Part 2 out of 9
place, and at last explored the forbidden road that had swallowed
them up. But I never saw her again, except that later she came to
me, my symbol of womanhood, in dreams. How my blood was stirred! I
lay awake of nights whispering in the darkness for her. I prayed
Indeed that girl, who probably forgot the last vestiges of me when
her first real kiss came to her, ruled and haunted me, gave a Queen
to my imagination and a texture to all my desires until I became a
I generalised her at last. I suddenly discovered that poetry was
about her and that she was the key to all that had hitherto seemed
nonsense about love. I took to reading novels, and if the heroine
could not possibly be like her, dusky and warm and starlike, I put
the book aside. . . .
I hesitate and add here one other confession. I want to tell this
thing because it seems to me we are altogether too restrained and
secretive about such matters. The cardinal thing in life sneaks in
to us darkly and shamefully like a thief in the night.
One day during my Cambridge days--it must have been in my first year
before I knew Hatherleigh--I saw in a print-shop window near the
Strand an engraving of a girl that reminded me sharply of Penge and
its dusky encounter. It was just a half length of a bare-
shouldered, bare-breasted Oriental with arms akimbo, smiling
faintly. I looked at it, went my way, then turned back and bought
it. I felt I must have it. The odd thing is that I was more than a
little shamefaced about it. I did not have it framed and hung in my
room open to the criticism of my friends, but I kept it in the
drawer of my writing-table. And I kept that drawer locked for a
year. It speedily merged with and became identified with the dark
girl of Penge. That engraving became in a way my mistress. Often
when I had sported my oak and was supposed to be reading, I was
sitting with it before me.
Obeying some instinct I kept the thing very secret indeed. For a
time nobody suspected what was locked in my drawer nor what was
locked in me. I seemed as sexless as my world required.
These things stabbed through my life, intimations of things above
and below and before me. They had an air of being no more than
The broad substance of my existence at this time was the City
Merchants School. Home was a place where I slept and read, and the
mooning explorations of the south-eastern postal district which
occupied the restless evenings and spare days of my vacations mere
interstices, giving glimpses of enigmatical lights and distant
spaces between the woven threads of a school-boy's career. School
life began for me every morning at Herne Hill, for there I was
joined by three or four other boys and the rest of the way we went
together. Most of the streets and roads we traversed in our
morning's walk from Victoria are still intact, the storms of
rebuilding that have submerged so much of my boyhood's London have
passed and left them, and I have revived the impression of them
again and again in recent years as I have clattered dinnerward in a
hansom or hummed along in a motor cab to some engagement. The main
gate still looks out with the same expression of ancient well-
proportioned kindliness upon St. Margaret's Close. There are
imposing new science laboratories in Chambers Street indeed, but the
old playing fields are unaltered except for the big electric trams
that go droning and spitting blue flashes along the western
boundary. I know Ratten, the new Head, very well, but I have not
been inside the school to see if it has changed at all since I went
up to Cambridge.
I took all they put before us very readily as a boy, for I had a
mind of vigorous appetite, but since I have grown mentally to man's
estate and developed a more and more comprehensive view of our
national process and our national needs, I am more and more struck
by the oddity of the educational methods pursued, their aimless
disconnectedness from the constructive forces in the community. I
suppose if we are to view the public school as anything more than an
institution that has just chanced to happen, we must treat it as
having a definite function towards the general scheme of the nation,
as being in a sense designed to take the crude young male of the
more or less responsible class, to correct his harsh egotisms,
broaden his outlook, give him a grasp of the contemporary
developments he will presently be called upon to influence and
control, and send him on to the university to be made a leading and
ruling social man. It is easy enough to carp at schoolmasters and
set up for an Educational Reformer, I know, but still it is
impossible not to feel how infinitely more effectually--given
certain impossibilities perhaps--the job might be done.
My memory of school has indeed no hint whatever of that quality of
elucidation it seems reasonable to demand from it. Here all about
me was London, a vast inexplicable being, a vortex of gigantic
forces, that filled and overwhelmed me with impressions, that
stirred my imagination to a perpetual vague enquiry; and my school
not only offered no key to it, but had practically no comment to
make upon it at all. We were within three miles of Westminster and
Charing Cross, the government offices of a fifth of mankind were all
within an hour's stroll, great economic changes were going on under
our eyes, now the hoardings flamed with election placards, now the
Salvation Army and now the unemployed came trailing in procession
through the winter-grey streets, now the newspaper placards outside
news-shops told of battles in strange places, now of amazing
discoveries, now of sinister crimes, abject squalor and poverty,
imperial splendour and luxury, Buckingham Palace, Rotten Row,
Mayfair, the slums of Pimlico, garbage-littered streets of bawling
costermongers, the inky silver of the barge-laden Thames--such was
the background of our days. We went across St. Margaret's Close and
through the school gate into a quiet puerile world apart from all
these things. We joined in the earnest acquirement of all that was
necessary for Greek epigrams and Latin verse, and for the rest
played games. We dipped down into something clear and elegantly
proportioned and time-worn and for all its high resolve of stalwart
virility a little feeble, like our blackened and decayed portals by
Within, we were taught as the chief subjects of instruction, Latin
and Greek. We were taught very badly because the men who taught us
did not habitually use either of these languages, nobody uses them
any more now except perhaps for the Latin of a few Levantine
monasteries. At the utmost our men read them. We were taught these
languages because long ago Latin had been the language of
civilisation; the one way of escape from the narrow and localised
life had lain in those days through Latin, and afterwards Greek had
come in as the vehicle of a flood of new and amazing ideas. Once
these two languages had been the sole means of initiation to the
detached criticism and partial comprehension of the world. I can
imagine the fierce zeal of our first Heads, Gardener and Roper,
teaching Greek like passionate missionaries, as a progressive
Chinaman might teach English to the boys of Pekin, clumsily,
impatiently, with rod and harsh urgency, but sincerely,
patriotically, because they felt that behind it lay revelations, the
irresistible stimulus to a new phase of history. That was long ago.
A new great world, a vaster Imperialism had arisen about the school,
had assimilated all these amazing and incredible ideas, had gone on
to new and yet more amazing developments of its own. But the City
Merchants School still made the substance of its teaching Latin and
Greek, still, with no thought of rotating crops, sowed in a dream
amidst the harvesting.
There is no fierceness left in the teaching now. Just after I went
up to Trinity, Gates, our Head, wrote a review article in defence of
our curriculum. In this, among other indiscretions, he asserted
that it was impossible to write good English without an illuminating
knowledge of the classic tongues, and he split an infinitive and
failed to button up a sentence in saying so. His main argument
conceded every objection a reasonable person could make to the City
Merchants' curriculum. He admitted that translation had now placed
all the wisdom of the past at a common man's disposal, that scarcely
a field of endeavour remained in which modern work had not long
since passed beyond the ancient achievement. He disclaimed any
utility. But there was, he said, a peculiar magic in these
grammatical exercises no other subjects of instruction possessed.
Nothing else provided the same strengthening and orderly discipline
for the mind.
He said that, knowing the Senior Classics he did, himself a Senior
Yet in a dim confused way I think he was making out a case. In
schools as we knew them, and with the sort of assistant available,
the sort of assistant who has been trained entirely on the old
lines, he could see no other teaching so effectual in developing
attention, restraint, sustained constructive effort and various yet
systematic adjustment. And that was as far as his imagination could
It is infinitely easier to begin organised human affairs than end
them; the curriculum and the social organisation of the English
public school are the crowning instances of that. They go on
because they have begun. Schools are not only immortal institutions
but reproductive ones. Our founder, Jabez Arvon, knew nothing, I am
sure, of Gates' pedagogic values and would, I feel certain, have
dealt with them disrespectfully. But public schools and university
colleges sprang into existence correlated, the scholars went on to
the universities and came back to teach the schools, to teach as
they themselves had been taught, before they had ever made any real
use of the teaching; the crowd of boys herded together, a crowd
perpetually renewed and unbrokenly the same, adjusted itself by
means of spontaneously developed institutions. In a century, by its
very success, this revolutionary innovation of Renascence public
schools had become an immense tradition woven closely into the
fabric of the national life. Intelligent and powerful people ceased
to talk Latin or read Greek, they had got what was wanted, but that
only left the schoolmaster the freer to elaborate his point. Since
most men of any importance or influence in the country had been
through the mill, it was naturally a little difficult to persuade
them that it was not quite the best and most ennobling mill the wit
of man could devise. And, moreover, they did not want their
children made strange to them. There was all the machinery and all
the men needed to teach the old subjects, and none to teach whatever
new the critic might propose. Such science instruction as my father
gave seemed indeed the uninviting alternative to the classical
grind. It was certainly an altogether inferior instrument at that
So it was I occupied my mind with the exact study of dead languages
for seven long years. It was the strangest of detachments. We
would sit under the desk of such a master as Topham like creatures
who had fallen into an enchanted pit, and he would do his
considerable best to work us up to enthusiasm for, let us say, a
Greek play. If we flagged he would lash himself to revive us. He
would walk about the class-room mouthing great lines in a rich roar,
and asking us with a flushed face and shining eyes if it was not
"GLORIOUS." The very sight of Greek letters brings back to me the
dingy, faded, ink-splashed quality of our class-room, the banging of
books, Topham's disordered hair, the sheen of his alpaca gown, his
deep unmusical intonations and the wide striding of his creaking
boots. Glorious! And being plastic human beings we would consent
that it was glorious, and some of us even achieved an answering
reverberation and a sympathetic flush. I at times responded freely.
We all accepted from him unquestioningly that these melodies, these
strange sounds, exceeded any possibility of beauty that lay in the
Gothic intricacy, the splash and glitter, the jar and recovery, the
stabbing lights, the heights and broad distances of our English
tongue. That indeed was the chief sin of him. It was not that he
was for Greek and Latin, but that he was fiercely against every
beauty that was neither classic nor deferred to classical canons.
And what exactly did we make of it, we seniors who understood it
best? We visualised dimly through that dust and the grammatical
difficulties, the spectacle of the chorus chanting grotesquely,
helping out protagonist and antagonist, masked and buskined, with
the telling of incomprehensible parricides, of inexplicable incest,
of gods faded beyond symbolism, of that Relentless Law we did not
believe in for a moment, that no modern western European can believe
in. We thought of the characters in the unconvincing wigs and
costumes of our school performance. No Gilbert Murray had come as
yet to touch these things to life again. It was like the ghost of
an antiquarian's toy theatre, a ghost that crumbled and condensed
into a gritty dust of construing as one looked at it.
Marks, shindies, prayers and punishments, all flavoured with the
leathery stuffiness of time-worn Big Hall. . . .
