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The Silent Isle by Arthur Christopher Benson

Part 3 out of 5

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could talk more simply and openly to each other of our hopes and
fears--what we love, what we dread, what we avoid. The saddest thing in
the world is to feel that we are alone; the best thing in the world is
to feel that we are loved and needed.

However, as things are, the sad fact remains that in common talk we
speak of knowing a man whom we have met and spoken to a dozen times,
while it would never occur to us to use the word of a man whose books
we might have read a dozen times and yet never have seen; though as
matter of fact we know the latter's real mind, or a part of it, while
we may only know the healthy or pathetic face of the former.

If we make writing the business of our lives, it will be necessary to
give up many things for it, things which are held to be the prizes of
the world--position, station, wealth--or, rather, to give up the
pursuit of these things; probably, indeed, if we really love our art we
shall be glad enough to give up what we do not care about for a thing
about which we do care. But there will be other things to be given up
as well, which we may not like resigning, and one of these things is
the multiplication of pleasant relations with other people, which
cannot indeed be called friendships, but which rank high among the easy
pleasures of life. We must give them up because they mean time, and
time is one of the things that the artist cannot throw away. Of course
the artist must not lose his hold on life; but if he is working in a
reflective medium, it is his friendships that help him, and not his
acquaintances. He must learn to be glad to be alone, for it is in
solitude that an idea works itself out, very often quite unconsciously,
by a sort of secret gestation. How often have I found that to put an
idea in the mind and to leave it there, even if one does not
consciously meditate upon it, is sufficient to clothe the naked thought
with a body of appropriate utterance, when it comes to the birth. But
casual social intercourse, the languid interchange of conventional
talk, mere gregariousness, must be eschewed by an artist, for the
simple reason that his temptation will be to expend his force in
entering into closer relations with the casual, and possibly
unintelligent, person than the necessities of the situation warrant.
The artist is so impatient of dulness, so greedy of fineness, in all
his relations, that he is apt to subject himself to a wasteful strain
in talking to unperceptive and unappreciative persons. It is not that
he desires to appear brilliant; it is that he is so intolerant of
tedium that he sacrifices himself to fatiguing efforts in trying to
strike a spark out of a dull stone. The spark is perhaps struck, but he
parts with his vital force in striking it. He will be apt to be
reproached with being eremitical, self-absorbed, unsociable,
fastidious; but he must not care for that, because the essence of his
work is to cultivate relations of sympathy with people whose faces he
may never see, and he must save his talk, so to speak, for his books.
With his friends it is different, for talking to congenial people with
whom one is familiar is a process at once stimulating and
tranquillising, and it is at such moments that ideas take swift and
brilliant shape.

Those who may read these words will be apt to think that it is a
selfish business after all; yet that is only because so many people
consider the life of the writer an otiose and unnecessary life; but the
sacrifices of which I speak are only those that all men who follow an
absorbing profession have to make--barristers, politicians, physicians,
men of business. No one complains if they seclude themselves at certain
hours. Of course, if a writer finds that general society makes no
demands upon his nervous force, but is simply a recreation, there is no
reason why he should not take that recreation; though I have known men
who just missed being great writers because they could not resist the
temptation of general society.

The conclusion of the matter is that an artist must cultivate a strict
sense of responsibility; if he has a certain thing to say, he must say
it with all his force; and he must be content with a secret and silent
influence, an impersonal brotherliness, deep and inner relations of
soul with soul, that may never express themselves in glance or gesture,
in hand-clasp or smile, but which, for all that, are truer and more
permanent relations than word or gesture or close embrace can give; a
marriage of souls, a bodiless union.


I have often thought that in Art, judging by the analogy of previous
development, we ought to be able to prophesy more or less the direction
in which development is likely to take place. I mean that in music, for
instance, the writers of the stricter ancient music might have seen
that the art was likely to develop a greater intricacy of form, an
increased richness of harmony, a larger use of discords, suspensions,
and chromatic intervals, a tendency to conceal superficial form rather
than to emphasise it, and so forth. Yet it is a curious question
whether if Handel, say, could have heard an overture of Wagner's he
would have thought it an advance in beauty or not--whether it would
have seemed to him like the realisation of some incredible dream, a
heavenly music, or whether he would have thought it licentious, and
even shapeless. Of course, one knows that there is going to be
development in art, but the imagination is unable to forecast it,
except in so far as it can forecast a possibility of an increased
perfection of technique. It is the same with painting. It is a
bewildering speculation what Raffaelle or Michelangelo would have
thought of the work of Turner or Millais: whether they would have been
delighted by the subtle evolution of their own aims, or confused by the
increase of impressional suggestiveness--whether, indeed, if Raffaelle
or Michelangelo had seen a large photograph, say, of a winter scene, or
a chromo-lithograph such as appears as a supplement to an illustrated
paper, they might not have flung down their brush in a mixture of
rapture and despair.

There is the same difficulty when we come to literature. What would
Chaucer or Spenser have thought of Browning or Swinburne? Would such
poetry have seemed to them like an inspired product of art, or a
delirious torrent of unintelligible verbiage? Of course, they would not
have understood the language, to begin with; and the thought, the
interfusion of philosophy, the new problems, would have been absolutely
incomprehensible. Probably if one could have questioned Spenser, he
would have felt that the last word had probably been said in poetry,
and would not have been able to conceive of its development in any

The great genius who is also effective is generally the man who is not
very far ahead of his age, but just a little ahead of it--who foresees
not the remote possibilities of artistic development, but just the
increased amount of colour and quality which the received forms can
bear, and which are consequently likely to be acceptable to people of
artistic perceptions. If a Tennyson had lived in the time of Pope, he
would doubtless have used the heroic couplet faithfully, and put into
it just a small increase of melody, a slightly more graceful play of
thought, a finer observation of natural things--but he probably would
not have strayed beyond the accepted forms of art.

Then there comes in a new and interesting question as to whether it is
possible that any new species of art will be developed, or whether all
the forms of art are more or less in our hands. It is possible to
conceive that music may in the future desert form in favour of colour;
it is possible to conceive that painters might produce pictures of pure
colour, quite apart from any imitation of natural objects, in which
colour might aspire more to the condition of music, and modulate from
tone to tone.

In literary art, the movement in the direction of realistic art, as
opposed to idealistic, is the most marked development of later days.
But I believe that there is still a further possibility of development,
a combination of prose and poetry, which may be confidently expected in
the future.

It is clear, I think, that the old instinct which tended to make a
division between poetry and prose is being gradually obliterated. The
rhythmical structure of poetry, and above all the device of rhyme, is
essentially immature and childish: the use by poets of rhythmical beat
and verbal assonance is simply the endeavour to captivate what is a
primeval and even barbarous instinct. The pleasure which children take
in beating their hands upon a table, in rapping out a tattoo with a
stick, in putting together unmeaning structures of rhyme, is not
necessarily an artistic thing at all; what lies at the root of it is
the pleasure of the conscious perception of similarity and regularity.
This same tendency is to be seen in our buildings, in the love of
geometrical forms, so that the elementary perception is better pleased
by contemplating a building with a door in the middle and the same
number of windows on each side, than in contemplating the structure of
a tree. Uneducated people are far more charmed by the appearance of a
rock which has a resemblance to something else--a human face or an
animal--than by a beautifully proportioned and irregular crag. The
uncultivated human being, again, loves geometrical forms in nature,
such as the crystal and the basalt column, or the magnified snowflake,
better than it loves forms of lavish wildness. We gather about our
dwellings flowers which please by their sharply defined tint, and their
correspondence of petal with petal; and yet there is just as precisely
ordered a structure in natural objects, which appear to be fortuitous
in shape and outline, as there is in things whose outline is more
strictly geometrical. The laws which regulate the shape of a chalk down
or an ivy tendril are just as severe as the laws which regulate the
monkey-puzzle tree or the talc crystal. My own belief is that the
trained artistic sense is probably only in its infancy, and that it
will advance upon the line of the pleased apprehension of the existence
of less obvious structure.

If we apply this to literature, it is my belief that the love of human
beings for the stanza and the rhyme is probably an elementary thing,
like the love of the crystal and the flower-shape, and that it is the
love not so much of the beautiful as of the kind of effect that the
observer could himself produce. The child feels that, given the
materials, he could and would make shapes like crystals and flowers;
but to make things of more elaborate structure would be outside his

To confine ourselves, then, to one single literary effect, it appears
to me that the poetry of the future will probably not develop very much
further in the direction of metre and rhyme. Indeed, it is possible to
see, not to travel far for instances, in the work of such writers as
Mr. Robert Bridges or Mr. Stephen Phillips, a tendency to write lines
which shall conceal as far as possible their rhythmical beat. It is
indeed a very subtle pleasure to perceive the effect of lines which are
unmetrical superficially but which yet confine themselves to a fixed
structure below, by varying the stresses and compensating for them. It
is possible, though I do not think it very likely, that poetry may
develop largely in this direction. I do not think it likely, because
such writing is intricate and difficult, and ends too often in being a
mere _tour de force_; the pleasure arising from the discovery that,
after all, the old simple structure is there, though strangely
disguised, I think it more probable that the superficial structure will
be frankly given up. If we consider what rhyme is, and what detestable
limitations it enforces on the writer for the sake of gratifying what
is, after all, not a dignified pleasure, the only wonder is that such a
tradition should have survived so long.

What I rather anticipate is the growth among our writers of a poetical
prose, with a severe structure and sequence of thought underlying it,
but with an entire irregularity of outline. The pleasure to be derived
from perfectly proportioned lucid prose is a far subtler and more
refined pleasure than that derived from the rhythmical beat of verse.
Take, for instance, such works as _The Ring and the Book_ and _Aurora
Leigh_. Is there anything whatever to be gained by the relentless
drumming, under the surface of these imaginative narratives, of the
stolid blank verse? Would not such compositions have gained by being
written in pure poetical prose? The quality which at present directs
writers to choosing verse-forms for poetical expression, apart from the
traditions, is the need of condensation, and the sense of proportion
which the verse-structure enforces and imparts. But I should look
forward to the writing of prose where the epithets should be as
diligently weighed, the cadence as sedulously studied; where the mood
and the subject would indicate inevitably the form of the sentence, the
alternation of languid, mellifluous streams of scented and honied words
with brisk, emphatic, fiery splashes of language. Indeed, in reading
even great poetry, is one not sometimes sadly aware, as in the case of
Shelley or Swinburne, that the logical sequence of thought is loose and
indeterminate, and that this is concealed from one by the reverberating
beat of metre, which gives a false sense of structure to a mood that is
really invertebrate?

What I am daily hoping to see is the rise of a man of genius, with a
rich poetical vocabulary and a deep instinct for poetical material, who
will throw aside resolutely all the canons of verse, and construct
prose lyrics with a perfect mastery of cadence and melody.

The experiment was made by Walt Whitman, and in a few of his finest
lyrics, such as _Out of the Cradle endlessly rocking_, one gets the
perfection of structure and form. But he spoilt his vehicle by a
careless diffuseness, by a violent categorical tendency, and by other
faults which may be called faults of breeding rather than faults of
art--a ghastly volubility, an indiscretion, a lust for description
rather than suggestion; and thus he has numbered no followers, and only
a few inconsiderable imitators.

I think, too, that Whitman was, in position, just a little ahead, as I
have indicated, of the taste of his time; and he was not a good enough
artist to enforce the beauty and the possibilities of his experiment
upon the world.

