Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

On Nothing & Kindred Subjects by Hilaire Belloc

Part 1 out of 3

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.3 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

Produced by Anne Folland, Eric Eldred, Charles Franks
and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team






































_King's Land,

December the 13th, 1907

My dear Maurice,

It was in Normandy, you will remember, and in the heat of the year,
when the birds were silent in the trees and the apples nearly ripe,
with the sun above us already of a stronger kind, and a somnolence
within and without, that it was determined among us (the jolly
company!) that I should write upon Nothing, and upon all that is
cognate to Nothing, a task not yet attempted since the Beginning of
the World.

Now when the matter was begun and the subject nearly approached, I
saw more clearly that this writing upon Nothing might be very grave,
and as I looked at it in every way the difficulties of my adventure
appalled me, nor am I certain that I have overcome them all. But I
had promised you that I would proceed, and so I did, in spite of my
doubts and terrors.

For first I perceived that in writing upon this matter I was in
peril of offending the privilege of others, and of those especially
who are powerful to-day, since I would be discussing things very
dear and domestic to my fellow-men, such as The Honour of Politicians,
The Tact of Great Ladies, The Wealth of Journalists, The Enthusiasm
of Gentlemen, and the Wit of Bankers. All that is most intimate and
dearest to the men that make our time, all that they would most defend
from the vulgar gaze,--this it was proposed to make the theme of a
common book.

In spite of such natural fear and of interests so powerful to detain
me, I have completed my task, and I will confess that as it grew it
enthralled me. There is in Nothing something so majestic and so high
that it is a fascination and spell to regard it. Is it not that
which Mankind, after the great effort of life, at last attains, and
that which alone can satisfy Mankind's desire? Is it not that which
is the end of so many generations of analysis, the final word of
Philosophy, and the goal of the search for reality? Is it not the
very matter of our modern creed in which the great spirits of our
time repose, and is it not, as it were, the culmination of their
intelligence? It is indeed the sum and meaning of all around!

How well has the world perceived it and how powerfully do its
legends illustrate what Nothing is to men!

You know that once in Lombardy Alfred and Charlemagne and the Kaliph
Haroun-al-Raschid met to make trial of their swords. The sword of
Alfred was a simple sword: its name was Hewer. And the sword of
Charlemagne was a French sword, and its name was Joyeuse. But the
sword of Haroun was of the finest steel, forged in Toledo, tempered
at Cordova, blessed in Mecca, damascened (as one might imagine) in
Damascus, sharpened upon Jacob's Stone, and so wrought that when one
struck it it sounded like a bell. And as for its name, By Allah!
that was very subtle---for it had no name at all.

Well then, upon that day in Lombardy Alfred and Charlemagne and the
Kaliph were met to take a trial of their blades. Alfred took a pig
of lead which he had brought from the Mendip Hills, and swiping the
air once or twice in the Western fashion, he cut through that lead
and girded the edge of his sword upon the rock beneath, making a
little dent.

Then Charlemagne, taking in both hands his sword Joyeuse, and aiming
at the dent, with a laugh swung down and cut the stone itself right
through, so that it fell into two pieces, one on either side, and
there they lie today near by Piacenza in a field.

Now that it had come to the Kaliph's turn, one would have said there
was nothing left for him to do, for Hewer had manfully hewn lead,
and Joyeuse had joyfully cleft stone.

But the Kaliph, with an Arabian look, picked out of his pocket a
gossamer scarf from Cashmir, so light that when it was tossed into
the air it would hardly fall to the ground, but floated downwards
slowly like a mist. This, with a light pass, he severed, and
immediately received the prize. For it was deemed more difficult by
far to divide such a veil in mid-air, than to cleave lead or even

I knew a man once, Maurice, who was at Oxford for three years, and
after that went down with no degree. At College, while his friends
were seeking for Truth in funny brown German Philosophies, Sham
Religions, stinking bottles and identical equations, he was lying on
his back in Eynsham meadows thinking of Nothing, and got the Truth
by this parallel road of his much more quickly than did they by theirs;
for the asses are still seeking, mildly disputing, and, in a cultivated
manner, following the gleam, so that they have become in their Donnish
middleage a nuisance and a pest; while he--that other--with the Truth
very fast and firm at the end of a leather thong is dragging her
sliding, whining and crouching on her four feet, dragging her reluctant
through the world, even into the broad daylight where Truth most hates
to be.

He it was who became my master in this creed. For once as we lay
under a hedge at the corner of a road near Bagley Wood we heard far
off the notes of military music and the distant marching of a
column; these notes and that tramp grew louder, till there swung
round the turning with a blaze of sound five hundred men in order.
They passed, and we were full of the scene and of the memories of
the world, when he said to me: "Do you know what is in your heart?
It is the music. And do you know the cause and Mover of that music?
It is the Nothingness inside the bugle; it is the hollow Nothingness
inside the Drum."

Then I thought of the poem where it says of the Army of the Republic:

The thunder of the limber and the rumble of a hundred of the guns.
And there hums as she comes the roll of her innumerable drums.

I knew him to be right.

From this first moment I determined to consider and to meditate upon

Many things have I discovered about Nothing, which have proved it--to
me at least--to be the warp or ground of all that is holiest. It is
of such fine gossamer that loveliness was spun, the mists under the
hills on an autumn morning are but gross reflections of it; moonshine
on lovers is earthy compared with it; song sung most charmingly and
stirring the dearest recollections is but a failure in the human
attempt to reach its embrace and be dissolved in it. It is out of
Nothing that are woven those fine poems of which we carry but vague
rhythms in the head:--and that Woman who is a shade, the_ Insaisissable,
_whom several have enshrined in melody--well, her Christian name, her
maiden name, and, as I personally believe, her married name as well,
is Nothing. I never see a gallery of pictures now but I know how the
use of empty spaces makes a scheme, nor do I ever go to a play but I
see how silence is half the merit of acting and hope some day for
absence and darkness as well upon the stage. What do you think the
fairy Melisende said to Fulk-Nerra when he had lost his soul for her
and he met her in the Marshes after twenty years? Why, Nothing--what
else could she have said? Nothing is the reward of good men who alone
can pretend to taste it in long easy sleep, it is the meditation of
the wise and the charm of happy dreamers. So excellent and final is
it that I would here and now declare to you that Nothing was the gate
of eternity, that by passing through Nothing we reached our every
object as passionate and happy beings--were it not for the Council
of Toledo that restrains my pen. Yet ... indeed, indeed when I think
what an Elixir is this Nothing I am for putting up a statue nowhere,
on a pedestal that shall not exist, and for inscribing on it in
letters that shall never be written:



So I began to write my book, Maurice: and as I wrote it the dignity
of what I had to do rose continually before me, as does the dignity
of a mountain range which first seemed a vague part of the sky, but
at last stands out august and fixed before the traveller; or as the
sky at night may seem to a man released from a dungeon who sees it
but gradually, first bewildered by the former constraint of his
narrow room but now gradually enlarging to drink in its immensity.
Indeed this Nothing is too great for any man who has once embraced
it to leave it alone thenceforward for ever; and finally, the
dignity of Nothing is sufficiently exalted in this: that Nothing is
the tenuous stuff from which the world was made.

For when the Elohim set out to make the world, first they debated
among themselves the Idea, and one suggested this and another
suggested that, till they had threshed out between them a very
pretty picture of it all. There were to be hills beyond hills, good
grass and trees, and the broadness of rivers, animals of all kinds,
both comic and terrible, and savours and colours, and all around the
ceaseless streaming of the sea.

Now when they had got that far, and debated the Idea in detail, and
with amendment and resolve, it very greatly concerned them of what
so admirable a compost should be mixed. Some said of this, and some
said of that, but in the long run it was decided by the narrow
majority of eight in a full house that Nothing was the only proper
material out of which to make this World of theirs, and out of
Nothing they made it: as it says in the Ballade:

Dear, tenuous stuff, of which the world was made.

And again in the Envoi:

Prince, draw this sovereign draught in your despair,
That when your riot in that rest is laid,
You shall be merged with an Essential Air:--
Dear, tenuous stuff, of which the world was made!

Out of Nothing then did they proceed to make the world, this sweet
world, always excepting Man the Marplot. Man was made in a muddier
fashion, as you shall hear.

For when the world seemed ready finished and, as it were,
presentable for use, and was full of ducks, tigers, mastodons,
waddling hippopotamuses, lilting deer, strong-smelling herbs, angry
lions, frowsy snakes, cracked glaciers, regular waterfalls, coloured
sunsets, and the rest, it suddenly came into the head of the
youngest of these strong Makers of the World (the youngest, who had
been sat upon and snubbed all the while the thing was doing, and
hardly been allowed to look on, let alone to touch), it suddenly
came into his little head, I say, that he would make a Man.

Then the Elder Elohim said, some of them, "Oh, leave well alone!
send him to bed!" And others said sleepily (for they were tired),
"No! no! let him play his little trick and have done with it, and
then we shall have some rest." Little did they know!... And others
again, who were still broad awake, looked on with amusement and
applauded, saying: "Go on, little one! Let us see what you can do."
But when these last stooped to help the child, they found that all
the Nothing had been used up (and that is why there is none of it
about to-day). So the little fellow began to cry, but they, to
comfort him, said: "Tut, lad! tut! do not cry; do your best with
this bit of mud. It will always serve to fashion something."

So the jolly little fellow took the dirty lump of mud and pushed it
this way and that, jabbing with his thumb and scraping with his
nail, until at last he had made Picanthropos, who lived in Java and
was a fool; who begat Eoanthropos, who begat Meioanthropos, who
begat Pleioanthropos, who begat Pleistoanthropos, who is often mixed
up with his father, and a great warning against keeping the same
names in one family; who begat Paleoanthropos, who begat Neoanthropos,
who begat the three Anthropoids, great mumblers and murmurers with
their mouths; and the eldest of these begat Him whose son was He,
from whom we are all descended.

