Part 4 out of 6
"Do you remember Rose's song about him?" said Barthrop.
"Yes, what was it?" said Father Payne.
"The refrain," said Barthrop, "was
"'Not too much of whatever is best,
That is enough for me!'"
Father Payne laughed. "Yes, I remember!" he said; "'Not too much' is a good
I happened to be with Father Payne when Gladwin arrived. He was a small,
trim, compact man, about forty, unembarrassed and graceful, but with an air
of dejection. He had a short pointed beard and moustache, and his hair was
growing grey. He had fine thin hands, and he was dressed in old but
well-fitting clothes. He had an atmosphere of great distinction about him.
I had expected something incisive and clear-cut about him, but he was
conspicuously gentle, and even deprecating in manner. He greeted Father
Payne smilingly, and shook hands with me, with a courteous little bow. We
strolled a little in the garden. Father Payne did most of the talking, but
Gladwin's silence was sympathetic and impressive. He listened to us
tolerantly, as a man might listen to the prattle of children.
"What are you doing just now?" said Father Payne after a pause.
"Oh, nothing worth mentioning," said Gladwin softly. "I work more slowly
than ever, I believe. It can hardly be called work, indeed. In fact, I want
to consult you about a few little bits--they can hardly be called anything
so definite as 'pieces'--but I am in doubt about their arrangement. The
placing of independent pieces is such a difficulty to me, you know! One
must secure some sort of a progression!"
"Ah, I shall enjoy that," said Father Payne. "But you won't take my advice,
you know--you never do!"
"Oh, don't say that," said Gladwin. "Of course one must be ultimately
responsible. It can't be otherwise. But I always respect your judgment. You
always help me to the materials, at all events, for a decision!"
Father Payne laughed, and said, "Well, I shall be at your service any
A little while after, Gladwin said he thought he would go to his room. "I
know your ways here," he said to me with a smile; "one mustn't interfere
with a system. Besides I like it! It is such a luxury to obliterate
oneself!" When we met again before dinner, Gladwin walked across to a big
picture, an old sea-piece, rather effectively painted, which Father Payne
had found in a garret, and had had restored and framed.
"What is this?" said Gladwin very gently; "I think this is new?"
Father Payne told him the story of its discovery, adding, "I don't suppose
it is worth much--but it has a certain breeziness about it, I think."
Gladwin considered it in silence, and then turned away.
"Do you like it?" said Father Payne--a little maliciously, I thought.
"Like it?" said Gladwin meditatively, "I don't know that I can go as far as
that! I like it in your house."
Gladwin said very little at dinner. He ate and drank sparingly; and I
noticed that he looked at any dish that was offered him with a quick
scrutinising glance. He tasted his first glass of wine with the same air of
suspense, and then appeared to be relieved from a preoccupation. But he
joined little in the talk, and exercised rather a sobering effect upon us.
Once or twice he spoke out. Mention was made of Gissing's _Papers of
Henry Ryecroft_, and Father Payne asked him if he had read it. "Oh no, I
couldn't _read_ it, of course," said Gladwin; "I looked into it, and
had to put it away. I felt as if I had opened a letter addressed to someone
else by mistake!"
At a later period of the evening, a discussion arose about the laws of
taste. Father Payne had said that the one phenomenon in art he could not
understand was the almost inevitable reaction which seemed to take place in
the way in which the work of a great writer or painter or musician is
regarded a few years after his vogue declines. "I am not speaking," said
Father Payne, "of poor, commonplace, merely popular work, but of work which
was acclaimed as great by the best critics of the time, and which will
probably return to pre-eminence," He instanced, I remember, Mendelssohn and
Tennyson. "Of course," he said, "they both wrote a great deal--perhaps too
much--and some kind of sorting is necessary. I don't mind the _Idylls of
the King_, or the _Elijah_, being relegated to oblivion, because
they both show signs of having been done with one eye on the public. But
the progressive young man won't hear of Tennyson or Mendelssohn being
regarded as serious figures in art at all. Yet I honestly believe that
poems like 'Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal,' or 'Come down, O Maid,' have a
high and permanent beauty about them; or, again, the overture to the
_Midsummer Night's Dream_. I can't believe that it isn't a thing full
of loveliness and delight. I can't for the life of me see what happens to
cause such things to be forgotten. Tennyson and Mendelssohn seem to me to
have been penetrated with a sense of beauty, and to have been great
craftsmen too: and their work at its best not only satisfied the most
exacting and trained critics, but thrilled all the most beauty-loving
spirits of the time with ineffable content, as of a dream fulfilled beyond
the reach of hope. And yet all the light seems to die out of them as the
years go on. The new writers and musicians, the new critics, the new
audience, are all preoccupied with a different presentment of beauty. And
then, very slowly, the light seems to return to the old things--at least to
the best of them: but they have to suffer an eclipse, during which they are
nothing but symbols of all that is hackneyed and commonplace in music and
literature. I think things are either beautiful or not: I can't believe in
a real shifting of taste, a merely relative and temporary beauty. If it
only happened to the second-rate kinds of goodness, it would be
intelligible--but it seems to involve the best as well. What do you think,
Gladwin, who had been dreamily regarding the wine in his glass, gave a
little start almost of pain, as if a thorn had pricked him. He glanced
round the table, and then said in his gentlest voice, "Well, Payne, I don't
quite know from what point of view you are speaking--from the point of view
of serious investigation, or of edification, or of mere curiosity? I should
have to be sure of that. But, speaking hurriedly and perhaps intemperately,
I should be inclined to think that there was a sort of natural revolt
against a convention, a spontaneous disgust at deference being taken for
granted. Isn't it like what takes place in politics--though, of course, I
know nothing about politics--the way, I mean, in which the electors get
simply tired of a political party being in power, and give the other side a
chance of doing better? I mean that the gross and unintelligent laudation
of any artist who arrives at what is called assured fame, naturally turns
one's mind on to the critical consciousness of his imperfections. I don't
say it's noble or right--in fact, I think it is probably ungenerous--but I
think it is natural."
"Yes, there is a good deal in that," said Father Payne, "but ought not the
trained critics to withstand it?"
"The trained critic," said Gladwin, "the man who sells his opinion of a
work of art for money, is, of course, the debased outcome of a degrading
system. If you press me, I should consider that both the extravagant
laudation and the equally extravagant reaction are entirely vulgar and
horrible. Personally, I am not easily pleased: but then what does it matter
whether I am pleased or not?"
"But you sometimes bring yourself to form, and even express, an opinion?"
said Father Payne with a smile.
"An opinion--an opinion"--said Gladwin, shaking his head, "I don't know
that I ever get so far as that. One has a kind of feeling, no doubt; but it
is so far underground, that one hardly knows what its operations may be."
"'Well said, old mole! Canst work i' the earth so fast? A worthy pioneer!'"
said Payne, laughing.
Gladwin gave a quick smile: "A good quotation!" he said, "that was very
ready! I congratulate you on that! But there's more of the mole than the
pioneer about my work, such as it is!"
Gladwin drifted about the next day like a tired fairy.
He had a long conference with Father Payne, and at dinner he seemed aloof,
and hardly spoke at all. He vanished the next day with an air of relief.
"Well, what did you think of our guest?" said Father Payne to me, meeting
me in the garden before dinner.
"Well," I said, "he seemed to me an unhappy, heavily-burdened man--but he
was evidently extraordinarily able."
"Yes," said Father Payne, "that's about it. His mind is too big for him to
carry. He sees everything, understands everything, and passes judgment on
everything. But he hasn't enough vitality. It must be an awful curse to
have no illusions--to see the inferiority of everything so clearly. He's
awfully lonely, and I must try to see more of him. But it is very
difficult. I used to amuse him, and he appointed me, in a way he has, a
sort of State Jester--Royal Letters Patent, you know. But then he began to
detect the commonness of my mind and taste, and, one by one, all the
avenues of communication became closed. If I liked a book which he
disliked, and praised it to him, he became inflicted with a kind of mental
nausea: and it's impossible to see much of a man, with any real comfort,
when you realise that you are constantly turning him faint and sick. I had
a dreary time with him yesterday. He produced some critical essays of his
own, which he was thinking of making into a book. They were awfully dry,
like figs which have been kept too long--not a drop of juice in them. They
were hideously acute, I saw that. But there wasn't any reason why they
should have been written. They were mere dissections: I suggested that he
should call them 'Depreciations,' and he shivered, and I felt a brute. But
that didn't last long, because he has a way of putting you in your place. I
felt like something in a nightmare he was having. He annexes you, and he
disapproves of you at the same time. I am awfully sorry for him, but I
can't help him. The moment I try, I run up against his disapproval, and my
vulgar spirit revolts. He's an aristocrat, through and through. He comes
and hoists his flag over a place. I felt all yesterday as if I were a
rather unwelcome guest in his house, you know. It's a stifling atmosphere.
I can't breathe or speak, because I instantly feel myself suspected of
crudity! The truth is that Gladwin thinks you can live upon light, and
forgets that you also want air."
"It seems rather a ghastly business," I said.
"Yes," said Father Payne, "it's a wretched business! That combination of
great sensitiveness and great self-righteousness is the most melancholy
thing I know. You have to get rid of one or the other--and yet that is how
Gladwin is made. Now, I have plenty of opinions of my own, but I don't
consider them final or absolute. It ends, of course, in poor Gladwin
knowing about a hundredth part of what is going on in the world, and
thinking that it's d--d bad. Of course it is, if you neglect the other
ninety-nine parts altogether!"
It was one of those perfectly fine and radiant days of early summer, with a
touch of easterly about the breeze, which means perhaps a drier air, and
always seems to bring out the true colours of our countryside, as with a
touch of ethereal golden-tinged varnish. The humid rain-washed days, so
common in England, are beautiful enough, with their rolling cloud-ranges
and their soft mistiness: but the clear sparkle of this brighter weather,
summer without its haze, intensifying each tone of colour and sharply
defining each several tint, has a special beauty of form as well as of hue.
I walked with Father Payne far among the fields. He was at first in a
silent mood, observing and enjoying. We passed a field carpeted with
buttercups, and he said, "That's a beautiful touch, 'the flower-enamelled
field'--it isn't just washed with colour, it is like hammered work of
beaten gold, like the letters in old missals!" Presently he burst out into
talk: "I don't want to say anything affected," he began, "but a day like
this, out in the country, gives me a stronger feeling of what I can only
describe as _worship_ than anything else in the world, because the
scene holds the beauty of life so firmly up before you. Worship means the
sense of the unmistakable presence of beauty, I am sure--a beauty great and
overwhelming, which one has had no part in making--'The sea is His, and He
made it, and His hands prepared the dry land. O come, let us worship and
fall down, and kneel before the Lord our Maker'--it's that exactly--a sense
of joyful abasement in the presence of something great and infinitely
beautiful. I do wish that were more clearly stated and understood and
believed. Religion, as we know it in its technical sense, is so
faint-hearted about it all! It has limited worship to things beautiful
enough, arches and music and ceremony: and it is so afraid of vagueness, so
considerate of man's feeble grasp and small outlook, that it is afraid of
recognising all the channels by which that sense is communicated, for fear
of weakening a special effect. I'll tell you two or three of the
experiences I mean. You know old Mrs. Chetwynd, who is fading away in that
little cottage beyond the churchyard. She is poor, old, ill. She can hardly
be said to have a single pleasure, as you and I reckon pleasures. She just
lies there in that poky room waiting for death, always absolutely patient
and affectionate and sweet-tempered, grateful for everything, never saying
a hard or cross word. Well, I go to see her sometimes--not as often as I
ought. She shakes hands with that old knotted-looking hand of hers which
has grown soft enough now after its endless labours. She talks a
little--she is interested in all the news, she doesn't regret things, or
complain, or think it hard that she can't be out and about. After I have
been with her for two minutes, with her bright old eyes looking at me out
of such a thicket, so to speak, of wrinkles,--her face simply hacked and
seamed by life,--I feel myself in the presence of something very divine
indeed,--a perfectly pure, tender, joyful, human spirit, suffering the last
extremity of discomfort and infirmity, and yet entirely radiant and
undimmed. It is then that I feel inclined to kneel down before God, and
thank Him humbly for having made and shown me so utterly beautiful a thing
as that poor old woman's courage and sweetness. I feel as I suppose the
devout Catholic feels before the reserved Sacrament in the shrine--in the
presence of a divine mystery; and I rejoice silently that God is what He
is, and that I see Him for once unveiled.