There is, moreover, this further difficulty in the way of the literary
experimentalist. Whitman, in virtue of his strength, his vitality, his
perception, his individuality, rather blocks the way; it is difficult
to avoid imitating him, though it is easy to avoid his errors. It is
difficult in such poetry not to apostrophise one's subject as Whitman

It may be asked, in what is this poetical prose to differ from the
prose of great artists who have written melodious, reflective,
essentially poetical prose--the prose of Lamb, of Ruskin, of Pater? The
answer must be that it must differ from Lamb in sustained intention,
from Ruskin in firmness of structure, from Pater in variety of mood.
Such prose as I mean must be serious, liquid, profound. It must
probably eschew all broad effects of humour; it must eschew narrative;
it must be in its essence lyrical, an outburst like the song of the
lark or the voice of the waterfall. It must deal with beauty, not only
the beauty of natural things, but the beauty of human relations, though
not trenching upon drama; and, above all, it must take into itself the
mystery of philosophical and scientific thought. Science and philosophy
are deeply and essentially poetical, in that they are attempts to build
bridges into the abyss of the unknown. The work of the new lyrist must
be to see in things and emotions the quality of beauty, and to discern
and express the magic quickening thrill that creeps like a flame
through the material form, and passes out beyond the invisible horizon,
leaping from star to star, and from the furthest star into the depths
of the ancient environing night.


A few days ago an old friend of mine, who has been a good friend to me,
who is more careful of my reputation even than myself, gave me some
serious advice. He said, speaking with affectionate partiality, that I
had considerable literary gifts, but that I was tending to devote
myself too much to ephemeral and imaginative literature, and that I
ought to take up a task more worthy of my powers, write a historical
biography such as a Life of Canning, or produce a complete annotated
edition of the works of Pope, with a biography and appendices. I
assured him that I had no talents for research, and insufficient
knowledge for a historical biography. He replied that research was a
matter of patience, and that as for knowledge, I could acquire it.

I thanked him sincerely for his thoughtful kindness, and said that I
would hear it in mind.

The result of my reflections is that the only kind of literature worth
writing is literature with some original intention. Solid works have a
melancholy tendency to be monumental, in the sense that they cover the
graves of literary reputations. Historical works are superseded with
shocking rapidity. One remembers the description which FitzGerald gave
of the labours of his friend Spedding upon Bacon. Spedding gave up the
whole of his life, said FitzGerald, to editing works which did not need
editing, and to whitewashing a character which could not be
whitewashed. It is awful to reflect how many years Walter Scott gave to
editing Dryden and Swift and to writing a Life of Napoleon--years
which might have given us more novels and poems. Did Scott, did anyone,
gain by the sacrifice? Of course one would like to write a great
biography, but the biographies that live are the lives of men written
by friends and contemporaries, living portraits, like Boswell's
_Johnson_ or Stanley's _Arnold_. To write such a book, one needs to
have been in constant intercourse with a great personality, to have
seen him in success and failure, in happiness and depression, in health
and sickness, in strength and weakness. Such an opportunity is given to

Of course, if one has a power of wide and accurate historical survey, a
trustworthy memory, a power of vitalising the past, one may well give
one's life to producing a wise and judicious historical work. But here
a man must learn his limitations, and one can only deal successfully
with congenial knowledge. I have myself a very erratic and
unbusinesslike mind. There are certain things, like picturesque
personal traits, landscape, small details of life and temperament, that
lodge themselves firmly in my mind; but when I am dealing with
historical facts and erudite matters, though I can get up my case and
present it for the time being with a certain cogency, the knowledge all
melts in my mind; and no one ought to think of attempting historical
work unless his mind is of the kind that can hold an immense amount of
knowledge in solution. I have a friend, for instance, who can put all
kinds of details into his mind--he has an insatiable appetite for
them--and produce them again years afterwards as sharp and definite in
outline as when he put them away. His mind is, in fact, a great
spacious and roomy warehouse, where things are kept dry and in
excellent order. But with myself it is quite different. To store
knowledge of an uncongenial kind in my own mind is just as though I put
away a heap of snowballs. In a day or two their outline is blurred and
blunted; in a few months they have melted away and run down the
gutters. So much for historical work.

Then there comes the question of editorial work: and here again I have
the greatest admiration for men like Dr. Birkbeck Hill or Professor
Masson, who will devote a lifetime to patiently amassing all the facts
that can be gleaned about some great personality. But this again
requires a mind of a certain order, and there is no greater mistake in
literary work than to misjudge the quality and force of one's mind.

My own work, I am certain, must be of a literary kind; and when one
goes a little further back and asks oneself what it is that makes great
personalities, like Milton or Dr. Johnson, worth spending all this
labour about, why one cares to know about their changes of lodgings and
their petty disbursements, it is, after all, because they are great
personalities, and have displayed their greatness in imaginative
writings or in uttering fertile and inspiring conversational dicta.
Imagine what one's responsibility would have been if one could have
persuaded Charles Lamb to have taken up the task of editing the works
of Beaumont and Fletcher, and to have deserted his ephemeral
contributions to literature. Or if one could have induced Shelley to
give up writing his wild lyrics, and devote himself to composing a work
on Political Justice. Jowett, who had a great fancy for imposing
uncongenial tasks on his friends, is recorded to have said that
Swinburne was a very brilliant, young man but that he would never do
anything till he had given up wasting his time in poetry. Imagine the
result if Jowett had had his way!

Of course, it all depends upon what one desires to achieve and the sort
of success one sets before oneself. If one is enamoured of academical
posts or honorary degrees, why, one must devote oneself to research and
be content to be read by specialists. That is a legitimate and even
admirable ambition--admirable all the more because it brings a man a
slender reputation and very little of the wealth which the popular
writer hauls in.

The things which live in literature, the books which make a man worth
editing a century or two after he is dead, are, after all, the creative
and imaginative books. It is not in the hope of being edited that
imaginative authors write. Milton did not compose _L'Allegro_ in the
spirit of desiring that it might be admirably annotated by a Scotch
professor. Keats did not write _La Belle Dame sans Merci_ in order that
it might be printed in a school edition, with a little biography
dealing with the paternal livery-stable. It may be doubted whether any
very vital imaginative work is ever produced with a view to its effect
even upon its immediate readers. A great novelist does not write with a
moral purpose, and still less with an intellectual purpose. He sees the
thing like a picture; the personalities move, mingle, affect each
other, appear, vanish, and he is haunted by the desire to give
permanence to the scene. For the time being he is under the thrall of a
strong desire to make something musical, beautiful, true, life-like. It
is a criticism of life that all writers, from the highest to the
humblest, aim at. They are amazed, thrilled, enchanted by the sight and
the scene, by the relationships and personalities they see round them.
These they must depict; and in a life where so much is fleeting, they
must seek to stamp the impression in some lasting medium. It is the
beauty and strangeness of life that overpowers the artist. He has
little time to devote himself to things of a different value, to the
getting of position or influence or wealth. He cannot give himself up
to filling his leisure pleasantly, by society or amusement. These are
but things to fill a vacant space of weariness or of gestation. For him
the one important thing is the shock, the surprise, the delight, the
wonder of a thousand impressions on his perceptive personality. And his
success, his effect, his range, depend upon the uniqueness of his
personality in part, and in part upon his power of expressing that

Of course, there are natures whose perceptiveness outruns their power
of expression--and these are, as a rule, the dissatisfied, unhappy
temperaments that one encounters; there are others whose power of
expression outruns their perceptiveness, and these are facile, fluent,
empty, agreeable writers.

There are some who attain, after infinite delays, a due power of
expression, and these are often the happiest of all writers, because
they have the sense of successful effort. And then, lastly, there are a
divine few, like Shakespeare, in whom both the perception and the power
of expression seem limitless.

But if a man has once embraced the artistic ideal, he must embark upon
what is the most terrible of all risks. There is a small chance that he
may find his exact subject and his exact medium, and that the subject
may be one which is of a widespread interest. But there are innumerable
chances against him. Either the fibre of his mind is commonplace; or he
is born out of his due time, when men are not interested in what are
his chief preoccupations; or he may miss his subject; or he may be
stiff, ungainly, puerile in expression.

All of these are our literary failures, and life is likely to be for
them a bitter business. I am speaking, of course, of men who embrace
the matter seriously; and the misery of their position is that they
will be confounded with the dilettantes and amateurs who take up
literature as a fancy or as a hobby, or for even less worthy motives.

A man such as I have described, who has the passion for authorship, and
who fails in the due combination of gifts, must face the possibility of
being regarded as a worse than useless being; as unpractical, childish,
slipshod, silly, worth no one's attention. He is happy, however, if he
can find a solace in his own work, and if he is sustained by a
hopefulness that makes light of results, if he finds pleasure in the
mere doing of unrecognised work.

And thus, in my own case, I have no choice, I must perfect my medium as
far as I can, and I must look diligently for a congenial subject. I
must not allow myself to be discouraged by advice, however kindly and
well-intentioned, to devote myself to some more dignified task. For if
I can but see the truth, and say it perfectly, these writings, which it
is so easy to call ephemeral, will become vital and enriching. It is
not the subject that gives dignity; it is not wholly the treatment
either; it is a sort of fortunate union of the two, the temperament of
the writer exactly fitting the mould of his subject--no less and no

In saying this I am not claiming to be a Walter Scott or a Charles
Lamb. But I can imagine a friend of the latter imploring him not to
waste his time, with his critical gifts, upon writing slender, trifling
essays; and I maintain that if Charles Lamb knew that such essays were
the work that he did best, with ease and delight, he had the right to
rebuff the hand that held out a volume of Marlowe and begged him to
annotate it. What spoils our hold on life for so many of us is this
false sense of conventional dignity. In art there is no great and
small. Whatever a mind can conceive clearly and express beautifully,
that is good art, whether it be a harrowing tragedy in which murders
and adulteries cluster as thick as flies, or the shaking of a reed in a
stream as the current plucks it softly from below. If a man can
communicate to others his amazed bewilderment in the presence of the
tragedy, or his exquisite delight in the form and texture and motion of
the reed, he is an artist. Of course, there will always be more people
who will be affected by a melodrama, by strange and ghastly events, by
the extremes of horror and pathos, than will be affected by the
delicate grace of familiar things--the tastes of the multitude are
coarse and immature. But a man must not measure his success by the
range of his audience, though the largest art will appeal to the widest
circle. Art can be great and perfect without being large and
surprising. And thus the function of the artist is to determine what he
can see clearly and perfectly, and to take that as his subject. It may
be to build a cathedral or to engrave a gem; but the art will be great
in proportion as he sees his end with absolute distinctness, and loves
the detail of the labour that makes the execution flawless and perfect.
The artist, if he would prevail, must not be seduced by any temptation,
any extraneous desire, any peevish criticism, any well-meant rebuke,
into trying a subject that he knows is too large for him. He must be
his own severest critic. No artistic effort can be effective, if it is
a joyless straining after things falteringly grasped. Joy is the
essential quality; it need not always be a present, a momentary joy.
There are weary spaces, as when a footsore traveller plods along the
interminable road that leads him to the city where he would be. But he
must know in his heart that the joy of arrival will outweigh all the
dreariness of the road, and he must, above all things, mean to arrive.
If at any moment the artist feels that he is not making way, and doubts
whether the object of his quest is really worth the trouble, then he
had better abandon the quest; unless, indeed, he has some moral motive,
apart from the artistic motive, in continuing it. For the end of art is
delight and the quickening of the pulse of emotion; and delight cannot
be imparted by one who is weary of the aim, and the pulse cannot be
quickened by one whose heart is failing him. There may, as I say, be
moral reasons for perseverance, and if a man feels that it is his duty
to complete a work when his artistic impulse has failed him, he had
better do it. But he must have no delusions in the matter. He must not
comfort himself with the false hope that it may turn out to be a work
of art after all. His biographer draws a terrible picture of Flaubert
pacing in his room, flinging himself upon his couch, rising to pace
again, an agonised and tortured medium, in the search of the one
perfect word. But the misery was worth it if the word was found, and
the fierce faint joy of discovery was worth all the ease and serenity
of declining upon the word that sufficed, instead of straining after
the word required.


