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Without Prejudice by Israel Zangwill

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"The greatest poets in every language are those who know only their own
language. Shakespeare and Keats handled English as a million Professors
of Poetry cooperating could never handle it. The greatest Art has always
sprung from the direct pressure of the real world upon the souls of the
artists. To be cultured is to lose that vivid sense of the reality of the
life around you, to see it intellectually rather than to feel it
intuitively. Hence art that is too self-conscious misses the throb of
life. George Eliot failed as soon as she began to substitute intellectual
concepts for the vivid impressions of early memories. The moment people
begin to prate about Art, the day of Art is over, and decadence is set
in. Art should be the natural semi-unconscious enhancement of other
things. The speaker wishing to convince becomes artistically oratorical,
the prophet becomes artistically poetic, the church-builder artistically
architectural, the painter of Madonnas artistically picturesque, the
composer of prayer-chants artistically musical. Art was the child of
Religion, but it has long since abandoned its mother. Portrait and
landscape painting arose as accessories to sacred pictures; the origin of
the opera is to be sought in the Mass; literature developed from
religious writings. But gradually it was discovered that you might paint
noblemen as well as sages, and that scenery could be dissociated from the
backgrounds of Crucifixions and Marriages at Cana. And from seeing that
Art needn't have a religious meaning or content, men came to see that it
needn't have any meaning or content at all. Art, indeed, presents
possibilities of a divorce from intellect and morals of which artists
have eagerly availed themselves. But Art for Art's sake is Dead-Sea
fruit--rosy without, ashes within. Socrates was not perhaps quite right
in saying that the Beautiful was the Useful, but it doesn't follow that
the Beautiful should be the Useless. Even crockery, cutlery, and
furniture should never be Beautiful at the cost of utility. Their Beauty
should be implicated with their natural shapes, inblent with and
inseparable from their uses, not a monstrous accretion from without. The
most artistic knife is the quintessence of knifehood."

"But that is my idea of Art for Art's sake," I interrupted, for he had
now got his second wind. "Art has always to express the quintessence of
something--be it a street, a life, a national movement, a----"

"Art for Art's sake means making beautiful knives that won't cut and
beautiful glasses that won't hold water, and beautiful pictures and poems
that say nothing. The people who want their Art dissociated from their
morals are in danger of spiritual blight, and inhabiting a universe of
empty nothings. Too much self-consciousness is as sterile as too little.
Look at these modern Renaissances! They all----"

"Yes, I know: I have written about that," I said. "And now there is
another one, the Jewish. Have you read the plan for 'A Jewish State,' by
Dr. Herzl, of Vienna? No dreamer he, but wonderfully sane, despite his
lofty conception of a moralised, rationalised, modern State. Too
'modern,' indeed, this idea of Messiah as a joint-stock company! I
predicted years ago we should come to that. But methinks the Doctor----"

"They are starting the Grand Prix," hastily interrupted the Young Fogey.
"Good-bye! Such a delightful talk!" And turning his back on the horses,
he hurried off the field to lose himself and perhaps find a new pair of
English ears among the parasols and equipages of the sunlit Prater.



What is the critic's duty at the play? Does he represent Art, or does he
represent the Public? If he represent Art, then he is but a refracting
medium between the purveyor and the public, which will therefore be
wofully mistaken if it seek in his critiques a guide to its play-going,
as it to some extent does. For while people do not always like a play
because they are told it is good, they often refrain from going to see
one because they are told it is bad. When I was a dramatic critic--a
phrase that merely means I did not pay for my seat--nothing struck me
more forcibly than the frequent discrepancy between the opinions of the
audience at a _première_ and the opinions of the papers. Again and again
have I seen an audience moved to laughter and cheers and tears by a play
which the great outside public would be informed the next morning was
indifferent or worse. The discrepancy was sometimes explicable by
_claques_, which are almost as discreditable to managements as the
keeping of tame critics, who eat food out of their hand. Sometimes it was
not professional _claques_, but amateurs come to see a friend's play _en
masse_, and applauding out of all proportion to its merits, not so much
perhaps from friendship as from simple astonishment at finding any
merits. But putting aside _claques_, it remains true that an audience
will often heartily enjoy what a critic will heartily damn--sometimes in
half a dozen papers, your capable critic being like a six-barrelled
revolver. And so--often enough--the piece, after futile efforts to
masquerade in the advertisement columns in a turned garment of favourable
phrases, dies in an odour of burnt paper; the treasury is robbed of its
due returns; and numerous worthy persons to whom it would have given
boundless pleasure are deprived of their just enjoyment. The obvious
truth is that the public and the critics--the people who pay to see plays
and the people who are paid to see plays--have different canons of
criticism. Sometimes their judgments coincide, but quite as frequently
they disagree. It is the same with popular books. And the reason of this
is not far to seek. The critic is not only more cultured than the average
playgoer, he is more _blasé_. He knows the stock situations, the stage
tricks, the farcical misunderstandings, the machine-made pathos, the dull
mechanic round of repartee, the innocent infant who intervenes in a
divorce suit (like the Queen's Proctor), the misprised mother-in-law, the
bearded spinster sighing like a furnace, the ingenuous and slangy young
person of fifteen with the well-known cheek, and the even more
stereotyped personages preserved in Mr. Jerome's "Stage-land." They all
come, if not from Sheffield, from a perpetual tour in the provinces. The
critic knows, too, which plays are taken from the French and which from
the English, where the actor is gagging and when he is "fluffy." A good
deal of the disillusionment of the scene is also his: he knows that the
hero is not young nor the heroine beautiful, nor the villain as vicious
as either.

How different the attitude of the occasional playgoer! Seeing only a
tithe of the plays of the day, he neither knows nor cares whether they
repeat one another. The most hackneyed device may seem brilliantly
original to him, the stalest stage trick as fresh as if just hot from the
brain; and jokes that deterred the dove from returning to the ark arride
him vastly. _Per contra_, for his unjaded imagination absolutely new
scenes and dialogues have no more novelty than the comparatively aged.
Probability or truth to life he demands not, perfection of form were
thrown away upon him. His soul melts before the simplest pathos, he is
made happy by a happy ending, and when Momus sits on a hat "he openeth
his mouth and saith Ha! ha!" He is a flute upon which you may play what
false notes you will. In some versions of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" he placidly
accepts two Topsies. I s'pec's one growed out of t' other. He hath a
passion for the real as well as the ideal, and in order to see a
fire-engine, or Westminster Bridge, or a snow-storm, he will perspire you
two hours at the pit's mouth. He could see them any day in the street,
but it gives him wondrous joy to see them in their wrong places. How
absurd, then, for the average critic to be play-taster to the occasional
playgoer! He no more represents him than an M. P. represents the baby he
kisses. As well might one ask a connoisseur to choose the claret for a
back-parlour supper-party. Thus the critic cannot honestly represent the
Public. That he cannot represent Art without injuring the Theatre as well
as the Public, has already been shown. The conclusion one is driven to is
that the critic has no _raison d'être_ at all in the topical press. There
he should be replaced by the reporter. The influence of cultivated
criticism should be brought to bear on the drama only from the columns of
high-class magazines or books.

Nor am I more certain of the use of the art critic. He is far too
conflicting to be of any practical value, and he as often contradicts
himself as his fellows. He hides his ignorance in elegant English,
sometimes illuminated by epigram, and from his dogmatic verdicts there is
no appeal. Not infrequently he is resolved to be a critic "in spite of
nature," as Sir Joshua has it in a delicious phrase which was possibly
given him by his friend "the great lexicographer." In a letter to the
"Idler," the painter recommends those devoid of eye or taste, and with no
great disposition to reading and study, to "assume the character of a
connoisseur, which may be purchased at a much cheaper rate than that of a
critic in poetry." "The remembrance of a few names of painters, with
their general characters," says Sir Joshua, "and a few rules of the
Academy, which they may pick up among the Painters, will go a great way
towards making a very notable Connoisseur." He goes on to describe a
gentleman of this cast, whose mouth was full of the cant of Criticism,
"which he emitted with that volubility which generally those orators have
who annex no ideas to their words."

When I once expressed to Mr. Whistler my conviction that, with the single
exception of religion, more nonsense was talked on the subject of art
than on any other topic in the world, that great authority refused to
allow religion any such precedence. Certainly during the season when, for
the middle-class Londoner, art "happens," the claims of art to that proud
pre-eminence become overwhelming, if only temporarily so. Everybody gives
his opinion freely, and it is worth the price. To criticise painting is
only less difficult than to execute it. Fifty per cent. of art is sheer
science, the rigid, accurate science of form and perspective, I do not
say that accuracy is necessary to art. Still it is what most people
presume to judge. But does one person in a hundred know the true
proportions of things, or possess the eye to gauge the anatomy of a
figure? Owing to the neglect in schools of the rudiments of drawing, our
eyes barely note the commonest objects; we remark just enough of their
characteristics to identify them. "Consider!" as Mr. John Davidson writes
in his "Random Itinerary": "did you ever see a sparrow? You have heard
and read about sparrows. The streets are full of them; you know they
exist. But you could not describe one, or say what like is its note. You
have never seen a sparrow, any more than you have seen the
thousand-and-one men and women you passed in Fleet street the last time
you walked through it. _Did_ you ever see a sparrow?" And then there is
colour. Do you really know what the colour of that landscape is, or what
complex hues mantle the surface of yonder all-mirroring pool? Do you know
that, the appearance of nature is constantly varying with every change of
light and every passing cloud? Do you know how Primrose Hill looks at
night? Perhaps you think you know how a haystack looks in the sunlight;
yet across the Channel the illustrious Monet devoted months to painting
one haystack, making fresh discoveries daily. I do not believe you know
how many Roman figures there are on your watch-dial. You probably think
there are twelve. But what is far more important, you may be quite devoid
of artistic sensibility. Yet you would not hesitate to criticise the
Academy or even to be paid for it. I had occasion to buy a doll the other
day. It was a she-doll. There seems, by the way, a tremendous
preponderance of the fair sex in dolls: what difficult social problems
must agitate the Dolls' Houses! This was a pretty doll, with wide blue
eyes, and a wealth of golden tow, and an expression of aristocratic
innocence on its waxen cheek, faintly flushed with paint, and I bore it
home with pride. But when I came to examine it, I found it was but a
sawdust abomination. Oh the modelling of the arm, oh the anatomy of the
leg, oh the patella proximate to the ankle! I felt that if I gave that
doll to the expectant infant, she might grow up to be an art critic.
Thus, then, mused I sorrowfully, is the nation's taste made in Germany.
We are corrupted from the cradle, even as upon our tombs badly carved
angels balance themselves dolefully. Let me make a nation's dolls: I care
not who makes its pictures. Was it of these dolls a late President of the
Royal Academy was thinking, when he said that the German genius did not
find its best expression in plastic art? The Academy will not be
permanently improved until we improve our dolls.



Now that the world is so full of free dinners for the well-fed, it
behoves hostesses to reconsider their methods. With so many dinner-tables
open to the lion, or even to the cub, they must do their spiriting
dexterously if they would feed him. In these days when seven hostesses
pluck hold of the swallow-tails of one man, and the form of grace before
meals must be, "For those we are about to receive, Lord make us truly
thankful," something more than the average attraction is needed to induce
the noble animal to dine at your expense. There is one improvement in the
great dinner function for which I would respectfully solicit the
attention of ladies who entertain but do not amuse. "It is a great point
in a gallery how you hang your pictures," says the sage of Concord, "and
not less in society how you seat your party. When a man meets his
accurate mate, Society begins and life is delicious." Yes, but how rarely
does a man meet his accurate mate in these minor marriages of the
dinner-table! How often is he chained for hours to an unsympathetic soul
he has not even made the mistake of selecting. The terrible length of the
modern dinner makes the grievance very real, and in a society already
vibrant with the demand for easier divorce it is curious that there has
arisen no Sarah Grand of the dining-room to protest against this diurnal
evil. Suppose that at a dance you were told off to one perpetual partner,
who would ever don pumps? Is it not obvious that at a dinner you should
have the same privilege as at a dance--the privilege of choosing your
partner for each course? It could be done during the drawing-room wait. I
give an example of an ordinary menu, marked after the fashion of a
gentleman's dance programme, from which it will the seen at a glance how
much more delightful a dinner would become if you could change your
partner as often as your plate.

MENU, JUNE 15th, 1894.