"And then the sight of a happy and contented child, kind and spirited and
affectionate, like little Molly Akers, never making a fuss, or seeming to
want things for herself, or cross, or tiresome--that gives me the same
feeling! Then flowers often give me the same feeling, with their cleanness
and fresh beauty and pure outline and sweet scent--so useless in a way,
often so unregarded, and yet so content just to be what they are, so apart
from every stain and evil passion.
"And then in the middle of that you see a man like Barlow stumbling home
tipsy to his frightened wife and children, or you read a bad case in the
papers, or a letter from a man of virtue finding fault with everybody and
slinging pious Billingsgate about: or I lose my own temper about something,
and feel I have made a hash of my life--and then I wonder what is the foul
poison that has got into things, and what is the dismal ugliness that seems
smeared all over life, so that the soul seems like a beautiful bird caught
in a slime-pit, and trying to struggle out, with its pinions fouled and
dabbled, wondering miserably what it has done to be so filthily hampered."
He stopped for a minute, and I could see that his eyes were full of tears.
"It is no good giving up the game!" he said. "We are in the devil of a
mess, no doubt: and even if we try our best to avoid it, we dip into the
slime sometimes! But we must hold fast to the beautiful things, and be on
the look-out for them everywhere. Not shut our eyes in a rapture of
sentiment, and think that we can:
"'Walk all day, like the Sultan of old, in a garden
"That won't do, of course! We can't get out of it like that! But we must
never allow ourselves to doubt the beauty and goodness of God, or make any
mistake about which side He is on. The marvel of dear old Mrs. Chetwynd is
just that beauty has triumphed, in spite of everything. With every kind of
trouble, every temptation to be dispirited and spiteful and wretched, that
fine spirit has got through--and, by George, I envy her the awakening, when
that sweet old soul slips away from the cage where she is caught, and goes
straight to the arms of God!"
He turned away from me as he said this, and I could see that he struggled
with a sob. Then he looked at me with a smile, and put his arm in mine.
"Old man," he said, "I oughtn't to behave like this--but a day like this,
when the world looks as it was meant to look, and as, please God, it
_will_ look more and more, goes to my heart! I seem to see what God
desires, and what He can't bring about yet, for all His pains. And I want
to help Him, if I can!
"'We too! We ask no pledge of grace,
No rain of fire, no heaven-hung sign.
Thy need is written on Thy face--
Take Thou our help, as we take Thine!'
"That's what I mean by worship--the desire to be _used_ in the service
of a Power that longs to make things pure and happy, with groanings that
cannot be uttered. The worst of some kinds of worship is that they drug you
with a sort of lust for beauty, which makes you afraid to go back and pick
up your spade. We mustn't swoon in happiness or delight, but if we say
'Take me, use me, let me help!' it is different, because we want to share
whatever is given us, to hand it on, not to pile it up. Of course it's
little enough that we can do: but think of old Mrs. Chetwynd again--what
has she to give? Yet it is more than Solomon in all his beauty had to
offer. We must be simple, we mustn't be ambitious. Do you remember the old
statesman who, praising a disinterested man, said that he was that rare and
singular type of man who did public work for the sake of the public? That's
what I want you to do--that is what a writer can do. He can remind the
world of beauty and simplicity and purity. He can be 'a messenger, an
interpreter, one among a thousand, _to show unto man his
uprightness_!' That's what you have got to do, old boy! Don't show unto
man his nastiness--don't show him up! Keep on reminding him of what he
really is or can be."
He went on after a moment. "I ought not to talk like this," he said,
"because I have failed all along the line. 'I put in my thumb and pull out
a plum,' like Jack Homer. I try a little to hand it on, but it is awfully
nice, you know, that plum! I don't pretend it isn't."
"Why, Father," I said, much moved at his kind sincerity, "I don't know
anyone in the world who eats fewer of his plums than you!"
"Ah, that's a friendly word!" said Father Payne. "But you can't count the
plum-stones on my plate."
We did not say much after this. We walked back in the summer twilight, and
my mind began to stir and soar, as indeed it often did when Father Payne
showed me his heart in all its strength and cleanness. No one whom I ever
met had his power of lighting a flame of pure desire and beautiful
hopefulness, in the fire of which all that was base and mean seemed to
OF A CHANGE OF RELIGION
I was walking one day with Father Payne; he said to me, "I have been
reading Newman's _Apologia_ over again--I must have read it a dozen
times! It is surely one of the most beautiful and singular books in the
whole world?--and I think that the strangest sentence in it is this,--'Who
would ever dream of making the world his confidant?' Did Newman, do you
suppose, not realise that he had done that? And what is stranger still, did
he not know that he had told the world, not the trivial things, the little
tastes and fancies which anyone might hear, but the most intimate and
sacred things, which a man would hardly dare to say to God upon his knees.
Newman seems to me in that book to have torn out his beating and
palpitating heart, and set it in a crystal phial for all the world to gaze
upon. And further, did Newman really not know that this was what he always
desired to do and mostly did--to confide in the world, to tell his story as
a child might tell it to a mother? It is clear to me that Newman was a man
who did not only desire to be loved by a few friends, but wished everybody
to love him. I will not say that he was never happy till he had told his
tale, and I will not say that artist-like he loved applause: but he did
_not_ wish to be hidden, and he earnestly desired to be approved. He
craved to be allowed to say what he thought--it is pathetic to hear him say
so often how 'fierce' he was--and yet he hated suspicion and hostility and
misunderstanding: and though he loved a refined sort of quiet, he even more
loved, I think, to be the centre of a fuss! I feel little doubt in my own
mind that, even when he was living most retired, he wished people to be
curious about what he was doing. He was one of those men who felt he had a
special mission, a prophetical function. He was a dramatic creature, a
performer, you know. He read the lessons like an actor: he preached like an
actor; he was intensely self-conscious. Naturally enough! If you feel like
a prophet, the one sign of failure is that your audience melts away."
Father Payne paused a moment, lost in thought.
"But," I said, "do you mean that Newman calculated all his effects?"
"Oh, not deliberately," said Father Payne, "but he was an artist pure and
simple--he was never less by himself than when he was alone, as the old
Provost of Oriel said of him. He lived dramatically by a kind of instinct.
The unselfconscious man goes his own way, and does not bother his head
about other people: but Newman was not like that. When he was reading, it
was always like the portrait of a student reading. That's the artist's
way--he is always living in a sort of picture-frame. Why, you can see from
the _Apologia_, which he wrote in a few weeks, and often, as he once
said, in tears, how tenderly and eagerly he remembered all he had ever done
or thought. His descriptions of himself are always romantic: he lived in
memories, like all poets."
"But that gives one a disagreeable sense of unreality--of pose," I said.
"Ah, but that's very short-sighted," said Father Payne. "Newman's was a
beautiful spirit--wonderfully tender-hearted, self-restrained, gentle,
sensitive, beauty-loving. He loved beauty as much as any man who ever
lived--beautiful conduct, beautiful life--and then his gift of expression!
There's a marvellous thing. It's pure poetry, most of the _Apologia_:
look at the way he flashes into metaphor, at his exquisite pictures of
persons, at his irony, his courtesy, his humour, his pathos. He and Ruskin
knew exactly how to confide in the world, how to humiliate themselves
gracefully in public, how to laugh at themselves, how to be gay--it's all
so well-bred, so delicate! Depend upon it, that's the way to make the world
love you--to tell it all about yourself like a charming child, without any
boasting or bragging. The world is awfully stupid! It adores well-bred
egotism. We are all deeply inquisitive about _people_; and if you can
reveal yourself without vanity, and are a lovable creature, the world will
overwhelm you with love. You can't pay the world a greater compliment than
to open your heart to it. You must not bore it, of course, nor must you
seem to be demanding its applause. You must just seem to be in need of
sympathy and comfort. You must be a little sad, a little tired, a little
bewildered. I don't say that is easy to do, and a man must not set out to
do it. But if a man has got something childlike and innocent about him, and
a naive way with him, the world will take him to its heart. The world loves
to pity, to compassionate, to sympathise, much more than it loves to
"But what about the religious side of it all?" I said.
"Ah," said Father Payne, "I think that is more touching still. The people
who change their religion, as it is called,--there is something extremely
captivating about them as a rule. To want to change your form of religion
simply means that you are unhappy and uneasy. You want more beauty, or more
assurance, or more sympathy, or more antiquity. Have you never noticed how
all converts personify their new Church in feminine terms? She becomes a
Madonna, something at once motherly and young. It is the passion with which
the child turns away from what is male and rough, to the mother, the nurse,
the elder sister. The convert isn't really in search of dogmas and
doctrines: he is in love with a presence, a shape, something which can
clasp and embrace and love him. I don't feel any real doubt of that. The
man who turns away to some other form of faith wants a home. He sees the
ugliness, the spite, the malice, the contentiousness of his own Church. He
loathes the hardness and uncharitableness of it; he is like a boy at school
sick for home. To me Newman's logic is like the effort of a man desperately
constructing a bridge to escape to the other side of the river. The land
beyond is like a landscape seen from a hill, a scene of woods and waters,
of fields and hamlets--everything seems peaceful and idyllic there. He
wants the wings of a dove, to flee away and be at rest. It is the same
feeling which makes people wish to travel. When you travel, the new land is
a spectacular thing--it is all a picture. It is not that you crave to live
in a foreign land: you merely want the luxury of seeing life without living
life. No ordinary person goes to live in Italy because he has studied the
political constitution and organisation of Italy, and prefers it to that of
England. So, too, the charm of a religious conversion is that it doesn't
seem unpatriotic to do it--but you get the feel of a new country without
having to quit your own. And the essence of it is a flight from conditions
which you dread and dislike. Of course Newman does not describe it so--that
is all a part of his guilelessness--he speaks of the shadow of a hand upon
the wall: but I don't doubt that his subconscious mind thrilled with the
sense of a possible escape that way. His heart was converted long before
his mind. What he hated in the English Church was having to decide for
himself--he wanted to lean on something, to put himself inside a
stronghold: he wanted to obey. Some people dislike the way in which he made
himself obey,--the way he argued himself into holding things which were
frankly irrational. But I don't mind that! It is the pleasure of the child
in being told what to do instead of having to amuse itself."
He was silent for a little, and then he said: "I see it all so clearly, and
yet of course it is in a sense inconceivable to me, because to my mind all
the Churches have got a burden of belief which they can't carry. The Gospel
is simple enough, and it is as much as I can do to live on those lines.
Besides, I don't want to obey--I want to obey as little as I can! The
ecclesiastical and the theological tradition is all a world of shadows to
me. I can't be bound by the pious fancies of men who knew no science, and
very little about evidence of any kind. What I want is just a simple and
beautiful principle of living, such as I feel thrills through the words of
Christ. The Prodigal Son--that's almost enough for me! It is simplification
that I want, and independence. Of course I see that if that isn't what a
man wants, if he requires that something or someone should be infallible,
then he does require a good deal of argument and information and history.
But though I don't object to people who want all that, it isn't what I am
in search of. I want as much strong emotion and as little system as I can
get. By emotion I don't mean sentiment, but real motives for acting or not
acting. I want to hear someone saying, 'Come up hither,' and to see
something in his face which makes me believe he sees something that I don't
see and that I wish to see. I don't feel that with Newman! He is fifty
times better than myself, but I couldn't do the thing in his way, though I
love him with all my heart: it's a quiet sort of brotherhood that I want,
and not too many rules. In fact, it is _laws_ I want, and not
_rules_, and to feel the laws rather than to know them, I can't help
feeling that Newman spent too much of his time in the law-court, pleading
and arguing: and it's stuffy in there! But he will remain for ever one of
those figures whom the world will love, because it can pity him as well as
admire him. Newman goes to one's head, you know, or to one's heart! And I
expect that it was exactly what he wanted to do all the time!"