We artists who try to discern beauty, and endeavour to rule our lives
to be as tranquil, as perceptive, as joyful as possible, are apt to be
too impatient of the petty, mean, and sordid things with which the
fabric of life is so much interwoven--the ugly words of spiteful
people, little fretting ailments, unsympathetic criticisms, coldness
and indifference, tiresome business, wearisome persons. It is a
deep-seated mistake. We cannot cast these things away as mere debris.
They must be used, applied, accommodated. These are our materials,
which we must strive to combine and adapt. To be disgusted with them,
to allow them to disturb our serenity, is as though a painter should
sicken at the odour of his pigments and the offscourings of his
palette. The truer economy is to exclude all such elements as we can,
consistently with honour, tenderness, and courage. Then we must not be
dismayed with what remains; we must suffer it quietly and hopefully,
letting patience have her perfect work. After all it is from the soul
of the artist that his work arises; and it is through these goads and
stings, through pain and weariness joyfully embraced, that the soul
wins strength and subtlety. They are as the implements which cleave and
break up the idle fallow, and without their work there can be no
prodigal or generous sowing.

I suppose that I put into my observation of Nature--and perhaps into my
hearing of music--the same thing that many people experience only in
their relations with other people. To myself relations with others are
cheerful enough, interesting, perplexing--but seldom absorbing, or
overwhelming; such experiences never seem to say the ultimate word or
to sound the deeper depth. I suppose that this is the deficiency of the
artistic temperament. I write looking out upon a pale wintry sunset.
There, at least, is something deeper than myself. I do not suppose that
the strange pageant of clouds and burning light, above the leafless
grove, the bare fields, is set there for my delight But that I should
feel its inexpressible holiness, its solemn mystery--feel it with a
sense of pure tranquillity, of satisfied desire--is to me the sign that
it holds some sacred secret for me. I suppose that other men have the
same sense of sacredness and mystery about love and friendship. They
are deep and beautiful things for me, but they are things seen by the
way, and not waiting for me at the end of my pilgrimage. Music holds
within it the same sort of hidden influence as the beauty of nature. It
is not so with pictorial art, or even with writing, because the
personality, the imperfections, of the artist come in between me and
the thought. One cannot make the pigments and the words say what one
means. Even in music, the art sometimes comes between one and the thing
signified But the plain, sweet, strong chords themselves bring the
fulness of joy, just as these broken lights and ragged veils of cloud
do. I remember once going to dine at the house of a great musician; I
was a minute or two before the time, and I found him sitting in his
room at a grand piano, playing the last cadence of some simple piece,
unknown to me. He made no sign of recognition; he just finished the
strain; a lesser man would have put the sense of hospitality first, and
would have leapt up in the midst of an unfinished chord. But not till
the last echo of the last chord died away did he rise to receive me. I
felt that he was thus obeying a finer and truer instinct than if he had
made haste to end.

Everyone must find out for himself what are the holiest and most
permanent things in life, and worship them sincerely and steadfastly,
allowing no conventionality, no sense of social duty, to come in
between him and his pure apprehension. Thus, and thus only, can a man
tread the path among the stars. Thus it is, I think, that religious
persons, like artists, arrive at a certain detachment from human
affections and human aims, which is surprising and even distressing to
men whose hearts are more knit to the things of earth. Those who see in
the dearest and most intimate of human relations, the purest and
highest gift of God, will watch with a species of terror, and even
repulsion, the aloofness, the solitariness of the mystic and the
artist. It will seem to them a sort of chilly isolation, an inhuman,
even a selfish thing; just as the mystic and the artist will see in the
normal life of men a thing fettered and bound with sad and small
chains. It is impossible to say which is the higher life--no dogmatism
is possible--all depends upon the quality of the emotion; it is the
intensity of the feeling rather than its nature that matters. The
impassioned lover of human relations is a finer being than the
unimpassioned artist, just as the impassioned artist is a finer being
than the man who loves sensually and materialistically. All depends
upon whether the love, whatever it be--the love of nature or of art, of
things spiritual or divine, the love of humanity, the sense of
brotherly companionship--leads on to something unfulfilled and high, or
whether it is satisfied. If our desire is satisfied, we fail; if it is
for ever unsatisfied, we are on the right path, though it leads us none
can tell whither, to wildernesses or paradises, to weltering seas or to
viewless wastes of air. If the artist rests upon beauty itself, if the
mystic lingers among his ecstasies, they have deserted the pilgrim's
path, and must begin the journey over again in weariness and in tears.
But if they walk earnestly, not knowing what the end may be, never
mistaking the delight of the moment for the joy that shines and glows
beyond the furthest horizon, then they are of the happy number who have
embraced the true quest. Such a faith will give them a patient and
beautiful kindliness, a deep affection for fellow-pilgrims, and, most
of all, for those in whose eyes and lips they can discern the wistful
desire to see behind the shadows of mortal things. But the end will be
beyond even the supreme moment of love's abandonment, beyond the
fairest sights of earth, beyond the sweetest music of word or chord.
And we must, above all things, forbear to judge another, to question
other motives, to condemn other aims; for we shall feel that for each a
different path is prepared. And we shall forbear, too, to press the
motives that seem to us the fairest upon other hearts. We must give
them utterance as faithfully as we can, for they may be a step in
another's progress. But the thought of interfering with the design of
God will be impious, insupportable. Our only method will be a perfect
sincerity, which will indeed lead us to refrain from any attempt to
overbalance or to divert ingenuous minds from their own chosen path. To
accuse our fellow-men of stupidity or of prejudice is but to blaspheme


What, after all, is the essence of the artistic life, the artist's
ideal? I think the reason why it is so often misconceived and
misunderstood is because of the fact that it is a narrow path and is
followed whole-heartedly by few. Moreover, in England at the present
time, when we are all so tolerant and imagine ourselves to be permeated
by intelligent sympathy with ideas, there seem to me to be hardly any
people who comprehend this point of view at all. There is a good deal
of interest in England in moral ideals, though even much of that is of
a Puritan and commercial type. The God that we ignorantly worship is
Success, and our interest in moral ideas is mainly confined to our
interest in what is successful. We are not in love with beautiful,
impracticable visions at all; we measure a man's moral intensity by the
extent to which he makes people respectable and prosperous. We believe
in an educator when he makes his boys do their work and play their
games; in a priest, when he makes people join clubs, find regular
employment, give up alcohol. We believe in a statesman when he makes a
nation wealthy and contented. We have no intellectual ideals, no ideals
of beauty. Our idea of poetry is that people should fall in love, and
our idea of art is the depicting of rather obvious allegories. These
things are good in their way, but they are very elementary. Our men of
intellect become scientific researchers, historians, erudite persons.
How few living writers there are who unite intellect with emotion! The
truth is that we do not believe in emotion; we think it a thing to play
with, a thing to grow out of, not a thing to live by. If a person
discourses or writes of his feelings we think him a sentimentalist, and
have an uneasy suspicion that he is violating the canons of good taste.
The result is that we are a sensible, a good-humoured, and a vulgar
nation. When we are dealing with art, we have no respect for any but
successful artists. If the practice of art results in fame and money,
we praise the artist in a patronising way; when the artist prophesies,
we think him slightly absurd until he commands a hearing, and then we
worship him, because his prophecies have a wide circulation. If the
artist is unsuccessful, we consider him a mere dilettante. Then, too,
art suffers grievously from having been annexed by moralists, who talk
about art as the handmaid of religion, and praise the artist if he
provides incentives for conduct of a commercial type. It would be
better for art if it were frankly snubbed rather than thus unctuously
encouraged. We look upon it all as a matter of influence, for the one
thing that we desire is to be felt, to affect other people, to inspire
action. The one thing that we cannot tolerate is that a man should
despise and withdraw from the busy conventional world. If he ends by
impressing the world we admire him, and people his solitude with ugly
motives. The fact is that there was never a more unpromising soil for
artists than this commonplace, active, strenuous century in which we
live. The temptations we put in the artist's way are terribly strong;
when we have done our work, we like to be amused by books and plays and
pictures, and we are ready to pay high prices to the people who can
give our heavy souls small sensations of joy and terror and sorrow. And
wealth is a fierce temptation to the artist, because it gives him
liberty, freedom of motion, comfort, things of beauty and
consideration. The result is that too many of the artists who appear
among us fall victims to the temptations of the world, and become a
kind of superior parasite and prostitute, believing in their dignity
because they are not openly humiliated.

But the true artist, like the true priest, cares only for the beautiful
quality of the thought that he pursues. The true priest is the man who
loves virtue, disinterestedness, truth, and purity with a kind of
passion, and only desires to feed the same love in faithful hearts. He
seeks the Kingdom of God first; and if the good things of the world are
strewn, as they are apt to be strewn, in the path of the virtuous
person, he is never for a moment seduced into believing that they are
the object of his search. His desire is that souls should glow and
thrill with high, sacred, and tender emotions, which are their own
surpassing reward.

So, too, the artist is concerned solely with the beautiful
thing--whether it is the beauty of the eager relationships of men and
women, or the ever-changing exquisite forms and colours of nature, or
the effect of all these things upon the desirous soul of man. And it is
here that his danger lies, that he may grow to be preoccupied with the
changing and blended texture of his own soul, into which flow so many
sweet influences and gracious visions--if, like the Lady of Shalott,
he grows to think of the live things that move on the river-side only
as objects that may minister to the richness of the web that he weaves.
He must keep his eye intent upon the power, whatever it may be, that is
behind all these gracious manifestations; they must all be symbols to
him of some unrevealed mystery, or he will grow to love the gem for its
colour, the flower for its form, the cloud for its whiteness or
empurpled gloom, the far-off hill for its azure tints, and so forget to
discern the spirit that thus gleams and flashes from its shrouding

And then, too, in art as in love, the artist must lose himself that he
may find himself. If he considers all things in relation to his own
sensitive and perceptive temperament, he will become immured in a
chilly egotism, a narrow selfishness, from which he will not dare to
emerge. He must fling himself whole-heartedly into a passionate worship
of what is beautiful, not desiring it only that it may thrill and
satisfy him, but longing to draw near to its innermost essence. The
artist may know, indeed, that he is following the wrong path when he
loves the artistic presentation of a thing better than the thing
presented, when he is moved more by a single picture of a perfect scene
than by the ten thousand lovely things which he may see in a single
country walk. He must, indeed, select emotions and beautiful objects by
their quality; he must compare and distinguish; but if he once believes
that his concern is with representation rather than with life, he goes
downward. He must not be concerned for a single instant with the
thought, "How will this that I perceive affect others as I represent
it?" but he must rather be so amazed and carried out of himself by the
beauty of what he sees, that the representing of it is only a necessary
consequence of the vision; as a child may tell an adventure
breathlessly and intently to its mother or its nurse, absorbed in the

And thus the true artist will not weigh and ponder the most effective
medium for his expression; the thought must be so overpowering that the
choice of a medium will be a matter of pure instinct. The most, indeed,
of what he feels and perceives he will recognise to be frankly
untranslatable in speech or pigment or musical notes, too high, too
sacred, too sublime. His work will be no more selfish than the work of
the pilot or the general is selfish. The responsibility, the crisis,
the claim of the moment, will outweigh and obliterate all personal, all
fruitless considerations. He must have no thought of success; if it
comes, he may rejoice that he has been a faithful interpreter, and has
shared his joy with others; if it does not come, his joy is not

Then, too, in ordering his life, he must be humble, sincere, and
simple. He must keep his eye and his mind open to all generous
admirations. He must let no lust or appetite, no ambition of pride,
cloud his vision. He must take delight in the work of other artists,
and strive to see the beautiful and perfect rather than the false and
feeble. He must rejoice if he can see his own dream more seriously and
sweetly depicted than he can himself depict it, for he must care for
nothing but the triumph of beauty over ugliness, of light over
darkness. And thus the true artist may be most easily told by his
lavish appreciation of the work of other artists, rather than by his
censure and disapproval.

And, again, he must be able to take delight in the smallest and
humblest beauties of life. He must not need to travel far and wide in
the search for what is romantic, but he must find it lying richly all
about him in the simplest scene. He must not crave for excitement or
startling events or triumphs or compliments; he must not desire to know
or to be known by famous persons, because his joys must all flow from a
purer and clearer fountain-head. He must find no day nor hour dreary,
and his only fatigue must be the wholesome fatigue that follows on
patient labour, not the jaded fatigue of the strained imagination.

