaelitism, he has only to look at an outline sketch of Mont Saint Michel, by Joseph Pennell — one of the greatest of the Impressionists.



 — The Speaker, May 26, 1900

Rupert, Prince Palatine.  By Eva Scott.  Westminster: Constable; New York: Putnam’s Sons.

To most minds Prince Rupert is but a momentary apparition in English history: with drums beating and feathers flying he is seen storming across the cleared spaces of the Civil War, dashing everything in pieces till he strikes one stronger than himself and is dashed to pieces in his turn.  To those who dream of this romantic tornado, the “furious German” of Macaulay, it will be a great shock even to open Miss Scott’s excellent biography and catch sight of the fine portrait at the beginning.  None could look less furious: no one certainly could look less German.  It is the face of a graceful and pensive man, clever with something more than the hereditary cleverness which was one of the worst of the calamities of the Stuarts, but its most dominant feature is its unfathomable melancholy.  Indeed it is a curious and not, I fancy, an accidental fact, that this austerity of visage is almost a monopoly of the portraits of Cavaliers-the roystering gallants of the popular imagination.  If they roystered as a rule with that expression of countenance they must have been the most depressing company it is possible to conceive.  The Puritan portraits that have come down to us have mostly a satisfied and even a complacent look.  Cromwell’s face is a healthy and homely one, not without hints of a good dinner; Bunyan’s is of the same genial type.  Milton’s face is touched with severity: possibly because Milton was half a Cavalier.  I have said, and I think the point has some bearing on Rupert’s character, that this was not a wholly accidental distinction.  It is one of the most persistent errors to suppose that Puritanism was subjectively a sombre thing.  The enthusiasm for that theology vetoed and sacrificed many harmless pleasures: so does the enthusiasm for gambling or fashionable dress.  But in itself, like all enthusiasms, it was a happiness, and any one acquainted with its descendant, modern evangelicalism, knows that its most really troublesome feature is a quite obtrusive hilarity.  On the other hand, a certain section of the Cavaliers, of whom Rupert was a picturesque representative, did typify much of the most ancient sadness of the world.  There is nothing more consciously dreary than the deliberate pursuit of pleasure.  Scattered everywhere through those beautiful lyrics which were the literature of the Cavaliers is that pessimism which seems the inevitable accompaniment of the “carpe diem” philosophy, rising to its grandest outburst in that extraordinary poem in which a Cavalier, a Christian, a priest of the Church of England tore the veil from his own vital paganism:–

“And as a vapour or a drop of rain,
Once lost can ne’er be found again,
So when you or I are made
A fable, song or passing shade,
All love, all liking, all delight
Lies drowned with us in endless night;
So while time serves, and we are but decaying,
Come, my Corinna, come – let’s go a Maying.”

This would be utterly untrue, of course, of that group of idealistic and scholarly Cavaliers, such as Falkland and Lovelace, who were far more religious than the Puritans; but Rupert was not one of these.  He was a man whose interests were not merely of this world, but of the fleeting and insecure things of this world-victory, intrigue, popularity.  He was far from being ignoble; like every other human being who had to do with Charles I., he suffered for that honour; but he suffered in silence and with a certain chivalry.  Even in his old age, Miss Scott tells us, when he was reputed almost a cynic, his real generosity in private was a bright spot in the mean epicureanism of the Restoration.  But, though Rupert was a gentleman to the tips of his fingers, he was the very reverse of a Quixote; his wars, treaties, chemical experiments alike give us the impression of one who is filling up a hollow thing-life. It may be that under a hundred badges and disguises there have never been but two parties in the world: those to whom life was a black figure on a white ground, and those to whom it was a white figure on a black ground; those to whom the background of the cosmos is so irradiated with some great hope and opportunity that the direst toils and macerations seem natural; and those to whom the background is black with so unfathomable a blackness that every pleasure must be hoarded like the flowers of Herrick.

Because Rupert, hot from the thrilling but worldly wars and politics of the Continent in the seventeenth century, in some degree typified this last spirit of the Renaissance, its lust of action and diversion, its sense of the swiftness of the passing hour, its love of the stirring gaieties of war-because of this spirit he carried everything before him triumphantly until that spirit met its only real rival.  And in that twilight hour of evening, when an audacious fire opened unexpectedly upon his lines, and new men with new war-colours came roaring over the ditch of Marston Moor, Rupert, in a flash of spiritual insight, might have had a vision of the immaterial banner that was borne before them.  It was the black sign on the white ground.

Some temptation to stray into speculations like these may he pleaded from the very nature of Miss Scott’s most interesting biography, in which the only fault we can discover is that she does not pay sufficient attention to these larger forces which lay at the back of her hero’s career.  It may seem a singular objection to raise against a life of Prince Rupert that there is too much about Prince Rupert in it, yet this vice of relevancy has ruined more biographies than can be counted.  The chief of its evil effects is this, that by failing to value the spirit and power of his opponents the biographer must necessarily do an injustice to the hero himself.  We have read biographies of Lord Beaconsfield in which not a word occurred to indicate that Mr. Gladstone was a man of more than ordinary powers: surely it was Beaconsfield who was the sufferer by such a version.  This vulgar love of giving the hero an easy victory belongs to that same spirit which dictates certain war pictures in which all the Boers are placing themselves back foremost with a kind of reluctant precision upon the spears of elegant British Lancers.  Why any patriotic heart should be stirred by the reflection that a horseman with a ten-foot pole can transfix manifestly terrified agricultural old gentlemen may be a mystery, but the same crude idea of glory is at the bottom of all enthusiastic biographies in which the imagination of the writer has not risen to a fair appreciation of the other side.  Miss Scott does not, indeed, fall into any vulgar vituperations of the Puritans, but we think that her figure of Rupert, a singular graphic and spirited one, would have lost nothing if more of the background had been filled in.



 — The Speaker, June 23, 1900

Grant Allen.  A Memoir by Edward Clodd.  London: Grant Richards.

Mr. Edward Clodd is one of the ablest of folk-lore scholars, and there must always be something a little unfair about the position of the folk-lore scholar, the man who has to dissect gods like beetles.  He may not be what is called a free-thinker, for it is one thing to dissect beliefs, and another to vivisect them.  But he will commonly have this misfortune of the free-thinker, that he cannot altogether be a “free-feeler,” that he has to remain cold and restrained among intoxicating things.  He has to keep his head on that dizzy brink of credulity, that land of half-belief, the border of elfiand, on which the mass of humanity has always lived.  This must of necessity react upon him; he cannot half believe, cannot play with an idea, for fear it should play with him.  He is at a disadvantage in dealing with anything that is light, irrational and elvish, and it must be admitted that, to our fancy, it is with a step somewhat too heavy and cautious that Mr. Clodd follows through the forest the faun, Grant Allen.

We do not go so far as to ask Mr. Clodd to treat Grant Allen as mythical.  We do not insist (though our proofs are, of course, ready) that there were six Grant Allens confused under one name; we refrain from demonstrating that Grant Allen is only the solar god passing through the Zodiac in the twelve monthly numbers of that monstrous, yet almost universal myth, The Strand Magazine.

Doubtless Mr. Clodd has, in his own slightly superstitious mind, evidence of the reality of the apparition Allen.  But we strongly believe that Grant Allen would rather have been torn in pieces as an engaging fable than presented as the solid and solemn person depicted in this book.  Grant Allen was a genial and chivalrous man; that much is obvious.  He was also (to descend to lower matters) something of a genius.  But for all that Mr. Clodd has taken him much too seriously.  He was, it seems to us, one thing essentially, and it lay at the root of all his versatile successes – he was a brilliant conversationalist.  Perhaps this is only the same thing as saying that he was an Irishman.  He had what we may venture to define as a centrifugal mind; he excelled in throwing off (as over a cup of coffee and a cigar) wild, yet suggestive ideas; we say “throwing off,” because the ideas, ingenious, picturesque and entertaining, belong, nevertheless, to that class of ideas that a man is uncommonly glad to get rid of.

All his paradoxes, his absurdities, his irrelevancies had this conversational character.  We remember an article he wrote in favour of “Cremation” in which he left that dull subject miles behind, and wandered off into fantastic abuse of Christianity, taking its forms of burial as a text.  He cannot possibly have imagined that this was sound or strategic controversy, but he knew that it was good conversation.  For the sake of another example, we may mention his last book, Hilda Wade.  As a story it is as mechanical and unreal as a Bow Bells novelette, and very much duller.  But as we read, the foolish figures of the dramatis personae fade away, and we are listening to a scientific man with an imagination talking delightful nonsense about the homesickness of mountaineers and women who are destined to be murdered.  Out of the whole of Mr. Clodd’s book there is one passage, quoted from Mr. Purcell, which we think contains the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  It is, in its way, delightful:–

“To find myself in agreement with Mr. Allen,” says Mr. Purcell, “on any question whatever, critical, social, political, would indeed be a painful breach of a friendship which has subsisted for a quarter of a century without one cloud of acquiscence, concession or retractation on either side.  His philosophy I denounce as heretical, yet delight in it: it is a pleasure to confound his destestable cut-throat polities, his panaceas for social ills I regard as the deadliest poison, yet I would not have him drop them”

Mr. Clodd dismisses this passage as “humorous:” it is more than that, it is psychological.  We fancy Mr. Allen got more fun and more profit out of the breezy antagonism of Mr. Purcell than out of the grave veneration of Mr. Clodd.

We have called Grant Allen a faun: the simile is not wholly fanciful.  His very love of beast and bird, his knowledge of everything in woods and hedges, was not altogether a cold spirit of science: it was partly a kind of animal ecstacy.  Even in his face, with its smiling eyes and long, goat-like beard, there was something of the look of Pan.  So long as he was this, so long he was both charming and inspiring.  But surely Mr. Clodd is wrong when he gives the general impression that Grant Allen stands among the great disciples of Darwin.  He had abundance of knowledge, doubtless, as well as wit, but when all is said and done he stands in that class of men who think of a good way of saying something, and proceed to say that thing, as opposed to those in whom the thing exists long before the words.  If any one wishes to see the point of this second class, and know how wit greater than Allen’s may be the servant of wisdom, not its master, he need only turn to a short letter in this book signed T. H. Huxley.

But, after all, the best proof of the essentially faunlike and naturalistic character of Grant Allen’s mind is to be found in the mishaps that befell him when he followed after his blind advisers and took himself seriously.  From respect to a strong intellect we do not dwell upon The Woman Who Did – that almost indecently funny book.  As literature it will be chiefly remembered from that exquisite Gilbertian touch in which the heroine blushes at the word “marriage” as at the name of a lewd passion.  As a tract it certainly established nothing beyond a faint and feeble movement in the direction of establishing (by the episode of the child) the orthodox Christian position.  Mr. Clodd, one of the most highminded of modern thinkers, is reduced to the most curious phrases in expounding this book.  He so far forgets his own ingrained rationality as to appeal from the Christian ideal to “the Stoic life according to Nature.” According to humanitarians like Grant Allen and Mr. Clodd, Nature is one of the worst guides conceivable in all matters of peace, war, government, industry and the ordinary relations between man and man.  Why in the name of common-sense should she be any better guide on the relations of the sexes? The New Hedonism, as expounded by Mr. Clodd, amounts apparently to this, that Nature is detestable when she commands us to be strong, but infallible when she commands us to be weak.

But all Grant Allen’s ethical views, whether eccentric or otherwise, serve to throw up in a very striking way the moral health of the man himself.  He was one of those men, whom one meets occasionally, to whom this great tribute is to be paid: that they are really to be trusted with a hedonistic philosophy.  Few could boast a higher claim.  It was Grant Allen’s pleasure to be good.  When all is said, it was simply the Celtic purity of the man that made him so perilous a legislator for the mass of men.  Mr. Clodd speaks with natural indignation of those who thought that a man who wrote The Woman Who Did “must be a libertine.” But the idea would never have have occurred to us: we should rather say that the man who wrote it could not be a libertine.  A libertine would have more knowledge of the world.

It is needless to say that Mr. Clodd’s work is raised above any cavil in point of literary construction and arrangement.  The hand has not lost its cunning which has presented so many other myths besides the Grant Allen myth here imposed on the public.  But a myth we will venture to call it, because it is falsified to the root by a fault-unconscious like all great faults-that it regards Grant Allen as a man of the Darwinian and agnostic era, instead of what he really was — a man of this aesthetic and paradoxical decade.  Sometimes he was silly enough to suit the phrase “fin de siecle.” He had, to our mind, absolutely nothing in common with the great Darwinian philosophers.  He had not their simplicity of character, their concentration of purpose, their humility of claim.  He was of the race of the inevitably interviewed.  He not only trumpeted the merit of his good books, he trumpeted the very badness of his bad ones.  He made a vaunt of pot-boiling and bad workmanship.  Circumstances might arise that might justify the sin of bad art; but the boiling of pots is in its nature a domestic and not a public ceremony.  But Grant Allen had not the high good taste which the older rationalists carried on from the eighteenth century; he was a cynic, a phrase-maker, a “personality,” the child of this awful age of good conversation.  Above all, he had not the deepest and quietest trait of the great Darwinians – their profound sense of religion.  Mr. Clodd admits that he repudiated Agnosticism on the ground that there was “nothing to be known.” It may seem startling that such a rationalist should have failed to see the elementary point of logic that to assert a universal negative is a far more undemonstrable dogma than the vision of a million angels; but on the one matter of the invisible, this brilliant man exhibits in every way a child-like and almost engaging simplicity.  On this one point he was like a savage who cannot think or count beyond ten.  It is of no avail and of no significance to him that the great discoverer of Natural Selection describes in his peroration the breath of God stirring the simple forms: that the greatest of his lieutenants saw ever before him the just and terrible Chess-player. These men pass easily from speaking of mollusca and infusoriae to speaking of these matters.  Yet it is at this precise point of passage that an expression of bewilderment comes upon the face of the faun.



 — The Speaker, August 4, 1900

The Shrine of the English: Westminster Abbey.  By G. E. Troutbeck.  London: Methuen.

There is undoubtedly a certain fascination about this little book, due chiefly to its complete difference in form to the common guide.  Simple as it is, it has something of the picturesqueness of a missal: it has Gothic compactness and Gothic variety.  As good an example as could be given is the pen-and-ink plan at the beginning, a plan more poetical than many landscapes, in which the lettering, drawn by hand in true mediaeval spirit, has that mystic touch of imperfection which makes the dead alphabet alive.

We are not commonly inclined to judge of books by their format, and we doubt whether culture has really gained much by the erection of a sensual love of books in the place of a spiritual.  Despite the lamentations poured out over the cheapness of paper literature, we confess that we prefer the Penny Poets to the six-shilling poetasters.  But if there is a class of book in which we think the element of ornament seriously needed it is in such works as the one before us.  The bald utilitarian character of guide-books does much to increase that heavy, materialistic, conscientious view of travel which makes thousands pour into Rouen and Canterbury essentially in the same belief in which they pour into Lourdes, the belief that a mere physical contact has a talismanic power over wisdom and virtue.  But it is only at the psychological moment, when some chain of association is struck, as it may be struck, by the quaintness of a book like this, that a niche with mouldering carvings is really the grave of Chaucer, or a rusty bar of iron hung in the roof the terrible sword of Edward I.

Mr. Troutbeck’s work does not profess to be complete even as a practical text-book: such a thing was indeed impossible, and Mr. Troutbeck is to be congratulated on the amount of knowledge he succeeds in imparting as it is.  Far less can it do justice to the historic and moral significance of its great subject.  It would be an interesting but an endless inquiry to ask what has steeped these ancient stones in the affections of all Englishmen and why that affection has never equally gone out to St. Paul’s Cathedral, so much more central, dominant and imposing.  One reason, however, may be considered to lie on the surface: it is contained in the very words of the fine epitaph of Wren.  From the most obscure craftsman to the most arrogant of the Angevins no man ever lived who could say that Westminster Abbey was monumentum ejus.  Like our Constitution and our common law it is formless, beginningless, endless, alive.  St. Paul’s is the work of a great man; Westminster Abbey the work of a great nation.  For this reason we do not at all agree with those sensitive mediaevalists who wish the Abbey to be purged of its Vulgarities and anachronisms, the turgid eighteenth century monuments, and the whole horror of that Regency art and poetry, from which we are further removed than from Beowulf and Phidias.  Between the Roundhead, who destroyed antiquities for the love of God, and the aesthete, who destroys them for the love of Gothic, the superiority, such as it is, in taste and imagination seems to us very much on the side of the Roundhead.  Westminster Abbey is something immeasurably better than a work of art.  We should as soon think of destroying all records of the reign of James I., on the ground that it was an anticlimax in the romance of history, as of cutting away half a historic building in order to give it an aesthetic unity which nothing historic can ever possibly possess.  But, although we think the worst vandalism is the vandalism of a bloodless culture, we do not think that any self-deception should be indulged in as regards the artistic question itself.  Mr. Troutbeck is a little too much inclined to speak smooth things about all parts of his beloved abbey.  Henry VII.’s Chapel, he tells us, is counted one of the “Wonders of the World” (orbis miraculum).  If it is, we have no hesitation in describing it as one of the “lying wonders” prophesied in the New Testament.  Mr. Troutbeck, in fact, gives its case away himself by saying that its chief features are “its delicate pendants and lace-like design,” as if there were any more sense in stone arches looking like lace than there is in lace looking like stone arches.  As for the “delicate pendants,” they may be admired by those who think that art is a tour de force, a sort of juggling, but to any one who thinks for three minutes of the nature of building, a lamppost hanging head downwards from Holborn Viaduct would be a sight infinitely more dignified and rational.  But, indeed, the whole matter is a striking example of the false orbis miraculum sentiment, the sentiment that has solemnly collected seven wonders in a world of ten million wonders, or rather in a world which is itself the only wonder, and in which all that is honourably wonderful must be produced, like trees and flowers, by observance, not defiance of its essential laws.  The fact is that Henry VII.’s Chapel is a miracle, a miracle of degraded architecture.  Instead of the endless variety of carving which enshrined the sentiment, satire, reverence, ribaldry of a thousand mediaeval workmen, we see staring at us on every side, like an army of State spies and officials, the endless ranks of the rose and portcullis, the broad arrow of that soulless despotism.  Undoubtedly it is a gorgeous sight — and quite worthy to be named after the only one of our Kings who was as rich and as mean as itself.

Mr. Troutbeck’s greatest merit, as we have indicated, is in his immersion in the spirit of the Abbey-an immersion which extends to the very plan and ornament of his book.  The almost pre-Raphaelite line illustration, the modern landscapes made ancient by their mere treatment, all contribute to this effect.  The author has carried it out well by prefixing to most of his chapters quotations from those old masters of our language who improve, like wine, with age-Spenser, Beaumont, Shirley, and their like.  In this matter however it is well to avoid errors, and Mr. Troutbeck has misquoted the first line of Shirley’s most famous poem, making it run:

“The glories of our birth and state,”

We do not care for quarrels about trivial misquotations, but this happens to be one of the four or five poems in the world in which, in a rhythmic sense, it is impossible to alter one word without altering it for the worse.  If Mr. Troutbeck will compare the line as he has written it with the real line:–

“The glories of our blood and state,”

he will see that he has broken a musical instrument.  Finally, Mr. Troutbeck has done well in rising into a higher literary atmosphere in the general motto of the volume – that ancient cry of all patriots which begins, “When I forget thee, O ]erusalem.” Indeed the Abbey is as healing and ennobling a refuge as a lover of England could wish for in evil times.  We doubt whether even wearing a small pasteboard Union jack in the buttonhole can produce equally exalted consolation.  For in this one place it is difficult not to feel the presence of that secret national strength of which no conquests are a guarantee, and a profound historic impression, more easily felt than demonstrated, that, whatever blunders or brutalities may have marked our record, few nations have been, upon the whole, so free from essential corruption of the heart.


 — The Speaker, August 4, 1900

The Women of Mediaeval France.  Pictures of the Old French Court.  By Catherine Bearne.  London: Fisher Unwin.

We have a pleasant recollection of Mrs. Bearne’s previous work, Lives and Times of the Early Valois Queens.  In that and in the volume before us, we find much suggestive information on one of the most interesting problems to the modern politician-the political women of the middle ages.  Mrs. Bearne herself, it is true, cares little for the philosophy of history and a great deal for its romance.  She has a personal vision of mediaeval Paris which might have added a chapter to Hugo’s Notre Dame.  The gorgeous fairs, where rich armour and merchandise were sold in the open air, the heavy and fantastic apparel of the aristocracy, the brawl in the streets at night, the flash of steel in the moonlight, the cry of the factions, the mysterious “tall man in the red hood,” who came out to soliloquise over the corpse of the murdered Duc d’Orléans, all these she presents with the clearness and colour of pictorial art.  But she does not seek herself to draw from the careers of the great women she describes any of the morals which almost immediately present themselves to the mind of the reader.  She does not trouble herself about the problem of the political woman of to-day, and will not, we fancy, until the controversy is conducted in a more romantic manner, until the streets of the city echo at midnight with the cry that the Chevalier Courtney has lured that political misogynist, the Sieur Chamberlain, into a quaint old tavern, where he has fallen under the sword of the Chevalier Begg.

The reader can hardly fail, as we have hinted, to be struck by the reflection that the exclusion of women from Governmental posts, called both by its opponents and supporters an “ancient” thing, is in reality a particularly modern thing.  By a refinement of irony it belongs to democracy and to democracy alone.  And, although it would be absurd either for Mrs. Bearne or for us to make these old stories a test of any definite political question, we fancy that a study of the mediaeval women whom she describes can hardly fail to raise the reader’s opinion of the mental and moral capabilities of the sex.

Indeed, in this general moral matter, the facts as presented by Mrs. Bearne are very remarkable.  The book before us deals roughly with the Court of France from the time of Crécy to the death of Anne de Bretagne.  The two most striking sketches are those of Jeanne de Bourbon and Isabeau de Bavire. The period thus covered was one of black and aimless cruelty, horrible for Europe, and trebly horrible for France, watching the break-up of the whole civilisation of St. Louis.  To the panic, bitterness and barbarity of most of the princes is added one nightmare touch, worthy of Balzac’s romances-the touch of their startling juvenility.  On every side we hear of profiigates of thirteen and tyrants of fourteen; the land seems dominated by a race of sinister and unnatural boys.  We read in Mrs. Bearne that Pedro slaughtered children and women, trampled his wife, wallowed in the blood of his own brothers; and then, as a mere trivial detail, that most of this happened between his sixteenth and nineteenth birthday.  Yet amid this society, so intense and exacting that mere lads were careworn and depraved, women contrived to hold their own.  So far from being the whitefaced and cowering slaves immured in castles which some satirists of the mediaeval times have represented them, they spoke often with as high a head, as clear a voice, as ringing a chivalric eloquence as any King in Europe.  Indeed, in the stories told by Mrs. Bearne the royal women differ little from the royal men, except in being a little more steadfast and far more sincere.  Only a very dull “modern,” we think, could fail to be stirred with the story of the little twelve year-old French princess, married to Richard II.  of England, who when a whole craven nobility were bowing to Henry IV.  tore the Lancastrian badge from her retainers’ uniform and sent, in the name of a husband thrice her age, a childish and magnificent defiance to the usurper.  It is the same everywhere.  The mother of Pedro the Cruel stood up against him almost alone to defend her daughter-in-law and fellowwoman.  Valentine Visconti, by her tranquil and benignant force of mind, was able to win back to sanity the literal maniac, Charles VI.  Jeanne de Bourbon shared all the largest and most statesmanlike troubles of her husband, Charles V.

It may be said that these queens and princesses were intellectually exceptional women.  We fancy not, and we fancy that this notion is based on a complete failure to comprehend the real lesson of the middle ages.  Take, by way of parallel, the case of the kings.  From the Conquest to the death of Elizabeth, there are hardly five kings in English history who do not give an impression of a certain moral and intellectual greatness.  That all these eldest sons of eldest sons were really, by an immortal coincidence, the ablest men of their age, is incredible.  In mere intellect they were doubtless inferior to the counsellors they bullied and the statesmen they sent to the block.  They were average men; and their glory is this, that they showed of what average men are capable, when they are endowed with a heroic opportunity.  The whole need and passion of a nation demanded that one man should be great, and except in the two or three cases in which he was an utter dastard, he was great.  One modern man alone, perhaps, has seen clearly the true lesson buried under the ruins of the feudal ages, in which so many solemnly quarry for mere fancies, revivals and superstitions.  That man was Walt Whitman.  He saw, though he only dimly expressed, that what had once been possible to one average man, might be possible to every average man, if only a more heroic view of citizenship lifted him into that large atmosphere and fired him with that imperial self-esteem. We incline to think in the same manner that the human grandeur of Jeanne de Bourbon was due far less to innate capacity than to common intelligent grasp of an intensely imaginative position.

Mrs. Bearne’s work suffers from a few practical errors.  If she will compare the statement of the paternity of Jeanne de Bourbon contained in the text with that contained in the table of genealogy, she will see that her statement is, to say the least of it, misleading.  Such confusions are, however, unusually rare in her work.



 — The Speaker, August 18, 1900

Before the beginning of lands and kings,
Before the beginning of thrones,
Did we not bargain for bitter things,
And pay a price for the stones?

False we grew in the house of peace,
Small in the days of pride;
Only never of war we cease:
Never of death we died.

Stones that shatter and blades that shine
And hate of men made mad,
These were ever our meat and wine —
Let us eat and drink and be glad.

Though we fought from a broken wreck,
Though they were handed thus,
He that trod on Napoleon’s neck
Could not tread upon us.

What if again be dark and drouth?
What if the dogs have bayed?
We that laughed in the lion’s mouth —
Why should we be afraid?

Before the beginning of lands and kings,
Before the beginning of thrones,
Did we not bargain for bitter things,
And pay a price for the stones?

The old wounds burn. Hail to the hour!
Hail to the Feast of Cain!
When they have thrones and rods and power
And we our youth again.

Gilbert Chesterton


 — The Speaker, September 29, 1900

Attempts in Verse.  By Charles H. Hoole.  London: Rivington

It is a very dangerous thing for the most intelligent man to write a long poem in blank verse; or, for the matter of that, a long poem in any verse.  Indeed, it is a dangerous and possibly criminal thing to write a poem at all.  We do not think Mr. Hoole especially to blame if his extensive monologue on the early Christians, by one of themselves, becomes slightly tiresome.  Any man who writes a long blank verse narrative sings a lullaby to his own wits.  Gradually, insensibly, with insidious advance, the task becomes easier and easier, the standard lower and lower.  He finds it convenient, indeed necessary, to narrate much that is explanatory and unpoetic, and the watery fluency of his medium makes it easy to do so:–

“At Rome, one April, Nicholas and I
Had planned a visit to the catacombs.
He a law student of the Scottish Bar” —

and so on.  There is nothing silly or offensive about this style; its fatal defect is that anything could be written in it.  We could write our own critique in blank verse of this kind and very much in the manner of Mr. Hoole:–

“Before us lies a book sent for review
Titled Attempts in Verse, by Charles H. Hoole,
Student of Christ Church, Oxford. (Rivington.)
We read it with contentment, not with rapture,
And amid much that we could do without
Find frequently a line that isn’t bad,
And still more frequently a line that is.”

It is a style that lends a sort of loathsome facility to a man’s poorest and paltriest thoughts.  The ablest of men under its influence, losing all discipline of restraint and opportunity, would gradually turn into the horrible vision of an omnipotent idiot with a continent of paper and eternity before him.  It is extraordinary to notice how Mr. Hoole-who, whatever else he is, is obviously a man of taste and learning-is gradually more and more drugged with this degrading security until he writes lines like

“Set like some gem or topaz in the gold.”

This carelessness is positively below the level of a man’s common conversation.  We do not believe that Mr. Hoole in private life would ever say: “If any man or grocer calls, show him up”; or “Let us plant some flowers or some pansies in the garden.” But Mr. Hoole has taught his mind the detestable tune that is easier than speech itself.

The subject of the poem which occupies the greater part of this book is, as we have remarked, the condition of the early Christians.  We are sorry that Mr. Hoole has done nothing towards rending that veil of pious and dehumanising unreality that has been lowered between us and the most absorbing and romantic of all the revolutions of the world.  Martyrology in all its forms will, we venture to say, yet be found to be the highest of social sciences, and whatever may be rationally and even humanely urged on behalf of easier philosophies, we all of us know at root that mankind will die on the day that the martyrs elect to live.  But devout poets like Mr. Hoole have done a far worse thing to the martyrs than was done by the tyrants who made their torments bitter.  They have made them easy.  To read Mr. Hoole, one would fancy that being eaten by a lion was quite a moral picnic, a natural enjoyment.  His heroes, like the lady in The Sign of the Cross (a typical case of the same error), go to their tortures with a kind of graceful weariness, like a jilted Duchess going to a ball.  That men have been burnt alive willingly is a fact of no little interest to any one who has ever put his hand in the flame of a candle, but surely it is clear that no person could do so unless he were in a state of blazing excitement dearer than the desire of life and passing the love of woman.  Red-hot pincers might infuse agony or defiance, but that they could infuse a spirit of contemplative boredom is not a thing we can believe.  The fact of the matter is that the early Christians were probably what are called fanatics, and will be so called until we want some more.  Mr. Hoole’s conventional version of them exhibits them as people so pompously harmless, so vapidly genteel, that it is perfectly ridiculous to suppose that any civilisation could have thought such prigs were cannibals.  The real Christian, ignorant, concentrated, boorish, obsessed with many monstrous myths, but full of the fire that was to burn and renew the world, probably gave far more superficial probability to the slander.  The deepest evil of Mr. Hoole’s class of work on this subject is that it has driven numbers of thoughtless people with a smattering of knowledge and full of the ancient human love of upsetting a hypocrite, into another extreme.  That narrowest of religious sectarians, the Secularist, supposes that the suggestion that the early Christians were neither so wise nor so good as they are represented, is in some way a diminution from their great work.  But suppose that after the French Revolution the pious optimism of Robespierre in his views of the democracy had obtained the same universal control that was gained by the pious optimism of the early Church.  Suppose that all traces of the follies of the ]acobins had been lost, with all traces of the follies of the Galilaeans.  Suppose that generations had been taught to adore the meek and loving Marat depicted in an aureole, with the knife, his instrument of martyrdom, and the blessed and humble Robespierre with the guillotine, his instrument of martyrdom.  And suppose that some Gibbon arose and began to pull these fictions to pieces.  In the eyes of those who think, of course, he would not have gone near to touching the sanctity that must for ever cling round those figures in history, great as may be their faults, by whose stripes we are healed.  But for whatever disgust and mental confusion might arise among the thoughtless, Mr. Hoole might claim a share in the responsibility.  It is such poems as “Caecilius,” written in the most reverent tone and with the best intentions, which take away from the great Christian romance all those elements of the human, the chivalrous and the unexpected which give the glory to all the other romances of history.  Mr. Hoole’s hero, a young Roman who, of course, starts life as a Pagan, remains, as far as we are concerned, a Pagan to the end.  If Mr. Hoole wishes for polished manners, for artistic surroundings, for broad opinions, he will find them among the Pagans of that age.  But times come in history, of which Christianity was one and the French Revolution the other, when the chariot of opportunity thunders past and men must run after salvation.  And a man running after salvation can no more be dignified than a man running after his hat.  In quiet and careless times men may be like Mr. Hoole’s Christians, but in the presence of any better and bracing hope, life, in its unconsciousness, must become sprawling and fantastic, blown out of shape like those grotesque and twisted trees which are the first signals of the sea.


 — The Speaker, September 29, 1900

In Birmingham among my own
Dear people I appear,
For I was born at Camberwell,
Not very far from here.
And if you choose another man,
My public life is closed:
But you will find it difficult,
For I am unopposed.

Have we not armies at the front
Whom we can turn to mobs?
Who, for their love of Me, have shown
Some deference to Bobs.
They’re sensitive; and if they knew
Their Joseph had been hissed,
They’d have no nerve to strike the foe
Who now does not exist.

Sir Robert Reid thinks men depraved
Who differ from him. I
Have no such thoughts — beyond distrust
Of their sincerity.
I seldom call them “traitors” even:
I turn, with grace sufficient,
The “other cheek” — a thing in which
I never was deficient.

I challenged them, as they’ve replied
I challenge them again
To name my words provocative,
For why should “Sponge” give pain?
“Sponge” is a cool and cleanly thing,
And serves our nation well,
And on my private slate
I find it is invaluable.




By Anthony Hope.  London: Methuen. 
THE IMAGE-BREAKERS. By Gertrude Dix.  London: Heinemann.

 — October 13, 1900, The Speaker

The work of Mr. Anthony Hope would probably be completely great, if he could only obliterate the impression of complete modernity.  His last work, Quisanté, is a good example of this limitation.  If Mr. Hope would only write one book, or one chapter, or one sentence, that might have been written a thousand years ago, or even one sentence that could have been written at any other time than at the present decade, we believe he would have been the first writer of his age.  But he has lost that: he has gained popularity.  The basic idea of this particular decade is the intense symbolism of small things, small incidents, small phrases; and so far this decade is right enough.  No one can too often repeat, in defiance of an inane proverb, the great truth that little things please great minds.  So far as impressionism, realism, symbolism, and Mr. Hope’s Quisanté express this, they are worthy of all encouragement.  Quisanté is a study of a political parvenu-such a man as Disraeli was in many ways; such a man as Mr. Chamberlain might have been with the two additions of imagination and natural dignity.  Alexander Quisant leads a party which is obviously intended for the Conservative party; and Mr. Hope has well compared the innocent snobbery of the leader with the deliberate and evil snobbery of the aristocrats who rely on his leadership.

Mr. Anthony Hope is a particularly appropriate man to approach a subject of this kind.  He, more than any other modern writer, has expressed the best aristocratic spirit in modern society.  His abruptness, his rapidity, his lightning repartees and remote allusions, are after all only a form of that vast system of conveniences and that luxury of promptitude which are so natural to the richer classes.  Just as they need special trains to carry them to their destination, so they require special phrases to carry them to the heart of a subject.  But it is pleasant to find that a man, particularly a man of genius, may pass through all this and rise above it.  Mr. Hope deliberately describes Alexander Quisant, his hero, as having no manners.  But he keeps clearly in the reader’s mind, though he never expresses it, the meaning of “manners” — the methods by which something is to be done.  And he gives the palm to the man who does it in his own manner, in preference to his great political party, which, with an enormous apparatus of manners, does nothing at all.

We wish that all novels of Socialism and vague unconventionality were as good as Miss Gertrude Dix’s work, in which she shows a genuine sense of beauty and delicacy and a comprehension of that nameless aesthetic hunger which has so little to do with Socialism in formula and so much in fact.  Still, some Socialists are interested in social economics, and we wish Miss Dix were a little clearer on the intellectual and political side of the matter.  Socialism is said to be the doctrine of these “Image-Breakers,” yet they give shelter to a young bomb-throwing Anarchist, though the only “image” he is expert in breaking is the living image of God.  He is spoken of as if he differed from them only in means; but, if his end was Anarchy, it differed more from their end than Free Trade differs from Protection.  It seems improbable that humane and educated reformers would foster this sanguinary young noodle even for the benefit of their own party; but that they should foster him for the benefit of a philosophy flatly opposed to their own seems quite futile criminality.  The best part of the work however lies, as we have said, in its aesthetic and emotional delineation.  The love-story of Leslie and Redgold, especially towards the end, is really beautiful.  But we attach even more importance to that pervading sense of colour and form in which more of an author comes out than the author knows.  For every moral and social movement has, potentially, an art, a basic scheme of decoration, a landscape, as it were, at the back of it.  One of the best things in the book is the description on the first page of Leslie lying on her bed, a description as severely graceful as a mediaeval tomb, in which there is a real suggestion of that austere loveliness of “plain living and high thinking” which marks the best of these modern revolutionaries.



 — The Speaker, October 20, 1900

Letters Of T. E. Brown*. Westminster: A. Constable and Co.  Poems Of T. E. Brown.  London: Macmillan.

The letters of T. E. Brown, author of Fo’c’s’le Yarns, letters that are in many ways singularly exuberant and entertaining, are further interesting because they raise in a new way the whole problem of the publication of private letters.  Let no reader imagine, however, that there is anything lurid about them.  Nothing worse is discovered against the morality of Mr. Brown than an admiration of Mr. Hall Caine.  No skeleton in the family cupboard is revealed, except the one appalling figure of a father who was such a lover of style that he had a page of some English classic read to him before he answered an invitation.  This latter anecdote we have a sort of terror in repeating, because it is so obviously the kind of story that may go the round of the newspapers and the French translation books, and Lord Roberts, Mr. Vanderbilt, Talleyrand and Henri Quatre be successively credited with the habit of giving to the phrase “has much pleasure in accepting” some concentrated flavour of Burke.

There is, we say, nothing moral or immoral about the correspondence: it is mostly full of uproarious levity, and yet, we will venture to say, not altogether in paradox, that it is somewhat too sacred for the light of day.  It seems to us that frivolity is, in the secretive sense, far more sacred than seriousness; it is more fragile, more personal, more occult.  Any one can see St. Paul’s Cathedral, but there may be only two people in the world who can see a particular joke.  Biographers are sometimes accused of obtruding themselves: Mr. Irvine’s nobler error is rather that he forgets that he, who received most of these letters, was spiritually a collaborator in them.  His friend, T. E. Brown, was playing upon his memories and purposes as on a piano: to us he is too often fingering on a dumb keyboard.  We fear, as we say, that the rampant camaraderie of these communications will be misunderstood and undervalued: it is not possible, properly speaking, to laugh irreverently at time, death and judgment-for they laugh best who laugh last; but it is possible to laugh very irreverently at a joke.

T. E. Brown, a perfect Celt, has no restraint; his letters are full of “Ho! Ho’s!” and “Ha! Ha’s!” like the refrain of an Elizabethan lyric.  With schoolboy abruptness he makes remarks like “Isn’t Browning a ripper?” Throughout the work one feels that Kingsley is a ripper, that Newman is a ripper, that Dr. George Macdonald is a ripper.  Now a letter like this is a bond between two men, and when one of them is cut off it, it flaps dismally in the wind.  We are quite sure the letter was splendid when Mr. Irvine received it; we wish we had been Mr. Irvine; but we were not, and therefore do not read what he read.  The very essence of friendship is in this intermixture, in those great midnight conversations in which the primary colours of separate personalities are mingled into incredible greens and purples, as rich and unrecoverable as a sunset.

The author of Fo’c’s’le Yarns was a Manxman, and his poetry and letters are full of a somewhat new and original interpretation of the theory that the proper study of mankind is Man.  He speaks of that island as if England and Ireland were dangerous rocks making its approach difficult for the Manx mariner.  He was a typical Celt, and the hilarity to which we have alluded was only one side of this walking bundle of emotions, “I am a born sobber,” he said.  But the most fascinating inconsistency of his character in this respect are the bursts of Chaucerian plainness of speech which give salt to his mystic piety.  The born sobber exhibits himself at times with the greatest cheerfulness as a born swearer.  There is nothing in him of that mournful wealth of mind and translucent delicacy which give to certain modern Celtophiles the appearance, in the eye of the Philistine, of having a head full of religions and no leg to stand on.  Brown had plenty of legs to stand on, like the escutcheon of his own Isle of Man.  In fact, the only imaginary portrait we have formed of Mr. Brown is founded on that famous hieroglyph; we are sure that he would stand on one leg and dance with the other two.

Even in the letters, frantic and random as they are, T. E. Brown gives innumerable instances of a genuine literary instinct.  The delightful apologue of Matthew Arnold “in one of his raids” carrying away a Philistine maiden is worthy of that great man himself.  The remark about his father’s literary taste, “to him style was an instinct of personal cleanliness,” hits the right nail on the head and is an excellent instance of the thing it describes.

In an appropriate manner we are in a position at the same time to consider the full and handsome edition of Brown’s poems which Messrs.  Macmillan have published.  Those poems are far too voluminous to be accorded a detailed criticism here, but they are also far too remarkable to be passed over without some attempt at a general estimate.  They exhibit in a singular manner most of the same merits and defects as the letters, and this is a good sign, for it shows that Brown was that not too common figure, what may be called a unanimous man.  On the failing side, for example, they show that buoyant garrulity, that tendency to say too much, that quaint confidence that masses of personal reminiscence will be interesting to a reader, which we have remarked in the letters, but without the excuse of letter-writing. In their exclusive Manx spirit they often show that breezy delusion, not uncommon in small sects and nations, that they have the monopoly of the most obvious things, the spirit which once led a friend of ours to tell us that it was one of the inner doctrines of his church that lying was wrong.  One mysterious detail we cannot help thinking is an instance of this, the note on p.  99:– “Jackdaw, Manx pronunciation, jackdaw.” It is gratifying to us to learn that in this matter we have been talking the most exquisite Manx from our cradle.  On the side of merit, again, they have a racial flavour in a far higher sense.  Mr. Yeats himself might not be ashamed of the expression of the Celtic spirit in the lines about “an empty laugh”:–

“.  .  .  . God
Who has within himself the secret springs
Of all the lovely, causeless, unclaimed things,
And loves them in his very heart of hearts.”

But again, as we have said, there is nothing pallid or frail about his Celticism.  It is rather that spirit “brave and gay and faithful” which Stevenson, in his noble speech to the Samoan chiefs, attributed to his ancestor the Gael.  The raw materials, at least, for one of the strongest poems that could be written are to be found in the verses called “Risus Dei.” The dialect poems, the actual Fo’c’s’le Yarns, we may seem to have unduly subordinated, but they are pre-eminently things to be read and not criticised.  They suffer from the poet’s fluency, but their truth gradually tightens its grip:–

Now the beauty of the thing when children plays is
The terrible wonderful length the days is

is a sentence from all our autobiographies.  Altogether, Mr. T. E. Brown may be hailed as one of our recent lyric exponents of what Lord Salisbury called “the Celtic Fringe” — a fringe which is (to the credit of that statesman’s humour) considerably wider than the garment.  He is smaller than Mr. W. B. Yeats, as Man is smaller than Ireland.  But we confess to some personal relief in finding one of our bards of the Gael cocking his feather with full-blooded vanity, as a contrast to those Irish poets who, in dwelling on the memory and wisdom of the green island, have too often forgotten that green is also, throughout her unconquerable history, the colour of folly and of hope.

G. K. C.


 — The Speaker, October 20, 1900

This is their triumph, ripe and rounded,
They have burnt the wheat and gathered the
And we that have fought them, we that have watched them,
Have we at least not cause to laugh?

Never so low at least we stumbled —
Dead we have been, but not so dead
As these that live on the life they squandered,
As these that drink of the blood they shed.

We never boasted the thing we blundered,
We never flaunted the thing that fails,
We never quailed from the living laughter,
To howl to the dead who tell no tales.

’Twas another finger at least that pointed
Our wasted men or our emptied bags;
It was not we that sounded the trumpet
In front of the triumph of wrecks and rags.

Fear not these, they have made their bargain,
They have counted the cost of the last of raids,
They have staked their lives on the things that live not,
They have burnt their house for a fire that fades.

Five years ago and we might have feared them,
Been drubbed by the coward and taught by the dunce;
Truth may endure and be told and re-echoed,
But a lie can never be young but once.

Five years ago and we might have feared them;
Now, when they lift the laurelled brow,
There shall naught go up from our hosts assembled
But a laugh like thunder. We know them now.



 — The Speaker, October 27, 1900

The Crisis In The English Church.  By the Rev. W. E. Bowen.  With an Introduction by the Rev. J. Llewelyn Davies.  London: Nisbet and Co.

Mr. Bowen’s book is a typical and almost symbolic publication.  It is calculated to impress on the mind the irrevocable conviction that the Church crisis has reached a stage in which no alternative remains except that between disestablishment and a sudden and disturbing irruption of Christian charity.  Between these two neither side is likely to hesitate and the Establishment is, we fear, doomed.  We say we fear it because it is not without regret that we see any historic compromise which has long subsisted on common sense giving way under the assaults of logic.  But, however much one may defend an anomaly so long as it is sympathetically and rationally interpreted, it is ridiculous to sound the praises of its practicality while a host of insane mathematicians are busily engaged in working it to a reductio ad absurdum.  Mr. Llewelyn Davies, in an able introduction which he contributes to Mr. Bowen’s volume, says plausibly in reply to the charge of “persecution” brought against Protestants:–

“I have always thought that the comprehensiveness of our Church consisted not in its being a Liberty Hall in which every clergyman was free to deprave its doctrine and discipline as he pleased, but in the fact that its doctrine and discipline were themselves comprehensive.”

The distinction is sound and logical, but we doubt whether it is accurate or complete in the particular case.  It is not true that the Anglican form is a lucid and systematic latitudinarian scheme marked out in wide but clear divisions.  The problem chiefly arises from the complex mosaic of forms found in the Prayer-book. Upon the whole, the nobler and more popular parts of our Prayer-book are rather High Church than Low.  But it is foolish to maintain (as is done by some ritualists) that the Prayer-book is entirely Tractarian when the greatest of the Tractarians defended their acceptation of certain Articles by interpretations which they did not pretend were natural or obvious.  And the liberty of the Church has not, as a matter of fact, rested on a scientific scheme of comprehensiveness, but on a compromise founded on the impossibility either of altering or of pressing too hard an august and beautiful but archaic and perplexing system.  All sections have felt their position anomalous in something and the proverbial pot and kettle have been our chief vessels of salvation.  Now it is obvious that one of these English compromises of ours cannot exist an instant after two formidable sections set to work to argue about it.  If a Judge were to insist on the bodily appearance of John Doe and Richard Roe, nothing would remain to be done except to explain to him the unique and delicate character of those gentlemen and to remove them from our legal system.  If the Queen, in the exercise of her indisputable legal rights, were to pardon all the murderers and make them peers, nothing could be done except to abolish the Monarchy.  It does not follow, however, that we should not regret having to do so; and we may all as Englishmen look back with pride at the great experiment of a tolerant National Church, even if it has failed at last.

Mr. Bowen’s book, which is written from the moderate Protestant standpoint, is a peculiar example of what we may be permitted without offence to call degeneration in the course of 300 pages.  It opens with an estimate of the good and evil in the Oxford Movement, which is not only just and thoughtful, but genuinely original; its thesis that Tractarianism was in its highest function a somewhat austere moral movement, an almost Puritanic protest against slovenly and luxurious religion, is a ray of honest historic daylight.  But instead of pursuing the high and fruitful work of disentangling the spiritual and essential from the irrelevant and malicious in this controversy, he turns the latter part of his book into the familiar Kensit catalogue of horrible revelations in high life, a mass of barren and bitter anecdotes which only serve to remind us, if they are untrue, that there are a great many liars in the world, if they are true, that there are a great many repulsive lunatics.  There may be “Catholics” (we leave the matter to the police) who flog nuns almost to death, but that is no reason for flogging the subject to death also, as if it had anything to do with the two theories of ecclesiastical history.  There may be “Catholics” who teach children that the Dissenters found “little sham churches” which the Holy Ghost never inspires, but we are prevented from admitting this into the Church controversy by our firm conviction that Canon Gore or Canon MacColl would regard the view of Dissenters with as much contempt as we do.  Our own definite and even earnest opinion is that this discussion will never have either profit or solution until each party respectively abandons identifying Protestantism with Mr. Kensit or Catholicism with the idiots above mentioned, and, frankly, admits the really interesting historic fact that Catholicism and Protestantism are two moral and intellectual forces standing for tendencies that are as old as life and equally worth living.  Catholicism stands for the instinct, for clothing the unutterable in noble systems, enduring images and worthy language, Protestantism for the recurrent necessity of rending the loveliest veils and refreshing human nature in the terrible simplicity of monotheism.  But from this view one very obvious deduction follows, which has a very clear bearing on a book like that of Mr. Bowen.  It is not common sense to suppose that the adherents of Protestantism, the glory of which is in a certain impatience of formulae, will be as good authorities upon rites and ceremonies as the people who regard them as of vast importance.  A plain man is within his rights in expressing an indifference to heraldry, but if he begins to argue about it it is not improbable that he will put metal on metal and call a chevron a bend.  Now the evil genius of most Protestants in this discussion has been ignorance: they do not understand the facts of the case as the party who are immersed in ecclesiastical history understands them.  And this has given rise to the fault which hag-rides the work of Mr. Bowen and Mr. Llewelyn Davies, a fault that has dwarfed and vulgarised militant Protestantism to a degree inconceivable, and which we will venture to call the idolatrous tendency of Protestantism.  The ignorant Protestants and the ignorant Catholics are the only people who worship stocks and stones, for the former think a dead stick diabolic and the latter holy.  If the gods of the heathen are stone and brass the same must be said of the devils of Mr. Kensit.  This extraordinary tendency to quote material objects as if they were sinful in themselves, to whisper in an awe-struck voice a rumour of the presence of certain candles or pictures as if the candles were stolen or the pictures pornographic is one of the worst results of the grotesque seriousness of which we speak.  Mr. Llewelyn Davies, for example, says in his preface not that there is confession in the Church, but that there are “confessional-boxes,” and from the manner in which these objects are often spoken of, one would imagine that a confessional-box was something like a musical-box, an ingenious piece of clock-work which confessed and absolved a man by machinery, and without which it was impossible for a confessor to ply his trade.  As a matter of fact, a confessional-box bears the same relation to confession that a bathing-machine bears to bathing; it makes it slightly safer and more decorous.  As bathing would exist everywhere if there were no machines, so confession would, as things stand, exist if there were no boxes.  The real trouble is that those who embark on the genuinely necessary work of attacking the evils of ritualism get no further than these material symbols, and never realise the real problem.  The real problem of confession, for example, may be stated in three short sentences, and it has nothing to do with boxes.  The Prayer-book leaves the matter entirely to the layman, saying that, if he is unable to quiet his conscience, he shall come to confession.  This obviously does not contemplate, and by implication discourages, the idea of universal systematic confession.  But, if there be a strong movement among the laity for such systematic confession, how can such systematic confession be stopped in a free country? No one has any right to say that every member of a vast crowd is not at a particular psychological crisis.  If any Protestant writer can really solve this problem of the letter and the spirit, he will do more than we can.

Let us take another example from Mr. Bowen’s pages-the passage which he quotes from the letters of Pusey, in which that great man discusses self-flagellation, describes a scourge “of a very sacred character” with five lashes, discusses the parts of his anatomy, lungs, &c, on which it was safe to employ it, and goes into the matter of hair shirts like a man choosing waistcoats.  The passage is, to a healthy man, somewhat emetic.  But we think that Mr. Bowen is yielding again to Kensitite materialism in imagining that it is the mere use of a rod that seems unworthy of Pusey.  His self-discipline was probably neither more voluntary nor more painful than that of an ordinary young man who nearly bursts a blood-vessel in his college boat.  What disgusts us is the lower spirit of Catholicism, the spirit of mysteries and minutiae, the solemn treatment of inane details, the tendency of all doors to lead inwards and none outwards.  Pusey discussing various expedients of bodily discomfort represents the ugly side of poetic and inexhaustible Catholicism, just as the ugly side of the simplicity and centrality of Protestantism is represented by the cant and monotony of the ecstatic bore who asks innumerable strangers if they have found Jesus.  Nothing will ever come of this controversy until these two religious tendencies are recognised as things that are essential always, and which on the highest plane are not even inconsistent.  When a voice from the Bible says, “Will God be pleased with the fat of rams .... shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” in that voice speaks the highest spirit of Protestantism.  When a voice says, “Shall I offer to the Lord that which costs me nothing?” in that voice speaks the highest spirit of Catholicism.  And if Mr. Bowen and his friends grow impatient with such hymnal phraseology as “O, Sweet Sacrament!” just as his opponents grow impatient with, “Give us the blood of the Lamb!” can they not both remember that religion is a secret passion audaciously made public; it is not strange if its hymns have something of the splendid folly of love-letters? Can we not make one more effort to solve this riddle by the introduction of Christianity?



 — The Speaker, November 10, 1900

The Great Boer War.  By A. Conan Doyle.  London: Smith and Elder.

This occasionally mistaken, but always moderate and dignified work can only be properly appreciated if we consider who and what Mr. Conan Doyle is.  He is something more than the only author since Dickens who has created a character of whom every one has heard.  He is one of the embodiments of that tendency, sound and useful originally, towards the poetry of the Savage, otherwise called the Bachelor; the poetry of masculine sport and independence which was the really healthful and necessary work of the late Mr. Rudyard Kipling.

Mr. Conan Doyle’s defence of prize-fighting and Mr. Kipling’s defence of the war were, of course, only wild allegoric paradoxes, intended to emphasise by their very oddity a genuine tendency in the cultured as well as the uncultured, towards the masculine standpoint of the ethics of war and hunting, the idea that we, in praising the poetry of womanhood and the romantic relations, have, perhaps, neglected the dumb primeval poetry of our own friendships and feuds.  Even Stevenson, in so long keeping the feminine excitement out of his stories, belongs to this movement; and “Sherlock Holmes” is, in lighter matters, the best type we have of cunning and self-reliance in civilization, of the romance of savagery in a city.  No one expects that a writer like Mr. Doyle can have a hyper-ideal view of life, and it is not surprising if both he and Mr. Kipling tend in politics in a somewhat tribal and militant direction.  But the difference in their two fates is quite startling.  At a certain point of this river of average manhood it is crossed by the shallow and frothy stream of a temporary Jingoism.  Mr. Kipling has been completely whirled away on the smaller stream, and is now somewhere making observations, dangerously fresh and brilliant, about the Boers reading the Bible and only shooting from behind rocks.  Mr. Conan Doyle goes on down the main stream of his philosophy, such as it is, of an admiration for manliness, and therefore an admiration for the Boers.  Mr. Kipling is an Imperialist, and he calls the last slaughter of Cronje’s forces at Paardeberg “a satisfactory big killing.” Mr. Doyle is also an Imperialist and he says of those forces, “Thus they passed out of their ten days of glorious history.”

Mr. Conan Doyle is a supporter of the war, and consequently on a large number of points his conclusions are not ours.  But in the presence of the general ferocious triviality which confuses this question, we are far more inclined to congratulate Mr. Doyle upon the honourable reverence that he again and again expresses for the conquered than to argue with him about threadbare diplomatic points.  It is curious, perhaps, to hear any man apply the adjectives “grave and measured” to Sir Alfred Milner’s remarks about the Outlanders being helots, a remark the only excuse for which is that Sir Alfred Milner is old enough to have forgotten what helots were.  But we almost invariably find (what is not too common) that Mr. Doyle’s Imperialism is a matter of opinion, not a matter of moral colour-blindness. For example, he considers the Majuba Settlement unwise and expresses that view firmly, but he indulges in no childish goriness about “avenging Majuba.” Whether or no he is a Christian, he is at any rate a sportsman.  He knows that the coarsest prize-fighter that came of our blood was expected to bear no malice for a fair beating.

In his description of the war itself Mr. Conan Doyle shows, as a pure artist, the same virile simplicity.  He does not indulge in that extraordinary art of “wordpainting” which has poisoned the work of so many war-correspondents, the literary lunacy which hunts the wrong word as simple people hunt the right, and avoids the vulgarity of speaking of crafty generals and bursting shells by the simple expedient of speaking of crafty shells and bursting generals.  Mr. Conan Doyle tells the tale of war simply and he has the reward of success for a very obvious reason.  The essence of warlike poetry is rapidity.  This dainty and elaborate movement of the diction is open to objection, even when the writer is engaged on the higher work of describing the profligacies of some neurotic of Upper Tooting; but when the whole force of the situation is in its instantaneousness and dazzling decision, a clever adjective is like a calthrop to a charge of cavalry.  It interrupts and even unseats the warrior.  Mr. Conan Doyle’s descriptions have the true military rush and simplicity like the line of an old war-ballad:–

“And dark with winter was the flow —
Of Iser rolling rapidly.”

The “descriptive” correspondent would have written it:–

“And fat with frost-mud was the flow
Of Iser tottering huskily.”

If guns “sneeze” at a man no doubt he is struck by the artistic comparison.  If they shoot at him, they hit him.

We value profoundly, as we have said, the chivalrous tone of Mr. Doyle’s book, because he represents, since Mr. Kipling’s mysterious collapse, that muscular school which should take the Boers under its particular protection.  A man like Cronje should have been and would have been, in Mr. Kipling’s best days, a delight to that author.  He has all Mr. Kipling’s favourite virtues and, by a supreme touch of fascination, he has committed all Mr. Kipling’s favourite crimes.  Mr. Doyle, however, stands forth to-day as the champion of the secrets of a strong race.  The question is far deeper than mere negative morality.  Cronje is not filled with moral delicacies, and he is by no means a favourable specimen of the Boer.  But comparing, in the broadest human and anthropological spirit, the hero of the tremendous Thermopylae of Paarderberg with Mr. Beit or the late Mr. Barnato, what can any thinking person say of the transfer of influence in that country except the two lines of Goldsmith? —

“Ill fares the land to hastening woes a prey
Where wealth accumulates and men decay.”

Have we realised that these ragged folk are the real riches of the Transvaal? Can we work the mines of the human gold?



 — The Speaker, November 17, 1900

Buddha And Buddhism.  By Arthur Lillie.  Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark.

Mr. Arthur Lillie calls his book Buddha and Buddhism, and much of it is devoted to explaining that they are very different things.  His primary and most interesting thesis amounts to this: that so far from the great nihilistic philosophy which attracts European pessimists to Buddhism being, as is maintained, the pure metaphysic of Gautama himself since corrupted into a mere religion, it is this nihilism which is itself a vast decadent development of the words of a teacher who was as primal, ethical and direct as the Founder of Christianity.  Mr. Lillie has a lively instinct for literature, and he opens his case with a telling and amusing apologue in which he describes some future historian proving conclusively that mediaeval Catholicism must have been a priestly corruption of the religion of Comte.  Nightmare speculations on the essential non-existence of everything are the chief hobby of the Pyhrro-Buddhic pessimists-if, indeed, pessimism can be properly attributed to them, for it is difficult to believe in the worst of all possible worlds if you do not believe that any worlds are possible at all.  But we think Mr. Lillie has done a great service in clearing the character of the great Gautama of this war upon Nature-this matricidal mysticism.  The question affects not only Buddhism, but Christianity also, which is now constantly accused of nihilism by its enemies as Buddhism is accused by its friends.

Schopenhauer, with that brilliant futility which made him so striking considered merely as a literary man, maintains that Christianity is akin to his own pessimism because it rejects the vanities of the world.  The remark is a good instance of that class of ingenious observations against which we can say nothing except that they are obviously not true.  Any one can see that a man floating in visions of certain felicity is not in the same state of mind as a man who believes all felicity impossible: and the two are not made essentially any more similar by the accident that they both take the same attitude towards something else.  Schopenhauer and the most maniacal ascetic of the middle ages are no more like each other than a man who does not take an omnibus because he cannot afford it and a man who does not take an omnibus because he prefers his landau.  Buddhism might be called an intermediary link, for the Buddhist felicity was in a sense negative; but the monkish felicity was full of the fieriest human images, and if he scoffed at non-religious pleasures it was as a lover might scoff at the mass of women or a patriot at the mass of nations.  We say this of the most evil forms of actual Christian asceticism.  That the religion of Jesus was not Pyhrro-Buddhic (though it is sometimes called so) is clear from the somewhat obvious distinction that Pyhrro-Buddhism encourages poverty because it takes a man out of the natural order, whereas Jesus encouraged poverty avowedly because it united him with the natural order-with the birds and the lilies of the field.  No mortal ingenuity can make an “Anti-Cosmic Nihilist” of a teacher who recommended a certain course on the express ground that it was the law of the animal and vegetable world.  It is highly possible that ambition, commerce and much that civilisation values appeared to Jesus a huge and grotesque excrescence on the face of life.  But to Pyhrro-Buddhism it is life itself that is the excrescence: being is a disease: the stars are a disfigurement to the purity of night, a kind of cosmic rash, and the eternal hills are mere protuberances, as shameful as the boils of Job.  It is the iniquitous completeness of this imaginative conception that has really attracted men like Schopenhauer to metaphysical Buddhism, for the Indian pessimist holds it with an appalling sweetness and calm which the fretful German could only envy as he pursued the impossible paradox of using cosmic energy in defiance of the Cosmos and not so much cutting off his nose to spite his face as cutting the rest of himself off his nose that he might turn up his nose at it.

But though we can well believe, with Mr. Lillie, that the real Buddha was a noble elemental moralist and that his teachings were very different from the bewildering rhetoric of annihilation which fills later Indian metaphysics, we think that there is, perhaps, a more natural connection between them than he is inclined to allow.  To us, at least, the Buddhist peoples, especially of India, seem to present the unfathomable spiritual tragedy of a people who have looked upon God and lived.  They have stared at the white light too long and their intellects have suffered.  The Jews, with their wonderful instinct for practical religion, swore that he who looked upon Jehovah died; but in a large number of transcendental schools and sages the sentence of death has been commuted to a doom of gibbering idiotcy.  To the Buddhists was given a conception of God of extraordinary intellectual purity; but, in growling familiar with the featureless splendour, they have lost their heads: they babble; they say that everything is nothing and nothing is everything, that black is white because white is black.  We fancy that the frightful universal negatives, at which, as we have seen, they have at last arrived, are really little more than the final mental collapse of men trying always to find an abstraction big enough for all things.  “I have said what I understood not: things too great for me, that I knew not.  I will put my hand upon my mouth.” Job was a wise man.

Perhaps the most unsatisfactory part of Mr. Lillie’s very satisfactory book is the chapter devoted to the parallels between Christ and Buddha, upon which are founded the theories that Christianity was borrowed from Buddhism.  Historically we do not think this probable, if for no other reason than for the reason that the basic scheme of ideas on which Christ reared His Gospel may be found in Isaiah and the ancient Jews; but there can be no doubt that there are very interesting resemblances.  Mr. Lillie, however, in the excitement of finding parallels, provides a list of which nine-tenths are parallels of no significance whatever.  To say of two Eastern teachers that they were both concerned on one occasion with the washing of feet is not even a coincidence; we might as well call it a coincidence that they both had feet to wash.  Sometimes Mr. Lillie’s parallels are not even parallel as far as they go.  He tells us as a pendant to the text, “They parted my garments,” that “on the death of the Bokte’ Lama his garments are cut into little stripes and prized immensely.” This is the very reverse of a similarity; the parting of Christ’s garments was done by his enemies; it was an expression of contempt, and the garments were not “prized immensely,” except for what they would fetch in the rag-shops of Jerusalem.  Mr. Lillie quotes the fact that in Buddhist scripture the divine voice speaks “out of the sky,” as if in any religion one would expect it to come out of the coal-cellar. He makes a more radical error in comparing the Gospel “house on the sand” with the Buddhist saying, “The seen world is like a city of sand.” Not only does the Christian parable not enunciate the latter sentiment, it enunciates something like the opposite.  The man who built on the sand was the man who did not carry out his conceptions into the seen world.  We can only refer Mr. Lillie to the passage.

Mr. Lillie speaks with just dissent of some distinctions made by Christians between the two creeds founded merely on doctrines, even such central doctrines as personal deity and immortality.  But whereas Mr. Lillie seems to think the difference more or less imaginary, we fancy it is deeper than any doctrines.  Both Christianity and Buddhism do indeed stand for simplicity, for the fact that it is in the primal part of us that we are nearest to the unseen.  But Buddhism stands for a simplification of the mind and a reliance on the most indestructible ideas; Christianity stands for a simplification of the heart and a reliance on the most indestructible sentiments.  The greater Christian insistance upon personal deity and immortality is not, we fancy, the cause so much as the effect of this essential trend towards an ancient passion and pathos as the power that most nearly rends the veil from the nature of things.  Both creeds grope after the same secret sun, but Buddhism dreams of its light and Christianity of its heat.  Buddhism seeks after God with the largest conception it can find, the all-producing and all-absorbing Om; Christianity seeks for God with the most elementary passion it can find; the craving for a father, the hunger that is as old as the hills.  It turns the whole cry of a lost universe into the cry of a lost child.

G. K. C.


 — The Speaker, November 24, 1900

The Junior Temple Reader.  By Clara Linklater Thomson and E. E. Speight, B.A. London: Horace Marshall.

The compilers of this collection have laid down for themselves in the preface a genuine and seriously needed principle, and have from time to time observed it admirably, and with dramatic suddenness.  They say, with perfect truth, that “such reading-books are too often written down to children, instead of being made the models by which their taste is formed.” Undoubtedly looking down and speaking down and writing down to the human soul have been the sterilising curses of education.  That everything should look up to everything else may be a little bewildering as geometry, but like many other impossibilities, it is simple and successful in morals.  But we cannot imagine that the compilers mean that all things are equally suitable in a book for children or that they would cheerfully bring out a sequel consisting of selections from The Amazing Marriage, interspersed with popular recitations from Mallarme.  They have so far fulfilled their own excellent principle that they have collected in this volume a number of noble fragments of literary art which it is highly probable that the most adventurous child might not find in the family book-case. The pleasure of reading a manly English translation of the death of the great Paladin at Roncesvaux, for example, is sufficient to wipe out one’s annoyance at finding a piece of sentimental German romanticism, like Wieland’s Huon of Bordeaux, placed like an artificial rockery beside the morning mountain of the Song of Roland.

But the compilers of this educational work have violated their own principle in a more subtle and a more universal way.  They have yielded to that singular delusion which dominates books with a far less logical intention, the delusion that the child as such is interesting to children.  This is a mistake which any hack-journalist would despise.  Every one is interested in the local colour of foreign travel, but a book entitled Strange Adventures among the Aborigines of Clapham would not gratify the inhabitants of that suburb.  Yet the customs of Clapham are, to the true philosophic traveller, weird and even terrifying.  So the eternal value of children to maturity is that they are a palpable scientific elfland, but the essence of elves is unconsciousness and utter solemnity.  The books that should be set before children are books of play and ceremonial, and pomp and war: the whole gloria mundi, the whole pageant of history, full of blood and pride, may safely be told them-everything but the secret of their own incomparable influence.  Children need to be taught primarily the grandeur of the whole world.  It is merely the whole world that needs to be taught the grandeur of children.