Father Payne, on our walks, invariably stopped and spoke to animals. I will
not say that animals were always fond of him, because that is a privilege
confined to saints, and heroes of romantic legends. But they generally
responded to his advances. It used to amuse me to hear the way he used to
talk to animals. He would stop to whistle to a caged bird: "You like your
little prison, don't you, sweet?" he would say. Or he would apostrophise a
cat, "Well, Ma'am, you must find it wearing to carry on your expeditions
all night, and to live the life of a domestic saint all day?" I asked him
once why he did not keep a dog, when he was so fond of animals. "Oh, I
couldn't," he said; "it is so dreadful when dogs get old and ill, and when
they die! It's sentiment, too; and I can't afford to multiply
emotions--there are too many as it is! Besides, there is something rather
terrible to me about the affection of a dog--it's so unreasonable a
devotion, and I like more critical affections--I prefer to earn affection!
I read somewhere the other day," he went on, "that it might easily be
argued that the dog was a higher flight of nature even than man; that man
has gone ahead in mind and inventiveness; but that the dog is on the whole
the better Christian, because he does by instinct what man fails to do by
intention--he is so sympathetic, so unresentful, so trustful! It is really
amazing, if you come to think of it, the dog's power of attachment to
another species. We must seem very mysterious to dogs, and yet they never
question our right to use them as we will, while nothing shakes their love.
And then there is something wonderful in the way in which the dog, however
old he is, always wants to play. Most animals part with that after their
first youth; but a dog plays, partly for the fun of it, and partly to make
sure that you like his company and are happy. And yet it is a little
undignified to care for people like that, you know!"
"How ought one to care for people?" I said.
"Ah, that's a large question," said Father Payne, "the duty of loving--it's
a contradiction in terms! To love people seems the one thing in the world
you cannot do because you ought to do it; and yet to love your neighbour as
yourself can't _only_ mean to behave _as if_ you loved him. And
then, what does caring about people mean? It seems impossible to say. It
isn't that you want anything which they can give you--it isn't that they
need anything you can give them; it isn't always even that you want to see
them. There are people for whom I care who rather bore me; there are people
who care for me who bore me to extinction; and again there are people whose
company I like for whom I don't care. It isn't always by any means that I
admire the people for whom I care. I see their faults, I don't want to
resemble them. Then, too, there have been people for whom I have cared very
much, and wanted to please, who have not cared in the least for me. Some of
the best-loved people in the world seem to have had very little love to
give away! I have a sort of feeling that the people who evoke most
affection are the people who have something of the child always in
them--something petulant, wilful, self-absorbed, claiming sympathy and
attention. It is a certain innocence and freshness that we love, I think;
the quality that seems to say, 'Oh, do make me happy'; and I think that
caring for people generally means just that you would like to make them
happy, or that they have it in their power to make you happy. I think it is
a kind of conspiracy to be happy together, if possible. Probably the
mistake we make is to think it is one definite thing, when a good many
things go to make it up. I have been interested in a very large number of
people--in fact, I am generally interested in people; but I haven't cared
for all of them, while I have cared for a good many people in whom I have
not been at all interested. But it is easier to say what the qualities are
that repel affection, than what the qualities are which attract it. I don't
think any faults prevent it, if people are sorry for their faults and are
sorry to have hurt you. It seems to me impossible to care for spiteful
people, or for the people who turn on you in a sudden anger, and don't want
to be forgiven, but are glad to have made you fear them. I don't care for
people who claim affection as a right, or who bargain for sacrifices. The
bargaining element must be wholly absent from affection. The feeling 'it is
your turn to be nice' is fatal to it. No, I think that it is a feeling that
you can live at peace with the particular person that is the basis of
friendship. The element of reproach must be wholly absent: I don't mean the
element of criticism--that can be impersonal--but the feeling 'you ought
not to behave like this to me.'"
Father Payne relapsed into silence. "But," I said, "surely the people who
make claims for affection are very often most beloved, even when they are
unjust, inconsiderate, ill-tempered?"
"By women," said Father Payne, "but not by men--and there's another
difficulty. Men and women mean such utterly different things by affection,
that they can't even discuss it together. Women will do anything for you,
if you claim their help, and make it clear that you need them; they will
love you if you do that. A man, on the other hand, will often do his very
best to help you, if you appeal to him, but he won't care for you, as a
rule, in consequence. Women like emotional surprises, men do not. A man
wants to get done with excitement, and to enter on an easy
partnership--women like the excitement more than the ease. And then it is
all complicated by the admixture of the masculine and feminine
temperaments. As a rule, however, women are interested in moody
temperaments, and men are bored by them. Personally, my own pleasure in
meeting a real friend, or in hearing from a friend, is the pleasure of
feeling 'Yes, you are there, just the same,'--it's the tranquillity that
one values. The possibility of finding a man angry or pettish is unpleasant
to me. I feel 'so all this nonsense has to be cleared away again!' I don't
want to be questioned and scrutinised, with a sense that I am on my trial.
I don't mind an ironical letter, which shows that a friend is fully aware
of my faults and foibles; but it's an end of all friendship with me if I
feel a man is bent on improving me, especially if it is for his own
convenience. I'm sure that the fault-finding element is fatal to affection.
That may sound weak, but I can't be made to feel that I am responsible to
other people. I don't recognise anyone's right to censure me. A man may
criticise me if he likes, but he mustn't impose upon me the duty of living
up to his ideal. I don't believe that even God does that!"
"I don't understand," I said.
"Well," said Father Payne, "I don't believe that God says, 'This is my law,
and you must obey it because I choose," I believe He says, 'This is the
law, for Me as well as for you, and you will not be happy till you obey
it,'--Yes, I have got it, I believe--the essence of affection is
_equality_. I don't mean that you may not recognise superiorities in
your friend, and he in you; but they must not come into the question of
affection. Love makes equal, and when there is a real sense of equality,
love can begin."
"But," I said, "the passion of lovers--isn't that all based on the worship
of something infinitely superior to oneself?"
"Yes," said Father Payne, "but that means a sight of something beyond--of
the thing which we all love--beauty. I don't say that equality is the thing
we love--it's only the condition of loving. The lover can't love, if he
feels himself _really_ unworthy of love. He must believe that at worst
he _can_ be loved, though he may be astonished at being loved; it is
in love that it is possible to meet; it is love that brings beauty within
your reach, or down, to your level. It is beauty that you love in your
friend, not his right to improve you. He is what you want to be; and the
comfort of being loved is the comfort of feeling that there is some touch
of the same beauty in yourself. It is so easy to feel dreary, stupid,
commonplace--and then someone appears, and you see in his glance and talk
that there is, after all, some touch of the same thing in yourself which
you love in him, some touch of the beauty which you love in God. But the
glory of beauty is that it is concerned with being beautiful and becoming
beautiful--not in mocking or despising or finding fault or improving. Love
is the finding your friend beautiful in mind and heart, and the joy of
being loved is the sense that you are beautiful to him--that you are equal
in that! When you once know that, little quarrels and frictions do not
matter--what _does_ matter is the recognising of some ugly thing which
the man whom you thought was your friend really clings to and worships.
Faults do not matter if only the friend is aware of them, and ashamed of
them: it is the self-conscious fault, proud of its power to wound, and
using affection as the channel along which the envenomed stream may flow,
which destroys affection and trust."
"Then it comes to this," I said, "that affection is a mutual recognition of
beauty and a sense of equality?"
"It _is_ that, more or less, I believe," said Father Payne. "I don't
mean that friends need be aware of that--you need not philosophise about
your friendships--but if you ask me, as an analyst, what it all consists
in, I believe that those are the essential elements of it--and I believe
that it holds good of the dog-and-man friendship as well!"
OF RESPECT OF PERSONS
Father Payne had been out to luncheon one day with some neighbours. He had
groaned over the prospect the day before, and had complained that such
goings-on unsettled him.
"Well, Father," said Rose at dinner, "so you have got through your ordeal!
Was it very bad?"
"Bad!" said Father Payne, "why should it be bad? I'm crammed with
impressions--I'm a perfect mine of them."
"But you didn't like the prospect of going?" said Rose.
"No," said Father Payne, "I shrank from the strain--you phlegmatic,
aristocratic people,--men-of-the-world, blases, highly-born and
highly-placed,--have no conception of the strain these things are on a
child of nature. You are used to such things, Rose, no doubt--you do not
anticipate a luncheon-party with a mixture of curiosity and gloom. But it
is good for me to go to such affairs--it is like a waterbreak in a
stream--it aerates and agitates the mind. But _you_ don't realise the
amount of observation I bring to bear on such an event--the strange house,
the unfamiliar food, the new inscrutable people--everything has to be
observed, dealt with, if possible accounted for, and if unaccountable, then
inflexibly faced and recollected. A torrent of impressions has poured in
upon me--to say nothing of the anxious consideration beforehand of topics
of conversation, and modes of investigation! To stay in a new house crushes
me with fatigue--and even a little party like this, which seems, I daresay,
to some of you, a negligible, even a tedious thing, is to me rich in
"Mayn't we have the benefit of some of it?" said Rose.
"Yes," said Father Payne, "you may--you must, indeed! I am grateful to you
for introducing the subject--it is more graceful than if I had simply
divested myself of my impressions unsolicited."
"What was it all about?" said Rose.
"Why," said Father Payne, "the answer to that is simple enough--it was to
meet an American! I know that race! Who but an American would have heard of
our little experiment here, and not only wanted to know--they all do
that--but positively arranged to know? Yes, he was a hard-featured man--a
man of wealth, I imagine--from some place, the grotesque and extravagant
name of which I could not even accurately retain, in the State of
"Did he want to try a similar experiment?" said Barthrop.
"He did not," said Father Payne. "I gathered that he had no such
intention--but he desired to investigate ours. He was full of compliments,
of information, even of rhetoric. I have seldom heard a simple case stated
more emphatically, or with such continuous emphasis. My mind simply reeled
before it. He pursued me as a harpooner might pursue a whale. He had the
whole thing out of me in no time. He interrogated me as a corkscrew
interrogates a cork. That consumed the whole of luncheon. I made a poor
show. My experiment, such as it is, stood none of the tests he applied to
it. It appeared to be lacking in all earnestness and zeal. I was painfully
conscious of my lack of earnestness. 'Well, sir,' he said at the conclusion
of my examination-in-chief, 'I seem to detect that this business of yours
is conducted mainly with a view to your own entertainment, and I admit that
it causes me considerable disappointment.' The fact is, my boys," said
Father Payne, surveying the table, "that we must be more conscious of
higher aims here, and we must put them on a more commercial footing!"
"But that was not all?" said Barthrop.
"No, it was not all," said Father Payne; "and, to tell you the truth, I was
more alarmed by than interested in the Minnesota merchant. I couldn't state
my case--I failed in that--and I very much doubt if I could have convinced
him that there was anything in it. Indeed, he said that my conceptions of
culture were not as clear-cut as he had hoped."
"He seems to have been fairly frank," said Rose.
"He was frank, but not uncivil," said Father Payne. "He did not deride my
absence of definiteness, he only deplored it. But I really got more out of
the subsequent talk. We adjourned to a sort of portico, a pretty place
looking on to a formal garden: it was really very charmingly done--a clever
fake of an, old garden, but with nothing really beautiful about it. It
looked as if no one had ever lived in it, though the illusion of age was
skilfully contrived--old paving-stones, old bricks, old lead vases, but all
looking as if they were shy, and had only been just introduced to each
other. There was no harmony of use about it. But the talk--that was the
amazing thing! Such pleasant intelligent people, nice smiling women,
courteous grizzled men. By Jove, there wasn't a single writer or artist or
musician that they didn't seem to know intimately! It was a literary party,
I gathered: but even so there was a haze of politics and society about
it--vistas of politicians and personages of every kind, all known
intimately, all of them quoted, everything heard and whispered in the
background of events--we had no foregrounds, I can tell you, nothing
second-hand, no concealments or reticences. Everyone in the world worth
knowing seemed to have confided their secrets to that group. It was a
privilege, I can tell you! We simply swam in influences and authenticities.
