Part 3 out of 6
found--and, mind you, it isn't very common. Many people have to arrive at
success by resolute self-limitation; and that becomes very uninteresting.
Buoyancy, sympathy, quick interests, perceptiveness--that's the supreme
charm; and the worst of it is that it mostly belongs to the people who
haven't taken too much out of themselves. When we have got a really
well-ordered State, no one will have any reason to work too hard, and then
we shall all be the happier. These gigantic toilers, it's a sort of
morbidity, you know; the real success is to enjoy work, not to drudge
yourself dry. One must overflow--not pump!"
"But what is an artist to do," I said, "who is simply haunted by the desire
to make something beautiful?"
"He must hold his hand," said Father Payne; "he must learn to waste his
time, and he must love wasting it. A habit of creative work is an awful
"Come out for a turn," he went on; "never mind these rotten books; don't
get into a habit of reading--it's like endlessly listening to good talk
without ever joining in it--it makes a corpulent mind!"
We went and walked in the garden; he stopped before some giant hemlocks.
"Just look at those great things," he said, "built up as geometrically as a
cathedral, tier above tier, and yet not _quite_ regular. There must be
something very hard at work inside that, piling it all up, adding cell to
cell, carrying out a plan, and enjoying it all. Yet the beauty of it is
that it isn't perfectly regular. You see the underlying scheme, yet the
separate shoots are not quite mechanical--they lean away from each other,
that joint is a trifle shorter--there wasn't quite room at the start in
that stem, and the pressure goes on showing right up to the top, I suppose
our lives would look very nearly as geometrical to anyone who
_knew_--really knew; but how little geometrical we feel! I don't
suppose this hemlock is cursed by the power of thinking it might have done
otherwise, or envies the roses. We mustn't spend time in envying, or
repenting either--or still less in renouncing life."
"But if I want to renounce it," I said, "why shouldn't I?"
"Yes, there you have me," said Father Payne; "we know so little about
ourselves, that we don't always know whether we do better to renounce a
thing or to seize it. Make experiments, I say--don't make habits."
"But you are always drilling me into habits," I said.
He gave me a little shake with his hand. "Yes, the habit of being able to
do a thing," he said, "not the habit of being unable to do anything else!
Hang these metaphysics, if that is what they are! What I want you young men
to do is to get a firm hold upon life, and to feel that it is a finer thing
than any little presentment of it. I want you to feel and enjoy for
yourselves, and to live freely and generously. Bad things happen to all of
us, of course; but we mustn't mind that--not to be petty or quarrelsome, or
hidebound or prudish or over-particular, that's the point. To leave other
people alone, except on the rare occasions when they are not letting other
people alone; to be peaceable, and yet not to be afraid; not to be hurt and
vexed; to practise forgetting; not to want to pouch things! It's all very
well for me to talk," he said; "I made a sufficient hash of it, when I was
poor and miserable and overworked; and then I was transplanted out of a
slum window-box into a sunny garden, just in time; yet I'm sure that most
of my old troubles were in a way of my own making, because I hated being so
insignificant; but I fear that was a little poison lurking in me from the
Earls of Shropshire. That is the odd thing about ambitions, that they seem
so often like regaining a lost position rather than making a new one. The
truth is that we are caged; and the only thing to do is to think about the
cage as little as we can."
One day I was strolling down the garden among the winding paths, when I
came suddenly upon Father Payne, who was hurrying towards the house. He had
in each of his hands a large roughly spherical stone, and looked at me a
"You look, Father," I said, "as if you were going to stone Stephen."
He laughed, and looked at the stones. "Yes," he said, "they are what the
Greeks called 'hand-fillers,' for use in battle--but I have no nefarious
"What are you going to do with them?" I said
"That's a secret!" he said, and made as if he were going in. Then he said,
"Come, you shall hear it--you shall share my secret, and be a partner in my
dreams, as the fisherman says in Theocritus." But he did not tell me what
he was going to do, and seemed half shy of doing so.
"It's like Dr. Johnson and the orange-peel," I said. "'Nay, Sir, you shall
know their fate no further.'"
"Well, the truth is," he said at last, "that I'm a perfect baby. I never
can resist looking into a hole in the ground, and I happened to look into
the pit where we dig gravel. I can't tell you how long I spent there."
"What were you doing?" I said.
"Looking for fossils," he said; "I had a great gift for finding them when I
was a child. I didn't find any fossils to-day, but I found these stones,
and I think they contain crystals. I am going to break them and see."
I took one in my hand. "I think they are only fossil sponges," I said;
"there will only be a rusty sort of core inside."
"You know that!" he said, brightening up; "you know about stones too? But
these are not sponges--they would rattle if they were--no, they contain
crystals--I am sure of it. Come and see!"
We went into the stable-yard. Father Payne fetched a hammer, and then
selected a convenient place in the cobbled yard to break the stones. He put
one of them in position, and aimed a blow at it, but it glanced off, and
the stone flew off with the impact to some distance. "Lie still, can't
you?" said Father Payne, apostrophising the stone, and adding, "This is for
my pleasure, not for yours." I recovered the stone, and brought it back,
and Father Payne broke it with a well-directed blow. He gathered up the
pieces eagerly. "Yes," he said, "it's all right--they are blue crystals:
better than I had hoped."
He handed a fragment to me to look at. The inside of the stone was hollow.
It had a coagulated appearance, and was thickly coated with minute bluish
crystals, very beautiful.
"I don't know that I ever saw a stone I liked as well as this," said Father
Payne, musing over another piece. "Think what millions of years this has
been like that,--before Abraham was! It has never seen the light of day
before--it's a splash of some molten stone, which fell plop into a cool
sea-current, I suppose. I wish I knew all about it. The question, is, why
is it so beautiful? It couldn't help it, I suppose! But for whose delight?"
Then he said, "I suppose this was a vacuum in here till it was broken? That
is why it is so clear and fresh. Good Heavens, what would I not give to
know why this thing cooled into these lovely little shapes. It's no use
talking about the laws of matter--why are the laws of matter what they are,
and not different? And odder still, why do I like the look of it?"
"Perhaps that is a law of matter too," I said.
"Oh, shut up!" said Father Payne to me. "But I understand--and of course
the temptation is to believe that this was all done on your account and
mine. That is as odd a thing as the stone itself, if you come to think of
it, that we should be made so that we refer everything to ourselves, and to
believe that God prepared this pretty show for us."
"I suppose we come in somewhere?" I said.
"Yes, we are allowed to see it," said Father Payne. "But it wasn't arranged
for the benefit of a silly old man like me. That is the worst of our
religious theories--that we believe that God is for ever making personal
appeals to us. It is that sort of self-importance which spoils everything."
"But I can hardly believe that we have this sense of self-importance only
to get rid of it," I said. "It all seems to me a dreadful muddle--to shut
up these lovely little things inside millions of stones, and then to give
us the wish to break a couple, only that we may reflect that they were not
meant for us to see at all."
Father Payne gave a groan. "Yes, it is a muddle!" he said. "But one thing I
feel clear about--that a beautiful thing like this means a sense of joy
somewhere: some happiness went to the making of things which in a sense are
quite useless, but are unutterably lovely all the same. Beauty implies
consciousness--but come, we are neglecting our business. Give me the other
stone at once!"
I gave it him, and he cracked it. "Very disappointing!" he said. "I made
sure there was a beautiful stone, but it is all solid--only a flaky sort of
jelly--it's no use at all!"
He threw it aside, but carefully gathered up the fragments of the
crystalline stone. "Don't tell of me!" he said, looking at me whimsically.
"This is the sort of nonsense which our sensible friends won't understand.
But now that I know that you care about stones, we will have a rare hunt
together one of these days. But mind--no stuff about geology! It's beauty
that we are in search of, you and I."
One day, to my surprise and delight, Father Payne indulged in some personal
reminiscences about his early life. He did not as a rule do this. He used
to say that it was the surest sign of decadence to think much about the
past. "Sometimes when I wake early," he said, "I find myself going back to
my childhood, and living through scene after scene. It's not wholesome--I
always know I am a little out of sorts when I do that--it is only one
degree better than making plans about the future!"
However, on this occasion he was very communicative. He had been talking
about Ruskin, and he said: "Do you remember in _Praeterita_ how
Ruskin, writing about his sheltered and complacent childhood, describes how
entirely he lived in the pleasure of _sight_? He noticed everything,
the shapes and colours of things, the almond blossom, the ants that made
nests in the garden walk, the things they saw in their travels. He was
entirely absorbed in sense-impressions. Well, that threw a light on my own
life, because it was exactly what happened to me as a child. I lived wholly
in observation. I had no mind and very little heart. I suppose that I had
so much to do looking at everything, getting the shapes and the textures
and the qualities of everything by heart, that I had no time to think about
ideas and emotions. I had a very lonely childhood, you know, brought up in
the country by my mother, who was rather an invalid, my father being dead.
I had no companions to speak of, and I didn't care about anyone or need
anyone--it was all simply a collecting of impressions. The result is that I
can visualise anything and everything--speak of a larch-bud or a fir-cone,
and there it is before me--the little rosy fragrant tuft, or the glossy
rectangular squares of the cone. Then I went to Marlborough, and I was
dreadfully unhappy, I hated everything and everybody--the ugliness and
slovenliness of it all, the noise, the fuss, the stink. I did not feel I
had anything in common with those little brutes, as I thought them. I lived
the life of a blind creature in a fright, groping aimlessly about. I joined
in nothing--but I was always strong, and so I was left alone. No one dared
to interfere with me; and I have sometimes wished I hadn't been so strong,
that I had had the experience of being weak. I dare say that nasty things
might have happened--but I should have known more what the world was like,
I should have depended more upon other people, I should have made friends.
As it was, I left school entirely innocent, very solitary, very modest,
thinking myself a complete duffer, and everyone else a beast. It got a
little better at the end of my time, and I had a companion or two--but I
never dreamed of telling anyone what I was really thinking about."
He broke off suddenly. "This is awful twaddle!" he said. "Why should you
care to hear about all this? I was thinking aloud."
"Do go on thinking aloud a little," I said; "it is most interesting!"
"Ah," he said, "with the flatterers were busy mockers! You enjoy staring
and looking upon me."
"No, no," I said, rather nettled. "Father Payne, don't you understand? I
want to hear more about you. I want to know how you came to be what you
are: it interests me more than I can say. You asked me about myself when I
came here, and I told you. Why shouldn't I ask you, for a change?"
He smiled, obviously pleased at this. "Why, then," he said, "I'll go on.
I'm not above liking to tell my tale, like the Ancient Mariner. You can
beat your breast when you are tired of it." He was intent for a moment, and
then went on. "Well, I went up to Oxford--to Corpus. A funny little place,
I now think--rather intellectual. I could hardly believe my senses when I
found how different it was from school, and how independent. Heavens, how
happy I was! I made some friends--I found I could make friends after all--I
could say what I liked, I could argue, I could even amuse them. I really
couldn't make you realise how I adored some of those men. I used to go to
sleep after a long evening of chatter, simply hating the darkness which
separated me from life and company. There were two in particular, very
ordinary young men, I expect. But they were fond of me, and liked being
with me, and I thought them the most wonderful and enchanting persons, with
a wide knowledge of the great mysterious world. The world! It wasn't, I
saw, a nasty, jostling place, as I had thought at school, but a great
beautiful affair, full of love and delight, of interest and ideas. I read,
I talked, I flew about--it was simply a new birth! I felt like a prisoner
suddenly released. Of course, the mischief was that I neglected my work.
