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All Things Considered by G. K. Chesterton

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the figures in a ledger.

The trouble is that the real question I raised is not discussed. It is
argued as a problem in pennies, not as a problem in people. It is not
the proposals of these reformers that I feel to be false so much as
their temper and their arguments. I am not nearly so certain that
communal kitchens are wrong as I am that the defenders of communal
kitchens are wrong. Of course, for one thing, there is a vast difference
between the communal kitchens of which I spoke and the communal meal
(_monstrum horrendum, informe_) which the darker and wilder mind of my
correspondent diabolically calls up. But in both the trouble is that
their defenders will not defend them humanly as human institutions. They
will not interest themselves in the staring psychological fact that
there are some things that a man or a woman, as the case may be, wishes
to do for himself or herself. He or she must do it inventively,
creatively, artistically, individually--in a word, badly. Choosing your
wife (say) is one of these things. Is choosing your husband's dinner one
of these things? That is the whole question: it is never asked.

And then the higher culture. I know that culture. I would not set any
man free for it if I could help it. The effect of it on the rich men who
are free for it is so horrible that it is worse than any of the other
amusements of the millionaire--worse than gambling, worse even than
philanthropy. It means thinking the smallest poet in Belgium greater
than the greatest poet of England. It means losing every democratic
sympathy. It means being unable to talk to a navvy about sport, or about
beer, or about the Bible, or about the Derby, or about patriotism, or
about anything whatever that he, the navvy, wants to talk about. It
means taking literature seriously, a very amateurish thing to do. It
means pardoning indecency only when it is gloomy indecency. Its
disciples will call a spade a spade; but only when it is a
grave-digger's spade. The higher culture is sad, cheap, impudent,
unkind, without honesty and without ease. In short, it is "high." That
abominable word (also applied to game) admirably describes it.

No; if you were setting women free for something else, I might be more
melted. If you can assure me, privately and gravely, that you are
setting women free to dance on the mountains like maenads, or to worship
some monstrous goddess, I will make a note of your request. If you are
quite sure that the ladies in Brixton, the moment they give up cooking,
will beat great gongs and blow horns to Mumbo-Jumbo, then I will agree
that the occupation is at least human and is more or less entertaining.
Women have been set free to be Bacchantes; they have been set free to be
Virgin Martyrs; they have been set free to be Witches. Do not ask them
now to sink so low as the higher culture.

I have my own little notions of the possible emancipation of women; but
I suppose I should not be taken very seriously if I propounded them. I
should favour anything that would increase the present enormous
authority of women and their creative action in their own homes. The
average woman, as I have said, is a despot; the average man is a serf. I
am for any scheme that any one can suggest that will make the average
woman more of a despot. So far from wishing her to get her cooked meals
from outside, I should like her to cook more wildly and at her own will
than she does. So far from getting always the same meals from the same
place, let her invent, if she likes, a new dish every day of her life.
Let woman be more of a maker, not less. We are right to talk about
"Woman;" only blackguards talk about women. Yet all men talk about men,
and that is the whole difference. Men represent the deliberative and
democratic element in life. Woman represents the despotic.


The incident of the Suffragettes who chained themselves with iron chains
to the railings of Downing Street is a good ironical allegory of most
modern martyrdom. It generally consists of a man chaining himself up and
then complaining that he is not free. Some say that such larks retard
the cause of female suffrage, others say that such larks alone can
advance it; as a matter of fact, I do not believe that they have the
smallest effect one way or the other.

The modern notion of impressing the public by a mere demonstration of
unpopularity, by being thrown out of meetings or thrown into jail is
largely a mistake. It rests on a fallacy touching the true popular value
of martyrdom. People look at human history and see that it has often
happened that persecutions have not only advertised but even advanced a
persecuted creed, and given to its validity the public and dreadful
witness of dying men. The paradox was pictorially expressed in Christian
art, in which saints were shown brandishing as weapons the very tools
that had slain them. And because his martyrdom is thus a power to the
martyr, modern people think that any one who makes himself slightly
uncomfortable in public will immediately be uproariously popular. This
element of inadequate martyrdom is not true only of the Suffragettes; it
is true of many movements I respect and some that I agree with. It was
true, for instance, of the Passive Resisters, who had pieces of their
furniture sold up. The assumption is that if you show your ordinary
sincerity (or even your political ambition) by being a nuisance to
yourself as well as to other people, you will have the strength of the
great saints who passed through the fire. Any one who can be hustled in
a hall for five minutes, or put in a cell for five days, has achieved
what was meant by martyrdom, and has a halo in the Christian art of the
future. Miss Pankhurst will be represented holding a policeman in each
hand--the instruments of her martyrdom. The Passive Resister will be
shown symbolically carrying the teapot that was torn from him by
tyrannical auctioneers.

But there is a fallacy in this analogy of martyrdom. The truth is that
the special impressiveness which does come from being persecuted only
happens in the case of extreme persecution. For the fact that the modern
enthusiast will undergo some inconvenience for the creed he holds only
proves that he does hold it, which no one ever doubted. No one doubts
that the Nonconformist minister cares more for Nonconformity than he
does for his teapot. No one doubts that Miss Pankhurst wants a vote more
than she wants a quiet afternoon and an armchair. All our ordinary
intellectual opinions are worth a bit of a row: I remember during the
Boer War fighting an Imperialist clerk outside the Queen's Hall, and
giving and receiving a bloody nose; but I did not think it one of the
incidents that produce the psychological effect of the Roman
amphitheatre or the stake at Smithfield. For in that impression there is
something more than the mere fact that a man is sincere enough to give
his time or his comfort. Pagans were not impressed by the torture of
Christians merely because it showed that they honestly held their
opinion; they knew that millions of people honestly held all sorts of
opinions. The point of such extreme martyrdom is much more subtle. It is
that it gives an appearance of a man having something quite specially
strong to back him up, of his drawing upon some power. And this can only
be proved when all his physical contentment is destroyed; when all the
current of his bodily being is reversed and turned to pain. If a man is
seen to be roaring with laughter all the time that he is skinned alive,
it would not be unreasonable to deduce that somewhere in the recesses of
his mind he had thought of a rather good joke. Similarly, if men smiled
and sang (as they did) while they were being boiled or torn in pieces,
the spectators felt the presence of something more than mere mental
honesty: they felt the presence of some new and unintelligible kind of
pleasure, which, presumably, came from somewhere. It might be a strength
of madness, or a lying spirit from Hell; but it was something quite
positive and extraordinary; as positive as brandy and as extraordinary
as conjuring. The Pagan said to himself: "If Christianity makes a man
happy while his legs are being eaten by a lion, might it not make me
happy while my legs are still attached to me and walking down the
street?" The Secularists laboriously explain that martyrdoms do not
prove a faith to be true, as if anybody was ever such a fool as to
suppose that they did. What they did prove, or, rather, strongly
suggest, was that something had entered human psychology which was
stronger than strong pain. If a young girl, scourged and bleeding to
death, saw nothing but a crown descending on her from God, the first
mental step was not that her philosophy was correct, but that she was
certainly feeding on something. But this particular point of psychology
does not arise at all in the modern cases of mere public discomfort or
inconvenience. The causes of Miss Pankhurst's cheerfulness require no
mystical explanations. If she were being burned alive as a witch, if she
then looked up in unmixed rapture and saw a ballot-box descending out of
heaven, then I should say that the incident, though not conclusive, was
frightfully impressive. It would not prove logically that she ought to
have the vote, or that anybody ought to have the vote. But it would
prove this: that there was, for some reason, a sacramental reality in
the vote, that the soul could take the vote and feed on it; that it was
in itself a positive and overpowering pleasure, capable of being pitted
against positive and overpowering pain.

I should advise modern agitators, therefore, to give up this particular
method: the method of making very big efforts to get a very small
punishment. It does not really go down at all; the punishment is too
small, and the efforts are too obvious. It has not any of the
effectiveness of the old savage martyrdom, because it does not leave the
victim absolutely alone with his cause, so that his cause alone can
support him. At the same time it has about it that element of the
pantomimic and the absurd, which was the cruellest part of the slaying
and the mocking of the real prophets. St. Peter was crucified upside
down as a huge inhuman joke; but his human seriousness survived the
inhuman joke, because, in whatever posture, he had died for his faith.
The modern martyr of the Pankhurst type courts the absurdity without
making the suffering strong enough to eclipse the absurdity. She is like
a St. Peter who should deliberately stand on his head for ten seconds
and then expect to be canonised for it.

Or, again, the matter might be put in this way. Modern martyrdoms fail
even as demonstrations, because they do not prove even that the martyrs
are completely serious. I think, as a fact, that the modern martyrs
generally are serious, perhaps a trifle too serious. But their martyrdom
does not prove it; and the public does not always believe it.
Undoubtedly, as a fact, Dr. Clifford is quite honourably indignant with
what he considers to be clericalism, but he does not prove it by having
his teapot sold; for a man might easily have his teapot sold as an
actress has her diamonds stolen--as a personal advertisement. As a
matter of fact, Miss Pankhurst is quite in earnest about votes for
women. But she does not prove it by being chucked out of meetings. A
person might be chucked out of meetings just as young men are chucked
out of music-halls--for fun. But no man has himself eaten by a lion as a
personal advertisement. No woman is broiled on a gridiron for fun. That
is where the testimony of St. Perpetua and St. Faith comes in. Doubtless
it is no fault of these enthusiasts that they are not subjected to the
old and searching penalties; very likely they would pass through them as
triumphantly as St. Agatha. I am simply advising them upon a point of
policy, things being as they are. And I say that the average man is not
impressed with their sacrifices simply because they are not and cannot
be more decisive than the sacrifices which the average man himself would
make for mere fun if he were drunk. Drunkards would interrupt meetings
and take the consequences. And as for selling a teapot, it is an act, I
imagine, in which any properly constituted drunkard would take a
positive pleasure. The advertisement is not good enough; it does not
tell. If I were really martyred for an opinion (which is more improbable
than words can say), it would certainly only be for one or two of my
most central and sacred opinions. I might, perhaps, be shot for England,
but certainly not for the British Empire. I might conceivably die for
political freedom, but I certainly wouldn't die for Free Trade. But as
for kicking up the particular kind of shindy that the Suffragettes are
kicking up, I would as soon do it for my shallowest opinion as for my
deepest one. It never could be anything worse than an inconvenience; it
never could be anything better than a spree. Hence the British public,
and especially the working classes, regard the whole demonstration with
fundamental indifference; for, while it is a demonstration that probably
is adopted from the most fanatical motives, it is a demonstration which
might be adopted from the most frivolous.


Generally, instinctively, in the absence of any special reason, humanity
hates the idea of anything being hidden--that is, it hates the idea of
anything being successfully hidden. Hide-and-seek is a popular pastime;
but it assumes the truth of the text, "Seek and ye shall find."
Ordinary mankind (gigantic and unconquerable in its power of joy) can
get a great deal of pleasure out of a game called "hide the thimble,"
but that is only because it is really a game of "see the thimble."
Suppose that at the end of such a game the thimble had not been found at
all; suppose its place was unknown for ever: the result on the players
would not be playful, it would be tragic. That thimble would hag-ride
all their dreams. They would all die in asylums. The pleasure is all in
the poignant moment of passing from not knowing to knowing. Mystery
stories are very popular, especially when sold at sixpence; but that is
because the author of a mystery story reveals. He is enjoyed not because
he creates mystery, but because he destroys mystery. Nobody would have
the courage to publish a detective-story which left the problem exactly
where it found it. That would rouse even the London public to
revolution. No one dare publish a detective-story that did not detect.

There are three broad classes of the special things in which human
wisdom does permit privacy. The first is the case I have mentioned--that
of hide-and-seek, or the police novel, in which it permits privacy only
in order to explode and smash privacy. The author makes first a
fastidious secret of how the Bishop was murdered, only in order that he
may at last declare, as from a high tower, to the whole democracy the
great glad news that he was murdered by the governess. In that case,
ignorance is only valued because being ignorant is the best and purest
preparation for receiving the horrible revelations of high life.
Somewhat in the same way being an agnostic is the best and purest
preparation for receiving the happy revelations of St. John.