Plats. Engagements.
1. Hors d'oeuvres . . . . S. S.
2. Soup . . . . . . . . . A. P. S.
3. Poisson . . . . . . . Pinky.
4. Poisson . . . . . . . L. R.
5. Entrée . . . . . . . . Blue Bow.
6. Entrée . . . . . . . . Red Hair.
7. Joint . . . . . . . . W.
8. Sweet . . . . . . . . Minnie.
9. Sweet . . . . . . . . Minnie.
10. Cheese . . . . . . . Long Arms.
11. Dessert . . . . . . . I. V.

(Interval before ladies rise.)

Extra Entrée . . . . . . Agnes.
Extra Joint . . . . . . . Eyeglasses.
Extra Sweet . . . . . . . Minnie.

You perceive at once that you would always put your idol _pro tem_, down
for the sweets, which would become as fertile a source of flirtation as
"love" in tennis. Of course the same tact and discretion would be needed
in filling your menu as in filling your programme. Some ladies who are
excellent at the entrée may be inadvisable for the joint, which they may
sit out, expecting to monopolise your attention to the detriment of your
meal. Others who are dull at the soup may be agreeably vivacious towards
the later items. A new series of formulae would be added to the language:

"May I have the pleasure of seeing your menu?"

"Will you give me one sweet?"

"Can you spare me the joint?"

"I am so sorry: I have just given it away."

"See me eat the poisson, as Grossmith says."

"Will you put me down for a fish?"

"This is our entrée, I think."

"May I have my dessert, Minnie?"

"Are you engaged for the cheese?"

"Yes; but you can have the second entrée."

"Don't forget to keep the soup for me!"

"If you don't mind sitting it out!"

"Are you open for the extra joint?"

"Thank you: I am full up."

For hostesses who shrink from such a revolution, a beginning might be
made by an automatic change of seats by the gentlemen, say one to the
right as in the _chassé-croisé_ of the Caledonians. Failing this, the
only remaining method of avoiding monotony and the chilling separation of
the extremes of the board is to follow the example of King Arthur and
employ a round table. The round dinner-table is the only way of making
both ends meet.

Having got your round table, what are you to eat upon it? There is hardly
any edible known to the menu which some sect or other would not banish
from the kitchen, while if you were to follow the "Lancet" you would eat
nothing at all, starving like Tantalus amid a wealth of provisions. Of
these sects of the stomach I was aware of many. But it is only recently
that the claims of "natural food" have been brought within my heathen
ken. The apostle of the new creed is an American lady doctor, whose
gospel, however, is somewhat vitiated by her championship of Mrs.
Maybrick, so that one cannot resist the temptation of suspecting that she
thinks the jury would never have found that interesting lady guilty if
they had fed upon starchless food. For this is the creed of the new
teaching. All starch foods are chiefly digested in the intestines instead
of in the main stomach, and hence are unnatural and morbiferous, and the
chief cause of the nervous prostration and broken-down health that abound
on all sides. (Herr Nordau gives quite a different explanation of the
general breakdown, but no matter.) "The 'Natural Food Society,'" says its
official organ, "is founded in the belief that the food of primeval man
consisted of fruit and nuts of sub-tropical climes, spontaneously
produced; that on these foods man was, and may again become, at least as
free from disease as the animals are in a state of nature." How curiously
apposite seem Dryden's lines, written in a very different connection!

This was the fruit the private spirit brought,
Occasioned by great zeal and little thought.
While crowds unlearned, with rude devotion warm,
About the sacred viands buzz and swarm.

And this couplet of his, too, might be commended to the devotees:

A thousand daily sects rise up and die;
A thousand more the perished race supply.

What does it matter what primeval man ate? It is not even certain that he
was a member of the Natural Food Society. The savage, as we know him,
lives on the game he hunts and shoots, and prefers his fellow-man to
vegetarianism. No one ever accused the red Indian of nervous prostration,
"when wild in woods the noble savage ran"; nor are leopards and tigers
usually in broken-down health. But, in justice to the Natural Food
Society, I must admit that it displays a pleasant absence of fanaticism,
for there is a proviso in italics: "_All persons about to experiment with
the non-starch food system are urged at first not to use nuts, but to use
instead whatever animal food they have been accustomed to._" The central
feature of the system is abstention from bread, cereals, pulses, and
starchy vegetables, for which food fruits are to be substituted. All this
seems a mighty poor excuse for the formation of a new sect. Fortunately
the Society uses up its superfluous energies "in working for the higher
life," and in its coupling of health and holiness is sound in its
psychology, whatever it may be in its physiology.

You never heard of Peterkin's pudding, by the way, but there is a fine
moral baked in it. Johannes came to his wife one day and said, "_Liebes_
Gretchen, could you not make me a pudding such as Peterkin is always
boasting his wife makes him? I am dying of envy to taste it. Every time
he talks of it my chops water." "It is not impossible I could make you
one," said Gretchen good-naturedly; "I will go and ask Frau Peterkin how
she makes it." When Johannes returned that evening from the workshop,
where Peterkin had been raving more than ever over his wife's pudding,
Gretchen said gleefully, "I have been to Frau Peterkin: she has a good
heart, and she gave me the whole recipe for Peterkin's pudding." Johannes
rubbed his hands, and his mouth watered already in anticipation. "It is
made with raisins," began Gretchen. Johannes's jaw fell. "We can scarcely
afford raisins," he interrupted: "couldn't you manage without raisins?"
"Oh, I dare say," said Gretchen, doubtfully. "There is also candied
lemon-peel." Johannes whistled. "Ach, we can't run to that," he said.
"No, indeed," assented Gretchen; "but we must have suet and yeast." "I
don't see the necessity," quoth Johannes. "A good cook like you"--here he
gave her a sounding kiss--"can get along without such trifles as those."
"Well, I will try," said the good Gretchen, as cheerfully as she could;
and so next morning Johannes went to work light-hearted and gay. When he
returned home, lo! the long-desired dainty stood on the supper-table,
beautifully brown. He ran to embrace his wife in gratitude and joy; then
he tremblingly broke off a hunch of pudding and took a huge bite. His
wife, anxiously watching his face, saw it assume a look of perplexity,
followed by one of disgust. Johannes gave a great snort of contempt.
"_Lieber Gott!_" he cried, "and _this_ is what Peterkin is always
bragging about!"



The Cynic was very old and very wise and very unpopular. I was the only
person at his "At Home" that afternoon. I gave him my views on
Bi-metallism, having just read the leader in the "Times." He yawned
obtrusively, and growled, "Bi-metallism, indeed! The only remedy for
modern civilisation is A-metallism. Money must be abolished. The root of
all evil must be pulled up."

"Money abolished!" I echoed in amaze. "Why, any student of political
economy will tell you we could not live without it. Lacking a common
measure of value, we----"

"So it has always been held by students when answering political-economy
papers," he interrupted impatiently. "Yet I dreamt once of a land where
the currency was called in, and the morning stars sang together."

"But the exchange of commodities----" I began.

"Was effected by the sublime simplicity of barter. At one sweep were
swept away all that monstrous credit system which had created an army of
accountants and a Court of bankruptcy; all that chaos of single and
double-faced entry--all that sleight-of-hand abracadabra of
signatures--all those paper phantoms of capital. The Stock Exchange and
other gambling-hells shrivelled up. There was a vast saving of clerical
labour, and there were few loopholes for fraud. Everything was too
simple. Swift retribution overtook the man who shirked his obligations to
his fellows. Nobody could juggle with bits of paper at the North Pole and
ruin people at the South. The windows of human Society were cleared of
the gigantic complex cobweb full of dead flies. One could look inside and
see what was going on. 'Gentlemen' could not flourish in the light. They
were like the fungi that grew in cellars. Every man became both a worker
and a trader."

"Not an unmixed gain, that," I protested.

"I grant you," said the Cynic. "Some of the finer shades of fine
gentlemanliness were lost: the honourable feeling of cheating one's
tradesmen, the noble scorn of tailors, the lofty despisal of duns. When
all men were tradesmen, these higher class distinctions fused into one
another. There arose a clannish feeling which prevented the tradesman
from defrauding one of his own class. But there was an even graver evil
to be placed to the debit side of the new system. For the professors of
political economy (who had thrown up their posts as a conscientious
protest against the abolition of money and of salaries) proved to be
right. So clumsy was the mechanism of exchange that men were actually
driven to doing more than one kind of work. All those advantages of
specialisation which Adam Smith, supplemented by Babbage, had so
laboriously pointed out were completely lost to a wasteful world. Rather
than be without certain luxuries and necessaries men gave up moving their
legs all day up and down in time with iron treadles, or feeding machines
with bits of material exactly alike, or remaining doubled up underground,
or making marks from hour to hour and from year to year on pieces of
ruled paper. The waste by friction became enormous. Some of the least
thrifty even made their own furniture, and wove their own clothes, and
carved out rude ornaments for themselves. Whether from a natural want of
economy, or from an unwillingness to encounter the difficulties of
traffic, or from a mere spirit of independence, these men deliberately
reverted to the condition from which mankind had so painfully emerged.

"Some even pretended to enjoy it, and, rather paradoxically, asserted
that the abolition of gold had brought about the golden age of primitive
legend. Others who felt keenly the falling-off in production, and the
absence of those huge stores of unsold commodities which glutted the
ancient markets, and gave a nation a sense of wealth in the midst of
poverty; the aesthetic spirits who lamented the disappearance of the
ancient mansions and palaces, which, although they were empty three parts
of the year, yet afforded men the consolation of knowing that they were
ample enough to shelter the majority of the homeless--men of this stamp
were chagrined by the cumbersome mechanism of exchange, which made these
glories of the past impracticable, and they were for introducing
counters. But counters, although they had the advantage of lacking
intrinsic value, would be quite as bad as actual coins if men could
entirely trust one another never to repudiate their obligations.
Unfortunately Society had grown so honest under the new _régime_ that
this condition was fulfilled, and the operation of counters would have
been identical with that of money. Moreover, counters would have brought
back card-playing, horse-racing, fire and life assurance, and other forms
of gambling, which without them involved such complex calculations and
valuations of loaves and fishes that all the pleasure was spoilt. When
these things were pointed out to the aesthetic and the economical, they
were convinced and remained of the same opinion.

"But even with all these deficits, the balance in favour of the _status
quo_ was eminently satisfactory. It was rediscovered that man really
wanted very little here below, and that it was better for all to get it
than for some to continue to want it; and, taking into account also the
general freedom from war, newspapers, and other evils of a moneyed
civilisation, it must be conceded that the common people had very little
to grumble at."

"But what of the uncommon people?" I interrupted at last. "They must have
been martyred."

"Certainly, for the good of the common people. You see, everything was
topsy-turvey. Besides, they suffered only during the earlier stages of
transition. There was, for instance, the poet who went round among the
workmen to chaffer verses. But there were few willing to barter solid
goods for poetry. Here and there an intelligent artisan in love purchased
a serenade, and an occasional lunatic (for Nature hath her aberrations
under any system) became the proprietor of an epic. But the sons of toil
drove few bargains or hard with the sons of the Muses. The best poets
fared worst, for the crowd sympathised not with their temper, nor with
their diction, and they were like to die of starvation and so achieve
speedy recognition. But the minor poets, too, were in sore strait. The
market was exceedingly limited. Sellers were many and buyers few.
Rondeaux were hawked about from butcher to baker, at ten to the joint, or
three to the four-pound loaf, and triolets were going at a
hollow-toothful of brandy. A ballade-worth of butter would hardly cover a
luncheon biscuit, while a five-act blank-verse tragedy was given away for
a pound of tea, and that only when the characters were incestuous and the
caesuras irreproachable. A famous female poet was reduced to pawning her
best sonnet for a glass of lemonade and a bun.

