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Without Prejudice by Israel Zangwill

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probably acquired it when teaching French; and he was perhaps more proud
of it than of his poems. Mr. Moore says he wished to translate Tennyson.
He read aloud a poem he had just written in celebration of his own
fiftieth birthday. There was an allusion to a "crystal goblet." "_Ce
verre-là!_" he interpolated, with a humorous smile, pointing to a cheap
glass with the dregs of absinthe that stood on the table. There was also
an allusion to a "blue-bird," a sort of symbol of the magic of spring, I
fancy, that flutters through many of his poems. (The "_plumage bleutê de
l'orgueil_" figures in one of his very last verses.) When he arrived at
this "blue-bird" he pointed to the cage with the same droll twinkle:
"_Cet oiseau-ci._" When I left him he stood at the head of the gloomy
stone stairs to light me down, and the image of him in his red cotton
nightcap is still vivid. And now he is only an immortal name. Ah, well!
after the English school-rooms, the French prisons, the Parisian garrets
and hospitals, the tomb is not so bad. _Rien faire est doux_.

In giving him place with the immortals I feel no hesitation. An English
clergyman found immortality by writing one poem,--"The Burial of Sir John
Moore,"--and, however posterity may appraise Verlaine's work as a whole,
he has left three or four lyrics which can die only if the French
language dies, or if mankind in its latter end undergoes a paralysis of
the poetic sense such as Darwin suffered from in his old age. Much of his
verse--especially his later verse--is to me, at least, as obscure as
Mallarmé. But

Il pleut dans mon coeur
Comme il pleut dans la rue

can never be surpassed for the fidelity with which it renders the endless
drip, drip of melancholia, unless it is by that other magical lyric:

Les sanglots longs
Des violons
De l'automne
Blessent mon coeur
D'une langueur

He is the poet of rhythm, of the nuance, of personal emotion. French
poetry has always leant to the frigid, the academic, the rhetorical--in a
word, to the prosaic. The spirit of Boileau has ruled it from his cold
marble urn. It has always lacked "soul," the haunting, elusive magic of
wistful words set to the music of their own rhythm, the "finer light in
light," that are of the essence of poetry. This subtle and delicate echo
of far-off celestial music, together with some of the most spiritual
poems that Catholicism has ever inspired, have been added to French
literature by the gross-souled, gross-bodied vagrant of the prisons and
the hospitals! Which is a mystery to the Philistine. But did not our own
artistic prisoner once sing:

Surely there was a time I might have trod
The sunlit heights, and from life's dissonance
Struck one clear chord to reach the ears of God?

Was ever more devout Catholic than Benvenuto Cellini, who murdered his
enemies and counted his beads equal gusto?



I wonder if you have ever been struck by the catholicity--not to say the
self-contradictoriness--of the constant correspondent. The creature will
enter with zest into any discussion; there is no topic too small for it,
and certainly none too great. The following letters, carefully culled
from the annual contributions of a lady whose epistolary career I have
followed with interest, will indicate the delicious inconsequence that
has made them for me such grateful reading:


SIR,--There is nothing in life worth purchasing by pulsations and
respirations. The world is a dank, malarious marsh, with fitful
Will-o'-the-Wisp flashes of false radiance--a vast cemetery waiting
for our corpses. There is no such thing as happiness.

Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravin, shrieks against

the idea. Youth is an illusion, maturity a regret, and old age an
apprehension. Fortunately Providence has sent us a panacea--Universal

I am, Sir,
Yours obediently,


SIR,--Surely "A Mad Englishman" and "Dorothy X.," who maintain so
glibly that country life is more enjoyable than town life, fail to
realise how much of our pleasure depends on human intercourse. It is
given only to poets to talk with trees. Nor can ordinary mortals find

Sermons in stones,
Books in the running brooks.

We need the cathedrals and the libraries that are to be found only in
the great centres of national life--yes, and also the art galleries
and the theatres. Of course, if people will martyr themselves to keep
up appearances, and want to live in a fashionable neighbourhood, they
will not find town life either cheap or pleasant. But if they are
content to live outside the aristocratic radius, they can find many a
comfortable villa, with baths (hot and cold), and back gardens which
may easily be converted into rustic retreats (I would especially
recommend rhododendrons). If you are also not above omnibuses (taking
a cab only when it rains, and selecting a driver who does not look as
if he would swear), and are satisfied to go to the pit, then I feel
sure London is not only as cheap as the obscurest village, but gives
you a far greater return for your money. Newly-married couples in
especial often make a great mistake in settling in the country for
the sake of economy. It is only in the town that they can really lead
a tranquil, happy life, enriched with all the resources of culture
and civilisation.

I am, Sir,
Yours obediently,


SIR,--The failure of marriage is too apparent to be glossed over any
longer. "A.Y.Z." and "A Woman of No Importance" deserve the thanks of
every honest heart for their brave outspokenness. Too long has this
mediaeval monstrosity cramped our lives. The beautiful word "Home"
conceals a doll's house or whitewashes a sepulchre. Marriage is
misery in two syllables. How can people be happy chained together
like galley-slaves? It contradicts all we know of human nature.

Love, free as air, at sight of human ties
Spreads his light wings and in a moment flies.

Away with this effete Pharisaism! Let us realise the infinite
possibilities of happiness latent in the blessing of existence. The
world is longing for freedom to love truly, nobly, wisely, many.

I am, Sir,
Yours obediently,


SIR,--I can testify by personal experience to the fact that the
manners of our children are deteriorating. Coming up to the
Metropolis for a day's excursion last Bank Holiday, I could not walk
anywhere without overhearing ribald remarks--and, what was worse, at
my own expense--even from respectably dressed children. Let those
look to it who

Teach the young idea how to shoot.

I thank Heaven my lot has always been cast in a sweet Devonshire
village, where the contagion of ill-conduct has not yet spread among
the juvenile population.

I am, Sir,
Yours obediently,


SIR,--Have your flippant correspondents, "Polygamist" and "Illegal
Brother-in-Law," any conception of the thousands (ay, tens of
thousands) of hearts that are, languishing in misery because they
cannot marry their deceased sisters' husbands? And all because of a
text which is not to be found in the Bible! Fie upon you, ye
so-called Bishops,

Dressed in a little brief authority.

Abolish this unrighteous law, I say, and let floods of sunshine and
happiness into a million darkened homes.

I am, Sir,
Yours obediently,

But, after all, is it fair to juxtaposit Agatha's letters? What if one
were to collect the leaders of any newspaper on any given subject, before
or after any event? I have met Agatha P. Robins in many other places at
many other times. Sometimes she is interested in the best substitute for
shirt-buttons or for Christianity, sometimes in the problem of living on
a thousand a year, sometimes in the abolition of stag-hunting.


A gooseberry that groweth green and great,
A serpent round the sea serenely curled,
A lonely soul that fails to find a mate,
A boy redundant in a teeming world,

A sister yearning for dead sisters' shoes,
A life that longs for death, or after-life,
A ghost, a mistress whom her maids abuse,
An erring judge, a French or German wife,

A child's long ear or holiday, a slum,
A man gone bald, or drunk, a coin's design--
Should things like these across your paper come,
Conclude the Silly Season will be fine.

It is difficult to trace exactly when "The Season" ends and "The Silly
Season" begins. It needs the finest discrimination to know when the
adjective comes in--without a worldly training, indeed, you cannot tell
the one from the other. But the past masters of the social art proclaim
that "The Season" is dead, and we bow our heads in reverence. Yes, it is
vanished, that focus of futilities, that wonderful Season, that
phantasmagoria of absurdities, of abortive ambitions, over which a
hundred humourists have made merry: it is dead, with its splendours and
jubilations and processions--dead as the ropes of roses in St. James's
street. Often have I debated the potency of satire, again and again have
I suggested to learned friends a scientific and historical investigation
of the popular belief that satire moves mountains or even molehills. But
they agree only in shrinking from the task. To take only the last
half-century: we have had one supreme satirist who harped eternally on
the failings of fashion and the vanity of things. In his novels society
saw itself reflected in all its attitudes and postures and posings. Not
one meanness or folly escaped. What Professor Huxley has done for the
crayfish, that Thackeray did for the Snob. He studied him lovingly, he
dissected him, he classified every variety of him. A thousand disciples,
less gifted but equally remorseless, followed in the Master's footsteps.
"Punch" took up the tale, and week by week repeated the joke. It was
heard in drawing-room recitations to the accompaniment of pianos; it even
went on the stage. Ladies rushed into print to expose foibles men never
guessed, and to say of the sex at large what less gifted women say only
of their personal friends. For years we have never ceased for a moment to
hear the lash of the whip, the swish of the birch, the whizz of the
arrow, the ping of the bullet, the thwack of the flail, the thud of the
hammer, the buzzing of the hornet. And what does it all amount to? How
much execution has been done? Is society purer or nobler? Have less
daughters been sold at Vanity Fair, or more invitations been sent to poor
relatives? Has Jones got better manners or champagne? Is Mrs. Ponsonby de
Tomkins more distant to duchesses? Did my Lady Clara Vere de Vere
consider whether Hood's seamstress was at work on her court gown? Is any
one wiser or kinder or honester for all the literary pother? Are the
diplomatic corps less maculate than in the days of Grenville Murray? Have
we not, on the contrary, cast on our own imperfections the complaisance
of an eye educated in the superior imperfections of our neighbours?

Lo, here is a new satirist arisen, Sarah Jeannette Duncan, who, in "The
Simple Adventures of a Memsahib," sketches Anglo-Indian society in a
manner that would not discredit Thackeray--and with something, too, of
Thackeray's haunting sense of the pathos of the dead Past and the flying
Present. But will the memsahib of to-morrow take warning by the fate of
Helen Peachey, who went out to India in all her bridal bravery, in all
her youth and freshness? Will she escape exchanging the placidity of Fra
Angelico's piping cherubim for the petulance and ring-shadowed eyes of
the seasoned matron? Will she be on her guard against shrinking to the
prejudices and flirtations of a coterie, dying to all finer and higher
issues? Will she worship virtue more and viceroys less? Alas, I fear me
not--no more than Pagett, M. P., will leave off talking solar myths, or
foolish things cease to be done under the deodars. Will Hogarth keep
wine-bibbers from the bottle, or can you make men sober by acts of
"L'Assommoir"? Will "Madame Bovary" stay a sister's fall, or "Sapho"
repel an eligible young man? Will "The Dunciad" keep one dunce from
scribbling, or "Le Tartufe" elevate a single ecclesiastic? As well expect
"long firms" to run short, and the moths to avoid the footlights, and the
fool to cease from the land. "How gay they were, and how luxurious, and
how important in their little day! How gorgeous were the attendants of
their circumstances, on the box with a crest upon their turbans!--there
is a firm in Calcutta that supplies beautiful crests. And now, let me
think! some of them in the Circular Road Cemetery--cholera, fever,
heat-apoplexy; some of them under the Christian daisies of
England--probably abscess of the liver." Yes, madam, we know it all, we
recognize the Thackeray touch. "And soon, very soon, our brief day, too,
will have died in a red sunset behind clustering palms, and all its
little doings and graspings and pushings, all its petty scandals and
surmises and sensations, will echo further and further back into the
night." True, most true, and pity 't is 't is true. But meantime we will
go on with our little doings and graspings and pushings--yes, madam, even
you and I who have realised the vanity of all things; for the knowledge
thereof--this, too, is vanity. "And it was all a striving and a striving,
and an ending in nothing, and no one knew what they had lived and worked
for." Yea, so it is, Frau Schreiner. And still we are living on--and oh!
how hard we work (on African farms or otherwhere) to express artistically
our sense of the futility of life!


A rich voluptuous languor of dim pain,
A dreamy sense of passionate regret,
Delicious tears and some sweet, sad refrain,
Some throbbing, vague, and tender canzonet,
That mourns for life so real and so vain,
Wherein we glory while our eyes are wet.

