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The Complete Essays of John Galsworthy by John Galsworthy

Part 3 out of 4

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animals which had bitten them were indeed rats. Howbeit for some
time no one could be found who could say more than what he had been
told, and since this was not evidence, the Town Watch had good hopes
that they would not after all be forced to undertake this tedious
enterprise. But presently there came before them one who said that
he had himself seen the rat which had bitten him, by the light of an
old man's lanthorn. When the Town Watch heard this they were vexed,
for they knew that if this were true they would now be forced to
prosecute the arduous undertaking, and they said:

"Bring in this old man!"

Cethru was brought before them trembling.

"What is this we hear, old man, about your lanthorn and the rat? And
in the first place, what were you doing in the Vita Publica at that
time of night?"

Cethru answered: "I were just passin' with my lanthorn!"

"Tell us--did you see the rat?"

Cethru shook his head: "My lanthorn seed the rat, maybe!" he

"Old owl!" said the Captain of the Watch: "Be careful what you say!
If you saw the rat, why did you then not aid this unhappy citizen who
was bitten by it--first, to avoid that rodent, and subsequently to
slay it, thereby relieving the public of a pestilential danger?"

Cethru looked at him, and for some seconds did not reply; then he
said slowly: "I were just passin' with my lanthorn."

"That you have already told us," said the Captain of the Watch; "it
is no answer."

Cethru's leathern cheeks became wine-coloured, so desirous was he to
speak, and so unable. And the Watch sneered and laughed, saying:

"This is a fine witness."

But of a sudden Cethru spoke:

"What would I be duin'--killin' rats; tidden my business to kill

The Captain of the Watch caressed his beard, and looking at the old
man with contempt, said:

"It seems to me, brothers, that this is an idle old vagabond, who
does no good to any one. We should be well advised, I think, to
prosecute him for vagrancy. But that is not at this moment the
matter in hand. Owing to the accident--scarcely fortunate--of this
old man's passing with his lanthorn, it would certainly appear that
citizens have been bitten by rodents. It is then, I fear, our duty
to institute proceedings against those poisonous and violent

And amidst the sighing of the Watch, it was so resolved.

Cethru was glad to shuffle away, unnoticed, from the Court, and
sitting down under a camel-date tree outside the City Wall, he thus

"They were rough with me! I done nothin', so far's I can see!"

And a long time he sat there with the bunches of the camel-dates
above him, golden as the sunlight. Then, as the scent of the lyric-
flowers, released by evening, warned him of the night dropping like a
flight of dark birds on the plain, he rose stiffly, and made his way
as usual toward the Vita Publica.

He had traversed but little of that black thoroughfare, holding his
lanthorn at the level of his breast, when the sound of a splash and
cries for help smote his long, thin ears. Remembering how the
Captain of the Watch had admonished him, he stopped and peered about,
but owing to his proximity to the light of his own lanthorn he saw
nothing. Presently he heard another splash and the sound of blowings
and of puffings, but still unable to see clearly whence they came, he
was forced in bewilderment to resume his march. But he had no sooner
entered the next bend of that obscure and winding avenue than the
most lamentable, lusty cries assailed him. Again he stood still,
blinded by his own light. Somewhere at hand a citizen was being
beaten, for vague, quick-moving forms emerged into the radiance of
his lanthorn out of the deep violet of the night air. The cries
swelled, and died away, and swelled; and the mazed Cethru moved
forward on his way. But very near the end of his first traversage,
the sound of a long, deep sighing, as of a fat man in spiritual pain,
once more arrested him.

"Drat me!" he thought, "this time I will see what 'tis," and he spun
round and round, holding his lanthorn now high, now low, and to both
sides. "The devil an' all's in it to-night," he murmured to himself;
"there's some'at here fetchin' of its breath awful loud." But for
his life he could see nothing, only that the higher he held his
lanthorn the more painful grew the sound of the fat but spiritual
sighing. And desperately, he at last resumed his progress.

On the morrow, while he still slept stretched on his straw pallet,
there came to him a member of the Watch.

"Old man, you are wanted at the Court House; rouse up, and bring your

Stiffly Cethru rose.

"What be they wantin' me fur now, mester?"

"Ah!" replied the Watchman, "they are about to see if they can't put
an end to your goings-on."

Cethru shivered, and was silent.

Now when they reached the Court House it was patent that a great
affair was forward; for the Judges were in their robes, and a crowd
of advocates, burgesses, and common folk thronged the careen, lofty
hall of justice.

When Cethru saw that all eyes were turned on him, he shivered still
more violently, fixing his fascinated gaze on the three Judges in
their emerald robes.

"This then is the prisoner," said the oldest of the Judges; "proceed
with the indictment!"

A little advocate in snuff-coloured clothes rose on little legs, and
commenced to read:

"Forasmuch as on the seventeenth night of August fifteen hundred
years since the Messiah's death, one Celestine, a maiden of this
city, fell into a cesspool in the Vita Publica, and while being
quietly drowned, was espied of the burgess Pardonix by the light of a
lanthorn held by the old man Cethru; and, forasmuch as, plunging in,
the said Pardonix rescued her, not without grave risk of life and the
ruin, of his clothes, and to-day lies ill of fever; and forasmuch as
the old man Cethru was the cause of these misfortunes to the burgess
Pardonix, by reason of his wandering lanthorn's showing the drowning
maiden, the Watch do hereby indict, accuse, and otherwise place
charge upon this Cethru of 'Vagabondage without serious occupation.'

"And, forasmuch as on this same night the Watchman Filepo, made
aware, by the light of this said Cethru's lanthorn, of three sturdy
footpads, went to arrest them, and was set on by the rogues and well-
nigh slain, the Watch do hereby indict, accuse, and otherwise charge
upon Cethru complicity in this assault, by reasons, namely, first,
that he discovered the footpads to the Watchman and the Watchman to
the footpads by the light of his lanthorn; and, second, that, having
thus discovered them, he stood idly by and gave no assistance to the

"And, forasmuch as on this same night the wealthy burgess Pranzo,
who, having prepared a banquet, was standing in his doorway awaiting
the arrival of his guests, did see, by the light of the said Cethru's
lanthorn, a beggar woman and her children grovelling in the gutter
for garbage, whereby his appetite was lost completely; and, forasmuch
as he, Pranzo, has lodged a complaint against the Constitution for
permitting women and children to go starved, the Watch do hereby
indict, accuse, and otherwise make charge on Cethru of rebellion and
of anarchy, in that wilfully he doth disturb good citizens by showing
to them without provocation disagreeable sights, and doth moreover
endanger the laws by causing persons to desire to change them.

"These be the charges, reverend Judges, so please you!"

And having thus spoken, the little advocate resumed his seat.

Then said the oldest of the Judges:

"Cethru, you have heard; what answer do you make?"

But no word, only the chattering of teeth, came from Cethru.

"Have you no defence?" said the Judge: "these are grave accusations!"

Then Cethru spoke:

"So please your Highnesses," he said, "can I help what my lanthorn

And having spoken these words, to all further questions he remained
more silent than a headless man.

The Judges took counsel of each other, and the oldest of them thus
addressed himself to Cethru:

"If you have no defence, old man, and there is no one will say a word
for you, we can but proceed to judgment."

Then in the main aisle of the Court there rose a youthful advocate.

"Most reverend Judges," he said in a mellifluous voice, clearer than
the fluting of a bell-bird, "it is useless to look for words from
this old man, for it is manifest that he himself is nothing, and that
his lanthorn is alone concerned in this affair. But, reverend
Judges, bethink you well: Would you have a lanthorn ply a trade or
be concerned with a profession, or do aught indeed but pervade the
streets at night, shedding its light, which, if you will, is
vagabondage? And, Sirs, upon the second count of this indictment:
Would you have a lanthorn dive into cesspools to rescue maidens?
Would you have a lanthorn to beat footpads? Or, indeed, to be any
sort of partisan either of the Law or of them that break the Law?
Sure, Sirs, I think not. And as to this third charge of fostering
anarchy let me but describe the trick of this lanthorn's flame. It
is distilled, most reverend Judges, of oil and wick, together with
that sweet secret heat of whose birth no words of mine can tell. And
when, Sirs, this pale flame has sprung into the air swaying to every
wind, it brings vision to the human eye. And, if it be charged on
this old man Cethru that he and his lanthorn by reason of their
showing not only the good but the evil bring no pleasure into the
world, I ask, Sirs, what in the world is so dear as this power to see
whether it be the beautiful or the foul that is disclosed? Need I,
indeed, tell you of the way this flame spreads its feelers, and
delicately darts and hovers in the darkness, conjuring things from
nothing? This mechanical summoning, Sirs, of visions out of
blackness is benign, by no means of malevolent intent; no more than
if a man, passing two donkeys in the road, one lean and the
other fat, could justly be arraigned for malignancy because they were
not both fat. This, reverend Judges, is the essence of the matter
concerning the rich burgess, Pranzo, who, on account of the sight he
saw by Cethru's lanthorn, has lost the equilibrium of his stomach.
For, Sirs, the lanthorn did but show that which was there, both fair
and foul, no more, no less; and though it is indeed true that Pranzo
is upset, it was not because the lanthorn maliciously produced
distorted images, but merely caused to be seen, in due proportions,
things which Pranzo had not seen before. And surely, reverend
Judges, being just men, you would not have this lanthorn turn its
light away from what is ragged and ugly because there are also fair
things on which its light may fall; how, indeed, being a lanthorn,
could it, if it would? And I would have you note this, Sirs, that by
this impartial discovery of the proportions of one thing to another,
this lanthorn must indeed perpetually seem to cloud and sadden those
things which are fair, because of the deep instincts of harmony and
justice planted in the human breast. However unfair and cruel, then,
this lanthorn may seem to those who, deficient in these instincts,
desire all their lives to see naught but what is pleasant, lest they,
like Pranzo, should lose their appetites--it is not consonant with
equity that this lanthorn should, even if it could, be prevented from
thus mechanically buffeting the holiday cheek of life. I would
think, Sirs, that you should rather blame the queazy state of
Pranzo's stomach. The old man has said that he cannot help what his
lanthorn sees. This is a just saying. But if, reverend Judges, you
deem this equipoised, indifferent lanthorn to be indeed blameworthy
for having shown in the same moment, side by side, the skull and the
fair face, the burdock and the tiger-lily, the butterfly and toad,
then, most reverend Judges, punish it, but do not punish this old
man, for he himself is but a flume of smoke, thistle down dispersed--

So saying, the young advocate ceased.

Again the three Judges took counsel of each other, and after much
talk had passed between them, the oldest spoke:

"What this young advocate has said seems to us to be the truth. We
cannot punish a lanthorn. Let the old man go!"

And Cethru went out into the sunshine . . . .

Now it came to pass that the Prince of Felicitas, returning from his
journey, rode once more on his amber-coloured steed down the Vita

The night was dark as a rook's wing, but far away down the street
burned a little light, like a red star truant from heaven. The
Prince riding by descried it for a lanthorn, with an old man sleeping
beside it.

"How is this, Friend?" said the Prince. "You are not walking as I
bade you, carrying your lanthorn."

But Cethru neither moved nor answered:

"Lift him up!" said the Prince.