This first sort of secrecy we may dismiss, for its whole ultimate object
is not to keep the secret, but to tell it. Then there is a second and
far more important class of things which humanity does agree to hide.
They are so important that they cannot possibly be discussed here. But
every one will know the kind of things I mean. In connection with these,
I wish to remark that though they are, in one sense, a secret, they are
also always a "secret de Polichinelle." Upon sex and such matters we are
in a human freemasonry; the freemasonry is disciplined, but the
freemasonry is free. We are asked to be silent about these things, but
we are not asked to be ignorant about them. On the contrary, the
fundamental human argument is entirely the other way. It is the thing
most common to humanity that is most veiled by humanity. It is exactly
because we all know that it is there that we need not say that it is

Then there is a third class of things on which the best civilisation
does permit privacy, does resent all inquiry or explanation. This is in
the case of things which need not be explained, because they cannot be
explained, things too airy, instinctive, or intangible--caprices, sudden
impulses, and the more innocent kind of prejudice. A man must not be
asked why he is talkative or silent, for the simple reason that he does
not know. A man is not asked (even in Germany) why he walks slow or
quick, simply because he could not answer. A man must take his own road
through a wood, and make his own use of a holiday. And the reason is
this: not because he has a strong reason, but actually because he has a
weak reason; because he has a slight and fleeting feeling about the
matter which he could not explain to a policeman, which perhaps the very
appearance of a policeman out of the bushes might destroy. He must act
on the impulse, because the impulse is unimportant, and he may never
have the same impulse again. If you like to put it so he must act on the
impulse because the impulse is not worth a moment's thought. All these
fancies men feel should be private; and even Fabians have never proposed
to interfere with them.

Now, for the last fortnight the newspapers have been full of very varied
comments upon the problem of the secrecy of certain parts of our
political finance, and especially of the problem of the party funds.
Some papers have failed entirely to understand what the quarrel is
about. They have urged that Irish members and Labour members are also
under the shadow, or, as some have said, even more under it. The ground
of this frantic statement seems, when patiently considered, to be simply
this: that Irish and Labour members receive money for what they do. All
persons, as far as I know, on this earth receive money for what they do;
the only difference is that some people, like the Irish members, do it.

I cannot imagine that any human being could think any other human being
capable of maintaining the proposition that men ought not to receive
money. The simple point is that, as we know that some money is given
rightly and some wrongly, an elementary common-sense leads us to look
with indifference at the money that is given in the middle of Ludgate
Circus, and to look with particular suspicion at the money which a man
will not give unless he is shut up in a box or a bathing-machine. In
short, it is too silly to suppose that anybody could ever have discussed
the desirability of funds. The only thing that even idiots could ever
have discussed is the concealment of funds. Therefore, the whole
question that we have to consider is whether the concealment of
political money-transactions, the purchase of peerages, the payment of
election expenses, is a kind of concealment that falls under any of the
three classes I have mentioned as those in which human custom and
instinct does permit us to conceal. I have suggested three kinds of
secrecy which are human and defensible. Can this institution be defended
by means of any of them?

Now the question is whether this political secrecy is of any of the
kinds that can be called legitimate. We have roughly divided legitimate
secrets into three classes. First comes the secret that is only kept in
order to be revealed, as in the detective stories; secondly, the secret
which is kept because everybody knows it, as in sex; and third, the
secret which is kept because it is too delicate and vague to be
explained at all, as in the choice of a country walk. Do any of these
broad human divisions cover such a case as that of secrecy of the
political and party finances? It would be absurd, and even delightfully
absurd, to pretend that any of them did. It would be a wild and charming
fancy to suggest that our politicians keep political secrets only that
they may make political revelations. A modern peer only pretends that he
has earned his peerage in order that he may more dramatically declare,
with a scream of scorn and joy, that he really bought it. The Baronet
pretends that he deserved his title only in order to make more exquisite
and startling the grand historical fact that he did not deserve it.
Surely this sounds improbable. Surely all our statesmen cannot be saving
themselves up for the excitement of a death-bed repentance. The writer
of detective tales makes a man a duke solely in order to blast him with
a charge of burglary. But surely the Prime Minister does not make a man
a duke solely in order to blast him with a charge of bribery. No; the
detective-tale theory of the secrecy of political funds must (with a
sigh) be given up.

Neither can we say that the thing is explained by that second case of
human secrecy which is so secret that it is hard to discuss it in
public. A decency is preserved about certain primary human matters
precisely because every one knows all about them. But the decency
touching contributions, purchases, and peerages is not kept up because
most ordinary men know what is happening; it is kept up precisely
because most ordinary men do not know what is happening. The ordinary
curtain of decorum covers normal proceedings. But no one will say that
being bribed is a normal proceeding.

And if we apply the third test to this problem of political secrecy, the
case is even clearer and even more funny. Surely no one will say that
the purchase of peerages and such things are kept secret because they
are so light and impulsive and unimportant that they must be matters of
individual fancy. A child sees a flower and for the first time feels
inclined to pick it. But surely no one will say that a brewer sees a
coronet and for the first time suddenly thinks that he would like to be
a peer. The child's impulse need not be explained to the police, for the
simple reason that it could not be explained to anybody. But does any
one believe that the laborious political ambitions of modern commercial
men ever have this airy and incommunicable character? A man lying on the
beach may throw stones into the sea without any particular reason. But
does any one believe that the brewer throws bags of gold into the party
funds without any particular reason? This theory of the secrecy of
political money must also be regretfully abandoned; and with it the two
other possible excuses as well. This secrecy is one which cannot be
justified as a sensational joke nor as a common human freemasonry, nor
as an indescribable personal whim. Strangely enough, indeed, it violates
all three conditions and classes at once. It is not hidden in order to
be revealed: it is hidden in order to be hidden. It is not kept secret
because it is a common secret of mankind, but because mankind must not
get hold of it. And it is not kept secret because it is too unimportant
to be told, but because it is much too important to bear telling. In
short, the thing we have is the real and perhaps rare political
phenomenon of an occult government. We have an exoteric and an esoteric
doctrine. England is really ruled by priestcraft, but not by priests. We
have in this country all that has ever been alleged against the evil
side of religion; the peculiar class with privileges, the sacred words
that are unpronounceable; the important things known only to the few. In
fact we lack nothing except the religion.

* * * * *


I have received a serious, and to me, at any rate, an impressive
remonstrance from the Scottish Patriotic Association. It appears that I
recently referred to Edward VII. of Great Britain and Ireland, King,
Defender of the Faith, under the horrible description of the King of
England. The Scottish Patriotic Association draws my attention to the
fact that by the provisions of the Act of Union, and the tradition of
nationality, the monarch should be referred to as the King of Britain.
The blow thus struck at me is particularly wounding because it is
particularly unjust. I believe in the reality of the independent
nationalities under the British Crown much more passionately and
positively than any other educated Englishman of my acquaintance
believes in it. I am quite certain that Scotland is a nation; I am quite
certain that nationality is the key of Scotland; I am quite certain that
all our success with Scotland has been due to the fact that we have in
spirit treated it as a nation. I am quite certain that Ireland is a
nation; I am quite certain that nationality is the key to Ireland; I am
quite certain that all our failure in Ireland arose from the fact that
we would not in spirit treat it as a nation. It would be difficult to
find, even among the innumerable examples that exist, a stronger example
of the immensely superior importance of sentiment to what is called
practicality than this case of the two sister nations. It is not that we
have encouraged a Scotchman to be rich; it is not that we have
encouraged a Scotchman to be active; it is not that we have encouraged a
Scotchman to be free. It is that we have quite definitely encouraged a
Scotchman to be Scotch.

A vague, but vivid impression was received from all our writers of
history, philosophy, and rhetoric that the Scottish element was
something really valuable in itself, was something which even Englishmen
were forced to recognise and respect. If we ever admitted the beauty of
Ireland, it was as something which might be loved by an Englishman but
which could hardly be respected even by an Irishman. A Scotchman might
be proud of Scotland; it was enough for an Irishman that he could be
fond of Ireland. Our success with the two nations has been exactly
proportioned to our encouragement of their independent national
emotion; the one that we would not treat nationally has alone produced
Nationalists. The one nation that we would not recognise as a nation in
theory is the one that we have been forced to recognise as a nation in
arms. The Scottish Patriotic Association has no need to draw my
attention to the importance of the separate national sentiment or the
need of keeping the Border as a sacred line. The case is quite
sufficiently proved by the positive history of Scotland. The place of
Scottish loyalty to England has been taken by English admiration of
Scotland. They do not need to envy us our titular leadership, when we
seem to envy them their separation.

I wish to make very clear my entire sympathy with the national sentiment
of the Scottish Patriotic Association. But I wish also to make clear
this very enlightening comparison between the fate of Scotch and of
Irish patriotism. In life it is always the little facts that express the
large emotions, and if the English once respected Ireland as they
respect Scotland, it would come out in a hundred small ways. For
instance, there are crack regiments in the British Army which wear the
kilt--the kilt which, as Macaulay says with perfect truth, was regarded
by nine Scotchmen out of ten as the dress of a thief. The Highland
officers carry a silver-hilted version of the old barbarous Gaelic
broadsword with a basket-hilt, which split the skulls of so many English
soldiers at Killiecrankie and Prestonpans. When you have a regiment of
men in the British Army carrying ornamental silver shillelaghs you will
have done the same thing for Ireland, and not before--or when you
mention Brian Boru with the same intonation as Bruce.

Let me be considered therefore to have made quite clear that I believe
with a quite special intensity in the independent consideration of
Scotland and Ireland as apart from England. I believe that, in the
proper sense of the words, Scotland is an independent nation, even if
Edward VII. is the King of Scotland. I believe that, in the proper sense
of words, Ireland is an independent nation, even if Edward VII. is King
of Ireland. But the fact is that I have an even bolder and wilder belief
than either of these. I believe that England is an independent nation. I
believe that England also has its independent colour and history, and
meaning. I believe that England could produce costumes quite as queer as
the kilt; I believe that England has heroes fully as untranslateable as
Brian Boru, and consequently I believe that Edward VII. is, among his
innumerable other functions, really King of England. If my Scotch
friends insist, let us call it one of his quite obscure, unpopular, and
minor titles; one of his relaxations. A little while ago he was Duke of
Cornwall; but for a family accident he might still have been King of
Hanover. Nor do I think that we should blame the simple Cornishmen if
they spoke of him in a rhetorical moment by his Cornish title, nor the
well-meaning Hanoverians if they classed him with Hanoverian Princes.

Now it so happens that in the passage complained of I said the King of
England merely because I meant the King of England. I was speaking
strictly and especially of English Kings, of Kings in the tradition of
the old Kings of England. I wrote as an English nationalist keenly
conscious of the sacred boundary of the Tweed that keeps (or used to
keep) our ancient enemies at bay. I wrote as an English nationalist
resolved for one wild moment to throw off the tyranny of the Scotch and
Irish who govern and oppress my country. I felt that England was at
least spiritually guarded against these surrounding nationalities. I
dreamed that the Tweed was guarded by the ghosts of Scropes and Percys;
I dreamed that St. George's Channel was guarded by St. George. And in
this insular security I spoke deliberately and specifically of the King
of England, of the representative of the Tudors and Plantagenets. It is
true that the two Kings of England, of whom I especially spoke, Charles
II. and George III., had both an alien origin, not very recent and not
very remote. Charles II. came of a family originally Scotch. George III.
came of a family originally German. But the same, so far as that goes,
could be said of the English royal houses when England stood quite
alone. The Plantagenets were originally a French family. The Tudors were
originally a Welsh family. But I was not talking of the amount of
English sentiment in the English Kings. I was talking of the amount of
English sentiment in the English treatment and popularity of the English
Kings. With that Ireland and Scotland have nothing whatever to do.

Charles II. may, for all I know, have not only been King of Scotland; he
may, by virtue of his temper and ancestry, have been a Scotch King of
Scotland. There was something Scotch about his combination of
clear-headedness with sensuality. There was something Scotch about his
combination of doing what he liked with knowing what he was doing. But I
was not talking of the personality of Charles, which may have been
Scotch. I was talking of the popularity of Charles, which was certainly
English. One thing is quite certain: whether or no he ever ceased to be
a Scotch man, he ceased as soon as he conveniently could to be a Scotch
King. He had actually tried the experiment of being a national ruler
north of the Tweed, and his people liked him as little as he liked them.
Of Presbyterianism, of the Scottish religion, he left on record the
exquisitely English judgment that it was "no religion for a gentleman."
His popularity then was purely English; his royalty was purely English;
and I was using the words with the utmost narrowness and deliberation
when I spoke of this particular popularity and royalty as the popularity
and royalty of a King of England. I said of the English people specially
that they like to pick up the King's crown when he has dropped it. I do
not feel at all sure that this does apply to the Scotch or the Irish. I
think that the Irish would knock his crown off for him. I think that the
Scotch would keep it for him after they had picked it up.