I am afraid, if I pursue this investigation, I shall end by believing
that satire is simply an aesthetic satisfaction--the last luxury of the
sinful. Ridicule, we are always told, is a tremendous destructive--an
atmosphere in which nothing can live. But is it? Christianity, Kings, and
War are little the worse for the jets of mockery that have been playing
on them for two centuries. In Swift's day the wits at the coffee-houses
regarded religion as a farce that even the Augurs could not keep up any
longer without public winking; yet Diderot and the Encyclopaedia are
dead, and the bishops we have always with us! It was thought War could
not survive Voltaire's remark that a monarch picks up a parcel of men who
have nothing to do, dresses them in blue cloth at two shillings a yard,
and marches away with them to glory--but here is our Henley singing a
song of the sword, while all our novelists are looking to their weapons.
Despite Heine's sarcasm, the collection of English kings is as incomplete
as ever. A passing fad can, perhaps, be made to pass along a little
faster, but it only makes room for another. True, "Punch" killed the
craze for sunflowers and long necks; but then "Punch" invented it. It was
merely made to be destroyed brilliantly, like a Chinese cracker or a
Roman candle. Folly is older than "Punch's" jokes, and will survive them.
Snobbery and self-seeking, pettiness and stupidity, envy, hate, and all
uncharitableness, were no secret to the mummies in the British Museum.
"Unto the place whither the rivers go, thither they go again." Are there
not a hundred sayings in Ecclesiastes and Menander, in Horace and
Molière, as apt to-day as though fresh from the typewriter? One of the
learned friends to whom I proposed the thesis contended that Perseus and
Juvenal at least are out of date. But this was merely my learned friend's
ignorance. Is it not the truest piety to conclude that those things which
the ridicule of the ages cannot kill deserve their immortality--that
Kings, War, and Christianity play a part in the scheme of creation, and
that even snobbery and jobbery, folly and fraud, rouge and
respectability, and horse-racing, bounders and politicians, the
prize-ring and the marriage market, are all necessary to the fun of
Vanity Fair! They are thrown up by the flux of things for Honesty to set
his heel on. So houp-la! On with the dance! louder, ye fiddlers! faster,
O merry-go-round! Nay, not so glum, ye moralists and satirists,
philanthropists and preachers; link hands all--_ducdame, ducdame!_--and
thank the gods for keeping you in occupation. What should we do without
our fools? The question seems pat for a Silly Season correspondence.
Come, gather, fools all. Ye could not be better employed than in
answering it. For, mark, brother-satirists mine, you cannot kill the
Silly Season correspondence.

And you cannot kill Ghosts. Perhaps because they do not exist. No other
dead thing is so tenacious of life as your ghost. If ridicule were really
fatal, we should have given up the ghost long since. Consider the fires
of burlesque through which he has passed unscathed. What indignity has
been spared him? Now at last he is to encounter the supreme test--he is
to be taken seriously. The Psychical Society has the matter in hand--or
should one say, the spirit? And Mr. Stead, who believes in himself in a
way that is refreshing in these atheistic times, proposes either to
rehabilitate the ghost or to lay him for ever. But this latter is beyond
the might of man or society.

And you cannot kill Grouse. At least I can't. I sometimes suspect there
are others of the population equally incompetent, and perhaps still less
interested in battues; though the Twelfth figures in everybody's calendar
like a Church festival, and the newspapers devote leaders to it, and the
comic papers have pictures, and sometimes even jokes about it, and you
would think the whole population of these islands struck work and went
a-shooting with gillies and dogs and appropriate costume. But that is the
craftiness of the editors, from Mr. Buckle and Mr. Yates down to the
editor of the _Halfpenny Democrat_--they make the humblest of us feel we
are in the best sets, so we all come up to town for the season, and are
seen at three parties a night, and we ride in the Park, and we go to
Henley and Goodwood to a man; and we yacht at Cowes, and pot grouse in
Scotland--still with the same wonderful unanimity; and we hunt with the
hounds, and run with the salmon, and keep our Christmas in country
houses, and come up smiling for the New Year, ready to recommence the
same old Sisyphean round. I suppose the people who really do these things
could be exhibited in the National Gallery, but the space their doings
fill is incalculable.

And you cannot kill Adelphi Melodrama. But I have a piece of advice to
offer to the Italian gentlemen who have done so much for our stage. It
is, that they run their theatre on a principal of duality befitting their
joint management. Let it be the home of Melodrama and Burlesque, the same
play serving for both _genres_. Let, say, Mr. Sims--who is so clever in
either species--write the pieces--each melodrama being its own burlesque.
An extra dash of colour here, an ambiguous line there, with a serious
meaning in the melodrama and a droll in the burlesque, will secure the
brothers two audiences, and after eight o'clock I guarantee standing room
only. The simple will come to weep and thrill, the cynics to laugh and
chuckle. And everybody will be happy.

In sooth, is not the world divided into those who take the great cosmic
drama seriously, and those who treat it as farce? On the one hand the
workers and the fighters, on the other the journalists, politicians, and
men about town. Yet have the workers and the fighters the nobler part. A
genuine emotion, an earnest conviction, vitalises life. The day-dreams of
hungry youth are better than the dinners of prosaic maturity, and a
simple maiden in her flower is worth a hundred epigrams. I had rather be
an Adelphi god than a smoking-room satyr.

Who shall blame the melodramatist? He writes for those to whom literature
makes no appeal. Literature is a freemasonry of the highest minds, and
that poetry is Greek to the masses I should scarcely have thought a
"Question at Issue" demanding substantiation from Mr. George Gissing. Mr.
Gosse must know that the eclipse which darkened England at the passing of
Alfred Tennyson was invented by the newspapers and the poets who outraced
one another to weep upon his tomb. Look upon Mr. Booth's map of East
London, with its coloured lines showing the swarms of human beings who
live ignobly and die obscurely, and realise for yourself of what import
the cult of beautiful form is to these human ant-heaps. Walk down the
populous Whitechapel Road of a Saturday night, or traverse the long slimy
alleys of Rotherhithe among the timber wharves, and discover how many of
your countrymen and contemporaries are living neither in your country nor
in your century. To Mr. Henry James, the dull undertone of pain and
sorrow is part of the music of London--such harmony is in aesthetic
souls. But the dull and the gross, who only suffer and endure, the muddy
vesture of decay closes them in and they cannot hear it.

What shall literature do for these? In a great smoky Midland town, on
dreary pavements, under sloppy skies, I saw a girl who was a greater
argument for melodrama than all the cheques of all the managers. She was
going to her work in the raw dawn, her lunch in a package under her arm;
the back was bent and the face was pale and pinched, but there was a
slumbering fire of romance in the deep-fringed eyes, and suggestions of
poetry lurked in the shadows of her hair; and at once my breast was full
of stirrings to write for her--only for her--a book full of beauty and
happiness and sunshine, and, oh! such false views of life, such
inaccurate pictures of the pleasures of a society she would never know.
The hero should be handsome and brave and good, with a curling moustache;
and the heroine should be beautiful and true, with an extensive wardrobe;
and the clouds would come only to roll by, and the story should die away
in an odour of orange-blossom, and in a music of marriage-bells. And
there should be lots of money for everybody, and any amount of laughter
and gaiety, and I would give dances twice a volume, and see that all the
girls had partners, delightful waltzers with good conversation. And there
would be garden-parties (weather permitting invariably), and picnics
without green spiders, and sails without sea-sickness. And as for truth
and realism--fie on them! We can create a much nicer world than nature's.
Why be plagiarists, when we can make universes of our own?



Twice in succession has it befallen me to be privately busy in a
backwater when the main stream was spuming and ramping with the great
bore of a general election. I have been able to hear the swallows twitter
at sunrise in serene unconsciousness of the crisis, to watch the rooks
homing at twilight, as though the course of Nature were still the same,
and to see the moonlight rippling over the sombre water at midnight in
unaffected tranquillity. Myself was scarcely better informed of the tidal
flood: stray echoes of speech, odd fragments of newspaper floated down to
me, and at intervals some visitant from the greater deep held, like a
sea-shell, the rumour of its sounding waters.

And, indeed, where shall we find a better metaphor for party-government
than this of the tide, of the ebb and flow of political
power--remorseless, inevitable, regardless of those who, tossed high on
the stream, imagine they direct it? And in this metaphor the People must
play Moon, like the clown in "A Midsummer Night's Dream." But, as Juliet

O swear not by the moon, th' inconstant moon.

The cause of this inconstancy has not escaped even the philosophers. The
Whig and the Tory, rival lovers of Luna,--moonstruck ravers,--woo her
with honeyed words and dulcet promises, and she inclines her coquettish
ear--most of the month she is all ear--to the highest bidder. But when
she comes to her full--and is all eye--then she perceives her swain
faithless and empty-handed, and straightway she plights her troth to his
clamorous and expostulant fellow, who dangles his untried promises before
her disappointed vision. And the days pass, and she rises and sets; but
lo! the bridal gifts linger still, and the horn of plenty is an empty
trumpet, and, forgetful of her first lover's failure, she turns to him
again. And so for ever, in a fickle quest of fidelity, pathetic enough.
Perhaps she--with the two strings to her bow--shares the just fate of
coquettes, happy with neither; perhaps she were wiser to give herself to
a single lover, and be rid for ever of these hesitancies. And yet, would
she profit by the change? Endymion, the one youth whose beauty drew her
from heaven, remained perpetually asleep. Is there not some profound
significance in the ancient myth, some truth that would have pleased
Francis Bacon, Baron Verulam (as the pedants will have us call the man
who did not write Shakespeare).

But the philosophers, who have understood the levity of mind that
underlies changes of Cabinets, have not always understood the numerical
pettiness of the voting power by which the change is effected. Just as
every philosopher is born a Platonist or an Aristotelian, so, as Mr.
Gilbert sings, is every Englishman born a little Liberal or a little
Conservative: even if his politics be not original sin, it is early
acquired. Thus, then, the nation consists of two great camps--the
Liberals and the Conservatives--which are practically fixed; standing
armies that may be relied upon. A born Liberal may wax fat and kick at
his ancient principles: a born Conservative may change his coat and turn
Whig. But these exceptions are rare. For the most part men stick to their
party and die as foolish as they were born--which is called consistency.
Convinced sometimes against their will, they are of the same opinion
still. Loyalty and obstinacy will look facts in the face and never
blench, and every one remains truer to his social circle than to his
private judgments. People's politics are their prejudices at a masked
ball, and the Conservatives will vote Conservative and the Liberals
Liberal, through a cannonade of unanswerable cartoons. Apart from these
two great standing armies, there is a shifting body of free-lances,
guerrillas, Jacks-o'-both-sides, call them what you will--waverers who
have too much conscience or too little, who are swayed by their reason or
their pocket, or who are gullible enough to believe that the opposition
will do better, or sportsmen enough to desire fair play and a chance for
the other side, and who are found fighting now in this camp, now in that.
The camps themselves are fairly matched: Rads and Tories--the sexes of
politics--are as evenly created as men and women. They are like ten-pound
weights standing on either scale of a balance. What, then, determines the
oscillation this way or that? Evidently the miserable little half-ounce
weight placed sometimes on one side, sometimes on the other. In
fine,'tisthe tiny squadron of free-lances that wins general elections,
the voters who think or who don't think, or who veer to be with the
majority. The Jacks-o'-both-sides rule England, even as the Parnell
brigade ruled Parliament. To this floating population is it given to make
or unmake Cabinets; theirs is the righteous indignation that sweeps the
country like a new broom, and sweeps Ministries into limbo; to them is
made the magniloquent "appeal to the country!" _L'état, c'est nous!_
might be the motto of this third party, were it but conscious of itself
as a party.

"The majority is never right," cries Dr. Stockmann in "The Enemy of the
People." "Never, I say. That is one of those conventional lies against
which a free, thoughtful man must rebel. Who are they that make up the
majority of a country? Is it the wise men or the foolish? I think we must
agree that the foolish folk are, at present, in a terribly overwhelming
majority all around and about us the wide world over. But, devil take it,
it can surely never be right that the foolish should rule over the
wise.... The majority has might--unhappily--but right it has not. I and a
few others are right." But how if "I and a few others" organised
themselves after the fashion of the Parnellites? how if the wise men made
up their minds that the world should no longer be governed with the
proverbial minimum of wisdom, and, taking advantage of the natural
balance of parties, resolved that they should be the ones to supply the
principle of movement to the equilibrated social machine? Surely the
Millennium could not long resist the Philosophers' party. But, alas!
would the wise men agree? Would not they also split up into two factions?
And even if philosophers were kings and kings philosophers, _would_ the
kingdom of Plato be at hand?

