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The Silent Isle by Arthur Christopher Benson

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Fellow of Magdalene College, Cambridge


Nec prohibui cor meum.



There are two ways of recording and communicating to others an
impression, say, of a building or a place. One way is to sit down at a
definite point, and make an elaborate picture. It is thus perhaps that
one grasps the artistic significance and unity of the object best; one
sees it in a chosen light of noon or eve; one feels its dominant
emotion, its harmony of proportion and outline. Or else one may wander
about and take sketches of it from a dozen different points of view,
record little delicacies of detail, tiny whims and irregularities; and
thus one learns more of the variety and humours of the place, its
gestures and irritabilities, its failures of purpose or design. The
question is whether you like a thing idealised or realised. As to the
different methods of interpretation, they can hardly be compared or
subordinated. An artist does not choose his method, because his method
is himself.

The book that follows is an attempt, or rather a hundred attempts, to
sketch some of the details of life, seen from a simple plane enough,
and with no desire to conform it to a theory, or to find anything very
definite in it, or to omit anything because it did not fit in with
prejudices or predilections. The only unity of mood which it reflects
is the unity of purpose which comes from a decision. I had chosen a
life which seemed to me then to be wholesome, temperate, and simple, in
exchange for a life that was complicated, restless, and mechanical. The
choice was not in the least a revolt against conventions; it was only
the result of a deliberate belief that conventions were not necessary
to contentment, and that if one never ventured anything in general, one
would never gain anything in particular. It was not, to speak with
absolute frankness, intended to be an attempt to shirk my fair share of
the natural human burden. If I had believed in my own power of bearing
that burden profitably and efficiently, I hope I should not have laid
it down. It was rather that I thought that I had carried a burden long
enough, without having the curiosity to see what it contained. When I
did untie it and inspect it, it seemed to me that a great part of what
it contained was not particularly useful, but designed, like the
furniture of the White Knight's horse, in _Through the Looking Glass_,
to provide against unlikely contingencies. I thought that I might live
life, of the brevity and frailty of which I had become suddenly aware,
upon simpler and more rational lines.

I was then, in embarking upon this book, in what may be described as a
holiday-making frame of mind, as a man might be who, after a long
period of sedentary life, finds himself at leisure, strolling about on
a sunny morning in a picturesque foreign town, in that delicious mood
when the smallest sights and sounds and incidents have a sharpness and
delicacy of flavour which brings back the untroubled and joyful
passivity of childhood, when one had no need to do anything in
particular, because it was enough to be. It seemed so futile to go on
consuming stolidly and grimly the porridge of life, when one might take
one's choice of its dainties! I had no temptation to waste my substance
in riotous living. I had no relish for the passionate and feverish
delights of combat and chase. It did not seem to be worth while to
pretend that I had, merely for the sake of being considered robust and
full-blooded. To speak the truth, I did not particularly care what
other people thought of my experiment. It seemed to me that I had
deferred to all that too long; and though I had no wish to break
violently with the world or to set it at defiance, I thought I might
venture to find a little corner and a little book, and see the current
spin by. It seemed to me, too, that most of the people who waxed
eloquent about the normal duties and responsibilities of life chose
them not reluctantly and philosophically, but because, on the whole
they preferred them, and felt dull without them; and I imagined that I
had my right to a preference too, particularly if it was not pursued at
the expense of other people.

Whether or not the choice was wise or foolish will be seen, or may be
inferred. But I do not abjure the theory. I think and believe that
there are a good many people in the world who pursue lives for which
they are not fitted, and lose all contentment in the process, simply
because they respect conventions too much, and have not the courage to
break away from them. Some of the most useful people I know are people
who not only think least about being useful, but are ready to condemn
themselves for their desultoriness. The people who have time to listen
and to talk, to welcome friends and to sympathise with them, to enjoy
and to help others to enjoy, seem to me often to do more for the world
than the people who hurry from committee to committee, address
meetings, and do what is called some of the drudgery of the world,
which might in a hundred cases be just as well undone. It is most of it
merely a childish game either way; and the child who looks on and
applauds is often better employed than the child who makes a long
score, and thinks of nothing else for the rest of the afternoon.

And anyhow, this is what I saw and thought and did; not a very
magnificent performance, but a little piece of life observed and
experienced and written down.



The Silent Isle, I name it; and yet in no land in which I have ever
lived is there so little sight and sound of water as here. It oozes
from field to drain, it trickles from drain to ditch, it falls from
ditch to dyke, and then moves silently to the great seaward sluice; it
is not a living thing in the landscape, bright and vivacious, but
rather something secret and still, drawn almost reluctantly away,
rather than hurrying off on business of its own. And yet the whole
place gives me the constant sense of being an island, remote and
unapproachable; the great black plain, where every step that one takes
warns one of its quivering elasticity of soil, runs sharply up to the
base of the long, low, green hills, whose rough, dimpled pastures and
old elms contrast sharply and pleasantly with the geometrical monotony
of the immense flat. The village that I see a mile away, on a further
promontory of the old Isle, has the look of a straggling seaport town,
dipping down to wharves and quays; and the eye almost expects a fringe
of masts and shipping at the base of the steep streets. Then, too, the
encircling plain is like water in its tracklessness. There are no short
cuts nor footpaths in the fen. You may strike out for the village that
on clear days looks so close at hand, and follow a flood-bank for miles
without drawing a pace nearer to the goal. Or you may find yourself
upon the edge of one of the great lodes or levels, and see the
pale-blue stripe of water lie unbridged, like a pointed javelin of
steel, to the extreme verge of the horizon. The few roads run straight
and strict upon their reed-fringed causeways; and there is an infinite
sense of tranquil relief to the eye in the vast green levels, with
their faint parallel lines of dyke or drift, just touched into
prominence here and there by the clump of poplars surrounding a lonely
grange, or the high-shouldered roof of a great pumping-mill. And then,
to give largeness to what might else be tame, there is the vast space
of sky everywhere, the enormous perspective of rolling cloud-bank and
fleecy cumulus: the sky seems higher, deeper, more gigantic, in these
great levels than anywhere in the world. The morning comes up more
sedately; the orange-skirted twilight is more lingeringly withdrawn.
The sun burns lower, down to the very verge of the world, dropping
behind no black-stemmed wood or high-standing ridge; and how softly the
colour fades westward out of the sky, among the rose-flushed
cloud-isles and green spaces of air! And out of all this spacious
tracklessness comes a sense of endless remoteness. While the roads
converge like the rays of a wheel upon the inland town, each a stream
of hurrying life, here the world flows to you more rarely and
deliberately. Indeed, there seems no influx of life at all, nothing but
a quiet interchange of voyagers. Promotion arrives from no point of the
compass; nothing but a little tide of homely life ebbs and flows in
these elm-girt villages above the fen. Of course, the anxious and
expectant heart carries its own restlessness everywhere; but to read of
the rush and stress of life in these grassy solitudes seems like the
telling of an idle tale. And then the silence of the place! The sounds
of life have a value and a distinctness here that I have never known
elsewhere. I have lived much of my life in towns; and there, even if
one is not conscious of distinct sound, there is a blurred sense of
movement in the air, which dulls the ear. But here the sharp song of
the yellow-hammer from the hedge, or the cry of the owl from the
spinney, come pure and keen through the thin air, purged of all
uncertain murmurs. I can hear, it seems, a mile away, the rumble of the
long procession of red mud-stained field-carts, or the humming of the
threshing-gear; or the chatter of children on the farm-road beyond my
shrubberies breaks clear and jocund on the ear. I become conscious here
of how noisily and hurriedly I have lived my life; happily enough, I
will confess; but the thought of it all--the class-room, the street,
the playing-field--bright and vivacious as it all was, seems now like a
boisterous prelude of blaring brass and tingling string, which lapses
into some delicate economy of sweet melody and gliding chord. It has
its shadows, I do not doubt, this Silent Isle; but to-day at least it
is all still and translucent as its clear-moving quiet waters, free as
its vaulted sky, rich as its endless plain.

It is not that I mean to be idle here! I have my web to weave; I have
my lucid mirror. But instead of scrambling and peeping, I mean to see
it all clearly and tranquilly, without dust and noise. I have lived
laboriously and hastily for twenty years; and surely there is a time
for garnering the harvest and for reckoning up the store? I want to see
behind it all, into the meaning of it all, if I can. Surely when we are
bidden to consider the lilies of the field, and told that they neither
toil nor spin, it is not that we may turn aside from them in scorn, and
choose rather to grow rank and strong, bulging like swedes, shoulder by
shoulder, in the gross furrow. It is not as though we content ourselves
with the necessary work of the world; we multiply vain activities, we
turn the songs of poets and the words of the wise into dumb-bells to
toughen our intellectual muscles; we make our pastimes into envious
rivalries and furious emulations; and when we have poured out our
contempt upon a few quiet-minded dreamers for their lack of spirit,
scarified a few lovers of leisure for their absence of ability,
ploughed up a few pretty wastes where the field-flowers grew as they
would, bred up a few hundred gay golden birds, that we may gloat over
the thought of striking them blood-bedabbled out of the sky on a winter
afternoon, we think complacently of the Kingdom of God, and all we have
done so diligently to hasten its coming.

There is a pleasant story of a man who was asked by an ardent
missionary for a subscription to some enterprise or other in the ends
of the earth. The man produced a shilling and a sovereign. "Here is a
shilling for the work," he said, "and here is a sovereign to get it out
there!" That seems to me an allegory of much of our Western work. So
little of it direct benefit, so much of it indirect transit! When I was
a schoolmaster, it always seemed to me that nine-tenths of what we did
was looking over work which we had given the boys to do to fill up
their time, and to keep them, as we used to say, out of mischief. The
worst of bringing up boys on that system is that they require to be
kept out of mischief all their life long; and yet the worst kind of
mischief, after all, may be to fill life with useless occupations.
There are two ways of going out into your garden. You may walk out
straight from the bow-window on to the lawn; or you may go out into the
street, take the first turn to the right, then the next to the right,
and let yourself in at the back-garden door. But there is no merit in
that! It is not a thing to be complacent about; still less does it
justify you in saying to the simple person who prefers the direct
course that the world is getting lazy and decadent and is always trying
to save itself trouble. The point is to have lived, not to have been
merely occupied. I remember once, when I was an undergraduate, staying
at a place in Scotland for a summer holiday. There were all sorts of
pleasant things to be done, and we were there to amuse ourselves. One
evening it was suggested that we should go out yachting on the
following day. I agreed to go, but being a miserable sailor, added that
I should only go if it were fine. We were to start early, and when I
was called and found it an ugly, gusty morning I went gratefully back
to bed, and spent the rest of the day fishing. There was a dreadful,
strenuous old Colonel staying in the house; he had been with the
yachting party, and they had had a very disagreeable day. That evening
in the smoking-room, when we were recounting our adventures, the old
wretch said to me: "Now I should like to give you a piece of advice.
You said you would go with us, and shirked because you were afraid of a
bit of wind. You must excuse an older man who knows something of the
world saying straight out that that sort of thing won't do. Make up
your mind and stick to it; that's a golden rule." It was in vain that I
said that I had never intended to go if it was windy, and that I should
have been ill the whole time. "Ah, that's what I call cry-baby talk,"
said the old ruffian; "I always say that if a thing is worth doing at
all, it is worth doing thoroughly." I said meekly that I should
certainly have been thoroughly sea-sick, but that I did not think it
_was_ worth while being sea-sick at all. At which he felt very much
nettled, and said that it was effeminate. I was very much humiliated,
but not in the least convinced; and I am afraid that I enjoyed the most
unchristian exultation when, two or three days after, the Colonel
insisted on walking to the deer-forest, instead of riding the pony that
was offered him; in consequence of which he not only lost half the day,
but got so dreadfully tired that he missed two stags in succession, and
came home empty-handed, full of excellent excuses, and more pragmatical
than ever.

