Part 2 out of 4
that any one's thoughts should, at the moment of regarding him,
fly back to the dark bedside where the doctor doles out brandy.
It may seem stranger still that they should go back
to the grey wastrel shaking with gin in Houndsditch.
But a great philosophical unity links the three in an evil bond.
Omar Khayyam's wine-bibbing is bad, not because it is wine-bibbing.
It is bad, and very bad, because it is medical wine-bibbing. It
is the drinking of a man who drinks because he is not happy.
His is the wine that shuts out the universe, not the wine that reveals it.
It is not poetical drinking, which is joyous and instinctive;
it is rational drinking, which is as prosaic as an investment,
as unsavoury as a dose of camomile. Whole heavens above it,
from the point of view of sentiment, though not of style,
rises the splendour of some old English drinking-song--
"Then pass the bowl, my comrades all,
And let the zider vlow."
For this song was caught up by happy men to express the worth
of truly worthy things, of brotherhood and garrulity, and the brief
and kindly leisure of the poor. Of course, the great part of
the more stolid reproaches directed against the Omarite morality
are as false and babyish as such reproaches usually are. One critic,
whose work I have read, had the incredible foolishness to call Omar
an atheist and a materialist. It is almost impossible for an Oriental
to be either; the East understands metaphysics too well for that.
Of course, the real objection which a philosophical Christian
would bring against the religion of Omar, is not that he gives
no place to God, it is that he gives too much place to God.
His is that terrible theism which can imagine nothing else but deity,
and which denies altogether the outlines of human personality
and human will.
"The ball no question makes of Ayes or Noes,
But Here or There as strikes the Player goes;
And He that tossed you down into the field,
He knows about it all--he knows--he knows."
A Christian thinker such as Augustine or Dante would object to this
because it ignores free-will, which is the valour and dignity of the soul.
The quarrel of the highest Christianity with this scepticism is
not in the least that the scepticism denies the existence of God;
it is that it denies the existence of man.
In this cult of the pessimistic pleasure-seeker the Rubaiyat
stands first in our time; but it does not stand alone.
Many of the most brilliant intellects of our time have urged
us to the same self-conscious snatching at a rare delight.
Walter Pater said that we were all under sentence of death,
and the only course was to enjoy exquisite moments simply
for those moments' sake. The same lesson was taught by the
very powerful and very desolate philosophy of Oscar Wilde.
It is the carpe diem religion; but the carpe diem religion is
not the religion of happy people, but of very unhappy people.
Great joy does, not gather the rosebuds while it may;
its eyes are fixed on the immortal rose which Dante saw.
Great joy has in it the sense of immortality; the very splendour
of youth is the sense that it has all space to stretch its legs in.
In all great comic literature, in "Tristram Shandy"
or "Pickwick", there is this sense of space and incorruptibility;
we feel the characters are deathless people in an endless tale.
It is true enough, of course, that a pungent happiness comes chiefly
in certain passing moments; but it is not true that we should think
of them as passing, or enjoy them simply "for those moments' sake."
To do this is to rationalize the happiness, and therefore to destroy it.
Happiness is a mystery like religion, and should never be rationalized.
Suppose a man experiences a really splendid moment of pleasure.
I do not mean something connected with a bit of enamel, I mean
something with a violent happiness in it--an almost painful happiness.
A man may have, for instance, a moment of ecstasy in first love,
or a moment of victory in battle. The lover enjoys the moment,
but precisely not for the moment's sake. He enjoys it for the
woman's sake, or his own sake. The warrior enjoys the moment, but not
for the sake of the moment; he enjoys it for the sake of the flag.
The cause which the flag stands for may be foolish and fleeting;
the love may be calf-love, and last a week. But the patriot thinks
of the flag as eternal; the lover thinks of his love as something
that cannot end. These moments are filled with eternity;
these moments are joyful because they do not seem momentary.
Once look at them as moments after Pater's manner, and they become
as cold as Pater and his style. Man cannot love mortal things.
He can only love immortal things for an instant.
Pater's mistake is revealed in his most famous phrase.
He asks us to burn with a hard, gem-like flame. Flames are never
hard and never gem-like--they cannot be handled or arranged.
So human emotions are never hard and never gem-like; they are
always dangerous, like flames, to touch or even to examine.
There is only one way in which our passions can become hard
and gem-like, and that is by becoming as cold as gems.
No blow then has ever been struck at the natural loves and laughter
of men so sterilizing as this carpe diem of the aesthetes.
For any kind of pleasure a totally different spirit is required;
a certain shyness, a certain indeterminate hope, a certain
boyish expectation. Purity and simplicity are essential to passions--
yes even to evil passions. Even vice demands a sort of virginity.
Omar's (or Fitzgerald's) effect upon the other world we may let go,
his hand upon this world has been heavy and paralyzing.
The Puritans, as I have said, are far jollier than he.
The new ascetics who follow Thoreau or Tolstoy are much livelier company;
for, though the surrender of strong drink and such luxuries may
strike us as an idle negation, it may leave a man with innumerable
natural pleasures, and, above all, with man's natural power of happiness.
Thoreau could enjoy the sunrise without a cup of coffee. If Tolstoy
cannot admire marriage, at least he is healthy enough to admire mud.
Nature can be enjoyed without even the most natural luxuries.
A good bush needs no wine. But neither nature nor wine nor anything
else can be enjoyed if we have the wrong attitude towards happiness,
and Omar (or Fitzgerald) did have the wrong attitude towards happiness.
He and those he has influenced do not see that if we are to be truly gay,
we must believe that there is some eternal gaiety in the nature of things.
We cannot enjoy thoroughly even a pas-de-quatre at a subscription dance
unless we believe that the stars are dancing to the same tune. No one can
be really hilarious but the serious man. "Wine," says the Scripture,
"maketh glad the heart of man," but only of the man who has a heart.
The thing called high spirits is possible only to the spiritual.
Ultimately a man cannot rejoice in anything except the nature of things.
Ultimately a man can enjoy nothing except religion. Once in the world's
history men did believe that the stars were dancing to the tune
of their temples, and they danced as men have never danced since.
With this old pagan eudaemonism the sage of the Rubaiyat has
quite as little to do as he has with any Christian variety.
He is no more a Bacchanal than he is a saint. Dionysus and his church
was grounded on a serious joie-de-vivre like that of Walt Whitman.
Dionysus made wine, not a medicine, but a sacrament.
Jesus Christ also made wine, not a medicine, but a sacrament.
But Omar makes it, not a sacrament, but a medicine. He feasts
because life is not joyful; he revels because he is not glad.
"Drink," he says, "for you know not whence you come nor why.
Drink, for you know not when you go nor where. Drink, because the
stars are cruel and the world as idle as a humming-top. Drink,
because there is nothing worth trusting, nothing worth fighting for.
Drink, because all things are lapsed in a base equality and an
evil peace." So he stands offering us the cup in his hand.
And at the high altar of Christianity stands another figure, in whose
hand also is the cup of the vine. "Drink" he says "for the whole
world is as red as this wine, with the crimson of the love and wrath
of God. Drink, for the trumpets are blowing for battle and this
is the stirrup-cup. Drink, for this my blood of the new testament
that is shed for you. Drink, for I know of whence you come and why.
Drink, for I know of when you go and where."
VIII. The Mildness of the Yellow Press
There is a great deal of protest made from one quarter or another
nowadays against the influence of that new journalism which is
associated with the names of Sir Alfred Harmsworth and Mr. Pearson.
But almost everybody who attacks it attacks on the ground that it
is very sensational, very violent and vulgar and startling.
I am speaking in no affected contrariety, but in the simplicity
of a genuine personal impression, when I say that this journalism
offends as being not sensational or violent enough. The real vice
is not that it is startling, but that it is quite insupportably tame.
The whole object is to keep carefully along a certain level of the
expected and the commonplace; it may be low, but it must take care
also to be flat. Never by any chance in it is there any of that real
plebeian pungency which can be heard from the ordinary cabman in
the ordinary street. We have heard of a certain standard of decorum
which demands that things should be funny without being vulgar,
but the standard of this decorum demands that if things are vulgar
they shall be vulgar without being funny. This journalism does
not merely fail to exaggerate life--it positively underrates it;
and it has to do so because it is intended for the faint and languid
recreation of men whom the fierceness of modern life has fatigued.
This press is not the yellow press at all; it is the drab press.
Sir Alfred Harmsworth must not address to the tired clerk
any observation more witty than the tired clerk might be able
to address to Sir Alfred Harmsworth. It must not expose anybody
(anybody who is powerful, that is), it must not offend anybody,
it must not even please anybody, too much. A general vague idea
that in spite of all this, our yellow press is sensational,
arises from such external accidents as large type or lurid headlines.
It is quite true that these editors print everything they possibly
can in large capital letters. But they do this, not because it
is startling, but because it is soothing. To people wholly weary
or partly drunk in a dimly lighted train, it is a simplification and
a comfort to have things presented in this vast and obvious manner.
The editors use this gigantic alphabet in dealing with their readers,
for exactly the same reason that parents and governesses use
a similar gigantic alphabet in teaching children to spell.
The nursery authorities do not use an A as big as a horseshoe
in order to make the child jump; on the contrary, they use it to put
the child at his ease, to make things smoother and more evident.
Of the same character is the dim and quiet dame school which
Sir Alfred Harmsworth and Mr. Pearson keep. All their sentiments
are spelling-book sentiments--that is to say, they are sentiments
with which the pupil is already respectfully familiar.
All their wildest posters are leaves torn from a copy-book.
Of real sensational journalism, as it exists in France,
in Ireland, and in America, we have no trace in this country.
When a journalist in Ireland wishes to create a thrill,
he creates a thrill worth talking about. He denounces a leading
Irish member for corruption, or he charges the whole police system
with a wicked and definite conspiracy. When a French journalist
desires a frisson there is a frisson; he discovers, let us say,
that the President of the Republic has murdered three wives.
Our yellow journalists invent quite as unscrupulously as this;
their moral condition is, as regards careful veracity, about the same.
But it is their mental calibre which happens to be such
that they can only invent calm and even reassuring things.
The fictitious version of the massacre of the envoys of Pekin
was mendacious, but it was not interesting, except to those who
had private reasons for terror or sorrow. It was not connected
with any bold and suggestive view of the Chinese situation.
It revealed only a vague idea that nothing could be impressive
except a great deal of blood. Real sensationalism, of which I
happen to be very fond, may be either moral or immoral.
But even when it is most immoral, it requires moral courage.
For it is one of the most dangerous things on earth genuinely
to surprise anybody. If you make any sentient creature jump,
you render it by no means improbable that it will jump on you.
But the leaders of this movement have no moral courage or immoral courage;
their whole method consists in saying, with large and elaborate emphasis,
the things which everybody else says casually, and without remembering
what they have said. When they brace themselves up to attack anything,
they never reach the point of attacking anything which is large
and real, and would resound with the shock. They do not attack
the army as men do in France, or the judges as men do in Ireland,
or the democracy itself as men did in England a hundred years ago.
They attack something like the War Office--something, that is,
which everybody attacks and nobody bothers to defend,
something which is an old joke in fourth-rate comic papers.
just as a man shows he has a weak voice by straining it
to shout, so they show the hopelessly unsensational nature
of their minds when they really try to be sensational.
With the whole world full of big and dubious institutions,
with the whole wickedness of civilization staring them in the face,
their idea of being bold and bright is to attack the War Office.
They might as well start a campaign against the weather, or form
a secret society in order to make jokes about mothers-in-law. Nor is it
only from the point of view of particular amateurs of the sensational
such as myself, that it is permissible to say, in the words of
Cowper's Alexander Selkirk, that "their tameness is shocking to me."
The whole modern world is pining for a genuinely sensational journalism.
This has been discovered by that very able and honest journalist,
Mr. Blatchford, who started his campaign against Christianity,
warned on all sides, I believe, that it would ruin his paper, but who
continued from an honourable sense of intellectual responsibility.
He discovered, however, that while he had undoubtedly shocked
his readers, he had also greatly advanced his newspaper.