He was indeed halting and patchy, ill-lettered, passionate and rude;
bald of one cheek and blind of one eye, and his legs were of
different sizes, nevertheless by process of ascent have we, his
descendants, manfully continued to develop and to progress, and to
swell in everything, until from Homer we came to Euripides, and from
Euripides to Seneca, and from Seneca to Boethius and his peers; and
from these to Duns Scotus, and so upwards through James I of England
and the fifth, sixth or seventh of Scotland (for it is impossible to
remember these things) and on, on, to my Lord Macaulay, and in the
very last reached YOU, the great summits of the human race and last
perfection of the ages READERS OF THIS BOOK, and you also Maurice,
to whom it is dedicated, and myself, who have written it for gain.




Among the sadder and smaller pleasures of this world I count this
pleasure: the pleasure of taking up one's pen.

It has been said by very many people that there is a tangible pleasure
in the mere act of writing: in choosing and arranging words. It has
been denied by many. It is affirmed and denied in the life of Doctor
Johnson, and for my part I would say that it is very true in some rare
moods and wholly false in most others. However, of writing and the
pleasure in it I am not writing here (with pleasure), but of the
pleasure of taking up one's pen, which is quite another matter.

Note what the action means. You are alone. Even if the room is
crowded (as was the smoking-room in the G.W.R. Hotel, at Paddington,
only the other day, when I wrote my "Statistical Abstract of
Christendom"), even if the room is crowded, you must have made
yourself alone to be able to write at all. You must have built up
some kind of wall and isolated your mind. You are alone, then; and
that is the beginning.

If you consider at what pains men are to be alone: how they climb
mountains, enter prisons, profess monastic vows, put on eccentric
daily habits, and seclude themselves in the garrets of a great town,
you will see that this moment of taking up the pen is not least
happy in the fact that then, by a mere association of ideas, the
writer is alone.

So much for that. Now not only are you alone, but you are going to

When people say "create" they flatter themselves. No man can create
anything. I knew a man once who drew a horse on a bit of paper to amuse
the company and covered it all over with many parallel streaks as he
drew. When he had done this, an aged priest (present upon that occasion)
said, "You are pleased to draw a zebra." When the priest said this the
man began to curse and to swear, and to protest that he had never seen
or heard of a zebra. He said it was all done out of his own head, and
he called heaven to witness, and his patron saint (for he was of the Old
English Territorial Catholic Families--his patron saint was Aethelstan),
and the salvation of his immortal soul he also staked, that he was as
innocent of zebras as the babe unborn. But there! He persuaded no one,
and the priest scored. It was most evident that the Territorial was
crammed full of zebraical knowledge.

All this, then, is a digression, and it must be admitted that there
is no such thing as a man's "creating". But anyhow, when you take up
your pen you do something devilish pleasing: there is a prospect
before you. You are going to develop a germ: I don't know what it
is, and I promise you I won't call it creation--but possibly a god
is creating through you, and at least you are making believe at
creation. Anyhow, it is a sense of mastery and of origin, and you
know that when you have done, something will be added to the world,
and little destroyed. For what will you have destroyed or wasted? A
certain amount of white paper at a farthing a square yard (and I am
not certain it is not pleasanter all diversified and variegated with
black wriggles)--a certain amount of ink meant to be spread and
dried: made for no other purpose. A certain infinitesimal amount of
quill--torn from the silly goose for no purpose whatsoever but to
minister to the high needs of Man.

Here you cry "Affectation! Affectation! How do I know that the
fellow writes with a quill? A most unlikely habit!" To that I answer
you are right. Less assertion, please, and more humility. I will
tell you frankly with what I am writing. I am writing with a
Waterman's Ideal Fountain Pen. The nib is of pure gold, as was the
throne of Charlemagne, in the "Song of Roland." That throne (I need
hardly tell you) was borne into Spain across the cold and awful
passes of the Pyrenees by no less than a hundred and twenty mules,
and all the Western world adored it, and trembled before it when it
was set up at every halt under pine trees, on the upland grasses.
For he sat upon it, dreadful and commanding: there weighed upon him
two centuries of age; his brows were level with justice and
experience, and his beard was so tangled and full, that he was
called "bramble-bearded Charlemagne." You have read how, when he
stretched out his hand at evening, the sun stood still till he had
found the body of Roland? No? You must read about these things.

Well then, the pen is of pure gold, a pen that runs straight away
like a willing horse, or a jolly little ship; indeed, it is a pen so
excellent that it reminds me of my subject: the pleasure of taking
up one's pen.

God bless you, pen! When I was a boy, and they told me work was
honourable, useful, cleanly, sanitary, wholesome, and necessary to
the mind of man, I paid no more attention to them than if they had
told me that public men were usually honest, or that pigs could fly.
It seemed to me that they were merely saying silly things they had
been told to say. Nor do I doubt to this day that those who told me
these things at school were but preaching a dull and careless round.
But now I know that the things they told me were true. God bless
you, pen of work, pen of drudgery, pen of letters, pen of posings,
pen rabid, pen ridiculous, pen glorified. Pray, little pen, be
worthy of the love I bear you, and consider how noble I shall make
you some day, when you shall live in a glass case with a crowd of
tourists round you every day from 10 to 4; pen of justice, pen of
the _saeva indignatio_, pen of majesty and of light. I will
write with you some day a considerable poem; it is a compact between
you and me. If I cannot make one of my own, then I will write out
some other man's; but you, pen, come what may, shall write out a
good poem before you die, if it is only the _Allegro_.

* * * * *

The pleasure of taking up one's pen has also this, peculiar among
all pleasures, that you have the freedom to lay it down when you
will. Not so with love. Not so with victory. Not so with glory.

Had I begun the other way round, I would have called this Work, "The
Pleasure of laying down one's Pen." But I began it where I began it,
and I am going on to end it just where it is going to end.

What other occupation, avocation, dissertation, or intellectual
recreation can you cease at will? Not bridge--you go on playing to
win. Not public speaking--they ring a bell. Not mere converse--you
have to answer everything the other insufficient person says. Not
life, for it is wrong to kill one's self; and as for the natural end
of living, that does not come by one's choice; on the contrary, it
is the most capricious of all accidents.

But the pen you lay down when you will. At any moment: without
remorse, without anxiety, without dishonour, you are free to do this
dignified and final thing (I am just going to do it).... You lay it


To begin at the beginning is, next to ending at the end, the whole
art of writing; as for the middle you may fill it in with any rubble
that you choose. But the beginning and the end, like the strong
stone outer walls of mediaeval buildings, contain and define the

And there is more than this: since writing is a human and a living
art, the beginning being the motive and the end the object of the
work, each inspires it; each runs through organically, and the two
between them give life to what you do.

So I will begin at the beginning and I will lay down this first
principle, that religion and the full meaning of things has nowhere
more disappeared from the modern world than in the department of
Guide Books.

For a Guide Book will tell you always what are the principal and
most vulgar sights of a town; what mountains are most difficult to
climb, and, invariably, the exact distances between one place and
another. But these things do not serve the End of Man. The end of
man is Happiness, and how much happier are you with such a
knowledge? Now there are some Guide Books which do make little
excursions now and then into the important things, which tell you
(for instance) what kind of cooking you will find in what places,
what kind of wine in countries where this beverage is publicly
known, and even a few, more daring than the rest, will give a hint
or two upon hiring mules, and upon the way that a bargain should be
conducted, or how to fight.

But with all this even the best of them do not go to the moral heart
of the matter. They do not give you a hint or an idea of that which
is surely the basis of all happiness in travel. I mean, the art of
gaining respect in the places where you stay. Unless that respect is
paid you you are more miserable by far than if you had stayed at
home, and I would ask anyone who reads this whether he can remember
one single journey of his which was not marred by the evident
contempt which the servants and the owners of taverns showed for him
wherever he went?

It is therefore of the first importance, much more important than
any question of price or distance, to know something of this art; it
is not difficult to learn, moreover it is so little exploited that
if you will but learn it you will have a sense of privilege and of
upstanding among your fellows worth all the holidays which were ever
taken in the world.

Of this Respect which we seek, out of so many human pleasures, a
facile, and a very false, interpretation is that it is the privilege
of the rich, and I even knew one poor fellow who forged a cheque and
went to gaol in his desire to impress the host of the "Spotted Dog,"
near Barnard Castle. It was an error in him, as it is in all who so
imagine. The rich in their degree fall under this contempt as
heavily as any, and there is no wealth that can purchase the true
awe which it should be your aim to receive from waiters, serving-wenches,
boot-blacks, and publicans.

I knew a man once who set out walking from Oxford to Stow-in-the-Wold,
from Stow-in-the-Wold to Cheltenham, from Cheltenham to Ledbury, from
Ledbury to Hereford, from Hereford to New Rhayader (where the Cobbler
lives), and from New Rhayader to the end of the world which lies a
little west and north of that place, and all the way he slept rough
under hedges and in stacks, or by day in open fields, so terrified
was he at the thought of the contempt that awaited him should he pay
for a bed. And I knew another man who walked from York to Thirsk, and
from Thirsk to Darlington, and from Darlington to Durham, and so on
up to the border and over it, and all the way he pretended to be
extremely poor so that he might be certain the contempt he received
was due to nothing of his own, but to his clothes only: but this was
an indifferent way of escaping, for it got him into many fights with
miners, and he was arrested by the police in Lanchester; and at
Jedburgh, where his money did really fail him, he had to walk all
through the night, finding that no one would take in such a
tatterdemalion. The thing could be done much more cheaply than that,
and much more respectably, and you can acquire with but little practice
one of many ways of achieving the full respect of the whole house, even
of that proud woman who sits behind glass in front of an enormous
ledger; and the first way is this:--

As you come into the place go straight for the smoking-room, and
begin talking of the local sport: and do not talk humbly and
tentatively as so many do, but in a loud authoritative tone. You
shall insist and lay down the law and fly into a passion if you are
contradicted. There is here an objection which will arise in the
mind of every niggler and boggler who has in the past very properly
been covered with ridicule and become the butt of the waiters and
stable-yard, which is, that if one is ignorant of the local sport,
there is an end to the business. The objection is ridiculous. Do you
suppose that the people whom you hear talking around you are more
learned than yourself in the matter? And if they are do you suppose
that they are acquainted with your ignorance? Remember that most of
them have read far less than you, and that you can draw upon an
experience of travel of which they can know nothing; do but make the
plunge, practising first in the villages of the Midlands, I will
warrant you that in a very little while bold assertion of this kind
will carry you through any tap-room or bar-parlour in Britain.