Of course, a man has to decide for himself. If he does not desire
leisure, if he finds it wearisome and mischievous, he had better not
cultivate it; if his conscience tells him that he must go on with a
particular work, he had better simply obey the command. But it is very
easy to educate a false conscience in these matters by mere habit; and
if you play tricks with your mind or your conscience habitually, it has
an ugly habit of ending by playing tricks upon you, like the Old Man of
the Sea. The false conscience is satisfied and the real conscience
drugged, if a person with a sense of duty to others fills up his time
with unnecessary letters and useless interviews; worse still if he goes
about proclaiming with complacent pride that his work gives him no time
to read or think. If he has any responsibility in the matter, if it is
his business to help or direct others, he ought to be sure that he has
something to give them beyond platitudes which he has not tested. In
the story of Mary and Martha, which is a very mysterious one, it is
quite clear that Martha was rebuked, not for being hospitable, but for
being fussy; but it is not at all clear what Mary was praised
for--certainly not for being useful. She was not praised for visiting
the sick, or for attending committees, but apparently for doing
nothing--for sitting still, for listening to talk, and for being
interested. Presumably both were sympathetic, and Martha showed it by
practical kindness, and attention to the knives and the plates. But
what was the one thing needful? What was the good part, which Mary had
chosen, and which would not be taken from her? The truth is that there
is very little said about active work in the Gospel. It is, indeed,
rather made fun of, if one may use such an expression. There is a great
deal about simple kindness and neighbourliness, but nothing about
making money, or social organisation. In a poor village community the
problem was no doubt an easier one; but in our more complicated
civilisation it is not so easy to see how to act. Suppose that I am
seized with a sudden impulse of benevolence, what am I to do? In the
old storybooks one took a portion of one's dinner to a sick person, or
went to read aloud to some one. But it is not so easy to find the right
people. If I set off here on a round with a slop-basin containing apple
fritters, my intrusion would be generally and rightly resented; and as
for being read aloud to or visited when I am ill, there is nothing I
should personally dislike more than a succession of visitors bent on
benevolence. I might put up with it if I felt that it sprung from a
genuine affection, but if I felt it was done from a sense of duty, it
would be an intolerable addition to my troubles. Many people in grief
and trouble only desire not to be interfered with, and to be left
alone, and when they want sympathy they know how and where to ask for
it. Personally I do not want sympathy at all if I am in trouble,
because it only makes me suffer more; the real comfort under such
circumstances is when people behave quite naturally, as if there were
no troubles in the world; then one has to try to behave decently, and
that is one's best chance of forgetting oneself.

The only thing, it seems to me, that one may do, is to love people, if
one can. It is the mood from which sympathy and help spring that
matters, not the spoken word or the material aid. In the worst troubles
one cannot help people at all. The knowledge that others love you does
not fill the aching gap made by the death of child or lover or friend.
And now too, in these democratic days, when compassion and help are
more or less organised, when the sense of the community that children
should be taught issues in Education Bills, and the feeling that sick
people must be tended is expressed by hospitals--when the world has
thus been specialised, tangible benevolence is a much more complex
affair. It seems clear that it is not really a benevolent thing to give
money to anyone who happens to ask for it; and it is equally clear, it
seems to me, that not much is done by lecturing people vaguely about
their sins and negligences; one must have a very clear sense of one's
own victories over evil, and the tactics one has employed, to do that;
and if one is conscious, as I am, of not having made a very successful
show of resistance to personal faults and failings, the pastoral
attitude is not an easy one to adopt. But if one loves people, the
problem is not so difficult--or rather it solves itself. One can
compare notes, and discuss qualities, and try to see what one admires
and thinks beautiful; and the only way, after all, to make other people
good, if that is the end in view, is to be good oneself in such a way
that other people want to be good too.

The thing which really differentiates people from each other, and which
sets a few fine souls ahead of the crowd, is a certain clearness of
vision. Most of us take things for granted from the beginning, accept
the opinions and conventions of the world, and muddle along, taking
things as they come, our only aim being to collect in our own corner as
many of the good things of life as we can gather round us. Indeed, it
must be confessed that among the commonest motives for showing kindness
are the credit that results, and the sense of power and influence that
ensues. But that is no good at all to the giver. For the fact is that
behind life, as we see it, there lies a very strange and deep mystery,
something stronger and larger than we can any of us at all grasp. There
are a thousand roads to the city of God, and no two roads are the same,
though they all lead to the same place. If we take up the role of being
useful, the danger is that we become planted, like a kind of
professional guide-post, giving incomplete directions to others,
instead of finding the way for ourselves. The mistake lies in thinking
that things are unknowable when they are only unknown. Many mists have
melted already before the eyes of the pilgrims, and the tracks grow
plainer on the hillside; and thus the clearer vision of which I speak
is the thing to be desired by all. We must try to see things as they
are, not obscured by prejudice or privilege or sentiment or
selfishness; and sin does not cloud the vision so much as stupidity and
conceit. I have a dream, then, of what I desire and aspire to, though
it is hard to put it into words. I want to learn to distinguish between
what is important and unimportant, between what is beautiful and ugly,
between what is true and false. The pomps and glories of the world are
unimportant, I believe, and all the temptations which arise from
wanting to do things, as it is called, on a large scale. Money, the
love of which as representing liberty is a sore temptation to such as
myself, is unimportant. Conventional orthodoxies, whether they be of
manners, or of ways of life, or of thought, or of religion, or of
education, are unimportant. What then remains? Courage, and patience,
and simplicity, and kindness, and beauty, and, last of all, ideas
remain; and these are the things to lay hold of and to live with.

And even so one cannot help puzzling and grieving and wondering over
all the dreadful waste of time and energy, all the stupidities and
misunderstandings, all the unnecessary business and tiresome pleasure,
all the spitefulness and malignity, all the sham rules and artificial
regulations, all the hard judgments and dismal fears and ugly cruelties
of the world, beginning so early and ending so late. An hour ago I met
two tiny children, a boy and girl, in the road. The girl was the older
and stronger. The little boy, singing to himself, had gathered some
leaves from the hedge, and was enjoying his posy harmlessly enough.
What must his sister do? She wanted some fun; so she took the posy
away, dodged her brother when he tried to catch her, and finally threw
it over a paling, and went off rejoicing in her strength, while the
little boy sate down and cried. Why should they not have played
together in peace? On my table lie letters from two old friends of mine
who have had a quarrel over a small piece of business, involving a few
pounds. One complains that the other claims the money unjustly; the
other resents being accused of meanness; the result, a rupture of
familiar relations. One cannot, it seems, prevent sorrows and pains and
tragedies; but what is the ironical power which gives us such rich
materials for happiness, and then infects us with the devilish power of
misusing them, and worrying over them, and hating each other, and
despising ourselves? And then the little lives cut relentlessly short,
how does that fit in? And even when the life is prolonged, one becomes
a puckered, winking, doddering old thing, stiff and brittle,
disgraceful and humiliated, and, what is worse than anything, feeling
so young and sensible inside the crazy machine. If we knew that it was
all going to help us somewhere, sometime, no matter how far off, to be
strong and cheerful and brave and kind, how easy to bear it all!

But in spite of everything, how one enjoys it all; how interesting and
absorbing it all is! Wherever one turns, there are delicious things to
see, from the aconite with its yellow head and its green collar in the
bare shrubbery, to the streak of sunshine on the plain with the great
rays thrust downwards from the hidden sun, making the world an
enchanted place. And all the curious, fantastic, charming people that
one meets, from the boy sitting on the cart-shaft, with all sorts of
old love-histories hinted in his clear skin and large eye, to the
wizened labourer in his quaint-cut, frowzy clothes, bill-hook in hand,
a symbol of the patient work of the world. So helpless a crowd, so
patient in trouble, so bewildered as to the meaning of it all; and
zigzagged all across it, in nations, in families, in individuals, the
jagged lines of evil, so devastating, so horrible, so irremediable; and
even worse than evil--which has at least something lurid and fiery
about it--the dark, slimy streaks of meanness and jealousy, of boredom
and ugliness, which seem to have no use at all but to make things move
heavily and obscurely, when they might run swift and bright.

So here in my isle of silence, between fen and fen, under the spacious
sky, I want to try an experiment--to live simply and honestly, without
indolence or haste, neither wasting time nor devouring it, not refusing
due burdens but not inventing useless ones, not secluding myself in a
secret cell of solitude, but not multiplying dull and futile relations.
One thing I may say honestly and sincerely, that I do indeed desire to
fulfil the Will and purpose of God for me, if I can but discern it; for
that there is a great will at work behind it all, I cannot for a moment
doubt; nor can I doubt that I do it, with many foolish fears and
delays, and shall do it to the end. Why it is that, voyaging thus to
the haven beneath the hill, I meet such adverse breezes, such
headstrong currents, such wrack of wind and thwarting wave, I know not;
nor what that other land will be like, if indeed I sail beyond the
sunset; but that a home awaits me and all mankind I believe, of which
this quiet house, so pleasantly ordered, among its old trees and dewy
pastures, is but a faint sweet symbol. It may be that I shall find the
vision I desire; or it may be that I shall but fall bleeding among the
thorns of life; who can tell?

As I write, I see the pale spring sunset fade between the tree-stems;
the garden glimmers in the dusk; the lights peep out in the hamlet; the
birds wing their way home across the calm sky-spaces. Even now, in this
moment of ease and security, might be breathed the message I desire, as
the earth spins and whirls across the infinite tracts of heaven, from
the great tender mind of God. But if not, I am content. For this one
thing I hold as certain, and I dare not doubt it--that there is a Truth
behind all confusions and errors; a goal beyond all pilgrimages. I
shall find it, I shall reach it, in some day of sudden glory, of hope
fulfilled and sorrow ended; and no step of the way thither will be
wasted, whether trodden in despair and weariness or in elation and
delight; till we have learned not to fear, not to judge, not to
mistrust, not to despise; till in a moment our eyes will be opened, and
we shall know that we have found peace.


I realised a little while ago that I was getting sadly belated in the
matter of novel-reading. I had come to decline on a few old favourites
and was breaking no new ground. That is a provincial frame of mind,
just as when a man begins to discard dressing for dinner, and can
endure nothing but an old coat and slippers. It is easy to think of it
as unworldly, peaceable, philosophical; but it is mere laziness. The
really unworldly philosopher is the man who is at ease in all costumes
and at home in all companies.

I did not take up my novel-reading in a light spirit or for mere
diversion. To begin a new novel is for me like staying at a strange
house; I am bewildered and discomposed by the new faces, by the hard
necessity of making the acquaintance of all the new people, and in
determining their merits and their demerits. But I was bent on more
serious things still. I knew that it is the writers of romances, and
not the historians or the moralists, who are the real critics and the
earnest investigators of life and living. There may be at the present
day few subtle psychologists or surpassing idealists at work writing
novels, and still fewer great artists; but for a man to get out of the
way of reading contemporary fiction is not only a disease, it is almost
a piece of moral turpitude--or at best a sign of lassitude, stupidity,
and Toryism; because it means that one's mind is made up and that one
has some dull theory which life and the thoughts of others may confirm
if they will, but must not modify: from which deadly kind of
incrustation may common-sense and human interest deliver us.

It is a matter of endless debate whether a novel should have an ethical
purpose, or whether it should merely be an attempt to present
beautifully any portion of truth clearly perceived, faithfully
observed, delicately grouped, and artistically isolated. In the latter
case, say the realists, whatever the subject, the incident, the details
may be, the novel will possess exactly the same purpose that underlies
things, no more and no less; and the purpose may be trusted to look
after itself.