It was bought--first, by all the people who agreed with him and wanted
to read it; and secondly, by all the people who disagreed with him,
and wanted to write him letters. Those letters were voluminous (I helped,
I am glad to say, to swell their volume), and they were generally
inserted with a generous fulness. Thus was accidentally discovered
(like the steam-engine) the great journalistic maxim--that if an
editor can only make people angry enough, they will write half
his newspaper for him for nothing.
Some hold that such papers as these are scarcely the proper
objects of so serious a consideration; but that can scarcely
be maintained from a political or ethical point of view.
In this problem of the mildness and tameness of the Harmsworth mind
there is mirrored the outlines of a much larger problem which is
akin to it.
The Harmsworthian journalist begins with a worship of success
and violence, and ends in sheer timidity and mediocrity.
But he is not alone in this, nor does he come by this fate merely
because he happens personally to be stupid. Every man, however brave,
who begins by worshipping violence, must end in mere timidity.
Every man, however wise, who begins by worshipping success, must end
in mere mediocrity. This strange and paradoxical fate is involved,
not in the individual, but in the philosophy, in the point of view.
It is not the folly of the man which brings about this
necessary fall; it is his wisdom. The worship of success is
the only one out of all possible worships of which this is true,
that its followers are foredoomed to become slaves and cowards.
A man may be a hero for the sake of Mrs. Gallup's ciphers or for
the sake of human sacrifice, but not for the sake of success.
For obviously a man may choose to fail because he loves
Mrs. Gallup or human sacrifice; but he cannot choose to fail
because he loves success. When the test of triumph is men's test
of everything, they never endure long enough to triumph at all.
As long as matters are really hopeful, hope is a mere flattery
or platitude; it is only when everything is hopeless that hope
begins to be a strength at all. Like all the Christian virtues,
it is as unreasonable as it is indispensable.
It was through this fatal paradox in the nature of things that all these
modern adventurers come at last to a sort of tedium and acquiescence.
They desired strength; and to them to desire strength was to
admire strength; to admire strength was simply to admire the statu quo.
They thought that he who wished to be strong ought to respect the strong.
They did not realize the obvious verity that he who wishes to be
strong must despise the strong. They sought to be everything,
to have the whole force of the cosmos behind them, to have an energy
that would drive the stars. But they did not realize the two
great facts--first, that in the attempt to be everything the first
and most difficult step is to be something; second, that the moment
a man is something, he is essentially defying everything.
The lower animals, say the men of science, fought their way up
with a blind selfishness. If this be so, the only real moral of it
is that our unselfishness, if it is to triumph, must be equally blind.
The mammoth did not put his head on one side and wonder whether
mammoths were a little out of date. Mammoths were at least
as much up to date as that individual mammoth could make them.
The great elk did not say, "Cloven hoofs are very much worn now."
He polished his own weapons for his own use. But in the reasoning
animal there has arisen a more horrible danger, that he may fail
through perceiving his own failure. When modern sociologists talk
of the necessity of accommodating one's self to the trend of the time,
they forget that the trend of the time at its best consists entirely
of people who will not accommodate themselves to anything.
At its worst it consists of many millions of frightened creatures
all accommodating themselves to a trend that is not there.
And that is becoming more and more the situation of modern England.
Every man speaks of public opinion, and means by public opinion,
public opinion minus his opinion. Every man makes his
contribution negative under the erroneous impression that
the next man's contribution is positive. Every man surrenders
his fancy to a general tone which is itself a surrender.
And over all the heartless and fatuous unity spreads this new
and wearisome and platitudinous press, incapable of invention,
incapable of audacity, capable only of a servility all the more
contemptible because it is not even a servility to the strong.
But all who begin with force and conquest will end in this.
The chief characteristic of the "New journalism" is simply that it
is bad journalism. It is beyond all comparison the most shapeless,
careless, and colourless work done in our day.
I read yesterday a sentence which should be written in letters of gold
and adamant; it is the very motto of the new philosophy of Empire.
I found it (as the reader has already eagerly guessed) in Pearson's
Magazine, while I was communing (soul to soul) with Mr. C. Arthur Pearson,
whose first and suppressed name I am afraid is Chilperic.
It occurred in an article on the American Presidential Election.
This is the sentence, and every one should read it carefully,
and roll it on the tongue, till all the honey be tasted.
"A little sound common sense often goes further with an audience
of American working-men than much high-flown argument. A speaker who,
as he brought forward his points, hammered nails into a board,
won hundreds of votes for his side at the last Presidential Election."
I do not wish to soil this perfect thing with comment;
the words of Mercury are harsh after the songs of Apollo.
But just think for a moment of the mind, the strange inscrutable mind,
of the man who wrote that, of the editor who approved it,
of the people who are probably impressed by it, of the incredible
American working-man, of whom, for all I know, it may be true.
Think what their notion of "common sense" must be! It is delightful
to realize that you and I are now able to win thousands of votes
should we ever be engaged in a Presidential Election, by doing something
of this kind. For I suppose the nails and the board are not essential
to the exhibition of "common sense;" there may be variations.
We may read--
"A little common sense impresses American working-men more than
high-flown argument. A speaker who, as he made his points,
pulled buttons off his waistcoat, won thousands of votes for his side."
Or, "Sound common sense tells better in America than high-flown argument.
Thus Senator Budge, who threw his false teeth in the air every time
he made an epigram, won the solid approval of American working-men."
Or again, "The sound common sense of a gentleman from Earlswood,
who stuck straws in his hair during the progress of his speech,
assured the victory of Mr. Roosevelt."
There are many other elements in this article on which I should
love to linger. But the matter which I wish to point out is that
in that sentence is perfectly revealed the whole truth of what
our Chamberlainites, hustlers, bustlers, Empire-builders, and strong,
silent men, really mean by "commonsense." They mean knocking,
with deafening noise and dramatic effect, meaningless bits
of iron into a useless bit of wood. A man goes on to an American
platform and behaves like a mountebank fool with a board and
a hammer; well, I do not blame him; I might even admire him.
He may be a dashing and quite decent strategist. He may be a fine
romantic actor, like Burke flinging the dagger on the floor.
He may even (for all I know) be a sublime mystic, profoundly impressed
with the ancient meaning of the divine trade of the Carpenter,
and offering to the people a parable in the form of a ceremony.
All I wish to indicate is the abyss of mental confusion in
which such wild ritualism can be called "sound common sense."
And it is in that abyss of mental confusion, and in that alone,
that the new Imperialism lives and moves and has its being.
The whole glory and greatness of Mr. Chamberlain consists in this:
that if a man hits the right nail on the head nobody cares where he hits
it to or what it does. They care about the noise of the hammer, not about
the silent drip of the nail. Before and throughout the African war,
Mr. Chamberlain was always knocking in nails, with ringing decisiveness.
But when we ask, "But what have these nails held together?
Where is your carpentry? Where are your contented Outlanders?
Where is your free South Africa? Where is your British prestige?
What have your nails done?" then what answer is there?
We must go back (with an affectionate sigh) to our Pearson
for the answer to the question of what the nails have done:
"The speaker who hammered nails into a board won thousands of votes."
Now the whole of this passage is admirably characteristic of the new
journalism which Mr. Pearson represents, the new journalism which has
just purchased the Standard. To take one instance out of hundreds,
the incomparable man with the board and nails is described in the Pearson's
article as calling out (as he smote the symbolic nail), "Lie number one.
Nailed to the Mast! Nailed to the Mast!" In the whole office there
was apparently no compositor or office-boy to point out that we
speak of lies being nailed to the counter, and not to the mast.
Nobody in the office knew that Pearson's Magazine was falling
into a stale Irish bull, which must be as old as St. Patrick.
This is the real and essential tragedy of the sale of the Standard.
It is not merely that journalism is victorious over literature.
It is that bad journalism is victorious over good journalism.
It is not that one article which we consider costly and beautiful is being
ousted by another kind of article which we consider common or unclean.
It is that of the same article a worse quality is preferred to a better.
If you like popular journalism (as I do), you will know that Pearson's
Magazine is poor and weak popular journalism. You will know it
as certainly as you know bad butter. You will know as certainly
that it is poor popular journalism as you know that the Strand,
in the great days of Sherlock Holmes, was good popular journalism.
Mr. Pearson has been a monument of this enormous banality.
About everything he says and does there is something infinitely
weak-minded. He clamours for home trades and employs foreign
ones to print his paper. When this glaring fact is pointed out,
he does not say that the thing was an oversight, like a sane man.
He cuts it off with scissors, like a child of three. His very cunning
is infantile. And like a child of three, he does not cut it quite off.
In all human records I doubt if there is such an example of a profound
simplicity in deception. This is the sort of intelligence which now
sits in the seat of the sane and honourable old Tory journalism.
If it were really the triumph of the tropical exuberance of the
Yankee press, it would be vulgar, but still tropical. But it is not.
We are delivered over to the bramble, and from the meanest of
the shrubs comes the fire upon the cedars of Lebanon.
The only question now is how much longer the fiction will endure
that journalists of this order represent public opinion.
It may be doubted whether any honest and serious Tariff Reformer
would for a moment maintain that there was any majority
for Tariff Reform in the country comparable to the ludicrous
preponderance which money has given it among the great dailies.
The only inference is that for purposes of real public opinion
the press is now a mere plutocratic oligarchy. Doubtless the
public buys the wares of these men, for one reason or another.
But there is no more reason to suppose that the public admires
their politics than that the public admires the delicate philosophy
of Mr. Crosse or the darker and sterner creed of Mr. Blackwell.
If these men are merely tradesmen, there is nothing to say except
that there are plenty like them in the Battersea Park Road,
and many much better. But if they make any sort of attempt
to be politicians, we can only point out to them that they are not
as yet even good journalists.
IX. The Moods of Mr. George Moore
Mr. George Moore began his literary career by writing his
personal confessions; nor is there any harm in this if he had
not continued them for the remainder of his life. He is a man
of genuinely forcible mind and of great command over a kind
of rhetorical and fugitive conviction which excites and pleases.
He is in a perpetual state of temporary honesty. He has admired
all the most admirable modern eccentrics until they could stand
it no longer. Everything he writes, it is to be fully admitted,
has a genuine mental power. His account of his reason for
leaving the Roman Catholic Church is possibly the most admirable
tribute to that communion which has been written of late years.
For the fact of the matter is, that the weakness which has rendered
barren the many brilliancies of Mr. Moore is actually that weakness
which the Roman Catholic Church is at its best in combating.
Mr. Moore hates Catholicism because it breaks up the house
of looking-glasses in which he lives. Mr. Moore does not dislike
so much being asked to believe in the spiritual existence
of miracles or sacraments, but he does fundamentally dislike
being asked to believe in the actual existence of other people.
Like his master Pater and all the aesthetes, his real quarrel with
life is that it is not a dream that can be moulded by the dreamer.
It is not the dogma of the reality of the other world that troubles him,
but the dogma of the reality of this world.
The truth is that the tradition of Christianity (which is still the only
coherent ethic of Europe) rests on two or three paradoxes or mysteries
which can easily be impugned in argument and as easily justified in life.
One of them, for instance, is the paradox of hope or faith--
that the more hopeless is the situation the more hopeful must be the man.
Stevenson understood this, and consequently Mr. Moore cannot
understand Stevenson. Another is the paradox of charity or chivalry
that the weaker a thing is the more it should be respected,
that the more indefensible a thing is the more it should appeal
to us for a certain kind of defence. Thackeray understood this,
and therefore Mr. Moore does not understand Thackeray. Now, one of
these very practical and working mysteries in the Christian tradition,
and one which the Roman Catholic Church, as I say, has done her best
work in singling out, is the conception of the sinfulness of pride.
Pride is a weakness in the character; it dries up laughter,
it dries up wonder, it dries up chivalry and energy.
The Christian tradition understands this; therefore Mr. Moore does
not understand the Christian tradition.
For the truth is much stranger even than it appears in the formal
doctrine of the sin of pride. It is not only true that
humility is a much wiser and more vigorous thing than pride.