And then out one would come through our grey old gate into the
evening light and the spectacle of London hurrying like a cataract,
London in black and brown and blue and gleaming silver, roaring like
the very loom of Time. We came out into the new world no teacher
has yet had the power and courage to grasp and expound. Life and
death sang all about one, joys and fears on such a scale, in such an
intricacy as never Greek nor Roman knew. The interminable
procession of horse omnibuses went lumbering past, bearing countless
people we knew not whence, we knew not whither. Hansoms clattered,
foot passengers jostled one, a thousand appeals of shop and boarding
caught the eye. The multi-coloured lights of window and street
mingled with the warm glow of the declining day under the softly
flushing London skies; the ever-changing placards, the shouting
news-vendors, told of a kaleidoscopic drama all about the globe.
One did not realise what had happened to us, but the voice of Topham
was suddenly drowned and lost, he and his minute, remote
gesticulations. . . .
That submerged and isolated curriculum did not even join on to
living interests where it might have done so. We were left
absolutely to the hints of the newspapers, to casual political
speeches, to the cartoons of the comic papers or a chance reading of
some Socialist pamphlet for any general ideas whatever about the
huge swirling world process in which we found ourselves. I always
look back with particular exasperation to the cessation of our
modern history at the year 1815. There it pulled up abruptly, as
though it had come upon something indelicate. . . .
But, after all, what would Topham or Flack have made of the huge
adjustments of the nineteenth century? Flack was the chief
cricketer on the staff; he belonged to that great cult which
pretends that the place of this or that county in the struggle for
the championship is a matter of supreme importance to boys. He
obliged us to affect a passionate interest in the progress of county
matches, to work up unnatural enthusiasms. What a fuss there would
be when some well-trained boy, panting as if from Marathon, appeared
with an evening paper! "I say, you chaps, Middlesex all out for a
hundred and five!"
Under Flack's pressure I became, I confess, a cricket humbug of the
first class. I applied myself industriously year by year to
mastering scores and averages; I pretended that Lords or the Oval
were the places nearest Paradise for me. (I never went to either.)
Through a slight mistake about the county boundary I adopted Surrey
for my loyalty, though as a matter of fact we were by some five
hundred yards or so in Kent. It did quite as well for my purposes.
I bowled rather straight and fast, and spent endless hours acquiring
the skill to bowl Flack out. He was a bat in the Corinthian style,
rich and voluminous, and succumbed very easily to a low shooter or
an unexpected Yorker, but usually he was caught early by long leg.
The difficulty was to bowl him before he got caught. He loved to
lift a ball to leg. After one had clean bowled him at the practice
nets one deliberately gave him a ball to leg just to make him feel
Flack went about a world of marvels dreaming of leg hits. He has
been observed, going across the Park on his way to his highly
respectable club in Piccadilly, to break from profound musings into
a strange brief dance that ended with an imaginary swipe with his
umbrella, a roofer, over the trees towards Buckingham Palace. The
hit accomplished, Flack resumed his way.
Inadequately instructed foreigners would pass him in terror,
These schoolmasters move through my memory as always a little
distant and more than a little incomprehensible. Except when they
wore flannels, I saw them almost always in old college caps and
gowns, a uniform which greatly increased their detachment from the
world of actual men. Gates, the head, was a lean loose-limbed man,
rather stupid I discovered when I reached the Sixth and came into
contact with him, but honest, simple and very eager to be liberal-
minded. He was bald, with an almost conical baldness, with a
grizzled pointed beard, small featured and, under the stresses of a
Zeitgeist that demanded liberality, with an expression of puzzled
but resolute resistance to his own unalterable opinions. He made a
tall dignified figure in his gown. In my junior days he spoke to me
only three or four times, and then he annoyed me by giving me a
wrong surname; it was a sore point because I was an outsider and not
one of the old school families, the Shoesmiths, the Naylors, the
Marklows, the Tophams, the Pevises and suchlike, who came generation
after generation. I recall him most vividly against the background
of faded brown book-backs in the old library in which we less
destructive seniors were trusted to work, with the light from the
stained-glass window falling in coloured patches on his face. It
gave him the appearance of having no colour of his own. He had a
habit of scratching the beard on his cheek as he talked, and he used
to come and consult us about things and invariably do as we said.
That, in his phraseology, was "maintaining the traditions of the
He had indeed an effect not of a man directing a school, but of a
man captured and directed by a school. Dead and gone Elizabethans
had begotten a monster that could carry him about in its mouth.
Yet being a man, as I say, with his hair a little stirred by a
Zeitgeist that made for change, Gates did at times display a
disposition towards developments. City Merchants had no modern
side, and utilitarian spirits were carping in the PALL MALL GAZETTE
and elsewhere at the omissions from our curriculum, and particularly
at our want of German. Moreover, four classes still worked
together with much clashing and uproar in the old Big Hall that had
once held in a common tumult the entire school. Gates used to come
and talk to us older fellows about these things.
"I don't wish to innovate unduly," he used to say. "But we ought to
get in some German, you know,--for those who like it. The army men
will be wanting it some of these days."
He referred to the organisation of regular evening preparation for
the lower boys in Big Hall as a "revolutionary change," but he
achieved it, and he declared he began the replacement of the hacked
wooden tables, at which the boys had worked since Tudor days, by
sloping desks with safety inkpots and scientifically adjustable
seats, "with grave misgivings." And though he never birched a boy
in his life, and was, I am convinced, morally incapable of such a
scuffle, he retained the block and birch in the school through all
his term of office, and spoke at the Headmasters' Conference in
temperate approval of corporal chastisement, comparing it, dear
soul! to the power of the sword. . . .
I wish I could, in some measure and without tediousness, convey the
effect of his discourses to General Assembly in Big Hall. But that
is like trying to draw the obverse and reverse of a sixpence worn to
complete illegibility. His tall fine figure stood high on the days,
his thoughtful tenor filled the air as he steered his hazardous way
through sentences that dragged inconclusive tails and dropped
redundant prepositions. And he pleaded ever so urgently, ever so
finely, that what we all knew for Sin was sinful, and on the whole
best avoided altogether, and so went on with deepening notes and
even with short arresting gestures of the right arm and hand, to
stir and exhort us towards goodness, towards that modern,
unsectarian goodness, goodness in general and nothing in particular,
which the Zeitgeist seemed to indicate in those transitional years.
The school never quite got hold of me. Partly I think that was
because I was a day-boy and so freer than most of the boys, partly
because of a temperamental disposition to see things in my own way
and have my private dreams, partly because I was a little
antagonised by the family traditions that ran through the school. I
was made to feel at first that I was a rank outsider, and I never
quite forgot it. I suffered very little bullying, and I never had a
fight--in all my time there were only three fights--but I followed
my own curiosities. I was already a very keen theologian and
politician before I was fifteen. I was also intensely interested in
modern warfare. I read the morning papers in the Reading Room
during the midday recess, never missed the illustrated weeklies, and
often when I could afford it I bought a PALL MALL GAZETTE on my way
I do not think that I was very exceptional in that; most intelligent
boys, I believe, want naturally to be men, and are keenly interested
in men's affairs. There is not the universal passion for a
magnified puerility among them it is customary to assume. I was
indeed a voracious reader of everything but boys' books--which I
detested--and fiction. I read histories, travel, popular science
and controversy with particular zest, and I loved maps. School work
and school games were quite subordinate affairs for me. I worked
well and made a passable figure at games, and I do not think I was
abnormally insensitive to the fine quality of our school, to the
charm of its mediaeval nucleus, its Gothic cloisters, its scraps of
Palladian and its dignified Georgian extensions; the contrast of the
old quiet, that in spite of our presence pervaded it everywhere,
with the rushing and impending London all about it, was indeed a
continual pleasure to me. But these things were certainly not the
living and central interests of my life.
I had to conceal my wider outlook to a certain extent--from the
masters even more than from the boys. Indeed I only let myself go
freely with one boy, Britten, my especial chum, the son of the
Agent-General for East Australia. We two discovered in a chance
conversation A PROPOS of a map in the library that we were both of
us curious why there were Malays in Madagascar, and how the Mecca
pilgrims came from the East Indies before steamships were available.
Neither of us had suspected that there was any one at all in the
school who knew or cared a rap about the Indian Ocean, except as
water on the way to India. But Britten had come up through the Suez
Canal, and his ship had spoken a pilgrim ship on the way. It gave
him a startling quality of living knowledge. From these pilgrims we
got to a comparative treatment of religions, and from that, by a
sudden plunge, to entirely sceptical and disrespectful confessions
concerning Gates' last outbreak of simple piety in School Assembly.
We became congenial intimates from that hour.
The discovery of Britten happened to me when we were both in the
Lower Fifth. Previously there had been a watertight compartment
between the books I read and the thoughts they begot on the one hand
and human intercourse on the other. Now I really began my higher
education, and aired and examined and developed in conversation the
doubts, the ideas, the interpretations that had been forming in my
mind. As we were both day-boys with a good deal of control over our
time we organised walks and expeditions together, and my habit of
solitary and rather vague prowling gave way to much more definite
joint enterprises. I went several times to his house, he was the
youngest of several brothers, one of whom was a medical student and
let us assist at the dissection of a cat, and once or twice in
vacation time he came to Penge, and we went with parcels of
provisions to do a thorough day in the grounds and galleries of the
Crystal Palace, ending with the fireworks at close quarters. We
went in a river steamboat down to Greenwich, and fired by that made
an excursion to Margate and back; we explored London docks and
Bethnal Green Museum, Petticoat Lane and all sorts of out-of-the-way
We confessed shyly to one another a common secret vice, "Phantom
warfare." When we walked alone, especially in the country, we had
both developed the same practice of fighting an imaginary battle
about us as we walked. As we went along we were generals, and our
attacks pushed along on either side, crouching and gathering behind
hedges, cresting ridges, occupying copses, rushing open spaces,
fighting from house to house. The hillsides about Penge were
honeycombed in my imagination with the pits and trenches I had
created to check a victorious invader coming out of Surrey. For him
West Kensington was chiefly important as the scene of a desperate
and successful last stand of insurrectionary troops (who had seized
the Navy, the Bank and other advantages) against a royalist army--
reinforced by Germans--advancing for reasons best known to
themselves by way of Harrow and Ealing. It is a secret and solitary
game, as we found when we tried to play it together. We made a
success of that only once. All the way down to Margate we schemed
defences and assailed and fought them as we came back against the
sunset. Afterwards we recapitulated all that conflict by means of a
large scale map of the Thames and little paper ironclads in plan cut
out of paper.
A subsequent revival of these imaginings was brought about by
Britten's luck in getting, through a friend of his father's,
admission for us both to the spectacle of volunteer officers
fighting the war game in Caxton Hall. We developed a war game of
our own at Britten's home with nearly a couple of hundred lead
soldiers, some excellent spring cannons that shot hard and true at
six yards, hills of books and a constantly elaborated set of rules.
For some months that occupied an immense proportion of our leisure.