The other theory is that the novelist should have a definite motive;
that he should have a case which he is trying to prove, a warning he
wishes to enforce, an end which he desires to realise. The fact that
Dickens and Charles Reade had philanthropic motives of social reform,
and wished to improve the condition of schools, workhouses, lunatic
asylums, and gaols, is held to justify from the moral point of view
such novels as _Nicholas Nickleby, Oliver Twist, Hard Cash_, and _It is
Never too Late to Mend_. And from the moral point of view these books
are entirely justified, because they did undoubtedly interest a large
number of people in such subjects who would not have been interested by
sermons or blue-books. These books quickened the emotions of ordinary
people on the subject; and public sentiment is of course the pulse of

Whether the philanthropic motive injured the books from the artistic
point of view is another question. It undoubtedly injured them exactly
in proportion as the philanthropic motive led the writers to distort or
to exaggerate the truth. It is perfectly justifiable, artistically, to
lay the scene of a novel in a workhouse or a gaol, but if the
humanitarian impulse leads to any embroidery of or divergence from the
truth, the novel is artistically injured, because the selection and
grouping of facts should be guided by artistic and not by philanthropic

Now the one emotion which plays a prominent part in most romances is
the passion of love, and it is interesting to observe that even this
motive is capable of being treated from the philanthropic as well as
from the artistic point of view. In a book which is now perhaps unduly
neglected, from the fact that it has a markedly early Victorian
flavour, Charles Kingsley's _Yeast_, there is a distinct attempt made
to fuse the two motives. The love of Lancelot for Argemone is depicted
both in the artistic and in the philanthropic light. The passion of the
lover throbs furiously through the odd weltering current of social
problems indicated, as a stream in lonely meadows may be seen and heard
to pulsate at the beat of some neighbouring mill which it serves to
turn. Yet the philanthropic motive is there, in that love is depicted
as a redeeming power, a cure for selfishness, a balm for unrest; and
the artistic impulse finally triumphs in the death of Argemone

In the hands of women-writers, love naturally tends to be depicted from
the humanitarian point of view. It is the one matchless gift which the
woman has to offer, the supreme opportunity of exercising influence,
the main chance of what is clumsily called self-effectuation. The old
proverb says that all women are match-makers; and Mr. Bernard Shaw goes
further and maintains that they act from a kind of predatory instinct,
however much that instinct may be concealed or glorified.

Now there was one great woman-writer, Charlotte Bronte, to whom it was
given to treat of love from the artistic side. She has been accused of
making her heroines, Jane Eyre, Caroline Helstone, Lucy Snowe, too
submissive, too grateful for the gift of a man's love. They forgive
deceit, rebuffs, severity, coldness, with a surpassing meekness. But it
is here that the artistic quality really emerges; these beautiful,
stainless hearts are preoccupied with what they receive rather than
with what they give. In that crude, ingenuous book _The Professor_, the
hero, who is a good instance of how Charlotte Bronte confused rigidity
of nature with manliness, surprised by an outbreak of passionate
emotion on the part of his quiet and self-contained wife, and still
more surprised by its sudden quiescence, asks her what has become of
her emotion and where it is gone. "I do not know where it is gone,"
says the girl, "but I know that whenever it is wanted it will come
back." That is a noble touch. It may be true that Paul Emmanuel and
Robert Moore cling too closely to the idea of rewarding their humble
mistresses, after testing them harshly and even brutally, with the gift
of their love--though even this humility has a touching quality of
beauty; but the supreme lover, Mr. Rochester, who, in spite of his
ridiculous affectations, his grotesque _hauteurs_, his impossible
theatricality, is a figure of flesh and blood, is absorbed in his
passion in a way that shows the fire leaping on the innermost altar.
The irresistible appeal of the book to the heart is due to the fact
that Jane Eyre never seems conscious of what she is giving, but only of
what she is receiving; and it is this that makes her gift so regal, so
splendid a thing.

Side by side with this book I would set a recent work, Miss
Cholmondeley's _Prisoners_. Fine and noble as the book is in many ways,
it is yet vitiated by the sense of the value of the gift of love from
the woman's point of view. Love is there depicted as the one redeeming
and transforming power in the world. But in order to prove the thesis,
the two chief characters among the men of the book, Wentworth and Lord
Lossiemouth, are not, like Mr. Rochester, strong men disfigured by
violent faults, but essentially worthless persons, one the slave of an
oldmaidish egotism and the other of a frank animalism. The result in
both cases is an _experimentum in corpore vili_. The authoress, instead
of presiding over her creations like a little Deity, is a strong
partisan; and the purpose seems to be to bring out more clearly the
priceless nature of the gift which comes near their hand. No one would
dispute the position that love is a purifying and transforming power;
but love, conscious of its worth, loses the humility and the
unselfishness in which half its power lies. Even Magdalen, the finest
character in the book, is not free from a quality of condescension. In
the great love-scene where she accepts Lord Lossiemouth, she comforts
him by saying, "You have not only come back to me. You have come back
to yourself." That is a false touch, because it has a flavour of
superiority about it. It reminds one of the lover in _The Princess_
lecturing the hapless Ida from his bed-pulpit, and saying, "Blame not
thyself too much," and "Dearer thou for faults lived over." One cannot
imagine Jane Eyre saying to Mr. Rochester that he had come back to
himself through loving her. It just detracts at the supreme moment from
the generosity of the scene; it has the accent of the priestess, not of
the true lover; and thus at the moment when one longs to be in the very
white-heat of emotion, one is subtly aware of an improving hand that
casts water upon the flame.

The love that lives in art is the love of Penelope and Antigone, of
Cordelia and Desdemona and Imogen, of Enid, of Mrs. Browning, among
women; and among men, the love of Dante, of Keats, of the lover of
Maud, of Pere Goriot, of Robert Browning.

It is the unreasoning, unquestioning love of a man for a woman or a
woman for a man, just as they are, for themselves only; "because it was
you and me," as Montaigne says. Not a respect for good qualities, a
mere admiration for beauty, a perception of strength or delicacy, but a
sort of predestined unity of spirit and body, an inner and instinctive
congeniality, a sense of supreme need and nearness, which has no
consciousness of raising or helping or forgiving about it, but is
rather an imperative desire for surrender, for sharing, for serving.
Thus, in love, faults and weaknesses are not things to be mended or
overlooked, but opportunities of lavish generosity. Sacrifice is not
only not a pain, but the deepest and acutest pleasure possible. Love of
this kind has nothing of the tolerance of friendship about it, the
process of addition and subtraction, the weighing of net results,
though that can provide a sensible and happy partnership enough. And
thus when an author has grace and power to perceive such a situation,
no further motive or purpose is needed; indeed the addition of any such
motive merely defames and tarnishes the quality of the divine gift.

It is not to be pretended that all human beings have the gift of loving
so. To love perfectly is a matter of genius; it may be worth while to
depict other sorts of love, for it has infinite gradations and
_nuances_. One of the grievous mistakes that the prophets and
prophetesses of love make is that they tend to speak as if only some
coldness and hardness of nature, which could be dispensed with at will
or by effort, holds men and women back from the innermost relationship.
It is the same mistake as that made by many preachers who speak as if
the moral sense was equally developed in all, or required only a little
effort of the will. But a man or a woman may be quite able to perceive
the nobility, the solemn splendour of a perfect love, and yet be
incapable of either feeling or inspiring it. The possession of such a
gift is a thing to thank God for; the absence of it is not a thing to
be shrewishly condemned. The power is not often to be found in
combination with high intellectual or artistic gifts. There is a law of
compensation in human nature, but there is also a law of limitations;
and this it is both foolish and cowardly to ignore.

When one comes to form such a list as I have tried to do of great
lovers in literature and life, it is surprising and rather distressing
to find, after all, how difficult it is to make such a list at all. It
is easier to make a list of women who have loved perfectly than a list
of men. Two rather painful considerations arise. Is it because, after
all, it is so rare, so almost abnormal an experience for one to love
purely, passionately, and permanently, that the difficulty of making
such a list arises? There are plenty of books, both imaginative and
biographical, to choose from, and yet the perfect companionship seems
very rare. Or is it that we nowadays exaggerate the whole matter? That
would be a conclusion to which I would not willingly come; but it is
quite clear that we have transcendentalised the power of love very much
of late. Is this due to the immense flood of romances that have
overwhelmed our literature? Does love really play so large a part in
people's lives as romances would have us think? Or do the immense
number of romances rather show that love does really play a greater
part than anything else in our lives? The transcendental conception of
love has found a high and passionate expression in the sonnets of
Rossetti, yet all that we know of Rossetti would seem to prove that in
his case it was actual rather than transcendental; and he is to be
classed in the matter of love rather among its voluptuaries and slaves
than among its true and harmonious exponents. I am disposed to think
that with men, at all events, or at least with Englishmen of the
present day, love is rather a bewildering episode than a guiding
principle; and that some of the happiest alliances have been those in
which passion has tranquilly transformed itself into a true and gentle
companionship. This would seem to prove that love was as a rule a
physical rather than a spiritual passion, cutting across life rather
than flowing in its channels.

And then, too, the further consideration intervenes: Can any one, in
reflecting upon the instances of great and loving relationships that
have come within the range of his experience, name a single case in
which a deep passion has ever been conceived and consummated, without
the existence of physical charm of some kind in the woman who has been
the object of the passion? I do not, of course, limit charm to regular
and conventional beauty. But I cannot myself recall a single instance
of such a passion being evoked by a woman destitute of physical
attractiveness. The charm may be that of voice, of glance, of bearing,
of gesture, but the desirable element is always there in some form or

I have known women of wit, of intellect, of sympathy, of delicate
perception, of loyalty, of passionate affectionateness, who yet have
missed the joy of wedded love from the absence of physical charm.
Indeed, to make love beautiful, one has to conceive of it as exhibited
in creatures of youth and grace like Romeo and Juliet; and to connect
the pretty endearments of love with awkward, ugly, ungainly persons has
something grotesque and even profane about it. But if love were the
transcendental thing that it is supposed to be, if it were within reach
of every hand, physical characteristics would hardly affect the
question. I wish that some of the passionate interpreters of love would
make a work of imagination that should render with verisimilitude the
love-affair of two absolutely grotesque and misshapen persons, without
any sense of incongruity or absurdity. I should be loth to say that
love depends upon physical characteristics; but I think it must be
confessed that impassioned love does so depend. A woman without
physical attractiveness, but with tenderness, loyalty, and devotion,
may arrive at plenty of happy relationships; she may be trusted,
confided in, adored by young and old; but of the redeeming and
regenerating love that comes with marriage she may have no chance at
all. It is a terrible question to ask, but what chance has love against
eczema? And yet eczema may co-exist with every mental and spiritual
grace in the world. In this case it is evident that the modern
transcendental theory of love crumbles away altogether, if it is at the
mercy of a physical condition.

The truth is that, like all the joys of humanity, love is unequally
distributed, and that it is a thing which no amount of desire or
admiration or hope can bring about, unless it is bestowed. Even in the
case of the faint-hearted lover, so mercilessly lashed in _Prisoners_,
who will pay a call to see the beloved, but will not take a railway
journey for the same object, is it not the physical vitality that is
deficient? I do not quarrel with the transcendental treatment of love;
I only say that if this is accompanied with a burning scorn and
contempt for those who cannot pursue it, it becomes at once a
pharisaical and bitter thing. No religion was ever propagated by
scolding backsliders or contemning the weak; no chivalry was ever worth
the name that did not stand for a desire to do battle only with the

The genius of Charlotte Bronte consists in the fact that she makes love
so splendid and glorifying a thing, and that she does not waste her
powder and shot upon the poor in spirit. The loveless man or woman,
after reading her book, may say, "What is this great thing that I have
somehow missed? Is it possible that it may be waiting somewhere even
for me?" And then such as these may grow to scan the faces of their
fellow-travellers in hope and wonder. In such a mood as this does love
grow, not under a brisk battery of slaps for being what, after all, God
seems to have meant us to be. There are many men and women nowadays who
must face the fact that they are not likely to be brought into contact
with transcendental passion. It is for them to decide whether they will
or can accept some lower form of love, some congenial companionship,
some sort of easy commercial union. If they cannot, the last thing that
they should do is to repine; they ought rather to organise their lives
upon the best basis possible. All is not lost if love be missed. They
may prepare themselves to be worthy if the great experience comes; but
the one thing in the world that cannot be done from a sense of duty is
to fall in love; and if love be so mighty and transcendent a thing it
cannot be captured like an insect with a butterfly-net. The more
transcendental it is held to be, the greater should be the compassion
of its interpreters for those who have not seen it. It is not those who
fail to gain it that should be scorned, but only the strong man who
deliberately, for prudence and comfort's sake, refuses it and puts it
aside. It is our great moral failure nowadays that legislation,
education, religion, social reform are all occupied in eradicating the
faults of the weak rather than in attacking the faults of the strong;
and the modern interpreters of love are following in the same poor

If love were so omnipotent, so divine a thing, we should have love
stories proving the truth and worth of alliances between an Earl and a
kitchen-maid, between a Duchess and a day-labourer; but no attempt is
made to upset conventional traditions which are tamely regarded as
insuperable. "Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit
impediment," said Shakespeare; but who experiments in such ways, who
dares to write of them? We are still hopelessly feudal and fastidious.
"Such unions do not do," we say; "they land people in such awkward
situations." Hazlitt's _Liber Amoris_ is read with disgust, because the
girl was a lodging-house servant; but if Hazlitt had abandoned himself
to a passion for a girl of noble birth, the story would have been
deemed romantic enough. Thus it would seem that below the
transcendentalism of modern love lies a rich vein of snobbishness. With
Charlotte Bronte the triumph over social conditions in _Jane Eyre_, and
even in _Shirley_, is one of the things that makes the story glow and
thrill; but the glow of the peerage has to be cast in _Prisoners_ over
the detestable Lossiemouth, that one may feel that after all the
heroine has done well for herself from a social point of view. If
social conditions are indeed a barrier, let them be treated with a sort
of noble shame, as the love of the keeper Tregarva for the squire's
daughter Honoria is treated in _Yeast_; let them not be fastidiously
ignored over the tea-cups at the Hall.