They lifted up his head and held the lanthorn to his closed eyes. So
lean was that brown face that the beams from the lanthorn would not
rest on it, but slipped past on either side into the night. His eyes
did not open. He was dead.

And the Prince touched him, saying: "Farewell, old man! The lanthorn
is still alight. Go, fetch me another one, and let him carry it!"



A drama must be shaped so as to have a spire of meaning. Every
grouping of life and character has its inherent moral; and the
business of the dramatist is so to pose the group as to bring that
moral poignantly to the light of day. Such is the moral that exhales
from plays like 'Lear', 'Hamlet', and 'Macbeth'. But such is not the
moral to be found in the great bulk of contemporary Drama. The moral
of the average play is now, and probably has always been, the triumph
at all costs of a supposed immediate ethical good over a supposed
immediate ethical evil.

The vice of drawing these distorted morals has permeated the Drama to
its spine; discoloured its art, humanity, and significance; infected
its creators, actors, audience, critics; too often turned it from a
picture into a caricature. A Drama which lives under the shadow of
the distorted moral forgets how to be free, fair, and fine--forgets
so completely that it often prides itself on having forgotten.

Now, in writing plays, there are, in this matter of the moral, three
courses open to the serious dramatist. The first is: To definitely
set before the public that which it wishes to have set before it, the
views and codes of life by which the public lives and in which it
believes. This way is the most common, successful, and popular. It
makes the dramatist's position sure, and not too obviously

The second course is: To definitely set before the public those views
and codes of life by which the dramatist himself lives, those
theories in which he himself believes, the more effectively if they
are the opposite of what the public wishes to have placed before it,
presenting them so that the audience may swallow them like powder in
a spoonful of jam.

There is a third course: To set before the public no cut-and-dried
codes, but the phenomena of life and character, selected and
combined, but not distorted, by the dramatist's outlook, set down
without fear, favour, or prejudice, leaving the public to draw such
poor moral as nature may afford. This third method requires a
certain detachment; it requires a sympathy with, a love of, and a
curiosity as to, things for their own sake; it requires a far view,
together with patient industry, for no immediately practical result.

It was once said of Shakespeare that he had never done any good to
any one, and never would. This, unfortunately, could not, in the
sense in which the word "good" was then meant, be said of most modern
dramatists. In truth, the good that Shakespeare did to humanity was
of a remote, and, shall we say, eternal nature; something of the good
that men get from having the sky and the sea to look at. And this
partly because he was, in his greater plays at all events, free from
the habit of drawing a distorted moral. Now, the playwright who
supplies to the public the facts of life distorted by the moral which
it expects, does so that he may do the public what he considers an
immediate good, by fortifying its prejudices; and the dramatist who
supplies to the public facts distorted by his own advanced morality,
does so because he considers that he will at once benefit the public
by substituting for its worn-out ethics, his own. In both cases the
advantage the dramatist hopes to confer on the public is immediate
and practical.

But matters change, and morals change; men remain--and to set men,
and the facts about them, down faithfully, so that they draw for us
the moral of their natural actions, may also possibly be of benefit
to the community. It is, at all events, harder than to set men and
facts down, as they ought, or ought not to be. This, however, is not
to say that a dramatist should, or indeed can, keep himself and his
temperamental philosophy out of his work. As a man lives and thinks,
so will he write. But it is certain, that to the making of good
drama, as to the practice of every other art, there must be brought
an almost passionate love of discipline, a white-heat of self-
respect, a desire to make the truest, fairest, best thing in one's
power; and that to these must be added an eye that does not flinch.
Such qualities alone will bring to a drama the selfless character
which soaks it with inevitability.

The word "pessimist" is frequently applied to the few dramatists who
have been content to work in this way. It has been applied, among
others, to Euripides, to Shakespeare, to Ibsen; it will be applied to
many in the future. Nothing, however, is more dubious than the way
in which these two words "pessimist" and "optimist" are used; for the
optimist appears to be he who cannot bear the world as it is, and is
forced by his nature to picture it as it ought to be, and the
pessimist one who cannot only bear the world as it is, but loves it
well enough to draw it faithfully. The true lover of the human race
is surely he who can put up with it in all its forms, in vice as well
as in virtue, in defeat no less than in victory; the true seer he who
sees not only joy but sorrow, the true painter of human life one who
blinks nothing. It may be that he is also, incidentally, its true

In the whole range of the social fabric there are only two impartial
persons, the scientist and the artist, and under the latter heading
such dramatists as desire to write not only for to-day, but for to-
morrow, must strive to come.

But dramatists being as they are made--past remedy it is perhaps more
profitable to examine the various points at which their qualities and
defects are shown.

The plot! A good plot is that sure edifice which slowly rises out of
the interplay of circumstance on temperament, and temperament on
circumstance, within the enclosing atmosphere of an idea. A human
being is the best plot there is; it may be impossible to see why be
is a good plot, because the idea within which he was brought forth
cannot be fully grasped; but it is plain that he is a good plot. He
is organic. And so it must be with a good play. Reason alone
produces no good plots; they come by original sin, sure conception,
and instinctive after-power of selecting what benefits the germ. A
bad plot, on the other hand, is simply a row of stakes, with a
character impaled on each--characters who would have liked to live,
but came to untimely grief; who started bravely, but fell on these
stakes, placed beforehand in a row, and were transfixed one by one,
while their ghosts stride on, squeaking and gibbering, through the
play. Whether these stakes are made of facts or of ideas, according
to the nature of the dramatist who planted them, their effect on the
unfortunate characters is the same; the creatures were begotten to be
staked, and staked they are! The demand for a good plot, not
unfrequently heard, commonly signifies: "Tickle my sensations by
stuffing the play with arbitrary adventures, so that I need not be
troubled to take the characters seriously. Set the persons of the
play to action, regardless of time, sequence, atmosphere, and

Now, true dramatic action is what characters do, at once contrary, as
it were, to expectation, and yet because they have already done other
things. No dramatist should let his audience know what is coming;
but neither should he suffer his characters to, act without making
his audience feel that those actions are in harmony with temperament,
and arise from previous known actions, together with the temperaments
and previous known actions of the other characters in the play. The
dramatist who hangs his characters to his plot, instead of hanging
his plot to his characters, is guilty of cardinal sin.

The dialogue! Good dialogue again is character, marshalled so as
continually to stimulate interest or excitement. The reason good
dialogue is seldom found in plays is merely that it is hard to write,
for it requires not only a knowledge of what interests or excites,
but such a feeling for character as brings misery to the dramatist's
heart when his creations speak as they should not speak--ashes to his
mouth when they say things for the sake of saying them--disgust when
they are "smart."

The art of writing true dramatic dialogue is an austere art, denying
itself all license, grudging every sentence devoted to the mere
machinery of the play, suppressing all jokes and epigrams severed
from character, relying for fun and pathos on the fun and tears of
life. From start to finish good dialogue is hand-made, like good
lace; clear, of fine texture, furthering with each thread the harmony
and strength of a design to which all must be subordinated.

But good dialogue is also spiritual action. In so far as the
dramatist divorces his dialogue from spiritual action--that is to
say, from progress of events, or toward events which are significant
of character--he is stultifying the thing done; he may make pleasing
disquisitions, he is not making drama. And in so far as he twists
character to suit his moral or his plot, he is neglecting a first
principle, that truth to Nature which alone invests art with handmade

The dramatist's license, in fact, ends with his design. In
conception alone he is free. He may take what character or group of
characters he chooses, see them with what eyes, knit them with what
idea, within the limits of his temperament; but once taken, seen, and
knitted, he is bound to treat them like a gentleman, with the
tenderest consideration of their mainsprings. Take care of
character; action and dialogue will take care of themselves! The
true dramatist gives full rein to his temperament in the scope and
nature of his subject; having once selected subject and characters,
he is just, gentle, restrained, neither gratifying his lust for
praise at the expense of his offspring, nor using them as puppets to
flout his audience. Being himself the nature that brought them
forth, he guides them in the course predestined at their conception.
So only have they a chance of defying Time, which is always lying in
wait to destroy the false, topical, or fashionable, all--in a word--
that is not based on the permanent elements of human nature. The
perfect dramatist rounds up his characters and facts within the ring-
fence of a dominant idea which fulfils the craving of his spirit;
having got them there, he suffers them to live their own lives.

Plot, action, character, dialogue! But there is yet another subject
for a platitude. Flavour! An impalpable quality, less easily
captured than the scent of a flower, the peculiar and most essential
attribute of any work of art! It is the thin, poignant spirit which
hovers up out of a play, and is as much its differentiating essence
as is caffeine of coffee. Flavour, in fine, is the spirit of the
dramatist projected into his work in a state of volatility, so that
no one can exactly lay hands on it, here, there, or anywhere. This
distinctive essence of a play, marking its brand, is the one thing at
which the dramatist cannot work, for it is outside his consciousness.
A man may have many moods, he has but one spirit; and this spirit he
communicates in some subtle, unconscious way to all his work. It
waxes and wanes with the currents of his vitality, but no more alters
than a chestnut changes into an oak.

For, in truth, dramas are very like unto trees, springing from
seedlings, shaping themselves inevitably in accordance with the laws
fast hidden within themselves, drinking sustenance from the earth and
air, and in conflict with the natural forces round them. So they
slowly come to full growth, until warped, stunted, or risen to fair
and gracious height, they stand open to all the winds. And the trees
that spring from each dramatist are of different race; he is the
spirit of his own sacred grove, into which no stray tree can by any
chance enter.

One more platitude. It is not unfashionable to pit one form of drama
against another--holding up the naturalistic to the disadvantage of
the epic; the epic to the belittlement of the fantastic; the
fantastic to the detriment of the naturalistic. Little purpose is
thus served. The essential meaning, truth, beauty, and irony of
things may be revealed under all these forms. Vision over life and
human nature can be as keen and just, the revelation as true,
inspiring, delight-giving, and thought-provoking, whatever fashion be
employed--it is simply a question of doing it well enough to uncover
the kernel of the nut. Whether the violet come from Russia, from
Parma, or from England, matters little. Close by the Greek temples
at Paestum there are violets that seem redder, and sweeter, than any
ever seen--as though they have sprung up out of the footprints of
some old pagan goddess; but under the April sun, in a Devonshire
lane, the little blue scentless violets capture every bit as much of
the spring. And so it is with drama--no matter what its form it need
only be the "real thing," need only have caught some of the precious
fluids, revelation, or delight, and imprisoned them within a chalice
to which we may put our lips and continually drink.

And yet, starting from this last platitude, one may perhaps be
suffered to speculate as to the particular forms that our renascent
drama is likely to assume. For our drama is renascent, and nothing
will stop its growth. It is not renascent because this or that man
is writing, but because of a new spirit. A spirit that is no doubt
in part the gradual outcome of the impact on our home-grown art, of
Russian, French, and Scandinavian influences, but which in the main
rises from an awakened humanity in the conscience of our time.

What, then, are to be the main channels down which the renascent
English drama will float in the coming years? It is more than
possible that these main channels will come to be two in number and
situate far apart.