There wasn't time for that: and I fell in love, too, or thought I did, with
the sister of one of those friends, with whom I went to stay. I wonder if
anyone was ever in love like that! I daresay it's common enough. But I
won't go into that; these raptures are for private consumption. I was
roughly jerked up. I took a bad degree. My mother died--I had very little
in common with her: she was an invalid without any hold on life, and I took
no trouble to be kind to her--I was perfectly selfish and wilful. Then I
had to earn my living. I would have given anything to stay at Oxford: and
you know, even now, when I think of Oxford, a sort of electric shock goes
through me, I love it so much. I daren't even set foot there, I'm so afraid
of finding it altered. But when I think of those dark courts and bowery
gardens, and the men moving about, and the fronts of blistered stone, and
the little quaint streets, and the meadows and elms, and the country all
about, I have a physical yearning that is almost a pain--a sort of
He broke off, and was silent for a moment, and I saw that his eyes were
full of tears.
"Then it was London, that accursed place! I had a tiny income: I got a job
at a coaching establishment, I worked like the devil. That was a cruel
time. I couldn't dream of marriage--that all vanished, and she married
pretty soon, I couldn't get a holiday--I was too poor. I tried writing, but
I made a hash of that. I simply went down into hell. One of my great
friends died, and the other--well, it was awkward to meet, when I had had
to break it off with his sister. I simply can't describe to you how utterly
horrible it all was. I used to teach all the terms, and in the vacations I
simply mooned about. I hadn't a club, and I used to read at the
Museum--read just to keep my senses. Then, I suppose I got used to it. Of
course, if I had had any adventurousness in me, I should have gone off and
become a day-labourer or anything--but I am not that sort of person.
"That went on till I was about thirty-three--and then quite suddenly, and
without any warning, I had my experience. I suppose that something was
going on inside me all the time, something being burnt out of me in those
fires. It was a mixture of selfishness and stupidity and perverseness that
was the matter with me. I didn't see that I could do anything. I was simply
furious with the world for being such a hole, and with God for sticking me
in the middle of it. The occasion of the change was simply too ridiculous.
It was nothing else but coming back to my rooms and finding a big bowl of
daffodils there. They had been left, my landlady told me, by a young
gentleman. It sounds foolish enough--but it suddenly occurred to me to
think that someone was interested in me, pitied me, cared for me. A sort of
mist cleared away from my eyes, and I saw in a flash, what was the
mischief--that I had walled myself in by my misery and bad temper, and by
my expectation that something must be done for me. The next day I had to
take a lot of pupils, one after another, for composition. One of them had a
daffodil in his hand, which he put down carelessly on the table. I stared
at it and at him, and he blushed. He wasn't an interesting young man to
look at or to talk to--but it was just a bit of simple humanity. It all
came out. I had been good to him--I looked as if I were having a bad time.
It was just a little human, signal, and a beautiful one. It was there,
then, all the time, I saw--human affection--if I cared to put out my hand
for it. I can't describe to you how it all developed, but my heart had
melted somehow--thawed like a lump of ice. I saw that there was no specific
ill-will to me in the world. I saw that everything was there, if I only
chose to take it. That was my second awakening--a glimmer of light through
a chink--and suddenly, it was day! I had been growling over bones and straw
in a filthy kennel, and I was not really tied up at all. Life was running
past me, a crystal river. I was dying of thirst: and all because it was not
given me in a clean glass on a silver tray, I would not drink it--and God
smiling at me all the time."
Father Payne walked on in silence.
"The truth is, my boy," he said a minute later, "that I'm a converted man,
and it isn't everyone who can say that--nor do I wish everyone to be
converted, because it's a ghastly business preparing for the operation. It
isn't everyone who needs it--only those self-willed, devilish, stand-off,
proud people, who have to be braised in a mortar and pulverised to atoms.
Then, when you are all to bits, you can be built up. Do you remember that
stone we broke the other day? Well, I was a melted blob of stone, and then
I was crystallised--now I'm full of eyes within! And the best of it is that
they are little living eyes, and not sparkling flints--they see, they don't
reflect! At least I think so; and I don't think trouble is brewing for me
again--though that is always the danger!"
I was very deeply moved by this, and said something about being grateful.
"Oh, not that," said Father Payne; "you don't know what fun it has been to
me to tell you. That's the sort of thing that I want to get into one of my
novels, but I can't manage it. But the moral is, if I may say so: Be afraid
of self-pity and dignity and self-respect--don't be afraid of happiness and
simplicity and kindness. Give yourself away with both hands. It's easy for
me to talk, because I have been loaded with presents ever since: the clouds
drop fatness--a rich but expressive image that!"
"I'm feeling low to-night," said Father Payne in answer to a question about
his prolonged silence. "I'm not myself: virtue has gone out of me--I'm in
the clutches of a bloodsucker."
"Old debts with compound interest?" said Rose cheerfully.
"Yes," said Father Payne with a frown; "old emotional I.O.U.'s. I didn't
know what I was putting my name to."
"A man or a woman?" said Rose.
"Thank God, it's a man!" said Father Payne. "Female bloodsuckers are worse
still. A man, at all events, only wants the blood; a woman wants the
pleasure of seeing you wince as well!"
"It sounds very tragic," said Kaye.
"No, it's not tragic," said Father Payne; "there would be something
dignified about that! It's only unutterably low and degrading. Come, I'll
tell you about it. It will do me good to get it off my chest.
"It is one of my old pupils," Father Payne went on. "He once got into
trouble about money, and I paid his debts--he can't forgive me that!"
"Does he want you to pay some more?" said Rose.
"Yes, he does," said Father Payne, "but he wants to be high-minded too. He
wants me to press him to take the money, to prevail upon him to accept it
as a favour. He implies that if I hadn't begun by paying his debts
originally, he would not have ever acquired what he calls 'the unhappy
habit of dependence.' Of course he doesn't think that really: he wants the
money, but he also wants to feel dignified. 'If I thought it would make you
happier if I accepted it,' he says, 'of course I should view the matter
differently. It would give me a reason for accepting what I must confess
would be a humiliation,' Isn't that infernal? Then he says that I may
perhaps think that his troubles have coarsened him, but that he unhappily
retains all his old sensitiveness. Then he goes on to say that it was I who
encouraged him to preserve a high standard of delicacy in these matters."
"He must be a precious rascal," said Vincent.
"No, he isn't," said Father Payne, "that's the worst of it--but he is a
frantic poseur. He has got so used to talking and thinking about his
feelings, that he doesn't know what he really does feel. That's the part of
it which bothers me: because if he was a mere hypocrite, I would say so
plainly. One must not be taken in by apparent hypocrisy. It often
represents what a man did once really think, but which has become a mere
memory. One must not be hard on people's reminiscences. Don't you know how
the mildest people are often disposed to make out that they were reckless
and daring scapegraces at school? That isn't a lie; it is imagination
working on very slender materials."
We laughed at this, and then Barthrop said, "Let me write to him, Father. I
won't be offensive."
"I know you wouldn't," said Father Payne; "but no one can help me. It's not
my fault, but my misfortune. It all comes of acting for the best. I ought
to have paid his debts, and made myself thoroughly unpleasant about it.
What I did was to be indulgent and sympathetic. It's all that accursed
sentimentality that does it. I have been trying to write a letter to him
all the morning, showing him up to himself without being brutal. But he
will only write back and say that I have made him miserable, and that I
have wholly misunderstood him: and then I shall explain and apologise; and
then he will take the money to show that he forgives me. I see a horrible
vista of correspondence ahead. After four or five letters, I shall not have
the remotest idea what it is all about, and he will be full of reproaches.
He will say that it isn't the first time that he has found how the increase
of wealth makes people ungenerous. Oh, don't I know every step of the way!
He is going to have the money, and he is going to put me in the wrong: that
is his plan, and it is going to come off. I shall be in the wrong: I feel
in the wrong already!"
"Then in that case there is certainly no necessity for losing the money
too!" said Rose.
"It's all very well for you to talk in that impersonal way, Rose," said
Father Payne. "Of course I know very well that you would handle the
situation kindly and decisively; but you don't know what it is to suffer
from politeness like a disease. I have done nothing wrong except that I
have been polite when I might have been dry. I see right through the man,
but he is absolutely impervious; and it is my accursed politeness that
makes it impossible for me to say bluntly what I know he will dislike and
what he genuinely will not understand. I know what you are thinking, every
one of you--that I say lots of things that you dislike--but then you
_do_ understand! I could no more tell this wretch the truth than I
could trample on a blind old man."
"What will you really do?" said Barthrop.
"I shall send him the money," said Father Payne firmly, "and I shall
compliment him on his delicacy; and then, thank God, I shall forget, until
it all begins again. I am a wretched old opportunist, of course; a sort of
Ally Sloper--not fit company for strong and concise young men!"
I do not remember what led to this remark of Father Payne's:--"It's a
painful fact, from the ethical point of view, that qualities are more
admired, and more beautiful indeed, the more instinctive they are. We don't
admire the faculty of taking pains very much. The industrious boy at school
is rather disliked than otherwise, while the brilliant boy who can construe
his lesson without learning it is envied. Take a virtue like courage: the
love of danger, the contempt of fear, the power of dashing headlong into a
thing without calculating the consequences is the kind of courage we
admire. The person who is timid and anxious, and yet just manages
desperately to screw himself up to the sticking-point, does not get nearly
as much credit as the bold devil-may-care person. It is so with most
performances; we admire ease and rapidity much more than perseverance and
tenacity, what obviously costs little effort rather than what costs a great
"We all rather tend to be bored by a display of regularity and discipline.
Do you remember that letter of Keats, where he confesses his intense
irritation at the way in which his walking companion, Brown, I think,
always in the evening got out his writing-materials in the same
order--first the paper, then the ink, then the pen. 'I say to him,' says
Keats, 'why not the pen sometimes first?' We don't like precision; look at
the word 'Methodist,' which originally was a nick-name for people of
strictly disciplined life. We like something a little more gay and
"Yet the power of forcing oneself by an act of will to do something
unpleasant is one of the finest qualities in the world. There is a story of
a man who became a Bishop. He was a delicate and sensitive fellow, much
affected by a crowd, and particularly by the sight of people passing in
front of him. He began his work by holding an enormous confirmation, and
five times in the course of it he actually had to retire to the vestry,
where he was physically sick. That's a heroic performance; but we admire
still more a bland and cheerful Bishop who is not sick, but enjoys a
"Surely that is all right, Father Payne?" said Barthrop. "When we see a
performance, we are concerned with appreciating the merit of it. A man with
a bad headache, however gallant, is not likely to talk as well as a man in
perfect health and high spirits; but if we are not considering the
performance, but the virtues of the performer, we might admire the man who
pumped up talk when he was feeling wretched more than the man from whom it
"The judicious Barthrop!" said Father Payne. "Yes, you are right--but for
all that we do not instinctively admire effort as much as we admire easy
brilliance. We are much more inclined to imitate the brilliant man than we
are to imitate the man who has painfully developed an accomplishment. The
truth is, we are all of us afraid of effort; and instinct is generally so
much more in the right than reason, that I end by believing that it is
better to live freely in our good qualities, than painfully to conquer our
bad qualities; not to take up work that we can't do from a sense of duty,
but to take up work that we can do from a sense of pleasure. I believe in
finding our real life more than in sticking to one that is not real for the
sake of virtue. Trained inclination is the secret. That is why I should
never make a soldier. I love being in a rage--no one more--it has all the
advantages and none of the disadvantages of getting drunk. But I can't do
it on the word of command."
"Isn't that what is called hedonism?" said Lestrange.