Upon this error a great part of this collection, like most other collections, splits like a ship upon a rock.  The compilers have honourably rejected bad literature, but they seem to have had the idea that they had only to find a piece of good literature referring to children and to submit it affectionately to the child.  They might as well take a copy of Marshall on The Frog and affectionately throw it into a frog-pond. How grotesque it is, when once the mind is set seriously on the matter, to put before a child, as here, a poem like Blake’s “Little Black Boy,” or, for the matter of that, any poem of Blake’s. A child appreciates rhythm, and Blake hardly observes prosody; a child loves pomp and battle, and Blake was a worshipper of nudity and crudity and peace at any price; a child is censorious of detail, and Blake is often, to a censorious mind, mere doggerel.  The splendours of his poetry are a clarity which is more unfathomable than darkness and a purity which is like the purity of white hair.  He called some of his poems “Songs of Innocence,” but in truth all of them, and more especially the simplest, were “Songs of Experience.” There was not one rhyme that a boy could have written, except, perhaps, the gorgeous and swaggering tragedy of Edward III.

The same fault must be found with the insertion of the beautiful “Cradle Song” of Mr. W. B. Yeats, called here (for some dark educational reason) Mr. W. A. Yeats.  It is the song of a mother, and any child should be sent to bed who pretended to understand it.  The fallacy extends even to the illustrations.  The compilers have been foolish enough to employ largely an artist who works in a style of pure line-illustration as pale as the silver point of Raphael and aspiring after the manner of Burne-Jones. Even where this is done excellently it is wholly unfitted for children, for it requires a technical luxuriousness to appreciate the billowing beauty of a single line; it is a perfect instance of the unfitness of simplicity for the simple.  The most distressing example is a picture from that portentous Scandinavian fable about the travels of Thor-how he could not drink from a horn because the horn was the sea and could not lift a cat because the cat was the world-serpent. No mortal should dare to depict that story, for it belongs to that tremendous borderland where the shapes of things hang loosely on them like disguises, and life is a metaphysical masquerade.  But when we are shown a pre-Raphaelite youth like an emaciated Galahad and asked to believe that it is Thor, our “Berserker blood-rage” makes one of its rare appearances.  This insolent lucidity will not do for children.  It is the glory of the child as the type of the celestial that his mind is a house of windows.  To surround him with child poems and pictures is to paint the panes outside with silver and make his mind, like the mind of a maniac, a house of mirrors.



 — The Speaker, December 1, 1900

[Later reprinted in Twelve Types]

Francis: The Little Poor Man of Assisi.  By James Adderley.  London: Edward Arnold.

The sub-title which Mr. Adderley gives to the life of St. Francis, “The Little Poor Man of Assisi,” is somewhat quaint and to the irreverent mind slightly suggestive of the first line of one of Mr. Lear’s Limericks.  It is by no means inappropriate, however, for there was without doubt this strain of fantastic humility in the subject itself.

Mr. Adderley has performed his task in a simple, graceful and unambitious manner, but the subject, however simplified, was one that might well impose insuperable difficulties even on so clever a man.  Mr. Adderley had to give a short sketch of one of the most extraordinary men that ever lived.  The word “extraordinary” is commonly used to denote intellectual eminence, but intellectual eminence is an infinitely feebler idea.  A man might be as able as Julius Caesar and remain profoundly uninteresting.  Francis was extraordinary in this truer and higher sense, that he was one of those men who arise with an absolutely original vision of things inside their heads, who create the only indestructible thing-an atmosphere.  With each of such men there is truly made a new heaven and a new earth, for they do not see the heaven and the earth that others see.  If Buddha, Plato and St. Francis had looked at the same tree they would have been standing in three different worlds.  Buddha would have seen in the tree a gross embodiment in which a celestial force was immured, a spirit in a disgraceful incognito.  Plato would have seen it as the shadow of a perfect tree existing in the ideal world.  Francis would have seen it simply as “Brother Tree,” an individual neighbour in the parish of the Cosmos, a silent but amusing companion, a man, as it were, with green hair and one leg.  The whole conception was founded, of course, on the Christian doctrine of the great Father whose memory was an unending chronicle, in which the name of every stone or weed was clearly written.  But he gave to the doctrine an individual turn of extraordinary beauty and humour by this notion of finding gossips and kinsfolk everywhere in the grotesque camaraderie of the woods and hills.  His “Brother Wolf” and “Sister Lark” have in reality as much in common with the “Brer Wolf” and “Sis Cow” of Uncle Remus as with any mere pantheistic philosophy.  He had far too much love of each single thing to have any vulgar love of Nature.

It is the inevitable subordination of this most fascinating side of Francis of Assisi that partly spoils Mr. Adderley’s book.  The only fault of Mr. Adderley as a biographer is one that he cannot possibly help-that of being so much identified with the Catholic and theological side of his subject that he tends rather to dwell on the points which unite Francis to the other great saints of his Church than on those that separate him from them.  The spirit of the life, indeed, is that of a devotional book.  A devotional book is an excellent thing, but we do not look in it for the portrait of a man, for the same reason that we do not look in a love-sonnet for the portrait of a woman, because men in such conditions of mind not only apply all virtues to their idol, but all virtues in equal quantities.  There is no outline, because the artist cannot bear to put in a black line.  This blaze of benediction, this conflict between lights, has its place in poetry, not in biography.  The successful examples of it may be found, for instance, in the more idealistic odes of Spenser.  The design is sometimes almost indecipherable, for the poet draws in silver upon white.

It is natural, of course, that Mr. Adderley should see Francis primarily as the founder of the Franciscan Order.  We suspect this was only one, perhaps a minor one, of the things that he was; we suspect that one of the minor things that Christ did was to found Christianity.  But the vast practical work of Francis is assuredly not to be ignored, for this amazingly unworldly and almost maddeningly simple-minded infant was one of the most consistently successful men that ever fought with this bitter world.  It is the custom to say that the secret of such men is their profound belief in themselves, and this is true, but not all the truth.  Workhouses and lunatic asylums are thronged with men who believe in themselves.  Of Francis it is far truer to say that the secret of his success was his profound belief in other people, and it is the lack of this that has commonly been the curse of these obscure Napoleons.  Francis always assumed that everyone must be just as anxious about their common relative, the water-rat, as he was.  He planned a visit to the Emperor to draw his attention to the needs of “his little sisters the larks.” He used to talk to any thieves and robbers he met about their misfortune in being unable to give rein to their desire for holiness.  It was an innocent habit, and doubtless the robbers often “got round him,” as the phrase goes.  Quite as often, however, they discovered that he had “got round” them, and discovered the other side, the side of secret nobility.

Conceiving of St. Francis as primarily the founder of the Franciscan Order, Mr. Adderley opens his narrative with an admirable sketch of the history of Monasticism in Europe, which is certainly the best thing in the book.  He distinguishes clearly and fairly between the Manichaean ideal that underlies so much of Eastern Monasticism and the ideal of self-discipline which never wholly vanished from the Christian form.  But he does not throw any light on what must be for the outsider the absorbing problem of this Catholic asceticism, for the excellent reason that not being an outsider he does not find it a problem at all.

To most people, however, there is a fascinating inconsistency in the position of St. Francis.  He expressed in loftier and bolder language than any earthly thinker the conception that laughter is as divine as tears.  He called his monks the mountebanks of God.  He never forgot to take pleasure in a bird as it flashed past him, or a drop of water as it fell from his finger: he was, perhaps, the happiest of the sons of men.  Yet this man undoubtedly founded his whole polity on the negation of what we think the most imperious necessities; in his three vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, he denied to himself and those he loved most property, love, and liberty.  Why was it that the most large-hearted and poetic spirits in that age found their most congenial atmosphere in these awful renunciations? Why did he who loved where all men were blind, seek to blind himself where all men loved? Why was he a monk, and not a troubadour? These questions are far too large to be answered fully here, but in any life of Francis they ought at least to have been asked; we have a suspicion that if they were answered we should suddenly find that much of the enigma of this sullen time of ours was answered also.  It might be suggested that youth is the austere thing; that wherever there is hope there is renunciation; that the fierce experiments of Francis on his own body were like rockets sent upt o celebrate his joy.  It may be that under their sombre gowns, it was the monks that were the spendthrifts of happiness and we who are its misers.

Doubtless, as is apparent from Mr. Adderley’s book, the clear and tranquil life of the Three Vows had a fine and delicate effect on the genius of Francis.  He was primarily a poet.  The perfection of his literary instinct is shown in his naming the fire “brother” and the water “sister,” in the quaint demagogic dexterity of the appeal in the sermon to the fishes “that they alone were saved in the Flood.” In the amazingly minute and graphic dramatisation of the life, disappointments and excuses of any shrub or beast that he happened to be addressing, his genius has a curious resemblance to that of Burns.  But if he avoided the weakness of Burns’ verses to animals, the occasional morbidity, bombast and moralization on himself, the credit is surely due to a cleaner and more transparent life.

The general attitude of St. Francis, like that of his Master, embodied a kind of terrible common sense.  The famous remark of the Caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland — “Why not?” impresses us as his general motto.  He could not see why he should not be on good terms with all things.  The pomp of war and ambition, the great empire of the Middle Ages and all its fellows begin to look tawdry and top-heavy, under the rationality of that innocent stare.  His questions were blasting and devastating, like the questions of a child.  He would not have been afraid even of the nightmares of cosmogony, for he had no fear in him.  To him the world was small, not because he had any views as to its size, but for the reason that gossiping ladies find it small, because so many relatives were to be found in it.  If you had taken him to the loneliest star that the madness of an astronomer can conceive, he would have only beheld in it the features of a new friend.



 — The Speaker, December 8, 1900

Time should be turned tail foremost as we approach Christmas and all of us grow younger every day: even the educational reviewer like ourselves may suddenly become possessed of a sense of humour and perceive in his position as “mother’s adviser” an unsuspected source of mental delight.  We may at least throw off that burden of incomparable conscientiousness which is the curse of all educationalists, since it prevents them from sympathising with those whom they have to educate.  It is manifestly impossible to criticise children’s books, as we hope to prove in the course of doing so; it is bringing a dingy and artificial fastidiousness to bear on a point of view which is perfectly capable of taking care of itself, which has a power of extracting a certain nameless excitement from one material almost as much as another.  There are, we can fully believe, educationalists who are capable of investigating sandcastles with a view to the strict principles of architecture and mud-pies with a view to the strict principles of cookery.  But to us, we must confess, the two questions about a book for a child which would seem important would always be “Does it obviously give him imaginative pleasure?” and “Will it poison him when he licks the binding?”

Of all such books the easiest to criticise are the more or less frankly instructive, such as Mr. George Gomme’s The Princess’s Story Book (Constable). The idea is a bold and by no means a bad one: that of making a mosaic history of England, not from the chapters of historians (as it was done in the Greene series), but from the chapters of writers of fiction.  The portrait of James I, for example, is from The Fortunes of Nigel, and assuredly there is no better portrait in the whole of Scott: the fight with the Armada is told in the words of Kingsley, and the defeat of Wallace in those of Miss Jane Porter.  Modern historians are far too craven to adopt the manner of Herodotus, and report long fictitious conversations embodying the general spirit of what passed between two historical figures.  But from the point of view of childhood they probably lose enormously by clinging to the oratio obliqua.  We are not concerned to quarrel with the amount of error in such a narrative, for the lies of fiction convey truth and the lies of history convey nothing.  But there is obviously a distinction between romances in this matter: all good romances convey truth, but not always about the period they describe.  Esmond, which the compiler regrets he had to exclude, is a true romance: it is written by a man steeped in the literature and spirit of Queen Anne’s time.  Miss Porter’s Scottish Chiefs does depict a period; but it is not the period of Wallace, but the period of Miss Porter: the period of sentimental sympathy with the heroes of liberty.

Mr. Thomas Cobb’s little book, The Bountiful Lady; or, How Mary was Changed from a Very Miserable Little Girl to a Very Happy One (Grant Richards) is amusing in its way and the morality is not obscenely prominent.  Still, we are a little tired of the enormous number of books directed by grown people against sulky and unhappy children.  Considering that two-thirds of the children of the world are courageously happy in the filthiest slums and corners and that quite one-third of the grown-up people are offensively discontented in first-class hotels, the claim of the adult to preach contentment to infancy appears to us a piece of indecent hypocritical impudence.  Mr. Cobb, however, can put in the sound dramatic claim that he is only describing an individual, and the little fairy-tale of the boy who never liked anything when he got it is both humorous and profitable, if we remember always that it is vastly more applicable to men than to boys.  If the adults are useful in their way (as we may generously admit) in order to teach children to work, children are quite as much specialists in teaching the adult to play.

Mr. John Ingold has a very genuine poetic instinct and one that should fit him to write fairy-tales (perhaps the highest form of art), but he has not quite sufficiently realised the nature of the literary form in question.  His imagery and allegory are confused and unreliable, sometimes daring and sometimes trivial.  The whole essence of the true fairy-tale is that it happens not at night, like a ghost story, but in broad daylight: that the most preposterous figures and incidents stand out clear, defiant and unconscious, the lawful denizens of a lawless planet.  This clean-cutting workmanship, this simple grouping is absolutely essential to a good fairytale, and sometimes Mr. Ingold in his Glimpses from Wonderland (John Long) really achieves it.  The following sentence is a piece of literary plain carpentry which hits the right nail on the head almost with the hammer of Stevenson:–

“On a throne, formed of twisted men turned to stone and in which thousands of sinister eyes gleamed like emeralds, rubies and sapphires, reclined the Necromancer.” This is a clear picture; but elsewhere we can form no picture of what occurs, creatures with Lewis Carroll names carrying widows’ tears, a man’s soul taken from his body as mere afterthought, these are futile misshapen incidents which prove there is a law in Elfland by breaking it.  The story of The Necromancer seems one that might stop at any point; it lacks the simple architecture of the old stories with their chorus, little recurrences and triads of brothers.  Mr. Ingold should remember that true miracles are most inscrutable standing in the glare of the sun.  Some other stories in this book, which are not fairy-tales, show ability, but we advise Mr. Ingold strongly to go on writing about magicians.  He has unquestionable imagination.

When we read the title of Mr. Chapman’s little book, Proverbs Improved (John Lane), we had a momentary hope that the proverbs really were improved, for there is ample room for improvement in what seems to be, with few exceptions, the crystallised wisdom of cowards.  “Waste not, want not,” “A fool and his money are soon parted,” these and the majority of their like seem always texts from the Bible of Laodicaea, the maxims of the comfortable who never know either the joy of danger or the joy of joy.  Mr. Chapman does indeed rebel, by a verse in praise of wandering against the maxim “A rolling stone gathers no moss,” and we fully agree with him.  A stone which had the unwonted pleasure of a good roll would know better than to settle down as a botanical “collector.” It would leave that to gravestones.  “All is not gold that glitters,” he accepts, however, in all its infamy-as if, to the healthy soul of youth, glittering were not infinitely better than being common gold.  Mr. Chapman has, unfortunately, no really revolutionary design.  Both his verses and Miss Grace May’s designs are graceful and appropriate and neither pretend to be anything more.  A good specimen of both is on the page illustrating the proverb “Faint heart never won fair lady.” The existence of this saying, again, is a singular proof of the power of masculine concealment, for certainly if it had been true no fair lady would ever have been won in this world.



 — The Speaker, December 15, 1900

Puritan And Anglican.  By Edward Dowden.  London: Kegan Paul.

Professor Dowden’s new book, Puritan and Anglican, deals with the literary aspect of the two great movements of the seventeenth century, the political aspect of which was represented by the Civil War.  The word “Anglican” is a little misleading, and even, in these days of Church crises, alarming.  We cannot help thinking that Professor Dowden would have done better to have employed the loose, but familiar, phrase “Cavalier” for the loyalist section, despite the fact that it calls up rather humorous images of George Herbert swaggering in big top-boots, and Jeremy Taylor draining flagons and fighting watchmen.

The reader need go no further than the first page in order to convince himself that Dowden has a grip on the whole subject.  Such a sentence as this on the Elizabethan age, “The literature of pleasure never attained to such seriousness,” has a fine and scornful edge for the present age, of which it may be truly said that the literature of pain never attained so garrulous a frivolity.  Professor Dowden, as a great Shakesperian student has, in studying the Puritans and Cavaliers, the enormous advantage of thoroughly comprehending the fountain-head.

While Professor Dowden fully realises the broad and noble ideals of the school who may be called the Cavalier mystics, such as Vaughan and Sir Thomas Browne, he does full justice to the Puritans.  We hardly think, however, that he quite realises one great point of difference between the Cavalier religious movement and the Puritan religious movement.  They were not only different movements, they were movements in two different senses of the word.  It is highly probable that the religious ideals of Oliver Cromwell were infinitely inferior to those of Sir Thomas Browne.  But the point of Puritanism was this: that however Cromwell might stand alone in genius or policy, his religious ideals practically united him with the meanest drummer in his army.  On the other hand, we should laugh at the mere idea of Browne’s archaeological emotions and mystical charity being shared by his butler or keeping his gardener awake at night.  The footmen of the learned physician were not, we may be sure, interested in the smallest degree in the question of whether the soul was miraculously remade at the Resurrection, or whether the elephant slept standing upright.  The Puritan movement, if it be judged side by side with the best types of Cavalier ethics, can only appear clumsy, bitter and offensive.  If justice is to be done to it, we must remember that it was a movement in the sense that we speak of the movement that produced the Reform Bill; while the movement of Cavalier idealism was merely a movement in the sense that we speak of the movement that produced The Yellow Book.  This element in the matter, the question of the numbers involved, is rather kept out of sight by Professor Dowden’s constant comparison of the two schools.  It is, indeed, an element in history that we constantly forget, that we forget when we talk of the Athenians as democrats, instead of as aristocrats ruling crowds of slaves, or when we compare the morality of a mob of early Christians with the morality of a single pagan like Marcus Aurelius.  It is not only important in any historic crisis whether the voting was black or white, it is also important whether there was, in election language, a heavy poll.  Of the various movements whereby new masses of men have been brought on to the stage of serious action Puritanism was one of the most remarkable.  It had the unique value of theology, that it brought a philosophical problem of some sort to knock at every man’s door.  On the other hand, it had all the disadvantages of a revolution.  Cavalier idealism had all the advantages of a fad.

In dealing with the Religio Medici Professor Dowden is just and sympathetic, but not frantic with admiration, as he ought to be.  A man can always find fresh and noble principles of criticism in a work that he really loves, and Professor Dowden’s Sir Thomas Browne leaves us vaguely unsatisfied.  He can see that Browne was an exalted mystic, but he does not give the peculiar flavour of his mysticism, a mysticism which, to our mind, owed much to his literary style.  Style, in his sense, did not mean merely sound, but an attempt to give some twist of wit or symbolism to every clause or parenthesis: when he went over his work again he did not merely polish brass, he fitted in gold.  This habit of working with a magnifying-glass, this turning and twisting of minor words, is the true parent of mysticism, for the mystic is not (as Professor Dowden, in this essay, seems to indicate) a man who reverences large things so much as a man who reverences small ones, who reduces himself to a point, without parts or magnitude, so that to him the grass is really a forest and the grasshopper a dragon.  Little things please great minds.

Professor Dowden’s study of George Herbert is altogether admirable.  Nothing in the book is better than the fine passage in which he points out that Herbert’s ideal of a priest, “amiably inquisitorial and benevolently despotic,” was suited to any other age rather than that crisis of strenuous individualism.  But perhaps Professor Dowden takes Herbert’s political aspect too seriously.  Herbert was a child in the best sense of the word.  His Temple was built with a box of bricks.  His charm and power lie not in his views on any subject, but in that infantile familiarity with celestial things which made him, with an almost irreverent lightheartedness, praise his Creator in rebuses and charades.  We may leave him safely in a divine nursery.  Sir Thomas Browne was a grown man, grey with learning and experience, but the two had this in common, that they both suggest the idea of shelter; to them the Church was a fortress and storehouse of learning, dignity and peace.  And as we think of this image and seek to fairly appreciate the two schools, there cannot but rise before us the terrible scene in Grace Abounding in which Bunyan, cowering in the church, was struck down by a blinding fear that the church itself would fall down upon him, because his conscience was not clear.

With Professor Dowden’s forcible study of Bunyan no fault can be found, but in his long and able treatment of Milton we do not by any means always find ourselves in agreement with him.  Especially we fail to follow his attempt to prove the spirit and theories of Paradise Lost to be mainly Hebraic and Scriptural.  To our mind Lecky’s European Morals and Dante’s Divine Comedy are vastly more similar than the beauty of the Old Testament and the beauty of Paradise Lost.  There are no theories in the Old Testament.  The conception that gives a grand artistic unity to the Hebrew books, the conception of a great and mysterious protagonist toiling amid cloud and darkness towards an end of which only fragments are revealed to his agents, has no counterpart in Milton.  The “With whom hath he taken counsel?” of the prophet is not there: the God of the Old Testament never explains himself intellectually; the God of Milton never does anything else.  The much-quoted object “to justify the ways of God to men” would have appeared mere ridiculous blasphemy to Isaiah.  This sublime Jewish sentiment of the loneliness of God (“I have trodden the wine-press alone and of the peoples there was no man with me”) is perpetually violated in Milton, whose Deity is always clearing Himself from charges as if He were at the Old Bailey.  The least superstitious of us can feel the thrill of the elemental faith of the Jews, can imagine a voice thundering out of the sky in mysterious wrath or more mysterious benediction.  But who can help laughing at the idea of a voice out of the midnight sky suddenly beginning to explain itself and set right an unfortunate misunderstanding?

We wish that Professor Dowden had given the large space which he has devoted to defending the frigid and repellent Miltonic religion to a more exhaustive study of the towering and intoxicating Miltonic style.  Poets commonly say something with their style vastly different and vastly superior to what they say with their mere meaning.  And whenever Professor Dowden treats Milton in this aspect he would be a bold man who would seek to add anything to the judgment.

Perhaps the finest article in the whole book is that on Butler, the author of Hudibras.  In him we see the gradual chilling of the national heart by the ice-fiends of judgment and prudence, which went on until the nation which had once produced the two great schools of faith and valour to which Professor Dowden’s work is devoted, reached in the rationalism of the earlier eighteenth century that impartiality which is a pompous name for indifference, which is an elegant name for ignorance.

G. K. C.


 — The Speaker, December 22, 1900

[Later reprinted in Twelve Types]

It is proper enough that the unveiling of the bust of William Morris should approximate to a public festival, for while there have been many men of genius in the Victorian era more despotic than he, there have been none so representative.  He represents not only that rapacious hunger for beauty which has now for the first time become a serious problem in the healthy life of humanity, but he represents also that honourable instinct for finding beauty in common necessities of workmanship which gives it a stronger and more bony structure.  The time has passed when William Morris was conceived of merely as a decorator, a designer of wall-papers. At least it must be conceded to him that his desire for beauty was more universal than that.  If Morris had been a hatter instead of a decorator we should have become gradually and painfully conscious of an improvement in our hats.  If he had been a tailor we should have suddenly found our frock-coats trailing on the ground with the grandeur of mediaeval raiment.  If he had been a shoemaker we should have found, with no little consternation, our shoes gradually approximating to the antique sandal.  If he had been the commonest hairdresser he would have invented some massing of the hair worthy to be the crown of Venus; if he had been an ironmonger his nails would have had some noble pattern, fit to be the nails of the Cross.

The limitations of William Morris, whatever they were, were not the limitations of common decoration.  It is true that all his work, even his literary work, was in some sense decorative, had in some degree the qualities of a splendid wall-paper. His characters, his stories, his religious and political views, had, in the most emphatic sense, length and breadth without thickness.  He seemed really to believe that men could enjoy a perfectly flat felicity.  He made no account of the unexplored and explosive possibilities of human nature, of the unnameable terrors, and the yet more unnameable hopes.  So long as a man was graceful in every circumstance, so long as he had the inspiring consciousness that the chestnut colour of his hair was relieved against the blue forest a mile behind, he would be serenely happy.  So he would be, no doubt, if he were really fitted for a decorative existence; if he were a piece of exquisitely coloured cardboard.

But although Morris took little account of the terrible solidity of human nature-took little account, so to speak, of human figures in the round, it is altogether unfair to represent him as a mere aesthete.  He perceived a great public necessity and fulfilled it heroically.  The difficulty with which he grappled was one so immense that we shall have to be separated from it by many centuries before we can really judge of it.  It was the problem of the elaborate and deliberate ugliness of the most self-conscious of centuries.  Morris at least saw the absurdity of the thing.  He felt that it was monstrous that the modern man, who was pre-eminently capable of realising the strangest and most contradictory beauties, who could feel at once the fiery aureole of the ascetic and the colossal calm of the Hellenic god, should himself, by a farcical bathos, be buried in a black coat and hidden under a chimney-pot hat.  He could not see why the harmless man who desired to be an artist in raiment should be condemned to be at best a black and white artist.  It is indeed difficult to account for the clinging curse of ugliness which blights everything brought forth by the most prosperous of centuries.  In all created nature there is not perhaps anything so completely ugly as a pillar-box. Its shape is the most unmeaning of shapes, its height and thickness just neutralising each other: its colour is the most repulsive of colours-a fat and soulless red, a red without a touch of blood or fire, like the scarlet of dead men’s sins.  Yet there is no reason whatever why such hideousness should possess an object full of civic dignity, the treasure-house of a thousand secrets, the fortress of a thousand souls.  If the old Greeks had had such an institution we may be sure that it would have been surmounted by the severe, but graceful, figure of the god of letter-writing. If the medizeval Christians had possessed it, it would have had a niche filled with the golden aureole of St. Rowland of the Postage Stamps.  As it is, there it stands at all our street-corners, disguising one of the most beautiful of ideas under one of the most preposterous of forms.  It is useless to deny that the miracles of science have not been such an incentive to art and imagination as were the miracles of religion.  If men in the twelfth century had been told that the lightning had been driven for leagues underground and had dragged at its destroying tail loads of laughing human beings, and if they had then been told that the people alluded to this pulverising portent chirpily as “The Twopenny Tube,” they would have called down the fire of Heaven on us as a race of half-witted atheists.  Probably they would have been quite right.

This clear and fine perception of what may be called the anaesthetic element in the Victorian era was, undoubtedly, the work of a great reformer: it requires a fine effort of the imagination to see an evil that surrounds us on every side.  The manner in which Morris carried out his crusade may, considering the circumstances, be called triumphant.  Our carpets began to bloom under our feet like the meadows in spring, and our hitherto prosaic stools and sofas seemed growing legs and arms at their own wild will.  An element of freedom and rugged dignity came in with plain and strong ornaments of copper and iron.  So delicate and universal has been the revolution in domestic art that almost every family in England has had its taste cunningly and treacherously improved, and if we look back at the early Victorian drawing-rooms it is only to realise the strange but essential truth that art, or human decoration, has, nine times out of ten in history, made things uglier than they were before from the coiffure of a Papuan savage to the wall-paper of a British merchant in 1830.

But great and beneficent as was the aesthetic revolution of Morris, there was a very definite limit to it.  It did not lie only in the fact that his revolution was in truth a reaction, though this was a partial explanation of his partial failure.  When he was denouncing the dresses of modern ladies, “upholstered like arm-chairs instead of being draped like women,” as he forcibly expressed it, he would hold up for practical imitation the costumes and handicrafts of the Middle Ages.  Further than this retrogressive and imitative movement he never seemed to go.  Now, the men of the time of Chaucer had many evil qualities, but there was at least one exhibition of moral weakness they did not give.  They would have laughed at the idea of dressing themselves in the manner of the bowmen at the battle of Senlac, or painting themselves an aesthetic blue, after the custom of the ancient Britons.  They would not have called that a movement at all.  Whatever was beautiful in their dress or manners sprang honestly and naturally out of the life they led and preferred to lead.  And it may surely be maintained that any real advance in the beauty of modern dress must spring honestly and naturally out of the life we lead and prefer to lead.  We are not altogether without hints and hopes of such a change, in the growing orthodoxy of rough and athletic costumes.  But if this cannot be, it will be no substitute or satisfaction to turn life into an interminable historical fancy-dress ball.

But the limitation of Morris’s work lay deeper than this.  We may best suggest it by a method after his own heart.  Of all the various works he performed, none perhaps was so splendidly and solidly valuable as his great protest for the fables and superstitions of mankind.  He has the supreme credit of showing that the fairy-tales contain the deepest truth of the earth, the real record of men’s feeling for things.  Trifiing details may be inaccurate, Jack may not have climbed up so tall a beanstalk or killed so tall a giant, but it is not such things that make a story false; it is a far different class of things that makes every modern book of history as false as the father of lies; ingenuity, self-consciousness, hypocritical impartiality.  It appears to us that of all the fairy-tales none contains so vital a moral truth as the old story, existing in many forms, of Beauty and the Beast.  There is written, with all the authority of a human scripture, the eternal and essential truth that until we love a thing in all its ugliness we cannot make it beautiful.  This was the weak point in William Morris as a reformer: that he sought to reform modern life, and that he hated modern life instead of loving it.  Modern London is indeed a beast, big enough and black enough to be the beast in Apocalypse, blazing with a million eyes and roaring with a million voices.  But unless the poet can love this fabulous monster as he is, can feel with some generous excitement his massive and mysterious joie-de-vivre, the vast scale of his iron anatomy and the beating of his thunderous heart, he cannot and will not change the beast into the fairy prince.  Morris’s disadvantage was that he was not honestly a child of the nineteenth century: he could not understand its fascination and consequently he could not really develop it.  An abiding testimony to his tremendous personal influence in the aesthetic world is the vitality and recurrence of the Arts and Crafts Exhibitions, which are steeped in his personality like a chapel in that of a saint.  If we look round at the exhibits in one of these aesthetic shows, we shall be struck by the large mass of modern objects that the decorative school leaves untouched.  There is a noble instinct for giving the right touch of beauty to common and necessary things, but the things that are so touched are the ancient things, the things that always to some extent commended themselves to the lover of beauty.  There are beautiful gates, beautiful fountains, beautiful cups, beautiful chairs, beautiful reading-desks. But there are no modern things made beautiful.  There are no beautiful lamp-posts, beautiful letter-boxes, beautiful engines, beautiful bicycles.  The spirit of William Morris has not seized hold of the century and made its humblest necessities beautiful.  And this was because, with all his healthiness and energy, he had not the supreme courage to face the ugliness of things; Beauty shrank from the Beast and the fairy-tale had a different ending.

But herein, indeed, lay Morris’s deepest claim to the name of a great reformer: that he left his work incomplete.  There is, perhaps, no better proof that a man is a mere meteor, merely barren and brilliant, than that his work is done perfectly.  A man like Morris draws attention to needs he cannot supply.  In afteryears we may have perhaps a newer and more daring Arts and Crafts Exhibition.  In it we shall not decorate the armour of the twelfth century but the machinery of the twentieth.  A lamp-post shall be wrought nobly in twisted iron, fit to hold the sanctity of fire.  A pillar-box shall be carved with figures emblematical of the secrets of comradeship and the silence and honour of the State.  Railway signals, of all earthly things the most poetical, the coloured stars of life and death, shall be lamps of green and crimson worthy of their terrible and faithful service.  But if ever this gradual and genuine movement of our time towards beauty-not backwards, but forwards-does truly come about, Morris will be the first prophet of it.  Poet of the childhood of nations, craftsman in the new honesties of art, prophet of a merrier and wiser life, his full-blooded enthusiasm will be remembered when human life has once more assumed flamboyant colours and proved that this painful greenish grey of the aesthetic twilight in which we now live is, in spite of all the pessimists, not the greyness of death, but the greyness of dawn.



 — The Speaker, December 29, 1900

The Beloved Son.  By Mrs. Francis Rye.  London: Heineniann.

The success which Mrs. Rye achieves in delivering a suggestive narrative of the life of Jesus for children is all the more creditable as she has to steer her way with immeasurable cunning between the two most dominant and serious factors of the age-the profound unspirituality of the spiritualist and the astonishing irrationality of the rationalist.  On the one hand she contrives to avoid dogma without the error of dogmatising against dogma.  If we may venture to guess, we fancy that Mrs. Rye has already suffered many things from the everlasting doctors of theology, who never fail to propound to all expositors of Jesus the same class of idiotic riddles which they once propounded to Jesus Himself.  But she has successfully eluded the pack of pursuing scribes, and in this work we are no more troubled about the origin and nature of Christ than we were about the origin and nature of our own mothers.  There are some people who require no letters of introduction.  On the other hand, again, she has been equally successful in eluding the bigotry which is in mortal fear of bigotry, the pompous orthodoxy of the agnostic.  Wherever a frankly theological or supernatural story obviously assisted the portraiture of the Divine Figure, she has employed it fearlessly and with incomparable common sense.  The terror in which many excellent educationalists stand of the supernatural in religious narrative certainly finds no welcome in Mrs. Rye, or in us.  These worthy persons (when they are not quite mad) have no hesitation in teaching those axioms of education, the old fairy-tales. They inform children with the gravest face that a beanstalk grew up into the sky, that a giant turned into a mouse, that a pumpkin turned into a state-coach. But the imaginative and merciful wonders told in the book which has made our literature, the stories which no one can ignore who wishes to understand three sentences of our plainest prose-writers, are the wonders which are, by a unique and ludicrous timidity, excluded from education by these blameless but amusing men.  Mrs. Rye has pursued the wise course of the old nurses; she has realised that a beanstalk growing up to heaven is not more surprising than a beanstalk growing at all; that water being turned into wine is not, upon the whole, so incredible as a cloud being turned into water.

The best element in Mrs. Rye’s work lies probably in the mere names of the chapters.  This cannot be dismissed as a small matter, if only because Christianity itself conquered not by its miracles nor its doctrines, but by its names.  “The Son of Man” — “The Kingdom of Heaven” — humanity will have exhausted a thousand theologies and philosophies before it has exhausted these.  And in this faculty of naming, which is itself a kind of poetic definition, Mrs. Rye shows her best inspiration.  We were fully convinced that the book was in some degree a good one, from the mere fact that the first chapter was called “Christmas Day.” These two words express better than any religious periphrasis the peculiar richness and intensity which clings round the story of Bethlehem.  They express that hilarious and obvious reconciliation which destroys the utterly fanciful opposition between Paganism and Christianity, the reconciliation under which Christianity drops its affectation of rigour and Paganism its affectation of frivolity.  Above all, it expresses that quality of instantaneousness, of urgency and excitement, which distinguishes Christmas from so many of the earth’s festivals: the sentiment that it does not celebrate some event a thousand years back, but some event that has just happened, some event that happens every year.

Again, Mrs. Rye is fortunate in her title for the chapter on the parables, “The Wonderful Stories He Told.” By a magnificent and justifiable contempt, the word “parable,” dear to the Sunday-school teacher, is entirely omitted.  We are not told that it is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning, nor provoked, like the little boy in the anecdote, to assert that it is a heavenly story with no earthly meaning.  The earthly meaning is primarily narrated and emphasised and this is profoundly right, for it is the whole point of the parabolic method that if the earthly meaning fail to touch the heart and head the spiritual meaning is useless and worthless.  If a woman were really indifferent to the loss of sixpence, if shepherds were diverted humorously with the thought of a lost sheep in the snow, if sowers, instead of scattering the seed, laid it delicately with a pair of tweazers in the right spot, if fathers were really in the habit of serving up to their sons an elegantly grilled stone, preceded by a fish-course of boiled serpent, the parables would be empty and immoral.  It is as stories that they are primarily valuable, as pictures of the truths of human life, and as stories they touch that profound need for stories that has flowed everlastingly out of the East.  It seems to remind us that Christ sat down to teach.  The one connecting link between the Book of Job and the Arabian Nights lies in the fact that the Oriental author must have sat down to tell them both.

The title of the last chapter, “How in the End He Won,” strikes the true note of Mrs. Rye’s story.  She largely succeeds in giving to Jesus His neglected place at the head of the heroes of mankind.  She has told the story as if it were new in all men’s ears: the only possible justification for telling it at all.  Thus the noble but familiar figure is gilded with a colour of dawn which is not common in devotional works.  It is the deepest of our tragedies that we do not feel the great revolution which founded modern civilisation as a revolution at all.  There was more compliment in those who crucified Christ as a novelty than in those who worship Him as a commonplace.

The passage which Mrs. Rye writes about “Darkness” shows that she has a fine literary instinct.  Yet the chief fault we have to find with her lies in the fact that she scarcely reports enough of the actual diction of Jesus.  That diction is not to be distorted or neglected on the supposition that it exists solely for the furtherance of truths.  The words of Christ were like the lilies of which He spoke.  They were doubtless not produced by any conscious artistic process, but they have unfathomable artistic value.  They toiled not, neither did they spin.  But Epipsychidion in all its glory is not arrayed like one of these.

G. K. C.


 — The Speaker, January 5, 1901

Ad Astra.  By Charles Whitworth Wynne.  London: Grant Richards.

“Let not his arrogance go unreproved.” — Ad Astra.

Of the novel methods by which this work has been brought to the public notice we will say little.  Suffice it to say that until lately we have been under the impression that “Ad Astra” was a kind of soap.  It is, however, a poem, though soap would probably be more poetical.  With every allowance for difference of taste and the strongest natural leaning towards lenience in criticism, we cannot understand why this work should have gone into several editions.  It is a long, rambling poem which starts from the subject of natural landscape, wanders through love, theology, and Imperial politics, and seems unable to fix itself firmly even upon a prejudice, not to speak of an idea.  A poem may be written about everything, but not about things in general.  To a poet who sings of the universe, the universe must be for the moment one thing-as much one thing as a daisy or a butterfly.  Thus Lucretius had a vision of the universe; Dante had a vision of the universe.  Mr. Wynne simply has a stroll through the universe, picking up odds and ends for no conceivable reason.  If we ourselves wrote a poem which opened with a discussion on tobacco, went on to describe the death of Julius Caesar, and ended with a comparison between fighting duels and learning Hindustani the whole work would be something like Ad Astra.  Mr. Wynne should either write on some detail that interests him or wait till he has the vision of everything.  We may warn him, however, that the vision of everything is a rather curious thing, and a man who has it generally either dies of terror or is happy for the rest of his days.

Chaos in the scheme, however, could be easily forgiven if there were merit in the parts.  But we must confess that reading these long metrical meditations reminds us of nothing so much as drinking innumerable gallons of luke-warm water.  The cold water of reason is good and the boiling water of religious passion is good; but this is not fully and sincerely either logical or religious.  It is made up of the reflections of one of those gentlemen who occupy their very numerous spare hours by having spiritual doubts with which no reasonable person ought to be troubled and crushing them with replies with which no reasonable person ought to be satisfied.

Of the diction very few examples will suffice.  Mr. Wynne in the opening verses discusses in his vague way the question of Nature and her sympathetic or unsympathetic attitude towards man.  He describes what happens when “we look behind her lustrous eyes,” which would seem a delicate surgical proceeding:–

“But when we look behind her lustrous eyes
We find scant echo to our deepening sighs.”

It would surely be a little unreasonable of us to expect to find echoes behind a person’s eyes.  We have heard of “cavernous eyes,” but not so cavernous as all that.

Later on, he writes:–

“Though factory smoke and noise of whirring looms
Obscure his perfect vision for a while.”

We do not quite understand why noise should obscure his vision, but we can understand it, of course, if the echoes get into his eyes.  He is evidently constructed on the same physiological principle as Bottom the Weaver, who went to see a noise that he heard.

This extraordinary confusion of mind runs riot in the diction.  In a simple-minded passage about British Imperialism being the refuge of the Jews, which we fear may “produce in the sinful a smile,” Mr. Wynne says —

“For if we be not of the lost Ten Tribes At least we have procured them harbourage”

If the “Tribes” are still lost it is a little difficult to tell whether we have procured them harbourage or not.

Lastly, to complete our examples in technique, we should be pleased to offer the customary sewing-machine for the explanation of the following:–

“O Father give me back my childhood’s Faith,
That faith that saw Thee in the brightening cloud
And deemed it but the mirror of thy breath.”

This would certainly seem to be faith of a very high and difficult order.

If these were mere verbal errors or mixed metaphors, they would matter little.  The trouble is that they are produced not by a number of images jostling each other, but by the entire absence of any image at all.  What picture in the mind either of writer or reader can possibly be made up of echoes behind eyes, of clouds that are like mirrors, of mirrors that reflect breath? If we spoke of finding an echo in a bag of flour or a cloud that was like a single eyeglass, the image would not be more shapeless and devoid of suggestion.

The truth is that we should have the greatest respect for Mr. Wynne’s work, with all its crudities, if it bore the impress even of the vulgarest fanaticism.  If he had one thing which could be called an opinion we could forgive him everything.  But he seems to dawdle round all sides of a question, like a drunkard going continually round a house because he cannot find the door.  For example, he enunciates, as we have said, a rather innocently complimentary view of the Jews, and declares that “God still loveth them,” because “whate’er they touch turns golden in their hands” — a somewhat poor and snobbish reason for doing justice to the countrymen of Isaiah.  But while in this passage he seems as Semitic as a South African Imperialist, we find him a few verses back offering in a confused way an insult to Israel of which M. Drumont would be ashamed.  He says they have a “shifty trace” in their eyes and that they are —

“Wanderers upon the face of God’s fair earth,
And cursed, like Cain, with murder from their birth.”

Whether this means that a Jew is from his birth continually murdering, or continually being murdered, we cannot tell; but in either case it seems a trifle indecent.

This is only one instance, but it is typical of Mr. Wynne’s attitude on all subjects.  It is not that he does not say anything, but that he does not think anything — that is the outrage.

It would be difficult to say which is the most unpoetical line in the poem.  In a work which contains such lines as “We judge from our own standpoint — that of sin,” “Consider too, the progress man has made I” and “The atheist argues that the Christian Creed,” the difficulty will be easily understood.  But, upon the whole, we think the palm must be given to the couplet:–

“The natural order of development
Is from the unit to the family.”

There are some lines, indeed, which might lay Mr. Wynne open to a severer charge than that of being prosaic.  We do not believe him to be guilty of deliberate plagiarism.  But certainly a great deal of carelessness and vagueness of mind is required to excuse such lines as “The paths of pleasure flower but to the grave” — “For God reveals himself in many ways” and the almost precise repetition of one of Mr. William Watson’s phrases in the line “lights to the lily, reddens to the rose.”

We wish to say as little as possible on the subject of the long, loose, and wearisome argument on the subject of religion which takes up so many pages of Ad Astra.  We will only remark that we sincerely hope that the time will come when preachers, hymn-writers, and pious poets will realise that there is a very deep and menacing truth at the bottom of the commandment, “Thou shall not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” That a man shall not use the strongest words so as to make them weak is emphatically one of the ten commandments of literature.  The law against taking the Name in vain is, for some strange reason, generally understood as dealing with jokes upon serious subjects.  But a joke is not necessarily vain, it is generally highly significant.  Job and Elijah jest constantly on serious subjects.  But to use the greatest names in our language, the words that are, as it were, too great for the mouth, again and again like a worn-out stamp, in trivial arguments, in cocksure explanations, in mere rhetorical padding; this, which resounds from hundreds of pulpits and sacred lyres, is indeed, to our minds, the sin against the Name, and it is this that Mr. Wynne never ceases from committing.

Since the appearance, or appearances, of Ad Astra, Mr. Wynne has published a volume of lyrics.  Of these we will quite only one poem, and that a short one:–

“Home returning in a shower
Found that I was smiling,
Just the very time and hour
Most men would be riling.
Thus, though Nature prove unkind,
Only a poetic mind
Can laugh without reviling.”

That is all.  It will be noticed that Mr. Wynne is not ill satisfied with himself, despite the strange modesty which leads him to deprive the second line of a nominative personal pronoun.  It is, indeed, this astonishing haughtiness of his which has led us to consider his claims at such length.  Posters and sky-signs are, we are told, to be seen all over London stating that Ad Astra is the “Book of the Year,” and even, as one dark humourist (perhaps Mr. Max Beerbohm) is reported to have said “the finest religious poem of the century.” To permit this gentleman to dance upon the graves of Browning and Tennyson was a feat beyond our tolerably tough clemency.  Nevertheless, we do not wish to take the matter too solemnly, and we have endeavoured to prove that we possess a “poetic mind” by a fixed endeavour to “laugh without reviling.”

G. K. C.


 — The Speaker, January 12, 1901

Pages From A Journal.  By Mark Rutherford.  London: T. Fisher Unwin.

If there are faults to be found with Pages from a Journal they are all summed up in the title.  Fragmentary, incomplete, and sometimes positively inept, they certainly have the appearance of being genuine excerpts from a diary.  It may be doubted, perhaps, whether the public has much to do with diaries.  The public has its own diary, the daily press, and that certainly is healthily idiotic enough to be the diary of the most romantic schoolgirl.  But when an author of the genuine type of Mark Rutherford publishes such fragments they demand consideration.

In all the subjects, however, upon which these notes are written there is, unquestionably, the trace of the disadvantages of this form of composition.  An idea is pursued up to a certain point and then, for no apparent reason, the pursuit is abandoned.  As a trait of the diary we can perfectly understand this: the philosophical inquiry ceased because the dinner-bell rang.  But if we regard these fragments as things definitely suited for publication, we are reduced to the statement that hardly one of them genuinely works out its idea.  We are reduced, indeed, to the yet gloomier conviction that we ourselves can see very clearly the point around which Mark Rutherford seems blundering in comparative blindness.  Let us take an instance.  The author devotes one chapter to a very interesting defence of the morality of Byron, all the more striking and serious because it proceeds from a mind of the typically Puritan education and character.  He maintains, with admirable truth (if we understand him rightly), that all great prophets have been largely concerned with the substitution of a “divine scale” of morals, culminating in a general magnanimity, for the trivial scale of mere negative ethics.  But by a confusion natural enough from a superficial point of view, he joins on to this a claim that Byron was “sincere” — that is to say, that he was not affected or self-deceiving. Now we are perfectly ready to maintain that if Byron was sincere in this sense he was one of the most despicable curs born.  His heroes certainly boast of being blase and there is nothing in the least magnanimous about being blase.  Men’s souls do not expand in the cold any more than water-pipes. If we are to take Byron on his own estimate, if his heart was really withered and his power of joy gone, he cannot possibly be called a teacher of magnanimity.  We might have infinite pity for his loss of freshness as we might have infinite pity for his club foot.  But to ask mankind to bow down to an aristocracy of club feet would be a little unreasonable.

We believe, however, that the author’s literary and ethical instinct does not mislead him in telling him that Byron was a teacher of magnanimity.  The real explanation, as it appears to us, does not seem to have struck him.  Byron was magnanimous because he was self-deceptive.  While he imagined that he was feeling and preaching a desolate creed of premature old age, he was really feeling and preaching the fierce joy of youth in dark and lonely and elemental things.  It is the joyful spirit that loves the wilderness and the tempest: the man who is really forlorn and bitter generally takes refuge in the nearest restaurant.  Byron dressed up his profound poetic pleasure in a vile dress, the funeral trappings of a vulgar stage conspirator, but the real power and charm in his work lies in the splendid affectation of a boy, which is merely the expression of that primal “delight of the eyes” to which the fiercest flames are golden and darkness itself is only too dense a purple.

Mark Rutherford leaves his defence of Byron defective and almost immoral by this hurried and misleading defence of the “sincerity” of his despair.  Byron wept his way through romance after romance; but until he reached Don Juan we do not feel that he was really miserable.  Then he began to laugh.

We have treated at some length this one instance of the incomplete nature of these reflections, for the sake of better explaining our meaning, but many other instances might be taken.  There is, for example, an able and interesting paper on “Judas Iscariot,” but in this again the writer has not time to get to the root of the matter, and the problem is rather stated than solved.  Mark Rutherford points out truly enough the mystery of the presence among Christ’s chosen of a wretch capable of betraying for a few pence and the inconsistency between the trivial dirtiness of the murder and the almost noble agony of the suicide.  The explanation occurs to us as very simple.  It was necessary in the dawn of the Church to put all the lieutenants of Christ into halos and describe them as living in idyllic accord.  But in the New Testament we read that they contended who should be greatest, and the smallest acquaintance with small sects inspired with great ideas would tell us that there would be disagreements and rivalries bringing the body to the verge of disruption.  There was, doubtless, a conservative section and an “anti-clerical” section.  In some dramatic collision Judas seceded in a fury and became the deadly enemy of the whole movement.  The money payment was either a distorted rumour or a mere form, a paying of “party expenses.” It is unfortunate that the tendency of all the piety of centuries should be to make the work of Christ seem to have been easier instead of more difficult.  We shall never know with how much He had to strive.  But we must confess that we should like to know how many times St. Peter was persuaded to rejoin the society.

Among other items in the book is “A Supplementary Note on the Devil.” The previous article is on “Spinoza,” and at first sight the conjunction seems a little severe.  In his argument on the former question, the writer hardly sufficiently distingushes believing in devils from believing in the Devil.  Here the part is certainly greater than the whole.  To believe in devils is simply to believe in unclean souls and wills loose in the universe.  To believe in the Devil is to believe in an infinite evil, a well of wickedness as deep as the tower of holiness is high.  To us personally, we admit, it seems a healthier and more religious doctrine that goodness is the only unfathomable thing, and that he that hides himself in the well of evil will not fall eternally through homeless abysses, but will be fished out in proper season, damp, and looking very much of a fool.



 — The Speaker, January 19, 1901

The Shadowy Waters.. By W. B. Yeats.  Hodder and Stoughton.

Mr. W.B. Yeats has achieved, with little or no opposition, the first place among poets now working worthily, and it is to be hoped that people will shortly pay him the tribute of ceasing to discover him.  His master, William Blake, is a melancholy instance of how a man may be kept out of his throne as a classic by the refusal of his admirers to pay him the supreme compliment of criticism.  While the great, but far smaller, Wordsworth is censured and rebelled against like a king, Blake is still being petted like a child.  A small coterie are everlastingly surprised by his charming intelligence and his charming blunders, long after he should have assumed the independence and responsibility of a great man.  This is the only possible danger or Mr. Yeats; cheap jokes about mysticism he has long outlived.  It is only his admirers who can now keep him out of the pantheon.

It is hardly necessary to say that The Shadowy Waters is a beautiful poem, especially to those who read the Prologue published in THE SPEAKER some weeks ago.  For certain private reasons, and because it upholds the dignity of the Press (the Palladium of, &c.), it is necessary to pretend to criticise a poem in these columns.  But it is really a contradiction in terms to speak of estimating a poem in prose.  Any tolerable appreciation of a poet, if it is to be written at all, could only be written in an imitation of the poet’s own style.  A description of the personality of Browning we ought, properly speaking, to open with some such phrases as:–

Oak-tree of England: yet a twist i’the roots
Gargoyle-grotesque, and arms asprawl to stars.

For a picture of Mr. Swinburne we ought to invent some lines beginning:–

O bitter, O bountiful master,
Made sick with unchangeable change.

To write a poem on Mr. Yeats’ poems as Mr. Yeats would write it is a far subtler task.  But if we wished to say what we really think of his position, our poem would open:–

The worker of sad silver and pale gold
Who built the seven gates of Fairyland.

Whenever we think of Mr. Yeats it is instinctively as the builder of the gates.  He is not a denizen of fairyland: no poet ever carried more obviously the heavy burden of the heart of man.  But, at the same time, no poet ever realised so clearly those intuitions which we have all experienced vaguely-the intuitions which seem to tell us that certain places are upon the border of another land; that ten yards from us the trees have a strange twist, the flowers a strange tint, the whole scene a strange silence.  Sometimes this forgotten frontier is a wood, sometimes a well, sometimes a stony street.  But Mr. Yeats has marked them all for his gates.  In his last poem, The Shadowy Waters, he has added another, the gate of the sea.

It is in his attitude to this unknown world that the most arresting significance of Mr. Yeats is to be found.  He marks a vast and singular change that has come over the whole modern world.  During the first half of the century, from the time of Shelley to the time of Swinburne, ardent and aesthetic young poets invariably rose in revolt against the supernatural, and devoted themselves to singing the praises of the natural.  But we can now see how huge a part of the secularism of Shelley and Swinburne was due to a juvenile love of breaking windows, and especially stained-glass windows.  The old orthodoxy vanished; in its place came another orthodoxy-that of the agnostics-which claimed to settle the limits of knowledge as the old churches had settled the limits of faith.  Phrases like “things beyond the power of human decision,” “questions which can never be solved,” were as common on the lips of the great agnostics as the Bible on the lips of a revivalist; and, for some mysterious reason, no one seems to have ever noticed that to define the possible limits of knowledge was far more irrationally dogmatic than to believe in the sealed pardons of Joanna Southcote.  At any rate, the erection of the rationalists into the position of universal schoolmasters has contributed not a little to the general revival of spiritual hypothesis, and, above all, to that revival among the perverse race of poets.

The scientific dictators have seen the strangest, yet the most natural result of their veto.  By making faith a sin they have made it a pleasure.  Instead of being “dragooned into heaven,” like the subjects of Louis XIV., the modern aesthetes creep into heaven with all the delight of trespassers.  Foremost of these wild boys is Mr. Yeats, who plucks, in his own beautiful words —

“The silver apples of the moon
The golden apples of the sun”

with all the ecstacy of an urchin robbing an orchard.

As a poem The Shadowy Waters is admirable, as a play its appeal depends largely upon the degree of our conversion to that novel institution, “the drama of mood.” The characters are Forgael, a-wandering and world-weary, looking for fairyland, his friend Aibric and a girl named Dectora, who is treated with great contempt by every one else because she has not got tired of being in love.  Perhaps the best way to sum up the limitations of the “drama of mood” as here exhibited is to say that it would be admirably suited to a toy theatre, “a penny plain and twopence coloured.” All that is needed to bring out its charm is exquisite scenery, stately and motionless figures, a certain amount of blue and green fire, and Mr. Yeats himself under the table to intone the words in the proper manner.  Now this manifestly separates it from everything that we understand as acting drama, the most modern as well as the most ancient.  It would scarcely do, for example, to present the Norwegian plays in cardboard and tinsel in Skelt’s Juvenile Drama.  A series called “Ibsen for the Young” might be created, in which the figures should be cut out in the old melodramatic poses, Gregers Werle straddling piratically and pointing both ways at once, but paling before the luxurious gloom of “Dr. Ranke (second dress).” But we can hardly think it would be a success, or that the scheme is likely to be taken up even by the most modern educationalist, consumed with an eternal impatience to teach bald-headed babies to brush their hair.  But Mr. Yeats’ play positively would be the better if the figures were a race of dignified dolls under the control of a transcendental ventriloquist.  The arbitrary but haunting symbolism of Mr. Yeats, a kind of celestial heraldry, would make the task of drawing and colouring delightful.  With what joy should we paint on the sail the three hounds, “one dark and one red and one white with red ears;” as for the silver lily on Aengus’s breast we should not paint it at all: we should even cut it out of actual silver paper and paste it on that motionless hero.  Some people would say that this was the reductio ad absurdum of the “drama of mood.” We do not think so, for we can see nothing absurd in a toy theatre.

Another characteristic of this play which separates from what is commonly called drama is that there is no change of sentiment.  A number of melancholy events happen to the hero, but, to do him justice, he seems to be just as dismal before the events as after them.  That attitude of sad but serene prescience which he maintains at the beginning he maintains at the end.  He is equally incapable of Macbeth’s self-flattering ambition and Macbeth’s raging pessimism.  We admit that to us the function of a drama is to show the same figure in many poses, as in the mirrors fixed round a room.  But Forgael (being cut out of cardboard) can only be looked at from one point of view.  From another he would vanish into a streak.

But the truth is that the whole of this beautiful poem is dominated by one conception, very native to Mr. Yeats’ work and connecting it not only with the mythological but even more with the mediaeval spirit — the conception of the finite character of all things, even of heaven and earth.  Superficially it might be said that the imaginative man would have to do with eternity, but it is not so.  Imagination has to do with images-that is to say, with shapes-and eternity has no shape.  Here the finite note is perpetually struck: the whole ship of Forgael is drifting to the last seas, where —

“Time and the world and all things dwindle out.”

In this poem Mr. Yeats treats this finality of all things with an even deeper melancholy than is his wont.  We must admit that to us there seems nothing so unsupportable in these boundaries and that to complain that youth, for example, has a beginning and an end is like complaining that a cow has a head and tail.  An outline must be a limit.  Above all we can have no sympathy whatever with that far older and idler pessimism which makes capital out of the disproportions of the cosmos.  The size of the fixed stars no more makes us insignificant than the size of the animalculae makes us divine.  The beauty of life is in itself and is as indestructible whether it lasts as long as a planet or as long as a violin solo.  If it be true that to the gods —

“Armies on white roads
And unforgotten names and the cold stars
That have made all are dust on a moth’s wing.”

if we are to adopt this magnificent image of Mr. Yeats and conceive of the whole Cosmos as a moth, its wings coruscating with moons and stars, fluttering in the dark void, the only thing to say of the moth is that it is a very fine specimen.  It is at least better than an endless catepillar.



 — The Speaker, January 19, 1901

The Odyssey Rendered into English Prose.  By Samuel Butler.  London: Longmans, Green, and Co.

Mr. Samuel Butler has at least courage and consistency in pursuing the theory that poetry like that of Homer should be translated in excessively free and familiar language.  He has written a translation of the Odyssey in which perhaps the most heroic achievement (among many) is a Penelope who talks of Ulysses as her “poor dear husband.” Mr. Butler, of course, has already won some fame in this connection by his theory that the Odyssey was written by a woman, but we did not grasp until we read this book that it was written by a charwoman.  There is a vast deal of perverted talent in the translation.  We wish Mr. Butler had devoted as much ingenuity to gaining equivalents in heroic English for heroic Greek as he has shown in the curious and diabolical art of discovering English slang with a sort of similarity to some Greek metaphor or form.  “I will find you in everything,” has, we believe, a special meaning in some English dialect, but when we find it in a rendering of an ancient epic, we can only suppose it (despite the context) to be the address of a priest to some all-pervading deity.

On page 97 there is an extraordinary example of Mr. Butler’s love of making the modern and commonplace overpoweringly vivid to the mind.  He makes Laodamas, in urging Ulysses to join in the games, address him as follows: “I hope, sir, that you will enter yourself for some one or other of our competitions,” which is positively brilliant in the perfection with which it has caught the ill-bred urbanity of the steward with a pink rosette in his frock coat.  Some renderings, we admit, are shrouded for us in impenetrable mystery.  Why Ulysses should address the Cyclops as “Your Excellency” we cannot think: the title is reserved generally for Ambassadors, and whatever were the virtues of Polyphemus they were not those calculated to advance him in the diplomatic service.  A similar cloud rests on Mr. Butler’s reason for calling “Chiefs and leaders of the Achaeans” “alder-men and town councillors.” If simple and antique words are to be avoided, why mention Achaea? It might be called Paddington.  Doubtless a very vivid and popular version of the Odyssey might be written in which the whole voyage should by made by steam, the refusal of Calypso’s love become a “sexual problem,” the visit to the dead a spiritualistic seance, and the whole conclude with the contest in firing the Mauser rifle of “the much-enduring man.” It would amuse us, but we should not sell our Homer as a duplicate.

We should not dwell so strongly upon this craze for the commonplace which has possessed the translator, for we have no desire to make cheap fun of such a benefactor as the author of “Erywhon,” if we did not think that Mr. Butler is in this matter only a more courageous and typical exponent of an idea, or rather an absence of ideas, now seriously endangering literature.  It is truly extraordinary to what an extent the heroic element is lacking in men of imagination in this decade.  When Mr. Butler takes the part of the denunciation of Euryalus beginning [Greek phrase in original] which may be rendered more or less literally, “You have wakened wrath in my heart, saying unrighteous things,” and translates it “Your ill-judged remarks have made me exceedingly angry,” it strikes the mind at first as being uncommonly like Mr. Penley in the “Private Secretary,” and one expects to find the blow that broke the jaw of the colossal lrus described as “a good hard knock.” But the matter is far deeper than this.  It is a part of that pitiful modern notion, unknown to all the great literatures of the world, that a scrap or two of actual detail, the literal symptoms which appear in conversation or action, are the things that are “like life.”

Life is within: a mass of towering emotions and untranslatable secrets.  It is heroic poetry that is like life, that attunes itself to this terrible orchestra, that lets our life rush out like the gas out of a balloon.  An ordinary modern man shaking with righteous anger against a fool or a tyrant might, as a matter of fact, only stammer out some such fatuous and trivial protest as Mr. Butler has put into the mouth of Ulysses.  But that has nothing to do with his “life.” He would curse like Homer if he could.

There are few things, therefore, that we should more seriously protest against than an attempt to translate a monumental poem from the language of the passions which is song, to the vast system of verbal ritual which is called casual conversation.  If this were done with some other piece of haunting simplicity, let us say the immortal vow of Ruth — if “thy people shall be my people” were to become “I will try and get on with your set,” and “thy God my God,” “church or chapel, I don’t mind,” the effect would not be more human and familiar, but less so.  The “realist” seems unable to grasp (being a person of no genial arrogance) that there are things that lose everything in merely losing size.  It is as if a cockney put in his front garden a miniature model of St. Peter’s, all the proportions being correct.

The Odyssey is a gigantic romance, and it stands to-day as a protest against the strange idea that has taken hold of European literature, that the only strong stories are those that end badly; as if success were not a stronger thing than failure.  Tragedy is, by a fatuous notion, conceived to be the highest form of art, and a poet who sits at the right hand of Homer was the last who dared to call a comedy Divine.  Simple people express this feeling against modern literature by somewhat clumsy imprecations against the liberties of art; they denounce a realist for no better reason than that which exists equally against a sanitary inspector, that they personally would not like the job.  But what we really need is not the veto upon any man, but only the return of the hero.  These melancholy revellers are the suitors making merry in the house of art, while above them hangs for ever the bow that they will never draw.  Some night there will come a terrible voice in the doorway and their reign will be over.  Then, though the history of man be as full of blood and hunger as the Odyssey, yet in the tried value of the old and valiant things, filled with the whole spirit of the return of Ulysses, it shall be well in the evening of the world.



 — The Speaker, January 26, 1901

Woman: A Scientific Study And Defence.  Adapted from the French of M. Alfred Fouillee by Rev. T. A. Seed.  Greening and Co.

The title of the work before us is Woman: a Scientific Study and Defence.  It never occurred to us before that woman stood in need of a defence of any kind; and what the women of our acquaintance would think of being made the subject of a “scientific defence” we shudder to conceive.  The work which Mr. Seed has adapted from M. Fouillee contains a considerable amount of sound and suggestive argument against the scientific theories of the inferiority of woman; but the plan of the book is a mistake.  Instead of attempting to base the equality of the sexes on the domestic habits of some wretched amoeba in the primeval twilight, the author should have turned on the men of science and told them, with all possible respect, that they have nothing whatever to do with questions of superiority and inferiority.  Obviously they have not.  Whether woman is structurally different to man is a matter of physical science, whether she is superior or inferior or equal is not a matter of physical science; it is a question of what you happen to want.  Science does its duty in saying that monkeys have tails and men have not; but as for saying that it is better not to have tails, that is a matter of taste and imagination, and by no means certain even at that.

The author himself quotes incidentally a remarkable instance of this in a citation from Herbert Spencer, but he does not seem to see the full fallacy that he is trying to expose.  Herbert Spencer says, truly enough, that the interest of women is generally directed rather to persons than to ideas, and gives this as showing their inferiority, since the last products of human evolution are “abstract reasoning and the abstract emotion of justice.” Here we have in full operation that strange religious dogma which crept into the minds of so many evolutionists-the notion that the last thing must be the highest.  In this case it is clearly untrue.  To understand a man (as many women do) is to understand one of the most complex and untranslatable cryptograms conceivable, to understand a “cause” is to understand the clumsiest thing created, a mere alphabet of thought.  What is “abstract justice”? Personally we know nothing about it, except that in proportion as it becomes abstract it generally becomes unjust.  If a preference for personal over abstract criticism be a mark of inferiority, the great novelist must be inferior to the political wirepuller.  But all this staring common sense is swept away by the philosopher who wishes to make biology prove what it can never prove and the sole test he applies is to ask what is the last product of human evolution.  By that argument playing on the typewriter would be superior to playing on the organ.

In any discussion of philosophic strictures upon women it was inevitable that Schopenhauer should be involved, though we fancy most women and most believers in womanhood would be much more annoyed by Schopenhauer’s approval than by his denunciation.  When a gentleman wishes for the destruction of the human race, and may therefore, presumably, reserve his affections for such things as assassination and typhoid fever, to be regarded by him with a loving smile would be rather disquieting than complimentary.  But the particular passage quoted in this book is so remarkable an instance of Schopenhauer’s astonishing literary ingenuity and still more astonishing unreality of experience and outlook, that it is worth a moment’s consideration.  Women, says Schopenhauer, in effect, are the best guardians of children, because they are themselves children, “puerile, futile, limited.” Now we know what women do for children; they nearly kill themselves over them with work and anxiety; the simple and obvious way, therefore, of testing the truth of Schopenhauer’s comparison is to ask what children do for children.  If the “futility” and “limitation” of a little boy of seven lead him naturally to martyr himself for another little boy of seven, then the comparison is sound.  But as we all know that they lead him to kick his shins and run away with his toys, the comparison is nonsense.  It is surely strange that the name of philosopher should ever have been given to a literary man, however brilliant, who was capable of basing an argument upon the amazing notion that people love what is like themselves.  In fact, the whole of Schopenhauer’s theory of the childishness of women is capable of the shortest and simplest answer.  If women are childish because they love children, it follows that men are womanish because they love women.