Popular suffrage is much maligned. "Think," says Bouvard, one of the
tragi-comic twain who serve for title to that saddest of all humorous
books, Flaubert's "Bouvard et Pécuchet," "think of all those who buy
pomades and patent medicines. These blockheads form the electorate and we
submit to their will. Why can't one make three thousand a year by
breeding rabbits? Because too much crowding together is fatal to them. In
like manner, by the mere coming together of a crowd the germs of
stupidity which it contains get developed and the consequences are
incalculable." But popular suffrage does not operate like this at all.
One might almost say that half the stupidity contradicts and annihilates
the other half: in practice the franchise carries its own antidote,--the
"germs of stupidity" do not get developed, but destroyed. The metaphor of
germs would be more appropriate if applied to the ideas of the
party-programmes, for these ideas are introduced by a few wise or foolish
men and disseminated epidemically throughout their respective parties.
Democracy never escapes aristocracy, for the people never invents ideas;
its whole power is that of choice between the ideas offered by its
would-be leaders, and even these ideas it accepts less as a philosopher
than as a patient, rather as "germs" than as thoughts. And when once it
has accepted its leaders or its representatives, the beautiful
parliamentary system deprives it of all further rights of interference
for a term of years, and the policy of the country is far more dependent
on the intestine rivalries and manoeuvrings of the representatives than
on the desires and demands of the represented. In a really democratic
system there would be a central bureau of statesmen not necessarily
elected by the voice of the people, and this bureau should have for
object not the wrangling over measures, but the mere proposition of them.
These trained thinkers and diplomatists--accepting advice freely from the
great newspapers and the chiefs of factions--would propose whatever
measures seemed necessary from time to time for the preservation, the
elevation, and the dignity of the commonweal, and these propositions
would be submitted officially to every franchise-holder, just as the
inquisitive census-paper or the parochial voting-paper is to-day. The
"Ayes" or "Noes" of the people would have it, not of those who represent
them, save the mark! The details could be drafted by specialists, as
to-day. That this would be a better or even a feasible system I do not
say; but I do maintain that any other democracy than this is a fraud. To
have the ten-thousandth part of a voice in selecting among the varying
policies of sundry ambitious gentlemen, all of whom have been foisted on
me by committees, and of whom the successful one--whose professed views
may be quite antithetical to mine and can at best only roughly represent
them--will have, when he is not absent or manoeuvred into silence, the
six-hundred-and-seventieth part of a voice in accepting or rejecting the
ideas of half a dozen very ambitious gentlemen, whose measures are
themselves liable to be quashed at the eleventh hour by an Upper House
that sits without my will or consent, and which is in its turn legally
liable to be superseded by the Sovereign, whose government is all the
while being really carried on in silence by permanent officials whose
very names I do not know and who have no connection with me beyond
accepting, in ignorance of my existence, my dole towards their
salaries,--this is not a form of democracy that appeals very attractively
to me as an individual member of Demos.

And, moreover, the position of my Member of Parliament is scarcely less
paradoxical than my own rôle of free and independent elector. He is the
mouthpiece of his constituents, and yet he is expected to have a will and
conscience of his own. Why? Why should he be any more honest than a
lawyer or a journalist? Each of these classes is paid to maintain certain
propositions, and the most successful in these lines are those with the
highest powers of persuasion. The constituency wishes certain opinions
and desires put forward in Parliament,--why should the man who offers to
execute the job be presumed to share those opinions and desires? The
point is, can he represent them more forcibly than the rival candidates?
I do not for a moment imagine that the M. P. invariably agrees with the
politics of his electors; I only inquire why he should have to profess
to,--why should he pay this homage of hypocrisy to an illogical ideal?
Theoretically we do not elect our M. P. because _he_ wants to get on, but
because _we_ want to get on or the country to get on; because _we_ want
certain measures carried, not because _he_ wants certain measures
carried. Therefore it is to our interest to get the most skilled advocate
at our command; his personal opinions are no concern of ours. A fig for
his ambitions and aspirations! This may not be a dignified position for
the M. P., but it is the one logically implicated in the democratic
notion of universal suffrage; and when the gentleman honestly asserts
himself and his private ambitions and his private conscience, he is
deucedly dishonest to his constituents.

To be strictly logical, indeed, M. P.'s should confine themselves to
stating the wishes of the people they represent: they might as well be
mechanical dolls, moved through the lobbies by the respective
wire-pullers and fitted with inarticulate noises. Or, for the matter of
that, they might be superseded altogether by written summaries of the
opinions of the winning majority in each constituency on all the points
at issue in the current session. The chiefs of the party could play the
game with markers. But indeed what is the use of dealing the cards at
all, when the Prime Minister holds all the trumps in advance, not up his
sleeve, but openly on the table? As for the speeches in the House, they
have as much effect upon the issue as the conversations at the
card-table. They are an obsolete survival from the times when members
were liable to come to the House with open minds, instead of having them
closed by their constituencies. Indeed, I can suggest a simple device by
which, without any departure from the ancient forms of the House, most of
the evils of Party Government could be swept away. By the system of
"pairing" a Tory may neutralize a Radical, and both go on together
without interfering with the good of the country. Let therefore the
entire minority pair off with members of the opposite party, leaving the
bare majority in possession of the floor. Being agreed on their policy,
these would not want to make speeches, but would simply spend their time
walking through the "Ayes" lobby. A few afternoons of pleasant
promenading would provide the country with enough legislation for a
lifetime. _Solvitur ambulando._ The party leaders would be enabled to
husband their energies for the hustings, since like all the agreeable
members they would easily find "partners." It is only the bores who would
be left to walk the House. It will be observed that this incalculable
gain of time, temper, money, and Acts of Parliament would be secured
without revolution, on constitutional lines, and by a mere extension of
an existing practice. I am convinced the salvation of the country depends
on the universal adoption of the system of Parliamentary "pairing," or
legislation by walking "wall-flowers."

A further advantage of this system deserves to be noted. As it takes
forty members to make a House, should the Governmental majority fall
below this number no business could be transacted. Thus it would become
impossible, when the country was almost equally divided, for one party to
impose its will on the nation by force of a bare majority. Again,
therefore, a very necessary reform would be achieved on strictly
constitutional lines.

In so confused a constitution, or so constitutional a confusion, it ill
becomes one to inquire why pre-eminence in Parliament is attained by
dexterity in the word-duel, and why a John Stuart Mill, who gave his life
to the study of sociological questions, is a failure in the House, while
a Randolph Churchill, who confessedly found politics more exciting than
any other form of sport, including even horse-racing, should be a
success. As in Athens of old, the rhetorician is master of the field.
Does it not seem ridiculous that a man shall be allowed to legislate who
has not passed an examination in political philosophy, political economy,
and universal history? As absurd as that men should be able to set up as
critics merely by purchasing reviews, that they should be permitted to
ply without a license. Still, monstrous as is the mischief wrought by the
quack critic, his sphere of influence is limited. But this question of
government touches us all. No one ought to be allowed in the House who
has not satisfactorily grappled with papers like the following.

1. Explain the use of the following phrases: "Home Rule," "Liberty,"
"Well-being of the Masses," "G. O. M.," "Good of the State," "The
Constitution." What meaning do you attach to them, if any?

2. "The Function of an Opposition Is To Oppose." Criticise this statement
from the point of view of the Party in Power, and trace carefully the
modification in its view produced by a change of government.

3. What is a good electoral address? Is there any relation between it and
its owner's votes in the House?

4. (a) Prove that Female Franchise is demanded not only by the women of
England, but by every consideration of reason and justice.

(b) Disprove the same.

5. The leader of your party suddenly reverses his policy.

(a) What would you think?

(b) What would you say?

(c) How would you vote?

Give no reasons for your answer.

6. If C represents Conscience, and C1 the Constituency, show that C1 will
always be represented by C2[*].

[Transcriber's note: So in original.]

7. What is a working-man? Explain why professional men who work sixteen
hours a day are excluded from this category.

8. Define a political victory, and distinguish between a political
victory and a moral victory.

But perhaps the discrepancy is less than meets the eye. The House of
Commons is a _Representative_ Assembly; the rhetoricians and fencers
represent the unreason and the pugnacity of the partisans. A country has
the politicians it deserves. I have heard the most ignorant girls rage
against Mr. Gladstone; damsels in their teens who knew nothing of life or
its problems, nor could have studied any question for themselves; pretty
girls withal, but who at the mention of the veteran statesman took on the
avenging aspect of the Eumenides.

It was a girl of quite another temper who replied to me when, talking
over old times and old discussions, I said I had not yet become a
Socialist: "I don't think you ever knew what you were." I winced as at a
just reproach, yet when I had left her the retort occurred to me (as
retorts will, when too late) that there was no particular merit in being
a "what," that men were not necessarily "'ists" or "'ites," that thoughts
did not fit into pigeonholes, and that if there was any merit in the
matter it consisted rather in preserving free play and elasticity of
mind. Because certain men had put certain ideas into the world it did not
follow that every other man had definitely to accept or reject each and
all of them, and to become an "'ite" or an "anti-'ite" in so doing.
Plague take great men! What right had they to force one into the
jury-box? Still less was it compulsory to return a verdict if, as the
vulgar were apt to think, the acceptance of any one "'ism" precluded the
acceptance of another, so that to be an Ibsenite was synonymous with
detesting the dramas of Sardou, and to be a Wagnerite involved a horror
of Mendelssohn. It was only the uncultured who held their artistic and
political creeds with the narrowness of Little Bethel, importing into
thought and aesthetics the zealotry they had lost in religion. The book
of Experience, thought I, is not an Encyclopaedia, with every possible
topic neatly ranged in alphabetical order; 'tis no A B C Time Table, with
the trains docketed for the enlightenment of the simple,'t is rather an
Encyclopaedia torn into a million million fragments by kittens and pasted
together again by infants, so that all possible things are inextricably
interfused, every one with every other; 't is a Bradshaw edited by a
maniac, where the trains that start but don't arrive are not even
distinguished from the trains that arrive but don't start. Wherever
persons are conscious of the infinite complexities of things, they will
be found cautious of creed and timid of assertion. You have probably
noted that at Waterloo Station, in London, no porter will ever bind
himself to a definite statement concerning any train. It is only the
inartistic who hold that black is black and white is white,
unconditionally, irretrievably; and who have invented the proverb "He'd
say black's white" to express the Sophist _in excelsis_. It must be true,
as Ruskin contends, that not one man in fifteen thousand has ever
observed anything, else how account for this wide-spread fallacy? The
"wit of one," instead of crystallising this "wisdom of the many," should
have flatly contradicted it. For, take two blackboards and place them at
right angles to each other: let a ray of bright sunlight fall upon them,
so that one cast a shadow on the other. The portion of blackboard
overshadowed will indeed be blackish, but the portion illuminated by full
sunlight will be comparatively white, although it is still thought of as
a "_black_-board." So, too, ask the man in the street for the colour of
trees, and he will reply "green." If I may permit myself a vulgar
locution, the green is in his eye. Trees are, of course, all colours of
the rainbow, according to kind and season; and grass, too, is by no means
always so green as people think it. We start in our childhood with
prejudices on these subjects--what is education but the systematic
imparting of prejudice?--and we rarely recover. Even the primitive rhymes
of childhood fix ideas unalterably in our minds:

The rose is red, the violet's blue,
Sugar is sweet and so are you.