"You must not get in the way of calling names!" said Father Payne;
"hedonism is a word invented by Puritans to discourage the children of
light. It is not a question of doing what you like, but of liking what you
do. Of course everyone has got to choose--you can't gratify all your
impulses, because they thwart each other; but if you freely gratify your
finer impulses, you will have much less temptation to indulge your baser
inclinations. It is more important to have the steam up and to use the
brake occasionally, than never to have the steam up at all."
We had been listening to a paper by Kaye--a beautiful and fanciful piece of
work; when he finished, Father Payne said: "That's a charming thing,
Kaye--a little sticky in places, but still beautiful."
"It's not so good as I had hoped," said Kaye mildly.
"Oh, don't be humble," said Father Payne; "that's the basest of the
virtues, because it vanishes the moment you realise it! Make your bow like
a man. It may not be as good as you hoped--nothing ever is--but surely it
is better than you expected?"
Kaye blushed, and said, "Well, yes, it is."
"Now let me say generally," said Father Payne, "that in art you ought never
to undervalue your own work. You ought all to be able to recognise how far
you have done what you intended. The big men, like Tennyson and Morris,
were always quite prepared to praise their own work. They did it quite
modestly, more as if some piece of good fortune had befallen them than as
if they deserved credit. There's no such thing as taking credit to oneself
in art. What you try to do is always bound to be miles ahead of what you
can do--that is where the humility comes in. But a man who can't admire his
own work on occasions, can't admire anyone's work. If you do a really good
thing, you ought to feel as if you had been digging for diamonds and had
found a big one. Hang it, you _intend_ to make a fine thing! You are
not likely to be conceited about it, because you can't make a beautiful
thing every day; and the humiliation comes in when, after turning out a
good thing, you find yourself turning out a row of bad ones. The only
artists who are conceited are those who can't distinguish between what is
good and what is inferior in their own work. You must not expect much
praise, and least of all from other artists, because no artist is ever very
deeply interested in another artist's work, except in the work of the two
or three who can do easily what he is trying to do. But it is a deep
pleasure, which may be frankly enjoyed, to turn out a fine bit of work;
though you must not waste much time over enjoying it, because you have got
to go on to the next."
"I always think it must be very awful," said Vincent, "when it dawns upon a
man that his mind is getting stiff and his faculty uncertain, and that he
is not doing good work any more. What ought people to do about stopping?"
"It's very hard to say," said Father Payne. "The happiest thing of all is,
I expect, to die before that comes; and the next best thing is to know when
to stop and to want to stop. But many people get a habit of work, and fall
into dreariness without it."
"Isn't it better to go on with the delusion that you are just as good as
ever--like Wordsworth and Browning?" said Rose.
"No, I don't think that is better," said Father Payne, "because it means a
sort of blindness. It is very curious in the case of Browning, because he
learned exactly how to do things. He had his method, he fixed upon an
abnormal personality or a curious incident, and he turned it inside out
with perfect fidelity. But after a certain time in his life, the thing
became suddenly heavy and uninteresting. Something evaporated--I do not
know what! The trick is done just as deftly, but one is bored; one simply
doesn't care to see the inside of a new person, however well dissected.
There's no life, no beauty about the later things. Wordsworth is somehow
different--he is always rather noble and prophetic. The later poems are not
beautiful, but they issue from a beautiful idea--a passion of some kind.
But the later Browning poems are not passionate--they remind one of a
surgeon tucking up his sleeves for a set of operations. I expect that
Browning was too humble; he loved a gentlemanly convention, and Wordsworth
certainly did not do that. If you want to know how a poet should
_live_, read Dorothy Wordsworth's journals at Grasmere; if you want to
know how he should _feel_, read the letters of Keats."
I had been having some work looked over by Father Payne, who had been
somewhat trenchant. "You have been beating a broken drum, you know," he had
said, with a smile.
"Yes," I said. "It's poor stuff, I see. But I didn't know it was so bad
when I wrote it; I thought I was making the best of a poor subject rather
ingeniously. I am afraid I am rather stupid."
"If I thought you really felt like that," said Father Payne, "I should be
sorry for you. But I expect it is only your idea of modesty?"
"No," I said, "it isn't modesty--it's humility, I think."
"No one has any business to think himself humble," said Father Payne. "The
moment you do that, you are conceited. It's not a virtue to grovel. A man
ought to know exactly what he is worth. You needn't be always saying what
you are, worth, of course. It's modest to hold your tongue. But humility
is, or ought to be, extinct as a virtue. It belongs to the time when people
felt bound to deplore the corruption of their heart, and to speak of
themselves as worms, and to compare themselves despondently with God. That
in itself is a piece of insolence; and it isn't a wholesome frame of mind
to dwell on one's worthlessness, and to speak of one's righteousness as
filthy rags. It removes every stimulus to effort. If you really feel like
that, you had better take to your bed permanently--you will do less harm
there than pretending to do work in the value of which you don't believe."
"But what is the word for the feeling which one has when one reads a really
splendid book, let us say, or hears a perfect piece of music?" I said.
"Well, it ought to be gratitude and admiration," said Father Payne. "Why
mix yourself up with it at all?"
"Because I can't help it," I said; "I think of the way in which I muddle on
with my writing, and I feel how hopeless I am."
"That's all wrong, my boy," said Father Payne; "you ought to say to
yourself--'So that is _his_ way of putting things and, by Jove, it's
superb. Now I've got to find my way of putting things!' You had better go
and work in the fields like an honest man, if you don't feel you have got
anything to say worth saying. You have your own point of view, you know:
try and get it down on paper. It isn't exactly the same as, let us say,
Shakespeare's point of view: but if you feel that he has seen everything
worth seeing, and said everything worth saying, then, of course, it is no
good going on. But that is pure grovelling; no lively person ever does feel
that--he says, 'Hang it, he has left _some_ things out!' After all,
everyone has a right to his point of view, and if it can be expressed, why,
it is worth expressing. We want all the sidelights we can get."
"That's one comfort!" I said.
"Yes," said Father Payne, "but you know perfectly well that you knew it
before I told you. Why be so undignified? You need not want to astonish or
amuse the whole civilised world. You probably won't do that; but you can
fit a bit of the mosaic in, if you have it in you. Now look you here! I
know exactly what I am worth. I can't write--though I think I can when I'm
at it--but I can perceive, and see when a thing is amiss, and lay my finger
on a fault; I can be of some use to a fellow like yourself--and I can
manage an estate in my own way, and I can keep my tenants' spirits up. I
have got a perfectly definite use in the world, and I'm going to play my
part for all that I'm worth. I'm not going to pretend that I am a worm or
an outcast--I don't feel one; and I am as sure as I can be of anything,
that God does not wish me to feel one. He needs me; He can't get on without
me just here; and when He can, He will say the word. I don't think I am of
any far-reaching significance: but neither am I going to say that I am
nothing but vile earth and a miserable sinner. I'm lazy, I'm cross, I'm
unkind, I'm greedy: but I know when I am wasting time and temper, and I
don't do it all the time. It's no use being abject. The mistake is to go
about comparing yourself with other people and weighing yourself against
them. The right thing to do is to be able to recognise generously and
desirously when you see anyone doing something finely which you do badly,
and to say, 'Come, that's the right way! I must do better.' But to be
humble is to be grubby, because it makes one proud, in a nasty sort of way,
of doing things badly. 'What a poor creature I am,' says the humble man,
'and how nice to know that I am so poor a creature; how noble and unworldly
I am.' The mistake is to want to do a thing better than Smith or Jones: the
right way is to want to do it better than yourself."
"Yes," I said, "that's perfectly true, Father: and I won't be such a fool
"You haven't been a fool, so far as I am aware," said Father Payne. "It is
only that you are just a thought too polite. You mustn't be polite in mind,
you know--only in manners. Politeness only consists in not saying all you
think unless you are asked. But humility consists in trying to believe that
you think less than you think. It's like holding your nose, and saying that
the bad smell has gone--it is playing tricks with your mind: and if you get
into the way of doing that, you will find that your mind has a nasty way of
playing tricks upon you. Here! hold on! I am rapidly becoming like
Chadband! Send me Vincent, will you--there's a good man? He comes next."
Father Payne had told me that my writing was becoming too juicy and too
highly-scented. "You mustn't hide the underlying form," he said; "have
plenty of plain spaces. This sort of writing is only for readers who want
to be vaguely soothed and made to feel comfortable by a book--it's a
stimulant, it's not a food!"
"Yes," I said with a sigh, "I suppose you are right."
"Up to a certain point, I am right," he replied, "because you are in
training at present--and people in training have to do abnormal things: you
can't _live_ as if you were in training, of course; but when you begin
to work on your own account, you must find your own pace and your own
manner: and even now you needn't agree with me unless you like."
I determined, however, that I would give him something very different next
time. He suggested that I should write an essay on a certain writer of
fiction. I read the novels with great care, and I then produced the driest
and most technical criticism I could. I read it aloud to Father Payne a
month later. He heard it in silence, stroking his beard with his left hand,
as his manner was. When I had finished, he said: "Well, you have taken my
advice with a vengeance; and as an exercise--indeed, as a
_tour-de-force_--it is good. I didn't think you had it in you to
produce such a bit of anatomy. I think it's simply the most uninteresting
essay I ever heard in my life--chip, chip, chip, the whole time. It won't
do you any harm to have written it, but, of course, it's a mere caricature.
No conceivable reason could be assigned for your writing it. It's like the
burial of the dead--ashes to ashes, dust to dust!"
"I admit," I said, "that I did it on purpose, to show you how judicious I
"Oh yes," he said, "I quite realise that--and that's why I admire it. If
you had produced it as a real thing, and not by way of reprisal, I should
think very ill of your prospects. It's like the work of an analytical
chemist--I tell you what it's like, it's like the diagnosis of the symptoms
of some sick person of rank in a doctor's case-book! But, of course, you
know you mustn't write like that, as well as I do. There must be some
motive for writing, some touch of admiration and sympathy, something you
can show to other people which might escape them, and which is worth while
for them to see. In writing--at present, at all events--one can't be so
desperately scientific and technical as all that. I suppose that some day,
when we treat human thought and psychology scientifically, we shall have to
dissect like that; but even so, it will be in the interests of science, not
in the interests of literature. One must not confuse the two, and no doubt,
when we begin to analyse the development of human thought, its heredity,
its genesis and growth, we shall have a Shelley-culture in a test-tube, and
we shall be able to isolate a Browning-germ: but we haven't got there yet."
"In that case," I said, "I don't really see what was so wrong with my last
"Why, it was a mere extemporisation," said Father Payne; "a phrase
suggested a phrase, a word evoked a lot of other words--there was no real
connection of thought. It was pretty enough, but you were not even roving
from one place to another, you were just drifting with the stream. Now this
last essay is purely business-like. You have analysed the points--but
there's no beauty or pleasure in it. It is simply what an engineer might
say to an engineer about the building of a bridge. Mind, I am not finding
fault with your essay. You did what you set out to do, and you have done it
well. I only say there is not any conceivable reason why it should have
been written, and there is every conceivable reason why it should not be
"It was just an attempt," I said, "to see the points and to disentangle
"Yes, yes," said Father Payne; "I see that, and I give you full credit for
it. But, after all, you must look on writing as a species of human
communication. The one reason for writing is that the writer sees something
which other people overlook, perceives the beauty and interest of it, gets
behind it, sees the quality of it, and how it differs from other similar
things. If the writer is worth anything, his subject must be so interesting
or curious or beautiful to himself that he can't help setting it down. The
motive of it all must be the fact that he is interested--not the hope of
interesting other people. You must risk that, though the more you are
interested, the better is your chance of interesting others. Then the next
point is that things mustn't be presented in a cold and abstract light--you
have done that here--it must be done as you see it, not as a photographic
plate records it: and that is where the personality of the artist comes in,
and where writers are handicapped, according as they have or have not a
personal charm. That is the unsolved mystery of writing--the personal
charm: apart from that there is little in it. A man may see a thing with
hideous distinctness, but he may not be able to invest it with charm: and
the danger of charm is that some people can invest very shallow, muddled,
and shabby thinking with a sort of charm. It is like a cloak, if I may say
so. If I wear an old cloak, it looks shabby and disgraceful, as it is. But
if I lend it to a shapely and well-made friend, it gets a beauty from the
wearer. There are men I know who can tell me a story as old as the hills,
and yet make it fresh and attractive. Look at that delicious farrago of
nonsense and absurdity, Ruskin's _Fors Clavigera_. He crammed in
anything that came into his head--his reminiscences, scraps out of old
dreary books he had read, paragraphs snipped out of the papers. There's no
order, no sequence about it, and yet it is irresistible. But then Ruskin
had the charm, and managed to pour it into all that he wrote. He is always
_there_, that whimsical, generous, perverse, affectionate, afflicted,
pathetic creature, even in the smallest scrap of a letter or the dreariest
old tag of quotation. But you and I can't play tricks like that. You are
sometimes there, I confess, in what you write, while I am never there in
anything that I write. What I want to teach you to do is to be really
yourself in all that you write."