I seemed to be in the innermost shrine of the world's forces--where they
get the steam up, you know!"
"But who are these people, after all?" said Rose.
"My dear Rose!" said Father Payne. "You mustn't destroy my illusions in
that majestic manner! What would I not have given to be able to ask myself
that question! To me they were simply the innermost circle, to whom the
writers and artists of the day told their dreams, and from whom they sought
encouragement and sympathy. That was enough for me. I stored my memory with
anecdotes and noble names, like the man in _Pride and Prejudice_."
"But what did it all come to?" said Rose.
"Well," said Father Payne, "to tell you the truth, it didn't amount to very
much! At the time I was dazzled and stupefied--but subsequent reflection
has convinced me that the cooking was better than the food, so to speak."
"You mean that it was mostly humbug?" said Rose.
"Well, I wouldn't go quite as far as that," said Father Payne, "but it was
not very nutritive--no, the nutriment was lacking! Come, I'll tell you
frankly what I did think, as I came away. I thought these pretty people
very adventurous, very quick, very friendly. But I don't truly think they
were interested in the real thing at all--only interested in the words of
the wise, and in the unconsidered trifles of the Major Prophets, so to
speak. I didn't think it exactly pretentious--but they obviously only cared
for people of established reputation. They didn't admire the ideas behind,
only the reputations of the people who said the things. They had
undoubtedly seen and heard the great people--I confess it amazed me to
think how easily the men of mark can be exploited--but I did not discern
that they cared about the things represented,--only about the
representatives. The American was different. He, I think, cared about the
ideas, though he cared about them in the wrong way. I mean that he claimed
to find everything distinct, whereas the big things are naturally
indistinct. They loom up in a shadowy way, and the American was examining
them through field-glasses. But my other friends seemed to me to be only
interested in the people who had the entree, so to speak--the priests of
the shrine. They had noticed everything that doesn't matter about the high
and holy ones--how they looked, spoke, dressed, behaved. It was awfully
clever, some of it; one of the women imitated Legard the essayist down to
the ground--the way he pontificates, you know--but nothing else. They were
simply interested in the great men, and not interested in what make the
great men different from other people, but simply in their resemblance to
other people. Even great people have to eat, you know! Legard himself eats,
though it's a leisurely process; and this woman imitated the way he forked
up a bit, held it till the bit dropped off, and put the empty fork into his
mouth. It was excruciatingly funny--I'll admit that. But they missed the
point, after all. They didn't care about Legard's books a bit--they cared
much more about that funny cameo ring he wears on his tie!"
"It all seems to me horribly vulgar," said Kaye.
"No, it was no more vulgar than a dance of gnats," said Father Payne. "They
were all alive, those people. They were just gnats, now I come to think of
it! They had stung all the great men of the day--even drawn a little
blood--and they were intoxicated by it. Mind, I don't say that it is worth
doing, that kind of thing! But they were having their fun--and the only
mistake they made was in thinking they cared about these people for the
right reasons. No, the only really rueful part of the business was the
revelation to me of what the great people can put up with, in the way of
being feted, and the extent to which they seem able to give themselves away
to these pretty women. It must be enervating, I think, and even exhausting,
to be so pawed and caressed; but it's natural enough, and if it amuses
them, I'm not going to find fault. My only fear is that Legard and the rest
think they are really _living_ with these people. They are not doing
that; they are only being roped in for the fun of the performance. These
charming ladies just ensnare the big people, make them chatter, and then
get together, as they did to-day, and compare the locks of hair they have
snipped from their Samsons. But it isn't a bit malicious--it's simply
childish; and, by Jove, I enjoyed myself tremendously. Now, don't pull a
long face, Kaye! Of course it was very cheap--and I don't say that anyone
ought to enjoy that sort of thing enough to pursue it. But if it comes in
my way, why, it is like a dish of sweetmeats! I don't approve of it, but it
was like a story out of Boccaccio, full of life and zest, even though the
pestilence was at work down in the city. We must not think ill of life too
easily! I don't say that these people are living what is called the highest
life. But, after all, I only saw them amusing themselves. There were some
children about, nice children, sensibly dressed, well-behaved, full of go,
and yet properly drilled. These women are good wives and good mothers; and
I expect they have both spirit and tenderness, when either is wanted. I'm
not going to bemoan their light-mindedness; at all events, I thought it was
very pleasant, and they were very good to me. They saw I wasn't a
first-hander or a thoroughbred, and they made it easy for me. No, it was a
happy time for me--and, by George, how they fed us! I expect the women
looked after all that. I daresay that, as far as economics go, it was all
wrong, and that these people are only a sort of scum on the surface of
society. But it is a pretty scum, shot with bright colours. Anyhow, it is
no good beginning by trying to alter _them_! If you could alter
everything else, they would fall into line, because they are good-humoured
and sensible. And as long as people are kindly and full of life, I shall
not complain; I would rather have that than a dreary high-mindedness."
Father Payne rose. "Oh, do go on, Father!" said someone.
"No, my boy," said Father Payne, "I'm boiling over with impressions--rooms,
carpets, china, flowers, ladies' dresses! But that must all settle down a
bit. In a few days I'll interrogate my memory, like Wordsworth, and see if
there is anything of permanent worth there!"
Father Payne had been listening to some work of mine: and he said at the
end, "That is graceful enough, and rather attractive--but it has a great
fault: it is sometimes ambiguous. Several of your sentences can have more
than one meaning. I remember once at Oxford," he said, smiling, "that
Collins, one of our lecturers, had been going through a translation-paper
with me, and had told me three quite distinct ways of rendering a sentence,
each backed by a great scholar. I asked him, I remember, whether that meant
that the original writer--it was Livy, I think--had been in any doubt as to
what his words were meant to convey. He laughed, and said, 'No, I don't
imagine that Livy intended to make his meaning obscure. I expect, if we
took the passage to him with the three renderings, he would deride at least
two of them, and possibly all three, and would point out that we simply did
not know the usage of some word or phrase which would have been absolutely
clear to a contemporary reader,' But Collins went on to say that there
might also be a real ambiguity about the passage: and then he quoted the
supposed remark of the bishop who declined to wear gaiters, and said, 'I
shall wear no clothes to distinguish myself from my fellow-Christians.'
This was printed in his biography, 'I shall wear no clothes, to distinguish
myself from my fellow-Christians.' 'That sentence may be fairly called
ambiguous,' Collins said, 'when its sense so much depends upon
"Now," Father Payne went on, "you must remember, in writing, that you write
for the eye, you don't write for the ear. A book isn't primarily meant to
be read aloud: and you mustn't resort to tricks of emphasis, such as
italics and so forth, which can only be rendered by voice-inflections. It
is your first duty to be absolutely clear and limpid. You mustn't write
long involved sentences which necessitate the mind holding in solution a
lot of qualifying clauses. You must break up your sentences, and even
repeat yourself rather than be confused. There is no beauty of style like
perfect clearness, and in all writing mystification is a fault. You ought
never to make your reader turn back to the page before to see what you are
"But surely," I said, "there are great writers like Carlyle and George
Meredith, for instance, who have been difficult to understand."
"Yes," said Father Payne, "but that's a fault, though it may be a
magnificent fault. It may mean such a pressure of ideas and images that the
thing can hardly be written at length--and it may give you a sense of
exuberant greatness. You may have to forgive a great writer his
exuberance--you may even have to forgive him the trouble it costs to
penetrate his exact thoughts, for the sake of steeping yourself in the rush
and splendour of the style. But obscurity isn't a thing to aim at for
anyone who is trying to write; it may be, in the case of a great writer, a
sort of vociferousness which intoxicates you: and the man may convey a kind
of inspiration by his very obscurities. But it must be an impulse which
simply overpowers him--it mustn't be an effect deliberately planned. You
may perhaps feel the bigness of the thought all the more in the presence of
a writer who, for all his power, can't confine the stream, and comes down
in a cataract of words. But if you begin trying for an effect, it is like
splashing about in a pool to make people believe it is a rushing river. The
movement mustn't be your own contortions, but the speed of the stream. If
you want to see the bad side of obscurity, look at Browning. The idea is
often a very simple one when you get at it; it's only obscure because it is
conveyed by hints and jerks and nudges. In _Pickwick_, for instance,
one does not read Jingle's remarks for the underlying thought--only for the
pleasure of seeing how he leaps from stepping-stone to stepping-stone. You
mustn't confuse the pleasure of unravelling thought with the pleasure of
thought. If you can make yourself so attractive to your readers that they
love your explosions and collisions, and say with a half-compassionate
delight--'how characteristic--but it _is_ worth while unravelling!'
you have achieved a certain success. But the chance is that future ages
won't trouble you much. Disentangling obscurities isn't bad fun for
contemporaries, who know by instinct the nuances of words; but it becomes
simply a bore a century later, when people are not interested in old
nuances, but simply want to know what you thought. Only scholars love
obscurity--but then they are detectives, and not readers."
"But isn't it possible to be too obvious?" I said--"to get a namby-pamby
way of writing--what a reviewer calls painfully kind?"
"Well, of course, the thought must be tough," said Father Payne, "but it's
your duty to make a tough thought digestible, not to make an easy thought
tough. No, my boy, you may depend upon it that, if you want people to
attend to you, you must be intelligible. Don't, for God's sake, think that
Carlyle or Meredith or Browning _meant_ to be unintelligible, or even
thought they were being unintelligible. They were only thinking too
concisely or too rapidly for the reader. But don't you try to produce that
sort of illusion. Try to say things like Newman or Ruskin--big, beautiful,
profound, delicate things, with an almost childlike naivete. That is the
most exquisite kind of charm, when you find that half-a-dozen of the
simplest words in the language have expressed a thought which holds you
spell-bound with its truth and loveliness. That is what lasts. People want
to be fed, not to be drugged: That, I believe, is the real difference
between romance and realism, and I am one of those who gratefully believe
that romance has had its day. We want the romance that comes from realism,
not the romance which comes by neglecting it. But that's another subject."
"I don't think there is a single word in the English language," said Father
Payne, "which is responsible for such unhappiness as the word 'believe.' It
is used with a dozen shades of intensity by people; and yet it is the one
word which is always being used in theological argument, and which, like
the ungodly, 'is a sword of thine.'"
"I always mean the same thing by it, I believe!" I said.
"Excuse me," said Father Payne, "but if you will take observations of your
talk, you will find you do not. At any rate, _I_ do not, and I am more
careful about the words I use than many people. If I have a heated argument
with a man, and think he takes up a perverse or eccentric opinion, I am
quite capable of saying of him, 'I believe he must be crazy.' Now such a
sentence to a foreigner would carry the evidence of a deep and clear
conviction; but, as I say it, it doesn't really express the faintest
suspicion of my opponent's sanity--it means little more than that I don't
agree with him; and yet when I say, 'If there is one thing that I do
believe, it is in the actual existence of evil,' it means a slowly
accumulated and almost unalterable opinion. In the Creed, one uses the word
'believe' as the nearest that conviction can come to knowledge, short of
indisputable evidence; and some people go further still, and use it as if
it meant an almost higher sort of knowledge. The real meaning is just what
"'Believing where we cannot prove,'
where it signifies a conviction which we cannot actually test, but on which
we are content to act."
"But," I said, "if I say to a friend--'You are a real sceptic--you seem to
me to believe nothing,' I mean to imply something almost cynical."
"Yes," said Father Payne, "you mean that he has no enthusiasm or ideals,
and holds nothing sacred, because those are just the convictions which
cannot be proved."