I remember once in the holy and secluded village of Washington under
the Downs, there came in upon us as we sat in the inn there a man whom
I recognised though he did not know me--for a journalist--incapable of
understanding the driving of a cow, let alone horses: a prophet, a
socialist, a man who knew the trend of things and so forth: a man who
had never been outside a town except upon a motor bicycle, upon which
snorting beast indeed had he come to this inn. But if he was less than
us in so many things he was greater than us in this art of gaining
respect in Inns and Hotels. For he sat down, and when they had barely
had time to say good day to him he gave us in minutest detail a great
run after a fox, a run that never took place. We were fifteen men in
the room; none of us were anything like rich enough to hunt, and the
lie went through them like an express. This fellow "found" (whatever
that may mean) at Gumber Corner, ran right through the combe (which,
by the way, is one of those bits of land which have been stolen bodily
from the English people), cut down the Sutton Road, across the railway
at Coates (and there he showed the cloven hoof, for your liar always
takes his hounds across the railway), then all over Egdean, and killed
in a field near Wisborough. All this he told, and there was not even a
man there to ask him whether all those little dogs and horses swam
the Rother or jumped it. He was treated like a god; they tried to
make him stop but he would not. He was off to Worthing, where I have
no doubt he told some further lies upon the growing of tomatoes
under glass, which is the main sport of that district. Similarly, I
have no doubt, such a man would talk about boats at King's Lynn,
murder with violence at Croydon, duck shooting at Ely, and racing

Then also if you are in any doubt as to what they want of you, you
can always change the scene. Thus fishing is dangerous for even the
poor can fish, and the chances are you do not know the names of the
animals, and you may be putting salt-water fish into the stream of
Lambourne, or talking of salmon upon the Upper Thames. But what is
to prevent you putting on a look of distance and marvel, and
conjuring up the North Atlantic for them? Hold them with the cold
and the fog of the Newfoundland seas, and terrify their simple minds
with whales.

A second way to attain respect, if you are by nature a silent man,
and one which I think is always successful, is to write before you
go to bed and leave upon the table a great number of envelopes which
you should address to members of the Cabinet, and Jewish money-lenders,
dukes, and in general any of the great. It is but slight labour, and
for the contents you cannot do better than put into each envelope one
of those advertisements which you will find lying about. Then next
morning you should gather them up and ask where the post is: but you
need not post them, and you need not fear for your bill. Your bill
will stand much the same, and your reputation will swell like a sponge.

And a third way is to go to the telephone, since there are
telephones nowadays, and ring up whoever in the neighbourhood is of
the greatest importance. There is no law against it, and when you
have the number you have but to ask the servant at the other end
whether it is not somebody else's house. But in the meanwhile your
night in the place is secure.

And a fourth way is to tell them to call you extremely early, and
then to get up extremely late. Now why this should have the effect
it has I confess I cannot tell. I lay down the rule empirically and
from long observation, but I may suggest that perhaps it is the
combination of the energy you show in early rising, and of the
luxury you show in late rising: for energy and luxury are the two
qualities which menials most admire in that governing class to which
you flatter yourself you belong. Moreover the strength of will with
which you sweep aside their inconvenience, ordering one thing and
doing another, is not without its effect, and the stir you have
created is of use to you.

And the fifth way is to be Strong, to Dominate and to Lead. To be
one of the Makers of this world, one of the Builders. To have the
more Powerful Will. To arouse in all around you by mere Force of
Personality a feeling that they must Obey. But I do not know how
this is done.


There is not anything that can so suddenly flood the mind with shame
as the conviction of ignorance, yet we are all ignorant of nearly
everything there is to be known. Is it not wonderful, then, that we
should be so sensitive upon the discovery of a fault which must of
necessity be common to all, and that in its highest degree? The
conviction of ignorance would not shame us thus if it were not for
the public appreciation of our failure.

If a man proves us ignorant of German or the complicated order of
English titles, or the rules of Bridge, or any other matter, we do
not care for his proofs, so that we are alone with him: first
because we can easily deny them all, and continue to wallow in our
ignorance without fear, and secondly, because we can always counter
with something we know, and that he knows nothing of, such as the
Creed, or the history of Little Bukleton, or some favourite book.
Then, again, if one is alone with one's opponent, it is quite easy
to pretend that the subject on which one has shown ignorance is
unimportant, peculiar, pedantic, hole in the corner, and this can be
brazened out even about Greek or Latin. Or, again, one can turn the
laugh against him, saying that he has just been cramming up the
matter, and that he is airing his knowledge; or one can begin making
jokes about him till he grows angry, and so forth. There is no
necessity to be ashamed.

But if there be others present? Ah! _Hoc est aliud rem_, that
is another matter, for then the biting shame of ignorance suddenly
displayed conquers and bewilders us. We have no defence left. We are
at the mercy of the discoverer, we own and confess, and become
insignificant: we slink away.

Note that all this depends upon what the audience conceive ignorance
to be. It is very certain that if a man should betray in some cheap
club that he did not know how to ride a horse, he would be broken
down and lost, and similarly, if you are in a country house among
the rich you are shipwrecked unless you can show acquaintance with
the Press, and among the poor you must be very careful, not only to
wear good cloth and to talk gently as though you owned them, but
also to know all about the rich. Among very young men to seem
ignorant of vice is the ruin of you, and you had better not have
been born than appear doubtful of the effects of strong drink when
you are in the company of Patriots. There was a man who died of
shame this very year in a village of Savoy because he did not know
the name of the King reigning over France to-day, and it is a common
thing to see men utterly cast down in the bar-rooms off the Strand
because they cannot correctly recite the opening words of "Boys of
the Empire." There are schoolgirls who fall ill and pine away
because they are shown to have misplaced the name of Dagobert III in
the list of Merovingian Monarchs, and quite fearless men will blush
if they are found ignoring the family name of some peer. Indeed,
there is nothing so contemptible or insignificant but that in some
society or other it is required to be known, and that the ignorance
of it may not at any moment cover one with confusion. Nevertheless
we should not on that account attempt to learn everything there is
to know (for that is manifestly impossible), nor even to learn
everything that is known, for that would soon prove a tedious and
heart-breaking task; we should rather study the means to be employed
for warding off those sudden and public convictions of Ignorance
which are the ruin of so many.

These methods of defence are very numerous and are for the most part
easy of acquirement. The most powerful of them by far (but the most
dangerous) is to fly into a passion and marvel how anyone can be
such a fool as to pay attention to wretched trifles. "Powerful,"
because it appeals to that strongest of all passions in men by which
they are predisposed to cringe before what they think to be a
superior station in society. "Dangerous," because if it fail in its
objects this method does not save you from pain, and secures you in
addition a bad quarrel, and perhaps a heavy beating. Still it has
many votaries, and is more often carried off than any other. Thus,
if in Bedfordshire, someone catches you erring on a matter of crops,
you profess that in London such things are thought mere rubbish and
despised; or again, in the society of professors at the
Universities, an ignorance of letters can easily be turned by an
allusion to that vapid life of the rich, where letters grow
insignificant; so at sea, if you slip on common terms, speak a
little of your luxurious occupations on land and you will usually be

There are other and better defences. One of these is to turn the
attack by showing great knowledge on a cognate point, or by
remembering that the knowledge your opponent boasts has been
somewhere contradicted by an authority. Thus, if some day a friend
should say, as continually happens in a London club:

"Come, let us hear you decline [Greek: tetummenos on]," you can
answer carelessly:

"You know as well as I do that the form is purely Paradigmatic: it
is never found."

Or again, if you put the Wrekin by an error into Staffordshire, you
can say, "I was thinking of the Jurassic formation which is the
basis of the formation of----" etc. Or, "Well, Shrewsbury ...
Staffordshire?... Oh! I had got my mind mixed up with the graves of
the Staffords." Very few people will dispute this, none will follow
it. There is indeed this difficulty attached to such a method, that
it needs the knowledge of a good many things, and a ready
imagination and a stiff face: but it is a good way.

Yet another way is to cover your retreat with buffoonery, pretending
to be ignorant of the most ordinary things, so as to seem to have
been playing the fool only when you made your first error. There is
a special form of this method which has always seemed to me the most
excellent by far of all known ways of escape. It is to show a steady
and crass ignorance of very nearly everything that can be mentioned,
and with all this to keep a steady mouth, a determined eye, and
(this is essential) to show by a hundred allusions that you have on
your own ground an excellent store of knowledge.

This is the true offensive-defensive in this kind of assault, and
therefore the perfection of tactics.

Thus if one should say:

"Well, it was the old story. [Greek: Anankae]."

It might happen to anyone to answer: "I never read the play."

This you will think perhaps an irremediable fall, but it is not, as
will appear from this dialogue, in which the method is developed:

SAPIENS. But, Good Heavens, it isn't a play!

IGNORAMUS. Of course not. I know that as well as you, but the
character of [Greek: Anankae] dominates the play. You won't deny

SAPIENS. You don't seem to have much acquaintance with Liddell and

IGNORAMUS. I didn't know there was anyone called Liddell in it, but
I knew Scott intimately, both before and after he succeeded to the

SAPIENS. But I mean the dictionary.

IGNORAMUS. I'm quite certain that his father wouldn't let him write
a dictionary. Why, the library at Bynton hasn't been opened for

If, after five minutes of that, Ignoramus cannot get Sapiens
floundering about in a world he knows nothing of, it is his own

But if Sapiens is over-tenacious there is a final method which may
not be the most perfect, but which I have often tried myself, and
usually with very considerable success:

SAPIENS. Nonsense, man. The Dictionary. The _Greek_ dictionary.

IGNORAMUS. What has _Ananti_ to do with Greek?

SAPIENS. I said [Greek: Anankae].

IGNORAMUS. Oh! h----h! you said [Greek: anankae], did you? I thought
you said Ananti. Of course, Scott didn't call the play Ananti, but
Ananti was the principal character, and one always calls it that in
the family. It is very well written. If he hadn't that shyness about
publishing ... and so forth.

Lastly, or rather Penultimately, there is the method of upsetting
the plates and dishes, breaking your chair, setting fire to the
house, shooting yourself, or otherwise swallowing all the memory of
your shame in a great catastrophe.