Love is a mighty thing, a deep secret; but if we dare to write of it,
let us face the truth about it; let us confess boldly that it is
limited by physical and social conditions, even though that involves a
loss of its transcendent might. But let us not meekly accept these
narrowing axioms, and while we dig a neat canal for the emotion with
one hand, claim with the other that the peaceful current has all the
splendour and volume of the resistless river foaming from rock to rock,
and leaping from the sheltered valley to the boundless sea.


People often talk as if human beings were crushed by sorrows and
misfortunes and tragic events. It is not so! We are crushed by
temperament. Just as Dr. Johnson said about writing, that no man was
ever written down but by himself, so we are the victims not of
circumstances but of disposition. Those who succumb to tragic events
are those who, like Mrs. Gummidge, feel them more than other people.
The characters that break down under brutalising influences, evil
surroundings, monotonous toil, are those neurotic temperaments which
under favourable circumstances would have been what is called artistic,
who depend upon stimulus and excitement, upon sunshine and pleasure. Of
course, a good deal of what, in our ignorance of the working of
psychological laws, we are accustomed to call chance or luck, enters
into the question. Ill-health, dull surroundings, loveless lives cause
people to break down in the race, who in averagely prosperous
circumstances might have lived pleasantly and reputably. But the deeper
we plunge into nature, the deeper we explore life, the more immutable
we find the grip of law. What could appear to be a more fortuitous
spectacle of collision and confusion than a great ocean breaker
thundering landwards, with a wrack of flying spray and tossing crests?
Yet every smallest motion of every particle is the working put of laws
which go far back into the dark aeons of creation. Given the precise
conditions of wind and mass and gravitation, a mathematician could work
out and predict the exact motion of every liquid atom. Just so and not
otherwise could it move. It is as certain that every minute
psychological process, all the phenomena that we attribute to will and
purpose and motive, are just as inevitable and immutable.

The other day I went by appointment to call on an elderly lady of my
acquaintance, the widow of a country squire, who has settled in London
on a small jointure, in an inconspicuous house in a dull street. She
has always been a very active woman. As the wife of a country gentleman
she was a cordial hostess, loving to fill the house with visitors; and
in her own village she was a Lady Bountiful of the best kind, the eager
friend and adviser of every family in the place. Now she is old and to
a great extent invalided. But she is vigorous, upright, dignified,
imperative, affectionate, with a stately carriage and a sanguine
complexion. She is always full to the brim of interest and liveliness.
She carries on a dozen small enterprises; she is at daggers drawn with
some of her relations, and the keen partisan of others. Everything is
"astonishing" and "wonderful" and "extraordinary" that happens to her;
and it is an unceasing delight to hear her describe the smallest
things, her troubles with her servants, her family differences, the
meetings of the societies she attends, the places she visits. Her talk
is always full of anecdotes about mysterious people whose names are
familiar to me from her talk but with whom I have never come into
contact. It is impossible to forecast what circumstances may fill her
with excitement and delight. She will give you a dramatic account of a
skirmish with her Vicar about some incredibly trifling matter, or
describe with zest how she unveiled the pretentious machinations of
some undesirable relative. She is full of malice, anger,
uncharitableness, indignation; but, on the other hand, she is just as
full of compassion, goodwill, admiration, and enthusiasm. Everyone she
knows is either perfectly delightful or else entirely intolerable; and
thus she converts what would seem to many people a confined and narrow
sphere of action into a stormy and generous clash of great forces.

On this particular occasion she kept me waiting for a few minutes, and
then darted into the room with an eager apology. She had just had, she
said, very bad news. Her second son, a soldier in India, had died
suddenly of fever, and the news had reached her only that morning. She
is a devoted mother, and she wept frankly and unashamedly as she told
me the sad details. Her grief was evidently deep and profound; and yet,
strange to say, I found myself realising that this event, entailing
peculiarly tragic consequences which I need not here define, was to the
gallant old lady, in spite of, or rather in consequence of, her grief,
a thing which heightened the values of existence, put a fire into her
pulses, and quickened the sense of living. It was not that she did not
feel the loss; she suffered acutely; but for all that, it was an
experience of a stirring kind, and her indomitable appetite for
sensation was fed and sustained by it. She was full of schemes for the
widow and children; she was melted with heart-felt grief for them; but
I perceived that she was in no way dejected by the experience; it
called all her powers, even the power of bearing grief, into play; and
the draining of the bitter cup was more congenial to her than inactive
monotony. It gave me a strong sense of her vitality, and I felt that it
was a really splendid thing to be able to approach a grief with this
fiery zest, rather than to collapse into a dreary and hysterical
depression. There were fifty things she could do, and she meant to do
them every one, and secretly exulted in the task. It was even, I felt,
a distinct pleasure to her to describe the melancholy circumstances of
the event in the fullest detail. It was not a pensive or luxurious
emotion, but a tumult of vehement feeling, bearing the bark of the soul
triumphantly along. She would have been distressed and even indignant
if I had revealed my thoughts; but the fact was there for all that;
instead of brooding or fretting over small affairs, she was face to
face with one of the great unanswerable, unfathomable facts of life,
and her spirit drank in the solemnity, the greatness of it, as a flower
after a drought drinks in the steady plunging rain.

I will not say that this is the secret of life; for it is a faculty of
temperament, and cannot be acquired. But I reflected how much finer and
stronger it was than my own tendency to be bewildered and cowed beneath
a robust stroke of fate. I felt that the thing one ought to aim at
doing was to look experience steadily in the face, whether sweet or
bitter, to interrogate it firmly, to grasp its significance. If one
cowers away from it, if one tries to distract and beguile the soul, to
forget the grief in feverish activity, well, one may succeed in dulling
the pain as by some drug or anodyne; but the lesson of life is thereby
deferred. Why should one so faint-heartedly persist in making choice of
experiences, in welcoming what is pleasant, what feeds our vanity and
self-satisfaction, what gives one, like the rich fool, the sense of
false security of goods stored up for the years? We are set in life to
feel insecure, or at all events to gain stability and security of soul,
not to prop up our failing and timid senses upon the pillows of wealth
and ease and circumstance. The man whom I entirely envy is the man who
walks into the dark valley of misfortune or sickness or grief, or the
shadow of death, with a curious and inexpressible zest for facing and
interrogating the presences that haunt the place. For a man who does
this, his memory is not like a land where he loves to linger upon the
sunlit ridges of happy recollection, but a land where in reflection he
threads in backward thought the dark vale, the miry road, the craggy
rift up which he painfully climbed; the optimism that hurries with
averted glance past the shadow is as false as the pessimism that
hurries timidly across the bright and flowery meadow. The more we
realise the immutability of our lot, the more grateful we become for
our pains as well as for our delights. If we have still lives to live
and regions to traverse, after our eyes close upon the world, those
lives and those regions may be, as we love to think, tracts of serener
happiness and more equable tranquillity. But if they be still a
mixture, such as we here endure, of pain and pleasure, then our aim
ought to be at all costs to learn the lesson of endurance; or rather,
if we hold firmly to the sense of law, minute, pervading, unalterable
law, to welcome every step we make in the direction of courage and
hopefulness. In the midst of atrocious sorrow and suffering there is no
sense so blessed as the sense that dawns upon the suffering heart that
it can indeed endure what it had represented to itself as unendurable,
and that however sharply it suffers, there is still an inalienable
residue of force and vitality which cannot be exhausted.


Such a perfect day: the sky cloudless; sunlight like pale gold or
amber; soft mists in the distance; a delicate air, gently stirred,
fresh, with no poisonous nip in it. I knew last night it would be fine,
for the gale had blown itself out, and when I came in at sunset the
chimneys and shoulders of the Hall stood out dark against the orange
glow. The beloved house seemed to welcome me back, and as I came across
the footpath, through the pasture, I saw in the brightly-lighted
kitchen the hands of some one whose face I could not see, in the golden
circle of lamplight, deftly moving, preparing something, for my use

Yet for all that I am ill at ease; and as I walked to-day, far and fast
in the sun-warmed lanes, my thoughts came yapping and growling round me
like a pack of curs--undignified, troublesome, vexatious thoughts; I
chase them away for a moment, and next moment they are snapping at my
heels. Experiences of a tragic quality, however depressing they may be,
have a vaguely sustaining power about them, when they close in, as the
fat bulls of Bashan closed in upon the Psalmist. There is no escape
then, and the matter is in the hands of God; but when many dogs have
come about one, one feels that one must try to deal with the situation
oneself; and that is just what one does not want to do.

What sort of dogs are they? Well, to-day they are things like this--an
angry letter from an old friend to whom something which I said about
him was repeated by a busybody. The thing was true enough, and it was
not wrong for me to say it; but that it should be repeated with a deft
and offensive twist to the man himself is the mischief. I cannot deny
that I said it, and I can only affirm its truth. Was it friendly to say
it? says my correspondent. Well, I don't think it was unfriendly as I
said it. It is the turn given to it that makes it seem injurious; and
yet I cannot deny that what has been repeated is substantially what I
said. Why did I not say it to him? he asks, instead of saying it to an
acquaintance. It might, he goes on, have been conceivably of some use
if I had said it to him, but it can be of no use for me to have said it
to a third person. I have no reply to this; it is perfectly true. But I
do not go in for pointing out my friends' faults to them, unless they
ask me to do so: and the remark in question was just one of those
hasty, unconsidered, sweeping little judgments that one does pass in
conversation about the action of a friend. One cannot--at least I
cannot--so order my conversation that if a casual criticism is repeated
without qualification to the person who is the subject of it, he may
not be pained by it. The repetition of it in all its nakedness makes it
seem deliberate, when it is not deliberate at all. I say in my reply
frankly that I admire, esteem, and love my friend, but that I do not
therefore admire his faults. I add that I do not myself mind my friends
criticising me, so long as they do not do it to my face. But I am aware
that, for all my frankness, I cut a poor figure in the matter. I
foresee a tiresome, useless correspondence, and a certain inevitable
coldness. Then, too, I must write a disagreeable letter to the man who
has repeated my criticism; and he will reply, quite fairly, that I
ought not to have said it if I did not mean it, and if I was not
prepared to stand by it. And he will be annoyed too, because he will
not see that he has done anything that he ought not to have done. I
shall say that I shall have for the future to be careful what I say to
him, and he will reply that he quite approves of my decision, and that
it is a pity I have not always acted on the same principle; and he will
have a detestable species of justice on his side.

Then there are other things as well. There is some troublesome legal
business, arising out of a quarrel between two relations of mine on a
question of some property. Whatever I decide, someone will be vexed. I
do not want to take any part in the matter at all, and the only reason
I do it is because I have been appealed to, and there does not seem to
be anyone else who will do it. This will entail a quantity of
correspondence and some visits to town, because of the passion that
people have for interviews, and because lawyers love delay, since it is
a profitable source of income to them. In this case the parties in the
dispute are women, and one cannot treat their requests with the same
bluntness that one treats the requests of men. "I should feel so much
more happy," one of them says, "if you could just run up and discuss
the matter with me; it is so much more satisfactory than a letter,"
This will be troublesome, it will take up time, it will be expensive,
and, as I say, I shall only succeed in vexing one of the claimants, and
possibly both.