"Some people," I said, "seem to me simply to mean by the word 'believe'
that they hold an opinion in such a way that they would be upset if it
turned out to be untrue."
"Yes," said Father Payne, "it is the intrusion of the nasty personal
element which spoils the word. Belief ought to be a very impersonal thing.
It ought simply to mean a convergence of your own experience on a certain
result; but most people are quite as much annoyed at your disbelieving a
thing which they _believe_, as at your disbelieving a thing which they
_know_. You ought never to be annoyed at people not accepting your
conclusions, and still less when your conclusion is partly intuition, and
does not depend upon evidence. This is the sort of scale I have in my
mind--'practically certain, probable, possible, unproved, unprovable.' Now,
I am so far sceptical that, apart from practical certainties, which are
just the convergence of all normal experience, the fact that any one person
or any number of persons believed a thing would not affect my own faith in
it, unless I felt sure that the people who believed it were fully as
sceptical as and more clear-headed than myself, and had really gone into
the evidence. But even so, as I said, the things most worth believing are
the things that can't be proved by any evidence."
"What sort of things do you mean?" I said.
"Well, a thing like the existence of God," said Father Payne; "that at best
is only a generalisation from an immense range of facts, and a special
interpretation of them. But the amazing thing in the world is the vast
number of people who are content to believe important things on hearsay,
because, on the whole, they love or trust the people who teach them. The
word 'believing,' when I use it, doesn't mean that a good man says it, and
that I can't disprove it, but a sort of vital assent, so that I can act
upon the belief almost as if I knew it. It means for me some sort of
personal experience, I could not love or hate a man on hearsay, just
because people whom I loved or trusted said that they either loved or hated
him. I might be so far biassed that I should meet him expecting to find him
either lovable or hateful, but I could not adopt a personal emotion on
hearsay--that must be the result of a personal experience; and yet the
adoption of a personal emotion on hearsay is just what most people seem to
me to be able to do. I might believe that a man had done good or bad things
on hearsay: but I could have no feeling about him unless I had seen him. I
could not either love or hate a historical personage: the most I could do
would be to like or dislike all stories told about him so much that I could
wish to have met him or not to have met him."
"Isn't it a question of imagination?" I said.
"Yes," said Father Payne, "and most ordinary religious belief is simply an
imaginative personification: but that is a childish affair, not a
reasonable affair: and that is why most religious teachers praise what they
call a childlike faith, but what is really a childish faith. I don't
honestly think that our religious beliefs ought to be a dog-like kind of
fidelity, unresentful, unquestioning, undignified confidence. The love of
Bill Sikes' terrier for Bill Sikes doesn't make Bill Sikes an admirable or
lovable man: it only proves his terrier a credulous terrier. The only
reason why we admire such a faith is because it is pleasant and convenient
to be blindly trusted, and to feel that we can behave as badly as we like
without alienating that sort of trust. I have sometimes thought that the
deepest anguish of God must lie in His being loved and trusted by people to
whom He has been unable so far to show Himself a loving and careful Father.
I don't believe God can wish us to love Him in an unreasonable way--I mean
by simply overlooking the bad side of things. A man, let us say, with some
hideous inherited disease or vice ought not to love God, unless he can be
sure that God has not made him the helpless victim of disease or vice."
"But may the victim not have a faith in God through and in spite of a
disease or a vice?" I said.
"Yes, if he really faces the fact of the evil," said Father Payne; "but he
must not believe in a muddled sort of way, with a sort of abject timidity,
that God may have brought about his weakness or his degradation. He ought
to be quite clear that God wishes him to be free and happy and strong, and
grieves, like Himself, over the miserable limitation. He must have no sort
of doubt that God wishes him to be healthy or clean-minded. Then he can
pray, he can strive for patience, he can fight his fault: he can't do it,
if he really thinks that God allowed him to be born with this horror in his
blood. If God could have avoided evil--I don't mean the sharp sorrows and
trials which have a noble thing behind them, but the ailments of body or
soul that simply debase and degrade--if He could have done without evil,
but let it creep in, then it seems to me a hopeless business, trying to
believe in God's power or His goodness. I believe in the reality of evil,
and I believe too in God with all my heart and soul. But I stand with God
against evil: I don't stand facing God, and not knowing on which side He is
fighting. Everything may not be evil which I think evil: but there are some
sorts of evil--cruelty, selfish lust, spite, hatred, which I believe that
God detests as much as and far more than I detest them. That is what I mean
by a belief, a conviction which I cannot prove, but on which I can and do
"But am I justified in not sharing that belief?" I said.
"Yes," said Father Payne; "if you, in the light of your experience, think
otherwise, you need not believe it--you cannot believe it! But it is the
only interpretation of the facts which sets me free to love God, which I do
not only with heart and soul, but with mind and strength. If I could
believe that God had ever tampered with what I feel to be evil, ever
permitted it to exist, ever condoned it, I could fear Him--I should fear
Him with a ghastly fear--but I could not believe in Him, or love Him as I
"No, I couldn't do that," said Lestrange to Barthrop, in one of those
unhappy little silences which so often seemed to lie in wait for
Lestrange's most platitudinal utterances. "It wouldn't be consistent with a
sense of honour."
Father Payne gave a chuckle, and Lestrange looked pained, "Oughtn't one to
have a code of honour?" he said.
"Why, certainly!" said Father Payne, "but you mustn't impose your code on
other people. You mustn't take for granted that your idea of honour means
the same thing to everyone. Suppose you lost money at cards, and called it
a debt of honour, and thought it dishonourable not to pay it; while at the
same time you didn't think it dishonourable not to pay a poor tradesman
whose goods you had ordered and consumed, am I bound to accept your code of
"But there _is_ a difference there," said Rose, "because the man to
whom you owe a gambling debt can't recover it by law, while a tradesman
can. All that a debt of honour means is that you feel bound to pay it,
though you are not legally compelled to do so."
"Yes," said Father Payne, "that is so, in a sense, I admit. But still, one
mustn't shelter oneself behind big words unless one is certain that they
mean exactly the same to one's opponent. When I was at school there was a
master who used to be fond, as he said, of putting the boys on their
honour: but he never asked if we accepted the obligation. If I say, 'I give
you my honour not to do a thing,' then I can be called dishonourable if I
don't do it; but you can't put me on my honour unless I consent."
"But surely honour means something quite definite?" said Lestrange.
"Tell me what it is, then," said Father Payne. "Rose, you seem to have
ideas on the subject. What do you mean by honour?"
"Isn't it one of the ultimate things," said Rose, "which can't be defined,
but which everyone recognises--like blue and green, let me say, or sweet
"No," said Father Payne; "at least I don't think so. It seems to me rather
an artificial thing, because it varies at different dates. It used, not so
long ago, to be considered an affair of honour to fight a duel with a man
if he threw a glass of wine in your face. And what do you make of the old
proverb, 'All is fair in love and war'? That seems to mean that honour is
not a universal obligation. Then there's the phrase, 'Honour among
thieves,' which isn't a very exalted one; or the curious thing, schoolboy
honour, which dictates that a boy may know that another boy is being
disgracefully and cruelly bullied, and yet is prevented by his sense of
honour from telling a master about it. I admit that honour is a fine idea;
but it seems to me to cover a lot of things in human nature which are very
bad indeed. It may mean only a sort of prudential arrangement which binds a
set of people together for a bad purpose, because they do not choose to be
interfered with, and yet call the thing honour for the sake of the
"Yes, I don't think it is necessarily a moral thing," said Rose, "but that
doesn't seem to me to matter. It is simply an obligation, pledged or
implied, that you will act in a certain way. It may conflict with a moral
obligation, and then you have to decide which is the greater obligation."
"Yes, that is perfectly true," said Father Payne, "and as long as you admit
that honour isn't in itself bound to be a good thing, that is all I want.
Lestrange seemed to use it as if you had only got to say that a motive was
honourable, to have it recognised by everyone as right. Take the case of
what are called 'national obligations.' A certain party in the State,
having secured a majority of votes, enters into some arrangement--a treaty,
let us say--without consulting the nation. Is that held to be for ever
binding on a nation till it is formally repealed? Is it dishonourable for a
citizen belonging, let us say, to the minority which is not represented by
the particular Government which makes the treaty, to repudiate it?"
"Yes, I think it may be fairly called dishonourable," said Rose; "there is
an obligation on a citizen to back up his Government."
"Then I should feel that honour is a very complicated thing," said Father
Payne. "If a citizen thinks a treaty dishonourable, and if it is also
dishonourable for him to repudiate it, it seems to me he is dishonourable
whatever he does. He is obliged to consent for the sake of honour to a
dishonourable thing being done. It seems to me perilously like a director
of a firm having to condone fraudulent practices, because it is
dishonourable to give his fellow-directors away. It is this conflict
between individual honour and public honour which puzzles me, and which
makes me feel that honour isn't a simple thing at all. A high conception of
private honour seems to me a very fine thing indeed. I mean by it a
profound hatred of anything false or cowardly or perfidious, and a loathing
of anything insincere or treacherous. That sort of proud and stainless
chivalry seems to me to be about the brightest thing we can discern, and
the furthest beauty we can recognise. But honour seems also, according to
you, to be a principle to which you can be committed by a majority of
votes, whether you approve of it or not; and then it seems to me a merely
detestable thing, if you can be bound by honour to acquiesce in something
which you honestly believe to be base. It seems to me a case of what
"'His honour rooted in dishonour stood,
And faith unfaithful kept him falsely true.'"
"But surely social obligations must often conflict with private beliefs,"
said Rose. "A nation or a society has got to act collectively, and a
minority must be over-ridden."
"I quite agree," said Father Payne, "but why mix up honour with it at all?
I don't object to a man who conscientiously dissents to some national move
being told that he must lump it. But if he is called dishonourable for
dissenting, then honour does not seem to me to be a real word at all, but
only a term of abuse for a man who objects to some concerted plan. You
can't make a dishonest thing honest because a majority choose to do it--at
least I do not believe that morality is purely a matter of majorities, or
that the dishonour of one century can become the honour of the next. I am
inclined to believe just the opposite. I believe that the man who has so
sensitive a conscience about what is honourable or not, that he is called a
Quixotic fool by his contemporaries, is far more likely to be right than
the coarser majority who only see that a certain course is expedient. I
should believe that he saw some truth of morality clearly which the rougher
sort of minds did not see. The saint--call him what you like--is only the
man who stands higher up, and sees the sunrise before the people who stand
"But everyone has a right to his own sense of honour," said Rose.
"Certainly," said Father Payne, "but you must be certain that a man's sense
of honour is lower than your own before you call him dishonourable for
differing from you. If a man is less scrupulous than myself, I may think
him dishonourable, if I also think that he knows better. But what I do not
think that any of us has a right to do is to call a man dishonourable if he
has more scruples than oneself. He may be over-scrupulous, but the chances
are that any man who sacrifices his convenience to a scruple has a higher
sense of honour than the man who throws over a scruple for the sake of his
convenience. That is why I think honour is a dangerous word to play with,
because it is so often used to frighten people who don't fall in with what
is for the convenience of a gang."
"But surely," said Rose, "morality is after all only a word for what
society agrees to consider moral."
"Yes, in a sense that is so," said Father Payne; "it is only a word to
express a phenomenon. But I believe that morality is a real thing, for all
that; and that our conceptions of it get clearer, as the world goes on. It
is something outside of us--a law of nature if you like--which we are
learning; not merely a thing which we invent for our convenience.
But that is too big a business to go into now."