Tea-roses are not red nor Neapolitan violets blue; sugar is only sweet to
those unversed in metaphysics, and sugar of lead not even to them. As for
the compliment to the juvenile petticoat, let it remain. But the
blackness of black is a superstition that deserves no such courteous
concessions. There is, in fact, no black and no white at all, as any
black-and-white artist will tell you. Black is not a colour: it is merely
the negation of light. By day nothing is ever black--it always contains
reflected light from some surrounding object or objects: if you look at a
"black" thing by day, you see its details, which convincingly proves that
light is not absent. If there were such a thing as a black object, it
could only prove its existence by being seen; but if it is seen it is no
longer black, and if it is black it is no longer seen. The mourners at a
funeral no more wear black than the bridesmaids at a wedding wear white.
To be white, a thing would have to escape all reflected light; and even
if this were possible, the sunlight itself, the source of all light and
colour, would tinge it with yellow, or red, or pink, according to the
time of day. "What!" the injudicious reader will cry, "is not snow white?
Does not the Dictionary boast even a double-barreled epithet
'snow-white'! How about the 'great white sea' that stretches round the
Pole?" I cannot help it: these adjectives, these expressions were
invented before artists had taught men to see: hastily, as by men falling
in love at first sight, who are destined to make many discoveries
concerning their idol later on. Snow is never white, any more than the
beloved is absolutely blameless. For snow to be "snow-white," the sky
would have to be white, whereas in those arctic circles it should be
either blue or grey. Moreover, the snow being only semi-opaque must be
tinctured by the shadow of the darkness of its own depths; as for
icebergs, well, you may see green, brown, and even deep-grey ice, whilst
the whitest have pinnacles and crags that must break the light like
prisms into all the colours of the spectrum, and all these hues, again,
do not fail to tint the snow. Nor will the white bear improve the
situation, for, to judge by the specimen in our London Zoological
Gardens, white bears are dirty yellow, just as black bears are dirty

But, so far from realising that black may be white, your average voter
seems to imagine that neither is ever even tempered: that his party is
purest white, and the opposition party impurest black. That the other
side reverses this colouring does not trouble him: it is merely due to
the aforesaid sophistical faculty of proving black white. I once knew a
man--no average voter he--who owned two comic papers, the one Radical,
the other Conservative. How he must have chuckled as he planned the
cartoons and settled the chiaroscuro! What blacks for the Tories to be
answered by counter-blacks for the Radicals! Beaconsfield as a sweep,
Gladstone as an Angel of Light; Beaconsfield as Ormuzd, Gladstone as
Ahriman; each in turn Lucifer, Son of the Morning, and Satan, the
discomfited demon. I tremble to think what would have happened if, by one
of those _contretemps_ which sometimes occur even in real life, the
cartoons had got interchanged. And caricatures such as these influence
the elections! The most childish nonsense, written in the
picture-language so dear to children! And on such ineptitudes the
destinies of the nation are supposed to turn! 'T is a comforting
reflection, then, that the whole thing is so largely a farce, that the
real axis of events is elsewhere--by no means a thing to grieve over. If
the British Constitution is a paradox not to be fathomed by human
intellect, why, that is a quality which it shares with Space and Time and
all deep and elemental things. Your deep thinker is invariably a
paradox-monger, because everything when probed to its bottom proves
illusive, and is found to contain its own contradiction. Truth is not a
dead butterfly, to be transfixed with a pin and labelled, but a living,
airy, evasive butterfly. Perhaps that is the inner meaning of the
Whistlerian motto. The Hegelian self-contradictoriness of the British
Constitution will not, therefore, affright us. To Tennyson the fact that
it is a "crowned republic" seemed a source of security. The English have
abolished the Crown, though they are too loyal to inform the Sovereign of
his deposition; in like manner they have evaded Democracy by conceding
universal suffrage. The strength of the British Constitution lies in its
inherent absurdity, its audacious paradoxicalness. It exists by force of
not being carried out. And the reason of this illogicality is clear: our
Constitution, like Topsy, was not made but "growed," and that which grows
is never logically perfect; it is like an old tree, strangely gnarled,
with countless abrasions and mutilations, and sometimes even curious
grafts. Here the lightning struck it, and yonder branch was snapped in
the great gale. Machine-made schemes may be theoretically perfect, but
they will never suit human nature, which is a soil for living growths,
not a concrete foundation for elegant architecture. This is the truth
which trips up Comte, and Fourier, and St. Simon, and all the
system-makers and utopia-builders. Perfect things are dead things: the
law of life is imperfection and movement. Life is never logical, it is
only alive. If man had been made by machinery his body would not have
been erratically hairy; his toes would long since have been improved away
or welded together by an American patentee; nor would there have
remained, for our humiliation, those traces of a caudal appendage which
some osteologists have thought to perceive in our distinguished anatomy;
our brotherhood to the beasts would have been betrayed only by our

So that, though Politics be as absurd as the Constitution, God bless her,
it may yet fulfil as useful a function. Who would deprive the hosts of
working-men of their generous enthusiasms, even though these be to the
profit of the professional politician? Who would narrow their horizon
back to the public-house and the workshop or the clerical desk and the
music-hall, by assuring them that all these great national and
international questions will be no penny the worse or the better for
their interest in them? For it is they, not the State, that will be
benefited. Politics is a great educative force: it teaches history,
geography, and the art of debate, and is not without relation to
Shakespeare and the musical glasses. The flies on the wheel are not
moving the wheel, but they are travelling and seeing the world, whereas
they might otherwise be buzzing around the dust-bin. Politics sets the
humblest at the centre of great cross-roads of history: it promotes clubs
and all manner of fellowship, and enables the poorest--on polling-day at
least--to know himself the equal of the greatest. Even the most
illiterate is spared the mortification of being reminded that he cannot
sign his name. And finally, and most of all, it preserves among us the
lost art of fighting. The long and oft-vaunted immunity of England from
the foot of a foreign foe has its drawbacks: we have forgotten what war
really means, we have delegated our courage and patriotism to an army of
mercenaries, who represent us in the field as a nobleman's carriage
represents him at a funeral; we are valiant vicariously and sublime by
deputy; we take the war-fever in its pleasant heats, and contract out the
chills and the blood-letting. And so the blood-letting fails to purge us
as before: the evil humours are still in the system. All those seething,
restless spirits which generate in the blood of a once warlike race clog
us up and turn to bile and dyspeptic distempers. Our militant instincts,
suppressed by a too-secure civilization, break out in sordid maladies of
the social organism. As a vent-hole for the envy, hatred and
uncharitableness of mankind, politics cannot be overestimated. In the
absence of real battles on our soil these sham fights of the
polling-booth--sham because they determine nothing, because the great
silent forces are working behind all the noises--are the national purge
for "our present discontents"; no more truly efficacious than that
ancient therapeutics of the lancet, a General Election yet comforts the
patient, he takes a lease of fresh hope, the sun leaps out, the clouds
pack, the sky is blue, the grass is dew-pearled, God's in his heaven, and
all's right with the world. Even the beaten party feels that it has won a
moral victory, and confidently looks forward to victory without morality
at the next turn of the wheel. And so all these diseased humours of the
body politic pass harmlessly off.

No one but a confirmed cynic would wish to do away with all this harmless
dissipation, all the innocent fun of electioneering, the speeches,
riotings, mud-throwings, everybody happy as sandboys or mudlarks. What a
great day that was--Plancus being M. P. and I a boy in a provincial
town--when the Blues and the Reds meant broken heads, and the flowing
tide of beer, and spruce carriages with beribboned horses, and jocund
waggonettes, and bands and banners, and "hoorays," and shuttered shops,
and an outpour of citizens; a day festive, yet solemn, pregnant with
mysterious dooms and destinies, fatal, ineluctable, if victory fell to
the wrong-coloured ribbons. I remember when my father went to poll his
vote--a strange, weird article that had to be carried carefully concealed
on the person, lest the roughs of the opposition should catch a glimpse
of the tip of it and bash in the holder's head--with what awed
imagination we followed his course, as of a hero gone to storm a redoubt
or lead a forlorn hope! with what anxiety we waited at home with the
bandages! For the civil war, which our constitution foments, was less of
a sham then than now, and the polling-booths vied with the playing-fields
of Eton as the nursery of England's heroes. Ah, the brave old times! An
anaemic age languishes for want of you, and finds its solace in "bluggy"
tales. For just as politics supplies the shadow, the simulacrum of
fighting, so art supplies the shadows of life to those who lack the
substance. We herd in towns, and take the country in dashes of
water-colour framed in gilt. We marry for money, and satiate our baulked
sense of romance with concoctions from Mudie's. We lie and haggle and
cheat only the better to apprehend the subtleties of spiritual discourse
in fashionable churches, and our generous appreciation of the consummate
chivalry of the hero of melodrama is the reward we owe ourselves for the
pain it gave us to kick our wives. Practical joking is banished from
reputable circles--even Bob Sawyer is ranging himself; and so this
primitive appetite seeks its satisfaction in farcical comedies. Poetic
tragedies owe their attraction to the dominance in real life of the drab
and the unlovely, and the overstrain of the intellect in modern life
gives a peculiar flavour to the ineptitudes of Gaiety burlesque. All the
primal instincts and passions are still in us, though distorted,
exaggerated, diminished, modified, applied to different objects and
purposes. The man with vagabond instincts becomes an explorer, Ishmael
writes social dramas, the happier son of a defalcating cashier rises to
be a minister of finance, the born liar turns novelist, the man with
murder in his soul hunts big game in foreign lands or settles down at
home as a critic. And so, too, the born warrior becomes a political
leader; and politics, if it does not do any of the things it professes to
do, plays yet an invaluable part in modern life, bridging over,
perchance, the transition from the bellicose ages to those belauded days
when the war-drum shall throb no longer, "and the kindly earth shall
slumber, lapt in universal law."

That this is confusedly and sub-consciously understood, even by
politicians, is shown by their very vocabulary. The Salvation Army itself
boasts no more militant a phraseology than the profession whose business
it is to administer peacefully the affairs of the realm. That which
should be, and sometimes is, expressed by nautical metaphors--the ship of
state, guiding the helm, and the rest of it--is much more frequently
expressed by military metaphors. Even the posts of duty are the "spoils"
of office. The State which to Plato was a deliberately harmonised music
is to us a deliberate discord, and the acme of politics, whose crowning
glory should be a peaceful measure, is by the vulgar not so inaccurately
regarded as attained at a General Election, the nomenclature of which
positively bristles with bayonets. Seats are won as towns were of old,
and, as in the days of Joshua, victory is achieved by walking round the
town and blowing your own trumpets. Great organs shamelessly lament that
their side has no good grievance to go to the country with,--as if the
absence of grievances were not the very object of government! A stirring
war-cry--that is the indispensable. If good government were really the
object of a General Election, it would all be over and done with in a
day. Election day would everywhere be as simultaneous as Christmas, and
votes would be polled with the punctuality with which puddings are eaten.
But this would be to contract a campaign into a battle--to make a short
story out of a great military serial, peppered with exciting incidents,
to be continued in our next. We want our vicissitudes, our sharpshooting,
our skirmishing, our days of triumph for the Whigs, and our days of
triumph for the Tories. What we like best of all is when the fighting is
so level that the Election progresses as breathlessly as a good
University boat race. Failing that, we like to see one side swamping the
other, like a great flood, the stream rising daily higher and higher,
with a crescendo roar, till the vanquished are swept away in a thunderous
mountain of waters. So for a full moon the waters rage, the noise of
battle roars, till our suppressed fighting instincts have been deluded
into repose and satisfaction, till the champing war-horses have been
quieted by being allowed to snort and cry "Ha! ha!" to see the glitter of
stage spears, and to hear the noise of the supers and the shouting. This
is the real end masked beneath all those interminable phrases. And it is
achieved at any and every cost. For does not everybody complain that a
General Election upsets everything? The publishers groan, the theatrical
managers tear their wigs. Englishmen cannot think of two things at once;
they are like heavy, solid craft, sound of timber but slow of turning.
"One thing at a time" is a national proverb. They cannot even read two
books at once, and if two classics should be published on the same day
one would be a failure. There is the book of the week, and the book of
the season, and the book of the year. This applies even to our
appreciation of past periods, and because Shakespeare is the first of the
Elizabethan dramatists, the rest are nowhere. Wherefore one would suppose
that everybody would make haste to get the Election out of the way; but,
on the contrary, it is allowed to linger on, till sometimes our
overstrained suspense snaps, and the Election dribbles out in unregarded
issues. No, the fight's the thing! War, if not dead, is banished from our
shores; the duello has been laughed to death; cock-fighting and
bull-baiting have ceased to charm: politics alone remains to gratify the
pugnacity and cruelty that civilisation has robbed of their due objects.
How we brighten up again at a bye-election, when duels which passed
unregarded in the big battle, when towns scarcely noted at the fag-end of
the great campaign, become the cynosure of every eye. Through Slocum or
Eatonswill the hub of the universe temporarily passes: to its population
of four thousand, mostly fools, are entrusted the destinies of the
Empire; it is theirs to make or mar. The duel is watched by a breathless
nation. The party leaders on each side cheer on their men; their careers
and claims and countenances fill up the papers, and they cross swords in
a shower of telegrams. Advice to those about to enter Parliament: Elect
for a bye-election. Why be a nonentity, a mere M.P., when by a little
patience you may hold the centre of the stage, if only for a week? Better
almost to be beaten at a bye-election than to be successful at a General.