"Times were no less hard for the comic writer. Hitherto he had only to
outrage his mother-tongue, or to debase the moral currency, to find the
land ready to accord him of the fat thereof. He used to sit in a room in
Fleet street and make or steal jokes in return for gold. By the wonderful
mechanism of the old Society other men and women, in whatever part of the
world he might stray, would rush to feed and clothe and house him, and
play and sing and dance to him, and physic him, and drive him about in
carriages, and tell him the news and shave him, and press upon him
aromatic mixtures to smoke, and love him, and kowtow to him, and beg of
him, and even laugh at his jokes, all in return for making or stealing
jokes in Fleet street. Some of these men and women would detest jokes, or
have a blindness to their points; nevertheless, not one but would be
eager to express in the most practical form his or her sense of the
services rendered to Society by the joker. But now that people saw with
open eyes through the transparent mechanism of exchange, they were
extremely loth to part with their tangible commodities in return for mere
flashes of wit or vulgarity. Previously they had only half realised that
they were soberly and seriously making coats, or working machines, or
smelting iron, while these jesters were merely cudgelling their brains or
consulting back files. The complexity of the thing had disguised the
facts. But now that they saw exactly what was going on, they became
suddenly callous to numerous vested interests, and their new-found desire
to know why they should give up the fruits of their labour pressed very
cruelly upon innocent individuals. The comic writer found it no joke to
live with 'I'd Rajah not's' going at seventy-five to the cigarette, or
mockeries of the mother-in-law yielding but a ton of coals to the
thousand. Puns were barely vendible, and even comic pictures could only
be sold at a great sacrifice of decency.

"The heir was a type of sufferer. When he came around asking for
champagne and chicken, the working-man said, 'What are you offering us in
exchange?' and he replied, 'My relationship to my father.' But they would
not buy.

"Antiquarians and scholars, too, found it a hard task to live. No one
needed the things they raked up from the dust-heap of the past. Critics
were in an exceptionally critical condition. No one cared to exchange his
productions with a man who in return had to offer only his opinion of
somebody else's! As this opinion was usually worthless even under the old
_régime_, people soon began to turn up their noses at it, and nobody
would give a rusk for the information that Turner was a better artist
than Nature, or that hanging was too good for Whistler. Remarks about the
Italian Renaissance were accounted paltry equivalents for green peas,
invidious comparisons among the Lake poets were not easily negotiable for
alpaca umbrellas, and the subtlest misreadings of Shakespeare were
considered trivial substitutes for small-clothes. The artists were
reduced to borrowing half-rolls from their models, partly because people
had gone back to Nature and liked their scenery free from oil, and drank
in the Spirit of Beauty without water, and partly because it was so
difficult to assess the value of a picture now that critics had been
starved out and speculation had died away. Allegorical painters continued
a much-misunderstood race, and the fusion of classes had reacted fatally
on the brisk trade in 'Portraits of a Gentleman.' People who, in their
celestial aspirations after the True, the Good, and the Beautiful, had
forgotten that they ate and drank and required food, warmth, and shelter
to hatch all these sublime things with Capital Letters--people who had
heretofore poured lofty scorn on those who could not forget that a man
was a being with a body--these were now the most clamant demanders of the
material. Only by the withdrawal of physical necessaries and luxuries did
they come to realise how much they had depended on such, or to perceive
the impossibility of the Worship of Truth on an empty stomach. Alas!
under this crude system of barter the most ardent expression of their
sentiments concerning the ideal and the _Kalokagathon_ would not keep
them in cigars. The professional paradoxist went about with holes in his
boots. Epigrams in hand, sickness at heart, and emptiness at stomach, he
crawled through the town in search of a buyer. He offered a dozen of the
choicest apothegms for a pair of hob-nailed boots, conjuring the cobbler
like the veriest 'commercial' to note the superiority of the manufacture.
He pointed out that he travelled with the latest novelties in
Impressionist Ethics, perfect unfitness guaranteed. He even offered to
make a reduction if the cobbler would take a quantity. The worthy
craftsman, stung by the prospect of a cheap job lot of epigrams, was
prevailed upon to look at the goods. But when he read that 'Vice is the
foundation of all virtue,' that 'Self-sacrifice is the quintessence of
selfishness,' and that 'The Good of Evil outweighs the Evil of Good,' he
felt that he could do much better with his boots, even if he only
employed them to kick the epigrammatist. The poor wretch thought himself
lucky when he succeeded in purchasing two epigramsworth of tobacco and a
paradoxworth of potatoes. To cap his misfortunes, the nation suffered
from a sudden invasion of immigrant epigrammatists, so that cynicisms
went a-begging at ten for a sausage-roll. Nor was the dull but moral
maxim at less discount than the witty but improper epigram. Essays
inculcating the most superior virtues failed to counterbalance a day's
charing, and the finest spiritualistic soft soap would not wash clothes.
Even the washerwoman deemed her work more real and valuable than the
manufacture of moralities too fine for use, and the deliberate effusion
of sentiments too good to be true.

"In those days, too, a complete political platform, comprising a score of
first-class articles of faith, sold at a pair of second-hand
slop-trousers, and a speech of three hours and three hundred parentheses
could not fetch more than a pot of jam in the open market. The workhouses
were crowded with politicians, critics, poets, novelists, bishops,
sporting tipsters, scholars, heirs, soldiers, dudes, painters,
journalists, peers, bookmakers, landlords, punsters, idealists, and other
incorrigible persons. Nothing was more curious and heartrending in the
history of this transition to a new stage than the rapidity with which
those who had been most exigent towards life bated their terms. Men who,
in their aspirations after the Good and the Beautiful and the True, had
unwittingly wasted an intolerable deal of the world's substance in
riotous idealising,--men who had so long breathed the atmosphere of
ottomans and rose-leaves that they were barely conscious of their
privileges,--now found themselves clamouring for bread wherewith to stay
the cravings of their inner selves, and accounted themselves happy if
they found a roof to shelter them. The pathos of it was that they felt it
all too intensely to see the pathos of it, or to express it in poem,
picture, or song.

"It was, of course, the current political economy to which was due this
immense depreciation in the exchange value of the higher kinds of
intellectual and artistic work. In the old Socialistic system which had
been swept away by the abolition of money, men had purchased literary and
musical commodities in common, each consumer paying his quota for his
share of an unconsumable and infinitely divisible whole. But now few
individuals cared or could afford to purchase whole works for their
private edification; and so it came to pass that men of talent suffered
as much as men of genius in the olden days. And when it began to be
understood of the people that the times were other, and that Art and
Letters and Apostleship would not pay, men turned in resignation to work
with their hands, and they made all kinds of useful things.

"And the bookmakers returned not to their pens, nor the pot-boiling
painters to their palettes, nor the apostles to their prophesying, being
otherwise engaged and not thereto driven by inward necessity.

"And the Society of Authors perished!

"But the great poets, and the prophets, and the workers in colour and
form, upon whom the spirit rested, these wrought on when their daily
labour for a livelihood was at an end, for joy of their art and for the
religious fire that was in them, giving freely of their best to their
fellow-men, and exempt for evermore from all taint of trade."

The Cynic paused, and I sat silent, deeply impressed by what he had said,
and striving to imprint every word of it upon my memory, so that I might
sell it to a magazine.



So far as I can gather from the publications of the Folklore Society, the
science of Folklore is in a promising condition. The doctors seem to be
agreed neither about the facts nor the methods nor the conclusions, but
otherwise their unanimity is wonderful. Originally the science was made
in Germany, where it still flourishes, like all sciences that require
infinite pains and inexhaustible dulness. All that can be done with any
fruitfulness is apparently the collection and classification of stories,
songs and superstitions. Hypotheses and theories are mainly bricks
without straw, and the only certain conclusion that may be drawn from the
prevalence of folk-tales all over the world is that all men are liars.
This was the first contribution to the science, and the Psalmist may be
regarded as the founder of Folklore. Herder made an advance when he
collected the folk-songs of many nations; and Grimm as a collector was
truly scientific, but when he brought in his mythological explanations he
brought in mythology. Benfey's celebrated theory that European folk-tales
are Oriental in origin and comparatively recent in date seems to be
bearing up well.

But no one seems to study the mythopoetic instinct as it manifests itself
in modern life, in the daily refraction of fact through the medium of
imagination (a medium whose power of refraction is far greater than that
of water). Because we no longer create gods and goddesses, or people the
woods and brooks with fairies and nymphs, and the forest with gnomes and
the hills with hobgoblins--because we do not soften our lives with an
atmosphere of gracious supernaturalism, and fresco our azure ceiling with
angels--it is assumed that the mythopoetic instinct is dead. Far from it!
It is as lively as ever, and we may watch it at play in the building up
of legends, in the creation of mythical figures; in the shaping of the
Boulanger legend, the Napoleonic legend, the Beaconsfield legend with its
poetical machinery of the primrose, the Booth legend, the Blavatsky
legend; in the fathering of epigrams upon typical wits like Sheridan, or
the attribution of all jokes to "Punch"; in the creation of non-existent
bodies like the Æsthetes, and in the private circulation of scandals
about public personages; in the perpetual revival of the Blood Accusation
against the Jews, or the pathetic clinging to the miracles of exposed
Spiritualists and Theosophists; in the Gladstone of Tory imaginations and
the Balfour of Radical; in the Irish patriot of oratory; in the
big-footed Englishwoman of French fancy, and the English conception of
the Scotchman who cannot see a joke; in the persistence of traditional
beliefs or prejudices that would be destroyed by one inspection.

Apotheosis is still with us, and diabolification (if I may coin a word).
We canonise as prodigally as in the mediaeval ages, and are as keen as
ever about relics. We are still looking out for dead King Arthur: he will
return by way of the County Council. _Plus ça change plus c'est la
méme[*] chose_--probably the profoundest observation ever made by a
Frenchman. Our mythopoetic instinct is as active as of yore, only the
mode of its expression is changed. It works on modern lines, has taken to
prose instead of poetry, and only occasionally unfurls wings. Why does
not the Folklore Society investigate the origin of our modern myths? Why
not seize on the instinct as it is seen at play in our midst, moulding
movements and fashioning faiths? Why not catch it in the act--employ
vivisection, so to speak, instead of dissecting dead remains? Why not try
to extract from the living present the laws of the creation and
development of myths and the conditions of their persistence, so that by
applying these laws retrospectively we may come to understand our
heritage of tradition? Ah! but this would require insight into life,
which your scientist has no mind for. Besides, dry-as-dust
work--collation and classification--may be distributed among the members
of a society; but how require of them fresh vision? There is dispute as
to how folklore arose: one school talks vaguely of creation by the clan,
the community, the race; another insists that the germ at least must
always have sprung from some one individual mind, just as a proverb may
be the wisdom of many but must be the wit of one; that ideas that are "in
the air," like a tree whose branches are everywhere and whose trunk
nowhere, had a single root once; and that every _on dit_ was literally
"_one says_" originally. But if we watch the process of mythopoetising in
our daily life, we shall see both theories illustrated. Consider the myth
of Lord Randolph's small stature: it may be traced easily enough to Mr.
Furaiss's pencil. Many people who have the impression forget whence they
derived it; and many who never saw Punch had the idea conveyed to them by
London letter-writing journalists who never saw Churchill. Yet there is
no doubt that the myth is the creation of a single man. In this instance
the genesis is clear, and it makes for the one-man theory. In other
instances, I can quite imagine myths arising from a spectacle witnessed
in common by a multitude, or an incident developing itself under the eyes
of many. No single reporter of the doings in Sherwood Forest built up the
Robin Hood legend.

[* Transcriber's note: So in original. One would rather expect an accent
circonflexe on the first 'e', not an accent aigu.]

Doubtless every ballad was the work of an individual; crowds do not
spontaneously burst out into identical remarks, except on the stage. But
the crowd was ready for the individual's ballad; it furnished him with
his theme and his inspiration, so that he "gave back in rain what he
received in mist." Thus, most folklore would owe its birth to the
co-operation of the individual and the community--the former the creative
or male factor, the latter the receptive or feminine factor. The one man
launches his jest, his caricature, his story, his melody, into a
sympathetic but inarticulate environment. Then it is taken up, it is
transformed, it grows mighty. The "Times" is something very different
from the total of the contributors' manuscripts.

Perhaps the most interesting field of folklore work, from the point of
view of mere literature, was that opened up by Von Hahn's classification
of the stories of the world according to their original elements, their
bare plots. There are about seventy main types of stories to which all
the wandering tales of the world may be reduced. As thus:


1. A man saves some beasts and a man from a pit.

2. The beasts somehow make him rich, and the man somehow tries to ruin

I have little doubt that these might be fined down to seventeen on a very
broad basis of classification. I should like to see an analysis of the
world's novels similar to that which Polti has made for the drama.
Probably it would need a Society to do it, though it would be easy enough
to keep pace with the output when once the arrears were cleared off.
There are only twenty novels published every week in England, omitting
serials, and probably only two or three hundred in the whole world. By a
division of labour these could be easily taken to pieces and their plots
dissected. In time this might lead to a copyright in incidents as well as
in words and titles, and the stock situations would be stocked no more,
and the conventional novelists would be killed off. Even if Parliament
did not see its way to copyrighting incidents, for fear good ideas
spoiled by weak writers should be lost to use by the strong, the
publication of a catalogue of the motives of fiction already treated
would deter all but the most shameless from changing infants at nurse, or
rescuing young ladies from bulls, or mistaking brother and sister for
lovers, or having to do with wills lost, stolen, or strayed. Colossal as
the task looks, a first rough analysis would sweep away half the new
novels of the month and include three-fourths of the fiction of the past.
Here is the broadest and most general formula of English fiction as she
is wrote for the young person: _A young man meets a young woman under
unpropitious conditions which delay their union._

Nine-tenths of the novels of the day may be dissected under the following
heads: (_a_) Description of Hero; (_b_) Of Heroine; (_c_) How they first
met; (_d_) Why they did not marry till the last chapter.