But that is a method for cowards; the brave man goes out into the
hall, comes back with a stick, and says firmly, "You have just
deliberately and cruelly exposed my ignorance before this company; I
shall, therefore, beat you soundly with this stick in the presence
of them all."

This you then do to him or he to you, _mutatis mutandis, ceteris
paribus_; and that is all I have to say on Ignorance.


Harmonides of Ephesus says in one of his treatises upon method (I
forget which, but I think the fifth) that a matter is very often
more clearly presented by way of example than in the form of a
direct statement and analysis. I have determined to follow the
advice of this great though pagan authority in what you will now
read or not read, according to your inclination.

As I was sitting one of these sunny mornings in my little Park,
reading an article upon vivisection in the _Tablet_ newspaper,
a Domestic [Be seated, be seated, I pray you!] brought me a letter
upon a Silver Salver [Be covered!]

Which reminds me, why do people say that silver is the only perfect
spondee in the English language? Salver is a perfectly good spondee;
so is North-Cape; so is great-coat; so is High-Mass; so is
Wenchthorpe; so is forewarp, which is the rope you throw out from
the stem to the little man in the boat who comes to moor you along
the west gully in the Ramsgate Harbour; so is Longnose, the name of
a buoy, and of a reef of rocks just north of the North Foreland; so
are a great many other words. But I digress. I only put in these
words to show you in case you had any dissolving doubts remaining
upon the matter, that the kind of stuff you read is very often all
nonsense, and that you must not take things for granted merely
because they are printed. I have watched you doing it from time to
time, and have been torn between pity and anger. But all that is
neither here nor there. This habit of parenthesis is the ruin of
good prose. As I was saying, example clearly put down without
comment is very often more powerful than analysis for the purpose of

The Domestic brought me a letter upon a Silver Salver. I took it and
carefully examined the outside.

They err who will maintain through thick and thin upon a mere theory
and without any true experience of the world, that it matters not
what the outside of a letter may be so long as the contents provoke
terror or amusement. The outside of a letter should appeal to one.
When one gets a letter with a halfpenny stamp and with the flap of
the letter stuck inside, and with the address on the outside
typewritten, one is very apt to throw it away. I believe that there
is no recorded case of such a letter containing a cheque, a summons,
or an invitation to eat good food, and as for demand notes, what are
they? Then again those long envelopes which come with the notice,
"Paid in bulk," outside instead of a stamp--no man can be moved by
them. They are very nearly always advertisements of cheap wine.

Do not misunderstand me: cheap wine is by no means to be despised.
There are some sorts of wine the less you pay for them the better
they are--within reason; and if a Gentleman has bought up a bankrupt
stock of wine from a fellow to whom he has been lending money, why
on earth should he not sell it again at a reasonable profit, yet
quite cheap? It seems to be pure benefit to the world. But I
perceive that all this is leading me from my subject.

I took up the letter, I say, and carefully examined the outside. It
was written in the hand of an educated man. It was almost illegible,
and had all the appearance of what an honest citizen of some culture
might write to one hurriedly about some personal matter. I noticed
that it had come from the eastern central district, but when you
consider what an enormous number of people live there during the
day, that did not prejudice me against it.

Now, when I opened this letter, I found it written a little more
carefully, but still, written, not printed, or typewritten, or
manifolded, or lithographed, or anything else of that kind. It was

The art of writing ... but Patience! Patience!...

It was written. It was very cordial, and it appealed directly, only
the style was otiose, but in matters of the first importance style
is a hindrance.

_Telephone No. 666.

The Mercury,

15th Nishan 5567.

Dear Sir,--Many people wonder, especially in your profession,_
[what is It?] _why a certain Taedium Vitae seizes them towards
five o'clock in the afternoon. The stress and hurry of modern life
have forced so many of Us to draw upon Our nervous energy that We
imagine that_ [Look at that 'that'! The whole Elizabethan
tradition chucked away!] _We are exceeding our powers, and when
this depression comes over Us, we think it necessary to take a rest,
and Let up from working. This is an erroneous supposition. What it
means is that Our body has received insufficient nutriment during
the last twenty-four hours, and that Nature is craving for more

We shall be very happy to offer you, through the medium of this
paper, a special offer of our Essence of The Ox. This offer will
only remain open until Derby Day, during which period a box of our
Essence of The Ox will be sent to you Free, if you will enclose the
following form, and send it to Us in the stamped envelope, which
accompanies this letter.

Very faithfully yours,_


It seemed to me a most extraordinary thing. I had never written for
Ullmo and his _Mercury_, and I could do them no good in the world,
either here or in Johannesburg. I was never likely to write for
him at all. He is not very pleasant; He is by no means rich; He is
ill-informed. He has no character at all, apart from rather unsuccessful
money-grubbing, and from a habit of defending with some virulence,
but with no capacity, his fellow money-grubbers throughout the
world. However, I thought no more about it, and went on reading
about "Vivisection."

Two days later I got a letter upon thick paper, so grained as to
imitate oak, and having at the top a coat-of-arms of the most
complicated kind. This coat-of-arms had a little lamb on it,
suspended by a girdle, as though it were being slung on board ship;
there were also three little sheaves of wheat, a sword, three
panthers, some gules, and a mullet. Above it was a helmet, and there
were two supporters: one was a man with a club, and the other was
another man without a club, both naked. Underneath was the motto,
"Tout a Toi." This second letter was very short.

_Dear Sir,--Can you tell me why you have not answered Our letter
re the Essence of the Ox? Derby Day is approaching, and the
remaining time is very short. We made the offer specially to you,
and we had at least expected the courtesy of an acknowledgment. You
will understand that the business of a great newspaper leaves but
little time for private charity, but we are willing to let the offer
remain open for three days longer, after which date--_

How easy it would be to criticise this English! To continue:

_--after which date the price will inevitably be raised to One
Shilling.--We remain, etc._

I had this letter framed with the other, and I waited to see what
would happen, keeping back from the bank for fear of frightening the
fish, and hardly breathing.

What happened was, after four or five days, a very sad letter which
said that Ullmo expected better things from me, but that He knew
what the stress of modern life was, and how often correspondence
fell into arrears. He sent me a smaller specimen box of the Essence
of The Ox. I have it still.

And there it is. There is no moral; there is no conclusion or
application. The world is not quite infinite--but it is
astonishingly full. All sorts of things happen in it. There are all
sorts of different men and different ways of action, and different
goals to which life may be directed. Why, in a little wood near
home, not a hundred yards long, there will soon burst, in the spring
(I wish I were there!), hundreds of thousands of leaves, and no one
leaf exactly like another. At least, so the parish priest used to
say, and though I have never had the leisure to put the thing to the
proof, I am willing to believe that he was right, for he spoke with


I appeal loudly to the Muse of History (whose name I forget and you
never knew) to help me in the description of this house, for--

The Muse of Tragedy would overstrain herself on it;

The Muse of Comedy would be impertinent upon it;

The Muse of Music never heard of it;

The Muse of Fine Arts disapproved of it;

The Muse of Public Instruction ... (Tut, tut! There I was nearly
making a tenth Muse! I was thinking of the French Ministry.)

The Muse of Epic Poetry did not understand it;

The Muse of Lyric Poetry still less so;

The Muse of Astronomy is thinking of other things;

The Muse Polyhymnia (or Polymnia, who, according to Smith's
_Dictionary of Antiquities_, is commonly represented in a
pensive attitude) has no attribute and does no work.

And as for little Terpsichore whose feet are like the small waves in
summer time, she would laugh in a peal if I asked her to write,
think of, describe, or dance in this house (and that makes eleven
Muses. No matter; better more than less).

Yet it was a house worthy of description and careful inventory, and
for that reason I have appealed to the Muse of History whose
business it is to set down everything in order as it happens,
judging between good and evil, selecting facts, condensing
narratives, admitting picturesque touches, and showing her further
knowledge by the allusive method or use of the dependent clause.
Well then, inspired, I will tell you exactly how that house was
disposed. First, there ran up the middle of it a staircase which,
had Horace seen it (and heaven knows he was the kind of man to live
in such a house), he would have called in his original and striking
way "Res Angusta Domi," for it was a narrow thing. Narrow do I call
it? Yes--and yet not so narrow. It was narrow enough to avoid all
appearance of comfort or majesty, yet not so narrow as to be quaint
or snug. It was so designed that two people could walk exactly
abreast, for it was necessary that upon great occasions the ladies
should be taken down from the drawing-room by the gentlemen to the
dining-room, yet it would have been a sin and a shame to make it
wider than that, and the house was not built in the days of
crinolines. Upon these occasions it was customary for the couples to
go down in order and in stately fashion, and the hostess went last;
but do not imagine that there was any order of precedence. Oh, no!
Far from it, they went as they were directed.

This staircase filled up a kind of Chimney or Funnel, or rather
Parallelepiped, in the house: half-way between each floor was a
landing where it turned right round on itself, and on each floor a
larger landing flanked by two doors on either side, which made four
altogether. This staircase was covered with Brussels carpet (and let
me tell you in passing that no better covering for stairs was ever
yet invented; it wears well and can be turned, and when the uppers
are worn you can move the whole thing down one file and put the steps
where the uppers were. None of your cocoanut stuff or gimcracks for
the honest house: when there is money you should have Brussels, when
you have none linoleum--but I digress). The stair-rods were of brass
and beautifully polished, the banisters of iron painted to look like
mahogany; and this staircase, which I may take to be the emblem of a
good life lived for duty, went up one pair, and two pair, and three
pair--all in the same way, and did not stop till it got to the top.
But just as a good life has beneath it a human basis so this (heaven
forgive me!) somewhat commonplace staircase changed its character
when it passed the hall door, and as it ran down to the basement had
no landing, ornament, carpet or other paraphernalia, but a sound
flight of stone steps with a cold rim of unpainted metal for the hand.