The author speaks with just contempt of these efforts to discredit women by biological parallels.  If it be true that certain baboons have a large amount of the maternal instinct, rational ethics have nothing to say to it except, “So much the better for the baboons.” They may be inferior to us in other respects; so are the birds of the air.  But a mortal with the wings of a bird is an angel, and a mortal with the maternal instinct is a mother.

We think this book would have been better if it had been purely scientific or purely poetic and moral.  Its biological thesis, that from the earliest dawn of life the two sexes have certain types and functions which may still be traced in their moral and mental attitudes, may be true and is very probable.  The scope of the book and its dallyings with other matters, however, leave no space for the serious scientific demonstration of this.  But while we suspend our judgment on the truth of the biological contention we are heartily in agreement with the moral contention, and cannot see that it requires any biological machinery at all.  The divinity of woman is to be decided by what she is, not by how she was made.  It has always seemed to us truly extraordinary that Christians should have raised such a shriek of disgust at the “degrading” notion that man was made out of the lower animals, when the very Bible they defended described him, with splendid common sense, as made out of red mud.  But it is stranger still that philosophers who have accepted in a healthier spirit the genial fact of our kinship with the other creatures, should try to revive the silly and vulgar prejudice against the animal world in order to throw discredit on the moral dignity of man or woman.  To refuse to judge of souls, laws, creeds or tendencies on their own merits is the perfection of cosmic snobbery.  To inquire whether a man’s father did not keep a shop is far less snobbish than to inquire whether his ancestor did not keep a tail.

The question is far too large a one to be treated here, but we have a strong conviction that the world will gradually, by a beneficent revolution, turn this idea upside down.  Hitherto it seems to have been thought that in proportion as a phenomenon detached itself from the background, ceased to be serene, inevitable and obvious and became strange, diverse and audacious, an interesting development, it became less sacred and more profane.  We venture to prophecy that the tendency now in progress to show everything, no matter how fundamental, as a growth, an experiment, a choice among alternatives, will at length result in a religious sense of wonder passing all the religions of the earth.  The age of miracles will have returned; for a man come from the womb will be as strange as a man risen from the dead and the sun rising in its season as startling as the sun standing still upon Gibeon.

This is at least the true light in which to regard woman.  If it were proved to us ten thousand times over (it has not yet been proved once) that woman laboured under eternal mental as well as physical disadvantages, it would not make us think less but rather more of that brilliant instinct of chivalry which saw in her peculiar possibilities and put her to higher uses.  The whole romance of life and all the romances of poetry lie in this motion of the utterly weak suddenly developing advantages over the strong.  It is the curse of the modern philosophy of strength that it is ridden with the fallacy that there is only one kind of strength and one kind of weakness.  It forgets that size is a weakness as well as littleness; that the camel is just as weak for the purpose of going through the eye of a needle as the microbe for carrying a load of hay.

As to what form this peculiar dignity of woman is to take at the present day, a question to which many pages of this book are devoted, we think it a matter for much more serious consideration than it has yet received.  We do not mean that we are out of sympathy with the modern movements.  We believe firmly in the equality of the sexes, and we agree, moreover, that to use woman merely as a wooden idol is as bad as to use her as a wooden broom.  But, in the interests of equality, we must say that we doubt whether the mere equalisation of sports and employments will bring us much further.  There is nothing so certain to lead to inequality as identity.  A mere struggle between the sexes as to who will make the best tinkers, tailors, or soldiers, is very likely indeed to result in a subordination of women infinitely more gross and heartless than that which disgraced the world up to now.  What we really require is a revised and improved division of labour.  Whatever solution may be best (we do not pretend for a moment to have decided) it must emphatically not be based upon any idea so paltry and small-minded as the idea that there is anything noble in professional work or anything degrading in domestic.  Woman must not be elevated as the worst type of working man is elevated, merely (to use the silly phrase) “to a better kind of work,” to choke the memory of his own class in a stick-up collar.  If this is the only end of the noble promise of female emancipation, the intellectual woman’s lot will certainly be an ironic one, for she will have toiled to reach the haughtiest eminence from which she can look down upon the housemaid, only to discover that world has become sane and discovered that the housemaid is as good as she.

G. K. C.


 — The Speaker, February 2, 1901

[later reprinted in The Defendant]

There are two equal and eternal ways of looking at this twilight world of ours; we may see it as the twilight of evening or the twilight of morning; we may think of anything, down to a fallen acorn, as a descendant or as an ancestor.  There are times when we are almost crushed, not so much with the load of the evil, as with the load of the goodness of humanity, when we feel that we are nothing but the inheritors of a humiliating splendour.  But there are other times when everything seems primitive, when the ancient stars are only sparks blown from a boys’ bonfire, when the whole earth seems so young and experimental that even the white hair of the aged, in the fine Biblical phrase, is like almond trees that blossom, like the white hawthorn grown in May.  That it is good for a man to realise that he is “the heir of all the ages” is pretty commonly admitted; it is a less popular but equally important point that it is good for him sometimes to realise that he is not only an ancestor, but an ancestor of primal antiquity; it is good for him to wonder whether he is not a hero, and to experience ennobling doubts as to whether he is not a solar myth.

The matters which most thoroughly evoke this sense of the abiding childhood of the world are those which are really fresh, abrupt and inventive in any age; and if we were asked what was the best proof of this adventurous youth in the nineteenth century we should say, with all respect to its portentous sciences and philosophies, that it was to be found in the rhymes of Mr. Edward Lear and in the literature of nonsense.  The Dong with the Luminous Nose, at least, is original as the first ship and the first plough were original.

It is true that in a certain sense some of the greatest writers the world has seen-Aristophanes, Rabelais and Sterne-have written nonsense; but unless we are mistaken, it is in a widely different sense.  The nonsense of these men was satiric-that is to say, symbolic; it was a kind of exuberant capering round a discovered truth.  There is all the difference in the world between the instinct of satire, which seeing in the Kaiser’s moustaches something typical of him draws them continually larger and larger, and the instinct of nonsense which, for no reason whatever, imagines what those moustaches would look like on the present Archbishop of Canterbury, if he grew them in a fit of absence of mind.  We incline to think that no age except our own could have understood that the Quangle-Wangle meant absolutely nothing, and the Lands of the Jumblies were absolutely nowhere.  We fancy that if the account of the knave’s trial in Alice in Wonderland had been published in the seventeenth century it would have been bracketed with Bunyan’s Trial of Faithful as a parody on the State prosecutions of the time.  We fancy that if The Dong with the Luminous Nose had appeared in the same period every one would have called it a dull satire on Oliver Cromwell.

It is altogether advisedly that we quote chiefly from Mr. Lear’s Nonsense Rhymes; to our mind he is both chronologically and essentially the father of nonsense: we think him superior to Lewis Carroll.  In one sense, indeed, Lewis Carroll has a great advantage.  We know what Lewis Carroll was in daily life; he was a singularly serious and conventional don, universally respected, but very much of a pedant and something of a Philistine.  To us his strange double life in earth and in dreamland emphasises the idea that lies at the back of nonsense, the idea of escape, of escape into a world where things are not fixed horribly in an eternal appropriateness: where apples grow on pear-trees and any odd man you meet may have three legs.  Lewis Carroll, living one life in which he would have thundered morally against any one who walked on the wrong plot of grass and another life in which he would cheerfully call the sun green and the moon blue, was, by his very divided nature, his one foot on both worlds, a perfect type of the position of modern nonsense.  His “Wonderland” is a country populated by insane mathematicians.  We feel the whole is an escape into a world of masquerade: we feel that if we could pierce their disguises, we might discover that Humpty Dumpty and the March Hare were professors and Doctors of Divinity enjoying a mental holiday.  This sense of escape is certainly less emphatic in Edward Lear, because of the completeness of his citizenship in the world of unreason.  We do not know his prosaic biography as we know Lewis Carroll’s.  We accept him as a purely fabulous figure, on his own description of himself:–

“His body is perfectly spherical,
He weareth a runcible hat.”

While Lewis Carroll’s “Wonderland” is purely intellectual, Lear introduces quite another element, the element of the poetical and even the emotional.  Carroll works by the pure reason, but this is not so strong a contrast: for, after all, mankind in the main has always regarded reason as a bit of a joke.  Lear introduces his unmeaning words and his amorphous creatures not with the pomp of reason, but with the romantic prelude of rich hues and haunting rhythms:–

“Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live,”

is an entirely different type of poetry to that exhibited in “Jabberwocky.” Carroll, with a sense of mathematical neatness, makes his whole poem a mosaic of new and mysterious words.  But Edward Lear, with more subtle and placid effrontery, is always introducing scraps of his own elvish dialect into the middle of simple and rational statements, until we are almost stunned into admitting that we know what they mean.  There is a genial ring of common sense about such lines as —

“For his Aunt Jobiska said ‘Every one knows
That a Pobble is better without his toes,’”

which is beyond the reach of Carroll.  The poet seems so easy on the matter that we are almost driven to pretend that we see his meaning, that we know the peculiar difficulties of a Pobble; that we are as old travellers in the “Gromboolian Plain” as he is.

Our claim that nonsense is a new literature (we might almost say a new sense) would be quite indefensible if nonsense were nothing more than a mere aesthetic fancy.  Nothing sublimely artistic has ever arisen out of mere art, any more than anything essentially reasonable has ever arisen out of the pure reason.  There must always be a rich moral soil for any great aesthetic growth.  The principle of art for art’s sake is a very good principle if it means that there is a vital distinction between the earth and the tree that has its roots in the earth, but it is a very bad principle if it means that the tree could grow just as well with its roots in the air.  Every great literature has always been allegorical, allegorical of some view of the whole universe.  The Iliad is only great because all life is a battle, the Odyssey because all life is a journey, the Book of Job because all life is a riddle.  There is one attitude in which we think that all existence is summed up in the word “Ghosts:” another (and somewhat better one) in which we think it is summed up in the words “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Even the vulgarest melodrama or detective story can only be good if it expresses something of the delight in sinister possibilities, the healthy lust for darkness and terror which may come on us any night in walking down a dark lane.  If, therefore, nonsense is really to be the literature of the future, it must have its own version of the Cosmos to offer: the world must not only be tragic, romantic and religious, it must be nonsensical also.  And here we fancy that nonsense will, in a very unexpected way, come to the aid of the spiritual view of things.  Religion, has, for centuries, been trying to make men exult in the “wonders” of creation, but it has forgotten that a thing cannot be completely wonderful so long as it remains sensible.  So long as we regard a tree as an obvious thing, naturally and reasonably created for a giraffe to eat, we cannot properly wonder at it.  It is when we consider it as a prodigious wave of the living soil sprawling up to the skies for no reason in particular that we take off our hats, to the astonishment of the park-keeper. Everything has in fact another side to it, like the moon, the patroness of nonsense.  Viewed from that other side, a bird is a blossom broken loose from its chain of stalk, a man a quadruped begging on its hind legs, a house a gigantesque hat to cover a man from the sun, a chair an apparatus of four wooden legs for a cripple with only two.

This is the side of things which tends most truly to spiritual wonder.  It is significant that in the greatest religious poem existent, The Book of Job, the argument which convinces the infidel is not (as has been represented by the merely rational religionism of the eighteenth century) a picture of the ordered beneficence of the Creation; but, on the contrary, a picture of the huge and undecipherable unreason of it.  “Hast thou sent the rain upon the desert where no man is?” This simple sense of wonder at the shapes of things and at their exuberant independence of our intellectual standards and our trivial definitions is the basis of spirituality as it is the basis of nonsense.  Nonsense and faith (strange as the conjunction may seem) are the two supreme symbolic assertions of the truth that to draw out the soul of things with a syllogism is as impossible as to draw out Leviathan with a hook.  The well-meaning person who by merely studying the logical side of things has decided that “faith is nonsense” does not know how true he speaks: later it may come back to him in the form that nonsense is faith.


 — The Speaker, February 2, 1901

National Life From The Standpoint Of Science.  By Karl Pearson, F.R.S. London: Adam and Charles Black.

Professor Pearson, in his view of national life, is a well-meaning and vigorous upholder of the great principle of the survival of the nastiest.  His remarks on the danger of allowing a physically “bad stock” to multiply, though not very precisely expressed, seem certainly to tend towards the idea of conducting the lives and loves of mankind on strict cattle-breeding principles.  To our own simple minds it appears rather to depend on whether we wish to produce the same tone of thought and degree of culture in men and in cattle.  The virtues which we demand from cows are at present few and simple, and, therefore, we pursue a certain physical regime: if ever we should particularly wish to see cows writing poetry, cows building hotels, and cows speaking in Parliament, we should probably adopt another regime.  A random example of the unsuitability of a biological test of so intellectual a matter as civilization springs at once to the mind.  There was born early in this century a man who scarcely had a day’s complete health in his life, a perfect example of the “unfit” creature whom some sages would strangle in pure compassion.  That man was Charles Darwin, on whose discovery the sages base their action.  Their principle would never have been heard of if it had not been the custom to violate it.  If this is not a reductio ad absurdum, we do not know what is.

But the error of Professor Pearson’s philosophy lies deeper.  In one sense, indeed, the fight is always to the strong; but strength is exhibited by sticking like a limpet to our own claims, selfish or unselfish, not by trying to alter our claims in order to curry favour with nature.  The mammoth would not have been more efficient in the primal competition, but less, if he had suddenly put his head on one side and reflected whether mammoths were on the down grade.  The varieties of biology have been produced by animals asserting with blind bravery their ideals of self or family, not by their following the cosmic fashion-plates. The Elk did not go about saying, “Horns are very much worn now,” or “All the best people have a divided hoof;” he simply perfected his own weapons for his own defence.  The first element in conquering nature is to be natural, and it is not natural to us to become a race of placid scientific murderers.  We have, as a race, developed our own set of ideas, one of which is that to a mind of large range the weak are often as valuable as the strong.  A sparrow-hawk would not hesitate to eat a thrush, for the simple reason that a sparrow-hawk (having no ear for music) is ignorant of its vocal power, and the only possible use to which he can put a thrush is to eat it.  But there is no more biological reason for a poet eating a thrush than there is for his eating Paderewski.

It is the same with Professor Pearson’s view of international politics, in which, of course, he approves of crushing and driving out weaker or more barbarous nations.  The real objection to the great biological morality of kicking a man when he is down is not merely that it is cruel or insolent, but that it is timid.  It is doing something which we none of us like doing or respect ourselves for doing, merely because our hearts are alive with a bestial fear of Nature.  Generations of human cattle-breeding will not give a grain of courage to a people who have no moral independence, whose knees knock under them at the sight of a stronger race.  We shall be foolish indeed if we think that Nature will be deceived-that, because we have a lion on our crest, she will not know that the heart is a hunted hare.  That is the damning and destructive weakness of the modern struggle of nations.  The great Empires advance resplendently with their banners and their engines of war, all coming forward at a sublime gallop, to take possession of the world.  But, though it seems as if nothing could withstand such an onset of human valour, it is only a moment after that we realise the truth that this magnificent rush of nations is not a charge at all, but a rout; and through the sound of all the trumpets we can hear roaring in the rear the great devil who is to catch the hindmost.

We warmly sympathise with Professor Pearson in saying that patriotic feeling is “not a thing to be ashamed of;” but we cannot agree with him that it is a protest especially required just now.  The trouble at present is not that people think patriotism a thing to be ashamed of, but that they have developed a certain brand of patriotism which is a thing to be ashamed of.  But when Professor Pearson says that his attitude is not repellent or immoral, because he desires to see peace and amity between fellow citizens, he falls into one of the oldest errors of rationalism, the notion that the soul is in watertight compartments.  He says that we are to oppress and exterminate smaller peoples, but to cultivate the greatest generosity and sympathy towards our countrymen.  He might as well say that a father should cut the throat of every other child born to him, but cultivate the greatest generosity and sympathy towards the rest.  The common sense of the thing is that if a father were really bullied by any philosophy into pursuing such a course, so sickening would be the humiliation of the process, so dark the conflict between an unbearable shame and a debasing fear, that he could only keep on the right side of a lunatic asylum by hardening himself against every genial sentiment.  So it is with the national conscience.  If ever we do arrive at such an emotional condition that we hear with perfect indifference or frigid pleasure of a race of brave barbarians dying with pitiful heroism around their rude ensigns, we may be practically certain that a freezing process has set in and that we shall end by hearing with equal coolness of brave Englishmen dying around the Union Jack.

It is true that in old times men could kill their enemies without moral collapse; but that was because they had no intellectual comprehension of what they did.  As long as men really believed Frenchmen to be devils it is obvious that they could wipe French blood from their hands like so much mire.  But now that they know that Frenchmen are nothing of the sort, that which was once natural becomes unnatural.  It was perfectly natural for the mediaeval Catholics to harry the Albigenses as the detestable deceivers of mankind, but surely it would be ludicrous to infer that if English Churchmen were suddenly to commence burning and torturing the Wesleyan Methodists, they would suffer no ethical degeneration from so doing.  If they did it at all, it would not be from faith, but from fear, from the oppressive philosophy of Professor Pearson.  This ethical terrorism is an atmosphere in which health and strength are impossible.  We ourselves believe in a sentimental basis of moral action for one very simple reason, that it is the basis most favourable to sanity and fulness of life.  A man who is continent, for example, from a contemplation of the Virgin Mary, is in a vastly better condition of moral hygiene than a man who is continent from reading Ibsen’s Ghosts, for the very obvious reason that the first man’s attention is turned to beauty, strength, and the obvious good, and the second man’s attention to deformity, impotence, and diseased perversity.  Here, as is generally the case, sentiment is found to be vastly more practical than “practicality.” The Terrorist, whether he be the realist teaching us chastity by terror, or the sociological professor, teaching us virility by terror, or the common bomb-throwing anarchist teaching us humanity and benevolence by terror, is the same man in spirit everywhere.  He will never succeed, because he begins by drawing out the backbone like a linch-pin.

And just as what produces health in a man is enthusiasm for something healthy, so what produces courage in a nation is enthusiasm for something honourable.  Napoleon uttered the fundamental principle of Professor Pearson’s school of thought when he said that God was on the side of the big battalions.  But the reason why Napoleon fell even before so ordinary a man as Wellington is simply that by inevitable reason the man of principle tends to outlast the man of destiny.  Wellington was the type of national strength because he held fast by something beyond the reach of circumstance, even if it were nothing more than a somewhat poker-backed conception of.a gentleman.  Men in the old times could often be cruel to their enemies without moral collapse, because their minds being limited, their desires were cruel.  But nothing except moral collapse can come of actions being cruel when desires are humane.  Here, then, is the weakness in practice of Professor Pearson’s theory of national life.  It is in the people of principle that the bull-dog quality is bred, not in the people who are always, consciously or unconsciously, watching to see which way the cosmic cat jumps.  There is a shrewd secular truth hidden under a theological language in the old saying that man’s extremity is God’s opportunity.  For it is only on those in the struggle for existence who hang on for ten minutes after all is hopeless, that hope begins to dawn.  A man who loves his country for her power will always be as weak an adorer as a man who loves a woman for her money.  A great appearance of national or imperial strength may be founded on this fair-weather philosophy, but the crown of ultimate triumph and the real respect of Nature will always be reserved for the man for whom the fight is never finished, who disregards the omens and disdains the stars.

G. K. C.


 — The Speaker, February 9, 1901

The Making Of Religion.  By Andrew Lang, M.A., LL.D. London : Longmans Green.

Supreme among the lost arts of mankind, larger and more completely lost than those connected with pottery or stained glass, is the lost art of mythology.  Races in early times invented cosmic systems with the fancy and independence of a set of architects submitting to the Deity the plans of a prospective universe.  One thought the world could be best arranged in the form of a huge tree; another that it could be placed on an elephant and the elephant on a tortoise.  Great as is our gain from science, we have lost something in losing this gigantesque scope of the human fancy; there must have been no little education in audacity and magnanimity in thus juggling with the stars.  We have lost something in being tied to the solar system like a treadmill.  It is especially hard upon those, like ourselves, whose peculiar talents, entirely useless in a civilised age, would have been, we are convinced, a great success in a time of impenetrable ignorance.  In early childhood we manufactured many excellent mythologies.  The best, from a savage point of view, was one in which the whole world was a giant with the sun for one eye and the moon for the other, which he opened alternately in an everlasting wink.  This prose idyll would have made us head medicine man in a happier age.  But we fear that the Royal Society, even if informed of the hypothesis, would remain cold.

There is, we fancy, too much tendency among able students of mythology to overlook the vagueness and aesthetic impalpability of these savage ideas, and this fault is almost the only fault we can find with Mr. Andrew Lang’s admirable book which now lies before us.  Mr. Andrew Lang and any one of his opponents — such, for example, as Mr. Grant Allen-in the endless retorts and repetitions of controversy, tend more and more to speak in a hard, fixed way of what savages really believe; whereas the truth is, we imagine, that they do not believe anything in the sense that Mr. Grant Allen believed in Evolution or Mr. Andrew Lang in Homeric Unity.  It is not so much that an old Scandinavian peasant believed in the tree Ygdrasil as that he never doubted it.  He had never brought the thing into that clear intellectual presentment in which doubt or denial are conceived or required.  This, as we say, is the only point in which we think Mr. Lang’s argument demands a continuous check or allowance.  The great part of Mr. Lang’s book is devoted to an attack, and, as it seems to us, a rather successful attack, on the latest theory of savage deities, that they are all derived from the worship of ancestors, from ghosts rather than from gods.  Mr. Lang maintains that this leaves wholly unexplained a vast mass of barbaric beliefs, which point to the idea of a general creator, a being who made the world.  Against Mr. Allen’s and Mr. Herbert Spencer’s theory, Mr. Andrew Lang sets a number of facts, which are certainly very striking, in favour of the theory that ancestor-worship was a half-civilized development, a kind of fashionable craze, which more or less obliterated a more primitive and obvious worship of creative deities whose existence explained the existence of things.  To take one example at random, from Mr. Lang’s stores, there is a tribe of polytheistic savages one of whose gods, “an old serpent,” is described as having made everything, and as being, apparently, exceedingly sulky because he is not paid a proper degreee of attention.  It is very hard, he thinks, when he put himself to the trouble of making the sun and stars, that the people desert their old friend for a race of new and dandified deities.  This certainly looks like the traces of a monotheism choked by a polytheism.  Another more familiar instance is the case of the Jews.  If Jehovah was originally an ancestral deity, why were the Jews, who were more obsessed than any other nation with the idea of their deity, more indifferent than any other nation to the fate of the dead? If, as Professor Huxley maintained, the Jews borrowed their religious idealism from Egypt, why were they entirely without the one dominant and picturesque Egyptian conception, the conception of the judgments of another world?

But we ourselves, as we have said, conceive that the question is somewhat too genuinely savage to be settled by black and white civilised definitions.  To express something deeper and older than language itself in mere language is a thing to be attempted humbly and tentatively; it is, on the whole, rather like trying to convey the text of “Hamlet” by a code of naval signals.  As far as we can see, the chances are that a savage’s religion existed long before the oldest ancestor-worship or the simplest teleology.  Long before he said that the thing which plagued him and blessed him and drove him before it was either his great grandfather or the First Cause, he probably said it was “Bonk” or “Chunk,” a “circumstance over which he had no control.” Probably he began by feeling the eternal fact that it rained whether he liked it or not; then this benignant insolence in the rain extended to the whole creation, and then, for all we know, it may have been attributed to the spirit of some one dead.  But at the beginning the savage stood face to face with the fact that the very mercies which sustained his own being came by a kind of scornful miracle quite unexplained to him; he stood at the beginning face to face with the fact that he could not make a tree grow, and that, when all is said and done, is pretty much where we stand at the end.

This, for example, is very much what we think of the problem, discussed at some length by Mr. Lang, about the origin of Jehovah, the highest of all historic deities.  We think it improbable that Moses thought Jehovah was a philosophical First Cause and still more improbable that he thought Jehovah was his great-uncle. But suppose that Moses said (or rather felt), not “Jehovah is the ultimate cause of all things” or “Jehovah is my family god,” but simply “Jehovah is with me: there was one who drove down the great lions so that I could slay them and who smote me with the evil pain when I ate the unlawful berries.” At the beginning and at the end of all life, learned and ignorant, there is the abiding truth, that in the inmost theatre of the soul of man, with a scenery of bottomless infinities and appalling abstractions, there is always going forward one ancient mystery-play, in which there are only two characters.

There is one aspect of the thesis of gods against ghosts which we should be inclined to suggest to Mr. Andrew Lang rather as a query than a divergence of opinion.  Both Mr. Lang and his opponents seem to assume that the terminology of ancestor-worship must indicate a lower spiritual condition than the terminology of theistic creation.  The case of Mr. Andrew Lang is, we imagine, that men in pursuing a race of mere tribal heroes forgot the humble Deity who, in creating all things, had become the servant of all.  The case of Mr. Spencer and the rest of Mr. Lang’s opponents is, we imagine, that the title of “Creator of all Things” was ultimately bestowed on some ancestral hero somewhat as the title of “Brother of the Sun and Moon” might be bestowed on the Emperor of Japan.  In both cases terms of paternity and procreation are assumed to represent a tribal superstition.  But surely it is not impossible that the title of “father” or “procreator” might be a higher title for a cosmic creator, instead of “creator” being a higher title for a father.  This is at least supported by the case of the noblest of religious reformers.  Jesus of Nazareth found a conception of an universal creator and deliberately bestowed on him the title of an ancestor-he called him “Our Father,” which any old Campbell would have called Diarmid or any old Jew called Abraham.  This was surely not a degradation: it was one of the three or four dazzling strokes of religious genius which made Jesus what he was.  By thus raising before all men the vast and generous conception, not of a Creator, but of a Begetter of all things, he touched with one hand the oldest and with the other the newest philosophy.  He embraced ancestor-worship by propounding a Deity with a touch of kinship.  He reached out to evolution by announcing a creation by natural causes.  Surely, even in dealing with the unquestionable superiority of the idea of a Creator to the idea of a mere ancestor, one ought not to forget that at one stage of religious evolution the two positions are reversed; and the name taken from any common father of four babies becomes the loftiest of all the crowns of God.

There is only one other fault of Mr. Lang’s work, besides this common tendency to take too scientifically the floating fancies of the barbarian.  This latter indeed is equally typical of his opponents: Mr. Herbert Spencer, in particular, is an admirable writer, but it must be candidly said of him that he is a very poor savage.  He has not in him the eternal savage who is in every poet: and this is what throws him out when he comes to deal with elementary and poetic things.  But the other fault in Mr. Lang’s book is that it is really two books.  He joins on to the first thesis that aboriginal religion came from creative and not ancestral gods, the totally distinct thesis, also very interesting in itself, that the savage legends of shades and spirits might be much better understood if we took them in conjunction with recent psychical research.  We should not complain if Mr. Andrew Lang wrote two books: indeed we should rejoice if he wrote twenty.  But we cannot see sufficient organic connection between the thesis that ghosts might be explained by modern philosophy and the thesis that original savage philosophy had nothing to do with ghosts at all.  We must admit, however, that we think Mr. Andrew Lang’s protest against the tone of many scientists towards psychical inquiry very reasonable.  Spiritualism in itself may be a very poor religion: no really religious person would think a dead stockbroker any more convincing than a live one.  But no sort of reason can be rationally alleged against spiritualism as a form of psychological inquiry.  Sufficiently large discoveries have been made in the field of mentality to justify any one who likes a dull science in considering it an entirely genuine one.  Huxley was surely amazingly illogical when he declined to hear messages from the dead on the ground of their general futility, saying that he would take no trouble “to hear the conversation of curates and old women in the nearest cathedral town.” The answer is almost staringly obvious.  However low may be the mental level of a cathedral town, it can hardly be lower than that of the animal world, which Huxley spent his life in studying: even a curate is probably wittier than a jelly-fish; and an old woman would probably be more fertile in information than an aged amoeba.  The reason why Huxley studied these brainless creatures was because they were things to be studied, and, like a true man of science, he neither knew nor cared to what the inquiry would ultimately lead him.  Why the same process should not be applied to psychical phenomena we cannot conceive.  It is true that, for all we ourselves know (or care), no evidences of purely spectral influences have yet been found in this department.  But no honest man can deny that the old, common-sense hypothesis has been as much upset by hypnotism and suggestion as it could be by a thousand spectres.  If any rationalist of the dawn of the century had been asked to believe that a hypnotist, by thinking hard at another man, could produce a blister on his leg, he would have said immediately that he would as soon believe in the ghost of Banquo at once.

We do not feel any disrespect towards this book because it contains two distinct ideas.  It is a sufficiently sensational event in the life of a reviewer to find a book which contains even one.  But we think it an unfortunate thing that two purely scientific conceptions should be mixed together, and we think it an inexpressibly unfortunate thing that any purely scientific conception should be treated (as sometimes seems the case with Mr. Lang) as if its assertion or negation could possibly affect spirituality.  We think spiritualistic inquiry legitimate and interesting, but there is nothing particularly spiritual about spiritualism.  If a human soul on earth does not strike us as a thing of splendour, it will not be made more splendid by such a trifle as death.  We think Mr. Andrew Lang’s theory that monotheism preceded polytheism perfectly tenable; but it does not matter one rap to religion which came first.  The idea of a forgotten omnipotence is certainly a thrilling one.  But, surely, there would be as sublime a thrill for the man who, having long worshipped the tree as one god and the river as another, suddenly realised, with a shock fit for a detective story, that, under a hundred disguises, they were all the same person.

G. K. C.


 — The Speaker, February 16, 1901

[later reprinted in The Defendant]

We have never been able to understand why certain forms of art should be marked off as something debased and trivial.  A comedy is spoken of as “degenerating into farce;” it would be fair criticism to speak of it “changing into farce;” but as for degenerating into farce, we might equally reasonably speak of it as degenerating into tragedy.  Again, a story is spoken of as “melodramatic,” and the phrase, queerly enough, is not meant as a compliment.  To speak of something as “pantomimic” or “sensational” is innocently supposed to be biting; Heaven knows why, for all works of art are sensations and a good pantomime (now extinct) is one of the pleasantest sensations of all.  “This stuff is fit for a detective story” is often said, as who should say “This stuff is fit for an epic.”

Whatever may be the rights and wrongs of this mode of classification there can be no doubt about one most practical and disastrous effect of it.  These lighter or wilder forms of art, having no standard set up for them, no gust of generous artistic pride to lift them up, do actually tend to become as bad as they are supposed to be.  Neglected children of the great mother they grow up in darkness, dirty and unlettered and when they are right they are right almost by accident, because of the blood in their veins.  The common detective story of mystery and murder seems to the intelligent reader little except a strange glimpse of a planet peopled by congenital idiots, who cannot find the end of their own noses or the character of their own wives.  The common pantomime seems like some horrible satiric picture of a world without cause or effect, a mass of “jarring atoms,” a prolonged mental torture of irrelevancy.  The ordinary farce seems a world of almost piteous vulgarity, where a half-witted and stunted creature is afraid when his wife comes home and amused when she sits down on the doorstep.  All this is, in a sense, true, but it is the fault of nothing in heaven or earth except the attitude and the phrases quoted at the beginning of this article.  We have no doubt in the world that, if the other forms of art had been equally despised, they would have been equally despicable.  If people had spoken of “sonnets” with the same accent with which they speak of “music-hall songs,” a sonnet would have been a thing so fearful and wonderful that we almost regret that we cannot have a specimen; a rowdy sonnet is a thing to think about.  If people had said that epics were only fit for children and nursemaids, “Paradise Lost” might have been an average pantomime: it might have been called “Harlequin Satan, or How Adam ‘Ad ‘em.” For who would trouble to bring to perfection a work in which even perfection is grotesque? Why should Shakespeare write “Othello” if even his triumph consisted in the eulogy — “Mr. Shakespeare is fit for something better than writing tragedies.”

The case of farce, and its wilder embodiment in harlequinade, is especially important.  That these high and legitimate forms of art, glorified by Aristophanes and Molire, have sunk into such contempt may be due to many causes: we ourselves have little doubt that it is due to the astonishing and ludicrous lack of belief in hope and hilarity which marks modern aesthetics, to such an extent that it has spread even to the revolutionists (once the hopeful section of men), so that even those who ask us to fling the stars into the sea are not quite sure that they will be any better there than they were before.  Every form of literary art must be a symbol of some phase of the human spirit: but whereas the phase is, in human life, sufficiently convincing in itself, in art it must have a certain pungency and neatness of form, to compensate for its lack of reality.  Thus any set of young people round a tea-table may have all the comedy emotions of Much Ado about Nothing or Northanger Abbey, but if their actual conversation were reported, it would possibly not be a costly addition to literature.  An old man sitting by his fire may have all the desolate grandeur of Lear or Pere Goriot, but if he comes into literature he must do something besides sit by the fire.  The artistic justification, then, of farce and pantomime must consist in the emotions of life which correspond to them.  And these emotions are to an incredible extent crushed out by the modern insistence on the painful side of life only.  Pain, it is said, is the dominant element of life; but this is true only in a very special sense.  If pain were for one single instant literally the dominant element in life, every man would be found hanging dead to his own bed-post by the morning.  Pain, as the black and catastrophic thing, attracts the youthful artist, just as the schoolboy draws devils and skeletons and men hanging.  But joy is a far more elusive and elvish matter, for it is our reason for existing, and a very feminine reason; it mingles with every breath we draw and every cup of tea we drink.  The literature of joy is infinitely more difficult, more rare and more triumphant than the black and white literature of pain.  And of all the varied forms of the literature of joy, the form most truly worthy of moral reverence and artistic ambition is the form called farce — or its wilder shape in pantomime.

To the quietest human being, seated in the quietest house, there will sometimes come a sudden and unmeaning hunger for the possibilities or impossibilities of things; he will abruptly wonder whether the teapot may not suddenly begin to pour out honey or sea water, the clock to point to all hours of the day at once, the candle to burn green or crimson, the door to open upon a lake or a potato-field instead of a London street.  Upon anyone who feels this nameless anarchism there rests for the time being the abiding spirit of pantomime.

Of the clown who cuts the policeman in two it may be said (with no darker meaning) that he realises one of our visions.  And it may be noted here that this internal quality in pantomime is perfectly symbolised and preserved by that commonplace or cockney landscape and architecture which characterises pantomime and farce.  If the whole affair happened in some alien atmosphere, if a peartree began to grow apples or a river to run with wine in some strange fairyland, the effect would be quite different.  The streets and shops and door-knockers of the harlequinade, which to the vulgar aesthete make it seem commonplace, are in truth the very essence of the aesthetic departure.  It must be an actual modern door which opens and shuts, constantly disclosing different interiors; it must be a real baker whose loaves fly up into the air without his touching them, or else the whole internal excitement of this elvish invasion of civilisation, this abrupt entrance of Puck into Pimlico, is lost.  Some day, perhaps, when the present narrow phase of aesthetics has ceased to monopolise the name, the glory of a farcical art may become fashionable.  Long after men have ceased to drape their houses in green and grey and to adorn them with Japanese vases, an aesthete may build a house on pantomime principles in which all the doors shall have their bells and knockers on the inside, all the staircases be constructed to vanish on the pressing of a button and all the dinners (humourous dinners in themselves) come up cooked through a trapdoor.  We are very sure at least that it is as reasonable to regulate one’s life and lodgings by this kind of art as by any other.

The whole of this view of farce and pantomime may seem insane to us; but we fear that it is we who are insane.  Nothing in this strange age of transition is so depressing as the merriment.  All the most brilliant men of the day when they set about the writing of comic literature do it under one destructive fallacy and disadvantage, the notion that comic literature is in some sort of way superficial.  They give us little knicknacks of the brittleness of which they positively boast; although two thousand years have beaten as vainly upon the follies of The Frogs as on the wisdom of the Republic.  It is all a mean shame of joy.  When we come out from a performance of the Midsummer Night’s Dream we feel as near to the stars as when we come out from King Lear.  For the joy of these works is older than sorrow, their extravagence is saner than wisdom, their love is stronger than death.

The old masters of a healthy madness, Aristophanes or Rabelais or Shakespeare, doubtless had many brushes with the precisians or ascetics of their day, but we cannot but feel that for honest severity and consistent self-maceration they would always have had respect.  But what abysses of scorn, inconceivable to any modern, would they have reserved for an aesthetic type and movement which violated morality and did not even find pleasure, which outraged sanity and could not attain to exuberance, which contented itself with the fool’s cap without the bells.



 — The Speaker, February 16, 1901

The Meaning Of Good.  By G. Lowes Dickinson.  Glasgow James Maclehose and Sons.

In this striking Platonic dialogue Mr. Lowes Dickinson presents, in his own personality, quite apart from all logical fencing, a deep and curious problem as to the uses and limits of philosophy.  He discusses the idea of good and shows that this fundamental idea may be defined variously as an instinct, a compromise, a discipline, an indulgence, a truth, an illusion, a science or an art.  At first sight this would seem like speaking of an object in front of our eyes and discussing, with some heat, whether it was a tree, a dog, a hat, a cloud, a problem of Euclid, a cathedral, a broomstick or a Conservative M.P. If a discussion about this latter point really occurred, there would undoubtedly arise a reasonable doubt as to the existence of the object and the personal sobriety of the philosopher.  But the remarkable fact is, and it goes to the roots of the nature of verbal philosophy, that any one who reads between the lines can see that Mr. Lowes Dickinson never has at any moment any shadow of real doubt as to the existence of good in the most supreme and spiritual sense.  He answers and inquires calmly and fearlessly, he canvasses the most heaven-shaking hypotheses with the bland toleration of a sceptic; but all the time we have an abiding consciousness that he believes in a supreme good for the same reason that we do-i.e., that he could not by any effort of his being do anything else.

This is no mere personality, it is a most interesting question.  Mr. Lowes Dickinson is certainly neither a mystic nor a sentimentalist; he has none of that cheap contempt for logic and philosophy-that kind of contempt, as some one wittily said, which is not bred by familiarity.  He treats all the wildest doubts of his interlocutors with sincere respect.  But when all is said and done he suggests and, in fact, almost confesses, the truth of the conclusion of which we speak-that he is a man perfectly willing to discuss the possibility of tobacco if he may smoke all the while.

In a philosopher so acute and stringent as Mr. Dickinson this apparent contradiction must go down into the deeps of philosophy.  And we must admit that to our mind there runs through the whole of the discussion in this book one initial and most simple difficulty, the difficulty of human language.  Human language has been wrought by centuries of poets and orators into so fluid and searching a medium that we are apt to forget that it is only a code of signs and a crude one at that.  That a man can give no reason for the faith that is in him is not necessarily the fault of the faith; it may be the fault of the tongue he speaks.  We talk of our language, but we forget that we have many languages in various stages of advance.  For example, railway signals constitute a language; but it is a language at so primitive a stage that it has not yet got beyond the two primal ideas-good and evil, yes and no, safe and unsafe.  Any one who chooses may imagine the language of railway signals developed into delicacy and variety as the language of the tongue has developed.  A particular tint of peacock green in the night signals might mean “The chairman of the board is recovering from influenza,” a certain tinge of purple in the red light might convey “An old gentleman wearing white spats has just fallen out of the train.” But to whatever extent the language of signals might be amplified, it is obvious, from their nature, that sooner or later a crisis might arise, an unprecedented event might happen, such, let us say, as the engine-driver going mad and thinking he was the Archbishop of Canterbury, the symbols for which were not down in the code, and which, therefore, however obvious it might be, it would be impossible to signal down the line.  Now it is surely equally possible that something might happen in the human soul which was simply not down in the old code of language: to ask a man to tell you what had happened would simply be absurd; to ask him to think it had not happened, much more so.  Unless we are very much mistaken, Mr. Lowes Dickinson and every other man has precisely such a dumb certainty in his soul and the only name we can give to it is “the universal good.”

Whether Mr. Dickinson agrees with our view of language or no, it is very remarkable that he acts in this philosophic drama of his in strict accordance with it.  If logical language be abandoned as an ancient and clumsy machinery, the one thing left to check it by is practical action.  If a man acts persistently and cheerfully in defiance of his philosophic summary of life, it is not unreasonable to infer that some alien and contrary force has arisen in him somehow; if a train, when everything signals it as stopped, still runs on at full speed, it is not unreasonable to trace in it the individuality of some such person as our engine-driver, engaged at the moment in discharging archiepiscopal functions.  It is precisely this test of action that Mr. Lowes Dickinson applies with that polished and quiet shrewdness which marks all his progress through this intricate maze of cobwebs.  He says (if we may associate him with the first person in the narrative) to the debater who denies altogether any validity in our individual conceptions of good, “But do you not yourself act systematically on the assumption that your good is really good?” The man cannot deny that he does.  To the man who admits individual ideas of good, but denies that there is any common or general good, he says, “But do not you in speaking, voting, supporting charities, in fact act on the assumption that there is a general good?” The man cannot deny that he does.  To some this may seem a mere argumentum ad hominem; to us it appears, properly considered, exceedingly to the point.  The truth is that there is a force in all of them, either below or above language, which is vaguely expressed by the general drift of action.  The entertaining young men who discuss this matter with Mr. Dickinson deal with all these points lightly, demur and quibble and elude pursuit in a very charming way.  But if one of them had suddenly spoken out exactly what he really felt and knew, we fancy they would have all started at the strange and new voice.  He might have said suddenly — “It is no good.  Something has happened inside me: something has happened, I think, inside all of us.  We do believe in a general good, only that is a silly name.  I cannot tell you why I believe in good, because the signals all say the wrong things: they say old things and this is a new thing-perhaps only eighteen hundred years old.  But we have emerged into an air and world where we cannot be solitary or selfish.  All laws apart, I should no more torment or oppress another man than I should dye my beard blue or do anything else that I knew in my soul to be silly.  No, there is something inside me.  We cannot be utterly evil, even if we try.  The kingdom of heaven is within us.”

If this view be correct and the universal good be essentially a new and nameless thing, we can easily explain the diverse and contradictory definitions of good which Mr. Dickinson’s friends give in turn.  One man finds good in science, and says therefore that goodness is a science; another finds it in instincts, and says therefore that goodness is an instinct.  If a man could possibly remember nothing at all except a tame elephant that had saved his life, he would say that goodness was an elephant.  So it is, among other things.

Mr. Lowes Dickinson states all the various points of view with conspicuous eloquence and justice.  If there is one point that we should be inclined to criticise it is his stricture upon Walt Whitman, when he quotes him as an example of the untenable optimism which equalises all things.  Walt Whitman has been singularly misunderstood on this point.  Surely no one imagines that he really thought that all distinctions were unmeaning, that he drank coffee and arsenic in idle alternation, and went to bed on the kitchen fire as a change from his bedstead.  What he did say and mean was that there was one plane on which all things were equal, one point from which everything was the same, the point of view of unfathomable wonder at the energy of Being, the power of God.  There is no inconsistency in ranking things in ascending order on the practical plane and equalising them on the religious plane.

We may take a familiar parallel.  There is nothing inconsistent in saying, “For what we are about to receive the Lord make us truly thankful,” and then complaining that the champagne is corked or the mutton raw.  There is such a thing as a bad dinner and such a thing as a good one, and criticism is quite justified in comparing one with the other: but it remains true that both become good the moment we compare them with the hypothesis of no dinner at all.  So it was with Whitman, good and bad lives became equal to him in relation to the hypothesis of no life at all.  A man, let us say a soldier of the Southern Confederacy, was considered as a man, a miracle that swallowed up all moral distinctions, in the realm of religion.  But in the realm of criticism, otherwise called the Battle of Gettysburg, Whitman would strain every nerve to blow the man into a thousand pieces.

We hope we shall hear more from the author of The Greek View of Life.  We think the present volume a singularly good one, and, as we have explained above, we have an arrogant conviction that we know the Meaning of Good.



 — The Speaker, February 23, 1901

Ballads Of Ghostly Shires.  By George Bartram.  London: Greening.

In a remote and secluded corner of the British Empire, much neglected by the Imperial student, there is a little island, or rather peninsula, which has in its way contributed something even to the greatness of colonial expansion, and to which, in spite of its insignificance, its own inhabitants are deeply and mysteriously attached.  This little outpost (which is called by its denizens England) has been almost incredibly neglected in the matter of poetical study.  One section of modern poets, under the leadership of Mr. W. B. Yeats, revives the poetry of the small and unhappy peoples, such as the Irish and the Bretons, and swaggers about their misfortunes and enslavement until any one who has a vote or an income begins to feel quite degraded.  The other section, under the leadership of Mr. Rudyard Kipling, seems to find English life only tolerable in remote and curious continents, exults in their flora and fauna and would appear almost to credit the British Empire with the humorous exploit of creating the kangaroo.  Between these two extremes English legend and local colour would seem to be entirely neglected, and it is for this reason that we hail with the greatest pleasure Mr. George Bartram’s Ballads of Ghostly Shires, in which he makes a manly and spirited attempt to build again on the old foundations of English ballad and country tale, more especially those connected with the supernatural.  This is not the first form in which Mr. George Bartram has attempted this wise and much-needed work of genuine patriotism: we have a pleasant remembrance of that quaint and vigorous tale of old rustic life, The People of Clopton.  But it is in connection with fable rather than truth that the chief need exists, for error seems closer to the earth and the blood of nationality than any facts.  Nations may safely import whole philosophies and constitutions, like so much tea or tobacco; but it goes ill with a people that has to import its superstition.  The justly exultant discoverers of Celtic lore say that the English have no fine folk-lore. It may be our own English partiality, but we fancy that this only means they have no folk-lore at all like the Celtic.  At the back of the Irish poetry and mythology there is an infinite hunger after beauty and rest: the Irish spirit is for ever working to disentangle from the rope of life the one blue thread, like the thread in the Jewish priest’s garment, which represents the eternal and the fulfilled.  This is a great moral truth, and it has produced the noble folk-lore of the Secret Rose and the Country of the Young.  But it is not the only splendid and eternal strand in the rope of life; through that rope there runs everlastingly a strand of the grotesque, the fierce and humorous energy in things, the defiant and wholesome ugliness of courage and experience.  It is this exuberant twist or gnarl in the wood that is our English speciality, and it gives as much of a definite philosophic character to “Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham” as the thirst for perfection gives to the legends of the Gael.  It is this spirit, the spirit of Robin Goodfellow, that Mr. George Bartram finely embodies in these ballads.  “How the Youth was cured of his Mazedness” is a genial human interlude.  With a certain coarse universalism which smacks of old England to the bone, he accepts the grotesqueness of the world, even in its tragedies, gibbets, cudgels, broken skulls, and men hanging are swallowed with the appetite of a giant: but the feeling is not a love of death, but a love of life; it is not cruel, it is rather a sort of daredevil kindness.  Stevenson had this amicable bloodymindedness and the neurotics have never understood it.  It is very significant that Mr. Bartram approaches the supernatural world in a very different tone and spirit from that in which it is approached by the average mystic.  In a faulty but spirited poem which might be called an introduction to his whole work he describes himself as taking the kingdom of mystery, like the Kingdom of Heaven, by storm:–

“They have shunned the naked steel; we have scattered wide their picket:
There is light athwart the track; see the gate is close at hand.
In a struggle brief and stern we have broken from the thicket
To a flood of roseate sheen by an arch of cypress spanned
We have forced the golden wicket: we are lords of Glamourland.”

The idea of colonising Fairyland may seem to some to be marked with some of the more foolish of the English traits.  But we confess that we have much sympathy with the idea that there is, upon the whole, no likelihood of there being any district of the material or spiritual world in which a man will get on any the better for discarding his natural strength and his national virtues.  Some of the more mystical decadents have tended at times to exhibit Fairyland as a kind of Botany Bay, in which the moral refuse of humanity would stand the best chance.  Mr. Bartram’s verse may be too crude and bellicose, but we thank him for suggesting, consciously or unconsciously, that it is at least tenable that the entrance to the world of wonder is not a keyhole that only the thinnest can get through, but a wall that only the strongest can vault.  At any rate, we hope that Mr. Bartram’s enthusiasm for English ghosts may be infectious.  It is not that we care one rap for the supernatural element: but we know that in history, and especially in literature, it is only the supernatural life which will induce men to study and value the natural.  We do not desire to create a general awe and reverence for turnip-ghosts, but we do desire to create a general awe and reverence for turnips.



 — The Speaker, March 2, 1901

There was a time when we (like most ill-dressed people) were reformers of dress: we had indeed several proposals for which little can be urged but their originality.  We thought that the waistcoat in morning dress might be constructed with a kind of flap which should fall down in the form of a tray to support the cup at afternoon tea.  We thought that at private views and other such uproariously public occasions, the man of fashion might wear round his neck a simple and not ungraceful label inscribed “I beg your pardon.  It is a fine day,” to save him the trouble of addressing all the valued acquaintances upon whose toes he trod.  But as both these young ideals were accepted somewhat coldly (by the aristocrats among whom we move) we have fallen back rather upon the historic and conservative contemplation of things as they have actually developed.  And here, as in every other department that we have studied, we have found that Radicals like ourselves are the only people left who have any reverence for the past.

We have concentrated our souls upon the hat: the loftiest, the most holy of questions: for was not swearing by the head in numberless countries almost a religious oath? But the particular ceremonial function which the hat fulfils in Western countries is somewhat peculiar.

Of course this use of the hat as a salute has, in modern life, an obvious practical convenience.  There is no other part of dress that could be used as a sword or bayonet is used in military saluting.  The French, with their genius for a natural ritual, have precisely expressed the matter in speaking of a coup de chapeau.  The human mind cannot seriously contemplate a gentleman taking off his cuffs to a lady, or stopping in the middle of the street to detach his necktie and wave it respectfully in the air.  Even the French would not wish any one to salute a neighbour with “a blow of the waistcoat.” But all this concentration of courtesy in the hat is merely a local accident of dress: other races of men have really expressed respect by the removal of other appendages.  In the East, for example, the shoes are removed as an expression of reverence: and this is really quite as strange to our conceptions as those we have mentioned.  We have only to imagine the condition of Bond Street if every time a gentleman met a lady he sat down on the pavement and began to unlace his boots.

The East and West seem condemned to be topsyturveydoms to each other, and it is but one of the thousand symbols of the fact that in one case the headgear is immovable and the foot-gear constantly shifted, and in the other the head-gear is constantly shifted and the footgear immovable.  But the whole matter goes much deeper than this.  The Eastern custom of removing the shoes on entering a house or temple has an obvious practical meaning.  The Western custom of removing the hat can only, to our mind, have a meaning entirely philosophic, abstract and religious.

The meaning of the removal of shoes is clear: it is to preserve the house from the defilements of the street.  But no one can suppose that a visitor can defile anything with his hat.  It is unusual to see a gentleman rubbing his head on the road before entering a house or rubbing his hat on the carpet after entering it.  If these customs are known, they are at least very recent developments of the fashion of “familiarity.” It seems to us that the whole question of the hat belongs (we use the phrase with no base intention) to a higher level.

It is not only true that many Eastern civilizations do not remove the hat as a sign of respect.  One of the greatest, for example, the Jewish civilisation, assumes the hat as a sign of respect.  And this, when we come to think of it, is a very natural and a very fine idea.  To hide the face, to cover oneself from the terror of perfection, seems the natural movement of self-subordination. And if the actual appearance presented by a synagogue, where all the worshippers wear the black silk “stovepipe” is not poetic, this is certainly not the fault of the Semitic idea, but of the Aryan hat.  At any rate, it is sufficient for the purpose of our argument to point out that this great people do connect worship with the wearing of the hat: some individuals, indeed, push the matter so far as to wear several hats; which may be taken as an expression of almost exaggerated reverence for the universe.

If, by the operation of other causes, it has become natural to us to uncover ourselves to anything or any one that we respect, the causes of this difference in the instinct of courtesy cannot be uninteresting to consider, though it would probably be hopeless to finally explore them.  But it is at least to be suggested that reverence is in all cases compounded of the two elements of fear and trust.  The old Hebrews had the element of fear just tinged and made dramatic by a touch of trust.  The modern world has had, through Christianity, the element of trust just tinged and made dramatic by a touch of fear.  The great danger of the life of our age is that in losing that one touch of fear in all its pleasures, it may lose the whole structure of happiness, like a palace in the Arabian Nights.  But this new or Christian element of confidence in the beauty of things, rather than fear of it, is bound to have a suitable ritual.  It is its nature, in its highest form, to love the beauty of the thunderbolt as much as the ancients feared the beauty of the flowers.  It is possible then that this general instinct in modern civilization to uncover in the presence of the holy thing is an instinct towards simplicity and self-exposure, a modified form as it were of being “naked and not ashamed.” The modern black hat is instinct with the sense of shelter, protection, and privilege; it is itself a kind of portable roof.  If it is true that the Englishman’s house is his castle, it is at least equally true that the Englishman’s hat is his house.  Not in vain is it called a “chimney-pot” hat; the same beautiful object which lifts itself to the stars on the top of the middle-class house is carried in its lighter and more symbolic form on the top of the middle-class head.  It seems to us at least possible that when an Englishman takes his hat off to a lady he is essentially coming out of his house; that impenetrable house of privacy, and self-approval, and consuming fear of humanity.  He is believing, if for a single moment, that he may be crowned with the stars.

G. K. C.


 — The Speaker, March 2, 1901

The Ancient Scriptures And The Modern Jew.  By David Baron.  London: Hodder and Stoughton.

It is certainly a singular fact that the more mysterious a matter is the more popular it is with the mass of humanity: this fact is perhaps the root of religions and is at any rate a very gratifying thing.  Pure matters of fact which any one could find out who took the trouble, such as the number of Lord Roberts’s proclamations or the number of lamp-posts in the Borough Road, are treated with a semi-mystical terror and respect, as the prerogatives of a priesthood of specialists.  But the things which are inscrutable and immeasurable in themselves-as enigmatic in a hard-boiled egg as in an Eocene rock, in a Star poster as in a row of Egyptian hieroglyphics-in these everybody feels at home.  The cheapest, the most numerous, the most personal and frivolous class of books are probably those dealing with the Bible, the most tremendous of works on the most tremendous of subjects.  The greater the book the more the average man feels himself capable of editing it.  The man who turns out a little tract on Daniel or Saul every month would be worried if asked to interpret Spenser, completely embarrassed if asked to interpret Maeterlinck, and struck with mere grovelling terror if asked to interpret Mr. Stephen Phillips.  Thus Mr. David Baron has written an interesting book called The Ancient Scriptures and the Modern Jew, in the whole course of which it never seems to strike him for a moment that he is dealing with a riddle of ethics and history compared with which squaring the circle would be trivial; that if there is one thing that is more dark and remote to us than even the Ancient Scriptures, that thing is the Modern Jew.

He never seems to realise, even for one dazzling instant, the idea that a bland, black-coated Aryan gentleman sitting in his arm-chair with a creed formulated at the Reformation and a political system diluted from the ideas of 1740, may possibly not be in complete possession of all the abysmal spiritual divisions and eternal spiritual energies which alone could finally throw light on the destiny of an immemorial people, whose strange discoveries in the world of the soul, discoveries embedded whole and often undeciphered in our later systems, were made under strange stars and lost temples, as alien as the landscapes of another planet.

The first part of Mr. Baron’s work deals with the ancient writings, on which he argues ingeniously enough, but about which he ignores two small points-first, that they are ancient, and, secondly, that they are writings.  A man cannot comprehend even the form and language of the Psalms without a literary sense.  For what are the essential facts? A great though rude and wandering people lived thousands of years ago who had, by what, from any point of view, may truly be called an inspiration, a sudden and startling glimpse of an enormous philosophic truth.  These bloodthirsty Bedouins realised the last word of scientific thought, the unity of creation.  Opulent empires and brilliant republics all round them were still in the nets of polytheism; but this band of outlaws knew better.  This is the immortality of the Jews.  Them we can never dethrone: they discovered the one central thing no modern man can help believing: whatever we think, or do, or say we are all bound to the wheel of the stars which can only have a single centre.

This awful simplification of things they discovered, as it has since been discovered by innumerable sages.  But their unique historic interest lies in this: that by a strange circumstance, that has every resemblance to a miracle, they discovered it in the morning of the world, in an age when men had and needed no philosophic language.  Hence they threw it into poetical language.  They spoke of this startling speculative theory with the same bold, brisk, plain-coloured imagery with which primitive ballads commonly speak of war and hunting, women and gold.  If we imagine Spinoza’s philosophy written with enormous vividness in the literary style of “Chevy Chace,” we shall have some idea of that confounding marvel which is called the Old Testament.  But Mr. Baron, in attempting an estimate of the relation of the Jews to the Old Testament, is merely interested in the theological and dogmatic side of the matter.  He does not seem to be aware that the Bible is rather a fine book.  He deals with the central interest of the whole matter, the gradual emergence (in Job and the Prophets) of this sublime monism out of a tribal creed and still under the literary forms of a tribal poem: but he does not seem to see it.  He thinks, like all conventional dogmatists, that a sentence or two in the style of the Daily Telegraph will “elucidate” the style of Scripture, which is as straightforward as a nursery rhyme.  He really supposes that to say that God is not “under obligation” for an “animal sacrifice” contains all that is contained in such a daring, simple, and unfathomable sentence as “If I were hungry, I would not tell thee.”

Another curious example of facile argument on an insufficient comprehension of the spirit of the matter under discussion lies in Mr. Baron’s arguments for a second Advent vitally different from the first.  This is not the place, nor are we the arbiters, for the decision of such a matter in its religious aspect.  But Mr. Baron’s own particular arguments show, in the literary aspect, a singular failure to grasp the nature of Jewish expression.  He argues that, because there are prophecies which refer to a deliverer coming “in glory,” as well as those referring to a deliverer coming in simplicity, there must be another appearance of the Divine besides the historic appearance of Jesus.  Never was there so irrational or, we may add, so common a misinterpretation of the tone of Christ’s utterances.  The idea that Christ did not invariably act and speak “in glory” is simply a mark of being unable to read.  He walked always with the full glory of heroic life; His habits were happy and liberal; His spirit was high and eloquent; His very literary imagery was (though no one seems to see it) large and impetuous, full of devils falling from heaven and mountains cast into the sea.  Does Mr. Baron really think He would have been more “glorious” if He had sat on a hill and waved a sceptre? There was never anything ignominious about the Son of Man.  He died upon the Cross; but He was not born on it, as some theologians would seem to imply.

The second part of Mr. Baron’s work, that which deals with the modern Jew, is infinitely more satisfactory.  It would be quite unfair to Mr. Baron to say that this was because it contains two very interesting articles contributed by other people, for his own remarks on the Semitic problem of to-day are genuinely good in themselves.  But he has certainly elucidated the problem in no small degree by including two chapters in quotation marks, one by a distinguished Jew, and another by a distinguished Christian.  The modern Jew is unpopular in Europe, but chiefly, we fear, for his virtues.  No one has the pleasure of the friendship of any Jews who has not noticed that almost weird domesticity, that terrible contentment which makes the life of parlour and nursery quite satisfactory to a Jew of the calibre of spirit and intellect which, if he were a Gentile, would make it a devouring necessity to him to “see life.”

It is this fomidable normality that constitutes the real power of the Jew.  It is the survival of the blinding simplification of existence of which we have spoken.  It is no mere accident that the most brilliant Jew of this age is Dr. Max Nordau; a man with whom, to speak paradoxically, sanity has become a madness.  He spares nothing in his application of the religion of commonsense, the law that is written in men’s bones.  Neither the hardness of Tolstoi nor the fragility of Maeterlinck; neither the bitter simplicity of Ibsen nor the drunken glory of Whitman can lure this old Hebrew from the strait path of judgment.  Dr. Max Nordau, in the passage which Mr. Baron quotes, speaks with splendid scorn of decadents even of his own race-and the decadents of his own race are, in his opinion, the Jewish millionaires.  No Gentile certainly would dare to speak of them as they are spoken of by a Jew

“These money-pols who despise what we honour and honour what we despise.  Many of them forsake Judaism and we wish them God-speed, only regretting that they are at all of Jewish blood, though but of the dregs.”

In connection with this matter of the awful and indestructible sanity in the Jewish people, which strikes us chiefly, we must protest against some of the remarks of Mr. Baron’s Christian witness, Mr. C. A. Schonberger, as to the spirit of the Jewish Law.  For the sake of backing up a particular Evangelical doctrine (with which, of course, we have nothing to do) Mr. Schonberger says:–

“It (the Law) was not given for life, but for death, to bring people to despair about the depravity of their moral nature.  In one word it was given that the heart should be broken and not that it should become proud.”

We can only say that is not the impression left on any rational man by the Old Testament.  “The law of the Lord is right, rejoicing the heart!” — “My delight is in Thy statutes;” we believe we could overwhelm Mr. Schonberger with quotations merely from memory.  The truth is that the very soul of the Jewish Scriptures is in this idea of the rapture of cleanliness and obedience; the idea that if a man once gets into the right path he may dance down it all the way.

There is one lesson that remains to be drawn, more especially from the case of those Semitic plutocrats of whom Dr. Max Nordau speaks so disdainfully:–

“In an ordinary independent Jewish community,” . . . . he says with sharp, but just sarcasm, “they would not receive titles of honour such as those by which they are decorated by Christian societies.”

But the real lesson of the Jewish plutocratic problem seems to us a simple one, and one very much needed at present.  It is the lesson of the utter futility of attempting to crush a fine race.  In science men know that no force is ever destroyed; but the fact has yet to be learnt in politics.  There are a thousand things that a wronged people may become-a rival, like America; a clog, like Ireland; an internal disease, like Jewish commerce; but it always becomes something.  We forbade to the Jews all natural callings except commerce, and to-day commerce is what might be expected from being eternally recruited with all the most intellectual sons of a most intellectual people.  We pray that the error may not be repeated in certain corners of the earth.  To avoid a repetition of it would be far worthier than that frivolous Continental anti-Semitism which can find no answer to Jewish triumphs, except to flourish tauntingly the image of a martyred Jew upon an Aryan gibbet.



 — The Speaker, March 9, 1901

[later reprinted in The Defendent]

If a prosperous modern man, with a high hat and a frock coat, were to solemnly pledge himself before all his clerks and friends to count the leaves on every third tree in Holland Walk, to hop up to the City on one leg every Thursday, to repeat the whole of Mill’s Liberty seventy-six times, to collect 300 dandelions in fields belonging to any one of the name of Brown, to remain for thirty-one hours holding his left ear in his right hand, to sing the names of all his aunts in order of age on the top of an omnibus, or make any such unusual undertaking, we should in modern times conclude that the man was mad, or, as it is sometimes expressed, was “an artist in life.” Yet these vows are not more extraordinary than the vows which in the middle ages and similar periods were made, not by fanatics merely, but by the greatest figures in civic and national civilisation, by kings, judges, poets, and priests.  One man swore to chain two mountains together, and the great chain hung there, it was said, for ages as a monument of that mystical folly.  Another swore that he would find his way to Jerusalem with a patch over his eyes and died looking for it.  It is not easy to see that these two exploits, judged from a strictly rational standpoint, are any saner than the acts above suggested.  A mountain is commonly a stationary and reliable object which it is not necessary to chain up at night like a dog.  And it is not easy at first sight to see that a man pays a very high compliment to the Holy City by setting out for it under conditions which render it to the last degree improbable that he will ever get there.

But about this there is one striking thing to be noticed.  If men behaved in that way in our time we should, as we have said, regard them as symbols of the “decadence.” But the men who did these things were not decadent; they belonged generally to the most robust classes of what is generally regarded as a robust age.  Again, it will be urged that if men essentially sane performed such insanities, it was under the capricious direction of a superstitious religious system.  This, again, will not hold water, for in the purely terrestial and even sensual departments of life, such as love and lust, the mediaeval princes show the same mad promises and performances, the same misshapen imagination and the same monstrous self-sacrifice. Here we have a contradiction, to explain which it is necessary to think of the whole nature of vows from the beginning.  We have attempted, in some sense, to do so, and the conclusion to which we have come, rightly or wrongly, and which we now desire to explain, is that it is perfectly sane and even sensible to swear to chain mountains together, and that, if insanity is involved at all, it is a little insane not to do so.

The man who makes a vow makes an appointment with himself at some distant time or place.  The danger of it is that himself should not keep the appointment.  And in modern times this terror of oneself, of the weakness and mutability of oneself, has perilously increased and is the real basis of the objection to vows of any kind.  A modern man refrains from swearing to count the leaves on every third tree in Holland Walk, not because it is silly merely (he does many sillier things), but because he has a profound conviction that before he had got to the three hundred and seventy-ninth leaf on the first tree he would be excessively tired of the subject and want to go home to tea.  In other words we fear that by that time he will be, in the common but hideously significant phrase, another man.  Now it is this horrible fairy tale of a man constantly changing into other men that is the soul of the decadence.  That John Paterson should, with apparent calm, look forward to being a certain General Barker on Monday, Dr. Macgregor on Tuesday, Sir Walter Carstairs on Wednesday, and Sam Slugg on Thursday may seem a nightmare; but to that nightmare we give the name of modern culture.  One great decadent, who is now dead, published a poem some time ago in which he powerfully summed up the whole spirit of the movement, in declaring that he quite comprehended the feelings of a man about to be hanged:–

“For he that lives more lives than one
More deaths than one must die.”

And the end of all this is that maddening horror of unreality which descends upon the decadents, and compared with which physical pain itself would have the freshness of a youthful thing.  The one hell which imagination must conceive as most hellish, is to be be eternally acting a play, without even the narrowest and dirtiest greenroom in which to be human.  And this is the condition of the decadent, the aesthetic, of the free-lover. To be everlastineg passing through dangers which we know cannot scathe us, to be taking oaths which we know cannot bind us, to be defying enemies who we know cannot conquer us-this is the grinning tyranny of decadence which is called freedom.