There! Quite unintentionally I have given away the secret of
novel-writing. It is, for all the world, like the parlour game of
Consequences, wherein each person fills up a form unknown to the others.
The muscular John Jones met the beautiful Princess of Portman Square in
the Old Kent Road, and said to her, "Oh, 'Arriet, I'm waitin' for you,"
and she replied, "You must wait till the end of the third volume," and
the consequences were that they got married, and the world said, "We must
get this from Mudie's." After this lesson in fiction any one may rival
the masters, provided he can hold a pen and doesn't mind leaving the
spelling to the compositors. You may perhaps think that the real value of
a book lies in the accessories before the marriage, in the pictures of
life and character; but I can assure you, unless you turn everything
round this axis, the critics will tell you you can't construct. For my
part, I would rather have "The Story of an African Farm," two-storied as
it really is, than a hundred bungalow romances. Better genius without art
than art without genius.

For French fiction the formula would have to be varied. It would run:
(_a_)Hero; (_b_)Heroine; (_c_)How they first loved; (_d_)What the hero's
wife or the heroine's husband did; (_e_)Who died?

Another piece of work I should like to see done is a census of the
population of novels. Then we should see clearly how far they are a
reflection of life. In England I warrant the professional men would
outnumber all others; the aristocracy would come next, and the urban
working-man would be swamped by the villagers. The nation of shopkeepers
would be poorly represented, and artisans would be few in the land. There
would be more perfectly beautiful English girls than there are girls in
England, more American millionaires than even the States can raise, and
more penniless lords than if Debrett were a charity list of paupers; more
satanic guardsmen than ever wore "the widow's uniform," more briefless
barristers than all the men who have eaten dinners in vegetarian
restaurants, and more murderers than have ever been caught since the days
of Jonathan Wild. Indeed, I am not certain but what the population of
English novels would come out thirteen millions, mostly criminals. The
relative proportions of blondes and brunettes would also be brought out,
and whether there is a run on any especial colour of hair. Plain heroines
came in with Jane Eyre. It would be interesting to ascertain if they are
still worn or still weary.



My friends, topsy-turveydom is not so easy as it looks. The trouble is
not in inverting, but in finding _what to invert_. Our language is full
of ancient saws, but it takes wit to discover which to turn upside down.
Anybody can stand anything on its head, but it is only the real humourist
who knows which thing can stand on its head without falling or looking
foolish. 'T is the same in stage dialogue. Many a man of moderate wit can
find a repartee when the joke is unconsciously led up to by another
speaker. It is the preparation for the joke that is the dramatist's
difficulty. To borrow a term from the Greek grammars, the protasis of the
repartee is more troublesome than the apodosis. The puzzle is, therefore,
find the protasis. When Barry Pain says that sometimes the glowing fire
in the grate stares at you from behind its bars, as if it could read
pictures in you, you cannot help laughing. If he had given you the
protasis, "You gaze into the fire as if you could read pictures in it,"
even you could have invented the inversion. Topsy-turveydom is, I repeat,
no laughing matter. It is an art--and must be studied. When Besant's
School of Literature is founded, there will be


1. Invert the following commonplaces humorously:

Honesty is the best policy.
The cup that cheers but not inebriates.
Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.
Like a child in its mother's arms.
(_Not so easy, you see!_)

2. Invert the following _motifs_ humorously:

(_a_) A parted husband and wife reconciled by their little child.
(Stock Poetry.)

(_b_) A patient marrying his nurse on recovery. (Stock Story.)

(_c_) A mother-in-law who comes to stay six months. (The Old Humour.)

Inversion may be applied, you see, both to ideas and to phrases. Let me
contribute a specimen of either sort to the literary primer of the


I must really give up not smoking, at least till the American Copyright
Act works smoothly, and I am in a position to afford luxuries. At present
this habit of not smoking is a drain upon my resources which I can ill
support. Whenever a man comes to my house, I have to give him cigars, or
else gain the reputation of a churly and ill-mannered host. In the olden
days, when I was economical and smoked all day long, I could go to that
man's house and get those cigars back. Very often, too, I used to get the
best of the bargain, and thus effect considerable economies in the
purchase of good tobacco. Nowadays, not only have I got to give away
cigars for nothing, but they must be good ones. Formerly if I gave my
friends bad cigars, it was from a box I was obviously smoking myself, and
therefore they had at least the consolation of knowing I was a companion
in misfortune. But to give others "evils from which you are yourself
exempt" (to quote Lucretius) would be a terrible blend of bad taste and
inhospitality. Under such circumstances a man looks on a bad cigar as an
insult, and the greater insult because it is a gratuitous one. But my
losses from these sources are trivial compared with the item for
theatres. In the pure, innocent days, when I could not bear to let my
pipe out of my mouth even for a moment, I was unable to go to theatres;
but now that I have taken to not smoking, I have fallen a victim to my
other craving--the passion for the play. Three stalls a week tot up
frightfully in a year. No, decidedly I must check this extravagant habit
of not smoking before I am irretrievably ruined.

This is forced, but Truth often dwells the bottom of a paradox.


The danger of drowning arises mainly from being able to swim. The ability
to swim is of little use as a safeguard against drowning, for it is only
in a minority of cases that the accident thoughtfully allows you every
facility for displaying your powers of natation; you are not conceded
calm stream, a calm mind, and a bathing-costume; usually you are
disorganised, _ab initio_, by the unexpectedness of the thing, you are
weighed down by your clothes and your purse, you are entangled with
sails, or clutched at by fellow-passengers, or sucked into vortices. In a
big steamer accident, what chance is there for those who can swim? Only
an occasional Hercules can keep afloat in a heavy sea, and he not for
long. The most that swimming can do for you is to enable you to save
yourself in circumstances where you would very probably be saved by
somebody else. On the other hand, the ability to swim exposes you to many
risks you w|uld never have run had you been helpless in the water. You
swim in perilous places, you go out too far and cannot get back, you
expose yourself to the possibilities of cramp, you try to save other
people's lives and lose your own. There is also the temptation to go to
the Bath Club in Piccadilly and die of a too luxurious lunch. On the
whole, I believe as many swimmers are drowned as non-swimmers when a
general accident occurs, while the swimmers invite special accidents of
their own. Do you deduce from this that I advise you not to learn to
swim? Quite the contrary: it is a delightful and invigorating exercise.
Only you must not imagine you are thereby armed against fate. Swimming
for amusement is as different from swimming for life as yachting on the
Thames is from crossing the Atlantic.

For my example of phrase-inversion I cannot do better than reprint the
open letter addressed by me--in the height of his success, and in parody
of his manner--to the great _phraseur_ and _farunix_ of his little day;
especially as some have thought to see in it proof that prophecy has not
yet died out of Israel.

MY DEAR SIR: I have never for one moment doubted that you are a thinker,
a poet, an art critic, a dramatist, a novelist, a wit, an Athenian, and
whatever else you say you are. You are all these things--I confess it to
your shame. I have always looked down upon you with admiration. As an
epigrammatist I consider you only second to myself, though I admit that
in the sentiment, "to be intelligible is to be found out," I had the
disadvantage of prior publication. When you point out that Art is
infinitely superior to Nature, I feel that you are cribbing from my
unpublished poems, and I am quite at one with you in regarding the sunset
as a plagiarism. Nature is undoubtedly a trespasser, and should be warned
off without the option of a fine. I say these things to make it quite
clear that I speak to you more in anger than in sorrow. You are much too
important to be discussed seriously, and if I take the trouble to give
you advice, it is only because I am so much younger than you. I am
certain you are ruining yourself by cigarette cynicism; far better the
rough, clay-pipe cynicism of a Swift. There is no smoke without fire, but
it requires very little fire to keep a cigarette going. The art of
advertising oneself by playful puffs is not superior to Nature. But you
are not really playful and innocent; it would be ungracious to deny that
you have all the corruption which the Stage has so truly connected with
the cigarette. Still, isn't it about time you got divorced and settled
down? At present there are only two good plays in the world--"The Second
Book of Samuel" and "Lady Windermere's Fan"; surely you have power to add
to their number. Try a quiet life of artistic production, and don't talk
so much about Art. We are tired of missionaries, whether they wear the
white tie of the Church or of Society, and it is a great pity we have not
the simple remedy of the savages, who eat theirs. These few words of
admonition would be incomplete if I did not impress upon you that policy
is the only honesty. Art is short and life is long, and a stitch in time
debars one from having a new coat. You can take a drink to the horse, but
you can't make him well; and nothing succeeds like failure. Vice is the
only perfect form of virtue, and virtue---- Easy there! Steady! Avast!
Belay! Which!

The Boeotians are dull folk, no doubt, but life would be dull without
them. Imagine a wilderness of Wildes! It would be like a sky all
rainbows. Then what beautiful whetstones the Boeotians are! Abuse them,
by all means, so long as they will pay for it. But what a blessing that
the minds capable of taking the artistic view of life are rare enough to
keep the race sane! The coarser forms of egotism seem less baneful to the
brain-tissue. You claim to be an Athenian, but the Athenians did not
smoke cigarettes. It is true that tobacco had not been invented, but this
is a sordid detail If Athens stands for anything in the history of
culture, it is for sanity, balance, strength. Aristotle, at least as much
an Athenian as any native of Ireland, meditated about aesthetics, but he
meditated also about politics, logic, philosophy, political economy,
ethics--everything. Socrates was a _causeur_, but he was also a martyr.
No, after all the Beautiful is _not_ so important as you imagine you are.
No doubt for a few billion years painters and musicians and
epigrammatists will remain the centre cf creation; but when the sun grows
cold it is conceivable that invaluable canvases may be used up as fuel,
and that humanity may sacrifice even your printed paradoxes to keep
warmth a little longer in its decrepit bones. The fact is, you are too
_borné_, too one-sided, to be accepted as as a "king of men." You take
such broad views that you grow narrow. What you want is a little
knowledge of life, and twelve months' hard labour.

But though topsy-turveydom may be attained with comparative ease, it
performs a lofty philosophical function. Everything rusts by use. Our
moral ideals grow mouldy if preached too much; our stories stale if told
too often. Conventionality is but a living death. The other side of
everything must be shown, the reverse of the medal, the silver side of
the shield as well as the golden. Convex things are equally concave, and
concave things convex. The world was made round so that one man's "up"
should be another man's "down." The world is the Earthly Paradox, with
four cardinal points of mutual contradiction, all equally N., S., E., and
W. 'T is thus a symbol of all paradoxes, of all propositions in which
mutually contradictory things are true. Nay, paradox is the only truth,
for it cannot be denied; including, like the world, its own
contradiction. Topsy-turveydom unfolds our musty ideas to the sun and
spreads them out the other way. The man who reverses the Fifth
Commandment and says that parents should honour their children is not a
flippant jester, but a philosophic thinker. This is the true inwardness
of the topsy-turvey humourist.

Topsy-turveydom has played a prodigious part in the progress of thought.
The history of philosophy and science is merely a tale of development by
topsy-turveydom, every new thinker simply contradicting his predecessor.
Thales said water was the primitive principle of all things; so
Anaximander said it was air, whereupon Anaximenes said it was matter.
This made Pythagoras maintain it was not concrete matter but abstract
number; whereupon Xenophanes would have it that it was not number but
pure monistic being, and his disciple Zeno invented some delightful and
immortal paradoxes to prove that time and motion and number and change
have no existence, and only existence exists. Up comes Heraclitus,
proving that existence doesn't exist, and there is nothing in the world
but becoming: that so far from change not existing, nothing exists but
change. It was now about time to return to earth, and so Empedocles and
Democritus came along with their Atoms; thereby provoking Anaxagoras into
bringing in Soul to explain things. Things were going on thus
satisfactorily when the Sophists appeared on the scene to say that we
didn't really know anything, because all our knowledge was subjective, so
Socrates insisted that it didn't matter, because conduct was
three-fourths of life. Plato retorted that it did matter, and he invented
an archetypal universe of which this was a faint and distorted copy.
Naturally Aristotle must contradict him by founding empirical science,
which concerns itself only with this world. On his heels came the Stoics,
who would have nothing to do with science except in so far as it made men
virtuous, and who wanted to live soberly and severely. This provoked the
neo-Platonists into craving for ecstatic union with the supernatural. The
transition period from ancient philosophy to modern was one long fight
between Nominalists and Realises, the one school teaching the exact
opposite of the other.