"But isn't it apt to be very tiresome," said I, "if the writer is always
"Yes, if he obtrudes himself, of course he is tiresome," said Father Payne.
"But look at Ruskin again. I imagine, from all that I read about him, that
if he was present at a gathering, he was the one person whom everyone
wanted to hear. If he was sulky or silent, it was everyone's concern to
smoothe him down--if _only_ he would talk. What you must learn to do
is to give exactly as much of yourself as people want. But it must be a
transfusion of yourself, not a presentment, I don't imagine that Ruskin
always talked about himself--he talked about what interested him, and
because he saw five times as much as anyone else saw in a picture, and
about three times as much as was ever there, it was fascinating: but the
primary charm was in Ruskin himself. Don't you know the curious delight of
seeing a house once inhabited by anyone whom one has much admired and
loved? However dull and commonplace it is, you keep on saying to yourself,
'That was what his eyes rested on, those were the books he handled; how
could he bear to have such curtains, how could he endure that wallpaper?'
The most hideous things become interesting, because he tolerated them. In
writing, all depends upon how much of what is interesting, original,
emphatic, charming in yourself you can communicate to what you are writing.
It has got to _live_; that is the secret of the commonplace and even
absurd books which reviewers treat with contempt, and readers buy in
thousands. They have _life!_"
"But that is very far from being art, isn't it?" I said.
"Of course!" said Father Payne, "but the use of art, as I understand it, is
just that--that all you present shall have life, and that you should learn
not to present what has not got life. Why I objected to your last essay was
because you were not alive in it: you were just echoing and repeating
things: you seemed to me to be talking in your sleep. Why I object to this
essay is that you are too wide awake--you are just talking shop."
"I confess I rather despair," I said.
"What rubbish!" said Father Payne; "all I want you to do is to _live_
in your ideas--make them your own, don't just slop them down without having
understood or felt them. I'll tell you what you shall do next. You shall
just put aside all this dreary collection of formulae and scalpel-work, and
you shall write me an essay on the whole subject, saying the best that you
feel about it all, not the worst that a stiff intelligence can extract from
it. Don't be pettish about it! I assure you I respect your talent very
much. I didn't think it was in you to produce anything so loathsomely
OF THE SENSE OF BEAUTY
There had been some vague ethical discussion during dinner in which Father
Payne had not intervened; but he suddenly joined in briskly, though I don't
remember who or what struck the spark out. "You are running logic too
hard," he said; "the difficulty with all morality is not to know where it
is to begin, but where it is to stop."
"I didn't know it had to stop," said Vincent; "I thought it had to go on."
"Yes, but not as morality," said Father Payne; "as instinct and
feeling--only very elementary people indeed obey rules, _because_ they
are rules. The righteous man obeys them because on the whole he agrees with
"But in one sense it isn't possible to be too good?" said Vincent.
"No," said Father Payne, "not if you are sure what good is--but it is quite
easy to be too righteous, to have too many rules and scruples--not to live
your own life at all, but an anxious, timid, broken-winged sort of life,
like some of the fearful saints in the _Pilgrim's Progress_, who got
no fun out of the business at all. Don't you remember what Mr. Feeblemind
says? I can't quote--it's a glorious passage."
Barthrop slipped out and fetched a _Pilgrim's Progress_, which he put
over Father Payne's shoulder. "Thank you, old man," said Father Payne,
"that's very kind of you--that is morality translated into feeling!"
He turned over the pages, and read the bit in his resonant voice:
"'I am, as I said, a man of a weak and feeble mind, and shall be offended
and made weak at that which others can bear. I shall like no Laughing: I
shall like no gay Attire: I shall like no unprofitable Questions. Nay, I am
so weak a man, as to be offended with that which others have a liberty to
do. I do not know all the truth: I am a very ignorant Christian man;
sometimes, if I hear some rejoice in the Lord, it troubles me, because I
cannot do so too.'"
"There," he said, "that's very good writing, you know--full of
freshness--but you are not meant to admire the poor soul: _that's_ not
the way to go on pilgrimage! There is something wrong with a man's
religion, if it leaves him in that state. I don't mean that to be happy is
always a sign of grace--it often is simply a lack of sympathy and
imagination; but to be as good as Mr. Feeblemind, and at the same time as
unhappy, is a clear sign that something is wrong. He is like a dog that
_will_ try to get through a narrow gap with a stick in his mouth--he
can't make out why he can't do his duty and bring the stick--it catches on
both sides, and won't let him through. He knows it is his business to bring
the thing back at once, but he is prevented in some mysterious way. It
doesn't occur to him to put the stick down, get through himself, and then
pull it through by the end. That is why our duty is often so hard, because
we think we ought to do it simply and directly, when it really wants a
little adjusting--we regard the momentary precept, not the ultimate
"But what is to tell us where to draw the line," said Vincent, "and when to
disregard the precept?"
"Ah," said Father Payne, "that's my great discovery, which no one else will
ever recognise--that is where the sense of beauty comes in!"
"I don't see that the sense of beauty has anything to do with morality,"
"Ah, but that is because you are at heart a Puritan," said Father Payne;
"and the mistake of all Puritans is to disregard the sense of beauty--all
the really great saints have felt about morality as an artist feels about
beauty. They don't do good things because they are told to do them, but
because they feel them to be beautiful, splendid, attractive; and they
avoid having anything to do with evil things, because such things are ugly
"But when you have to do a thoroughly disagreeable thing," said Vincent,
"there often isn't anything beautiful about it either way. I'll give you a
small instance. Some months ago I had been engaged for a fortnight to go to
a thoroughly dull dinner-party with some dreary relations of mine, and a
man asked me to come and dine at his club and meet George Meredith, whom I
would have given simply anything to meet. Of course I couldn't do it--I had
to go on with the other thing. I had to do what I hated, without the
smallest hope of being anything but fearfully bored: and I had to give up
doing what would have interested me more than anything in the world. Of
course, that is only a small instance, but it will suffice."
"It all depends on how you behaved at your dinner-party when you got
there," said Father Payne, smiling; "were you sulky and cross, or were you
civil and decent?"
"I don't know," said Vincent; "I expect I was pretty much as usual. After
all, it wasn't their fault!"
"You are all right, my boy," said Father Payne; "you have got the sense of
beauty right enough, though you probably call it by some uncomfortable
name. I won't make you blush by praising you, but I give you a good mark
for the whole affair. If you had excused yourself, or asked to be let off,
or told a lie, it would have been ugly. What you did was in the best taste:
and that is what I mean. The ugly thing is to clutch and hold on. You did
more for yourself by being polite and honest than even George Meredith
could have done for you. What I mean by the sense of beauty, as applied to
morality, is that a man must be a gentleman first, and a moralist
afterwards, if he can. It is grabbing at your own sense of righteousness,
if you use it to hurt other people. Your own complacency of conscience is
not as important as the duty of not making other people uncomfortable. Of
course there are occasions when it is right to stand up to a moral bully,
and then you may go for him for all you are worth: but these cases are
rare; and what you must not do is to get into the way of a sort of moral
skirmishing. In ordinary life, people draw their lines in slightly
different places according to preference: you must allow for temperament.
You mustn't interfere with other people's codes, unless you are prepared to
be interfered with. It is impossible to be severely logical. Take a thing
like the use of money: it is good to be generous, but you mustn't give away
what you can't afford, because then your friends have to pay your bills.
What everyone needs is something to tell him when he must begin practising
a virtue, and when to stop practising it. You may say that common sense
does that. Well, I don't think it does! I know sensible people who do very
brutal things: there must be something finer than common sense: it must be
a mixture of sense and sympathy and imagination, and delicacy and humour
and tact--and I can't find a better way of expressing it than to call it a
sense of beauty, a faculty of judging, in a fine, sweet-tempered, gentle,
quiet way, with a sort of instinctive prescience as to where the ripples of
what you do and say will spread to, and what sort of effect they will
produce. That's the right sort of virtue--attractive virtue--which makes
other people wish to behave likewise. I don't say that a man who lives like
that can avoid suffering: he suffers a good deal, because he sees ugly
things going on all about him; but he doesn't cause suffering--unless he
intends to--and even so he doesn't like doing it. He is never spiteful or
jealous. He often makes mistakes, but he recognises them. He doesn't erect
barriers between himself and other people. He isn't always exactly popular,
because many people hate superiority whenever they see it: but he is
trusted and loved and even taken advantage of, because he doesn't go in for
"But if you haven't got this sense of beauty," said Vincent, "how are you
to get it?"
"By admiring it," said Father Payne. "I don't say that the people who have
got it are conscious of it--in fact they are generally quite unconscious of
it. Do you remember what Shelley--who was, I think, one of the people who
had the sense of beauty as strongly as anyone who ever lived--what he said
to Hogg, when Hogg told him how he had shut up an impertinent young
ruffian? 'I wish I could be as exclusive as you are,' said Shelley with a
sigh, feeling, no doubt, a sense of real failure--'but I cannot!' Shelley's
weakness was a much finer thing than Hogg's strength. I don't say that
Shelley was perfect: his imagination ran away with him to an extent that
may be called untruthful; he idealised people, and then threw them over
when he discovered them to be futile; but that is the right kind of mistake
to make: the wrong kind of mistake is to see people too clearly, and to
take for granted that they are not as delightful as they seem."
"You mean that if one must choose," said Vincent, "it is better to be a
fool than a knave."
"Why, of course," said Father Payne; "but don't call it 'a fool'--call it
'a child': that's the kind of beauty I mean, the unsuspicious, guileless,
trustful, affectionate temper--that to begin with: and you must learn, as
you go on, a quality which the child has not always got--a sense of humour.
That is what experience ought to give you--a power, that is, of seeing what
is really there, and of being more amused than shocked by it. That helps
you to distinguish real knavishness from childish faults. A great many of
the absurd, perverse, unkind, unpleasant things which people do are not
knavish at all--they are silly, selfish little diplomacies, guileless
obedience to conventions, unreasonable deference to imaginary authority.
People don't mean any harm by such tricks--they are the subterfuges of
weakness: but when you come upon real cynical deliberate knavishness--that
is different. There's nothing amusing about that. But you must be indulgent
to weakness, and only severe with strength."
"I'm getting a little confused," said Vincent.