The one will be the broad and clear-cut channel of naturalism, down
which will course a drama poignantly shaped, and inspired with high
intention, but faithful to the seething and multiple life around us,
drama such as some are inclined to term photographic, deceived by a
seeming simplicity into forgetfulness of the old proverb, "Ars est
celare artem," and oblivious of the fact that, to be vital, to grip,
such drama is in every respect as dependent on imagination,
construction, selection, and elimination--the main laws of artistry--
as ever was the romantic or rhapsodic play: The question of
naturalistic technique will bear, indeed, much more study than has
yet been given to it. The aim of the dramatist employing it is
obviously to create such an illusion of actual life passing on the
stage as to compel the spectator to pass through an experience of his
own, to think, and talk, and move with the people he sees thinking,
talking, and moving in front of him. A false phrase, a single word
out of tune or time, will destroy that illusion and spoil the surface
as surely as a stone heaved into a still pool shatters the image seen
there. But this is only the beginning of the reason why the
naturalistic is the most exacting and difficult of all techniques.
It is easy enough to reproduce the exact conversation and movements
of persons in a room; it is desperately hard to produce the perfectly
natural conversation and movements of those persons, when each
natural phrase spoken and each natural movement made has not only to
contribute toward the growth and perfection of a drama's soul, but
also to be a revelation, phrase by phrase, movement by movement, of
essential traits of character. To put it another way, naturalistic
art, when alive, indeed to be alive at all, is simply the art of
manipulating a procession of most delicate symbols. Its service is
the swaying and focussing of men's feelings and thoughts in the
various departments of human life. It will be like a steady lamp,
held up from time to time, in whose light things will be seen for a
space clearly and in due proportion, freed from the mists of
prejudice and partisanship. And the other of these two main channels
will, I think, be a twisting and delicious stream, which will bear on
its breast new barques of poetry, shaped, it may be, like prose, but
a prose incarnating through its fantasy and symbolism all the deeper
aspirations, yearning, doubts, and mysterious stirrings of the human
spirit; a poetic prose-drama, emotionalising us by its diversity and
purity of form and invention, and whose province will be to disclose
the elemental soul of man and the forces of Nature, not perhaps as
the old tragedies disclosed them, not necessarily in the epic mood,
but always with beauty and in the spirit of discovery.

Such will, I think, be the two vital forms of our drama in the coming
generation. And between these two forms there must be no crude
unions; they are too far apart, the cross is too violent. For, where
there is a seeming blend of lyricism and naturalism, it will on
examination be found, I think, to exist only in plays whose subjects
or settings--as in Synge's "Playboy of the Western World," or in Mr.
Masefield's "Nan"--are so removed from our ken that we cannot really
tell, and therefore do not care, whether an absolute illusion is
maintained. The poetry which may and should exist in naturalistic
drama, can only be that of perfect rightness of proportion, rhythm,
shape--the poetry, in fact, that lies in all vital things. It is the
ill-mating of forms that has killed a thousand plays. We want no
more bastard drama; no more attempts to dress out the simple dignity
of everyday life in the peacock's feathers of false lyricism; no more
straw-stuffed heroes or heroines; no more rabbits and goldfish from
the conjurer's pockets, nor any limelight. Let us have starlight,
moonlight, sunlight, and the light of our own self-respects.



In the Grand Canyon of Arizona, that most exhilarating of all natural
phenomena, Nature has for once so focussed her effects, that the
result is a framed and final work of Art. For there, between two
high lines of plateau, level as the sea, are sunk the wrought thrones
of the innumerable gods, couchant, and for ever revering, in their
million moods of light and colour, the Master Mystery.

Having seen this culmination, I realize why many people either recoil
before it, and take the first train home, or speak of it as a
"remarkable formation." For, though mankind at large craves
finality, it does not crave the sort that bends the knee to Mystery.
In Nature, in Religion, in Art, in Life, the common cry is: "Tell me
precisely where I am, what doing, and where going! Let me be free of
this fearful untidiness of not knowing all about it!" The favoured
religions are always those whose message is most finite. The
fashionable professions--they that end us in assured positions. The
most popular works of fiction, such as leave nothing to our
imagination. And to this craving after prose, who would not be
lenient, that has at all known life, with its usual predominance of
our lower and less courageous selves, our constant hankering after
the cosey closed door and line of least resistance? We are
continually begging to be allowed to know for certain; though, if our
prayer were granted, and Mystery no longer hovered, made blue the
hills, and turned day into night, we should, as surely, wail at once
to be delivered of that ghastliness of knowing things for certain!

Now, in Art, I would never quarrel with a certain living writer who
demands of it the kind of finality implied in what he calls a "moral
discovery"--using, no doubt, the words in their widest sense. I
would maintain, however, that such finality is not confined to
positively discovering the true conclusion of premises laid down; but
that it may also distil gradually, negatively from the whole work, in
a moral discovery, as it were, of Author. In other words, that,
permeation by an essential point of view, by emanation of author, may
so unify and vitalize a work, as to give it all the finality that
need be required of Art. For the finality that is requisite to Art,
be it positive or negative, is not the finality of dogma, nor the
finality of fact, it is ever the finality of feeling--of a spiritual
light, subtly gleaned by the spectator out of that queer luminous
haze which one man's nature must ever be to others. And herein,
incidentally, it is that Art acquires also that quality of mystery,
more needful to it even than finality, for the mystery that wraps a
work of Art is the mystery of its maker, and the mystery of its maker
is the difference between that maker's soul and every other soul.

But let me take an illustration of what I mean by these two kinds of
finality that Art may have, and show that in essence they are but two
halves of the same thing. The term "a work of Art" will not be
denied, I think, to that early novel of M. Anatole France, "Le Lys
Rouge." Now, that novel has positive finality, since the spiritual
conclusion from its premises strikes one as true. But neither will
the term "a work of Art" be denied to the same writer's four
"Bergeret" volumes, whose negative finality consists only in the
temperamental atmosphere wherein they are soaked. Now, if the theme
of "Le Lys Rouge" had been treated by Tolstoy, Meredith, or Turgenev,
we should have had spiritual conclusions from the same factual
premises so different from M. France's as prunes from prisms, and
yet, being the work of equally great artists, they would, doubtless,
have struck us as equally true. Is not, then, the positive finality
of "Le Lys Rouge," though expressed in terms of a different
craftsmanship, the same, in essence, as the negative finality of the
"Bergeret" volumes? Are not both, in fact, merely flower of author
true to himself? So long as the scent, colour, form of that flower
is strong and fine enough to affect the senses of our spirit, then
all the rest, surely, is academic--I would say, immaterial.

But here, in regard to Art, is where mankind at large comes on the
field. "'Flower of author,'" it says, "'Senses of the spirit!' Phew!
Give me something I can understand! Let me know where I am getting
to!" In a word, it wants a finality different from that which Art
can give. It will ask the artist, with irritation, what his
solution, or his lesson, or his meaning, really is, having omitted to
notice that the poor creature has been giving all the meaning that he
can, in every sentence. It will demand to know why it was not told
definitely what became of Charles or Mary in whom it had grown so
interested; and will be almost frightened to learn that the artist
knows no more than itself. And if by any chance it be required to
dip its mind into a philosophy that does not promise it a defined
position both in this world and the next, it will assuredly recoil,
and with a certain contempt say: "No, sir! This means nothing to me;
and if it means anything to you--which I very much doubt--I am sorry
for you!"

It must have facts, and again facts, not only in the present and the
past, but in the future. And it demands facts of that, which alone
cannot glibly give it facts. It goes on asking facts of Art, or,
rather, such facts as Art cannot give--for, after all, even "flower
of author" is fact in a sort of way.

Consider, for instance, Synge's masterpiece, "The Playboy of the
Western World!" There is flower of author! What is it for mankind at
large? An attack on the Irish character! A pretty piece of writing!
An amusing farce! Enigmatic cynicism leading nowhere! A puzzling
fellow wrote it! Mankind at large has little patience with puzzling

Few, in fact, want flower of author. Moreover, it is a quality that
may well be looked for where it does not exist. To say that the
finality which Art requires is merely an enwrapping mood, or flower
of author, is not by any means to say that any robust fellow,
slamming his notions down in ink, can give us these. Indeed, no! So
long as we see the author's proper person in his work, we do not see
the flower of him. Let him retreat himself, if he pretend to be an
artist. There is no less of subtle skill, no less impersonality, in
the "Bergeret" volumes than in "Le Lys Rouge." No less labour and
mental torturing went to their making, page by page, in order that
they might exhale their perfume of mysterious finality, their
withdrawn but implicit judgment. Flower of author is not quite so
common as the buttercup, the Californian poppy, or the gay Texan
gaillardia, and for that very reason the finality it gives off will
never be robust enough for a mankind at large that would have things
cut and dried, and labelled in thick letters. For, consider--to take
one phase alone of this demand for factual finality--how continual
and insistent is the cry for characters that can be worshipped; how
intense and persistent the desire to be told that Charles was a real
hero; and how bitter the regret that Mary was no better than she
should be! Mankind at large wants heroes that are heroes, and
heroines that are heroines--and nothing so inappropriate to them as
unhappy endings.

Travelling away, I remember, from that Grand Canyon of Arizona were a
young man and a young woman, evidently in love. He was sitting very
close to her, and reading aloud for her pleasure, from a paper-
covered novel, heroically oblivious of us all:

"'Sir Robert,' she murmured, lifting her beauteous eyes, 'I may not
tempt you, for you are too dear to me!' Sir Robert held her lovely
face between his two strong hands. 'Farewell!' he said, and went out
into the night. But something told them both that, when he had
fulfilled his duty, Sir Robert would return . . . ." He had not
returned before we reached the Junction, but there was finality about
that baronet, and we well knew that he ultimately would. And, long
after the sound of that young man's faithful reading had died out of
our ears, we meditated on Sir Robert, and compared him with the
famous characters of fiction, slowly perceiving that they were none
of them so final in their heroism as he. No, none of them reached
that apex. For Hamlet was a most unfinished fellow, and Lear
extremely violent. Pickwick addicted to punch, and Sam Weller to
lying; Bazarof actually a Nihilist, and Irina----! Levin and Anna,
Pierre and Natasha, all of them stormy and unsatisfactory at times.
"Un Coeur Simple" nothing but a servant, and an old maid at that;
"Saint Julien l'Hospitalier" a sheer fanatic. Colonel Newcome too
irritable and too simple altogether. Don Quixote certified insane.
Hilda Wangel, Nora, Hedda--Sir Robert would never even have spoken to
such baggages! Mon sieur Bergeret--an amiable weak thing!
D'Artagnan--a true swashbuckler! Tom Jones, Faust, Don Juan--we
might not even think of them: And those poor Greeks: Prometheus--
shocking rebel. OEdipus for a long time banished by the Censor.
Phaedra and Elektra, not even so virtuous as Mary, who failed of
being what she should be! And coming to more familiar persons Joseph
and Moses, David and Elijah, all of them lacked his finality of true
heroism--none could quite pass muster beside Sir Robert . . . .
Long we meditated, and, reflecting that an author must ever be
superior to the creatures of his brain, were refreshed to think that
there were so many living authors capable of giving birth to Sir
Robert; for indeed, Sir Robert and finality like his--no doubtful
heroes, no flower of author, and no mystery is what mankind at large
has always wanted from Letters, and will always want.