But it is in the history of Modern Philosophy and Modern Science that one
finds the strongest examples of this progress by paradox. The triumph of
topsy-turveydom was when Galileo, the Oscar Wilde of Astronomy, declared
that the earth went round the sun--a sheer piece of inversion. Darwin,
the Barry Pain of Biology, asserted that man rose from the brutes, and
that, instead of creatures being adapted to conditions, conditions
adapted creatures. Berkeley, the Lewis Carroll of Metaphysics,
demonstrated that our bodies are in our minds, and Kant, the W. S.
Gilbert of Philosophy, showed that space and time live in us. In
Literature it is the same story. To credit the scholars, Homer is no
longer a man, nor the Bible a book. As for Zechariah, it was written
before Genesis. This topsy-turveydom is a valuable organon of scientific
discovery. Take any accepted proposition, invert it, and you get a New
Truth. Any historian who wishes to make a name has but to state that Ahab
was a saint and Elijah a Philistine--that Ananias was a realist and
George Washington a liar--that Charles I. was a Republican hampered by
his official position, and that the Armada defeated Drake--that Socrates
died of drinking, and that hemlock was what he gave Xantippe. In fact,
there is no domain of intellect in which a judicious cultivation of
topsy-turveydom may not be recommended. Ask why R. A.'s are invariably
colour-blind, and you become a great art critic, while a random regret
that Mendelssohn had no ear for music will bring you to the very front in
musical circles. For the tail shall always wag the dog in the end, and
Aristides will never be able to remain in Athens if men will call him
"the Just." _Tout passe, tout casse, tout lasse._ We are bored--and then
comes the topsy-turveyist's opportunity. "To every action there is an
equal and contrary reaction" is a sure law of motion, and in the seesaw
of speculation the "down" of to-day is the "up" of to-morrow. Next
century we shall be sick of science; and indeed the spooks are already
returning for the funeral of this. I shall end with


As a synonym for sin,
I 'll no longer drag you in,
Now I know your glorious mission was to spread
the truths Phoenician,
Metaphoric life anew you shall begin,
Metaphoric life anew you shall begin,

Cultured Baalite, loyal wife,
Martyr in a noble strife,
Protestant for light and sweetness 'gainst the
narrow incompleteness
Of Elijah and Elisha's view of life,
Of Elijah and Elisha's view of life.



Why do ghosts walk at Christmas? What seduction hath Yule Tide for these
phantastic fellows, that it lures them from their warm fireplaces? Is it
that the cool snow is grateful after the fervours of their torrid zone,
where even the pyrometer would fail to record the temperature? Is it that
Dickens is responsible for the season, and that Marley's ghost has set
the fashion among the younger spooks? The ghost of Hamlet's father was
not so timed: he walked in all weathers. Perhaps it is the supernatural
associations of Christmas that create the atmosphere in which ghosts live
and move and have their being. Or perchance it is at the season of family
reunion that the thoughts turn most naturally to vacant chairs and the
presences that once filled them. Or is it that the ghosts walk for me
alone, by reason that Christmas always brings me haunting thoughts of
them? For my youth was nursed upon the "penny dreadfuls" of an age that
knew not "Chums," nor the "Boys' Own Paper." They were not so very
dreadful, those "penny dreadfuls," though dreadfully disrespectful to
schoolmasters, who were wont to rend them in pieces in revenge. The
heroes of the stories began to urge on their wild career in the
school-room, where they executed practical jokes that would have
gladdened the heart of Mr. Gilbert's merry Governor; the jokers were
never found out unless they confessed to spare another boy's feelings,
and then the schoolmaster was so touched that he spared theirs. After
passing through five forms and upsetting them all, they arrived at the
sixth form, which demanded a new volume to itself, called, let us say,
"Tom Tiddler's School-days Continued," and mainly devoted to cigars and
flirtation. "Tom Tiddler at College" followed--all "wines" and
proctor-baiting, with Tom Tiddler as stroke in the victorious 'Varsity
eight. "Tom Tiddler Abroad" was the next title, for the chronicle of a
popular hero would run on for years and years; and in this section red
Indians and wild beasts were rampant. 'T were long to trace the fortunes
of Tom Tiddler in all their thrilling involutions; but when he had
painted the globe red he married and settled down. And then began "Young
Tom Tiddler's School-days," "Young Tom Tiddler's Schooldays Continued,"
"Young Tom Tiddler Abroad," and all the weekly round of breathlessness;
and never was proverb truer than that the young cock cackles as the old
cock crows. By the time interest palled in the son a new generation of
readers had arisen, and the unblushing paper commenced to run "Tom
Tiddler's School-days" again. So went the whirligig. But at Christmas,
when the blue-nosed waifs carol in the cold and boys have extra pennies,
Tom Tiddler himself slunk into the background, lost in the ample folds of
a "Double Number," the same blazoned impudently, as though it did not
demand double money. But the extra pennyworth was all ghosts: ghosts,
ghosts, ghosts; full measure, pressed down and running over; not your
Ibsenian shadows of heredity, but real live ghosts, handsomely appointed,
with chains and groans and wavy wardrobes. They lived in moated granges
and ivy-wreathed castles, and paced snowy terraces or dark, desolate
corridors. There was no talk then of psychic manifestations, or auras, or
telepathy, or spiritual aether. Ghosts were solid realities in those days
of the double number.

"To every man upon this earth death cometh soon or late," as Macaulay
sings, and it is no less impossible to escape spirit-rapping and all the
fascinating _menu_ of the Psychical Society. The epidemic, which is
contagious to the last degree, seizes its victims when they are off
guard, under pretense of amusing an idle hour, and ends by robbing them
of sleep and health; some it drives into lunatic asylums and some into
newspaper correspondence. That thought-reading is not necessarily
delusion or collusion is now generally recognised; a _protégée_ of Mr. F.
W. Myers convinced me of the possibility of simple feats, though not of
her explanation of them. She credited them to spirits, and wicked spirits
to boot. In vain, I pointed out that spirits who occupied themselves so
docilely about matters so trivial must be harmless creatures with no more
guile than the village idiot: she would concede no grain of goodness in
their composition. Table-turning I had never seen. Ghosts I had never
met, though I had met plenty of persons who had their acquaintance. Like
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu--or is it Madame de Stäel[*]?--I did not
believe in them, but I was afraid of them. Premonitions I had often had,
but they had scarcely ever come true. But now I am prepared to believe
anything and everything, and to come up to the Penitent Form--if there be
one--of the Psychical Society and to declare myself saved. I am already
preparing a waxen image of a notorious critic, to stick pins thereinto.
Not that I did not always believe the Spook Society was doing necessary
work in supplementing the crude treatises of our psychologists, who are
the most fatuous and self-complacent scientists going.

[* Transcriber's note: So in original. One would rather expect the accent
tréma on the 'e', not on the 'a'.]

My conversion to a deeper interest in the obscurer psychic phenomena
befell through encountering a theatrical touring company in a dull
provincial town. The barber told me about it--a dapper young Englishman
of twenty-five, with an unimpeachable necktie.

BARBER. "They're playing 'Macbeth' to-night, sir."

AUTHOR. (growling). "Indeed?"

B. "Yes, sir; I'm told it's pretty thick."

A. "What's pretty thick?"

B. "'Macbeth.'"

A. "What do you mean by 'thick'?"

B. "Full of gore, sir. I don't like those sort o' pieces. I like
opera--'Utopia' and that sort o' thing. You can see plenty o' thick
things in real life. I don't want to go to the theatre to get the creeps
and horrors. But I've seen 'Othello' and 'Virginius.'"

A. "Ha! Do you know who wrote 'Othello'?"

B. "No, that I don't."

A. "Do you know who wrote 'Macbeth'?"

B. "Now you ask me something!"

A. (speculating sadly on the vanity of fame and the absurdity of being a
national bard, but determined to vindicate a brother author) "'Othello'
and 'Macbeth' were written by Shakespeare."

B. (unmoved) "Ah! that's the man that wrote 'Taming of the Shrew,' isn't

A. (astonished) "Yes."

So the Author went to see the thick play, and found he knew Lady Macbeth,
nay, had--by an odd episode--first seen her in dressing-gown and
curl-papers; so, presuming upon this intimate acquaintanceship, he got
himself bidden to the Banquet--in less Shakespearian language, he went to
supper. The Banquet was uninterrupted by Banquos or other bogies. Lady
Macbeth--in a Parisian art-gown--sipped milk after her bloody exertions,
and listened graciously, her fair young head haloed in smoke, to her
guest's comparison of herself with Mrs. Siddons. But Lady Macbeth's
Chaperon was a Medium, self-made, and when the compliments and the supper
had been cleared away, the Medium kindly proposed to exhibit her
newly-discovered prowess with the Planchette. The Planchette, as
everybody knows, and as I didn't know myself till I saw it, is a wooden
heart that runs on two hind wheels, and has a pencil stuck through the
centre of its apex. The Medium gracefully places her hand upon the heart,
which after an interval of Quaker-like meditation begins to write, as
abruptly as a Quaker is moved by the Spirit, and as abruptly finishes.

AUTHOR. "What do I want to do early to-morrow morning?"

What was in his mind was: "Send a wire to Manchester." The Planchette
almost instantly scribbled: "Send a telegram to your brother." Now, his
brother _was_ connected with the matter; and although at the time he
considered the Planchette half wrong, yet in the morning, after
reconsidering the question, the Author actually did send the wire to his
brother instead. Sundry other things did the Planchette write, mostly
wise, but sometimes foolish. It did not hesitate, for example, over the
publisher of a certain anonymous book, but failed to give the title,
though it wrote glibly, "Children of Night." These results were
sufficiently startling to invite further investigation, so the trio next
proceeded to "call spirits from the vasty deep" by making a circle of
their thirty fingers upon a wooden table. Very soon the table gave signs
of upheaval, while some cobbling sprite fell to tapping merrily at his
trade within its ligneous recesses. Lady Macbeth said that these taps
denoted its readiness to hold communion with the grosser earth, and
constituted its sole vocabulary. As in the game of Animal, Vegetable, and
Mineral, its information was to be extracted by a series of queries
admitting of "yes" or "no" in answer. One tap denoted "no," three "yes,"
and two "doubtful." It could also give numerical replies. The table or
the sprite, having indicated its acquiescence in this code, proceeded to
give a most satisfactory account of itself. It told the Author his age,
the time of day, the date of the month, carefully allowing for its being
past midnight (which none of the human trio had thought of); it was
excellently posted on his private concerns, knowing the date of his
projected visit to America, and the name of his past work and his future
wife. Its orthography was impeccable, though its method was somewhat
todious, for the Author had to run through the alphabet to provoke the
sprite into tapping at any particular letter. But one soon grew
reconciled to its cumbrous methods, as though holding converse with a
foreigner; and its remarks made up in emphasis what they lacked in
brevity, and were given with exemplary promptitude. Interrogated as to
its own personality, it declared it was an unborn spirit, destined to be
born in ten years. "Do you know what makes you be born?" inquired the
Author. "Yes," it replied. "Will you tell us?" "Yes." "Tell us, then."
"F-O-R-C-E." "Is it God's force?" "No." "Is He not omnipotent, then?"
"No." "What is the true religion?" "Buddhism." "Do you mean Madame
Blavatsky was right?" "Yes." "Is there a heaven?" "Yes." "A Hell?" "No."
To hear a small still voice rapping, rapping in the silence of the small
hours, rapping out the secrets of the universe, was weird enough. It was
as though Milton's words were indeed inspired, and--

Millions of spiritual creatures walk the earth

"What!" thought the Author, "shall the Great Secret which has puzzled so
many heads--heads in caps and heads in turbans, heads in bonnets and
heads in berettas, as Heine hath it--shall the explanation of the
Universe, which baffled Aristotle, and puzzled Hegel, and still more his
readers, be the property of this wretched little unborn babe, this infant
rapping in the night, and with no language but a rap? Was, then,
Wordsworth right, and is our birth 'but a sleep and a forgetting'?" And,
mingled with these questionings, a sort of compassion for the poor orphan
spirit, inarticulate and misunderstood, beating humbly at the gates of
speech. Natheless was the Author quite incredulous, and even while he was
listening reverently to these voices from Steadland, his cold cynic brain
was revolving a scientific theory to account for the striking

In the course of two or three _séances_, with lights turned low, but
honesty burning high--for Lady Macbeth was guileless, and her Chaperon
above suspicion,--various other "spirits" hastened to be interviewed.
There was "Ma," who afterwards turned out to be the Chaperon's "Pa,"
whose name--a queer French name--it gave in full. The Chaperon's "Pa,"
who was dead, announced he was no longer a widower, for his relief had
just rejoined him on Wednesday--the 10th. This news of her mother's death
was unknown to the Chaperon. In truth, "Pa" is still a widower.