In case I should ever seek the suffrages of electors myself, I would
venture to remind opposition agents and private secretaries that these
random criticisms of the glorious constitution (hear, hear!) of that
great Empire on which the sun never sets (cheers), over which the Union
Jack waves (loud cheers)--a thousand years the battle and the
breeze--hem!--I--I--ahem!--Lord Salisbury (loud and prolonged cheers)--I
mean that I trust they will not forget that all this is set down without



The realistic novel, we know from Zola, that apostle of insufficient
insight, is based on "human documents," and "human documents" are made up
of "facts." _But in human life there are no facts._

This is not a paradox, but a "fact." Life is in the eye of the observer.
The humour or the pity of it belongs entirely to the spectator, and
depends upon the gift of vision he brings. There are no facts, like
bricks, to build stories with. What, pray, in the realm of human life
_is_ a fact? By no means a stubborn thing, as the proverb pretends. On
the contrary, a most pliant, shifting, chameleon-coloured thing, as
flexible as figures in the hands of the statistician. What is commonly
called a fact is merely a one-sided piece of information, a dead thing,
not the series of complex, mutually inter-working relations that
constitutes a fact as it exhibits itself to the literary vivisectionist.
I walked with a friend in a shabby district of central London, a region
that had once been genteel, but was now broken up into apartments.
Squalid babies, with wan, pathetic faces, pullulated on the doorsteps;
they showed from behind dingy windows at the breasts of haggard women.
The fronts of the houses were black, the plaster had crumbled away, the
paint had peeled off. It was the ruins of a minor Carthage, and, like
Marius, I was lost in mournful reverie; my companion remarked, "These
houses are going up; they now pay 7 per cent." He was perfectly
justified. There are a hundred ways of looking at any fact. The
historian, the scientist, the economist, the poet, the philanthropist,
the novelist, the anarchist, the intelligent foreigner,--each would take
away a different impression from the street, and all these impressions
would be facts, all equally valid, all equally true, and all equally
false. Life, I repeat, is in the eye of the observer. What is farce to
you is often tragedy to the actual performer. The man who slips over a
piece of orange peel, or chases his hat along the muddy pavement, is
rarely conscious of the humour of the situation. On the other hand, you
shall see persons involved in heartrending tragedies to whom the thing
shows as farce, like little children playing in churchyards or riding
tombstones astride. To the little imps of comedy, who, according to Mr.
Meredith, sit up aloft, holding their sides at the spectacle of mankind,
to the

Spirit of the world,
Beholding the absurdities of men,
Their vaunts, their feats, ...

human life must be a very different matter from what we poor players on
the scene imagine it; we are cutting a very different figure, not only
from that which faces us from the mirror of vanity, but from that which
is "as ithers see us." Not only, then, may our tragedy be comedy; our
comedy may be tragedy. The play of humour at least suggests these
alternatives. Life is Janus-faced, and the humourist invests his
characters with a double mask; they stand for comedy as well as for
tragedy; Don Quixote wears the buskin as well as the sock. Humour, whose
definition has always eluded analysis, may, perhaps (to attempt a
definition _currente calamo_), be that subtle flashing from one aspect to
another, that turning the coin so rapidly that one seems to see
simultaneously the face and the reverse, the pity and the humour of life,
and knows not whether to laugh or weep. Humour is, then, the simultaneous
revelation of the dual aspects of life; the synthetical fusion of
opposites; the gift of writing with a double pen, of saying two things in
one, of showing shine and shadow together. This is why the humourist has
always the gift of pathos; though the gift of pathos does not equally
imply the gift of humour. The tragic writer must always produce one-sided
work, so must the "funnyman" who were only a "funny man" and not a
humourist (though this is rarer). Each can only show one side of life at
a time; the humourist alone can show both. Great novels of romance and
adventure, great works of imagination, great poems, may be written by
persons without humour; but only the humourist can reproduce life. Milton
is great; but the poet of life is Shakespeare. Thus the whole case of
"realism" falls to the ground. There being no "facts," Zola's laborious
series is futile; it may be true to art, but it is not true to life. His
vision is incomplete, is inexhaustive; it lacks humour, and to the
scientific novelist the lack of humour is fatal. He is the one novelist
who cannot succeed without it. Leave out humour, and you may get art and
many other fine things, but you do not get the lights and shadows or the
"values" of life.

All novels are written from the novelist's point of view. They are his
vision of the world. They are not life, but individual refractions of it.
The ironical pessimism of Thomas Hardy is as false as the sentimental
optimism of Walter Besant or the miso-androus meliorism of Sarah Grand.
What Hall Caine happily calls "the scenic view of life" of Dickens is no
more true than the philosophic view of Mrs. Humphry Ward. Each is
existence viewing itself through a single medium. "Tess of the
D'Urbervilles" is as false as "Lorna Doone" or "Plain Tales from the
Hills." Life, large, chaotic, inexpressible, not to be bound down by a
formula, peeps at itself through the brain of each artist, but eludes
photography. This is the true inwardness of the Proteus myth. The
humourist alone, by presenting life in its own eternal contradictoriness,
by not being tied down to one point of view, like his less gifted
brother, comes nearest to expressing its elusive essence. The great
novelists are Fielding, Cervantes, Flaubert, Thackeray. But all the
novelists supplement one another, and relatively-true single impressions
of life go to make up a true picture of

Life, like a dome of many coloured glass.

It is because there are all novels and every aspect of existence in
Shakespeare that he sits supreme, the throned sovereign of the literature
of life.

All this is writ to console those who suffer too poignantly from
book-tragedies and "pictures of life." The artist selects, he studies
tone and composition, whereas in real life tragedies are often
accompanied by "extenuating circumstances." The unloved girl temporarily
forgets her sorrow in the last new novel, or a picnic up the river; the
broken-hearted hero betakes himself to billiards and brandy-and-soda, or
toys with a beefsteak. Again, many pathetic tales are the outcome of
imperfect insight. The novelist imagines how he would feel in the shoes
of his characters, and cries out with the pain of hypothetic bunions.
This mistake better deserves the name of "the pathetic fallacy" than the
poetic misreading of Nature to which Buskin has annexed it. A good novel
may be made of bad psychology; indeed, this is what most novels are made
of. Yet the gentle reader, misled by the simulation of life, makes
himself miserable over dabs of black ink on white paper. The failure of
two imaginary beings to unite their lives in wedlock brings unhappiness
into myriad homes. How delicious is that story of the German novelist
who, having failed to unite his leading couple at the conclusion of a
newspaper serial, saw no way of appeasing the grief and indignation of
his vast audience save by inserting in the advertisement columns of a
later issue of the journal an announcement of their union under the usual
head of "Marriages"!



Without gambling life would lose its salt in many a humble household. The
humdrum, deadening routine of monotonous daily toil finds relief by this
creation of an outside interest; to have a shilling on the favourite
enlarges and colours existence, gives it a wider and vaguer horizon.
Imagine the delicious anguish of suspense, the excitement of hearing the
result, the exultation of winning. And the beauty of gambling is that you
cannot lose. Gambling is really a disguised system of purchase. One buys
excitement, a most valuable emotion, for which even the members of the
Anti-Gambling League are prepared to pay heavily in other forms! And the
advantage of gambling over all these other forms is the possibility that
you may not be called upon to pay for your purchase after all--nay, that
_you_ may even be paid instead! You get not only excitement, but a
possible bonus. Is there any earthly transaction that offers such
advantages? Why, 't is always "heads I win, tails you lose." Who speaks
of losing at cards? As well speak of losing at play-going or
novel-reading; what is called loss is simply payment for excitement. You
cannot lose at cards, though you may win; unless it be in games where
skill preponderates, and then loss means penalty for lack of skill. The
mere transfer of money from hand to hand leaves the wealth of the world
what it was before. 'T is redistribution, not destruction. It is scarcely
relevant to look for the evils of gambling in its effects--to point to
ruined reputations and ruined homes. Everything is capable of abuse, from
love to religion. The evil of gambling lies in the fact that it is an
unworthy form of excitement--that it is possible to colour life more
intellectually. The Anti-Gambling League, for all its recent prospectus,
will not put down gambling among the poorer classes, except by widening
their outlook otherwise, by creating other interests outside the dull
daily groove. For the well-to-do classes there is less excuse. With all
the arts and amenities of life at their command, it is degrading to use
up time and nervous energy in so brainless a pursuit. The gambling that
is inherent in the constitution of modern civilization is another affair:
that is pursued for the sake of gain; or for a livelihood. The Stock
Exchange is an unhappy consequence of the joint-stock company; credit in
business is an equally inevitable outcome of the ramified mechanism of
exchange. We are all gamblers to-day, insomuch as there is no stable
relation between work and reward, and the failure of a bank in Calcutta
may impoverish a shopkeeper in Camden Town. Our investments may rise or
fall in value through the obscure machinations of unknown millionaires.
And even the Anti-Gambling League has no word to say against those great
gambling concerns, Life and Fire Assurance Societies, which bet you that
you will not die or be burnt out within a certain number of years, or
those journals which offer you large odds that you won't be smashed up
while reading them. The prudential considerations behind these forms of
gambling seem quite to moralise them: indeed, to refuse to accept the bet
of the Life Assurance Companies is now considered immoral; a man is
expected to amend on his marriage at the very latest.

There is a form of gambling to which I must myself plead guilty. A
forlorn, shabby creature, pathetically spruced up, arrives from a
ten-mile tramp. He has been a journalist or a poet, but owing to this or
that he is on his beam-ends. He has eaten nothing for two days. His wife
is dying, his children are weeping for food. His voice breaks beautifully
as he tells me I am his last hope. What is to be done? According to
Charles Lamb, the solution is to give, to give always. For either the man
is in need and speaks truth, or he is a liar and therefore a consummate
actor. We pay for stage representations: why deny our obolus to the
histrionics of the beggar? So artistic a make up, an elocution with such
moving notes of pathos, surely deserve our tribute. Nay (and this Elia
forgot to note), the beggar-actor is frequently the author of his own
piece; that consistent argument, those tragical episodes, those touches
of nature, that minute detail, all are his. For my part, this view does
not touch me; I scarcely ever pay for the play, so I expect even the
beggar to perform to me as to one of "the press." If I give to beggars,
it is purely from the gambling spirit. What are the odds against the man
being a scamp? If they are short, or if the betting is level, I incline
to the side of mercy. The money is of so much more consequence to him
than to me, if the beggar is genuine, that the speculation is well
warranted. I know how wrong it is from the point of view of the Charity
Organization Society, but I am a man, not a bureau of beneficence. Few of
us, I fancy, escape this godly gambling.

How ill Society is ordered! We pay poor rates and support hospitals and
orphan asylums; but is there any thinking man who can banquet with the
assurance that nobody is starving? It spoils the dinner of Dives to
meditate on the longings of Lazarus, and this is the true skeleton at the
feast. The business of philanthropy seems but a mockery, and Government
takes charitable toll from us without pacifying our consciences. There is
something rotten in the state of Denmark. Cannot the intellect of man
devise a means of guaranteeing the deserving poor against starvation?

Novel-reading is the woman's substitute for gambling--the thing that
takes her outside her narrow circle of interests. Her ravenous appetite
for new novels is amazing; children are not so gluttonous of cream-tarts.
To supply this demand sequestered spinsters in suburban or rustic bowens
sit spinning the woof and warp of life as it never was on sea or land.
Bound goes the wheel, to and fro glides the shuttle, and the long,
endless pattern unwinds itself in all its wealth of imaginative device
and all its glory of fanciful colour. Poor things! What are they to do?
They have not the means to study the life they depict; they cannot mix in
the circles they describe. Fortunately their ignorance is their
salvation; the pretty patterns please the young ladies, the brave notes
of colour set them a-dreaming. And now in the revolt against the
three-volume novel these simple scribblers are to be swept away; the
country parcels will know them no more, and the three-deckers they built
of yore will be dismantled in the dry dock of the fourpenny box. Poor
creatures! Some will take to typewriting and some to drink, some will be
driven to the workhouse and some to literature.




"_5 & 6 Wm. IV., cap. 50, sect. 65._


"I am directed to call your attention to the present condition of
trees within your premises, which now overhang the public footpath
adjoining, and thereby cause considerable inconvenience to the
public. I shall be glad if you will kindly give the matter your best
attention, with a view to lopping or cutting the trees in such a
manner as to obviate the inconvenience at present complained of.

"Yours obediently,
"_Engineer to the Board._"

Amid the cosmopolitan medley of letters on my metropolitan
breakfast-table--the long and formal-looking, the fat and foreign, and
the over-scrawled and the underpaid (the last mainly requests for
autographs)--this delightful home-grown epistle came with refreshing
piquancy. It brought a breath of summer into the grey chillness of a
London winter, a suggestion of rustling foliage about the chandelier, and
the scent of the hay over the gaslights. "My dear!" I exclaimed to the
partner of my bosom (a tame white rat that likes to perch there), "_Have
we any trees?_"

My partner gave a little plaintive squeak. That is her idea of
conversation. She screams at everything. She would scream at the sight of
a mouse.