Age, and even infirmity, does not dull the zest of such a nature; it
merely substitutes a range of gentler and more tranquil emotions for
the heroic and passionate enthusiasms of youth; for the true artist
knows that the emotion of which he is in search is something far higher
and purer and more vivid than his fiercest imaginations--and yet it has
the calm of strength and the dignity of worth; the vehement impulses of
youth "do it wrong, being so majestical." And he draws nearer to it when
animal heat and the turbulence of youthful spirit has burnt clearer and
hotter, throwing off its smoke and lively flame for a keener and purer

And above all things, the artist must most beware of the complacency,
the sense of victory, the belief that he has attained, has plumbed the
depth, seen into the heart of the mystery. Rather as life draws on he
must feel, in awe and hope, that it is infinitely mightier and greater
than he thought in the days of potent impulse. His whole soul must be
full of a sacred fear as he draws closer to the gate, the opening of
which may give him a nearer glimpse of the secret. The humble sense of
failure will be a bright and noble thought, because it will show him
how much the mystery transcends the most daring hope and dream.


I was present in a great church the other day at a service held at the
hour of sunset The dying light fell richly through the stained windows,
lending a deep and beautiful mystery to the scenes there depicted. The
pale faces of pictured saints, with their rich robes, were outlined
with a pathetic sweetness against backgrounds of solemn buildings or
confused woods. The lighted tapers of the choir threw a faint glow up
to the intricate roof, which seemed flooded with a golden mist; the
gilt pipes of the organ gleamed softly; the music began to roll and
stir, with a grave melodious thunder, like the voice of a dreaming
spirit. A procession of white-vested figures moved with a ceremonial
dignity to their places, and then the service proceeded through soft
gradations of prayer and praise, in words of exquisite and restrained
felicity, all haunted with the echoes of the ages. I sate alone, a
silent listener, and it seemed to me that every appeal which the beauty
of art could make to the spirit was here delicately displayed. Eye and
ear, emotion and intellect, were alike thrilled and satisfied. They
sang the 119th Psalm, that perfect expression of holy quietude: "Thy
testimonies are wonderful; therefore doth my soul seek them."
Wonderful, indeed, and gracious, sweet as honey. The heart, in that
glad moment, drew near to the tender Father of life, who seemed, as in
the old parable, to see the repentant son of his heart wandering sadly
a long way off, to go forth to meet him, and to fill the house with
light and music, that he might feel it to be home indeed.

That the instinct that has drawn all the treasures of art into its
service, and with them welcomes and sustains the wearied soul, is a
pure and beautiful one, I make no doubt. But then I thought of all that
lies outside: of crowded cities, of the ugly mirth, the sordid cares of
men and women; of the dark laws that wound and slay; of pain and shame;
of tired labour and cruelty and harshness, of lust and greediness.

I thought of how few there were of mankind to whom the sweet pomp which
I sate to see and hear makes any appeal, I thought that for one to whom
such beauty was desirable and satisfying, there were thousands who
would prefer the brisk interchange of life, the race-course, the
athletic spectacle, the restaurant, the tap-room. Was this, indeed,
religion at all? I wondered. It did, indeed, use the language of
religion, surround itself with the memories of saints, the holy wisdom
of the ages. But what was the end of it? Did it inspire those who heard
it with the desire to win, to sustain, to ameliorate other souls? Did
it inculcate the tender affection, the self-sacrifice, the meek
devotion that Christ breathed into life? Did it not rather tend to
isolate the soul in a paradise of art, to consecrate the pursuit of
individual emotion? It is hard to imagine that a spirit who has plunged
into the intoxication of sensuous delight that such a solemnity brings
would depart without an increased aversion to all that was loud and
rude, wife an intensified reluctance to mingle with the coarser throng.
Was it not utterly alien to the spirit of Christ thus to seclude
oneself in light and warmth, among sweet strains of music and holy
pictures? I do not doubt that these delights have a certain ennobling
effect upon the spirit; but are they a medicine for the sorrows of the
world? are they not rather the anodyne for sensitive spirits fond of
tranquil ease?

I could not restrain the thought that if a man of sensitive nature is
penetrated with the spirit of Christ first, if the passion of his soul
to seek and save the lost is irresistible, if his faith runs clear and
strong, he might win a holy refreshment from these peaceful, sweet
solemnities. But the danger is for those who have no such unselfish
enthusiasm, and who are tempted, under the guise of religion, to yield
themselves with a sense of fastidious complacency to what are, after
all, mere sensuous delights. Is it right to countenance such error? If
piety frankly said, "These things are no part of religion at all; they
are only a pure region of spiritual beauty, a garden of refreshment
into which a pilgrim may enter by the way; only a mere halting-place, a
home of comfort,"--then I should feel that it would be a consistent
attitude. But if it is only a concession to the desire of beauty, if it
distracts men from the purpose of Christ, if it is a mere bait for
artistic souls, then I cannot believe that it is justified.

While I thus pondered, the anthem rose loud and sweet upon the air; all
the pathos, the desire of the world, the craving for delicious rest,
stirred and spoke in those moving strains--round a quiet minor air,
sung by a deep grave voice of a velvety softness, a hundred mellow
pipes wove their sweet harmonies: it told assuredly of a hope and of a
truth far off; it drew the soul into a secret haven, where it listened
contentedly to the roar of the surge outside. But the error seemed to
be that one desired to rest there, like the Lotos-eaters in the
enchanted land, and not to fare forth as a soldier of God. It spoke of
delight, not of hardness; of acquiescence, not of effort.


Strange that the sight of a man being guillotined should inspire me
with a burning desire to inflict the very thing which I see another
suffer! What a violent metaphor for a very minute matter! It is only a
review which I have been reading, in which a pompous, and I imagine
clerical, critic comes down with all his might on a man whom I gather
to be a graceful and mildly speculative writer. The critic asks
ponderously. What right has a man who seems to be untrained in
philosophy and theology to speculate on philosophical and religious
matters? He then goes on to quote a passage in which the writer attacks
the current view of the doctrine of the Atonement, and he adds that a
man who is unacquainted with the strides which theology has made of
late years in the direction of elucidating that doctrine ought not to
presume to discuss it at all. No doubt, if the writer in question made
any claim to be discussing the latest theological position on the
subject of the Atonement, in a technical way, he would be a mere
sciolist; but he is only claiming to discuss the Current conception of
the Atonement; and, as far as I can judge, he states it fairly enough.
The truth is that the current conceptions of old theological doctrines
tend to be very much what the original framers of those doctrines
intended them to be. All that later theologians can do, when the old
doctrine is exploded, is to prove that the doctrine can be modified and
held in some philosophical or metaphysical sense, which was certainly
not in the least degree contemplated by the theologians who framed it;
but they are quite unable to explain to the man in the street what the
new form of the doctrine is; and their only chance of doing that is to
substitute for an old and perfectly clear doctrine a new and perfectly
clear doctrine. The tone adopted by this critic reminds me of the tone
adopted by Newman to his disciples. Mark Pattison relates how on one
occasion he advanced, in Newman's presence, some liberal opinion, in
the days when he was himself numbered among the Tractarians; and that
Newman deposited, as was his wont, an icy "Very likely!" upon the
statement; after which, Pattison says, you were expected to go into a
corner and think over your sins. Not so does thought make progress!

But the larger question is this. What right have philosophers or
theologians to arrogate to themselves the sole right of speculation in
these matters? If religion is a vital matter, and if all of us who have
any thoughts at all about life and its issues are by necessity to a
certain extent practical philosophers, why should we meekly surrender
the stuff of speculation to technical disputants? Of course, there are
certain regions of experiment that must be left to specialists, and a
scientist who devoted himself to embryology might justly complain of a
man who aired views on the subject without adequate study. But as far
as life goes, any thoughtful and intelligent man who has lived and
reflected is in a sense a specialist. In life and conduct, in morality
and religion, we are all of us making experiments all day long, whether
we will or no; and it may be fairly said that a middle-aged man who has
lived thoughtfully has given up far more time to his subject than the
greatest scientist has devoted to his particular branch. A church-goer,
like myself, has been lectured once or twice a week on theology for as
long as he can remember. For years I have speculated, with deep
curiosity, on problems of religion, on the object and ultimate issues
of life and death. Neither philosophers nor theologians have ever
discovered a final solution which satisfies all the data. The
theologian, indeed, is encumbered by a vast mass of human tradition,
which he is compelled to treat more or less as divine revelation. The
whole religious position has been metamorphosed by scientific
discovery; and what theologian or philosopher has ever come near to
solving the incompatibility of the apparent inflexibility of natural
law with the no less apparent liberty of moral choice? Theologians and
philosophers may, if they choose, attempt to crush the speculations of
an experimentalist in life, though I think they would be better
employed in welcoming them as an instance of how theological and
metaphysical conceptions strike upon the ordinary mind; but they shall
not prevent one who, like myself, has observed life closely under
aspects which the technical student has had no opportunity of observing
it, from making my comment upon what I see. It is possible that such
comments may appeal to ordinary people with even more force than
technical considerations are likely to appeal. We have all to sin and
to suffer, to enjoy and to fear; we find our instinct at variance with
our reason and our moral sense alike. We have in our souls conceptions
of justice, truth, purity, generosity, and we find the natural law,
which we would fain believe is the law of God, constantly thwarting and
even insulting these conceptions; and yet these conceptions are as real
and vivid to us as the law which takes no account of them. We find
theologians basing their faith on documents which every day appear to
be less and less historical, and on deductions drawn from these
documents by men who believed them to be historical. I have the utmost
sympathy with the position in which theologians find themselves; but
they have mostly their own prudence to thank for it; they are so
cautious about sifting the chaff from the grain, that they will not
throw away the chaff for fear of casting away a single grain. They are
so averse to unsettling the faith of the weak, that the vitality has
ebbed away from the faith of the strong; they have clung so hard to
tradition, that they have obscured fact; they would confine the limbs
of manhood in the garb of childhood; and thus they have forfeited the
confidence of intelligent men, and ranged themselves with the
credulous, the comfortable, and the unenterprising. Intolerant
persecution is out of date, and the question will be solved by the
stranding of the theological hull, owing to the quiet withdrawal of the
vital tide.