For my part, I should be inclined to adopt quite the opposite method of
asserting nationality. Why should good Scotch nationalists call Edward
VII. the King of Britain? They ought to call him King Edward I. of
Scotland. What is Britain? Where is Britain? There is no such place.
There never was a nation of Britain; there never was a King of Britain;
unless perhaps Vortigern or Uther Pendragon had a taste for the title.
If we are to develop our Monarchy, I should be altogether in favour of
developing it along the line of local patriotism and of local
proprietorship in the King. I think that the Londoners ought to call him
the King of London, and the Liverpudlians ought to call him the King of
Liverpool. I do not go so far as to say that the people of Birmingham
ought to call Edward VII. the King of Birmingham; for that would be high
treason to a holier and more established power. But I think we might
read in the papers: "The King of Brighton left Brighton at half-past two
this afternoon," and then immediately afterwards, "The King of Worthing
entered Worthing at ten minutes past three." Or, "The people of Margate
bade a reluctant farewell to the popular King of Margate this morning,"
and then, "His Majesty the King of Ramsgate returned to his country and
capital this afternoon after his long sojourn in strange lands." It
might be pointed out that by a curious coincidence the departure of the
King of Oxford occurred a very short time before the triumphal arrival
of the King of Reading. I cannot imagine any method which would more
increase the kindly and normal relations between the Sovereign and his
people. Nor do I think that such a method would be in any sense a
depreciation of the royal dignity; for, as a matter of fact, it would
put the King upon the same platform with the gods. The saints, the most
exalted of human figures, were also the most local. It was exactly the
men whom we most easily connected with heaven whom we also most easily
connected with earth.


A famous and epigrammatic author said that life copied literature; it
seems clear that life really caricatures it. I suggested recently that
the Germans submitted to, and even admired, a solemn and theatrical
assertion of authority. A few hours after I had sent up my "copy," I saw
the first announcement of the affair of the comic Captain at Koepenick.
The most absurd part of this absurd fraud (at least, to English eyes) is
one which, oddly enough, has received comparatively little comment. I
mean the point at which the Mayor asked for a warrant, and the Captain
pointed to the bayonets of his soldiery and said. "These are my
authority." One would have thought any one would have known that no
soldier would talk like that. The dupes were blamed for not knowing that
the man wore the wrong cap or the wrong sash, or had his sword buckled
on the wrong way; but these are technicalities which they might surely
be excused for not knowing. I certainly should not know if a soldier's
sash were on inside out or his cap on behind before. But I should know
uncommonly well that genuine professional soldiers do not talk like
Adelphi villains and utter theatrical epigrams in praise of abstract

We can see this more clearly, perhaps, if we suppose it to be the case
of any other dignified and clearly distinguishable profession. Suppose a
Bishop called upon me. My great modesty and my rather distant reverence
for the higher clergy might lead me certainly to a strong suspicion that
any Bishop who called on me was a bogus Bishop. But if I wished to test
his genuineness I should not dream of attempting to do so by examining
the shape of his apron or the way his gaiters were done up. I have not
the remotest idea of the way his gaiters ought to be done up. A very
vague approximation to an apron would probably take me in; and if he
behaved like an approximately Christian gentleman he would be safe
enough from my detection. But suppose the Bishop, the moment he entered
the room, fell on his knees on the mat, clasped his hands, and poured
out a flood of passionate and somewhat hysterical extempore prayer, I
should say at once and without the smallest hesitation, "Whatever else
this man is, he is not an elderly and wealthy cleric of the Church of
England. They don't do such things." Or suppose a man came to me
pretending to be a qualified doctor, and flourished a stethoscope, or
what he said was a stethoscope. I am glad to say that I have not even
the remotest notion of what a stethoscope looks like; so that if he
flourished a musical-box or a coffee-mill it would be all one to me. But
I do think that I am not exaggerating my own sagacity if I say that I
should begin to suspect the doctor if on entering my room he flung his
legs and arms about, crying wildly, "Health! Health! priceless gift of
Nature! I possess it! I overflow with it! I yearn to impart it! Oh, the
sacred rapture of imparting health!" In that case I should suspect him
of being rather in a position to receive than to offer medical

Now, it is no exaggeration at all to say that any one who has ever known
any soldiers (I can only answer for English and Irish and Scotch
soldiers) would find it just as easy to believe that a real Bishop would
grovel on the carpet in a religious ecstasy, or that a real doctor would
dance about the drawing-room to show the invigorating effects of his own
medicine, as to believe that a soldier, when asked for his authority,
would point to a lot of shining weapons and declare symbolically that
might was right. Of course, a real soldier would go rather red in the
face and huskily repeat the proper formula, whatever it was, as that he
came in the King's name.

Soldiers have many faults, but they have one redeeming merit; they are
never worshippers of force. Soldiers more than any other men are taught
severely and systematically that might is not right. The fact is
obvious. The might is in the hundred men who obey. The right (or what is
held to be right) is in the one man who commands them. They learn to
obey symbols, arbitrary things, stripes on an arm, buttons on a coat, a
title, a flag. These may be artificial things; they may be unreasonable
things; they may, if you will, be wicked things; but they are weak
things. They are not Force, and they do not look like Force. They are
parts of an idea: of the idea of discipline; if you will, of the idea of
tyranny; but still an idea. No soldier could possibly say that his own
bayonets were his authority. No soldier could possibly say that he came
in the name of his own bayonets. It would be as absurd as if a postman
said that he came inside his bag. I do not, as I have said, underrate
the evils that really do arise from militarism and the military ethic.
It tends to give people wooden faces and sometimes wooden heads. It
tends moreover (both through its specialisation and through its constant
obedience) to a certain loss of real independence and strength of
character. This has almost always been found when people made the
mistake of turning the soldier into a statesman, under the mistaken
impression that he was a strong man. The Duke of Wellington, for
instance, was a strong soldier and therefore a weak statesman. But the
soldier is always, by the nature of things, loyal to something. And as
long as one is loyal to something one can never be a worshipper of mere
force. For mere force, violence in the abstract, is the enemy of
anything we love. To love anything is to see it at once under lowering
skies of danger. Loyalty implies loyalty in misfortune; and when a
soldier has accepted any nation's uniform he has already accepted its

Nevertheless, it does appear to be possible in Germany for a man to
point to fixed bayonets and say, "These are my authority," and yet to
convince ordinarily sane men that he is a soldier. If this is so, it
does really seem to point to some habit of high-faultin' in the German
nation, such as that of which I spoke previously. It almost looks as if
the advisers, and even the officials, of the German Army had become
infected in some degree with the false and feeble doctrine that might is
right. As this doctrine is invariably preached by physical weaklings
like Nietzsche it is a very serious thing even to entertain the
supposition that it is affecting men who have really to do military work
It would be the end of German soldiers to be affected by German
philosophy. Energetic people use energy as a means, but only very tired
people ever use energy as a reason. Athletes go in for games, because
athletes desire glory. Invalids go in for calisthenics; for invalids
(alone of all human beings) desire strength. So long as the German Army
points to its heraldic eagle and says, "I come in the name of this
fierce but fabulous animal," the German Army will be all right. If ever
it says, "I come in the name of bayonets," the bayonets will break like
glass, for only the weak exhibit strength without an aim.

At the same time, as I said before, do not let us forged our own faults.
Do not let us forget them any the more easily because they are the
opposite to the German faults. Modern England is too prone to present
the spectacle of a person who is enormously delighted because he has not
got the contrary disadvantages to his own. The Englishman is always
saying "My house is not damp" at the moment when his house is on fire.
The Englishman is always saying, "I have thrown off all traces of
anaemia" in the middle of a fit of apoplexy. Let us always remember
that if an Englishman wants to swindle English people, he does not dress
up in the uniform of a soldier. If an Englishman wants to swindle
English people he would as soon think of dressing up in the uniform of a
messenger boy. Everything in England is done unofficially, casually, by
conversations and cliques. The one Parliament that really does rule
England is a secret Parliament; the debates of which must not be
published--the Cabinet. The debates of the Commons are sometimes
important; but only the debates in the Lobby, never the debates in the
House. Journalists do control public opinion; but it is not controlled
by the arguments they publish--it is controlled by the arguments between
the editor and sub-editor, which they do not publish. This casualness is
our English vice. It is at once casual and secret. Our public life is
conducted privately. Hence it follows that if an English swindler wished
to impress us, the last thing he would think of doing would be to put on
a uniform. He would put on a polite slouching air and a careless,
expensive suit of clothes; he would stroll up to the Mayor, be so
awfully sorry to disturb him, find he had forgotten his card-case,
mention, as if he were ashamed of it, that he was the Duke of Mercia,
and carry the whole thing through with the air of a man who could get
two hundred witnesses and two thousand retainers, but who was too tired
to call any of them. And if he did it very well I strongly suspect that
he would be as successful as the indefensible Captain at Koepenick.

Our tendency for many centuries past has been, not so much towards
creating an aristocracy (which may or may not be a good thing in
itself), as towards substituting an aristocracy for everything else. In
England we have an aristocracy instead of a religion. The nobility are
to the English poor what the saints and the fairies are to the Irish
poor, what the large devil with a black face was to the Scotch poor--the
poetry of life. In the same way in England we have an aristocracy
instead of a Government. We rely on a certain good humour and education
in the upper class to interpret to us our contradictory Constitution. No
educated man born of woman will be quite so absurd as the system that he
has to administer. In short, we do not get good laws to restrain bad
people. We get good people to restrain bad laws. And last of all we in
England have an aristocracy instead of an Army. We have an Army of which
the officers are proud of their families and ashamed of their uniforms.
If I were a king of any country whatever, and one of my officers were
ashamed of my uniform, I should be ashamed of my officer. Beware, then,
of the really well-bred and apologetic gentleman whose clothes are at
once quiet and fashionable, whose manner is at once diffident and frank.
Beware how you admit him into your domestic secrets, for he may be a
bogus Earl. Or, worse still, a real one.


I have no sympathy with international aggression when it is taken
seriously, but I have a certain dark and wild sympathy with it when it
is quite absurd. Raids are all wrong as practical politics, but they are
human and imaginable as practical jokes. In fact, almost any act of
ragging or violence can be forgiven on this strict condition--that it is
of no use at all to anybody. If the aggressor gets anything out of it,
then it is quite unpardonable. It is damned by the least hint of utility
or profit. A man of spirit and breeding may brawl, but he does not
steal. A gentleman knocks off his friend's hat; but he does not annex
his friend's hat. For this reason (as Mr. Belloc has pointed out
somewhere), the very militant French people have always returned after
their immense raids--the raids of Godfrey the Crusader, the raids of
Napoleon; "they are sucked back, having accomplished nothing but an

Sometimes I see small fragments of information in the newspapers which
make my heart leap with an irrational patriotic sympathy. I have had the
misfortune to be left comparatively cold by many of the enterprises and
proclamations of my country in recent times. But the other day I found
in the _Tribune_ the following paragraph, which I may be permitted to
set down as an example of the kind of international outrage with which I
have by far the most instinctive sympathy. There is something
attractive, too, in the austere simplicity with which the affair is set

"Geneva, Oct. 31.

"The English schoolboy Allen, who was arrested at Lausanne railway
station on Saturday, for having painted red the statue of General Jomini
of Payerne, was liberated yesterday, after paying a fine of L24. Allen
has proceeded to Germany, where he will continue his studies. The people
of Payerne are indignant, and clamoured for his detention in prison."