As truly as that oil and water do not mix, there are two kinds of
men. The main cleavage in the whole tale of life is this subtle, all
pervading division of mankind into the man of facts and the man of
feeling. And not by what they are or do can they be told one from
the other, but just by their attitude toward finality. Fortunately
most of us are neither quite the one nor quite the other. But
between the pure-blooded of each kind there is real antipathy, far
deeper than the antipathies of race, politics, or religion--an
antipathy that not circumstance, love, goodwill, or necessity will
ever quite get rid of. Sooner shall the panther agree with the bull
than that other one with the man of facts. There is no bridging the
gorge that divides these worlds.

Nor is it so easy to tell, of each, to which world he belongs, as it
was to place the lady, who held out her finger over that gorge called
Grand Canyon, and said:

"It doesn't look thirteen miles; but they measured it just there!
Excuse my pointing!"



"Et nous jongleurs inutiles, frivoles joueurs de luth!". . . Useless
jugglers, frivolous players on the lute! Must we so describe
ourselves, we, the producers, season by season, of so many hundreds
of "remarkable" works of fiction?--for though, when we take up the
remarkable works of our fellows, we "really cannot read them!" the
Press and the advertisements of our publishers tell us that they are

A story goes that once in the twilight undergrowth of a forest of
nut-bearing trees a number of little purblind creatures wandered,
singing for nuts. On some of these purblind creatures the nuts fell
heavy and full, extremely indigestible, and were quickly swallowed;
on others they fell light, and contained nothing, because the kernel
had already been eaten up above, and these light and kernel-less nuts
were accompanied by sibilations or laughter. On others again no nuts
at all, empty or full, came down. But nuts or no nuts, full nuts or
empty nuts, the purblind creatures below went on wandering and
singing. A traveller one day stopped one of these creatures whose
voice was peculiarly disagreeable, and asked "Why do you sing like
this? Is it for pleasure that you do it, or for pain? What do you
get out of it? Is it for the sake of those up there? Is it for your
own sake--for the sake of your family--for whose sake? Do you think
your songs worth listening to? Answer!"

The creature scratched itself, and sang the louder.

"Ah! Cacoethes! I pity, but do not blame you," said the traveller.

He left the creature, and presently came to another which sang a
squeaky treble song. It wandered round in a ring under a grove of
stunted trees, and the traveller noticed that it never went out of
that grove.

"Is it really necessary," he said, "for you to express yourself

And as he spoke showers of tiny hard nuts came down on the little
creature, who ate them greedily. The traveller opened one; it was
extremely small and tasted of dry rot.

"Why, at all events," he said, "need you stay under these trees? the
nuts are not good here."

But for answer the little creature ran round and round, and round and

"I suppose," said the traveller, "small bad nuts are better than no
bread; if you went out of this grove you would starve?"

The purblind little creature shrieked. The traveller took the sound
for affirmation, and passed on. He came to a third little creature
who, under a tall tree, was singing very loudly indeed, while all
around was a great silence, broken only by sounds like the snuffling
of small noses. The creature stopped singing as the traveller came
up, and at once a storm of huge nuts came down; the traveller found
them sweetish and very oily.

"Why," he said to the creature, "did you sing so loud? You cannot
eat all these nuts. You really do sing louder than seems necessary;
come, answer me!"

But the purblind little creature began to sing again at the top of
its voice, and the noise of the snuffling of small noses became so
great that the traveller hastened away. He passed many other
purblind little creatures in the twilight of this forest, till at
last he came to one that looked even blinder than the rest, but whose
song was sweet and low and clear, breaking a perfect stillness; and
the traveller sat down to listen. For a long time he listened to
that song without noticing that not a nut was falling. But suddenly
he heard a faint rustle and three little oval nuts lay on the ground.

The traveller cracked one of them. It was of delicate flavour. He
looked at the little creature standing with its face raised, and

"Tell me, little blind creature, whose song is so charming, where did
you learn to sing?"

The little creature turned its head a trifle to one side as though
listening for the fall of nuts.

"Ah, indeed!" said the traveller: "You, whose voice is so clear, is
this all you get to eat?"

The little blind creature smiled . . . .

It is a twilight forest in which we writers of fiction wander, and
once in a way, though all this has been said before, we may as well
remind ourselves and others why the light is so dim; why there is so
much bad and false fiction; why the demand for it is so great.
Living in a world where demand creates supply, we writers of fiction
furnish the exception to this rule. For, consider how, as a class,
we come into existence. Unlike the followers of any other
occupation, nothing whatever compels any one of us to serve an
apprenticeship. We go to no school, have to pass no examination,
attain no standard, receive no diploma. We need not study that which
should be studied; we are at liberty to flood our minds with all that
should not be studied. Like mushrooms, in a single sight we spring
up--a pen in our hands, very little in our brains, and who-knows-what
in our hearts!

Few of us sit down in cold blood to write our first stories; we have
something in us that we feel we must express. This is the beginning
of the vicious circle. Our first books often have some thing in
them. We are sincere in trying to express that something. It is
true we cannot express it, not having learnt how, but its ghost
haunts the pages the ghost of real experience and real life--just
enough to attract the untrained intelligence, just enough to make a
generous Press remark: "This shows promise." We have tasted blood,
we pant for more. Those of us who had a carking occupation hasten to
throw it aside, those who had no occupation have now found one; some
few of us keep both the old occupation and the new. Whichever of
these courses we pursue, the hurry with which we pursue it undoes us.
For, often we have only that one book in us, which we did not know
how to write, and having expressed that which we have felt, we are
driven in our second, our third, our fourth, to warm up variations,
like those dressed remains of last night's dinner which are served
for lunch; or to spin from our usually commonplace imaginations thin
extravagances which those who do not try to think for themselves are
ever ready to accept as full of inspiration and vitality. Anything
for a book, we say--anything for a book!

>From time immemorial we have acted in this immoral manner, till we
have accustomed the Press and Public to expect it. From time
immemorial we have allowed ourselves to be driven by those powerful
drivers, Bread, and Praise, and cared little for the quality of
either. Sensibly, or insensibly, we tune our songs to earn the nuts
of our twilight forest. We tune them, not to the key of: "Is it
good?" but to the key of: "Will it pay?" and at each tuning the nuts
fall fast! It is all so natural. How can we help it, seeing that we
are undisciplined and standardless, seeing that we started without
the backbone that schooling gives? Here and there among us is a
genius, here and there a man of exceptional stability who trains
himself in spite of all the forces working for his destruction. But
those who do not publish until they can express, and do not express
until they have something worth expressing, are so rare that they can
be counted on the fingers of three or perhaps four hands; mercifully,
we all--or nearly all believe ourselves of that company.

It is the fashion to say that the public will have what it wants.
Certainly the Public will have what it wants if what it wants is
given to the Public. If what it now wants were suddenly withdrawn,
the Public, the big Public, would by an obvious natural law take the
lowest of what remained; if that again were withdrawn, it would take
the next lowest, until by degrees it took a relatively good article.
The Public, the big Public, is a mechanical and helpless consumer at
the mercy of what is supplied to it, and this must ever be so. The
Public then is not to blame for the supply of bad, false fiction.
The Press is not to blame, for the Press, like the Public, must take
what is set before it; their Critics, for the most part, like
ourselves have been to no school, passed no test of fitness, received
no certificate; they cannot lead us, it is we who lead them, for
without the Critics we could live but without us the Critics would
die. We cannot, therefore, blame the Press. Nor is the Publisher to
blame; for the Publisher will publish what is set before him. It is
true that if he published no books on commission he would deserve the
praise of the State, but it is quite unreasonable for us to expect
him to deserve the praise of the State, since it is we who supply him
with these books and incite him to publish them. We cannot,
therefore, lay the blame on the Publisher.

We must lay the blame where it clearly should be laid, on ourselves.
We ourselves create the demand for bad and false fiction. Very many
of us have private means; for such there is no excuse. Very many of
us have none; for such, once started on this journey of fiction,
there is much, often tragic, excuse--the less reason then for not
having trained ourselves before setting out on our way. There is no
getting out of it; the fault is ours. If we will not put ourselves
to school when we are young; if we must rush into print before we can
spell; if we will not repress our natural desires and walk before we
run; if we will not learn at least what not to do--we shall go on
wandering through the forest, singing our foolish songs.

And since we cannot train ourselves except by writing, let us write,
and burn what we write; then shall we soon stop writing, or produce
what we need not burn!

For, as things are now, without compass, without map, we set out into
the twilight forest of fiction; without path, without track--and we
never emerge.

Yes, with the French writer, we must say:

"Et nous jongleurs inutiles, frivoles joueurs de luth!" . . .



Yes! Why is this the chief characteristic of our art? What secret
instincts are responsible for this inveterate distaste? But, first,
is it true that we have it?

To stand still and look at a thing for the joy of looking, without
reference to any material advantage, and personal benefit, either to
ourselves or our neighbours, just simply to indulge our curiosity!
Is that a British habit? I think not.

If, on some November afternoon, we walk into Kensington Gardens,
where they join the Park on the Bayswater side, and, crossing in
front of the ornamental fountain, glance at the semicircular seat let
into a dismal little Temple of the Sun, we shall see a half-moon of
apathetic figures. There, enjoying a moment of lugubrious idleness,
may be sitting an old countrywoman with steady eyes in a lean, dusty-
black dress and an old poke-bonnet; by her side, some gin-faced
creature of the town, all blousy and draggled; a hollow-eyed
foreigner, far gone in consumption; a bronzed young navvy, asleep,
with his muddy boots jutting straight out; a bearded, dreary being,
chin on chest; and more consumptives, and more vagabonds, and more
people dead-tired, speechless, and staring before them from that
crescent-shaped haven where there is no draught at their backs, and
the sun occasionally shines. And as we look at them, according to
the state of our temper, we think: Poor creatures, I wish I could do
something for them! or: Revolting! They oughtn't to allow it! But
do we feel any pleasure in just watching them; any of that intimate
sensation a cat entertains when its back is being rubbed; are we
curiously enjoying the sight of these people, simply as
manifestations of life, as objects fashioned by the ebb and flow of
its tides? Again, I think, not. And why? Either, because we have
instantly felt that we ought to do something; that here is a danger
in our midst, which one day might affect our own security; and at all
events, a sight revolting to us who came out to look at this
remarkably fine fountain. Or, because we are too humane! Though
very possibly that frequent murmuring of ours: Ah! It's too sad! is
but another way of putting the words: Stand aside, please, you're too
depressing! Or, again, is it that we avoid the sight of things as
they are, avoid the unedifying, because of what may be called "the
uncreative instinct," that safeguard and concomitant of a
civilisation which demands of us complete efficiency, practical and
thorough employment of every second of our time and every inch of our
space? We know, of course, that out of nothing nothing can be made,
that to "create" anything a man must first receive impressions, and
that to receive impressions requires an apparatus of nerves and
feelers, exposed and quivering to every vibration round it, an
apparatus so entirely opposed to our national spirit and traditions
that the bare thought of it causes us to blush. A robust recognition
of this, a steadfast resolve not to be forced out of the current of
strenuous civilisation into the sleepy backwater of pure impression
ism, makes us distrustful of attempts to foster in ourselves that
receptivity and subsequent creativeness, the microbes of which exist
in every man: To watch a thing simply because it is a thing, entirely
without considering how it can affect us, and without even seeing at
the moment how we are to get anything out of it, jars our
consciences, jars that inner feeling which keeps secure and makes
harmonious the whole concert of our lives, for we feel it to be a
waste of time, dangerous to the community, contributing neither to
our meat and drink, our clothes and comfort, nor to the stability and
order of our lives.