Some of our battles lasted several days. We kept the game a
profound secret from the other fellows. They would not have
And we also began, it was certainly before we were sixteen, to
write, for the sake of writing. We liked writing. We had
discovered Lamb and the best of the middle articles in such weeklies
as the SATURDAY GAZETTE, and we imitated them. Our minds were full
of dim uncertain things we wanted to drag out into the light of
expression. Britten had got hold of IN MEMORIAM, and I had
disinterred Pope's ESSAY ON MAN and RABBI BEN EZRA, and these things
had set our theological and cosmic solicitudes talking. I was
somewhere between sixteen and eighteen, I know, when he and I walked
along the Thames Embankment confessing shamefully to one another
that we had never read Lucretius. We thought every one who mattered
had read Lucretius.
When I was nearly sixteen my mother was taken ill very suddenly, and
died of some perplexing complaint that involved a post-mortem
examination; it was, I think, the trouble that has since those days
been recognised as appendicitis. This led to a considerable change
in my circumstances; the house at Penge was given up, and my
Staffordshire uncle arranged for me to lodge during school terms
with a needy solicitor and his wife in Vicars Street, S. W., about a
mile and a half from the school. So it was I came right into
London; I had almost two years of London before I went to Cambridge.
Those were our great days together. Afterwards we were torn apart;
Britten went to Oxford, and our circumstances never afterwards threw
us continuously together until the days of the BLUE WEEKLY.
As boys, we walked together, read and discussed the same books,
pursued the same enquiries. We got a reputation as inseparables and
the nickname of the Rose and the Lily, for Britten was short and
thick-set with dark close curling hair and a ruddy Irish type of
face; I was lean and fair-haired and some inches taller than he.
Our talk ranged widely and yet had certain very definite
limitations. We were amazingly free with politics and religion, we
went to that little meeting-house of William Morris's at Hammersmith
and worked out the principles of Socialism pretty thoroughly, and we
got up the Darwinian theory with the help of Britten's medical-
student brother and the galleries of the Natural History Museum in
Cromwell Road. Those wonderful cases on the ground floor
illustrating mimicry, dimorphism and so forth, were new in our
times, and we went through them with earnest industry and tried over
our Darwinism in the light of that. Such topics we did
exhaustively. But on the other hand I do not remember any
discussion whatever of human sex or sexual relationships. There, in
spite of intense secret curiosities, our lips were sealed by a
peculiar shyness. And I do not believe we ever had occasion either
of us to use the word "love." It was not only that we were
instinctively shy of the subject, but that we were mightily ashamed
of the extent of our ignorance and uncertainty in these matters. We
evaded them elaborately with an assumption of exhaustive knowledge.
We certainly had no shyness about theology. We marked the
emancipation of our spirits from the frightful teachings that had
oppressed our boyhood, by much indulgence in blasphemous wit. We
had a secret literature of irreverent rhymes, and a secret art of
theological caricature. Britten's father had delighted his family
by reading aloud from Dr. Richard Garnett's TWILIGHT OF THE GODS,
and Britten conveyed the precious volume to me. That and the BAB
BALLADS were the inspiration of some of our earliest lucubrations.
For an imaginative boy the first experience of writing is like a
tiger's first taste of blood, and our literary flowerings led very
directly to the revival of the school magazine, which had been
comatose for some years. But there we came upon a disappointment.
In that revival we associated certain other of the Sixth Form boys,
and notably one for whom our enterprise was to lay the foundations
of a career that has ended in the House of Lords, Arthur Cossington,
now Lord Paddockhurst. Cossington was at that time a rather heavy,
rather good-looking boy who was chiefly eminent in cricket, an
outsider even as we were and preoccupied no doubt, had we been
sufficiently detached to observe him, with private imaginings very
much of the same quality and spirit as our own. He was, we were
inclined to think, rather a sentimentalist, rather a poseur, he
affected a concise emphatic style, played chess very well, betrayed
a belief in will-power, and earned Britten's secret hostility,
Britten being a sloven, by the invariable neatness of his collars
and ties. He came into our magazine with a vigour that we found
extremely surprising and unwelcome.
Britten and I had wanted to write. We had indeed figured our
project modestly as a manuscript magazine of satirical, liberal and
brilliant literature by which in some rather inexplicable way the
vague tumult of ideas that teemed within us was to find form and
expression; Cossington, it was manifest from the outset, wanted
neither to write nor writing, but a magazine. I remember the
inaugural meeting in Shoesmith major's study--we had had great
trouble in getting it together--and how effectually Cossington
bolted with the proposal.
"I think we fellows ought to run a magazine," said Cossington. "The
school used to have one. A school like this ought to have a
"The last one died in '84," said Shoesmith from the hearthrug.
"Called the OBSERVER. Rot rather."
"Bad title," said Cossington.
"There was a TATLER before that," said Britten, sitting on the
writing table at the window that was closed to deaden the cries of
the Lower School at play, and clashing his boots together.
"We want something suggestive of City Merchants."
"CITY MERCHANDIZE," said Britten.
"Too fanciful. What of ARVONIAN? Richard Arvon was our founder,
and it seems almost a duty--"
"They call them all -usians or -onians," said Britten.
"I like CITY MERCHANDIZE," I said. "We could probably find a
quotation to suggest--oh! mixed good things."
Cossington regarded me abstractedly.
"Don't want to put the accent on the City, do we?" said Shoesmith,
who had a feeling for county families, and Naylor supported him by a
murmur of approval.
"We ought to call it the ARVONIAN," decided Cossington, "and we
might very well have underneath, 'With which is incorporated the
OBSERVER.' That picks up the old traditions, makes an appeal to old
boys and all that, and it gives us something to print under the
I still held out for CITY MERCHANDIZE, which had taken my fancy.
"Some of the chaps' people won't like it," said Naylor, "certain not
to. And it sounds Rum."
"Sounds Weird," said a boy who had not hitherto spoken.
"We aren't going to do anything Queer," said Shoesmith, pointedly
not looking at Britten.
The question of the title had manifestly gone against us. "Oh! HAVE
it ARVONIAN," I said.
"And next, what size shall we have?" said Cossington.
"Something like MACMILLAN'S MAGAZINE--or LONGMANS'; LONGMANS' is
better because it has a whole page, not columns. It makes no end of
difference to one's effects."
"What effects?" asked Shoesmith abruptly.
"Oh! a pause or a white line or anything. You've got to write
closer for a double column. It's nuggetty. You can't get a swing
on your prose." I had discussed this thoroughly with Britten.
"If the fellows are going to write--" began Britten.
"We ought to keep off fine writing," said Shoesmith. "It's cheek.
I vote we don't have any."
"We sha'n't get any," said Cossington, and then as an olive branch
to me, "unless Remington does a bit. Or Britten. But it's no good
making too much space for it."
"We ought to be very careful about the writing," said Shoesmith.
"We don't want to give ourselves away."
"I vote we ask old Topham to see us through," said Naylor.
Britten groaned aloud and every one regarded him. "Greek epigrams
on the fellows' names," he said. "Small beer in ancient bottles.
Let's get a stuffed broody hen to SIT on the magazine."
"We might do worse than a Greek epigram," said Cossington. "One in
each number. It--it impresses parents and keeps up our classical
tradition. And the masters CAN help. We don't want to antagonise
them. Of course--we've got to departmentalise. Writing is only one
section of the thing. The ARVONIAN has to stand for the school.
There's questions of space and questions of expense. We can't turn
out a great chunk of printed prose like--like wet cold toast and
call it a magazine."
Britten writhed, appreciating the image.
"There's to be a section of sports. YOU must do that."
"I'm not going to do any fine writing," said Shoesmith.
"What you've got to do is just to list all the chaps and put a note
to their play:--'Naylor minor must pass more. Football isn't the
place for extreme individualism.' 'Ammersham shapes well as half-
back.' Things like that."
"I could do that all right," said Shoesmith, brightening and
manifestly becoming pregnant with judgments.
"One great thing about a magazine of this sort," said Cossington,
"is to mention just as many names as you can in each number. It
keeps the interest alive. Chaps will turn it over looking for their
own little bit. Then it all lights up for them."
"Do you want any reports of matches?" Shoesmith broke from his
"Rather. With comments."
"Naylor surpassed himself and negotiated the lemon safely home,"
"Shut it," said Naylor modestly.
"Exactly," said Cossington. "That gives us three features,"
touching them off on his fingers, "Epigram, Literary Section,
Sports. Then we want a section to shove anything into, a joke, a
notice of anything that's going on. So on. Our Note Book."
"Oh, Hell!" said Britten, and clashed his boots, to the silent
disapproval of every one.
"Then we want an editorial."
"A WHAT?" cried Britten, with a note of real terror in his voice.
"Well, don't we? Unless we have our Note Book to begin on the front
page. It gives a scrappy effect to do that. We want something
manly and straightforward and a bit thoughtful, about Patriotism,
say, or ESPRIT DE CORPS, or After-Life."
I looked at Britten. Hitherto we had not considered Cossington
mattered very much in the world.
He went over us as a motor-car goes over a dog. There was a sort of
energy about him, a new sort of energy to us; we had never realised
that anything of the sort existed in the world. We were hopelessly
at a disadvantage. Almost instantly we had developed a clear and
detailed vision of a magazine made up of everything that was most
acceptable in the magazines that flourished in the adult world about
us, and had determined to make it a success. He had by a kind of
instinct, as it were, synthetically plagiarised every successful
magazine and breathed into this dusty mixture the breath of life.
He was elected at his own suggestion managing director, with the
earnest support of Shoesmith and Naylor, and conducted the magazine
so successfully and brilliantly that he even got a whole back page
of advertisements from the big sports shop in Holborn, and made the
printers pay at the same rate for a notice of certain books of their
own which they said they had inserted by inadvertency to fill up
space. The only literary contribution in the first number was a
column by Topham in faultless stereotyped English in depreciation of
some fancied evil called Utilitarian Studies and ending with that
noble old quotation:--
"To the glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome."
And Flack crowded us out of number two with a bright little paper on
the "Humours of Cricket," and the Head himself was profusely
thoughtful all over the editorial under the heading of "The School
Chapel; and How it Seems to an Old Boy."
Britten and I found it difficult to express to each other with any
grace or precision what we felt about that magazine.
CHAPTER THE FOURTH
I find it very difficult to trace how form was added to form and
interpretation followed interpretation in my ever-spreading, ever-
deepening, ever-multiplying and enriching vision of this world into
which I had been born. Every day added its impressions, its hints,
its subtle explications to the growing understanding. Day after day
the living interlacing threads of a mind weave together. Every
morning now for three weeks and more (for to-day is Thursday and I
started on a Tuesday) I have been trying to convey some idea of the
factors and early influences by which my particular scrap of
subjective tapestry was shaped, to show the child playing on the
nursery floor, the son perplexed by his mother, gazing aghast at his
dead father, exploring interminable suburbs, touched by first
intimations of the sexual mystery, coming in with a sort of confused
avidity towards the centres of the life of London. It is only by
such an effort to write it down that one realises how marvellously
crowded, how marvellously analytical and synthetic those ears must
be. One begins with the little child to whom the sky is a roof of
blue, the world a screen of opaque and disconnected facts, the home
a thing eternal, and "being good" just simple obedience to
unquestioned authority; and one comes at last to the vast world of
one's adult perception, pierced deep by flaring searchlights of
partial understanding, here masked by mists, here refracted and
distorted through half translucent veils, here showing broad
prospects and limitless vistas and here impenetrably dark.