Now I have no doubt that ethics and social necessity require a contrary
attitude, but I will freely confess that my first emotions on reading of
this exploit were those of profound and elemental pleasure. There is
something so large and simple about the operation of painting a whole
stone General a bright red. Of course I can understand that the people
of Payerne were indignant. They had passed to their homes at twilight
through the streets of that beautiful city (or is it a province?), and
they had seen against the silver ending of the sunset the grand grey
figure of the hero of that land remaining to guard the town under the
stars. It certainly must have been a shock to come out in the broad
white morning and find a large vermilion General staring under the
staring sun. I do not blame them at all for clamouring for the
schoolboy's detention in prison; I dare say a little detention in prison
would do him no harm. Still, I think the immense act has something about
it human and excusable; and when I endeavour to analyse the reason of
this feeling I find it to lie, not in the fact that the thing was big or
bold or successful, but in the fact that the thing was perfectly
useless to everybody, including the person who did it. The raid ends in
itself; and so Master Allen is sucked back again, having accomplished
nothing but an epic.

There is one thing which, in the presence of average modern journalism,
is perhaps worth saying in connection with such an idle matter as this.
The morals of a matter like this are exactly like the morals of anything
else; they are concerned with mutual contract, or with the rights of
independent human lives. But the whole modern world, or at any rate the
whole modern Press, has a perpetual and consuming terror of plain
morals. Men always attempt to avoid condemning a thing upon merely moral
grounds. If I beat my grandmother to death to-morrow in the middle of
Battersea Park, you may be perfectly certain that people will say
everything about it except the simple and fairly obvious fact that it is
wrong. Some will call it insane; that is, will accuse it of a deficiency
of intelligence. This is not necessarily true at all. You could not tell
whether the act was unintelligent or not unless you knew my grandmother.
Some will call it vulgar, disgusting, and the rest of it; that is, they
will accuse it of a lack of manners. Perhaps it does show a lack of
manners; but this is scarcely its most serious disadvantage. Others will
talk about the loathsome spectacle and the revolting scene; that is,
they will accuse it of a deficiency of art, or aesthetic beauty. This
again depends on the circumstances: in order to be quite certain that
the appearance of the old lady has definitely deteriorated under the
process of being beaten to death, it is necessary for the philosophical
critic to be quite certain how ugly she was before. Another school of
thinkers will say that the action is lacking in efficiency: that it is
an uneconomic waste of a good grandmother. But that could only depend on
the value, which is again an individual matter. The only real point that
is worth mentioning is that the action is wicked, because your
grandmother has a right not to be beaten to death. But of this simple
moral explanation modern journalism has, as I say, a standing fear. It
will call the action anything else--mad, bestial, vulgar, idiotic,
rather than call it sinful.

One example can be found in such cases as that of the prank of the boy
and the statue. When some trick of this sort is played, the newspapers
opposed to it always describe it as "a senseless joke." What is the good
of saying that? Every joke is a senseless joke. A joke is by its nature
a protest against sense. It is no good attacking nonsense for being
successfully nonsensical. Of course it is nonsensical to paint a
celebrated Italian General a bright red; it is as nonsensical as "Alice
in Wonderland." It is also, in my opinion, very nearly as funny. But the
real answer to the affair is not to say that it is nonsensical or even
to say that it is not funny, but to point out that it is wrong to spoil
statues which belong to other people. If the modern world will not
insist on having some sharp and definite moral law, capable of resisting
the counter-attractions of art and humour, the modern world will simply
be given over as a spoil to anybody who can manage to do a nasty thing
in a nice way. Every murderer who can murder entertainingly will be
allowed to murder. Every burglar who burgles in really humorous
attitudes will burgle as much as he likes.

There is another case of the thing that I mean. Why on earth do the
newspapers, in describing a dynamite outrage or any other political
assassination, call it a "dastardly outrage" or a cowardly outrage? It
is perfectly evident that it is not dastardly in the least. It is
perfectly evident that it is about as cowardly as the Christians going
to the lions. The man who does it exposes himself to the chance of being
torn in pieces by two thousand people. What the thing is, is not
cowardly, but profoundly and detestably wicked. The man who does it is
very infamous and very brave. But, again, the explanation is that our
modern Press would rather appeal to physical arrogance, or to anything,
rather than appeal to right and wrong.

In most of the matters of modern England, the real difficulty is that
there is a negative revolution without a positive revolution. Positive
aristocracy is breaking up without any particular appearance of positive
democracy taking its place. The polished class is becoming less polished
without becoming less of a class; the nobleman who becomes a guinea-pig
keeps all his privileges but loses some of his tradition; he becomes
less of a gentleman without becoming less of a nobleman. In the same way
(until some recent and happy revivals) it seemed highly probable that
the Church of England would cease to be a religion long before it had
ceased to be a Church. And in the same way, the vulgarisation of the
old, simple middle class does not even have the advantage of doing away
with class distinctions; the vulgar man is always the most
distinguished, for the very desire to be distinguished is vulgar.

At the same time, it must be remembered that when a class has a morality
it does not follow that it is an adequate morality. The middle-class
ethic was inadequate for some purposes; so is the public-school ethic,
the ethic of the upper classes. On this last matter of the public
schools Dr. Spenser, the Head Master of University College School, has
lately made some valuable observations. But even he, I think, overstates
the claim of the public schools. "The strong point of the English public
schools," he says, "has always lain in their efficiency as agencies for
the formation of character and for the inculcation of the great notion
of obligation which distinguishes a gentleman. On the physical and moral
sides the public-school men of England are, I believe, unequalled." And
he goes on to say that it is on the mental side that they are defective.
But, as a matter of fact, the public-school training is in the strict
sense defective upon the moral side also; it leaves out about half of
morality. Its just claim is that, like the old middle class (and the
Zulus), it trains some virtues and therefore suits some people for some
situations. Put an old English merchant to serve in an army and he would
have been irritated and clumsy. Put the men from English public schools
to rule Ireland, and they make the greatest hash in human history.

Touching the morality of the public schools, I will take one point only,
which is enough to prove the case. People have got into their heads an
extraordinary idea that English public-school boys and English youth
generally are taught to tell the truth. They are taught absolutely
nothing of the kind. At no English public school is it even suggested,
except by accident, that it is a man's duty to tell the truth. What is
suggested is something entirely different: that it is a man's duty not
to tell lies. So completely does this mistake soak through all
civilisation that we hardly ever think even of the difference between
the two things. When we say to a child, "You must tell the truth," we do
merely mean that he must refrain from verbal inaccuracies. But the thing
we never teach at all is the general duty of telling the truth, of
giving a complete and fair picture of anything we are talking about, of
not misrepresenting, not evading, not suppressing, not using plausible
arguments that we know to be unfair, not selecting unscrupulously to
prove an _ex parte_ case, not telling all the nice stories about the
Scotch, and all the nasty stories about the Irish, not pretending to be
disinterested when you are really angry, not pretending to be angry when
you are really only avaricious. The one thing that is never taught by
any chance in the atmosphere of public schools is exactly that--that
there is a whole truth of things, and that in knowing it and speaking it
we are happy.

If any one has the smallest doubt of this neglect of truth in public
schools he can kill his doubt with one plain question. Can any one on
earth believe that if the seeing and telling of the whole truth were
really one of the ideals of the English governing class, there could
conceivably exist such a thing as the English party system? Why, the
English party system is founded upon the principle that telling the
whole truth does not matter. It is founded upon the principle that half
a truth is better than no politics. Our system deliberately turns a
crowd of men who might be impartial into irrational partisans. It
teaches some of them to tell lies and all of them to believe lies. It
gives every man an arbitrary brief that he has to work up as best he may
and defend as best he can. It turns a room full of citizens into a room
full of barristers. I know that it has many charms and virtues, fighting
and good-fellowship; it has all the charms and virtues of a game. I only
say that it would be a stark impossibility in a nation which believed in
telling the truth.


It is customary to remark that modern problems cannot easily be attacked
because they are so complex. In many cases I believe it is really
because they are so simple. Nobody would believe in such simplicity of
scoundrelism even if it were pointed out. People would say that the
truth was a charge of mere melodramatic villainy; forgetting that
nearly all villains really are melodramatic. Thus, for instance, we say
that some good measures are frustrated or some bad officials kept in
power by the press and confusion of public business; whereas very often
the reason is simple healthy human bribery. And thus especially we say
that the Yellow Press is exaggerative, over-emotional, illiterate, and
anarchical, and a hundred other long words; whereas the only objection
to it is that it tells lies. We waste our fine intellects in finding
exquisite phraseology to fit a man, when in a well-ordered society we
ought to be finding handcuffs to fit him.

This criticism of the modern type of righteous indignation must have
come into many people's minds, I think, in reading Dr. Horton's eloquent
expressions of disgust at the "corrupt Press," especially in connection
with the Limerick craze. Upon the Limerick craze itself, I fear Dr.
Horton will not have much effect; such fads perish before one has had
time to kill them. But Dr. Horton's protest may really do good if it
enables us to come to some clear understanding about what is really
wrong with the popular Press, and which means it might be useful and
which permissible to use for its reform. We do not want a censorship of
the Press; but we are long past talking about that. At present it is not
we that silence the Press; it is the Press that silences us. It is not a
case of the Commonwealth settling how much the editors shall say; it is
a case of the editors settling how much the Commonwealth shall know. If
we attack the Press we shall be rebelling, not repressing. But shall we
attack it?

Now it is just here that the chief difficulty occurs. It arises from
the very rarity and rectitude of those minds which commonly inaugurate
such crusades. I have the warmest respect for Dr. Horton's thirst after
righteousness; but it has always seemed to me that his righteousness
would be more effective without his refinement. The curse of the
Nonconformists is their universal refinement. They dimly connect being
good with being delicate, and even dapper; with not being grotesque or
loud or violent; with not sitting down on one's hat. Now it is always a
pleasure to be loud and violent, and sometimes it is a duty. Certainly
it has nothing to do with sin; a man can be loudly and violently
virtuous--nay, he can be loudly and violently saintly, though that is
not the type of saintliness that we recognise in Dr. Horton. And as for
sitting on one's hat, if it is done for any sublime object (as, for
instance, to amuse the children), it is obviously an act of very
beautiful self-sacrifice, the destruction and surrender of the symbol of
personal dignity upon the shrine of public festivity. Now it will not do
to attack the modern editor merely for being unrefined, like the great
mass of mankind. We must be able to say that he is immoral, not that he
is undignified or ridiculous. I do not mind the Yellow Press editor
sitting on his hat. My only objection to him begins to dawn when he
attempts to sit on my hat; or, indeed (as is at present the case), when
he proceeds to sit on my head.

But in reading between the lines of Dr. Horton's invective one
continually feels that he is not only angry with the popular Press for
being unscrupulous: he is partly angry with the popular Press for being
popular. He is not only irritated with Limericks for causing a mean
money-scramble; he is also partly irritated with Limericks for being
Limericks. The enormous size of the levity gets on his nerves, like the
glare and blare of Bank Holiday. Now this is a motive which, however
human and natural, must be strictly kept out of the way. It takes all
sorts to make a world; and it is not in the least necessary that
everybody should have that love of subtle and unobtrusive perfections in
the matter of manners or literature which does often go with the type of
the ethical idealist. It is not in the least desirable that everybody
should be earnest. It is highly desirable that everybody should be
honest, but that is a thing that can go quite easily with a coarse and
cheerful character. But the ineffectualness of most protests against the
abuse of the Press has been very largely due to the instinct of
democracy (and the instinct of democracy is like the instinct of one
woman, wild but quite right) that the people who were trying to purify
the Press were also trying to refine it; and to this the democracy very
naturally and very justly objected. We are justified in enforcing good
morals, for they belong to all mankind; but we are not justified in
enforcing good manners, for good manners always mean our own manners. We
have no right to purge the popular Press of all that we think vulgar or
trivial. Dr. Horton may possibly loathe and detest Limericks just as I
loathe and detest riddles; but I have no right to call them flippant
and unprofitable; there are wild people in the world who like riddles.
I am so afraid of this movement passing off into mere formless rhetoric
and platform passion that I will even come close to the earth and lay
down specifically some of the things that, in my opinion, could be, and
ought to be, done to reform the Press.

First, I would make a law, if there is none such at present, by which an
editor, proved to have published false news without reasonable
verification, should simply go to prison. This is not a question of
influences or atmospheres; the thing could be carried out as easily and
as practically as the punishment of thieves and murderers. Of course
there would be the usual statement that the guilt was that of a
subordinate. Let the accused editor have the right of proving this if he
can; if he does, let the subordinate be tried and go to prison. Two or
three good rich editors and proprietors properly locked up would take
the sting out of the Yellow Press better than centuries of Dr. Horton.