Let us turn, on the other hand, to the makers of vows.  The man who made a vow, however wild, gave a healthy and natural expression to the greatness of a great moment.  He vowed, for example, to chain two mountains together, perhaps a symbol of some great relief, or love, or aspiration.  Short as the moment of his resolve might be, it was, like all great moments, a moment of immortality, and the desire to say of it exegi monumentum oerre Perennius, was the only sentiment that would satisfy his mind.  The modern aesthetic man would, of course, easily see the emotional opportunity: he would vow to chain two mountains together.  But then he would quite as cheerfully vow to chain the earth to the moon.  And the withering consciousness that he did not mean what he said; that he was, in truth, saying nothing of any great import, would take from him exactly that sense of daring actuality which is the excitement of a vow.  For what could be more maddening than an existence in which our mother or aunt received with genial composure the information that we were going to assassinate the King or build a temple on Ben Nevis, since they had finally realised that both intentions partook of the characters of Prose Fancies?

The revolt against vows has been carried in our day even to the extent of a revolt against the typical vow of marriage.  It is most amusing to listen to the opponents of marriage on this subject.  They appear to imagine that the ideal of constancy was a yoke mysteriously imposed on mankind by the devil, instead of being, as it is, a yoke consistently imposed by all lovers on themselves.  They have invented a phrase; a phrase that is a black and white contradiction in two words — “free love,” as if a lover ever had been or ever could be free.  It is the nature of love to bind itself; and the institution of marriage merely paid the average man the compliment of taking him at his word.  Modern sages offer to the lover, with an ill-flavoured grin, the largest liberties and the fullest irresponsibility; but they do not respect him as the old church respected him.  They do not write his oath upon the heavens, as the record of his highest moment.  They give him every liberty except the liberty to sell his liberty, which is the only one that he wants.

As we have said, it is exactly this back-door, this sense of having a retreat behind us, that is, to our minds, the sterilizing spirit in modern pleasure.  Everywhere there is the ridiculous attempt to obtain pleasure without paying for it.  Thus, in politics, the modern Jingoes practically say “Let us have the pleasures of conquerors without the pains of soldiers: let us sit on sofas and be a hardy race.” Thus, in religion and morals, the decadent mystics say, “Let us have the fragrance of sacred purity without the sorrows of self-restraint; let us sing hymns alternately to the Virgin and Priapus.” Thus, in love the free-lovers say, “Let us have the splendour of offering ourselves without the peril of committing ourselves; let us see whether one cannot commit suicide an unlimited number of times.”

Emphatically it will not work.  There are thrills, doubtless, for the spectator, the amateur and the aesthete; but there is one thrill that is known only to the soldier who fights for his own flag, to the ascetic who starves himself for his own illumination, to the lover who makes finally his own choice.  And it is this transfiguring self-discipline that makes the vow a truly sane thing.  It must have satisfied even the giant hunger of the soul of a lover or a poet to know that in consequence of some one instant of decision that strange chain would hang for centuries in the Alps among the silences of stars and snows.  All around us is the city of small sins, abounding in backways and retreats, but surely sooner or later the towering flame will rise from the harbour announcing that the reign of the cowards is over and a man is burning his ships.



 — The Speaker, March 9, 1901

Concerning Children.  By Mrs. Charlotte Perkins (Stetson) Gilman.  London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons.

Mrs. Charlotte Perkins (Stetson) Gilman is a good example of a good class, the women whose ethical enthusiasm and readiness to remake heaven and earth constitute one of the few symptoms of that youth of the world which luxury and levity always miss and only moral severity can give.  She has ideas, controversial ability, literary liveliness and hope.  But she has also all the besetting faults of the school.  She has, like her sisters in arms, a wholly insufficient sense of the complexity of life: it seems never to strike her that as it is almost impossible to say that any single man is wholly bad, it is even more difficult to say that any institution, the aggregate of a million varying men, is wholly bad.  She has, again, that queer faith in the “expert” which is the mark of the complete amateur.  She is very anxious that we should hire educational experts to tend our children.  We might do so: we might hire distinguished prose writers to write our love-letters. No doubt they would be done better: but there are some things that should be done by an individual for himself, or not at all.  Lastly, and it is the most important point, Mrs. Stetson Gilman is at one with the intellectual women of her type in attaching an enormous importance to the domain of “science” in ethics and politics and in manifestly not having the most remote or glimmering notion of what “science” means.

This ignorance as to the meaning of science most particularly vitiates Mrs. Stetson Gilman’s latest book, Concerning Children.  The case rests almost entirely upon one statement which she makes with even more than her usual courage and clearness, and which is almost bewilderingly untrue.  “Ethics,” she says, “is as plain a science as physics, and as easy of application.” As we should be sorry to think that Mrs. Gilman knows nothing about ethics, we take refuge in the assumption that she knows nothing about physics.  But the remark itself is as wild as saying that Brighton is as big as the moon.  Physics is a science: it has fixed methods, and final and demonstrated conclusions.  Ethics is not a science at all in that sense; it is universally admitted and discussed, like literature or politeness, but no single iota of it has ever been demonstrated as the circulation of the blood has been demonstrated.  Mrs. Stetson Gilman goes on to speak of explaining to children the value of truth.  Can she prove to any opponent, small or big, by actual experiment, that truth-telling, with all its toils and troubles, is advantageous in the sense that she could prove, by actual experiment, the principle of the lever? A child can, and does, become convinced of the value of truth, as he becomes convinced of the kindness of a particular uncle, or the beauty of a particular meadow.  These conclusions are quite as sure, or more sure, than the conclusions of science; but to call them science is to juggle with words and, in enlarging the realm of science, to dilute with sentiment and degrade with obscurities its own peculiar glory of certitude and calm.  Talking wildly about the similarity of physics and ethics can only result in two exceedingly vile things, a sentimental science and a cold morality.

Hence comes the very peculiar quality of this book.  Mrs. Gilman offers a number of suggestions which considered as suggestions are not only able and original, but sympathetic and true.  Nothing could be better, for example, than the righteous eloquence with which she pleads for courtesy to children.  But her unfortunate notion that she is dealing with fixed quantities leads her into that maniacal dance which is called “following a thing to its legitimate conclusion.” This peculiar pastime leads, in the case of the question of courtesy, to a cut-and-dried theory that people should never laugh at children.  In discussing this she uses the words “laugh” and “jeer” as interchangeable: an admirable example of the blundering of exact ethics.  Laughing and jeering are as different as throwing snowballs and firing Lyddite shells.  To jeer at a child is contemptible; but not much more so than to jeer at a man.  But to laugh at a child is simply the natural thing to do and a great compliment.  Whence came this extraordinary idea that laughing at a thing is hostile? Friends laugh at each other; lovers laugh at each other; all people who love each other laugh at each other.  And if Mrs. Stetson Gilman can by any possibility help laughing at a child the moment he puts his preposterous face into the door, she has a different sense of humour from ourselves.  Does not Mrs. Gilman see that to suppress so essential a sentiment, to treat a baby painting his nose blue with portentous silence and solemnity is to create an atmosphere far more false, a cloud of lies a hundred times thicker than all the conventions against which she protests? The lovable grotesqueness of children is a part of their essential poetry, it symbolises the foolish freshness of life itself, it goes down to the mysterious heart of man; the heart out of which came elves and fairies and gnomes.  So far from wishing that children should be treated with the ridiculous and pompous gravity with which civilised men treat each other, we ourselves wish that civilised men were treated as children are, that their blundering utterances were always laughed at in kindness, that their futile amusements were relished as quaint and graceful instead of vulgar and eccentric, that their sins were punished without morbid exaggeration, and their whole life frankly admitted to be a stumbling and groping and stammering after better things.  If a stockbroker were gaily patted on the head when he had made a million, perhaps he would think less of his triumph; if a poet only had his hair pulled affectionately when he cursed God, it is probable that he would not do it again.

The same profoundly unnatural rationalism marks the author’s observations on the virtue of Obedience, of which she profoundly disapproves.  And yet the substitute that she offers for obedience is a hundred times more cowardly and fictitious.  “The child can be far better protected by removing all danger: which our present civilization is quite competent to do.” Let us take the case of fire.  The child is not to be told, what is an eternal and typical truth, “This is the most beautiful thing in the world: but you must not touch it.  It is the thing which warms if you obey it, but bites if you disobey.” But the child is to be told, in effect, what is a silly lie, “There is no such thing as fire: you have never seen it in your nursery.” Mrs. Gilman complains that obedience discourages will and personality and then proposes to encourage those qualities by removing all danger and difficulty! Mrs. Gilman does not really understand what is meant by obedience.  She always uses the word as identical with slavery, whereas it is inconsistent with it.  A slave cannot be obedient; we might as well speak of a tree being taciturn or an oyster being good-tempered. A thing which cannot disobey is not obedient: obedience is a choice: and it is a choice involved in civilization.  Mrs. Gilman is singularly out in her bearings in saying that the upholders of obedience have to fall back on the case of soldiers and sailors and that “they do not speak of it as particularly desirable among farmers and merchants.” Whether they do or not, it certainly is.  Without some compromise of obedience in the matter, the farmer and merchant would both be bankrupt in a month.  Every train that Mrs. Gilman travels in would be smashed up, every bank in which she put her money would ruin her, every house she lived in would fall down, if there were no established principle of one man promptly acting on the signals of another man.  And this is all obedience is.

Obedience is simply a division of labour; and we do not know why it should be so impossible to let an intelligent child see that you really do know something that he does not.  Mrs. Gilman takes the case of teaching a child arithmetic and not explaining the reason for a certain process.  But will Mrs. Gilman tell us what she would do if a child chose to deny that a curly figure meant eight and a straight figure meant one?

We are warmly in sympathy with those parts of Mrs. Gilman’s book in which she protests against the foolish restrictions under which children are placed; the idiotic idea, for example, that it is disgraceful to be sandy in playing in a sand-pit or muddy in making mud pies.  We might as well think it dirty to be all over soap when we are washing.  But we think these follies are the faults of individuals and periods, not of the institution of the family.  We see no conceivable reason for supposing that State educational officials would not be as shallow, as hasty, as self-important and as childish as any parents; and with this horrible further touch, that in them there would be nothing to appeal to, no basic morality of blood and bone which might survive insult and division.  So that we come back to Mrs. Stetson Gilman’s fundamental error, that she tries to preserve the salutary coldness of science in the midst of a subject which is simply not to be comprehended except in the furnaces of primal passion.  Morality is not merely a matter of what is done; it is a matter of the heat and altitude with which it is done.  No person can talk about children (unless he is merely talking about whooping-cough) if he has not clearly in mind the huge mass of tribal love and tragedy under which this globe has groaned from the beginning.  If ever mothers like Mrs. Stetson become educationalists primarily, then, in rising to that height of moral cultivation, they will have sunk lower than the pole-cat or the wolf.  In the vast sea of living humanity, upon which the whole of our educated class is a mere flake of foam, the family instinct is the indestructible mimimum of morality; the one germ of social seriousness.  To kick down the ladder by which we have climbed is ungrateful, but to kick down the ladder when we are half-way up it is something else as well.  If Mrs. Stetson Gilman carries too far her trust in education as a science in a great State temple of knowledge, she will indeed kill the goose that laid the golden egg.  The builder of that cold temple shall see his folly in the gradual dehumanization of his own children before his own eyes.  Upon the builder of that temple shall descend the literal fulfilment of that ancient and mysterious curse which was pronounced upon the rebuilder of Jericho: “He shall lay the foundation on his first-born; and on his youngest son shall he set up the gates of it.”


 — The Speaker, March 16, 1901

[later reprinted in The Defendant]

In former centuries the educated class ignored the ruck of vulgar literature: they ignored and therefore did not, properly speaking, despise it.  Simple ignorance and indifference does not inflate the character with pride.  A man does does not walk down the street giving a haughty twirl to his moustaches at the thought of his superiority to some variety of deep-sea fishes.  The old scholars left the whole under-world of popular compositions in a similar darkness.

To-day, however, we have reversed this principle.  We do despise vulgar compositions and we do not ignore them.  We are in some danger of becoming petty in our study of pettiness; there is a terrible Circean law in the background, that if the soul stoops too ostentatiously to examine anything, it never gets up again.  There is no class of vulgar publications about which there is, to my mind, more utterly.  ridiculous exaggeration and misconception than the current boys’ literature of the lowest stratum.  This class of composition has presumably always existed and must exist.  It has no more claim to be good literature than the daily conversation of its readers to be fine oratory or the lodginghouses and tenements they inhabit to be sublime architecture.  But people must have conversation, they must have houses and they must have stories.  The simple need for some kind of ideal world in which fictitious persons play an unhampered part is infinitely deeper and older than the rules of good art and much more important.  Every one of us in childhood has constructed such an invisible dramatis Personae, but it never occurred to our nurses to correct the composition by careful comparison with Balzac.  In the East the professional story-teller goes from village to village with a small carpet; and I wish sincerely that anyone had the moral courage to spread that carpet and sit on it in Ludgate Circus.  But it is not probable that all the tales of the carpet-bearer are little gems of original artistic workmanship.  Literature and fiction are two entirely different things.  Literature is a luxury; fiction is a necessity.  A work of art can hardly be too short, for its climax is its merit.  A story can never be too long, for its conclusion is merely to be deplored, like the last halfpenny or the last pipe-light.  And so while the increase of the artistic conscience tends in more ambitious works to brevity and impressionism, voluminous industry still marks the producer of the true romantic trash.  There was no end to the ballads of Robin Hood: there is no end to the volumes about Dick Deadshot and the Avenging Nine.  These two heroes are deliberately conceived as immortal.

But instead of basing all discussion of the problem upon the common-sense recognition of this fact-that the youth of the lower orders always has had and always must have formless and endless romantic reading of some kind, and then going on to make provision for its wholesomeness, we begin, generally speaking, by fantastic abuse of this reading as a whole and indignant surprise that the errand-boys under discussion do not read The Egoist and The Master Builder.  It is the custom, particularly among magistrates, to attribute half the crimes of the metropolis to cheap novelettes.  If some grimy urchin runs away with an apple, the magistrate shrewdly points out that the child’s knowledge that apples appease hunger is traceable to some curious literary researches.  The boys themselves, when penitent, frequently accuse the novelettes with great bitterness, which is only to be expected from young people possessed of no little native humour.  If I had forged a will, and could obtain sympathy by tracing the incident to the influence of Mr. George Moore’s novels, I should find the greatest entertainment in the diversion.  At any rate, it is firmly fixed in the minds of most people that gutter-boys, unlike everybody else in the community, find their principal motives for conduct in printed books.

Now it is quite clear that this objection, the objection brought by magistrates, has nothing to do with literary merit.  Bad story writing is not a crime.  Mr. Hall Caine walks the streets openly, and cannot be put in prison for an anti-climax. The objection rests upon the theory that the tone of the mass of boys’ novelettes is criminal and degraded, appealing to low cupidity and low cruelty.  This is the magisterial theory, and this is rubbish.

So far as I have seen them, in connection with the dirtiest book-stalls in the poorest districts, the facts are simply these.  The whole bewildering mass of vulgar juvenile literature is concerned with adventures, rambling, disconnected and endless.  It does not express any passion of any sort, for there is no human character of any sort.  It runs eternally in certain grooves of local and historical type: the mediaeval knight, the eighteenth century duellist, and the modern cowboy recur with the same stiff simplicity as the conventional human figures in an Oriental carpet pattern.  I can quite as easily imagine a human being kindling wild appetites by the contemplation of his Turkey carpet as by such dehumanized and naked narrative as this.

Among these stories there are a certain number which deal sympathetically with the adventures of robbers, outlaws, and pirates, which present in a dignified and romantic light thieves and murderers like Dick Turpin and Claude Duval.  That is to say, they do precisely the same thing as Scott’s Ivanhoe, Scott’s Rob Roy, Scott’s Lady of the Lake, Byron’s Corsair, Wordsworth’s Rob Roy’s Grave, Stevenson’s Macaire, Mr. Max Pemberton’s Iron Pirate, and a thousand more works distributed systematically as prizes and Christmas presents.  Nobody imagines that an admiration of Locksley in Ivanhoe will lead a boy to shoot Japanese arrows at the deer in Richmond Park; or that the incautious opening of Wordsworth at the poem on Rob Roy will set him up for life as a blackmailer.  In the case of our own class, we recognise that this wild life is contemplated with pleasure by the young, not because it is like their own life, but because it is different from it.  It might at least cross our minds that for whatever other reason the errand-boy reads “The Red Revenge,” it really is not because he is sated with the gore of his own friends and relatives.

In this matter, as in all such matters, we lose our bearings entirely by speaking of the “lower classes” when we mean humanity minus ourselves.  This trivial romantic literature is not especially plebeian: it is simply human.  The philanthropist can never forget classes and callings.  He says, with a modest swagger, “I have invited twenty-five factory hands to tea.” If he said “I have invited twenty-five chartered accountants to tea” every one would see the humour of so simple a classification.  But this is what we have done with this lumberland of foolish writing: we have probed as if it were some monstrous new disease what is, in fact, nothing but the foolish and valiant heart of man.  Ordinary men will always be sentimentalists: for a sentimentalist is simply a man who has feelings and does not trouble to invent a new way of expressing them.  These common and current publications have nothing essentially evil about them.  They express the sanguine and heroic truisms on which civilization is built; for it is clear that unless civilization is built on truisms, it is not built at all.  Clearly there could be no safety for a society in which the remark by the Chief Justice that murder was wrong was regarded as an original and dazzling epigram.

If the authors and publishers of Dick Deadshot, and such remarkable works, were suddenly to make a raid upon the educated class, were to take down the names of every man, however distinguished, who was caught at a University Extension Lecture, were to confiscate all our novels and warn us all to correct our lives, we should be seriously annoyed.  Yet they have far more right to do so than we; for they, with all their idiotcy, are normal and we are abnormal.  It is the modern literature of the educated, not of the uneducated, which is avowedly and aggressively criminal.  Books recommending profligacy and pessimism, at which the highsouled errand-boy would shudder, lie upon all our drawing-room tables.  If the dirtiest old owner of the dirtiest old bookstall in Whitechapel dared to display works really recommending polygamy or suicide, his stock would be seized by the police.  These things are our luxuries.  And with a hypocrisy so ludicrous as to be almost unparalleled in history, we rate the gutterboys for their immorality at the very time that we are discussing (with equivocal German Professors) whether morality is valid at all.  At the very instant that we curse the Penny Dreadful for encouraging thefts upon property, we canvass the proposition that all property is theft.  At the very instant that we accuse it (quite unjustly) of lubricity and indecency, we are cheerfully reading philosophies which glory in lubricity and indecency.  At the very instant that we charge it with encouraging the young to destroy life, we are placidly discussing whether life is worth preserving.

But it is we who are the morbid exceptions; it is we who are the criminal class.  This should be our great comfort.  The vast mass of humanity, with their vast mass of idle books and idle words, have never doubted and never will doubt that courage is splendid, that fidelity is noble, that distressed ladies should be rescued and vanquished enemies spared.  There are a large number of cultivated persons who doubt these maxims of daily life, just as there are a large number of persons who believe they are the Prince of Wales; and I am told that both classes of people are entertaining conversationalists.  But the average man or boy writes daily in these great gaudy diaries of his soul, which we call “Penny Dreadfuls,” a plainer and better gospel than any of those iridescent ethical paradoxes that the fashionable change as often as their bonnets.  It may be a very limited aim in morality to shoot a “many-faced and fickle traitor,” but at least it is a better aim than to be a many-faced and fickle traitor, which is a simple summary of a good many modern systems from Mr. d’Annunzio’s downwards.  So long as the coarse and thin texture of mere current popular romance is not touched by a paltry culture it will never be vitally immoral.  It is always on the side of life.  The poor, the slaves who really stoop under the burden of life, have often been mad, scatterbrained, cruel, but never hopeless.  That is a class privilege, like cigars.  Their drivelling literature will always be a “blood and thunder” literature, as simple as the thunder of heaven and the blood of men.



 — The Speaker, March 16, 1901

Flowers Of The Cave.  Edited by Laurie Magnus and Cecil Headlam.  Blackwood.

The book which appears under the somewhat mystical and allusive title of Flowers Of the Cave has not, as might be supposed at the first glance, any connection either with geology or botany.

It is a collection of extracts upon death, very ably and thoughtfully compiled by Mr. Laurie Magnus and Mr. Cecil Headlam.  But it is almost too comprehensive a project to publish an anthology on death.  It is rather like publishing an anthology on Man, in which should be included “The Man for wisdom’s various arts renowned;” “There was a little man and he had a little gun;” “Man wants but little here below;” “He was a man, take him for all in all;” “There was a man in our town and he was wondrous wise;” “What is man, that thou carest for him?” and the whole text of “The Descent of Man.” Death is about as universal in literature as in human existence, and is infinitely more respectfully treated.  If we tore the cover off The Golden Treasury, and substituted the title Flowers of the Cave, we should hardly find seven poems, we suspect, which did not contain some allusion to the subject of the mortal end.  Death is involved in the discussion of any conceivable human subject.  It is merely the full stop at the end of the word “life.”

In an unpretentious, but singularly able preface, the editors demur to the notion that the treatment of such a subject is necessarily very depressing; as they point out, the loftiest, and, we may add, the most lighthearted men of genius have faced it without a thought of it prostrating them.  But though we fully applaud the editors for including all the various points of view from which this tremendous subject has been considered, no one could expect the poems and passages which they print to be uniformly or even generally of a character to elevate either the spirits or the soul.  Death has called forth in literature not only much cheerfulness and dignity, much chivalrous hope and more chivalrous hopelessness, but also much panic, much paltry philosophy, much of dismal asceticism and more dismal frivolity, much of the self-indulgence of gloom and much of the gloom of self-indulgence.

On the one hand, the scheme of the work admits all the great poems which gather round the conception of eternal life, such as Wordsworth’s “Ode on the Intimations of Immortality,” which is, by the way, a magnificent example of the right way to sing about a common subject.  Many realists, Wordsworth himself included, fell often into that futile realistic spirit which merely shows that a common thing is common.  The higher realism shows that a common thing is uncommonly uncommon, and that all the trumpets of poetic style are not too sublime for its celebration.  The case of idealism or truth to the soul, against realism, or truth to the tongue, might be tried on the issue of Wordsworth alone.  He wrote two poems upon the idea of a child’s conviction of a life beyond death.  When he was writing what, in his view, the child actually said, he wrote “We are Seven.” When he was writing in his own language what the child meant, he wrote the “Ode on the Intimations.”

But just as there is the white side of the philosophy of death, as shown in Wordsworth’s Ode, so there is the dark side also.  There are poems rightly included in this volume, and adorning any volume in the literary sense, of which we should say without hesitation that they are baser than the foulest epigram of Catullus.

Most people know Bacon’s vigorous pessimistic poem in this volume, which begins:–

“The world’s a bubble, and the life of man
Less than a span.”

and which concludes:–

“What then remains but that we still should cry
For being born; or being born, to die.”

The poem is expressed in terms common enough in philosophy and religion, and to many its Vanitas Vanitatum will have a dignified and pious sound.  To us, we must confess, this poem is the only one of the literary works of Bacon in which we see the Bacon of history, the Bacon who betrayed Essex, the Bacon who cringed to Buckingham, the shuffler, the coward and the snob.

In order to see how misleading are titles and philosophical descriptions in dealing with moral atmosphere, we need only compare Bacon’s poem with the exquisite and even more famous lyric of Shirley, beginning “The glories of our blood and state,” which is also in this book.  Here there is, in a sense, a Vanitas Vanitatum attitude, but as different from the querulous cleverness of Bacon as a rich twilight from a yellow fog.  Shirley’s melancholy is not for the ugliness of things, but for their beauty; it is that delicate and golden melancholy which is only possible to men with a great power of enjoyment.  And because his sadness is a fullblooded and generous sadness, because it is a sadness over the goodness of things, he escapes in the last lines, like Thackeray, out of satire into a healthy and humble claim for happiness, in two of the most perfect lines in the language:–

“Only the actions of the just
Smell sweet and blossom in the dust.”

The poem might be a motto for The Newcomes.

These two forms of melancholy pretty well cover the mass of extracts on the melancholy view of death.  Melancholy, in the sound old Miltonic sense, had nothing to do with pessimism.  Sorrow, indeed, is always the opposite of pessimism; for sorrow is based on the value of something, pessimism on the value of nothing.  Men have never believed genuinely in that idle and fluent philosophy (a theme for the devil’s copybooks) which declares that earthly things are worthless because they are fleeting.  Men do not fling their cigars into the fire at the thought that they will only last fifteen minutes, or shoot their favourite aunts through the head on the reflection that they can only live fifteen years.  Nor is it from such thankless railing at this world that men have gained the best hopes for another.  It is strange that sages and saints should have sought so often to prove the splendour of the house from the darkness of its porch.  If we could really believe in the meanness of the meanest dust-bin, there would be no reason for not believing in the utter meanness of the stars.  Surely it is far more credible that death is precisely the breakdown of our mortal powers of praise: that when we cease to wonder we die; that we have to be dipped once more in darkness, before we can see the sun once more.



 — The Speaker, March 23, 1901

[Later reprinted in The Defendant]

There are some people who state that the exterior, sex, or physique of another person is indifferent to them; that they care only for the communion of mind with mind, but these people need not detain us.  There are some statements that no one ever thinks of believing, however often they are made.

But while nothing in this world would persuade us that a great friend of Mr. Forbes Robertson, let us say, would experience no surprise or discomfort at seeing him enter the room in the bodily form of Mr. Chaplin, there is a confusion constantly made between being attracted by exterior, which is natural and universal, and being attracted by what is called physical beauty, which is not entirely natural and not in the least universal.  Or rather, to speak more strictly, the conception of physical beauty has been narrowed to mean a certain kind of physical beauty which no more exhausts the possibilities of external attractiveness than the respectability of a Clapham builder exhausts the possibilities of moral attractiveness.

The tyrants and deceivers of mankind in this matter have been the Greeks.  All their splendid work for civilisation ought not to have wholly blinded us to the fact of their great and terrible sin against the variety of life.  It is a remarkable fact that while the Jews have long ago been rebelled against and accused of blighting the world with a stringent and one-sided ethical standard, nobody has noticed that the Greeks have committed us to an infinitely more horrible asceticism — an asceticism of the fancy, a worship of one aesthetic type alone.  Jewish severity had at least common sense as its basis; it recognised that men lived in a world of fact and that if a man married within the degrees of blood certain consequences might follow.  But they did not starve their instinct for contrasts and combinations; their prophets gave two wings to the ox and any number of eyes to the cherubim, with all the riotous ingenuity of Lewis Carroll.  But the Greeks carried their police regulation into elfiand: they vetoed not the actual adulteries of the earth, but the wild weddings of ideas and forbade the banns of thought.

It is extraordinary to watch the gradual emasculation of the monsters of Greek myth under the pestilent influence of the Apollo Belvedere.  The chimaera was a creature of whom any healthy-minded people would have been proud; but when we see it in Greek pictures we feel inclined to tie a ribbon round its neck and give it a saucer of milk.  Who ever feels that the giants in Greek art and poetry were really big; big as some folklore giants have been? In some Scandinavian story a hero walks for miles along a mountain ridge, which eventually turns out to be the bridge of the giant’s nose.  That is what we should call, with a calm conscience, a large giant.  But this earthquake fancy terrified the Greeks, and their terror has terrified all mankind out of their natural love of size, vitality, variety, energy, ugliness.  Nature intended every human face, so long as it was forcible, individual and expressive, to be regarded as distinct from all others, as a poplar is distinct from an oak and an apple tree from a willow, But what the Dutch gardeners did for trees the Greeks did for the human form; they lopped away its living and sprawling features to give it a certain academic shape; they backed off noses and pared down chins with a ghastly horticultural calm.  And they have really succeeded so far as to make us call some of the most powerful and endearing faces ugly and some of the most silly and repulsive faces beautiful.  This disgraceful via media, this pitiful sense of dignity, has bitten far deeper into the soul of modern civilisation than the external and practical Puritanism of Israel.  The Jew at the worst told a man to dance in fetters; the Greek put an exquisite vase upon his head and told him not to move.

Scripture says that one star differeth from another in glory, and the same conception applies to noses.  To insist that one type of face is ugly because it differs from that of the Venus of Milo is to look at it entirely in a misleading light.  It is strange that we should resent people differing from ourselves.  We should resent much more violently their resembling ourselves.  This principle has made a sufficient hash of literary criticism, in which it is always the custom to complain of the lack of sound logic in a fairy tale, and the entire absence of true oratorical power in a three-act farce.  But to call another man’s face ugly because it powerfully expresses another man’s soul is like complaining that a cabbage has not two legs.  If we did so, the only course for the cabbage would be to point out with severity, but with some show of truth, that we were not a beautiful green all over.

But this frigid theory of the beautiful has not succeeded in conquering the art of the world, except in name.  In some quarters, indeed, it has never held sway.  A glance at Chinese dragons or Japanese gods will show how independent are Orientals of the conventional idea of facial and bodily regularity, and how keen and fiery is their enjoyment of real beauty, of goggle eyes, of sprawling claws, of gaping mouths and writhing coils.  In the Middle Ages men broke away from the Greek standard of beauty, and lifted up in adoration to heaven great towers which seemed alive with dancing apes and devils.  In the full summer of technical artistic perfection the revolt was carried to its real consummation in the study of the faces of men.  Rembrandt declared the sane and manly gospel that a man was dignified, not when he was like a Greek god, but when he had a strong square nose like a cudgel, a boldly blocked head like a helmet and a jaw like a steel trap.

This branch of art is commonly dismissed as the grotesque.  We have never been able to understand why it should be humiliating to be laughable; since it is giving an elevated artistic pleasure to others.  If a gentleman who saw us in the street were suddenly to burst into tears at the mere thought of our existence, it might be considered disquieting and uncomplimentary.  But laughter is not uncomplimentary.  In truth, however, the phrase “grotesque” is a misleading description of ugliness in art.  It does not follow that either the Chinese dragons or the Gothic gargoyles or the goblinish old women of Rembrandt were in the least intended to be comic.  Their extravagance was not the extravagance of satire, but simply the extravagance of vitality; and here lies the whole key of the place of ugliness in aesthetics.  We like to see a crag jut out in shameless decision from the cliff: we like to see the red pines stand up hardily upon a high cliff; we like to a chasm cloven from end to end of a mountain.  With equally noble enthusiasm we like to see a nose jut out decisively; we like to see the red hair of a friend stand up hardily in bristles upon his head; we like to see his mouth broad and clean cut like the mountain crevasse.  At least some of us like all this.  It is not a question of humour.  We do not burst with amusement at the first sight of the pines or the chasm; but we like them because they are expressive of the dramatic stillness of nature, her bold experiments, her definite departures, her fearlessness and savage pride in her children.  The moment we have snapped the spell of conventional beauty, there are a million beautiful faces waiting for us everywhere, just as there are a million beautiful spirits.



 — The Speaker, March 23, 1901

How To Write Fiction.  (“How to” Series.) London: Grant Richards.

It is a very extraordinary circumstance that humanity appears to entertain an everlasting resentment against the fact that certain things cannot be reduced to a science.  The most remarkable instance is the literary faculty and instinct.  It is perfectly clear to any one who can think for a moment of the proper meaning of the word literature and the proper meaning of the word science, that we do not know the psychological nature of literary pleasure or the rules which will with certainty govern it.  But yet the whole course of history is strewn with the ruins of the false sciences of literature, from the fixed canons of Aristotle to those of the eighteenth century.  Each elaborate and classical edifice only existed until some natural man of letters trampled it into fragments without seeing it.  But the “Art is Unmoral” school has arisen in our own time to define the indefinable once more.  Such is the strange enmity of men towards the mysterious element in man-as if it were not, in truth, what makes life worth living.

Another school has also arisen to-day with the same idea in a much grosser form.  It is the school which believes that everything can be learnt: that success in art and commerce is equally an ingenious trick.  A series is issued entitled the “How To” series.  It teaches in one volume “How to Choose Your Banker,” in another “How to Dine in Paris,” and in a third, which now lies before us, “How to Write a Novel.” It never seems to strike the writers of this school that there is some difference between the psychological profundity and delicacy of choosing your banker and that of choosing your idea.  An idea is a nameless thing; it melts into all other ideas, whereas a banker is detachable and does not melt into any one.  The same is true, though in a lesser degree, of the comparison which the author makes in his first chapter.  He says, with some apparent reason, that as painting and sculpture require training on fixed lines there is no reason why such training should not be given in fiction.  Surely the answer is distinct.  Fiction is more dark and chaotic than painting because, though both arts symbolise spiritual conditions, painting employs as its symbol the bodily form, which has been measured, while fiction employs as its symbol the thoughts and actions which have never been measured.  Painting deals with what a man looks like, which we can all know; fiction deals with what he means, which he generally does not know himself.  It is not possible to know how many thoughts a man has; it is possible to know, with reasonable industry, how many legs he has.

Painting has an intellectual object also; and may modify physical facts to attain it, but only within limits.  By giving a figure unusually long legs a painter may suggest heroic stature; but in no painting are a gentleman’s legs depicted as endless legs; whereas his thoughts and aspirations, the matter of fiction, are endless.  It is this uncounted and eternal element in men that cheats all the sciences of letters, which destroys and survives all its own definitions.  We have dwelt on this first thesis of the author because it is very vital to the matter.  The author exhibits no reverence in approaching literature.  He does not seem to realise that so divine has the art of writing always appeared, that the very word “scripture” has come to mean a sacred scripture.  No man, as we say, can define literature at any time; but no man can even understand it unless he approaches it as a little child.  It does not belong to the class of things that can be gained by mere experience, such as “How to Dine in Paris.” We understand the next volumes of this series are to be called “How to Become a Saint,” “How to Fall in Love,” “How to Die for One’s Country,” and “How to Reconcile the More Inspiring Claims of Ethical Citizenship with the Subtler Phases of the Inner Life.”

But if the didactics of literature would be enough to bewilder anybody, the didactics of fiction are peculiarly shadowy.  For there is no such form of art as the novel; not, at least, in the sense that there are such forms of art as the lyric, the epic and the tragedy.  We call any prose narrative of a certain length a novel, quite apart from the real nature of its structure.  There is really less artistic kinship between Pickwick and The Scarlet Letter than there is between AEdipus Tyrannus and The Ode to the West Wind.  And in this matter divisions made by the author of How to Write Fiction by no means satisfy us.  His account of the “Realistic Novel” is that it is “life in action, without comment or philosophy, and minus the pre-eminent factor of art.” If it is really this (which we cannot think) a writer on the novel has simply no more concern with it than he has with a furniture catalogue or a Bradshaw, which is really life in action without comment or philosophy, and minus the pre-eminent factor of art.  The next section he recognizes is the novel of manners, on which his remarks are unobjectionable, and the section after that, the novel of incident or romance.  But romance is not, to our mind, mere incident.  This is the error which is responsible for the flood of conventional historic romances in which the hero is never for an instant out of prison or a duel, in which swords and swordthrusts are innumerable, and in which the whole clatter of steel is as commonplace as a cutler’s shop.  Romance is a condition of the soul, like all other phases of literature: a broker on a Putney omnibus might possibly be bursting with romance.  But the exact note of place and time which tingles with romance in a novel is quite as recondite and hard to strike as the note of fear in Maeterlinck or vitality in Balzac.  We hear much, for example, of the fights in Dumas, but really there are far fewer fights in The Three Musketeers than one fancies.  Dumas did not employ to enliven his story one half of the combats which make dull those of his imitators.  What there is in Dumas always is not fighting, but the sense of the sword at the hip; the sense of self-reliance and of the possibilities of life.  His heroes pass their time in other matters, the greater part of it, perhaps, in eating, but in one man of Dumas sitting blandly on an innbench there is more romance, more sense of the inexhaustibility of existence, than in all the breathless obstacle-race of battles common in later stories.  If the reader wishes for another instance of the same brooding spirit of romance, the disembodied soul, as it were, of incident, resting on a humdrum scene, we may refer him to the scene at the Colonel’s house in Guy Mannering.  where the supper-party are awaiting the strange carriage that is to bring the chosen of Meg Merrilies.  The conversation is almost entirely about ducks and peas, and is conducted between a fantastic old lawyer and a frivolous girl, and yet we know no scene in fiction where the cord of romantic excitement is stretched so tight.

Thus the author of How to Write Fiction is in reality wrong at the very start.  He treats a novel as if it was based on its plot.  There are some novels which are so based: The Moonstone, for example.  But he does not realise that the real germ of a novel may be any kind of matter-a man, a society, a curse, a landscape, a vision, a school of thought, a joke.  When Thackeray called Vanity Fair a novel without a hero, he spoke the strict truth, for the protagonist in Vanity Fair is not a man, but a crowd, jostling, noisy, and monstrous.  The hero of Notre Dame is a stone church, the hero of The Wrong Box is a wooden barrel, the hero of Peleas and Melisandre is an atmosphere.  The author of this book seems to us very much beside the mark when he says of Maeterlinck that his atmosphere, “put into bald language, means that he has succeeded in creating an artistic environment for his weird characters,” and proceeds to compare it with the darkness and strangeness of the first scene in Hamlet.  In Hamlet the sombre background symbolises the human figure: in Maeterlinck the human figures themselves merely symbolise the sombre background.  He does not “create an artistic environment for his characters:” the environment creates the characters and then kills them-no very difficult task, for they are a small and frightened race, like men created by a man and not by God.  And this contradiction is merely typical of the thousand contradictions which render a science of fiction impossible.  The fact is that every novelist begins to draw his figure at a different extremity.  There can be no biology of these strange creatures of the brain in one of which the centre of life is in the tail, in another in the horns, in another in the stomach, in another in the wings.

Consequently we have nothing to say to Wilkie Collins and Sir Walter Besant and other authorities from whom explanations of artistic method are quoted here, except that, with the deepest faith in their talents and veracity, we do not believe a word they say.  We do not believe that they wrote their books as they say and think they did; we know that the power to write a good story is one thing, the power to analyse one’s own thoughts quite another, and we simply find evidence in the books themselves that they had their origin in infinitely higher and more mysterious forces than the simple rule of thumb to which their authors ascribe them.  We should not believe that St. Paul’s Cathedral was built especially for a stable even if Sir Christopher Wren said it was, nor do we believe that The Woman in White was written by Wilkie Collins because he had invented a certain plot which required a villain, and that villain must be a foreigner.  A villain is a dull person both in fiction and in real life: Count Fosco was an inspiration from on high.

Sir Walter Besant gives an outline of an imaginary story about a jewel robbery, and lays down a series of rules, by violating each of which consistently admirable stories could be written.  This is the sort of thing which clever men write when they conceive it to be their duty to bind the sweet influence of the Pleiades and loose the bands of Orion.  “You will perceive the robbery must be a big and important thing; no little shop-lifting business.  Next, the person robbed must not be a mere diamond merchant, but a person whose loss will interest the reader.” Why must the robbery be big and important? We can imagine Balzac or Stevenson making an incomparable story about the robbery of something that had no value at all.  Why should not the reader be interested in a diamond-merchant if he was well presented, as much as in anybody else? These rules impress us as mere solemn gibberish.  We feel as we should if someone said that every hero who was a Romanist must have red hair, that three successive scenes must not take place in Yorkshire, that a heroine may have either a dog or a mother, but not both, that every fifth chapter must end with the word “hat,” and that no Scotch accountant must be introduced into a forest scene.  The best that could be said for these rules of ours would be that it might be possible to write a good novel while observing them.  And that is certainly the best that can be said for Sir Walter Besant’s rules.

We do not wish to convey the idea that this book is without merit.  Many of its remarks, especially towards the end, are useful and almost valuable.  But in the author’s idea of a school of fiction we cannot concur.  We think it would lead to nothing but a pseudo-science, like alchemy or astrology, to deceive the world for the hundredth time.  The power of the man with the latest news and the best trick is increasing around us in many things.  It must be resolutely proclaimed that into the world of wonder there is no gate but the low gate of humility, through the arch of which the earth shines like elfland.



 — The Speaker, March 30, 1901

[later reprinted in The Defendant]

There are some things that the world does not like to be reminded of, for they are the dead loves of the world.  One of these is that great enthusiasm for the Arcadian life which, however much it may now be open to the sneers of realism, did, beyond all question, hold sway for an enormous period of the world’s history, from the times that we describe as ancient down to times’ that may fairly be called recent.  The conception of the innocent and hilarious life of shepherds and shepherdesses certainly covered and absorbed the time of Theocritus, of Virgil, of Catullus, of Dante, of Cervantes, of Ariosto, of Shakespeare and of Pope.  We are told that the gods of the heathen were stone and brass, but stone and brass have never endured with the long endurance of the China Shepherdess.  The Catholic Church and the Ideal Shepherd are indeed almost the only things that have bridged the abyss between the ancient world and the modern.  Yet, as we say, the world does not like to be reminded of this boyish enthusiasm.

But imagination, the function of the historian, cannot let so great an element alone.  By the cheap revolutionary it is commonly supposed that imagination is a merely rebellious thing, that it has its chief function in devising new and fantastic republics.  But imagination has its highest use in a retrospective realisation.  The trumpet of imagination, like the trumpet of the Resurrection, calls the dead out of their graves.  Imagination sees Delphi with the eyes of a Greek, Jerusalem with the eyes of a Crusader, Paris with the eyes of a Jacobin, and Arcadia with the eyes of an Euphuist.  The prime function of imagination is to see our whole orderly system of life as a pile of stratified revolutions.  In spite of all revolutionaries it must be said that the function of imagination is not to make strange things settled, so much as to make settled things strange; not so much to make wonders facts as to make facts wonders.  To it the truisms are all paradoxes, since they were paradoxes in the Stone Age; to it the ordinary copy-book blazes with blasphemy.

Let us, then, consider in this light the old pastoral or Arcadian ideal.  But first certainly one thing must be definitely recognised.  This Arcadian art and literature is a lost enthusiasm.  To study it is like fumbling in the love-letters of a dead man.  To us its flowers seem as tawdry as cockades; the lambs that dance to the shepherd’s pipe seem to dance with all the artificiality of a ballet.  Even our own prosaic toil seems to us more joyous than that holiday.  Even where its ancient exuberance passed the bounds of wisdom and even of virtue, its caperings seem frozen into the stillness of an antique frieze.  In those grey old pictures a bacchanal seems as dull as an archdeacon.  Their very sins seem colder than our restraints.

All this may be frankly recognised: all the barren sentimentality of the Arcadian ideal and all its insolent optimism.  But, when all is said and done, something else remains.

Through ages in which the most arrogant and elaborate ideals of power and civilization held otherwise undisputed sway, the ideal of the perfect and healthy peasant did undoubtedly represent in some shape or form the conception that there was a dignity in simplicity and a dignity in labour.  It was good for the ancient aristocrat, even if he could not attain to innocence and the wisdom of the earth, to believe that these things were the secrets of the priesthood of the poor.  It was good for him to believe that even if heaven was not above him, heaven was below him.  It was well that he should have amid all his flamboyant triumphs the never-extinguished sentiment that there was something better than his triumphs, the conception that “there remaineth a rest.”

The conception of the Ideal Shepherd seems absurd to our modern ideas.  But, after all, it was perhaps the only trade of the democracy which was equalised with the trades of the aristocracy even by the aristocracy itself.  The shepherd of pastoral poetry was, without doubt, very different from the shepherd of actual fact.  Where one innocently piped to his lambs, the other innocently swore at them; and their divergence in intellect and personal cleanliness was immense.  But the difference between the ideal shepherd who danced with Amaryllis and the real shepherd who thrashed her is not a scrap greater than the difference between the ideal soldier who dies to capture the colours and the real soldier who lives to clean his accoutrements, between the ideal priest who is everlastingly by some one’s bed, and the real priest who is as glad as any one else to get to his own.  There are ideal conceptions and real men in every calling: yet there are few who object to the ideal conceptions, and not many, after all, who object to the real men.

The question then, is this.  So far from resenting the existence in art and literature of an ideal shepherd, I genuinely regret that the shepherd is the only democratic calling that has ever been raised to the level of the heroic callings conceived by an aristocratic age.  So far from objecting to the Ideal Shepherd, I wish there were an Ideal Postman, an Ideal Grocer, and an Ideal Plumber.  It is undoubtedly true that we should laugh at the idea of an Ideal Postman: it is true, and it proves that we are not genuine democrats.

Undoubtedly the modern grocer, if called upon to act in an Arcadian manner, if desired to oblige with a symbolic dance expressive of the delights of grocery, or to perform on some simple instrument while his assistants skipped around him, would be embarrassed, and perhaps, even reluctant.  But it may be questioned whether this temporary reluctance of the grocer is a good thing, or evidence of a good condition of poetic feeling in the grocery business as a whole.  There certainly should be an ideal image of health and happiness in any trade, and its remoteness from the realily is not the only important question.  No one supposes that the mass of traditional conceptions of duty and glory are always operative, for example, in the mind of a soldier or a doctor: that the Battle of Waterloo actually makes a private enjoy pipeclaying his trousers, or the “health of humanity” softens the momentary phraseology of a physician called out of bed at two o’clock in the morning.  But although no ideal obliterates the ugly drudgery and detail of any calling: that ideal does, in the case of the soldier or the doctor, exist definitely in the background and makes that drudgery worth while as a whole.  It is a serious calamity that no such ideal exists in the case of the vast number of honourable trades and crafts on which the existence of a modern city depends It is a pity that current thought and sentiment offer nothing corresponding to the old conception of patron saints.  If they did there would be a Patron Saint of Plumbers, and this would alone be a revolution, for it would force the individual craftsman to believe that there was once a perfect being who did actually plumb.

When all is said and done, then, we think it much open to question whether the world has not lost something in the complete disappearance of the ideal of the happy peasant.  It is foolish enough to suppose that the rustic went about all over ribbons, but it is better than knowing that he goes about all over rags and being indifferent to the fact.  The modern realistic study of the poor does in reality lead the student further astray than the old idyllic notion.  For we cannot get the chiaroscuro of humble life so long as its virtues seem to us as gross as its vices and its joys as sullen as its sorrows.  Probably at the very moment that we can see nothing but a dull-faced man smoking and drinking heavily with his friend in a pot-house, the man himself is on his soul’s holiday, crowned with the flowers of passionate idleness, and far more like the Happy Peasant than the world will ever know.



 — The Speaker, March 30, 1901

At The Gates Of Song.  By Lloyd Mifflin.  Deirdre Wed.  By Mr. Trench.

The difficulty of dealing with the poetry which is produced yearly and daily is seriously increasing.  The problem of minor poetry does not arise from the fact that the mass of it is bad; it arises from the dark, bewildering and sinister fact that the mass of it is good.  The fact is, as it appears to us, that writing in verse is becoming as universal an accomplishment as writing at all.  Moliere makes the ignorant man exult in the discovery that he has been speaking prose all his life; the ignorant man of a future satirist will probably exult in the fact that he has been speaking poetry.  We see no reason why the power of expressing all our wants in rhyme and rhythm should not be attained by any one in the future.  There is no reason why a man wishing his neighbour to pass the potatoes should not say quite naturally:–

“Pass me those goblins, in the earth that grew,
Those hells whose heaven is a blossom blue,”

whereupon the most prosaic of his companions would pass the potatoes immediately.  A man who suspected another of having stolen his umbrella would exclaim with righteous indignation —

“Methinks thou cowerest in that dusky dome
Wherein I also dared the floods to come:”

whereupon a person of the most impervious moral nature would immediately return the umbrella.

Such is the general impression produced on the mind by the horrible facility which a large number of modern men exhibit in the matter of verse.  Owing to some inexperience of critical effects we are unable to say whether it would be considered a tribute to any class of poets to say that they express in language which no one can impugn sentiments which no one can help having.  But this is assuredly the case with an enormous number of modern minor writers of verse.  Sometimes, undoubtedly, the matter is somewhat simpler.  One poet among those whose books lie before us at present exclaims in opening an address to the ocean —

My feeble powers, O mighty sea,
I cannot strain to sing to thee,

which seems an excellent, manly and lucid excuse for not writing a poem to the sea, but not a very good excuse for writing one.  The majority of modern poets, however, are not so conveniently disposed of.  They have, in spite of generalisations, protests and criticisms, a decidedly indefensible habit of writing very good poetry, poetry at least adorned with a degree of style, dignity and judgment which would not have been possible in every age.  We can only explain it as we say, by the theory that talking in rhyme is becoming an universal accomplishment, like signing one’s own name.  We have no doubt that when language first existed, those persons who could emit certain screams and grunts expressive of the most simple necessities went about with long curled hair and a hyper-elegant demeanour to celebrate their poetic superiority.

An example of how well the thing can be done may be found in the book called At the Gates of Song, by Mr. Lloyd Miffln.  Mr. Lloyd Mifflin is, we conceive, an American.  His very name is a poem.  And his sonnets are decidedly good sonnets; yet, such is the perversity of human judgment, we feel that after the first five every good sonnet decreases our opinion of the poet.  About things turned out with such multiplicity and precision there is a strange smell of the factory.  One of Mr. Lloyd Mifflin’s sonnets, if we found it alone, we should feel to possess all the pallid severity of the Parthenon.  But twenty Parthenons in a row would be as commonplace as twenty Brixton villas.

If we may take Mr. Lloyd Mifflin as the type of the thoroughly polished and dignified craftsman, the author of Amor Amoris may be said to represent the opposite type, the type of the man with a personality, slight or recondite perhaps, but of delicate and individual colour.  The poet is a sentimentalist, perhaps: indeed, Amor Amoris, the love of love, is surely the very definition of sentimentalism.  But he has escaped the real hell of sentimentalism, the hell of least resistance, the hell of an unfathomable softness.  He is not doomed, like so many aesthetes, to go mad in the merciless comfort of a padded cell.  He knows how to show beauty bright against a black background.

Her hair is clustered bloom
Makes fair this borderland of death

is a fine phrase, illuminating like an aureole suddenly lighted round a woman’s head.  The author is always at his best when he brings the soft and the severe into this sudden and ringing contact, like two knights at a tournament.

Mr. Trench, in his volume Deirdre Wed follows the most mysterious section of the Celtic School.  We are not ungrateful for the information conveyed in the title, for it is as well to know, at least, on sound external evidence, that whatever else happened to Deirdre she was really wed at some stage of her affairs.  The poem, though dim and strange, or rather, because dim and strange, is genuinely fine.  Yet we cannot help vaguely resenting the excessive gloom which hangs over all the poems of the renaissance of Celtic mythology.  Ireland may have been as melancholy as this in the far-off days when she was a centre of civilisation; but she has certainly improved in spirits under her misfortunes.  Amid all the Regency bombast of Tom Moore, there was far more sound analysis of the spirit that has kept his country alive:–

“Bid her not shed one tear of sorrow
To sully a heart so gallant and light.”

In this connection we may mention another book of poems-The Love Letters of a Fenian-which is a continuation of the more romantic tradition of Ireland.  Extravagant and pompous as it is, its gloom is more young and generous than the light of Deirdre Wed.  It is said that there is an Irish legend in which a woman was turned into a harp.  We prefer her when the transformation is not quite complete.

G. K.C.


 — The Speaker, April 13, 1901

[later reprinted in The Defendant]

The act of defending any of the cardinal virtues has, to-day, all the exhilaration of a vice.  Moral truisms have been so much disputed that they have begun to sparkle like so many brilliant paradoxes.  And especially (in this age of egoistic idealism) there is about one who defends humility something inexpressibly rakish.

It is no part of my intention to defend humility on practical grounds.  Practical grounds are uninteresting; and, moreover, on practical grounds, the case for humility is overwhelming.  We all know that the “divine glory of the ego” is socially a great nuisance, we all do actually value our friends for modesty, freshness and simplicity of heart.  Whatever may be the reason, we all do warmly respect humility-in other people.

But the matter must go deeper than this.  If the grounds of humility are found only in social convenience they may be quite trivial and temporary.  The egoists may be the martyrs of a nobler dispensation, agonising for a more arduous ideal.  To judge from the comparative lack of ease in their social manner, this seems a reasonable suggestion.  There is one thing that must be seen at the outset of the study of humility from an intrinsic and eternal point of view.  The new philosophy of self-esteem and self-assertion declares that humility is a vice.  If it be so, it is quite clear that it is one of those vices which are an integral part of original sin.  It follows with the precision of clockwork every one of the great joys of life.  No one, for example, was ever in love without indulging in a positive debauch of humility.  All fullblooded and natural people, such as schoolboys, have humility the moment they have hero-worship. Humility, again, is said both by its upholders and opponents to be the peculiar growth of Christianity; the real and obvious reason of this is often missed.  The pagans insisted upon self-assertion because it was the essence of their creed that the gods, though strong and just, were mystic, capricious, and even indifferent.  But the essence of Christianity was in a literal sense the New Testament; a covenant with God which opened to men a clear deliverance.  They thought themselves secure; they claimed palaces of pearl and silver under the oath and seal of the Omnipotent; they believed themselves rich with an irrevocable benediction which set them above the stars; and immediately they discovered humility.  It was only another example of the same immutable paradox.  It is always the secure who are humble.

This particular instance survives in the evangelical revivalists of the street.  They are irritating enough, but no one who has really studied them can deny that the irritation is occasioned by these two things, an irritating hilarity and irritating humility.  This combination of joy and self-prostration is a great deal too universal to be ignored.  If humility has been discredited as a virtue at the present day, it is not wholly irrelevant to remark that this discredit has arisen at the same time as a great collapse of joy in current literature and philosophy.  Men have revived the splendour of Greek self-assertion at the same time that they have revived the bitterness of Greek pessimism.  A literature has arisen which commands us all to arrogate to ourselves the liberty of self-sufficing deities at the same time that it exhibits us to ourselves as dingy maniacs who ought to be chained up like dogs.  It is certainly a curious state of things altogether.  When we are genuinely happy, we think we are unworthy of happiness.  But when we are demanding a divine emancipation we seem to be perfectly certain that we are unworthy of anything.

The only explanation of the matter must be found in the conviction that humility has infinitely deeper roots than any modern men suppose: that it is a metaphysical and, one might almost say.  a mathematical virtue.  Probably this can best be tested by a study of those who frankly disregard humility and assert the supreme duty of perfecting and expressing oneself.  These people tend, by a perfectly natural process, to bring their own great human gifts of culture, intellect or moral power to a great perfection.  successively shutting out everything that they feel to be lower than themselves.  Now shutting out things is all very well, but it has one simple corollary-that out of everything that we shut out we are ourselves shut out.  When we shut our door on the wind, it would be equally true to say that the wind shuts its door on us.  Whatever virtues a triumphant egoism really leads to, no one can reasonably pretend that it leads to knowledge.  Turning a beggar from the door may be right enough: out pretending to know all the stories the beggar might have narrated is pure nonsense: and this is practically the claim of the egoism which thinks that self-assertion can obtain knowledge.  A beetle may or may not be inferior to a man-the matter awaits demonstration; but if he were inferior by ten thousand fathoms, the fact remains that there is probably a beetle view of things of which a man is entirely ignorant.  If he wishes to conceive that point of view he will scarcely reach it by persistently revelling in the fact that he is not a beetle.  The most brilliant exponent of the egoistic school, Nietszche, with deadly and honourable logic, admitted that the philosophy of self-satisfaction led to looking down upon the weak, the cowardly and the ignorant.  Looking down on things may be a delightful experience; only, there is nothing, from a mountain to a cabbage, that is really seen when it is seen from a balloon.  The philosopher of the ego sees everything, no doubt, from a high and rarified heaven; only he sees everything foreshortened-or deformed.

Now, if we imagine that a man wished truly, as far as possible, to see everything as it was, he would certainly proceed on a different principle.  He would seek-to divest himself for a time of those personal peculiarities which tend to divide him from the thing he studies.  It is as difficult, for example, for a man to examine a fish without developing a certain vanity in possessing a pair of legs-as if they were the latest article of personal adornment.  But if a fish is to be approximately understood, this physiological dandyism must be overcome.  The earnest student of fish morality will, spiritually speaking, chop off his legs.  And similarly the student of birds will eliminate his arms: the frog-lover will, with one stroke of the imagination, remove all his teeth, and the spirit wishing to enter into all the hopes and fears of jelly-fish will simplify his personal appearance to a really alarming extent.  It would appear, therefore, that this great body of ours and all its natural instincts, of which we are proud, and justly proud, is rather an encumbrance at the moment when we attempt to appreciate things as they should be appreciated.  We do actually go through a process of mental asceticism, a castration of the entire being, when we wish to feel the abounding good in all things.  It is good for us at certain times that ourselves should be like a mere window-as clear, as luminous, and as invisible.

In a very entertaining work, over which we have roared in childhood, it is stated that a point has no parts and no magnitude.  Humility is the luxurious art of reducing ourselves to a point, not to a small thing, or a large one, but to a thing with no size at all, so that to it all the cosmic things are what they really are, of immeasurable stature.  That the trees are high and the grasses short is a mere accident of our own foot-rules and our own stature.  But to the spirit which has stripped off for a moment its own idle temporal standards, the grass is an everlasting forest, with dragons for denizens; the stones of the road are as incredible mountains piled one upon the other; the dandelions are like gigantic bonfires illuminating the lands around; and the heath-bells on their stalks are like planets hung in heaven each higher than the other.  Between one stake of a paling and another there are new and terrible landscapes; here a desert, with nothing but one misshapen rock; here a miraculous forest, of which all the trees flower above the head with the hues of sunset; here, again, a sea full of monsters that Dante would not have dared to dream.  These are the visions of him who, like the child in the fairy tales, is not afraid to become small.  Meanwhile, the sage whose faith is in magnitude and ambition is, like a giant, becoming larger and larger, which only means that the stars are becoming smaller and smaller.  World after world falls from him into insignificance; the whole passionate and intricate life of common things becomes as lost to him as is the life of the infusoriae to a man without a microscope.  He rises always through desolate eternities.  He may find new systems and forget them; he may discover fresh universes and learn to despise them.  But the towering and tropical vision of things as they really are-the gigantic daisies, the heaven-consuming dandelions, the great Odyssey of strange-coloured oceans and strange-shaped trees, of dust like the wreck of temples and thistle-down like the ruin of stars, all this colossal vision shall perish with the last of the humble.



 — The Speaker, April 20, 1901

[later reprinted in The Defendant]

Some little time ago I stood among immemorial English trees that seemed to take hold upon the stars like a brood of Ygdrasils.  As I walked among these living pillars I became gradually aware that the rustics who lived and died in their shadow adopted a very curious conversational tone.  They seemed to be constantly apologising for the trees, as if they were a very poor show.  After elaborate investigation, I discovered that their gloomy and penitent tone was traceable to the fact that it was winter and all the trees were bare.  I assured them that I did not resent the fact that it was winter, that I knew the thing had happened before, and that no forethought on their part could have averted this blow of destiny.  But I could not in any way reconcile them to the fact that it was winter.  There was evidently a general feeling that I had caught the trees in a kind of disgraceful de’shabill and that they ought not to be seen until, like the first human sinners, they had covered themselves with leaves.  So it is quite clear that while very few people appear to know anything of how trees look in winter, the actual foresters know less than any one.  So far from the line of the tree when it is bare appearing harsh and severe, it is luxuriantly indefinable to an unusual degree; the fringe of the forest melts away like a vignette.  The tops of two or three high trees when they are leafless are so soft that they seem like the gigantic brooms of that fabulous lady who was sweeping the cobwebs off the sky.  The outline of a leafy forest is in comparison hard, gross and blotchy: the clouds of night do not more certainly obscure the moon than those green and monstrous clouds obscure the tree; the actual sight of the little wood, with its grey and silver sea of life, is entirely a winter vision.  So dim and delicate is the heart of the winter woods, a kind of glittering gloaming, that a figure stepping towards us in the chequered twilight seems as if he were breaking through unfathomable depths of spiders’ webs.

But surely the idea that its leaves are the chief grace of a tree is a vulgar one, on a par with the idea that his hair is the chief grace of a pianist.  When winter, that healthy ascetic, carries his colossal razor over hill and valley, and shaves all the trees like monks we feel surely that they are all the more like trees if they are shorn, just as so many painters and musicians would be all the more like men if they were less like mops.  But it does appear to be a deep and essential difficulty that men have an abiding terror of their own structure, or of the structure of things they love.  This is felt dimly in the skeleton of the tree: it is felt profoundly in the skeleton of the man.

The importance of the human skeleton is very great, and the horror with which it is commonly regarded is somewhat mysterious.  Without claiming for the human skeleton a whdlly conventional beauty, we may assert that he is certainly not uglier than a bulldog, whose popularity never wanes, and that he has a vastly more cheerful and ingratiating expression.  But just as man is mysteriously ashamed of the skeletons of the trees in winter, so he is mysteriously ashamed of the skeleton of himself in death.  It is a singular thing altogether, this horror of the architecture of things.  One would think it would be most unwise in a man to be afraid of a skeleton, since nature has set curious and quite insuperable obstacles to his running away from it.

One ground exists for this terror: a strange idea has infected humanity that the skeleton is typical of death.  A man might as well say that a factory-chimney was typical of bankruptcy.  The factory may be left naked after ruin; the skeleton may be left naked after bodily dissolution, but both of them have had a lively and workmanlike life of their own, all the pulleys creaking, all the wheels turning in the House of Livelihood as in the House of Life.  There is no reason why this creature (new, as we fancy, to art), the living skeleton, should not become the essential symbol of life.

The truth is that man’s horror of the skeleton is not horror of death at all.  It is man’s eccentric glory that he has not, generally speaking, any objection to being dead, but has a very serious objection to being undignified.  And the fundamental matter which troubles him in the skeleton is the reminder that the ground plan of his appearance is shamelessly grotesque.  I do not know why he should object to this.  He contentedly takes his place in a world that does not pretend to be genteel, a laughing, working, jeering world.  He sees millions of animals carrying, with quite a dandified levity, the most monstrous shapes and appendages, the most preposterous horns, wings, and legs, when they are necessary to utility.  He sees the good temper of the frog; the unaccountable happiness of the hippopotamus.  He sees a whole universe which is ridiculous, from the animalcule, with a head too big for its body, up to the comet, with a tail too big for its head.  But when it comes to the fascinating oddity of his own inside his sense of humour rather abruptly deserts him.

In the Middle Ages and in the Renascence (which was in certain times and respects a much gloomier period) this idea of the skeleton had a vast influence in freezing the pride out of all earthly pomps and the fragrance out of all fleeting pleasures.  But it was not surely the mere dread of death that did this; for these were ages in which men had to meet death singing.  It was the idea of the degradation of man in the grinning ugliness of his structure that withered the juvenile insolence of beauty and pride.  And in this it almost assuredly did more good than harm.  There is nothing so cold or so pitiless as youth, and youth in aristocratic stations and ages tended to an impeccable dignity, an endless summer of success which needed to be very sharply reminded of the scorn of the stars.  It was well that such flamboyant prigs should be convinced that one practical joke at least would bowl them over, that they would fall into one grinning man-trap, and not rise again.  That the whole structure of their existence was as wholesomely ridiculous as that of a pig or a parrot they could not be expected to realise.  That birth was humorous, coming of age humorous, drinking and fighting humorous, they were far too young and solemn to know.  But at least they were taught that death was humorous.

If the great forest of winter trees does, indeed, as the rustics seem to feel, swing and clank above me, like a literal vision of the skeletons of giants, I do not think I need be afraid of their bareness.  They are the trees themselves, and of trees as of men there is truth in that Scripture saying that the body is more than raiment.  The true nobility of Nature lies not in her beauty, but in her generous and defiant ugliness.  The croaking noise of the rooks is, in itself, as hideous as the whole hell of sounds in a London railway tunnel, but the freshness of it sobers and purifies the heart.  Everything is grotesque: the tree above my head is flapping like some giantic bird standing on one leg, the moon is like the eye of a cyclops.  And, however much my face clouds with sombre vanity, or vulgar vengeance, or contemptible contempt, the bones of my skull beneath it are laughing for ever.



 — The Speaker, April 27, 1901

[later reprinted in The Defendant]

In the nineteenth century the aristocrats have upset entirely their one solitary utility.  It is their business to be flaunting and arrogant; but they flaunt unobtrusively, and their attempts at arrogance are depressing.  Their chief duty hitherto has been the development of variety, vivacity and fulness of life; oligarchy was the world’s first experiment in liberty.  But now they have adopted the opposite ideal of “good form,” which may be defined as Puritanism without religion.  Good form has sent them all into black like the stroke of a funeral bell.  They engage, like Mr. Gilbert’s curates, in a war of mildness, a positive competition of obscurity.  In old times the lords of the earth sought above all things to be distinguished from each other; with that object they erected outrageous images on their helmets and painted preposterous colours on their shields.  They wished to make it entirely clear that a Norfolk was as different, say, from an Argyll as a white lion from a black pig.  But to-day their ideal is precisely the opposite one, and if a Norfolk and an Argyll were dressed so much alike that they were mistaken for each other they would both go home dancing with joy.

The consequences of this are inevitable.  The aristocracy must lose their function of standing to the world for the idea of variety, experiment, and colour, and we must find these things in some other class.  To ask whether we shall find them in the middle class would be to jest upon sacred matters.  The only conclusion, therefore, is that it is to certain sections of the lower class, chiefly for example to omnibus conductors, with their rich and rococo mode of thought, that we must look for guidance towards liberty and light.

The one stream of poetry which is continually flowing is slang.  Every day a nameless poet weaves some fairy tracery of popular language.  It may be said that the fashionable world talks slang as much as the democratic; this is true and it strongly supports the view under consideration.  Nothing is more startling than the contrast between the heavy, formal, lifeless slang of the man-about-town and the light, living and flexible slang of the coster.  The talk of the upper strata of the educated classes is about the most shapeless, aimless and hopeless literary product that the world has ever seen.  Clearly in this again the upper classes have degenerated.  We have ample evidence that the old leaders of feudal war could speak on occasion with a certain natural symbolism and eloquence that they had not gained from books.  When Cyrano de Bergerac, in Rostand’s play, throws doubts on the reality of Christian’s dulness and lack of culture, the latter replies:–

“Bah! on trouve des mots quant on monte a l’assaut;
Oui, j’ai une certaine esprit facile et militaire;”

and these two lines sum up a truth about the old oligarchs.  They could not write three legible letters, but they could sometimes speak literature.  Douglas, when he hurled the heart of Bruce in front of him in his last battle, cried out, “Pass first, great heart, as thou wert ever wont.” A Spanish nobleman, when commanded by the king to receive a high-placed and notorious traitor, said: “I will receive him in all obedience and burn down my house afterwards.” This is literature without culture; it is the speech of men convinced that have to assert proudly the poetry of life.