My way this afternoon lay through a succession of old hamlets, one
closely bordering on another, that lie all along the base of the wold.
I have no doubt that the reason for their position is simply that it is
just along the base of the hills that the springs break out, and a
village near a perennial and pure spring generally represents a very
old human settlement indeed. Sometimes the wold drew near the road,
sometimes lay more remote; its pale fallows, its faintly-tinted
pastures, seemed to lie very quietly to-day under the grey laden sky.
Here a chalk-pit showed its miniature precipices; here a leafless
covert detached its wiry sprays against the light. The villages were
pretty enough, with their quaint, irregular white cottages, comfortably
thatched, among the little orchards and gardens; and in every village
the ancient, beautiful church, each with a character of its own and a
special feature of interest or beauty, lay nestled in trees, or held up
its grey tower over ricks and barns. We are apt to forget what
beautiful things these churches are, because they are so common, so
familiar; if there were but a few of them, we should make careful
pilgrimages to see them, but now we hardly turn off the road to visit

I often wonder what exactly the feeling and the spirit were that
produced them, what the demand precisely was that created the supply. I
suppose they were almost always the gift of some wealthy person; of
course labour and perhaps materials were cheaper, but there must have
been a much larger proportion of people employed in the trade of
building than is the case nowadays; probably these churches were slowly
and leisurely built, in the absence of modern mechanical facilities. It
is difficult to conceive how the thing was carried out at all in places
with so few resources--how the stone was conveyed thither over the
infamous miry roads, how the carving was done, how the builders were
lodged and fed. One would like, too, to know exactly what part the
churches played in the social life of the place. Some people would have
us believe that the country people of that date had a simple enjoyment
of beauty and artistic instincts which caused them to take a pleasure,
which they do not now feel, in these beautiful little sanctuaries. I do
not know what the evidence is for that. I find it very hard to believe
that our agricultural labourers have gone backwards in this respect; I
should imagine it was rather the other way. My impression is that
education has probably increased the power of perception and
appreciation rather than diminished it. It is possible that the absence
of excitement, of diffuse reading, of communication in those days may
have tended to concentrate the affections and interests of agricultural
people more on their immediate surroundings, but I rather doubt it; the
problem is, considering the much greater roughness and coarseness of
village life in the Middle Ages, how there could have existed a
poetical and artistic instinct among villagers, which they have now

These churches certainly indicate that a very different view of
religion prevailed; they testify to a simpler and stronger sense of
religion than now exists, but not, I think, to a truer sense of it.
They stand, I do not doubt, for a much more superstitious and barbarous
view of the relation of God to men; the people who built them had, I
imagine, the idea of conciliating God by the gift of a seemly
sanctuary, a hope of improving not only their spiritual prospects in
the after-life, but of possibly advancing their material prosperity in
this, by thus displaying their piety and zeal in God's service. I
cannot believe that the churches were designed with the intention of
making the rustic inhabitants of the place holier, more virtuous, more
refined--except incidentally; they were built more in obedience to
ecclesiastical tradition, in a time when rationalism had not begun to
cast doubt on what I may call the Old Testament theory of the relation
of God to men--the theory of a wrathful power, vindictive, jealous of
recognition, withholding blessings from the impious and heaping them
upon the submissive. As to those who worshipped there, I imagine that
the awe and reverence they felt was based upon the same sort of view,
and connected religious observance with the hope of prosperity and
wealth, and the neglect of it with the fear of chastisement. If
misfortune fell upon the godly, they regarded it as the chastening of
God inflicted upon the sons of His love; if it fell upon the ungodly,
it was a punishment for sin; religion was a process by which one might
avert the punishment of sin, induce the bestowal of favours, and in any
case improve one's future prospects of heaven. No doubt this form of
religion produced a simpler kind of faith, and a profounder reverence;
but I do not think that they were very beautiful qualities when so
produced, because they seem to me very alien from the simplicity of the
religion of Christ. The difficulty in which popular religion finds
itself, nowadays, is that in a Protestant Church like our own, neither
priest nor people believe in the old mechanical theories of religion,
and yet the people are not yet capable of being moved by purer
conceptions of it. A priest can no longer threaten his congregation
sincerely with the penalties of hell for neglecting the observances of
the Church; on the other hand, the conception of religion as a
refining, solemnising attitude of soul, bringing tranquillity and
harmony into life, is too subtle an idea to have a very general hold
upon unimaginative persons. Thus the beauty of these exquisite and
stately little sanctuaries, enriched by long associations and touched
with a delicate grace by the gentle hand of time, has something
infinitely pathetic about it. The theory that brought them into
existence has lost its hold, while the spirit that could animate them
and give them a living message has not yet entered them; the refined
grace, the sweet solemnity of these simple buildings, has no voice for
the plain, sensible villager; it cannot be interpreted to him. If all
the inhabitants of a village were humble, simple, spiritually minded
people, ascetic in life, with a strong sense of beauty and quality,
then a village church might have a tranquil and inspiring influence.
But who that knows anything of village life can anticipate even in the
remote future such a type of character prevailing? Meanwhile the
beautiful churches, with all the grace of antiquity and subtle beauty,
must stand as survivals of a very different condition of life and
belief; while we who love them can only hope that a more vital
consciousness of religion may come back to the shrines from which
somehow the significance seems to have ebbed away. They are now too
often mere monuments and memorials of the past. Can one hope that they
may become the inspiration and the sanctification of the present?


I have just returned from a very curious and interesting visit. I have
been to stay with an old school friend of my own, a retired Major; he
has a small place of his own in the country, and has lately married a
very young and pretty wife. I met him by chance in my club in London,
looking more grey and dim than a man who has just married a lovely and
charming girl ought to look. He asked me rather pressingly to come and
stay with him; and though I do not like country-house visits, for the
sake of the old days I went.

Well, it was a very interesting visit; I was warmly welcomed. The young
wife, who I must say is the daughter of a penniless country clergyman
with a large family, was radiant; the Major was quietly and
undemonstratively pleased to see me; the veil of the years fell off,
and I found myself back on the old easy terms with him, as when we were
schoolboys together thirty years ago. He is a very simple and
transparent creature, and I read him as if he were a book. He indulged
in almost extravagant panegyrics of his wife and descriptions of his
own happiness. But I very soon made a discovery: his charming wife is,
not to put too fine a point upon it, a fool. She is perfectly harmless,
good-natured, and virtuous. But she is a very silly and a very
conventional girl She is full of delight at her promotion; but she is
entirely brainless, and not even very affectionate. She as wholly
preoccupied about her new possessions, and the place she is going to
take in the county; she cares for her husband, because he represents
her social success, and because he is a creditable and presentable man.
But she has no grain of sympathy, perception, humour, or emotion. I
began by thinking it was rather a tragedy; my old friend had married
for love; he is anything but a fool himself, except for this one
serious error, the falling in love with a girl who can give him none of
the things he desires. He is a very serious, simple, intelligent, and
tenderhearted fellow, with all sorts of odd ideas of his own, which he
produces with an admirable humility. He likes books; he reads poetry--I
even suspect him of writing it. He is interested in social problems,
and has a dozen kindly enterprises--a club, a carving class, a natural
history society, and so forth--for the benefit of the village where he
lives. He would have been an ideal country clergyman; he is an
excellent man of business, and does a good deal of county work. He is
fond of sport, too--in fact, one of those grave, affectionate, solid
men who are to be found living quietly in every part of England--a
characteristic Englishman, indeed. But the strain of romance in his
nature has for once led him wrong, and the mistake seemed irreparable.
I was at first inclined to regard him with deep compassion. He is the
soul of chivalry, and it struck me as deeply pathetic to see him
smiling indulgently, but with a sad and bewildered air, at the terrible
snobbishness, to be candid, which his lively wife's conversation
revealed. She was for ever talking about "the right people," and the
only subject which seemed to arouse her enthusiasm was the fact that
she had been received on equal terms by some of the wives of
neighbouring squires. The Major tried to give a pleasant turn to the
conversation, and when he was alone with me, after praising the
practical good sense of his wife, added, "Of course she hasn't quite
settled down yet! She has lived rather a poky life, and the change has
upset her a little." That was the nearest that the good fellow could
get to an apology, and it touched me a good deal. I did my part, and
praised my hostess's charm and beauty, and expressed gratitude for the
warmth of my welcome.

But now that I have had time to reflect on the situation, I am not at
all sure that the Major is not to be congratulated after all. He has
got before him a perfectly definite occupation, and one which he will
fulfil with all the generosity of his nature. He was a lonely man
before his marriage, and, like all lonely men, was becoming somewhat
self-absorbed. Now his work is cut out for him. He has got to make the
best of a tiresome and unsympathetic wife. I will venture to say that
if the Major lives to be eighty, his wife will never suspect that he
does not adore and admire her. He will never say a harsh or unkind or
critical thing to her. He may induce her, perhaps, by gentle precepts,
to moderate her complacency; and perhaps, too, they will have children,
and some kind affection may awake in his shallow little partner's
heart. The Major will make a perfect father, and he will find in his
children, if only they inherit something of his own wise and tender
nature, a deep and lasting joy. I think that if he had married an
adoring and sympathetic wife, he might almost have grown
exacting--perhaps even selfish, because he is the sort of man that
requires to have the best part of him evoked. He is unambitious and in
a way indolent; and if everything had been done for him--his wishes
anticipated, sympathy lavished upon him--he would have had no region in
which to exercise that self-restraint which is now a necessity of the
case. We are very liable to try and arrange the lives of others for
them, and to think we could have done better for them than Providence;
and since I have pondered over the situation, I am inclined to be
ashamed of myself for feeling the regret which I began by feeling. If
there was any weakness in my friend's mind, if I thought that he would
grow irritable, harsh, impatient with his silly wife, it would be
different. But he will have to stand between her and the world; she
will shock and distress all his finer feelings and instincts of
propriety. They will go and pay visits, and he will have to hear her
saying all sorts of trivial and vulgar things. He will make himself
into a kind guardian and interpreter and champion for this foolish
young woman. She will try his patience, his endurance, his chivalry to
the uttermost; and he will never fail her for an instant--he will never
even confess to himself in the loneliness of his own heart that there
is anything amiss. The severest criticism he will ever pass upon her
will be a half-hearted wish that she should exhibit the best side of
herself more consistently. And so I come at last to think that there
are many worse things in the world for a strong man than to be the
bulwark and fortress of a thoroughly inferior nature. He feels the
strain at first, because it is all so different from what he expected
and hoped. But he will soon grow used to that. And, after all, his wife
is both lovely and healthy; she will always be delightful to look at.
Indeed, if he can teach, her to hold her tongue, to listen instead of
rattling away, to smile with those pretty eyes of hers as if she
understood, to ask the simplest questions about other people's tastes
and preferences, instead of describing her own garden and poultry-yard,
she might pass for a delightful and even enchanting woman. But I fear
that neither he nor she are quite clever enough for that. I do not
personally envy my old friend; if I were in his position, the situation
would bring out the very worst side of my nature. But because I realise
how much better a fellow he is than myself, I believe that he has every
prospect of being a decidedly happy man.


There are certain writers--men, too, of ability, humour, perspicacity,
with wide knowledge, lucidity of expression, firm intellectual grip,
genuine admirations, who really live among the things of the
mind--whose writings are almost wholly distressing to me, and affect me
exactly as the cry of an itinerant vendor in a quiet and picturesque
town affects me. It is an honest trade enough; he saves people a great
deal of trouble; he sells, no doubt, perfectly wholesome and
inexpensive things; but I am glad when he has turned the corner, and
when his raucous clamour is heard more faintly--glad when he is out of
sight, and still more when he is out of hearing. So with these authors;
if I take up one of their books, however brilliant and even true the
statements may be, I am sorry that the writer has laid hands upon a
thing I admire and value. He seems like a damp-handed auctioneer,
bawling in public, and pointing out the beauties of a mute and pathetic

I am thinking now of one writer in particular, a well-known man of
letters, a critic, essayist, and biographer; a man of great acuteness
and with strong and vehement preferences in literature. When I have
been forced by circumstances, as I sometimes have, to read one of his
books, I find myself at once in a condition of irritable opposition. He
writes sensibly, acutely, epigrammatically; but there is a vile
complacency about it all, an underlying assumption that every one who
does not agree with him in the smallest particular is necessarily a
fool--a sense that he feels that he has gone into the merits of a book,
and that there is exactly as much and as little in it as he tells you.
He is very often right; that is the misery of it. But this lack of
urbanity, this unnecessary insolence, is a very grave fault in a
writer--fatal, indeed, to his permanence. He turns a book or a person
inside out, dissects it in a deft and masterly way; but one feels at
the end as one might feel about an anatomist who has dissected every
fibre of an animal's body, classified every organ, traced every muscle
and nerve, and bids you at the end take it on his authority that there
is no such thing as the vital principle or the informing soul, because
he has shown you everything that there is to see. Yet the finest
essence of all, the living and breathing spirit, has escaped him.

But what is a still worse fault in the writer of whom I speak is that
he is the victim of a certain intellectual snobbishness. By which I
mean that when he has once conceived an admiration for a historical
personage or a writer he becomes unable to criticise him; he can only
justify and praise him, sling mud at his opponents, and, so to speak,
clear a space round his hero by knocking over in opprobrious terms any
one who may threaten his supremacy. He condones and even praises any
fault in his idol; and what would be in his eyes a damning fault in one
whom he happened to dislike, becomes a salient virtue in the person
whom he praises. He condemns Swift for his coarseness and praises
Johnson for his outspokenness. He condemns Robert Browning for his
obscurity and praises George Meredith for his rich complexity. He would
never see that the victory lies with the appreciator of any
personality, because, if you happen to appreciate a figure whom he
himself dislikes, you are proclaimed to be guilty of perversity and bad
taste. Thus I not only feel sore when he abuses a character whom I
love, but I feel ashamed when he decries one whom I hate, for I am
tempted to feel that I must have grossly misunderstood him; and even
when he rapturously and unctuously belauds some figure that I admire, I
feel my admiration to be smirched and tarnished.