Second, it's impossible to pass over altogether the most unpleasant, but
the most important part of this problem. I will deal with it as
distantly as possible. I do not believe there is any harm whatever in
reading about murders; rather, if anything, good; for the thought of
death operates very powerfully with the poor in the creation of
brotherhood and a sense of human dignity. I do not believe there is a
pennyworth of harm in the police news, as such. Even divorce news,
though contemptible enough, can really in most cases be left to the
discretion of grown people; and how far children get hold of such
things is a problem for the home and not for the nation. But there is a
certain class of evils which a healthy man or woman can actually go
through life without knowing anything about at all. These, I say, should
be stamped and blackened out of every newspaper with the thickest black
of the Russian censor. Such cases should either be always tried _in
camera_ or reporting them should be a punishable offence. The common
weakness of Nature and the sins that flesh is heir to we can leave
people to find in newspapers. Men can safely see in the papers what they
have already seen in the streets. They may safely find in their journals
what they have already found in themselves. But we do not want the
imaginations of rational and decent people clouded with the horrors of
some obscene insanity which has no more to do with human life than the
man in Bedlam who thinks he is a chicken. And, if this vile matter is
admitted, let it be simply with a mention of the Latin or legal name of
the crime, and with no details whatever. As it is, exactly the reverse
is true. Papers are permitted to terrify and darken the fancy of the
young with innumerable details, but not permitted to state in clean
legal language what the thing is about. They are allowed to give any
fact about the thing except the fact that it is a sin.

Third, I would do my best to introduce everywhere the practice of signed
articles. Those who urge the advantages of anonymity are either people
who do not realise the special peril of our time or they are people who
are profiting by it. It is true, but futile, for instance, to say that
there is something noble in being nameless when a whole corporate body
is bent on a consistent aim: as in an army or men building a cathedral.
The point of modern newspapers is that there is no such corporate body
and common aim; but each man can use the authority of the paper to
further his own private fads and his own private finances.


The end of the article which I write is always cut off, and,
unfortunately, I belong to that lower class of animals in whom the tail
is important. It is not anybody's fault but my own; it arises from the
fact that I take such a long time to get to the point. Somebody, the
other day, very reasonably complained of my being employed to write
prefaces. He was perfectly right, for I always write a preface to the
preface, and then I am stopped; also quite justifiably.

In my last article I said that I favoured three things--first, the legal
punishment of deliberately false information; secondly, a distinction,
in the matter of reported immorality, between those sins which any
healthy man can see in himself and those which he had better not see
anywhere; and thirdly, an absolute insistence in the great majority of
cases upon the signing of articles. It was at this point that I was cut
short, I will not say by the law of space, but rather by my own
lawlessness in the matter of space. In any case, there is something more
that ought to be said.

It would be an exaggeration to say that I hope some day to see an
anonymous article counted as dishonourable as an anonymous letter. For
some time to come, the idea of the leading article, expressing the
policy of the whole paper, must necessarily remain legitimate; at any
rate, we have all written such leading articles, and should never think
the worse of any one for writing one. But I should certainly say that
writing anonymously ought to have some definite excuse, such as that of
the leading article. Writing anonymously ought to be the exception;
writing a signed article ought to be the rule. And anonymity ought to be
not only an exception, but an accidental exception; a man ought always
to be ready to say what anonymous article he had written. The
journalistic habit of counting it something sacred to keep secret the
origin of an article is simply part of the conspiracy which seeks to put
us who are journalists in the position of a much worse sort of Jesuits
or Freemasons.

As has often been said, anonymity would be all very well if one could
for a moment imagine that it was established from good motives. Suppose,
for instance, that we were all quite certain that the men on the
_Thunderer_ newspaper were a band of brave young idealists who were so
eager to overthrow Socialism, Municipal and National, that they did not
care to which of them especially was given the glory of striking it
down. Unfortunately, however, we do not believe this. What we believe,
or, rather, what we know, is that the attack on Socialism in the
_Thunderer_ arises from a chaos of inconsistent and mostly evil motives,
any one of which would lose simply by being named. A jerry-builder
whose houses have been condemned writes anonymously and becomes the
_Thunderer_. A Socialist who has quarrelled with the other Socialists
writes anonymously, and he becomes the _Thunderer_. A monopolist who has
lost his monopoly, and a demagogue who has lost his mob, can both write
anonymously and become the same newspaper. It is quite true that there
is a young and beautiful fanaticism in which men do not care to reveal
their names. But there is a more elderly and a much more common
excitement in which men do not dare to reveal them.

Then there is another rule for making journalism honest on which I
should like to insist absolutely. I should like it to be a fixed thing
that the name of the proprietor as well as the editor should be printed
upon every paper. If the paper is owned by shareholders, let there be a
list of shareholders. If (as is far more common in this singularly
undemocratic age) it is owned by one man, let that one man's name be
printed on the paper, if possible in large red letters. Then, if there
are any obvious interests being served, we shall know that they are
being served. My friends in Manchester are in a terrible state of
excitement about the power of brewers and the dangers of admitting them
to public office. But at least, if a man has controlled politics through
beer, people generally know it: the subject of beer is too fascinating
for any one to miss such personal peculiarities. But a man may control
politics through journalism, and no ordinary English citizen know that
he is controlling them at all. Again and again in the lists of Birthday
Honours you and I have seen some Mr. Robinson suddenly elevated to the
Peerage without any apparent reason. Even the Society papers (which we
read with avidity) could tell us nothing about him except that he was a
sportsman or a kind landlord, or interested in the breeding of badgers.
Now I should like the name of that Mr. Robinson to be already familiar
to the British public. I should like them to know already the public
services for which they have to thank him. I should like them to have
seen the name already on the outside of that organ of public opinion
called _Tootsie's Tips_, or _The Boy Blackmailer_, or _Nosey Knows_,
that bright little financial paper which did so much for the Empire and
which so narrowly escaped a criminal prosecution. If they had seen it
thus, they would estimate more truly and tenderly the full value of the
statement in the Society paper that he is a true gentleman and a sound

Finally, it should be practically imposed by custom (it so happens that
it could not possibly be imposed by law) that letters of definite and
practical complaint should be necessarily inserted by any editor in any
paper. Editors have grown very much too lax in this respect. The old
editor used dimly to regard himself as an unofficial public servant for
the transmitting of public news. If he suppressed anything, he was
supposed to have some special reason for doing so; as that the material
was actually libellous or literally indecent. But the modern editor
regards himself far too much as a kind of original artist, who can
select and suppress facts with the arbitrary ease of a poet or a
caricaturist. He "makes up" the paper as man "makes up" a fairy tale, he
considers his newspaper solely as a work of art, meant to give pleasure,
not to give news. He puts in this one letter because he thinks it
clever. He puts in these three or four letters because he thinks them
silly. He suppresses this article because he thinks it wrong. He
suppresses this other and more dangerous article because he thinks it
right. The old idea that he is simply a mode of the expression of the
public, an "organ" of opinion, seems to have entirely vanished from his
mind. To-day the editor is not only the organ, but the man who plays on
the organ. For in all our modern movements we move away from Democracy.

This is the whole danger of our time. There is a difference between the
oppression which has been too common in the past and the oppression
which seems only too probable in the future. Oppression in the past, has
commonly been an individual matter. The oppressors were as simple as the
oppressed, and as lonely. The aristocrat sometimes hated his inferiors;
he always hated his equals. The plutocrat was an individualist. But in
our time even the plutocrat has become a Socialist. They have science
and combination, and may easily inaugurate a much greater tyranny than
the world has ever seen.


Surely the art of reporting speeches is in a strange state of
degeneration. We should not object, perhaps, to the reporter's making
the speeches much shorter than they are; but we do object to his making
all the speeches much worse than they are. And the method which he
employs is one which is dangerously unjust. When a statesman or
philosopher makes an important speech, there are several courses which
the reporter might take without being unreasonable. Perhaps the most
reasonable course of all would be not to report the speech at all. Let
the world live and love, marry and give in marriage, without that
particular speech, as they did (in some desperate way) in the days when
there were no newspapers. A second course would be to report a small
part of it; but to get that right. A third course, far better if you can
do it, is to understand the main purpose and argument of the speech, and
report that in clear and logical language of your own. In short, the
three possible methods are, first, to leave the man's speech alone;
second, to report what he says or some complete part of what he says;
and third, to report what he means. But the present way of reporting
speeches (mainly created, I think, by the scrappy methods of the _Daily
Mail_) is something utterly different from both these ways, and quite
senseless and misleading.

The present method is this: the reporter sits listening to a tide of
words which he does not try to understand, and does not, generally
speaking, even try to take down; he waits until something occurs in the
speech which for some reason sounds funny, or memorable, or very
exaggerated, or, perhaps, merely concrete; then he writes it down and
waits for the next one. If the orator says that the Premier is like a
porpoise in the sea under some special circumstances, the reporter gets
in the porpoise even if he leaves out the Premier. If the orator begins
by saying that Mr. Chamberlain is rather like a violoncello, the
reporter does not even wait to hear why he is like a violoncello. He has
got hold of something material, and so he is quite happy. The strong
words all are put in; the chain of thought is left out. If the orator
uses the word "donkey," down goes the word "donkey." If the orator uses
the word "damnable," down goes the word "damnable." They follow each
other so abruptly in the report that it is often hard to discover the
fascinating fact as to what was damnable or who was being compared with
a donkey. And the whole line of argument in which these things occurred
is entirely lost. I have before me a newspaper report of a speech by Mr.
Bernard Shaw, of which one complete and separate paragraph runs like

"Capital meant spare money over and above one's needs. Their country was
not really their country at all except in patriotic songs."

I am well enough acquainted with the whole map of Mr. Bernard Shaw's
philosophy to know that those two statements might have been related to
each other in a hundred ways. But I think that if they were read by an
ordinary intelligent man, who happened not to know Mr. Shaw's views, he
would form no impression at all except that Mr. Shaw was a lunatic of
more than usually abrupt conversation and disconnected mind. The other
two methods would certainly have done Mr. Shaw more justice: the
reporter should either have taken down verbatim what the speaker really
said about Capital, or have given an outline of the way in which this
idea was connected with the idea about patriotic songs.

But we have not the advantage of knowing what Mr. Shaw really did say,
so we had better illustrate the different methods from something that we
do know. Most of us, I suppose, know Mark Antony's Funeral Speech in
"Julius Caesar." Now Mark Antony would have no reason to complain if he
were not reported at all; if the _Daily Pilum_ or the _Morning Fasces_,
or whatever it was, confined itself to saying, "Mr. Mark Antony also
spoke," or "Mr. Mark Antony, having addressed the audience, the meeting
broke up in some confusion." The next honest method, worthy of a noble
Roman reporter, would be that since he could not report the whole of the
speech, he should report some of the speech. He might say--"Mr. Mark
Antony, in the course of his speech, said--

'When that the poor have cried Caesar hath wept:
Ambition should be made of sterner stuff.'"

In that case one good, solid argument of Mark Antony would be correctly
reported. The third and far higher course for the Roman reporter would
be to give a philosophical statement of the purport of the speech. As
thus--"Mr. Mark Antony, in the course of a powerful speech, conceded the
high motives of the Republican leaders, and disclaimed any intention of
raising the people against them; he thought, however, that many
instances could be quoted against the theory of Caesar's ambition, and
he concluded by reading, at the request of the audience, the will of
Caesar, which proved that he had the most benevolent designs towards the
Roman people." That is (I admit) not quite so fine as Shakspere, but it
is a statement of the man's political position. But if a _Daily Mail_
reporter were sent to take down Antony's oration, he would simply wait
for any expressions that struck him as odd and put them down one after
another without any logical connection at all. It would turn out
something like this: "Mr. Mark Antony wished for his audience's ears. He
had thrice offered Caesar a crown. Caesar was like a deer. If he were
Brutus he would put a wound in every tongue. The stones of Rome would
mutiny. See what a rent the envious Casca paid. Brutus was Caesar's
angel. The right honourable gentleman concluded by saying that he and
the audience had all fallen down." That is the report of a political
speech in a modern, progressive, or American manner, and I wonder
whether the Romans would have put up with it.