Another "spirit"--a woman (who refused to give her age)--predicted that
the amount of money taken at the theatre the next night would be £44. The
actual returns on the morrow were £44 0_s_. 6_d_. But when, elated by its
success, it prophesied £43, the returns were only £34. But this same
creature, that gave only an inverted truth--perhaps it was momentarily
controlled by the spirit of Oscar Wilde--displayed remarkable knowledge
in other directions. Asked if it knew what piece had been played the week
before in the theatre--a question that none of the three could have
answered--it replied, "'The Road to ----'" "Do you mean 'The Road to
Ruin'?" the Author interrupted eagerly, tired of its tedious
letter-by-letter methods. "No," it responded vehemently; and finished,
"'F-o-r-t-u-n-e.'" Lady Macbeth consulted the "Era," and sure enough "The
Road to Fortune" had preceded her own company. "Can you tell us the piece
to follow?" the author asked; and the "spirit" responded readily "'The
Pro----'" "Do you mean 'The Professor's Love Story'?" the Author again
interrupted. "No; 'The Prodigal,'" answered the table. "Ah! 'The
Prodigal,'" echoed the Author, confounding it temporarily with "The
Profligate"; but the spirit dissented, and added, "'Daughter.'" There
being no means of verifying this for the moment, the Author proceeded to
inquire for the piece to follow that, and was unhesitatingly informed
that it was "The Bauble Shop." "Where is 'The Bauble Shop' now?" he
inquired. The spirit amiably rapped out "Eastbourne." This was correct
according to the "Era." Consulting the hoardings after leaving the house,
the Author discovered that the other replies were quite exact, save for
the fact that "The Bauble Shop" was to come first and "The Prodigal
Daughter" second. Here was the paradoxical humour of this Oscar Wilde-ish
"spirit" again.

Endless was the information vouchsafed by these disembodied
intelligences, in any language one pleased; and, although they at times
displayed remarkable obstinacy, refusing to answer, or breaking off
abruptly in the middle of a most interesting communication, as though
they had been betrayed into indiscretion: yet, to speak generally, there
was scarcely any topic on which they were not ready to discourse--past,
present, or to come--and their remarks, whether accurate or not, were
invariably logical, bearing an intelligible relation to the question.
Even sporting tips were obtainable without a fee, and Avington was given
as the winner of the Liverpool Cup, though the Author had never heard of
him, and the other two were not aware he was booked for the race, still
less that he was the favourite. In the sequel he only came second. Real
tips did the "spirits" give, tipping the table vehemently. They were also
very obedient to commands, moving or lifting the table in whatsoever
direction the Author ordered, much as though they were men from Maple's;
and when he willed them to raise it, the united forces of Lady Macbeth
and Lady Macbeth's Chaperon could not easily depress its spirits. Nor did
they contradict one another. There was a cheerful unanimity about the
Author's dying at fifty-seven. But this did not perturb the Author, whose
questions were all cunningly contrived to test his theory of the
"spiritual world." For instance, he set them naming cards, placed on the
table with faces downwards and _unknown to anybody_; arguing that with
their bloated omniscience they could scarcely fail to name a card shoved
under their very noses. Nor did they--altogether. Most began well, but
were spoiled by success. However, here is the record performance--eight
consecutive attempts of the table to give the "correct card" under the
imposition of the hands of the Chaperon and the Author only, neither
knowing the card till it was turned up to verify the table's assertion:


1. Jack of Diamonds . . . Queen of Spades.

2. Jack of Diamonds . . . Jack of Diamonds.

3. Three of Clubs . . . Jack of Spades.

4. Jack of Diamonds . . . Jack of Diamonds.

5. Seven of Clubs . . . Five of Diamonds.

6. Three of Spades . . . Three of Spades.

7. Ten of Hearts . . . Ten of Hearts.

8. Nine of Clubs . . . Nine of Clubs.

Here are five bull's-eyes out of eight shots! The name of the performer
deserves record. It was the spirit of a German woman, named Gretehen, who
died three years ago, but refused to say at what age. She was wrong
sometimes, but then it may have been her feminine instinct for fibbing.
"The spirits play tricks," say the spiritualists. "Sometimes they are
wicked spirits, who tell lies." The Planchette also wrote out the names
of unseen cards placed upon it face downwards. The artistic spirit of the
Author now bids him pause: the narrative has now reached a point of
interest at which recollections of "Tom Tiddler's Schooldays" urge him to
pen the breathless motto: "To be continued in our next."



The yearning of humanity for the supernatural, even for the
pseudo-supernatural, is as pathetic as it is profound. Wherefore I regret
that I can make no concessions to it. The following theory of
table-turning came to me as I experimented, from my general knowledge of
psychology. I have not compared it with the theories of the Psychical
Society, which I have never read, preferring to jot down the impressions
of an independent observer, which, if they should at all coincide with
the explanations of the spook-hunters, will irrefutably demonstrate that
their Society was founded in vain. If, moreover, as Mr. Andrew Lang has
since pointed out, it coincides largely with the theory of Dr. Carpenter,
so much the better.

What are the facts? If two or more people (according to the size of the
table) place their hands in circular contact around a table, and possess
their souls in patience for a delightfully uncertain period, sundry
strange manifestations will occur. Even after the first few moments the
more imaginative will feel the table throbbing, unsuspicious of the fact
that it is the blood at their finger-tips. Presently, too, an uncanny
wave of cold air will pass underneath the arch of their palms. This is,
according to the professional witches of Endor, the frigid flitting of
the spirits, but the most superficial meteorologist will expound it you
learnedly. Your hand, passive and in a fixed position, heats the air
under it, which, becoming lighter, is constantly displaced by the colder
circumambient air. Finally, when everybody is wrought up to an exalted
expectation of the supernatural, the table begins to oscillate, to move
slowly to and fro, to waltz, and even to raise itself partially or wholly
off the ground. Sometimes it taps instead of moving. Nor are these
motions and these taps merely the intoxicated irregularities of an
exuberant energy. They are coherent responses (according to a code agreed
upon with the "spirit" in possession) to questions asked by one of the
sitters. They are the expression of infinite and ungrudging information
on almost every subject. Through this wooden language, through this music
of the tables and this dancing movement of their legs, tabular
information respecting your past or other people's past and future lives,
together with full details of the doings of the departed in those other
spheres of heaven or hell which they adorn or illumine respectively, may
be obtained at the lowest rates, and with only that reasonable delay
which results from the exigencies of a letter-code. For the "spirits" of
the table, be it understood, are unable to communicate with earth except
by taps and movements for "yes" or "no," or by rapping out numbers; so
that they have to signify their meaning, snailwise, letter by letter. The
"spirit" of the Planchette will indeed write you out sentences; but to
that, like the actor in melodrama, I will return anon. In the stock
_séances_, I know, spirits materialise themselves and glide white-sheeted
through darkened rooms. But as my own _séances_ and "spirits" were
personally conducted by myself, the optical illusions of Messrs.
Maskelyne & Cook, the Pepper's Ghost of the dear old Polytechnic, had no
opportunity of putting in an appearance. My spooks did nothing but answer
questions, so that the very suggestion that they were spirits came
entirely from me. In fact, they do but dance to the "medium's" piping;
and should he suggest that they are methylated, the chances are that not
a few would cheerfully acquiesce in this description of themselves. In
short, it is only the prepossession, the pathetic prejudice, in favour of
visitors from other worlds that leads at all to the thought of "spirits,"
drawing such a red herring across the track that the average observer,
who is nothing if not unobservant, has all his partisan faculties of
mis-observation brought into full play on behalf of the spirit-world.
Doubtless the actual presence of "spirits" is the cheapest way of
accounting for the phenomena. But one might as well call in "spirits" to
explain the dancing of a kettle-lid. Not till every natural hypothesis
has been exhausted is the scientific observer entitled to call in the
supernatural. And in reality all that has to be explained is the
mechanical movements of tables under certain specified conditions, the
said movements having an apparent relation to will and intelligence.

First of all, what moves the table?

Well, the slightest exercise of the finger or wrist muscles is sufficient
to move the small, light round table which is usually the subject of
experiment; and when once the slightest movement is established--by the
involuntary contraction of a single muscle--all the other persons'
muscles, in accommodating themselves to the movement of the table, cannot
help helping it, either by pulling or pushing in the direction in which
it is going. It is, in fact, almost impossible to follow the movement of
a moving table and yet keep your superimposed hands perfectly passive;
and with ninety-nine persons out of a hundred the startled interest in
the movement even begets an unconscious desire to help it, which at times
almost rises to a curious semi-conscious self-deception, a voluntary
exaggeration of the marvellous. Yet nothing makes the ordinary sitter
angrier than to be told he has helped to move the table. It is as though
he were accused of cheating at whist, or worse, of playing a foolish
card. Take half a dozen persons at random, and there are sure to be one
or two so impressionable and emotional that they cannot help contributing
the slight initial impulse which gathers force as it goes. These nervous
subjects cannot sit a quarter of an hour perfectly still without a
twitching of the muscles, while the tense state of expectation which
subtly transforms itself into a wish to see the table move and not have
the experiment in vain, finally compels them, despite themselves, to
start the "manifestations." Indeed, to think of a thing is half to do it.
Every idea has a tendency to project itself in action. If you think
strongly, for instance, of lifting your hand, it is difficult not to do
it, for the idea of motion is motion in embryo. The wish is father to the
thought, and the thought to the deed. The wish to see the table move is
the grandfather of its motion. Even with the most sceptical, when the
table is requested to go in a particular direction the muscles
involuntarily tend thither. All the deepest analyses of scientific
psychology are involved in this wretched little episode of table-turning,
and it is not marvellous that the ordinary observer should perceive only
the marvellous.

So much for the movements. But how about the raps? How about those
mysterious tappings which come from the very heart of the table, as
eloquent of the preternatural as those immortal taps heard by Poe ere the
raven stepped into his chamber? I should be more impressed by these taps
if I were not capable of manufacturing them myself _ad lib._ without
detection, by secretly manipulating the ball of my thumb. One is
therefore justified in assuming that, where these raps are not produced
by conscious fraud, they are the involuntary result of the same motions
that produced them voluntarily. Even wood has a certain elasticity, and
an imperceptible increase followed by an imperceptible relaxation of
pressure on the surface of the table will alter the tension of the wood,
the molecules of which in springing back to their prior position will
emit a creak or a tap, just as a piece of extended elastic will when let
go again. Both the raps and the movements, then, are in essence phenomena
of the same order: simple results of muscular pressure, conscious,
sub-conscious, or unconscious.

It now only remains to explain the answers themselves, to account not
only for their almost invariably logical form, but also for their
occasionally astonishing content. For the table is not infrequently wiser
than anybody in the room; also it knows the past and is ready to predict
the future.