I recall phases of deep speculation, doubts and even prayers by
night, and strange occasions when by a sort of hypnotic
contemplation of nothingness I sought to pierce the web of
appearances about me. It is hard to measure these things in
receding perspective, and now I cannot trace, so closely has mood
succeeded and overlaid and obliterated mood, the phases by which an
utter horror of death was replaced by the growing realisation of its
necessity and dignity. Difficulty of the imagination with infinite
space, infinite time, entangled my mind; and moral distress for the
pain and suffering of bygone ages that made all thought of
reformation in the future seem but the grimmest irony upon now
irreparable wrongs. Many an intricate perplexity of these
broadening years did not so much get settled as cease to matter.
Life crowded me away from it.
I have confessed myself a temerarious theologian, and in that
passage from boyhood to manhood I ranged widely in my search for
some permanently satisfying Truth. That, too, ceased after a time
to be urgently interesting. I came at last into a phase that
endures to this day, of absolute tranquillity, of absolute
confidence in whatever that Incomprehensible Comprehensive which
must needs be the substratum of all things, may be. Feeling OF IT,
feeling BY IT, I cannot feel afraid of it. I think I had got quite
clearly and finally to that adjustment long before my Cambridge days
were done. I am sure that the evil in life is transitory and finite
like an accident or distress in the nursery; that God is my Father
and that I may trust Him, even though life hurts so that one must
needs cry out at it, even though it shows no consequence but
failure, no promise but pain. . . .
But while I was fearless of theology I must confess it was
comparatively late before I faced and dared to probe the secrecies
of sex. I was afraid of sex. I had an instinctive perception that
it would be a large and difficult thing in my life, but my early
training was all in the direction of regarding it as an irrelevant
thing, as something disconnected from all the broad significances of
life, as hostile and disgraceful in its quality. The world was
never so emasculated in thought, I suppose, as it was in the
Victorian time. . . .
I was afraid to think either of sex or (what I have always found
inseparable from a kind of sexual emotion) beauty. Even as a boy I
knew the thing as a haunting and alluring mystery that I tried to
keep away from. Its dim presence obsessed me none the less for
all the extravagant decency, the stimulating silences of my
upbringing. . . .
The plaster Venuses and Apollos that used to adorn the vast aisle
and huge grey terraces of the Crystal Palace were the first
intimations of the beauty of the body that ever came into my life.
As I write of it I feel again the shameful attraction of those
gracious forms. I used to look at them not simply, but curiously
and askance. Once at least in my later days at Penge, I spent a
shilling in admission chiefly for the sake of them. . . .
The strangest thing of all my odd and solitary upbringing seems to
me now that swathing up of all the splendours of the flesh, that
strange combination of fanatical terrorism and shyness that fenced
me about with prohibitions. It caused me to grow up, I will not say
blankly ignorant, but with an ignorance blurred and dishonoured by
shame, by enigmatical warnings, by cultivated aversions, an
ignorance in which a fascinated curiosity and desire struggled like
a thing in a net. I knew so little and I felt so much. There was
indeed no Aphrodite at all in my youthful Pantheon, but instead
there was a mysterious and minatory gap. I have told how at last a
new Venus was born in my imagination out of gas lamps and the
twilight, a Venus with a cockney accent and dark eyes shining out of
the dusk, a Venus who was a warm, passion-stirring atmosphere rather
than incarnate in a body. And I have told, too, how I bought a
All this was a thing apart from the rest of my life, a locked
avoided chamber. . . .
It was not until my last year at Trinity that I really broke down
the barriers of this unwholesome silence and brought my secret
broodings to the light of day. Then a little set of us plunged
suddenly into what we called at first sociological discussion. I
can still recall even the physical feeling of those first tentative
talks. I remember them mostly as occurring in the rooms of Ted
Hatherleigh, who kept at the corner by the Trinity great gate, but
we also used to talk a good deal at a man's in King's, a man named,
if I remember rightly, Redmayne. The atmosphere of Hatherleigh's
rooms was a haze of tobacco smoke against a background brown and
deep. He professed himself a socialist with anarchistic leanings--
he had suffered the martyrdom of ducking for it--and a huge French
May-day poster displaying a splendid proletarian in red and black on
a barricade against a flaring orange sky, dominated his decorations.
Hatherleigh affected a fine untidiness, and all the place, even the
floor, was littered with books, for the most part open and face
downward; deeper darknesses were supplied by a discarded gown and
our caps, all conscientiously battered, Hatherleigh's flopped like
an elephant's ear and inserted quill pens supported the corners of
mine; the highlights of the picture came chiefly as reflections from
his chequered blue mugs full of audit ale. We sat on oak chairs,
except the four or five who crowded on a capacious settle, we drank
a lot of beer and were often fuddled, and occasionally quite drunk,
and we all smoked reckless-looking pipes,--there was a transient
fashion among us for corn cobs for which Mark Twain, I think, was
responsible. Our little excesses with liquor were due far more to
conscience than appetite, indicated chiefly a resolve to break away
from restraints that we suspected were keeping us off the
instructive knife-edges of life. Hatherleigh was a good Englishman
of the premature type with a red face, a lot of hair, a deep voice
and an explosive plunging manner, and it was he who said one
evening--Heaven knows how we got to it--"Look here, you know, it's
all Rot, this Shutting Up about Women. We OUGHT to talk about them.
What are we going to do about them? It's got to come. We're all
festering inside about it. Let's out with it. There's too much
Decency altogether about this Infernal University!"
We rose to his challenge a little awkwardly and our first talk was
clumsy, there were flushed faces and red ears, and I remember
Hatherleigh broke out into a monologue on decency. "Modesty and
Decency," said Hatherleigh, "are Oriental vices. The Jews brought
them to Europe. They're Semitic, just like our monasticism here and
the seclusion of women and mutilating the dead on a battlefield.
And all that sort of thing."
Hatherleigh's mind progressed by huge leaps, leaps that were usually
wildly inaccurate, and for a time we engaged hotly upon the topic of
those alleged mutilations and the Semitic responsibility for
decency. Hatherleigh tried hard to saddle the Semitic race with the
less elegant war customs of the Soudan and the northwest frontier of
India, and quoted Doughty, at that time a little-known author, and
Cunninghame Graham to show that the Arab was worse than a county-
town spinster in his regard for respectability. But his case was
too preposterous, and Esmeer, with his shrill penetrating voice and
his way of pointing with all four long fingers flat together,
carried the point against him. He quoted Cato and Roman law and the
monasteries of Thibet.
"Well, anyway," said Hatherleigh, escaping from our hands like an
intellectual frog, "Semitic or not, I've got no use for decency."
We argued points and Hatherleigh professed an unusually balanced and
tolerating attitude. "I don't mind a certain refinement and
dignity," he admitted generously. "What I object to is this
spreading out of decency until it darkens the whole sky, until it
makes a man's father afraid to speak of the most important things,
until it makes a man afraid to look a frank book in the face or
think--even think! until it leads to our coming to--to the business
at last with nothing but a few prohibitions, a few hints, a lot of
dirty jokes and, and "--he waved a hand and seemed to seek and catch
his image in the air--"oh, a confounded buttered slide of
sentiment, to guide us. I tell you I'm going to think about it and
talk about it until I see a little more daylight than I do at
present. I'm twenty-two. Things might happen to me anywhen. You
men can go out into the world if you like, to sin like fools and
marry like fools, not knowing what you are doing and ashamed to ask.
You'll take the consequences, too, I expect, pretty meekly,
sniggering a bit, sentimentalising a bit, like--like Cambridge
humorists. . . . I mean to know what I'm doing."
He paused to drink, and I think I cut in with ideas of my own. But
one is apt to forget one's own share in a talk, I find, more than
one does the clear-cut objectivity of other people's, and I do not
know how far I contributed to this discussion that followed. I am,
however, pretty certain that it was then that ideal that we were
pleased to call aristocracy and which soon became the common
property of our set was developed. It was Esmeer, I know, who laid
down and maintained the proposition that so far as minds went there
were really only two sorts of man in the world, the aristocrat and
the man who subdues his mind to other people's.
"'I couldn't THINK of it, Sir,'" said Esmeer in his elucidatory
tones; "that's what a servant says. His mind even is broken in to
run between fences, and he admits it. WE'VE got to be able to think
of anything. And 'such things aren't for the Likes of Us!' That's
another servant's saying. Well, everything IS for the Likes of Us.
If we see fit, that is."
A small fresh-coloured man in grey objected.
"Well," exploded Hatherleigh, "if that isn't so what the deuce are
we up here for? Instead of working in mines? If some things aren't
to be thought about ever! We've got the privilege of all these
extra years for getting things straight in our heads, and then we
won't use 'em. Good God! what do you think a university's for?" . . .
Esmeer's idea came with an effect of real emancipation to several of
us. We were not going to be afraid of ideas any longer, we were
going to throw down every barrier of prohibition and take them in
and see what came of it. We became for a time even intemperately
experimental, and one of us, at the bare suggestion of an eminent
psychic investigator, took hashish and very nearly died of it within
a fortnight of our great elucidation.
The chief matter of our interchanges was of course the discussion of
sex. Once the theme had been opened it became a sore place in our
intercourse; none of us seemed able to keep away from it. Our
imaginations got astir with it. We made up for lost time and went
round it and through it and over it exhaustively. I recall
prolonged discussion of polygamy on the way to Royston, muddy
November tramps to Madingley, when amidst much profanity from
Hatherleigh at the serious treatment of so obsolete a matter, we
weighed the reasons, if any, for the institution of marriage. The
fine dim night-time spaces of the Great Court are bound up with the
inconclusive finales of mighty hot-eared wrangles; the narrows of
Trinity Street and Petty Cury and Market Hill have their particular
associations for me with that spate of confession and free speech,
that almost painful goal delivery of long pent and crappled and
sometimes crippled ideas.
And we went on a reading party that Easter to a place called
Pulborough in Sussex, where there is a fishing inn and a river that
goes under a bridge. It was a late Easter and a blazing one, and we
boated and bathed and talked of being Hellenic and the beauty of the
body until at moments it seemed to us that we were destined to
restore the Golden Age, by the simple abolition of tailors and
Those undergraduate talks! how rich and glorious they seemed, how
splendidly new the ideas that grew and multiplied in our seething
minds! We made long afternoon and evening raids over the Downs
towards Arundel, and would come tramping back through the still keen
moonlight singing and shouting. We formed romantic friendships with
one another, and grieved more or less convincingly that there were
no splendid women fit to be our companions in the world. But
Hatherleigh, it seemed, had once known a girl whose hair was
gloriously red. "My God!" said Hatherleigh to convey the quality of
her; just simply and with projectile violence: "My God!"