Any one, however, who should seek for such pearls in the conversation of a young man of modern Belgravia would have much sorrow in his life.  It is not only impossible for aristocrats to assert proudly the poetry of life; it is more impossible for them than for any one else.  It is positively considered vulgar for a nobleman to boast of his ancient name, which is, when one comes to think of it, the only rational object of his existence.  If a man in the street proclaimed, with rude feudal rhetoric, that he was the Earl of Doncaster, he would be arrested as a lunatic: but if it were discovered that he really was the Earl of Doncaster, he would simply ‘be cut as a cad.  No poetical prose must be expected from earls as a class.  The fashionable slang is hardly even a language: it is like the formless cries of animals, dimly indicating certain broad, well-understood states of mind.  “Bored,” “cut up,” “jolly,” “rotten” and so on are like the words of some tribe of savages, whose vocabulary has only twenty of them.  If a man of fashion wished to protest against some solecism in another man of fashion, his utterance would be a mere string of set phrases, as lifeless as a string of dead fish.  But an omnibus conductor (being filled with the Muse) would burst out into a solid literary effort.  “You’re a gen’leman, arent yer....yer boots is a lot brighter than yer ‘ed....there’s precious little of yer and that’s clothes... that’s right, put yer cigar in yer mouth ‘cos I can’t see yer be’ind it....take it out again, do yer; you’re young for smokin’, but I’ve sent for yer mother.... Goin’? oh don’t run away, I won’t ‘arm yer.  I’ve got a good ‘art I ‘ave. ‘Down with cruelty to animals’ I say,” and so on.  It is evident that this mode of speech is not only literary, but literary in a very ornate and almost artificial sense.  Keats never put into a sonnet so many remote metaphors as a coster puts into a curse: his speech is one long allegory, like Spenser’s Faerie Queen.

I do not imagine that it is necessary to demonstrate that this poetic allusiveness is the characteristic of true slang.  Such an expression as “Keep your hair on” is positively Meredithian in its perverse and mysterious manner of expressing an idea.  The Americans have a well-known expression about “swelled-head” as a description of self-approval and the other day I heard a remarkable fantasia upon this air.  An American said that after the Chinese War the Japanese wanted “to put on their hats with a shoe-horn.” This is a monument of the true nature of slang, which consists in getting further and further away from the original conception, in treating it more and more as an assumption.  It is rather like the literary doctrine of the Symbolists.

The real reason of this great development of eloquence among the lower orders again brings us back to the case of the aristocracy in earlier times.  The lower classes live in a state of war, a war of words.  Their readiness is the product of the same fiery individualism as the readiness of the old fighting oligarchs.  Any cabman has to be ready with his tongue, as any gentleman of the last century had to be ready with his sword.  It is unfortunate that the poetry which is developed by this process should be purely a grotesque poetry.  But as the higher orders of society have entirely abdicated their right to speak with a heroic eloquence, it is no wonder that the language should develop by itself in the direction of a rowdy eloquence.  The essential point is that somebody must be at work adding new symbols and new circumlocutions to a language.

All slang is metaphor, and all metaphor is poetry.  If we paused for a moment to examine the cheapest cant phrases that pass our lips every day we should find that they were as rich and suggestive as so many sonnets.  To take a single instance: we speak of a man in English social relations “breaking the ice.” If this were expanded into a sonnet we should have before us a dark and sublime picture of an ocean of everlasting ice, the sombre and baffling mirror of the northern nature, over which men walked and danced and skated easily, but under which the living waters roared and toiled fathoms below.  The world of slang is a kind of topsy-turveydom of poetry, full of blue moons and white elephants, of men losing their heads, and men whose tongues run away with them-a whole chaos of fairy tales.



 — The Speaker, May 4, 1901

[later reprinted in The Defendant]

The decay of patriotism in England during the last year or two is a serious and distressing matter: only in consequence of such a decay could the current lust of territory be confounded with the ancient love of country.  We may imagine that if there were no such thing as a pair of lovers left in the world, all the vocabulary of love might without rebuke be transferred to the lowest and most automatic desire.  If no type of chivalrous and purifying passion remained, there would be no one left to say that lust bore none of the marks of love: that lust was rapacious and love pitiful, that lust was blind and love vigilant, that lust sated itself and love was insatiable.  So it is with the “love of the city,” that high and ancient intellectual passion which has been written in red blood on the same tablet with the primal passions of our being.  On all sides we hear to-day of the love of our country, and yet anyone who has literally such a love must be bewildered at the talk, like a man hearing all men say that the moon shines by day and the sun by night.  The conviction must at last come to him that these men do not realise what the word love means, that they mean by the love of country, not what a mystic might mean by the love of God, but something of what a child might mean by the love of jam.  To one who loves his fatherland, for instance, our boasted indifference to the ethics of a national war is mere mysterious gibberish.  It is like telling a man that a boy has committed a murder, but that he need not mind because it is only his son.  Here clearly the word love is used unmeaningly.  It is the essence of love to be sensitive: it is a part of its doom, and anyone who objects to the one must certainly get rid of the other.  This sensitiveness, rising sometimes to an almost morbid sensitiveness, was the mark of all great lovers like Dante and all great patriots like Chatham.  “My country, right or wrong,” is a thing that no patriot would think of saying except in a desperate case.  It is like saying, “My mother, drunk or sober.” No doubt if a decent man’s mother took to drink he would share her troubles to the last.  But to talk as if he would be in a state of gay indifference as to whether his mother took to drink or not is certainly not the language of men who know the great mystery.

What we really need for the frustration and overthrow of a deaf and raucous Jingoism is a renascence of the love of the native land.  When that comes, all shrill cries will cease suddenly.  For the first of all the marks of love is seriousness: love will not accept sham bulletins or the empty victory of words.  It will always esteem the most candid counsellor the best.  Love is drawn to truth by the unerring magnetism of agony: it gives no pleasure to the lover to see ten doctors dancing with vociferous optimism round a death-bed.

We have to ask, then, why is it that this recent movement in England, which has honestly appeared to many a renascence of patriotism, seems to us to have none of the marks of patriotism, at least, of patriotism in its fullest form? Why has the adoration of our patriots been given wholly to qualities and circumstances good in themselves, but comparatively material and trivial, trade, physical force, a skirmish at a remote frontier, a squabble in a remote continent? Colonies are things to be proud of, but for a country to be only proud of its extremities is like a man being only proud of his legs.  Why is there not a high central intellectual patriotism, a patriotism of the head and heart of the Empire and not merely of its fists and its boots? A rude Athenian sailor may very likely have thought that the glory of Athens lay in rowing with the right kind of oars, or having a good supply of garlic; but Pericles did not think that this was the glory of Athens.  With us, on the other hand, there is no difierence at all between the patriotism preached by Mr. Chamberlain and that preached by Mr. Pat Rafferty, who sings “What do you think of the Irish now?”: they are both honest, simple-minded, vulgar eulogies upon trivialities and truisms.

I have, rightly or wrongly, a notion of the chief cause of this pettiness in English patriotism of to-day, and we will attempt to expound it.  It may be taken generally that a man loves his own stock and environment, and that he will find something to praise in it; but whether it is the most praiseworthy thing or no will depend upon the man’s enlightenment as to the facts.  If the son of Thackeray, let us say, were brought up in ignorance of his father’s fame and genius, it is not improbable that he would be proud of his father being over six foot high.  It seems to me that we, as a.  nation, are precisely in the position of this hypothetical child of Thackeray.  We fall back upon gross and frivolous things for our patriotism, for a simple reason.  We are the only people in the world who are not taught in childhood our own literature and our own history.

We are, as a nation, in the truly extraordinary condition of not knowing our own merits.  We have played a great and splendid part in the history of universal thought and sentiment; we have been among the foremost in that eternal and bloodless battle in which the blows do not slay but create.  In painting and music we are inferior to many other nations; but in literature, science, philosophy, and political eloquence, if history be taken as a whole, we can hold our own with any.  But all this vast heritage of intellectual glory is kept from our schoolboys like a heresy; and they are left to live and die in the dull and infantile type of patriotism which they learnt from a box of tin soldiers.  There is no harm in the box of tin soldiers; we do not expect children to be equally delighted with a beautiful box of tin philanthropists.  But there is great harm in the fact that the subtler and more civilised honour of England is not presented so as to keep pace with the expanding mind.  A French boy is taught the glory of Moliere as well as that of Turenne; a German boy is taught his own great national philosophy before he learns the philosophy of antiquity.  The result is that, though French patriotism is often crazy and boastful, though German patriotism is often isolated and pedantic, they are neither of them merely dull, common, and brutal, as is so often the strange fate of the nation of Bacon and Locke.  It is natural enough, and even righteous enough, under the circumstances.  An Englishman must love England for something; consequently, he tends to exalt commerce or prize-fighting just as a German might tend to exalt music, or a Flamand to exalt painting, because he really believes it is the chief merit of his fatherland.  It would not be in the least extraordinary if a claim of eating up provinces and pulling down princes were the chief boast of a Zulu.  The extraordinary thing is that it is the chief boast of a people who have Shakespeare, Newton, Burke, and Darwin to boast of.

The peculiar lack of any generosity or delicacy in the current English Nationalism appears to have no other possible origin but in this fact of our unique neglect in education of the study of the national literature.  An Englishman could not be silly enough to despise other nations if he once knew how much England had done for them.  Great men of letters cannot avoid being humane and universal.  The absence of the teaching of English literature in our schools is, when we come to think of it, an almost amazing phenomenon.  It is even more amazing when we listen to the arguments urged by head masters and other educational conservatives against the direct teaching of English.  It is said, for example, that a vast amount of English grammar and literature is picked up in the course of learning Latin and Greek.  This is perfectly true, but the topsy-turviness of the idea never seems to strike them.  It is like saying that a baby picks up the art of walking in the course of learning to hop: or that a Frennchman may successfully be taught German by helping a Prussian to learn Ashanti.  Surely the obvious foundation of all education is the language in which that education is conveyed; if a boy has only time to learn one thing he had better learn that.  We have deliberately neglected this great heritage of high national sentiment.  We have made our public schools the strongest walls against a whisper of the honour of England.  And we have had our punishment in this strange and perverted fact, that while an unifying vision of patriotism can ennoble bands of brutal savages or dingy burghers, and be the best thing in their lives, we who are-the world being judge-humane, honest, and serious individually, have a patriotism that is the worst thing in ours.  What have we done, and where have we wandered, we that have produced sages that could have spoken with Socrates and poets who could walk with Dante, that we should talk as if we have never done anything more intelligent than found colonies and kick [negroes] We are the children of light, and it is we that sit in darkness.  If we are judged it will not be for the merely intellectual transgression of failing to appreciate other nations, but for the supreme spiritual transgression of failing to appreciate ourselves.

G. K. C.


 — The Speaker, May 4, 1901

Robert Buchanan: The Poet of Modern Revolt.  By A. Stodard-Walker. London: Gtand Richards.  6s.

It is a very dangerous and even destructive thing to have a large supply of righteous indignation.  Having a large supply of unrighteous indignation hurts nobody; it is merely a series of human interludes.  But righteous indignation possesses the whole man, and that way madness lies, particularly when the man has a surplus stock of ideal passion, and nobody in particular to work it off upon.  This one essentially noble frailty is the chief of the difficulties of Mr. Robert Buchanan, a study of whose distinguished poetical career now lies before us.  He has constantly been led by a mere inward prompting for battle, and struck out powerfully right and left at his contemporaries, often without disagreeing with them, and always without listening to them.  This would matter little, for it is only one phase of an otherwise humane man, but that the author of the sketch of Mr. Buchanan now under our consideration selects this ferocious aspect of the matter for special study, and calls his book “Robert Buchanan: The Poet of Modern Revolt.”

Now, this resounding title does not impress us by any means.  It may be questioned whether poets, as a class, are the better for being poets of revolt, or whether, as a class, they ever are poets of revolt.  Poets sing of the common and therefore of the ancient things.  Even where they do celebrate a kind of revolt, their revolt is commonly rather a reaction.  They are a kind of Legitimists; when they rebel against the very stones of the street it is commonly in the interest of the rightful dynasty of trees.  Few poets have ever rebelled against the oldest things; few have ever criticised the colour of the grass or the pattern of the stars, and Mr. Buchanan would certainly be the very last to do this.  His mind is of the loyal type essentially; he defends the elementary charities against a mushroom crop of kings and priests.  To call him a poet of revolt is simply to state his philosophy in negative instead of positive terms.  Nor is there anything intellectually creditable in being in a constant condition of revolt.  A thinker who calls himself simply a revolutionist is as foolish as a surgeon who should call himself an “amputationist”: it can mean nothing except an enduring mania for extreme measures.  But Mr. Stodart-Walker has chosen to treat Mr. Buchanan from this, as it seems to us, frivolous and pugnacious point of view, and it is necessary for us to follow him.

The idea that the glory of Mr. Buchanan consists in being in “revolt,” is most strongly and completely expressed in the chapter called “The Devil,” which is devoted to the study of Mr. Buchanan’s poem entitled “The Devil’s Case.” We are used nowadays to sombrely sympathetic studies of Satan, and are perhaps inclined to ask for a little more devilry in our devils.  We ourselves doubt very much whether the Devil is as white as he is painted.  But literature has never seen so thoroughly impeccable a fiend as Mr. Buchanan’s, who is described as a “spirit of pity” leading men to light and knowledge, praising Christ for his tenderness and helping the weak and humble.  This certainly impresses us, not as revolt, but as the most aimless sort of sentimentalism.  To justify Satan against the saints by making him saintly seems to have no intellectual significance whatever.  And we lose patience altogether when Mr. Buchanan and Mr. Stodart-Walker openly vaunt their emasculated Arimanes over the sublime lost spirits of Milton and Goethe.  This is what Mr. Buchanan, in one of his worst moments, we suppose, says about the conception of Mephistophiles in “Faust”:

“Goethe’s Mephisto is as crude a conception as even the Scotch ‘De’il,’ mere intellect without heart, whereas I hold that intellect implies heart and true knowledge holiness.  Goethe’s typical woman, e.g., Marguerite, is a fool. . .‘My’ Devil would have saved her; Goethe’s monkey-devil destroys her easily.  Goethe, in fact, took the vulgar view held by every parson.  Hence the vogue of his poem.”

To the dim and rambling mind of Goethe it never occurred, we conceive, that the object of a devil was to save people.  Goethe had uncommonly little respect for that amateurish “spirit of revolt” which can tolerate an angel perfectly so long as he is called a devil.  His object in describing Mephisto was not to gain the boyish delights of a Devil-worshipper, but to give a high and philosophic version of what he conceived to be actually the evil and baffling element in things.  And this was the object of all the great poets who have dealt with the Devil in literature, and whose various performances Mr. Stodart-Walker passes in lofty and disdainful review.  Milton, for instance, asked himself the question, “What force can be conceived as really fighting against and often frustrating the normal health and order of things?” His answer was that Will, or the deification of Will, was such a force: that the Devil was the personal unit who would not be reconciled or assimilated or destroyed or even forgiven.  To Milton, as to many modern Socialists, the Devil was the Individual.  Then came Goethe and asked the same question, but gave a different answer.  The Will, he said in effect, was essentially right in its tendency: but the utterly sterile and uncelestial element in things was the cold and cruel intellect, which seems to itself to see everything from heaven to hell, but cannot even see the heart of man.  Both these devils are real devils, for they are forces broken loose and blindly fighting against good.  But Mr. Buchanan’s devil is nothing at all but a sort of shadowy Christ.  To say that “intellect implies heart” is merely to take refuge in vague words.  It is painfully like “the vulgar view held by every parson.”

But in truth Mr. Robert Buchanan is not what Mr. Stodart-Walker designates him, a poet of revolt, but something very much better.  In some cases he has even carried conservatism too far, as in the case of “The Fleshly School,” in which he treated other poets of revolt as purely revolting.  But from Mr. Stodart-Walker’s book alone could be deduced a sufficient mass of evidence to show that Mr. Buchanan’s genius is, at its best, as cheerful a champion of the beaten paths as that of Aristophanes or Mr. Anstey.  The beautiful poem which deals with the sorrows of the Virgin Mary is profoundly conservative, and only has the appearance of theological audacity because motherhood is a much older thing than Christianity.  Mr. Buchanan shows his bitter and abiding Toryism in the quatrains about contemporary writers which Mr. Stodlart-Walker quotes

“There’s Ibsen puckering up his lips,
Squirming at Nature and Society;
Drawing with tingling finger-tips
The clothes off naked Impropriety.”

This is entirely unworthy of Mr. Buchanan; in fact, we have a suspicion, in reading it, that he has never read any Ibsen.  Ibsen has many defects; in some moods we would give all his clear and callous criticisms for one featherheaded song by Mr. Buchanan.  But the theory of Ibsen’s indelicacy of language is an entire invention of the Daily Telegraph.  There is not, so far as we can remember, one sentence in the whole of Ibsen which approaches to the coarseness of the above four lines.  But whether this note on the great Norwegian be justifiable or no, no one can question the reactionary sentiment, the almost rich antiquity, of the mental attitude.  The truth is that Mr. Buchanan has made one of the few mistakes of his life in attempting to be blasphemous and novel.  It does not come from his heart, which is emphatically in the right place.  Swinbume could do this sort of thing, because he had really “wearied of sorrow and joy” at a certain period: Mr. Buchanan is no more weary of sorrow and joy than when he was a boy catching butterflies.  There will always be those who really are what Mr. Stodart-Walker would call “poets of revolt.” It is the chief aim of most of us to adapt ourselves to the universe; there will always be a certain number of persons who spend an exciting, if brief, career in endeavouring to adapt the universe to themselves.  But Mr. Buchanan is not one of these pitiable irreconcileables.  He has had his frenzies and his denunciations, and his storms in a tea-cup, but he is, at the end of all, a man with a clean and universal appetite.  Purity would always touch him, if it were not legalised; sanity would be his motto if it were not the motto of the Philistines; Christianity would enrapture him if it had not succeeded.  Whatever may be his faults, he has nothing in common with that race of bloodless sensualists who sicken of the plain colours of earth and sky as a man might sicken after a heavy meal.  The carnation in his button-hole is red.

 — G.K.C.


 — The Speaker, May 11, 1901

[later reprinted in The Defendant]

A book now lies before us which is devoted to proving the earth is flat.  It is called Terra Firma: the Earth not a Planet.  The author is Mr. D. Wardlaw Scott, and he quotes very seriously the opinions of a large number of other persons, of whom we have never heard, but who are evidently very important.  Mr. Beach of Southsea, for example, thinks that the world is flat; and in Southsea perhaps it is.  It is no part of our present intention, however, to follow Mr. Scott’s arguments in detail.  On the lines of such arguments it may be shown that the earth is flat, and, for the matter of that, that it is triangular.  A few examples will suffice:

One of Mr. Scott’s objections is that if a projectile is fired from a moving body, there is a difference in the distance to which it carries according to the direction in which it is sent.  But, as in practice there is not the slightest difference whichever way the thing is done, in the case of the earth “we have a forcible overthrow of all fancies relative to the motion of the earth and a striking proof that the earth is not a globe.”

This is altogether one of the quaintest arguments we have ever seen.  It never seems to occur to the author, among other things, that when the firing and falling of the shot all take place upon the moving body, there is nothing whatever to compare them with.  As a matter of fact, of course, a shot fired at an elephant does actually often travel towards the marksman, but much slower than the marksman travels.  Mr. Scott probably would not like to contemplate the fact that the elephant, properly speaking, swings round and hits the bullet.  To us it appears full of a rich cosmic humour.

We will only give one other example of the astronomical proofs.

“If the earth were a globe, the distance round the surface, say, at 45 deg.  south latitude could not possibly be any greater than the same latitude, north; but, since it is found by navigators to be twice the distance-to say the least of it-or double the distance it ought to be according to the globular theory, it is a proof that the earth is not a globe.”

This sort of thing reduces our minds to a pulp.  We can faintly resist when a man says that if the earth were a globe cats would not have four legs.  But when he says that if the earth were a globe cats would not have five legs, we are helpless.

But, as we have indicated, it is not in the scientific aspect of this remarkable theory that we are for the moment interested.  It is rather with the difference between the flat and the round worlds as conceptions in art and imagination that we are concerned.  It is a very remarkable thing that none of us are really Copernicans in our actual outlook upon things.  We are convinced intellectually that we inhabit a small provincial planet, but we do not feel in the least suburban.  Men of science have quarrelled with the Bible because it is not based upon the true astronomical system, but it is certainly open to the orthodox to say that if it had been it would never have convinced anybody.

If a single poem or a single story were really transfused with the Copernican idea, the thing would be a nightmare.  Can we think of a solemn scene of mountain stillness in which some prophet is standing in a trance, and then realise that the whole scene is whizzing round like a zoetrope at the rate of nineteen miles a second? Could we tolerate the notion of a mighty King delivering a sublime fiat and then rememher that for all practical purposes he is hanging head downwards in space? A strange fable might be written of a man who was blessed or cursed with the Copernican eye, and saw all men on the earth like tintacks clustering round a magnet.  It would be singular to imagine how very different the speech of an aggressive egoist, announcing the independence and divinity of man, would sound if he were seen hanging on to the planet by his boot soles.

For despite Mr. Wardlaw Scott’s horror at the Newtonian astronomy and its contradiction of the Bible, the whole distinction is a good instance of the difference between letter and spirit; the letter of the Old Testament is opposed to the conception of the solar system, but the spirit has much kinship with it.  The writers of the Book of Genesis had no theory of gravitation, which to the normal person will appear a fact of as much importance as that they had no umbrellas.  But the theory of gravitation has a curiously Hebrew sentiment in it-a sentiment of combined dependence and certainty, of a sense of grappling unity, by which all things hang upon one thread.  “Thou hast hanged the world upon nothing,” said the author of the Book of Job, and in that sentence wrote the whole appalling poetry of modern astronomy.  The sense of the preciousness and fragility of the universe, the sense of being in the hollow of a hand, is one which the round and rolling earth gives in its most thrilling form, while Mr. Wardlaw Scott’s flat earth would be the true territory for a comfortable atheist.  Nor would the old Jews have any objection to being as much upside down as right way up.  They had no foolish ideas about the dignity of man.

It would be an interesting speculation to imagine whether the world will ever develop a Copernican poetry and a Copernican habit of fancy; whether we shall ever speak of “early earth-turn” instead of “early sunrise,” and speak indifferently of looking up at the daisies or looking down on the stars.  But if we ever do, there are really a large number of big and fantastic facts awaiting us, worthy to make a new mythology.  Mr. Wardlaw Scott, for example, with genuine, if unconscious, imagination, says that according to astronomers “the sea is avast mountain of water miles high.” To have discovered that mountain of moving crystal, in which the fishes build like birds, is like discovering Atlantis: it is enough to make the old world young again.  In the new poetry which we contemplate, athletic young men will set out sturdily to climb up the face of the sea.  If we once realised this earth as it is, we should find ourselves in a land of miracles: we shall discover a new planet at the moment that we discover our own.  Among all the strange things that men have forgotten, the most universal and catastrophic lapse of memory is that by which they have forgotten that they are living on a star.

In the early days of the world, the discovery of a fact of natural history was immediately followed by the realisation of it as a fact of poetry.  When man awoke from the long fit of absent-mindedness which is called the automatic animal state, and began to notice the queer facts that the sky was blue and the grass green, he immediately began to use those facts symbolically.  Blue, the colour of the sky, became a symbol of celestial holiness; green passed into the language as indicating a freshness verging upon unintelligence.  If we had the good fortune to live in a world in which the sky was green and the grass blue, the symbolism would have been different.  But for some mysterious reason this habit of realising poetically the facts of science has ceased abruptly with scientific progress, and all the confounding portents preached by Galileo and Newton have fallen on deaf ears.  They painted a picture of the universe compared with which the Apocalypse with its falling stars was a mere idyll.  They declared that we are all careering through space, clinging to a cannon-ball, and the poets ignore the matter as if it were a remark about the weather.  They say that an invisible force holds us in our own armchairs while the earth hurtles like a boomerang; and men still go back to dusty records to prove the mercy of God.  They tell us that Mr. Scott’s monstrous vision of a mountain of sea-water rising in a solid dome like the glass mountain in the fairy-tale is actually a fact, and men still go back to the fairy-tale. To what towering heights of poetic imagery might we not have risen if only the poetising of natural history had continued and man’s fancy had played with the planets as naturally as it once played with the flowers! We might have had a planetary patriotism, in which the green leaf should be like a cockade and the sea an everlasting dance of drums.  We might have been proud of what our star has wrought, and worn its heraldry haughtily in the blind tournament of the spheres.  All this, indeed, we may surely do yet; for with all the multiplicity of knowledge there is one thing happily that no man knows — whether the world is old or young.



 — The Speaker, May 11, 1901

The Messiaship of Shakespeare.  By Clelia (Charles Downing).  London: Greening and Co.  5s.

Mr. Charles Downing is the author of “God in Shakespeare.” He believes that the great dramatist was a reincarnation of the Divine.  If we should freely admit that Shakespeare was divine, merely extending the remark to Homer, Aristophanes, Mr. Bradlaugh, and Mr. James Harris of Brixton, we fear that Mr. Downing would not be satisfied.  It is due to him, however, to say that his work is a great improvement, in point of refinement and restraint, upon the ordinary ruck of works on what is (for some mysterious reason) called the “problem of Shakespeare”: the works which prove that he was Christ, Bacon, and anyone else but himself.  There are real degrees of taste even in absurdity, and it is possible for a maniac to rave with the most perfect good breeding.  Mr. Downing, in propounding his outrageous thesis, has real humility and the real dignity that only comes of humility.  But his attitude is vitiated to the very root by a low and inadequate conception of the nature of symbolism.  He opens his book with the following remarks:

“Of recent years there has been in literature a great turning of the spirit to symbolism and to what may be called essential religion.  Maeterlinck abroad and Mr. Yeats at home are the names most prominent to me, at this moment, in the movement, but it pervades literature, and the latest minor poet will show traces of its influence.”

This is profoundly and most fortunately true.  But Mr. Downing entirely mistakes the real nature of symbolism as evinced in Maeterlinck and Mr. Yeats when he seeks in Shakespeare for a fixed scheme of allegory.  “Hermione (of The Winter’s Tale), the ideal of the Graeco-Roman world . . . has stepped down from her pedestal, a statue come to life, and clasped in her hands Perdita, the Christian ideal.” This is not the sort of thing Maerterlinck or Mr. Yeats write, and is presumably not the sort of thing that Shakespeare wrote.  Maeterlinck’s characters do not represent particular cliques and schools in Belgian art and politics; they represent eternal things for which no philosophic name will ever be found.  Mr. Yeats’s pre-historic heroes are not introduced upon the stage in order to typify Mr. Redmond’s party and Mr. Healy’s party, but to typify elemental mysteries which cannot be typified in any other way.  We need a much clearer conception of the real value and function of mysticism.  It is not mysticism to explain a puzzle: to say that a green cross means evolution and a blue triangle means orthodoxy.  This sort of allegorical art is a mere cryptogram which ceases to exist when it is explained.  Whatever a mystic may be, he is surely not only a person who destroys mystery.

The real function of symbolism is much deeper and much more practical.  We are surrounded in this world by huge and anonymous forces: as they rush by us we throw a name at them-love, death, destiny, remembrance-but the things themselves are infinitely vaster and more varied than the names.  True artistic symbolism exists in order to provide another alphabet for the direct interpretation of these infinite anarchic things than the alphabet of language.  It is not that a sea at sunset “represents” sorrow, but that a sea at sunset represents a great deal of the truth which is missed by the word “sorrow.” So it is with Mr. Downing’s Shakespeare allegory.  It is not that Shakespeare is a mere philosopher: it is that philosophy is one way of describing certain unutterable things, and Shakespeare is another.  Caliban, says Mr. Downing, “represents the mob.” The truth is that Caliban represents an old, dark, and lawless element in things, an element which has no name except Caliban, and of which the mob is one of the hundred incarnations.  So far from it being true that Caliban symbolises the mob in the street, it would be far truer to say that the mob in the street symbolises Caliban.

This error runs through the whole conception of The Messiahship of Shakespeare; the poet is perpetually being made to describe, not things themselves, but the metaphysical names of things.  Shakespeare was in one sense a thorough mystic; he saw in every stone in the street things which cannot be uttered till the end of the world.  His Perdita is not “a type of the Reformation,” but simply a girl in love; the Reformation is, in comparison, a trivial thing.

Mr. Downing’s taste for turning good poetry into bad metaphysics has its entirely humorous aspects, as where he provides precise logical translations of many of the sonnets.  We give one example.  A famous sonnet begins

“Oh, how thy worth with manners may I sing
When thou art all the better part of me?
What can mine own praise to mine own self bring?”

The following is, according to Mr. Downing, what the three lines really mean:

1.  How in modesty can I sing the worth of Beauty?

2.  When it is all my better part, my thought, my genius, my soul.

3.  What value has self-praise?

If this is really what Shakespeare meant, we can only say that literature should be everlastingly grateful that it is not what he said.

It is, however, in his treatment of The Tempest that Mr. Downing shows most singularly his cut-and, dried conception of allegory.  For The Tempest really is a mystical play: its figures are symbols, but not mere mathematical symbols.  Here is a description of the meaning of the wreck:

Alonzo, the ruling class, is in despair, but still clings to Antonio and Sebastian, Ambition and Laissez Faire, its old vices. . . . . Authority being thus divided between the Backward and Progressive parties, the Mob, Caliban, lifts up its head, and, led on by Stephano and Trinculo, Sensuality and Folly, riots freely, threatening the destruction of Prospero, all Justice, Law, and Civilisation, from the earth.

What is the good of this kind of symbolism? If Shakespeare meant to convey the word Ambition, why did he go to the trouble of saying the word Antonio? The truth is that Shakespeare was a symbolist of the genuine type, and symbolism of the genuine type is wholly misunderstood by Mr. Downing and his school.  A real symbol of a certain law is not a mere cipherterm arbitrarily connected with that law, but an example of that law.  A plough is symbolic of the toil of all things because it is an instance of it.  The parables of the New Testament, for instance, are built wholly upon this principle; so are the one or two mystical plays of Shakespeare.  It is not, as Mr. Downing would put it, that Prospero was not a man but an image of God, but that he was a man, and, therefore, an image of God.  The same may be said of Shakespeare.  We have said nothing about this central theological theory of Mr. Downing, and our silence has been deliberate.  Before we decide whether any man (even the stupidest man in the street) is God, we must take the preliminary precaution of knowing what God is and what man is.

G. K. C.


 — The Speaker, May 18, 1901

[later reprinted in The Defendant]

The modern view of heraldry is pretty accurately represented by the words of the famous barrister, who, after cross-examining for some time a venerable dignitary of Heralds’ College, summed up his results in the remark that “the silly old man didn’t even understand his own silly old trade.” One of the most pathetic sights in the world is Heralds’ College, standing side by side with the gigantic office of the Times.  It may be questioned whether, with all its modernity, the Times is an improvement.  The Times might be deemed as aristocracy without chivalry.  Its images of public men are at least as arbitrary and grotesque as the heraldic images, and it may be questioned whether any “canting motto” ever canted so much.  But, for good or evil, the Heraldic College is definitely a survival, while the Times cannot yet decently be so described.  We come, as it were, in the nick of time.

Heraldry properly so called was, of course, a wlholly limited and aristocratic thing; but the remark needs a kind of qualification not commonly realised.  In a sense there was a plebeian herald, since every shop was, like every castle, distinguished not by a name, but a sign.  The whole system dates from a time when picture-writing still really ruled the world.  In those days few could read or write; they signed their names with a pictorial symbol, a cross, and a cross is a great improvement on most men’s names.

Now, there is something to be said for the peculiar influence of pictorial symbols on men’s minds.  All letters, we learn, were originally pictorial and heraldic: thus the letter A is the portrait of an ox, but the portrait is now reproduced in so impressionist a manner that but little of the rural atmosphere can be absorbed by contemplating it.  But so long as some pictorial and poetic quality remains in the symbol, the constant use of it must do something for the aesthetic education of those employing it.  Public-houses are now almost the only shops that use the ancient signs, and the mysterious attraction which they exercise may be (by the optimistic) explained in this manner.  There are taverns with names so dream-like and exquisite that even Sir Wilfrid Lawson might waver on the threshold for a moment and the poet struggle with the moralist.  So it was with the heraldic images.  It is impossible to believe that the red lion of Scotland acted upon those employing it merely as a naked convenience like a number or a letter.  It is impossible to believe that the Kings of Scotland would have cheerfully accepted the substitute of a pig or a frog.  There are, as we say, certain real advantages in pictorial symbols, and one of them is that everything that is pictorial suggests, without naming or defining.  There is a road from the eye to the heart that does not go through the intellect.  Men do not quarrel about the meaning of sunsets.  They never dispute that the hawthorn says the best and wittiest thing about the spring.

Thus in the old aristocratic days there existed this vast pictorial symbolism of all the colours and degrees of aristocracy.  When the great trumpet of equality was blown, almost immediately afterwards was made one of the greatest blunders in the history of mankind.  All this pride and vivacity, all these towering symbols and flamboyant colours, should have been extended to all mankind.  The tobacconist should have had a crest, and the cheesemonger a war-cry. The grocer who sold margarine as butter should have felt that there was a stain on the escutcheon of the Higginses.  Instead of doing this, the democrats made the appalling mistake, a mistake at the root of the whole modern malady, of decreasing the human magnificence of the past, instead of increasing it.  They did not say, as they should have done, to the common citizen, “You are as good as the Duke of Norfolk,” but that meaner democratic formula, “The Duke of Norfolk is no better than you are.”

There were in the French Revolution a class of people at whom everybody laughed, and at whom it was probably difiicult, as a practical matter, to refrain from laughing.  They attempted to erect, by means of huge wooden statues and brand-new festivals, the most extraordinary new religions.  They adored the Goddess of Reason, who would appear, even when the fullest allowance has been made for their many virtues, to be the deity who had least smiled upon them.  But these capering maniacs, disowned alike by the old world and the new, were men who had seen a great truth unknown alike to the new world and the old.  They had seen the thing that was hidden from the wise and understanding, from the whole modern democratic civilisation down to the present time.  They realised that democracy must have a heraldry, that it must have a proud and highcolourcd pageantry, if it is to keep always before its own mind its own sublime mission.  Unfortunately for this ideal, the world has in this matter followed English democracy rather than French; and those who look back to the nineteenth century will assuredly look back to it as we look back to the reign of the Puritans, as the time of black coats and black tempers.  From the strange life the men of that time led they might be assisting at the funeral of liberty instead of at its christening.  The moment we really believe in democracy, it will begin to blossom, as aristocracy blossomed, into symbolic colours and shapes.  We shall never make anything of democracy until we make fools of ourselves.  For if a man really cannot make a fool of himself, we may be quite certain that the effort is superfluous.


 — The Speaker, May 18, 1901

Patriotism and Ethics.  By John Godard.  London: Grant Richards.  5s.

Every kind of moral and personal credit is due to Mr. Godard for his courage and conscientiousness in publishing this interesting book at this time.  I cannot pretend to accept his theory; which is a proposal for the dethronement of the whole virtue of patriotism.  But the shock of a logical challenge can do nothing but good to a virtue like patriotism, especially when that virtue is almost trampled to death, as at present, by inanities disguised in its costume.  We hear much of saying “the right thing at the right time;” but there is a considerable value in the man who says even the wrong thing at the right time.

But there is, before I proceed to any details, one error which spoils much of Mr. Godard’s book from a philosophic point of view.  It is that he, like His Majesty’s Ministers, appears to think the present Transvaal war a great war.  Judging from the enormous amount of space occupied in his pages by this silly and disastrous adventure, one would think that there never had been a national enterprise in the world before.  Patriotism can be tested by the Transvaal war just about as much as Christianity could be tested by Mr. Baxter’s prophecies of the end of the world.  Mr. Godard had undertaken to study the whole nature of patriotism, and it was necessary for him to take some great theory of patriotism and systematically examine it.  Some of the greatest men the world has seen have written upon patriotism-Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Milton, Victor Hugo, Herbert Spencer, John Ruskin.  And Mr. Godard calmly selects for detailed study a lecture given by Mr. Chamberlain.  Mr. Chamberlain does not pretend to be a philosopher; his opinion on patriotism has no more special value than his opinion on the Royal Academy.  It need hardly be said that I entirely agree with Mr. Godard’s spirited denunciation of the present war, of Jingo intolerance, of the brutality of the idiots who wrecked Peace meetings.  But what have these things to do with patriotism? What has Imperialism to do with patriotism? What have sky-larking crowds to do with patriotism? Above all, what particular connection is there between Mr. Chamberlain and patriotism?

This is the primary and superficial objection to Mr. Godard, that he has meekly accepted the theory of the Government that the war is a great trial of English patriotism, instead of being, as it is, a vulgar and dirty experiment in a corner, different in no way from other frontier experiments except in the arrogance of its terms and the magnifying-glass of morbidity through which it is regarded.  Mr. Godard, if he wished to study patriotism, should not have taken one paltry colonial squabble out of history, as one takes lots out of a hat; he should have reviewed the great wars of history in something like their proper proportion.  But one thing is at least certain.  If Mr. Godard does not think patriotism is a precious virtue, his sympathy with Boer resistance is inexplicable.  He passionately, and most justly exclaims, “Does ‘justice’ decimate a nation because it refuses unconditionally to submit to a foreign yoke?” But if patriotism has no value a foreign yoke has no injustice.  “Can we contemplate,” he continues, “the absolute annexation of the territory of two foreign States, ‘a penalty so extreme as to be without parallel in the history of modern nations since the partition of Poland?’” It is the opinion of many, including myself, that annexation is far too great a penalty.  But if patriotism has no sanctity, it is not a penalty at all.  If the lines between nations are really as needless and arbitrary as Mr. Godard represents, it is no more cruel to take over a Boer farm from the Republic to the Empire than to transfer a particular street from Fulham to Hammersmith.  If there were a passionate patriotic feeling in Hammersmith; if the inhabitants delighted in boasting that the flag of Hammersmith had never fallen in war, that the women of Hammersmith were the most beautiful and the wines of Hammersmith the most rejoicing in the world, then I myself should thoroughly sympathize with Hammersmith, entertaining, as I probably should, similar convictions about South Kensington.  But presumably Mr. Godard would not.  He considers any peculiar attachment to a nation narrow and immoral.  He must, therefore, I infer, consider the present resistance of the Boers a hideous and ghastly thing, the deluging of a whole country with blood by madmen fighting for a detestable prejudice.  I do not.

I am very little terrified by Mr. Godard’s catalogue of the wars and woes wrought by patriotism.  Of all methods of testing a great idea this method seems to me the worst.  Mankind have always been ready to pay a great price for anything they really thought necessary; catalogues of dead and wounded only show how necessary they thought it.  Mr. Godard declares that patriotism is, on account of its cruelties and its pride, inconsistent with Christianity.  But if peace is the test, how will Christianity itself stand it? Again, he declares patriotism to be inimical to liberty and democracy.  But if peace is the test, how will liberty and democracy stand it? The French Revolution has led to at least as much bloodshed as any national sentiment in the world.  Rosseau is at one with a greater, in that he assuredly did not bring peace but a sword.

Mr. Godard wishes us to dethrone patriotism and substitute love of all mankind, because patriotism, he says, is only “reflex egoism.” I cannot comprehend this definition.  In what sense is patriotism reflex egoism in which the love of humanity is not reflex egoism? If patriotism is exclusive, so is the love of humanity; it stops at the first ape.  If patriotism includes pride in being an Englishman, does not the worship of humanity include pride in being a man? If the pride of being an Englishman makes a merit of something not in our control, does not the pride of being a man do the same? If patriotism asserts the interests of the nation, often cruelly, against other nations, does not the service of man assert his interests, often cruelly, against the animal world?

And does Mr. Godard really suppose that if the love of humanity became an universal popular virtue, its expression would not be as vulgar, as heated, as unscrupulous in many cases as that of patriotism? Mr. Godard quotes a list of silly and brutal remarks about President Kruger “singing psalms on the wrong side of his mouth.” and puts them to the account of patriotism.  They belong, not to the ethics of patriotism, but to the psychology of cads.  Does Mr. Godard suppose that if the love for humanity were made the basis of national thought, the fool who had just been saying, “One in the eye for Kruger,” would immediately begin to talk in the language of sublime liberality? He would merely change the cant.  It would be as easy to represent Kruger as the enemy of mankind as to represent him as the enemy of England.  It would be as easy for a ring of financiers with their eyes on a gold mine to pity Outlanders as men as to pity them as Englishmen.  It would be as easy to break up the meetings of your political opponents because they were enemies of their kind as because they were enemies of their country.  The old cosmopolitan Romans boiled Christians in oil because they were the foes of mankind.  The French Revolutionists burnt priests in straw because they were the foes of mankind.  These things do not arise either from the love of country or the love of men, but simply from folly, intemperance, vagueness and the heart of man deceitful above all things.  Let Mr. Godard look abroad on Europe at this moment.  There exists a school who hold, doubtless with entire sincerity, the pure love of humanity which he recommends, to the exclusion of all national preferences.  The form it takes is to blow to pieces with dynamite hundreds of harmless people whom they have never seen.  “Let patriotism be subdued,” says Mr. Godard.  “Let it be removed from the pinnacle of a virtue and be replaced by humanitarianism, and there shall dawn the day of peace on earth and goodwill to men.” And of this cosmopolitan philosophy the first fruits are the Dynamiters.

Of some of Mr. Godard’s arguments I will not speak at length, for we think he must have employed them in some haste.  We cannot see the philosophical bearing of such a remark as that “patriotism fights against the best interests of the patria.” It seems to us like saying that we dislike total abstainers because we find they all drink.  In that case it would not be total abstinence that we disliked, but drinking.  If certain so-called “patriots” work against the patria the case against them does not lie in the charge that they are patriotic, but in the charge that they are not.

The fact is that Mr. Godard has erred by confusing two things.  Christianity is a symbol, the dim and shifting symbol, of a certain love of all things, a certain loyalty to the universe to which we all rise in our higher moments.  It is not the love of humanity, it goes out to cats and tadpoles.  It is an inspiration far too mysterious to be bridled or counted upon; far too certain to be demonstrated; far too perfect to be praised.  It has nothing to do with practical politics or material privileges; it extends itself with a calm conscience to the creatures we burden for transport and slay for food.  It is a moment in which we realize our kinship with the stars and the stones in the road; in which our sensitiveness runs like a maze of nerves over the whole Cosmos until a falling star or a stricken tree is like a wound upon our bodies.  But this gigantic self is a thing that even the greatest and purest only realize at certain seasons.  It does not and cannot have anything to do with those working loyalties which we have to preserve in order to preserve our mode of life.  That terrible truce in which the lion lies down with the lamb is a vision, not a daily rule.  For natural purposes, we assert our family against our fellow-countrymen, our country against humanity, humanity against nature.

Mr. Godard never seems to realize that he does belong to a country.  Great Britain is no more a geographical area than the Order of the Jesuits or the Cocoa Tree Club.  Like them, it is a centre of power, numbering certain persons within its rules and responsibilities.  It is not humanity which prevents Mr. Godard from being knocked down with a bludgeon; it is his country and his country alone.  It is not humanity that makes Mr. Godard pay for a dog-license, it is his country and his country alone.  The only real error of Mr. Godard is that he calls upon a mere abstract sentiment, however natural and beautiful, to take the place of what is a necessary working sentiment designed for certain definite relations of life.  It is like saying, “Let a soldier’s obedience to his officers be removed from the pinnacle of a virtue and replaced by a love of all living things.” Patriotism is obviously a virtue so long as there is a patria.  Mr. Godard seems to think that a nation will remain strong and independent automatically, without any assistance from patriotism.  I should be inclined to ask what is keeping the Boer nation in existence at this moment.

The bill which Mr. Godard counts up against modern Jingoism is long and heavy.  But of all the crimes it has committed, none is so black and ruinous as this; that it has made good and able men like Mr. Godard turn against patriotism itself.  About patriotism itself I will say one thing only, on behalf of those like myself who are Nationalists at home and abroad.  We also have had to breathe in a stifling vulgarity; to see a thousand faces fixed in one fatuous sneer.  We also have had all the temptations possible to intellectual rebellion or to intellectual pride.  If we have remained steadfast in a monotonous candor, we cannot claim that we were strengthened by ethical subtlety or new-fangled emancipation.  We have remained steadfast because voices older than the hills called us to this spot; here in this island was to be our glory or failure.  We have eaten its bread and been made wise with all its works.  And if we are indeed near the end, and the madness of cosmopolitan materialism, the spirit of the present war, be indeed dragging our country to destruction, we can only say that at the end we must be with her, to claim our portion in the wrath of God.

G. K. C.


 — The Speaker, May 25, 1901

[later reprinted in The Defendant]

The two facts which attract almost every normal person to children are, first that they are very serious, and secondly, that they are in consequence very happy.  They are jolly with the completeness which is possible only in the absence of humour.  The most unfathomable schools and sages have never attained to the gravity which dwells in the eyes of a baby of three months old.  It is the gravity of astonishment at the universe, and astonishment at the universe is not mysticism but a transcendent common sense.  The fascination of children lies in this: that with each of them all things are remade, and the universe is put again upon its trial.  As we walk the streets and see below us those delightful bulbous heads, three times too big for the body, which mark these human mushrooms, we ought always primarily to remember that within everyone of these heads there is a new universe as new as it was on the seventh day of creation.  In each of those orbs there is a new system of stars, new grass, new crties, a new sea.

There is always in the healthy mind an obscure prompting that religion teaches us rather to dig than to climb; that if we could once understand the common clay of earth we should understand everything.  Similarly, we have the sentiment that if we could destroy custom at a blow and see the stars as a child sees them, we should need no other apocalypse.  This is the great truth which has always lain at the back of baby-worship, and which will support it to the end.  Maturity, with its endless energies and aspirations, may easily be convinced that it will find new things to appreciate, but it will never be convinced, at bottom, that it has properly appreciated what it has got.  We may scale the heavens and find new stars innumerable, but there is still the new star we have not found, that on which we were born.

But the influence of children goes further than its first trifling effort of re-making heaven and earth.  It forces us actually to remodel our conduct in accordance with this revolutionary theory of the marvellousness of all things.  We do (even when we are perfectly simple or ignorant) we do actually treat talking in children as marvellous, walking in children as marvellous, common intelligence in children as marvellous.  The cynical philosopher fancies he has a victory in this matter, that he can laugh when he shows that the words or antics of the child, so much admired by its worshippers, are common enough.  The fact is that this is precisely where baby-worship is so profoundly right.  Any words and any antics in a lump of clay are wonderful: the child’s words and antics are wonderful: and it is only fair to say that the philosopher’s words and antics are equally wonderful.

The truth is that it is our attitude towards children that is right and our attitude towards grown-up people that is wrong.  Our attitude towards our equals in age consists in a servile solemnity overlying a considerable degree of indifference or disdain.  Our attitude towards children consists in a condescending indulgence overlying an unfathomable respect.  We bow to grown people, take off our hats to them, refrain from contradicting them flatly, but we do not appreciate them properly.  We make puppets of children, lecture them, pull their hair, and reverence, love, and fear them.  When we reverence anything in the mature, it is their virtues or their wisdom; and this is an easy matter.  But we reverence the faults and follies of children.

We should probably come considerably nearer to the true conception of things if we treated all grown-up persons, of all titles and types, with precisely that dark affection and dazed respect with which we treat the infantile limitations.  A child has a difficulty in achieving the miracle of speech, consequently we find his blunders almost as marvellous as his accuracy.  If we only adopted the same attitude towards Premiers and Chancellors of the Exchequer, if we genially encouraged their stammering and delightful attempts at human speech, we should be in a far more wise and tolerant temper.  A child has a knack of making experiments in life, generally healthy in motive, but often intolerable in a domestic commonwealth.  If we only treated all commercial buccaneers and bumptious tyrants on the same terms, if we gently chided their brutalities as rather quaint mistakes in the conduct of life, if we simply told them that they would “understand when they were older,” we should probably be adopting the best and most crushing attitude towards the weaknesses of humanity.  In our relations to children we prove that the paradox is entirely true, that it is possible to combine an amnesty that verges on contempt with a worship that verges upon terror.  We forgive children with the same kind of blasphemous gentleness with which Omar Khayyam forgave the Omnipotent.

The essential rectitude of our view of children lies in the fact that we feel them and their ways to be supernatural, while (for some mysterious reason) we do not feel ourselves or our own ways to be supernatural.  The very smallness of children makes it possible to regard them as marvels: we seem to be dealing with a new race, only to be seen through a microscope.  I doubt if anyone of any tenderness or imagination can see the hand of a child and not be a little frightened of it.  It is awful to think of the essential human energy moving so tiny a thing: it is like imagining that human nature could live in the wing of a butterfly or the leaf of a tree.  When we look upon lives so human and yet so small, we feel as if we ourselves were enlarged to an embarrassing bigness of stature.  We feel the same kind of obligation to these creatures that a deity might feel if he had created something that he could not understand.

But the humorous look of children is perhaps the most endearing of all the bonds that hold the Cosmos together.  Their top-heavy dignity is more touching than any humility.  Their solemnity gives us more hope for all things than a thousand carnivals of optimism.  Their large and lustrous eyes seem to hold all the stars in their astonishment.  Their fascinating absence of nose seems to give to us the most perfect hint of the humour that awaits us in the Kingdom of Heaven.



 — The Speaker, May 25, 1901

The Day of the Sun.  By Conrad Noel.  David Nutt.

It is one of the most unfortunate facts of modern life that broad theology makes little or no attempt to make a broad appeal.  There is no such thing as an enlightened tract: for the tracts compiled by Secular and Ethical societies are about as dull and sectarian as any documents could be.  There is, in a certain sense, in these days, a religion that is common to all decent people, a gratitude to the mystery of Creation, a brotherhood with the vast freemasonry of life: but this religion has no priests and no propaganda.  The air is full of disembodied religion: but the great paradox still holds its course.  It is the narrowest religion that has the widest sweep: the oldest form that has the freshest audacity: the coldest and cruellest creed that has the warmest hold upon the heart.

Mr. Conrad Noel’s book is among the few that we have seen that seems to hint at least at the supplying of this want: it is devoted to the denunciation of the dark and petty veneration of the Sabbath, and the assertion of the claim of Christianity to be considered pre-eminentlv as a great emancipation, a reign of liberty and light.  But it is written not with the cultivated frigidity so painfully characteristic of most humanitarians, but with something of the clearness, pungency, and moral certitude of one of Mr. Spurgeon’s sermons.  Mr. Conrad Noel has grasped one of the central secrets of modern religious life: that the victories of Evangelical “otherworldliness” have been due to the fact that it was, with all its dingy decorum, preached essentially by men of the world.

It is certainly a delightful thing, artistically speaking, to see the Sabbatarians confronted with a moral denunciation equal in severity to their own.  Mr. Noel evidently considers those who do not play lawn-tennis on Sunday as guilty of the terrible sin of disregarding the Lord’s Day.  He might found a new Lord’s Day Observance Society, by the agency of which open and notorious evil-livers who missed opera after opera on Sunday could be publicly and wholesomely rebuked.  Perhaps he would not like to go so far as to publish a series of tracts entitled, “The Horrors of the Strand on Sunday,” in which should be vividly described the disgusting sight of scores of public-houses being closed at eleven.  But it is quite clear that he feels, deeply and sincerely, and, as it seems to me, truly, the night’mare topsey-turveydom of the fact that religion, which is in its very essence the tracing of the world to an inexpressibly noble origin, should have occupied itself in slandering the world.  So eager were men to exalt one manifestation of the divine that they worked themselves into a kind of rage with all the others.  Mr. G. F. Watts might be pleased if one asserted that “Jonah” was the best picture he or anyone else had painted, but if the enthusiasm later took the form of tearing all his other pictures out of their frames, his glee might become more controllable.

There can be no question, it seems to me, that the history of one of the blackest calamities that ever befell mankind lies buried in the word “holiday.” The calamities of the earth, as they are commonly reckoned, wars, tyrannies, and pestilences, are mere mosquito-bites on the great body of humanity; the real calamities of it are in the gradual corruption or disuse of some of its great organs.  If it be really true, for example, as some mystics tell us, that psychic powers once possessed by men have died out with the dying influence of Celts or Hindus, the incident is more important by a hundred times than the fall of Rome.  Similarly the word “holiday” stands like a primaeval tower, with an indecipherable inscription.  It recalls a time when religion and merrymaking were naturally wedded, even in common custom and language.  Dancing, for example.  was a religious rite in every nation, Jew and Gentile.  If I could only see the Archbishop of Canterbury performmg an energetic pas seul in his cathedral I should die happy.

Mr. Noel does not, to my mind, do full justice to the meaning of the Jewish Sabbath.  No day is, in a sense, more fitted to be a great universal holiday.  It is the day which represents the most colossal and overpowering conception that the mind can entertain, the conception of the inexplicable contentment of God.  Without some such abysmal thought in the background there is no merriment, but only levity.  There is no joy without a touch of fear: in every festival it is the man with one fresh breath of shyness who enjoys himself most.  It must have struck anyone with any knowledge of the world that no man can be genuinely frivolous unless he is serious.  And if our modern merriment is to be the expression of anything, the shining foam upon any deep and driving tide, it must be of this sentiment of the secret good of all things.  The essence of a holiday is a certain tense and exciting quality.  The Sabbath is the Festival of Creation on which the world is made over again.  The universe presents the cryptogramic wonder of a detective story; but with this difference, that the secret is not a hidden crime, but a hidden kindness.  But whatever may be said for the spiritual idea behind the Jewish Sabbath, there can be little doubt of Mr. Noel’s justification in pleading for a complete repudiation of its detailed claims.  It is unnecessary to recapitulate Mr. Noel’s clear and well-marshalled arguments.  That Christ expended much of his energy in fighting with Sabbatarianism, that the Pauline Christians regarded it as a Jewish prejudice, that the mediaaval Church knew little or nothing of it, everyone of cultivation will admit.  That its excesses were frequently censured by the Church, that it was repudiated by the great Reformers, Luther and Calvin, and that it is to this day as unknown among Protestant foreigners, like the Dutch, as among Catholic foreigners, like the French, will come perhaps more freshly to those who study Mr. Noel’s facts.  In any case I feel that Mr. Noel’s argument, so far as it is directed against the final authority of the extreme Sabbatarian view, is victorious.

But Mr. Noel will fall into an error if he imagines that the ordinary sentiment of the British Sabbath, full of compromise and mild amusements, is a mere piece of silliness and social cowardice, for which there is nothing to be said.  Like every other far-reaching institution, especially if it be a religious institution, it is the symbol of a certain phychological fact.  The fact is one somewhat neglected today.  Our literary men are at work with wild ingenuity to show that there are innumerable shapes and colours of pain and ruin; but no one is industrious enough to show that there are innumerable shapes and colours of happiness.  And as (to continue the colour simile) there is a green pleasure of nature and rustic frolic, a crimson pleasure of passion, a golden pleasure of success, a blue pleasure of aspiration, so there is a blank white and silver pleasure of empty peace.  We are so busy embroidering the heavy gold of fact and feeling on to our life that we hardly take delight in the naked texture of existence.  If a busy and strenuous people have set apart a day, not for a violent pleasure to relieve their violent duty, but simply for a chance to sink back upon the simple satisfactions of being, as one sinks back in an arm-chair, we are not sure that they are so entirely without a motive.  But Mr. Noel’s book is not really touched by this.  It is directed against the controversial Sabbatarians, and it is difficult to believe that they ever rest, even on the seventh day.

G. K. C.


 — The Speaker, June 1, 1901

Songs of the Sword and the Soldier.  Collected and edited by Alexander Eagar.  London: Sands and Co.  3s.  6d.

There are many very high-minded people who consider all poetic glorifications of battle alike horrible and foolish, to whom the hero striking down the spoiler and the patriot falling with his country’s fall are on one level of brutality with bravoes and buccaneers.  To take such a view as this appears to me a far greater cruelty to our kind than war itself.  It is better to have some brotherly understanding of the enthusiasms of men than merely a grandmotherly caution about their bones.  It is better even to respect men’s souls and despise their bodies than, after the manner of some humanitarians, to respect their bodies and despise their souls.  A book of genuine war-songs, such as Mr. Eagar’s volume now before us, is or should be a catalogue of the things that men have loved more than life.  Such a book cannot be degrading if it be genuine.  The idea that the glorification of the soldier in literature and society is merely an admiration of killing, of brainless destructiveness.  will surely not endure scrutiny.  Butchers are not heralded with a roll of intoxicating drums.  Rat-catchers are not decked out by society in scarlet and gold.  The Public Executioner is not a favourite with ladies.  As all the trades which kill without risk to themselves are despised rather than honoured, it would seem reasonable to conclude that the thing which is admired in the soldier is not the accomplishment of killing, but the more elegant accomplishment of being killed.  There is no particular view of militarism involved in this matter.  It cannot be to any of our interests to do an injustice to human nature.

But a collection of war-songs demands the most serious and fastidious examination.  In a sense, if I may use a phrase that may amuse many, war is a sacred thing.  It is the ultimate, which should not even be named except in atmosphere purified from every breath of frivolity or malice.  To mix up good and bad war-songs, cries that have come from the very heart of a people, with fatuous jingles that have amused a people’s imperial leisure, is to commit the worst of profanities.  A man has only one life, and he can do nothing so solemn as to stake it for an object he thinks worthy.  The worst infamy of Jingoism is that it has encouraged an idle theatrical way of looking at this sacrifice, as if a man had nine lives, like a cat.  Mr. Eagar should have remembered this distinction more clearly: it would have prevented him from mingling good wine with bad sodawater.  I would as soon see a man playing skittles with the cross of St. Paul’s as pitching and tossing and playing with the sword as Mr. Eagar plays with it.  Indeed, both the cross and the sword are in the same relation to mankind: they are horrible and ungainly tools, made beautiful by the vast and subversive power of human love.  Nothing more intrinsically repulsive can be thought of than nailing a man to a wooden stake.  Nothing more hideous can be conceived than violently disorganisjng his anatomy with an iron spike called a sword.  But the transformation which pity and self-sacrifice has made even in the bodily aspect of these objects is one of the most gigantic of the triumphs of man’s moral imagination.  I am proud to belong to a race that could so teach its soul to teach its eyes.  But these symbols are reverenced because they are rare; because they represent a terrible wager possible only in the last resort.  The curse of Jingo poetry is that it makes an unreal and fashionable thing of the appeal by battle.  Can anyone conceive a more appalling pantomime than a fashion of being crucified? Beyond this primary fault of a somewhat indiscriminate selection, there is little to be said against Mr. Eagar’s bright and readable anthology.  The one great gap in it, a gap that I can in no way comprehend and find it difficult to excuse, is the entire absence of any example of the noble old ballad-poetry of England and Scotland.  A book of warpoems without “Chevy Chace” is monstrous at the first glance, like a man without an arm.  Not only should these old ballads have been represented because of their bony strength, their salt and shrewd humour, their rude and yet ringing metrical movement, but because they especially would give a shock of shame to the elaborate virulence of the war-poetry of the moment.  It never crosses the mind of the English minstrel who tells the story of “Chevy Chace,” or the Scotch minstrel who tells the story of “Kininont Willie,” to doubt that his enemies are his equals.  A strange camaraderie in.  destruction makes killing itself goodtempered.  To the English of the Middle Ages the Scots presented an appearance very similar to that of the Boers: they were poor, obstinate, often cruel, sometimes accused of treachery.  Yet the petty poets who ate with the footmen of Scrope and Percy spoke of the enemy with an international breadth, a true magnanimity of literature, miles over the heads of the songs shouted in the great illuminated theatres of our great modern Empire.  They did not, like the more chivalrous of modern Jingoes, admit the bravery of the enemy, they boasted of it.  The writer of “Chevy Chase” seems to exult in the proud words of Douglas and in the solemn obeisance which in the face of the whole battle, Percy made to his corpse.  There is one touch which I think especially unthinkable in a music-hall song.

Thus did these two great captains die
Whose courage none could stain.

That natural, unconscious equalising of the two leaders is a point no Jingo could reach.

There are other minor errors in Mr. Eagar’s collection.  It is a mistake arbitrarily to back off the first verse of Graham of Gartniore’s song, “If doughty deeds my lady please,” and publish it as a war-lyric. The whole poem is a description of various ways of pleasing a lady: it gives a list of occupations, concluding with an appeal founded on fidelity and truth.  It is, consequently, no more a war-song than the child’s rhyme of “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor” is a war-song. Nor can I understand why “The Wearing of the Green” should be called a song of battle.  It is not even a song of rebellion.  The whole point of that noble ballad is a haughty submission and a calmness full of unfathomable scorn.

When laws can stay the blades of grass from’growing where they grow
And when the leaves in summertime their colour dare not show

I can hardly bring myself, however, to complain of any mistake which brings before me for a moment the most magnificent of political poems.  It is only fair to add that Mr. Eagar has balanced these misinterpretations and omissions by including many lyrics which are not commonly known to Englishmen and which are well worth knowing.  I am particularly grateful for having my attention drawn to two poems by Paul Droulede.

Nevertheless, the mind returns, upon the whole, to the conception that Mr. Eagar has mixed up a number of widely different things, and has not even arranged them in any true classification.  The titles of the divisions annoy us with their foppery.  “Singeth the Praise of the Sword” is the sort of thing that only occurs in boys’ novelettes and in the essays of decadents.  He has not realised, for example, one great distinction which separates all war-poetry into two classes.  In primitive war poetry, such as the Iliad and some of the earlier of the old ballads, man is conceived as being in a state of war.  War is not the incident in the Iliad, as it is in a modern romance: war is the background.  Spears and banners stand like grass and trees as mere scenery.  The real drama is the drama of hatred or love, or sorrow.  But in our later times war, to speak paradoxically, has so fallen into disuse as to become prominent.  It is, as we have said, the ultima ratio, and it expresses simply the elementary truth about human nature which is expressed by Lewis Carroll’s parody in which Hiawatha

Stated that he would not stand it,
Stated in emphatic language,
What he’d be before he’d stand it.

We need have no fears in any wholesome civilisation that this shadow of the ancient sword will either endanger or desert us.  The further it recedes into the twilight of the remote and the unusual, the more strong and sacred will be its hold upon the imagination.  It is only because the sword has in our time been stolen and played with by children that it stands in any danger of being merely despised.  That in the last resort any one of us might have to summon the savage virtues, that in the last extremity any one of us might have to prove our manhood by ceasing to be, this will always give, with an unfathomable subtlety, a mystery to all our joys and a poetry to all our levities.

G. K. C.


(June 1, 1901)

To the Editor of THE SPEAKER

Sir, — I am very grateful to Mr. Godard for the courteous letter in which he replies to my defence of the existence of patriotism as a virtue.  The whole of his case appears to hang upon one idea, that because I and other reasonable people think that patriots are at present making fools of themselves therefore we ought to abandon altogether a virtue which we cannot permit to have full play.  “To have to subdue or check an instinct lest it should lead to vice scarcely harmonises with the theory that it is a virtue.” Now I should have thought that it harmonised extraordinarily well, for I know no virtue in the world that does not have to be subdued and checked.  Why, half the vices that exist are only unchecked virtues.  If a man had such love for his children that he forged bank notes to enrich them, he would be turning a virtue into a vice.  If he was so courteous about the feelings of others that he perjured himself rather than distress the prisoner in the dock, he would be turning a virtue into a vice.  If he had such reverence for his mother that he assisted her to commit murder, he would be turning a virtue into a vice.  And as a matter of fact every virtue is turned into a vice by millions of silly people, just as patriotism is.  Domestic love is made an excuse for swindling, purity for scandal-mongering, public spirit for private advancement.  I do not, as Mr. Godard seems to think, choose solemnly between the ethical code and the patriotic code, not having the smallest notion what the latter thing may be.  I simply rank my loyalty to my nation, along with that to my kind and my family, in its reasonable place in the ethical code itself.  It is quite true that I admire patriotism because I think it ethical.  The same applies to honesty.

I admit I cannot yet understand why I should accept Mr. Chamberlain’s opinion, or the majority’s opinion, about whether I am patriotic.  No doubt they would say I am not patriotic; probably they would say that Mr. Godard was not ethical.  Of course, the patriotism I think a virtue is my own patriotism, not that of Mr. Chamberlain.  So it is with all virtues.  It is my own honesty I think right, not the honesty Highland cattle-lifters; it is my own chastity I think right, not the chastity incumbent on the Grand Turk.  Every virtue has its varieties and its irregular history.  As to Mr. Chamberlain and his “patriots,” I can only say that I detest them primarily because I am a patriot and they are ruining my fatherland.