Of these three possible reasons for our dislike of things as they
are, the first two are perhaps contained within the third. But, to
whatever our dislike is due, we have it--Oh! we have it! With the
possible exception of Hogarth in his non-preaching pictures, and
Constable in his sketches of the sky,--I speak of dead men only,--
have we produced any painter of reality like Manet or Millet, any
writer like Flaubert or Maupassant, like Turgenev, or Tchekov. We
are, I think, too deeply civilised, so deeply civilised that we have
come to look on Nature as indecent. The acts and emotions of life
undraped with ethics seem to us anathema. It has long been, and
still is, the fashion among the intellectuals of the Continent to
regard us as barbarians in most aesthetic matters. Ah! If they only
knew how infinitely barbarous they seem to us in their naive contempt
of our barbarism, and in what we regard as their infantine concern
with things as they are. How far have we not gone past all that--we
of the oldest settled Western country, who have so veneered our lives
that we no longer know of what wood they are made! Whom generations
have so soaked with the preserve "good form" that we are impervious
to the claims and clamour of that ill-bred creature--life! Who think
it either dreadful, or 'vieux jeu', that such things as the crude
emotions and the raw struggles of Fate should be even mentioned, much
less presented in terms of art! For whom an artist is 'suspect' if
he is not, in his work, a sportsman and a gentleman? Who shake a
solemn head over writers who will treat of sex; and, with the remark:
"Worst of it is, there's so much truth in those fellows!" close the

Ah! well! I suppose we have been too long familiar with the
unprofitableness of speculation, have surrendered too definitely to
action--to the material side of things, retaining for what relaxation
our spirits may require, a habit of sentimental aspiration, carefully
divorced from things as they are. We seem to have decided that
things are not, or, if they are, ought not to be--and what is the
good of thinking of things like that? In fact, our national ideal
has become the Will to Health, to Material Efficiency, and to it we
have sacrificed the Will to Sensibility. It is a point of view. And
yet--to the philosophy that craves Perfection, to the spirit that
desires the golden mean, and hankers for the serene and balanced seat
in the centre of the see-saw, it seems a little pitiful, and
constricted; a confession of defeat, a hedging and limitation of the
soul. Need we put up with this, must we for ever turn our eyes away
from things as they are, stifle our imaginations and our
sensibilities, for fear that they should become our masters, and
destroy our sanity? This is the eternal question that confronts the
artist and the thinker. Because of the inevitable decline after full
flowering-point is reached, the inevitable fading of the fire that
follows the full flame and glow, are we to recoil from striving to
reach the perfect and harmonious climacteric? Better to have loved
and lost, I think, than never to have loved at all; better to reach
out and grasp the fullest expression of the individual and the
national soul, than to keep for ever under the shelter of the wall.
I would even think it possible to be sensitive without neurasthenia,
to be sympathetic without insanity, to be alive to all the winds that
blow without getting influenza. God forbid that our Letters and our
Arts should decade into Beardsleyism; but between that and their
present "health" there lies full flowering-point, not yet, by a long
way, reached.

To flower like that, I suspect, we must see things just a little
more--as they are!



A certain writer, returning one afternoon from rehearsal of his play,
sat down in the hall of the hotel where he was staying. "No," he
reflected, "this play of mine will not please the Public; it is
gloomy, almost terrible. This very day I read these words in my
morning paper: 'No artist can afford to despise his Public, for,
whether he confesses it or not, the artist exists to give the Public
what it wants.' I have, then, not only done what I cannot afford to
do, but I have been false to the reason of my existence."

The hall was full of people, for it was the hour of tea; and looking
round him, the writer thought "And this is the Public--the Public
that my play is destined not to please!" And for several minutes he
looked at them as if he had been hypnotised. Presently, between two
tables he noticed a waiter standing, lost in his thoughts. The mask
of the man's professional civility had come awry, and the expression
of his face and figure was curiously remote from the faces and forms
of those from whom he had been taking orders; he seemed like a bird
discovered in its own haunts, all unconscious as yet of human eyes.
And the writer thought: "But if those people at the tables are the
Public, what is that waiter? How if I was mistaken, and not they,
but he were the real Public?" And testing this thought, his mind
began at once to range over all the people he had lately seen. He
thought of the Founder's Day dinner of a great School, which he had
attended the night before. "No," he mused, "I see very little
resemblance between the men at that dinner and the men in this hall;
still less between them and the waiter. How if they were the real
Public, and neither the waiter, nor these people here!" But no
sooner had he made this reflection, than he bethought him of a
gathering of workers whom he had watched two days ago. "Again," he
mused, "I do not recollect any resemblance at all between those
workers and the men at the dinner, and certainly they are not like
any one here. What if those workers are the real Public, not the men
at the dinner, nor the waiter, nor the people in this hall!" And
thereupon his mind flew off again, and this time rested on the
figures of his own immediate circle of friends. They seemed very
different from the four real Publics whom he had as yet discovered.
"Yes," he considered, "when I come to think of it, my associates
painters, and writers, and critics, and all that kind of person--do
not seem to have anything to speak of in common with any of these
people. Perhaps my own associates, then, are the real Public, and
not these others!" Perceiving that this would be the fifth real
Public, he felt discouraged. But presently he began to think: "The
past is the past and cannot be undone, and with this play of mine I
shall not please the Public; but there is always the future! Now, I
do not wish to do what the artist cannot afford to do, I earnestly
desire to be true to the reason of my existence; and since the reason
of that existence is to give the Public what it wants, it is really
vital to discover who and what the Public is!" And he began to look
very closely at the faces around him, hoping to find out from types
what he had failed to ascertain from classes. Two men were sitting
near, one on each side of a woman. The first, who was all crumpled
in his arm-chair, had curly lips and wrinkles round the eyes, cheeks
at once rather fat and rather shadowy, and a dimple in his chin. It
seemed certain that he was humourous, and kind, sympathetic, rather
diffident, speculative, moderately intelligent, with the rudiments
perhaps of an imagination. And he looked at the second man, who was
sitting very upright, as if he had a particularly fine backbone, of
which he was not a little proud. He was extremely big and handsome,
with pronounced and regular nose and chin, firm, well-cut lips
beneath a smooth moustache, direct and rather insolent eyes, a some
what receding forehead, and an air of mastery over all around. It
was obvious that he possessed a complete knowledge of his own mind,
some brutality, much practical intelligence, great resolution, no
imagination, and plenty of conceit. And he looked at the woman. She
was pretty, but her face was vapid, and seemed to have no character
at all. And from one to the other he looked, and the more he looked
the less resemblance he saw between them, till the objects of his
scrutiny grew restive.... Then, ceasing to examine them, an idea
came to him. "No! The Public is not this or that class, this or
that type; the Public is an hypothetical average human being, endowed
with average human qualities--a distillation, in fact, of all the
people in this hall, the people in the street outside, the people of
this country everywhere." And for a moment he was pleased; but soon
he began again to feel uneasy. "Since," he reflected, "it is
necessary for me to supply this hypothetical average human being with
what he wants, I shall have to find out how to distil him from all
the ingredients around me. Now how am I to do that? It will
certainly take me more than all my life to collect and boil the souls
of all of them, which is necessary if I am to extract the genuine
article, and I should then apparently have no time left to supply the
precipitated spirit, when I had obtained it, with what it wanted!
Yet this hypothetical average human being must be found, or I must
stay for ever haunted by the thought that I am not supplying him with
what he wants!" And the writer became more and more discouraged, for
to arrogate to himself knowledge of all the heights and depths, and
even of all the virtues and vices, tastes and dislikes of all the
people of the country, without having first obtained it, seemed to
him to savour of insolence. And still more did it appear
impertinent, having taken this mass of knowledge which he had not
got, to extract from it a golden mean man, in order to supply him
with what he wanted. And yet this was what every artist did who
justified his existence--or it would not have been so stated in a
newspaper. And he gaped up at the lofty ceiling, as if he might
perchance see the Public flying up there in the faint bluish mist of
smoke. And suddenly he thought: "Suppose, by some miracle, my
golden-mean bird came flying to me with its beak open for the food
with which it is my duty to supply it--would it after all be such a
very strange-looking creature; would it not be extremely like my
normal self? Am I not, in fact, myself the Public? For, without the
strongest and most reprehensible conceit, can I claim for my normal
self a single attribute or quality not possessed by an hypothetical
average human being? Yes, I am myself the Public; or at all events
all that my consciousness can ever know of it for certain." And he
began to consider deeply. For sitting there in cold blood, with his
nerves at rest, and his brain and senses normal, the play he had
written did seem to him to put an unnecessary strain upon the
faculties. "Ah!" he thought, "in future I must take good care never
to write anything except in cold blood, with my nerves well clothed,
and my brain and senses quiet. I ought only to write when I feel as
normal as I do now." And for some minutes he remained motionless,
looking at his boots. Then there crept into his mind an
uncomfortable thought. "But have I ever written anything without
feeling a little-abnormal, at the time? Have I ever even felt
inclined to write anything, until my emotions had been unduly
excited, my brain immoderately stirred, my senses unusually
quickened, or my spirit extravagantly roused? Never! Alas, never!
I am then a miserable renegade, false to the whole purpose of my
being--nor do I see the slightest hope of becoming a better man, a
less unworthy artist! For I literally cannot write without the
stimulus of some feeling exaggerated at the expense of other
feelings. What has been in the past will be in the future: I shall
never be taking up my pen when I feel my comfortable and normal self
never be satisfying that self which is the Public!" And he thought:
"I am lost. For, to satisfy that normal self, to give the Public
what it wants, is, I am told, and therefore must believe, what all
artists exist for. AEschylus in his 'Choephorae' and his
'Prometheus'; Sophocles in his 'OEdipus Tyrannus'; Euripides when he
wrote 'The Trojan Women,' 'Medea,'--and 'Hippolytus'; Shakespeare in
his 'Leer'; Goethe in his 'Faust'; Ibsen in his 'Ghosts' and his
'Peer Gynt'; Tolstoy in 'The Powers of Darkness'; all--all in those
great works, must have satisfied their most comfortable and normal
selves; all--all must have given to the average human being, to the
Public, what it wants; for to do that, we know, was the reason of
their existence, and who shall say those noble artists were not true
to it? That is surely unthinkable. And yet--and yet--we are
assured, and, indeed, it is true, that there is no real Public in
this country for just those plays! Therefore AEschylus, Sophocles,
Euripides, Shakespeare, Goethe, Ibsen, Tolstoy, in their greatest
works did not give the Public what it wants, did not satisfy the
average human being, their more comfortable and normal selves, and as
artists were not true to the reason of their existence. Therefore
they were not artists, which is unthinkable; therefore I have not yet
found the Public!"