Then, again, the widow of an old friend, lately dead, asks my advice
about publishing a book which her husband has left unfinished, I do not
think it is a very good book, and certainly not worth publishing on its
merits. But the widow feels it a sacred duty to give it to the world;
she seems, too, to regard it as a sacred duty for me, as a loyal
friend, to edit the book, fill up the gaps, and see it through the
press. Then I shall be held responsible for its publication, and the
reviewers will say that it is not worth the paper it is printed on--an
opinion I cannot honestly contest.

Another trial is that a young man, whom I do not know, but whose father
was a friend of mine in old days, writes to me to use my influence that
he should obtain an appointment. He says that he is just as well
qualified as a number of other applicants, and all that is needed is
that I should write a letter to an eminent man whom I know, which will
give him his chance, I hate to do this; I hate to use private
friendship in order that I may do jobs for my friends. If I do not
write the required letter, the young man will think me forgetful of the
old ties; if he does not obtain the appointment, he will blame me for
not acting energetically enough. If he does obtain it on my
recommendation, it may of course turn out all right; but if he does not
show himself fit for the post, I shall be rightly blamed for
recommending him on insufficient grounds; and in any case my eminent
friend will think me an importunate person.

I am busy just now on a book of my own, but all these things force me
to put my work aside, day after day. Even when I have some leisure
hours which I might devote to my own work, I cannot attain the
requisite serenity for doing it--cannot get these vexatious matters out
of my head; and there are other matters, too, of the same kind which I
need not further particularise.

Of course, it may be said that the knot is best cut by refusing to have
anything to do with any of these things. I suppose that if one was
strong-minded and resolute one would behave like Gallio, who drove the
disputants from his judgment-seat. But I have a tenderness for these
people, and a certain conscience in the matter, so that I do not feel
it would be right to refuse. Yet I do not quite know upon what basis I
feel that there is a duty about it. I do not undertake these tasks as a
Christian. The only precedent that I can find in the Gospel which bears
on the matter would seem to justify my refusing to have anything to do
with it all. When the two men came to Christ about a question of an
inheritance, he would not do what they asked him. He said, "Man, who
made me a judge or a divider between you?" Again, I do not do it as a
gentleman, because there is no question of personal honour involved. I
only do it, I think, because I do hot like refusing to do what I am
asked to do, because I wish to please people--a muddled sort of

But the whole question goes deeper than that. I suppose that tasks such
as these fall in the way of all human beings, whatever their motives
for undertaking them may be. How can one do them, and yet not let them
disturb one's tranquillity? The ordinary moralist says, "Do what you
think to be right, and never mind what people say or think." But
unfortunately I do mind very much. I hate coldnesses and
misunderstandings. They leave me with a sore and sensitive feeling
about my heart, which no amount of ingenious argument can take away. I
suppose that one ought to conclude that these things are somehow or
other good for one, that they train one in patience and wisdom. But
when, as is the case with all these episodes, the original dispute
ought never to have occurred; when the questions at issue are mean,
pitiful, and sordid; when, if the people concerned were only themselves
wise, patient, and kind, the situation would never have occurred, what
then? If my acquaintance, in the first case, had not taken a mean
pleasure in tale-bearing and causing pain, if in the second case my two
relatives had not been grasping and selfish, if in the third case my
friend's widow had not allowed her own sense of affection to supersede
her judgment, if in the fourth case my friend had been content to let
his merits speak for themselves instead of relying upon personal
influences, these little crises would never have occurred; it seems
unfair that the pain and discomfort of these paltry situations should
be transferred to the shoulders of one who has no particular personal
interest in the matter. Besides, I cannot honestly trace in my own case
the beneficial results of the process. These rubs only make me resolve
that in the future I will not have anything to do with such matters at
all. It is true that I shall not keep my resolution; but that does not
mend matters appreciably.

Moreover, instead of giving me a wholesome sense of hopefulness and
confidence, it only makes me feel acutely the dreary and sordid
elements which seem inextricably intermingled with life, which might
otherwise be calm, serene, and beautiful. I do not see that any of the
people concerned are the better for any of the incidents which have
occurred--indeed, I think that they are all the worse for them. It is
not encouraging or inspiring to have the meanness and pettiness of
human nature brought before one, and to feel conscious of one's own
weakness and feebleness as well. Some sorrows and losses purge, brace,
and strengthen. Such trials as these stain, perplex, enfeeble.

The immediate result of it all is that the work which I can do and
desire to do, and which, if anything, I seem to have been sent into the
world to do, is delayed and hindered. No good can come out of the
things which I am going to spend the hours in trying to mend. Neither
will any of the people concerned profit by my example in the matter,
because they will only have their confidence in my judgment and
amiability diminished.

And so I walk, as I say, along the sandy lanes, with the fresh air and
the still sunlight all about me, kept by my own unquiet heart from the
peace that seems to be all about me within the reach of my hand. The
sense of God's compassion for his feeble creatures does not help me;
how can he compassionate the littleness for which he is himself
responsible? It is at such moments that God seems remote, careless,
indifferent, occupied in his own designs; strong in his ineffable
strength, leaving the frail and sensitive creatures whom he has made,
to whom he has given hopes and dreams too large for their feeble nerves
and brains, to stumble onwards over vale and hill without a comforting
smile or a sustaining hand. Would that I could feel otherwise! He gives
us the power of framing an ideal of hopefulness, peace, sweetness, and
strength; and then he mocks at our attempts to reach them. I do not ask
to see every step of the road plainly; I only long to know that we are
going forwards, and not backwards, I must submit, I know; but I cannot
believe that he only demands a tame and sullen submission; rather he
must desire that I should face him bravely and fearlessly, in hope and
confidence, as a loving and beloved son.


How often in sermons we are exhorted to effort! How rarely are we told
precisely how to begin! How glibly it is taken for granted that we are
all equally capable of it. Yet energy itself is a quality, a gift of
temperament. The man who, like Sir Richard Grenville, says "Fight on,"
when there is nothing left to fight with or to fight for, except that
indefinable thing honour, or the man who, like Sir Andrew Barton, says:

"I'll but lie down and bleed awhile,
And then I'll rise and fight again;"--

they are people of heroic temper, and cannot be called a common
species. "Do the next thing," says the old motto. But what if the next
thing is one of many, none of them very important, and if at the same
time one has a good book to read, a warm fire to sit by, an amusing
friend to talk to? "He who of such delights can judge, and spare to
interpose them oft, is not unwise," says Milton. Most of us have a
certain amount of necessary work to do in the world, and it can by no
means be regarded as established that we are also bound to do
unnecessary work. Supposing that one's heart is overflowing with mercy,
compassion, and charity, there are probably a hundred channels in which
the stream can flow; but that is only because a good many hearts have
no such abounding springs of love; and thus there is room for the
philanthropist; but if all men were patient, laborious, and
affectionate, the philanthropist's gifts would find comparatively
little scope for their exercise; there might even be a _queue_ of
benevolent people waiting for admission to any house where there was
sickness or bereavement. Moreover, all sufferers do not want to be
cheered; they often prefer to be left alone; and to be the compulsory
recipient of the charity you do not require is an additional burden. A
person who is always hungering and thirsting to exercise a higher
influence upon others is apt to be an unmitigated bore. The thing must
be given if it is required, not poured over people's heads, as
Aristophanes says, with a ladle. To be ready to help is a finer quality
than to insist on helping, because, after all, if life is a discipline,
the aim is that we have to find the way out of our troubles, not that
we should be lugged and hauled through them, "bumped into paths of
peace," as Dickens says. Just as justice requires to be tempered by
mercy, so energy requires to be tempered by inaction. But the
difficulty is for the indolent, the dreamy, the fastidious, the loafer,
the vagabond. Energy is to a large extent a question of climate and
temperament. What of the dwellers in a rich and fertile country, where
a very little work will produce the means of livelihood, and where the
temperature does not require elaborate houses, carefully warmed, or
abundance of conventional clothing? A dweller in Galilee at the time of
the Christian era, a dweller in Athens at the time of Socrates--it was
possible for each of these to live simply and comfortably without any
great expenditure of labour; does morality require that one should work
harder than one need for luxuries that one does not want? Neither our
Lord nor Socrates seems to have thought so. Our Lord himself went about
teaching and doing good; but there is no evidence that he began his
work before he was thirty, and he interposed long spaces of reflection
and solitude. If the Gospel of work were to be paramount, he would have
filled his days with feverish energy; but from the beginning to the end
there is abundance of texts and incidents which show that he thought
excessive industry rather a snare than otherwise. He spoke very sternly
of the bad effect of riches. He told his disciples not to labour for
perishable things, not to indulge anxiety about food and raiment, but
to live like birds and flowers; he rebuked a bustling, hospitable
woman--he praised one who preferred to sit and hear him talk. His whole
attitude was to encourage reflection rather than philanthropy, to
invite people to think and converse about moral principles rather than
to fling themselves into mundane activities. There is far more
justification in the Gospel for a life of kindly and simple leisure
than there is for what may be called a busy and successful career. The
Christian is taught rather to love God and to be interested in his
neighbour than to love respectability and to make a fortune. Indeed, to
make a fortune on Christian lines is a thing which requires a somewhat
sophistical defence.

And thus the old theory of accepting salvation rather than working for
it is based not so much upon the theory that in the presence of
absolute and infinite perfection there is little difference between the
life of the entirely virtuous and the entirely vicious man, as upon the
fact that if one's limitations of circumstance and heredity are the
gift of God, one's salvation must be his gift also. We do not know to
what extent our power of choice and our freedom of action is limited;
it is quite obvious that it is to a certain extent limited by causes
over which we have no control, and it is therefore best to trust God
entirely in the matter, and to acquit him of injustice, if we can,
though it must be a hard matter for the innocent child who is the
victim of his ancestor's propensities to believe that the best has been
done for him that it was possible to do.

And thus the question of effort is not a simple one, though it may be
said roughly that as every one's ideal is at all events somewhat higher
than his practice, it is a plain duty to make one's practice conform a
little closer to one's ideal.

Sometimes one is bewildered by the sight of men who seem to have all
the material for a good and useful and happy life ready to hand, but
who yet attempt the wrong things, or are pushed into attempting them,
by not taking the measure of their powers. Of course, there is a great
nobleness about people who ardently undertake the impossible; but what
can one make of the people, and they are very numerous, who have not
the ardent quality in their souls? Is it possible to become ardent even
if one does not happen to admire the quality? I fear not. But what
ought to be possible for every one is to arrive at a sort of harmony of
life, to have definite things that they want to do, definite regions in
which they desire to advance. The people whom it is hard to fit into
any scheme of benevolent creation are the vague, insignificant,
drifting people, whose only rooted tendency is to do whatever is
suggested to them. One who like myself has been a schoolmaster knows
that the danger of school life is not that the wicked are numerous, but
the weak; the boys who have little imagination, little prudence, and
who cannot summon up an instinctive motive to protect them against
yielding to any temptation that may fall in their way. These are the
people who get so little sympathy and encouragement. Their stronger
companions use them and despise them, treating them as a convenient
audience, as the Greek heroes in the _Iliad_ treated the feeble,
sheep-like soldiers, who ran hither and thither on the field of battle,
well-meaning, ineffective, "strengthless heads." The brisk and virtuous
master bullies them, calls them bolsters and puddings, loafers and
ne'er-do-weels. What wonder if they do not easily discern their place
in the scheme of things! Indeed, if it were not for tender fathers and
mothers who believe in them and encourage them, their lot would be
intolerable. How is such a boy to make an effort? His work wearies and
puzzles him--it does not seem to lead him anywhere; he has no gift for
games; he is neither amusing nor attractive; he gets no credit for
anything, and indeed he deserves none; he ought really to be in a kind
of moral sanatorium, guarded, guided, encouraged by wise and faithful
and compassionate pastors. The worst feature of school life is that if
it fortifies characters with some vigour about them, it implies that
others must inevitably go under and be turned out moral and mental
failures. It is the way of the world, says the philosopher, rough
justice! It may be justice, but it is certainly rough; and I look
forward to the time when we educators of the present generation will be
considered incredibly hard-hearted, unconscientious, immoral, for
acquiescing so contentedly in the ruthless sacrifice of the weak to the
culture of the strong.