"Not as much as I am," said Father Payne; "I don't know where I have got
to, I am sure. I seem to have changed hares! But one thing does emerge, and
that is, that a sort of inspired good taste is the only thing which can
regulate morals. The root of all morals is ultimately beauty. Why are we
not all as greedy and dirty as the old cave-men? For the simple reason that
something, for which he was not responsible, began to work in the caveman's
mind. He said to himself, 'This is not the way to behave: it would be nicer
not to have killed Mary when I was angry.' And then, when that impulse is
once started, human beings go too fast, and want to carry out their new
discoveries of rules and principles too far: and you must have a regulating
force: and if you can find a better force than the instinct for what is
beautiful, tell me, and I'll undertake to talk for at least as long about
it. I must stop! My sense of beauty warns me that I am becoming a bore."
Father Payne broke out suddenly after dinner to two or three of us about a
book he had been reading.
"It's called a _Life_," he said, "at the top of every page almost. I
don't wonder the author felt it necessary to remind you--or perhaps he was
reminding himself? I can see him," said Father Payne, "saying to himself
with a rueful expression, 'This is a Life, undoubtedly!' Why, the waxworks
of Madame Tussaud are models of vivacity and agility compared to it. I
never set eyes on such a book!"
"Why on earth did you go on reading it?" said I.
"Well may you ask!" said Father Payne. "It's one of my weaknesses; if I
begin a book, I can put it down if it is moderately good; but if it is
either very good or very bad, I can't get out of it--I feel like a wasp in
a honey-pot. I make faint sticky motions of flight--but on I go."
"Whose life was it?" I said, laughing.
"I hardly know," said Father Payne. "It leaves on my mind the impression of
his having been a decent old party enough. I think he must have been a
general merchant--he seems to have had pretty nearly everything on hand. He
wrote books, I gather"; and Father Payne groaned.
"What were they about?" I said.
"I don't know, I'm sure," said Father Payne. "History and stuff--literary
essays, and people's influence, perhaps. He went in for accounting for
things, I fancy, and explaining things away. There were extracts which
alienated my attention faster than any extracts I ever read. I could not
keep my mind on them. God preserve me from ever falling in with any of his
books; I should spend days in reading them! He travelled too--he was always
travelling. Why couldn't he leave Europe alone? He has left his trail all
over Europe, like a snail. He has defiled all the finest scenery on the
Continent. But, by Jove, he met his match in his biographer; he has been
accounted for all right. And yet I feel that it was rather hard on him. If
_he_ could have held his tongue about things in general, and if his
biographer could have held his tongue about _him_, it would have been
all right. He did no harm, so far as I can make out--he was honest and
upright; he would have done very well as a trustee."
Father Payne stopped, and looked round with a melancholy air. "I have
gathered," he said, "after several hours' reading, three interesting facts
about him. The first is that he wore rather loud checks--I liked that--I
detected a touch of vanity in that. The second is that he was fond of
quoting poetry, and the moment he did so, his voice became wholly inaudible
from emotion--that's a good touch. And the third is that, if he had a guest
staying with him, he used to talk continuously in the smoking-room, light
his candle, go on talking, walk away talking--by Jove, I can hear him doing
it--all up the stairs, along the passage to his bedroom--talk, talk,
talk--in they went--then he used to begin to undress--no escape--I can hear
his voice muffled as he pulled off his shirt--off went his socks--talking
still--then he would actually get into bed--more explanations, more
quotations, I wonder how the guest got away; that isn't related--in the
intervals of an inaudible quotation, perhaps? What do you think?"
We exploded in laughter, in which Father Payne joined. Then he said: "But
look here, you know, it's not really a joke--it's horribly serious! A man
ought really to be prosecuted for writing such a book. That is the worst of
English people, that they have no idea who deserves a biography and who
does not. It isn't enough to be a rich man, or a public man, or a man of
virtue. No one ought to be written about, simply because he has _done_
things. He must be content with that. No one should have a biography unless
he was either beautiful or picturesque or absurd, just as no one should
have a portrait painted unless he is one of the three. Now this poor
fellow--I daresay there were people who loved him--think what their
feelings must be at seeing him stuffed and set up like this! A biography
must be a work of art--it ought not to be a post-dated testimonial! Most of
us are only fit, when we have finished our work, to go straight into the
waste-paper basket. The people who deserve biographies are the vivid, rich,
animated natures who lived life with zest and interest. There are a good
many such men, who can say vigorous, shrewd, lively, fresh things in talk,
but who cannot express themselves in writing. The curse of most biographies
is the letters; not many people can write good letters, and yet it becomes
a sacred duty to pad a Life out with dull and stodgy documents; it is all
so utterly inartistic and decorous and stupid. A biography ought to be well
seasoned with faults and foibles. That is the one encouraging thing about
life, that a man can have plenty of failings and still make a fine business
out of it all. Yet it is regarded as almost treacherous to hint at
imperfections. Now if I had had our friend the general merchant to
biographise, I would have taken careful notes of his talk while
undressing--there's something picturesque about that! I would have told how
he spent his day, how he looked and moved, ate and drank. A real portrait
of an uninteresting man might be quite a treasure."
"Yes, but you know it wouldn't do," said Barthrop; "his friends would be
out at you like a swarm of wasps."
"Oh, I know that," said Father Payne. "It is all this infernal
sentimentality which spoils everything; as long as we think of the dead as
elderly angels hovering over us while we pray, there is nothing to be done.
If we really believe that we migrate out of life into an atmosphere of mild
piety, and lose all our individuality at once, then, of course, the less
said the better. As long as we hold that, then death must remain as the
worst of catastrophes for everyone concerned. The result of it all is that
a bad biography is the worst of books, because it quenches our interest in
life, and makes life insupportably dull. The first point is that the
biographer is infinitely more important than his subject. Look what an
enchanting book Carlyle made out of the Life of Sterling. Sterling was a
man of real charm who could only talk. He couldn't write a line. His
writings are pitiful. Carlyle put them all aside with a delicious irony;
and yet he managed to depict a swift, restless, delicate, radiant creature,
whom one loves and admires. It is one of the loveliest books ever written.
But, on the other hand, there are hundreds of fine creatures who have been
hopelessly buried for ever and ever under their biographies--the sepulchre
made sure, the stone sealed, and the watch set."
"But there are some good biographies?" said Barthrop.
"About a dozen," said Father Payne. "I won't give a list of them, or I
should become like our friend the merchant. I feel it coming on, by Jove--I
feel like accounting for things and talking you all up to my bedroom."
"But what can be done about it all?" I said.
"Nothing whatever, my boy," said Father Payne; "as long as people are not
really interested in life, but in money and committees, there is nothing to
be done. And as long as they hold things sacred, which means a strong
dislike of the plain truth, it's hopeless. If a man is prepared to write a
really veracious biography, he must also be prepared to fly for his life
and to change his name. Public opinion is for sentiment and against truth;
and you must change public opinion. But, oh dear me, when I think of the
fascination of real personality, and the waste of good material, and the
careful way in which the pious biographer strains out all the meat and
leaves nothing but a thin and watery decoction, I could weep over the
futility of mankind. The dread of being interesting or natural, the
adoration of pomposity and full dress, the sickening love of romance, the
hatred of reality--oh, it's a deplorable world!"
"I wonder," said Father Payne one day at dinner, "whether any nation's
proverbs are such a disgrace to them as our national proverbs are to us.
Ours are horribly Anglo-Saxon and characteristic. They seem to me to have
been all invented by a shrewd, selfish, complacent, suspicious old farmer,
in a very small way of business, determined that he will not be
over-reached, and equally determined, too, that he will take full advantage
of the weakness of others. 'Charity begins at home,' 'Possession is nine
points of the law,' 'Don't count your chickens before they are hatched,'
'When poverty comes in at the door, love flies out of the window.' They are
all equally disgraceful. They deride all emotion, they despise imagination,
they are unutterably low and hard, and what is called sensible; they are
frankly unchristian as well as ungentlemanly. No wonder we are called a
nation of shopkeepers."
"But aren't we a great deal better than our proverbs?" said Barthrop: "do
they really express anything more than a contempt for weakness and
"Yes," said Father Payne, "but I don't like them any better for that. Why
should we be ashamed of all our better feelings? I admit that we have a
sense of justice; but that only means that we care for material possessions
so much that we are afraid not to admit that others have the right to do
the same. The real obstacle to socialism in England is the sense of
sanctity about a man's savings. The moment that a man has saved a few
pounds, he agrees to any legislation that allows him to hold on to them."
"But aren't we, behind all that," said Barthrop, "an intensely sentimental
"Yes," said Father Payne, "but that's a fault really--we don't believe in
real justice, only in picturesque justice. We are hopeless individualists.
We melt into tears over a child that is lost, or a dog that howls; and we
let all sorts of evil systems and arrangements grow and flourish. We can't
think algebraically, only arithmetically. We can be kind to a single case
of hardship; we can't take in a widespread system of oppression. We are
improving somewhat; but it is always the particular case that affects us,
and not the general principle."
"But to go back to our sense of possession," I said, "is that really much
more than a matter of climate? Does it mean more than this, that we, in a
temperate climate inclining to cold, need more elaborate houses and more
heat-producing food than nations who live in warmer climates? Are not the
nations who live in warmer climates less attached to material things simply
because they are less important?"
"There is something in that, no doubt," said Father Payne. "Of course,
where nature is more hostile to life, men will have to work longer hours to
support life than where 'the spicy breezes blow soft o'er Ceylon's isle.'
But it isn't that of which I complain--it is the awful sense of
respectability attaching to possessions, the hideous way in which we fill
our houses with things which we do not want or use, just because they are a
symbol of respectability. We like hoarding, and we like luxuries, not
because we enjoy them, but because we like other people to know that we can
pay for them. I do not imagine that there is any nation in the world whose
hospitality differs so much from the mode in which people actually live as
ours does. In a sensible society, if we wanted to see our friends, we
should ask them to bring their cold mutton round, and have a picnic. What
we do actually do is to have a meal which we can't afford, and which our
guests know is not in the least like our ordinary meals; and then we expect
to be asked back to a similarly ostentatious banquet."
"But isn't there something," said Barthrop, "in Dr. Johnson's dictum, that
a meal was good enough to eat, but not good enough to ask a man to? Isn't
it a good impulse to put your best before a guest?"
"Oh, no doubt," said Father Payne, "but there's a want of simplicity about
it if you only want to entertain people in order that they may see you do
it, and not because you want to see them. It's vulgar, somehow--that's what
I suspect our nation of being. Our inability to speak frankly of money is
another sign. We do money too much honour by being so reticent about it.
The fact is that it is the one sacred subject among us. People are reticent
about religion and books and art, because they are not sure that other
people are interested in them. But they are reticent about money as a
matter of duty, because they are sure that everyone is deeply interested.
People talk about money with nods and winks and hints--those are all the
signs of a sacred mystery!"