And perceiving that in this impasse his last hope of discovery had
foundered, the writer let his head fall on his chest.

But even as he did so a gleam of light, like a faint moonbeam, stole
out into the garden of his despair. "Is it possible," he thought,
"that, by a writer, until his play has been performed (when, alas!
it is too late), 'the Public' is inconceivable--in fact that for him
there is no such thing? But if there be no such thing, I cannot
exist to give it what it wants. What then is the reason of my
existence? Am I but a windlestraw?" And wearied out with his
perplexity, he fell into a doze. And while he dozed he dreamed that
he saw the figure of a woman standing in darkness, from whose face
and form came a misty refulgence, such as steals out into the dusk
from white campion flowers along summer hedgerows. She was holding
her pale hands before her, wide apart, with the palms turned down,
quivering as might doves about to settle; and for all it was so dark,
her grey eyes were visible-full of light, with black rims round the
irises. To gaze at those eyes was almost painful; for though they
were beautiful, they seemed to see right through his soul, to pass
him by, as though on a far discovering voyage, and forbidden to rest.

The dreamer spoke to her: "Who are you, standing there in the
darkness with those eyes that I can hardly bear to look at? Who are

And the woman answered: "Friend, I am your Conscience; I am the Truth
as best it may be seen by you. I am she whom you exist to serve."
With those words she vanished, and the writer woke. A boy was
standing before him with the evening papers.

To cover his confusion at being caught asleep he purchased one and
began to read a leading article. It commenced with these words:
"There are certain playwrights taking themselves very seriously;
might we suggest to them that they are in danger of becoming
ridiculous . . . ."

The writer let fall his hand, and the paper fluttered to the ground.
"The Public," he thought, "I am not able to take seriously, because I
cannot conceive what it may be; myself, my conscience, I am told I
must not take seriously, or I become ridiculous. Yes, I am indeed

And with a feeling of elation, as of a straw blown on every wind, he



By John Galsworthy

"Je vous dirai que l'exces est toujours un mal."



Since, time and again, it has been proved, in this country of free
institutions, that the great majority of our fellow-countrymen
consider the only Censorship that now obtains amongst us, namely the
Censorship of Plays, a bulwark for the preservation of their comfort
and sensibility against the spiritual researches and speculations of
bolder and too active spirits--it has become time to consider whether
we should not seriously extend a principle, so grateful to the
majority, to all our institutions.

For no one can deny that in practice the Censorship of Drama works
with a smooth swiftness--a lack of delay and friction unexampled in
any public office. No troublesome publicity and tedious postponement
for the purpose of appeal mar its efficiency. It is neither hampered
by the Law nor by the slow process of popular election. Welcomed by
the overwhelming majority of the public; objected to only by such
persons as suffer from it, and a negligible faction, who, wedded
pedantically to liberty of the subject, are resentful of summary
powers vested in a single person responsible only to his own
'conscience'--it is amazingly, triumphantly, successful.

Why, then, in a democratic State, is so valuable a protector of the
will, the interests, and pleasure of the majority not bestowed on
other branches of the public being? Opponents of the Censorship of
Plays have been led by the absence of such other Censorships to
conclude that this Office is an archaic survival, persisting into
times that have outgrown it. They have been known to allege that the
reason of its survival is simply the fact that Dramatic Authors,
whose reputation and means of livelihood it threatens, have ever been
few in number and poorly organised--that the reason, in short, is the
helplessness and weakness of the interests concerned. We must all
combat with force such an aspersion on our Legislature. Can it even
for a second be supposed that a State which gives trial by Jury to
the meanest, poorest, most helpless of its citizens, and concedes to
the greatest criminals the right of appeal, could have debarred a
body of reputable men from the ordinary rights of citizenship for so
cynical a reason as that their numbers were small, their interests
unjoined, their protests feeble? Such a supposition were
intolerable! We do not in this country deprive a class of citizens
of their ordinary rights, we do not place their produce under the
irresponsible control of one not amenable to Law, by any sort of
political accident! That would indeed be to laugh at Justice in this
Kingdom! That would indeed be cynical and unsound! We must never
admit that there is no basic Justice controlling the edifice of our
Civic Rights. We do, we must, conclude that a just and well-
considered principle underlies this despotic Institution; for surely,
else, it would not be suffered to survive for a single moment! Pom!

If, then, the Censorship of Plays be just, beneficent, and based on a
well-considered principle, we must rightly inquire what good and
logical reason there is for the absence of Censorship in other
departments of the national life. If Censorship of the Drama be in
the real interests of the people, or at all events in what the Censor
for the time being conceives to be their interest--then Censorships
of Art, Literature, Religion, Science, and Politics are in the
interests of the people, unless it can be proved that there exists
essential difference between the Drama and these other branches of
the public being. Let us consider whether there is any such
essential difference.

It is fact, beyond dispute, that every year numbers of books appear
which strain the average reader's intelligence and sensibilities to
an unendurable extent; books whose speculations are totally unsuited
to normal thinking powers; books which contain views of morality
divergent from the customary, and discussions of themes unsuited to
the young person; books which, in fine, provide the greater Public
with no pleasure whatsoever, and, either by harrowing their feelings
or offending their good taste, cause them real pain.

It is true that, precisely as in the case of Plays, the Public are
protected by a vigilant and critical Press from works of this
description; that, further, they are protected by the commercial
instinct of the Libraries, who will not stock an article which may
offend their customers--just as, in the case of Plays, the Public are
protected by the common-sense of theatrical Managers; that, finally,
they are protected by the Police and the Common Law of the land. But
despite all these protections, it is no uncommon thing for an average
citizen to purchase one of these disturbing or dubious books. Has
he, on discovering its true nature, the right to call on the
bookseller to refund its value? He has not. And thus he runs a
danger obviated in the case of the Drama which has the protection of
a prudential Censorship. For this reason alone, how much better,
then, that there should exist a paternal authority (some, no doubt,
will call it grand-maternal--but sneers must not be confounded with
argument) to suppress these books before appearance, and safeguard us
from the danger of buying and possibly reading undesirable or painful

A specious reason, however, is advanced for exempting Literature from
the Censorship accorded to Plays. He--it is said--who attends the
performance of a play, attends it in public, where his feelings may
be harrowed and his taste offended, cheek by jowl with boys, or women
of all ages; it may even chance that he has taken to this
entertainment his wife, or the young persons of his household. He--
on the other hand--who reads a book, reads it in privacy. True; but
the wielder of this argument has clasped his fingers round a two-
edged blade. The very fact that the book has no mixed audience
removes from Literature an element which is ever the greatest check
on licentiousness in Drama. No manager of a theatre,--a man of the
world engaged in the acquisition of his livelihood, unless guaranteed
by the license of the Censor, dare risk the presentment before a
mixed audience of that which might cause an 'emeute' among his
clients. It has, indeed, always been observed that the theatrical
manager, almost without exception, thoughtfully recoils from the
responsibility that would be thrust on him by the abolition of the
Censorship. The fear of the mixed audience is ever suspended above
his head. No such fear threatens the publisher, who displays his
wares to one man at a time. And for this very reason of the mixed
audience; perpetually and perversely cited to the contrary by such as
have no firm grasp of this matter, there is a greater necessity for a
Censorship on Literature than for one on Plays.

Further, if there were but a Censorship of Literature, no matter how
dubious the books that were allowed to pass, the conscience of no
reader need ever be troubled. For, that the perfect rest of the
public conscience is the first result of Censorship, is proved to
certainty by the protected Drama, since many dubious plays are yearly
put before the play-going Public without tending in any way to
disturb a complacency engendered by the security from harm guaranteed
by this beneficent, if despotic, Institution. Pundits who, to the
discomfort of the populace, foster this exemption of Literature from
discipline, cling to the old-fashioned notion that ulcers should be
encouraged to discharge themselves upon the surface, instead of being
quietly and decently driven into the system and allowed to fester

The remaining plea for exempting Literature from Censorship, put
forward by unreflecting persons: That it would require too many
Censors--besides being unworthy, is, on the face of it, erroneous.
Special tests have never been thought necessary in appointing
Examiners of Plays. They would, indeed, not only be unnecessary, but
positively dangerous, seeing that the essential function of
Censorship is protection of the ordinary prejudices and forms of
thought. There would, then, be no difficulty in securing tomorrow as
many Censors of Literature as might be necessary (say twenty or
thirty); since all that would be required of each one of them would
be that he should secretly exercise, in his uncontrolled discretion,
his individual taste. In a word, this Free Literature of ours
protects advancing thought and speculation; and those who believe in
civic freedom subject only to Common Law, and espouse the cause of
free literature, are championing a system which is essentially
undemocratic, essentially inimical to the will of the majority, who
have certainly no desire for any such things as advancing thought and
speculation. Such persons, indeed, merely hold the faith that the
People, as a whole, unprotected by the despotic judgments of single
persons, have enough strength and wisdom to know what is and what is
not harmful to themselves. They put their trust in a Public Press
and a Common Law, which deriving from the Conscience of the Country,
is openly administered and within the reach of all. How absurd, how
inadequate this all is we see from the existence of the Censorship on

Having observed that there is no reason whatever for the exemption of
Literature, let us now turn to the case of Art. Every picture hung
in a gallery, every statue placed on a pedestal, is exposed to the
public stare of a mixed company. Why, then, have we no Censorship to
protect us from the possibility of encountering works that bring
blushes to the cheek of the young person? The reason cannot be that
the proprietors of Galleries are more worthy of trust than the
managers of Theatres; this would be to make an odious distinction
which those very Managers who uphold the Censorship of Plays would be
the first to resent. It is true that Societies of artists and the
proprietors of Galleries are subject to the prosecution of the Law if
they offend against the ordinary standards of public decency; but
precisely the same liability attaches to theatrical managers and
proprietors of Theatres, in whose case it has been found necessary
and beneficial to add the Censorship. And in this connection let it
once more be noted how much more easily the ordinary standards of
public decency can be assessed by a single person responsible to no
one, than by the clumsy (if more open) process of public protest.
What, then, in the light of the proved justice and efficiency of the
Censorship of Drama, is the reason for the absence of the Censorship
of Art? The more closely the matter is regarded, the more plain it
is, that there is none! At any moment we may have to look upon some
painting, or contemplate some statue, as tragic, heart-rending, and
dubiously delicate in theme as that censured play "The Cenci," by one
Shelley; as dangerous to prejudice, and suggestive of new thought as
the censured "Ghosts," by one Ibsen. Let us protest against this
peril suspended over our heads, and demand the immediate appointment
of a single person not selected for any pretentiously artistic
feelings, but endowed with summary powers of prohibiting the
exhibition, in public galleries or places, of such works as he shall
deem, in his uncontrolled discretion, unsuited to average
intelligence or sensibility. Let us demand it in the interest, not
only of the young person, but of those whole sections of the
community which cannot be expected to take an interest in Art, and to
whom the purpose, speculations, and achievements of great artists,
working not only for to-day but for to-morrow, must naturally be dark
riddles. Let us even require that this official should be empowered
to order the destruction of the works which he has deemed unsuited to
average intelligence and sensibility, lest their creators should, by
private sale, make a profit out of them, such as, in the nature of
the case, Dramatic Authors are debarred from making out of plays
which, having been censured, cannot be played for money. Let us ask
this with confidence; for it is not compatible with common justice
that there should be any favouring of Painter over Playwright. They
are both artists--let them both be measured by the same last!