One word as to the Boers.  I repeat that I cannot imagine any decent man doing what the Boers are doing, continuing a sanguinary struggle, unless he was fighting for a virtue.  “I sympathise with the Boers, not because they are patriots,” says Mr. Godard, “but because independence is a thin to be prized, because liberty is a jewel to be guarded.” Surely neither Mr. Godard nor any Liberal can really mean that the Boers had some secret of political perfection, that the government of President Kruger was so full of recondite joys and beauties that a person would be wrong to permit it to be altered at any cost.  If, on the other hand, he means by “liberty” the independence of the fatherland, then I entirely agree with him.  But in that case he does sympathise with the Boers because they are patriots.  To sum up, I think Mr. Godard imagines that when I say patriotism is a virtue I mean that patriotism is virtue.  I refer it and everything else to a test of universal good.  Only I happen to find that it passes the test with honours. — Yours, &c., G.K.C


 — The Speaker, June 1, 1901

A certain degree of uncertainty hung, and still hangs, over the precise material character of the terrible and destructive event in the Welsh colliery by which so many families are to-day left desolate.  It is apparently approximately certain that the accident was the result of an explosion of coal dust; but the details are hidden from us by the very depth and destructiveness of the event.  Down in her nameless and countless crypts the earth did some dreadful thing to them; and they died far from any help or even farewell.  It may be, and it should be, that there are many practical and scientific lessons which should be learnt from this tragedy.  But there is one social and spiritual lesson which we ought pre-eminently to learn, and which we ought to have learnt long ago.  It is the lesson of the silent and continuous courage of humanity, of which we never hear except from the noise and illumination of these sudden failures.  In the middle classes we tend continually to forget how small a thing we and our order are in the vast ramified system of life.  Our comfortable class is nothing but one padded packing-case carried hither and thither upon a vast national network of transport and toil.  The coal which burns in our grate was gained by men who went into these abysses and who sometimes, as in this case, never return.  The world has not been wholly wrong in paying honour and decoration to the soldier, the most obvious of the “dangerous trades.” It may seem strange that a feather or a handfull of ribbons should recompense a man for the risk of blotting out in one flash the world and all the stars.  But the miner, when he waits for that flash, has not even a feather or a ribbon to comfort him.  Again, there can be no comparison between the horror of the two battles.  A battle with shot and shell may be horrible to sight, and touch, and smell, but to the mind it is explicable, it is the product of folly clashing with folly, and when it comes to folly we are all at home.  But to die like a rat in a hole in one of the impenetrable dungeons of Nature: to fall secretly in a war which we know neither the justice nor the end: to be beaten blindly to the earth by forces which we cannot forgive, and which we cannot even blame-to face this is courage.  Compared with that there is about being blown into a thousand pieces by men something of the homelike feeling of a family quarrel.

The more a wide-hearted and thoughtful man thinks of modern life, the clearer it becomes that whatever is wanting in the present civilisation it is not the material of romance.  We are not, as depicted by the duller type of poet, men searching in vain for the marvellous with the lantern of Diogenes; we present rather the mysterious spectacle of men seeing griffins and mermen go past them and preserving a genial composure.  Of all the marvellous fairy tales of civilisation to which we are blind, we in our blindness are the most marvellous.  Stories are round us in a positive tangle; it is not poems that are lacking but poets.

There could hardly be a stronger instance of this than the utter neglect we exhibit of the heroic and saintly element in these dangerous trades.  Not only are miners engaged like soldiers in a war, but they are engaged par excellence in the war.  They are the direct and true descendants of the heroes of the morning of the world.  Sigurd and Hercules fought with brainless monsters, who were half deliberately conceived as the embodiments of these loose and irreconcileable forces, the huge outlaws of our little human colony.  If it be urged against the conception of an epic of the mines that the energies against which the miner stakes his life are sombre and anonymous, the same must be said of the energies whose overthrow was the glory of St. George and King Arthur.  Dragons are not witty diplomatists.  Minotaurs do not enliven a battle with light and pungent allusions.  The hydra does not issue an ultimatum.  Struggles of this kind can in no case give the peculiar excitement that arises from record, altercation, and clear cause of quarrel; no bitter remarks coming from dragons are recorded, and the coal cliffs, even when brutally mangled with a mattock, preserve the same disquieting silence.

But the particular kind of struggle which makes eternally fresh and lyric the huge myths of human and bestial war of which I have spoken, this belongs truly and essentially to the miner, the fisherman, and many other common labourers.  They are the eldest sons of the Commonwealth, and if there were really any belief in priority, should be its princes.

We live in a country which cannot be stingy, in which vast good is done with careless promptitude, and of which the very crimes are munificent.  We need not go very far afield to see a case in which we might have avoided the continuance of the blackest and most disastrous things if we were a wiser nation or else a meaner one.  From this we know that anything that is needed in the practical world for the assuaging of this awful calamity or the prevention of its recurrence will probably be done.  May I be permitted to make this one plea for another kind of comfort and reparation, a kind that will appear to many of my countrymen the queerest irrelevance and moonshine.  Can we not make some effort to be sure that we think of men like these and speak of them and to them as if they were indeed the soldiers of the oldest guard, the men who stand between death and us? It is not always the head or the stomach that is alone sensitive.  Even in the weary and the ignorant there are strange spots of sensibility, to touch which may lead to love, estrangement, or even to explosive crime.  Our mere materialistic magnanimity is not always a success, and when we go forth to obliterate another people, which has its own aims and institutions, it is not so much with claims as with gifts that we insult them.  I plead for some trial of the work of reverence on these men; that we show our knowledge of their knowledge of death.  After all the jeremiads that have been uttered over the discontent of men, man is after all so very easily pleased, as a child is pleased with a stick or a straw.  Tie a tape round his arm or a trinket on his coat, and in his sublime dandyism he will make that comfort him for a leg or an eye.  So, I fancy, it would be with the other dangerous trades, if only this spirit could be assured in us: if only the wretched worker sweating among the hellish gases of some vast factory, could really believe that Society from top to bottom took off its hat to him like one man.  Of course it would be easy to make fun of this idea, and, indeed, there is much that is humorous in the notion of transferring military honours to these grimy callings.  It is amusing to think of a visitor entering the room with a slight swagger, conscious that he was a gallant gentleman and in the coal business.  There is something funny in a far-off way about the thought of a fisherman in epaulettes.  There is something attractive in the idea of a Welsh collier attending all state functions in his gorgeous and symbolic uniform of purple and gold.  But this is not the only aspect of the matter, and I could never understand why it should be considered as anything against the truth of an idea that it was funny: to me it appears that its funniness should be rather in its favour.  If it appears strange to us to think of blowing the trumpets before a collier, it proves little except how much we have neglected him.  While I write this men are going down into these eternal death-traps, shrinking no more because of those eighty dead than if they were so many locusts.  Whether we honour them or dishonour, whether we lift them to some dignity in the State or leave them dingy and unromantic, this great work goes on, to the refutation of a score of acrid sages; and men are living and laughing at their work lower than the graves of all the dead, deeper than last lost hell of mythology.



 — The Speaker, June 8, 1901

In asking the reader to follow me in a serious and sympathetic study of what the people do actually read, I must ask him to put aside for the moment many critical habits that have become second nature, many noble and austere ideals of what literature ought to be.  For it will require more true humility to look through the eyes of millions than to look through the eyes of one.

Primarily, we must, in studying anything so widespread as printed matter, get rid of one fundamental error in our use of the words good and bad.  We speak of a knife that is blunt as a bad knife or a paint-box that yields hard and weak colour as a bad paint-box. For practical purposes this is right enough.  Compared with other objects of the same class these things are bad.  But for all that the word bad is a misnomer; for bad things are things that hurt us, not things that please us insufficiently.  A blunt knife is not bad, unless it cuts us, and then, for the matter of that, it is not so bad as a sharp knife would be.  A paint-box is not bad, unless we eat the paints, and even the most exquisite greens and purples may be discordant if mingled internally.  A common knife is good because however hard it may be to carve a joint with it, it would be much harder to carve it with an umbrella.  A common paint-box is good, because however hard it may be to extract paint out of it, it would be much harder to extract it out of a lump of red sandstone.  These things, however rude, are inventions.  The most forbearing British father would complain if he were asked to carve the joint with one of the primitive flint-knives of the British Museum.  But in their cases in the British Museum we respect them as if they were the relics of a saint.

So it is with the great miracle of letters.  We must remember that the whole discovery of reading is new to great classes of the community; they are still in the time of Caxton.  It is not strictly true to say that any of their reading is bad; for it is entirely good that there is an ingenious code of signals by which are conveyed to them the inmost thoughts and secrets of men long in their graves.  It is not true, strictly speaking, that any of the fiction they read is bad for it is altogether a good thing that they should.  in any shape or form, live that mystical double life that separates man from the beasts, one life in the daily duty of selfishness, the other in that strange and fantastic unselfishness which makes the fate of some non-existent hero, the creature of an idle brain, almost as important as our own.  It is not, strictly speaking, true that any of the politics they read are bad, for it is an entirely good thing that they should have, for an abstract thing outside them like the State, enough sensibihty to be bullied or enough enthusiasm to be duped.  These things are not, in the proper meaning of the word, bad, any more than a man is bad for not being Shakespeare, or a hill bad for not being Mount Everest.

In this spirit, therefore, we must approach the problem of popular literature.  We must realise that the need for literature is a universal hunger, and has nothing in the world to do with good literature, which is a special and slightly depraved taste.  We can, of course, if we like, judge ordinary men by the test of whether they are what is called “cultured,” just as we can if we like judge negroes by whether they have a delicate complexion, or jockeys by whether they are six-foot high.  The only objection is that upon that particular class of persons the test has no value whatever.  What we have really to discover is not whether these men have reached the peaks which only a few can reach, but whether they are on the right road.  The literature which the uneducated man studies is certain to be mean to us; the supremely important thing is that it should not be mean to him.

There is hardly, to my fancy, a poorer figure cut in the world than that of the artist complaining of the ignorance of the Philistines.  Of course, the average man does not understand art, any more than the average artist understands grocery.  But the artist is far better off than innumerable other intellectual professions.  While he is whining, the man of science or mathematician is quietly exulting in radiant and irrefragable truths, which not only can no one understand, but which it is excessively improbable that anyone ever will understand.  Even his nearest and dearest are to the astronomer often as remote as the most solitary star.  If his friends do not assist the painter with his picture, at least they talk nonsense about it.  But a person of quite exceptional mind would be needed even to talk nonsense about the Differential Calculus or the Transit of Venus.  Men of science submit nobly to this isolation because they feel that they are specialists on whom is laid the burden of that higher life of which the old saints and ascetics spoke truly enough.  But they know that ordinary people have a science which is sound as far as it goes: they know that neither physiology nor botany are needed to prove the gastronomic effect of unripe apples, no abysmal mathematics required to establish how many beans make five.

Such should be the general preliminary attitude of anyone really wishing to understand the literature of the people.  He should realise that, although an epicure might call bacon and cabbages a bad dinner, the phrase is merely a comparative one, and does not really constitute those excellent creatures, the cabbage and the pig, elaborate inventions of the devil.  Similarly a penny dreadful is not really bad: its fault is merely that its holiness is faint and ineffectual.

There are, as I hope to show in a subsequent article, many really bad forces operating in popular literature.  Worst of all, beyond a doubt, is that new growth of Yankee cynicism, in which ideals are not so much scoffed at as ignored.  This frigid and innocent materialism is worse than any profligacy.  A hot revolt against morality might be excused by all of us; but what condition can be conceived as viler than a condition of cold revolt?

But though there are, as I shall show, many bad tendencies in the popular writings, I doubt beforehand whether I shall be able to echo the general condemnation on vulgar work which is pronounced almost with one voice by the cultivated class.  I am prevented from trusting entirely in this class by two facts.  Firstly, because this class has in all ages been almost invariably wrong about popular literature.  It was the cultivated class which dismissed the old ballads as barbarous and Gothic architecture as gothic.  It is at least tenable that some great critic of future ages may find in “My Old Dutch” something of what we find in “Sir Cauline” and “The Heir of Linne.” And, secondly, the cultivated class put themselves, to my mind, clearly in the wrong by their one persistent habit of classing popular literature by certain broad distinctive terms which they intend as denunciatory but which are in truth at once universal and eulogistic.  Thus they speak contemptuously of “sensational” literature, as if all literature were not sensational and good exactly in so far as it is sensational.  If the last scene of Ghosts produces a profound sensation, it is preciser because it is sensational.  If a scene in one of Miss Marie Corelli’s novels is an extravagant bathos, it fails, not because it is sensational, but because it is not.

As the critical class, with their loose and crude classifications give me no assistance in this matter, as indeed (as I have said) they appear to have an entirely wandering and misleading classification of the matter, I have fallen back on the project of trying to form an opinion for myself.  I have read magazines of a diabolical cheapness and novelettes the names of which are too absurd to be uttered except in the glimpses of the moon.  I have absorbed more imbecility into mv system than I should have thought it possible for that alreadv well-stocked organism to endure.  And I have, rightly or wrongly, come to a conclusion about popular literature.  What it is I hope to explain in an ensuing article.  The conception of leaving off at this exciting point I owe to several serials that I have recently studied.



 — The Speaker, June 8, 1901

A Wanderer: From the papers of the late H. Ogram Matuce By C. F. Keary.  R. Brimley Johnson.

Nothing is more characteristic of our day than a whole class of literature which may be called the literature of escape.  We have surrounded ourselves so elaborately with the palace of civilisation, that we have suddenly discovererd that we are not kings but captives.  The Cosmos is full of jests, and man is the greatest jest of all, for he is a spider caught in his own web.  We have come to look for escape from our own works almost as we might look for a miracle.  The idea pervades contemporary literature, even farce and pantomime express it.  We follow the woeful adventures of some farcical hero with pleasure because we feel that all the trials and tumbles would be tolerable if we could only live for twelve hours in a world in which every house was full of trapdoors and the clock of time itself went extravagantly wrong.  But another and more dignified form of the literature of escape is the form in which it appears as the literature of travel and the escape into nature.  This is the underlying thought of Mr. Keary’s new book, The Wanderer, which opens with a vivid and true picture of the slavery of the London clerk and the manner in which he revolts, when he is a man of sensitive or imaginative temperament, against the unmeaning ferocity of his toil.  It might be suggested that what constitutes the clerk’s tragedy is not so much the mere work as the peculiar atmosphere of personal dependence and humiliation, from which the artisan is often free.  Again, the class of clerks who sicken of their work and cannot throw themselves into it are no doubt refined, but I doubt whether they are imaginative.  True imagination sees the full meaning of any kind of work; the man of imagination knows he is not merely turning a handle but driving a machine.  The idea is quaint, but I can quite conceive a race of truly poetical bankers’ clerks who, with the eye of imagination, saw passing through their hands, not slips of paper endorsed on the back, but fruit and flowers and great houses and rich lands.  A cheque is a symbol, like a cross or a graven image.  Mr. Keary throws scorn upon the idea that a clerk’s soul can be his own.  “Is it?” he asks.  “Is a bill of lading the thing your soul delights to feed on?” In most cultured people probably it is not.  But we fancy it is more the fault of the soul than of the bill of lading.

Mr. Keary thoroughly understands the true art of travelling, which is the reverse of touring.  He does not hurry to see the “view” of a particular mountain as if it were something that would run away if he did not make haste.  He does not visit the falls of some everlasting river as if it were a circus performance which began at a certain hour.  He loves the casual, fleeting, spontaneous beauties which, like sunsets, cannot be put down in any guide-book. He sees every place and every natural beauty as Adam saw it, with the supreme advantage of not knowmg its name.  With his remarks upon the superiority of walking to every other form of travelling I warmly agree.  A bicycle is an admirable instrument for getting rapidly from place to place: so is a railway-train, and both are extremelv poetical in their way.  But if once you admit the element of machinery, your libertv is alike curtailed, whether you travel on two wheels or twenty.  Travel is a reassertion of our physical nature; that physical nature must be free, and not tied to a treadmill, even a rapidly progressmg one.  You cannot cross a rocky beach on a bicycle; you cannot wade a rapid river on a bicycle; you cannot (I am credibly informed by experts) climb a tree on a bicycle.  You may not want to do any of these things in the whole course of your walk, but unless you feel that you could do them you lose your liberty, and become merely an ox in a long tether.

But although Mr. Keary understands, as few men understand it, the true wayward spirit of travel, the spirit that picks from, and therefore possesses, the whole earth, there are, we think, false notes here and there.  When the clerk breaks from his bondage, and holds himself free to walk out of the office like any millionaire, he goes to Sweden.  But why to Sweden? It was not locality that he wanted, but liberty.  Unless we are much mistaken, he would find his greatest pleasure in merely walking the streets that he had always walked, and feeling that the streets were old but the man new.  London would become, as it is, an elemental thing the moment that he became elemental.  This going to Sweden makes the whole affair materialistic; it is the tourist’s notion of freedom.  We do not need to seek for the picturesque; what we need is the time to look at it.  Mr. Matuce would have found plenty of poetry in the city if he had waited for it.  “How busy,” he says, speaking of the blackbirds in a Swedish wood — “how busy are these citizens, the native burghers of this desert city! Busy as clerks in Cheapside.” We venture to suggest that not only are the blackbirds as busy as clerks, but the clerks are, to the truly imaginative, quite as romantic as blackbirds.  Or, again, if Mr. Matuce must have the country, why should it be Swedish country? To go to Sweden involves getting into a steamer, which is quite as mechanical as getting on to a bicycle.  We should have preferred him to have strolled slowly and spontaneously into some corner of English country, far more nameless and remote essentially, than the places of the continent.  He might have taken those weird places, the suburbs, as stages in his Odyssey.  He might have discovered Clapham: he might have been the first that ever burst into the silence of Surbiton.  To the imagination, which is the only real arbiter, the tourist-centres of Europe seem quite close, while Clapham and Surbiton are afar off, wild landscapes on the borderland of creation.  Of such a place as Upper Tooting, for instance, one has a wholly mythical conception, as of sublime peaks splintering up into the sky.  Passing through all these strange cities, Mr. Matuce might have really discovered the country, tracing it from the first hedge to the last lamp-post. We know quite enough of Mr. Keary’s unquestionable powers of imagination to be sure that he would have found in the last lamp-post fully as much poetry as he finds in a Scandinavian forest at midnight.  He is not one to talk the fastidious folly that is talked about “good” and “bad” scenery.  He knows that every scene has an individuality which cannot be matched: that an English hedge and road at twilight can no more be judged by the standard of a Swiss mountain at sunrise than a swan by the standard of an elephant.  To say disdainfully of a piece of country that it is “quite flat” is like saying disdainfully of a lily that it is “quite white.” I think, therefore, that Mr. Keary (or Mr. Matuce) would have enjoyed himself quite as much in an English lane; and he would have had the advantage that his progress, being entirely pedestrian, would have been quite natural and unrestricted.  He would have seemed more of a traveller by not crossing the sea : he would have gone further by staving at home.

Of the singularly beautiful style in which the book is written it is unnecessary, to any reader of Mr. Keary, to speak.  But in a subject like this Mr. Keary’s excellence is his chief danger.  He has hold of a great and primitive truth, the fact that travel is not a whim of culture, but a function of man.  He is far more likely to bury this idea in the beauties of his method than to fail in exhibiting them.  It is likely to be the tragedy of many men of letters in our time.  that any bold conceptions they possess should be taken as fancies of the intellect rather than as instincts of the heart.  Surely no irony that can be conceived would equal the fate of a man of genius who should rise and bid the sun and moon stand still with the elemental exultation of Joshua, and only be congratulated upon a graceful figure of speech.



 — The Speaker, June 15, 1901

[Later collected in Twelve Types]

Savonarola.  Rev. George M’Hardy, D.D. T. and T. Clark.

The latest figure in the series of The World’s Epoch Makers, published by Messrs.  T. and T. Clark, is Savonarola, by Mr. George M’Hardy, who gives a large and enlightening picture of the strangely intemperate civilisation and the strangely austere man.

Savonarola is a man whom we shall probably never understand until we know what horror may lie at the heart of civilisation.  This we shall not know until we are civilised.  It may be hoped, in one sense, that we may never understand Savonarola.

The great deliverers of men have, for the most part, saved them from calamities which we all recognise as evil, from calamities which are the ancient enemies of humanity.  The great law-givers saved us from anarchy: the great physicians saved us from pestilence: the great reformers saved us from starvation.  But there is a huge and bottomless evil compared with which all these are fleabites, the most desolating curse that can fall upon men or nations, and it has no name, except we call it satisfaction.  Savonarola did not save men from anarchy, but from order; not from pestilence, but from paralysis; not from starvation, but from luxury.  Men like Savonarola are the witnesses to the tremendous psychological fact at the back of all our brains, but for which no name has ever been found, that ease is the worst enemy of happiness, and civilisation potentially the end of man.

For I fancy that Savonarola’s thrilling challenge to the luxury of his day went far deeper than the mere question of sin.  Mr. M’Hardy dwells, truly enough, upon the sound ethical justification of Savonarola’s anger, upon the hideous and extravagant character of the crimes which polluted the palaces of the Renaissance.  But Mr. M’Hardy need not be so anxious to show that Savonarola was no ascetic, that he merely picked out the black specks of wickedness with the priggish enlightenment of a member of an Ethical Society.  Probably he did hate the civilisation of his time, and not merely its sins; and that is precisely where he was infinitely more profound than a modern moralist.  He saw that the actual crimes were not the only evils: that stolen jewels and poisoned wine and obscene pictures were merely the symptoms; that the disease was the complete dependence upon jewels and wine and pictures.  This is a thing constantly forgotten in judging of ascetics and Puritans in old times.  A denunciation of harmless sports did not always mean an ignorant hatred of what no one but a narrow moralist would call harmful.  Sometimes it meant an exceedingly enlightened hatred of what no one but a narrow moralist would call harmless.  Ascetics are sometimes more advanced than the average man, as well as less.

Such at least was the hatred in the heart of Savonarola.  He was making war against no trivial human sins, but against godless and thankless quiescence, against getting used to happiness, the mystic sin by which all creation fell.  He was preaching that severity which is the sign-manual of youth and hope.  He was preaching that alertness, that clean agility and vigilance, which is as necessary to gain pleasure as to gain holiness, as indispensable in a lover as in a monk.  Mr. M’Hardy has truly pointed out that Savonarola could not have been fundamentally anti-aesthetic, since he had such friends as Michael Angelo, Botticelli, and Luca della Robbia.  The fact is that this purification and austerity are even more necessary for the appreciation of life and laughter than for anything else.  To let no bird fly past unnoticed, to spell patiently the stones and weeds, to have the mind a storehouse of sunsets, requires a discipline in pleasure and an education in gratitude.

The civilisation which surrounded Savonarola on every side was a civilisation which had already taken the wrong turn, the turn that leads to endless inventions and no discoveries, in which new things grow old with confounding rapidity, but in which no old things ever grow new.  The monstrosity of the crimes of the Renaissance was not a mark of imagination; it was a mark, as all monstrosity is, of the loss of imagination.  It is only when a man has really ceased to see a horse as it is, that he invents a centaur, only when he can no longer be surprised at an ox that he worships the Devil.  Diablerie is the stimulant of the jaded fancy; it is the dram-drinking of the artist.  Savonarola addressed himself to the hardest of all earthly tasks, that of making men turn back and wonder at the simplicities they had learnt to ignore.  It is strange that the most unpopular of all doctrines is the doctrine which declares the common life divine.  Democracy, of which Savonarola was so fiery an exponent, is the hardest of gospels; there is nothing that so terrifies men as the decree that they are all kings.  Christianity, in Savonarola’s mind identical with democracy, is the hardest of gospels; there is nothing that so strikes men with fear as the saying that they are all the sons of God.  Savonarola and his republic fell.  The drug of despotism was administered to the people, and they forgot what they had been.  There are some at the present day who have so strange a respect for art and letters and for mere men of genius that they conceive the reign of the Medici to be an improvement on that of the great Florentine republican.  It is such men as these and their civilisation that we have at the present day to fear.  We are surrounded on many sides by the same symptoms as those which awoke the unquenchable wrath of Savonarola-a hedonism that is more sick of happiness than an invalid is sick of pain, an art sense that seeks the assistance of crime since it has exhausted nature.  In many modern works we find veiled and horrible hints of a truly Renaissance sense of the beauty of blood, the poetry of murder.  The bankrupt and depraved imagination does not see that a living man is far more dramatic than a dead one.  Along with this, as in the time of the Medici, goes the falling back into the arms of despotism, the hunger for the strong man which is unknown among strong men.  The masterful hero is worshipped as he is worshipped by the readers of the Bow Bells Novelettes, and for the same reason-a profound sense of personal weakness.  That tendency to devolve our duties descends on us, which is the soul of slavery, alike whether for its menial tasks it employs serfs or Emperors.  Against all this the great clerical republican stands in everlasting protest, preferring his failure to his rival’s success.  The issue is still between him and Lorenzo, between the responsibilities of liberty and the license of slavery, between the perils of truth and the security of silence, between the pleasure of toil and the toil of pleasure.  The supporters of Lorenzo the Magnificent are assuredly among us, men for whom even nations and empires only exist to satisfy the moment, men to whom the last hot hour of summer is better than a sharp and wintry spring.  They have an art, a literature, a political philosophy, which are all alike valued for their immediate effect upon the taste, not for what they promise of the destiny of the spirit.  Their statuettes and sonnets are rounded and perfect, while Macbeth is in comparison a fragment and the Moses of Michael Angelo a hint.  Their campaigns and battles are always called triumphant, while Caesar and Cromwell wept for many humiliations.  And the end of it all is the hell of no resistance, the hell of an unfathomable softness, until the whole nature recoils into madness and the chamber of civilisation is no longer merely a cushioned apartment, but a padded cell.

This last and worst of human miseries Savonarola saw afar off, and bent his whole gigantic energies to turning the chariot into another course.  Few men understood his object; some called him a madman, some a charlatan, some an enemy of human joy.  They would not even have understood if he had told them, if he had said that he was saving them from a calamity of contentment which should be the end of joys and sorrows alike.  But there are those to-day who feel the same silent danger and who bend themselves to the same silent resistance.  They also are supposed to be contending for some trivial political scruple.

Mr. M’Hardy says, in defending Savonarola, that the number of fine works of art destroyed in the Burning of the Vanities has been much exaggerated.  I confess that I hope the pile contained stacks of incomparable masterpieces if the sacrifice made that one real moment more real.  Of one thing I am sure, that Savonarola’s friend Michael Angelo would have piled all his own statues one on top of the other and burnt them to ashes if only he had been certain that the glow transfiguring the sky was the dawn of a younger and wiser world.

G. K. C.


 — The Speaker, June 22, 1901

[Later reprinted in The Defendant]

In order to discover how much good and how much evil the modern democracy do actually get from the invention of Cadmus, it may be desirable first of all to examine seriatim the principal forms of literature which are unquestionably popular among them.  And with the exception of the daily Press, which I shall speak of later under the head of miscellaneous fiction, there is no form so universal in its appeal as the detective story.  That type of narrative penetrates not only to the democracy, but to the darkest corners of the upper class; it gives even the educated an emotion, and provides even the wealthy with a pleasure in life.  Every common millionaire reads a detective story, for in that type of narrative his own favourite crimes are never detected.

Why are detective stories popular? In attempting to reach the genuine psychological reason of this it is necessary to rid ourselves of many mere phrases.  It is not true, for example, that the populace prefer bad literature to good, and accept detective stories because they are bad literature.  The mere absence of artistic subtlety does not make a book popular.  Bradshaw’s Railway Guide contains few gleams of psychological comedy, yet it is not read aloud uproariously on winter evenings.  If detective stories are read with more exuberance than railway guides it is certainly because they are more artistic.  Many good books have fortunately been popular, many bad books, still more fortunately, have been unpopular.  A good detective story would probably be even more popular than a bad one.  The trouble in this matter is that many people do not realise that there is such a thing as a good detective story: it is to them like speaking of a good devil.  To write a story about a burglary is in their eyes a sort of spiritual manner of committing it.  To persons of somewhat weak sensibility this is natural enough: it must be confessed that many detective stories are as full of sensational crime as one of Shakespeare’s plays.

There is, however, between a good detective story and a bad detective story as much, or rather more, difference than there is between a good epic and a bad one.  Not only is a detective story a perfectly legitimate form of art, but it has certain definite and real advantages as an agent of the public weal.

The first essential value of the detective story lies in this, that it is the earliest and only form of popular literature in which is expressed some sense of the poetry of modern life.  Men lived among mighty mountains and eternal forests for ages before they realised that they were poetical; it may reasonably be inferred that some of our descendants may see the chimney-pots as rich a purple as the mountainpeaks, and find the lamp-posts as old and natural as the trees.  Of this realisation of a great city itself as something wild and obvious the detective story is certainly the Iliad.  No one can have failed to notice that in these stories the hero or the investigator crosses London with something of the loneliness and liberty of a prince in a tale or elfland; that in the course of that incalculable journey the casual omnibus assumes the primal colours of a fairy ship.  The lights of the city begin to glow like innumerable goblin eyes, since they are the guardians of some secret, however crude, which the writer knows and the reader does not.  Every twist of the road is like a finger pointing to it, everv fantastic sky-line of chimney-pots seems wildly and derisively signalling the meaning of the mystery.

This realisation of the poetry of London is not a small thing.  A city is, properly speaking, more poetic even than a country side, for while nature is a chaos of unconscious forces, a city is a chaos of conscious ones.  The crest of the flower or the pattern of the lichen may or may not be significant symbols.  But there is no stone in the street and no brick in the wall that is not actually a deliberate symbol, a message from some man as much as if it were a telegram or a post-card. The narrowest street possesses, in every crook and twist of its intention, the soul of the man who built it, perhaps long in his grave.  Every brick has as human a hieroglyphic as if it were a graven brick of Babylon.  Every slate on the roof is as educational a document as if it were a slate covered with addition and subtraction.  Anything which tends, even under the fantastic form of the minutiae of Sherlock Holmes, to assert this romance of detail in civilisation, to emphasise this unfathomablv human character in flints and tiles, is a good thing.  It is good that the average man should fall into the habit of looking imaginatively at ten men in the street even if it is only on the chance that the eleventh might be a notorious thief.  We may dream, perhaps, that it might be possible to have another and higher romance of London, that men’s souls have stranger adventures than their bodies, and that it would be harder and more exciting to hunt their virtues than to hunt their crimes.  But since our great authors (with the admirable exception of Stevenson) decline to write of that thrilling mood and moment when the eyes of the great city like the eyes of a cat begin to flame in the dark, we must give fair credit to the popular literature which amid a babble of pedantry and preciosity declines to regard the present as prosaic or the common as commonplace.  Popular art in all ages has been interested in contemporary manners and costume: it dressed the groups around the Crucifixion in the garb of Florentine gentlefolk or Flemish burghers.  In the last century it was the custom for distinguished actors to present Macbeth in a powdered wig and ruffles.  How far we are ourselves in this age from such conviction of the poetry of our own life and manners may easily be conceived by anyone who chooses to imagine a picture of Alfred the Great toasting the cakes in tourist’s knickerbockers, or a performance of Hamlet in which the Prince appeared in a frock coat with a crape band round his hat.  But this instinct of the age to look back, like Lot’s wife, could not go on for ever.  A rude popular literature of the romantic possibilities of the modern city was bound to arise.  It has arisen in the popular detective stories, as rough and refreshing as the ballads of Robin Hood.

There is, however, another good work that is done by detective stories.  While it is the constant tendency of the Old Adam to rebel against so universal and automatic a thing as civilisation, to preach departure and rebellion, the romance of police activity keeps in some sense before the mind the fact that civilisation itself is the most sensational of departures and the most romantic of rebellions.  By dealing with the unsleeping sentinels who guard the outposts of society it tends to remind us that we live in an armed camp, making war a chaotic world, and that the criminals, the children of chaos, are nothing but the traitors within our gates.  When the detective in a police romance stands alone, and somewhat fatuously fearless amid the knives and fists of a thieves’ kitchen, it does certainly serve to make us remember that it is the agent of social justice who is the original and poetic figure, while the burglars and footpads are merely placid old cosmic conservatives, happy in the immemorial respectability of apes and wolves.  The romance of the police force is thus the whole romance of man.  It is based on the fact that morality is the most dark and daring of conspiracies.  It reminds us that the whole noiseless and unnoticeable police management by which we are ruled and protected is only a successful knight-erranfry.

Of the evil element in detective stories and the causes of the low standard of work in that department I shall speak subsequently.  For the present it is enough to point out that this form of art, like every form of art down to a comic song, has the whole truth of the universe behind it.



 — The Speaker, June 22, 1901

Henry Drummond.  By Cuthbert Lennox.  London: Andrew Melrose.  2s.  6d.

Mr. Cuthbert Lennon has written a very interesting and intuitive life of Professor Drummond.  As Drummond was, par excellence, the ambassador of religion to science, it might perhaps be desired that Mr. Cuthbert Lennox should have dwelt less upon the evangelistic aspect and more upon the scientific.  To the mind which can be properly described as liberal, there is, of course, nothing more objectionable in an evangelist insisting upon religion than there is in a natural philosopher insisting upon science.  But in the recent century the man of science has developed a vague prejudice against the language of theology, precisely the counterpart of the theologian’s prejudice against the language of science.  It is necessary to allow for these prejudices and to show consideration for the minor irrationalities of rationalism.

Mr. Cuthbert Lennox devotes considerable space to proving, in the teeth of orthodox objectors, that Drummond was a genuine Christian, a proposition that no one but a Scotch logician would, we should imagine, question, but he devotes far too little space to the more disputed matter of whether Professor Drummond can, properly speaking, be called a man of science.  Great men of science, though commoner than Christians, are nevertheless, a small and exalted company, and I do not think that Professor Drummond can strictly be counted of their number.  What is insufficiently realised is that he did not claim, or even aim at, any such position, that his work was of a different scope and order, the true and peculiar character of which is seldom grasped.  He made very few mistakes in his life, but one of them was the title, The Ascent of Man.  This gave the impression that the book was intended to be a pendant or even a counterblast to the great work of Darwin, and, of course, it can sustain no such comparison.  But the two books are as different in their nature as Spencer’s Ecclesiastical Institutions and Stevenson’s Virginibus Puerisque.  The Descent of Man is a vast and new theory, architecturally constructed and systematically unrolled.  The Descent of Man is an essay in amplification and interpretation of certain accepted facts, pointing out their ethical and social bearing.  It is as if one man wrote a book to prove that all mountains were volcanic and another man wrote a book on the moral spirit of mountaineers.  The rhetorical method of Professor Drummond, his symbolic zoology, his wild parables from the plumage of the tropics and the abysses of the sea, his litanies of life and martyrologies of the beasts and flowers, all have a perfect appropriateness in an essay on the poetry of a certain biological fact.

The real glory of Professor Drummond lies in the fact that he possessed stores of scientific knowledge, a wealth of scientific examples, and that he did not possess the scientific spirit.  He was not a biologist invading the world of religion; he was a poet invading and capturing the world of science.  Almost every one of the calamities of humanity lies buried in a word; and the word “science” was a great calamity.  The word “knowledge” includes the fact that the grass is green and the winter cold.  The word “science,” which is only knowledge in another language, is generally assumed to mean only some theory about the fertilisation of the rose and the solar origins of winter.  Henry Drummond was a great poet who stepped across the unreal chasm.  He realised that the greenness of the grass was as scientific as the period of the earth’s rotation; he realised that the period of the earth’s rotation was as poetical as the greenness of the grass.  It was precisely, as I have said, because he took all these coarse, rude physiological facts and did not treat them scientifically that he was a great and significant man.  He realised that the empires of science and poetry differed, not in area but in altitude, that it was possible to treat the oldest cathedral scientifically, that it was possible to treat the last discovered beetle poetically.  He spoke of the most shapeless animalcule as respectfully as one might speak of the stars; he spoke of the most grotesque foetus, the wildest caricature in embryology as one might speak of the violets of spring.  He did not enlarge the boundaries of knowledge, but he enlarged the boundaries of passion.  He blessed the brutal monsters of the earth’s beginning, and stroked the plesiodaurus like a pet.  The immeasurable mammoth was to him what a poor blind groping puppy is to a kind-hearted child.  This is the great work of Drummond, that he carried poetry into that vast mass of stupendous truths which are marked as prosaic because they have only recently been discovered.  He never felt that the last discovered monkey was, as the phrase goes, the “new monkey.” He always realised that the monkey was old, and that it was man that was new.

This merit of Drummond, that he realised poetically the facts of science, that he made a fairyland out of the hideous minutiae of biology, is not a small thing.  It is a reversion to an old and sound principle of primitive humanity.  The first facts of Nature discovered by men were immediately transformed into poetry.  The flowers have become irrevocably poetical; if we tried hard for twenty-four hours we could not regard them as mere monstrous products of a biological law.  The fact that the sea is blue or that the rose is red is just as scientific as any discovery about tides or stamina, but it has been finally absorbed into poetry.  With the rise of physical science this poetic transformation, for some inconceivable reason, ceased.  The microscope revealed patterns more perfect and resplendent than the pattern of the starry skies, but those patterns were not called beautiful.  The telescope displayed starry systems which blossomed with the irradiating regularity of a single flower, but the systems were not called poetic.  Neither pigmy constellations nor colossal flowers could fascinate the cowed and materialised human spirit.  All these discoveries were only “science,” and were therefore prosaic.  It was Drummond who broke all this; he maintained that he was right in treating rhetorically facts so suggestive and sublime.  His work and his triumph consist, as I have already said, in the fact that he did not approach science with the scientific mind.

The same view applies, of course, to Professor Drummond’s view of the relations of science and religion, to which Mr. Lennox affords so much space.  I do not doubt, since Mr. Lennox gives so convincing an account of it, that Drummond’s work for religion, considered merely as a working human institution, was very great.  But his greatest work for religion was simply this realisation that the subtler facts of Nature were quite as religious in their character as those which were more obvious.  When the author of the greatest of religious poems, “The Book of Job,” wishes to express the mysterious energy of the divine power, he merely gives a list of animals and the obvious sights of nature.  He describes the horse, the eagle, the rain, the insolent calm of the crocodile and the hippopotamus.  It was Professor Drummond’s aim to carry this Old Testament view of Nature into the darkest corners of natural philosophy.  In his eyes it was not only the stars and hills that praised the Lord; the infusorial and the Missing Link praised the Lord equally.  His first great book was Natural Law in the Spiritual World.  His second great book, The Ascent of Man, might reasonably have been called Spiritual Law in the Natural World.  With him, in any case, there was no distinction between the two.  One great constitution ruled the whole universe and before its justice the ape and the angel were equal.  He made a splendid attempt to renew the early criticism of things, to write parables in which the pterodactyles were as natural as the birds, the mammoths as common as the sheep.  He did something to unify the cosmos and make it all at once poetical and scientific.  He was perhaps something greater than a great man of science.



 — The Speaker, June 29, 1901

The True Hamlet of William Shakespeare.  Robert Gray.  Peterhead Sentinal Office.  Aberdeen: A Brown and Co.

Mr. Robert Gray enunciates a view of Hamlet which flies flat in the face of every accepted theory: he maintains that Hamlet was not irresolute, not over-intellectual, not procrastinating, not weak.  The challenge, erroneous as it may be, is spirited, ingenious, and well-reasoned, and it can do nothing but good in the controversy and nothing but honour to Shakespeare.  The more varied are the versions of friends and enemies, the more flatly irreconcilable are the opinions of various men about Hamlet, the more he resembles a real man.  The characters of fiction, mysterious as they are, are far less mysterious than the figures of history.  Men have agreed about Hamlet vastly more than they have agreed about Caesar or Mahomet or Cromwell or Mr. Gladstone or Cecil Rhodes.  Nobody supposes that Mr. Gladstone was a solar myth; nobody has started the theory that Mr. Rhodes is only the hideous phantom of an idle dream.  Yet hardly three men agree about either of them, hardly anyone knows that some new and suggestive view of them might not be started at any moment.  If Hamlet can be thus surprised, if he can thus be taken in the rear, it is a great tribute to the solidity of the figure.  If from another standpoint he appears like another statue, it shows at least that the figure is made of marble and not of cardboard.  Neither the man who thinks Lord Beaconsfield a hero nor the man who thinks him a snob doubts his existence.  It is a great tribute to literature if neither the man who thinks Hamlet a weakling nor the man who thinks him a hero ever thinks of doubting Hamlet’s existence.

Personally, I think Mr. Gray absolutely right in denouncing the idea that Hamlet was a “witty weakling.” There is a great difference between a weakness which is at liberty and a strength which is rusted and clogged.  Hamlet was not a weak man fundamentally: Shakespeare never forgets to remind us that he had an elemental force and fire in him, liable to burst out and strike everyone with terror.

“Yet have I something in me dangerous
Which let thy wisdom fear.”

But Hamlet was a man in whom the faculty of action had been clogged, not by the smallness of his moral nature, but by the greatness of his intellectual.  Actions were really important to him, only they were not quite so dazzling and dramatic as thoughts.  He belonged to a type of man which some men will never understand, the man for whom what happens inside his head does actually and literally happen, for whom ideas are adventures, for whom metaphors are living monsters, for whom an intellectual parallel has the irrevocable sanctity of a marriage ceremony.  Hamlet failed, but through the greatness of his upper, not the weakness of his lower, storey.  He was a giant, but he was top-heavy.

But while I warmly agree with Mr. Gray in holding that the moral greatness of Hamlet is enormously underrated, I cannot agree with him that Hamlet was a moral success.  If this is true, indeed, the whole story loses its central meaning: if the hero was a success, the play is a failure.  Surely no one who remembers Hamlet’s tremendous speech, beginning:

“O what a rogue and peasant slave am I,”

can share Mr. Gray’s conclusion:

“He is not here condemning himself for inaction, there is no cause for the reproach, he is using the resources of passion and eloquence to spur himself to action.”

It is difficult for me to imagine anyone reading that appaling cry out of the very hell of inutility and think that Hamlet is not condemning himself for inaction.  Hamlet may, of course, be only casually mentioning that he is a moral coward: for the matter of that, the Ghost may be only cracking a joke when he says he has been murdered.  But if ever there was sincerity in any human utterance, there is in the remorse of Hamlet.

The truth is that Shakespeare’s Hamlet is immeasurably vaster than any mere ethical denunciation or ethical defence.  Figures like this, scribbled in a few pages of pen and ink, can claim, like living human beings, to be judged by Omniscience.  To call Hamlet a “witty weakling” is entirely to miss the point, which is his greatness; to call him a triumphant hero is to miss a point quite as profound.  It is the business of art to seize these nameless points of greatness and littleness: the truth is not so much that art is immoral as that art has to single out sins that are not to be found in any decalogue and virtues that cannot be named in any allegory.  But upon the whole it is always more indulgent than philanthropy.  Falstaff was neither brave nor honest, nor chaste, nor temperate, not clean, but he had the eighth cardinal virtue for which no name has ever been found.  Hamlet was not fitted for this world: but Shakespeare does not dare to say whether he was too good or too bad for it.

G. K. C.


 — The Speaker, July 13, 1901

I ventured to suggest in a former article that detective stories, which seem the most trivial and vulgar form of literature to that large majority which reads very little else, had, as a matter of fact, certain distinct, serious, and ethical merits.  The first of these was the fact that they did for the modern city what the old ballads and the old pastoral plays did for the greenwood-they vivified whole tracts of desolation with the hope of one inspiring accident; that, indeed, the romance of the city was richer than the romance of the wilderness, that a man might find romances in a forest, but that in a city it was not a question of finding romances, but of choosing from them.  The second merit was that by turning the policeman into a hero of romance the detective story pointed out the single thread of peril and personal fidelity upon which all our civilisation hangs, and gave to humanitarianism all the courage and loneliness of crime.

I wish now to point out certain dangers in the popularity of detective stories, but I doubt if they will be the dangers upon which those works are commonly called to account.  That the detective story is sensational, that it works up the human imagination to an artificially acute state of attention, that its scenery is darkness and its end explosion; all these seem to me not a fault, but a virtue.  We have nowadays far too little sensationalism, strictly speaking, far too little the habit of bringing home to ourselves ancient influences or eternal facts as matters dramatically dominating the moment.  We say that life is a riddle, but it does not practically puzzle us like a riddle.  We say that faith is a revelation, but it does not stun and thrill us like a revelation in the divorce court.  The incalculable value of all the old religions was that they made the universe sensational, that the nameless creator was sought for in Nature with the same kind of immediate and terrified intensity with which the nameless criminal is sought for in a detective story

One of the practical dangers of the popularity of this form of romance lies in the fact that it is bound to attach so much importance to that somewhat trifling incident of human life which is called success.  It is true that all romance, as distinguished from other forms of art, must involve the ideal of success: it would be ridiculous to maintain that the legend of St. George and the Dragon would be the same thing if the dragon ate St. George, or that the story of Quentin Durward would answer its purpose equally if in the last chapter Louis XI.  clapped the hero and heroine into one of his iron cages for life.  But the success of these heroes does not stimulate the modern man to worship success.  No gentleman of our century is disturbed by the thought that he may be eaten by a dragon or imprisoned in a cage.  But the fact that in the detective story hero and villain alike talk his own language, wear his own clothes, profess his own social ideals, does make it practically possible that the absence from popular fiction of pity for the evil and reverence for the Weak may encourage a similar meanness in his own soul.  There can be little doubt that all the superficial dangers of our day, all sanguinary enthusiasms or preposterous fashions, dwindle into nothing compared with the supreme danger of the growth of a certain cockney materialism, not a scientific, but an uneducated and almost innocent materialism — a materialism which has not studied the long chronicle of the vanity and fall of kings, which has not learned from history that there is nothing that fails like success.  The devil of our day is a Mephistopheles who is not even like Goethe’s, a gentleman-a plotting, a sneering, and, moreover, an underbred Mephistopheles.  In a book recently published, and purporting to give advice to journalists, the author mentioning the name of some famous millionaire with the grotesquely reverent intonation with which such men are spoken of by their admirers, described how he had once been privileged to ask this flower of the human race to what he attributed his success.  If I remember rightly the reply of the holy one was, “I attribute my success to a resolution I formed even when a boy, never to have any dealings with unsuccessful people.” I will not attempt so far to dip my pen in earthquake and eclipse as to picture for a moment the boy who made that remarkable vow.  I will merely suggest that the millionaire was probably unaware that he himself was one of the most thoroughly unsuccessful people that ever went into the dust-bin of the universe.

No one can have failed to observe behind a vast number of the police romances on which our illustrated magazines depend largely for their popularity, the presence of this curiously arid spirit, a levity like the levity of dust and laughter scarcely more human than that of the hyena.  It is strangely difficult to sympathise with any figure in the scene.  The criminal seems as cold as the law, the law seems as bestial as the criminal.  The whole is subtly dominated by that cynical philosophy of “taking human nature as it is,” which means describing it as everything except human.  It may be said that the very nature of the police romance demands this heartless and mechanical movement.  But this is not so.  In the detective stories of Gaboriau and other French writers the atmosphere is charged with cheap but healthy human passion.  That profound sense of the poetry of every trade, which is the best of French civic virtues, causes the policeman without any sense of absurdity to commune with himself under the stars upon the majesty of his calling as the obscure guardian angel of civilisation.  In one of Gaboriau’s novels several pages of the description of an inquest are taken up by an amazingly flowery and rhetorical argument between a policeman and a parish doctor as to which holds the holier priestly office towards humanity.  And just as in these French romances even the policemen are poets, so the criminals are poets also.  Passion is assumed as the probable basis of human action far more naturally and automatically than self-interest. But the spiritual nature of the actors in the English detective story never rises so high as lust.  They never give themselves away, even in the grossest sense, and their lawlessness is only a kind of experimental prudence.  It is not, therefore, I think, the nature and scope of the particular form of literature which gives this heartless and hopeless jauntiness to the story in the English magazines.  It is the presence of a new worship of hurry and egotism and triviality upon which the temporarily disenchanted and disinherited children of heaven have for a time fallen back.  It is the dislike of being sentimental which is the last and blackest of all the forms in which asceticism has made war upon love and joy.  That extinction of all that makes life worth living which was effected only partially by fanaticism is now to be effected by flippancy.  In so far as the romance of smartness, intrigue, and success does mean the ousting from simple minds of the old romance of school-girl emotion and school-boy valour, I venture to call it an unqualified calamity.  Perhaps nothing has done so much to keep vast masses of men and women above base despair and base contentment as the thing which is called sickly sentimentalism, and is, as a plain matter of fact, the most healthy and the most universal of the dreams of humanity.  A Bow Bells novelette has behind it the same truth as a poem by Mr. W. B. Yeats, that a certan state of feeling is the only good and goal for man, that all civilisation and all intellect form only a broken and rambling road to it.  The only harm which the police romance, as it now dominates our magazines, is likely to do is the harm of spreading that worship of the intellect which now makes the educated classes so foolish a spectacle among the vast mass of tolerably stupid people who have always had a very straight and a very beaten path to the door of the heart of things.



The Speaker, July 27,1901

[later reprinted in The Spice of Life]

We shall never attain to a serious and complete school of criticism so long as the word “sentimental” is regarded as a term of depreciation.  That “passionate” should be a complimentary term and “sentimental” a hostile one is as utterly unmeaning and ridiculous as it would be if blue were complimentary and green hostile.  The difference between passion and sentiment is not, as is so often assumed, a difference in sincerity or wholesomeness or reality of feeling.  It is a difference between two ways of looking at the same unquestionable facts of life.  True sentiment consists in taking the central emotions of life not as passion takes them, personally, but impersonally, with a certain light and open confession of them as things common to us all.  Passion is always a secret; it cannot be confessed; it is always a discovery; it cannot be shared.  But sentiment stands for that frame of mind in which all men admit, with a half-humorous and half-magnanimous weakness, that they all possess the same secret, and have all made the same discovery.  Romeo and Juliet, for example, is passionate.  Love’s Labour Lost is sentimental.  No man, perhaps, was more sentimental than Thackeray; a certain kind of cynicism is akin to sentiment in that it treats the emotions openly and lightly.  To the man of passion love and the world are new; to the man of sentiment they are infinitely old.

It is absolutely necessary to have some such clear idea as this in our heads before we can do justice to the immense flood of sentimentalism which is one of the heaviest items in the actual output of popular literature.  lf sentimental literature is to be condemned it must emphatically not be because it is sentimental, it must be because it is not literature.  To complain that such literature is sultry and relaxing, that it melts the character for a time into mere receptivity, that it has scarcely more practical nourishment in it than the sugar off a wedding cake-to say all this is to complain that Othello is tragic or that the Mikado degenerates into frivolity.  Sentimentality ought not to be anything but a passing mood; people who are sentimental day and night are among the most atrocious of the enemies of society.  Dealing with them is like seeing an interminable number of poetical sunsets going on in the early morning.  If the sentimental literature of the present day is a curse, it is not so much because it is read widely, as because it is read exclusively.  If every person were compelled by Act of Parliament to read a page of Matthew Arnold after every novelette (just as some people are compelled to take a pill after every meal) both the two forms of literature would be improved.

There is a certain class of human feelings which must be indulged, but which must not be trusted; to deny them is to become a prig, but to confide in them is to cease to be a man.  There has, for example, arisen of late years in literature and philosophy that craving for the strong man which is the mark of weakness.  To jeer at the philosophy of force and supremacy would be abominable, it would be like jeering at biliousness or toothache.  One of the most brilliant men of the nineteenth century was the philosopher of force and supremacy, Nietzsche, and he died in a mad-house. There have been many things, friendly and hostile, said about Nietzsche’s philosophy, but no one, so far as we know, has pointed out the basic fact that it is sentimental.  It yields utterly to one of the oldest, most generous, and most excusable of the weaknesses of humanity, the hunger for the strong man.  If any of Nietzsche’s followers wish to find the fullest and heartiest acceptance of their master’s doctrines, the most unrestrained prostration before masculine pride and violence, they will always find it in the Bow Bells Novelletes.

In these slight and periodical forms of sentimental fiction we find pre-eminently developed the tendency to give to the hero that kind of honour which dishonours the giver.  Just as nations crown their despots in their periods of weakness, so human nature in its periods of weakness craves for despots, more than it ever craved for liberty.  It is a foolish feeling, and, perhaps, an immoral one, but it has one quality which may slightly interest us, it is absolutely universal-nor are the most advanced or intellectual of mankind in this respect one scrap less sentimental than the rest.

Indeed, there are, perhaps, no circles in which women are so sentimental and subservient as in unconventional circles.  The tendency which leads the popular novelette to deify mere arrogance and possession is emphatically one of those kindly sins which must be repudiated without being despised.  It is Literary Imperialism, and it is as old as the fear of life, which is older and much wiser than the fear of death.

To the same class as this idolatry of bone or brain belongs the idolatry of title or class or calling which is exhibited in sentimental literature.  It is snobbish, but it is a snobbishness which is as vital as the blood, and seems almost as old as the stars.  It is vulgar, but this kind of vulgarity at least fulfils its name, and is indeed common.  The problem of sentimental literature is the problem of whether there must not be somewhere an outlet for these follies which one would call pardonable if they did not seem too mighty and eternal to be pardoned.  It is the problem whether one must not expect that people will be sentimental if they are neither old enough nor wise enough to be passionate.

This much, then, can be said about the vices of popular sentimentalism-that at least they are old and wholesome vices.  Sentimentality, indeed, which it is fashionable to call morbid, is of all things most natural and healthy: it is the very extravagance of youthful health.  Whatever may be said against the novelettes and serials which foster the profound sentimentalism of the man in the street, there is no count against them which bears any resemblance to the heavy responsibility of the polished and cynical fiction fashionable among the educated class.  It does not bring into the world new sins or sinister levities or passions at once savage and artificial.  The novelette may basely grovel before strength, but at least it does not basely grovel before weakness.  It may speak openly and without reticence of emotions that are sacred and should be kept in the heart, but at least it does not speak openly and without reticence of emotions that are despicable and should be spewed out of the mouth.  lts snobbery and autocracy are kindlier than many forms of emancipation; it is at least human even where it fails to be humane.

And of its merits there is surely something to be said — that the tired sempstress or the overworked shop-girl should only have as it were to open a door and find herself in a new room in which new and outrageously elegant figures are performing new and outrageously dignified actions is a gift that outweighs many stories of magic.  That the actions of the figures are singularly languid and inevitable, that the characters are endowed with a very simple stock of virtues and vices, that the morality of the story is never for a moment mingled or perplexed, that over the whole scene broods the presence of an utterly fatalistic optimism, all this only makes the matter richer and quieter for tired intellects and tortured nerves.

That these dreams sometimes lead the dreamers to exaggerate and blunder, to overestimate or to underestimate life, may well be.  The same troubles arose in connection with Christianity-that stupendous triumph of sentiment.  Christianity also has led the weak, who were its care, to expect both too much and too little of life.  But the supreme fact remains, that we can never estimate the value of a dream; that we can never know whether the ascetics, who drugged themselves with visions and scourged themselves with rods, were not the happiest of all the children of men.



 — The Speaker, July 27, 1901

The wind blew out from Bergen from the dawning to the day,
There was wreck of trees and fall of towers a score of miles away,
And drifted like a livid leaf I go before its tide,
Spewed out of house and stable, beggared of flag and bride.
The heavens are bowed about my head, shouting like seraph wars,
With rains that might put out the sun and clean the sky of stars,
Rains like the fall of ruined seas from secret worlds above,
The roaring of the rains of God none but the lonely love.
Feast in my hall, O foemen, and eat and drink and drain,
You never loved the sun in heaven as I have loved the rain.

The chance of battle changes — so may all battle be;
I stole my lady bride from them, they stole her back from me.
I rent her from red-roofed hall, I rode and saw arise
More lovely than the living flowers the hatred in her eyes;
She never loved me, never bent, never was less divine;
The sunset never loved me; the wind was never mine.
Was it all nothing that she stood imperial in duresse?
Silence itself made softer with the sweeping of her dress.
O you who draink the cup of life, O you who wear the crown,
You never loved a woman’s smile as I have loved her frown.
The wind blew out from Bergen from the dawning to the day,
They ride and run with fifty spears to break and bar my way,
I shall not die alone, alone, but kin to all the powers,
As merry as the ancient sun and fighting like the flowers.
How white their steel, how bright their eyes, I love each laughing knave,
Cry high and bid him welcome to the banquet of the brave.
Yea, I will bless them as they bend and love them where they lie,
When on their skulls the sword I swing falls shattering from the sky.
The hour when death is like a light and blood is like a rose,
You never loved your friends, my friends, as I shall love my foes.

Know you what earth shall lose to-night, what rich, uncounted loans,
What heavy gold of tales untold you bury with my bones?
My loves in deep dim meadows, my ships that rode at ease,
Ruffling the purple plumage of strange and secret seas.
To see this fair earth as it is to me alone was given,
The blow that breaks my brow to-night shalt break the dome of heaven.
The skies I saw, the trees I saw no after eyes shall see.
To-night I die the death of God; the stars shall die with me:
One sound shall sunder all the spears and break the trumpet’s breath;
You never laughed in all your life as I shall laugh in death.



 — The Speaker, July 27, 1901

Evolution and Its Bearing on Religions.  By A.J. Dadson.  London: Swan Sonnenschein.

Mr. Dadson is a rationalist of the most thorough and irrational type.  His book Evolution and its Bearing on Religions contains a great deal that is honest and valuable as an attempt to co-relate lucidly and thoughtfully the various branches of study to which evolution is now the key.  But, however valuable may be Mr. Dadson’s treatment of evolution, his treatment of religion is prevented from being very valuable by its peculiarly patronising tone towards things which decline to be patronised.  Among the intellectual habits of Mr. Dadson which put me into some antagonism with him at the start, may be placed foremost that singular superstition of progress which supposes that the twentieth century has some kind of inevitable and talismanic superiority to the tenth.  I cannot see that fatalism is rendered any the better for being optimistic fatalism.  There is a snobbish superiority which is based on rank, another that is based on wealth, but I honestly think that the superiority that is based upon mere century, upon a handful of historical dates, is the most snobbish of all.  “As we, with our greater knowledge,” he says, “look back upon those religions, so will our descendants in a still more enlightened age regard the faiths of to-day.” I can only say that I sincerely hope they will not regard them in so supercilious a manner.  Mr. Dadson’s rationalism does not prevent him from expressing a manly, if somewhat self-satisfied, respect for the belief of others; but I could never refrain myself from feeling a somewhat warmer reverence for any creeds or theories that had ever really directed the soul of man, however ancient or exploded.  For example, I have the warmest reverence for rationalism.

Mr. Dadson is hampered again in the study of such a thing as religion by another of the fallacies of his school, the idea that a detached and frigid philosophical attitude is a guarantee of justice and breadth of mind.  It is the idea common to so many philosophers of evolution, that the pure man of science is the most disinterested and, therefore, the most valid witness-the idea that lookers-on see most of the game.  This is a mistake which has given rise to much mental confusion in other questions besides this.  The fact is that it is only in matters affecting obvious and material fact that the outsider is the best judge; in matters which involve passions and states of the soul he is likely to be almost the worst judge.  For example, an atheist would probably be the fairest arbiter of whether Catholics or Protestants were more numerous in Germany; he would not be the fairest arbiter of whether Catholicism or Protestantism was the more comforting religion.  It is better that a witness should have felt the emotion under discussion in a cramped and one-sided form than that he should know no more about it than he knows about the fourth dimension.  Mr. Dadson must forgive me, therefore, if I do not regard his almost appalling air of judicial coolness as constituting the smallest reason for supposing that he knows what he is talking about.  That a man speaks frigidly and with cultured ease of such things as faith in Christ or the love of women is, so far as it goes, rather a ground for thinking that he does not know what they are.  Each of these central things in life is like a church with stained-glass windows; from outside we can never see anything but dull masses of glass and lead, it is from inside that we see the light.  The object of Mr. Dadson’s book, he tells us, is “to show that every form of belief which is built upon material other than that which is supplied by natural law has no scientific validity.” But who ever imagined that any form of belief had any scientific validity? We might as well speak of a poem having a geological validity, or a statue having a botanical validity, or a comic song having an astronomical validity.  It was only in the eighteenth century, when all religion was dead, that anyone ever dreamed of starting the idea that it had any scientific validity.  Mr. Dadson persists in arguing on the assumption that religion arose in order to explain the universe.  I do not believe that it did anything of the sort.  A child does not credit all the trees and beasts and toys with souls and Christian names in order to explain rationalistically how they came to be there.  He does so because to him they feel living and divine.  Similarly religious men did not invent a detached spirit to explain the material universe; they looked at the universe, and thought it spiritual.  It is with the first glance at things that mysticism comes, not at the second.  By the second glance men have begun to talk about the laws of nature; Mr. Dadson talks about the laws of nature for all the world as if there were such things.  The earlier and more practical truth-the truth of religions-is that a tree is a miracle, an inexplicable explosion of divine life, and that no conceivable number of precisely similar trees go any way towards explaining it or turning the miracle into a law.  If we saw a gentleman going to church every Sunday in a top hat and yellow dressinggown, our curiosity would not be allayed by his explaining that he had done the same thing regularly for the last twenty years.  Nor can we excuse the eccentric conduct of the sun in rising in the east merely on the ground of habit and advanced years.  What Mr. Dadson does not realise is that religion has nothing at all to do with the laws of nature, because it deals only with the primary wonder of the existence of anything which is entirely untouched by the monotonous manner in which anything when created chooses to behave.  As I have said I think that the orderly and naturalistic deism of the eighteenth century which called upon men to adore the Creator because of the rationality and order of the universe was a miserable corruption and collapse.  The God of religion must be a capricious god, because we have to do with nothing except that sublime caprice which created heaven and earth.  Religion does not consist in looking upon the world as an order, but in looking upon it as an act.  For the purposes of Mr. Dadson’s natural philosophy, it is quite right and proper to say that evolution made the world.  But it is precisely as if a schoolmaster who had just been hit on the foot with a cricket ball were to ask who rolled the missile and were to receive the answer that revolution rolled it.  The degree of gaiety which would be aroused in him by that reply would be about equal to the amount that I experience from the former explanation considered in the light, not of physical, but of mental science.  Mr. Dadson is content with a mechanical explanation of the world, and he supposes that all myths and religions were meant to explain how rational the universe was.  It does not occur to him that they may have been meant to express how irrational it was, to reach past all the minor phenomena that obey law to that supreme and splendid law which is a lawless thing.

There are a large number of matters of detail in which we might find Mr. Dadson the victim of the same kind of facile and futile lucidity.  It is always possible to be quite certain about a thing as long as we keep carefully on the surface of it; it is when we know a thing thoroughly that it becomes mysterious.  It is perfectly possible and legitimate to transfix religions like so many beetles, but to the man who thinks seriously of the long mystery of human nature it will be by no means clear whether the biologist who pins a beetle, or the ancient Egyptian who worshipped it, was the sounder philosopher.  Of course, Mr. Dadson attaches enormous importance to civilisation, an institution that is by no means without its merits.  But anyone who sees, as Mr. Dadson does, all scientific ages as enlightened ages and all unscientific ages as dark ages, is bound to see history lopsided.  There are a great many other things that are good for a people entirely apart from science and civilisation; among them are unity, enthusiasm, contentment, undebilitated manliness, health, beautiful traditions, popular sports, a widely distributed sense of what is dignified and decorative.  These things were infinitely more characteristic of many countries in what Mr. Dadson laments as the dark ages than they are in Birmingham at this moment, though Birmingham is certainly more civilised.  Mr. Dadson has a perfect right to exult in the steam engine, but let him remember that there are a great many people who have their doubts whether, in the true interests of a people, the steam engine is a perfect consolation for the loss of the maypole.

And yet, of course, Mr. Dadson cannot help being a mystic, because he believes in morality.  In the ineffably patronising passage dealing with Christ he says: “We know that He taught the equality of men, which in itself in those days was no slight service to render to the world.” If there is a mystical idea on this earth I suppose it is the idea of the equality of men.  A younger school of rationalists than Mr. Dadson’s has pointed out its inconsistency with material phenomena just as Mr. Dadson raises the same irrelevant objection to the doctrines of religion.  The idea of the equality of men was like all ideas that have greatly influenced the world-a purely religious idea.  It was based upon a sensation that we all have in our better moments, that we all alike come of some princely origin, and that all the differences between us fade into insignificance compared with the sacred and supernatural character of human nature.  It is because the idea of equality was super-rational, like one of the ideas in the childhood of religions, that it was able to repeat hardly a hundred years ago the elemental portents that marked the childhood of nations, to break the cage of civilisation, to pour Europe into the melting pot, to mark out new boundaries in blood and fire, to renew the youth of the world.  The French Revolution seems to us like an event almost pre-historic, because it sprang from that capacity of faith which lies far back by the fountains of history.  Rationalism and lucidity have never been understood by men; it is always the hidden thing that is popular.

G. K. C.


 — The Speaker, August 3, 1901

[later reprinted in The Defendant and The Apostle and the Wild Ducks]

It is natural and proper enough that the masses of explosive ammunition stored up in detective stories, and the replete and solid sweet-stuff shops which are called sentimental novelettes, should be popular with the ordinary customer.  It is not difficult to realise that all of us, ignorrant or cultivated, are primarily interested in murder and love-making. The really extraordinary thing is that the most appalling fictions are not actually so popular as that literature which deals with the most indisputed and depressing facts; men are not apparently so interested in murder and love-making as they are in the number of different forms of latch-key which exist in London, or the time that it would take a grasshopper to jump from Cairo to the Cape.  The enormous mass of fatuous and useless truth which fills the most widely-circulated papers, such as Tit-Bits, Science Siftings, and many of the illustrated magazines, is certainly one of the most extraordinary kinds of emotional and mental pabulum on which man ever fed.  It is almost incredible that these preposterous statistics should actually be more popular than the most bloodcurdling mysteries and the most luxurious debauches of sentiment.  To imagine it is like imagining the humorous passages in Bradshaw’s Railway Guide read aloud on winter evenings.  It is like conceiving a man unable to put down an advertisement of Mother Seigel’s Syrup, because he wished to know what eventually happened to the young man who was extremely ill at Edinburgh.  In the case of cheap detective stories and cheap novelettes we can most of us feel, whatever our degree of education, that it might be possible to read them if we gave full indulgence to a lower and more facile part of our natures; at the worst we feel that we might enjoy them as we might enjoy bull-baiting or getting drunk.  But the literature of information is absolutely mysterious to us.  We can no more think of amusing ourselves with it than of reading whole pages of a Surbiton local directory.  To read such things would not be a piece of vulgar indulgence; it would be a highly arduous and meritorious enterprise.  It is this fact which constitutes a profound and almost unfathomable interest in this particular branch of popular literature.