Ought we then, it may be asked, to decide that if people are incapable
of sustained effort, no effort is to be expected of them? Are we to
decline upon a genial determinism, and to sweep away all belief in
moral responsibility? No! because even if we are determinists, we have
to take into account the fact that society does for some reason
advance. When we consider the fact that the rightness of humanitarian
principles, of anti-slavery movements, of popular education, of Factory
Acts, of public hospitals is universally admitted; when we compare the
current principles of the nineteenth-century man with the current
principles, say, of the fourteenth-century man, it is plain that there
has been a remarkable rise of the moral temperature, and that our
optimistic view of progress is a rational one.

The ordinary person is to-day quite as strongly convinced of the rights
of other men as he is of their duties; and thus the determinist is
bound to confess that there is an ameliorating and humanising principle
at work, if not in the world at large, at least in the Western races.
It is inconsistent to acquiesce in faulty practice and not to acquiesce
in the growth of ideals, even though one may believe that the advance
is due to some external cause and is not self-developed. If performance
is always more or less straining after the ideal, the determinist is
justified in expecting a higher standard of performance, and his
fatalism may take the direction of removing the obstacles to further
improvement. But in dealing with individuals the moralist does well to
temper his hopes with a wise determinism, and not to be too much cast
down if one to whom he has made clear the disastrous effects of
yielding to temptation cannot at once harmonise his purpose and his
practice. If it were true, as too many preachers take for granted, that
we have all, whatever our difference of physical and mental equipment,
an equal sense of moral responsibility, the result would be to plunge
us into hopeless pessimism. The question is whether the moralist is
justified in pretending, for the sake of the effort that it may
produce, to the victim of some moral weakness, that he really has the
power of conquering his fault. He may say to himself, "Some people have
the power of self-mastery, and it is better to assume that all have,
because it tends to produce a greater effort than if one merely tries
to console a moral weakling for his deficiencies." But this is a
dangerous and casuistical path to tread.

It may be justified perhaps on the medical theory that if you tell a
man he will get well, even if you consider him to be doomed, he is more
likely to get well than if you tell him that you consider him to be
doomed. But it is surely wrong to display no more moral indignation in
the case of a vigorous person who has perversely indulged some
temptation which he might have resisted, than in the case of one who is
hampered by inheritance with a violent predisposition to moral evil.
Even the most ardent moralist ought to be true to what he knows to be
the truth. The method of Christ seems here again to differ from the
method of the Christian teacher. Christ reserved his denunciations for
the complacency of virtuous people. We do not see him rebuking the
sinner; his rebukes are rather heaped upon the righteous. He seems to
have had nothing but compassion for the sins that brought their own
obvious punishment, and to have been indignant only with the sins that
brought material prosperity with them. He treated the outcast as his
friend, the respectable as his enemy. He seems to have held that sin at
least taught people to make allowances, to forgive, to love, and that
this was the nearest way to the Father's heart. Christ was very
critical, and relentlessly exposed those of whom he disapproved, but he
was never critical of weakness.

But, we may say, the moral principles which we have won with such
difficulty will collapse and fail if we do not make a resolute stand
against gross faults and strike at them wherever they show their heads.
It is true that we have not got on very fast, but may it not be that we
have mistaken the right method? Perhaps we should have got on faster still
if we had reserved our indignation for the right things--self-satisfaction,
complacency, injustice, cruelty. What we have done is to fight against
the faults of the weak, against the faults of which no defence is
possible, rather than against the faults of the strong, who can resent
and revenge themselves for our criticism. Christ himself seems not to
have been afraid of the sins of the flesh, but to have shown his
severity rather against the sins of the world. Would it be rash to
follow his example? We can all see the havoc wrought by impurity and
intemperance, and there are plenty of rich respectable people, chaste
and moderate by instinct, who are ready to join in what are called
crusades against them. But as long as sins do not menace health or
prosperity or comfort, we easily and glibly condone them. As long as
Christian teachers pursue wealth and preferment, indulge ambition, seek
the society of the respectable, practise pharisaical virtues, we are
not likely to draw much nearer to the ideals of Christ.


There is one step of supreme importance from which a man must not
shrink, however difficult it may seem to be; and that is to search and
probe the depths of his soul, that he may find out what it is that he
really and deeply and whole-heartedly and instinctively loves and
admires and desires. Without this first step no progress is possible or
conceivable, because whatever external revelations of God there may be,
through nature, through beauty, through work, through love, there is
always a direct and inner revelation from God to every individual soul;
and, strange as it may appear, this is not always easy to discern,
because of the influences, the ideas, the surroundings that have been
always at work upon us, moulding us, for good and for evil, from our
earliest days. We have been told that we ought to admire this and
desire that, until very often our own inspiration, our true life, has
been clumsily obscured. All these conventional beliefs we must discard;
we may indeed resolve that it is better in some cases to comply with
them to a certain extent for the sake of tranquillity, if they are
widely accepted in the society in which we live; that is to say, we may
decide to abstain from certain things which we do not believe to be
wrong, because the world regards them as being wrong, and because to be
misunderstood in such things may damage our relations with others.
Thus, to use a familiar instance, we might think it unjust that a
landowner should be permitted by the State to have the sole right of
fishing in a certain river, and though one's conscience would not in
the least rebuke one for fishing in that river, one might abstain from
doing so because of the inconvenience which might ensue. Or, again, if
society considers a certain practice to be morally meritorious, one
might acquiesce in performing it even though one disbelieved in its
advisability; thus a man might believe that a marriage ceremony was a
meaningless thing, and that mutual love was a far higher consecration
than the consecration of a priest; and yet he might rightly acquiesce
in having his own wedding celebrated according to the rites of a
particular church, for the sake of compliance with social traditions,
and because no principle was involved in his standing out against it,
or even because he thought it a seemly and beautiful thing. The only
compliance which is immoral is the compliance with a practice which one
believes to be immoral and which yet is sanctioned by society. Thus if
a man believes hunting to be immoral, he must not take part in it for
the sake of such enjoyment as he may find in it, or for the sake of
friendly intercourse, simply because no penalty awaits him for doing
what he knows to be wrong.

The only criterion in the matter is this: one must ask oneself what are
the things that one is ashamed of doing, the things for which, when
done, one's own conscience smites one in secret, even if they are
accompanied by no social penalty whatever, even if they are forgiven
and forgotten. These are not the things which one would simply dislike
others to know that one has done. One might fear the condemnation of
others, even though one did not believe that a particular act was in
itself wrong; because of the misunderstandings and vexation and grief
and derision that the knowledge of one's action might create. To take
an absurd instance, a man might think it pleasant and even beneficial
to sit or walk naked in the open air; but it would not be worth his
while to do it, because he would be thought eccentric and indecent.
There would be people who would condemn it as immoral; but it is not
our duty, unless we believe it to be so, to convert others to a simpler
kind of morality in wholly indifferent matters.

The sort of offences for which conscience condemns one, but to which no
legal penalty is attached, are things like petty cruelty, unnecessary
harshness, unkindness, introducing innocent people to evil thoughts and
ideas, disillusioning others, disappointing them. A man may do these
things and not only not be thought the worse of for them, but may
actually be thought the better of, as a person of spirit and manliness;
but if for any motive whatever, or even out of the strange duality of
nature that besets us, he yields to these things, then he is living by
the light of conventional morality and quenching his inner light, as
deliberately as if he blew out for mere wantonness a lantern in a dark
and precipitous place.

But if a man, looking narrowly and nearly into his own soul, says to
himself in perfect candour, I do not desire truth; I do not admire
self-sacrifice; I do not wish to be loved; I only wish to be healthy
and rich and popular: what then? What if he says to himself in entire
frankness that the only reason why he admires what are called virtues
is because there seem to be enough people in the world to admire them
to add to his credit if such virtues are attributed to him--what of his
case? Well, I would have him look closer yet and see if there is not
perhaps someone in the world, a mother, a sister, a child, whom he
loves with an unselfish love, whom he would willingly please if he
could, and would forbear to grieve though he could gain nothing by
doing so or abstaining from doing so. I do not honestly think that
there is any living being who would not discover this minimum of
disinterestedness in his spirit, and upon this slender foundation he
must try to build, for upon no other basis than genuine and native
truth can any life be built at all.

But as a rule, in most hearts, however hampered by habit and material
desires, there is a deep-seated desire to be worthier and better. And
all who discern such a desire in their hearts should endeavour to fan
it into flame, should warm their shivering hands at it, should frame it
as a constant aspiration, should live as far as possible with the
people and the books and the art which touches that frail desire into
life and makes them feel their possibilities. They may fail a thousand
times; but for all that, this is the seed of hope and love, the tree of
life that grows in the midst of the garden. God will not let any of us
stay where we are, and yet the growth and progress must be our own. We
may delay it and hamper it, but we yet may dare to hope that through
experiences we cannot imagine, through existences we cannot foresee,
that little seed may grow into a branching tree, and fill the garden
with shade and fragrance.

But if we are indeed desirous to do better, to grow in grace, and yet
feel ourselves terribly weak and light-minded, what practical steps can
we take to the goal that we see far off? The one thing that we can do
in moments of insight is to undertake some little responsibility which
we shall be ashamed to discard. We can look round our circle, and it
will be strange if we cannot find at least one person whom we can help;
and the best part of assuming such a responsibility is that it tends to
grow and ramify; but in any case there is surely one person whom we can
relieve, or encourage, or listen to, or make happier; if we can find
the strength to come forward, to lead such a one to depend upon us, we
shall have little inclination to desert or play false one whom we have
encouraged to trust us. And thus we can take our first trembling step
out of the mire.


It is an error either to glorify or degrade the body. If we worship it
or pamper it, when it fails us, we are engulfed and buried in its
ruins; if we misuse it, and we can misuse it alike by obeying it and
disregarding it, it becomes our master and tyrant, or it fails us as an
instrument. We must regard it rather as our prison, serving us for
shelter and security, to be kept as fair and wholesome and cleanly as
may be. When we are children, we are hardly conscious of it--or rather
we are hardly conscious of anything else; in youth and maturity we are
perhaps conscious of its joy and strength; but even so we must also at
times be sadly aware that it is indeed the body of our humiliation; we
must be aware of its dishonour, its uncleanly processes, its ugliness
and feebleness, its slothfulness and perversity. There are times when
the soul sighs to think of itself as chained to a sort of brute; it
tugs at its chain, it snaps and growls, it tears and rends us; at
another time it is content and serviceable; at another it grows spent
and faint, and keeps the soul loitering, heart-sick and reluctant, on
its pilgrimage.

But when once we have perceived the truth, that the body is not
ourselves, but the habitation of the soul, we can make it into an
instrument of our development. We can curb it when it is headstrong, we
can goad it when it is indolent, and when it fails and thwarts us, as
sooner or later it must do to all of us, the soul can sit beside it,
neither heeding it nor compassionating it, but just triumphing over it
in hope and patience.

There are seasons in the lives of most of us when the soul is full of
zeal and insight, when it would like to work joyfully, to cheer and
console and help others, to utter its song of praise, to make a happy
stir in the world, when the body is morose and feeble and ill at ease,
checks our work and utterance, makes us timid when we should be bold,
and mournful when we wish to be amiable and genial; but these are the
very hours when the soul grows most speedily and surely, if we do not
allow the body to check and restrain us; we must perhaps husband its
resources, but we can stifle our complaints, we can be brave and
cheerful and kind.