It is also true that vanity is a much wiser and more vigorous thing
than pride. Vanity is social--it is almost a kind of comradeship;
pride is solitary and uncivilized. Vanity is active;
it desires the applause of infinite multitudes; pride is passive,
desiring only the applause of one person, which it already has.
Vanity is humorous, and can enjoy the joke even of itself;
pride is dull, and cannot even smile. And the whole of this
difference is the difference between Stevenson and Mr. George Moore,
who, as he informs us, has "brushed Stevenson aside." I do not know
where he has been brushed to, but wherever it is I fancy he is having
a good time, because he had the wisdom to be vain, and not proud.
Stevenson had a windy vanity; Mr. Moore has a dusty egoism.
Hence Stevenson could amuse himself as well as us with his vanity;
while the richest effects of Mr. Moore's absurdity are hidden
from his eyes.
If we compare this solemn folly with the happy folly with which
Stevenson belauds his own books and berates his own critics,
we shall not find it difficult to guess why it is that Stevenson
at least found a final philosophy of some sort to live by,
while Mr. Moore is always walking the world looking for a new one.
Stevenson had found that the secret of life lies in laughter and humility.
Self is the gorgon. Vanity sees it in the mirror of other men and lives.
Pride studies it for itself and is turned to stone.
It is necessary to dwell on this defect in Mr. Moore, because it
is really the weakness of work which is not without its strength.
Mr. Moore's egoism is not merely a moral weakness, it is
a very constant and influential aesthetic weakness as well.
We should really be much more interested in Mr. Moore if he were
not quite so interested in himself. We feel as if we were being
shown through a gallery of really fine pictures, into each of which,
by some useless and discordant convention, the artist had represented
the same figure in the same attitude. "The Grand Canal with a distant
view of Mr. Moore," "Effect of Mr. Moore through a Scotch Mist,"
"Mr. Moore by Firelight," "Ruins of Mr. Moore by Moonlight,"
and so on, seems to be the endless series. He would no doubt
reply that in such a book as this he intended to reveal himself.
But the answer is that in such a book as this he does not succeed.
One of the thousand objections to the sin of pride lies
precisely in this, that self-consciousness of necessity destroys
self-revelation. A man who thinks a great deal about himself
will try to be many-sided, attempt a theatrical excellence at
all points, will try to be an encyclopaedia of culture, and his
own real personality will be lost in that false universalism.
Thinking about himself will lead to trying to be the universe;
trying to be the universe will lead to ceasing to be anything.
If, on the other hand, a man is sensible enough to think only about
the universe; he will think about it in his own individual way.
He will keep virgin the secret of God; he will see the grass as no
other man can see it, and look at a sun that no man has ever known.
This fact is very practically brought out in Mr. Moore's "Confessions."
In reading them we do not feel the presence of a clean-cut
personality like that of Thackeray and Matthew Arnold.
We only read a number of quite clever and largely conflicting opinions
which might be uttered by any clever person, but which we are called
upon to admire specifically, because they are uttered by Mr. Moore.
He is the only thread that connects Catholicism and Protestantism,
realism and mysticism--he or rather his name. He is profoundly
absorbed even in views he no longer holds, and he expects us to be.
And he intrudes the capital "I" even where it need not be intruded--
even where it weakens the force of a plain statement.
Where another man would say, "It is a fine day," Mr. Moore says,
"Seen through my temperament, the day appeared fine."
Where another man would say "Milton has obviously a fine style,"
Mr. Moore would say, "As a stylist Milton had always impressed me."
The Nemesis of this self-centred spirit is that of being
totally ineffectual. Mr. Moore has started many interesting crusades,
but he has abandoned them before his disciples could begin.
Even when he is on the side of the truth he is as fickle as the children
of falsehood. Even when he has found reality he cannot find rest.
One Irish quality he has which no Irishman was ever without--pugnacity;
and that is certainly a great virtue, especially in the present age.
But he has not the tenacity of conviction which goes with the fighting
spirit in a man like Bernard Shaw. His weakness of introspection
and selfishness in all their glory cannot prevent him fighting;
but they will always prevent him winning.
X. On Sandals and Simplicity
The great misfortune of the modern English is not at all
that they are more boastful than other people (they are not);
it is that they are boastful about those particular things which
nobody can boast of without losing them. A Frenchman can be proud
of being bold and logical, and still remain bold and logical.
A German can be proud of being reflective and orderly, and still
remain reflective and orderly. But an Englishman cannot be proud
of being simple and direct, and still remain simple and direct.
In the matter of these strange virtues, to know them is to kill them.
A man may be conscious of being heroic or conscious of being divine,
but he cannot (in spite of all the Anglo-Saxon poets) be conscious
of being unconscious.
Now, I do not think that it can be honestly denied that some portion
of this impossibility attaches to a class very different in their
own opinion, at least, to the school of Anglo-Saxonism. I mean
that school of the simple life, commonly associated with Tolstoy.
If a perpetual talk about one's own robustness leads to being
less robust, it is even more true that a perpetual talking
about one's own simplicity leads to being less simple.
One great complaint, I think, must stand against the modern upholders
of the simple life--the simple life in all its varied forms,
from vegetarianism to the honourable consistency of the Doukhobors.
This complaint against them stands, that they would make us simple
in the unimportant things, but complex in the important things.
They would make us simple in the things that do not matter--
that is, in diet, in costume, in etiquette, in economic system.
But they would make us complex in the things that do matter--in philosophy,
in loyalty, in spiritual acceptance, and spiritual rejection.
It does not so very much matter whether a man eats a grilled tomato
or a plain tomato; it does very much matter whether he eats a plain
tomato with a grilled mind. The only kind of simplicity worth preserving
is the simplicity of the heart, the simplicity which accepts and enjoys.
There may be a reasonable doubt as to what system preserves this;
there can surely be no doubt that a system of simplicity destroys it.
There is more simplicity in the man who eats caviar on
impulse than in the man who eats grape-nuts on principle.
The chief error of these people is to be found in the very phrase
to which they are most attached--"plain living and high thinking."
These people do not stand in need of, will not be improved by,
plain living and high thinking. They stand in need of the contrary.
They would be improved by high living and plain thinking.
A little high living (I say, having a full sense of responsibility,
a little high living) would teach them the force and meaning
of the human festivities, of the banquet that has gone on from
the beginning of the world. It would teach them the historic fact
that the artificial is, if anything, older than the natural.
It would teach them that the loving-cup is as old as any hunger.
It would teach them that ritualism is older than any religion.
And a little plain thinking would teach them how harsh and fanciful
are the mass of their own ethics, how very civilized and very
complicated must be the brain of the Tolstoyan who really believes
it to be evil to love one's country and wicked to strike a blow.
A man approaches, wearing sandals and simple raiment, a raw
tomato held firmly in his right hand, and says, "The affections
of family and country alike are hindrances to the fuller development
of human love;" but the plain thinker will only answer him,
with a wonder not untinged with admiration, "What a great deal
of trouble you must have taken in order to feel like that."
High living will reject the tomato. Plain thinking will equally
decisively reject the idea of the invariable sinfulness of war.
High living will convince us that nothing is more materialistic
than to despise a pleasure as purely material. And plain thinking
will convince us that nothing is more materialistic than to reserve
our horror chiefly for material wounds.
The only simplicity that matters is the simplicity of the heart.
If that be gone, it can be brought back by no turnips or cellular clothing;
but only by tears and terror and the fires that are not quenched.
If that remain, it matters very little if a few Early Victorian
armchairs remain along with it. Let us put a complex entree into
a simple old gentleman; let us not put a simple entree into a complex
old gentleman. So long as human society will leave my spiritual
inside alone, I will allow it, with a comparative submission, to work
its wild will with my physical interior. I will submit to cigars.
I will meekly embrace a bottle of Burgundy. I will humble myself
to a hansom cab. If only by this means I may preserve to myself
the virginity of the spirit, which enjoys with astonishment and fear.
I do not say that these are the only methods of preserving it.
I incline to the belief that there are others. But I will have
nothing to do with simplicity which lacks the fear, the astonishment,
and the joy alike. I will have nothing to do with the devilish
vision of a child who is too simple to like toys.
The child is, indeed, in these, and many other matters, the best guide.
And in nothing is the child so righteously childlike, in nothing
does he exhibit more accurately the sounder order of simplicity,
than in the fact that he sees everything with a simple pleasure,
even the complex things. The false type of naturalness harps
always on the distinction between the natural and the artificial.
The higher kind of naturalness ignores that distinction.
To the child the tree and the lamp-post are as natural and as
artificial as each other; or rather, neither of them are natural
but both supernatural. For both are splendid and unexplained.
The flower with which God crowns the one, and the flame with which
Sam the lamplighter crowns the other, are equally of the gold
of fairy-tales. In the middle of the wildest fields the most rustic
child is, ten to one, playing at steam-engines. And the only spiritual
or philosophical objection to steam-engines is not that men pay
for them or work at them, or make them very ugly, or even that men
are killed by them; but merely that men do not play at them.
The evil is that the childish poetry of clockwork does not remain.
The wrong is not that engines are too much admired, but that they
are not admired enough. The sin is not that engines are mechanical,
but that men are mechanical.
In this matter, then, as in all the other matters treated in this book,
our main conclusion is that it is a fundamental point of view,
a philosophy or religion which is needed, and not any change in habit
or social routine. The things we need most for immediate practical
purposes are all abstractions. We need a right view of the human lot,
a right view of the human society; and if we were living eagerly
and angrily in the enthusiasm of those things, we should,
ipso facto, be living simply in the genuine and spiritual sense.
Desire and danger make every one simple. And to those who talk to us
with interfering eloquence about Jaeger and the pores of the skin,
and about Plasmon and the coats of the stomach, at them shall only
be hurled the words that are hurled at fops and gluttons, "Take no
thought what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink, or wherewithal ye
shall be clothed. For after all these things do the Gentiles seek.
But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,
and all these things shall be added unto you." Those amazing
words are not only extraordinarily good, practical politics;
they are also superlatively good hygiene. The one supreme way
of making all those processes go right, the processes of health,
and strength, and grace, and beauty, the one and only way of making
certain of their accuracy, is to think about something else.
If a man is bent on climbing into the seventh heaven, he may be
quite easy about the pores of his skin. If he harnesses his waggon
to a star, the process will have a most satisfactory effect upon
the coats of his stomach. For the thing called "taking thought,"
the thing for which the best modern word is "rationalizing,"
is in its nature, inapplicable to all plain and urgent things.
Men take thought and ponder rationalistically, touching remote things--
things that only theoretically matter, such as the transit of Venus.
But only at their peril can men rationalize about so practical
a matter as health.
XI Science and the Savages
A permanent disadvantage of the study of folk-lore and kindred
subjects is that the man of science can hardly be in the nature
of things very frequently a man of the world. He is a student
of nature; he is scarcely ever a student of human nature.
And even where this difficulty is overcome, and he is in some sense
a student of human nature, this is only a very faint beginning
of the painful progress towards being human. For the study
of primitive race and religion stands apart in one important
respect from all, or nearly all, the ordinary scientific studies.
A man can understand astronomy only by being an astronomer; he can
understand entomology only by being an entomologist (or, perhaps,
an insect); but he can understand a great deal of anthropology
merely by being a man. He is himself the animal which he studies.
Hence arises the fact which strikes the eye everywhere in the records
of ethnology and folk-lore--the fact that the same frigid and detached
spirit which leads to success in the study of astronomy or botany
leads to disaster in the study of mythology or human origins.
It is necessary to cease to be a man in order to do justice
to a microbe; it is not necessary to cease to be a man in order
to do justice to men. That same suppression of sympathies,
that same waving away of intuitions or guess-work which make a man
preternaturally clever in dealing with the stomach of a spider,
will make him preternaturally stupid in dealing with the heart of man.
He is making himself inhuman in order to understand humanity.
An ignorance of the other world is boasted by many men of science;
but in this matter their defect arises, not from ignorance of
the other world, but from ignorance of this world. For the secrets
about which anthropologists concern themselves can be best learnt,
not from books or voyages, but from the ordinary commerce of man with man.