Primarily, at least, there is one rather peculiar thing which must, in justice, be said about it.  The readers of this strange science must be allowed to be, upon the whole, as disinterested as a prophet seeing visions or a child reading fairy tales.  Here, again, we find, as we so often do, that whatever view of this matter of popular literature we can trust, we can trust least of all the comment and censure current among the vulgar educated.  The ordinary version of the ground of this popularity for information, which would be given by a person of greater cultivation, would be that common men are chiefly interested in those sordid facts that surround them on every side.  A very small degree of examination will show us that whatever ground there is for the popularity of these insane encyclopaedias.  it cannot be the ground of utility.  The version of life given by a penny novelette may be very moonstruck and unreliable.  but it is at least more likely to contain facts relevant to daily life than compilations on the subject of the number of cows’ tails that would reach the North Pole.  There are many more people who are in love than there are people who have any intention of counting or collecting cows’ tails.  It is evident to me that the grounds of this widespread madness of information for infonnation’s sake must be sought in other and deeper parts of human nature than those daily needs that lie so near the surface that even social philosophers have discovered them, somewhere in that profound and eternal instinct for enthusiasm and minding other people’s business which made great popular movements like the Crusades or the Gordon Riots.

I once had the pleasure of knowing a man who actually talked in private life after the manner of these papers.  His conversation consisted of fragmentary statements about height and weight and depth, and time and population, and his conversation was a nightmare of dulness.  During the shortest pause he would ask whether his interlocutors were aware how many tons of rust were scraped every year off the Menai Bridge, and how many rival shops Mr. Whiteley had bought up since he opened his business.  The attitude of his acquaintances towards this inexhaustible entertainer varied according to his presence or absence between indifference and terror.  It was frightful to think of a man’s brain being stocked with such unexpressibly profitless treasures.  It was like visiting some imposing British Museum and finding its galleries and glass cases filled with specimens of London mud, of common mortar, of broken walking sticks, and cheap tobacco.  Years afterwards I discovered that this intolerable prosaic bore had been in fact a poet.  I learnt that every item of this multitudinous information was totally and unblushingly untrue, that for all I knew he had made it up as he went along, that no tons of rust are scraped off the Menai Bridge, and that the rival tradesmen and Mr. Whiteley were creatures of the poet’s brain.  Instantly I conceived consuming respect for the man who was so circumstantial, so monotonous, so entirely purposeless a liar.  With him it must have been a case of art for art’s sake.  The joke sustained so gravely through a respected lifetime was of that order of joke which is shared with omniscience.  But what struck me more cogently upon reflection was the fact that these immeasurable trivialities, which had struck me as utterly vulgar and arid when I thought they were true, immediately became picturesque and almost brilliant when I thought they were inventions of the human fancy.  And here, as it seems to me, I laid my finger upon a fundamental quality of the cultivated class which prevents it, and will, perhaps, always prevent it, from seeing with the eyes of popular imagination.  The merely educated can scarcely ever be brought to believe that this world is itself an interesting place; when they look at a work of art, good or bad, they expect to be interested, but when they look at a newspaper advertisement or a group in the street, they do not, properly and literally speaking, expect to be interested.  But to common and simple people this world is a work of art, though it is, like many great works of art, anonymous.  They look to life for interest with the same kind of cheerful and uneradicable assurance with which we look for interest at a comedy, for which we have paid money at the door.  To the eyes of the ultimate school of contemporary fastidiousness, the universe is indeed an ill-drawn and over-coloured picture, the scrawlings in circles of a baby upon the slate of night; its starry skies are a vulgar pattern which they would not have for a wallpaper, its flowers and fruits have a cockney brilliancy, like the holiday hat of a flower-girl. Hence, degraded by art to its own level, they have lost altogether that primitive and typical taste of man, the taste for news.  By this essential taste for news, I mean the pleasure in hearing the mere fact that a man has died at the age of one hundred and ten in South Wales, or that the horses ran away at a funeral in San Francisco.  Large masses of the early faiths and politics of the world, numbers of the miracles and heroic anecdotes, are based primarily upon this love of something that has just happened, this divine institution of gossip.  When Christianity was named the good news, it spread rapidly, not only because it was good, but also because it was news.  So it is that if any of us have ever spoken to a navvy in a train about the daily paper, we have generally found the navvy interested, not in those struggles of Parliaments and trades unions which sometimes are, and are always supposed to be, for his benefit, but in the fact that an unusually large whale has been washed up on the coast of Orkney, or that some leading millionaire like Mr. Harmsworth is reported to break a hundred pipes a year.  The educated classes, cloyed and demoralised with the mere indulgence of art and mood, can no longer understand the idle and splendid disinterestedness of the reader of Pearson’s Weekly.  He still keeps something of that feeling which should be the birthright of men, the feeling that this planet is like a new house into which we have just moved our baggage.  Any detail of it has a value, and with a truly sportsmanlike instinct the average man takes most pleasure in the details which are most complicated, irrelevant, and at once difficult and useless to discover.  Those parts of the newspaper which announce the giant gooseberry and the raining frogs are really the modern representatives of the popular tendency which produced the hydra.  and the werewolf and the dog-headed men.  Folk in the Middle Ages were not interested in a dragon or a glimpse of the devil because they thought that it was a beautiful prose idyll, but because they thought that it had really just been seen.  It was not like so much artistic literature, a refuge indicating the dulness of the world; it was an incident pointedly illustrating the fecund poetry of the world.

That much can be said, and is said, against the literature of information, I do not for a moment deny.  It is shapeless, it is trivial, it may give an unreal air of knowledge, it unquestionably lies along with the rest of popular literature under the general indictment that it may spoil the chance of better work, certainly by wasting time, possibly by ruining taste.  But these obvious objections are the objections which we hear so persistently from everyone that one cannot help wondering where the papers in question procure their myriads of readers.  The natural necessity and natural good underlying such crude institutions is far less often a subject of speculation; yet the healthy hungers which lie at the back of the habits of modern democracy are surely worthy of the same sympathetic study that we give to the dogmas of the fanatics long dethroned and the intrigues of commonwealths long obliterated from the earth.  And this is the base and consideration which I have to offer: that perhaps the taste for the shreds and patches of journalistic science and history is not, as is continually asserted, the vulgar and senile curiosity of a people that has grown old, but simply the babyish and indiscriminate curiosity of a people still young, and entering history for the first time.  In other words, I suggest that they only tell each other in magazines the same kind of stories of commonplace portents and conventional eccentricities which, in any case, they would tell each other in taverns.  Science itself is only the exaggeration and specialisation of this thirst for useless fact, which is the mark of the youth of man.  But science has become strangely separated from the mere news and scandal of flowers and birds; men have ceased to see that a pterodactyl was as fresh and natural as a flower, that a flower is as monstrous as a pterodactyl.  The rebuilding of this bridge between science and human nature is one of the greatest needs of mankind.  We have all to show that before we go on to any visions or creations we can be contented with a planet of miracles.



 — The Speaker, August 10, 1901

In discussing the various forms of idle and common reading I had resolved, as far as possible, to shrink from nothing, however mean or ugly, that honestly fell within the scope of the subject.  To ignore a popular evil because it is vulgar, is like ignoring an invading army because it is numerous.  It has appeared to me that we may extend to the printed literature which informs or excites millions of white Christians of our own blood and civilisation some portion at least of that philosophic study and toleration which we extend to the mythologies of the screaming cannibals who exist in remote islands.  But there is a limit where the most imaginative charity falters, and no one will blame me if it is with a somewhat sobered mien that I approach a subject so solemn and so full of tears as the comic papers.

Nevertheless the neglect of these strange literary products on the ground of their debased and depressing character is fraught with serious perils of insincerity and illusion.  The bad elements of a society are protected by their own grotesqueness and triviality — virtues flourish by being respected, but vices flourish by being despised.  In this age when the artistic sense is miserably prevalent we demand dignity even in our devils.  But the real original orthodox devil is a grotesque thing; not a demi-god but a demi-beast. There was infinitely more common-sense and healthy morality in the mediaeval conception of devils as ugly, contemptible creatures, strong in their unblushing ignominy, than in that sublime monument of sentimentalism and polite devil-worship, the Satan of Milton.  Evil to the ages of faith was a dirty, tricky thing; not a sombre sublimated man, but a deformity in which all that was not an ordinary man was stolen from a cow.

It is in this brutal, semi-human levity, like the levity of the devils in the old Cathedral carvings, which seems too far below us to be even considered, that we must look for the actual condition of the intellect of the people.  And if we turn our attention to the case of comic papers, we shall find that within the last few years a revolution has taken place which may indicate a change of attitude infinitely more momentous than the Transvaal war or the American Presidential elections.

Until recently a comic paper, oft he purely popular kind which is sold for a half-penny, meant a sheet crowded with clamorous and dreary hieroglyphics (which are doubtless to be found at Memphis) descriptive of the misfortunes of the intoxicated, the woes of marriage, the inscrutable omnipotence apparently residing in mothers-in-law, and other examples of that universally admitted wisdom of this world which we all hail with delight in literature and should be startled to meet in real life.  This kind of thing may drive one or two sensitive persons (accidentally left alone with the paper) to needless self-slaughter, but it can hardly be maintained that it does any particular moral harm to the mass of the people who read it, if indeed (and it is a dark and searching question) any people really do.  The only ethical value of a study of their incessant jokes on marriage, for example, is to remind us of how steadily and unceasingly men may make game of an institution for several centuries, without ever dreaming of ceasing to believe in it.  When English people deduce the presence of secularism or blasphemy or a revolt against Catholicism from every silly book or picture in Paris proclaiming the immorality of the priests, it would perhaps be wiser if they remembered that such a conclusion is just like counting all the jokes against mothers-in-law in Comic Cuts, and concluding that the English nation disapproves of the marriage vow.

But into the domain of this honest, open, transparently imbecile English jocularity, there has entered another class of comic papers.  They profess, obviously enough, to model themselves on the French sheets of the same class, and the illustrations of the two put side by side form an admirable lecture on the value and difficulty of pen and ink impressionism, the French pictures showing what an arresting effect may be produced by two or three lines put in the right place, and the English showing what a brainless vision of chaos and old night may be produced by them when put in the wrong place.  It is, however, rather of their social than their merely technical side that I wish to speak.  The shirt front of a dandy and the skirts of a ballet girl are the objects that recur in them with the monotony of a wall-paper, but this fact has some ethical basis; they are not solely and entirely inserted because they are easy to draw.

There is at least one definite change involved, and a deplorable change for the worse.  The professor of the old barbaric picturewriting of the plebeian comic paper depicted in some sense the life of his own class.  He dealt much in red-nosed heroes with patches’ on their trousers, whose adventures mirrored to some degree the practical joking and horseplay common among such people.  For that horseplay we have a profound distaste, but there is nothing eternal or authoritative about our distaste for it; for all we know they may be right and we may be wrong.  The chasm is absolute, like the chasm between two civilisations; but whether it is they who are over gross or we who are over sensitive will never be known until the Day of judgment.  We realise now that there were errors in the aristocracies of strong muscles.  It is not so very difficult to believe that there may be errors in what is, after all, the aristocracy of weak nerves.  A vast, vulgar Saturnalia, such as that of a Bank Holiday at Margate, offends the superficial eye and ear; but there is surely in all of us a better and deeper self, which reads in it first and last the burden of Mr. Henley’s verse

“Praise the generous gods for giving
In this world of sin and strife,
With some little time for living,
Unto each the joy of life.”

In any case, it was this vulgar but valid and not evil life which the old comic paper chronicled, the life of the lower classes.  But the new and flashy comic paper seeks primarily to be more fashionable than the Morning Post.  It aims chiefly at giving to its heroes that sumptuous and asinine splendour which is not to be expressed except by the remarkable word “dude,” which is, I imagine, the opposite of gentleman.  This literary and pictorial tuft hunting is a most painful sign, for the working classes have not been commonly tuft hunters.  That they should indulge their own vices to the full extent is bad, but human and excusable.  But surely if there is a contemptible sight in this world it is a man envying the vices that he has not got.  It is difficult indeed to imagine any human being preferring the yawning and simpering life of the green-room and the restaurant, which is the pabulum of Pick-me-up, to a game of “shove-halfpenny” or a pot of beer.  There is no conceivable reason why any young man should be ashamed of talking to chorus girls, since they are doubtless as decent people as anyone else; but it is difiicult indeed to understand why any young man should be proud of it, since they are a great deal easier to know than any ordinary ladies he might see at a conversazione.  The essential pride, however, which underlies the life of the Pick-me-up chimera is the idea of having a great deal of money and losing it as quickly and as conventionally as possible.  There may be a strange class in the community which really calls this by the name of enjoyment.  I only say that it is a disgrace to the poorer classes that they are not content with a thoroughly vulgar comic literature in which it is possible to get twice the fun for half the money.

The first and last impression produced by this light literature of music-hall frivolity is a sense of almost insupportable desolation.  In the whole world of things conceivable there is nothing so unmercifully hopeless as an infinity of mere facetiousness, a tyrannical nightmare of jesting.  All the really popular humourists such as Sterne and Dickens have really owed their place by the fireside not to the fact that they were humorous, but to the fact that they were serious, that all their jokes were bubbles upon a great sea of sympathy.  Without this assurance the human soul is more chilled and homeless in the world of pure humour than in the Arctic circle.  There are few of us who would not prefer to find ourselves in the deepest of Dante’s hells, throttled in the ice among the traitors, to finding ourselves in a world such as that which is eternally renewed by the new comic papers, with their men who care for nothing but dancing girls and their dancing girls who care for nothing but money.  In the circle of the traitors, amid the black and crushing memories of perjury and oppression, it might be possible to pass a thousand years with the hope that some mellow and generous memory might awaken for a moment in the heart of one of the damned.  But the world of pure levity is a world by itself; its bloodless and godless inhabitants have never had any serious moments, and to a man with any human capacity for joy their faces are all as strange and cruel as those of invaders from some other planet.  To dream of such a world of unremitting and inevitable jest and luxury would be an atheistic nightmare from which a man might with a good deal of relief awake to be hanged.

G. K. C.


 — The Speaker, August 10, 1901

Ideals of Life and Citizenship.  By C.E. Maurice.  Francis Redell Henderson.  2s6d.

Mr Maurice’s book Ideals of Life and Citizenship is a collection of extracts from the greatest writers indicative of the various conceptions of the perfect citizen that have been entertained in various ages by various men.  Such a collection could scarcely be published at a more appropriate time.  That men in this particular crisis of our civilisation do not keep the laws they have made, enjoy the peace they have made possible, or live up to the ideals they have themselves created, matters nothing.  Men never did live up to their ideals, and probably never will.  But there has arisen among us in these days a definite school of philosophers who dispute the validity of ideals and idealism, urging mankind to rely more exclusively upon an emancipated judgment of the particular event.  Of course, these men are by nature visionaries.  It is only the most abstracted and unworldly persons who object to idealism.  A cold and practical judgment of life is only thought possible by men who have never lived, just as the duty of scientific observation is generally urged by a professor who falls over his own door mat.  All practical people are idealists, soldiers, politicians, pirates, even men of fashion.  To live out of the reach of ideals is a project for a hermit.  But, nevertheless, the anti-idealistic school does exist, and I think, although it is a dangerous thing to say of anything, almost for the first time in history.  Such, at least, is the impression produced by glancing through Mr. Maurice’s collection.  Here we have men of almost every conceivable intellectual attitude and moral character: primitive Protestants, and mediaeval Christians who would have burned them, Elizabethan play-actors and Puritan statesmen who would have flogged them, nineteenth century atheists and eighteenth century Tories who would have kicked them downstairs, Sir Philip Sidney and George Fox, George Herbert and Prince Kropotkin, Samuel Johnson and Percy Bysshe Shelley, men who can be hardly thought of as understanding each other even in an eternity of bliss, and yet of all of them it would be difficult to say which was the most idealistic.  Neither in the wildest and most iconoclastic vagaries of the revolutionist nor in the darkest and most detached moods of the satirist does it ever occur to them for a moment to think that the actuality is more important than the dream.

Another circumstance which makes ideals the most practical things in the world is the fact that they last the longest.  We can enter to some extent into the ideal conceptions of Greece or of the Middle Ages.  It is when we come to their science, their logic and their rationality that we seem to be reading something monstrous insane, like the Scriptures of Limbo and Tartarus.  It is the final, lucid, synthetic philosophies of men that break and float away like clouds; it is only the hope that remains.  A day will come when the works of Mr. Herbert Spencer will read like the endless arguments of some mediaaval schoolman discussing whether angels eat and drink, or whether the bodies at the Resurrection will rise with their clothes on.  But when that day comes the mere ideal of Isaiah will still remain, and men will still speak of the Golden Age as the day when swords shall be beaten into ploughshares and the lion shall lie down with the lamb.

Thus it happens that although Mr. Maurice’s extracts are taken from duty folios in remote centuries, there is hardly one of them which does not seem startlingly modern, or, to speak more sensibly, human.  Certainly he could not have opened with anything better in English literature than Chaucer’s description of the ideal parson.

The profoundly popular note of that description, its hatred of snobbishness and corruption and sinecure, its bracing reverence for a dignity which was plain and even ugly, its admirable temperance and lack of exaggeration, its deep sense of the merciless practicality of Christianity, combine to form a picture which might have been written by a poet in any age if he were one who was also a man.  Chaucer lived and died a good Catholic in the days when the word Catholic meant what it said.  Yet we find very much the same virile and humorous test of religion offered by Hugh Latimer in one of his bold and brisk sermons included in this volume.  All the arguments which are now indulged in about the merits of the Catholic Church and the merits of the Reformation, all disquisitions on tradition and authority, must abide finally by the fact that a man like Chaucer, with healthy, universal sentiments, found himself in one age inside the Church and at another age outside.  There was little or no conflict between Catholicism and Protestantism in the time of Chaucer, because in that time Catholicism included Protestantism.  Latimer was a great demagogue, Chaucer was a great poet, and every great demagogue and every great poet must be first and foremost an average man.  And whether in Catholicism or out of it the Protestant means the average man.

The Protestant ideal, or ideal of the common man, the ideal of preserving absolutely intact such things as liberty, domesticity, the right to eat and grumble, and marry and give in marriage, is unquestionably one of the recurrent ideals of mankind, though to some it may scarcely seem an ideal.  It is an ideal, however, because it is a principle or generalisation for the sake of which men are called upon.  to curb their instantaneous impulses.  It is the strangest and noblest of all the strange qualities of man that asceticism can be to him a dissipation, that pain can be an indulgence.  It is an astonishing and not uninspiriting thought, when we come to realise it, that parents have often had more trouble in dissuading their children from obliterating all youth and pleasure in a nunnery than from over-indulging them in a ball-room. So long as this dark and lawless holiness remains unexplored in human nature, it remains perfectly right and necessary that among the ideals of mankind there should be the ideal of being ordinary, capable of regarding inspiration as a danger and purity as a snare.

It has been often remarked that Catholicism and Protestantism may in some degree be called respectively feminine and masculine.  One point of truth in this has perhaps not often been noticed.  Catholicism, with all its silence and discipline, is a far more ambitious religion; it teems with legends of champions who have almost stolen the secret of things.  The liberty so much desired by Protestantism is, after all, chiefly the liberty to be unceasingly respectable.  And in this sense the Protestant ideal bears a close resemblance to the masculine-men are immeasurably more conventional than women.  Conventions are to them not superficial, but basic.  We read of women lavishing huge sums in order to eclipse each other in dress, but whoever heard of any man (except an unpresentable cad) putting on evening dress which was intended to eclipse some other man? The great object of a man in evening dress is to be “the right thing.” That is to say, to be easily mistaken for anybody else.  Here we have in full swing this peculiar ambition which we have first noticed, the soaring, starry, and wholly unattainable ambition of being ordinary.  It is unattainable because every man was born extraordinary, and the average man is an ideal, like the Magnanimous Man of Aristotle, only much nicer.  Somewhat allied, though superior to the ideal of being ordinary, is the ideal of being universal, well and sufficiently represented in Mr. Maurice’s pages by Sir Philip Sidney, Sir Walter Raleigh, and, indeed, all the Elizabethans.  This conception of the universal man, who may be called the magnified average man, is a conception the precise place of which may be fairly in dispute; but it is extraordinary to notice how its very existence is ignored in the judging of many persons.  It is constantly said, with an air of finality, that such and such a man might have been really successful if he had not frittered away his talents upon a number of different things, as if man should live by bread or fossils or literature alone.  It is surely better to see the skies and smell the flowers and hear the thunder than to be like the man in Grimm’s fairy-tale who could hear the grass growing and remain blind and scentless.  A man who grasps all the chances of life with the hundred hands of an Indian idol may be less wealthy, but he is certainly not less successful.  It is better to be Philip Sidney and belong to a score of noble fellowships than merely to play the tyrant over one.  If Julius Caesar ever really said that it was better to be first in a little Iberian village than to be second in Rome, I can only say that he uttered a very vulgar and parochial sentiment of which he ought to have been thoroughly ashamed.  Of men who in our day play the Elizabethan part, it is constantly said that this one and that one would be great if he were not versatile.  It would be more truly expressed in the form that he would be famous if he were not great.

An instance of this may be found, for example, in the sense of literary delicacy and polish which, in Mr. Maurice’s book, distinguishes the extracts from Sidney and Raleigh.  Such dandyism in a modern writer would probably denote some knock-kneed artistic fop who had purchased sensibility at the price of the last farthing of manly self-respect. But these were men with long heads and stout hearts who led great expeditions and ruled savage tribes.  They were not the less careful about their ships and their State papers, because they were exceptionally careful about their ruffles and their bows.  According to the recent fashion imperial strength is synonymous with coarseness and a formless candour; but the grossest and squarest and ugliest of contemporary empire-builders would feel very uncomfortable if pitted against Walter Raleigh.

Many of the great ethical conceptions which have dominated English history are represented in Mr. Maurice’s extracts more fully and clearly than we have space to notice.  It is enough to comment briefly on a book — the study of which cannot fail to be profitable.  It is a matter of life and death both to us and to our country, a matter far transcending any masterpieces or any crimes, what ideals we select.  But that we shall select some ideals and that they will be the breath of life to us, that is written in the primal bones of our being.  We shall certainly do that, even if we only follow the new intellectual anarchists who toil and talk and suffer much social inconvenience for the ideal of anti-idealism.



 — The Speaker, August 17, 1901

Among the various conflicting versions of the South African war, versions which in their divergence will probably be taken by historians as descriptions of several different historical events, there is one version of the facts upon which, simple as it is, it does not appear that anyone has lighted.  It is surely a new and yet quite reasonable and arguable theory that there is no South African war going on at all.  It may after all be one immense legend contrived by a unanimous conspiracy of journalists.  Lord Kitchener may actually be lurking about London disguised with a pair of false whiskers.  It may be that it is not the Boers who are at St. Helena but the British, removed from sight until the period of a normal war of conquest shall have been achieved.  The few generals who are in the secret may have been convinced by the Government that it is necessary to plan some great events in order to inspire the various branches of the Empire with a sense of its unity.  If we admit (what is indeed a large assumption) that there is any continent called Africa or any people called Boers, is it not tenable that these irreconcilable burghers may be nothing but a set of gentlemanly young Tory M.P.’s who have sacrificed some months of their leisure to a great patriotic necessity and a taste for sport? General De Wet may perhaps after all turn out to be Lord Hugh Cecil living a double life of singular rapidity between the veldt and the House of Commons.  In any case, it is not very difficult to conceive that the whole drama which we devour night and day may be a tremendous myth of the journalists.  When they go to the length of inventing whole battles (as they did recently) it is not so very difiicult to believe that they might invent whole wars.  Very few of us, I believe and hope, would accept the view above suggested as in the least probable, but when we come to ask ourselves logically why it should not be true, upon what ground rests our conviction of the existence of a war, we shall scarcely find that we have after all any very unimpeachable grounds for it.  The journalists, so far as can be seen, hold everything in their hands.  If they chose to announce that France had just become a despotism under the benign autocracy of Mr. Stead, that Canon MacColl had been converted to Confucianism and become a Boxer, that the Czar of Russia had abdicated because he was an Anarchist, or that the island of Sicily had sunk suddenly into the sea, I cannot see, if all journalists were unanimous, that we could do anything but believe them.  Consequently it is at least an entertaining thought that all the great events that we have seen convulsing Europe of late years may be incidents of this imaginative character; that the Peace Congress may have been a meeting that was supposed to have existed between various nations that are supposed to exist; or that King Humbert of Italy is still alive and cheerful, in so far as cheerfulness is consistent with a certain amount of doubt about one’s actual presence upon this earth.

In this manner we reach a conclusion which is in itself somewhat remarkable.  The journalists would appear to be in an almost literal sense the priests of the modern world.  They may not rise precisely to the tremendous responsibility which was laid upon Peter, but at least it can be said that whatever they bind on earth is bound on earth, and whatever they loose on earth is loosed on earth.  They have essentially and absolutely the same functions that were employed by the old priests, but their power for deceit is even greater and their responsibility to the world even less.  A comparison between the priests and the journalists would be striking in many points.  The man who entered into religion in the old days changed his name in order to obliterate all traces of his worldly personality.  The journalist either adopts a pseudonym or remains literally anonymous in a similar manner because he has joined the brotherhood of a great institution which claims its right to absorb all that he can do.  The priest’s influence and power consisted almost entirely in the fact that he was the only man who brought news.  He alone had the keys of the house of knowledge, and his decadence consisted, as in the case of the Pharisees whom Christ denounced, in that he would not enter in himself nor suffer those that were entering to go in.  In other words, the corruption of the priesthood occurred at the precise moment in which it changed from a minority organised to impart knowledge into a minority organised to withhold it.  The great danger of decadence in journalism is almost exactly the same.  Journalism possesses in itself the potentiality of becoming one of the most frightful monstrosities and delusions that have ever cursed mankind.  This horrible transformation will occur at the exact instant at which journalists realise that they can become an aristocracy.  In theory they are the popular voices, the very quintessence, as it were, of the common point of view.  But do not let us forget that this was in an even greater degree true of the priests.  The pontiffs, who set their feet upon the necks of kings, were in theory the types of a terrible humility, humbler than that of the meanest beggar.  Their exceptional character consisted, according to the theory, in their being exceptionally at one with the poor, exceptionally indifferent to externals, exceptionally human, exceptionally humdrum.  Yet they realised at last that they were an aristocracy, and they deceived and browbeat men for many centuries.  The terrible danger for journalists is that they may discover the intoxicating fact that they are a minority, for a minority can always be an aristocracy.

A minority, however, they must remain, and we all depend finally upon minorities, upon the minority who are called dentists, or the minority that are called shoemakers.  Of all the phrases which modern rationalism has made current, the most entirely ridiculous is the phrase that represents us as testing all things by experience.  If we went merely by direct experience we should not believe in the continent of America or the other side of the moon.  Our belief in the existence of America depends finally and absolutely upon one thing, our confidence in human nature; that is to say, it rests exactly upon the same ground as the belief which many men in many ages have given to stories of flying horses and of men raised from the dead.  Once assume that all men are really cynical, that any tale supported by any testimony is as likely to be a dodge as a piece of evidence, and the whole Western Continent vanishes like a cloud along with Atlantis and Asgard.  If men are really cynical, America may be only an American fake.

The conclusion, to my mind, is very simple, but very severe and urgent.  To these new priests must be brought home some sense of the appalling responsibility which they hold.  They must be given lessons in a certain priestly vanity-they must be discouraged from that facile humility which is a dangerous form of cynicism.  They must realise that they above all men have a sacred profession, that humanity is everlastingly trying them, that they with all kings and priests and rulers are eternally in the dock.  If they fail us, if they give unmistakable signs of scepticism and a belief in the victory of words and moments, if they ever decisively refuse to be a priesthood and a great priesthood, there will be only two courses left open to any sane man, either to disbelieve everything and everybody or to set sail immediately to discover whether there is such a place as Pekin.



 — The Speaker, August 17, 1901

[later reprinted in A Handful of Authors]

A Commentary on Tennyson’s “In Memoram.” By A.C. Bradley, L.L.D. London: Macmillan and Co.  4s.  6d.

There is nothing to be said against the attempt to boil a poem down to metaphysics, except that it is the most valuable and veracious part of the poem which goes off in the steam.  Mr. A. C. Bradley is not indeed by any means in ignorance of this nameless and elusive element in literature; he says with considerable truth and sense in his preface, “This suggestiveness or untranslateable meaning attaches to a definite mental matter, namely images and thoughts, the outlines of which should be clear to us, however little we may be able to exhaust their significance.  We read for the most part half asleep, but a poet writes wide awake.” And Mr. Bradley has selected an excellent example of poetic difficulty in devoting himself to In Memoriam.  It is remarkable that Browning should have the name of an obscure and Tennyson of a lucid poet, when there are certainly passsages of In Memoriam which are very much more difficult to understand than the mass of Browning’s philosophical poetry.  Browning’s speech was quaint and twisted and tail foremost, but it was never vague.  One of his sentences is like a dragon with his tail in his mouth; one of Tennyson’s is often like a resplendent cloud that has neither head nor tail.  The speaker in “Sordello” is like an excited man telling us something very important in an incomprehensible dialect.  The speaker in In Memoriam is often like a man talking to himself about things of which we have never heard.

Properly speaking, indeed, Tennyson was more typically the poet of thought than Browning.  He really attached primary importance to speculative ideas and passionless meditations upon theories about deity and immortality.  In the case of Browning we feel rather that he loved a speculation as he loved a sunrise or a gallop on horseback, because it was a man’s business to love as many things as he could.  He was a theologian, not because he thought the next world more important than this, but because he found this world all the more important since it contained theology.  Browning had literally a passion about ideas; an actual human appetite.  Tennyson had not a passion about ideas, he had ideas about passion.  Since therefore In Memoriam has so strongly intellectual a character, a great interest attaches to the attempt of Mr. Bradley to detach the thread of metaphysics in it from the gorgeous and coloured threads of description and metaphor.  But Mr. Bradley is struggling with a hopeless task, and he apparently knows it.  The task would be quite simple if poetry really were what it has in most ages of classical criticism been conceived to be, a decoration or beautification of thought by simile and example.  But herein has lain the great error that has so much falsified criticism in this matter.  Poetry is not a selection of the images which will express a particular thought; it is rather an analysis of the thoughts which are evoked by a certain image.  The metaphor, the symbol, the picture, has appeared to most critics to be a mere ornament, a piece of moulding above the gateway: but it is actually the key-stone of the arch.  Take away the particular image employed and the whole fabric of thought falls with a crash.  It is not the thought that is the deep or central thing, one might almost say that it is the phrase.  In “In Memoriam,” for example, there is a description incomparably vague and perfect of the empty and idle mood often produced by sorrow:

The stars, she whispers, blindly run,
A web is woven across the sky;
From out waste places comes a cry
And murmurs from the dying sun

We turn to Mr. Bradley’s perfectly reasonable and sympathetic explanation and we find that this passage means “the doubt whether the world is not the meaningless and transitory product of blind necessity.” Doubtless it means that, but surely it means a great deal more.  If this mere intellectual proposition were fundamentally what was involved, we should read Mr. Bradley instead of reading Tennyson.  The fact is, that the metaphors of the passage, the stars, the web, the murmurs of the sun, are not ‘mere illustrations, they are the original part of the thought.  The idea of the world as a chance product has often been uttered, what is new and thrilling in the matter is the fact that the waste places and the cry of the dying sun make the idea so suddenly vivid to us that it ceases to become a thought, and becomes a feeling.  The phrases are strange and almost monstrous: the poet has to speak of a sun that murmurs, and a cobweb across the sky like that which the old woman swept away in the nursery rhyme.  But a certain intense conception of cosmic futility was never expressed until those two or three queer words were joined together, and may never be expressed again if they are put asunder.

We may go further than this.  The language of metaphysics is invariably and inevitably clumsy, because it is bound to class together moods and mental attitudes which while they are one, if expressed in terms of philosophy, would be found to be a hundred and one if they were expressed in music or landscape or literature.  We speak of pessimism or idealism or a “transitory product of blind necessity”: but when we come to actual states of feeling we find that one pessimism may differ from another as much as heaven from hell.  The attitude of Walt Whitman could scarcely differ more from that of Schopenhaur than one thing that we call melancholy differs from another that we call melancholy or one thing that we call joy differs from another that we call joy.  So it is with the instance from In Memoriam I have quoted above.  Mr. Bradley’s explanation of the verse is that it represents a “doubt whether the world is not the meaningless and transitory product of blind necessity.” But as a matter of fact it represents only one kind of doubt, one mood of hesitation on this point.  It represents a frame of mind which I should not attempt to describe in prose (to do so would destroy my own thesis), but the nature of which may be vaguely indicated by saying that it depicts a certain ghastly indolence of sorrow, an aching sterility in the hours, the sorrow of an endless afternoon.  Mr. Bradley’s doubt as to the world being meaningless might be entirely of a different kind, and require expression by entirely different images.  It might, for example, be a bitter and dramatic revolt against the mystery and chaos of the world, instead of a mechanical acquiescence, sick with the simplicity and obviousness of the world’s evil.  It might be rightly represented, not by waste places and a setting sun, but by ruined heavens and the stars shaken down like hail-stones.  Pessimism is not always inane and drifting, like the kind here described by Tennyson; pessimism is sometimes courageous; strange as it may seem, it is sometimes cheerful.  The good done by sceptical philosophers, indeed, has almost always resolved itself into the fact that while they were pessimists about everything else they were optimists about their own opinions: they might be living in the worst of all possible worlds, but they were the best of possible judges of it.  Between this kind of fighting, inspiriting pessimism and the empty and floating kind described above in the verse from In Memoriam, there are innumerable shades and gradations, every one of which is a separate religion.  Not only are there blue, green, and crimson types both of joy and melancholy, but there is every tint of green and every tint of crimson.  Yet pure verbal philosophy has no vocabulary for these degrees: it has the same word for a pessimism that drives a man to commit suicide and a pessimism that drives him to the Earl’s Court Exhibition.  It is, as it were, still speaking of things in the gross classes of animal, vegetable, and mineral, while art has found a definition for the cowslip and a worthy name for the eagle.

This is the fundamental difficulty, therefore, with which Mr. Bradley has to contend in compiling his book.  He tries to convey the substance of a passage by stripping away the ornaments and the verbiage, and he finds he has nothing left but the shadow.  The process resembles a sort of conjuring trick in which a man should tear off the hat and coat of a man and fling them out of the window, and then discover that they remained in his hands, and it was the man that he had thrown away.  For poetry is not an ornamental and indirect way of stating philosophy but a perfectly simple and direct way of stating something that is outside philosophy.  There are fleeting and haphazard sights of nature that are words out of an unknown dictionary: every sunset might have founded a separate creed.

When due allowance has been made for this inherent difficulty in the whole of Mr. Bradley’s attempt, there is little but praise to be given to his analysis.  In one sense, In Memoriam is a work which it is especially profitable to study in detail, since not only has the whole poem a noble structure and development, but every section has a noble structure and development, and could stand, from rise to climax, as a seperate poem.  This unity built up of unities is one of the most perfect pieces of pure literary workmanship ever achieved.  The metre, of course, is an inspiration, the two central lines falling with an almost weary harmony and the last line like an echo of something distant, a sound heard years before.  Above all, it is needless to say, it is the noblest monument ever raised, a sepulchre so high as to be a cathedral for all men.  And it is devoted to the expression of the most profound and stirring paradox that experience ever grew certain of, the paradox that a man can never really be miserable if he has known anything worth being miserable for.  Sorrow and pessimism are by their natures opposite: sorrow rests upon the value of something; pessimism upon the value of nothing.



 — The Speaker, August 24, 1901

[later reprinted in Lunacy and Letters]

There can be comparatively little question that the place ordinarily occupied by dreams in literature is peculiarly unreal and unsatisfying.  When the hero tells us that “last night he dreamed a dream,” we are quite certain from the perfect and decorative character of the dream that he made it up at breakfast.  The dream is so reasonable that it is quite impossible.  An angel came to him and opened before him a scroll inscribed with some tremendous moral truth; a knight in armour rode past him declaring some ideal quest; the phantom of his mother arose to warn him from some imminent sin.  Dreams like these are (with occasional exceptions) practically unknown in the lawless kingdoms of the night.  A dream is scarcely ever rounded to express faultlessly some faultless idea.  An angel might indeed open a scroll before the dreamer, but it would probably be inscribed with some remark about excursion trains to Brighton; a knight in armour might ride by him, but it would be impossible to deny that the most salient fact about that warrior was the fact that he was wearing three hats; his mother might indeed appear to the dreamer, and give him the tenderest and most elevated counsel, but it would be impossible for the loftiest ethical comfort to entirely obscure the fact that her nose was growing longer and longer every minute.  Dreams have a kind of hellish ingenuity and energy — in the pursuit of the inappropriate; the most omniscient and cunning artist never took so much trouble or achieved such success in finding exactly the word that was right or exactly the action that was significant, as this midnight lord of misrule can do in finding exactly the word that is wrong and exactly the action that is meaningless.  The object of art is to subordinate the detail that is incidental to the tendency which is general.  The object of a dream appears to be so to develop itself that some utterly futile and half-witted detail shall gradually devour all the other details of the vision.  The flower upon the wall-paper just behind the head of Napoleon Buonaparte becomes brighter and brighter until we see nothing but a flower; the third waistcoat button of our best friend grows larger and larger until it is the great round sun of a revolving cosmos.

Thus at first sight it would seem that the lord of dreams was the eternal opponent of art.  He seems to be to the aesthetic system what Satan is to the religious system, an unconquerable enemy, an irreducible minimum.  The prigs of art who in this period erect their impeccable edifice with even more than the gravity of the prigs of religion, have to deal with this mighty underworld of man in which their new rules are set as much at naught as the old ones, which is as careless of the modern canons of pleasure as of the ancient canons of pain.  Asleep the artist is in the hands of an enchantress of ugliness who makes him love the discordant and hate the beautiful.  In that realm the landscape painter paints monstrous landscapes, mingling scarlet and purple; in that realm the ‘musician devises torturing melodies, and the architect top-heavy cathedrals.  So far as the forms and modes of art are concerned this is indeed true.  The translucently allegorical dreams so often narrated in romance are essentially inconceivable.  When the aged priest in a story narrates his dream, in which the imagery is dignified and the message plain.  we are free to yield finally to a conviction that must have long been growing on us, and conclude that he is a somewhat distinguished liar.  Dreams may have infinite meanings, but those meanings are not conveyed obviously by com municative mothers and candid angels.  The Bible is an excellent place to look for a wisdom and morality older than mere words and ideals, and there is certainly far more truth in the old Biblical version of the nature of dreams which made them inscrutable and somewhat grotesque parables requiring particular persons to interpret them.  If great spiritual truths are conveyed by dreams, they must certainly be conveyed as they were to Pharaoh or Nebucnadnezzar by farcical mysteries of clay-footed images and lean cows eating fat ones.  But there is another and far deeper manner in which dreams definitely correspond to art.  Nothing is more remarkable in some of the great artistic masterpieces of the world than their startling deficiency in much of that sense of grace and proportion which goes nowadays by the name of art.  If art were really what some contemporary critics represent it, a matter of the faultless arrangement of harmonies and transitions, Shakespeare would certainly not be anything like so great an artist as the last poetaster in Fleet-street who published a series of seven sonnets on seven varieties of grey sunset.  Shakespeare often suffers from too much inventiveness; that which clogs us and trips us up in his masterpieces is not so much inferior work as irrelevant brilliancy; not so much failures as fragments of other masterpieces.  Dickens was designless without knowing or caring; Sterne was designless by design.  Yet these great works which mix up abstractions fit for an epic with fooleries not fit for a pantomime, which clash the sword with the red-hot poker, which present such a picture of literary chaos as might be produced if the characters in every book from Paradise Lost to Pickwick broke from their covers and mingled in one mad romance — these great works have assuredly a unity of their own or they would not be works of art.  The unity which they have is a unity which when properly understood gives us the key almost of the whole of literary aesthetics: it is the same unity that we find in dreams.  There is one unity which we do find in dreams.  It binds together all their brutal inconsequence and all their moonstruck anti-climax. It makes the unimaginable nocturnal farce which begins with a saint choosing parasols and ends with a policeman shelling peas, as rounded and single a harmony as some poet’s roundel upon a passion flower.  This unity is the absolute unity of emotion.  If we wish to experience pure and naked feeling we can never experience it so really as in that unreal land.  There the passions seem to live an outlawed and abstract existence, unconnected with any facts or persons.  In dreams we have revenge without any injury, remorse without any sin, memory without any recollections, hope without any prospect.  Love, indeed, almost proves itself a divine thing by the logic of dreams; for in a dream every material circumstance may alter, spectacles may grow on a baby, and moustaches on a maiden aunt and yet the great sway of one tyrannical tenderness may never cease.  Our dream may begin with the end of the world, and end with a picnic at Hampton Court, but the same rich and nameless mood will be expressed by the falling stars and by the crumbling sandwiches.  In a dream daisies may glare at us like the eyes of demons.  In a dream lightning and conflagration may warm and soothe us like our own fireside.  In this sub-conscious world, in short, existence betrays itself; it shows that it is full of spiritual forces which disguise themselves as lions and lamp-posts, which can as easily disguise themselves as butterflies and Babylonian temples.  The essential unity of a dream, which is never broken or impaired, is the unity of its attitude towards God, wistful or vacant, or grateful, or rebellious or assured.

Surely this unity of dreams was the unity which underlay the old wild masterpieces of literature.  The plays of Shakespeare, for example, may be full of incidental discords, but not one of them ever fails to convey its aboriginal sentiment, that life is as black as the tempest or as green as the greenwood.  It is said that art should represent life.  So indeed it should, but it labours under the primary disadvantage that no man has seen life at any time.  Long records of Whitechapel crime, long rows of Brixon villas, the words which one clerk says to another clerk, the despatches that one diplomatist writes to another diplomatist, none of these things even approach to being life.  For life the man of science, even if he lives in the very heart of Brixton, is still searching with a microscope.  Life dwells alone in our very heart of hearts, life is one and virgin and unconjured, and sometimes in the watches of the night speaks in its own terrible harmony.



 — The Speaker, August 24, 1901

Makers of the Nineteenth Century.  By Richard A. Armstrong.  B.A. London: Fisher Unwin

Mr. Armstrong, in his picturesque and high-minded work, has perhaps fallen into a form of language indicative of a too facile and conventional hero-worship in speaking of “the makers of the nineteenth century.” I am not aware that there were any makers of the nineteenth century; I was always under the impression that it had only one maker, who had for some time practised the manufacture of centuries.  It is entirely right and reasonable to pay honour to the great men of a period, men such as Carlyle and Gladstone and Matthew Arnold, but it leaves the door open for a false philosophy to call them makers of the century.  If Mr. Armstrong called them men who were made by the century he would speak the truth and give them sufficiently high honour.

Mr. Armstrong does not make any very systematic attempt to estimate what was the purpose and character that bound the century together.  Yet without such a general definition a century has no meaning; it is merely an arbitrary division of time, like a minute or a quarter of an hour.  To speak of its spirit or its tendency is like speaking of the spirit which gives fire and mystery to a fortnight, or of the tendency which the whole cosmos exhibited from a quarter-past five on Tuesday to twenty-seven minutes past twelve on Wednesday.  If there was any significance or intention in the nineteenth century I think that Mr. Armstrong should have attempted to summarise it before stringing together a set of diverse and antagonistic men upon so slender a thread as one hundred revolutions of the earth round the sun.  I do not pretend for a moment that I can remedy Mr. Armstrong’s omission.  I do not conceive that either my personal experience or my theoretic acumen are equal to his.  But I think it may be roughly stated that the general task and tendency of the nineteenth century has been the liberation of the human soul.  Almost every great man mentioned by Mr. Armstrong, including Charles Bradlaugh, has fought for the freedom of the soul to seek eternity.  Some philosophers have procured the release of the human soul from captivity by the expedient of denying its existence.  After all, that is the way that many prisoners have escaped.  Just as some captive king might escape out of a castle by pretending to be a cowherd, so the human soul has broken loose in the nineteenth century by employing the amusing and very transparent pretext that it is only a little carbon and protoplasm.  But whether the soul’s new and perilous omnipotence appear to us a good or disastrous thing, we shall be equally fatuous if we suppose that the liberty which the soul has gained in the nineteenth century is merely a liberty to read scientific text-books and join the Secular Society, to blaspheme God and be indescribably respectable.  If it is free at all it must be equally free to preach crusades and erect churches, to join in the hunt after the lost secret.

Again, the very able and sympathetic studies of great men, to which Mr. Armstrong devotes himself, suffer a great deal from his principle of labelling each man with a particular spiritual trade.  Thus Carlyle is called the Preacher, George Eliot the Novelist, Matthew Arnold the Critic.  This process cannot do otherwise than narrow the freshness and variety of the intellectual search.  The precise duty which any man has to perform in this universe is a very elusive and mysterious thing.  A man seldom discovers actually what he was intended to do until his dying day, and then he is filled with a resigned and even radiant consciousness that he has done something else.  At any rate, his-spiritual shop cannot have a name over it like a butcher’s or baker’s. Every man that comes into the world invents a new profession.  Thus we might often quarrel at the very start with Mr. Armstrong about the titles given to his separate articles.  It might at least be maintained that Matthew Arnold was as much a preacher as Carlyle, that John Henry Newman was as much a philosopher as James Martineau, that Mr. Gladstone was as much a patriot as Mazzini.  More especially it is difficult to understand why Mr. Armstrong should have selected George Eliot as the typical novelist, when she was probably the least natural and typical novelist that ever wrote great novels.  In reality she wrote great novels because she was a compound of every other character in Mr. Armstrong’s book except the novelist; critic, preacher, iconoclast, man of science.  Indeed, Mr. Armstrong probably selects her to the subordination of Thackeray and Dickens because he himself does not really respect or understand the novel.  In the opening paragraphs of the article on George Eliot he defends the novel as a moral institution, apparently under the impression that it requires defence.  “There are, indeed,” he says, “novels of incident and movement like the romances, for instance, of Wilkie Collins or Stanley Weyman, which are quite free from all taint of corruption, which are excellent as a rest and distraction from the cares and fatigues of life, so long as they are indulged in with strict moderation, and not allowed to absorb time and energy sacred to duty, which nevertheless have little or no direct action on the characters of men.” Anyone reading all this about rest and indulgence and moderation might think that Mr. Armstrong was talking about arsenic or opium.  Why should this one form of art, the novel, be selected for this insolent protection and this offensive mercy? People are not warned against extravagant indulgence in the contemplation of statues; no one is adjured to temper with moderation his lust for Gothic cathedrals; no one is assured that in reading Paradise Lost or The Divine Comedy he is giving himself a moment’s harmless and hygienic idleness.  If anyone thinks that a good novel, whether it is a good psychological story of George Eliot’s or a good romantic story like one of Wilkie Collins’s, is an idle and easy matter not to be compared with poetry or architecture, I can only say that he may have read a great many romances but he has certainly not tried to write one.  It is surely a truly extraordinary thing that in comparison with a novel a book about the habits of beetles should be called a serious book.  To the deeper insight all living creatures are as serious as duty and death.  Nevertheless, we could understand the superficial impression that our fellow creatures are serious, and that beetles are a little comic.  But surely it reads like a dogma from topsy-turveydom that, in the matter of books, beetles are serious and men are preposterously comic.  This ethical aridness is the only quality which in any way detracts from the honourable eloquence and just criticism of Mr. Armstrong’s work.  It leads him to put George Eliot above Thackeray, who had a head twice as big as hers.  and a heart ten times bigger.  It leads him to prefer Matthew Arnold’s poetry to his prose, although his prose was a real inspiration, the discovery of a new spirit and a new style, the triumphant turning of a hundred literary heresies into merits, the turning of tautology itself into a great rhetorical effect.  But it never leads him astray when there is any great and wholesome moral crisis involved.  It does not prevent him from seeing that men of the mental stature of those with whom he is concerned have commonly better reasons for their errors than most of us have for the truths by which we live and die.  He does not forget, in speaking of a man like Newman, that the most truly liberal spirit can see a meaning in the war against Liberalism.  He does not forget that a man like Charles Bradlaugh should be regarded with the illimitable reverence with which we regard a strange religious enthusiast in some old-world story, a manly and heroic spirit in the bondage of an intellectual limitation and a forgotten creed.

G. K. C.


 — The Speaker, August 31, 1901

There has often arisen before my mind the image of an individual who should collect with laborious care articles which no other person valued and make an exhaustive classification of things which everyone else regarded as insignificant and inane.  This being might have a magnificent and futile pre-eminence in many enterprises.  He might have the finest collection of disused cigar ends in the world.  He might accumulate pipe ashes and the parings of lead pencils with an enthusiasm and a poetry worthy of a better cause.  He might, if he were a millionaire, carry this immense crusade into even larger matters.  He might build great museums in which nothing was exhibited except lost umbrellas and bad pennies.  He might found important papers and magazines in which nothing was recorded except unimportant things; in which stunning head lines announced the loss of three burnt matches out of an ash tray and long and philosophical leading articles were devoted to such questions as the Christian names of the Fulham omnibus conductors, or the number of green window-blinds in the Harrow Road.  If a man did seriously devote himself to these inanities he would unquestionably be the object of a great deal of derision.  Nevertheless, if he chose to turn round upon us and defend his position, we should suddenly realise that our whole civilisation was as moonstruck as his hobby.  He would say with truth that there was, philosophically speaking, as much to be said for collecting the ferrules of gentlemen’s umbrellas as for collecting books or banknotes.  For all essential purposes there is no reason which can be offered for the preference which mankind exhibits for one material rather than another.  It is impossible to suggest a single valid reason why gold should be more expensive than a genuinely rich red mud.  It is impossible to say why a precious stone should be more valued than a copying-ink pencil or an old green bottle, which are both more useful and more picturesque.  Almost all the theories which profess to explain this paradox from the metaphysical point of view have failed entirely.  It is commonly said, for example.  that materials are valued on account of their rarity.  Clearly, however, this cannot be maintained.  There are a great many things more rare than gold and silver; however small may be the chances for anyone of us of picking up half-a-sovereign in the gutter, the chances that we should pick up a latch-key tied up with red ribbon, or a copy of the Times descriptive of the introduction of the first Home Rule Bill, are even less.  Yet people do not make a private museum of latchkeys with red ribbons or boast of a unique collection of copies of the Times for that particular date of 1885.  Those who speak of rarity as the essence of value seem scarcely to realise how prodigious are the consequences of their view.  The things in this world which are thoroughly insignificant are precisely the things which are singularly rare.  It is very rare for a solicitor with a red moustache born in Devonshire to lend 1s.  6d.  to the nephew of a Scotch cloth-merchant residing in Clement’s Inn; such a thing perhaps has only happened once, if at all; yet we do not write the incident in letters of gold, or attach any particular importance to any incidentals, rags or relics, which may have been found to be commemorative of the spot where it occurred.  Mere rarity certainly is not the test of value.  If it were so, gold would be less valuable than many varieties of street mud, and beautiful things upon the whole much less valuable than ugly ones.  The fact of the matter is, that mankind has selected certain unmeaning objects as things of value without either intrinsic or comparative criticism.  It has made one material infinitely more valuable than another material by a mere process of selecting one kind of mud from another.  In many respects the current conception of the substance which is valuable is decidedly an inferior one.  Value, for example, almost entirely centres around metals, which are the dullest and most uncommunicative, the most material, of all earthly things.  They belong to the mineral creation, which is the very canaille of the cosmic order.  It is extraordinary when one comes to think of it that so thoroughly base a thing as gold metal should be the form in which all our most human and humanising tendencies are bound up.  Whenever we apply for payment in cash, we fulfil almost to the point of detail the word of the parable, we ask for bread and we receive a stone.

Again, the theory that materials are valued on account of their beauty will not support criticism.  There are a great many objects which are more beautiful than precious objects.  Peacocks’ feathers are more beautiful, and autumn leaves and split firewood and clean copper.  Nevertheless, it has not occurred to any person to swagger in a purse-proud manner over his possession of firewood or to cling to every advantage which could be founded upon copper.  The miser who should spend a laborious life in hoarding and counting the autumn leaves has, I think, yet to be born.  Substances have, however, a real intrinsic spirituality.  Materials are not likely to be despised except by materialists.  Children, for example, are fully conscious of a certain mystical, and yet practical, quality in the things they handle; they love the essential quality of an object chivalrously, and for its own sake.  A child has an ingrained fancy for coal, not for the gross materialistic reason that it builds up fires by which we cook and are warmed, but for the infinitely nobler and more abstract reason that it blacks his fingers.  In almost all the old primitive literatures we find the presence of this splendid love of materials for their own sake.  We find no delicate and cunning combinations of colour, such as those which are the essence of our latter-day art, but we find a gigantic appetite for materials linked with their own natural characteristics, for red gold, and green grass; not the taste for green gold and red grass which marks so much contemporary literature.  They did not require either contrast or harmony to tickle their aesthetic hunger.  They loved the redness of wine or the white splendour of the sword in all their virginity and loveliness, a single splash of crimson or silver upon the black background of old Night.

The poetry of substances exists, and it takes no account of the ordinary codes of value.  Gold is certainly a less fascinating substance than silver.  And even silver is to the spirit which retains its childhood less fascinating than lead.  Lead is a truly epic substance; it contains every quality that could be required for that purpose.  In colour it is the most delicate tint of dimmed silver, a kind of metallic splendour under a perpetual cloud; in consistency again it unites two of the antagonistic and indispensable elements of a fascinating substance.  It is at once robust and malleable, it bends and it resists; we have the same feeling towards a stiff layer of lead that we have towards destiny.  It is stiff, yet it yields sufficiently to make us fancy that it might yield altogether.  Another substance which presents in a somewhat different way the same contradiction is common wood.  It is the most fascinating and the most symbolic of substances, since it has just enough essential toughness to resist the amateur, and just enough pliability to become like a musical instrument in the hands of the expert.  Working in wood is the supreme example of creation; creation in a material which resists just enough and not an iota too much.  It was surely no wonder that the greatest who ever wore the form of man was a.  carpenter.

There remains one definite order of materials which have to the imaginative eye far more essential value than any jewels.  All pigments and colour materials have one supreme advantage over mere diamonds and amethysts.  They are, so to speak, ancestors as well as descendants; they propagate an infinite progeny of images and ideas.  If we look at a solid bar of blue chalk we do not see a thing merely mechanical and final.  We see bound up in that blue column a whole fairyland of potential pictures and tales.  No other material object gives us this sense of multiplying itself.  If we leave a cigar in a comer we do not expect that we shall find it next day surrounded by a family of cigarettes.  A diamond ring does not contribute in any way to the production of innumerable necklaces and bracelets.  But the chalks in a box, or the paints in a paint-box, do actually embrace in themselves an infinity of new possibilities.  A cake of Prussian blue contains all the sea stories in the world, a cake of emerald green encloses a hundred meadows, a cake of crimson is compounded of forgotten sunsets.  Some day, for all we know, this eternal metaphysical value in chalks and paints may be recognised as of monetary value; men will proudly show a cake of chrome yellow in their rings, and a cake of ultramarine in their scarfpins.  There is no saying what wild fashions the changes of time may make; a.  century may find us economising in pebbles and collecting straws.  But whatever may come, the essential ground of this habit will remain the same as the essential ground of all the religions, that we can only take a sample of the universe, and that that sample, even if it be a handful of dust (which is also a beautiful substance), will always assert the magic of itself, and hint at the magic of all things.

G. K. C.


 — The Speaker, September 7, 1901

It is some time now since Comte and his followers called upon humanity to perform the difficult gymnastic feat of kneeling to itself.  But it remains a remarkable thing that in mentioning the claims which this many-headed beast has to worship they omitted entirely the one claim that it really possesses, that of its mystery, its complete unreasonableness.  They dwelt upon the orderly development of humanity, the obvious nature of its progress, the chains of unalterable causation in which it is bound, as if anyone could worship a god who was nothing but a pompous underling.  A god must at least be something spontaneous and self-willed, something that can play house-breaker and play truant.  “Verily thou art a god that hidest thyself,” said the wise old Hebrew.  The essential of a divinity is mystery.  Magnificent old civilisations grovelled before cats and beetles, crowned the birds and oxen which we kill for food, sought the ultimate sanctity in the dark and brutal underworld of creatures without brains or stomachs, merely because there is a mystery in the eyes of the brutes, and to the human sight a dog is more mystical than a man.  The one genuine claim of humanity to be considered a god lies in the fact that it is a monster.  Indeed, it is something more fierce and secret than a monster, it is a she-monster.  So far from exhibiting the business-like and systematic self-improvement which Positivism attributed to it, it exhibits the dumb cravings and clamorous necessities, the crazy holidays and the burning penances, of a woman in a psychological novel.  Humanity as a whole is feminine, like most other institutions, as the practice of personification attests.  Men are male, but Man is female.

Woman, it is generally felt, is a relic of the supernatural age.  She is left to confound our reason like a sign in heaven or a man raised from the dead.  Most of us form some opinions and base them upon some reasons.  Not only do we base our conviction upon reason, but we cannot imagine it being done in any other way.  But a woman builds like an architect who should begin a church by putting the spire on first.  To modify the image, the reasons, the evidence, the proof, are with her mere fantastic gargoyles and flying buttresses added in the exultation of artistic success.  The foundation, which she lays first in solid and irrevocable masonry, is the conclusion to which she intends to come.  Clever women may easily learn to be logical, for it is a mere trick like single-stick, but the essential difference will always remain that she will not use her weapon to discover and conquer new continents, but to defend that patch of ground which descends to her by a divine right.  But that these things are characteristic of female humanity has often been noticed, but it has scarcely ever, I think, been remarked that they are characteristic of all humanity.  Viewed in detail the history of mankind appears a series of most lucid philosophies and constitutions.  But viewed as a whole, after the ages of slow and brainless evolution, the movement of humanity towards perfection has had all the inscrutable suddenness and vivacity of a boy’s running away to sea.  A woman, as I have said, varies in her arguments, but never in her conclusions.  Nothing is more profoundly astonishing in the general character of human history than the way in which various nations and ages and civilisations have agreed in their conclusions, and consistently contradicted each other in their arguments.  Immense and lonely civilisations exist, separated from each other almost as utterly as if they were different planets.  Civilisations which have never crossed each other’s path, since their ancestors separated in the form of something closely resembling apes, civilisations whose gods and temples appear to themselves solemn and beautiful, and to each other too hideous for a comic paper, these civilisations, when all is said and done, have not greatly differed in morality.  Thou shalt not murder, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not bear false witness, thou shalt keep thine own festivals, thou shalt worship thine own gods: these are almost as familiar to every age and country as the sun rising in the east.  There are divergences between races which fill us at first sight with horror, with a kind of atheistic panic of the unmeaning richness and multiplicity of things.  But, when we come to think of it, there are not the divergences that one might have had a right to expect.  There are pessimists who maintain that life is an evil; yet there is no such thing as a pessimistic civilisation where men are canonised for destroying life and pilloried for sparing it.  There are professors of paradox who maintain that falsehood is more artistic than truth, but there is no such thing as an artistic civilisation where judges reward men for perjury, and commit them to prison for being grossly and repeatedly accurate.  There is no theology of which the heaven is entirely populated with liars and assassins wearing wings and white robes; no theology in which the saints and the patriots are in hell.  Nietzsche’s idea that Christian purity and charity are new and abnormal things is a dream.  There never was a cult of tyranny.  If we could penetrate to the most faded scripture and the most forgotten god we should find, as we find in Egypt and Israel, that they inculcated the truisms of judgment and mercy which might serve as the official objects of the London County Council.

Upon these four of five matters, therefore, the various great branches of humanity are practically unanimous.  The true rationalist cannot but be struck by this fact, and find in it an indication that there must be some very common central ground, some definite logical reason of very wide application, behind all these things.  But here comes in the extraordinary fact.  They all agree, indeed, that these things are right, but they each profess that their conclusion rests upon some entirely different line of argument.  Each commonly explains that it is right in discouraging theft upon grounds which clearly show that all the others must be wrong in discouraging theft.  One set of men maintain that we should spare life because it is immortal, and the slayer interferes with some splendid destiny.  Another set of men maintain that we should spare life because it is not immortal, and the slayer nails down for ever the coffin-lid of annihilation.  One class of thinkers maintains that we should avoid lying because there is a mystical quality in words and ideas; another, that we should avoid lying because words and ideas are unimportant in comparison to material fact.  In short, these queer old scruples stand alone and undisputed in the centre of human life.  Some say they are right because they are black, some say they are right because they are white.  Some excitedly draw attention to their solid and decisive squareness, some ecstatically pin their faith to their exquisite and voluptuous roundness.  Some say they are right because the moon is made of silver, and some because it is made of green cheese.  This is the strange, humorous, and romantic condition of men.  They are still on an expedition, and will always be on an expedition, in search of arguments and data.  But their conclusion they formed long ago, before the darkest beginnings of the history of the world.  In other words, we may fall back upon the modest and reasonable proposition involved in this article, the proposition that Man is a woman.



 — The Speaker, September 14, 1901

Proverbs are regarded as sacred things.  The mere word suffices for the name of one of the books of the Bible, and yet it is remarkable what a large number of current proverbs when properly understood seem like texts from the horrible scriptures of a lower world.  Proverbs are commonly at the best truisms; and a truism is a dead truth, a truth that we no longer feel as true.  Spring, the stars, marriage, and death are truths, and it should be the aim of all literature and philosophy to prevent their becoming truisms.  But it is extraordinary to notice the large number of proverbs, enshrining the wisdom of many generations, which are really mean and materialistic axioms fighting at every point against the realisation of a higher and more liberal life.  We are told, for example, that “a penny saved is a penny gained,” but proverbial philosophy is silent upon the far deeper and more practical piece of wisdom that a penny spent is a penny gained.  If the author of the proverb wished to express himself with true philosophical lucidity he should have said that a penny saved is a penny placed in such a position that at some remote period it may effectively be gained.  This form of words would make the proverb slightly more inconvenient for the purposes of constant repetition, but this I incline to think would be an advantage.  Instances might be produced ad infinitum.  It is said that “little things please little minds” but there is perhaps no better test of a great mind than that it reverences little things.  It is said that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, and a whole sermon might be preached against the vulgarity and inhumanity of the sentiment.  A flower growing untouched in a meadow, a flower, therefore, that is really a flower, is immeasurably more ours when we enjoy it as such than when we amputate it, and put it in a pot.  as if it were a diseased limb.  A part of the cosmic life which preserves its own divine indifference to ourselves is worth any number of cosmic slaves that we have taught to fawn upon us.  A bird in the bush is worth two in the hand.  Everywhere we find this same quality in proverbs, that, although they are certainly not immoral, although they may be said to contain a certain brisk diurnal morality, yet they certainly fight so far as they go against the higher and braver life.  P-ut in no case is this so remarkable as in the curious statement that second thoughts are best.

First thoughts are almost always best; we can none of us judge of the thing that we see every day.  Nay, we can none of us even see it.  The collision between the mind of man and a fact or an idea is like the collision between two hurtling railway trains; it does finally prove which is the stronger.  First thoughts are more clean, more just, more thankful, more comprehensive, but there is one incidental disadvantage which attaches to first thoughts.  This disadvantage is that no one can possibly discover what they are.  Our real first thoughts are hidden from us like the thoughts of some remote maniac in a subterranean cell.  We can never fight our way back to what we originally thought of something; it is blotted from our memory like the first version of a sketch that has been rubbed out thirty times.  Yet our view of all things is likely to be based on that forgotten and eradicated moment.  A man may discover the song of the stars and the secret of perpetual motion, but it: is doubtful whether he can ever discover what he really thinks.

One institution, for example, which has been much discussed from every conceivable point of view, is the institution which is called existence.  Existence has been described as a temple and as a thieves’ kitchen, as an instrument of music, and as an instrument of torture, but the question of what people really think of existence is hidden and buried under innumerable philosophies and intellectual conventions.  The universe, as it really is to us, is an undiscoverable thing; it is a lost universe.  It may have occurred to many that a fish cannot paint pictures or speak in Parliament, or dine at the Hotel Cecil.  And yet the worst of all the misfortunes of the fish is, that he cannot enjoy putting his head in cold water.  He can never feel that clean and sacred shock which a man has when he puts his head into a common earthenware basin and instantly has all the stars in his eyes and all the songs in his ears.  The fish forgets the sea with the dark and irrevocable forgetfulness with which the bird forgets the wood and the daisy forgets the meadow.  In other words, he can never know what are his own first thoughts about water.  He has got used to it, and getting used to things is the primitive and mystic sin by which Adam fell and by which all creation falls.  Just as the fish knows nothing of the sea so we know nothing of the earth.  The earth is as far from us as Atlantis or Asgard.  Beyond the last islet of the fantastic archipelago of the sunset lies in immemorial mystery the land which we tread down with our boot soles.  And buried under a vast and star-kissing rubbish heap of deductions and generalisations lie our first thoughts, which are best.