But let us now consider the case of Science. It will not, indeed
cannot, be contended that the investigations of scientific men,
whether committed to writing or to speech, are always suited to the
taste and capacities of our general public. There was, for example,
the well-known doctrine of Evolution, the teachings of Charles Darwin
and Alfred Russet Wallace, who gathered up certain facts, hitherto
but vaguely known, into presentments, irreverent and startling,
which, at the time, profoundly disturbed every normal mind. Not only
did religion, as then accepted, suffer in this cataclysm, but our
taste and feeling were inexpressibly shocked by the discovery, so
emphasised by Thomas Henry Huxley, of Man's descent from Apes. It
was felt, and is felt by many to this day, that the advancement of
that theory grossly and dangerously violated every canon of decency.
What pain, then, might have been averted, what far-reaching
consequences and incalculable subversion of primitive faiths checked,
if some judicious Censor of scientific thought had existed in those
days to demand, in accordance with his private estimate of the will
and temper of the majority, the suppression of the doctrine of

Innumerable investigations of scientists on subjects such as the date
of the world's creation, have from time to time been summarised and
inconsiderately sprung on a Public shocked and startled by the
revelation that facts which they were accustomed to revere were
conspicuously at fault. So, too, in the range of medicine, it would
be difficult to cite any radical discovery (such as the preventive
power of vaccination), whose unchecked publication has not violated
the prejudices and disturbed the immediate comfort of the common
mind. Had these discoveries been judiciously suppressed, or pared
away to suit what a Censorship conceived to be the popular palate of
the time, all this disturbance and discomfort might have been

It will doubtless be contended (for there are no such violent
opponents of Censorship as those who are threatened with the same)
that to compare a momentous disclosure, such as the doctrine of
Evolution, to a mere drama, were unprofitable. The answer to this
ungenerous contention is fortunately plain. Had a judicious
Censorship existed over our scientific matters, such as for two
hundred years has existed over our Drama, scientific discoveries
would have been no more disturbing and momentous than those which we
are accustomed to see made on our nicely pruned and tutored stage.
For not only would the more dangerous and penetrating scientific
truths have been carefully destroyed at birth, but scientists, aware
that the results of investigations offensive to accepted notions
would be suppressed, would long have ceased to waste their time in
search of a knowledge repugnant to average intelligence, and thus
foredoomed, and have occupied themselves with services more agreeable
to the public taste, such as the rediscovery of truths already known
and published.

Indissolubly connected with the desirability of a Censorship of
Science, is the need for Religious Censorship. For in this,
assuredly not the least important department of the nation's life, we
are witnessing week by week and year by year, what in the light of
the security guaranteed by the Censorship of Drama, we are justified
in terming an alarming spectacle. Thousands of men are licensed to
proclaim from their pulpits, Sunday after Sunday, their individual
beliefs, quite regardless of the settled convictions of the masses of
their congregations. It is true, indeed, that the vast majority of
sermons (like the vast majority of plays) are, and will always be,
harmonious with the feelings--of the average citizen; for neither
priest nor playwright have customarily any such peculiar gift of
spiritual daring as might render them unsafe mentors of their
fellows; and there is not wanting the deterrent of common-sense to
keep them in bounds. Yet it can hardly be denied that there spring
up at times men--like John Wesley or General Booth--of such incurable
temperament as to be capable of abusing their freedom by the
promulgation of doctrine or procedure, divergent from the current
traditions of religion. Nor must it be forgotten that sermons, like
plays, are addressed to a mixed audience of families, and that the
spiritual teachings of a lifetime may be destroyed by ten minutes of
uncensored pronouncement from a pulpit, the while parents are
sitting, not, as in a theatre vested with the right of protest, but
dumb and excoriated to the soul, watching their children, perhaps of
tender age, eagerly drinking in words at variance with that which
they themselves have been at such pains to instil.

If a set of Censors--for it would, as in the case of Literature,
indubitably require more than one (perhaps one hundred and eighty,
but, for reasons already given, there should be no difficulty
whatever in procuring them) endowed with the swift powers conferred
by freedom from the dull tedium of responsibility, and not remarkable
for religious temperament, were appointed, to whom all sermons and
public addresses on religious subjects must be submitted before
delivery, and whose duty after perusal should be to excise all
portions not conformable to their private ideas of what was at the
moment suitable to the Public's ears, we should be far on the road
toward that proper preservation of the status quo so desirable if the
faiths and ethical standards of the less exuberantly spiritual masses
are to be maintained in their full bloom. As things now stand, the
nation has absolutely nothing to safeguard it against religious

We have seen, then, that Censorship is at least as necessary over
Literature, Art, Science, and Religion as it is over our Drama. We
have now to call attention to the crowning need--the want of a
Censorship in Politics.

If Censorship be based on justice, if it be proved to serve the
Public and to be successful in its lonely vigil over Drama, it
should, and logically must be, extended to all parallel cases; it
cannot, it dare not, stop short at--Politics. For, precisely in this
supreme branch of the public life are we most menaced by the rule and
license of the leading spirit. To appreciate this fact, we need only
examine the Constitution of the House of Commons. Six hundred and
seventy persons chosen from a population numbering four and forty
millions, must necessarily, whatever their individual defects, be
citizens of more than average enterprise, resource, and resolution.
They are elected for a period that may last five years. Many of them
are ambitious; some uncompromising; not a few enthusiastically eager
to do something for their country; filled with designs and
aspirations for national or social betterment, with which the masses,
sunk in the immediate pursuits of life, can in the nature of things
have little sympathy. And yet we find these men licensed to pour
forth at pleasure, before mixed audiences, checked only by Common Law
and Common Sense political utterances which may have the gravest, the
most terrific consequences; utterances which may at any moment let
loose revolution, or plunge the country into war; which often, as a
fact, excite an utter detestation, terror, and mistrust; or shock the
most sacred domestic and proprietary convictions in the breasts of
vast majorities of their fellow-countrymen! And we incur this
appalling risk for the want of a single, or at the most, a handful of
Censors, invested with a simple but limitless discretion to excise or
to suppress entirely such political utterances as may seem to their
private judgments calculated to cause pain or moral disturbance in
the average man. The masses, it is true, have their protection and
remedy against injudicious or inflammatory politicians in the Law and
the so-called democratic process of election; but we have seen that
theatre audiences have also the protection of the Law, and the remedy
of boycott, and that in their case, this protection and this remedy
are not deemed enough. What, then, shall we say of the case of
Politics, where the dangers attending inflammatory or subversive
utterance are greater a million fold, and the remedy a thousand times
less expeditious?

Our Legislators have laid down Censorship as the basic principle of
Justice underlying the civic rights of dramatists. Then, let
"Censorship for all" be their motto, and this country no longer be
ridden and destroyed by free Institutions! Let them not only
establish forthwith Censorships of Literature, Art, Science, and
Religion, but also place themselves beneath the regimen with which
they have calmly fettered Dramatic Authors. They cannot deem it
becoming to their regard for justice, to their honour; to their sense
of humour, to recoil from a restriction which, in a parallel case
they have imposed on others. It is an old and homely saying that
good officers never place their men in positions they would not
themselves be willing to fill. And we are not entitled to believe
that our Legislators, having set Dramatic Authors where they have
been set, will--now that their duty is made plain--for a moment
hesitate to step down and stand alongside.

But if by any chance they should recoil, and thus make answer: "We
are ready at all times to submit to the Law and the People's will,
and to bow to their demands, but we cannot and must not be asked to
place our calling, our duty, and our honour beneath the irresponsible
rule of an arbitrary autocrat, however sympathetic with the
generality he may chance to be!" Then, we would ask: "Sirs, did you
ever hear of that great saying: 'Do unto others as ye would they
should do unto you!'" For it is but fair presumption that the
Dramatists, whom our Legislators have placed in bondage to a despot,
are, no less than those Legislators, proud of their calling,
conscious of their duty, and jealous of their honour.



It was on a day of rare beauty that I went out into the fields to try
and gather these few thoughts. So golden and sweetly hot it was,
that they came lazily, and with a flight no more coherent or
responsible than the swoop of the very swallows; and, as in a play or
poem, the result is conditioned by the conceiving mood, so I knew
would be the nature of my diving, dipping, pale-throated, fork-tailed
words. But, after all--I thought, sitting there--I need not take my
critical pronouncements seriously. I have not the firm soul of the
critic. It is not my profession to know 'things for certain, and to
make others feel that certainty. On the contrary, I am often wrong--
a luxury no critic can afford. And so, invading as I was the realm
of others, I advanced with a light pen, feeling that none, and least
of all myself, need expect me to be right.

What then--I thought--is Art? For I perceived that to think about it
I must first define it; and I almost stopped thinking at all before
the fearsome nature of that task. Then slowly in my mind gathered
this group of words:

Art is that imaginative expression of human energy, which, through
technical concretion of feeling and perception, tends to reconcile
the individual with the universal, by exciting in him impersonal
emotion. And the greatest Art is that which excites the greatest
impersonal emotion in an hypothecated perfect human being.

Impersonal emotion! And what--I thought do I mean by that? Surely I
mean: That is not Art, which, while I, am contemplating it, inspires
me with any active or directive impulse; that is Art, when, for
however brief a moment, it replaces within me interest in myself by
interest in itself. For, let me suppose myself in the presence of a
carved marble bath. If my thoughts be "What could I buy that for?"
Impulse of acquisition; or: "From what quarry did it come?" Impulse
of inquiry; or: "Which would be the right end for my head?" Mixed
impulse of inquiry and acquisition--I am at that moment insensible to
it as a work of Art. But, if I stand before it vibrating at sight of
its colour and forms, if ever so little and for ever so short a time,
unhaunted by any definite practical thought or impulse--to that
extent and for that moment it has stolen me away out of myself and
put itself there instead; has linked me to the universal by making me
forget the individual in me. And for that moment, and only while
that moment lasts, it is to me a work of Art. The word "impersonal,"
then, is but used in this my definition to signify momentary
forgetfulness of one's own personality and its active wants.

So Art--I thought--is that which, heard, read, or looked on, while
producing no directive impulse, warms one with unconscious vibration.
Nor can I imagine any means of defining what is the greatest Art,
without hypothecating a perfect human being. But since we shall
never see, or know if we do see, that desirable creature--dogmatism
is banished, "Academy" is dead to the discussion, deader than even
Tolstoy left it after his famous treatise "What is Art?" For, having
destroyed all the old Judges and Academies, Tolstoy, by saying that
the greatest Art was that which appealed to the greatest number of
living human beings, raised up the masses of mankind to be a definite
new Judge or Academy, as tyrannical and narrow as ever were those
whom he had destroyed.