I cannot remember now what public man it was who had died of a breakdown
from overwork, but I heard Father Payne say, after dinner, referring to the
event, "I wish it to be clearly understood that I think a man who dies of
deliberate or reckless overwork is a victim of self-indulgence. It is
nothing more or less than giving way to a passion. I am as sure as I can be
of anything," he went on, "that a thousand years hence that will be
recognised by human beings, and that they will feel it to be as shameful
for a man to die of spontaneous overwork as for him to die of drink or
gluttony or any other vice. I don't of course mean," he added, "the cases
of men who have had some definite and critical job to carry through, and
have decided that the risk is worth running. A man has always the right to
risk his life for a definite aim--but I mean the men--you can see it in
biographies, and the worst of it is that they are often the biographies of
clergymen--who, in spite of physical warnings, and entreaties from their
friends, and definite statements by their doctors that they are shortening
their lives by labour, still cannot stop, or, if they stop, begin again too
soon. No man has any right to think his work so important as that--to take
unimportant things too seriously is the worst sort of frivolity."
"But isn't it the finer kind of people," said Kaye, "who make the mistake?"
"Yes, of course," said Father Payne, "but so, too, if you look into it, you
will too often find that it is the finer kinds of imaginative people who
take to drink and drugs. I remember," he added, "once going to see a poor
friend of mine in an asylum, and the old doctor at the head of it said, 'It
isn't the stupid people who come here, Mr. Payne; it is the clever
"But does not your principle about the right to risk one's life hold good
here too?" said Barthrop.
"No, I think not," said Father Payne. "A man may choose to try a dangerous
thing, climb a mountain, explore a perilous country, go up in a balloon,
where an element of risk is inseparable from the experiment; but ordinary
work isn't risky in itself. Why," he added, "I was reading a book the other
day, the life of Fitzherbert, you know, who was a man of prodigious
laboriousness, who died early, worn out. He had an impossible standard of
perfection. If he had to write an article, he read all the literature on
the subject over and over; he wrote and re-wrote his stuff. There was a
case quoted in the book, as if it were to Fitzherbert's credit, when he had
to send in an article by a certain date--just a _Quarterly_ article.
It had to go in on the Friday. He had finished it on the Monday before,
when his mind misgave him. He destroyed the article, began again, sate up
all Monday night and all Wednesday night, and wrote the whole thing afresh.
He was laid up for a month after it. That is simply the act of an
"I can't help feeling that there is something fine about it," said Vincent.
"There is always something fine about unreasonable things," said Father
Payne, "or in a man making a sacrifice for an idea. But there is an entire
lack of proportion about this performance; and if Fitzherbert thought his
work so valuable as that, then he ought to have reflected that he was
simply limiting his future output by this reckless expenditure of force.
But the whole case was a sad one--Fitzherbert worked in a ghastly way as a
boy and as a young man. He had a very broad outlook, he was interested in
everything; and when he was at Oxford, he told a friend that he was
discovering a hundred subjects on which he hoped to have a say. Well, then,
the middle part of his life was spent in preparing himself, under the same
sort of pressure, to entitle himself to have his say: and then came his
first bad break-down--and the end of his life, which was a wretched period,
was spent in finding elaborate reasons why he should not commit himself to
any opinion whatever. If he was asked his opinion, he always said he had
not studied the subject adequately. That seems to me the life of a man
suffering from a sort of nightmare. Things are not so deep as all that--at
least, if no one is to give an opinion on any point until he has mastered
the whole sum of human opinion on the point, then we shall never make any
progress at all. I remember Fitzherbert's strong condemnation of Ruskin,
for giving his opinion cursorily on all subjects of importance. Yet Ruskin
did a greater work than Fitzherbert, because he at least made people think,
while Fitzherbert only prevented them from daring to think. I don't mean
that people ought to feel competent to express an opinion on
everything--yet even that habit cures itself, because, if you do it, no one
pays any attention. But if a man has gone into a subject with decent care,
or if he has reflected upon problems of which the data are fairly well
known, I think there is every reason why he should give an opinion. It is
very easy to be too conscientious. There are plenty of fine hints of
opinions in Fitzherbert's letters. You could make a very good book of
_Pensees_ out of them--he had a clear, forcible, and original mind;
but he did not dare to say what he thought; and you may remember that if he
was ever sharply criticised, he felt it deeply, as a sort of imputation of
dishonesty. A man must not go down before criticism like that."
"But everyone must do their work in their own way?" said I.
"Yes," said Father Payne, "but Fitzherbert ended by doing nothing--he only
snubbed and silenced his own fine mind, by giving way to this unholy
passion for examining things. No, I want you fellows to have common-sense
about these matters. There is a great deal too much sanctity attached to
print. The written word--there's a dark superstition about it! A man has as
much right to write as he has to talk. He may say to the world, to his
unseen and unknown friends in it, whatever he may say to his intimates. You
should write just as you could talk to any gentleman, with the same
courtesy and frankness. Of course you must run the risk of your book
falling into the hands of ill-bred people--that can't be helped--and of
course you must not pretend that your book is the result of deep and
copious labour, if it is nothing of the kind. But heart-breaking toil is
not the only qualification for speaking. There are plenty of complicated
little topics--all the problems which arise from the combination of
individuals into societies--which people ought to think about, and which
are really everyone's concern. The interplay, I mean, of human
relations--the moral, religious, social, intellectual ideas--which have all
got to be co-ordinated. A man does not need immense knowledge for that; in
fact if he studies the history of such things too deeply, he is often apt
to forget that old interpreters of such things had not got all the present
data. There is an immense future before writers who will interest people in
and familiarise them with ideas. Some people get absorbed in life in the
wrong way, just bent on acquisition and comfort--some people, again, live
as if they were staying in somebody else's house--but what you want to
induce men and women to do is to realise the sort of thing that life really
is, and to attempt to put it in some kind of proportion. The mischief done
by men like Fitzherbert, who was fond of snapping at people who produced
ideas for inspection, is that ordinary people get to confuse wisdom with
knowledge; and that won't do! And so the man who sets to work like
Fitzherbert loses his alertness and his observation, with the result that
instead of bringing a very fresh and incisive mind to bear on life, he
loses his way in books, and falls a victim to the awful passion for feeling
able to despise other people's opinions."
"But isn't it possible," said Vincent, "for a man to get the best out of
life for himself by a sort of passion for exact knowledge--like the man in
the Grammarian's funeral, I mean?"
"Personally," said Father Payne, "I always think that Browning did a lot of
harm by that poem. He was glorifying a real vice, I think. If the
Grammarian had said to himself, 'There is all this nasty work to be done by
someone; I can do it, and I can save other people having to waste their
time over it, by doing it once and for all,' it would have been different.
But I think he was partly indulging a poor sort of vanity by just
determining to know what no other man knew. The point of work is twofold.
It is partly good for the worker, to tranquillise his life and to reduce it
to a certain order and discipline; but you mustn't do it only for the sake
of your own tranquillity, any more than the artist must work for the sake
of luxuriating in his own emotions. You must have something to give away:
you must have some idea of combination, of helping other people to find
each other and to understand each other. It is vicious to isolate yourself
for your own satisfaction. Fitzherbert and the Grammarian were really
misers. They just accumulated, and enjoyed the pleasure of having their own
minds clear. That doesn't seem to me in itself to be a fine thing at all.
It is simply the oldest of temptations, 'Ye shall be as gods, knowing good
and evil.' That is the danger of the critical mind, that it says, 'I will
know within myself what is good,' The only excuse for the critical mind is
to help people not to be taken in by what is bad. It is better to be like
Plato and Ruskin, to make mistakes, to have prejudices, to be unfair, even
to be silly, because at least you encourage people to think that life is
interesting--and that is about as much as any of us can do."
"Isn't it rather odd," said someone to Father Payne after dinner, "that
great men have as a rule rather preferred the company of their inferiors to
the company of their equals?"
"I don't know," said Father Payne; "I think it's rather natural! By Jove, I
know that a very little of the society of a really superior person goes a
very long way with me. No, I think it is what one would expect. When the
great man is at work, he is on the strain and doing the lofty business for
all he is worth; when he is at leisure, he doesn't want any more strain--he
has done his full share."
"But take the big groups," said someone, "like the Wordsworth set, or the
pre-Raphaelite set--or take any of the great biographies--the big men of
any time seem always to have been mutual friends and correspondents. You
have letters to and from Ruskin from and to all the great men of his day."
"Letters, yes!" said Father Payne; "of course the great men know each
other, and respect each other; but they don't tend to coagulate. They
relish an occasional meeting and an occasional letter, and they say how
deeply they regret not seeing more of each other--but they tend to seek the
repose of their own less exalted circle. The man who has fine ideas prefers
his own disciples to the men who have got a different set of fine ideas.
That is natural enough! You want to impart the ideas you believe in--you
don't want to argue about them, or to have them knocked out of your hand.
Depend upon it, the society of an intelligent person, who can understand
you enough to stimulate you, and who is grateful for your talk, is much
pleasanter, and indeed more fruitful, than the society of a man who is
fully as intelligent as yourself, and thinks some of your conclusions to be
"But doesn't all that encourage people to be prophets?" Vincent said. "One
of the depressing things about great men is that they grow to consider
themselves a sort of special providence--the originators of great ideas
rather than the interpreters."
"Yes," said Father Payne, "of course the little coteries and courts of
great men are rather repulsive. But the best people don't do that. They
live contentedly in a circle which combines with its admiration for the
hero a comfortable feeling that, if other people knew what they know, they
wouldn't feel genius to be quite so extraordinary as is commonly believed.
And we must remember, too, that most great men seem greater afterwards than
they did at the time. More of a treat and a privilege, I mean."
"Do you think one ought to try to catch a sight of great men who are
contemporaries?" said I.
"Yes, a sight, I think," said Father Payne. "It's a pleasant thing to
realise how your big man sits and looks and talks, what his house is like,
and so forth. I have often rather regretted I haven't had the curiosity to
get a sight of the giants. It helps you to understand them. I remember a
pleasant old gentleman, Vinter by name, who lived in London. Vinter the
novelist was his son. When young Vinter became famous for a bit, and people
wanted to know him, old Vinter made a glorious rule. He told his son that
he might invite any well-known person he liked to the house, to luncheon or
dinner--but that unless he made a special exception in any one's favour,
they were not to be invited again. There's a fine old Epicurean! He liked
to realise what the bosses looked like, but he wasn't going to be bothered
by having to talk respectfully to them time after time."
"But that's rather tame," said Vincent. "The point surely would be to get
to know a big man well."
"Why, yes," said Father Payne, "but Vinter was a wise _old_ man; now I
should say to any _young_ man who had a chance of really having a
friendship with a great man, 'Of course, take it and thank your stars!' But
I shouldn't advise any young man to make a collection of celebrities, or to
go about hunting them. In fact I think for an original young man, it is apt
to be rather dangerous to have a real friendship with a great man. There's
a danger of being diverted from your own line, and of being drawn into
imitative worship. A very moderate use of great men in person should
suffice anyone. Your real friends ought to be people with whom you are
entirely at ease, not people whom you reverence and defer to. It's better
to learn to bark than to wag your tail. I don't think the big men
themselves often begin by being disciples."
"Then who _is_ worth seeing?" said Vincent. "There must be somebody!"
"Why, to be frank," said Father Payne, "agreeable men like me, who haven't
got too much authority, and are not surrounded by glory and worship! I'm
interested in most things, and have learnt more or less how to talk--you
look out for ingenious and kindly elderly men, who haven't been too
successful, and haven't frozen into Tories, and yet have had some
experience;--men of humour and liveliness, who have a rather more extended
horizon than yourself, and who will listen to what you say instead of
shutting you up, and saying 'Very likely' as Newman did--after which you
were expected to go into a corner and think over your sins! Or clever,
sympathetic, interesting women--not too young. Those are the people whom it
is worth taking a little trouble to see."
"But what about the young people!" said Vincent.
"Oh, that will look after itself," said Father Payne. "There's no
difficulty about that! You asked me whom it was worth while taking some
trouble to see, and I prescribe a very occasional great man, and a good
many well-bred, cultivated, experienced, civil men and women. It isn't very
easy to find, that sort of society, for a young man; but it is worth trying
"But do you mean that you should pursue good talk?" said Vincent.