And even if the disasters of the body have been in a sense our own
fault; if we have lived prodigally and carelessly, either yielding to
base desires or recklessly overworking and overstraining the mortal
frame, for however high a motive, we can still triumph if we never
yield for a moment to regret or remorse, but accept the conditions
humbly and quietly, using such strength as we have to the uttermost.
For here lies one of our strongest delusions, our belief in our own
effectiveness. God's concern with each of us is direct and individual;
the influences and personalities he brings us into contact with are all
of his designing; and we may be sure of this, that God will make us
just as effective as he intends, and that we are often more effective
in silence and dejection than we are in activity and courage. We mourn
faithlessly over lives cut short, activity suspended, promise
unfulfilled; but we may be sure that in every case God is dealing
faithfully with each soul, and using it as an instrument as far as it
is fitted to be used; and thus for an active man disabled by illness to
mourn over his wasted power is a grievous mistake, and no less a
mistake to mourn over the unprofitableness of our lives, for they have
been as profitable as God willed them to be. We can only be profitable
to those for contact with whom God has prepared both them and us; and
thus our duty in the matter is not to indulge in any anticipations of
what our body may be able to do or unable to do, but simply to
undertake what seems our plain duty; and then we shall find that the
body can often do more than we could have imagined, and especially if
it be directed by a tranquil mind; and if it fails us, that very
failure is but the pressure of God's hand upon our shoulder, saying,
"Continue in weakness and be not dismayed." If it is an error to
increase our own limitations, it is equally an error not to give heed
to them and to profit by them; and, after all, the body is more apt to
rebel in carrying out the duties we dislike than in enjoying the
pleasures on which we have set our mind. The real reason of our
faithlessness is that we are so apt to look upon the one life in which
we find ourselves as our only chance of expression and effectuation. If
it were so, it would matter little what we did or said, if the soul is
to be extinguished as a blown-out flame when the body is mingled with
the dust.

I stood once upon the deck of a ship watching a shoal of porpoises
following us and racing round us: every now and then the brown, sleek,
shining bodies of the great creatures rose from the blue waves and
entered them again with a soft plunge. Our life is like that: we rise
for an instant into the light of life, we fall again beneath the waves;
but all the while the soul pursues her real track unseen and
unsuspected, as the gliding sea-beast cuts the green ocean twilight, or
wanders among rocks and hidden slopes fringed with the branching
ribbons, the delicate tangles of brine-fed groves.


Religion, as it is often taught and practised, has a dangerous tendency
to become a merely mechanical and conventional thing. Worse still, it
may even become a delusion, either when it is made an end in itself, or
when it is regarded as a solution of all mysteries. The religious life
is a vocation for some, just as the artistic life is a vocation for
others, but it is not to be hoped or even desired that all should
embrace and follow the religious vocation; it is just one of the paths
to God, neither more nor less; and the mistake that the technically
religious make is to regard it as a kind of life that is or ought to be
universal. One who has the vocation is right to follow it, but he is
not right to force it upon others, any more than an artist would be
right in forcing the artistic life on others. It is too commonly held
by the religious that formal worship is a necessity for all; they
compare the relation of worship to the spiritual life to the relation
of eating and drinking to the physical life. But this is not true of
all human beings. Public liturgical worship is a kind of art, a very
delicate and beautiful art; and just as the appeal of what is spiritual
comes to some through worship, it comes to others through art, or
poetry, or affection, or even through some kinds of action. There is no
hint that Christ laid any stress on liturgical or public worship at
all; he attended the synagogue, and went up to Jerusalem to the
sacrifices; but he nowhere laid it down as a duty, or reproached those
who did not practise it. He spoke vehemently of the practice of prayer,
but recommended that it should be made as secret as possible; he chose
a social meal for his chief rite, and the act of washing as his
secondary rite. He did indeed warn his followers very sternly against
the dangers of formalism; he never warned them against the danger of
neglecting rites and ceremonies. On the other hand, it may be
confidently stated that when religious worship has become a customary
social act, a man who sympathises with the religious idea is right to
show public sympathy with it; he ought to weigh very carefully his
motives for abstaining. If it is indolence, or a fear of being thought
precise, or a desire to be thought independent, or a contempt for
sentiment that keeps him back, he is probably in the wrong; nothing but
a genuine and deep-seated horror of formalism justifies him in
protesting against a practice which is to many an avenue of the
spiritual life. A lack of sympathy with certain liturgical expressions,
a fear of being hypocritical, of being believed to hold the orthodox
position in its entirety, justifies a man in not entering the ministry
of the Church, even if he desires on general grounds to do so, but
these are paltry motives for cutting oneself off from communion with
believers. It is clear that Christ himself thought many of the orthodox
practices of the exponents of the popular religion wrong, but he did
not for that reason abjure attendance upon accustomed rites; and it is
far more important to show sympathy with an idea, even if one does not
agree with all the details, than to seem, by protesting against
erroneous detail, to be out of sympathy with the idea. The mistake is
when a man drifts into thinking of ceremonial worship as a practice
specially and uniquely dear to God; every practice by which the
spiritual principle is asserted above the material principle is dear to
God, and a man who reads a beautiful poem and is thrilled with a desire
for purity, goodness, and love thereby, is a truer worshipper of the
Spirit than a man who mutters responses in a prescribed posture without
deriving any inspiration from them.

The essence of religion is to desire to draw near to God, to receive
the Spirit of God. It does not in the least degree matter how the
individual expresses that essential truth. He may love some consecrated
rite as being pure and beautiful, or even because other hearts have
loved it,--the rite is permitted, not commanded by God--he may express
God by terms of co-equality and consubstantiality, and even desire to
proclaim such expressions, in concert with like-minded persons, to the
harmonies of an organ, so long as it uplifts him in spirit; but such a
man falls into a grievous error when he vilifies or condemns others for
not seeing as he does, or enunciates that thus and thus only can a man
apprehend God. The more firmly that a Church holds the necessity of
what is unessential, the more it diverges from the Spirit of Christ.

It is by the essentials that we live and make progress. The man who
apprehends such a statement of doctrine as the Athanasian creed
affords, as a sweet and gracious mystery, thereby draws nearer to God.
But if he goes further and says, "The essence of my finding inspiration
in any particular creed is that I should believe it to be absolutely
and literally true, and that all outside it are thieves and robbers, or
at the best ignorant and misguided persons," then he stumbles at the
very outset. His own belief is probably true in the sense that the
truth doubtless transcends and embraces all spiritual light hopefully
discerned; but the moment that a man condemns those who do not exactly
agree with himself, he sins against the Spirit. Is it not a ghastly and
inconceivable thought that Christ should have authorised that men
should be brought to the light by persecution? Or that any of his words
could be so foully distorted as to lend the least excuse to such a
principle of action? It matters not what kind of persecution is
employed, whether it be mental or physical. The essence is that men
should so apprehend God as to desire to draw nearer to him, and that
they should be goaded or coerced or terrified into submission is

The true worshipper is the man who at no specified place or time, but
as naturally as he breathes or sleeps, opens his heart to God and prays
for holy influences to guard and guide him. There are some who have a
quickened sense of fellowship and unity, when such prayers and
aspirations are uttered in concert; but the error is to desire merely
the bodily presence of one's fellow-creatures for such a purpose,
rather than their mental and spiritual acquiescence. The result of such
a desire is that it is often taught, or at all events believed, that
there is a kind of merit in the attendance at public worship. The only
merit of it lies in the case of those who sacrifice a personal
disinclination to the desire to testify sympathy for the religious
life. It is no more meritorious for those who personally enjoy it, than
it is for a lover of pictures to go to a picture-gallery, for thus the
hunger of the spirit is satisfied.

It would be better, perhaps, if it were frankly realised and recognised
that it is a special taste, a peculiar vocation. It would be better if
those who loved liturgical worship desired only the companionship of
like-minded people; better still if it were recognised that there is no
necessary connection between liturgical worship and morality at all,
except in so far that all pure spiritual instincts are on the side of
morality. But so far from holding it to be a duty for a man to protest
against the importance attached to worship by liturgically-minded
people, I should hold it to be a duty for all spiritually-minded men to
show as much active sympathy as they can for a practice which is to
many persons a unique and special channel of spiritual grace.

It is not the business of those who are enlightened to protest against
conventional things, unless those conventions obscure and distort the
truth. It is rather their duty to fall in with the existing framework
of life, and live as simply and faithfully inside it as they can. To
myself the plainest service is beautiful and uplifting, if it obviously
evokes the spiritual ardour of the worshippers; and, on the other hand,
a service in some majestic church, consecrated by age and tradition and
association, and enriched by sacred art and heart-thrilling music,
appeals as purely and graciously as anything in the world to my
spiritual instinct. But I would frankly realise that to some such
ceremonies appear merely as unmeaning and uninspiring; and the presence
of such people is a mere discord in the harmony of sweetness.

The one essential thing is that we should desire to draw near to God,
that we should faithfully determine by what way and in what manner we
can approach him best, and that we should pursue that path as
faithfully and as quietly as we can.


It is Good Friday to-day. This morning I wandered through a clean,
rain-washed world; among budding hedges, making for the great Cathedral
towers that loom across the flat. It was noon when I passed through the
little streets. Entering the great western portals, I found the huge
Cathedral all lit by shafts of golden sunshine. There was a little
company of worshippers under the central lantern; and a grave and
dignified priest, with a tender sympathy of mien, solemnly vested, was
leading the little throng through the scenes of the Passion. I sate for
a long time among the congregation; and what can I say of the message
there delivered? It was subtle and serious enough, full of refinement
and sweetness, but it seemed to me to have little or nothing to do with
life. I will not here go into the whole of the teaching that I
heard--but it was for me all vitiated by one thought. The preacher
seemed to desire us to feel that the sad and wasted form of the
Redeemer, hanging in his last agony on the cross among the mocking
crowd, was conscious at once of his humanity and his Divinity. But the
thought is meaningless and inconceivable to me. If he was conscious
then of his august origin and destiny, if he knew that, to use a
material metaphor enough, he would shortly pass through lines of
kneeling angels amid triumphant pealing music to the very Throne and
Heart of God, the sufferings of his Passion can have been as nothing.
There is no touch of example or help for me in the scene. Even the
despairing cry, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" becomes a
piece of unworthy drama; and yet if one presses the words of Jesus, and
remembers that he had said but a few short hours before that he had but
to speak the word, and legions of angels were at hand to succour him,
it is impossible to resist the feeling that he knew who he was and
whither he was bound. I do not say that the thesis is untrue; I only
say that if he knew the truth, then there is no medicine in his
sufferings for human despair.

The preacher seemed to feel the difficulty dimly, for he fell back upon
the thought that the agony was caused by Christ's bearing the load of
the world's sin. But here again I felt that, after all, sin must have
been in a sense permitted by God. If God is omnipotent and
all-embracing, no amount of freewill in man could enable him to choose
what was not there already in the Mind of God.

And then, too, the lesson of science is that man is slowly struggling
upwards out of his bestial inheritance into purity and light; and thus
if a man can inherit evil from evil progenitors by the law of God, he
is not a free agent in the matter; and it thus becomes a piece of sad
impiety, or worse, to say that it was inconceivable agony to God to
bear the sins which his own awful law perpetuated.

And to go deeper, what did the sacrifice effect? It effected no instant
change in the disposition of man; it appears to me to be a dark
profanity to believe that the human death of Christ effected any change
in the purpose and Love of God to the world. That God should come
himself on earth to die, in order that he might thereafter regard the
human race more mercifully, seems to me, if it were true, to be a
helpless piece of metaphysical jugglery. If that were true of God,
there is nothing that I could not believe of him.

And so the words of the preacher, a man, as I knew, of faithful energy
and unbroken prosperity of virtue, brought me no more hint of the truth
than did the voice of a hidden dove which cooed contentedly in the
stillness in some sun-warmed window of the clerestory. Dove and
preacher alike had lived secure and contented lives under the shadow of
the great Church, and equally, no doubt, if unconsciously, approved of
the system which made such tranquil lives possible.

Once, it seemed to me, the human accent broke urgently through, when
the preacher spoke of dark hours of spiritual dryness, when the soul
seemed shut out from God--"When we know," he said in heart-felt tones,
"that the Love of God is all about us, but we cannot enter into it; it
seems to be outside of us." Had he indeed suffered thus, this
courteous, kindly priest? I felt that he had, and that he was one of
the sorrowful fellowship.