The reports of the debates in the Houses of Parliament are constantly
growing smaller and smaller in our newspapers. Perhaps this is partly
because the speeches are growing duller and duller. I think in some
degree the two things act and re-act on each other. For fear of the
newspapers politicians are dull, and at last they are too dull even for
the newspapers. The speeches in our time are more careful and elaborate,
because they are meant to be read, and not to be heard. And exactly
because they are more careful and elaborate, they are not so likely to
be worthy of a careful and elaborate report. They are not interesting
enough. So the moral cowardice of modern politicians has, after all,
some punishment attached to it by the silent anger of heaven. Precisely
because our political speeches are meant to be reported, they are not
worth reporting. Precisely because they are carefully designed to be
read, nobody reads them.

Thus we may concede that politicians have done something towards
degrading journalism. It was not entirely done by us, the journalists.
But most of it was. It was mostly the fruit of our first and most
natural sin--the habit of regarding ourselves as conjurers rather than
priests, for the definition is that a conjurer is apart from his
audience, while a priest is a part of his. The conjurer despises his
congregation; if the priest despises any one, it must be himself. The
curse of all journalism, but especially of that yellow journalism which
is the shame of our profession, is that we think ourselves cleverer than
the people for whom we write, whereas, in fact, we are generally even
stupider. But this insolence has its Nemesis; and that Nemesis is well
illustrated in this matter of reporting.

For the journalist, having grown accustomed to talking down to the
public, commonly talks too low at last, and becomes merely barbaric and
unintelligible. By his very efforts to be obvious he becomes obscure.
This just punishment may specially be noticed in the case of those
staggering and staring headlines which American journalism introduced
and which some English journalism imitates. I once saw a headline in a
London paper which ran simply thus: "Dobbin's Little Mary." This was
intended to be familiar and popular, and therefore, presumably, lucid.
But it was some time before I realised, after reading about half the
printed matter underneath, that it had something to do with the proper
feeding of horses. At first sight, I took it, as the historical leader
of the future will certainly take it, as containing some allusion to the
little daughter who so monopolised the affections of the Major at the
end of "Vanity Fair." The Americans carry to an even wilder extreme this
darkness by excess of light. You may find a column in an American paper
headed "Poet Brown Off Orange-flowers," or "Senator Robinson Shoehorns
Hats Now," and it may be quite a long time before the full meaning
breaks upon you: it has not broken upon me yet.

And something of this intellectual vengeance pursues also those who
adopt the modern method of reporting speeches. They also become
mystical, simply by trying to be vulgar. They also are condemned to be
always trying to write like George R. Sims, and succeeding, in spite of
themselves, in writing like Maeterlinck. That combination of words
which I have quoted from an alleged speech of Mr. Bernard Shaw's was
written down by the reporter with the idea that he was being
particularly plain and democratic. But, as a matter of fact, if there is
any connection between the two sentences, it must be something as dark
as the deepest roots of Browning, or something as invisible as the most
airy filaments of Meredith. To be simple and to be democratic are two
very honourable and austere achievements; and it is not given to all the
snobs and self-seekers to achieve them. High above even Maeterlinck or
Meredith stand those, like Homer and Milton, whom no one can
misunderstand. And Homer and Milton are not only better poets than
Browning (great as he was), but they would also have been very much
better journalists than the young men on the _Daily Mail_.

As it is, however, this misrepresentation of speeches is only a part of
a vast journalistic misrepresentation of all life as it is. Journalism
is popular, but it is popular mainly as fiction. Life is one world, and
life seen in the newspapers another; the public enjoys both, but it is
more or less conscious of the difference. People do not believe, for
instance, that the debates in the House of Commons are as dramatic as
they appear in the daily papers. If they did they would go, not to the
daily paper, but to the House of Commons. The galleries would be crowded
every night as they were in the French Revolution; for instead of seeing
a printed story for a penny they would be seeing an acted drama for
nothing. But the, people know in their hearts that journalism is a
conventional art like any other, that it selects, heightens, and
falsifies. Only its Nemesis is the same as that of other arts: if it
loses all care for truth it loses all form likewise. The modern who
paints too cleverly produces a picture of a cow which might be the
earthquake at San Francisco. And the journalist who reports a speech too
cleverly makes it mean nothing at all.


There has crept, I notice, into our literature and journalism a new way
of flattering the wealthy and the great. In more straightforward times
flattery itself was more straight-forward; falsehood itself was more
true. A poor man wishing to please a rich man simply said that he was
the wisest, bravest, tallest, strongest, most benevolent and most
beautiful of mankind; and as even the rich man probably knew that he
wasn't that, the thing did the less harm. When courtiers sang the
praises of a King they attributed to him things that were entirely
improbable, as that he resembled the sun at noonday, that they had to
shade their eyes when he entered the room, that his people could not
breathe without him, or that he had with his single sword conquered
Europe, Asia, Africa, and America. The safety of this method was its
artificiality; between the King and his public image there was really no
relation. But the moderns have invented a much subtler and more
poisonous kind of eulogy. The modern method is to take the prince or
rich man, to give a credible picture of his type of personality, as that
he is business-like, or a sportsman, or fond of art, or convivial, or
reserved; and then enormously exaggerate the value and importance of
these natural qualities. Those who praise Mr. Carnegie do not say that
he is as wise as Solomon and as brave as Mars; I wish they did. It would
be the next most honest thing to giving their real reason for praising
him, which is simply that he has money. The journalists who write about
Mr. Pierpont Morgan do not say that he is as beautiful as Apollo; I wish
they did. What they do is to take the rich man's superficial life and
manner, clothes, hobbies, love of cats, dislike of doctors, or what not;
and then with the assistance of this realism make the man out to be a
prophet and a saviour of his kind, whereas he is merely a private and
stupid man who happens to like cats or to dislike doctors. The old
flatterer took for granted that the King was an ordinary man, and set to
work to make him out extraordinary. The newer and cleverer flatterer
takes for granted that he is extraordinary, and that therefore even
ordinary things about him will be of interest.

I have noticed one very amusing way in which this is done. I notice the
method applied to about six of the wealthiest men in England in a book
of interviews published by an able and well-known journalist. The
flatterer contrives to combine strict truth of fact with a vast
atmosphere of awe and mystery by the simple operation of dealing almost
entirely in negatives. Suppose you are writing a sympathetic study of
Mr. Pierpont Morgan. Perhaps there is not much to say about what he
does think, or like, or admire; but you can suggest whole vistas of his
taste and philosophy by talking a great deal about what he does not
think, or like, or admire. You say of him--"But little attracted to the
most recent schools of German philosophy, he stands almost as resolutely
aloof from the tendencies of transcendental Pantheism as from the
narrower ecstasies of Neo-Catholicism." Or suppose I am called upon to
praise the charwoman who has just come into my house, and who certainly
deserves it much more. I say--"It would be a mistake to class Mrs. Higgs
among the followers of Loisy; her position is in many ways different;
nor is she wholly to be identified with the concrete Hebraism of
Harnack." It is a splendid method, as it gives the flatterer an
opportunity of talking about something else besides the subject of the
flattery, and it gives the subject of the flattery a rich, if somewhat
bewildered, mental glow, as of one who has somehow gone through agonies
of philosophical choice of which he was previously unaware. It is a
splendid method; but I wish it were applied sometimes to charwomen
rather than only to millionaires.

There is another way of flattering important people which has become
very common, I notice, among writers in the newspapers and elsewhere. It
consists in applying to them the phrases "simple," or "quiet," or
"modest," without any sort of meaning or relation to the person to whom
they are applied. To be simple is the best thing in the world; to be
modest is the next best thing. I am not so sure about being quiet. I am
rather inclined to think that really modest people make a great deal of
noise. It is quite self-evident that really simple people make a great
deal of noise. But simplicity and modesty, at least, are very rare and
royal human virtues, not to be lightly talked about. Few human beings,
and at rare intervals, have really risen into being modest; not one man
in ten or in twenty has by long wars become simple, as an actual old
soldier does by long wars become simple. These virtues are not things to
fling about as mere flattery; many prophets and righteous men have
desired to see these things and have not seen them. But in the
description of the births, lives, and deaths of very luxurious men they
are used incessantly and quite without thought. If a journalist has to
describe a great politician or financier (the things are substantially
the same) entering a room or walking down a thoroughfare, he always
says, "Mr. Midas was quietly dressed in a black frock coat, a white
waistcoat, and light grey trousers, with a plain green tie and simple
flower in his button-hole." As if any one would expect him to have a
crimson frock coat or spangled trousers. As if any one would expect him
to have a burning Catherine wheel in his button-hole.

But this process, which is absurd enough when applied to the ordinary
and external lives of worldly people, becomes perfectly intolerable when
it is applied, as it always is applied, to the one episode which is
serious even in the lives of politicians. I mean their death. When we
have been sufficiently bored with the account of the simple costume of
the millionaire, which is generally about as complicated as any that he
could assume without being simply thought mad; when we have been told
about the modest home of the millionaire, a home which is generally much
too immodest to be called a home at all; when we have followed him
through all these unmeaning eulogies, we are always asked last of all to
admire his quiet funeral. I do not know what else people think a funeral
should be except quiet. Yet again and again, over the grave of every one
of those sad rich men, for whom one should surely feel, first and last,
a speechless pity--over the grave of Beit, over the grave of
Whiteley--this sickening nonsense about modesty and simplicity has been
poured out. I well remember that when Beit was buried, the papers said
that the mourning-coaches contained everybody of importance, that the
floral tributes were sumptuous, splendid, intoxicating; but, for all
that, it was a simple and quiet funeral. What, in the name of Acheron,
did they expect it to be? Did they think there would be human
sacrifice--the immolation of Oriental slaves upon the tomb? Did they
think that long rows of Oriental dancing-girls would sway hither and
thither in an ecstasy of lament? Did they look for the funeral games of
Patroclus? I fear they had no such splendid and pagan meaning. I fear
they were only using the words "quiet" and "modest" as words to fill up
a page--a mere piece of the automatic hypocrisy which does become too
common among those who have to write rapidly and often. The word
"modest" will soon become like the word "honourable," which is said to
be employed by the Japanese before any word that occurs in a polite
sentence, as "Put honourable umbrella in honourable umbrella-stand;" or
"condescend to clean honourable boots." We shall read in the future that
the modest King went out in his modest crown, clad from head to foot in
modest gold and attended with his ten thousand modest earls, their
swords modestly drawn. No! if we have to pay for splendour let us praise
it as splendour, not as simplicity. When next I meet a rich man I intend
to walk up to him in the street and address him with Oriental hyperbole.
He will probably run away.


In these days we are accused of attacking science because we want it to
be scientific. Surely there is not any undue disrespect to our doctor in
saying that he is our doctor, not our priest, or our wife, or ourself.
It is not the business of the doctor to say that we must go to a
watering-place; it is his affair to say that certain results of health
will follow if we do go to a watering-place. After that, obviously, it
is for us to judge. Physical science is like simple addition: it is
either infallible or it is false. To mix science up with philosophy is
only to produce a philosophy that has lost all its ideal value and a
science that has lost all its practical value. I want my private
physician to tell me whether this or that food will kill me. It is for
my private philosopher to tell me whether I ought to be killed. I
apologise for stating all these truisms. But the truth is, that I have
just been reading a thick pamphlet written by a mass of highly
intelligent men who seem never to have heard of any of these truisms in
their lives.

Those who detest the harmless writer of this column are generally
reduced (in their final ecstasy of anger) to calling him "brilliant;"
which has long ago in our journalism become a mere expression of
contempt. But I am afraid that even this disdainful phrase does me too
much honour. I am more and more convinced that I suffer, not from a
shiny or showy impertinence, but from a simplicity that verges upon
imbecility. I think more and more that I must be very dull, and that
everybody else in the modern world must be very clever. I have just been
reading this important compilation, sent to me in the name of a number
of men for whom I have a high respect, and called "New Theology and
Applied Religion." And it is literally true that I have read through
whole columns of the things without knowing what the people were talking
about. Either they must be talking about some black and bestial religion
in which they were brought up, and of which I never even heard, or else
they must be talking about some blazing and blinding vision of God which
they have found, which I have never found, and which by its very
splendour confuses their logic and confounds their speech. But the best
instance I can quote of the thing is in connection with this matter of
the business of physical science on the earth, of which I have just
spoken. The following words are written over the signature of a man
whose intelligence I respect, and I cannot make head or tail of them--

"When modern science declared that the cosmic process knew nothing of a
historical event corresponding to a Fall, but told, on the contrary, the
story of an incessant rise in the scale of being, it was quite plain
that the Pauline scheme--I mean the argumentative processes of Paul's
scheme of salvation--had lost its very foundation; for was not that
foundation the total depravity of the human race inherited from their
first parents?.... But now there was no Fall; there was no total
depravity, or imminent danger of endless doom; and, the basis gone, the
superstructure followed."