I pushed away my plate. I had sat down hungry as a hunter, and had had
two helpings of everything; but now I could eat no more. Excitement had
taken away my appetite. The prospect of rural discoveries agitated me. I
hastened to the window and looked at the front garden. To my astonishment
and joy there was vegetation in it. There was a dwarf evergreen bush and
a fragment of vine stretching itself sleepily, and a tall thin tree--they
might all have got comfortably into one bed, but they had been planted in
three far apart, and this gave the garden a desolate Ramsgate-in-winter
air of "Beds to let." The tall thin tree was absolutely naked, without an
inch of foliage to cover its wooden limbs; a mere mass of dry sticks. I
looked hard at the tree to see where it offended, determined to pluck it
out. But it returned my gaze with the stolidity of conscious
innocence--it held up its wooden arms in deprecation. I re-read Mr. P.
Leonardo Macready's letter. "Which now overhang the public footpath"! Ah!
that was what was the matter with my trees. It was raining, but I am an
Englishman and the law is sacred, and I went outside into the public
highway and looked at the tall thin tree from the new point of view. Sure
enough--very far up--there _was_ a bough overhanging the public footpath.

I looked up at it and shook my fist menacingly, but it waved its twigs in
response with an irritating amiability. I began to understand what an
annoyance it must be to have a bough up there that you couldn't flick at
with your stick as you passed by, and that even when weighed down by its
summer greenery would bemock you if you made a casual clutch at its
foliage, and laugh at you in its leaves. I went inside and returned with
a step-ladder and an umbrella and a carving-knife, and I stood on the
summit of the ladder and made abortive slashes at space with my right
hand, while the open umbrella in my left made equally abortive efforts to
soar with me skywards. After nearly stabbing the partner of my bosom I
went in, both of us wet like drowned rats, and as I settled myself again
to coffee and correspondence, I could not help wishing that Chang, the
Chinese giant, had remained alive to triumph over my tantalising trees.
Nor could I help wishing that the activity of the local engineers and
surveyors had been directed by His Gracious Majesty King William IV. into
quite a contrary channel.

William, spare that tree,
Touch not a single bough;
If you had planted three,
They would protect me now.

If, instead of being requested to amputate a beautiful overhanging arm of
foliage, every citizen of London were served with a notice to plant a
tree in front of his demesne, the face of the great stony city would be
transformed. It would become a _rus in urbe_. Why not? Everybody knows
what the late Duke of Devonshire made of Eastbourne; and the beauty of
Bournemouth is mainly an affair of trees. Why should we not walk under
the boughs of Oxford Street? What law of nature or William IV. ordains an
eternal divorce between shops and trees? Why should one not hear the
birds sing in the Strand as well as in the Inns of Court? Let us have
trees instead of lamp-posts--with electric lights twinkling from their
leaves. Already there are London streets quite well-wooded. Even in the
Whitechapel Road it is possible to read--

A book of verses underneath a bough;

but I shall not be content till Matthew Arnold's exquisite quatrain comes
literally true of London--

Roses that down the _alleys_ shine afar,
And open jasmine-muffled lattices,
And groups under the dreaming garden-trees,
And the full moon and the white evening star.

It might be well if we could transplant to our more prosaic city ways the
beautiful old custom of planting a tree on the birth of a child. It is
true that ladies might object to having their age recorded by the growth
of rings on the trunk; but then they could easily pass the tree on to an
elder sister when they got beyond the average wedding-ring age. Besides,
people would quickly forget whose birth it marked, and the town trees
would soon become anonymous. I would therefore suggest the formation of a
tree-planting party, pledged not to support any candidate for Parliament
who would not vote for the ruralisation of the Metropolis. To the Home
Rule of Mr. Gladstone, with his weakness for cutting down trees, must be
opposed Home Ruralisation. What a fine platform cry--"a truly rural
London!"--with the unique advantage of being unpronounceable by
demagogues in drink. The poor would welcome the policy as a boon. They
are not by any means so unpoetical as Gissing would make out. Only the
other day a baby was found buried in a window flower-box; which is
practically the idea of Keats' "Isabella, or the Pot of Basil," an idea
which was itself a graft from the stock of Boccaccio.

If the parish dignitaries became thus associated in our minds with the
Beautiful instead of with bills and blue papers, one might be able to
whip up some enthusiasm for the civic life, and contemplate even
income-tax schedules with a Platonic or Aristotelian rapture. It is not
everybody who can rhapsodise with Mr. Bernard Shaw or the Fabian Society
over sewer rates, and find in the contemplation of communal gas and water
something of the inspiration and ecstasy that the late Professor Tyndall
found in the thought of the conservation of energy.

In firing us to local patriotism by the example of provincial cities, the
enthusiast does not allow sufficiently for the size of London. It
swallows us all up; there are twenty provincial cities in its maw: it is
not a city, but a province. We cannot rouse ourselves to an interest in
Brixton and Camberwell, in Poplar and Highbury. There is no glory in
being a dweller in so amorphous a city, whose motley floating population
is alone sufficient to stock a town; there can be no sense of brotherhood
in meeting a Londoner abroad, still less a Middlesex or Surrey man.
Devonians may feast off junkets and cream, in touching fellowship, and
the hearts of Edinburgh men stir with common memories of Princes Street;
but a Cockney, who has far more to be proud of, is overwhelmed into
apathy. It is only in a compact city that one can develop that sense of
special belonging which George Eliot contends is at the root of so many
virtues. I might just as well be taxed to beautify Dublin as Canonbury,
for all the difference it would make in my grumblings. And if our city is
too large to inspire us, our parish is too small. And so to most of us, I
fear, parochialism is a bore. Theoretically, we know that the parish we
live in is greater than many a provincial town. We know that we ought to
take an interest in its history, and be proud of its great men. But
somehow, despite Mr. Frederic Harrison, our suburb leaves us cold. Our
real life does not centre about our own parish at all. We circle about
the great thoroughfares that radiate from Charing Cross, and the pivot of
our lives is Piccadilly. Born to the Metropolis, we cannot narrow our
minds to a district, nor to parish give up what was meant for London. We
refuse to become provincials. We do not even know that we boast of a Town
Hall, till we are compelled to attend and show cause why we have not paid
the rates, or any part thereof, the same having been lawfully demanded.
If there are any other great men in the neighbourhood, we do not know
their addresses. They are shy and retiring. It is only the retired who
are not shy. That sort of great man comes forth in his tens. He _has_
been a butcher, a baker, or a candlestick maker, and he _is_--a bore.
Once he solicited your patronage, to-day he solicits your vote. Having
given up making profits, he now wishes to make by-laws, and finds a gleam
of his old delight in sending out heavy bills to the neighbourhood. You
get a list of him, which policemen announce their intention of calling
for. You are asked to decide among a column of him, uniformly obscure,
but divided invidiously enough into tradesmen and gentlemen. Who compiled
this list or nominated these gentlemen and tradesmen, you have not the
ghost of a notion. They are sprung upon you as imperiously and
mysteriously as their own demand-notes. You look down the column and make
random crosses by the wayside. You select a sanitary engineer in
preference to an undertaker, forgetting that he is the deadlier of the
two, and you vote for your retired wine-dealer to prevent him going back
into business. But most of the names convey nothing to you, and give you
the sensation of a donkey between two heaps of straw, or of a straw
between two heaps of donkeys. And having thus exercised that high English
privilege, for which you would shed your blood if it were taken away, you
are content for the rest of the year to grumble at the doings of your
representatives. It does not occur to you that public duty calls upon you
to comprehend the parochial mysteries and solicit the parochial
dignities. They seem too petty for a man of any stature--a sort of small
beer for babes and sucklings.

May it not be that the voice of public duty, when it calls upon you to be
a citizen and a parishioner, calls with too piping a voice? There is no
rousing note, nothing of the resonance of a clarion call. A suggestion of
poverty and the workhouse clings to everything parochial, something of
drab and joyless. Is there no way of infusing colour into this depressing
greyness, a martial _timbre_ into this anaemic note? If we are to pay the
piper let us hear him. Let the tax-collector go his rounds at the head of
a brass band, playing patriotic airs. Let brocaded standard-bearers raise
aloft a banner with the soul-stirring insignia, "England expects every
man to pay his duty." Let the hollow roll of the drum thrill the dull
suburban street, and animate the areas of semi-detached villas. No longer
shall the devil and General Booth have all the good tunes, and the ragged
rearguard of urchins keeping time with their bare feet shall follow the
drum to the surer and saner goal of civic salvation. The music of the
streets will become a joy instead of a terror, and English performers
will find a new market. See paterfamilias prick up his ears as the
distant strains of national music impinge upon his tympanum, see his
heart heaving his shirt-front with patriotic ardour, while, with a joyous
cry "The Collectors are coming, hurrah, hurrah!" he rushes to his
cheque-book as the soldier rushes to arms. Is he not serving his country
as much as the soldier, and without pay--or even discount? Nay, why
should the idea of patriotic duty be so emphatically connected with the
shedding of blood, and all the pomp and pageantry reserved for the
profession of Destruction? Why should not the lifeboat be launched, or
the coal dug, or the drain-pipe laid, or the taxes paid, to a musical
accompaniment, and under the shadow of the national flag? Great is the
power of the Symbol: for a few inches of rag at elevenpence
three-farthings a yard (warranted not to shrink) men will give their
lives. And greater still is the power of music.

Dear to the London housemaid,
The fife of fusilier,
And to the Cockney urchin
The drum of Booth is dear;
Sweet sounds the barrel-organ
Where'er the cits parade;
But the dearest of all music
The Tax-Collectors played.

You will be glad to hear that scarcely had this grumble appeared in print
when I saw a procession that made me think Birnam wood had come to
Dunsinane. Soon either pavement was planted with ready-made trees, all
a-blowing and a-growing. If it had happened in the night, I should have
rubbed my eyes and imagined some good genius had transported me to the
Boulevards. I hastened to place a little _guéridon_ outside the garden
gate, and to decorate it with glasses of absinthe and vermouth; but a
gendarme came along and asked me to move on.



When I first met the Young Fogey I thought him very brilliant. His
philosophical pose, too, of combining the caution of age with the daring
of youth was fascinating. "I have evolved," he used to say. "Once I would
not attach sanctity to ideas because they were old: now I attach no
sanctity to ideas because they are new." But I soon discovered that the
Young Fogey was one of that large class of persons who do not evolve but
revolve, whose brilliancy is that of the fixed star. They give out
arrestive thoughts, and you are vastly impressed, but on longer
acquaintance, or on returning to them after an interval, you find that it
is they who have been arrested by their thoughts. Such persons do not
last you more than one or two years: they require a succession of new
audiences to keep up their reputation, like a witty play, which all the
world goes to see in turn, but which it would be deucedly dull to see
night after night, year in, year out. The cleverest of them know this
need of new ears, and of making provincial and foreign tours when they
have exhausted London. But when the Young Fogey chanced upon me drinking
lager beer at the Austrian Derby, during a tedious interval between the
races, he was probably confused by the distance from Piccadilly into a
sense of originality, and perceiving a couple of books on my table:
"What! do you _read_ the books you review?" he asked in feigned
astonishment; adding, with an impromptu air, "I always _write_ the books
_I_ review. Criticism of other people is waste of time. An artist who is
worth his salt knows his value better than anybody else; and an artist
who is not worth his salt is not worth your criticism, and will learn
nothing from it in any case. There is immeasurably too much book-making,
as it is."

"But criticism tends to keep down book-making," I observed meekly.

"Quite the contrary. Criticism encourages it. Most books are not read.
Who can possibly read ninety-nine of the worst hundred books published
every week? If they were not even criticised, the writers would shut up
their inkstands. Publicity is their aim, but publication does not supply
it. Most publishers are rather privateers. It is the critics who supply
fame to fools. It's even worse with plays. Why should every trumpery
farce that can get itself badly produced by a moneyless manager who
decamps the day after, be allotted a space in every morning, evening, and
weekly newspaper, Fame blowing simultaneously a hundred trumps? My
greatest book never got half as much notice as a wretched little
curtain-raiser which took me a morning to knock off, and the news of
which was flashed from China to Peru immediately, whereas the eulogies of
my book were dribbled out in monthly instalments, and belated
testimonials kept straggling in long after its successor had been
published. In those days I belonged to a Press-cutting Agency, and I
discovered that--to measure Fame by the square inch--you may get many
more yards of reputation by the most flippant playlet than by your
literary _magnum opus_; to say nothing of the pictures and interviews of
your actors and actresses. That your silliest player--especially if it be
a pretty she--gets photographed in the papers sixteen times to your once,
goes without saying. The only real recipe for Fame nowadays is to be a
pretty girl and exhibit yourself publicly. The modern editor has got it
into the paste-brush he calls his head that the public is infinitely
greedy for the minutest theatrical details. It is really too idiotic,
this fuss over our parrots. If there were only plays for them to talk!
The decline of the British drama----"

"By which you mean that they decline your plays," I interrupted.