The secret of why some savage tribe worships monkeys or the moon
is not to be found even by travelling among those savages and taking
down their answers in a note-book, although the cleverest man
may pursue this course. The answer to the riddle is in England;
it is in London; nay, it is in his own heart. When a man has
discovered why men in Bond Street wear black hats he will at the same
moment have discovered why men in Timbuctoo wear red feathers.
The mystery in the heart of some savage war-dance should not be
studied in books of scientific travel; it should be studied at a
subscription ball. If a man desires to find out the origins of religions,
let him not go to the Sandwich Islands; let him go to church.
If a man wishes to know the origin of human society, to know
what society, philosophically speaking, really is, let him not go
into the British Museum; let him go into society.
This total misunderstanding of the real nature of ceremonial gives
rise to the most awkward and dehumanized versions of the conduct
of men in rude lands or ages. The man of science, not realizing
that ceremonial is essentially a thing which is done without
a reason, has to find a reason for every sort of ceremonial, and,
as might be supposed, the reason is generally a very absurd one--
absurd because it originates not in the simple mind of the barbarian,
but in the sophisticated mind of the professor. The teamed man
will say, for instance, "The natives of Mumbojumbo Land believe
that the dead man can eat and will require food upon his journey
to the other world. This is attested by the fact that they place
food in the grave, and that any family not complying with this
rite is the object of the anger of the priests and the tribe."
To any one acquainted with humanity this way of talking is topsy-turvy.
It is like saying, "The English in the twentieth century believed
that a dead man could smell. This is attested by the fact that they
always covered his grave with lilies, violets, or other flowers.
Some priestly and tribal terrors were evidently attached to the neglect
of this action, as we have records of several old ladies who were
very much disturbed in mind because their wreaths had not arrived
in time for the funeral." It may be of course that savages put
food with a dead man because they think that a dead man can eat,
or weapons with a dead man because they think that a dead man can fight.
But personally I do not believe that they think anything of the kind.
I believe they put food or weapons on the dead for the same
reason that we put flowers, because it is an exceedingly natural
and obvious thing to do. We do not understand, it is true,
the emotion which makes us think it obvious and natural; but that
is because, like all the important emotions of human existence
it is essentially irrational. We do not understand the savage
for the same reason that the savage does not understand himself.
And the savage does not understand himself for the same reason
that we do not understand ourselves either.
The obvious truth is that the moment any matter has passed
through the human mind it is finally and for ever spoilt for all
purposes of science. It has become a thing incurably mysterious
and infinite; this mortal has put on immortality. Even what we
call our material desires are spiritual, because they are human.
Science can analyse a pork-chop, and say how much of it is
phosphorus and how much is protein; but science cannot analyse
any man's wish for a pork-chop, and say how much of it is hunger,
how much custom, how much nervous fancy, how much a haunting love
of the beautiful. The man's desire for the pork-chop remains
literally as mystical and ethereal as his desire for heaven.
All attempts, therefore, at a science of any human things,
at a science of history, a science of folk-lore, a science
of sociology, are by their nature not merely hopeless, but crazy.
You can no more be certain in economic history that a man's desire
for money was merely a desire for money than you can be certain in
hagiology that a saint's desire for God was merely a desire for God.
And this kind of vagueness in the primary phenomena of the study
is an absolutely final blow to anything in the nature of a science.
Men can construct a science with very few instruments,
or with very plain instruments; but no one on earth could
construct a science with unreliable instruments. A man might
work out the whole of mathematics with a handful of pebbles,
but not with a handful of clay which was always falling apart
into new fragments, and falling together into new combinations.
A man might measure heaven and earth with a reed, but not with
a growing reed.
As one of the enormous follies of folk-lore, let us take the case of
the transmigration of stories, and the alleged unity of their source.
Story after story the scientific mythologists have cut out of its place
in history, and pinned side by side with similar stories in their
museum of fables. The process is industrious, it is fascinating,
and the whole of it rests on one of the plainest fallacies in the world.
That a story has been told all over the place at some time or other,
not only does not prove that it never really happened; it does not even
faintly indicate or make slightly more probable that it never happened.
That a large number of fishermen have falsely asserted that they have
caught a pike two feet long, does not in the least affect the question
of whether any one ever really did so. That numberless journalists
announce a Franco-German war merely for money is no evidence one way
or the other upon the dark question of whether such a war ever occurred.
Doubtless in a few hundred years the innumerable Franco-German
wars that did not happen will have cleared the scientific
mind of any belief in the legendary war of '70 which did.
But that will be because if folk-lore students remain at all,
their nature win be unchanged; and their services to folk-lore
will be still as they are at present, greater than they know.
For in truth these men do something far more godlike than studying legends;
they create them.
There are two kinds of stories which the scientists say cannot be true,
because everybody tells them. The first class consists of the stories
which are told everywhere, because they are somewhat odd or clever;
there is nothing in the world to prevent their having happened to somebody
as an adventure any more than there is anything to prevent their
having occurred, as they certainly did occur, to somebody as an idea.
But they are not likely to have happened to many people.
The second class of their "myths" consist of the stories that are
told everywhere for the simple reason that they happen everywhere.
Of the first class, for instance, we might take such an example
as the story of William Tell, now generally ranked among legends upon
the sole ground that it is found in the tales of other peoples.
Now, it is obvious that this was told everywhere because whether
true or fictitious it is what is called "a good story;"
it is odd, exciting, and it has a climax. But to suggest that
some such eccentric incident can never have happened in the whole
history of archery, or that it did not happen to any particular
person of whom it is told, is stark impudence. The idea of shooting
at a mark attached to some valuable or beloved person is an idea
doubtless that might easily have occurred to any inventive poet.
But it is also an idea that might easily occur to any boastful archer.
It might be one of the fantastic caprices of some story-teller. It
might equally well be one of the fantastic caprices of some tyrant.
It might occur first in real life and afterwards occur in legends.
Or it might just as well occur first in legends and afterwards occur
in real life. If no apple has ever been shot off a boy's head
from the beginning of the world, it may be done tomorrow morning,
and by somebody who has never heard of William Tell.
This type of tale, indeed, may be pretty fairly paralleled with
the ordinary anecdote terminating in a repartee or an Irish bull.
Such a retort as the famous "je ne vois pas la necessite" we have
all seen attributed to Talleyrand, to Voltaire, to Henri Quatre,
to an anonymous judge, and so on. But this variety does not in any
way make it more likely that the thing was never said at all.
It is highly likely that it was really said by somebody unknown.
It is highly likely that it was really said by Talleyrand.
In any case, it is not any more difficult to believe that the mot might
have occurred to a man in conversation than to a man writing memoirs.
It might have occurred to any of the men I have mentioned.
But there is this point of distinction about it, that it
is not likely to have occurred to all of them. And this is
where the first class of so-called myth differs from the second
to which I have previously referred. For there is a second class
of incident found to be common to the stories of five or six heroes,
say to Sigurd, to Hercules, to Rustem, to the Cid, and so on.
And the peculiarity of this myth is that not only is it highly
reasonable to imagine that it really happened to one hero, but it is
highly reasonable to imagine that it really happened to all of them.
Such a story, for instance, is that of a great man having his
strength swayed or thwarted by the mysterious weakness of a woman.
The anecdotal story, the story of William Tell, is as I
have said, popular, because it is peculiar. But this kind of story,
the story of Samson and Delilah of Arthur and Guinevere, is obviously
popular because it is not peculiar. It is popular as good,
quiet fiction is popular, because it tells the truth about people.
If the ruin of Samson by a woman, and the ruin of Hercules by a woman,
have a common legendary origin, it is gratifying to know that we can
also explain, as a fable, the ruin of Nelson by a woman and the ruin
of Parnell by a woman. And, indeed, I have no doubt whatever that,
some centuries hence, the students of folk-lore will refuse altogether
to believe that Elizabeth Barrett eloped with Robert Browning,
and will prove their point up to the hilt by the, unquestionable fact
that the whole fiction of the period was full of such elopements
from end to end.
Possibly the most pathetic of all the delusions of the modern
students of primitive belief is the notion they have about the thing
they call anthropomorphism. They believe that primitive men
attributed phenomena to a god in human form in order to explain them,
because his mind in its sullen limitation could not reach any
further than his own clownish existence. The thunder was called
the voice of a man, the lightning the eyes of a man, because by this
explanation they were made more reasonable and comfortable.
The final cure for all this kind of philosophy is to walk down
a lane at night. Any one who does so will discover very quickly
that men pictured something semi-human at the back of all things,
not because such a thought was natural, but because it was supernatural;
not because it made things more comprehensible, but because it
made them a hundred times more incomprehensible and mysterious.
For a man walking down a lane at night can see the conspicuous fact
that as long as nature keeps to her own course, she has no power
with us at all. As long as a tree is a tree, it is a top-heavy
monster with a hundred arms, a thousand tongues, and only one leg.
But so long as a tree is a tree, it does not frighten us at all.
It begins to be something alien, to be something strange, only when it
looks like ourselves. When a tree really looks like a man our knees
knock under us. And when the whole universe looks like a man we
fall on our faces.
XII Paganism and Mr. Lowes Dickinson
Of the New Paganism (or neo-Paganism), as it was preached
flamboyantly by Mr. Swinburne or delicately by Walter Pater,
there is no necessity to take any very grave account,
except as a thing which left behind it incomparable exercises
in the English language. The New Paganism is no longer new,
and it never at any time bore the smallest resemblance to Paganism.
The ideas about the ancient civilization which it has left
loose in the public mind are certainly extraordinary enough.
The term "pagan" is continually used in fiction and light literature
as meaning a man without any religion, whereas a pagan was generally
a man with about half a dozen. The pagans, according to this notion,
were continually crowning themselves with flowers and dancing
about in an irresponsible state, whereas, if there were two things
that the best pagan civilization did honestly believe in, they were
a rather too rigid dignity and a much too rigid responsibility.
Pagans are depicted as above all things inebriate and lawless,
whereas they were above all things reasonable and respectable.
They are praised as disobedient when they had only one great virtue--
civic obedience. They are envied and admired as shamelessly happy
when they had only one great sin--despair.
Mr. Lowes Dickinson, the most pregnant and provocative of recent
writers on this and similar subjects, is far too solid a man to
have fallen into this old error of the mere anarchy of Paganism.
In order to make hay of that Hellenic enthusiasm which has
as its ideal mere appetite and egotism, it is not necessary
to know much philosophy, but merely to know a little Greek.
Mr. Lowes Dickinson knows a great deal of philosophy,
and also a great deal of Greek, and his error, if error he has,
is not that of the crude hedonist. But the contrast which he offers
between Christianity and Paganism in the matter of moral ideals--
a contrast which he states very ably in a paper called "How long
halt ye?" which appeared in the Independent Review--does, I think,
contain an error of a deeper kind. According to him, the ideal
of Paganism was not, indeed, a mere frenzy of lust and liberty
and caprice, but was an ideal of full and satisfied humanity.
According to him, the ideal of Christianity was the ideal of asceticism.
When I say that I think this idea wholly wrong as a matter of
philosophy and history, I am not talking for the moment about any
ideal Christianity of my own, or even of any primitive Christianity
undefiled by after events. I am not, like so many modern Christian
idealists, basing my case upon certain things which Christ said.
Neither am I, like so many other Christian idealists,
basing my case upon certain things that Christ forgot to say.
I take historic Christianity with all its sins upon its head;
I take it, as I would take Jacobinism, or Mormonism, or any other
mixed or unpleasing human product, and I say that the meaning of its
action was not to be found in asceticism. I say that its point
of departure from Paganism was not asceticism. I say that its
point of difference with the modern world was not asceticism.
I say that St. Simeon Stylites had not his main inspiration in asceticism.
I say that the main Christian impulse cannot be described as asceticism,
even in the ascetics.