"A little, I think," said Father Payne; "there's a good deal of art in
it--unconscious art in England, probably--but much of our life is spent in
talking, and there's no reason why we shouldn't learn how to get the best
and the most out of talk--how to start a subject, and when to drop it--how
to say the sort of things which make other people want to join in, and so
on. Of course you can't learn to talk unless you have a lot to say, but you
can learn _how_ to do it, and better still how _not_ to do it. I
used to feel in the old days, when I met a clever man--it was rare enough,
alas!--how much more I could have got out of him if I had known how to do
the trick. It's a great pleasure, good talk; and the fact that it is so
tiring shows what a real pleasure it must be. But a man with whom you can
only talk _hard_ isn't a companion--he's an adversary in a game. There
have been times in my life when I have had a real tough talker staying here
with me, when I have suffered from crushing intellectual fatigue, and felt
inclined to say, like Elijah, 'Take away my life, for I am not better than
my fathers.' That is the strange thing to me about most human beings--the
extent to which they seem able to talk without being tired. I agree with
Walter Scott, when he said, 'If the question was eternal company without
the power of retiring within myself, or solitary confinement for life, I
should say, "Turnkey, lock the cell!"' Companionship doesn't seem to me the
normal thing. Solitude is the normal thing, with a few bits of talk thrown
in, like meals, for refreshment. But you can't lay down rules for people
about it. Some people are simply gregarious, and twitter together like
starlings in a shrubbery: that isn't talk--it's only a series of signals
and exclamations. The danger of solitude is that the machinery runs just as
you wish it to run--and that wears it out."
"But isn't your whole idea of talk rather strenuous--a little artificial?"
"Not more so than fixed meals," said Father Payne, "or regular exercise.
But, of course silent companionship is the greatest boon of all. I have a
belief that even in silent companionship there is a real intermingling of
vital and mental currents, and that one is much pervaded and affected by
the people one lives with, even if one does not talk to them. The very
sight of some people is as bad as an argument! The ideal thing, of course,
is to have a few intimate friends and some comfortable acquaintances. But I
am rather a fatalist about friendship, and I think that most of us get
about as much as we deserve. Anyhow, it's all worth taking some trouble
about; and most people make the mistake of not taking any trouble or
putting themselves about; and that's not the way to behave!"
I suppose I had said something high-minded, showing a supposed contempt of
money, for Father Payne looked at me in silence.
"You mustn't say such things," said he, at last. "I'll tell you why! What
you said was perfectly genuine, and I have no doubt you feel it--but, if
I may say so, it's like talking about a place where you have never been, as
if you had visited it, when you have only read about it in the guide-book.
I don't mean that you wish to deceive for an instant--but you simply don't
know! That's the tragic thing about money--that it is both so important and
so unimportant. If you have enough money, you need never give it a thought;
if you haven't, it's the devil! It's like health--no one who hasn't been on
the wrong side of the dividing line knows what a horrible place the wrong
side is. Those two things--I daresay there are others--poverty and
ill-health--put a man on the rack. The healthy man, and the man with a
sufficient income, are apt to think that the poor man and the ill man make
a great fuss about very little. I don't know about ill-health, but by
George, I know all about poverty--and I'll tell you once for all. For
twenty years I was poor, and this is what that means. To be tied hand and
foot to a piece of hideous drudgery--morning by morning, month by month,
and with the consciousness too that, if health fails you, or if you lose
your work, you will either starve or have to sponge on your friends--never
to be able to do what you like or go where you like--to know that the world
is full of beautiful places, delightful people, interesting ideas, books,
talk, art, music--to sicken for all these things, and not even to have the
time or energy to get hold of such scraps of them as can be found cheap in
London--to feel time slipping away, and all your instincts for beautiful
things unused and unsated--to live a solitary, grubby, nasty life--never
able to entertain a friend, or to go a trip with a friend, or to do a
kindness, or to help anyone generously--and yet to feel that with an income
which many people would regard as ridiculously inadequate, you could do
most of these things--the slavery, the bondage, the dreariness of it!" He
broke off, much moved.
"But," said I, "don't many quite poor people live happily and contentedly
and kindly with minute incomes?"
"Why, yes," said Father Payne, "of course they do!--and I'm willing enough
to admit that I ought to have done better than I did. But then I had been
brought up differently, and by the time I had done with Oxford, I had all
the tastes and instincts of the well-to-do man. That was the mischief, that
I had tasted freedom. Of course, if I had been cast in a stronger and
nobler mould, it would have been different--but all my senses had been
acutely developed, my faculties of interest and enjoyment and
appreciation--not gross things, mind you, nor feelings that _ought_ to
be starved, but just the wholesome delights of the well-educated man. I did
not want to be extravagant, and I knew too that there were millions of
people in the same case as myself. There was every reason why I should
behave decently about it! If I had been really interested in my work, I
could have done better--but I did not believe in the value of my work--I
taught men, not to educate them, but that they might pass an examination
and never look at the beastly stuff again. Whenever I reached the point at
which I became interested, I had to hold my hand. And then, too, the work
tired me without exercising my mind. There were the vacations, of
course--but I couldn't afford to leave London--I simply lived in hell. I
don't say that I didn't get some discipline out of it--and my escape gave
me a stock of gratitude and delight that has been simply inexhaustible. The
misery of it for me was that I had to live an unreal life. If I had been
poor, and had had my leisure, and had worked at things I cared about, with
a set, let us say, of young artists, all working too at things which they
cared about, it would have been different--but I hadn't the energy left to
make friends, or the time to find any congenial people. I can't describe
what a nightmare it all was--so that when I hear you speaking as if money
didn't really matter, I simply feel that you don't know what a tragedy it
can be, or what your own income saves you from. You and I have the
Epicurean temperament, my boy; it's no good pretending we haven't--things
appeal to our mind and senses in a way they don't appeal to everyone. So I
don't think that people ought to talk lightly about money, unless they have
known poverty and _not_ suffered under it. I used to ask myself in
those days if it was possible to suffer more, when every avenue reaching
away out of my life to the things I loved and cared for seemed to be closed
to me by an impassable barrier."
"But one can practise oneself in doing without things?" I said.
"With about as much success," said Father Payne, "as you can practise doing
"But isn't it partly that people are unduly reticent about money?" I said.
"If people could only say frankly what they can and what they can't afford,
it would simplify things very much."
"I don't know," said Father Payne. "Money is one of those curious
things--uninteresting if you have enough, tragic if you haven't. I don't
think talking about money is vulgar--I think it is simply dull: to discuss
poverty is like discussing a disease--to discuss wealth is like talking
about food or wine. The poverty that simply humiliates and pinches can't be
joked about--it's far too serious for that! Of course, there are men who
don't really feel the call of life. Look at our friend Kaye! If Kaye had to
live in London lodgings, he wouldn't mind a bit, if he could get to the
Museum Reading-Room--he only wants books and his own work--he doesn't want
company or music or art or talk or friends. He is wholly indifferent to
nasty food or squalor. Poverty is not a real evil to him. If he had money
he wouldn't know how to spend it. I read a book the other day about a
priest who lived a very devoted life in the slums--he had two rooms in a
clergy-house--and there was a chapter in praise of the way in which he
endured his poverty. But it was all wrong! What that man really enjoyed was
preaching and ceremonial and company--he had a real love of human beings.
Well, that man's life was crammed with joy--he got exactly what he wanted
all day long. It wasn't a self-sacrificing life--it would have been to you
and me--but he no doubt woke day after day, with a prospect of having his
whole time taken up with things he thoroughly enjoyed."
"But what about the people," I said, "who really enjoy just the sense of
power which money gives them, without using it--or the people whose only
purpose in using it is the pleasure of being known to have it?"
"Oh, of course, they are simply barbarians," said Father Payne, "and it
doesn't do _them_ any harm to be poor. No, the tragedy lies in the
case of a man with really expansive, generous, civilised instincts, to whom
the world is full of wholesome and urgent delights, and whose life is
simply starved out of him by poverty. I have a great mind to send you to
London for a couple of months, to live on a pound a week, and see what you
make of it."
"I'll go if you wish it," I said.
"It might bring things home to you," said Father Payne, smiling, "but again
it probably would not, because it would only be a game--the real pinch
would not come. Most people would rather enjoy migrating to hell from
heaven for a month--it would just give them a sharper relish for heaven."
"But do you really think your poverty hurt you?" I said.
"I have no doubt it did," said Father Payne. "Of course I was rescued in
time, before the bitterness really sank down into my soul. But I think it
prevented my ever being more than a looker-on. I believe I could have done
some work worth doing, if I could have tried a few experiments. I don't
know! Perhaps I am ungrateful after all. My poverty certainly gave me a
wish to help things along, and I doubt if I should have learnt that
otherwise. And I think, too, it taught me not to waste compassion on the
wrong things. The people to be pitied are simply the people whose minds and
souls are pinched and starved--the over-sensitive, responsive people, who
feel hunted and punished without knowing why. It's temperament always, and
not circumstance, which is the happy or the unhappy thing. I felt, when you
said what you did about poverty, that you neither knew how harmless it
could be, or how infinitely noxious it might be. I don't take a high-minded
view of money myself. I don't tell people to despise it. I always tell the
fellows here to realise what they can endure and what they can't. The first
requisite for a sensible man is to find work which he enjoys, and the next
requisite is for him to earn as much as he really needs--that is to say
without having to think daily and hourly about money. I don't over-estimate
what money can do, but it is foolish to under-estimate what the want of it
can do. I have seen more fine natures go to pieces under the stress of
poverty than under any other stress that I know. Money is perfectly
powerless as a shield against many troubles--and on the other hand it can
save a man from innumerable little wretchednesses and horrors which destroy
the beauty and dignity of life. I don't believe mechanically in humiliation
and renunciation and ignominy and contempt, as purifying influences. It all
depends upon whether they are gallantly and adventurously and humorously
borne. They often make some people only sore and diffident, and I don't
believe in learning to hate life. Not to learn your own limitations is
childish: and one of the insolences which is most heavily punished is that
of making a sacrifice without knowing if you can endure the consequences of
it. The people who begin by despising money as vulgar are generally the
people who end by making a mess which other people have to sweep up. So
don't be either silly or prudent about money, my boy! Just realise that
your first duty is not to be a burden on yourself or on other people. Find
out your minimum, and secure it if you can; and then don't give the matter
another thought. If it is any comfort to you, reflect that the best authors
and artists have almost invariably been good men of business, and don't
court squalor of any kind unless you really enjoy it."
Father Payne, talking one evening, made a statement which involved an
assumption that the world was progressing. Rose attacked him on this point.
"Isn't that just one of the large generalisations," he said, "which you are
always telling us to beware of?"
"It isn't an assumption," said Father Payne, "but a conviction of mine,
based upon a good deal of second-hand evidence. I don't think it can be
doubted. I can't array all my reasons now, or we should sit here all
night--but I will tell you one main reason, and that is the immensely
increased peaceableness of the world. Fighting has gone out in schools, and
none but decayed clubmen dare to deplore it: corporal punishment has
diminished, and isn't needed, because children don't do savage things;
bullying is extinct in decent schools; crimes of violence are much more
rare; duelling is no longer a part of social life, except for an occasional
farcical performance between literary men or politicians in France--I saw
an account of one in the papers the other day. It was raining, and one of
the combatants would not furl his umbrella: his seconds said that it made
him a bigger target. "I may be shot," he said, "but that is no reason why I
should get wet!" Then there is the mediaeval nonsense among students in
Germany, where they fence like Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Generally
speaking, however, the belief that a blow is an argument has gone out. Then
war has become more rare, and is more reluctantly engaged in. I suppose
that till the date of Waterloo there was hardly a year in history when some
fighting was not going on. No, I think it is impossible not to believe that
the impulse to kick and scratch and bite is really on the decline."
"But need that be a proof of progress?" said Rose. "May it not only mean a
decrease of personal courage, and a greater sensitiveness to pain?"