"Granted," said the Young Fogey; "but even when they give us Shakespeare,
they play the patron, and literary critics argue deferentially with them
as to the treatment of the text, and beg them not to put William's head
under the pump. Did you see that monumental headline in the 'Daily
Chronicle,' the paper that poses as the organ of sweetness and light?--

'Henry IV. At The Haymarket.'

"So Mr. Tree 'created' Falstaff in more than the conventional sense of
that arrogant stage-verb! Act? Anybody can act! We're all acting, always,
in every phase of our social life. Every back drawing-room is a theatre
royal. A child can act, and the 'infant phenomenon' cannot be
distinguished from the leading lady or gentleman except by size. But no
child ever wrote a play. Acting is the lowest of the arts. And even if it
were the highest, it would be brought low again by its infinite
self-repetition. Imagine playing one part for a season, a year, a decade.
Actors are not even parrots--they are automatic puppets that move their
limbs in fixed fashions, and make squeaking sounds at prescribed moments.
There was a French Minister of Education who drew up a most rigid
Time-Code, which hung in his bureau; and it was the joy of his life to
take out his watch and say 'Half-past three! Ha! every boy in France is
now learning geography'; or, 'A quarter to twelve! Ha! every French
schoolgirl is now writing in a copy-book.' I have the same sort of
feeling about my actor-acquaintances. 'Half-past nine? Ah! What is
Herbert doing? He is taking poison.' 'A quarter to eleven! Dear me! Rose
is crawling under a table.'

"And these creatures want every privilege, forsooth! Fame, gold,
champagne, the best society and the worst. To be of Bohemia and
Belgravia, to make the best of both worlds. If things don't mend, to sit
in a stall will soon become an index of imbecility. It will be like being
seen at the Academy.

"And, talking of the Academy, did ever any more infantile idea enter the
human brain than that a couple of thousand pictures worth seeing can be
painted every year? Why, since the beginning of the world there haven't
been two thousand pictures painted worth seeing! Imagine two thousand
manuscript novels being scattered around on two thousand desks, a
shilling admission! Do we get one good novel a year? Scarcely. One good
symphony or opera? Of course not. Then why expect to get a picture worth
hanging? And every picture should hang by itself--it's an artistic
entity, self-complete. To crowd it among a lot of others is like
conducting an orchestra every instrument of which is playing a different
tune. 'T isn't even as if the poor painters got anything out of the show.
People won't buy pictures--prices are monstrously inflated to an
artificial point: the artists would take less, only they don't like to
come down from their pedestal, and so they starve up there in dignity.
Artists have played a foolish game. They have gone nap on gentility and
high prices, and gentility has failed them.

"When great prices are given for pictures, it is generally with a view to
selling them again: a dubious compliment to the artist. No man gets a
thousand pounds' worth of pure art joy out of any picture. He can spend
his thousand pounds to much more of aesthetic advantage. But there is no
inherent sacredness in prices. A picture is worth only what it will
fetch. Let our artists be satisfied with a fair day's wage for a fair
day's work, like any other species of craftsman. After all, they were all
craftsmen--Michael Angelo, Titian, Donatello, Canova--wall-decorators,
door-painters, ceiling-colourers, tomb-builders, stone-masons, working to
contract and to measure. When our artists are content with the pay of
manual labourers and the joy of art, taste may be stimulated in the
masses, and original work be going at the price of lithographs. Why
shouldn't artists even paint public-house signs? Beer being the national
religion, why shouldn't it find adequate expression in Art?

"Not that it matters much whether our artists live or die,--Art seems
about over. It seems to be an accident that happened once or twice in the
Past,--among the Greeks, at the Renaissance, in Spain, in Holland,--which
no amount of art-schools and art-publications can coax back. To found
Academies and R.A.-ships is to spur a dead horse. Look at the Greek
sculptures, look at the Italian pictures, and ask yourself what we have
to put beside them after all our endless exhibitions! Modern
improvements! _Plein air!_ Bah! Where can you show me more 'atmosphere'
than in Carpaccio, or in Jacques d'Arthois. Impressionism? Look at that
snow-effect by old Van Valckenborch here! But we do the modern, the
contemporary, you cry----"

"No, I don't," I interrupted feebly, more to let him take breath than for
the jest's sake. But he ignored the opportunity.

"But they've all done the contemporary! Only _their_ contemporary, not
yours. The fallacy almost amounts to an Irish bull. The ancients _were_
the moderns--to themselves--just as we shall be the ancients to our
successors. The Renaissance people all did contemporary work, under
pretence of doing historical: contemporary types for Madonnas, local
landscapes for Oriental scenery, up-to-date dresses for New Testament
episodes, portraits of their patrons for patron-saints and apostles. Did
you ever see a more modern figure than Tintoretto's portrait of himself,
the elderly man in a frock-coat who looks on at his own wonderful picture
of St. Mark descending to rescue a Christian slave? An Academician or a
new English Art Clubbite who had done only one tiny corner of this
picture would so swell as to the head that his laurel-wreath wouldn't fit
him any longer. There's no ambition nowadays--Degas, Whistler, yes. But
for the rest--dwarfs. Modern improvements indeed! Science may improve,
but not art. Art, like religion, is an absolute in life--nobody will ever
paint better than Velasquez, write better than Shakespeare, or pray
better than the Psalmist. Science is the variable--always on the go; and
when we think of progress it is just as well that we foolishly keep our
eye on the machine-room."

"Won't you have a drink?" I broke in, seizing the first opportunity.

"Thanks! What's that book?"

"'Olympia's Journal'! It's all about Olympia's husband, she married him
to write about him--he was such 'good copy.'"

I had unchained a torrent. "Novelists ought never to be introduced into
novels," burst forth the Young Fogey. "The subject-matter of novelists is
real normal life, and novelists are neither real nor normal. They are
monsters whose function in life is to observe other people's lives. For
one novelist to make copy of another is like cannibalism.

"If the psychology of the novelist, who is the student of other people's
psychology, is to be studied, where are you to stop? Why not study the
peculiarities of the novelist who studies the novelist, of the reflector
of life who reflects the reflector of life--nay, of the critic who
reflects upon the reflection of the reflector? This modern mania for
picking ourselves to pieces is only the old childish desire 'to see the
wheels go wound.' People were much better in the old days when they
didn't bother so much how their wheels went round. I always sympathised
with the indignant old lady who came to my schoolmaster when our class
began to take up physiology, and protested that she wasn't going to have
her boy learn what was in his inside--it was indecent. People are not
made healthier by knowing how their functions work; animals never study
physiology, and plants blossom without knowing anything at all about
anything. Knowledge only generates a morbid fussiness, as with Mr.
Jerome's celebrated Cockney who discovered himself to be possessed of
every ailment in the medical dictionary except housemaid's knee. And to
learn what is in your mental inside is equally indecent and equally
discomposing. 'I have never thought about thinking,' said the wise
Goethe. No one can go through a treatise on insanity and come out as sane
as he started. And there is an even more insidious way in which this
human vivisection operates for evil. People now forgive their
friends--they call their eccentricities 'pathological,' and endure
instead of discouraging them. I had two letters this very morning. 'Poor
A!' said B.: 'his vanity has ceased to offend me--I feel it is
pathological.' 'Poor B!' said A.: 'it is impossible to resent his
egotism--it is simply pathological.'

"This scientific Christianity wouldn't be so bad if people didn't condone
their own faults, too. They can't get up early--it's heredity. The early
bird who caught the worm must have had a grandparent who stayed out late.
Are they lazy? Their uncle was a country parson. They are like the man
who refused to give charity because he had such expensive tastes. To
acquiesce in your own weaknesses because they are hereditary, without
making an effort to eradicate them, is bad science as well as bad morals.
Among the items given you by heredity do not forget the potentiality of
self-improvement by inward struggle. No one says, 'I can't speak French,
and I sha'n't try, because my father was an illiterate Irishman.'
Self-knowledge tends to weaken self-discipline, foster self-indulgence,
and corrode character."

"But what of the old Greek maxim 'Know thyself'?"

"Old Greek sophistry! Knowing requires a subject to know and an object to
be known. You can't be subject and object too--introspection is a
self-contradiction. Hasn't every one noticed that everybody else fails to
discover himself in a novel or a sermon, though his lineaments are
painted down to the minutest details of wart and mole? And it's quite
natural. Every soul is to itself the centre of the universe--through
which the infinite panorama passes; nothing exists but in relation to it:
to its standards of beauty, of right and wrong, of humour, of admiration,
everything is brought. There's no man so low or so ridiculous but he
finds somebody else more so, and the London street-boy who sneers at the
long-haired poet is exalted to a sense of superiority. I once met a human
monstrosity--hunch-backed, cross-eyed, palsied, and wooden-legged. My
soul sickened with pity, but his face brightened in a smile of contempt
and his cross-eyes danced with glee. I appealed to his sense of the
ridiculous. Listen to the comments of people upon one another after a
party, and confess that a coterie is often but a mutual contempt society.
That is what makes life livable--every living creature is an amused eye
upon the universe. Terence said as much long ago. We amuse one another,
and exist to gratify one another's sense of superiority, like the
islanders who live by taking in one another's washing. It will be a
thousand pities if the spread of travelling removes the mutual
superiorities of Englishmen and Frenchmen, Chinamen and Hindoos. I went
to a dinner-party the other day. The host and hostess were
impossible--like spiteful studies by Thackeray caricatured by Dickens.
Yet there were they arrogating to themselves every privilege of judgment
and jurisdiction that the most fashionable peers or the sublimest souls
could claim; to their own minds the arbiters of elegance, the patrons of
the arts, the flagellators of vice and snobbery, the gracious laudators
of virtue, the easy fomenters of scandal.

"Prithee, was ever one of us capable of not lecturing on ethics or not
preaching a sermon? Did not Sir Barnes Newcome lecture on the Family? Do
we not all hold forth on the condition of the poor, the morality of the
mining-market; the inferior ethics of the coloured races, and a hundred
other lofty topics, warming our coat-tails at the glow of our own virtue?
'T is the fault of language which enables arrant scoundrels to use fine
words that they have never felt. Humility, self-sacrifice,
noble-mindedness, are phrases easily picked up by people for whom their
only meaning is in the dictionary, and who know it is the correct thing
to admire them. They are like students of chemistry who babble of H2SO4
and NH3 by book without ever having seen a laboratory or a retort, or
tone-deaf people raving over Beethoven. And these lip-servants of virtue
are unconscious that they have never known the real thing. Every
discussion between civilised persons presupposes moral perfection all
round--a common elevated platform from which one surveys the age and its
problems, and considers how to bring the world at large up to one's own
level. You cannot discuss anything with a person who has ever been
publicly imperfect--at any point you may tread on his corns. Has he been
bankrupt? The slightest reference to honesty, finance, or business may
seem an insult. Has he figured in the Divorce Court? How are you to talk
about the last new play without seeming personal? This explains why
exposed persons are cut: they have made conversation impossible by
cutting away the common ground of it, the hypothesis of perfection. Even
with persons who have merely lost relatives one has to be careful to
avoid references to mortality. The complete diner-out has to be equipped
with a knowledge of his fellows to the third and fourth generation, so as
to avoid giving offence. To say that late marriages are a mistake or
second marriages a folly may be to make enemies for life. Which, by the
way, is absurd: all conversation should be regarded as privileged and
impersonal. 'T is brain meeting brain, not foot treading gingerly among
irrelevant personal considerations. And just as we are all willing to
preach, we are all willing to be preached at--it gives us such an
opportunity of gauging the preacher's morality and ability. The Scotch
peasants who denounce their meenister's orthodoxy are an extreme case,
but if we were not really judging our judges we should go to opposition
churches. What we demand from preaching--as from newspapers--is an echo
of our own voices, and when the preacher or the newspaper leads it is
only by pretending to follow. Opportunity makes the politician. Watch the
crowd streaming out of church after a sermon. Do they wear an air of
edification or humiliation? Are they bowed down with the consciousness of
their backslidings? No: they are aesthetes come from a literary and
oratorical performance. They are not thinking of themselves at all, but
of the quality of the sermon. Yes, around each of us the world turns, and
each soul is the hub of the universe. Popular suffrage is the recognition
of this great fact: not one of us but is competent to arrange the affairs
of the country. Every man Jack and woman Jill is a standard, a test, an
imperial weight and measure, and the universe must endure our verdict as
it goes round us. To expect this central standard to turn back on itself
and become aware of its own defects and distortions is like expecting a
pair of scales to weigh itself; or--more absurd still--expecting a false
pair of scales to weigh itself truly. 'All men think all men mortal but
themselves,' and so all men find all men wanting except themselves. If
they ever for a moment suspect that they are not perfect--whether the
suspicion leak in through reflection or reprobation--'t is but for a
moment. We cannot live on bad terms with ourselves, nor with a
consciousness which doubts and despises us--whether it be our own
consciousness or a friend's. Our nature throws up earthworks against a
contemptuous opinion. Just as a bodily wound is repaired by the wonderful
normal processes of circulation and nutrition, so our self-love tends to
repair the wounds of the soul. We feel that even if we are not perfect,
we are as perfect as possible _under the circumstances_. If so-and-so and
so-and-so had had to go through our sufferings or our temptations, he or
she would have acted no better. And even in our wildest remorse we are
self-satisfied with our self-dissatisfaction. Nor is this need of our
nature for self-reconcilement wholly without spiritual significance. It
points to an incurable morality in the human soul, and to the truth that
if we mainly use our ideals to condemn other people by, we are bound to
condemn ourselves by them if we can once be got to perceive that we
_have_ violated them ourselves, though we at once seek peace in
extenuating circumstances. Peace of mind is the homage which vice pays to
virtue. Nor, though it matters immensely to society what ideals people
have, and that they have the right ones, to the people themselves it
matters only that they _have_ ideals, right or wrong. Where there is
honour among thieves, a thief may have a fine sense of self-respect."