Let me set about making the matter clear. There is one broad fact
about the relations of Christianity and Paganism which is so simple
that many will smile at it, but which is so important that all
moderns forget it. The primary fact about Christianity and Paganism
is that one came after the other. Mr. Lowes Dickinson speaks
of them as if they were parallel ideals--even speaks as if Paganism
were the newer of the two, and the more fitted for a new age.
He suggests that the Pagan ideal will be the ultimate good of man;
but if that is so, we must at least ask with more curiosity
than he allows for, why it was that man actually found his
ultimate good on earth under the stars, and threw it away again.
It is this extraordinary enigma to which I propose to attempt an answer.
There is only one thing in the modern world that has been face
to face with Paganism; there is only one thing in the modern
world which in that sense knows anything about Paganism:
and that is Christianity. That fact is really the weak point in
the whole of that hedonistic neo-Paganism of which I have spoken.
All that genuinely remains of the ancient hymns or the ancient dances
of Europe, all that has honestly come to us from the festivals of Phoebus
or Pan, is to be found in the festivals of the Christian Church.
If any one wants to hold the end of a chain which really goes back
to the heathen mysteries, he had better take hold of a festoon
of flowers at Easter or a string of sausages at Christmas.
Everything else in the modern world is of Christian origin,
even everything that seems most anti-Christian. The French Revolution
is of Christian origin. The newspaper is of Christian origin.
The anarchists are of Christian origin. Physical science is of
Christian origin. The attack on Christianity is of Christian origin.
There is one thing, and one thing only, in existence at the present
day which can in any sense accurately be said to be of pagan origin,
and that is Christianity.
The real difference between Paganism and Christianity is perfectly
summed up in the difference between the pagan, or natural, virtues,
and those three virtues of Christianity which the Church of Rome
calls virtues of grace. The pagan, or rational, virtues are such
things as justice and temperance, and Christianity has adopted them.
The three mystical virtues which Christianity has not adopted,
but invented, are faith, hope, and charity. Now much easy
and foolish Christian rhetoric could easily be poured out upon
those three words, but I desire to confine myself to the two
facts which are evident about them. The first evident fact
(in marked contrast to the delusion of the dancing pagan)--the first
evident fact, I say, is that the pagan virtues, such as justice
and temperance, are the sad virtues, and that the mystical virtues
of faith, hope, and charity are the gay and exuberant virtues.
And the second evident fact, which is even more evident,
is the fact that the pagan virtues are the reasonable virtues,
and that the Christian virtues of faith, hope, and charity are
in their essence as unreasonable as they can be.
As the word "unreasonable" is open to misunderstanding, the matter
may be more accurately put by saying that each one of these Christian
or mystical virtues involves a paradox in its own nature, and that this
is not true of any of the typically pagan or rationalist virtues.
Justice consists in finding out a certain thing due to a certain man
and giving it to him. Temperance consists in finding out the proper
limit of a particular indulgence and adhering to that. But charity
means pardoning what is unpardonable, or it is no virtue at all.
Hope means hoping when things are hopeless, or it is no virtue at all.
And faith means believing the incredible, or it is no virtue at all.
It is somewhat amusing, indeed, to notice the difference between
the fate of these three paradoxes in the fashion of the modern mind.
Charity is a fashionable virtue in our time; it is lit up by the
gigantic firelight of Dickens. Hope is a fashionable virtue to-day;
our attention has been arrested for it by the sudden and silver
trumpet of Stevenson. But faith is unfashionable, and it is customary
on every side to cast against it the fact that it is a paradox.
Everybody mockingly repeats the famous childish definition that faith
is "the power of believing that which we know to be untrue."
Yet it is not one atom more paradoxical than hope or charity.
Charity is the power of defending that which we know to be indefensible.
Hope is the power of being cheerful in circumstances which we know
to be desperate. It is true that there is a state of hope which belongs
to bright prospects and the morning; but that is not the virtue of hope.
The virtue of hope exists only in earthquake and, eclipse.
It is true that there is a thing crudely called charity, which means
charity to the deserving poor; but charity to the deserving is not
charity at all, but justice. It is the undeserving who require it,
and the ideal either does not exist at all, or exists wholly for them.
For practical purposes it is at the hopeless moment that we require
the hopeful man, and the virtue either does not exist at all,
or begins to exist at that moment. Exactly at the instant
when hope ceases to be reasonable it begins to be useful.
Now the old pagan world went perfectly straightforward until it
discovered that going straightforward is an enormous mistake.
It was nobly and beautifully reasonable, and discovered in its
death-pang this lasting and valuable truth, a heritage for the ages,
that reasonableness will not do. The pagan age was truly an Eden
or golden age, in this essential sense, that it is not to be recovered.
And it is not to be recovered in this sense again that,
while we are certainly jollier than the pagans, and much
more right than the pagans, there is not one of us who can,
by the utmost stretch of energy, be so sensible as the pagans.
That naked innocence of the intellect cannot be recovered
by any man after Christianity; and for this excellent reason,
that every man after Christianity knows it to be misleading.
Let me take an example, the first that occurs to the mind, of this
impossible plainness in the pagan point of view. The greatest
tribute to Christianity in the modern world is Tennyson's "Ulysses."
The poet reads into the story of Ulysses the conception of an incurable
desire to wander. But the real Ulysses does not desire to wander at all.
He desires to get home. He displays his heroic and unconquerable
qualities in resisting the misfortunes which baulk him; but that is all.
There is no love of adventure for its own sake; that is a
Christian product. There is no love of Penelope for her own sake;
that is a Christian product. Everything in that old world would
appear to have been clean and obvious. A good man was a good man;
a bad man was a bad man. For this reason they had no charity;
for charity is a reverent agnosticism towards the complexity of the soul.
For this reason they had no such thing as the art of fiction, the novel;
for the novel is a creation of the mystical idea of charity.
For them a pleasant landscape was pleasant, and an unpleasant
landscape unpleasant. Hence they had no idea of romance; for romance
consists in thinking a thing more delightful because it is dangerous;
it is a Christian idea. In a word, we cannot reconstruct
or even imagine the beautiful and astonishing pagan world.
It was a world in which common sense was really common.
My general meaning touching the three virtues of which I
have spoken will now, I hope, be sufficiently clear.
They are all three paradoxical, they are all three practical,
and they are all three paradoxical because they are practical.
it is the stress of ultimate need, and a terrible knowledge of things
as they are, which led men to set up these riddles, and to die for them.
Whatever may be the meaning of the contradiction, it is the fact
that the only kind of hope that is of any use in a battle
is a hope that denies arithmetic. Whatever may be the meaning
of the contradiction, it is the fact that the only kind of charity
which any weak spirit wants, or which any generous spirit feels,
is the charity which forgives the sins that are like scarlet.
Whatever may be the meaning of faith, it must always mean a certainty
about something we cannot prove. Thus, for instance, we believe
by faith in the existence of other people.
But there is another Christian virtue, a virtue far more obviously
and historically connected with Christianity, which will illustrate
even better the connection between paradox and practical necessity.
This virtue cannot be questioned in its capacity as a historical symbol;
certainly Mr. Lowes Dickinson will not question it.
It has been the boast of hundreds of the champions of Christianity.
It has been the taunt of hundreds of the opponents of Christianity.
It is, in essence, the basis of Mr. Lowes Dickinson's whole distinction
between Christianity and Paganism. I mean, of course, the virtue
of humility. I admit, of course, most readily, that a great deal
of false Eastern humility (that is, of strictly ascetic humility)
mixed itself with the main stream of European Christianity.
We must not forget that when we speak of Christianity we are speaking
of a whole continent for about a thousand years. But of this virtue
even more than of the other three, I would maintain the general
proposition adopted above. Civilization discovered Christian humility
for the same urgent reason that it discovered faith and charity--
that is, because Christian civilization had to discover it or die.
The great psychological discovery of Paganism, which turned it
into Christianity, can be expressed with some accuracy in one phrase.
The pagan set out, with admirable sense, to enjoy himself.
By the end of his civilization he had discovered that a man
cannot enjoy himself and continue to enjoy anything else.
Mr. Lowes Dickinson has pointed out in words too excellent to need
any further elucidation, the absurd shallowness of those who imagine
that the pagan enjoyed himself only in a materialistic sense.
Of course, he enjoyed himself, not only intellectually even,
he enjoyed himself morally, he enjoyed himself spiritually.
But it was himself that he was enjoying; on the face of it,
a very natural thing to do. Now, the psychological discovery
is merely this, that whereas it had been supposed that the fullest
possible enjoyment is to be found by extending our ego to infinity,
the truth is that the fullest possible enjoyment is to be found
by reducing our ego to zero.
Humility is the thing which is for ever renewing the earth and the stars.
It is humility, and not duty, which preserves the stars from wrong,
from the unpardonable wrong of casual resignation; it is through
humility that the most ancient heavens for us are fresh and strong.
The curse that came before history has laid on us all a tendency
to be weary of wonders. If we saw the sun for the first time
it would be the most fearful and beautiful of meteors.
Now that we see it for the hundredth time we call it, in the hideous
and blasphemous phrase of Wordsworth, "the light of common day."
We are inclined to increase our claims. We are inclined to
demand six suns, to demand a blue sun, to demand a green sun.
Humility is perpetually putting us back in the primal darkness.
There all light is lightning, startling and instantaneous.
Until we understand that original dark, in which we have neither
sight nor expectation, we can give no hearty and childlike
praise to the splendid sensationalism of things. The terms
"pessimism" and "optimism," like most modern terms, are unmeaning.
But if they can be used in any vague sense as meaning something,
we may say that in this great fact pessimism is the very basis
of optimism. The man who destroys himself creates the universe.
To the humble man, and to the humble man alone, the sun is really a sun;
to the humble man, and to the humble man alone, the sea is really a sea.
When he looks at all the faces in the street, he does not only
realize that men are alive, he realizes with a dramatic pleasure
that they are not dead.
I have not spoken of another aspect of the discovery of humility
as a psychological necessity, because it is more commonly insisted on,
and is in itself more obvious. But it is equally clear that humility
is a permanent necessity as a condition of effort and self-examination.
It is one of the deadly fallacies of Jingo politics that a nation
is stronger for despising other nations. As a matter of fact,
the strongest nations are those, like Prussia or Japan, which began
from very mean beginnings, but have not been too proud to sit at
the feet of the foreigner and learn everything from him. Almost every
obvious and direct victory has been the victory of the plagiarist.
This is, indeed, only a very paltry by-product of humility,
but it is a product of humility, and, therefore, it is successful.
Prussia had no Christian humility in its internal arrangements;
hence its internal arrangements were miserable. But it had enough
Christian humility slavishly to copy France (even down to Frederick
the Great's poetry), and that which it had the humility to copy it
had ultimately the honour to conquer. The case of the Japanese
is even more obvious; their only Christian and their only beautiful
quality is that they have humbled themselves to be exalted.
All this aspect of humility, however, as connected with the matter
of effort and striving for a standard set above us, I dismiss as having
been sufficiently pointed out by almost all idealistic writers.
It may be worth while, however, to point out the interesting disparity
in the matter of humility between the modern notion of the strong
man and the actual records of strong men. Carlyle objected
to the statement that no man could be a hero to his valet.
Every sympathy can be extended towards him in the matter if he merely
or mainly meant that the phrase was a disparagement of hero-worship.
Hero-worship is certainly a generous and human impulse; the hero may
be faulty, but the worship can hardly be. It may be that no man would
be a hero to his valet. But any man would be a valet to his hero.
But in truth both the proverb itself and Carlyle's stricture
upon it ignore the most essential matter at issue. The ultimate
psychological truth is not that no man is a hero to his valet.
The ultimate psychological truth, the foundation of Christianity,
is that no man is a hero to himself. Cromwell, according to Carlyle,
was a strong man. According to Cromwell, he was a weak one.
The weak point in the whole of Carlyle's case for
aristocracy lies, indeed, in his most celebrated phrase.
Carlyle said that men were mostly fools. Christianity, with a
surer and more reverent realism, says that they are all fools.
This doctrine is sometimes called the doctrine of original sin.
It may also be described as the doctrine of the equality of men.
But the essential point of it is merely this, that whatever primary
and far-reaching moral dangers affect any man, affect all men.