The hall that led to these steps was oblong and little furnished.
There was a hat-rack, a fireplace (in which a fire was not lit) and
two pictures; one a photograph of the poor men to whom the owner
paid weekly wages at his Works, all set out in a phalanx, or rather
fan, with the Owner of the House (and them) in the middle, the other
a steel engraving entitled "The Monarch of the Forest," from a
painting by Sir Edwin Landseer. It represented a stag and was very

On the ground floor of the House (which is a libel, for it was some
feet above the ground, and was led up to by several steps, as the
porch could show) there were four rooms--the Dining-room, the
Smoking-room, the Downstairs-room and the Back-room. The Dining-room
was so called because all meals were held in it; the Smoking-room
because it was customary to smoke all over the house (except the
Drawing-room); the Back-room because it was at the back, and the
Downstairs-room because it was downstairs. Upon my soul, I would
give you a better reason if I had one, but I have none. Only I may
say that the Smoking-room was remarkable for two stuffed birds, the
Downstairs-room from the fact that the Owner lived in it and felt at
ease there, the Back-room from the fact that no one ever went into
it (and quite right too), while the Dining-room--but the Dining-room
stands separate.

The Dining-room was well carpeted; it had in its midst a large
mahogany table so made that it could get still larger by the
addition of leaves inside; there were even flaps as well. It had
eleven chairs, and these in off-times stood ranged round the wall
thinking of nothing, but at meal times were (according to the number
wanted) put round the table. It is a theory among those who believe
that a spirit nourishes all things from within, that there was some
competition amongst these chairs as to which should be used at
table, so dull, forlorn and purposeless was their life against the
wall. Seven pictures hung on that wall; not because it was a mystic
number, but because it filled up all the required space; two on each
side of the looking-glass and three large ones on the opposite wall.
They were all of them engravings, and one of them at least was that
of a prominent statesman (Lord Beaconsfield), while the rest had to
do with historical subjects, such as the visit of Prince Albert to
the Exhibition of 1851, and I really forget what else. There was a
Chiffonier at the end of the room in which the wines and spirits
were kept, and which also had a looking-glass above it; also a white
cloth on the top for no reason on earth. An arm-chair (in which the
Owner sat) commonly stood at the head of the table; this remained
there even between meals, and was a symbol that he was master of the
house. Four meals were held here. Breakfast at eight, dinner at one,
tea at six, and a kind of supper (when the children had gone to bed)
at nine or so. But what am I saying--_quo Musa Historiae
tendis?_--dear! dear! I thought I was back again in the old
times! a thousand pardons. At the time my story opens--and closes
also for that matter (for I deal of the Owner and the House _in
articulo mortis_ so to speak; on the very edge of death)--it was
far otherwise. Breakfast was when you like (for him, however, always
at the same old hour, and there he would sit alone, his wife dead,
his son asleep--trying to read his newspaper, but staring out from
time to time through the window and feeling very companion-less).
Dinner was no longer dinner; there was "luncheon" to which nobody
came except on Saturdays. Then there was another thing (called by
the old name of dinner) at half-past seven, and what had happened to
supper no one ever made out. Some people said it had gone to
Prince's, but certainly the Owner never followed it there.

On the next floor was the Drawing-room, noted for its cabinet of
curiosities, its small aquarium, its large sofa, its piano and its
inlaid table. The back of the drawing-room was another room beyond
folding doors. This would have been convenient if a dance had ever
been given in the house. On the other side were the best bedroom and
a dressing-room. Each in its way what might be expected, save that at
the head of the best bed were two little pockets as in the time of our
grandfathers; also there was a Chevalier looking-glass and on the
dressing-table a pin-cushion with pins arranged in a pattern. The
fire-place and the mantelpiece were of white marble and had on them
two white vases picked out in bright green, a clock with a bronze
upon it representing a waiter dressed up partly in fifteenth-century
plate and partly in twelfth-century mail, and on the wall were two
Jewish texts, each translated into Jacobean English and illuminated
with a Victorian illumination. One said: "He hath prevented all my
ways." The other said: "Wisdom is better than Rubies." But the gothic
"u" was ill made and it looked like "Rabies." There was also in the
room a good wardrobe of a kind now difficult to get, made out of cedar
and very reasonable in arrangement. There was, moreover (now it occurs
to me), a little table for writing on; there was writing paper with
"Wood Thorpe" on it, but there were no stamps, and the ink was dry in
the bottles (for there were two bottles).

Well, now, shall I be at the pains of telling you what there was
upstairs? Not I! I am tired enough as it is of detailing all these
things. I will speak generally. There were four bedrooms. They were
used by the family, and above there was an attic which belonged to
the servants. The decoration of the wall was everywhere much the
same, save that it got a little meaner as one rose, till at last, in
the top rooms of all, there was nothing but little photographs of
sweethearts or pictures out of illustrated papers stuck against the
walls. The wall-paper, that had cost 3_s_. 3_d_. a piece in the hall and
dining-room, and 7_s_. 6_d_. in the drawing-room, suddenly began to
cost 1_s_. 4_d_. in the upper story and the attic was merely whitewashed.

One thing more there was, a little wooden gate. It had been put
there when the children were little, and had remained ever since at
the top of the stairs. Why? It may have been mere routine. It may
have been romance. The Owner was a practical man, and the little
gate was in the way; it was true he never had to shut and open it on
his way to bed, and but rarely even saw it. Did he leave it there
from a weak sentiment or from a culpable neglect? He was not a
sentimental man; on the other hand, he was not negligent. There is a
great deal to be said on both sides, and it is too late to discuss
that now.

Heaven send us such a house, or a house of some kind; but Heaven
send us also the liberty to furnish it as we choose. For this it was
that made the Owner's joy: he had done what he liked in his own
surroundings, and I very much doubt whether the people who live in
Queen Anne houses or go in for timber fronts can say the same.


The other day I noticed that my Muse, who had long been ailing,
silent and morose, was showing signs of actual illness.

Now, though it is by no means one of my habits to coddle the dogs,
cats and other familiars of my household, yet my Muse had so pitiful
an appearance that I determined to send for the doctor, but not
before I had seen her to bed with a hot bottle, a good supper, and
such other comforts as the Muses are accustomed to value. All that
could be done for the poor girl was done thoroughly; a fine fire was
lit in her bedroom, and a great number of newspapers such as she is
given to reading for her recreation were bought at a neighbouring
shop. When she had drunk her wine and read in their entirety the
_Daily Telegraph_, the _Morning Post_, the _Standard_, the _Daily
Mail_, the _Daily Express_, the _Times_, the _Daily News_, and
even the _Advertiser_, I was glad to see her sink into a profound

I will confess that the jealousy which is easily aroused among
servants when one of their number is treated with any special
courtesy gave me some concern, and I was at the pains of explaining
to the household not only the grave indisposition from which the
Muse suffered, but also the obligation I was under to her on account
of her virtues: which were, her long and faithful service, her
willingness, and the excess of work which she had recently been
compelled to perform. Her fellow-servants, to my astonishment and
pleasure, entered at once into the spirit of my apology: the still-room
maid offered to sit up with her all night, or at least until the
trained nurse should arrive, and the groom of the chambers, with
a good will that I confess was truly surprising in one of his proud
nature, volunteered to go himself and order straw for the street
from a neighbouring stable.

The cause of this affection which the Muse had aroused in the whole
household I subsequently discovered to lie in her own amiable and
unselfish temper. She had upon two occasions inspired the knife-boy
to verses which had subsequently appeared in the _Spectator_,
and with weekly regularity she would lend her aid to the cook in the
composition of those technical reviews by which (as it seemed) that
domestic increased her ample wages.

The Muse had slept for a full six hours when the doctor arrived--a
specialist in these matters and one who has before now been called
in (I am proud to say) by such great persons as Mr. Hichens, Mr.
Churchill, and Mr. Roosevelt when their Muses have been out of
sorts. Indeed, he is that doctor who operated for aphasia upon the
Muse of the late Mr. Rossetti just before his demise. His fees are
high, but I was willing enough to pay, and certainly would never
have consented--as have, I regret to say, so many of my unworthy
contemporaries--to employ a veterinary surgeon upon such an

The great specialist approached with a determined air the couch
where the patient lay, awoke her according to the ancient formula,
and proceeded to question her upon her symptoms. He soon discovered
their gravity, and I could see by his manner that he was anxious to
an extreme. The Muse had grown so weak as to be unable to dictate
even a little blank verse, and the indisposition had so far affected
her mind that she had no memory of Parnassus, but deliriously
maintained that she had been born in the home counties--nay, in the
neighbourhood of Uxbridge. Her every phrase was a deplorable
commonplace, and, on the physician applying a stethoscope and
begging her to attempt some verse, she could give us nothing better
than a sonnet upon the expansion of the Empire. Her weakness was
such that she could do no more than awake, and that feebly, while
she professed herself totally unable to arise, to expand, to soar,
to haunt, or to perform any of those exercises which are proper to
her profession.

When his examination was concluded the doctor took me aside and
asked me upon what letters the patient had recently fed. I told him
upon the daily Press, some of the reviews, the telegrams from the
latest seat of war, and occasionally a debate in Parliament. At this
he shook his head and asked whether too much had not recently been
asked of her. I admitted that she had done a very considerable
amount of work for so young a Muse in the past year, though its
quality was doubtful, and I hastened to add that I was the less to
blame as she had wasted not a little of her powers upon others
without asking my leave; notably upon the knife-boy and the cook.

The doctor was then good enough to write out a prescription in Latin
and to add such general recommendations as are commonly of more
value than physic. She was to keep her bed, to be allowed no modern
literature of any kind, unless Milton and Swift may be admitted as
moderns, and even these authors and their predecessors were to be
admitted in very sparing quantities. If any signs of inversion,
archaism, or neologistic tendencies appeared he was to be summoned
at once; but of these (he added) he had little fear. He did not
doubt that in a few weeks we should have her up and about again, but
he warned me against letting her begin work too soon.

"I would not," he said, "permit her to undertake any effort until
she can inspire within one day of twelve hours at least eighteen
quatrains, and those lucid, grammatical, and moving. As for single
lines, tags, fine phrases, and the rest, they are no sign whatever
of returning health, if anything of the contrary."

He also begged that she might not be allowed any Greek or Latin for
ten days, but I reassured him upon the matter by telling him that
she was totally unacquainted with those languages--at which he
expressed some pleasure but even more astonishment.

At last he told me that he was compelled to be gone; the season had
been very hard, nor had he known so general a breakdown among the
Muses of his various clients.

I thought it polite as I took him to the door to ask after some of
his more distinguished patients; he was glad to say that the
Archbishop of Armagh's was very vigorous indeed, in spite of the age
of her illustrious master. He had rarely known a more inventive or
courageous female, but when, as I handed him into his carriage, I
asked after that of Mr. Kipling, his face became suddenly grave; and
he asked me, "Have you not heard?"