The whole thing is really an excellent object-lesson in Psychology. For
the solution is obvious. The table being unconscious, _you answer
yourself_--you not only produce the raps and movements, but you regulate

The connection between mind and body is, it seems to me, admirably
illustrated by table-turning. According to the latest philosophic view,
the connection itself defies human comprehension. It is simply a case of
_non possumus intelligere_. But the connection itself may be expressed
thus: No idea or feeling without physical disturbance, no physical
disturbance without feeling or idea. Mind and body are as related as the
tune to the violin-string. Every state of mind tends to set up nervous
vibration, and every nervous vibration tends to set up a state of mind.
In either case the tendency may be, and usually is, counteracted. The
average member of a spiritualistic circle cannot prevent the thought in
his brain taking on bodily expression to the extent of a muscular
contraction stimulating the very sensitive tips of the fingers. You
cannot think of a joke or see the humour of anything without wanting to
smile, though you may suppress your smile in obedience to other
considerations. Nor can you put your features into smiling position,
without experiencing a latent sense of amusement, though you would not
know what you were smiling at. But if six cool scientific intellects,
acquainted with the tricks of their own organisms and determined to
dissever thought from motion, were to sit round a table, they might sit
till doomsday without the "spirit" turning up. This is what the
spiritualists mean by unsympathetic persons, persons obnoxious to the
spirits, persons with antipathetic auras, and all the rest of the jargon.
But six intellects taken at random, being anything but cool and
scientific, are not able to prevent their ideas passing over into action
in the shape of muscular twitches; though if even the unscientific were
to look up at the ceiling and forget all about the table, the table would
probably forget to move. Now the majority of the replies of the table
deal with matters actively present to the consciousness of at least one
of the six owners of the superimposed hands. When the table raps out
something known only to this one person, and the startled person admits
that the table is right, an uncanny feeling is produced; the table seems
at least to be a thought-reader, and on this wave of astonishment the
hypothesis of "spirits" rides up triumphantly. When the topic is one of
which nobody knows anything--_e.g._, whether the supposed spirit is a man
or woman--chance, or a vague idea floating up in the mind of one of the
party, determines the reply.

But what of those replies in which some striking truth is told of which
none of the party was conscious, as for instance in the examples I gave
in my last, when the table informed us that Mr. Jones's "Bauble Shop" was
then playing at Eastbourne, or that "The Road to Fortune" had been
playing in the town in which we were the week before we arrived? To clear
up this most remarkable aspect of the whole matter we must go still
deeper into Psychology.

What we are pleased to call our Mind is made up of two parts--our
Consciousness and--what I shall call loosely yet sufficingly and without
prejudice to Metaphysics--our Sub-Consciousness. The latter is
immeasurably the vaster portion. It is a tossing ocean of thoughts which
feeds the narrow little fountain of Consciousness. It holds all our
memories. We cannot be conscious of all ourselves and all our past at
once--that way madness lies, or divinity. We may know ten languages, but
we can only think in the mould of one at a time. Our thoughts and
memories can only come up into clear Consciousness by ones or twos--to be
dealt with and then dismissed. They spirit from the great deep of
Sub-Consciousness into the thin fountain-stream of Consciousness, and
fall back again into the great deep. And this great deep is never still,
though we know nothing of its churning save by its tossing up through the
fountain some new mental combination of which it had received only the
elements--as when the mathematician has the solution of a problem flashed
upon him at the moment of waking, or as the author has the development of
his plot thrust upon him when he is playing billiards, or as the wit
finds repartees invented for him by his brilliant but unknown
collaborator. This is what the crowd calls "inspiration," the late Mr.
Stevenson "Brownies," and the scientist "unconscious cerebration." A man
of talent has a good Working Consciousness, a man of genius a good
Working Sub-Consciousness. Hence the frequent mental instability of
genius. The Infant Prodigy's feats are done by his Sub-Consciousness.
Instinct is Racial Genius, Genius is Individual Instinct. The highest
Genius is sane. A Shakespeare or a Goethe has both a good Working
Consciousness and a good Working Sub-Consciousness, with the former so
self-balanced that it regulates the products of the latter. The
cultivation of the Working Consciousness may either improve or impair the
products of its bigger brother. Education, the cultivation of the
critical faculty, would be fatal to some writers, actors, painters, and
musicians; it would but spoil the Working Sub-Consciousness. Others--more
sanely balanced--would gain in art more than they lost in nature.

Now, what are the elements with which our Sub-Consciousness works?--what
does this ocean contain? It would be easier to discover what it does not
contain. Wrecks and argosies and dead faces, mermaidens and subterranean
palaces, and the traces of vanished generations; these are but a
millionth part of its treasures: the Sub-Consciousness were perhaps
better likened to the property-room and scene-dock of the Great Cosmic
Theatre, holding infinite wardrobes and scenes ready-painted, parks and
seas and libraries, and ruined cottages and whitewashed attics, to say
naught of an army of supers ready to put on all the faces we have ever
seen. In our Sub-Consciousness, moreover, are stored up all the voices
and sounds and scents we have ever perceived, and to all these
reminiscences of our own sensations are perhaps added the shadows of our
ancestors' sensations--episodes that perchance we re-experience only in
dreamland--so that part of the vivid vision of genius, of the poet's eye
bodying forth the shapes of things unknown, may be inherited Memory. And
thus Imagination, when it is not a mere fresh combination of elements
experienced, may be only a peculiar variety of atavism.

From this boundless reservoir, then, which holds our heredity and our
experience, go forth the battalions of dreams--the infinitely possible
permutations and combinations of its elements, wrought by the Working
Sub-Consciousness when the poor Working Consciousness cannot get sound
asleep, but must watch perforce with half an eye the procession of
thoughts and images over which it has lost control. For it is the duty of
Consciousness to control the stream sent up by Sub-Consciousness. When it
is awake but unable to do this, we have Insanity; when asleep, Dreams. In
Somnambulism the Working Sub-Consciousness is seen in an accentuated
phase. It does all the work of its little brother, even to exercising its
owner's muscles. To be "possessed" by a popular song is a species of
insanity--Consciousness ridden by a singing Sub-Consciousness.

Between our Consciousness and our Sub-Consciousness there is more or less
easy communication. It is not perfect. You cannot draw up what you will
from the ocean: you cannot always directly remember a name or a date that
you know--you can only set an indirect train of thought at work. _Per
contra_, it is not easy to transfer certain conscious states to the
storehouse of Sub-Consciousness--to learn a page of prose, or deposit the
memory of a piece of music, which you are forced to play slowly and
thoughtfully before the digital dexterity is added to the treasures of
your Sub-Consciousness. Under exceptional conditions, exceptional flotsam
and jetsam is tossed up into Consciousness, as in the case of that
servant girl who spoke Latin, Greek, and Hebrew in her delirium, having
unconsciously absorbed the same from overhearing the studies of her
learned master many years before.

Now, just as a conscious thought has an accompaniment of physical motion,
so has a sub-conscious thought. Thus, then, a thought which does not pass
through the thin fountain-stream of Consciousness may yet produce the
same muscular twitches as if it were clearly present to the presiding
Ego. In the case of the "Road to Fortune," the name must have really sunk
into my brain, although I was unaware of it, and probably could not have
consciously recalled it to save my life. The stage-manager subsequently
reminded me that he had in my presence regretted that the "Road to
Fortune" had done such good business, since there would probably be a
reaction. _I_ have only a recollection of his telling me that the success
of the preceding piece would hurt his--my Consciousness had grasped at
the intellectual side of his remark, my Sub-Consciousness had absorbed
the irrelevant fact of the name of the piece. In examining the "Era," to
verify this item, Lady Macbeth's eye must have unconsciously noted that
"The Bauble Shop" was at Eastbourne; but the information was not
registered in her Consciousness, for there is a struggle of thoughts to
catch the thinker's I--that is to say the Central Consciousness--and only
the fittest can survive. We are indeed wiser than we know. Our
Sub-Consciousness knows all we know, and all we have forgotten, and all
that our mental sponge sucked in without spirting it through
Consciousness. In fact, attention or inattention often determines whether
a thought or a feeling shall come up into clear Consciousness or not. You
can feel a pain in your big toe if you want to. Conversely, in the
excitement of battle soldiers do not always feel their wounds.

When the table prophesies or delivers "a message from the other world,"
the result is a compound of fluke with expectation or with apprehension.
Fears or hopes dimly in the mind get accentuated, or transmuted, or
distorted as in dreams; and when the "spirits" are proved wrong, as in
the matter of the Chaperon's mother, the spiritualists tell you that you
have got hold of a "lying spirit." Verily a cheap explanation! "They play
tricks sometimes," say their apologists. The true explanation is that
your Sub-Consciousness was ignorant of the reply your Consciousness asked
for. Endless as its contents seem, there are limits; and when it does not
know, your Sub-Consciousness will rarely confess it. It makes a brazen
guess, keeping the logical form of the answer, because your
Sub-Consciousness knows that, but blundering deplorably in the matter.
Sometimes it will not speak at all, but when it does it is cocksure to
the last degree. Its humour is the humour of the stock joke, the Old
Humour--as when it will not tell a woman's age. Its sulkiness and
eccentricity and occasional indecency are just what one would expect from
a Sub-Consciousness, whose thoughts have no central I to keep them in
order. (Compare Goethe's explanation of the obscenities of Ophelia.)
Sometimes, too, there are Obstructive Associations, which account for its
inability to make up its want of mind; and as there are usually several
persons at table, the result is complicated by their separate
Sub-Consciousnesses. In brief, table-turning is a method of interrogating
your Sub-Consciousness. It is, so to speak, objective introspection. The
table enables you to peep at your Sub-Consciousness, to know your larger
self. It is an external medium on which you may see registered visibly
and audibly (through the vibrations you sub-consciously communicate to
it) that Sub-Consciousness which _ex hypothesi_ you cannot peep at
directly. The moving table may be considered the objectification of
Sub-Consciousness, or a mirror in which Sub-Consciousness is reflected to
the gaze of Consciousness (to the great benefit of the science of
Psychology, which may be revolutionised by table-turning). By humouring
your Sub-Consciousness, by addressing it as though it were a separate
identity utterly unconnected with you, by asking a "spirit" to answer
you, you help to break your Mind in two, to detach the Sub-Consciousness
from the Consciousness, and so to get results which astonish yourself. So
divided is mind against itself that (as when I thought "The Pro--" was to
be "The Professor's Love Story") even a conscious expectation of
something different does not turn the Sub-Consciousness from its first
dogged determination; or it may be that somebody else's Sub-Consciousness
was in the ascendant. The "mediums" who excuse the "spirits" on the
ground of their mendacity are not necessarily frauds: they are themselves
deceived; they do not know that if the "spirits" lie, it is because a
true reply was not latent in any one of the _human_ Consciousnesses or
Sub-Consciousnesses present. But the conclusion of the whole matter seems
to be this: there is a germ of scientific truth which the professional
spiritualists doctor and wrap round with complex trickery in order to
extract backsheesh from poor old women of both sexes anxious for
information about deceased relatives. Circles are formed with pretentious
mysticism, and no self-respecting "spirit" will appear without being
received in state with extinguished lights and creepy accompaniments. The
unconscious revelations made by the sitters are the sole genuine
foundation of the spiritualists' influence. Consciousness holds converse
with deceased relatives, and Sub-Consciousness, which knows all about
them, answers for them. "I can call spirits from the vasty deep" myself,
and they will come when I call them, but the "vasty deep" is the deep of
my own Sub-Consciousness. We seem to hear voices from spirit-land; but as
when we hold a sea-shell to our ear and seem to hear the ocean it is only
the blood in our own veins, so--to continue Eugene Lee-Hamilton's fine

Lo! in my heart I hear, as in a shell,
The murmur of a world beyond the grave,
Distinct, distinct, though faint and far it be.
Thou fool! this echo is a cheat as well,--
The hum of earthly instincts,--and we crave
A world unreal as the shell-heard sea.

Tables might be "turned" to various purposes. Criminals might be
compelled to yield up their secrets to them in uncontrollable muscular
vibrations, their Sub-Consciousness being tapped. For students under
examination table-turning would be very useful for recalling forgotten
knowledge. The Planchette would be the most convenient form. For
obviously the _modus operandi_ of the Planchette is exactly the same as
the table's. The medium's Sub-Consciousness arrives at an answer by
guesswork, reminiscence, etc., and produces the muscular movements of
writing without first passing the message through the writer's
Consciousness. Mr. Stead has, I believe, a familiar spirit called Julia.
This is merely a projection of his own Sub-Consciousness, the Planchette
being the artificial instrument for enabling him to give
pseudo-objectivity to his thought, to detach a shred of his mind. Even
so, many a dramatist marshals toy figures on a mimic stage. The external
image is a help to weak imaginations. The process of novel-writing
involves breaking up your mind into bits--one for each character. And
when the characters are said to take the reins into their own hands, it
means that the bits are developing an independent existence. If Mr. Stead
is not careful, Julia will get the upper hand of him, his
Sub-Consciousness will dominate his Consciousness, and then he will be
mad. This detachment of bits of mind is dangerous; the monster may
overpower Frankenstein. Julia is literally a child of Mr. Stead's brain,
a psychical daughter embodied in a Planchette. Double Consciousness,
Double Identity, are well-known forms of insanity. In a mild degree they
consist with sanity. Landseer could paint different heads simultaneously
with both hands.