Sometimes for one clear and confounding instant men realise what are their first thoughts about existence.  They realise them if they walk suddenly to the brink of a precipice or if a highwayman holds a pistol to their heads.  In that instant trees that have been growing grey become suddenly and vividly green; the whole universe has the air of a home, the sea boils like a pot, and the stars become as tame and kindly as wax candles, The man realises that he has been in love with life ever since he had it, and that, like a woman in a novel, he has been abusing that which he loved best.  The true paradise, the actual heaven towards which we are all journeying, lies neither beyond the stars nor under the world; it lies in the things and scenes we look at every day, and which wait until we shall have learned to look at them.  Pessimism is a merely logical thing; it is based upon a fussy and discontented notion of official consistency.  To the first thought good is a positive quantity, evil a negative, and one ray of daylight in moral as in physical circumstances conquers the darkness of a hundred years.


LOST [Poem]

 — The Speaker, September 28, 1901

So you have gained the golden crowns, so you have piled together,
The laurels and the jewels, the pearls out of the blue,
But I will beat the bounding drum and I will fly the feather
For all the glory I have lost, the good I never knew.

I saw the light of morning pale on princely human faces,
In tales irrevocably gone in final night enfurled,
I saw the tail of flying fights, a glimpse of burning blisses.
And laughed to think what I had lost — the wealth of all the world.

Yea, ruined in a royal game, I was before my cradle,
Was ever gambler hurling gold who lost such things as I?
The purple moth that died an hour ere I was born of woman,
The great green sunset God shall make three days after I die.

When all the lights are lost and done, when all the skies are broken
Above the ruin of stars, my soul shall sit in state
With a brain made rich, with the irrevocable sunsets,
And a closed heart happy in the fullness of fate.

So you have gained the golden crowns and grasped the golden weather,
The kingdoms and the hemispheres that all men buy and sell,
But I will lash the leaping drum and swing the flaring feather,
For the light of seven heavens that are lost to me like hell.



 — The Speaker, April 12, 1902

I once compiled a monumental work in twelve folio volumes entitled “Things that do not exist.” The subject was treated copiously, not only with notes and appendices, but with illustrations, maps, plans, facsimile letters, photogravure portraits, and everything calculated to combine the character of a great work of reference with the character of an edition de luxe.  I will not at this time go at length into the long list which I then dealt with of famous and remarkable things that do not exist.  They included such things as Realism, the Liberal Unionist Party, the Average Man, the Pessimist, the Orange River Colony, the Duke of Devonshire, the New Woman, the Bacon-Shakespeare Cypher, the Inevitable, and the Practical Man.  But two things stood out in a great degree of prominence in the work, two things of somewhat kindred meaning and of which I have since heard a great deal.  One was “The Man in the Street” and the other “Public Opinion.” When seriously contemplated and properly understood, the very phrase “public opinion” may be regarded as a joke of no little humour and subtlety.  The idea of ten million people coming by strict intellectual processes at the same moment to the same opinion is ridiculous in itself.  Opinion is nothing if it is not an individual matter, and to talk about the public forming its opinion is like talking of the public lighting its pipe.  It calls up a wild picture (a picture which did indeed occur in the exhaustive volume to which I have already referred) of an endless crowd, an illimitable sea of human beings, every one of whom had his head on one side at the same meditative angle, his face raised to Heaven with the same growing smile, and his eyes shining with the sudden inspiration at the same thought.  Who can imagine the populace-that is to say, the populace in bulk-expressing an opinion? It would be like a scene from some farcical dream.  Imagine a mob choking the streets, surging up the steps of the Palace, and shouting with one deafening voice: “After serious consideration we have been logically forced to the conclusion that resistance to the Government, always an evil in any civilised country, has now become the lesser of two evils.” That is what I should call an opinion, and it was never held by any populace that ever existed in the world.  Imagine a constitutional monarch coming out upon his balcony, and his loyal subjects shouting out their opinion of him.  Conceive the roar going up from the market place and taking the form of the words “God Save the King, so long as his activities, strictly restrained in the area of political disputes and decisions, tend to represent the social unity of the Commonwealth.” No, the thing is not easy to picture.  That which binds a people together is not opinion, but something much deeper and more mysterious — no two men since the creation of the world have ever had exactly the same opinion.

The case is the same with that remarkable being of whom we now hear so much, the Man in the Street.  In the sumptuous illustrations attached to the book of Things that do not exist he was depicted as a weird and solitary figure standing in the streets under the moon; the birds had nested on his hat, and a mighty cob-web connected him with a neighbouring lamp-post; he had remained for immemorial ages in the street.  He is a myth, perhaps a beautiful myth, but still a myth.  This Man in the Street, this being by whose arbitrament politics, literature, and ethics are now tested and decided, is as fabulous as the Hydra; he is a thing that does not exist.  My friend the Pessimist, to whom I have alluded in a previous article, and who is naturally disposed to take a somewhat gloomy view of things, declares that the Man in the Street does exist.  But then my friend the Pessimist does not exist himself, so, he cannot be held to be a sound judge of all the niceties of the question, and may even be considered as having a certain bias.  The essential proof that the Man in the Street does not exist is very simple.  No one ever met anyone who believed himself to be the Man in the Street.  No one ever met anyone who believed anyone else whom he knew intimately to be the Man in the Street.  The sage who goes on the hopeless hunt after the average man will be endlessly disappointed as his researches exhibit endless variety and individuality.  It will be more and more discovered that the Man in the Street only happens to be in the street, just as we happen to be in the street.  Beyond that he resolves himself variously into the Man in the Cathedral, the Man in the Public-House, the Man in the National Gallery, the Man in the Penitentiary, the Man in the Fabian Society, the Man in the Divorce Court, the Man in Khaki-and the Man in Holy Orders.  Among all the millions whom we summarise as men in the street there is not one who bears the least resemblance to any other man the moment we really understand his private memories, hopes, and conceptions.  If we had to advise one man in the street how he should conduct himself in a definite crisis towards definite persons, our advice would be quite different to that which we should offer to another man in the street.  No doubt there is a common human basis for all these men, but that common human basis includes the cultivated and exceptional quite as much as it includes these people.  The dilemma, therefore, is simply this: either there is no such thing as the Man in the Street or else Maeterlinck is the Man in the Street and Mr. W. B. Yeats is the Man in the Street.

The matter, indeed, is far deeper and more essential than this.  A serious and disastrous alteration is made the moment the speaker or writer or leader of men leaves off regarding the ordinary man as a man, and therefore one like himself, and begins to treat him as a strange beast, whose whims must be studied and pampered without being explained or shared.  We are much under the shadow of this error at present in journalism, in art, and in politics.  The modern statesman, for instance, uses his intellectual faculties, not to discover a new and important conception which he thinks would please the people, but to discover what the people at present think would please them, which is quite a different thing.  Even practically the method is a ruinous mistake: it would not be adopted by any business man who had the least initiative.  Take a random example.  Suppose that you or I wanted to make a fortune, like Mr. Pears, out of soap.  We should study the chemistry of the matter; we should produce, with good scientific advice, what we believed to be a good soap, and then we should advertise it far and wide as a good soap.  But the new Rosebery “going-with-the-tide” philosopher would not do this.  He would go from house to house, asking grim landladies and meek householders how they thought a good cake of soap should be compounded.  He would try to find out what sort of soap (if any) they used at the time and try and imitate it; and he would be as deservedly sold up as any bankrupt that ever was born.  Statesmen like Gladstone were not mere idealists; they tried to please and excite the people; but they tried to do it by giving the people ideas which they, the statesmen, thought pleasant and exciting, and thereby created a real bond between themselves and their audiences, similar to the bond which connects an artist with his admirers, the bond, in fact, that both are enjoying themselves.  It is one thing, after the manner of Gladstone, to produce a thrilling drama which you think the pit will enjoy.  It is another thing, after the manner of Lord Rosebery, to send the manager before the curtain at every interval to ask the pittites how they would like the next act to end.

The truth is that nothing can be worse than this serving of the Average Man as if he were a mysterious and capricious god: there is no religion so base as the serving of a deity whom we both fear and despise.  And there is nothing more characteristic of the really great men of history than that they treated the average man as a man who would naturally understand their gospel.  The small man believes in the cleverness of his utterances, the great man believes in their obviousness.  By the divine paradox of things it is always the superior man who believes in equality.  To take the loftiest of all examples, no one can read the great sayings of the New Testament without feeling that they are dominated by an appeal to a cosmic common sense.  Their characteristic note is a reasonable surprise.  “What man of you having a hundred sheep —”; “What man of you, having a son —” these are the utterances of a Divine equality.



 — The Speaker, May 3, 1902

Hieroglyphics.  By Arthur Machen.  London: Great Richards.

Optimism is said to be unpopular just at present, and optimism in criticism lies under a specially withering disdain.  But for all that criticism will have to become more optimistic or lose altogether its hold upon the future.  The only bad thing about criticism is its name.  It is derived from a word signifying a criminal judge, and hitherto it has in consequence been supposed that criticism had to do with literary crimes.  The favourable judgment of the critic has always been, in the ordinary opinion, to acquit a man of a sin, not to convict him of a merit.  If criticism were in a sound state it would have discovered some one epithet to express the value of Coleridge instead of half a hundred epithets to express the uselessness of Marie Corelli.  Optimism, or the utmost possible praise of all things, ought to be the keynote of criticism.  It may appear to be an audacious assertion, but it may be tested by one very large and simple process.  Compare the reality of a man’s criticism when praising anything with its reality when excluding anything, and we shall all feel how much more often we agree with the former than with the latter.  A man says, for example, “The Yorkshire moors are incomparably splendid,” and we wholly agree.  He goes on, “their superiority to the mere hills of Surrey —” and we instantly disagree with him.  He says, “the Iliad, the highest expression of man’s poetical genius,” and all our hearts assent.  He adds, “towering high above all our Hamlets and Macbeths,” and we flatly deny it.  A man may say, “Plato was the greatest man of antiquity,” and we admit it; but if he says “he was far greater than Aischylus,” we demur.  Briefly, in praising great men we cheerfully agree to a superlative, but we emphatically decline a comparative.  We come very near to the optimism of that universal superlative which in the morning of the world declared all things to be very good.

One of the results of this fact is that when a critic is really large-minded and really sympathetic and comprehensive, and really has hold of a guiding and enlightening idea, he should still watch with the greatest suspicion his own limitations and rejections.  His praise will almost certainly be sound, his blame should always remain to his own mind a little dubious.  A good example of this is Mr. Machen’s very thoughtful and interesting book Hieroglyphics, a book of rambling and conversational criticism.  The work is dominated by a very clear and imaginative and sustained critical principle.  The principle is, in my opinion, absolutely right.  By the light of it the author proceeds with great ability to admit some writers to greatness and to reject others, making the selection not by any superficial or snobbish feeling for mere tone and form, but by a real sense of original creative impulse.  And yet I believe that in almost all cases his acceptations are right and his rejections wrong.

Mr. Machen’s test of literature is roughly expressed by himself in the word ecstasy.  As I shall point out later, I think he puts too narrow an interpretation on this excellent key-word. But that narrowness is not the ordinary narrowness of the aesthetic critic.  He realises one fact, for instance, which alone ought to give his work a high place among really delicate and profound estimates of literature.  That is to say, it points out that Pickwick is a mystical work, celebrating like the Odyssey the wanderings of man amid the unknown.  Mr. Machen, in indicating that Dickens is essentially a poet, indicates something which the present writer has prayed day and night might be adequately expressed by somebody somewhere.  In fact, if there is anything wrong with Mr. Machen’s casual comparison between the wanderings of Ulysses and the wanderings of Pickwick it is that The Pickwick Papers have the character of a fairy tale in a sense that the Odyssey has not the character of a fairy tale.  After all, the plain difference is that Ulysses may have had the most prodigious adventures in the world, but Ulysses is trying to get home; Mr. Pickwick is not trying to get anywhere except, unconsciously, to fairyland.

But the general complaint I have to make against Mr. Machen’s view resolves itself into the fact that the moment he begins to say which authors possess or evoke this ancient and essential ecstasy, I agree with him entirely touching the authors who, according to his view, do possess or evoke that ecstasy, and I entirely disagree with him touching those who, according to his view, do not.  In his opinion, for example, Keats is a poet and Pope is not.  In his opinion Dickens is a genius of a high literary order and Thackeray is simply a clever man.  Lastly, at his hands Jane Austen is treated with scanty respect and George Eliot scarcely with ordinary intellectual decency.  Before we proceed to a more serious study of these judgments, it is as well to make the critic’s whole position clear, and I trust I have by this time made it so.  His test, briefly, of whether a book is or is not great literature is the test of whether it deals, under whatever grotesque forms, with the unknown and incalculable part of man, the mysterious promptings and the limitless desires, or whether it deals merely with those external habits or inconsistencies that can be definitely seen and attested and measured.  In other words, any good description of a boy’s dreams of running away to sea would fall within his definition, and any good description of the awkward way in which he touched his hat to the schoolmaster would fall outside it.  The distinction between the two cases would be that one contained the ecstasy human and almost superhuman and the other did not.  Only, as I have suggested before, the critic should beware at this point.  It is one thing to say that one has oneself the primal ecstasy of man in the contemplation of one’s own collection of sea-birds’ eggs.  It is quite another thing to say that one’s next-door neighbour certainly has not the primal ecstasy in the contemplation of his collection of foreign tramway tickets.  The first is probably right.  The second is almost certainly wrong.  And Mr. Machen is wrong to my fancy in most of the figures whom he rejects from the Pantheon of great literature.  His great mistake is in forgetting that the ecstasy is a “wind that bloweth where it listeth,” and which may assume a great many different forms.  A man may experience the great ecstasy in consequence of his admiration for natural beauty, as in the case of Keats; or, again, he may experience it in consequence of his admiration for the intellect and the honesty and responsibility of the intellect, as in the case of Pope.  Surely no one can read those tremendous lines which conclude the Dunciad without feeling that their surging, insatiable protest against liberality being drowned in prejudice, and fact being utterly confounded by fiction, was really a phase of the great literary ecstasy.  Pope may be defending the intellect, but he is not defending it intellectually; he is defending it passionately.  The same again applies to Thackeray, whose outlook upon life was essentially a poetic one, properly understood; like St. Paul, he praised the fools of the world, and had as much joy in the sadness of humanity as Dickens had in its joy.

Generally, therefore, the best advice that can be ofi’ered to Mr. Machen and everybody else is to talk as much as possible about the ecstasies they have found in literature and as little as possible about those they have failed to find.  It is almost impossible that they can be wrong in finding it in Homer.  Mr. Machen has never found it, and I have never found it myself, in George Eliot; but there is certainly a greater probability that we are wrong there.  And if I may give, in conclusion, an instance of one of the contradictions into which Mr. Machen’s thoughtless fastidiousness leads him, I may point out that in one passage he actually says that his transcendental theory in these matters involves him in a disapproval of democracy.  Now, I should have thought that if there was one thing more palpable than another it was that the spiritual view of man and art absolutely involved democracy as a legitimate consequence.  If there really be this tremendous and spiritual majesty in man on which Mr. Machen bases his whole case, surely it is patent upon the face of it that it would be utterly ridiculous to ask in the case of two souls thus terrible and majestic which was a Lord Mayor and which was a greengrocer.  In the presence of this transcendental nobility in both of them it is not bigoted, it is simply ludicrous, to insist on external differences, whether merely material, as in the matter of riches, or merely intellectual, as in the matter of education.  A mystic cannot help believing in equality just as a gentleman cannot help being courteous to his landlady.  Looking down upon anything or anybody is impossible to a mystic, and impossible to a gentleman.

G. K. C.


 — The Speaker, May 31, 1902

*A Book of Mystery and Vision.  By A.E. Waite.  London: Philip Welling

It is useless to preach mysticism to us, for we are all mystics now.  Whatever other superstitions we may or may not have overcome, at least we have all overcome the immense superstition that cows are only cows, that cabbages are only cabbages, that every stupendous thing in the universe can be explained and got rid of by giving it a name.  At least we know that we can explain a two-eyed, two legged, half developed lord of creation by saying “man” just about as much, and no more, as we could explain an angel by saying “hoky-poky.” We are all now agreed that there is a second meaning in things, and are only divided into the active and energetic mystics who think that this second meaning is so interesting that we ought industriously to set to work to discover it, and the Agnostics, who think that this second meaning is so interesting that it will never be discovered.  Those schools of thought which in the course of the nineteenth century have denied the possibility of any mysticism, of any relation, whether positive or tentative, with the unseen, will almost certainly go into the dustbin of the forgotten sects.  Atheism, Materialism, Secularism, will ultimately be classed with Manichaeanism, Gnosticism, Pelagianism, the Fifth Monarchy, the Family of Love, as odd or extreme solutions which, properly speaking, dodged the problem.  The energy, the sincerity, the true faith of the Secularists will certainly procure them a place in history.  Philosophical chroniclers will discuss the Secularists, a devout Protestant sect, so passionately and exclusively addicted to the study of the Old Testament that they carried it to the point of arguing through the whole length of long and obscure pamphlets about the precise measurements of the Ark and the precise genealogy of Rehoboam.  In the same way, future historians will say that there was a school of Materialism, a mystical sect who held that one of the experiences of the mind, the thing called matter, was in truth the cause of all the rest; their theory might be stated mystically in the form that the part was greater than the whole.  Thus all the singular theories of the nineteenth century which were once thought to be the end of all religion will be merely pigeonholed as religious oddities, and the great march of the religious world will pass by.  We are all mystics now; and if we have need to beat down anything in conflict, it is the loose or evil forms of mysticism.  We have no need to beat down Rationalism.  That we dig up.

As I am proceeding to make some strictures on the current type of mysticism, as exhibited in Mr. A. E. Waite’s last work, A Book of Mystery and Vision, it is really desirable and necessary that I should make this preliminary statement that I am entirely on Mr. Waite’s side, in so far as he is a mystic, and that I believe the great majority of modern thinking people are on this point on his side also.  Mysticism may be roughly defined as the belief that man lives upon a borderland: and mysticism, in this sense of an admission that anything may happen, is simply the legitimate deduction from Agnosticism.  The old Agnosticism of the time of Huxley and Professor Clifford prided itself upon the fact that, like Socrates, at least it knew that it could know nothing.  The new Agnosticism is much more humble: it does not pretend to know even what things it cannot know.  It holds itself ready to receive evidence of a ghost or a fairy, conscious that no ghost or fairy can be more intrinsically mysterious than a toadstool or a tuft of grass.  Everybody knows, of course, and everybody feels (which is more convincing) that there are ultimately things beyond our ken, but there is no hard and fast line to be drawn in the matter.  The human spirit is not, as it appears in the old Agnostic philosophy, bounded like a circle by one black line.  Its relation with its spiritual environment is a relation of degree.  The soul of man is, so to speak, vignetted.  I have thus made, I hope, the preliminary point plain that I do not think Mr. A. E. Waite mad because he is a mystic; if anything, I think that anyone who is not a mystic must be as mad as a hatter.  But there are certain general characteristics in Mr. Waite’s work which are extremely typical of the current tendencies of mysticism, and which demand an emphatic protest.  First, for example, there is his endless insistence, prominent in his verse and especially prominent in his preface, on the fact that only a few can enter into his feelings, that he writes for a select circle of the initiated.  This kind of celestial snobbishness is worse than mere vulgarity.  When we hear a man talking at great length about the superiority of his manners to those of his housekeeper, we feel tolerably certain that he is not a gentleman; similarly, when we hear a man insisting endlessly upon the superior character of his sanctity to the sanctity of the multitude, we feel tolerably certain that, whatever else he may be, he is not a saint.  A saint, like a gentleman, is one who has forgotten his own points of superiority, being immersed in more interesting things.  The ideal gentleman is he who, like Louis XIV.  in the historic legend, takes off his hat to his washerwoman.  And the ideal mystic and saint is he who prostrates himself and grovels in the public road before the stupidest farm labourer he can find.  No doubt the farm labourer will be astonished at this conduct.  But the astonishment which the farm labourer feels at the mystic will be nothing to the astonishment which the mystic will feel at the farm labourer.

There is, moreover, another error of current mysticism which is apparent in Mr. Waite’s work.  It is a pity, because there are a great many passages in Mr. Waite’s work which indicate that he has some powers as a poet, that he has considerable instinct for colour and form in verse.  But he is enslaved by the one great fallacy of the mystics, that mysticism, religion and poetry have to do with the abstract.  Thinkers of Mr. Waite’s school have a tendency to believe that the concrete is the symbol of the abstract.  The truth, the truth at the root of all true mysticism, is quite the other way.  The abstract is the symbol of the concrete.  This may possibly seem at first sight a paradox; but it is a purely transcendental truth.  We see a green tree; it is the green tree which we cannot understand; it is the green tree which we fear; it is the green tree which we worship.  Then because there are so many green trees, so many men, so many elephants, so many butterflies, so many daisies, so many animalculaa, we coin a general term “Life.” And then the mystic comes and says that a green tree symbolises Life.  It is not so.  Life symbolises a green tree.  Just in so far as we get into the abstract, we get away from the reality, we get away from the mystery, we get away from the tree.  And this is the reason that so many transcendental discourses are merely blank and tedious to us, because they have to do with Truth and Beauty, and the Destiny of the Soul, and all the great, faint, faded symbols of the reality.  And this is why all poetry is so interesting to us, because it has to do with skies, with woods, with battles, with temples, with women and with wine, with the ultimate miracles which no philosopher could create.  The difference between the concrete and the abstract is the difference between the country and the town.  God made the concrete, but man made the abstract.  A truthful man is a miracle, but the truth is a commonplace.



 — The Speaker, September 13, 1902

The controversy that has arisen between Sir Edward Russell and Mr. Pinero relative to the strictures used by the former upon The Gay Lord Quex, one of the most celebrated plays of the latter, has the incidental advantage of raising in a definite and discussable form a great number of the questions which have been floating about, nameless and disembodied, in the dramatic world for many years past.  Sir Edward Russell unmistakably accuses The Gay Lord Quex of being an immoral play.  Upon such an issue there are many things to be said, but one particularly deserves attention.  It is undoubtedly, to start with, one of the great disadvantages of a modern dramatic critic in the position of Sir Edward Russell that he has to regard a play as moral or else immoral.  The breakdown of dogmatic morality has enormously increased the importance of morals, just as the breakdown of dogmatic theology has enormously increased the controversial importance of religion.  Christ during those triumphant ages in which he was treated as God was never discussed or considered to one quarter of the extent to which he has been discussed and considered in the new centuries during which he occupies a doubtful and daring position between a god and a myth and a maniac.  In the same way the present age, which is superficially characterised by a revolt against morality, is profoundly and intrinsically characterised by an absorbing interest in morality, which has scarcely ever been seen in the world before.  The plain and final outcome of such attacks as that of Sir Edward Russell is in reality this: that in this age we are all moralists.  When Catholic and Christian dogma extended themselves easily all over Europe there was abundance of room for the sceptical drama, and the cynical drama, and the profligate drama.  Under the shadow of the Eternal Cross there was room for Congreve.  But in these days the moral sense being liberated has become omnipotent.  Men apply this ethical test strictly and severely to the plays of Mr. Pinero, for the very reason that they live in a world of transient and bewildering ethics.  Nothing can prevent the modern man from being moral.  And in consequence of this it must always be remembered that plays are judged morally and technically which would never at any other period of the world’s history have been so judged at all.  In criticising, for example, a play of Ibsen, the modern critic always assumes deduction is to be drawn from it about the rules of morals or the rules of marriage or education or socialism or free-love. Some people, for instance, think that Ghosts is an argument against certain forms of married life.  Of them it can only be said that if King Lear were written in modern times by a Norwegian they would think it an excellent argument against parents bringing up their own children.  It never occurred to anyone in the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries to regard King Lear as a controversial pamphlet against parents, or to regard Hamlet as a controversial pamphlet against a university education, or to regard Othello as a controversial pamphlet against mixed marriages between white people and black.  In the times when these tragedies were written men accepted them as tragedies, that is to say, as simple stories of the ancient sadness of the world.  The moral of King Lear was not and is not that a gentleman should hand over his daughters to be educated by County Council experts; there is no moral to the story, except the monotonous “sunt lachrymae rerum.” The curious thing is that man is hopeful in the face of sorrow, so long as that sorrow is hopeless.  But in these days we are forced even against our will to judge everything, even plays, morally.  A crowd of artists and aesthetes have declared in this age that art is immoral; but the fact plainly and obviously remains that there never was a time in the history of the world when art was so moral.  If there be a fault in the popular criticism of the day, it is that it is far too much so.

Mr. Pinero’s difficulty, therefore, is that in this highly sceptical and therefore highly puritanical age he cannot get a play like The Gay Lord Quex judged with that levity and detachment which characterised the ages of religion.  No one can altogether contrive to take it exactly as a story of Boccaccio’s or a story of Rabelais’s or one of the “Tales of the Queen of Navarre” would have been taken.  On the other hand, if we take such a play with the moral gravity which is the mark of our age, we find that there is indeed in it a certain suggestion of an ethical idea, the idea of a greatly increased charity and consideration for all sorts and conditions of men, but that this idea is scarcely strong enough to support itself against the superficially repellent and nauseous elements of the story.  Upon the surface Sir Edward Russell is wrong, for the moral tone of The Gay Lord Quex is as high as that of David Garrick or Charley’s Aunt, and immeasurably higher than that of The Sign of the Cross and The Sorrows of Satan.  But fundamentally, and at the back of all, Sir Edward Russell is right, for Mr. Pinero and the school to which he belong are immoral in this sense, that they can only unsettle morals and have not the most glimmering idea of how they are going to settle them.  They are immoral in this sense, that they have neither the healthiness of the medieval buffoon nor the importance of the genuine moral reformer.  They cannot, like Rabelais and Sterne, tell men weighty truths as though they are frivolities; they can only tell them frivolous doubts as though they were weighty truths.  At the back of all Sir Edward Russell is right, for the drama was in the beginning, and ever shall be, a festival in honour of a god.  It was, and it ever shall be, a splendid and exceptional thing, a celebration either of the joy or the faith of life.  The old jesters like Aristophanes and Wycherley at least heartily expressed the joy, the old believers in the Greek feasts of Dionysus and the Miracle plays of the Middle Ages expressed fully the faith that is more joyful than any joy.  But what is to be said of an era in dramatic literature which has neither the joy of Paganism nor the faith of Christianity?



 — The Speaker, December 13, 1902

[the basis for chapter 6 of Heretics]

It is a distressing and amusing situation to be in entire agreement with the great majority of men upon the point that certain institutions or ideas are mingled of good and evil, but at the same time to disagree with them flatly and entirely about which part is evil and which good.  Both behold a roughly similar picture of the scene, but ours is a photographic negative, all their blacks are white and all their whites black.  I am in this unlucky condition especially with regard to two famous and not altogether dissimilar institutions, the Salvation Army and the philosophy of Comte.  The usual verdict on the Salvation Army is expressed in a vague popular language among the polite somewhat thus: “I have no doubt they do a great deal of good; their aims are excellent; but I cannot approve of their methods, which are vulgar and desecrating.” I fear I think exactly the opposite.  I do not know whether the aims of the Salvation Army are excellent; to know that absolutely would be to know the secret of eternity; the thing of which I am quite certain is that their methods are glorious.  They are sensational as religion itself is sensational, and they have succeeded in making men go up to their bedrooms and down to their countinghouses to the tune of an everlasting march.  It is the same in the case of Comtism.  The typical English Positivist, such as Mr. Frederic Harrison, commonly tells us that he offers Comtism as a general philosophic system, but does not mean to say, of course, that we should adopt the wild and theatrical schemes of the master with regard to ceremonies and hierarchies and festivals.  He does not mean that we should keep the Comtist Calendar, or dress ourselves up as priests of humanity, or light bonfires because it is Darwin’s Day.  All this the English Positivist admits, with a certain rationalistic blush, is somewhat absurd.  To me it appears the only real good part of Positivism.  As a philosophy it is unsatisfactory: the mere project of concentrating all our worship on mankind, which is only one of the categories to which we belong and only one of the things we actually love, is as idle as to concentrate it on any other class; we might as well worship uncles or the mammalia.  But the magnificent and genuine glory of Comte was precisely the thing which we all treat as tomfoolery, his realisation that if we are to begin the world over again we must begin with new ceremonies and new shrines and new festivals.  If we cannot found these (and it seems that we cannot) the only inference is that we must be still sitting at the feet of the old.  The last century has seen a furious onslaught upon Christianity, and upon no point was it more persistently or more brilliantly attacked than upon the point of its alleged enmity to human joy.  Shelley and Swinburne and all their armies have passed again and again over the ground, but they have not altered it, they have not set up a single new trophy or ensign for the world’s merriment to rally to; they have not given a name or a new occasion to human joy.  Mr. Swinburne does not hang up his stocking on the eve of the birthday of Victor Hugo.  Mr. William Archer does not sing carols descriptive of the early life of Ibsen outside his friends’ front doors.  There is no new festival — not even the possibility of one.  The storm is over, and we look out into the changed and disordered and now quiet heavens, and there is no light there but the Star of Bethlehem.  It is sufficiently discreditable that there should have been, as there unquestionably has been, a reaction against the festivities of Christmas, a disposition to pooh-pooh them and to tire of them.  But it is even more discreditable that this tendency should have been chiefly remarkable among that very class, the hypercultivated and aesthetic class, which professes to desire above all things the beautifying of human life by symbol and ritual and the revival of legend.  What is the use of their yearning after flowery pageantries and old-world dances when they have a solid ancient tradition still plying a roaring trade in the streets in the month of December, and they think it vulgar What is the use of their gathering fairy tales, like gold, from Scandinavia and the Ganges when they are in the heart of a fairy-tale, and to them it only smells of sausages? What is the use of Mr. George Moore digging in Irish cairns for lost gods if he does not hang up his stocking and cheer when the pudding is set alight.  Of course I do not know that he does not.  I hope, with trembling, that he does.  But clearly it is an example of the very worst kind of worship of mere accidental remoteness that aesthetic culture does not realise the beauty and the glory of Christmas.  It is the best distinction, perhaps, between the false mysticism and the true that the false has to travel far to find its mysteries.  In one case the secret of all is hidden in the Temple of Isis; in the other it is hidden also in a Primitive Methodist chapel.  In one case a spiritual wind blows in the deserts of Egypt and on the mountains of immemorial India.  In the other the wind bloweth where it listeth, and on a night not far distant from this day may suddenly swing open all our doors and strike our bells into madness.

G. K. C.


 — The Speaker, July 18,1903

It is an excellent sign of the reviving interest in Dickens that two good new editions should be published, one the “Biographical Edition” and the other “The Fireside Edition,” both by Messrs.  Chapman and Hall.  They are both well treated in the matter of print and form, and are especially to be commended as they include, even in the smallest instances, as many as possible of those glorious and absurd old illustrations which were the life of Dickens.  Dickens cannot be illustrated now: the trick is lost, like Gothic.  We cannot see ourselves in a Cockney fantasia, a fairyland of clerks.

Once there was a decadent who expressed all the views of his school about Dickens by waving his hands in the air lightly and saying, “a vulgar optimist.” The phrase is a common one, and he would no doubt have preferred an uncommon phrase.  But though he did not know it, he was in truth uttering a paradox more brilliant than all those of his school, a paradox in two words and a paradox justifying and exalting all the things they both detested-the unwise, the ordinary life, the ignorant and the mob.  For what a concentrated and startling notion is packed into the phrase “a vulgar optimist.” Of all queer things in a queer world this surely is the queerest, that “optimism” should be “vulgar.” In an old and sad and enigmatic world in which burdens lie heavy upon all and especially heavy upon the majority, in which only a few have ever attained to leisure or self-culture, in which the overwhelming mass has toiled desperately between the breast and the grave from the beginning of time — it is yet the sublime riddle that a cheerful philosophy is not derided as insane, but simply despised as common-place. A rich and elegant class look down at optimism, and what they have to complain of is that it is too widespread; they look down at the wretched toilers, and what they have to complain of is that they are too “jolly.” Happiness in this den of oppression has to be rebuked like a mob riot.  Misery, in this vale of misery, has to be preached like a curious piece of refinement.

There is that about the human race that makes us feel that it has never done exactly as it should have done on rationalistic lines.  There are instances of this too numerous to detail, but they keep strong that dark doubt of rationalism, that revolt below a revolt, which is so characteristic of this time.  One would think, for instance, that primitive people would have been materialistic, would have sharpened and perfected the tools that conquer the earth and the foods that fill the belly.  Instead of that we find that they were idiots at practical matters, but made themselves really remarkable by singing the most exquisite poems and starting the deepest arguments about metaphysics.  One would think that early poems, however vigorous, would be coarse and lustful; instead of that, barbaric literature, like the Iliad, is generally very pure, and civilised literature, like the Arabian Nights, full of a revolting candour.  And whatever one might think would ever happen to be said against optimism, nobody could possibly have imagined, in the abstract, that it would be called vulgar.  One would have imagined that whatever there was to say against the world would be said by the poor and the coerced; that whatever there was to say for it would be said by the prosperous and the free.  But in this divine topsy-turvydom in which we live the very reverse has been the fact.  Of the pessimists, the great majority have been aristocrats, like Byron or Swinburne.  Of the optimists, the vast majority have risen, like Dickens, from the people.

This is the simplest and the greatest of all the greatnesses of Dickens.  It was precisely because he “could not describe a gentleman” that he could never really describe a villain.  When he tried to picture the aristocratic pessimist, as in Sir John Chester, in Barnaby Rudge, he failed entirely, and had every reason to be proud of that manly and glorious failure.  For the world from which he came was one full of furies and acquainted with grief, but unacquainted at least with that cold turret and those discolouring windows of the empty soul; unacquainted with the last and most final curse that can fall from heaven, that which Mr. Myers finely summarised in words that might be an epitaph on the age:

“What art thou, man, and why art thou despairing
God shall forgive thee all but thy despair.”

The most vivid and personal of all his works, David Copperfield, contains that incomparable description of a dim and ignominious boyhood, the changed and sinister home, the coarse, unwholesome school, the vast dull ofiice and the mean wage, the sickening solitude of London.  Even our most gruesomely prosaic moderns could scarcely leave on the memory an impression so black and genuine as “Murdstone and Grinby’s,” of the deadly sadness of childhood.  But Dickens having written that added something else.  He added the following words: “A curtain had for ever fallen upon my life at Murdstone and Grinby’s. No one has ever raised that curtain since.  I have lifted it, for a moment, even in this narrative with a reluctant hand and dropped it gladly.  Whether it lasted for a year or more or less I do not know.  I only know that it was and ceased to be, and that I have written, and there I leave it.” That is a far truer account of the place of these bitter times in a life that has had any healthy fulfilment afterwards than the spiritual vivisections and incurable manglings in the works of the modern realist.  There are scores of David Copperfields talking in the parlours and pot-houses of the real world (the glorious lower middle classes); they have been through the unrepeatable and made their bed in hell for weeks at a time; but when they tell of their lives they do not generally speak of this-they speak precisely as Copperfield does with his Miss Trotwood and his Wilkins Micawber.  They tell, that is, with exuberant joy and amazing exaggeration, tales of the admirable rudeness of a maiden aunt or the admirable bankruptcies of a commercial traveller.

The “Biographical” edition of Dickens, which has just appeared, has appended to it (somewhat after the manner of the Thackeray edition which appeared some time ago) a life divided into sections; and the life of Dickens, however fragmentarily read, is quite sufficient to establish this general view.  It was, as everybody knows, Dickens himself who went to Murdstone and Grinby’s, Dickens who toiled in his mere boyhood in a vast ugly business without money or friends.  If he came to whitewash the world it is at least odd that he came from a blacking-factory to do it.

G. K. C.


 — The Speaker, October 10, 1903

Like all sentimentalists, Mr. Chamberlain has a certain dim, but real, kinship with the genuine emotions.  He has that mark of the undeveloped and cockney romantic, a tendency to be impressed with a thing, if it is really very big-if it is something like “the illimitable veldt.” He is the sort of man who would always write a poem at the correct waterfall, the waterfall which is down in the guide-book. And it is an interesting example of this fact, and of the fact that his rhetoric is his only enduring and genuine quality, that he said an oratorical and conventional, but still a finely accurate thing, about Mr. Gladstone; he said that we were too near the mountain even to understand, as it were, that it was a mountain.  There is really this paradox in history of the thing that grows larger as it grows more distant.  The more we travel down the valley of the present age, the more we feel that the victory of Gladstone’s mental attitude is long and wearisome, and slow, and certain.  We have buried that ideal upon the hill behind us, but we know that our avenger liveth, and that he shall appear in the latter days of the earth.

I only wish in this article to point out one or two of the matters in which Mr. Morley’s Life of Gladstone, and more especially his picture of Gladstone as an individual, as a temperament, gives examples of this inevitable triumph, this essential rightness of his point of view.  There are an enormous number of them; but one, I think, towers above all the rest.  It is not a lesson from Gladstone’s policy, or from his philosophy, or even from his ethics; it is strictly a lesson from his temperament.  And with characteristic fundamentalism (to coin a most necessary word) Mr. John Morley raises the fascinating query connected with the characteristic upon the very first two pages of his chapter entitled “Characteristics.” He says, with truth, that it has always been a question whether, among Gladstone’s marvellous social gifts, humour was really present in any strong degree.  And he adds, with what seems to me to be peculiarly penetrating accuracy, that there can be no doubt, at any rate, that gaiety was among them.  In these two words, and their relations to each other, seems to me to lie the first and most overwhelmingly important of all the inspirations which are to be drawn from the personal character of Gladstone.  He was not without humour-to say that would be to say that he was a monstrosity, which is the very last thing that he was.  He was that kind of genuine great man who is an ordinary man magnified-but magnified proportionately, magnified to scale.  He was broad as well as long.  But he was not pre-eminently possessed with humour, and precisely because he was not pre-eminently possessed with humour he was pre-eminently possessed with gaiety.  He took everything seriously — that is, he had found the key to happiness, the key which is commonly lost to us when we lose the gaiety and gravity of babies.  He was, perhaps, the happiest of all the children of men.  His mighty and cheerful old age, in which the white hair might truly be compared, as in Scripture, to the flowering of the hawthorn, his epic bodily vigour, his translucent intellect, his memory for details, his multitudinous hobbies, his continual cheerfulness, his immortal gaiety; all this is one vast standing protest against the most pitiful of modern idolatries, the modern idolatry of humour.  It is the great answer to the philosophy which, in contempt of the image of God, would turn man into a philosophical hyena.  Looking at the funny side of things may be the way to be clever, or the way to be amusing, or the way to be famous, or the way to be Prime Minister-it is not the way to be happy.  It is not the way to be great.  Gladstone stands against his antagonist Disraeli in nothing so fearlessly, in nothing so disdainfully as in this capacity of the delight of gravity.  The enthusiast was a happy man; the mocker was a miserable man.  Disraeli despised even his victories.  Gladstone enjoyed even his defeats.  The one looked through the diminishing end of the telescope; the other through the magnifying.  It is not difficult to say which came nearer to the stars at which they looked.

At present we seem to be working under the inspiration of Disraeli chiefly; not in politics, I mean, but merely in the ethics and aesthetics of daily life.  The humourists of the later nineteenth century, with their strange waistcoats and their strange sins, were perhaps the most miserable people that the world has ever seen.  The face of a humourist of our time is like the face of one of the damned.  The reason of the failure of our modern politics is that all our politicians at the back of their souls regard a war of statesmen as a war of beetles.  Nay, they would regard a war of angels as a war of beetles.  They have cultivated humour the malady that makes everything small.  But Gladstone regarded a war of statesmen as a war of angels-nay, he would, if his attentions had been fixed on that, have regarded a war of beetles as a war of angels.  There is no compromise between the two views.  Either we are right in seeing things as Gladstone saw them, as growing larger and larger as we come near them, which ends in thinking, as Gladstone thought, a misprint in a time-table of indescribable importance.  Or else we are right in seeing, as Disraeli saw, all things grow smaller and smaller as we pass away from them, which ends in seeing, as Disraeli saw, the convulsions of nations as a joke.  Humour is that which makes all things small; but it makes nothing so small as the humourist.

In this sublime tendency to see small things as great we find the chief key to Gladstone’s amazing happiness, but we also find the chief key to the things that were misunderstood and vilified in his political character.  For instance, nothing appears to have exasperated his opponents more than what they regarded as a habit of making very fine distinctions; of separating one logical hair from another.  Some seem to have regarded it as a proof of his futility and smallness; it was, of course, a proof of his joy and immense genius for life.  He dwelt on small distinctions because nothing appeared to him small.  The moment he set himself to a minute logical distinction, it was as if he had suddenly decided to study fretwork or to collect beetles.  There was a right and a wrong way of doing the thing, and he hungered after the right way with the hunger of a saint for heaven, His vitality loved mere logic as it would have loved any other fight.  And he stands, as a second example, against that false contemporary notion that the detail is the enemy of the universal.  He stands against the notion which is the root of Imperialism, that the tramp knows more of the world than the ploughman.  The tramp knows far less of the world, for he has never ploughed.  Gladstone ploughed.  As Mr. Morley says finely, “He was lowlander as well as highlander.”

Lastly, and here, perhaps, we touch on the deepest and most essential fact, the temperament of Gladstone stands as a kind of protest against one of the worst delusions Of our age.  It is the delusion that the man of sharp and strong convictions is not liberal.  It is false.  Persecution has always come from the vague people; persecution comes in its fullest strength from the people who have no convictions at all.  The people to whom the name of Bradlaugh is still a source of a sort of shiver are the people who politely and reverently believe in nothing.  The man who defended the unquestionable political rights of Bradlaugh was the man who believed in the absolute truth of the Athanasian Creed.  Between those two men all our modern life is an abyss and welter of vague bigotry and sentimental brutality.  Across that abyss the two sincere believers saluted each other.



 — The Speaker, October 31, 1903

Poems of James Clarence Mangan.  Dublin: O’Donoghue and Co.

Of late years the insistence on the merely visionary and elvish aspect of Ireland has been perhaps from the point of view of those who love nationalism and the nation a little overdone.  It is true that the Irish spirit has a tendency towards dreams; it is true that this is a noble and essential spirit, but it is a noble and essential spirit in all peoples, and ought not to be an obsession in any.  Every nation has dreamed.  and Ireland has not only dreamed.  It is perfectly ridiculous to talk about historic Ireland as if she were a nation of sleep-walkers. It has had other functions-that fairy being the late Mr. Parnell, that shrouded mystic Mr. Daniel O’Connell, that poet of weird loves the Duke of Wellington, that broken lily of beautiful failure the late Lord Russell of Killowen, that sad-eyed changeling Mr. T. P. O’Connor, that orphan of the a simple appeal of the old gods Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, that home of lost causes Sir Thomas Lipton, all these in various manners, despite their prevailing dreaminess, exhibit what looks to the ordinary eye very like the ordinary miscellaneous human output of a nation, great men, small men, bullies, rationalists, business men, and charlatans.  It is quite ridiculous that at a point when even Englishmen are beginning to admit that Irishmen have for a century largely ruled the Army, the law courts, the newspapers, and the colonies, Irishmen should begin to say that they will never have any kingdom to rule but elfland.

The truth surely is that Irishmen in dwelling on the unquestionable poetry of their people have been so totally misled by the more morbid modernism as to misunderstand what poetry signifies.  They have talked of it as if it were a beautiful disease, whereas it is simply one of the primary conditions of national health.  If it be true (I do not think it is completely true) that England is practical to the neglect of poetry, that Ireland dreams and England does not dream, then it means that Ireland is healthy and England is diseased.  If Ireland is conscious of the borderland of the reason which leads to the unreasonable and the divine, if Ireland is vain of a prehistoric glory, if Ireland listens to old wives’ fables and calls upon the genius of the hill or stream, Ireland is not therefore a dreamer among nations.  She is simply a nation, a common healthy nation like the other nations of the world.  If England neglects these things, and talks only about the advance of civilisation and the fall in Consols, then England is not in the least the type of normal common sense.  England is in this the morbid exception among peoples; England is the eccentric; England is the dreamer.  That Ireland believes in the fairies is one of the proofs that she has to offer that she is a sane and vigorous community.  Too many Celtophiles talk as if the man who believed in the fairies must be a fragile and over-sensitised artist.  The general truth about the world as it is may be best expressed by saying that the man who believes in the fairies in any country might be trusted physically and morally to knock down two of the men who do not.

This preliminary protest is rendered necessary by the very act of criticising the poems of James Clarence Mangan, which have just been issued by Messrs.  O’Donoghue and Co., of Dublin.  For the most common criticism which this remarkable man is likely to meet with in England is the suggestion that the combination in him of imaginative talent and moral failure is typical of some such alleged combination in the Irish race.  Englishmen of the heavy Unionist type will be only too glad to admit that Mangan had a genius that towered up to the stars and a sympathy that descended into hell, if only they can insist alongside of it that he owed money to a landlady and took opium.  For this at bottom means their whole case, that the Irishman can delight the Englishman.  but cannot rule himself.  Against that preliminary notion of Mangan, that he is Irish in his brilliant futility, a simple stand must be made, and it is true, as Mr. O’Donoghue says in his very interesting introduction: “There were two Mangans-one well known to the Muses, the other to the police; one soared through the empyrean and sought the stars, the other lay too often in gutters of Peter-street and Bride-street.” But facts well known to everyone remind us at once that there is nothing in the least Irish about this; the type is intrnational, certainly not national.  Therc were two Byrons, there were two De Quinceys, there were two Poes.  Mangan said of himself, in a poem of quite incomparable power and horror:

“And he fell far through that pit abysmal,
The gulf and grave of Maginn and Burns,
And pawned his soul for the devil’s dismal
Stock of returns.”

But no one says that the temperament of Burns is a splendid example of the rhapsodical waste and weakness, the dreaminess and unpracticality of the character of the Scotch.  Nobodv suggests that because Edgar Allan Poe was often found drunk in the streets, like Mangan, it exemplifies a certain impracticable poesy to be looked for in Mr. Pierpont Morgan.

The faults of Mangan were not peculiarly Irish; the world would be an easier place if they could be confined to Ireland.  But, even if they were Irish, the man himself was so totally exceptional as an Irishman, so common as an international type, that he indicates nothing about the general moral attitude of his race.  What he does beyond question attest is the existence of a most vivid and powerful element in the modern Irish, not only of literary instinct, but of great literary tradition.  The truth that the modern English cannot, without great difficulty, get into their heads, is the fact that in Ireland they have played the part of Alaric and the barbarians.  They have damaged an existing civilisation.  They may have had a better one of their own; so may Alaric; that is another matter.  The point is that they do not know what a singular thing the Act of Union really did.  It is now evident that it destroyed a civilised Ireland, an Ireland with innumerable faults, but a distinct, dignified European nation of the eighteenth century.  The British Empire has done the same good work perhaps to Ireland that the barbarians did to Italy.  It has made it simple by breaking it to pieces; it has plunged it again into a hopeful darkness.  But when Ireland was independent it was far more akin to England in its culture and civilisation than it is likely ever to be again.  Before the Union its poet is Moore, who is almost an Englishman.  A hundred years after the Union its poet is Yeats, who boasts himself not merely as an Irishman, but as a Fenian.  Mangan stands in a curious position between these two developments.  In his sterness and anarchism he is akin to the new Celtic school, but there is another quality in him which, as I say, bears the trace of the old eighteenth-century civilisation of Ireland.  For instance, he is an absolute master of that great faculty of the Irish spirit, a faculty lamentably vanished from the new Irish aesthetes, the faculty of passing easily from the grotesque to the serious literary form and back again.  It is in almost every old Irish song and old Irish story, but it is not, it must with regret and respect be admitted, in Yeats or Martin or “A. E.” It is present in its most perfect ease and pungency in that wonderful poem of Mangan’s about the remoteness of youth, of which every verse ends with the refrain:

“Twenty golden years ago.”

Outside Burns you will not find a better instance of a verse being common and casual and great than such a verse as this:

“Dear! dear! I don’t feel well at all somehow.
Few in Weimar dream how bad I am;
Floods of tears grow common with me now,
High Dutch floods that reason cannot dam;
Doctors think I’ll neither live nor thrive
If I mope at home so. I don’t know
Am I living now? I was alive
Twenty golden years ago.”

There is something that lingers in such verses as these of Mangan’s, black and bitter and desperate as they are, of an Ireland which is not wholly represented by the later poets; the echoes of an Ireland that fought and feasted and broke hearts and heads in good temrper.  If it is so, and we have spoiled that gaiety in a people, if we have turned by our continued oppression fighters into mere controversialists and lovers into mere poets, we have a darker charge to answer before God than the bloodiest of the forgotten empires.



 — The Speaker, March 5, 1904

That an increasing number of our modern novels should deal with aspects of the married state is natural and inevitable.  This great human ideal has, like all human ideals, made terrible demands on human nature, and, like all things which men have at any time loved, has surrounded itself with mystery and peril.  And it is particularly desirable to encourage the treatment of this problem in novels chiefly because it may serve to discourage the preposterous habit of discussing it in plays.  For the last ten years nearly every play that called itself serious has revolved in some degree round the question of the safety or danger of the institution of marriage.  And it would be difficult to find a more ridiculous way of discussing marriage than by means of the drama.  It would be difficult to imagine a more ridiculous way of improving marriage than by discussing it.  The things are totally unsuited to each other.  Of all human institutions marriage is the one which most depends upon slow development, upon patience, upon long reaches of time, upon magnanimous compromise, upon kindly habit; in short, upon precisely those things which cannot be put in a play.  Of all forms of art the drama most depends upon rapid alterations and outspoken crises; that is to say, upon the very things upon which marriage does not depend The old poets, who dramatised men and women only in the relations of fighting and first love, were perfectly sensible.  To put the problem of marriage into a play is like putting the problem of transubstantiation into a triolet; they are both excellent things, but they do not express each other.

Of how much more suited is the form of the novel for the discussion of such a matter scarcely a better example could be found than Mr. Vincent Brown’s novel, A Magdalen’s Husband (Duckworth. and Co.). This is not merely because the enigma of the psychological relations of husband and wife is, as I have said, an affair of slow and subtle adaptation; it is in this case something more than that.  For A Magdalen’s Husband is not, as modern stories go, a diary of mental transformation.  It is a very bold and direct and catastrophic tale, a tale with a murder in it and a hanging.  That is to say, it is just the kind of tale that the modern enthusiast (anxious to elevate the drama) would seize hold of, saying, “Come, this is dramatic if anything is dramatic-seduction, murder, execution.  What more could the oldest idealist demand? Let us produce it at the Stage Society.” But he would be wrong.  For the power and vivacity of A Magdalen’s Husband do depend upon those silent and spiritual transitions with which only a novel can exhaustively deal.  In a Stage Society play founded on this story we should have the incidents as they occur.  We should have the adoring husband brutally flinging his wife on the streets.  We should have the highminded lover assassinating a sleeping man.  But in the problem play these events would be incredible.  Their inevitable abruptness would make them so.  It is the highest possible tribute, first to the novel in general, and, second, to this novel in particular, that in A Magdalen’s Husband these events are not incredible.

The story deals with a woman who has fallen from innocence without losing a wholesome instinct for morals, and who marries a man who loves her, but whom she does not love, from a desire to resume a normal and reputable social state.  The best thing in the book is, of course, the tragedy of the husband, who learns that generosity is as powerless as justice to win the wild reward of the lover.  He has stooped to something apparently fathoms below him, and when he has got it he cannot reach it because it is fathoms above him.  The scene of his broken prayer before his last sleep reaches a genuine elevation of pathos, of bold and bitter poetry.  It is characteristic of the conventionalism of the unconventional critics of today that several reviewers have spoken of the book as analysing primarily the agony of the woman.  This is simply the result of the new fad of women dissection which appears to assume that heroes and passions belong peculiarly to women, as beards do to men.  Most married women, at any rate, are aware that there are many kinds of morbidity which men have to a degree which women would find fantastic and impossible.  Mr. Vincent Brown has sufficiently indicated the centre point of his tragedy in the very title of his book.  It is the Magdalen’s Husband, and not the Magdalen.  who is here the crucified.  And, with the paradox of all fine tragedy, it ends on a note of resignation and even of thankfulness: “She rose, drew up the blind, and gazed out upon the morning.  And there was a great hope in her soul.  a great calm in her eyes.” For it is one of those splendid and satisfying contradictions which are in the very entrails of the mystery of art.  The sorrow which we are contemplating is one that is involved in the nature of human life; it does not demoralise us with depression.  About the irremediable sorrows we can all be cheerful-of the eternal evils we never despair.



 — The Speaker, January 14, 1905

The Poems Of William Watson.  Edited and arranged, with an introduction, by J. A. Spender.  Two volumes.  With portrait and many new poems.  London: John Lane.  Crown 8vo, 9s.  net.

Any re-issue of Mr. Watson’s work is not only a pleasure in itself but is critically important and desirable, since he is eminently a man who not only deserves re-consideration but in some sense demands it.  It may or may not be possible to decide that a literary work will not last, but it is generally possible to decide when it is not even meant to last.  And this was true of much of the minor poetry (excellent in itself) which was springing up on all sides at the time when Mr. Watson first wrote.  Not only was most of that work fugitive, but we may say that it was one of its merits to be fugitive, just as we may say that it is one of the merits of a bird to be fugitive, or one of the merits of an arrow to be fugitive.  Some of the best of the minor poets were something better than poets; they were young men; they were comrades and lovers, so full of life as to be able to be superior to mere immortality.  Others were idiots, but idiots so unique as to be valuable at least for a moment, for folly is too sacred a thing for man to enjoy it long.  But of all of them it may be said that their poetry would not have been so good if it had been more great.  Their work was full of wild and childish experiments, sometimes successful, sometimes a ruinous failure; but in all of them the failure was almost as interesting as the success, and in all of them the success was quite as absurd as the failure.  In this sense extravagance is more modest than moderation, for extravagance does not claim to endure.  Mr. William Watson does claim to endure.  They piled their towers sky high, but they made them openly of earth and sand.  He works more quietly than they, yet he is the most arrogant of all of them, for his material is a lump of that marble which was the mother of all the gods.

A certain amount of the literary importance of Mr. Watson can no doubt be traced to the bewildering eccentricity of everybody else.  It is possible for originality to be so popular that it becomes vulgar.  It is possible that the whole ground of obvious invention may be rapidly covered; that every kind of new thing should be brought sharply to the attention of everybody.  The last man of science has declared not only that the moon is made of green cheese, but that he has eaten it.  The last poet has declared, on the authority of a vision, that devils have halos and angels horns.  It seems that there is nothing further that anyone can say that will make anyone else jump.  The extravagance of what has gone before has made all extravagance tame.  People are not merely at ease in Zion; they are at ease in limbo.  Blood and thunder is so victorious that it cannot succeed; men are too blinded with blood to see blood.  Men are too deafened with thunder to hear the thunder.  It seems as if the universe had shown to men its most startling, and they are not startled.  It seems that nothing will startle them.

But there is something which will startle them.  Sanity will startle them, quietness will startle them, classical moderation will startle them.  Any man walking easily and coolly in the conventional paths will touch with an explosion the deep conventions of the unconventional.  Any contented man will seem to these discontented ones a sort of Anarchist.  And this is one of the fundamental fascinations of the position of Mr. William Watson, both as a poet and as a philosopher.  In a time when everyone was original, the only truly original thing left to do was not to be original at all.  The still small voice of sanity came with a sort of hissing stab to remind us that the Lord was not in the thunder.  The world caught its breath for a moment at the one genuine novelty of a man who did not try to be new.

This element in Mr. Watson, of what may be called the arrestingly ordinary, owes much of its impressiveness, of course, to his own perfectly placid courage and consistency in maintaining the attitude.  He meets the disdain of the decadents with a disdain equal to their own; he is fully as proud of being conventional as they can be of being unconventional.  Some of his finest work has been written in defence of himself and his method, and under the impulse of this passionate and pugnacious decency.  Nothing in recent rhetoric has been finer than the whole of the poem called “Apologia,” and especially the passage in which in the middle of a grave and formal defence of classicism he turns dramatically upon the decadents:

“For though of faulty and of erring walk,
I have not suffered aught of frail in me
To stain my song; I have not paid the world
The evil and the insolent courtesy
Of offering it my baseness as a gift.”

This haughty and warlike note is more important in Mr. Watson’s work than has, I think, been commonly allowed.  He is a classicist, but, like many other classicists, from Pope to Matthew Arnold, he is a hard hitter when he deals with certain matters.  On certain things he is, indeed, a doubter, but his very confession of doubt on these has that quality of clearness and severity which characterises the man who knows when he has a conviction and when he has not.  A great many soothing writers give us the impression of never having experienced doubt when the quiet unity of their work really proceeds from their never having experienced belief.  Mr. Watson in stating his uncertainties implies his certainties, and these latter are never very absent from his mind.  Built into his very bones is that old English last-century thing which the flimsy moderns cannot endure or understand — the didactic spirit, the spirit which tells the great man to tell other men simply and fully the whole of his mind.  As in the great English agnostics of the Huxley period, even ignorance itself has a responsibility.  Even if he has nothing to say it is his duty to say so.

The main matter of Mr. Watson’s doubt or uncertainty is religion.  The main matter of his faith or certitude is patriotism.  He is absolutely convinced that he is standing, and rightly standing, for the whole great historic tradition of English letters and English landscape.  He is defending it against a host of foreign influences, against the influence, against the turgidity and obscurity which we have copied from the literature of Germany, against the cheapness and over emphasis which we have borrowed from the literature of America, against the mistiness and melancholy which we have borrowed from the literature of Norway, against the fastidiousness and cruelty which we have borrowed from the literature of France.  In fighting for the wholesome and massive qualities of great English poetry he feels, rightly, that he is fighting for something which is, like all precious things, in perpetual and incurable peril.  His objection to Imperialism is, of course, wholly of this kind; he realises what all other serious people will realise very soon, that if the Imperialist movement goes on for another twenty years (which, fortunately, it will not do) it is doubtful whether there will be any English people left at all.  Purely literary as Mr. Watson is, he has in his heart a certain still vigilance which is as military as that of a sentinel.  His very traditionalism partakes of the nature of warlike obedience.  He follows Milton and Wordsworth as he would follow a volunteer colonel or an impromptu captain if a foreign army were pouring through the gate of Dover.



 — The Speaker, September 9, 1905

The Original Poem of Job.  Translated from the Restored Text by E. T. Dillon.  London: Fisher Unwin, 5s.

Because man is a spirit and unfathomable the past is really as startling and incalculable as the future.  The dead men are as active and dramatic as the men unborn; we know decisively that the men unborn will be men; and we cannot decisively know anything more about the dead.  It is not merely true that Nero may have been misunderstood; he must have been misunderstood, for no man can understand another.  Hence to dive into any very ancient human work is to dive into a bottomless sea, and the man who seeks old things will be always finding new things.  Centuries hence the world will be still seeking for the secret of Job, which is, indeed, in a sense the secret of everything.  It is no disrespect to such able and interesting works as Professor Dillon’s to say that they are only stages in an essentially endless process, the proper appreciation of one of the inexhaustible religious classics.  None of them says the last word on Job, for the last word could only be said on the Last Day.  For a great poem like Job is in this respect like life itself.  The explanations are popular for a month or popular for a century.  But they all fall.  The unexplained thing is popular for ever.  There are weaknesses in the Higher Criticism, as a general phenomenon, which are only gradually unfolding themselves.  There are more defects or difficulties than would at first appear in the scientific treatment of Scripture.  But after all the greatest defect in the scientific treatment of Scripture is simply that it is scientific.  The professor of the Higher Criticism is never tired of declaring that he is detached, that he is disinterested, that he is concerned only with the facts, that he is applying to religious books the unbending methods which are employed by men of science towards the physical order.  If what he says of himself is true, he must be totally unfitted to criticize any books whatever.

Books exist to produce emotions: if we are not moved by them we practically have not read them.  If a real book has not touched us we might as well not have touched the book.  In literature to be dispassionate is simply to be illiterate.  To be disinterested is simply to be uninterested.  The object of a book on comets, of course, is not to make us all feel like comets; but the object of a poem about warriors is to make us all feel like warriors.  It is not merely true that the right method for one may be the wrong method for the other; it must be the wrong method for the other.  A critic who takes a scientific view of the Book of Job is exactly like a surgeon who should take a poetical view of appendicitis: he is simply an old muddler.

It is said, of course, that this scientific quality is only applied to the actual facts, which are the department of science.  But what are the actual facts? There are very few facts in connection with a work of literature which are really wholly apart from literary tact and grasp.  That certain words are on a piece of parchment in a certain order science can say.  Whether in that order they make sense or nonsense only literature can say.  That in another place (say on a brick) the same words are in another order science can say.  Whether it is a more likely order only literature can say.  That on two bricks there is the same sentence science can say.  Whether it is the sort of sentence one man would write on two bricks, or two men happen to write on their own respective bricks, only literature can say.  Let me take an example from Professor Dillon’s own interesting introduction.  Referring to a controversy among scholars about the possible indebtedness of the unknown Hebrew poet to other Hebrew writers, he says: “On the one hand it is doubtless possible that the words:

“Art thou the first man born?
Or wast thou brought forth before the hills?”

were suggested by the verses in Proverbs, ‘Before the mountains were settled, before the hills, was I brought forth.’” Of course it is possible, but I cannot see (as a matter of literary common sense) why it is in the smallest degree likely.  Surely two independent people or two hundred independent people might use so natural a phrase as that a thing was older than the hills.  We might as well bind together in chains of plagiarism all the people who ever said that a thing shone like the sun or bloomed and faded like a flower.  Outside the use of hills (those rare objects) and of being brought forth (that unusual and pathological process), the two passages are not in spirit or inspiration in the least similar, for the passage in Proverbs (if I remember it aright) is an abstract, mystical excursus of which the point is that a Logos or idea, preceded all physical phenomena, whereas the passage in Job is simply a sharp, savage joke, of which the point is that a man is an uncommonly unimportant fungus on the face of the earth.  No poet would naturally take a thing from one to use it in the other: but then to feel this is simply a matter of poetic sentiment and science is no more use in the matter than gardening.  Science can only say that the same Hebrew word is used; but whether the word is common, or natural, or forced, or affected, or inevitable is a question of pure literature; and it is the whole question at issue.  The Higher Critic, as such, can only see that the words are the same; that is, he can only see what a child could see.

Let it not be supposed that Professor Dillon’s work is thus weak; he makes many wise suggestions and emendations.  But when they are entirely wise they are also literary and entirely undemonstrable.  To take one instance out of many, at the end of that noble Nihilist chapter three, in which Job curses his day, which is indeed the sublimest point of suicide, the very crest and imperial crown of cowardice, Job says in the authorized version: “For my sighing cometh before I eat and my roarings are poured out like the waters.” This is evidently an extremely literary and ingenious rendering by the original translators of a passage of which they could not make head or tail.  According to the later version the meaning is simpler and stronger and more in the manner of good primitive poetry.  In Professor Dillon’s book it runs “For sighing is become my bread, and my crying is unto me as water.” This has all the elemental energy of the primeval phrase; it would be difficult to express with more directness what is the worst part of pain or calamity, the fact of the abnormal thing becoming the normal, disaster becoming a routine.  We can all endure catastrophe as long as it is catastrophic; it is maddening the moment it is orderly.

In a sense this small matter expresses the whole of Job.  Professor Dillon analyzes very well the main and obvious idea that it is a protest against that paltry optimism which sees in suffering a mark of sin.  But he does not, I think, quite pierce to the further and ultimate point of “Job,” which is that the true secret and hope of human life is something much more dark and beautiful than it would be if suffering were a mark of sin.  A mere scheme of rewards and punishments would be something much meaner and more mechanical than this exasperating and inspiring life of ours.  An automatic scheme of Karma, or “reaping what we sow,” would be just as gross and material as sowing beans or reaping barley.  It might satisfy mechanicians or modern monists, or theosophists, or cautious financiers, but not brave men.  It is no paradox to say that the one thing which would make suffering intolerable would be the thought that it was systematically inflicted upon sinners.  The one thing which would make our agony infamous would be the idea that it was deserved.  On the other hand, the doctrine which makes it most endurable is exactly the opposite doctrine, that life is a battle in which the best put their bodies in the front, in which God sends only His holiest into the hail of the arrows of hell.  In the book of Job is foreshadowed that better doctrine full of a dark chivalry that he that bore the worst that men can suffer was the best that bore the form of man.

There is one central conception of the book of Job, which literally makes it immortal, which will make it survive our modern time and our modern philosophies as it has survived many better times and many better philosophies.  That is the conception that the universe, if it is to be admired, is to be admired for its strangeness and not for its rationality, for its splendid unreason and not for its reason.  Job’s friends attempt to comfort him with philosophical optimism, like the intellectuals of the eighteenth century.  Job tries to comfort himself with philosophical pessimism like the intellectuals of the nineteenth century.  But God comforts Job with indecipherable mystery, and for the first time Job is comforted.  Eliphaz gives one answer, Job gives another answer, and the question still remains an open wound.  God simply refuses to answer, and somehow the question is answered.  Job flings at God one riddle, God flings back at Job a hundred riddles, and Job is at peace.  He is comforted with conundrums.  For the grand and enduring idea in the poem, as suggested above, is that if we are to be reconciled to this great cosmic experience it must be as something divinely strange and divinely violent, a quest, or a conspiracy, or some sacred joke.  The last chapters of the colossal monologue of the Almighty are devoted in a style superficially queer enough to the detailed description of two monsters.  Behemoth and Leviathan may, or may not be, the hippopotamus and the crocodile.  But, whatever they are, they are evidently embodiments of the enormous absurdity of nature.  They typify that cosmic trait which anyone may see in the Zoological Gardens, the folly of the Lord, which is wisdom.  And in connection with one of them, God is made to utter a splendid satire upon the prim and orderly piety of the vulgar optimist.  “Wilt thou play with him as with a bird? Wilt thou bind him for thy maidens?” That is the main message of the book of Job.  Whatever this cosmic monster may be, a good animal or a bad animal, he is at least a wild animal and not a tame animal; it is a wild world and not a tame world.