"No," said I; but I had a fatal presentiment of what was to follow,
and indeed I was almost prepared for it when he answered in solemn

"She is dead."


There lives in the middle of the Weald upon the northern edge of a
small wood where a steep brow of orchard pasture goes down to a
little river, a Recluse who is of middle age and possessed of all
the ordinary accomplishments; that is, French and English literature
are familiar to him, he can himself compose, he has read his
classical Latin and can easily decipher such Greek as he has been
taught in youth. He is unmarried, he is by birth a gentleman, he
enjoys an income sufficient to give him food and wine, and has for
companion a dog who, by the standard of dogs, is somewhat more
elderly than himself.

This dog is called Argus, not that he has a hundred eyes nor even two,
indeed he has but one; for the other, or right eye, he lost the sight
of long ago from luxury and lack of exercise. This dog Argus is neither
small nor large; he is brown in colour and covered--though now but
partially--with curly hair. In this he resembles many other dogs, but
he differs from most of his breed in a further character, which is
that by long association with a Recluse he has acquired a human manner
that is unholy. He is fond of affected poses. When he sleeps it is with
that abandonment of fatigue only naturally to be found in mankind. He
watches sunsets and listens mournfully to music. Cooked food is dearer
to him than raw, and he will eat nuts--a monstrous thing in a dog and
proof of corruption.

Nevertheless, or, rather, on account of all this, the dog Argus is
exceedingly dear to his master, and of both I had the other day a
singular revelation when I set out at evening to call upon my

The sun had set, but the air was still clear and it was light enough
to have shot a bat (had there been bats about and had one had a gun)
when I knocked at the cottage door and opened it. Right within, one
comes to the first of the three rooms which the Recluse possesses,
and there I found him tenderly nursing the dog Argus, who lay
groaning in the arm-chair and putting on all the airs of a Christian
man at the point of death.

The Recluse did not even greet me, but asked me only in a hurried
way how I thought the dog Argus looked. I answered gravely and in a
low tone so as not to disturb the sufferer, that as I had not seen
him since Tuesday, when he was, for an elderly dog, in the best of
health, he certainly presented a sad contrast, but that perhaps he
was better than he had been some few hours before, and that the
Recluse himself would be the best judge of that.

My friend was greatly relieved at what I said, and told me that he
thought the dog was better, compared at least with that same
morning; then, whether you believe it or not, he took him by the
left leg just above the paw and held it for a little time as though
he were feeling a pulse, and said, "He came back less than twenty-four
hours ago!" It seemed that the dog Argus, for the first time in fourteen
years, had run away, and that for the first time in perhaps twenty or
thirty years the emotion of loss had entered into the life of the
Recluse, and that he had felt something outside books and outside
the contemplation of the landscape about his hermitage.

In a short time the dog fell into a slumber, as was shown by a
number of grunts and yaps which proved his sleep, for the dog Argus
is of that kind which hunts in dreams. His master covered him
reverently rather than gently with an Indian cloth and, still
leaving him in the armchair, sat down upon a common wooden chair
close by and gazed pitifully at the fire. For my part I stood up and
wondered at them both, and wondered also at that in man by which he
must attach himself to something, even if it be but a dog, a
politician, or an ungrateful child.

When he had gazed at the fire a little while the Recluse began to
talk, and I listened to him talking:

"Even if they had not dug up so much earth to prove it I should have
known," said he, "that the Odyssey was written not at the beginning
of a civilisation nor in the splendour of it, but towards its close.
I do not say this from the evening light that shines across its
pages, for that is common to all profound work, but I say it because
of the animals, and especially because of the dog, who was the only
one to know his master when that master came home a beggar to his
own land, before his youth was restored to him, and before he got
back his women and his kingship by the bending of his bow, and
before he hanged the housemaids and killed all those who had
despised him."

"But how," said I (for I am younger than he), "can the animals in
the poem show you that the poem belongs to a decline?"

"Why," said he, "because at the end of a great civilisation the air
gets empty, the light goes out of the sky, the gods depart, and men
in their loneliness put out a groping hand, catching at the
friendship of, and trying to understand, whatever lives and suffers
as they do. You will find it never fail that where a passionate
regard for the animals about us, or even a great tenderness for
them, is to be found there is also to be found decay in the State."

"I hope not," said I. "Moreover, it cannot be true, for in the
Thirteenth Century, which was certainly the healthiest time we ever
had, animals were understood; and I will prove it to you in several

He shrugged his shoulders and shook his head, saying, "In the rough
and in general it is true; and the reason is the reason I have given
you, that when decay begins, whether of a man or of a State, there
comes with it an appalling and a torturing loneliness in which our
energies decline into a strong affection for whatever is constantly
our companion and for whatever is certainly present upon earth. For
we have lost the sky."

"Then if the senses are so powerful in a decline of the State there
should come at the same time," said I, "a quick forgetfulness of the
human dead and an easy change of human friendship?"

"There does," he answered, and to that there was no more to be said.

"I know it by my own experience," he continued. "When, yesterday, at
sunset, I looked for my dog Argus and could not find him, I went out
into the wood and called him: the darkness came and I found no trace
of him. I did not hear him barking far off as I have heard him
before when he was younger and went hunting for a while, and three
times that night I came back out of the wild into the warmth of my
house, making sure he would have returned, but he was never there.
The third time I had gone a mile out to the gamekeeper's to give him
money if Argus should be found, and I asked him as many questions
and as foolish as a woman would ask. Then I sat up right into the
night, thinking that every movement of the wind outside or of the
drip of water was the little pad of his step coming up the
flagstones to the door. I was even in the mood when men see unreal
things, and twice I thought I saw him passing quickly between my
chair and the passage to the further room. But these things are
proper to the night and the strongest thing I suffered for him was
in the morning.

"It was, as you know, very bitterly cold for several days. They
found things dead in the hedgerows, and there was perhaps no running
water between here and the Downs. There was no shelter from the
snow. There was no cover for my friend at all. And when I was up at
dawn with the faint light about, a driving wind full of sleet filled
all the air. Then I made certain that the dog Argus was dead, and
what was worse that I should not find his body: that the old dog had
got caught in some snare or that his strength had failed him through
the cold, as it fails us human beings also upon such nights,
striking at the heart.

"Though I was certain that I would not see him again yet I went on
foolishly and aimlessly enough, plunging through the snow from one
spinney to another and hoping that I might hear a whine. I heard
none: and if the little trail he had made in his departure might
have been seen in the evening, long before that morning the drift
would have covered it.

"I had eaten nothing and yet it was near noon when I returned,
pushing forward to the cottage against the pressure of the storm,
when I found there, miserably crouched, trembling, half dead, in the
lee of a little thick yew beside my door, the dog Argus; and as I
came his tail just wagged and he just moved his ears, but he had not
the strength to come near me, his master."

[Greek: ourae men rh ho g esaene kai ouata kabbalen ampho, asson d
ouket epeita dunaesato oio anaktos elthemen.]

"I carried him in and put him here, feeding him by force, and I have
restored him."

All this the Recluse said to me with as deep and as restrained
emotion as though he had been speaking of the most sacred things, as
indeed, for him, these things were sacred.

It was therefore a mere inadvertence in me, and an untrained habit
of thinking aloud, which made me say:

"Good Heavens, what will you do when the dog Argus dies?"

At once I wished I had not said it, for I could see that the Recluse
could not bear the words. I looked therefore a little awkwardly
beyond him and was pleased to see the dog Argus lazily opening his
one eye and surveying me with torpor and with contempt. He was
certainly less moved than his master.

Then in my heart I prayed that of these two (unless The God would
make them both immortal and catch them up into whatever place is
better than the Weald, or unless he would grant them one death
together upon one day) that the dog Argus might survive my friend,
and that the Recluse might be the first to dissolve that long
companionship. For of this I am certain, that the dog would suffer
less; for men love their dependents much more than do their
dependents them; and this is especially true of brutes; for men are
nearer to the gods.


When I was a boy--

What a phrase! What memories! O! Noctes Coenasque Deum! Why, then,
is there something in man that wholly perishes? It is against sound
religion to believe it, but the world would lead one to imagine it.
The Hills are there. I see them as I write. They are the cloud or
wall that dignified my sixteenth year. And the river is there, and
flows by that same meadow beyond my door; from above Coldwatham the
same vast horizon opens westward in waves of receding crests more
changeable and more immense than is even our sea. The same sunsets
at times bring it all in splendour, for whatever herds the western
clouds together in our stormy evenings is as stable and as vigorous
as the County itself. If, therefore, there is something gone, it is
I that have lost it.

Certainly something is diminished (the Priests and the tradition of
the West forbid me to say that the soul can perish), certainly
something is diminished--what? Well, I do not know its name, nor has
anyone known it face to face or apprehended it in this life, but the
sense and influence--alas! especially the memory of It, lies in the
words "When I was a boy," and if I write those words again in any
document whatsoever, even in a lawyer's letter, without admitting at
once a full-blooded and galloping parenthesis, may the Seven Devils
of Sense take away the last remnant of the joy they lend me.

When I was a boy there was nothing all about the village or the
woods that had not its living god, and all these gods were good. Oh!
How the County and its Air shone from within; what meaning lay in
unexpected glimpses of far horizons; what a friend one was with the

Well, all I can say to the Theologians is this:

"I will grant you that the Soul does not decay: you know more of
such flimsy things than I do. But you, on your side, must grant me
that there is Something which does not enter into your systems. That
has perished, and I mean to mourn it all the days of my life. Pray
do not interfere with that peculiar ritual."

When I was a boy I knew Nature as a child knows its nurse, and Tea I
denounced for a drug. I found to support this fine instinct many
arguments, all of which are still sound, though not one of them
would prevent me now from drinking my twentieth cup. It was
introduced late and during a corrupt period. It was an exotic. It
was a sham exhilarant to which fatal reactions could not but attach.
It was no part of the Diet of the Natural Man. The two nations that
alone consume it--the English and the Chinese--are become, by its
baneful influence on the imagination, the most easily deceived in
the world. Their politics are a mass of bombastic illusions. Also it
dries their skins. It tans the liver, hardens the coats of the
stomach, makes the brain feverishly active, rots the nerve-springs;
all that is still true. Nevertheless I now drink it, and shall drink
it; for of all the effects of Age none is more profound than this:
that it leads men to the worship of some one spirit less erect than
the Angels. A care, an egotism, an irritability with regard to
details, an anxious craving, a consummate satisfaction in the
performance of the due rites, an ecstasy of habit, all proclaim the
senile heresy, the material Religion. I confess to Tea.