"Well, I wonder," said Barthrop, "whether we are as base as you seem to
"I will tell you when I will change my mind," said Father Payne; "all the
talk of noble aims and strong purposes will not deceive me. What would
convert me would be if I saw generous giving a custom so common that it
hardly excited remark. You see a few generous _wills_--but even then a
will which leaves money to public purposes is generally commented upon; and
it almost always means, too, if you look into it, that a man has had no
near relations, and that he has stuck to his money and the power it gives
him during his life. If I could see a few cases of men impoverishing
themselves and their families in their lifetime for public objects; if I
saw evidence of men who have heaped up wealth content to let their children
start again in the race, and determined to support the State rather than
the family; if I could hear of a rich man's children beseeching their
father to endow the State rather than themselves, and being ready to work
for a livelihood rather than to receive an inherited fortune; if I could
hear of a few rich men living simply and handing out their money for
general purposes,--then I would believe! But none of these things is
anything but a rare exception; a man who gives away his fortune, as Ruskin
did, in great handfuls, is generally thought to be slightly crazy; and,
speaking frankly, the worth of a man seems to depend not upon what he has
given to the world, but upon what he has gained from the world. You may say
it is a rough test;--so it is! But when we begin to feel that a man is
foolish in hoarding and wise in lavishing, instead of being foolish in
lavishing and wise in hoarding, then, and not till then, shall I believe
that we are a truly great nation. At present the man whom we honour most is
the man who has been generous to public necessities, and has yet retained a
large fortune for himself. That is the combination which we are not ashamed
We were walking together, Father Payne and I. It was in the early summer--a
still, hot day. The place, as I remember it, was very beautiful. We crossed
the stream by a little foot-bridge, and took a bypath across the meadows;
up the slope you came to a beautiful bit of old forest country, the trees
of all ages, some of them very ancient; there were open glades running into
the heart of the woodland, with thorn thickets and stretches of bracken.
Hidden away in the depth of the woods, and approached only by green rides,
were the ruins of what must have been a big old Jacobean mansion; but
nothing remained of it except some grassy terraces, a bit of a fine facade
of stone with empty windows, half-hidden in ivy, and some tall stone
chimney-stacks. The forest lay silent and still; and, along one of the
branching rides, you could discern far away a glimpse of blue hills. The
scene was so entirely beautiful that we had gradually ceased to talk, and
had given ourselves up to the sweet and quiet influence of the place.
We stood for awhile upon one of the terraces, looking at the old house, and
Father Payne said, "I'm not sure that I approve of the taste for ruins;
there is something to be said for a deserted castle, because it is a
reminder that we do not need to safeguard ourselves so much against each
others' ill-will; but a roofless church or a crumbling house--there's
something sad about them. It seems to me a little like leaving a man
unburied in order that we may come and sentimentalise over his bones. It
means, this house, the decay of an old centre of life--there's nothing evil
or cruel about it, as there is about a castle; and I am not sure that it
ought not to be either repaired or removed--
"'And doorways where a bridegroom trode
Stand open to the peering air.'"
"I don't know," I said; "I'm sure that this is somehow beautiful. Can't one
feel that nature is half-tender, half-indifferent to our broken designs?"
"Perhaps," said Father Payne, "but I don't like being reminded of death and
waste--I don't want to think that they can end by being charming--the
vanity of human wishes is more sad than picturesque. I think Dr. Johnson
was right when he said, 'After all, it is a sad thing that a man should lie
down and die.'"
A little while afterwards he said, "How strange it is that the loneliness
of this place should be so delightful! I like my fellow-beings on the
whole--I don't want to avoid them or to abolish them--but yet it is one of
the greatest luxuries in the world to find a place where one is pretty sure
of not meeting one of them."
"Yes," I said, "it is very odd! I have been feeling to-day that I should
like time to stand still this summer afternoon, and to spend whole days in
rambling about here. I won't say," I said with a smile, "that I should
prefer to be quite alone; but I shouldn't mind even that in a place like
this. I never feel like that in a big town--there is always a sense of
hostile currents there. To be alone in a town is always rather melancholy;
but here it is just the reverse."
"Indeed, yes," said Father Payne, "and it is one of the great mysteries of
all to me what we really want with company. It does not actually take away
from us our sense of loneliness at all. You can't look into my mind, nor
can I look into yours; whatever we do or say to break down the veil between
us, we can't do it. And I have often been happier when alone than I have
ever been in any company."
"Isn't it a sense of security?" I said; "I suppose that it is an instinct
derived from old savage days which makes us dread other human beings. The
further back you go, the more hatred and mistrust you find; and I suppose
that the presence of a friend, or rather of someone with whom one has a
kind of understanding, gives a feeling of comparative safety against
"That's it, no doubt," said Father Payne; "but if I had to choose between
spending the rest of my life in solitude, or in spending it without a
chance of solitude, I should be in a great difficulty. I am afraid that I
regard company rather as a wholesome medicine against the evils of solitude
than I regard solitude as a relief from company. After all, what is it that
we want with each other?--what do we expect to get from each other? I
remember," he said, smiling, "a witty old lady saying to me once that
eternity was a nightmare to her.--'For instance,' she said, 'I enjoy
sitting here and talking to you very much; but if I thought it was going on
to all eternity, I shouldn't like it at all.' Do we really want the company
of any one for ever and ever? And if so, why? Do we want to agree or to
disagree? Is the point of it that we want similarity or difference? Do we
want to hear about other people's experiences, or do we simply want to tell
our own? Is the desire, I mean, for congenial company anything more than
the pleasure of seeing our own thoughts and ideas reflected in the minds of
others; or is it a real desire to alter our own thoughts and ideas by
comparing them with the experiences of others? Why do we like books, for
instance? Isn't it more because we recognise our own feelings than because
we make acquaintance with unfamiliar feelings? It comes to this? Can we
really ever gain an idea, or can we only recognise our own ideas?"
"It is very difficult," I said; "if I answered hastily, I should say that I
liked being with you because you give me many new ideas; but if I think
about it, it seems to me that it is only because you make me recognise my
"Yes," said Father Payne, "I think that is so. If I see another man
behaving well where I should behave ill, I recognise that I have all the
elements in my own mind for doing the same, but that I have given undue
weight to some of them and not enough weight to others. I don't think, on
the whole, that anyone can give one a new idea; he can only help one to a
sense of proportion. But I want to get deeper than that. You and I are
friends--at least I think so; but what exactly do we give each other? How
do you affect my solitude, or I yours? I'm blessed if I know. It looks to
me, indeed, as if you and I might be parts of one great force, one great
spirit, and that we recognise our unity, through some material condition
which keeps us apart. I am not sure that it isn't only the body that
divides us, and that we are a part of the same thing behind it all."
"But why, if that is so," said I, "do we feel a sense of unity with some
people, and not at all with others? There are people, I mean, with whom I
feel that I have simply nothing in common, and that our spirits could not
possibly mix or blend. With you, to speak frankly, it is different. I feel
as though I had known you far longer than a few months, and should never be
in any real doubt about you. I recognise myself in you and yourself in me.
But there are many people in whom I don't recognise myself at all."
Father Payne put his arm through mine, "Well, old man," he said, "we must
be content to have found each other, but we mustn't give up trying to find
other people too. I think that is what civilisation means--a mutual
recognition--we're only just at the start of it, you know. I'm in no doubt
as to what you give me--it's a sense of trust. When I think about you, I
feel, 'Come, there is someone at all events who will try to understand me
and to forgive me and to share his best with me'--but even so, my boy, I
shall enjoy being alone sometimes. I shall want to get away from everyone,
even from you! There are thoughts I cannot share with you, because I want
you to think better of me than I do of myself. I suppose that is
vanity--but still old Wordsworth was right when he wrote:
"'And many love me; but by none
Am I enough beloved.'"
OF THE WRITER'S LIFE
I was walking once with Father Payne in the fields, and he was talking
about the difficulties of the writer's life. He said that the great problem
for all industrious writers was how to work in such a way as not to be a
nuisance to the people they lived with. "Of course men vary very much in
their habits," he said; "but if you look at the lives of authors, they
often seem tiresome people to get on with. The difficulty is mostly this,"
he went on, "that a writer can't write to any purpose for more than about
three hours a day--if he works really hard, even that is quite enough to
tire him out. Think what the brain is doing--it is concentrated on some
idea, some scene, some situation. Take a novelist: he has to have a picture
in his mind all the time--a clear visualisation of a place--a room, a
garden, a wood; then he must know how his people move and look and speak,
and he has to fly backwards and forwards from one to another; then he has
the talk to create, and he has to be always rejecting thoughts and
impressions and words, good enough in themselves, but not characteristic.
It is a fearful strain on imagination and emotion, on phrase-making and
word-finding. The real wonder is not that a few people can do it better
than others, but that anyone can do it at all. The difference between the
worst novelist and the best is much less than the difference between the
worst novelist and the person who can't write at all.
"Well, then, there is such a thing as inspiration; most creative writers
get a book in their minds, and can think of nothing else, day and night,
while it is on. The difficulty is to know what a writer is to do in the
intervals between his books, and in the hours in which he is not writing.
He has got to take it easy somehow, and the question is what is he to do.
He can't, as a rule, do much in the way of hard exercise. Violent exercise
in the open air is pleasant enough, but it leaves the brain torpid and
stagnant. A man who really makes a business of writing has got to live
through ten or twelve hours of a day when he isn't writing. He can't afford
to read very much--at least he can't afford to read authors whom he
admires, because they affect his style. There is something horribly
contagious about style, because it is often much easier to do a thing in
someone else's way than to do it in one's own. Pater was asked once if he
had read Stevenson or Kipling, I forget which--'Oh no, I daren't!' he said,
'I have peeped into him occasionally, but I can't afford to read him. I
have learnt exactly how I can approach and develop a subject, and if I
looked to see how he does it, I should soon lose my power. The man with a
style is debarred from reading fine books unless they are on lines entirely
apart from his own.' That is perfectly true, I expect. There is nothing so
dreadful as reading a writer whom one likes, and seeing that he has got
deflected from his manner by reading some other craftsman. The effect is a
very subtle one. If you really want to see that sort of sympathy at work,
you should look at Ruskin's letters--his letters are deeply affected by the
correspondent to whom he is writing. If he wrote to Carlyle or to Browning,
he wrote like Carlyle and Browning, because, as he wrote, they were
strongly in his mind.
"With a painter or a musician it is different--a lot of hand-work comes in
which relieves the brain, so that they can work longer hours. But a writer,
as a rule, while he is writing, can't even afford to talk very much to
interesting people, because talking is hard work too.
"Well, then, a writer, as an artistic person, is rather easily bored. He
likes vivid sensations and emphatic preferences--and it is not really good
for him to be bored; a man may read the paper, write a few letters, stroll,
garden, chatter--but if he takes his writing seriously, he must somehow be
fresh for it. It isn't easy to combine writing with any other occupation,
and it leaves many hours unoccupied.
"Carlyle is a terrible instance, because he was wretched and depressed when
he was not writing; he was melancholy, peevish, physically unwell; and when
he was writing, he was wholly absorbed very impatient of his labour, and
most intolerable. Indeed, it does not look as if the home lives of writers
have generally been very happy--there is too often a patent conspiracy to
keep the great irritable babyish giant amused--and that's a bad atmosphere
for anyone to live in--an unreal, a royal sort of atmosphere, of
I said something about Walter Scott. "Ah yes," said Father Payne, "but
Scott's work was amazing--it just seemed to overflow from a gigantic
reservoir of vitality. He could do his day's work in the early hours, and
then tramp about all day, chattering, farming, planting,
entertaining--endlessly good-humoured. Of course he wore himself out at
last by perfectly ghastly work--most of it very poor stuff. Browning and
Thackeray were men of the same sort, sociable, genial, exuberant. They
overflowed too--they didn't batter things out.
"But, as a rule, most men who want to do good work, must be content to
potter about, and seem lazy and even self-indulgent. And one of the reasons
why many men who start as promising writers come to nothing is because they
can't be inert, acquiescent, easy-going. I have often thought that a good
novel might be written about the wife of a great writer, who marries him,
dazzled by his brilliance and then finds him to be a petty, suspicious,
wayward sort of child, with all his force lying in one supreme faculty of
vision and expression. It must be a fiery trial to see deep, wise,
beautiful things produced by a man who can't _live_ his thoughts--can
only write them."
"But what should a man _do_?" I said.