It is written with earnestness and in excellent English; it must mean
something. But what can it mean? How could physical science prove that
man is not depraved? You do not cut a man open to find his sins. You do
not boil him until he gives forth the unmistakable green fumes of
depravity. How could physical science find any traces of a moral fall?
What traces did the writer expect to find? Did he expect to find a
fossil Eve with a fossil apple inside her? Did he suppose that the ages
would have spared for him a complete skeleton of Adam attached to a
slightly faded fig-leaf? The whole paragraph which I have quoted is
simply a series of inconsequent sentences, all quite untrue in
themselves and all quite irrelevant to each other. Science never said
that there could have been no Fall. There might have been ten Falls, one
on top of the other, and the thing would have been quite consistent with
everything that we know from physical science. Humanity might have grown
morally worse for millions of centuries, and the thing would in no way
have contradicted the principle of Evolution. Men of science (not being
raving lunatics) never said that there had been "an incessant rise in
the scale of being;" for an incessant rise would mean a rise without any
relapse or failure; and physical evolution is full of relapse and
failure. There were certainly some physical Falls; there may have been
any number of moral Falls. So that, as I have said, I am honestly
bewildered as to the meaning of such passages as this, in which the
advanced person writes that because geologists know nothing about the
Fall, therefore any doctrine of depravity is untrue. Because science has
not found something which obviously it could not find, therefore
something entirely different--the psychological sense of evil--is
untrue. You might sum up this writer's argument abruptly, but
accurately, in some way like this--"We have not dug up the bones of the
Archangel Gabriel, who presumably had none, therefore little boys, left
to themselves, will not be selfish." To me it is all wild and whirling;
as if a man said--"The plumber can find nothing wrong with our piano; so
I suppose that my wife does love me."

I am not going to enter here into the real doctrine of original sin, or
into that probably false version of it which the New Theology writer
calls the doctrine of depravity. But whatever else the worst doctrine
of depravity may have been, it was a product of spiritual conviction; it
had nothing to do with remote physical origins. Men thought mankind
wicked because they felt wicked themselves. If a man feels wicked, I
cannot see why he should suddenly feel good because somebody tells him
that his ancestors once had tails. Man's primary purity and innocence
may have dropped off with his tail, for all anybody knows. The only
thing we all know about that primary purity and innocence is that we
have not got it. Nothing can be, in the strictest sense of the word,
more comic than to set so shadowy a thing as the conjectures made by the
vaguer anthropologists about primitive man against so solid a thing as
the human sense of sin. By its nature the evidence of Eden is something
that one cannot find. By its nature the evidence of sin is something
that one cannot help finding.

Some statements I disagree with; others I do not understand. If a man
says, "I think the human race would be better if it abstained totally
from fermented liquor," I quite understand what he means, and how his
view could be defended. If a man says, "I wish to abolish beer because I
am a temperance man," his remark conveys no meaning to my mind. It is
like saying, "I wish to abolish roads because I am a moderate walker."
If a man says, "I am not a Trinitarian," I understand. But if he says
(as a lady once said to me), "I believe in the Holy Ghost in a spiritual
sense," I go away dazed. In what other sense could one believe in the
Holy Ghost? And I am sorry to say that this pamphlet of progressive
religious views is full of baffling observations of that kind. What can
people mean when they say that science has disturbed their view of sin?
What sort of view of sin can they have had before science disturbed it?
Did they think that it was something to eat? When people say that
science has shaken their faith in immortality, what do they mean? Did
they think that immortality was a gas?

Of course the real truth is that science has introduced no new principle
into the matter at all. A man can be a Christian to the end of the
world, for the simple reason that a man could have been an Atheist from
the beginning of it. The materialism of things is on the face of things;
it does not require any science to find it out. A man who has lived and
loved falls down dead and the worms eat him. That is Materialism if you
like. That is Atheism if you like. If mankind has believed in spite of
that, it can believe in spite of anything. But why our human lot is made
any more hopeless because we know the names of all the worms who eat
him, or the names of all the parts of him that they eat, is to a
thoughtful mind somewhat difficult to discover. My chief objection to
these semi-scientific revolutionists is that they are not at all
revolutionary. They are the party of platitude. They do not shake
religion: rather religion seems to shake them. They can only answer the
great paradox by repeating the truism.


I Saw in a newspaper paragraph the other day the following entertaining
and deeply philosophical incident. A man was enlisting as a soldier at
Portsmouth, and some form was put before him to be filled up, common, I
suppose, to all such cases, in which was, among other things, an inquiry
about what was his religion. With an equal and ceremonial gravity the
man wrote down the word "Methuselahite." Whoever looks over such papers
must, I should imagine, have seen some rum religions in his time; unless
the Army is going to the dogs. But with all his specialist knowledge he
could not "place" Methuselahism among what Bossuet called the variations
of Protestantism. He felt a fervid curiosity about the tenets and
tendencies of the sect; and he asked the soldier what it meant. The
soldier replied that it was his religion "to live as long as he could."

Now, considered as an incident in the religious history of Europe, that
answer of that soldier was worth more than a hundred cartloads of
quarterly and monthly and weekly and daily papers discussing religious
problems and religious books. Every day the daily paper reviews some new
philosopher who has some new religion; and there is not in the whole two
thousand words of the whole two columns one word as witty as or wise as
that word "Methuselahite." The whole meaning of literature is simply to
cut a long story short; that is why our modern books of philosophy are
never literature. That soldier had in him the very soul of literature;
he was one of the great phrase-makers of modern thought, like Victor
Hugo or Disraeli. He found one word that defines the paganism of to-day.

Henceforward, when the modern philosophers come to me with their new
religions (and there is always a kind of queue of them waiting all the
way down the street) I shall anticipate their circumlocutions and be
able to cut them short with a single inspired word. One of them will
begin, "The New Religion, which is based upon that Primordial Energy in
Nature...." "Methuselahite," I shall say sharply; "good morning." "Human
Life," another will say, "Human Life, the only ultimate sanctity, freed
from creed and dogma...." "Methuselahite!" I shall yell. "Out you go!"
"My religion is the Religion of Joy," a third will explain (a bald old
man with a cough and tinted glasses), "the Religion of Physical Pride
and Rapture, and my...." "Methuselahite!" I shall cry again, and I shall
slap him boisterously on the back, and he will fall down. Then a pale
young poet with serpentine hair will come and say to me (as one did only
the other day): "Moods and impressions are the only realities, and these
are constantly and wholly changing. I could hardly therefore define my
religion...." "I can," I should say, somewhat sternly. "Your religion is
to live a long time; and if you stop here a moment longer you won't
fulfil it."

A new philosophy generally means in practice the praise of some old
vice. We have had the sophist who defends cruelty, and calls it
masculinity. We have had the sophist who defends profligacy, and calls
it the liberty of the emotions. We have had the sophist who defends
idleness, and calls it art. It will almost certainly happen--it can
almost certainly be prophesied--that in this saturnalia of sophistry
there will at some time or other arise a sophist who desires to idealise
cowardice. And when we are once in this unhealthy world of mere wild
words, what a vast deal there would be to say for cowardice! "Is not
life a lovely thing and worth saving?" the soldier would say as he ran
away. "Should I not prolong the exquisite miracle of consciousness?" the
householder would say as he hid under the table. "As long as there are
roses and lilies on the earth shall I not remain here?" would come the
voice of the citizen from under the bed. It would be quite as easy to
defend the coward as a kind of poet and mystic as it has been, in many
recent books, to defend the emotionalist as a kind of poet and mystic,
or the tyrant as a kind of poet and mystic. When that last grand
sophistry and morbidity is preached in a book or on a platform, you may
depend upon it there will be a great stir in its favour, that is, a
great stir among the little people who live among books and platforms.
There will be a new great Religion, the Religion of Methuselahism: with
pomps and priests and altars. Its devout crusaders will vow themselves
in thousands with a great vow to live long. But there is one comfort:
they won't.

For, indeed, the weakness of this worship of mere natural life (which
is a common enough creed to-day) is that it ignores the paradox of
courage and fails in its own aim. As a matter of fact, no men would be
killed quicker than the Methuselahites. The paradox of courage is that a
man must be a little careless of his life even in order to keep it. And
in the very case I have quoted we may see an example of how little the
theory of Methuselahism really inspires our best life. For there is one
riddle in that case which cannot easily be cleared up. If it was the
man's religion to live as long as he could, why on earth was he
enlisting as a soldier?


I Have received a letter from a gentleman who is very indignant at what
he considers my flippancy in disregarding or degrading Spiritualism. I
thought I was defending Spiritualism; but I am rather used to being
accused of mocking the thing that I set out to justify. My fate in most
controversies is rather pathetic. It is an almost invariable rule that
the man with whom I don't agree thinks I am making a fool of myself, and
the man with whom I do agree thinks I am making a fool of him. There
seems to be some sort of idea that you are not treating a subject
properly if you eulogise it with fantastic terms or defend it by
grotesque examples. Yet a truth is equally solemn whatever figure or
example its exponent adopts. It is an equally awful truth that four and
four make eight, whether you reckon the thing out in eight onions or
eight angels, or eight bricks or eight bishops, or eight minor poets or
eight pigs. Similarly, if it be true that God made all things, that
grave fact can be asserted by pointing at a star or by waving an
umbrella. But the case is stronger than this. There is a distinct
philosophical advantage in using grotesque terms in a serious

I think seriously, on the whole, that the more serious is the discussion
the more grotesque should be the terms. For this, as I say, there is an
evident reason. For a subject is really solemn and important in so far
as it applies to the whole cosmos, or to some great spheres and cycles
of experience at least. So far as a thing is universal it is serious.
And so far as a thing is universal it is full of comic things. If you
take a small thing, it may be entirely serious: Napoleon, for instance,
was a small thing, and he was serious: the same applies to microbes. If
you isolate a thing, you may get the pure essence of gravity. But if you
take a large thing (such as the Solar System) it _must_ be comic, at
least in parts. The germs are serious, because they kill you. But the
stars are funny, because they give birth to life, and life gives birth
to fun. If you have, let us say, a theory about man, and if you can only
prove it by talking about Plato and George Washington, your theory may
be a quite frivolous thing. But if you can prove it by talking about the
butler or the postman, then it is serious, because it is universal. So
far from it being irreverent to use silly metaphors on serious
questions, it is one's duty to use silly metaphors on serious questions.
It is the test of one's seriousness. It is the test of a responsible
religion or theory whether it can take examples from pots and pans and
boots and butter-tubs. It is the test of a good philosophy whether you
can defend it grotesquely. It is the test of a good religion whether you
can joke about it.

When I was a very young journalist I used to be irritated at a peculiar
habit of printers, a habit which most persons of a tendency similar to
mine have probably noticed also. It goes along with the fixed belief of
printers that to be a Rationalist is the same thing as to be a
Nationalist. I mean the printer's tendency to turn the word "cosmic"
into the word "comic." It annoyed me at the time. But since then I have
come to the conclusion that the printers were right. The democracy is
always right. Whatever is cosmic is comic.

Moreover, there is another reason that makes it almost inevitable that
we should defend grotesquely what we believe seriously. It is that all
grotesqueness is itself intimately related to seriousness. Unless a
thing is dignified, it cannot be undignified. Why is it funny that a man
should sit down suddenly in the street? There is only one possible or
intelligent reason: that man is the image of God. It is not funny that
anything else should fall down; only that a man should fall down. No one
sees anything funny in a tree falling down. No one sees a delicate
absurdity in a stone falling down. No man stops in the road and roars
with laughter at the sight of the snow coming down. The fall of
thunderbolts is treated with some gravity. The fall of roofs and high
buildings is taken seriously. It is only when a man tumbles down that we
laugh. Why do we laugh? Because it is a grave religious matter: it is
the Fall of Man. Only man can be absurd: for only man can be dignified.