All men can be criminals, if tempted; all men can be heroes, if inspired.
And this doctrine does away altogether with Carlyle's pathetic belief
(or any one else's pathetic belief) in "the wise few."
There are no wise few. Every aristocracy that has ever existed
has behaved, in all essential points, exactly like a small mob.
Every oligarchy is merely a knot of men in the street--that is to say,
it is very jolly, but not infallible. And no oligarchies in the world's
history have ever come off so badly in practical affairs as the very
proud oligarchies--the oligarchy of Poland, the oligarchy of Venice.
And the armies that have most swiftly and suddenly broken their
enemies in pieces have been the religious armies--the Moslem Armies,
for instance, or the Puritan Armies. And a religious army may,
by its nature, be defined as an army in which every man is taught
not to exalt but to abase himself. Many modern Englishmen talk of
themselves as the sturdy descendants of their sturdy Puritan fathers.
As a fact, they would run away from a cow. If you asked one
of their Puritan fathers, if you asked Bunyan, for instance,
whether he was sturdy, he would have answered, with tears, that he was
as weak as water. And because of this he would have borne tortures.
And this virtue of humility, while being practical enough to
win battles, will always be paradoxical enough to puzzle pedants.
It is at one with the virtue of charity in this respect.
Every generous person will admit that the one kind of sin which charity
should cover is the sin which is inexcusable. And every generous
person will equally agree that the one kind of pride which is wholly
damnable is the pride of the man who has something to be proud of.
The pride which, proportionally speaking, does not hurt the character,
is the pride in things which reflect no credit on the person at all.
Thus it does a man no harm to be proud of his country,
and comparatively little harm to be proud of his remote ancestors.
It does him more harm to be proud of having made money,
because in that he has a little more reason for pride.
It does him more harm still to be proud of what is nobler
than money--intellect. And it does him most harm of all to value
himself for the most valuable thing on earth--goodness. The man
who is proud of what is really creditable to him is the Pharisee,
the man whom Christ Himself could not forbear to strike.
My objection to Mr. Lowes Dickinson and the reassertors of the pagan
ideal is, then, this. I accuse them of ignoring definite human
discoveries in the moral world, discoveries as definite, though not
as material, as the discovery of the circulation of the blood.
We cannot go back to an ideal of reason and sanity.
For mankind has discovered that reason does not lead to sanity.
We cannot go back to an ideal of pride and enjoyment. For mankind
has discovered that pride does not lead to enjoyment. I do not know
by what extraordinary mental accident modern writers so constantly
connect the idea of progress with the idea of independent thinking.
Progress is obviously the antithesis of independent thinking.
For under independent or individualistic thinking, every man starts
at the beginning, and goes, in all probability, just as far as his
father before him. But if there really be anything of the nature
of progress, it must mean, above all things, the careful study
and assumption of the whole of the past. I accuse Mr. Lowes
Dickinson and his school of reaction in the only real sense.
If he likes, let him ignore these great historic mysteries--
the mystery of charity, the mystery of chivalry, the mystery of faith.
If he likes, let him ignore the plough or the printing-press.
But if we do revive and pursue the pagan ideal of a simple and
rational self-completion we shall end--where Paganism ended.
I do not mean that we shall end in destruction. I mean that we
shall end in Christianity.
XIII. Celts and Celtophiles
Science in the modern world has many uses; its chief use, however,
is to provide long words to cover the errors of the rich.
The word "kleptomania" is a vulgar example of what I mean.
It is on a par with that strange theory, always advanced when a wealthy
or prominent person is in the dock, that exposure is more of a punishment
for the rich than for the poor. Of course, the very reverse is the truth.
Exposure is more of a punishment for the poor than for the rich.
The richer a man is the easier it is for him to be a tramp.
The richer a man is the easier it is for him to be popular and generally
respected in the Cannibal Islands. But the poorer a man is the more
likely it is that he will have to use his past life whenever he wants
to get a bed for the night. Honour is a luxury for aristocrats,
but it is a necessity for hall-porters. This is a secondary matter,
but it is an example of the general proposition I offer--
the proposition that an enormous amount of modern ingenuity is expended
on finding defences for the indefensible conduct of the powerful.
As I have said above, these defences generally exhibit themselves
most emphatically in the form of appeals to physical science.
And of all the forms in which science, or pseudo-science, has come
to the rescue of the rich and stupid, there is none so singular
as the singular invention of the theory of races.
When a wealthy nation like the English discovers the perfectly patent
fact that it is making a ludicrous mess of the government of a poorer
nation like the Irish, it pauses for a moment in consternation,
and then begins to talk about Celts and Teutons. As far as I can
understand the theory, the Irish are Celts and the English are Teutons.
Of course, the Irish are not Celts any more than the English are Teutons.
I have not followed the ethnological discussion with much energy,
but the last scientific conclusion which I read inclined on the whole
to the summary that the English were mainly Celtic and the Irish
mainly Teutonic. But no man alive, with even the glimmering of a real
scientific sense, would ever dream of applying the terms "Celtic"
or "Teutonic" to either of them in any positive or useful sense.
That sort of thing must be left to people who talk about
the Anglo-Saxon race, and extend the expression to America.
How much of the blood of the Angles and Saxons (whoever they were)
there remains in our mixed British, Roman, German, Dane, Norman,
and Picard stock is a matter only interesting to wild antiquaries.
And how much of that diluted blood can possibly remain in that
roaring whirlpool of America into which a cataract of Swedes,
Jews, Germans, Irishmen, and Italians is perpetually pouring,
is a matter only interesting to lunatics. It would have been wiser
for the English governing class to have called upon some other god.
All other gods, however weak and warring, at least boast of
being constant. But science boasts of being in a flux for ever;
boasts of being unstable as water.
And England and the English governing class never did call on this
absurd deity of race until it seemed, for an instant, that they had
no other god to call on. All the most genuine Englishmen in history
would have yawned or laughed in your face if you had begun to talk
about Anglo-Saxons. If you had attempted to substitute the ideal
of race for the ideal of nationality, I really do not like to think
what they would have said. I certainly should not like to have
been the officer of Nelson who suddenly discovered his French
blood on the eve of Trafalgar. I should not like to have been
the Norfolk or Suffolk gentleman who had to expound to Admiral
Blake by what demonstrable ties of genealogy he was irrevocably
bound to the Dutch. The truth of the whole matter is very simple.
Nationality exists, and has nothing in the world to do with race.
Nationality is a thing like a church or a secret society; it is
a product of the human soul and will; it is a spiritual product.
And there are men in the modern world who would think anything and do
anything rather than admit that anything could be a spiritual product.
A nation, however, as it confronts the modern world, is a purely
spiritual product. Sometimes it has been born in independence,
like Scotland. Sometimes it has been born in dependence,
in subjugation, like Ireland. Sometimes it is a large thing
cohering out of many smaller things, like Italy. Sometimes it
is a small thing breaking away from larger things, like Poland.
But in each and every case its quality is purely spiritual, or,
if you will, purely psychological. It is a moment when five men
become a sixth man. Every one knows it who has ever founded
a club. It is a moment when five places become one place.
Every one must know it who has ever had to repel an invasion.
Mr. Timothy Healy, the most serious intellect in the present
House of Commons, summed up nationality to perfection when
he simply called it something for which people will die,
As he excellently said in reply to Lord Hugh Cecil, "No one,
not even the noble lord, would die for the meridian of Greenwich."
And that is the great tribute to its purely psychological character.
It is idle to ask why Greenwich should not cohere in this spiritual
manner while Athens or Sparta did. It is like asking why a man
falls in love with one woman and not with another.
Now, of this great spiritual coherence, independent of external
circumstances, or of race, or of any obvious physical thing, Ireland is
the most remarkable example. Rome conquered nations, but Ireland
has conquered races. The Norman has gone there and become Irish,
the Scotchman has gone there and become Irish, the Spaniard has gone
there and become Irish, even the bitter soldier of Cromwell has gone
there and become Irish. Ireland, which did not exist even politically,
has been stronger than all the races that existed scientifically.
The purest Germanic blood, the purest Norman blood, the purest
blood of the passionate Scotch patriot, has not been so attractive
as a nation without a flag. Ireland, unrecognized and oppressed,
has easily absorbed races, as such trifles are easily absorbed.
She has easily disposed of physical science, as such superstitions
are easily disposed of. Nationality in its weakness has been
stronger than ethnology in its strength. Five triumphant races
have been absorbed, have been defeated by a defeated nationality.
This being the true and strange glory of Ireland, it is impossible
to hear without impatience of the attempt so constantly made
among her modern sympathizers to talk about Celts and Celticism.
Who were the Celts? I defy anybody to say. Who are the Irish?
I defy any one to be indifferent, or to pretend not to know.
Mr. W. B. Yeats, the great Irish genius who has appeared in our time,
shows his own admirable penetration in discarding altogether the argument
from a Celtic race. But he does not wholly escape, and his followers
hardly ever escape, the general objection to the Celtic argument.
The tendency of that argument is to represent the Irish or the Celts
as a strange and separate race, as a tribe of eccentrics in
the modern world immersed in dim legends and fruitless dreams.
Its tendency is to exhibit the Irish as odd, because they see
the fairies. Its trend is to make the Irish seem weird and wild
because they sing old songs and join in strange dances.
But this is quite an error; indeed, it is the opposite of the truth.
It is the English who are odd because they do not see the fairies.
It is the inhabitants of Kensington who are weird and wild
because they do not sing old songs and join in strange dances.
In all this the Irish are not in the least strange and separate,
are not in the least Celtic, as the word is commonly and popularly used.
In all this the Irish are simply an ordinary sensible nation,
living the life of any other ordinary and sensible nation
which has not been either sodden with smoke or oppressed by
money-lenders, or otherwise corrupted with wealth and science.
There is nothing Celtic about having legends. It is merely human.
The Germans, who are (I suppose) Teutonic, have hundreds of legends,
wherever it happens that the Germans are human. There is nothing
Celtic about loving poetry; the English loved poetry more, perhaps,
than any other people before they came under the shadow of the
chimney-pot and the shadow of the chimney-pot hat. It is not Ireland
which is mad and mystic; it is Manchester which is mad and mystic,
which is incredible, which is a wild exception among human things.
Ireland has no need to play the silly game of the science of races;
Ireland has no need to pretend to be a tribe of visionaries apart.
In the matter of visions, Ireland is more than a nation, it is
a model nation.
XIV On Certain Modern Writers and the Institution of the Family
The family may fairly be considered, one would think, an ultimate
human institution. Every one would admit that it has been
the main cell and central unit of almost all societies hitherto,
except, indeed, such societies as that of Lacedaemon, which went
in for "efficiency," and has, therefore, perished, and left not
a trace behind. Christianity, even enormous as was its revolution,
did not alter this ancient and savage sanctity; it merely reversed it.
It did not deny the trinity of father, mother, and child.
It merely read it backwards, making it run child, mother, father.
This it called, not the family, but the Holy Family,
for many things are made holy by being turned upside down.
But some sages of our own decadence have made a serious attack
on the family. They have impugned it, as I think wrongly;
and its defenders have defended it, and defended it wrongly.
The common defence of the family is that, amid the stress
and fickleness of life, it is peaceful, pleasant, and at one.
But there is another defence of the family which is possible,
and to me evident; this defence is that the family is not peaceful
and not pleasant and not at one.
It is not fashionable to say much nowadays of the advantages of
the small community. We are told that we must go in for large empires
and large ideas. There is one advantage, however, in the small state,
the city, or the village, which only the wilfully blind can overlook.
The man who lives in a small community lives in a much larger world.
He knows much more of the fierce varieties and uncompromising divergences
of men. The reason is obvious. In a large community we can choose
our companions. In a small community our companions are chosen for us.
Thus in all extensive and highly civilized societies groups come
into existence founded upon what is called sympathy, and shut
out the real world more sharply than the gates of a monastery.