The one quality which I think he always misses in a character is a
high, pure, delicate sense of beauty, the subtlest fibre of poetry.
This my swashbuckler misnames sentimentality--and thus I feel that he
always tends to admire the wrong qualities, because he condones even
what he calls sentimentality in one whom he chooses to admire.

It is this attitude of disdain and scorn, based upon the intellect
rather than upon the soul, that I think is one of the most terrible and
satanical things in life. Such a quality may be valuable in scientific
research, it may be successful in politics, because there are still
among us many elementary people who really like to see a man
belaboured; it may be successful in business, it may being a man
wealth, position, and a certain kind of influence. But it never
inspires confidence or affection; and though such a man may be feared
and respected on the stage of life, there is an invariable and general
sense of relief when he quits it.

"The fruit of the Spirit," wrote the wise apostle--who knew, too, the
bitter pleasures of a vehement controversy, and was no milk-and-water
saint--"the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, meekness,
long-suffering, kindness." None of these fruits hang upon the vigorous
boughs of our friend's tree. He is rather like that detestable and
spidery thing the araucaria, which has a wound for every tender hand,
and invites no bright-eyed feathered songsters to perch or build among
its sinister branches.

The only critic who helps me is the critic whose humility keeps pace
with his acuteness, who leads me gently where he has himself trodden
patiently and observantly, and does not attempt to disfigure and ravage
the regions which he has not been able to desire to explore. The man
who will show me unsuspected connections, secret paths of thought, who
will teach me how to extend my view, how I may pass quietly from the
known to the unknown; who will show me that stars and flowers have
voices, and that running water has a quiet spirit of its own; and who
in the strange world of human life will unveil for me the hopes and
fears, the deep and varied passions, that bind men together and part
them, and that seem to me such unreasonable and inexplicable things if
they are bounded by the narrow fences of life--emotions that travel so
long and intricate a path, that are born with such an amazing
suddenness and attain so large a volume, so fierce a velocity--this is
the interpreter and guide whom I would welcome, even if he know but a
little more than myself; while if my guide is infallible and
disdainful, if he denies what he cannot see and derides what he has
never felt, then I feel that I have but one enemy the more, in a place
where I am beset with foes.


I have had rather a humiliating experience to-day. A young literary
man, whom I knew slightly, came down to see me, and stayed the night.
He was a small, shapely, trim personage, with a pale, eloquent face,
large eyes, mobile lips, and of extraordinary intelligence. I was
prepared--I make the confession very frankly--to find a certain shyness
and deference about my young friend. He has not made his mark as yet,
though I think he is likely to make it; he has written nothing in
particular, whereas I am rather a veteran in these matters.

We had a long talk about all kinds of things, mostly books; and it
presently dawned upon me that, so far from being either shy or
deferential, it was rather the other way. He looked upon himself, and
quite rightly, as an advanced and modern young man, brimful of ideas
and thoroughly abreast of the thoughts and movement of the day.
Presently I made a fresh discovery, that he looked upon me as an old
fogey, from whom intelligence and sympathy could hardly be expected. He
discussed some modern books with great acuteness, and I became aware
that, so far from desiring to learn my opinion, he had not the
slightest wish even to hear me express it. He listened very courteously
to my criticisms, as a man might listen to the talk of a child.
However, when I had once got hold of the clue, I abandoned myself
joyfully to what appeared to me to be the humour of the situation. I
thought to myself that here was an opportunity of turning inside out
the mind of a very young and intelligent man. I might learn, I thought,
what the new ideas were, the direction in which the younger generation
were tending. Now, it would be invidious to mention the names of the
books that we discussed. Many of the volumes that he ranked very high,
I had not even read; and he was equally at sea in the old books that
seemed to me the most vital and profound. I discovered that the art
that he preferred was a kind of brilliant impressionism. He did not
care much about the truth of it to life; the desirable quality seemed
to him to be a sort of arresting daring of statement. He was not a
narrow-minded man at all; he had read a great many books, both old and
new, but he valued specious qualities above everything, and books which
seemed to me to be like the crackling of thorns under a pot seemed to
him to be the glowing heart of the fire. The weakness of my young
friend's case lay, I thought, in the fact that he not only undervalued
experience, but that he evidently did not believe that experience could
have anything to say to him. With the swift insight of youth, he had
discounted all that, and growing older appeared to him to be a mere
stiffening and hardening of prejudices. Where he seemed to me to fail
was in any appreciation of tender, simple, wistful things; as I grow
older, I feel the pathetic charm of life, its hints, its sorrow, its
silence, its infinite dreams, its darkening horizon, more and more
acutely. Of all this he was impatient. His idea was to rejoice in his
strength; he loved, I felt, the sparkling facets of the gem, the
dazzling broken reflections, rather than its inner heart of light. The
question which pressed on me with a painful insistence was this: "Was
he wholly in the right? was I wholly in the wrong?" I am inclined, of
course, to believe that men do their best artistic work in their youth,
while they are passionately just, charmingly indiscreet, relentlessly
severe; before they have learnt the art of compromise or the force of
limitations. I suppose that I, like all other middle-aged writers, am
tempted to think that my own youth is miraculously prolonged; that I
have not lost in fire what I have gained in patience and width of view.
But he would believe that I have lost the glow, and that what seems to
me to be gentle and beautiful experience is but the closing in of
weariness and senility. I have often thought myself that an increase of
accomplishment goes hand-in-hand with an increased tameness of spirit.
And the most pathetic of all writers are, to my mind, those whose
mastery of their art grows as the initial impulse declines. But my
young friend appeared to me to value only prodigal and fantastic
vigour, and to prefer the sword-dance to the minuet.

I began to perceive at last that he was feeling as Hamlet did when the
bones of Yorick were unearthed; with a kind of luxurious pity for my
mouldering conditions; touched, perhaps, a little by the thought that I
was excluded from the bright and brave shows of earth, and sadly
conscious of the odour of corruption. I felt as he strolled with me
round my garden on the following morning that he was regarding my
paltry, unadventurous life with a sincere pity, as the life of one who
had stolen from the brisk encounters of wit and revelry to a quiet
bedroom and a basin of gruel. And yet the curious thing was that I felt
no kind of resentment about it at all. I did not envy him his youth and
his pride; indeed, I felt glad to have escaped from it, if I was like
what he was at his age. The world seemed full to me of a whole range of
fine sensations, gentle secrets, remote horizons, of which he had no
perception. Indeed, I think he despised my whole conception of patient
and faithful art. His idea rather was that one should not spend much
time over work, but that one should break at intervals into a spurting,
fizzing flame, and ascend like a rocket over the heads of the crowd,
discharging a shower of golden stars.

I may, of course, be only coming down like a burnt-out stick; and this
is where the humiliation lies; but I feel rather as if I were soaring
to worlds unknown: though perhaps, after all, that is only one of the
happy delusions, the gentle compensations, which God showers down so
plentifully upon the middle-aged.

I have had two visitors lately who have set me reflecting upon the odd
social habits of the men of my nation. They were not unusual
experiences--indeed I think they may fairly be called typical.

One of these was a man who invited himself to come and see me; the
excuse, a small matter of business; but he added that we had many
common friends, that he had read my books, and much wished to make my

He came down to luncheon and to spend the afternoon. He was a tall,
handsome, well-dressed man, with a courteous, conventional manner, but
every inch a gentleman. He had a perfect social ease; he began by
paying me rather trite compliments, saying that he found my books
extremely sympathetic, and that I constantly put feelings into words
which he had always had and which he had never been able to express.
Then we turned to our business and finished it in five minutes. It now
remained to fill the remainder of the time. We strolled round the
garden; we lunched; we strolled again. We had an early tea, and I
walked down to the station with him. I had thought that perhaps he
wished to discuss some of the topics on which I had written in my
books; but he did not appear to have any such wish. He had lately taken
a house himself in the country; and he appeared to wish to tell me
about that. I was delighted to hear about it, because I am always
interested to hear how other people live; but I began to be surprised
when I discovered that this seemed to be the only thing he wished to
talk about. He described the house, the garden, the village, the
neighbours; he described his mode of life, his parties, the things he
said to other people, the visits he paid. I became a mute listener.
Occasionally I assented or asked a question; but if I attempted to
contribute to the conversation he became restive and bored; so I merely
let him have his head, and he talked on. I will confess that I derived
a good deal of entertainment from my companion, for he was a shrewd and
observant man. I do not think I ever learnt so much about an entire
stranger in so short a time. I even knew what he had for breakfast and
what he drank with his luncheon. When we said goodbye at the station,
he said that he had spent a very pleasant day, and I am sure it was the
truth; he pressed me to visit him with much cordiality, and said that
it had given him great pleasure to make my acquaintance; we bowed and
smiled and waved our hands, and the train moved out of the station.

The surprising thing is that it never seemed to occur to him that he
had not made my acquaintance at all. He had seen my house, indeed, but
every detail that he observed had suggested to him some superior detail
in his own house. He had certainly allowed me to make his acquaintance,
but that had not been the professed object of his visit. He could not
have talked more obligingly if I had been an interviewer who had
desired to write his biography. I do not believe that it had ever
crossed his mind that the occasion had been anything but a complete
success. His enjoyment was evidently to converse, and he had conversed
unintermittently for several hours. The man was an egoist, of course,
but he had not talked exclusively about himself. Much of his talk had
been devoted to other people, but they were all of them the people whom
he saw in his own private mirror. I have no doubt that for the time
being I was a figure in his dreams, and that I shall be described with
the same minuteness to the unhappy recipients of his confidences who
are now awaiting him at dinner,--at which I may mention he always
drinks whisky-and-seltzer.

I do not mean that every one is like this; but there are really a
larger number of people in the world than I like to think whose delight
it is not to perceive but to relate. The odd thing is that my friend
should think it necessary to preface his meeting with courteous
formulas, which I suppose are really merely liturgical, like the
_Dominus vobiscum_, relating to what a polite Frenchman the other day
called _votre presence et votre precieux concours_.

It is really impossible to convey anything to such people; in fact, it
is almost impossible to communicate with them at all. "Never tell
people how you are," as a trenchant lady of my acquaintance said to me
the other day; "they don't want to know."

I think that the society of people who do want to know, and who ply one
with questions as to one's tastes and habits, are almost more trying
than the purely narrative people, and induce a subtle sense of moral
hypochondria. The perfect mixture, which is not a common one, is that
of the person who both desires to know and is willing to illustrate
one's experience by his own. Then there is a still more inexplicable
class--the people who go greedily to entertainments, come early and go
late, who seem to wish neither to learn nor to communicate, but sit
staring and tongue-tied. The inveterate talker is the least tiresome of
the three undesirable types, because one at least learns something of
another's point of view. But the danger of general society to a person
like myself, who has a desire to play a certain part in talk, is that
sometimes one is tied to an uncompromising person as to a post for
execution. I love a decent equality in the matter of talk. I want to
hear other people's views and to contrast my own with them. I do not
wish to lie, like a merchant vessel near a pirate ship, and to be fired
into at intervals until I surrender. Neither do I want to do all the
firing myself.

The odd thing is that people, like the saints in the psalm, are so
joyful in glory! They seem entirely content with their aims and
methods, and not even dimly to suspect that they might be enlarged or
improved. Some of them want to talk, and some of them seem not even to
wish to be talked to; a very few to listen, and a small and happy
percentage desire both to give and to take.

Well, I suppose that I ought to be glad that my visitor enjoyed
himself; but I cannot help feeling that my coachman would have done as
well as myself--indeed better, for he is a pleasantly taciturn man, and
would not even have given way to rebellious thoughts.