The above, which occupies the great part of my article, is a
parenthises. It is time that I returned to my choleric correspondent who
rebuked me for being too frivolous about the problem of Spiritualism. My
correspondent, who is evidently an intelligent man, is very angry with
me indeed. He uses the strongest language. He says I remind him of a
brother of his: which seems to open an abyss or vista of infamy. The
main substance of his attack resolves itself into two propositions.
First, he asks me what right I have to talk about Spiritualism at all,
as I admit I have never been to a _seance_. This is all very well, but
there are a good many things to which I have never been, but I have not
the smallest intention of leaving off talking about them. I refuse (for
instance) to leave off talking about the Siege of Troy. I decline to be
mute in the matter of the French Revolution. I will not be silenced on
the late indefensible assassination of Julius Caesar. If nobody has any
right to judge of Spiritualism except a man who has been to a _seance_,
the results, logically speaking, are rather serious: it would almost
seem as if nobody had any right to judge of Christianity who had not
been to the first meeting at Pentecost. Which would be dreadful. I
conceive myself capable of forming my opinion of Spiritualism without
seeing spirits, just as I form my opinion of the Japanese War without
seeing the Japanese, or my opinion of American millionaires without
(thank God) seeing an American millionaire. Blessed are they who have
not seen and yet have believed: a passage which some have considered as
a prophecy of modern journalism.

But my correspondent's second objection is more important. He charges me
with actually ignoring the value of communication (if it exists) between
this world and the next. I do not ignore it. But I do say this--That a
different principle attaches to investigation in this spiritual field
from investigation in any other. If a man baits a line for fish, the
fish will come, even if he declares there are no such things as fishes.
If a man limes a twig for birds, the birds will be caught, even if he
thinks it superstitious to believe in birds at all. But a man cannot
bait a line for souls. A man cannot lime a twig to catch gods. All wise
schools have agreed that this latter capture depends to some extent on
the faith of the capturer. So it comes to this: If you have no faith in
the spirits your appeal is in vain; and if you have--is it needed? If
you do not believe, you cannot. If you do--you will not.

That is the real distinction between investigation in this department
and investigation in any other. The priest calls to the goddess, for the
same reason that a man calls to his wife, because he knows she is there.
If a man kept on shouting out very loud the single word "Maria," merely
with the object of discovering whether if he did it long enough some
woman of that name would come and marry him, he would be more or less in
the position of the modern spiritualist. The old religionist cried out
for his God. The new religionist cries out for some god to be his. The
whole point of religion as it has hitherto existed in the world was that
you knew all about your gods, even before you saw them, if indeed you
ever did. Spiritualism seems to me absolutely right on all its mystical
side. The supernatural part of it seems to me quite natural. The
incredible part of it seems to me obviously true. But I think it so far
dangerous or unsatisfactory that it is in some degree scientific. It
inquires whether its gods are worth inquiring into. A man (of a certain
age) may look into the eyes of his lady-love to see that they are
beautiful. But no normal lady will allow that young man to look into her
eyes to see whether they are beautiful. The same vanity and idiosyncrasy
has been generally observed in gods. Praise them; or leave them alone;
but do not look for them unless you know they are there. Do not look for
them unless you want them. It annoys them very much.


The refusal of the jurors in the Thaw trial to come to an agreement is
certainly a somewhat amusing sequel to the frenzied and even fantastic
caution with which they were selected. Jurymen were set aside for
reasons which seem to have only the very wildest relation to the
case--reasons which we cannot conceive as giving any human being a real
bias. It may be questioned whether the exaggerated theory of
impartiality in an arbiter or juryman may not be carried so far as to be
more unjust than partiality itself. What people call impartiality may
simply mean indifference, and what people call partiality may simply
mean mental activity. It is sometimes made an objection, for instance,
to a juror that he has formed some _prima-facie_ opinion upon a case: if
he can be forced under sharp questioning to admit that he has formed
such an opinion, he is regarded as manifestly unfit to conduct the
inquiry. Surely this is unsound. If his bias is one of interest, of
class, or creed, or notorious propaganda, then that fact certainly
proves that he is not an impartial arbiter. But the mere fact that he
did form some temporary impression from the first facts as far as he
knew them--this does not prove that he is not an impartial arbiter--it
only proves that he is not a cold-blooded fool.

If we walk down the street, taking all the jurymen who have not formed
opinions and leaving all the jurymen who have formed opinions, it seems
highly probable that we shall only succeed in taking all the stupid
jurymen and leaving all the thoughtful ones. Provided that the opinion
formed is really of this airy and abstract kind, provided that it has no
suggestion of settled motive or prejudice, we might well regard it not
merely as a promise of capacity, but literally as a promise of justice.
The man who took the trouble to deduce from the police reports would
probably be the man who would take the trouble to deduce further and
different things from the evidence. The man who had the sense to form an
opinion would be the man who would have the sense to alter it.

It is worth while to dwell for a moment on this minor aspect of the
matter because the error about impartiality and justice is by no means
confined to a criminal question. In much more serious matters it is
assumed that the agnostic is impartial; whereas the agnostic is merely
ignorant. The logical outcome of the fastidiousness about the Thaw
jurors would be that the case ought to be tried by Esquimaux, or
Hottentots, or savages from the Cannibal Islands--by some class of
people who could have no conceivable interest in the parties, and
moreover, no conceivable interest in the case. The pure and starry
perfection of impartiality would be reached by people who not only had
no opinion before they had heard the case, but who also had no opinion
after they had heard it. In the same way, there is in modern discussions
of religion and philosophy an absurd assumption that a man is in some
way just and well-poised because he has come to no conclusion; and that
a man is in some way knocked off the list of fair judges because he has
come to a conclusion. It is assumed that the sceptic has no bias;
whereas he has a very obvious bias in favour of scepticism. I remember
once arguing with an honest young atheist, who was very much shocked at
my disputing some of the assumptions which were absolute sanctities to
him (such as the quite unproved proposition of the independence of
matter and the quite improbable proposition of its power to originate
mind), and he at length fell back upon this question, which he delivered
with an honourable heat of defiance and indignation: "Well, can you tell
me any man of intellect, great in science or philosophy, who accepted
the miraculous?" I said, "With pleasure. Descartes, Dr. Johnson, Newton,
Faraday, Newman, Gladstone, Pasteur, Browning, Brunetiere--as many more
as you please." To which that quite admirable and idealistic young man
made this astonishing reply--"Oh, but of course they _had_ to say that;
they were Christians." First he challenged me to find a black swan, and
then he ruled out all my swans because they were black. The fact that
all these great intellects had come to the Christian view was somehow or
other a proof either that they were not great intellects or that they
had not really come to that view. The argument thus stood in a
charmingly convenient form: "All men that count have come to my
conclusion; for if they come to your conclusion they do not count."

It did not seem to occur to such controversialists that if Cardinal
Newman was really a man of intellect, the fact that he adhered to
dogmatic religion proved exactly as much as the fact that Professor
Huxley, another man of intellect, found that he could not adhere to
dogmatic religion; that is to say (as I cheerfully admit), it proved
precious little either way. If there is one class of men whom history
has proved especially and supremely capable of going quite wrong in all
directions, it is the class of highly intellectual men. I would always
prefer to go by the bulk of humanity; that is why I am a democrat. But
whatever be the truth about exceptional intelligence and the masses, it
is manifestly most unreasonable that intelligent men should be divided
upon the absurd modern principle of regarding every clever man who
cannot make up his mind as an impartial judge, and regarding every
clever man who can make up his mind as a servile fanatic. As it is, we
seem to regard it as a positive objection to a reasoner that he has
taken one side or the other. We regard it (in other words) as a positive
objection to a reasoner that he has contrived to reach the object of his
reasoning. We call a man a bigot or a slave of dogma because he is a
thinker who has thought thoroughly and to a definite end. We say that
the juryman is not a juryman because he has brought in a verdict. We say
that the judge is not a judge because he gives judgment. We say that the
sincere believer has no right to vote, simply because he has voted.


A correspondent asks me to make more lucid my remarks about phonetic
spelling. I have no detailed objection to items of spelling-reform; my
objection is to a general principle; and it is this. It seems to me that
what is really wrong with all modern and highly civilised language is
that it does so largely consist of dead words. Half our speech consists
of similes that remind us of no similarity; of pictorial phrases that
call up no picture; of historical allusions the origin of which we have
forgotten. Take any instance on which the eye happens to alight. I saw
in the paper some days ago that the well-known leader of a certain
religious party wrote to a supporter of his the following curious words:
"I have not forgotten the talented way in which you held up the banner
at Birkenhead." Taking the ordinary vague meaning of the word
"talented," there is no coherency in the picture. The trumpets blow, the
spears shake and glitter, and in the thick of the purple battle there
stands a gentleman holding up a banner in a talented way. And when we
come to the original force of the word "talent" the matter is worse: a
talent is a Greek coin used in the New Testament as a symbol of the
mental capital committed to an individual at birth. If the religious
leader in question had really meant anything by his phrases, he would
have been puzzled to know how a man could use a Greek coin to hold up a
banner. But really he meant nothing by his phrases. "Holding up the
banner" was to him a colourless term for doing the proper thing, and
"talented" was a colourless term for doing it successfully.

Now my own fear touching anything in the way of phonetic spelling is
that it would simply increase this tendency to use words as counters and
not as coins. The original life in a word (as in the word "talent")
burns low as it is: sensible spelling might extinguish it altogether.
Suppose any sentence you like: suppose a man says, "Republics generally
encourage holidays." It looks like the top line of a copy-book. Now, it
is perfectly true that if you wrote that sentence exactly as it is
pronounced, even by highly educated people, the sentence would run:
"Ripubliks jenrally inkurrij hollidies." It looks ugly: but I have not
the smallest objection to ugliness. My objection is that these four
words have each a history and hidden treasures in them: that this
history and hidden treasure (which we tend to forget too much as it is)
phonetic spelling tends to make us forget altogether. Republic does not
mean merely a mode of political choice. Republic (as we see when we look
at the structure of the word) means the Public Thing: the abstraction
which is us all.

A Republican is not a man who wants a Constitution with a President. A
Republican is a man who prefers to think of Government as impersonal; he
is opposed to the Royalist, who prefers to think of Government as
personal. Take the second word, "generally." This is always used as
meaning "in the majority of cases." But, again, if we look at the shape
and spelling of the word, we shall see that "generally" means something
more like "generically," and is akin to such words as "generation" or
"regenerate." "Pigs are generally dirty" does not mean that pigs are, in
the majority of cases, dirty, but that pigs as a race or genus are
dirty, that pigs as pigs are dirty--an important philosophical
distinction. Take the third word, "encourage." The word "encourage" is
used in such modern sentences in the merely automatic sense of promote;
to encourage poetry means merely to advance or assist poetry. But to
encourage poetry means properly to put courage into poetry--a fine idea.
Take the fourth word, "holidays." As long as that word remains, it will
always answer the ignorant slander which asserts that religion was
opposed to human cheerfulness; that word will always assert that when a
day is holy it should also be happy. Properly spelt, these words all
tell a sublime story, like Westminster Abbey. Phonetically spelt, they
might lose the last traces of any such story. "Generally" is an exalted
metaphysical term; "jenrally" is not. If you "encourage" a man, you pour
into him the chivalry of a hundred princes; this does not happen if you
merely "inkurrij" him. "Republics," if spelt phonetically, might
actually forget to be public. "Holidays," if spelt phonetically, might
actually forget to be holy.

Here is a case that has just occurred. A certain magistrate told
somebody whom he was examining in court that he or she "should always be
polite to the police." I do not know whether the magistrate noticed the
circumstance, but the word "polite" and the word "police" have the same
origin and meaning. Politeness means the atmosphere and ritual of the
city, the symbol of human civilisation. The policeman means the
representative and guardian of the city, the symbol of human
civilisation. Yet it may be doubted whether the two ideas are commonly
connected in the mind. It is probable that we often hear of politeness
without thinking of a policeman; it is even possible that our eyes often
alight upon a policeman without our thoughts instantly flying to the

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