Benton had heard of a woman who lived with a man refusing to be
married to him--we thought that splendid beyond measure,--I cannot
now imagine why. She was "like a tender goddess," Benton said. A
sort of shame came upon us in the dark in spite of our liberal
intentions when Benton committed himself to that. And after such
talk we would fall upon great pauses of emotional dreaming, and if
by chance we passed a girl in a governess cart, or some farmer's
daughter walking to the station, we became alertly silent or
obstreperously indifferent to her. For might she not be just that
one exception to the banal decency, the sickly pointless
conventionality, the sham modesty of the times in which we lived?
We felt we stood for a new movement, not realising how perennially
this same emancipation returns to those ancient courts beside the
Cam. We were the anti-decency party, we discovered a catch phrase
that we flourished about in the Union and made our watchword,
namely, "stark fact." We hung nude pictures in our rooms much as if
they had been flags, to the earnest concern of our bedders, and I
disinterred my long-kept engraving and had it framed in fumed oak,
and found for it a completer and less restrained companion, a
companion I never cared for in the slightest degree. . . .
This efflorescence did not prevent, I think indeed it rather helped,
our more formal university work, for most of us took firsts, and
three of us got Fellowships in one year or another. There was
Benton who had a Research Fellowship and went to Tubingen, there was
Esmeer and myself who both became Residential Fellows. I had taken
the Mental and Moral Science Tripos (as it was then), and three
years later I got a lectureship in political science. In those days
it was disguised in the cloak of Political Economy.
It was our affectation to be a little detached from the main stream
of undergraduate life. We worked pretty hard, but by virtue of our
beer, our socialism and suchlike heterodoxy, held ourselves to be
differentiated from the swatting reading man. None of us, except
Baxter, who was a rowing blue, a rather abnormal blue with an
appetite for ideas, took games seriously enough to train, and on the
other hand we intimated contempt for the rather mediocre,
deliberately humorous, consciously gentlemanly and consciously wild
undergraduate men who made up the mass of Cambridge life. After the
manner of youth we were altogether too hard on our contemporaries.
We battered our caps and tore our gowns lest they should seem new,
and we despised these others extremely for doing exactly the same
things; we had an idea of ourselves and resented beyond measure a
similar weakness in these our brothers.
There was a type, or at least there seemed to us to be a type--I'm a
little doubtful at times now whether after all we didn't create it--
for which Hatherleigh invented the nickname the "Pinky Dinkys,"
intending thereby both contempt and abhorrence in almost equal
measure. The Pinky Dinky summarised all that we particularly did
not want to be, and also, I now perceive, much of what we were and
all that we secretly dreaded becoming.
But it is hard to convey the Pinky Dinky idea, for all that it meant
so much to us. We spent one evening at least during that reading
party upon the Pinky Dinky; we sat about our one fire after a walk
in the rain--it was our only wet day--smoked our excessively virile
pipes, and elaborated the natural history of the Pinky Dinky. We
improvised a sort of Pinky Dinky litany, and Hatherleigh supplied
deep notes for the responses.
"The Pinky Dinky extracts a good deal of amusement from life," said
"Damned prig!" said Hatherleigh.
"The Pinky Dinky arises in the Union and treats the question with a
light gay touch. He makes the weird ones mad. But sometimes he
cannot go on because of the amusement he extracts."
"I want to shy books at the giggling swine," said Hatherleigh.
"The Pinky Dinky says suddenly while he is making the tea, 'We're
all being frightfully funny. It's time for you to say something
"The Pinky Dinky shakes his head and says: 'I'm afraid I shall never
be a responsible being.' And he really IS frivolous."
"Frivolous but not vulgar," said Esmeer.
"Pinky Dinkys are chaps who've had their buds nipped," said
Hatherleigh. "They're Plebs and they know it. They haven't the
Guts to get hold of things. And so they worry up all those silly
little jokes of theirs to carry it off." . . .
We tried bad ones for a time, viciously flavoured.
Pinky Dinkys are due to over-production of the type that ought to
keep outfitters' shops. Pinky Dinkys would like to keep outfitters'
shops with whimsy 'scriptions on the boxes and make your bill out
funny, and not be snobs to customers, no!--not even if they had
"Every Pinky Dinky's people are rather good people, and better than
most Pinky Dinky's people. But he does not put on side."
"Pinky Dinkys become playful at the sight of women."
"'Croquet's my game,' said the Pinky Dinky, and felt a man
"But what the devil do they think they're up to, anyhow?" roared old
Hatherleigh suddenly, dropping plump into bottomless despair.
We felt we had still failed to get at the core of the mystery of the
We tried over things about his religion. "The Pinky Dinky goes to
King's Chapel, and sits and feels in the dusk. Solemn things! Oh
HUSH! He wouldn't tell you--"
"He COULDN'T tell you."
"Religion is so sacred to him he never talks about it, never reads
about it, never thinks about it. Just feels!"
"But in his heart of hearts, oh! ever so deep, the Pinky Dinky has a
Some one protested.
"Not a vulgar doubt," Esmeer went on, "but a kind of hesitation
whether the Ancient of Days is really exactly what one would call
good form. . . . There's a lot of horrid coarseness got into the
world somehow. SOMEBODY put it there. . . . And anyhow there's no
particular reason why a man should be seen about with Him. He's
jolly Awful of course and all that--"
"The Pinky Dinky for all his fun and levity has a clean mind."
"A thoroughly clean mind. Not like Esmeer's--the Pig!"
"If once he began to think about sex, how could he be comfortable at
"It's their Damned Modesty," said Hatherleigh suddenly, "that's
what's the matter with the Pinky Dinky. It's Mental Cowardice
dressed up as a virtue and taking the poor dears in. Cambridge is
soaked with it; it's some confounded local bacillus. Like the thing
that gives a flavour to Havana cigars. He comes up here to be made
into a man and a ruler of the people, and he thinks it shows a nice
disposition not to take on the job! How the Devil is a great Empire
to be run with men like him?"
"All his little jokes and things," said Esmeer regarding his feet on
the fender, "it's just a nervous sniggering--because he's afraid. . . .
Oxford's no better."
"What's he afraid of?" said I.
"God knows!" exploded Hatherleigh and stared at the fire.
"LIFE!" said Esmeer. "And so in a way are we," he added, and made a
thoughtful silence for a time.
"I say," began Carter, who was doing the Natural Science Tripos,
"what is the adult form of the Pinky Dinky?"
But there we were checked by our ignorance of the world.
"What is the adult form of any of us?" asked Benton, voicing the
thought that had arrested our flow.
I do not remember that we ever lifted our criticism to the dons and
the organisation of the University. I think we took them for
granted. When I look back at my youth I am always astonished by the
multitude of things that we took for granted. It seemed to us that
Cambridge was in the order of things, for all the world like having
eyebrows or a vermiform appendix. Now with the larger scepticism of
middle age I can entertain very fundamental doubts about these old
universities. Indeed I had a scheme--
I do not see what harm I can do now by laying bare the purpose of
the political combinations I was trying to effect.
My educational scheme was indeed the starting-point of all the big
project of conscious public reconstruction at which I aimed. I
wanted to build up a new educational machine altogether for the
governing class out of a consolidated system of special public
service schools. I meant to get to work upon this whatever office I
was given in the new government. I could have begun my plan from
the Admiralty or the War Office quite as easily as from the
Education Office. I am firmly convinced it is hopeless to think of
reforming the old public schools and universities to meet the needs
of a modern state, they send their roots too deep and far, the cost
would exceed any good that could possibly be effected, and so I have
sought a way round this invincible obstacle. I do think it would be
quite practicable to side-track, as the Americans say, the whole
system by creating hardworking, hard-living, modern and scientific
boys' schools, first for the Royal Navy and then for the public
service generally, and as they grew, opening them to the public
without any absolute obligation to subsequent service.
Simultaneously with this it would not be impossible to develop a new
college system with strong faculties in modern philosophy, modern
history, European literature and criticism, physical and biological
science, education and sociology.
We could in fact create a new liberal education in this way, and cut
the umbilicus of the classical languages for good and all. I should
have set this going, and trusted it to correct or kill the old
public schools and the Oxford and Cambridge tradition altogether. I
had men in my mind to begin the work, and I should have found
others. I should have aimed at making a hard-trained, capable,
intellectually active, proud type of man. Everything else would
have been made subservient to that. I should have kept my grip on
the men through their vacation, and somehow or other I would have
contrived a young woman to match them. I think I could have seen to
it effectually enough that they didn't get at croquet and tennis
with the vicarage daughters and discover sex in the Peeping Tom
fashion I did, and that they realised quite early in life that it
isn't really virile to reek of tobacco. I should have had military
manoeuvres, training ships, aeroplane work, mountaineering and so
forth, in the place of the solemn trivialities of games, and I
should have fed and housed my men clean and very hard--where there
wasn't any audit ale, no credit tradesmen, and plenty of high
pressure douches. . . .
I have revisited Cambridge and Oxford time after time since I came
down, and so far as the Empire goes, I want to get clear of those
two places. . . .
Always I renew my old feelings, a physical oppression, a sense of
lowness and dampness almost exactly like the feeling of an
underground room where paper moulders and leaves the wall, a feeling
of ineradicable contagion in the Gothic buildings, in the narrow
ditch-like rivers, in those roads and roads of stuffy little villas.
Those little villas have destroyed all the good of the old monastic
system and none of its evil. . . .
Some of the most charming people in the world live in them, but
their collective effect is below the quality of any individual among
them. Cambridge is a world of subdued tones, of excessively subtle
humours, of prim conduct and free thinking; it fears the Parent, but
it has no fear of God; it offers amidst surroundings that vary
between disguises and antiquarian charm the inflammation of
literature's purple draught; one hears there a peculiar thin scandal
like no other scandal in the world--a covetous scandal--so that I am
always reminded of Ibsen in Cambridge. In Cambridge and the plays
of Ibsen alone does it seem appropriate for the heroine before the
great crisis of life to "enter, take off her overshoes, and put her
wet umbrella upon the writing desk." . . .
We have to make a new Academic mind for modern needs, and the last
thing to make it out of, I am convinced, is the old Academic mind.
One might as soon try to fake the old VICTORY at Portsmouth into a
line of battleship again. Besides which the old Academic mind, like
those old bathless, damp Gothic colleges, is much too delightful in
its peculiar and distinctive way to damage by futile patching.