"I think not," said Father Payne, "because when there _is_ fighting to
be done, it is done just as courageously--indeed I think _more_
courageously than used to be the case. No, I think it is the training of an
instinct--the instinct of self-restraint. I believe that people have more
imagination and more sympathy than they used to have; there is more
tolerance of adverse opinion, a greater sense of liberty in the air:
opponents have more respect for each other, and do not attribute bad
motives so easily. Why, consider how much milder even the newspapers are.
If one reads old reviews, old books of political controversy, old
pamphlets--how much more blackguarding and calling names one sees.
Anonymous journalists, anonymous reviewers, are now the only people who
keep up the tradition of public bad manners--all signed articles and
criticisms are infinitely politer than they used to be."
"But," persisted Rose, "isn't that simply a possible proof of the general
declension of force?"
"Certainly not," said Father Payne, "it only means more equilibrium. You
must remember that equilibrium means a balance of forces, not a mere
diminution of them. There is more force present in a banked-up reservoir
than in a rushing stream. The rushing stream merely means a force making
itself felt without a counterbalancing force--but that isn't nearly as
strong as the pressure in a reservoir exerted by the water which is trying
to get out, and the resistance of the dam which is trying to keep it in.
You must not be taken in by apparent placidity: it often means two forces
at work instead of one. Peace, as opposed to war, is a tremendous
counterpoising of forces, and it simply means an organised resistance. In
old days, there was no cohesion of the forces which desire peace, and
violence was unresisted. There can be no doubt, I think, that in a
civilised country there are many more forces at work than in a combative
country. I do not suppose that we can either of us prove whether the forces
at work in the world have increased or diminished. Let us grant that the
amount is constant. If so, a great deal of the force that was combative has
now been transformed to the force which resists combat. But I imagine that
on the whole most people would grant that human energies have increased: if
that is so, certainly the combative element has not increased in
proportion, while the peaceful element has increased out of all
"But," said Vincent, "you often talk in the most bellicose way, Father. You
say that we ought all to be fighting on the side of good."
"Yes," said Father Payne, "on the side of resistance to evil, I admit; but
you can fight without banging and smashing things, as the dam fights the
reservoir by silent cohesion. There is a temptation, from which some people
suffer, to think that one can't be fighting for God at all, unless one is
doing it furiously, and all the time, and successfully, and on a large and
impressive scale. That is a fatal blunder. To hide your adversary's sword
is often a very good way of fighting. To have an open tussle often makes
the bystanders sympathise with the assailant. It is really a far more
civilised thing, and often stands for a higher degree of force and honour,
to be able to bear contradiction not ignobly. Direct conflict is a mistake,
as a rule--blaming, fault-finding, censuring, snapping, punishing. The
point is to put all your energy into your own life and work, and make it
outweigh the energy of the combative critic. Do not fight by destroying
faulty opinion, but by creating better opinion. You fight darkness by
lighting a candle, not by waving a fan to clear it away. Look at one of the
things we have been talking about--bullying in schools. That has not been
conquered by expelling or whipping boys, or preaching about it--it has been
abolished by kindlier and gentler family life, by humaner school-masters
living with and among their boys, till the happiness of more peaceful
relations all round has been instinctively perceived."
"But isn't it right to show up mean and dishonest people, to turn the light
of publicity upon cruel and detestable things?" said Vincent.
"Exactly, my dear Vincent," said Father Payne; "but you can't turn the
light of publicity on evil unless the light is there to turn. The reason
why bullying continued was because people believed in it as inseparable
from school life, and even, on the whole, bracing. What has got rid of it
is a kinder and more tender spirit outside. I don't object to showing up
bad things at all. By all means put them, if you can, in a clear light, and
show their ugliness. Show your shame and disgust if you like, but do not
condescend to personal abuse. That only weakens your case, because it
merely proves that you have still some of the bully left in you. Be
peaceable writers, my dear boys," said Father Payne, expanding in a large
smile. "Don't squabble, don't try to scathe, don't be affronted! If your
critic reveals a weak place in your work, admit it, and do better! I want
to turn you out peace-makers, and that needs as much energy and restraint
as any other sort of fighting. Don't make the fact that your opponent may
be a cad into a personal grievance. Make your own idea clear, stick to it,
repeat it, say it again in a more attractive way. Don't you see that not
yielding to a bad impulse is fighting? The positive assertion of good, the
shaping of beauty, the presentment of a fruitful thought in so desirable a
light that other people go down with fresh courage into the dreariness and
dullness of life, with all the delight of having a new way of behaving in
their minds and hearts--that's how I want you to fight! It requires the
toughest sort of courage, I can tell you. But instead of showing your
spirit by returning a blow, show your spirit by propounding your idea in a
finer shape. Don't be taken in by the silly and ugly old war-metaphors--the
trumpet blown, the gathering of the hosts. That's simply a sensational
waste of your time! Look out of your window, and then sit down to your
work. That's the way to win, without noise or fuss."
I walked one afternoon with Father Payne just as winter turned to spring,
in the pastures. There was a mound at the corner of one of his fields, on
which grew a row of beech trees of which Father Payne was particularly
fond. He pointed out to me to-day how the most southerly of the trees,
exposed as it was to the full force of the wind, grew lower and sturdier
than the rest, and how as the trees progressed towards the north, each one
profiting more by the shelter of his comrades, they grew taller and more
graceful. "I like the way that stout little fellow at the end grows," said
Father Payne. "He doesn't know, I suppose, that he is protecting the rest,
and giving them room to expand. But he holds on; and though he isn't so
tall, he is bulkier and denser than his brethren. He knows that he has to
bear the brunt of the wind, so he puts out no sail. He just devotes himself
to standing four-square--he is not going to be bullied! He would like to be
as smooth and as shapely as the rest, but he knows his own business, and he
has adapted himself, like a sensible fellow, to his rough conditions."
A little later Father Payne stopped to look at a great sow-thistle that was
growing vigorously under a hedge-row. "Did you ever see such a bit of pure
force?" said Father Payne. "I see a fierce conscious life in every inch of
that plant. Look at the way he clips himself in, and strains to the earth:
look at his great rays of leaves, thrust out so geometrically from the
centre, with the sharp, horny, uncompromising thorns. And see how he
flattens down his leaves over the surrounding grasses: they haven't a
chance; he just squeezes them down and strangles them. There is no mild and
delicate waving of fronds in the air. He means to sit down firmly on the
top of his comrades. I don't think I ever saw anything with such a muscular
pull on--you can't lift his leaves up; look, he resists with all his might!
Just consider the immense force which he is using: he is not merely
snuggling down: he is just hauling things about. You don't mean to tell me
that this thistle isn't conscious! He knows he has enemies, but he is going
to make the place his very own--and all that out of a drifting little arrow
"Now that may not be a sympathetic or even Christian way of doing things,"
he went on presently, "but for all that, I do love to see the force of
life, the intentness of living. I like our friend the beech a little
better, because he is helping his friends, though he doesn't know it, and
the thistle is only helping himself. But I am sure that it is the right way
to go at it! We mustn't be always standing aside and making room: we
mustn't obliterate ourselves. We have a right to our joy in life, and we
mustn't be afraid of it. If we give away what we have got, it must cost us
something--it must not be a mere relinquishing."
"It is rather hard to combine the two principles," I said--"the living of
life, I mean, and the giving away of life."
"Well, I think that devotion is better than self-sacrifice," said Father
Payne. "On the whole I mistrust weakness more than I mistrust strength.
It's easy to dislike violence--but I rather worship vitality. I would
almost rather see a man forcing his way through with some callousness, than
backing out, smiling and apologising. You can convert strength, you can't
do anything with weakness. Take the sort of work you fellows do. I always
feel I can chasten and direct exuberance: what I can't do is to impart
vigour. If a man says his essay is short because he can't think of anything
to write, I feel inclined to say, 'Then for goodness' sake hold your
tongue!' It's the people who can't hold their tongue, who go on roughly
pointing things out, and commenting, and explaining, and thrusting
themselves in front of the show, who do something. Of course force has to
be kept in order, but there it is--it lives, it must have its say. What you
have to learn is to insinuate yourself into life, like ivy, but without
spoiling other people's pleasure. That's liberty! The old thistle has no
respect for liberty, and that is why he is rooted up. But it's rather sad
work doing it, because he does so very much want to be alive. But it isn't
liberty simply to efface yourself, because you may interfere with other
people. The thing is to fit in, without disorganising everything about
He mused for a little in silence; then he said, "It's like almost
everything else--it's a weighing of claims! I don't want you fellows to be
either tyrannical or slavish. It's tyrannical to bully, it's slavish to
defer. The thing is to have a firm opinion, not to be ashamed of it or
afraid of it; to say it reasonably and gently, and to stick to it amiably.
Good does not attack, though if it is attacked it can slay. Good fights
evil, but it knows what it is fighting, while evil fights good and evil
alike. I think that is true. I don't want you people to be controversial or
quarrelsome in what you write, and to go in for picking holes in others'
work. If you want to help a man to do better, criticise him
privately--don't slap him in public, to show how hard you can lay on. Make
your own points, explain if you like, but don't apologise. The great
writers, mind you, are the people who can go on. It's volume rather than
delicacy that matters in the end. It must flow like honey--good solid
stuff--not drip like rain, out of mere weakness. But the thing is to flow,
and largeness of production is better than little bits of overhandled work.
Mind that, my boy! It's force that tells: and that's why I don't want you
to be over-interested in your work. You must go on filling up with
experience; but it doesn't matter where or how you get it, as long as it is
eagerly done. Be on the side of life! _Amor fati_, that's the motto
for a man--to love his destiny passionately, and all that is before him;
not to droop, or sentimentalise, or submit, but to plunge on, like a
'sea-shouldering whale'! You remember old Kit Smart--
'Strong against tide, the enormous whale
Emerges as he goes.'
"Mind you _emerge!_ Never heed the tide: there's plenty of room for it
as well as for you!"
Lestrange was being genially bantered by Rose one day at dinner on what
Rose called "problems of life and being," or "springs of action," or even
"higher ground." Lestrange was oppressively earnest, but he was always
"Ultimately?" he had said, "why, ultimately, of course, you must obey your
"No, no!" said Father Payne, "that won't do, Lestrange! Who are _you_,
after all? I mean that the 'you' you speak of has something to say about
it, to decide whether to disobey or to obey. And then, too, the same 'you'
seems to have decided that conscience is to be obeyed. The thing that you
describe as 'yourself' is much more ultimate than conscience, because if it
is not convinced that conscience is to be obeyed, it will not obey. I mean
that there is something which criticises even the conscience. It can't be
reason, because your conscience over-rides your reason, and it can't be
instinct, generally speaking, because conscience often over-rides
"I am confused," said Lestrange. "I mean by conscience the thing which says
'You _ought!_' That is what seems to me to prove the existence of God,
that there is a sense of a moral law which one does not invent, and which
is sometimes very inconveniently aggressive."
"Yes, that is all right," said Father Payne, "but how is it when there are
two 'oughts,' as there often are? A man ought to work--and he ought not to
overwork--something else has to be called in to decide where one 'ought'
begins and the other ends. There is a perpetual balancing of moral claims.
Your conscience tells you to do two things which are mutually
exclusive--both are right in the abstract. What are you to do then?"
"I suppose that reason comes in there," said Lestrange.
"Then reason is the ultimate guide?" said Father Payne.
"Oh, Father, you are darkening counsel," said Lestrange.
"No, no," said Father Payne, "I am just trying to face facts."
"Well, then," said Lestrange, "what is the ultimate thing?"
"The ultimate thing," said Father Payne, "is of course the thing you call
yourself--but the ultimate instinct is probably a sense of proportion--a
sense of beauty, if you like!"
"But how does that work out in practice?" said Vincent. "It seems to me to
be a mere argument about names and titles. You are using conscience as the
sense of right and wrong, and, as you say, they often seem to have
conflicting claims. Lestrange used it in the further sense of the thing
which ultimately decides your course. It is right to be philanthropic, it
is right to be artistic--they may conflict; but something ultimately tells
you what you _can_ do, which is really more important than what you
_ought to_ do."