The impression left on my mind by my visitor is just as though a
grasshopper had leapt upon my window-sill from the garden-bed, and sate
there awhile, with his blank eyes, his long, impassive, horse-like
face, twiddling his whisks and sawing out a whizzing note with his dry
arm. It would please me to observe his dry manners, his unsympathetic
and monotonous cries; but neither visitor nor grasshopper would seem
within the reach of any human emotion, except a mild curiosity, and
even amusement. Indeed, the only difference is that if I had clapped my
hands the grasshopper would have gone off like a skipjack, and after a
sky-high leap would have landed struggling among the laurels; while the
more I clapped my hands at my visitor, the longer he would have been
delighted to stay.

My other visitor, who came a day or two later, was a very different
type of man. He was a young, vigorous, healthy creature, who had lately
gone as a master to a big public school. He came at my invitation,
being the son of an old friend of mine. He, too, spent a day with me,
and left on my mind a very different impression, namely, that I should
grow to respect and like him the more that I saw of him. There was
nothing insincere or lacking in genuineness about him. I felt his
solidity, his loyalty, his uprightness very strongly. But he exhibited
on first acquaintance--due no doubt to a sturdy British shyness--all
the qualities that make us so detested upon the Continent, and that
lead the more expansive foreigner, who only sees the superficial aspect
of the Englishman, to think of us as a brutal nation. He was an odd
mixture of awkwardness and complacency, a desire to be courteous
struggling with a desire to show his independence; he had no ease of
manner, no bonhomie, but a gruff and ugly kind of jocosity, which I am
sure was not really natural to him, but was his protest against the
possibility of my considering him to be shy. He seemed anxious to show
that he was as good a man as myself, which I was quite ready to take
for granted. He jested about the dulness of the country; said that he
thought it made people jolly mouldy. He did not see that it was a pity
to press that fact upon me; the truth was that he was thinking of
himself for the time being, though he was no egoist. And whereas the
courtly egoist pays you compliments first and then returns to a more
congenial self-contemplation, my burly young friend would, I have not
the slightest doubt, grow more companionable and considerate every day
that one knew him. But his manner was the manner of the common-room and
the cricket field, that odd British humour, that, without meaning to be
unkind, thrusts its darts clumsily in the weak points of the armour. It
is this, I think, that makes English public school life so good a
discipline, if one unlearns its methods as soon as one has done with
it, because it makes men tolerant of criticism and even ridicule; its
absence of sentiment makes them tough; its absence of courtesy makes
them strong.

But I did not like it at the time. He surveyed my belongings with
good-humoured contempt. He said he did not care for fiddling about a
garden himself, and at my fowl-house he jested of fleas. In my library
he said he had no time for poking about with books. I asked him about
his life at P---- and he assured me it was not half bad; that the boys
were all right if you knew how to take them; and he told me some
pleasant stories of some of his inefficient colleagues. He said that a
good deal of the work was rot, but that they had a first-rate cricket
pitch, and a splendid Pro.

Yet this young man took a high classical degree, and is, I know for a
fact, an admirable schoolmaster, sensible, effective, and even wise; he
makes his boys work, and work contentedly, and he is not only popular
but really trusted by the boys. He would never do a mean thing or an
unkind thing; he is absolutely manly, straightforward, and honourable,
and I gladly admit that a man's behaviour on a social occasion is a
very trivial thing beside these greater qualities. But what is it,
then, which causes this curious gruffness and rudeness, this apparent
assumption that every one is slightly grotesque, low-minded, and
dishonest? For the style of humour which this type develops is the
humour that consists in calling attention in public to any deficiencies
that you may observe in a man's appearance, manner, and surroundings,
and also taking for granted that his motives for action are bad. I do
not mean to say that my young friend considers me grotesque or
dishonest, but his idea of humour is to make a pretence of thinking so.
He would be distressed if he thought that he had given me pain; his
intention is to diffuse a genial good-humour into the scene; and if he
were bantered in the same way, he would take it as an evidence of
friendly feeling.

The truth is that it is really schoolboy humour belatedly prolonged.
Vituperation is the schoolboy's idea of friendly banter. The schoolboy
does not so much consider the feelings of his victim as his companions'
need for amusement. But I am sure that the tendency nowadays is,
somehow or other, to prolong the hobbledehoy days. There is so much
more organisation of everything at schools that young men remain boys
longer than they used to do. Partly, too, in the case of this young
man, it arises from his never having had a change of atmosphere. He
remained a jolly schoolboy till the end of his University days, and
then he went back to the society of schoolboys. He is simply
undeveloped; and the mistake he makes is to consider himself a man of
the world.

But partly, too, it arises from national characteristics, the
preference for bluntness and frankness and outspokenness; the tendency
to believe that a display of courtesy and emotion and consideration is
essentially insincere. One does not at all want to get rid of frankness
and outspokenness. Combined with a certain degree of deference and
sympathy, they are the most delightful graces in the world. But though
the attitude which I have been describing prides itself upon being
above all things unaffected, it is in reality a highly affected mood,
because it is all based on a kind of false shame. Such a man as my
young friend does not really say what he thinks, and very rarely thinks
what he says. He is, as I have said, a high-minded, intelligent, and
sensible man; but he thinks it priggish to let his real opinions be
known, and thus is priggish without perceiving it. The essence of
priggishness is the disapproving attitude, and it is priggish to wish
to appear superior; but my young friend, in the back of his mind, does
think himself the superior of courteous, sympathetic, and emotional

And thus I did not particularly enjoy his visit, because I could not
feel at ease with my visitor. I could not say frankly what I thought,
but had to select topics which I thought he would consider unaffected.

I think, in fact, that we pay too high a price for our British
reticence: perhaps we keep a few foolish and gushing people in order,
stifle effusiveness, and dry up unctuousness; but we do so at the price
of silencing a much larger number of simple and direct people, and lose
much variety of characteristics and interchange of sincere opinions


There are some people in the world, I am sure, who are born solitary,
who are not conscious of any closeness of relationship with others.
They are not necessarily ungenial people--indeed they sometimes have a
great deal of external geniality; but when it is a question of forming
a closer relationship, they are alarmed and depressed by the
responsibility which attaches to it, and become colder instead of
warmer, the deeper and more imperative that the claims upon them
become. Such people are not as a rule unhappy, because they are spared
the pain which arises from the strain of intimacy, and because loss and
bereavement do not rend and devastate their hearts. They miss perhaps
the best kind of happiness, but they do not suffer from the penalties
that dog the great affections of men.

I had an old friend, who was a boy at school with me, who was of this
type. He was essentially solitary in spirit, though he was amiable and
sociable enough. There can be no harm in my telling the story of his
life, as the actors in it are all long ago dead.

He was at the University with me, though not at the same College; I
think that owing to a certain similarity of tastes, and perhaps of
temperament, I was his nearest and most intimate friend. He confided in
me as far as he confided in any one; but I always felt that there was a
certain fence behind which I was never admitted; and probably it was
because I never showed any signs of desiring to claim more than he was
ready to give in the way of intimacy that he found himself very much at
his ease with me.

A year or two after he left the University I heard from him, to my
great surprise, that he was engaged to be married. I went up to see him
in town, where he was then living, and he took me to see his fiancee.
She was one of the most beautiful and charming creatures I have ever
seen, and the two were evidently, as the phrase goes, very much in
love. I must say that my friend was superficially a most attractive
fellow; he had a commanding presence, and great personal beauty, and
there was a certain air of mystery about him which must, I think, have
added to the charm. They were married, and for a time, to all
appearances, enjoyed great happiness. A child was born to them, a
daughter. I saw them at intervals, and my impression was that my friend
had found the one thing that he wanted, the companionship of a loving,
beautiful, and intelligent woman.

It was in the course of the year after the birth of the child that I
became aware that something had gone wrong; a shadow seemed to have
fallen upon them. I became aware in the course of a few days which I
spent with them in a little house by the sea, which they had taken for
the summer, that all was not well. My friend seemed to me distrait and
heavy-hearted; his wife seemed to be pathetically affectionate and
anxious. There was no indifference or harshness apparent in his manner
to her; indeed, he seemed to me to be extraordinarily considerate and
tender. One day--we had gone off in the morning for a long ramble on
the cliffs, leaving his wife in the company of an old school friend of
hers who had come to stay with them--he suddenly said to me, with a
determined air, that he wished to consult me on a point. I expressed
the utmost readiness to be of use, and wondered in an agitated way what
the matter could be; but he was silent for so long--we were sitting on
a grassy headland high above a broad, calm expanse of summer sea--that
I wondered if he had repented of his resolution. At last he spoke. I
will not attempt to reproduce his words, but he said to me, with an
astonishing calmness, that he found that he was ceasing to care for his
wife: he said very quietly that it was not that he cared for anyone
else, but that his marriage had been a mistake; that he had engaged
himself in a moment of passion, and that this had subsequently
evaporated. In the days of his first love he had poured out his heart
to his wife, and now he no longer desired to do so; he did not wish any
more to share his thoughts with her, and he was aware that she was
conscious of this; he said that it was infinitely pathetic and
distressing to him to see the efforts that she made to regain his
confidence, and that he tried as far as he could to talk to her freely,
but that he had no longer any sincere desire to do it, and that the
effort was acutely painful; he was, he said, deeply distressed that she
should be bound to him, and he indicated that he was fully aware that
her own affection for him had undergone no change, and that it was not
likely to do so. He asked me what he had better do. Should he continue
to struggle with his reluctance to communicate his feelings to her;
should he endeavour to make her acquiesce in altered relations; should
he tell her frankly what had happened; or should he--he confessed that
he would prefer this himself--arrange for a virtual separation? "I
feel," he said, "that I have lost the only thing in the world I really
care about--my liberty." It sounds, as I thus describe the situation,
as though my friend was acting in an entirely selfish and cold-blooded
manner; but I confess that it did not strike me in that light at the
time. He spoke in a mood of dreary melancholy, as a man might speak who
had committed a great mistake, and felt himself unequal to the
responsibilities he had assumed. He spoke of his wife with a deep
compassionateness, as though intensely alive to the sorrow that he had
inconsiderately inflicted upon her. He condemned himself unsparingly,
and said frankly that he had known all the time that he was doing wrong
in allowing himself to be carried away by his passion. "I hoped," he
said, "that it might have been the awakening of a new life in me, and
that it would be an initiation for me into the inner life of the world,
from which I had always been excluded." He went on to say that he would
make any sacrifice he could for her happiness--adding gravely, looking
at me with a strange air, that if he thought that she would be the
happier if he killed himself, he would not hesitate to do it. "But live
as we are living," he said, "I cannot. My life has become a continual
and wearing drama, in which I can never be myself, but am condemned to
play an unreal part."

I made him the only answer that was possible--namely, that I thought
that he had undertaken a certain responsibility and that he was bound
in honour to fulfil it. I added that I thought that the whole of his
future peace of mind depended upon his rising to the situation, even
though it were to be a martyrdom. I said that I thought, believing as I
did in the providential guidance of individual lives, that it was the
crisis of his fate; that he had the opportunity of playing a noble

"Yes," he said dispassionately, "if it was the case of a single action
of the kind that is usually called heroic, I think I could do it; what
I can't say that I think I am equal to is the making of my life into
one long pretence; and what is more, it will not be successful--I
cannot hope to deceive her day after day."

"Well," I said, "it is a terrible position; but I think you are bound
to make the attempt."