All is arranged in this Cult with the precision of an ancient creed.
The matter of the Sacrifice must come from China. He that would
drink Indian Tea would smoke hay. The Pot must be of metal, and the
metal must be a white metal, not gold or iron. Who has not known the
acidity and paucity of Tea from a silver-gilt or golden spout? The
Pot must first be warmed by pouring in a little _boiling_ water
(the word _boiling_ should always be underlined); then the
water is poured away and a few words are said. Then the Tea is put
in and unrolls and spreads in the steam. Then, in due order, on
these expanding leaves _Boiling_ Water is largely poured and
the god arises, worthy of continual but evil praise and of the
thanks of the vicious, a Deity for the moment deceitfully kindly to
men. Under his influence the whole mind receives a sharp vision of
power. It is a phantasm and a cheat. Men can do wonders through
wine; through Tea they only think themselves great and clear--but
that is enough if one has bound oneself to that strange idol and
learnt the magic phrase on His Pedestal, [Greek: ARISTON MEN TI],
for of all the illusions and dreams men cherish none is so grandiose
as the illusion of conscious power within.

* * * * *

Well, then, it fades.... I begin to see that this cannot continue
... of Tea it came, inconsecutive and empty; with the influence of
Tea dissolving, let these words also dissolve.... I could wish it
had been Opium, or Haschisch, or even Gin; you would have had
something more soaring for your money.... _In vino Veritas. In
Aqua satietas. In_ ... What is the Latin for Tea? What! Is there
no Latin word for Tea? Upon my soul, if I had known that I would
have let the vulgar stuff alone.


I do not like Them. It is no good asking me why, though I have
plenty of reasons. I do not like Them. There would be no particular
point in saying I do not like Them if it were not that so many
people doted on Them, and when one hears Them praised, it goads one
to expressing one's hatred and fear of Them.

I know very well that They can do one harm, and that They have
occult powers. All the world has known that for a hundred thousand
years, more or less, and every attempt has been made to propitiate
Them. James I. would drown Their mistress or burn her, but
_They_ were spared. Men would mummify Them in Egypt, and
worship the mummies; men would carve Them in stone in Cyprus, and
Crete and Asia Minor, or (more remarkable still) artists, especially
in the Western Empire, would leave Them out altogether; so much was
Their influence dreaded. Well, I yield so far as not to print Their
name, and only to call Them "They", but I hate Them, and I'm not
afraid to say so.

If you will take a little list of the chief crimes that living
beings can commit you will find that They commit them all. And They
are cruel; cruelty is even in Their tread and expression. They are
hatefully cruel. I saw one of Them catch a mouse the other day (the
cat is now out of the bag), and it was a very much more sickening
sight, I fancy, than ordinary murder. You may imagine that They
catch mice to eat them. It is not so. They catch mice to torture them.
And what is worse, They will teach this to Their children--Their
children who are naturally innocent and fat, and full of goodness,
are deliberately and systematically corrupted by Them; there is
diabolism in it.

Other beings (I include mankind) will be gluttonous, but gluttonous
spasmodically, or with a method, or shamefacedly, or, in some way or
another that qualifies the vice; not so They. They are gluttonous
always and upon all occasions, and in every place and for ever. It
was only last Vigil of All Fools' Day when, myself fasting, I filled
up the saucer seven times with milk and seven times it was emptied,
and there went up the most peevish, querulous, vicious complaint and
demand for an eighth. They will eat some part of the food of all
that are in the house. Now even a child, the most gluttonous one
would think of all living creatures, would not do that. It makes a
selection, _They_ do not. _They_ will drink beer. This is not a theory;
I know it; I have seen it with my own eyes. They will eat special foods;
They will even eat dry bread. Here again I have personal evidence of
the fact; They will eat the dog's biscuits, but never upon any occasion
will They eat anything that has been poisoned, so utterly lacking are
They in simplicity and humility, and so abominably well filled with
cunning by whatever demon first brought their race into existence.

They also, alone of all creation, love hateful noises. Some beings
indeed (and I count Man among them) cannot help the voice with which
they have been endowed, but they know that it is offensive, and are
at pains to make it better; others (such as the peacock or the
elephant) also know that their cry is unpleasant. They therefore use
it sparingly. Others again, the dove, the nightingale, the thrush,
know that their voices are very pleasant, and entertain us with them
all day and all night long; but They know that Their voices are the
most hideous of all the sounds in the world, and, knowing this, They
perpetually insist upon thrusting those voices upon us, saying, as
it were, "I am giving myself pain, but I am giving you more pain,
and therefore I shall go on." And They choose for the place where
this pain shall be given, exact and elevated situations, very close
to our ears. Is there any need for me to point out that in every
city they will begin their wicked jar just at the time when its
inhabitants must sleep? In London you will not hear it till after
midnight; in the county towns it begins at ten; in remote villages
as early as nine.

Their Master also protects them. They have a charmed life. I have
seen one thrown from a great height into a London street, which when
It reached it It walked quietly away with the dignity of the Lost
World to which It belonged.

If one had the time one could watch Them day after day, and never
see Them do a single kind or good thing, or be moved by a single
virtuous impulse. They have no gesture for the expression of
admiration, love, reverence or ecstasy. They have but one method of
expressing content, and They reserve that for moments of physical
repletion. The tail, which is in all other animals the signal for
joy or for defence, or for mere usefulness, or for a noble anger, is
with Them agitated only to express a sullen discontent.

All that They do is venomous, and all that They think is evil, and
when I take mine away (as I mean to do next week--in a basket), I
shall first read in a book of statistics what is the wickedest part
of London, and I shall leave It there, for I know of no one even
among my neighbours quite so vile as to deserve such a gift.


Railways have changed the arrangement and distribution of crowds and
solitude, but have done nothing to disturb the essential contrast
between them.

The more behindhand of my friends, among whom I count the weary men
of the towns, are ceaselessly bewailing the effect of railways and
the spoiling of the country; nor do I fail, when I hear such
complaints, to point out their error, courteously to hint at their
sheep-like qualities, and with all the delicacy imaginable to let
them understand they are no better than machines repeating worn-out
formulae through the nose. The railways and those slow lumbering
things the steamboats have not spoilt our solitudes, on the contrary
they have intensified the quiet of the older haunts, they have
created new sanctuaries, and (crowning blessing) they make it easy
for us to reach our refuges.

For in the first place you will notice that new lines of travel are
like canals cut through the stagnant marsh of an old civilisation,
draining it of populace and worry, and concentrating upon themselves
the odious pressure of humanity.

You know (to adopt the easy or conversational style) that you and I
belong to a happy minority. We are the sons of the hunters and the
wandering singers, and from our boyhood nothing ever gave us greater
pleasure than to stand under lonely skies in forest clearings, or to
find a beach looking westward at evening over unfrequented seas. But
the great mass of men love companionship so much that nothing seems
of any worth compared with it. Human communion is their meat and
drink, and so they use the railways to make bigger and bigger hives
for themselves.

Now take the true modern citizen, the usurer. How does the usurer
suck the extremest pleasure out of his holiday? He takes the train
preferably at a very central station near the Strand, and (if he can
choose his time) on a foggy and dirty day; he picks out an express
that will take him with the greatest speed through the Garden of Eden,
nor does he begin to feel the full savour of relaxation till a row of
abominable villas' appears on the southern slope of what were once the
downs; these villas stand like the skirmishers of a foul army deployed:
he is immediately whirled into Brighton and is at peace. There he has
his wish for three days; there he can never see anything but houses,
or, if he has to walk along the sea, he can rest his eye on herds of
unhappy people and huge advertisements, and he can hear the newspaper
boys telling lies (perhaps special lies he has paid for) at the top of
their voices; he can note as evening draws on the pleasant glare of gas
upon the street mud and there pass him the familiar surroundings of
servility, abject poverty, drunkenness, misery, and vice. He has his
music-hall on the Saturday evening with the sharp, peculiar finish of
the London accent in the patriotic song, he has the London paper on
Sunday to tell him that his nastiest little Colonial War was a crusade,
and on Monday morning he has the familiar feeling that follows his
excesses of the previous day.... Are you not glad that such men and
their lower-fellows swarm by hundreds of thousands into the "resorts"?
Do you not bless the railways that take them so quickly from one Hell
to another.

Never let me hear you say that the railways spoil a countryside;
they do, it is true, spoil this or that particular place--as, for
example, Crewe, Brighton, Stratford-on-Avon--but for this
disadvantage they give us I know not how many delights. What is more
English than the country railway station? I defy the eighteenth
century to produce anything more English, more full of home and rest
and the nature of the country, than my junction. Twenty-seven trains
a day stop at it or start from it; it serves even the expresses.
Smith's monopoly has a bookstall there; you can get cheap Kipling
and Harmsworth to any extent, and yet it is a theme for English
idylls. The one-eyed porter whom I have known from childhood; the
station-master who ranges us all in ranks, beginning with the Duke
and ending with a sad, frayed and literary man; the little chaise in
which the two old ladies from Barlton drive up to get their paper of
an evening, the servant from the inn, the newsboy whose mother keeps
a sweetshop--they are all my village friends. The glorious Sussex
accent, whose only vowel is the broad "a", grows but more rich and
emphatic from the necessity of impressing itself upon foreign
intruders. The smoke also of the train as it skirts the Downs is
part and parcel of what has become (thanks to the trains) our
encloistered country life; the smoke of the trains is a little
smudge of human activity which permits us to match our incomparable
seclusion with the hurly-burly from which we have fled. Upon my
soul, when I climb up the Beacon to read my book on the warm turf,
the sight of an engine coming through the cutting is an emphasis of
my selfish enjoyment. I say "There goes the Brighton train", but the
image of Brighton, with its Anglo-Saxons and its Vision of Empire,
does not oppress me; it is a far-off thing; its life ebbs and flows
along that belt of iron to distances that do not regard me.