One word he said that dwells with me, that "Faith overleaps all visible
horizons." That was a golden thought; so that as I walked back in the
cool of the afternoon, and saw the prodigious plain stretch on all
hands, and thought how strangely my own tiny life was limited and
bound, I felt that the message of Christ was a mysterious trust, an
undefined hope; not a mechanical process of forgiveness and atonement,
but an assurance that there is something in the world which calls
lovingly to the soul, and that while we stretch out yearning hands and
desirous hearts to that, we are indeed very near to the unknown Mind of


I have often wondered how it has come about that Job has become
proverbial for patience. I suppose that it has arisen out of the verse
in the Epistle of St. James about the patience of Job; but, like the
passage in the Book of Numbers which attributes an extreme meekness to
Moses, it seems to me to be either a very infelicitous description, or
else a case where both adjectives have shifted their meaning. Moses is
notable for an almost fiery vehemence of character, and the punishment
that was laid upon him was the outcome of a display of intemperate
wrath. Just as we associate meekness with the worm that never turns, so
the typically patient animal is the ass who is too phlegmatic to resent
the most unjust chastisement, and ready to accommodate itself to the
most overtaxing burdens. But Job is the very opposite of this; he
endures, because there is no way out; but he never for a moment
acquiesces in the justice of his affliction, and his complaints are
both specific and protracted. He does not even display any very
conspicuous fortitude under his afflictions. He is not indomitable so
much as persistent. He is rather stubbornly self-righteous. It could
not, of course, be otherwise, for the essence of the situation is that
the sufferer should be aware that his deeds do not deserve punishment,
and that the sufferings he endures should be permitted in order that
his faith in God as well as his faith in his own integrity should be

The truth is that the word patience is used in English in a double
sense; it is applied to a sort of unreasoning stupidity, which accepts
suffering and pain without adding to it by imaginative comparison; such
patience knows nothing of the pain of which Dante speaks, the pain of
contrasting present unhappiness with past delight; and similarly, it
does not suffer the pangs of anticipation, the terrors of which Lord
Beaconsfield spoke, when he said that the worst calamities in his life
were the calamities which never happened. Nine-tenths of the misery of
suffering lies in the power of forecasting its continuance and its
increase, and the lesser patience of which I have spoken is the
patience which, by no effort of reason, but by pure instinct, hears the
burden of the moment in the spirit of the proverb that "sufficient for
the day is the evil thereof."

But there is a nobler and a purer quality of patience which is perhaps
one of the highest and most hopeful attributes of humanity, because it
is nurtured in so strong a soil, and watered with the dew of tears;
this is a certain tranquil, courageous, and unembittered sweetness in
the presence of an irreparable calamity, which is in its very essence
divine, and preaches more forcibly the far-reaching permanence of the
spiritual clement in mankind than a thousand rhapsodies and panegyrics
extolling human ingenuity and human greatness. Mankind has a deeply
rooted and childlike instinct that apology and repentance ought to be
met with the suspension of pains and penalties, and the hardest lesson
in the world to learn is that guilt may be forgiven, but that the
consequences of guilt may yet have to be endured. When we have really
learnt that, we are indeed perfected. St. Peter in one of his epistles
says that it is less creditable to be patient when one is buffeted for
one's faults than when one suffers for one's virtues. I fear that I
cannot agree with this. One may be convinced of the justice of a
sentence, but the more one is convinced of it, the more does one regret
the course of conduct that made the sentence necessary. The sinner who
suffers for his sin bears not only the pain of the punishment but also
the sense of shame and self-condemnation. The good man who suffers for
his goodness does indeed have to bear the burden of an awful mystery, a
doubt whether God is indeed on the side of the righteous; but he is not
crushed beneath the additional burden of self-contempt, he has not the
humiliating sense of folly and weakness which the transgressor has to
bear; and thus it so often happens that the well-meaning transgressor
is slow to learn the lesson of patience, because he takes refuge in a
vague sort of metaphysics, and attributes to heredity and environment
what is really the outcome of his own wilfulness and perversity.

But the true patience, whatever the cause of its sufferings, brings
with it a blessed sense of the faithful sternness, the fruitful
lovingness of God, who will not let even the feeblest of sinners be
satisfied with less than he can attain, in whose hands the punishment,
like fire, runs swiftly and agonisingly to and fro, consuming the baser
elements of passion and desire.


I am quite sure that I like solitude. There is no pleasure in the world
like waking up in the morning and feeling that absolutely the whole day
is at one's disposal; that one can work when one likes, go out when it
is fine, have one's meals when one prefers, even when one is hungry.
There is no one near enough to drop in, in this blissful corner of the
world, and a caller is a rare bird. I have too much to do ever to be
bored, and indeed the day is seldom long enough for all I have
designed. Best of all, my work, though abundant, is seldom pressing. I
have hardly ever anything to do that must be done that moment. With
some people that would end in putting off everything till the last
moment, but that is not the case with me. The greatest luxury I know is
to have accumulated stores of work on which one can draw; and my
tendency is, if ever a piece of work is entrusted to me, to do it at
once. I have few gregarious instincts, I suppose. I like eating alone,
reading alone, and walking alone. There is also a good deal to be said
for learning to enjoy solitude, for it is the one luxury that a man
without any close home ties can command. An independent bachelor is
sure, whether he likes it or not, to have, as life goes on, more and
more enforced solitude--that is, if he detests living in a town. I have
not even nephews and nieces whom it would be natural to see something
of; and thus it is a wise economy to practise for solitude.

From the point of view of work, too, it is undeniably delightful. I
need never suspend a train of thought; I can write till I have finished
a subject. There is never the abominable necessity of stopping in the
middle of a sentence, with the prospect of having laboriously to
recapture the mood; and it is the same with reading. If I am interested
in a book, I can read on till I am satiated. Never before in my life
have I had the chance of reading, as Theocrite praised God, "morning,
evening, noon, and night." But now, if I get really absorbed in a
volume, I can let the whole story, tragedy or comedy, open before me,
take its course, and draw to a close. The result is that I find I can
apprehend a book in a way that I have never apprehended one before, in
its entirety; one can enter wholly and completely into the mind of an
author, into the progress of a biography; so that to read a book now is
like sitting out a play.

All this is very delightful; and no less delightful, too, is it, if the
mood takes me, to wander off for a whole day in the country; to moon
onwards entirely oblivious of time; to stop on a hill-top and survey a
scene, to turn into a village church and sit long in the cool gloom; to
seek out the heart of a copse, all carpeted with spring flowers, and to
lie on a green bank, with the whisper of the leaves in one's ear; or to
sit beside a stream, near a crystal pool, half-hidden in sedges, and to
see hour by hour what goes on in the dim waterworld. I do not mean to
say that it would not be pleasanter to share one's rambles with a
congenial companion; but it is not easy to find one; either there are
differences of opinion, or the subtle barriers of age to overleap, or
one is conscious that there are regions of one's mind in which a friend
will inevitably and fretfully miss his way--there are not many friends,
for anyone, to whom his mind can lie perfectly and unaffectedly open;
and thus, though I do not hesitate to say that I would prefer the
society of the perfect friend to my loneliness, yet I prefer my
loneliness to the incursions of the imperfect friend.

Then at the close of day there is a prospect of a long, quiet evening;
one can go to bed when one wishes, with the thought of another
unclouded and untroubled day before one. Liberty is, after all, the
richest gift that life can give.

And now, having made this panegyric on solitude, I will be just and
fair-minded, and I will say exactly what I have found the disadvantages
to be.

In the first place, though I do not grow morbid, I find a loss of
proportion creeping over me. I attach an undue importance to small
things. A troublesome letter, which in a busy life one would answer and
forget, rattles in the mind like a pea in a bladder. A little
incident--say, for instance, that one has to find fault with a
servant--assumes altogether unreal importance. In a busy life one would
make up one's mind as well as one could, and act. But here it is not
easy to make up one's mind. One weighs all contingencies too minutely;
one is too considerate, if that is possible; and if one makes up one's
mind, perhaps, to find fault, the presence in the house of a
dissatisfied person is an undue weight on the mind. Or one reads an
unfavourable review, and is too much occupied with its possible results
on one's literary prospects. It is not depression that these things
induce, but one expends too much energy and thought upon them.

But this on the whole matters little. There is time to be slow in
decision; there is time to forecast possibilities. Indeed, it is an
advantage for the solitary man to cultivate an over-elaborate way of
considering a subject, a slow picking-up and matching of patterns, a
maddening deliberation, simply by way of recreation. For a danger of
solitude, if one likes one's work, is that one works too much and too
hard. Then one writes too much, forgets to fill the cistern; one uses
up the old phrases, the old ideas. All which is a sore temptation to a
forgetful writer like myself, who re-invents and re-discovers the old
sentences with a shock of pleasing novelty and originality, only to
find it all written in an earlier book.

But these are all superficial material difficulties such as have to be
faced in every life. The real and dark danger of solitude is the
self-absorption that is bound to follow. With one like myself, to whom
the meeting of a new person is a kind of momentous terror, who feels
forced instinctively to use all possible arts to render a clumsy
presence and a heavy manner bearable, whose only hope is to be
respectfully tolerated, to whom society is not an easy recreation but
an arduous game, who would always sooner write a dozen letters than
have an interview, with such an one the solitary life tends to make one
ghost-like and evasive before one's time. Yet it is not for nothing, I
reflect, that Providence has never pushed a pawn to me in the shape of
an official wife, and has markedly withheld me from nephews and nieces.
It is not for nothing that relationships with others appear to me in
the light of a duty, at least in the initial stages, rather than a

And yet I reflect that I should doubtless be a better man, even with a
shrewish wife and a handful of heavy, unattractive children. I should
have to scheme for them, to make things easier for them, to work for
them, to recommend them, to cherish them, to love them. These dear
transforming burdens are denied me. And yet would the sternest and
severest mentor in the world bid me marry without love, for the sake of
its effect on my character? "No," he would say, "not that! but let
yourself go, be rash, fall in love, marry in haste! It is your only
salvation." But that is like telling a dwarf that it is his only
salvation to be six feet high--it cannot be done by taking thought. No
one can see more acutely and clearly, in more terrible and melancholy
detail, than myself what one misses. Call it coldness, call it
indifference, call it cowardice--the matter is not mended. If one is
cold, one does not grow hot by pretending to perspire; if one is
indifferent, one does not become enthusiastic by indulging in hollow
rhetoric. If one is cowardly, one can only improve by facing a
necessary danger, not by thrusting oneself into perilous situations. To
marry without love, for the sake of the discipline, is as if a dizzy
man should adventure himself alone upon the Matterhorn; the rashness of
proved incapacity is not courage, but a detestable snobbishness. One
must make the best of the hard problem of God, not add to its
complexity, in order to increase one's patience. Neither men nor angels
have any patience with a fool, and it is the deed of a fool to
cultivate occasions of folly. One serves best by making the most of
one's faculties, not by choosing a life where one's disabilities have
full play, in order to correct them. I might as well tell the Pharisee,
who bids me let myself go, to take to drink, in order that he may learn
moral humility, or to do dishonest things for the discipline of
reprobation. I do not think so ill of God as not to believe that he is
trying to help me; as the old poet said, "The Gods give to each man
whatever is most appropriate to him. Man is dearer to the Gods than to
himself." God has sent me many gifts, both good and evil; but he has
not sent me a wife, perhaps in pity for a frail creature of his hand,
who might have had to bear that tedious fate! But I know what I miss,
and see that loveless self-interest is the dark bane of solitude. One
may call it a moral leprosy if one loves hard names; but no leper would
choose to be a leper if he could avoid it. Whatever happens in this dim
world, we should be tender and compassionate of one another. It is a
mere stupidity, that stupidity which is of the nature of sin, to
compassionate a man for being ill or poor, and not to compassionate him
for being cold and lonely. The solitary man must dwell within his own
shadow, and make what sport he can; and it is the saddest of all the
privileges of reasoning beings, that reason can thus debar a man from
wholesome experience. Even in the desolation of ruined Babylon the

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