There is nothing really narrow about the clan; the thing which is
really narrow is the clique. The men of the clan live together
because they all wear the same tartan or are all descended
from the same sacred cow; but in their souls, by the divine luck
of things, there will always be more colours than in any tartan.
But the men of the clique live together because they have the same
kind of soul, and their narrowness is a narrowness of spiritual
coherence and contentment, like that which exists in hell.
A big society exists in order to form cliques. A big society
is a society for the promotion of narrowness. It is a machinery
for the purpose of guarding the solitary and sensitive individual
from all experience of the bitter and bracing human compromises.
It is, in the most literal sense of the words, a society for
the prevention of Christian knowledge.
We can see this change, for instance, in the modern transformation
of the thing called a club. When London was smaller, and the parts
of London more self-contained and parochial, the club was what it
still is in villages, the opposite of what it is now in great cities.
Then the club was valued as a place where a man could be sociable.
Now the club is valued as a place where a man can be unsociable.
The more the enlargement and elaboration of our civilization goes
on the more the club ceases to be a place where a man can have
a noisy argument, and becomes more and more a place where a man
can have what is somewhat fantastically called a quiet chop.
Its aim is to make a man comfortable, and to make a man comfortable
is to make him the opposite of sociable. Sociability, like all
good things, is full of discomforts, dangers, and renunciations.
The club tends to produce the most degraded of all combinations--
the luxurious anchorite, the man who combines the self-indulgence
of Lucullus with the insane loneliness of St. Simeon Stylites.
If we were to-morrow morning snowed up in the street in which we live,
we should step suddenly into a much larger and much wilder world
than we have ever known. And it is the whole effort of the typically
modern person to escape from the street in which he lives.
First he invents modern hygiene and goes to Margate.
Then he invents modern culture and goes to Florence.
Then he invents modern imperialism and goes to Timbuctoo. He goes
to the fantastic borders of the earth. He pretends to shoot tigers.
He almost rides on a camel. And in all this he is still essentially
fleeing from the street in which he was born; and of this flight
he is always ready with his own explanation. He says he is fleeing
from his street because it is dull; he is lying. He is really
fleeing from his street because it is a great deal too exciting.
It is exciting because it is exacting; it is exacting because it is alive.
He can visit Venice because to him the Venetians are only Venetians;
the people in his own street are men. He can stare at the Chinese
because for him the Chinese are a passive thing to be stared at;
if he stares at the old lady in the next garden, she becomes active.
He is forced to flee, in short, from the too stimulating society
of his equals--of free men, perverse, personal, deliberately different
from himself. The street in Brixton is too glowing and overpowering.
He has to soothe and quiet himself among tigers and vultures,
camels and crocodiles. These creatures are indeed very different
from himself. But they do not put their shape or colour or
custom into a decisive intellectual competition with his own.
They do not seek to destroy his principles and assert their own;
the stranger monsters of the suburban street do seek to do this.
The camel does not contort his features into a fine sneer
because Mr. Robinson has not got a hump; the cultured gentleman
at No. 5 does exhibit a sneer because Robinson has not got a dado.
The vulture will not roar with laughter because a man does not fly;
but the major at No. 9 will roar with laughter because a man does
not smoke. The complaint we commonly have to make of our neighbours
is that they will not, as we express it, mind their own business.
We do not really mean that they will not mind their own business.
If our neighbours did not mind their own business they would be asked
abruptly for their rent, and would rapidly cease to be our neighbours.
What we really mean when we say that they cannot mind their own
business is something much deeper. We do not dislike them
because they have so little force and fire that they cannot
be interested in themselves. We dislike them because they have
so much force and fire that they can be interested in us as well.
What we dread about our neighbours, in short, is not the narrowness
of their horizon, but their superb tendency to broaden it. And all
aversions to ordinary humanity have this general character. They are
not aversions to its feebleness (as is pretended), but to its energy.
The misanthropes pretend that they despise humanity for its weakness.
As a matter of fact, they hate it for its strength.
Of course, this shrinking from the brutal vivacity and brutal
variety of common men is a perfectly reasonable and excusable
thing as long as it does not pretend to any point of superiority.
It is when it calls itself aristocracy or aestheticism or a superiority
to the bourgeoisie that its inherent weakness has in justice
to be pointed out. Fastidiousness is the most pardonable of vices;
but it is the most unpardonable of virtues. Nietzsche, who represents
most prominently this pretentious claim of the fastidious,
has a description somewhere--a very powerful description in the
purely literary sense--of the disgust and disdain which consume
him at the sight of the common people with their common faces,
their common voices, and their common minds. As I have said,
this attitude is almost beautiful if we may regard it as pathetic.
Nietzsche's aristocracy has about it all the sacredness that belongs
to the weak. When he makes us feel that he cannot endure the
innumerable faces, the incessant voices, the overpowering omnipresence
which belongs to the mob, he will have the sympathy of anybody
who has ever been sick on a steamer or tired in a crowded omnibus.
Every man has hated mankind when he was less than a man.
Every man has had humanity in his eyes like a blinding fog,
humanity in his nostrils like a suffocating smell. But when Nietzsche
has the incredible lack of humour and lack of imagination to ask us
to believe that his aristocracy is an aristocracy of strong muscles or
an aristocracy of strong wills, it is necessary to point out the truth.
It is an aristocracy of weak nerves.
We make our friends; we make our enemies; but God makes our
next-door neighbour. Hence he comes to us clad in all the careless
terrors of nature; he is as strange as the stars, as reckless and
indifferent as the rain. He is Man, the most terrible of the beasts.
That is why the old religions and the old scriptural language showed
so sharp a wisdom when they spoke, not of one's duty towards humanity,
but one's duty towards one's neighbour. The duty towards humanity may
often take the form of some choice which is personal or even pleasurable.
That duty may be a hobby; it may even be a dissipation.
We may work in the East End because we are peculiarly fitted to work
in the East End, or because we think we are; we may fight for the cause
of international peace because we are very fond of fighting.
The most monstrous martyrdom, the most repulsive experience, may be
the result of choice or a kind of taste. We may be so made as to be
particularly fond of lunatics or specially interested in leprosy.
We may love negroes because they are black or German Socialists because
they are pedantic. But we have to love our neighbour because he is there--
a much more alarming reason for a much more serious operation.
He is the sample of humanity which is actually given us.
Precisely because he may be anybody he is everybody.
He is a symbol because he is an accident.
Doubtless men flee from small environments into lands that are
very deadly. But this is natural enough; for they are not fleeing
from death. They are fleeing from life. And this principle
applies to ring within ring of the social system of humanity.
It is perfectly reasonable that men should seek for some particular
variety of the human type, so long as they are seeking for that
variety of the human type, and not for mere human variety.
It is quite proper that a British diplomatist should seek the society
of Japanese generals, if what he wants is Japanese generals.
But if what he wants is people different from himself, he had much
better stop at home and discuss religion with the housemaid.
It is quite reasonable that the village genius should come up to conquer
London if what he wants is to conquer London. But if he wants to conquer
something fundamentally and symbolically hostile and also very strong,
he had much better remain where he is and have a row with the rector.
The man in the suburban street is quite right if he goes to
Ramsgate for the sake of Ramsgate--a difficult thing to imagine.
But if, as he expresses it, he goes to Ramsgate "for a change,"
then he would have a much more romantic and even melodramatic
change if he jumped over the wall into his neighbours garden.
The consequences would be bracing in a sense far beyond the possibilities
of Ramsgate hygiene.
Now, exactly as this principle applies to the empire, to the nation
within the empire, to the city within the nation, to the street
within the city, so it applies to the home within the street.
The institution of the family is to be commended for precisely
the same reasons that the institution of the nation, or the
institution of the city, are in this matter to be commended.
It is a good thing for a man to live in a family for the same reason
that it is a good thing for a man to be besieged in a city.
It is a good thing for a man to live in a family in the same sense that it
is a beautiful and delightful thing for a man to be snowed up in a street.
They all force him to realize that life is not a thing from outside,
but a thing from inside. Above all, they all insist upon the fact
that life, if it be a truly stimulating and fascinating life,
is a thing which, of its nature, exists in spite of ourselves.
The modern writers who have suggested, in a more or less open manner,
that the family is a bad institution, have generally confined
themselves to suggesting, with much sharpness, bitterness, or pathos,
that perhaps the family is not always very congenial.
Of course the family is a good institution because it is uncongenial.
It is wholesome precisely because it contains so many
divergencies and varieties. It is, as the sentimentalists say,
like a little kingdom, and, like most other little kingdoms,
is generally in a state of something resembling anarchy.
It is exactly because our brother George is not interested in our
religious difficulties, but is interested in the Trocadero Restaurant,
that the family has some of the bracing qualities of the commonwealth.
It is precisely because our uncle Henry does not approve of the theatrical
ambitions of our sister Sarah that the family is like humanity.
The men and women who, for good reasons and bad, revolt against the family,
are, for good reasons and bad, simply revolting against mankind.
Aunt Elizabeth is unreasonable, like mankind. Papa is excitable,
like mankind Our youngest brother is mischievous, like mankind.
Grandpapa is stupid, like the world; he is old, like the world.
Those who wish, rightly or wrongly, to step out of all this,
do definitely wish to step into a narrower world. They are
dismayed and terrified by the largeness and variety of the family.
Sarah wishes to find a world wholly consisting of private theatricals;
George wishes to think the Trocadero a cosmos. I do not say,
for a moment, that the flight to this narrower life may not be
the right thing for the individual, any more than I say the same
thing about flight into a monastery. But I do say that anything
is bad and artificial which tends to make these people succumb
to the strange delusion that they are stepping into a world
which is actually larger and more varied than their own.
The best way that a man could test his readiness to encounter the common
variety of mankind would be to climb down a chimney into any house
at random, and get on as well as possible with the people inside.
And that is essentially what each one of us did on the day that
he was born.
This is, indeed, the sublime and special romance of the family. It is
romantic because it is a toss-up. It is romantic because it is everything
that its enemies call it. It is romantic because it is arbitrary.
It is romantic because it is there. So long as you have groups of men
chosen rationally, you have some special or sectarian atmosphere.
It is when you have groups of men chosen irrationally that you have men.
The element of adventure begins to exist; for an adventure is,
by its nature, a thing that comes to us. It is a thing that chooses us,
not a thing that we choose. Falling in love has been often
regarded as the supreme adventure, the supreme romantic accident.
In so much as there is in it something outside ourselves,
something of a sort of merry fatalism, this is very true.
Love does take us and transfigure and torture us. It does break our
hearts with an unbearable beauty, like the unbearable beauty of music.
But in so far as we have certainly something to do with the matter;
in so far as we are in some sense prepared to fall in love and in some
sense jump into it; in so far as we do to some extent choose and to some
extent even judge--in all this falling in love is not truly romantic,
is not truly adventurous at all. In this degree the supreme adventure
is not falling in love. The supreme adventure is being born.
There we do walk suddenly into a splendid and startling trap.
There we do see something of which we have not dreamed before.
Our father and mother do lie in wait for us and leap out on us,
like brigands from a bush. Our uncle is a surprise. Our aunt is,
in the beautiful common expression, a bolt from the blue.
When we step into the family, by the act of being born, we do
step into a world which is incalculable, into a world which has
its own strange laws, into a world which could do without us,
into a world that we have not made. In other words, when we step
into the family we step into a fairy-tale.
This colour as of a fantastic narrative ought to cling
to the family and to our relations with it throughout life.
Romance is the deepest thing in life; romance is deeper even
than reality. For even if reality could be proved to be misleading,
it still could not be proved to be unimportant or unimpressive.
Even if the facts are false, they are still very strange.
And this strangeness of life, this unexpected and even perverse
element of things as they fall out, remains incurably interesting.
The circumstances we can regulate may become tame or pessimistic;
but the "circumstances over which we have no control" remain god-like
to those who, like Mr. Micawber, can call on them and renew
their strength. People wonder why the novel is the most popular
form of literature; people wonder why it is read more than books
of science or books of metaphysics. The reason is very simple;
it is merely that the novel is more true than they are.
Life may sometimes legitimately appear as a book of science.