My heart warms to a sense of affectionate absurdity as I recall dear
old Codger, surely the most "unleaderly" of men. No more than from
the old Schoolmen, his kindred, could one get from him a School for
Princes. Yet apart from his teaching he was as curious and adorable
as a good Netsuke. Until quite recently he was a power in
Cambridge, he could make and bar and destroy, and in a way he has
become the quintessence of Cambridge in my thoughts.
I see him on his way to the morning's lecture, with his plump
childish face, his round innocent eyes, his absurdly non-prehensile
fat hand carrying his cap, his grey trousers braced up much too
high, his feet a trifle inturned, and going across the great court
with a queer tripping pace that seemed cultivated even to my naive
undergraduate eye. Or I see him lecturing. He lectured walking up
and down between the desks, talking in a fluting rapid voice, and
with the utmost lucidity. If he could not walk up and down he could
not lecture. His mind and voice had precisely the fluid quality of
some clear subtle liquid; one felt it could flow round anything and
overcome nothing. And its nimble eddies were wonderful! Or again I
recall him drinking port with little muscular movements in his neck
and cheek and chin and his brows knit--very judicial, very
concentrated, preparing to say the apt just thing; it was the last
thing he would have told a lie about.
When I think of Codger I am reminded of an inscription I saw on some
occasion in Regent's Park above two eyes scarcely more limpidly
innocent than his--"Born in the Menagerie." Never once since Codger
began to display the early promise of scholarship at the age of
eight or more, had he been outside the bars. His utmost travel had
been to lecture here and lecture there. His student phase had
culminated in papers of quite exceptional brilliance, and he had
gone on to lecture with a cheerful combination of wit and mannerism
that had made him a success from the beginning. He has lectured
ever since. He lectures still. Year by year he has become plumper,
more rubicund and more and more of an item for the intelligent
visitor to see. Even in my time he was pointed out to people as
part of our innumerable enrichments, and obviously he knew it. He
has become now almost the leading Character in a little donnish
world of much too intensely appreciated Characters.
He boasted he took no exercise, and also of his knowledge of port
wine. Of other wines he confessed quite frankly he had no "special
knowledge." Beyond these things he had little pride except that he
claimed to have read every novel by a woman writer that had ever
entered the Union Library. This, however, he held to be remarkable
rather than ennobling, and such boasts as he made of it were tinged
with playfulness. Certainly he had a scholar's knowledge of the
works of Miss Marie Corelli, Miss Braddon, Miss Elizabeth Glyn and
Madame Sarah Grand that would have astonished and flattered those
ladies enormously, and he loved nothing so much in his hours of
relaxation as to propound and answer difficult questions upon their
books. Tusher of King's was his ineffectual rival in this field,
their bouts were memorable and rarely other than glorious for
Codger; but then Tusher spread himself too much, he also undertook
to rehearse whole pages out of Bradshaw, and tell you with all the
changes how to get from any station to any station in Great Britain
by the nearest and cheapest routes. . . .
Codger lodged with a little deaf innocent old lady, Mrs. Araminta
Mergle, who was understood to be herself a very redoubtable
Character in the Gyp-Bedder class; about her he related quietly
absurd anecdotes. He displayed a marvellous invention in ascribing
to her plausible expressions of opinion entirely identical in import
with those of the Oxford and Harvard Pragmatists, against whom he
waged a fierce obscure war. . . .
It was Codger's function to teach me philosophy, philosophy! the
intimate wisdom of things. He dealt in a variety of Hegelian stuff
like nothing else in the world, but marvellously consistent with
itself. It was a wonderful web he spun out of that queer big active
childish brain that had never lusted nor hated nor grieved nor
feared nor passionately loved,--a web of iridescent threads. He had
luminous final theories about Love and Death and Immortality, odd
matters they seemed for him to think about! and all his woven
thoughts lay across my perception of the realities of things, as
flimsy and irrelevant and clever and beautiful, oh!--as a dew-wet
spider's web slung in the morning sunshine across the black mouth of
a gun. . . .
All through those years of development I perceive now there must
have been growing in me, slowly, irregularly, assimilating to itself
all the phrases and forms of patriotism, diverting my religious
impulses, utilising my esthetic tendencies, my dominating idea, the
statesman's idea, that idea of social service which is the
protagonist of my story, that real though complex passion for
Making, making widely and greatly, cities, national order,
civilisation, whose interplay with all those other factors in life I
have set out to present. It was growing in me--as one's bones grow,
no man intending it.
I have tried to show how, quite early in my life, the fact of
disorderliness, the conception of social life as being a
multitudinous confusion out of hand, came to me. One always of
course simplifies these things in the telling, but I do not think I
ever saw the world at large in any other terms. I never at any
stage entertained the idea which sustained my mother, and which
sustains so many people in the world,--the idea that the universe,
whatever superficial discords it may present, is as a matter of fact
"all right," is being steered to definite ends by a serene and
unquestionable God. My mother thought that Order prevailed, and
that disorder was just incidental and foredoomed rebellion; I feel
and have always felt that order rebels against and struggles against
disorder, that order has an up-hill job, in gardens, experiments,
suburbs, everything alike; from the very beginnings of my experience
I discovered hostility to order, a constant escaping from control.
The current of living and contemporary ideas in which my mind was
presently swimming made all in the same direction; in place of my
mother's attentive, meticulous but occasionally extremely irascible
Providence, the talk was all of the Struggle for Existence and the
survival not of the Best--that was nonsense, but of the fittest to
The attempts to rehabilitate Faith in the form of the
Individualist's LAISSEZ FAIRE never won upon me. I disliked Herbert
Spencer all my life until I read his autobiography, and then I
laughed a little and loved him. I remember as early as the City
Merchants' days how Britten and I scoffed at that pompous question-
begging word "Evolution," having, so to speak, found it out.
Evolution, some illuminating talker had remarked at the Britten
lunch table, had led not only to man, but to the liver-fluke and
skunk, obviously it might lead anywhere; order came into things only
through the struggling mind of man. That lit things wonderfully for
us. When I went up to Cambridge I was perfectly clear that life was
a various and splendid disorder of forces that the spirit of man
sets itself to tame. I have never since fallen away from that
I do not think I was exceptionally precocious in reaching these
conclusions and a sort of religious finality for myself by eighteen
or nineteen. I know men and women vary very much in these matters,
just as children do in learning to talk. Some will chatter at
eighteen months and some will hardly speak until three, and the
thing has very little to do with their subsequent mental quality.
So it is with young people; some will begin their religious, their
social, their sexual interests at fourteen, some not until far on in
the twenties. Britten and I belonged to one of the precocious
types, and Cossington very probably to another. It wasn't that
there was anything priggish about any of us; we should have been
prigs to have concealed our spontaneous interests and ape the
The world of man centred for my imagination in London, it still
centres there; the real and present world, that is to say, as
distinguished from the wonder-lands of atomic and microscopic
science and the stars and future time. I had travelled scarcely at
all, I had never crossed the Channel, but I had read copiously and I
had formed a very good working idea of this round globe with its
mountains and wildernesses and forests and all the sorts and
conditions of human life that were scattered over its surface. It
was all alive, I felt, and changing every day; how it was changing,
and the changes men might bring about, fascinated my mind beyond
I used to find a charm in old maps that showed The World as Known to
the Ancients, and I wish I could now without any suspicion of self-
deception write down compactly the world as it was known to me at
nineteen. So far as extension went it was, I fancy, very like the
world I know now at forty-two; I had practically all the mountains
and seas, boundaries and races, products and possibilities that I
have now. But its intension was very different. All the interval
has been increasing and deepening my social knowledge, replacing
crude and second-hand impressions by felt and realised distinctions.
In 1895--that was my last year with Britten, for I went up to
Cambridge in September--my vision of the world had much the same
relation to the vision I have to-day that an ill-drawn daub of a
mask has to the direct vision of a human face. Britten and I looked
at our world and saw--what did we see? Forms and colours side by
side that we had no suspicion were interdependent. We had no
conception of the roots of things nor of the reaction of things. It
did not seem to us, for example, that business had anything to do
with government, or that money and means affected the heroic issues
of war. There were no wagons in our war game, and where there were
guns, there it was assumed the ammunition was gathered together.
Finance again was a sealed book to us; we did not so much connect it
with the broad aspects of human affairs as regard it as a sort of
intrusive nuisance to be earnestly ignored by all right-minded men.
We had no conception of the quality of politics, nor how "interests"
came into such affairs; we believed men were swayed by purely
intellectual convictions and were either right or wrong, honest or
dishonest (in which case they deserved to be shot), good or bad. We
knew nothing of mental inertia, and could imagine the opinion of a
whole nation changed by one lucid and convincing exposition. We
were capable of the most incongruous transfers from the scroll of
history to our own times, we could suppose Brixton ravaged and
Hampstead burnt in civil wars for the succession to the throne, or
Cheapside a lane of death and the front of the Mansion House set
about with guillotines in the course of an accurately transposed
French Revolution. We rebuilt London by Act of Parliament, and once
in a mood of hygienic enterprise we transferred its population EN
MASSE to the North Downs by an order of the Local Government Board.
We thought nothing of throwing religious organisations out of
employment or superseding all the newspapers by freely distributed
bulletins. We could contemplate the possibility of laws abolishing
whole classes; we were equal to such a dream as the peaceful and
orderly proclamation of Communism from the steps of St. Paul's
Cathedral, after the passing of a simply worded bill,--a close and
not unnaturally an exciting division carrying the third reading. I
remember quite distinctly evolving that vision. We were then fully
fifteen and we were perfectly serious about it. We were not fools;
it was simply that as yet we had gathered no experience at all of
the limits and powers of legislation and conscious collective
intention. . . .
I think this statement does my boyhood justice, and yet I have my
doubts. It is so hard now to say what one understood and what one
did not understand. It isn't only that every day changed one's
general outlook, but also that a boy fluctuates between phases of
quite adult understanding and phases of tawdrily magnificent
puerility. Sometimes I myself was in those tumbrils that went along
Cheapside to the Mansion House, a Sydney Cartonesque figure, a white
defeated Mirabean; sometimes it was I who sat judging and condemning
and ruling (sleeping in my clothes and feeding very simply) the soul
and autocrat of the Provisional Government, which occupied, of all
inconvenient places! the General Post Office at St. Martin's-le-
Grand! . . .
I cannot trace the development of my ideas at Cambridge, but I
believe the mere physical fact of going two hours' journey away from
London gave that place for the first time an effect of unity in my
imagination. I got outside London. It became tangible instead of
being a frame almost as universal as sea and sky.