Consider this also with regard to my railway: it brings me what I
want in order to be perfect in my isolation. Those books discussing
Problems: whether or not there is such an idea as right; the
inconvenience of being married; the worry of being Atheist and yet
living upon a clerical endowment,--these fine discussions come from
a library in a box by train and I can torture myself for a shilling,
whereas, before the railways, I should have had to fall back on the
_Gentleman's Magazine_ and the County History. In the way of
newspapers it provides me with just the companionship necessary to a
hermitage. Often and often, after getting through one paper, I
stroll down to the junction and buy fifteen others, and so enjoy the
fruits of many minds.

Thanks to my railway I can sit in the garden of an evening and read
my paper as I smoke my pipe, and say, "Ah! That's Buggin's work. I
remember him well; he worked for Rhodes.... Hullo! Here's Simpson at
it again; since when did they buy _him_?..." And so forth. I lead
my pastoral life, happy in the general world about me, and I serve,
as sauce to such healthy meat, the piquant wickedness of the town;
nor do I ever note a cowardice, a lie, a bribery, or a breach of
trust, a surrender in the field, or a new Peerage, but I remember
that my newspaper could not add these refining influences to my life
but for the _railway_ which I set out to praise at the beginning of
this and intend to praise manfully to the end.

Yet another good we owe to railways occurs to me. They keep the
small towns going.

Don't pester me with "economics" on that point; I know more
economics than you, and I say that but for the railways the small
towns would have gone to pieces. There never yet was a civilisation
growing richer and improving its high roads in which the small towns
did not dwindle. The village supplied the local market with bodily
necessaries; the intellectual life, the civic necessities had to go
into the large towns. It happened in the second and third centuries
in Italy; it happened in France between Henri IV and the Revolution;
it was happening here before 1830.

Take those little paradises Ludlow and Leominster; consider Arundel,
and please your memory with the admirable slopes of Whitchurch; grow
contented in a vision of Ledbury, of Rye, or of Abingdon, or of
Beccles with its big church over the river, or of Newport in the
Isle of Wight, or of King's Lynn, or of Lymington--you would not
have any of these but for the railway, and there are 1800 such in
England--one for every tolerable man.

Valognes in the Cotentin, Bourg-d'Oysan down in the Dauphine in its
vast theatre of upright hills, St. Julien in the Limousin,
Aubusson-in-the-hole, Puy (who does not connect beauty with the
word?), Mansle in the Charente country--they had all been half dead
for over a century when the railway came to them and made them
jolly, little, trim, decent, self-contained, worthy, satisfactory,
genial, comforting and human [Greek: politeiae], with clergy, upper
class, middle class, poor, soldiers, yesterday's news, a college,
anti-Congo men, fools, strong riders, old maids, and all that makes
a state. In England the railway brought in that beneficent class,
the gentlemen; in France, that still more beneficent class, the
Haute Bourgeoisie.

I know what you are going to say; you are going to say that there
were squires before the railways in England. Pray have you
considered how many squires there were to go round? About half a
dozen squires to every town, that is (say) four gentlemen, and of
those four gentlemen let us say two took some interest in the place.
It wasn't good enough ... and heaven help the country towns now if
they had to depend on the great houses! There would be a smart dog-cart
once a day with a small (vicious and servile) groom in it, an actor, a
foreign money-lender, a popular novelist, or a newspaper owner jumping
out to make his purchases and driving back again to his host's within
the hour. No, no; what makes the country town is the Army, the Navy,
the Church, and the Law--especially the retired ones.

Then think of the way in which the railways keep a good man's
influence in a place and a bad man's out of it. Your good man loves
a country town, but he must think, and read, and meet people, so in
the last century he regretfully took a town house and had his little
house in the country as well. Now he lives in the country and runs
up to town when he likes.

He is always a permanent influence in the little city--especially if
he has but L400 a year, which is the normal income of a retired
gentleman (yes, it is so, and if you think it is too small an
estimate, come with me some day and make an inquisitorial tour of my
town). As for the vulgar and cowardly man, he hates small towns
(fancy a South African financier in a small town!), well, the
railway takes him away. Of old he might have had to stay there or
starve, now he goes to London and runs a rag, or goes into
Parliament, or goes to dances dressed up in imitation of a soldier;
or he goes to Texas and gets hanged--it's all one to me. He's out of
my town.

And as the railways have increased the local refinement and virtue,
so they have ennobled and given body to the local dignitary. What
would the Bishop of Caen (he calls himself Bishop of Lisieux and
Bayeux, but that is archaeological pedantry); what, I say, would the
Bishop of Caen be without his railway? A Phantom or a Paris magnate.
What the Mayor of High Wycombe? Ah! what indeed! But I cannot waste
any more of this time of mine in discussing one aspect of the
railway; what further I have to say on the subject shall be
presented in due course in my book on _The Small Town of
Christendom_ [Footnote: _The Small Town of Christendom: an
Analytical Study_. With an Introduction by Joseph Reinach. Ulmo
et Cie. L25 nett.] I will close this series of observations with a
little list of benefits the railway gives you, many of which would
not have occurred to you but for my ingenuity, some of which you may
have thought of at some moment or other, and yet would never have
retained but for my patient labour in this.

The railway gives you seclusion. If you are in an express alone you
are in the only spot in Western Europe where you can be certain of
two or three hours to yourself. At home in the dead of night you may
be wakened by a policeman or a sleep-walker or a dog. The heaths are
populous. You cannot climb to the very top of Helvellyn to read your
own poetry to yourself without the fear of a tourist. But in the
corner of a third-class going north or west you can be sure of your
own company; the best, the most sympathetic, the most brilliant in
the world.

The railway gives you sharp change. And what we need in change is
surely keenness. For instance, if one wanted to go sailing in the
old days, one left London, had a bleak drive in the country, got
nearer and nearer the sea, felt the cold and wet and discomfort
growing on one, and after half a day or a day's gradual introduction
to the thing, one would at last have got on deck, wet and wretched,
and half the fun over. Nowadays what happens? Why, the other day, a
rich man was sitting in London with a poor friend; they were
discussing what to do in three spare days they had. They said "let
us sail." They left London in a nice warm, comfortable, rich-padded,
swelly carriage at four, and before dark they were letting
everything go, putting on the oilies, driving through the open in
front of it under a treble-reefed storm jib, praying hard for their
lives in last Monday's gale, and wishing to God they had stayed at
home--all in the four hours. That is what you may call piquant, it
braces and refreshes a man.

For the rest I cannot detail the innumerable minor advantages of
railways; the mild excitement which is an antidote to gambling; the
shaking which (in moderation) is good for livers; the meeting
familiarly with every kind of man and talking politics to him; the
delight in rapid motion; the luncheon-baskets; the porters; the
solid guard; the strenuous engine-driver (note this next time you
travel--it is an accurate observation). And of what other kind of
modern thing can it be said that more than half pay dividends?
Thinking of these things, what sane and humorous man would ever
suggest that a part of life, so fertile in manifold and human
pleasure, should ever be bought by the dull clique who call
themselves "the State", and should yield under such a scheme yet
_more_, yet _larger_, yet _securer_ salaries to the younger sons.


I might have added in this list I have just made of the advantages
of Railways, that Railways let one mix with one's fellow-men and
hear their continual conversation. Now if you will think of it,
Railways are the only institutions that give us that advantage. In
other places we avoid all save those who resemble us, and many men
become in middle age like cabinet ministers, quite ignorant of their
fellow-citizens. But in Trains, if one travels much, one hears every
kind of man talking to every other and one perceives all England.

It is on this account that I have always been at pains to note what
I heard in this way, especially the least expected, most startling,
and therefore most revealing dialogues, and as soon as I could to
write them down, for in this way one can grow to know men.

Thus I have somewhere preserved a hot discussion among some miners
in Derbyshire (voters, good people, voters remember) whether the
United States were bound to us as a colony "like Egypt." And I once
heard also a debate as to whether the word were Horizon or Horizon;
this ended in a fight; and the Horizon man pushed the Horizon man
out at Skipton, and wouldn't let him get into the carriage again.

Then again I once heard two frightfully rich men near Birmingham
arguing why England was the richest and the Happiest Country in the
world. Neither of these men was a gentleman but they argued politely
though firmly, for they differed profoundly. One of them, who was
almost too rich to walk, said it was because we minded our own
affairs, and respected property and were law-abiding. This (he said)
was the cause of our prosperity and of the futile envy with which
foreigners regarded the homes of our working men. Not so the other:
_he_ thought that it was the Plain English sense of Duty that
did the trick: he showed how this was ingrained in us and appeared
in our Schoolboys and our Police: he contrasted it with Ireland, and
he asked what else had made our Criminal Trials the model of the
world? All this also I wrote down.

Then also once on a long ride (yes, "ride". Why not?) through
Lincolnshire I heard two men of the smaller commercial or salaried
kind at issue. The first, who had a rather peevish face, was looking
gloomily out of window and was saying, "Denmark has it: Greece has
it--why shouldn't we have it? Eh? America has it and so's Germany--why
shouldn't we have it?" Then after a pause he added, "Even France has
it--why haven't we got it?" He spoke as though he wouldn't stand it
much longer, and as though France were the last straw.

The other man was excitable and had an enormous newspaper in his
hand, and he answered in a high voice, "'Cause we're too sensible,
that's why! 'Cause we know what we're about, we do."

The other man said, "Ho! Do we?"

The second man answered, "Yes: we do. What made England?"

"Gord," said the first man.

This brought the second man up all standing and nearly carried away
his fore-bob-stay. He answered slowly--

"Well ... yes ... in a manner of speaking. But what I meant to say
was like this, that what made England was Free Trade!" Here he
slapped one hand on to the other with a noise like that of a pistol,
and added heavily: "And what's more, I can prove it."

The first man, who was now entrenched in his position, said again,
"Ho! Can you?" and sneered.

The second man then proved it, getting more and more excited. When
he had done, all the first man did was to say, "You talk

Then there was a long silence: very strained. At last the Free
Trader pulled out a pipe and filled it at leisure, with a light sort

Book of the day:
Facebook Google Reddit StumbleUpon Twitter Pinterest