Life may sometimes appear, and with a much greater legitimacy,
as a book of metaphysics. But life is always a novel. Our existence
may cease to be a song; it may cease even to be a beautiful lament.
Our existence may not be an intelligible justice, or even a
recognizable wrong. But our existence is still a story. In the fiery
alphabet of every sunset is written, "to be continued in our next."
If we have sufficient intellect, we can finish a philosophical
and exact deduction, and be certain that we are finishing it right.
With the adequate brain-power we could finish any scientific
discovery, and be certain that we were finishing it right.
But not with the most gigantic intellect could we finish the simplest
or silliest story, and be certain that we were finishing it right.
That is because a story has behind it, not merely intellect which
is partly mechanical, but will, which is in its essence divine.
The narrative writer can send his hero to the gallows if he likes
in the last chapter but one. He can do it by the same divine
caprice whereby he, the author, can go to the gallows himself,
and to hell afterwards if he chooses. And the same civilization,
the chivalric European civilization which asserted freewill in the
thirteenth century, produced the thing called "fiction" in the eighteenth.
When Thomas Aquinas asserted the spiritual liberty of man,
he created all the bad novels in the circulating libraries.
But in order that life should be a story or romance to us,
it is necessary that a great part of it, at any rate, should be
settled for us without our permission. If we wish life to be
a system, this may be a nuisance; but if we wish it to be a drama,
it is an essential. It may often happen, no doubt, that a drama
may be written by somebody else which we like very little.
But we should like it still less if the author came before the curtain
every hour or so, and forced on us the whole trouble of inventing
the next act. A man has control over many things in his life;
he has control over enough things to be the hero of a novel.
But if he had control over everything, there would be so much
hero that there would be no novel. And the reason why the lives
of the rich are at bottom so tame and uneventful is simply that they
can choose the events. They are dull because they are omnipotent.
They fail to feel adventures because they can make the adventures.
The thing which keeps life romantic and full of fiery possibilities
is the existence of these great plain limitations which force all of us
to meet the things we do not like or do not expect. It is vain for
the supercilious moderns to talk of being in uncongenial surroundings.
To be in a romance is to be in uncongenial surroundings.
To be born into this earth is to be born into uncongenial surroundings,
hence to be born into a romance. Of all these great limitations
and frameworks which fashion and create the poetry and variety
of life, the family is the most definite and important.
Hence it is misunderstood by the moderns, who imagine that romance would
exist most perfectly in a complete state of what they call liberty.
They think that if a man makes a gesture it would be a startling
and romantic matter that the sun should fall from the sky.
But the startling and romantic thing about the sun is that it does
not fall from the sky. They are seeking under every shape and form
a world where there are no limitations--that is, a world where there
are no outlines; that is, a world where there are no shapes.
There is nothing baser than that infinity. They say they wish to be,
as strong as the universe, but they really wish the whole universe
as weak as themselves.
XV On Smart Novelists and the Smart Set
In one sense, at any rate, it is more valuable to read bad literature
than good literature. Good literature may tell us the mind
of one man; but bad literature may tell us the mind of many men.
A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel
tells us the truth about its author. It does much more than that,
it tells us the truth about its readers; and, oddly enough,
it tells us this all the more the more cynical and immoral
be the motive of its manufacture. The more dishonest a book
is as a book the more honest it is as a public document.
A sincere novel exhibits the simplicity of one particular man;
an insincere novel exhibits the simplicity of mankind.
The pedantic decisions and definable readjustments of man
may be found in scrolls and statute books and scriptures;
but men's basic assumptions and everlasting energies are to be
found in penny dreadfuls and halfpenny novelettes. Thus a man,
like many men of real culture in our day, might learn from good
literature nothing except the power to appreciate good literature.
But from bad literature he might learn to govern empires and look
over the map of mankind.
There is one rather interesting example of this state of things
in which the weaker literature is really the stronger and the stronger
the weaker. It is the case of what may be called, for the sake
of an approximate description, the literature of aristocracy;
or, if you prefer the description, the literature of snobbishness.
Now if any one wishes to find a really effective and comprehensible
and permanent case for aristocracy well and sincerely stated,
let him read, not the modern philosophical conservatives,
not even Nietzsche, let him read the Bow Bells Novelettes.
Of the case of Nietzsche I am confessedly more doubtful.
Nietzsche and the Bow Bells Novelettes have both obviously
the same fundamental character; they both worship the tall man
with curling moustaches and herculean bodily power, and they both
worship him in a manner which is somewhat feminine and hysterical.
Even here, however, the Novelette easily maintains its
philosophical superiority, because it does attribute to the strong
man those virtues which do commonly belong to him, such virtues
as laziness and kindliness and a rather reckless benevolence,
and a great dislike of hurting the weak. Nietzsche, on the other hand,
attributes to the strong man that scorn against weakness which
only exists among invalids. It is not, however, of the secondary
merits of the great German philosopher, but of the primary merits
of the Bow Bells Novelettes, that it is my present affair to speak.
The picture of aristocracy in the popular sentimental novelette seems
to me very satisfactory as a permanent political and philosophical guide.
It may be inaccurate about details such as the title by which a baronet
is addressed or the width of a mountain chasm which a baronet can
conveniently leap, but it is not a bad description of the general
idea and intention of aristocracy as they exist in human affairs.
The essential dream of aristocracy is magnificence and valour;
and if the Family Herald Supplement sometimes distorts or exaggerates
these things, at least, it does not fall short in them.
It never errs by making the mountain chasm too narrow or the title
of the baronet insufficiently impressive. But above this
sane reliable old literature of snobbishness there has arisen
in our time another kind of literature of snobbishness which,
with its much higher pretensions, seems to me worthy of very much
less respect. Incidentally (if that matters), it is much
better literature. But it is immeasurably worse philosophy,
immeasurably worse ethics and politics, immeasurably worse vital
rendering of aristocracy and humanity as they really are.
From such books as those of which I wish now to speak we can
discover what a clever man can do with the idea of aristocracy.
But from the Family Herald Supplement literature we can learn
what the idea of aristocracy can do with a man who is not clever.
And when we know that we know English history.
This new aristocratic fiction must have caught the attention of
everybody who has read the best fiction for the last fifteen years.
It is that genuine or alleged literature of the Smart Set which
represents that set as distinguished, not only by smart dresses,
but by smart sayings. To the bad baronet, to the good baronet,
to the romantic and misunderstood baronet who is supposed to be a
bad baronet, but is a good baronet, this school has added a conception
undreamed of in the former years--the conception of an amusing baronet.
The aristocrat is not merely to be taller than mortal men
and stronger and handsomer, he is also to be more witty.
He is the long man with the short epigram. Many eminent,
and deservedly eminent, modern novelists must accept some
responsibility for having supported this worst form of snobbishness--
an intellectual snobbishness. The talented author of "Dodo" is
responsible for having in some sense created the fashion as a fashion.
Mr. Hichens, in the "Green Carnation," reaffirmed the strange idea
that young noblemen talk well; though his case had some vague
biographical foundation, and in consequence an excuse. Mrs. Craigie
is considerably guilty in the matter, although, or rather because,
she has combined the aristocratic note with a note of some moral
and even religious sincerity. When you are saving a man's soul,
even in a novel, it is indecent to mention that he is a gentleman.
Nor can blame in this matter be altogether removed from a man of much
greater ability, and a man who has proved his possession of the highest
of human instinct, the romantic instinct--I mean Mr. Anthony Hope.
In a galloping, impossible melodrama like "The Prisoner of Zenda,"
the blood of kings fanned an excellent fantastic thread or theme.
But the blood of kings is not a thing that can be taken seriously.
And when, for example, Mr. Hope devotes so much serious and sympathetic
study to the man called Tristram of Blent, a man who throughout burning
boyhood thought of nothing but a silly old estate, we feel even in
Mr. Hope the hint of this excessive concern about the oligarchic idea.
It is hard for any ordinary person to feel so much interest in a
young man whose whole aim is to own the house of Blent at the time
when every other young man is owning the stars.
Mr. Hope, however, is a very mild case, and in him there is not
only an element of romance, but also a fine element of irony
which warns us against taking all this elegance too seriously.
Above all, he shows his sense in not making his noblemen so incredibly
equipped with impromptu repartee. This habit of insisting on
the wit of the wealthier classes is the last and most servile
of all the servilities. It is, as I have said, immeasurably more
contemptible than the snobbishness of the novelette which describes
the nobleman as smiling like an Apollo or riding a mad elephant.
These may be exaggerations of beauty and courage, but beauty and courage
are the unconscious ideals of aristocrats, even of stupid aristocrats.
The nobleman of the novelette may not be sketched with any very close
or conscientious attention to the daily habits of noblemen. But he is
something more important than a reality; he is a practical ideal.
The gentleman of fiction may not copy the gentleman of real life;
but the gentleman of real life is copying the gentleman of fiction.
He may not be particularly good-looking, but he would rather be
good-looking than anything else; he may not have ridden on a mad elephant,
but he rides a pony as far as possible with an air as if he had.
And, upon the whole, the upper class not only especially desire
these qualities of beauty and courage, but in some degree,
at any rate, especially possess them. Thus there is nothing really
mean or sycophantic about the popular literature which makes all its
marquises seven feet high. It is snobbish, but it is not servile.
Its exaggeration is based on an exuberant and honest admiration;
its honest admiration is based upon something which is in some degree,
at any rate, really there. The English lower classes do not
fear the English upper classes in the least; nobody could.
They simply and freely and sentimentally worship them.
The strength of the aristocracy is not in the aristocracy at all;
it is in the slums. It is not in the House of Lords; it is not
in the Civil Service; it is not in the Government offices; it is not
even in the huge and disproportionate monopoly of the English land.
It is in a certain spirit. It is in the fact that when a navvy
wishes to praise a man, it comes readily to his tongue to say
that he has behaved like a gentleman. From a democratic point
of view he might as well say that he had behaved like a viscount.
The oligarchic character of the modern English commonwealth does not rest,
like many oligarchies, on the cruelty of the rich to the poor.
It does not even rest on the kindness of the rich to the poor.
It rests on the perennial and unfailing kindness of the poor
to the rich.
The snobbishness of bad literature, then, is not servile; but the
snobbishness of good literature is servile. The old-fashioned halfpenny
romance where the duchesses sparkled with diamonds was not servile;
but the new romance where they sparkle with epigrams is servile.
For in thus attributing a special and startling degree of intellect
and conversational or controversial power to the upper classes,
we are attributing something which is not especially their virtue
or even especially their aim. We are, in the words of Disraeli
(who, being a genius and not a gentleman, has perhaps primarily
to answer for the introduction of this method of flattering
the gentry), we are performing the essential function of flattery
which is flattering the people for the qualities they have not got.
Praise may be gigantic and insane without having any quality
of flattery so long as it is praise of something that is noticeably
in existence. A man may say that a giraffe's head strikes
the stars, or that a whale fills the German Ocean, and still
be only in a rather excited state about a favourite animal.
But when he begins to congratulate the giraffe on his feathers,
and the whale on the elegance of his legs, we find ourselves
confronted with that social element which we call flattery.
The middle and lower orders of London can sincerely, though not
perhaps safely, admire the health and grace of the English aristocracy.
And this for the very simple reason that the aristocrats are,
upon the whole, more healthy and graceful than the poor.
But they cannot honestly admire the wit of the aristocrats.
And this for the simple reason that the aristocrats are not more witty
than the poor, but a very great deal less so. A man does not hear,
as in the smart novels, these gems of verbal felicity dropped between
diplomatists at dinner. Where he really does hear them is between
two omnibus conductors in a block in Holborn. The witty peer whose
impromptus fill the books of Mrs. Craigie or Miss Fowler, would,
as a matter of fact, be torn to shreds in the art of conversation
by the first boot-black he had the misfortune to fall foul of.
The poor are merely sentimental, and very excusably sentimental,
if they praise the gentleman for having a ready hand and ready money.
But they are strictly slaves and sycophants if they praise him
for having a ready tongue. For that they have far more themselves.
The element of oligarchical sentiment in these novels,