At Cambridge my ideas ceased to live in a duologue; in exchange for
Britten, with whom, however, I corresponded lengthily, stylishly and
self-consciously for some years, I had now a set of congenial
friends. I got talk with some of the younger dons, I learnt to
speak in the Union, and in my little set we were all pretty busily
sharpening each other's wits and correcting each other's
interpretations. Cambridge made politics personal and actual. At
City Merchants' we had had no sense of effective contact; we
boasted, it is true, an under secretary and a colonial governor
among our old boys, but they were never real to us; such
distinguished sons as returned to visit the old school were allusive
and pleasant in the best Pinky Dinky style, and pretended to be in
earnest about nothing but our football and cricket, to mourn the
abolition of "water," and find a shuddering personal interest in the
ancient swishing block. At Cambridge I felt for the first time that
I touched the thing that was going on. Real living statesmen came
down to debate in the Union, the older dons had been their college
intimates, their sons and nephews expounded them to us and made them
real to us. They invited us to entertain ideas; I found myself for
the first time in my life expected to read and think and discuss, my
secret vice had become a virtue.
That combination-room world is at last larger and more populous and
various than the world of schoolmasters. The Shoesmiths and Naylors
who had been the aristocracy of City Merchants' fell into their
place in my mind; they became an undistinguished mass on the more
athletic side of Pinky Dinkyism, and their hostility to ideas and to
the expression of ideas ceased to limit and trouble me. The
brighter men of each generation stay up; these others go down to
propagate their tradition, as the fathers of families, as mediocre
professional men, as assistant masters in schools. Cambridge which
perfects them is by the nature of things least oppressed by them,--
except when it comes to a vote in Convocation.
We were still in those days under the shadow of the great
Victorians. I never saw Gladstone (as I never set eyes on the old
Queen), but he had resigned office only a year before I went up to
Trinity, and the Combination Rooms were full of personal gossip
about him and Disraeli and the other big figures of the gladiatorial
stage of Parlimentary history, talk that leaked copiously into such
sets as mine. The ceiling of our guest chamber at Trinity was
glorious with the arms of Sir William Harcourt, whose Death Duties
had seemed at first like a socialist dawn. Mr. Evesham we asked to
come to the Union every year, Masters, Chamberlain and the old Duke
of Devonshire; they did not come indeed, but their polite refusals
brought us all, as it were, within personal touch of them. One
heard of cabinet councils and meetings at country houses. Some of
us, pursuing such interests, went so far as to read political
memoirs and the novels of Disraeli and Mrs. Humphry Ward. From
gossip, example and the illustrated newspapers one learnt something
of the way in which parties were split, coalitions formed, how
permanent officials worked and controlled their ministers, how
measures were brought forward and projects modified.
And while I was getting the great leading figures on the political
stage, who had been presented to me in my schooldays not so much as
men as the pantomimic monsters of political caricature, while I was
getting them reduced in my imagination to the stature of humanity,
and their motives to the quality of impulses like my own, I was also
acquiring in my Tripos work a constantly developing and enriching
conception of the world of men as a complex of economic,
intellectual and moral processes. . . .
Socialism is an intellectual Proteus, but to the men of my
generation it came as the revolt of the workers. Rodbertus we never
heard of and the Fabian Society we did not understand; Marx and
Morris, the Chicago Anarchists, JUSTICE and Social Democratic
Federation (as it was then) presented socialism to our minds.
Hatherleigh was the leading exponent of the new doctrines in
Trinity, and the figure upon his wall of a huge-muscled, black-
haired toiler swaggering sledgehammer in hand across a revolutionary
barricade, seemed the quintessence of what he had to expound.
Landlord and capitalist had robbed and enslaved the workers, and
were driving them quite automatically to inevitable insurrection.
They would arise and the capitalist system would flee and vanish
like the mists before the morning, like the dews before the sunrise,
giving place in the most simple and obvious manner to an era of
Right and Justice and Virtue and Well Being, and in short a
Perfectly Splendid Time.
I had already discussed this sort of socialism under the guidance of
Britten, before I went up to Cambridge. It was all mixed up with
ideas about freedom and natural virtue and a great scorn for kings,
titles, wealth and officials, and it was symbolised by the red ties
we wore. Our simple verdict on existing arrangements was that they
were "all wrong." The rich were robbers and knew it, kings and
princes were usurpers and knew it, religious teachers were impostors
in league with power, the economic system was an elaborate plot on
the part of the few to expropriate the many. We went about feeling
scornful of all the current forms of life, forms that esteemed
themselves solid, that were, we knew, no more than shapes painted on
a curtain that was presently to be torn aside. . . .
It was Hatherleigh's poster and his capacity for overstating things,
I think, that first qualified my simple revolutionary enthusiasm.
Perhaps also I had met with Fabian publications, but if I did I
forget the circumstances. And no doubt my innate constructiveness
with its practical corollary of an analytical treatment of the
material supplied, was bound to push me on beyond this melodramatic
interpretation of human affairs.
I compared that Working Man of the poster with any sort of working
man I knew. I perceived that the latter was not going to change,
and indeed could not under any stimulus whatever be expected to
change, into the former. It crept into my mind as slowly and surely
as the dawn creeps into a room that the former was not, as I had at
first rather glibly assumed, an "ideal," but a complete
misrepresentation of the quality and possibilities of things.
I do not know now whether it was during my school-days or at
Cambridge that I first began not merely to see the world as a great
contrast of rich and poor, but to feel the massive effect of that
multitudinous majority of people who toil continually, who are for
ever anxious about ways and means, who are restricted, ill clothed,
ill fed and ill housed, who have limited outlooks and continually
suffer misadventures, hardships and distresses through the want of
money. My lot had fallen upon the fringe of the possessing
minority; if I did not know the want of necessities I knew
shabbiness, and the world that let me go on to a university
education intimated very plainly that there was not a thing beyond
the primary needs that my stimulated imagination might demand that
it would not be an effort for me to secure. A certain aggressive
radicalism against the ruling and propertied classes followed almost
naturally from my circumstances. It did not at first connect itself
at all with the perception of a planless disorder in human affairs
that had been forced upon me by the atmosphere of my upbringing, nor
did it link me in sympathy with any of the profounder realities of
poverty. It was a personal independent thing. The dingier people
one saw in the back streets and lower quarters of Bromstead and
Penge, the drift of dirty children, ragged old women, street
loafers, grimy workers that made the social background of London,
the stories one heard of privation and sweating, only joined up very
slowly with the general propositions I was making about life. We
could become splendidly eloquent about the social revolution and the
triumph of the Proletariat after the Class war, and it was only by a
sort of inspiration that it came to me that my bedder, a garrulous
old thing with a dusty black bonnet over one eye and an
ostentatiously clean apron outside the dark mysteries that clothed
her, or the cheeky little ruffians who yelled papers about the
streets, were really material to such questions.
Directly any of us young socialists of Trinity found ourselves in
immediate contact with servants or cadgers or gyps or bedders or
plumbers or navvies or cabmen or railway porters we became
unconsciously and unthinkingly aristocrats. Our voices altered, our
gestures altered. We behaved just as all the other men, rich or
poor, swatters or sportsmen or Pinky Dinkys, behaved, and exactly as
we were expected to behave. On the whole it is a population of poor
quality round about Cambridge, rather stunted and spiritless and
very difficult to idealise. That theoretical Working Man of ours!--
if we felt the clash at all we explained it, I suppose, by assuming
that he came from another part of the country; Esmeer, I remember,
who lived somewhere in the Fens, was very eloquent about the Cornish
fishermen, and Hatherleigh, who was a Hampshire man, assured us we
ought to know the Scottish miner. My private fancy was for the
Lancashire operative because of his co-operative societies, and
because what Lancashire thinks to-day England thinks to-morrow. . . .
And also I had never been in Lancashire.
By little increments of realisation it was that the profounder
verities of the problem of socialism came to me. It helped me very
much that I had to go down to the Potteries several times to discuss
my future with my uncle and guardian; I walked about and saw Bursley
Wakes and much of the human aspects of organised industrialism at
close quarters for the first time. The picture of a splendid
Working Man cheated out of his innate glorious possibilities, and
presently to arise and dash this scoundrelly and scandalous system
of private ownership to fragments, began to give place to a
limitless spectacle of inefficiency, to a conception of millions of
people not organised as they should be, not educated as they should
be, not simply prevented from but incapable of nearly every sort of
beauty, mostly kindly and well meaning, mostly incompetent, mostly
obstinate, and easily humbugged and easily diverted. Even the
tragic and inspiring idea of Marx, that the poor were nearing a
limit of painful experience, and awakening to a sense of intolerable
wrongs, began to develop into the more appalling conception that the
poor were simply in a witless uncomfortable inconclusive way--
"muddling along"; that they wanted nothing very definitely nor very
urgently, that mean fears enslaved them and mean satisfactions
decoyed them, that they took the very gift of life itself with a
spiritless lassitude, hoarding it, being rather anxious not to lose
it than to use it in any way whatever.
The complete development of that realisation was the work of many
years. I had only the first intimations at Cambridge. But I did
have intimations. Most acutely do I remember the doubts that
followed the visit of Chris Robinson. Chris Robinson was heralded
by such heroic anticipations, and he was so entirely what we had not
Hatherleigh got him to come, arranged a sort of meeting for him at
Redmayne's rooms in King's, and was very proud and proprietorial.
It failed to stir Cambridge at all profoundly. Beyond a futile
attempt to screw up Hatherleigh made by some inexpert duffers who
used nails instead of screws and gimlets, there was no attempt to
rag. Next day Chris Robinson went and spoke at Bennett Hall in
Newnham College, and left Cambridge in the evening amidst the cheers
of twenty men or so. Socialism was at such a low ebb politically in
those days that it didn't even rouse men to opposition.
And there sat Chris under that flamboyant and heroic Worker of the
poster, a little wrinkled grey-bearded apologetic man in ready-made
clothes, with watchful innocent brown eyes and a persistent and
invincible air of being out of his element. He sat with his stout
boots tucked up under his chair, and clung to a teacup and saucer
and looked away from us into the fire, and we all sat about on
tables and chair-arms and windowsills and boxes and anywhere except
upon chairs after the manner of young men. The only other chair
whose seat was occupied was the one containing his knitted woollen
comforter and his picturesque old beach-photographer's hat. We were
all shy and didn't know how to take hold of him now we had got him,
and, which was disconcertingly unanticipated, he was manifestly
having the same difficulty with us. We had expected to be gripped.
"I'll not be knowing what to say to these Chaps," he repeated with a
north-country quality in his speech.
We made reassuring noises.
The Ambassador of the Workers stirred his tea earnestly through an
"I'd best tell 'em something of how things are in Lancashire, what
with the new machines and all that," he speculated at last with red
reflections in his thoughtful eyes.
We had an inexcusable dread that perhaps he would make a mess of the
But when he was no longer in the unaccustomed meshes of refined
conversation, but speaking with an audience before him, he became a
different man. He declared he would explain to us just exactly what
socialism was, and went on at once to an impassioned contrast of
social conditions. "You young men," he said "come from homes of
luxury; every need you feel is supplied--"
We sat and stood and sprawled about him, occupying every inch of
Redmayne's floor space except the hearthrug-platform, and we
listened to him and thought him over. He was the voice of wrongs
that made us indignant and eager. We forgot for a time that he had
been shy and seemed not a little incompetent, his provincial accent
became a beauty of his earnest speech, we were carried away by his
indignations. We looked with shining eyes at one another and at the
various dons who had dropped in and were striving to maintain a
front of judicious severity. We felt more and more that social
injustice must cease, and cease forthwith. We felt we could not
sleep upon it. At the end we clapped and murmured our applause and
wanted badly to cheer.