Hypnotism, on this theory, would be the lulling of the patient's
Consciousness, the closing of his central I, and the setting of his
Sub-Consciousness to work in accordance with suggestions.
Thought-transference seems a superfluous hypothesis here. Death is the
cessation of both Consciousness and Sub-Consciousness; and when a drowned
man is resuscitated his Sub-Consciousness can never have ceased. Do you
fail to understand Sub-Consciousness? So do I--as much as that our
digestion operates and our blood circulates without asking our
permission. It is not unreasonable to suppose that Sub-Consciousness is
simply the psychical side of the molecular changes that are going on in
our nervous system. There is more than "metaphysical conceit" in that
elegy of Donne's:

Her pure and eloquent blood
Spoke in her cheeks, and so distinctly wrought
That one might almost say her body thought.

Sub-Consciousness is a greater marvel in itself than any that it
explains, and beats the spooks hollower than they are. Just consider the
phenomena of dreams, what things we do, what sights we see. It is only
the commonness of dreams that blinds us to the fact that they are more
marvellous than ghost-stories. Mr. Lang thinks the theory of the
sub-conscious self that uses our muscles for its own ends is "the most
startling thing ever offered to the public; and that it should be
regarded as true by a sceptic is staggering to our judicial faculties."
But why? Our noble selves--are they not already exposed to the indignity
of dreams? What matters another insult? We need not be greatly put out if
Sub-Consciousness is busy in the day-time too. And what about
Somnambulism? What about musical or literary creation? Are not our ideas
made for us in the kitchen of our Sub-Consciousness? Our Consciousness is
only a small part of ourselves. What produced De Quincey's opium dreams
was certainly not Consciousness. I can see visions, myself, without
opium. In certain excited states of the brain I can travel in my chair,
or bed, perfectly awake, through an endless and variegated series of
scenes--domestic interiors with people talking or eating or playing
cards, battle-fields with glittering phalanxes, beautiful tossing seas,
gorgeous forests, melancholy hospitals, busy newspaper offices, etc.,
etc. These are almost entirely detached from my will, and the chief
interest of the spectacle is the unexpectedness of its episodes. The
scenes and the people have all the concreteness and detail of actuality,
although I never forget that I am observing my own hallucinations. Just
fancy what ghosts I could see in the dark if I lost my central control
and let my Sub-Consciousness get the upper hand! Sociologists say, the
seeing of dead people in dreams gave rise to the idea of ghosts. I would
suggest that the same process as that of dreaming gives rise to the
ghosts themselves. Great is the Sub-Consciousness! Who shall say what it
does not contain, either _in esse_ or _in posse!_ Till we have exhausted
the Sub-Consciousness let us not talk of spooks.

Two things alone remain to be considered. One is how the Planchette or
the table is able to read cards placed face downwards upon it; the second
is, is telepathy or thought-transference a possibility? As to the first
point I have never yet been able to satisfy myself whether the results
are more than Chance would account for; for Chance has strange
vagaries--themselves part of the doctrine of Chances--and in order to
decide, one would have to make a far more extended induction than I have
had time for. But if the mathematical probabilities are really exceeded,
one would be driven to the suspicion that there resides in the
Sub-Consciousness a sense of which we are unaware, perhaps an extra way
of perceiving by the tips of the fingers, which may be either a new
embryonic sense, not yet developed by the struggle for existence, or the
rudimentary survival of an old sense eliminated in the struggle, perhaps
a relic from those primeval homogeneous organisms in which every part of
the body did every kind of work. After all, the senses are all
developments of the sense of touch. This suspicion is strengthened by the
fact that the correct card is often given at the first trial, and not
after, as if this unused sense were soon exhausted. By the way, though
the "spirits" mostly failed to tell a card placed face down, and unknown
to any one in the room, they were invariably successful when it was
placed face up: a sufficient proof--is it not?--that there could be
nothing in the replies which was not already in some one's mind.

With regard to the question of telepathy, though I am tempted to believe
in it, I have not yet met with any convincing instance of it.
Thought-reading _à la_ Stuart Cumberland almost any one could do who
practised it. The thought-reader merely takes the place of the table as a
receiver of muscular vibrations. What tempts me to believe in the
transfer of thought without physical connection is that, given telepathy,
all the mysterious phenomena that have persisted in popular belief
through the centuries could be swept away at one fell swoop. By
telepathy, working mainly through the Sub-Consciousness, I will explain
you Clairvoyance (that is, not the mere seeing of pictures, which is a
phenomenon akin to dreaming, but the vision of other people's
Sub-Consciousnesses), ghosts, witchcraft, possession, wraiths, Mahatmas,
astral bodies, etc., etc. But it is rather absurd to call in a new
mystery to explain what may not even be facts. And so, till I am
convinced either of ghosts or of telepathy, I must accord an impartial
incredulousness to both. _Credat Christianus_, F. W. Myers or W. T.
Stead! For I gather that the Psychical Society assert that they _must_
exist. But as yet--_je n'en vois pas la nécessité_. If it is indeed
possible to telegraph without fees and to put a psychical girdle round
the earth in twenty seconds, by all means let the noses of those
extortionate cable companies be put out of joint. To me it is just as
wonderful that mind can communicate with mind by letter or even by
speech. One more puzzle adds no light to our darkness. And as for ghosts,
I have more than a lurking sympathy with the farrier in "Silas Marner."

"'If ghos'es want me to believe in 'em, let 'em leave off skulking i' the
dark and i' lone places--let 'em come where there's company and candles!'

"'As if ghos'es 'u'd want to be believed in by anybody so ignorant!' said
Mr. Macey, in deep disgust at the farrier's crass incompetence to
apprehend the conditions of ghostly phenomena."

And supposing "ghos'es" do exist--the moment the Supernatural is attested
and classified it becomes as natural as anything else. Such spooks would
add nothing to the dignity and sanctity of the scheme of creation, and
are no friends to religion. The world would only be made to look more
ridiculous if our deceased friends really rapped tables and pulled off
bedclothes, as Miss Florence Marryat's do. Mrs. Besant (who up to the
moment of going to press is still a Theosophist), in her latest reading
of the riddle of this painful earth, does but explain _obscurum per
obscurius_. Where is the point of a progression through stages, if there
is no continuous consciousness? What does it matter if I am not myself,
but somebody else in his fifth plane or her nineteenth incarnation?
Decidedly it is better to bear the religions we have, than fly to others
that we know not of. If Mr. F. W. Myers hears that some ill-trained
observers have seen ghosts, he becomes Dantesque and dithyrambic about
"the love that rules the world and all the stars." For my part, I fail to
draw the moral. I am content to look nearer home--at coal-heavers and
costermongers, poets and engineers--and to found my theory of life on
less deniable data. A fig for your ghosts! What! Here have I been living
and working and thinking nigh half a lifetime, and only now these gentry
should deign to give me cognisance of their existence. Dame Nature would
have indeed treated me scurvily had she reduced me to such absurd
oracles. The phenomena seem so rare and so irregular, the vast majority
of mankind having to go through life only afraid of ghosts, but never
seeing them, that no general law of posthumous existence could be based
on these obscure and erratic accidents. There may be only a survival of
the fittest. It is not in the aberrations, but in the constant factors of
human life that we must seek for light, and the attitude of these
smellers after immortality is precisely that of the mediaevals who sought
for the workings of divinity in eccentric variations from its own habits,
till miracles became so commonplace that, as Charles Reade deliciously
sums it up, a man in "The Cloister and the Hearth" could reply to his
fellow, who was anxious to know why the market-place was black with
groups, "Ye born fool! it is only a miracle." If I am to seek for
"intimations of immortality," let me find them not in the haphazard
freaks of disembodied intelligence, but where Wordsworth found them, and
where Mr. Myers was once content to find them, in

Those obstinate questionings
Of sense and outward things,
Fallings from us, vanishings!
Blank misgivings of a creature
Moving about in worlds not realised,
High instincts before which our mortal nature
Did tremble like a guilty thing surprised.

If Moses came to London he would be very disgusted with Mr. Stead and the
correspondents of "Borderland" who collect "facts" for him. For that
supremely sane and sage legislator made one clean sweep of all the
festering superstitions that fascinate the silly and the sentimental
to-day as much as they did three thousand years ago. Mr. Stead is a
Puritan, and the Old Testament should be his impregnable rock. Yet
Deuteronomy is most definite about "Julia." "There shall not be found
with thee ... a consulter with a familiar spirit. For whosoever doeth
these things is an abomination unto the Lord." His organisation of
research is a delusion; science is not to be thus syndicated. The
ordinary observer has no idea of scientific sifting, and in ten minutes I
exposed a gentleman who impressed a large London club as "the most
wonderful thought-reader in Europe."

"Nature has many methods of producing the same effect," says Henry
James's greater brother. "She may make our ears ring by the sound of a
bell, or by a dose of quinine; make us see yellow by spreading a field of
buttercups before our eyes, or by mixing a little Santonine powder with
our food." Probably not ten per cent. of the correspondents of
"orderland" are aware of the existence of such "subjective sensations,"
or realize, despite their nightly experience of dreams, that it does not
take an actual external object to give you the sensation of something
outside yourself. And passing optical illusions may have all the
substantiality of ghosts. When Benvenuto Cellini went to consult a
wizard, as he relates in his "Memoirs," countless spirits were raised for
his behoof, dancing amid the voluminous smoke of a kindled fire. He
actually _saw_ them: it was a splendid case for "Borderland." Yet the
probabilities are that the cunning magician merely projected
magic-lantern pictures on the background of the vapour. My brother woke
up one morning, and accidentally directing his eyes to the ceiling,
beheld there a couple of monsters--uncouth, amorphous creatures with
ramifying conformations and deep purple veins. After a few moments they
passed away; but the next morning, lo! they were there again, and the
next, and the next, till at last, in alarm, off he goes to a specialist
in eyes and unfolds his tale of woe. Is he, perhaps, going blind? "So
you've discovered them at last!" laughs the eminent oculist. "These
things are Purkinje's Figures--the shadows of the network of
blood-vessels of the retina microscopically magnified on the ceiling:
everybody ought to see them--it's a sign the eye is a good working lens.
But they don't notice them except by accident, when the light slants
sideways, and when there's a specially good background for them to be
projected and magnified upon." And, taking him into his mystic chamber,
and reconstituting the conditions, "Look!" says he, "there are your old
friends again!" And there they were, sure enough, in all their amorphous
horror. It is, in fact, not so much the actual external object that
determines our perception, as attention or inattention; and with wise
unconsciousness we ignore all that it is not necessary for us to see at
the moment. If our organism were always in perfect health, if our senses
were not deceivers ever, if we did not dream as solid a world as that
which we inhabit by day, then, indeed, a single appearance of a ghost
would settle the question; but as things are, our own eyes are just what
we mustn't believe.

As Helmholtz pointed out, we ought to see everything double, except the
few objects in the centre of vision; and as a matter of fact we do get
double images, but the prejudiced intelligence perceives them as one. The
drunken man is thus your only true seer. Genius, which has always been
suspected of affinity with drunkenness, is really a faculty for seeing
abnormally--that is to say, veraciously. Andrew Lang, who thinks that all
children have genius, is thus partially justified; for till they have
been taught to see conventionally, they see with fresh insight. Hence the
awkwardness of their questions. Mr. Bernard Shaw recently wrote an
article on "How to Become a Genius," but he omitted to supply the recipe.
It is simply this: see what you do see, and not what everybody tells you
you see. To think what everybody says is to be a Philistine, and to say
what everybody thinks is to be a genius. Every healthy eye sees
Purkinje's Figures when the conditions are present; but only a rare eye
perceives them consciously. That is the eye of genius, but the
Philistines cry, "Disease! Degeneration!"



I have noted in my Sancho Panza moments a number of deficiencies in the
commonweal which can only be remedied--in our modern manner--by
societies. Let me start with a few of the most needed.


The present currency is badly worn and was always nasty. Swear-words are
a necessity. They are the safety-valves of the soul. Why not have them
nice and innocent--the kind of oath a girl can use to her mother? It is

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