This, at all events--I thought is as far as I dare go in defining
what Art is. But let me try to make plain to myself what is the
essential quality that gives to Art the power of exciting this
unconscious vibration, this impersonal emotion. It has been called
Beauty! An awkward word--a perpetual begging of the question; too
current in use, too ambiguous altogether; now too narrow, now too
wide--a word, in fact, too glib to know at all what it means. And
how dangerous a word--often misleading us into slabbing with
extraneous floridities what would otherwise, on its own plane, be
Art! To be decorative where decoration is not suitable, to be
lyrical where lyricism is out of place, is assuredly to spoil Art,
not to achieve it. But this essential quality of Art has also, and
more happily, been called Rhythm. And, what is Rhythm if not that
mysterious harmony between part and part, and part and whole, which
gives what is called life; that exact proportion, the mystery of
which is best grasped in observing how life leaves an animate
creature when the essential relation of part to whole has been
sufficiently disturbed. And I agree that this rhythmic relation of
part to part, and part to whole--in short, vitality--is the one
quality inseparable from a work of Art. For nothing which does not
seem to a man possessed of this rhythmic vitality, can ever steal him
out of himself.

And having got thus far in my thoughts, I paused, watching the
swallows; for they seemed to me the symbol, in their swift, sure
curvetting, all daring and balance and surprise, of the delicate
poise and motion of Art, that visits no two men alike, in a world
where no two things of all the things there be, are quite the same.

Yes--I thought--and this Art is the one form of human energy in the
whole world, which really works for union, and destroys the barriers
between man and man. It is the continual, unconscious replacement,
however fleeting, of oneself by another; the real cement of human
life; the everlasting refreshment and renewal. For, what is
grievous, dompting, grim, about our lives is that we are shut up
within ourselves, with an itch to get outside ourselves. And to be
stolen away from ourselves by Art is a momentary relaxation from that
itching, a minute's profound, and as it were secret, enfranchisement.
The active amusements and relaxations of life can only rest certain
of our faculties, by indulging others; the whole self is never rested
save through that unconsciousness of self, which comes through rapt
contemplation of Nature or of Art.

And suddenly I remembered that some believe that Art does not produce
unconsciousness of self, but rather very vivid self-realisation.

Ah! but--I though--that is not the first and instant effect of Art;
the new impetus is the after effect of that momentary replacement of
oneself by the self of the work before us; it is surely the result of
that brief span of enlargement, enfranchisement, and rest.

Yes, Art is the great and universal refreshment. For Art is never
dogmatic; holds no brief for itself you may take it or you may leave
it. It does not force itself rudely where it is not wanted. It is
reverent to all tempers, to all points of view. But it is wilful--
the very wind in the comings and goings of its influence, an
uncapturable fugitive, visiting our hearts at vagrant, sweet moments;
since we often stand even before the greatest works of Art without
being able quite to lose ourselves! That restful oblivion comes, we
never quite know when--and it is gone! But when it comes, it is a
spirit hovering with cool wings, blessing us from least to greatest,
according to our powers; a spirit deathless and varied as human life

And in what sort of age--I thought--are artists living now? Are
conditions favourable? Life is very multiple; full of "movements,"
"facts," and "news"; with the limelight terribly turned on--and all
this is adverse to the artist. Yet, leisure is abundant; the
facilities for study great; Liberty is respected--more or less. But,
there is one great reason why, in this age of ours, Art, it seems,
must flourish. For, just as cross-breeding in Nature--if it be not
too violent--often gives an extra vitality to the offspring, so does
cross-breeding of philosophies make for vitality in Art. I cannot
help thinking that historians, looking back from the far future, will
record this age as the Third Renaissance. We who are lost in it,
working or looking on, can neither tell what we are doing, nor where
standing; but we cannot help observing, that, just as in the Greek
Renaissance, worn-out Pagan orthodoxy was penetrated by new
philosophy; just as in the Italian Renaissance, Pagan philosophy,
reasserting itself, fertilised again an already too inbred Christian
creed; so now Orthodoxy fertilised by Science is producing a fresh
and fuller conception of life--a, love of Perfection, not for hope of
reward, not for fear of punishment, but for Perfection's sake.
Slowly, under our feet, beneath our consciousness, is forming that
new philosophy, and it is in times of new philosophies that Art,
itself in essence always a discovery, must flourish. Those whose
sacred suns and moons are ever in the past, tell us that our Art is
going to the dogs; and it is, indeed, true that we are in confusion!
The waters are broken, and every nerve and sinew of the artist is
strained to discover his own safety. It is an age of stir and
change, a season of new wine and old bottles. Yet, assuredly, in
spite of breakages and waste, a wine worth the drinking is all the
time being made.

I ceased again to think, for the sun had dipped low, and the midges
were biting me; and the sounds of evening had begun, those
innumerable far-travelling sounds of man and bird and beast--so clear
and intimate--of remote countrysides at sunset. And for long I
listened, too vague to move my pen.

New philosophy--a vigorous Art! Are there not all the signs of it?
In music, sculpture, painting; in fiction--and drama; in dancing; in
criticism itself, if criticism be an Art. Yes, we are reaching out
to a new faith not yet crystallised, to a new Art not yet perfected;
the forms still to find-the flowers still to fashion!

And how has it come, this slowly growing faith in Perfection for
Perfection's sake? Surely like this: The Western world awoke one day
to find that it no longer believed corporately and for certain in
future life for the individual consciousness. It began to feel: I
cannot say more than that there may be--Death may be the end of man,
or Death may be nothing. And it began to ask itself in this
uncertainty: Do I then desire to go on living? Now, since it found
that it desired to go on living at least as earnestly as ever it did
before, it began to inquire why. And slowly it perceived that there
was, inborn within it, a passionate instinct of which it had hardly
till then been conscious--a sacred instinct to perfect itself, now,
as well as in a possible hereafter; to perfect itself because
Perfection was desirable, a vision to be adored, and striven for; a
dream motive fastened within the Universe; the very essential Cause
of everything. And it began to see that this Perfection, cosmically,
was nothing but perfect Equanimity and Harmony; and in human
relations, nothing but perfect Love and Justice. And Perfection
began to glow before the eyes of the Western world like a new star,
whose light touched with glamour all things as they came forth from
Mystery, till to Mystery they were ready to return.

This--I thought is surely what the Western world has dimly been
rediscovering. There has crept into our minds once more the feeling
that the Universe is all of a piece, Equipoise supreme; and all
things equally wonderful, and mysterious, and valuable. We have
begun, in fact, to have a glimmering of the artist's creed, that
nothing may we despise or neglect--that everything is worth the doing
well, the making fair--that our God, Perfection, is implicit
everywhere, and the revelation of Him the business of our Art.

And as I jotted down these words I noticed that some real stars had
crept up into the sky, so gradually darkening above the pollard lime-
trees; cuckoos, who had been calling on the thorn-trees all the
afternoon, were silent; the swallows no longer flirted past, but a
bat was already in career over the holly hedge; and round me the
buttercups were closing. The whole form and feeling of the world had
changed, so that I seemed to have before me a new picture hanging.

Ah! I thought Art must indeed be priest of this new faith in
Perfection, whose motto is: "Harmony, Proportion, Balance." For by
Art alone can true harmony in human affairs be fostered, true
Proportion revealed, and true Equipoise preserved. Is not the
training of an artist a training in the due relation of one thing
with another, and in the faculty of expressing that relation clearly;
and, even more, a training in the faculty of disengaging from self
the very essence of self--and passing that essence into other selves
by so delicate means that none shall see how it is done, yet be
insensibly unified? Is not the artist, of all men, foe and nullifier
of partisanship and parochialism, of distortions and extravagance,
the discoverer of that jack-o'-lantern--Truth; for, if Truth be not
Spiritual Proportion I know not what it is. Truth it seems to me--is
no absolute thing, but always relative, the essential symmetry in the
varying relationships of life; and the most perfect truth is but the
concrete expression of the most penetrating vision. Life seen
throughout as a countless show of the finest works of Art; Life
shaped, and purged of the irrelevant, the gross, and the extravagant;
Life, as it were, spiritually selected--that is Truth; a thing as
multiple, and changing, as subtle, and strange, as Life itself, and
as little to be bound by dogma. Truth admits but the one rule: No
deficiency, and no excess! Disobedient to that rule--nothing attains
full vitality. And secretly fettered by that rule is Art, whose
business is the creation of vital things.

That aesthete, to be sure, was right, when he said: "It is Style that
makes one believe in a thing; nothing but Style. "For, what is Style
in its true and broadest sense save fidelity to idea and mood, and
perfect balance in the clothing of them? And I thought: Can one
believe in the decadence of Art in an age which, however
unconsciously as yet, is beginning to worship that which Art

The faults of our Arts to-day are the faults of zeal and of
adventure, the faults and crudities of pioneers, the errors and
mishaps of the explorer. They must pass through many fevers, and
many times lose their way; but at all events they shall not go dying
in their beds, and be buried at Kensal Green. And, here and there,
amid the disasters and wreckage of their voyages of discovery, they
will find something new, some fresh way of embellishing life, or of
revealing the heart of things. That characteristic of to-day's Art--
the striving of each branch of Art to burst its own. boundaries--
which to many spells destruction, is surely of happy omen. The novel
straining to become the play, the play the novel, both trying to
paint; music striving to become story; poetry gasping to be music;
painting panting to be philosophy; forms, canons, rules, all melting
in the pot; stagnation broken up! In all this havoc there is much to
shock and jar even the most eager and adventurous. We cannot stand
these new-fangled fellows! They have no form! They rush in where
angels fear to tread. They have lost all the good of the old, and
given us nothing in its place! And yet--only out of stir and change
is born new salvation. To deny that is to deny belief in man, to
turn our backs on courage! It is well, indeed, that some should live
in closed studies with the paintings and the books of yesterday--such
devoted students serve Art in their own way. But the fresh-air world
will ever want new forms. We shall not get them without faith enough
to risk the old! The good will live, the bad will die; and tomorrow
only can tell us which is which!

Yes--I thought--we naturally take a too impatient view of the Art of
our own time, since we can neither see the ends toward which it is
almost blindly groping, nor the few perfected creations that will be
left standing amidst the rubble of abortive effort. An age must
always decry itself and extol its forbears. The unwritten history of
every Art will show us that. Consider the novel--that most recent
form of Art! Did not the age which followed Fielding lament the
treachery of authors to the Picaresque tradition, complaining that
they were not as Fielding and Smollett were? Be sure they did. Very
slowly and in spite of opposition did the novel attain in this
country the fulness of that biographical form achieved under
Thackeray. Very slowly, and in face of condemnation, it has been
losing that form in favour of a greater vividness which places before
the reader's brain, not historical statements, as it were, of motives
and of facts, but word-paintings of things and persons, so chosen and
arranged that the reader may see, as if at first hand, the spirit of
Life at work before him. The new novel has as many bemoaners as the
old novel had when it was new. It is no question of better or worse,
but of differing forms--of change dictated by gradual suitability to
the changing conditions of our social life, and to the ever fresh
discoveries of craftsmen, in the intoxication of which, old and
equally worthy craftsmanship is--by the way--too often for the moment
mislaid. The vested interests of life favour the line of least
resistance--disliking and revolting against disturbance; but one must
always remember that a spurious glamour is inclined to gather around
what is new. And, because of these two deflecting factors, those who
break through old forms must well expect to be dead before the new
forms they have unconsciously created have found their true level,
high or low, in the world of Art. When a thing is new how shall it

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