Then like a lancet stuck into a bladder came the heckling. Denson,
that indolent, liberal-minded sceptic, did most of the questioning.
He lay contorted in a chair, with his ugly head very low, his legs
crossed and his left boot very high, and he pointed his remarks with
a long thin hand and occasionally adjusted the unstable glasses that
hid his watery eyes. "I don't want to carp," he began. "The
present system, I admit, stands condemned. Every present system
always HAS stood condemned in the minds of intelligent men. But
where it seems to me you get thin, is just where everybody has been
thin, and that's when you come to the remedy."
"Socialism," said Chris Robinson, as if it answered everything, and
Hatherleigh said "Hear! Hear!" very resolutely.
"I suppose I OUGHT to take that as an answer," said Denson, getting
his shoulder-blades well down to the seat of his chair; "but I
don't. I don't, you know. It's rather a shame to cross-examine you
after this fine address of yours"--Chris Robinson on the hearthrug
made acquiescent and inviting noises--"but the real question
remains how exactly are you going to end all these wrongs? There
are the administrative questions. If you abolish the private owner,
I admit you abolish a very complex and clumsy way of getting
businesses run, land controlled and things in general administered,
but you don't get rid of the need of administration, you know."
"Democracy," said Chris Robinson.
"Organised somehow," said Denson. "And it's just the How perplexes
me. I can quite easily imagine a socialist state administered in a
sort of scrambling tumult that would be worse than anything we have
"Nothing could be worse than things are now," said Chris Robinson.
"I have seen little children--"
"I submit life on an ill-provisioned raft, for example, could easily
be worse--or life in a beleagured town."
They wrangled for some time, and it had the effect upon me of coming
out from the glow of a good matinee performance into the cold
daylight of late afternoon. Chris Robinson did not shine in
conflict with Denson; he was an orator and not a dialectician, and
he missed Denson's points and displayed a disposition to plunge into
untimely pathos and indignation. And Denson hit me curiously hard
with one of his shafts. "Suppose," he said, "you found yourself
I looked at Chris Robinson, bright-eyed and his hair a little
ruffled and his whole being rhetorical, and measured him against the
huge machine of government muddled and mysterious. Oh! but I was
And then we took him back to Hatherleigh's rooms and drank beer and
smoked about him while he nursed his knee with hairy wristed hands
that protruded from his flannel shirt, and drank lemonade under the
cartoon of that emancipated Worker, and we had a great discursive
talk with him.
"Eh! you should see our big meetings up north?" he said.
Denson had ruffled him and worried him a good deal, and ever and
again he came back to that discussion. "It's all very easy for your
learned men to sit and pick holes," he said, "while the children
suffer and die. They don't pick holes up north. They mean
He talked, and that was the most interesting part of it all, of his
going to work in a factory when he was twelve--"when you Chaps were
all with your mammies "--and how he had educated himself of nights
until he would fall asleep at his reading.
"It's made many of us keen for all our lives," he remarked, "all
that clemming for education. Why! I longed all through one winter
to read a bit of Darwin. I must know about this Darwin if I die for
it, I said. And I could no' get the book."
Hatherleigh made an enthusiastic noise and drank beer at him with
round eyes over the mug.
"Well, anyhow I wasted no time on Greek and Latin," said Chris
Robinson. "And one learns to go straight at a thing without
splitting straws. One gets hold of the Elementals."
(Well, did they? That was the gist of my perplexity.)
"One doesn't quibble," he said, returning to his rankling memory of
Denson, "while men decay and starve."
"But suppose," I said, suddenly dropping into opposition, "the
alternative is to risk a worse disaster--or do something patently
"I don't follow that," said Chris Robinson. "We don't propose
anything futile, so far as I can see."
The prevailing force in my undergraduate days was not Socialism but
Kiplingism. Our set was quite exceptional in its socialistic
professions. And we were all, you must understand, very distinctly
Imperialists also, and professed a vivid sense of the "White Man's
It is a little difficult now to get back to the feelings of that
period; Kipling has since been so mercilessly and exhaustively
mocked, criticised and torn to shreds;--never was a man so violently
exalted and then, himself assisting, so relentlessly called down.
But in the middle nineties this spectacled and moustached little
figure with its heavy chin and its general effect of vehement
gesticulation, its wild shouts of boyish enthusiasm for effective
force, its lyric delight in the sounds and colours, in the very
odours of empire, its wonderful discovery of machinery and cotton
waste and the under officer and the engineer, and "shop" as a poetic
dialect, became almost a national symbol. He got hold of us
wonderfully, he filled us with tinkling and haunting quotations, he
stirred Britten and myself to futile imitations, he coloured the
very idiom of our conversation. He rose to his climax with his
"Recessional," while I was still an undergraduate.
What did he give me exactly?
He helped to broaden my geographical sense immensely, and he
provided phrases for just that desire for discipline and devotion
and organised effort the Socialism of our time failed to express,
that the current socialist movement still fails, I think, to
express. The sort of thing that follows, for example, tore
something out of my inmost nature and gave it a shape, and I took it
back from him shaped and let much of the rest of him, the tumult and
the bullying, the hysteria and the impatience, the incoherence and
inconsistency, go uncriticised for the sake of it:--
"Keep ye the Law--be swift in all obedience--
Clear the land of evil, drive the road and bridge the ford,
Make ye sure to each his own
That he reap where he hath sown;
By the peace among Our peoples let men know we serve the Lord!"
And then again, and for all our later criticism, this sticks in my
mind, sticks there now as quintessential wisdom:
"The 'eathen in 'is blindness bows down to wood an' stone;
'E don't obey no orders unless they is 'is own;
'E keeps 'is side-arms awful: 'e leaves 'em all about
An' then comes up the regiment an' pokes the 'eathen out.
All along o' dirtiness, all along o' mess,
All along o' doin' things rather-more-or-less,
All along of abby-nay, kul, an' hazar-ho,
Mind you keep your rifle an' yourself jus' so!"
It is after all a secondary matter that Kipling, not having been
born and brought up in Bromstead and Penge, and the war in South
Africa being yet in the womb of time, could quite honestly entertain
the now remarkable delusion that England had her side-arms at that
time kept anything but "awful." He learnt better, and we all learnt
with him in the dark years of exasperating and humiliating struggle
that followed, and I do not see that we fellow learners are
justified in turning resentfully upon him for a common ignorance and
assumption. . . .
South Africa seems always painted on the back cloth of my Cambridge
memories. How immense those disasters seemed at the time, disasters
our facile English world has long since contrived in any edifying or
profitable sense to forget! How we thrilled to the shouting
newspaper sellers as the first false flush of victory gave place to
the realisation of defeat. Far away there our army showed itself
human, mortal and human in the sight of all the world, the pleasant
officers we had imagined would change to wonderful heroes at the
first crackling of rifles, remained the pleasant, rather incompetent
men they had always been, failing to imagine, failing to plan and
co-operate, failing to grip. And the common soldiers, too, they
were just what our streets and country-side had made them, no sudden
magic came out of the war bugles for them. Neither splendid nor
disgraceful were they,--just ill-trained and fairly plucky and
wonderfully good-tempered men--paying for it. And how it lowered
our vitality all that first winter to hear of Nicholson's Nek, and
then presently close upon one another, to realise the bloody waste
of Magersfontein, the shattering retreat from Stormberg, Colenso--
Colenso, that blundering battle, with White, as it seemed, in
Ladysmith near the point of surrender! and so through the long
unfolding catalogue of bleak disillusionments, of aching,
unconcealed anxiety lest worse should follow. To advance upon your
enemy singing about his lack of cleanliness and method went out of
fashion altogether! The dirty retrogressive Boer vanished from our
scheme of illusion.
All through my middle Cambridge period, the guns boomed and the
rifles crackled away there on the veldt, and the horsemen rode and
the tale of accidents and blundering went on. Men, mules, horses,
stores and money poured into South Africa, and the convalescent
wounded streamed home. I see it in my memory as if I had looked at
it through a window instead of through the pages of the illustrated
papers; I recall as if I had been there the wide open spaces, the
ragged hillsides, the open order attacks of helmeted men in khaki,
the scarce visible smoke of the guns, the wrecked trains in great
lonely places, the burnt isolated farms, and at last the blockhouses
and the fences of barbed wire uncoiling and spreading for endless
miles across the desert, netting the elusive enemy until at last,
though he broke the meshes again and again, we had him in the toils.
If one's attention strayed in the lecture-room it wandered to those
And that imagined panorama of war unfolds to an accompaniment of
yelling newsboys in the narrow old Cambridge streets, of the flicker
of papers hastily bought and torn open in the twilight, of the
doubtful reception of doubtful victories, and the insensate
rejoicings at last that seemed to some of us more shameful than
defeats. . . .
A book that stands out among these memories, that stimulated me
immensely so that I forced it upon my companions, half in the spirit
of propaganda and half to test it by their comments, was Meredith's
ONE OF OUR CONQUERORS. It is one of the books that have made me.
In that I got a supplement and corrective of Kipling. It was the
first detached and adverse criticism of the Englishman I had ever
encountered. It must have been published already nine or ten years
when I read it. The country had paid no heed to it, had gone on to
the expensive lessons of the War because of the dull aversion our
people feel for all such intimations, and so I could read it as a
book justified. The war endorsed its every word for me, underlined
each warning indication of the gigantic dangers that gathered
against our system across the narrow seas. It discovered Europe to
me, as watching and critical.
But while I could respond to all its criticisms of my country's
intellectual indolence, of my country's want of training and
discipline and moral courage, I remember that the idea that on the
continent there were other peoples going ahead of us, mentally alert
while we fumbled, disciplined while we slouched, aggressive and
preparing to bring our Imperial pride to a reckoning, was extremely
novel and distasteful to me. It set me worrying of nights. It put
all my projects for social and political reconstruction upon a new
uncomfortable footing. It made them no longer merely desirable but
urgent. Instead of pride and the love of making one might own to a
baser motive. Under Kipling's sway I had a little forgotten the
continent of Europe, treated it as a mere envious echo to our own
world-wide display. I began now to have a disturbing sense as it
were of busy searchlights over the horizon. . . .
One consequence of the patriotic chagrin Meredith produced in me was
an attempt to belittle his merit. "It isn't a good novel, anyhow,"
The charge I brought against it was, I remember, a lack of unity.
It professed to be a study of the English situation in the early
nineties, but it was all deflected, I said, and all the interest was
confused by the story of Victor Radnor's fight with society to