"Well," said Father Payne, "I think, as a practical matter, it would be a
good thing to cultivate a hobby of a manual kind--and also, above all, the
power of genial loafing. Of course, the real pity is that we are not all
taught to do some house-work as a matter of course--we depend too much on
servants, and house-work is the natural and amusing outlet of our physical
energies; as it is, we specialise too much, and half of our maladies and
discomforts and miseries are due to that--that we work a part of ourselves
too hard, and the other parts not hard enough. The thing to aim at is
equanimity, and the existence of unsatisfied instincts in us is what
poisons life for many people."
He was silent for a little, and then he said, "And then, too, there is the
great danger of all writers--the feeling that he has the power of giving
people what they want, when he ought to remember that he has only the good
fortune of expressing what people feel. Art oughtn't to be a thing
sprinkled on life, as you shake sugar out on to a pudding--it is just a
power of disentangling things; we suffer most of us from finding life too
complicated--we don't understand it--it's a mass of confused impressions.
Well, the artist puts it all in order, isolates the important things, makes
the values distinct--he helps people to feel clearly--that's his only use.
And then, if he succeeds, there come silly flatteries and adorations--until
he gets to feel as if he were handing down pots of jam and bottles of wine
from a high shelf out of reach--until he grows to believe that he put them
there, when he only found them there. It's a dreadful thing for an artist
never to succeed at all, because then his life appears the most useless
business conceivable; but it is almost a worse thing to get to depend upon
success--and it is undeniably pleasant to be a personage, to cause a little
stir when you enter a room, to find that people know all about you and like
meeting you, and saying they have met you. I never had any of that: and I
have sometimes found myself with successful writers who made me thank God I
couldn't write--such complacency, such lolling among praise, such vexation
at not being deferred to! The best fate for a man is to be fairly
successful, and to be at the same time pretty severely criticised. That
keeps him modest, while it gives him a degree of confidence that he is
doing something useful. The danger is of drifting right out of life into
unreal civilities and compliments, which you don't wholly like and yet
can't do without. The fact is that writing doesn't generally end in very
much happiness, except perhaps the happiness of work. That's the solid part
of it really, and no one can deprive you of that, whatever happens."
We were discussing Keats and his premature death. Someone had said that,
beside being one of the best, he was also one of the most promising of
poets; and Father Payne had remarked that reading Keats's letters made him
feel more directly in the presence of a man of genius than any other book
he knew. Kaye had added that the death of Keats seemed to him the most
ghastly kind of waste, at which Father Payne had smiled, and said that that
presupposed that he was knocked out by some malign or indifferent force.
"It is possible--isn't it?" he added, "that he was needed elsewhere and
summoned away." "Then why was he so elaborately tortured first?" said Kaye.
"Well," said Father Payne, "I can conceive that if he had recovered his
health, and escaped from his engagement with Fanny Brawne, he might have
been a much finer fellow afterwards. There were two weak points in Keats,
you know--his over-sensuousness and a touch of commonness--I won't call it
vulgarity," he added, "but his jokes are not of the best quality! I do not
feel sure that his suffering might not have cleared away the poisonous
"Perhaps," said Kaye; "but doesn't that make it more wasteful still? The
world needs beauty--and for a man to die so young with his best music in
him seems to me a clumsy affair."
"I don't know," said Father Payne; "it seems to me harder to define the
word _waste_ than almost any word I know. Of course there are cases
when it is obviously applicable--if a big steamer carrying a cargo of wheat
goes down in a storm, that is a lot of human trouble thrown away--and a war
is wasteful, because nations lose their best and healthiest parental stock.
But it isn't a word to play with. In a middle-class household it is applied
mainly to such things as there being enough left of a nice dish for the
servants to enjoy; and, generally speaking, I think it might be applied to
all cases in which the toil spent over the making of a thing is out of all
proportion to the enjoyment derived from it. But the difficulty underlying
it is that it assumes a knowledge of what a man's duty is in this
world--and I am not by any means sure that we know. Look at the phrase 'a
waste of time.' How do we know exactly how much time a man ought to allot
to sleep, to work, to leisure? I had an old puritanical friend who was very
fond of telling people that they wasted time. He himself spent nearly two
hours of every day in dressing and undressing. That is to say that when he
died at the age of seventy-six, he had spent about six entire years in
making and unmaking his toilet! Let us assume that everyone is bound to
give a certain amount of time to doing the necessary work of the
world--enough to support, feed, clothe, and house himself, with a margin to
spare for the people who can't support themselves and can't work. Then
there are a lot of outlying things which must be done--the work of
statesmen, lawyers, doctors, writers--all the people who organise, keep
order, cure, or amuse people. Then there are all the people who make
luxuries and comforts--things not exactly necessary, but still reasonable
indulgences. Now let us suppose that anyone is genuinely and sensibly
occupied in any one of these ways, and does his or her fair share of the
world's work: who is to say how such workers are to spend their margin of
time? There are obviously certain people who are mere drones in the
hive--rich, idle, extravagant people: we will admit that they are wasters.
But I don't admit for a moment that all the time spent in enjoying oneself
is wasted, and I think that people have a right to choose what they do
enjoy. I am inclined to believe that we are here to live, and that work is
only a part of our material limitations. A great deal of the usefulness of
work is not its intrinsic value, but its value to ourselves. It isn't only
what we perform that matters; it is the fact that work forces us into
relations with other people, which I take to be the experience we all need.
In the old dreary books of my childhood, the elders were always hounding
the young people into doing something useful--useful reading, useful
sewing, and so forth. But I am inclined to believe that sociability and
talk are more useful than reading, and that solitary musing and dreaming
and looking about are useful too. All activity is useful, all interchange,
all perception. What isn't useful is anything which hides life from you,
any habit that drugs you into inactivity and idleness, anything which makes
you believe that life is romantic and sentimental and fatuous. I wouldn't
even go so far as to say that _all_ the time spent in squabbling and
quarrelling is useless, because it brings you up against people who think
differently from yourself. That becomes wasteful the moment it leaves you
with the impotent desire to hurt your adversary. No, I am inclined to think
that the only thing which is wasteful is anything which suspends interest
and animation and the love of life; and I don't blame idle and extravagant
people who live with zest and liveliness for doing that. I only blame them
for not seeing that their extravagance is keeping people at the other end
of the scale in drudgery and dulness. Of course the difficulty of it is,
that if we offered the lowest stratum of workers a great increase of
leisure, they would largely misuse it; and that is why I believe that in
the future a large part of the education of workers will be devoted to
teaching them how to employ their leisure agreeably and not noxiously. And
I believe that there are thousands of cases in the world which are
infinitely worse than the case of Keats--who, after all, had more joy of
the finest quality in his short life than most of us achieve. I mean the
cases of men and women with fine and sensitive instincts, who by being born
under base and down-trodden conditions are never able to get a taste of
clean, wholesome, and beautiful life at all--that's a much darker
"But how do you fit that into your theories of life at all?" said Vincent.
"Oh, it fits my theory of life well enough," said Father Payne. "You see, I
believe it to be a real battle, and not a sham fight. I believe in God as
the source of all the fine, beautiful, and free instincts, casting them
lavishly into the world, against a horribly powerful and relentless but
ultimately stupid foe. 'Who put the evil there?' you may say, 'and how did
it get there first?' Ah, I don't know that--that is the origin of evil. But
I don't believe that God put it there first, just for the interest of the
fight. I don't believe that He is responsible for waste--I think it is one
of the forces He is fighting. He pushes battalion after battalion to the
assault, and down they go. It's cruel work, but it isn't anything like so
cruel as to suppose that He arranged it all or even permitted it all. That
would indeed sicken and dishearten me. No, I believe that God never wastes
anything; but it's a fearful and protracted battle; and I believe that He
will win in the end. I read a case in the paper the other day of a little
child in a workhouse that had learnt a lot of infamous language, and cursed
and swore if it was given milk instead of beer or brandy. Am I to believe
that God was in any way responsible for putting a little child in that
position?--for allowing things to take shape so, if He could have checked
it? No, indeed! I do not believe in a God as helpless or as wicked as that!
There is something devilish there, for which He is not responsible, and
against which He is fighting as hard as He can."
"But doesn't heredity come in there?" said Vincent. "It isn't the child's
fault, and probably no amount of decent conditions would turn that child
into anything respectable."
"Yes," said Father Payne; "heredity is just one of the evil devices--but
don't you see the stupidity of it? It stops progress, but it also helps it
on--it hinders, but it also helps; and nothing in the world seems to me so
Divine as the way in which God is using and mastering heredity for good. It
multiplies evil, but it also multiplies good; and God has turned that
weapon against the contriver of it. The wiser that the world grows, the
more they will see how to use heredity for happiness, by preventing the
tainted from continuing to taint the races. The slow civilisation of the
world is the strongest proof I know that the battle is going the right way.
The forces of evil are being slowly transformed into the forces of good.
The waste of noble things is but the slow arrival of the new armies of
light. There is something real in fighting for a General who has a very
urgent and terrible business on hand. There is nothing real about fighting
for one who has brought both the armies into the field. It doesn't do to
sentimentalise about evil, and to say that it is hidden good! The world is
a probation, I don't doubt--but it is testing your strength against
something which is really there, and can do you a lot of harm, not against
something which is only there for the purpose of testing what might have
been made and kept both innocent and strong."
Father Payne generally declined to talk about education. "Teaching is one
of the things, like golf and hunting, which is exciting to do and pleasant
to remember, but intolerable to talk about," he said one evening.
"Well," I said, "it is certainly intolerable to listen to people discussing
education, or to read about it; but if you know anything about it, I should
have thought it was good fun to talk about it."
"Ah," said Father Payne, "you say, 'If you know anything about it.' The
worst of it is that everybody knows everything about it. A man who is a
success, thinks that his own education is the only one worth having; a man
who is a failure thinks that all systems of education are wrong. And as for
talking about teaching, you can't talk about it--you can only relate your
own experience, and listen with such patience as you can muster to another
man relating his. That's not talking!"
"But it is interesting in a general way," said Vincent,--"the kind of thing
you are aiming at, what you want to produce, and so on."
"Yes, my dear Vincent," said Father Payne, "but education isn't that--it's
an obstinate sort of tradition; it's a quest, like the Philosopher's Stone.
Most people think that it is a sort of charm which, if you could discover
it, would transmute all baser metals into gold. The justification of the
Philosopher's Stone is, I suppose, that different metals are not really
different substances, but only different arrangements of the same atoms.
But we can't predicate that of human spirits as yet; and to attempt to find
one formula of education is like planting the same crop in different soils.
It is the ridiculous democratic doctrine of human equality which is the
real difficulty. There is no natural equality in human nature, and the
question really is whether you are going to try to reduce all human beings
to the same level, which is the danger of discipline, or to let people
follow their own instincts unchecked, which is the shadow of liberty. I'm
all for liberty, of course."
"But why 'of course'?" said Vincent.
"Because I take the aristocratic view," said Father Payne, "which is that
you do more for the human race by having a few fine people, than by having
an infinite number of second-rate people. What the first-rate man thinks
to-day, the second-rate people think to-morrow--that is how we make
progress; and I would like to take infinite pains with the best material,
if I could find it, and leave discipline for the second-rate. The Jews and
the Greeks, both first-class nations, have done more for the world on the
whole than the Romans and the Anglo-Saxons, who are the best of the
"But how are you going to begin to sort your material?" said Barthrop.