"Plato agrees with you," said I. "He points out that if thieves were
utter scoundrels they could not act in concert."

"Ah!" said the Young Fogey, "Plato was a great thinker. In truth, the
only incorrigible rogue is he who is devoid of ideals, who has allowed
his ethical nature to disintegrate. Such a one ceases to be a _person_.
He has lost the integrating factor--the moral--which binds human
personality together. He is a mere aggregation of random impulses. The
last stage of moral decay is impersonality. Impersonality sums up 'the
daughters of joy,' with their indifference to aught but the moment.

"But it is wonderful what shreds of personality, what tags and rags of
the ideal, the most degraded may retain. Was there ever a soul that did
not think some one action beneath its dignity? An absolutely unscrupulous
person is a contradiction in terms. To be unscrupulous were to cease to
be a person, to have become a bundle of instincts and impulses. But no
one is so good or so bad as he appears. The chronicler of the 'Book of
Snobs' was himself a bit of a snob, and the poet who sought for the
spiritual where Thackeray had looked for the snobbish, who bade us note

"All the world's coarse thumb
And finger failed to plumb,
So passed in making up the main account;
All instincts immature,
All purposes unsure,
That weighed not as his work, yet swelled the man's amount,

was almost as weak as the satirist in that respect for titles and riches
which is the veritable 'last infirmity of noble minds.'

"Still, Browning's is the truer view of human life, and till we see our
neighbours as Omniscience sees them, our kindest and cruellest estimates
will be equally wide of the mark.

"And conversely, unless you develop a personality, you cannot be moral,
or even immoral. You can be social or anti-social--that is, your actions
can make for the good or the ill of society. But moral or immoral it is
not given to everybody to be. For I do not agree with those who would
substitute social and anti-social for those ancient adjectives. We are
concerned with the quality of acts as well as with their effects, with
the soul as well as its environment. And it takes a real live soul to do
good or evil. That is the point of Mr. Kipling's Tomlinson--a mere bundle
of hearsays--who could win neither hell nor heaven. It is also the
teaching of Ibsen. You must not shrink from wrong because you are told it
is wrong, but because you see it is wrong. But few people can expect to
develop a personality of their own. Current morality is the automatic
application of misunderstood principles. And so it must always be. For
the function of the average man is to obey. Was it not Napoleon who said
that men are meant either to lead or to obey, and those who can do
neither should be killed off? Ethics is the conscience of the best
regulating the conduct of the worst. Hence there are no immutable rules
of morality:

"For the wildest dreams of Kew are the facts of Khatmandoo,
And the crimes of Clapham chaste at Martaban.

But there are immutable _principles_. To spit in a guest's face is with
some savage tribes a mark of respect. But this does not invalidate the
principle that to guests should be shown courtesy. Rules vary with time
and place, principles are eternal; and even if unmentionable things are
done in Africa and Polynesia, if 'the dark places of the earth are full
of cruelty,' that does not invalidate the principles of morality, as our
modern blood-and-thunder young man affects to believe. For that the
principles of right and justice have not yet been discovered in barbarous
countries no more destroys their universality and legitimacy than the
principles of the differential calculus are affected by the primitive
practice of counting on the fingers. And while the ethical geniuses--the
senior wranglers of the soul--are groping towards further truths and
finer shades of feeling, deeper reaches of pity and subtler perceptions
of justice, the rank and file and the wooden spoons must needs apply the
old ethics, even against the new teachers themselves. Every truth has to
fight for recognition, to prove itself not a lie. The brilliant and
impatient young men who scoff at conventions because the people who hold
them are unreal--not persons, feeling and passing moral truths through
their own soul, but parrots--forget that just because the people are
unreal, their maxims are real; that they do not represent the people who
mouth them, but the great moralists and thinkers behind. Against the
brilliant rushlights of contemporary cleverness shine the stars of the
ages. 'T is the immemorial mistake of iconoclasts--even granted they are
taller than their fellow-men--to be ever conscious of the extra inches,
instead of the common feet. Nevertheless" (and here the Young Fogey put
on his most judicial manner) "the extra inches must tell. For because
real ethics resides not in rules but in principles, obedience to the
letter may mean falsity to the spirit, if the circumstances that dictated
the rules have changed. This is not casuistry. 'T is a concept not to be
found in Panaetius or Cicero or the Jesuit Fathers. It means that we are
not to wear our boyhood's waistcoats, but to be measured for manhood's.
Tight-lacing is bad for the spiritual circulation. 'Get rid of the Hebrew
old clo', cried that curious Carlyle, the chief dealer in them. Amen, say
I: but do not let us therefore go naked. And since we have stumbled upon
'Sartor Resartus,' permit me a comparison in keeping. I once saw a tailor
measuring the boys in a charity school. He drew a chalk line five feet up
a wall, and dividing the upper part of the line by horizontal
chalk-marks, stood the boys beside it, one after another, and according
to the chalk-mark which the crown of the unfortunate creature's head
grazed, Master Snip called out 'Fours,' 'Ones,' 'Fives.' Fat boys or lean
boys, big-bodied or big-legged, narrow-chested or broad-shouldered, 't
was all ones--or twos--to him. Did they agree in height, the same
clothes--tight or loose--for all! Thus is it with our moral maxims.
Genius or goose, saint or sinner--your head to the chalk-mark! And
rightly. When one has to deal with great masses one cannot consider
little details. The principles of morality must be broad and simple, and
the world is right to apply them sternly and undiscriminatingly. The
general cannot consider the peculiarities of a particular soldier, though
the corporal of the regiment may make allowances for him. And so with
breaches of morals. The world at large should condemn; but the private
friends, who know the circumstances in every petty involution, who know
the temptations and the extenuating factors, should form as it were a
court of appeal. If they elected to stand by the offender, the world at
large should reconsider its verdict. This is what practically took place
in the George Eliot and Lewes instance. Weighed, not by the steelyard of
general principle, but by the delicate chemical balance of special
detail, they were not found wanting. The Magna Charta is still only a
pious aspiration. 'Every man shall be tried by a jury of his peers.' How
profound! For only our equals can know our travails and temptations. How,
now, if we had to try Shakespeare! which of us would dare sit on the
panel? Yet we 'chatter about Shelley.' He did wrong--granted. But was it
wrong of him to do it? That is another question altogether. Subjective
morality and objective morality are two different things. But the whole
subject of the sexes is wrapped in hypocrisy, and the breaches of
morality are committed less by the celebrated than by the obscure. The
savage sarcasm of Schopenhauer's refusal to discuss monogamy because it
had never yet come within the range of practical politics is still
justified. I remember once reading an anecdote about a besieged town. The
defenders resolved to make a sortie on a certain day, only, in dread of
their plan somehow leaking out beyond the gates, or of their womankind
dissuading some from the perilous enterprise, they administered a solemn
oath to one another that none of them should tell his wife, nor speak of
it again even to another man, till the moment arrived. But each
individual man told the partner of his bosom, only binding her by most
fearsome oaths to say nothing to any other woman or man. All the women
kept their oaths, each going about with the proud sense of being the only
woman in the great secret. And so the women all met in the market-place,
chattering about every subject on earth but that which was nearest their
hearts, and the men moved among them, mutually silent. The whole
community knew the secret whereof no one spoke. You perceive the
parallel? Sex is the secret we are all in. Why shouldn't we talk openly?
Why shouldn't we face facts? The marriage laws should be made as
flexible, not as inflexible, as possible. Why? Because the bad people
will evade everything and the good people endure anything. The bad people
will break the best laws and the good people will respect the worst laws.
Hence, stringency squeezes the saint and lets the sinner slip. Harsh
legislation puts a penalty on virtue: the vicious skirt round it
surreptitiously, or are openly happy in despite of it. The only thing
immutable in sexual morality is the principle of regulating it with a
view to the highest ends of the soul and the state: the regulations
themselves are mutable, and we should not sacrifice too many human beings
to gratify the idealism of the happily married. At the same time do not
suspect me of Hilltopsy-turveydom, which seems to me based on bad
physiology and worse psychology. Mr. Grant Allen, man of science as he is
in his spare moments, is more like Matthew Arnold's Shelley, a beautiful
and ineffectual angel beating in the void his luminous wings in vain. So
complex is the problem which seems to him so simple, that it is not
improbable that the present monogamy (tempered by polygamy) is the best
of all possible arrangements. This is not to belaud the present system,
any more than it is optimistic to say this is the best of all possible
worlds. It may be so, but it remains a pity that no better was possible.
And Mrs. Grundy herself seems to me as over-abused as marriage. The
celerity with which she became a byword, from the moment she made her
accidental appearance in Tom Morton's 'Speed the Plough,' shows how the
popular instinct needed some such incarnation of our neighbours'
opinions. She stands, the representative of the ethical level of the age,
not of fixed pruderies. She is by no means the staid old soul her
maligners imagine--never was there creature more changeable. As we move
on, so will she move on with us. Once she allowed our squires to get
drunk after dinner, now she is shocked at a one-bottle man. You will
never shake her off, you brilliant young gentlemen. For as you
established your own ethics, she would still be there to see that your
ideas were carried out. Granted she is a scandal-monger. But scandal is
the sewer-system of society: the dirty work must be done somehow. Mrs.
Grundy is your scavenger. Americans don't talk scandal, but I fail to see
how they will keep their homes clean without it. The scandal-mongers may
be inspired by no lofty motives, but they make a wonderful unpaid
detective force. Sheridan was not a philosopher. Ubiquitous and
omniscient, Mrs. Grundy is always with you. Once you might have escaped
her by making the grand tour, but now she has a Cook's circular ticket
and watches you from the Pyramids or the temples of Japan,--especially
if, like myself, you have the misfortune to be a celebrity. The only way
to escape her is to be photographed widely. Wasn't it Adam Smith who said
that conscience was only the reflection in ourselves of our neighbours'
opinions? If we didn't value their opinions there would be no morality.
Foreign travel makes you feel there is something in the idea. Who cares
what a parcel of jabbering strangers think about his actions? The moment
you lose touch with your environment, the moment you cease to vibrate to
its nuances, your morality is in a parlous condition. Better go home and
sit down on the well-known couch of Catullus, and feel once more that
people are real and life is earnest and the horizon is not its goal. What
is this mania for movement? If you travel unintelligently you see nothing
that you couldn't have seen more comfortably in a panorama--the world
going round you. If you travel intelligently, you discover the relativity
of all customs and ideas, you distrust your own beliefs, your backbone is
relaxed, your vitality snapped, and you come home a molluscous
cosmopolitan. It is the same thing that happens if you travel mentally
instead of by mileage--if you go in for that modern curse, 'Culture.' You
are not meant to absorb the art and literature of foreigners and dead
peoples, fluttering like a bee from flower to flower. These things were
made by men for their own race and age; they never thought of you,--you
are an eavesdropper. Cathedrals were built for Christians to pray in, not
for connoisseurs to gloat over. You should develop along your own lines,
strong and simple, not be a many-sided nullity. The true Englishmen are
ploughmen and sailors and shopkeepers, not culture-snobs.

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