"Thanks," he said; "you don't mind my having asked you? I thought it
would perhaps make things clearer, and I think that on the whole I
agree with you." He then began to talk of other matters with the utmost
calmness. The sequel is a strange one; what he said to his wife I do
not know, but for the few days that I spent with them there was a very
different feeling in the air; he had contrived to reassure her, and her
anxiety seemed for a time, at all events, to be at an end. A few days
after I left them, the child fell ill, and died within a week. The
shock was too much for the wife, and within a month she followed the
child to the grave. My friend was left alone; and it seemed to me like
a ghastly fulfilment of his desires. I was with him at the funeral of
his wife; is it terrible to relate that there was a certain
tranquillity about him that suggested the weariness of one off whom a
strain had been lifted? But his own life was to be a short one; about
two years after he himself died very suddenly, as he had always desired
to die. I saw him often in the interval; he never recurred to the
subject, and I never liked to reopen it. Only once did he speak to me
of her. "I feel," he said to me on one occasion, quite suddenly, "that
the two are waiting for me somewhere, and that they understand; and my
hope is that when I am freed from this vile body I shall be
different--perhaps worthy of their love; it is all within me somewhere,
though I cannot get at it. Don't think of me," he said, turning to me,
"as a very brutal person. I have tried my best; but I think that the
capacity for real feeling has been denied me."

It is a very puzzling episode; what I feel is that though we always
recognise the limitations of people physically and mentally, we do not
sufficiently recognise the moral and emotional limitations. We think of
the will as a dominant factor in people's lives, as a thing that we can
all make use of if we choose; we forget that it is just as strictly
limited and conditioned as all our other faculties.


I have an acquaintance at Cambridge, John Meyrick by name, who visits
me here at intervals, and is to me an object of curious interest. He is
a Fellow and Lecturer of his College. He came up there on a scholarship
from a small school. He worked hard; he was a moderate oar; he did not
make many friends, but he was greatly respected for a sort of quiet
directness and common-sense. He never put himself forward, but when it
fell to him to do anything he did it with confidence and discretion. He
had an excellent head for business, and was Secretary or Treasurer of
most of the College institutions. After taking an excellent degree he
was elected to a Fellowship. He took advantage of this to go abroad for
a year to Germany, and returned a first-rate German scholar, with a
considerable knowledge of German methods of education; and was shortly
afterwards given a lectureship. I believe he is one of the best
lecturers in the place; he knows his subject, and keeps abreast of it.
He is extraordinarily clear, lucid, and decisive in statement, and
though he is an advanced scholar, he is an extremely practical one. His
men always do well. I made his acquaintance over a piece of business,
and found him friendly and pleasant. He is fond of taking long,
solitary walks on Sunday, as he seldom has time for exercise in the
week; and I asked him to come over and see me; he walked from Cambridge
one morning, arriving for luncheon, and I accompanied him part of the
way back in the afternoon. Since that time he generally comes over once
or twice a term. I do not quite know his object in doing this, because
I always feel that he has a sort of polite contempt for my ways of life
and habits of thought; but it makes a good goal for a long walk, and,
moreover, he likes to know different types of people.

He is now about forty-five. In appearance he is trim and small, and
gives the impression of being, so to speak, in first-rate training. He
has a firm, pale face, of which the only distinction is that it has a
look of quiet strength and self-confidence. He has rather thick dark
hair, and a close-cropped beard, sprinkled with grey; strong, ugly
hands, and serviceable feet. His dress is precise and deliberate, but
in no particular fashion. He wears a rather stiff dark suit, low
collars, a black tie, a soft black hat, and strong elastic-sided boots.
If one met him in the road, one would think him a Board-School Master.

He is very considerate and polite; for instance, if he is coming over
he always lets me know a few days before, so that I may get his
post-card forwarded to me if I happen to be away. If the day is wet or
if he is prevented from coming, he invariably wires in the morning to
let me know that he will not appear.

He has one of the best-filled and most serviceable minds I know; though
he is overwhelmed by business of all kinds--he is Secretary to two or
three boards--he always seems to have read everything and to have a
perfectly clear-cut idea about it. He does this by the most
extraordinarily methodical use of his time. He rises early, disposes of
his correspondence, never failing to answer a letter as briefly as
possible the same day that he receives it; reads the paper; lectures
and coaches all the morning; attends meetings in the afternoon; coaches
again till dinner; and after dinner reads in his rooms till midnight.
He seems to have perfect bodily health and vigour, and he has never
been known to neglect or to defer anything that he undertakes. In fact,
he is a perfectly useful, competent, admirable man.

His behaviour to every one is exactly the same; he treats everybody,
his young men, his colleagues, his academical superiors, with the same
dry politeness and respect. He is never shy or flustered; he found one
day here, staying with me, a somewhat rare species of visitor, a man of
high political distinction, who came down to get a quiet Sunday to talk
over an important article which I happened to be entrusted with.
Meyrick's behaviour was unexceptionable: he was neither abrupt nor
deferential; he was simply his unaffected, self-confident self.

I like seeing Meyrick at intervals, because, though he is not really a
typical Don at all, he is exactly the sort of figure which would be
selected as typical nowadays. The days of the absent-minded, unkempt,
slatternly, spectacled, owlish Don are over, and one has instead a
brisk professional man, fond of business and ordered knowledge, who is
not in the least a man of the world, but a curious variety of it, a man
of a small and definite society who, on the strength of knowing a
certain class, and of possessing a certain _savoir faire_, credits
himself with a mundane position and enjoys his own self-respect.

But I should be very melancholy if I had to spend a long time in
Meyrick's company. In the first place, his views on literature are
directly opposed to mine. He has a kind of scheme in his head, and
classifies writers into accurate groups. He seems to have no
predilection and no admirations except for what he calls important
writers. He has no personal interest in writers whatever. He can assign
them their exact places in the development of English, but he never
approaches an author with the reverential sense of drawing near to a
mysterious and divine secret, but rather with a respect for technical
accomplishment. In fact, his pleasure in dealing with an author is the
pleasure of mastering him and classifying him. He puts a new book
through its paces as a horse-dealer does with a horse; he observes his
action, his strong and weak points, and then forms a business-like
estimate of his worth.

It is the same with his treatment of people. He has a hard and shrewd
judgment of character, and a polite contempt for weakness of every
kind. He is a Radical by conviction, with a strong sense of equal
rights. Socialism he thinks unpractical, and he is interested in
movements rather than in men.

But he seldom or never lets one into his confidence about people. If he
respects and values a man he says so frankly, but keeps silence about
the people of whom he does not approve. On one of the few occasions in
which I had a peep into the interior of his mind, I was surprised to
find that he had a strong class-feeling. He had an obvious contempt for
what may be called the upper class, and gave me to understand that he
thought their sense of superiority a very false one. He thought of them
simply as the people, so to speak, in possession, but entirely lacking
in moral purpose and ideal. I said something about the agreeable,
sympathetic courtesy of well-bred people, and he made it plain that he
regarded it as a sort of expensive and useless product. He had, I
found, a different kind of contempt for the lower classes, regarding
them as thriftless and unenterprising. In fact, the professional middle
class seemed to him to have a monopoly of the virtues--common-sense,
simplicity, respectability.

Two things for which he has no kind of sympathy are art and music,
which appear to him to be a kind of harmless and elegant trifling. I am
afraid that what irritates me in his treatment of these subjects is his
cool and sensible indifference to them. He never expresses the least
opposition to them, but merely treats them as purely negligible things.
He is not exactly complacent, because there is no touch of vanity or
egotism about him; and then his attitude is impossible to assail,
because there is no assumption whatever of superiority about it. He
merely knows that he is right, and he has no interest whatever in
convincing other people; when they know better, when they get rid of
their emotional prejudices, they will feel, he is sure, as he does.

In discussing matters he is not at all a doctrinaire; he deals with any
objections that one makes courteously and frankly, and even covers his
opponent's retreat with a polite quoting of possible precedents.
Without being a well-bred man, he is so entirely unpretentious that he
could hold his own in any company. He would sit next a commercial
traveller and talk to him pleasantly, just as he would sit next the
King, if it fell to his lot to do so, and talk without any

I find it hard to say why it is that a man who is so admirable in his
conduct of life and in his relations with others inspires me at times
with so strange a mixture of anger and terror. I am angry because I
feel that he takes no account of many of the best things in the world;
I am frightened because he is so extraordinarily strong and complete.
If he were to be given absolute and despotic power, he would arrange
the government of a State on just and equable lines; the only tyranny
that he would originate would be the tyranny of common-sense. The only
thing which he would be hard on would be unreasonableness in any form.
I am very fond of reasonableness myself; I think it a very fine and
beautiful quality, and I think that it wins probably the best victories
of the world. But I desire in the world a certain driving force,
whereas to me Meyrick only represents an immensely strong regulating
force. When I am away from him I think subordination and regulation are
very fine things, but when I am with him I feel that my liberty is
somehow strangely curtailed. I cannot be fanciful or extravagant in
Meyrick's company; his polite laugh would be a disheartening rebuke; he
would think my extravagance an agreeable conversational ornament, but
he would put me down as a man unfit to be placed upon a syndicate. I do
not feel that I am being consciously judged and condemned; I simply
feel that I am being unconsciously estimated; which fills me with
inexplicable rage.

I wrote this on Sunday evening, having spent an hour or two in his
company, I can still see him as I stopped to say farewell to him on the
long, straight road leading to Cambridge. "Going to turn back here?
Well, I must be getting on--very good of you to give me
luncheon--good-bye!" with a little brisk smile--he never shakes hands,
I must add, on these occasions. I stood for an instant to watch him
walk off at a good pace down the road. His boots rose and fell
rhythmically, and he put his stick down at regular intervals. He never
turned his head, but no doubt plunged into some definite train of
thought. Indeed, I have little doubt that he had arranged beforehand
exactly what he would think out when I left him alone.

So the little, trim, compact figure trudged away, like a spirit of law,
decency, and order, with the long fields stretching to left and right
with their distant clumps of trees. He seemed to me to be the
embodiment of sensible civilisation, knowing his own mind perfectly, a
drill-sergeant of humanity, with a strong sense of responsibility for,
but no sympathy with, all lounging, fanciful, and irresolute persons.
How useful, how competent, how good, how honourable he was! What a
splendid guide, mentor, and guardian! and yet I felt helplessly that he
possessed and desired none of the things that make humanity dear and
the world beautiful. I often feel very impatient with the way in which
writers, and particularly clerical writers, use the word spiritual; it
often means, I feel, that they are only conscious of the entire
inadequacy of the motives for conduct that they are themselves able to
supply; but the moment that I set eyes upon Meyrick, I know what the
word means, that it is the one great quality that, for all his virtue
and strength, he misses. I do not know what the quality is exactly, but
I do know that he is without it; and in the dry light of Meyrick's
mind, I forgive all muddled and irresolute people their sins and
foolishnesses, their aggravating incompetence, their practical
inefficacy; because I know that they have somehow in a clumsy way got
hold of the two great principles that "The end is not yet," and "It
doth not yet appear what we shall be." For them the misty goal is not
even in sight; the vale is bounded by huge pine-clad precipices,
wreathed with snow and crowned with cloud; but to Meyrick it does
appear quite definitely what we are, and as for the end, well, the
avenue of the world seems to lead up to a neat classical building with
pillars and a pediment, that is called the temple of reason and

I do not know what Meyrick's religious views are; he attends his
College chapel with a cool decorum. But I suspect him of being a quiet
agnostic. I do not think he cares a straw whether his individuality
endures, and he looks forward to a progress which can be tabulated and
statistics about the decrease of crime and disease that can be
verified; that, I am sure, is his idea of the Kingdom of Heaven.


I have been staying with a friend in Yorkshire, in an out-of-the-way
place, and I have seen a good deal of the parish clergyman there, who
is rather a pathetic person, I think. It seems to me that he belongs to
a type which is perhaps becoming more common, and the fact makes me
somewhat anxious about the future of the Church of England, because it
is a type that does not seem to me to correspond to the needs of the
day at all. He was, I believe, the son of a solicitor in a small
country town; he was educated at a local grammar-school, and went up to
a small Cambridge College; here he took a pass-degree, and then went
into a Theological College, of a rather advanced High-Church type.
Having received a so-called classical education, he had no particular
intellectual interests. He was not an athlete; he worked just enough to
secure a pass-degree, and spent his time at Cambridge in mild

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