"Yes, you have me there," said Father Payne. "But I don't despair of our
ultimately finding that out. At present, the worst of men of genius is that
they are not always the most brisk and efficient boys. A genius is apt to
be perceptive and sensitive. His perceptiveness makes him seem bewildered,
because he is vaguely interested in everything that he sees; his
sensitiveness makes him hold his tongue, because he gets snubbed if he asks
too many questions. Men of genius are not as a rule very precocious--they
are often shy, awkward, absent-minded. Genius is often strangely like
stupidity in its early stages. The stupid boy escapes notice because he is
stupid. The genius escapes notice because he is diffident, and _wants_
to escape notice."
"But how would you set about discovering which was which?" said Barthrop.
"Well," said Father Payne, "if you ask me, I don't think we discriminate; I
think we go in for teaching children too much, and not trying to make them
observe and think more. We give them things to do, and to get by heart; we
imprison them in a narrow round of gymnastics. As Dr. Johnson said once,
'You teach your children the use of the globes, and when they get older you
wonder that they do not seek your society!' The whole thing is so devilish
dull, and it saves the teacher such a lot of trouble! I myself was fairly
quick as a boy, and found that it paid to do what I was told. But I never
made the smallest pretence to be interested in what I had to do--grammar,
Euclid, tiny scraps of Latin and Greek. I used to thank God, in Xenophon
lessons, when a bit was all about stages and parasangs, because there were
fewer words to look out. The idea of teaching languages like that! If I had
a clever boy to teach a language, I would read some interesting book with
him, telling him the meaning of words, until he got a big stock of ordinary
words; I would just teach him the common inflexions; and when he could read
an easy book, and write the language intelligibly, then I would try to
teach him a few niceties and idioms, and make him look out for differences
of style and language. But we begin at the wrong end, and store his memory
with exceptions and idioms and niceties first. No sensible human being who
wanted, let us say, to know enough Italian to read Dante, would dream of
setting to work as we set to work on classics. Well then," Father Payne
went on, "I should cultivate the imagination of children a great deal more.
I should try to teach them all I could about the world as it is--the
different nations, and how they live, the distribution of plants and
animals, the simpler sorts of science. I don't think that it need be very
accurate, all that. But children ought to realise that the world is a big
place, with all sorts of interesting and exciting things going on. I would
try to give them a general view of history and the movement of
civilisation. I don't mean a romantic view of it, with the pomps and shows
and battles in the foreground; but a real view--how people lived, and what
they were driving at. The thing could be done, if it were not for the
bugbear of inaccuracy. To know a little perfectly isn't enough; of course,
people ought to be able to write their own language accurately, and to do
arithmetic. Outside of that, you want a lot of general ideas. It is no good
teaching everything as if everyone was to end as a Professor."
"That is a reasonable general scheme," said Barthrop, "but what about
"Why," said Father Payne, "I should go on those general lines till boys and
girls were about fourteen. And I should teach them with a view to the lives
they were going to live. I should teach girls a good deal of house-work,
and country boys about the country--we mustn't forget that the common work
of the world has to be done. You must somehow interest people in the sort
of work they are going to do. It is hopeless without that. And then we must
gradually begin to specialise. But I'm not going into all that now. The
general aim I should have in view would be to give people some idea of the
world they were living in, and try to interest them in the part they were
going to play; and I should try to teach them how to employ their leisure.
That seems entirely left out at present. I want to develop people on simple
and contented lines, with intelligent interests and, if possible, a special
taste. The happy man is the man who likes his work, and all education is a
fraud if it turns out people who don't like their work; and then I want
people to have something to fall back upon which they enjoy. No one can
live a decent life without having things to look forward to. But, of
course, the whole thing turns on Finance, and that is what makes it so
infernally dull. You want more teachers and better teachers; you want to
make teaching a profession which attracts the best people. You can't do
that without money, and at present education is looked upon as an expensive
luxury. That's all part of the stodgy Anglo-Saxon mind. It doesn't want
ideas--it wants positions which, carry high salaries; and really the one
thing which blocks the way in all our education is that we care so much for
money and property, and can't think of happiness apart from them. As long
as our real aim in England is income, we shall not make progress; because
we persist in thinking of ideas as luxuries in which a man can indulge if
he has a sufficient income to afford to do so."
"You take a gloomy view of our national ideals, Father," said Vincent.
"Not a gloomy view, my boy," said Father Payne; "only a dull view! We are a
respectable nation--we adore respectability; and I don't think it is a
sympathetic quality. What I want is more sympathy and more imagination. I
think they lead to happiness; and I don't think the Anglo-Saxon cares
enough about happiness; if he is happy, he has an uneasy idea that he is in
for a disaster of some kind."
I found Father Payne one morning reading a letter with knitted brows.
Presently he cast it down on the table with a gesture of annoyance. "What a
fool one is to argue!" he said--and then stopping, he said, "But you wanted
something--what is it?" It was a question about some books which was soon
answered. Then he said: "Stay a few minutes, won't you, unless you are
pressed? I have got a tiresome letter, and if you will let me pour out my
complaint to you, I shall be all right--otherwise I shall go about
grumbling and muttering all day, and inventing repartees."
I sate down in a chair. "Yes, do tell me!" I said; "I have really very
little to do this morning, but finish up a bit of work."
He looked at me with a twinkle in his eye. "I expect you ought to be at
work," he said, "and if I were conscientious, I should send you away--but
this is rather interesting, I think."
He meditated for a moment, and then went on. "It's this! I have got
involved in an argument with an old friend of mine who is a stiff sort of
High-Churchman--a parson. It's about religion, too, and it's no good
arguing about religion. You only confirm your adversary in his opinion. He
brings forth the bow, and makes ready the arrows within the quiver. I
needn't go into the argument. It's the old story. He objected to something
I said as 'vague,' and I was ass enough to answer him. He is one of those
people who is very strong on dogma, and treats his religion as if it were a
sort of trades' union. He thinks I am a kind of blackleg, not true to my
principles; or rather he thinks that I am not a Christian at all, and only
call myself one for the sake of the associations. Of course he triumphs
over me at every point. He is entrenched in what he calls a logical system,
and he fires off texts as if from a machine-gun. Of course my point is that
all strict denominations have got a severely logical system, but that they
can't all be sound, because they all deduce different conclusions from the
same evidence. All denominational positions are drawn up by able men, and I
imagine that an old theology like the Catholic theology is one of the most
ingenious constructions in the world from the logical point of view. But
the mischief of it all is that the data are incomplete, and many of them
are not mathematically demonstrable at all. They are all coloured by human
ideas and personalities and temperaments, and half of them are intuitions
and experiences, which vary at different times and under different
circumstances. All precise denominational systems are the outcome of the
desire for a precise certainty in the minds of business-like people--the
people who say that they wish to know exactly where they are. Now I don't
go so far as to say, or even to think, that religion will always be as
mysterious a thing as it is now. I fully expect that we shall know much
more about it some day. But we don't at present know very much about the
central things of all--the nature of God, the relation of good and evil,
life after death, human psychology. We have not reached the point of being
able definitely to identify the moral force of the world with the forces
which do not appear to be moral, but are undoubtedly, active--with
realities, that is, as we come into contact with them. There are no
scientific certainties on these points--we simply have not reached that
stage. My friend's view is that out of a certain number of denominations,
one is undoubtedly right. My view is that all are necessarily incomplete.
But the moment I say this, he says that my religion is so vague as not to
be a religion at all.
"Now my own position is this, that I think religion, by which I mean our
relation to the Power behind the world, is the most important fact in the
world, as well as the most absorbingly interesting. Whatever form of
religion I study, I seem to see the same thing going on. The saints,
however much they differ in dogma, seem to me to have a strong family
likeness. Mysticism is a very definite thing indeed, and I have never any
doubt that all mystics have the same or a very similar experience, namely,
the perception of some perfectly definite force--as real a force as
electricity, for instance--with which they are in touch. Something, which
is quite clearly there, is affecting them in a particular way.
"If you ask me what that something is, I don't know. I believe it to be a
sort of life-force, which can and does mingle itself with our own life; and
I believe that we are all affected by it, just as every drop of water on
the earth is affected by the moon's attraction--though we can measure that
effect in an ocean by observing the tides, when we can't measure it in a
basin of water. We are not all equally conscious of it, and I don't know
why that is. Sometimes I am aware of it myself, and sometimes not. But I
have had enough experience of it to feel that something is making signals
to me, affecting me, attracting me. And the reason why I am a Christian is
because in Christianity and in the teaching of Christ I feel the influence
of it in a way that I feel it nowhere else in the same degree. I feel that
Christ was closer to what I recognise as God; knew God better than anyone
that ever lived, and in a different kind of way--from inside, so to speak.
But it's a _life_ that I find in the Gospel, and not a _creed_:
and I believe that this is religion, to be somehow in touch with a higher
life and a higher sort of beauty.
"But I personally don't want this explained and defined and codified. That
seems to me only to hem it in and limit it. The moment I find it reduced to
dogma and rule, to definite channels of grace, to particular powers
entrusted to particular persons, then I begin to be stifled and, what is
worse, bored. I don't feel it to be a logical affair at all--I feel it to
be a living force, the qualities of which are virtue, beauty, peace,
enthusiasm, happiness; all the things which glow and sparkle in life, and
make me long to be different--to be stronger, wiser, more patient, more
interested, more serene. I want to share my secret with others, not to keep
it to myself. But when I argue with my friend, I don't feel it is my secret
but his, and that in his mind the force itself is missing, while a lot of
rules and logical propositions and arrangements have taken its place. It is
just as though I were in love with a girl, and were taken to task by
someone, and informed of a score of conventions which I must observe if I
wish to be considered really in love. I know what love means to me, and I
know, how I want to make love; and the same sort of thing is happening to
lovers all the world over, though they don't all make love in the same way.
You can't codify the rules of love!"
Presently he went on: "It seems to me like this--like seeing the reflection
of the moon. You may see it in the marble basin of a fountain, clear and
distinct. You may see it blurred into ripples on a wind-stirred sea. You
may see it moulded into liquid curves on a swift stream. The changing
shapes of it matter little--you are sure that it is the same thing which is
being reflected, however differently it appears. I believe that human
nature has a power of reflecting God, and the different denominations seem
to me to reflect Him in different ways, like the fountain and the stream
and the sea. But the same thing is there, though the forms seem to vary.
And therefore we must not quarrel with the different attempts to reflect
it--or even be vexed if the fountain tells the sea that it is not
reflecting the moon at all. Take my advice, my boy," he added, smiling,
"and never argue about religion--only try to make your own spirit as calm
and true as you can!"
I came in from a stroll one day with Father Payne and Barthrop. Father
Payne opened a letter which was lying on the hall table, and saying,
"Hallo, Leonard, look at this. Gladwin is coming down for Sunday--that will
be rather fun!"
"I don't know about fun," said Barthrop; "at least I doubt if I should find
it fun, if I had the responsibility of entertaining him."
"Yes, it's a great responsibility," said Father Payne. "I feel that.
Gladwin is a man who has to be taken as you find him, but who never makes
any pretence of taking you as he finds you! But it will amuse me to put him
through his paces a bit!"
"Who on earth is Gladwin?" said I, consumed by curiosity.
Father Payne and Barthrop laughed. "I should like Gladwin to hear that!"
"Only it would grieve him still more if Duncan _had_ heard of him,"
said Father Payne; "there would be a commonness about that!" Then turning
to me, he said, "Gladwin? Well, he's about the most critical man in
England, I suppose. He does a little work--a very little: and I think he
might have been a great man, if he hadn't become so fearfully dry. He began
by despising everyone else, and ended by despising himself--and now it's
almost a torture to him to make up his mind. 'There's something base about
a _decision_,' he once said to me. But 'despising' isn't the right
word. He doesn't despise--that would be coarse. He only feels the
coarseness of things in general. He has got too fine an edge on his
mind--everything blunts it!"